travel should generate a whole constellation of ideas about people

“If travel is broadening, it should broaden more than just our knowledge of how a Gothic cathedral looks or how the French make wine. It should generate a whole constellation of ideas about how men and women work and play, raise their children, worship their gods, live and die” – William Zinsser
How true.
Been avoiding going to touristic places and doing touristic things when I travel. Some of my most memorable holidays is living like the locals – e.g staying in a wooden Malay house at my teacher’s kampung or living with my Japanese family.
If I can, I’ll like to go to China and stay in a house in a hutong, or anywhere in the world really. Anybody want to invite me to stay with them? I will cook for shelter (?!).
(Zinsser said one of the best travel book is ‘Walden’, written by Henry David Thoreau. Many books and articles from different sources that I’ve read (and enjoyed) lead me to this book again and again. I must carve out some time to read it this year. Probably at a quiet beach holiday.)

Bananas over Beijing

Seven years today:














I guess banana has always been my fruit of choice whenever I hike and that I’ve always been fascinated by food (in an esoteric way). Beijing was fun!

When I visit next, I shall:

1. Eat strawberry bing tang hulu 糖葫芦
2. Visit a local market to buy spices and Chinese cooking stuff
3. Possibly create a ‘Chinese Language’ notebook like I did for Japanese + get a book before that
4. Check out their sthings e.g dollar shop
5. Hangout & dine with locals and learn more about their culture (always wonder how it’s different from Malaysian Chinese descent’s)

Chinese communication

Met a lovely couple while hiking Taipei’s Qixing Mountain. We used all the Mandarin we could muster for few hours long conversation down hill and a bus ride to Shilin Night Market.

The couple took a group photo of us and sent to my email. Never received a friendly email in Chinese before (they speak Japanese too)!


He said:

(Oh man so tough!)

My Kindergarten-standard reply (thanks to Google Translate and my new Chinese/Japanese keyboard):


So nice to speak more than a few languages and be semi-literate. We can make more friends and able to express our feelings better.


p/s: The last three words (請保重) made me feel like some Chinese warrior going away for a battle!⚔️

10 Things I Did In Taipei

Taipei offered me the best of Chinese culture; I have never been so enthralled by the Chinese history and language. 

Throughout the trip, my sister and I were speaking Mandarin and learning to read traditional characters.

At a pet conference. This photo was taken by the dog’s very friendly owner. He told me that the dog is sniffing my pineapple tarts so I tries to hide it!

We were so impressed with Taiwanese’s cleanliness, efficiency and politeness. 

People were so helpful and cultured; many go out of the way to help us get around  and spoke so tenderly to us. For example, they explained that we don’t look like Taiwanese because we look ‘healthy’ (read: dark).

Taiwan is a pet-friendly nation too. We saw people carrying dogs everywhere! I really don’t mind living in Taiwan. Here’s 10 things we did:

1. Climbed to the highest peak in Taipei, QiSing Shan (7 Stars Mountain)
My goal is to visit every national park in the world! So we checked out Taiwan National Park. Went to Yang Ming Shan, and hiked for a few hours to the highest peak in Taiwan: Qising Shan. We braved the rain, sulfurous gas and uneven rocks – to be rewarded a mountainous view of the national park and Taipei city.


2. Eat street food at markets and everywhere else
We went to Shilin Market, Raohe Market and Shida market for street food. We had stinky tofu, mee sua, papaya milk, grilled mushroom with wasabi powder, fried cuttle fish, xiao long bao at the first Ding Tai Fun branch, pork bun at Raohe Market, fried chicken at Shilin Market, beef noodles etc. We heard that there’s plenty of good Japanese restaurant, perhaps next time.


3. Learn about Chiang and Soong May-Ling at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, probably my favourite site in Taipei. Enjoyed learning about his life story immensely, and seeing the everyday things he used eg multipurpose clock, bulletproof car.

Actually my interest in him is solely because of his wife, Soong May-Ling. Read Wild Swans then watched The Soong Sisters as a teen. Thought the sisters were so cool; they got an education and played important roles in society when women were not encouraged/ expected to.

But it was Soong May-Ling’s speech at the US parliament that made me a fan:


4. Appreciate Chinese artefacts at National Palace Museum
So glad Chiang Kai Sek took a lot of Chinese artefact to Taiwan hence not destroyed by the communists. I think my favourite section is the first floor about nature and the calligraphy section.

My favourite piece says: “Do not cultivate arrogance, do not indulge in desires, do not leave ambitions unchecked, do not let pleasures go to the extreme”

5. Walk around Jiufen
It was like a trip up to Genting Highlands. We had tea and Chinese dessert, and admired the scenery. More:

6. Party at Barcode
Night out with the sister at bar recommended by the hotel. It seems that celebrities are sighted here, but we saw none (maybe because we the only celebrity we can recognise is Jay Chou)

7. Checked out the Grand Hotel
This building is commissioned by Chiang Kai Shek and Soong May Ling to accommodate foreign ambassadors. This place has really good feng shui – its backed by mountains at Yang Ming Shan and facing a river.

