Saturday, June 30, 2012

5 Things I Could Not Leave Home Without

When looking for study abroad scholarships, I came across one that asked for a list of the five things I wouldn't study abroad without. At first I ran through my ever-faithful mental packing list, a bunch of non important physical items: toothbrush, clean underwear, silk scarf, passport (duh Sharlene, you can't go anywhere without your passport!)

I also realized that I don't have any real sentimental items, except for a box of random photos and ticket stubs that wouldn't be of much use in a Ghanaian village. But there is no lucky teddy bear, family heirloom, or anything else that holds much significance to me.

Then I thought about what really comes in handy when I'm abroad and rustled up a list of things that cannot be contained in a suitcase, a ziplock or backpack.

1. Courage

One thing that I’ve learned in my pervious travel experience is that it takes a tremendous amount of courage to leave it all behind. My family, my friends, my world as I know it. Out of fear that I may seem like a self interested narcissist, I understand that I wasn’t born with this courage; no one is. I’d like to think it was given to me by my life long anchors, my creators, my parents.  
2. Memories

Whether in the form of an old journal or my biological hard drive (my brain), memories are an important keepsake that can pull me out of any slump, feeling of doubt or homesickness. I find them handy in all times of need, not just when I feel down. Funny, quirky, strange, even bad ones. Refection is useful when embarking on any kind of journey to separate where I’ve been, where I am and where I’m going.

3. Values

In my case, my values are not connected strongly to any religion. Despite my spiritual skepticism, I was instilled with core values: to work hard, respect myself and respect others. These have been in my back pocket since childhood and have traveled with me ever since. 

4. “Common sense”

I am a big fan of attribution and in this case I have no idea who to credit for what my mother calls “common sense”. On one hand I think it is the quiet confidence my family places in my ability to take care of myself. On the other, I think it is a natural/biological instinct that helps me sense danger or anything that isn't helpful to my current situation. The jury is still out on its origin, but I never leave home without it.

5. Gratitude

Especially during my travels, I recognize that it took a village of family, friends and institutions including my university to give me all of these keepsakes that I couldn’t leave home without. With every ounce of my being I am grateful for the sacrifices that people have made on my behalf, not only monetarily which is a major obstacle that I continuously hurdle with help from scholarship organizations and my university, but with their time, effort and kindness.

Mt. Fushimi Inari - Kyoto, Japan

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Birthdays in Bintan & Steamed Rice For All

Since my arrival in Singapore I have been swept off my feet by life. Work, friends, food, and other extra curricular activities have been my knights in shining armor; well, work not so much. Investor Central and Hong Bao Media have made the time fly with constant booking, stories to file and shoots to produce and assist on. This can really allow time to get away from me during the work week. As for weekends, I've spent some hitting the town, the small town that it is. Hot spots like BluJazz on Arab street, clubs such as Attica (both I & II) and my favorite after work watering hole and gold bar, Urban Fairways. Others I've spent doing my grandma thing reading, cleaning and whatever else doesn't cost me any money. I've made little effort to travel on weekends like my roommates since I plan to make my rounds about Southeast Asia when I finish working in July. Also, my sister will be visiting then and accompanying me on this journey and back home, so it will be nice to have a familiar traveling companion.

However, if you know me, you would take that "me not travelling on the weekends" line and call it crap. In the meantime, in between time I ventured into Johor Bahru Malaysia and celebrated my 22nd birthday on a weekend trip to Bintan, Indonesia. I wanted an easy weekend holiday which turned into two nights and three days of total debauchery. The party started right at the ferry departure gate where a hoard of around two hundred of exchange students and interns raided the Duty Free shop. We weren't buying perfume or handbags. Soon after passing our purchases to the front of the line and avoiding the long queue, we boarded the ferry which by now should have been renamed The Spirits of the Sea.

After a few frantic moments at immigration, where I lost my passport for all of about five minutes and nearly had a conniption, we had made it to our hot and sticky destination. And I thought the humidity in Singapore was bad. The Indonesian sun would prove to be mightier than that of the lion nation. Of course the bus ride to our resort wouldn't go without incident. The engine started smoking, choking everyone inside and soon gave out. Stranded on the side of a red dirt road without streetlights or anything that resembled life in sight around 11pm on a Friday, we did what any forward thinking exchange group would do. Cracking open our tax free purchases, we hunkered down and passed the bottle.

After an hour of introductions made less awkward by booze, a much nicer bus rescued us. When we reached the Sun Moon Restaurant for dinner around midnight, the place seemed a bit eerie. Its was built on stilts at the end of a long dark and creaky dock. When we entered, to our surprise the rest of the group waited for our arrival. The weekend's festivities would turn out to be the most fun I've had on a birthday not surrounded by family and close friends ensued. A mountain of delicious entrees, Bintang and "steamed rice for all" christened new friendships and ushered in my twenty second year on this planet earth.