Travel

Persepolis

History has a way of rendering all things insignificant. They say there’s no such thing as an original idea anymore.

And what of our own lives filled with their own trials and tribulations? Of romance and tragedy, of suffering and of celebration? When the earth has lived for millions of years before your time and a billion other souls have come before you, every event in our life – somewhere, someplace, sometime ago – has already been lived by someone else.

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Travel

for Politics & Power

My visit to Iran had restored my faith in having a conversation just because two people were interested in what the other had to say – without an agenda, a profit motive, or because one had a point to make.

Here we sat, ensconced in the warm acapella tones of the locals singing. We couldn’t understand a word of the Persian songs, but their beauty was as stirring as the gold and amber of the sunset hitting the arches of Khaju Bridge, their stories as full as the centuries of secrets held in these walls of bricks and stone. We completely lose track of time. Time is a fluid concept when your entire existence is barely a speck in what these 17th century bridges have seen.

The latest set of sanctions hurt not the regime but the people. My heart aches at the thought of the ones who have to suffer the real, everyday consequences of these sanctions – being unable to purchase daily necessities and medical products; the increasing isolation as the world backs further away; the sheer loneliness at knowing your passport (and salary earned in Iranian Rials) won’t ever let you see the rest of the world. These are the ones who pay the price for politics and power – the people whose smiles were genuine, who offered help without asking for anything in return when we were in need, the curious who earnestly wanted to know more about where I came from and what I thought of their country.

No other country has touched me in the way Iran has. It’s there in every warm cup of saffron tea; in every “Salam!”, and in every smile you got from a stranger on the street.

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Food, Travel

Penang Street Food: Char Koay Teow

Char Koay Teow: one of the many reasons why one should always arrive in Penang with space in their waistbands. This is a popular street food dish of flat rice noodles and yellow wheat noodles fried in garlic, sweet soya sauce and lard, with ingredients such as Chinese waxed sausage, fishcake, beansprouts and cockles.

Here in Penang, the Malaysians use duck eggs instead of the usual chicken eggs (like we do in Singapore), and that lends an extra richness to the flavours in this dish.

Tiger Char Koay Teow – Jalan Dato KeramatGeorge Town

Lorong Selamat (Kafe Heng Huat) – 10400 George Town

No competition, Lorong Selamat wins hands down. Look out for the grumpy auntie with the charcoal fire stove and her weathered wok.

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Diving, Travel

Of an Afternoon’s Dream

Many a Malapascua afternoon was spent burrowed in this hammock reading in crisp jungle air, or chatting lazily on the beach while scrunching toes in the sand.

On one particular afternoon I sat out a dive and listened to the manager of the dive shop talk about his hopes and dreams for his son. On this little island, where every tiny business enterprise hangs on the continued existence of the thresher sharks swimming 30 metres beneath the surface, nobody dares to dream too big of an education and a career in a big city. How could you here? When even the nearest hospital is a good hour’s boat ride away? But thanks to his German customers-turned-friends (after more than a decade of their Malapascua dive trips) – he now does. Somewhere between their millionth dive and the surface intervals, the couple had turned to their trusted dive guide and volunteered to sponsor his son’s university education in Europe.

Can money buy happiness? From the look on his face as he spoke – Yes, I guess sometimes it can. That along with gratitude, pride, and hope.

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Travel

Crazy Rich Singaporeans

“Wealth and social status matter a lot in this city. Everyone in Singapore knows this.”

This Is What Inequality Looks Like, Teo You Yenn

Long before my home country became known for playing host to that infamous Trump-Kim summit, every self-introduction I made abroad was often followed up with “no we’re not in China”, “yes English is our first language”, “yes chewing gum is illegal”, “yes we still flog people for some crimes”. In one particularly unusual instance in a tiny student town in Ontario a bouncer had squinted suspiciously at my ID and demanded that I “speak some Singaporean” for proof of origin.

For a young nation that just celebrated its 53rd birthday this month, a well-loved and oft-used narrative is our country’s successful leap from third world to first world within a single generation. Fellow city rats that I meet abroad rave about the urban comforts and cosmopolitan luxuries that Singapore offers, without the high crime rates and dirt that often comes with dense living. Those far less attuned to a life of close proximity – country dwellers from farms or islanders from isolated archipelagoes – are often horrified when I describe how 5.8 million of us cramp in a space of 50km by 27km.

In these conversations on my travels, it always strikes me how nowhere else in the world are people so singularly defined by what they do for a living, the schools they went to, the districts in which they live, the logos on their car keys, the labels on their arm, the designers on their feet, and above all – the money that they make. While some measure of this exists in every developed society, in a city as small as ours, confined by narrow benchmarks self-imposed and self-perpetuating, the distinctions are inevitably made more stark; the greener green of the grass across the fence that much more apparent.

Yet the average visitor to Singapore would not bear witness to these harsh juxtapositions. Unlike most major cities, the ‘poor’ are kept off the streets (like skeletons carefully hidden away) and you’d be hard-pressed to spot the homeless on the spotless roads or the gleaming train stations (out of sight, out of mind?). It is our top 1% which is set to be proudly displayed on the world stage – in the upcoming blockbuster that is Crazy Rich Asians – fictional characters, but inspired by real-life Singaporeans who very much exist.

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Travel

On the Road

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

Yes I know, I too cringe now in 2018 – but this was taken ten years ago when I was a college student on my very first American road trip so of course this (only slightly pretentious) classic leapt out at me from the shelves at a bookstore.

We were 21, and we thought ourselves as young and wild and free. This was sometime in summer, and somewhere along U.S. Route 1 between Miami and the Florida Keys. We had ditched the lukewarm sunshine in New York and landed in Fort Lauderdale; picked up our keys and drove only south on that meandering stretch hugged by a blue coastline and beautiful bodies; hitting one beach and bar at a time, stopping for greasy burgers and artificially sweetened waffles, and peeing carefully at one dingy pit stop after another. There’s a certain reckless freedom in the wide open roads of the Promised Land – travelled by the many before you and the many more to come; the welcome by the American billboards holding the promises of the capitalist dream; the flickering counter on the dashboard while seeing the miles fly beneath your wheels with one bad car karaoke song after another.

Was there really any other book worthy of a trip like this?

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