8. Visited Eslite

Checked out the biggest bookstore in Taipei. It spans five floors and it opens till 12 midnight! I was browsing at the language/literature section, hoping I can enjoy Chinese poetry one day…

The only one I know:

Quiet Night Thought (靜夜思)
-Li Bo

Perhaps I shall start with reading common Chinese characters (its kanji too so its inline with my Japanese speaking goal). Or not.


9. Watched Changing of Guards at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

10. Checked out Beitou Hotspring
The Japanese bought to Taiwan their hot spring culture (My absolute favourite thing to do!). Oh, so much to write. Perhaps I’ll talk about it more the next time. In the meantime, read this:

For me, the point of this whole trip is to spend quality time with my sister. What random things we did: take pictures of Jay Chou everywhere, talk nonsense etc. Fun!


To do in Taiwan next:

  • Visit Taroko National Park
  • Get on Ubike
  • Book a private hot spring pool at Beitou
  • Spend more time browsing through books in Eslite

I asked the Trump, the new US President, if he was happy

I followed the US election with much interest. One of my favourite read so far is this “An American Tragedy”, which well summarised how I feel.

“The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety”

Well, at least now I can say I spoke to the US President once. Seven years ago, I asked Trump, “Are you happy?”. Luckily I kept a blog and found this:
Trump Trump



































If I asked him this question today, it must be a resounding ‘yes’…

10 things I did at Komatsu

Oh, I haven’t had so much fun for a while. Well, I always have fun. Perhaps being with the Katos transport me back to when I was sixteen – young and carefree. It’s a different kind of fun. But I think it’s mainly because the Katos are my favourite people in the world – they are so kind to me.

Kindness, positivity and love have no language barriers. Its’ the same smile, same sparkle in the eyes and same gestures all over the world. And you could really treat a stranger like your own family. That’s what they did to me and I’m forever grateful.

1. Hang out with the Katos!
I lived with the Katos, my foster family, when I was an exchange student in Japan. I think AFS really did a good job to find a family which suits your personality – we just clicked! I loved my time there and promised that I will be back.

A few years ago, when there was a major earthquake in Japan, I called and Okaasan said in the little English she knows “I will wait for you!”. So glad I finally get to visit and see most of everyone again! The first night, we went out for sushi. I had really fresh ones at Tsukiji fish market and enjoyed two Michelin star sushi a few days after, but I think this is the best sushi experience ever!


2. Check out Otoosan’s farm
Otoosan wakes up 4.30 in the morning to work at his vegetables farm nearby home. There’s carrots, tomatoes, gourd, white radish, tomatoes, chives, sweet potato and heaps of other vegetables. He’ll bring them home and Okaasan will cook and make pickles with them. Isn’t it wonderful? Subarashii desu ne? Next time I’m here, I must help with gardening!

3. Visit my old school with Okaasan
Here is where I studied my hiragana, Japanese calligraphy, Japanese archery (Kyudo) and Japanese zither (Koto). Unfortunately, all the old teacher are gone. I was hoping to see Okimura Sensei and give her something I bought. She was so kind to me; taught me tea ceremony and gave me handmade Japanese dolls. Sigh!

4. Play with Kiichi and Kiri
Two new addition to the family, thanks to Makoto their kawaii Mommy. Oh, they are so adorable they make me want to have kids.

Kiri is the funniest and most energetic girl I’ve met. She climbs about everything she sees, so I call her Saru (monkey). She also very creative. When her parents refuse to give her some yen to get toys from a Gashopon (vending machine dispensing capsule toys), she made one with paper and candies.


Her brother Kiichi is such a little gentlemen.  I’m so smitten…

The boy who stole my heart, Kiichi 

He played Doraemon in the car because he heard that I like it, offered me the only candy he has, gave me the last firecracker, laughed at my silly (slapstick) joke, always ask if I wanted to do something, learned to asked for my fav colour in English because he wants to buy a present for me and the first to try what I cooked then tells me that’s delicious.

Like many Japanese boys, he rarely smile; but when he does, its gold. So cool yet so sweet. If I have a daughter and he asks for her hands in marriage I’ll say yes in a heartbeat❤️

Kiichi, for you I’ll learn more about saka ⚽️

5. Dip in the onsen, naked, under the full moon
We used to go out to popular public communal bathhouse and be naked with strangers everyday (!). That’s the biggest culture shock ever. Now the Katos don’t do that daily anymore (my Japanese is too bad to understand why). But since I mentioned, Okaasan and Otoosan took me, Kiichi and Kiri there. I was so lucky – we dipped in the hot spring under the full moon (mangetsu)
6. Dressed in a kimono for a family road trip to Kanazawa!
Okaasan dressed me up in the kimono her mother gave her at her wedding. How sweet of her! In the morning, everyone came to my room to help me put it on and do my hair. Also, I didn’t expect a family trip. In two cars, we drove out of Komatsu to Kanazawa. It was hours away. We stopped by convenient store and restaurant. The kids were entertaining me.

They tell me things they spotted like “Umi!” (sea), jumped on me and we’re playing biting game “Kiri oiishi desu ka?” (Is Kiri delicious?). I thought to myself why would a 9 and 11 yo kid enjoy this game, then I remember I’m 30….

7. Enjoy matcha (green tea) and wagashi (traditional japanese confectionery) at Gyokusen-Inmaru Garden.
I think I’ve never seen a garden so beautiful. We drank tea and ate wagashi (dessert made of rice flour) the traditional way. I think it’s the most delicious wagashi I’ve tasted (better than the Tea Room in Tokyo that we queued for 40 minutes even)

8. Check out Gokayama
I’ve been here with Ojiisan who is unfortunately not around anymore. This time, with kids it’s so much fun! Kiichi will spotted something and I was like “Nani?”, Masaki Oniichan will translate, and it’ll be followed with “Doko?”, and then we’ll run to see bee hives (hachinosu), frogs (kaeru), spider (kumo) and all kinds of living things. If I wasn’t in a kimono and clogs, I’ll be chasing after everything at the mountains! Tanoshi! 楽しい!







9. Old town in Kanazawa
Check out an old town in Kanazawa

10. Enjoyed my home
I think this is one of my favourite place in the whole wide world! (There’s only a handful). The Katos live in a traditional Japanese house which is attached to a temple.

I loovee waking up on a futon, step on tatami mat, going up and down the narrow staircase(s), getting lost sometimes, being in the kitchen, hang at the living room, looking at things at home, etc.

I think I love seeing people around the house moving about and doing their thing – occasionally asking them “Nani shiteru?” (What are you doing?).

11. Learn tea ceremony
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony is an art. I think many younger people don’t know how to do it anymore. It’s not easy. Every move in the Japanese ceremony is so precise yet graceful. Truly an art. I’m learning to fold the tea towel properly. Muzukashi!

12. Visit the temple where Otoosan and Masaki works
It’s the largest temple in Komatsu. Very beautiful.
13. Visit obaacan
Obaachan lives right opposite the temple. She’s so independent. She lives alone, and cooks all three meals by herself. Oh, when I ask what she likes to do during her free time, she says “Yomu” (read). I see heaps of books in her room. She’s also always smiling. So lovely!
14. Played hanabi
On the last day at Komatsu, the Katos bought some fireworks. They made a party out of if. Awww. We place a candle on the ground, and start lighting them one by one…under the moonlight

I had so much fun I didn’t want to leave, and was tearing from Komatsu to Haneda, Haneda to middle of Tokyo (?).  I must really like this place and the people. I will be back!


To-do when I get back:

  • Make pickles with Okaasan and Obaachan
  • Help Otoosan to farm
  • Cycle around town with Kiichi and Kiri
  • Have family purikura (think Makoto likes it)
  • Study Japanese at home
  • Learn more about Japanese buddhism from Masaki
  • Drink beer, eat maguro and chit-chat
  • Perhaps if I go during a festival, I can watch Kiichi’s play/ kabuki. Or maybe enjoy cherry blossom together.

Oh can’t wait to improve my Japanese so I can communicate better with everyone!


To-do list in France

1. Eat larded meat, which involves a labour-intensive French method of inserting slivers of pork fat into the meat by means of hollow needles.

2. Visit the bookshop where Jesse publicize his book in Before Sunrise (Shakespeare and Company, 37 rue de la Bucherie)

3. Go to a lavender field, pluck some flowers, put it in a hot bathtub for natural aromatherapy.

4. Visit the cafe where Amélie worked
5. See Monet’s garden in Giverny

Exploring Kuala Lumpur forest on an ATV!

I didn’t know we have a beautiful jungle in the middle of KL. While driving this vehicle into the forest reserve, we were surrounded by bamboos and I felt like in a Japanese zen garden. So pretty!

Of course, having friends makes it more memorable. We were exploring the place in ATV (all-terrain vehicle) and stopped at a waterfall. Fun! 


More info:

Green With Envy

Green with envy. The grass is always greener at the other side.

I never understood what they really mean until l I caught myself looking at other people’s flourishing garden with admiration. And *this* photo:
green 2
I found an amazing vertical garden at a quaint, almost deserted street, at Penang. They were all edible – curry leaves plant, ginger leaves, sand ginger (secure), pandan leaves and more.
edible garden penang

I was in love.