Travel Stories in 2015

My year went with full of surprises. Academically, university life went really great in the first half of the year, but not so great (I think. Results are not out yet) in the second half. I have to admit, one thing that made the difference is my social life (and I don’t even have a girlfriend (yet)). Let’s take a look at this diagram on the relationship between social life, academic and getting enough sleep. I will never trade my sleep time for anything, really. With me joining some communities and meeting so many new people in the second half of the year, I fell into the ‘slacker’ category. I literally understood the feeling of having to learn the whole semester in a day, a few days before the finals.

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However, looking at the bigger picture, I know myself a little better this year. I know it’s a little cliché to say, but there’s some sort of peace element in knowing who you really are. I am not saying I’ve figured out everything because I know there’s a lot to learn and I bet at some point in the future, there would be events that could change the way I see certain things. But in the mean time, I like where I am. It feels good to write that down on this post. I could elaborate, but really, let’s stick to travel themed post. Less with personal one (though, it’s good for personal note).

At the beginning of the year I decided to adopt the saying by Dalai Lama, “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” I chose the place to be Gold Coast, Australia. At that point of time, my cousin was working in Brisbane and she asked me to visit her after the new year. I had had the thoughts of visiting Gold Coast for quite sometime, having seen my friends’ adventures there and heard a little from some guy I met in Thailand. So I went to explore Gold Coast for a few days and met her in Brisbane.

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The kangaroo didn’t want to eat from my hand.

My solo experience in Gold Coast was weird. The city was beautiful. The people were in great shapes with their tanned beach-bodies. I tried couch-surfing in a house filled with Japanese who were students and workers. I tried talking with them but it was hard because they didn’t speak much english. I ended up only talking to one of them who was doing his degree there. But I only met him once in the house. I’m not even sure if he lived there. I started to get lonely, honestly, which made worse when I went to a theme park by myself.

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Gold coast

A brief comparison of visiting a city as a destination.

Pros: I get to skip the long line for single-riders at the theme park and literally went on every ride (And it was the biggest theme park in Gold Coast). I had so much time to explore so many places and even record a lot of things.

Cons: I felt like a loser because I didn’t have anyone to share the fun with. Also, I became very reserved being only with my own thoughts. I ended up not wanting to try new things just because I didn’t have anyone to do them with.

I came to a conclusion then, that solo traveling is not for me. The meet up with my cousin in Brisbane confirmed this. I was enjoying myself so much more and tried something I’d otherwise never want to try: Dancing. I ended up doing a little Salsa at the Brisbane’s Queens Street. Thanks, Cousin.

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The view from Brisbane’s Mount Coot-tha

Then the semester started with hopes and targets I set to achieve by the end of it. Traveling solo helped me to think about a lot of things. Even setting long-term target for myself. It was especially so because of the new-year-new-me spirit. In the middle of the semester, my application to do a short exchange in Jogjakarta, Indonesia was approved. I was overjoyed and couldn’t wait for the summer to come.

When summer arrived and my first year in university was finally over, I told myself, “Great job.” I made full use of my time to concentrate on studying. I only had to juggle my studies with working part-time as a tuition teacher.

Exploring Jogjakarta in the summer was AMAZING. I did it with a bunch of new friends from my university and the host university. Even though, we only met each other at the boarding room of the flight to Jogja, we became such adventurous people together! I couldn’t express how much I enjoyed myself. Their company made the 2-week exchange so much fun.

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Scenic Prambanan temple

Prior to the exchange, I planned to stay another week or so to visit Bromo and Ijen volcanoes at the eastern parts of Java. Having that many friends during the exchange made me think about the sad solo experience I had in Gold Coast. I considered canceling the plan to explore East Java by myself and buying a last minute ticket back to Singapore with all of them. I needed friends, I thought. But I decided to man up and just go with what I planned.

Then I fell in love with Nature.

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Spectacular views on the way to Bromo

Traveling solo exploring the wonders of nature was probably the best self-discovering idea ever. And it is probably my kind of destination if I were to travel solo again. That’s not the only thing I loved about the trip. The public transports in Java wasn’t as efficient as those back home. I had to risk myself, asking a lot of people about which transport to take and went around with all-my-life in a backpack. I’m sorry to say ‘risk’, but the locals’ reputation based on people’s stories were not good. I proved that those stories were wrong. I guess people only remember the negative. People tend to exaggerate stories, even if they haven’t experience it themselves.

That brings me to the thing about seeing the positive side of many things, the thing about portraying positive vibe in whatever I do. It’s hard to put in practice, I realised, but it does help in not only putting myself in a good light, but also understanding people’s side of the story.  The people I talked to when traveling solo (many of them were locals), talked about life’s challenges. Even fellow travelers I met talked about theirs briefly. I learned that everyone’s life is similar in one way or another. We all have problems. But there I was, traveling solo, exploring places I thought would give me contents on adventurous traveling to write about on this blog, only to satisfy myself. I realised that in many ways, it is not about me and that I should contribute in one way or another to help other people.

One thing, besides countless others, I learned during my traveling in Java is that my traveling should not be about my own interest, that is traveling for leisure or simply for fun. I honestly am thinking about how I can contribute to other people through my passion for writing and my hobby in traveling. I can talk about this further but I really don’t want to make the post all too personal.

I am not saying that traveling for leisure is wrong, because one of the purpose of traveling for some people is simply to escape hectic routines and just take a break. I am saying that the traveling I’m into is the kind that let me reflect and learn. And for that purpose, that week of traveling solo in Java was, for what its worth, the best traveling experience for me. And I can’t wait for the next adventure.

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Trying to carry the sulfur rocks (100+ kg) one miner carries

As the semester of my year 2 started (second-half of the year), I joined an orientation camp for the freshmen as a photographer. Loads of new friends and more socialising, which for an introverted person like me meant a lot, a lot of effort. I also take responsibility as an Exco in another community PLUS 2 new part-time jobs, which added more responsibility beyond my comfort zone. But I guessed I should start stretching that zone and see. If I might have put in 60-70% of the time into studying in the first half of the year, I have to say it got down to 40-50% in the second one. Weirdly enough, I have no regret. It’s not like I partied hard and all. I got to learn about other things outside academics. Let’s see how the results go. (It’s just letters on paper, anyway.)

I travelled with the family recently to Phuket, Thailand as the end of all the trips in 2015. In the trip, I realised that the luxury I enjoyed was not the great service and facilities at the resort but the rare time spent with my family.

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At the Thai cultural show, Siam Niramit

In the other-wise really packed 2015, I’ve been all about exploring new places and managed to do a short trip to

  • Berastagi, North Sumatera, Indonesia in January with good friends of mine. We visited beautiful Sipiso-piso waterfall and saw Sinabung volcano which was active and actually erupted a few weeks after we left.

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  • Legoland, Johor, Malaysia with my family. We rented a car for the first time and decided to cross the border and had a blast. I drove over a cone in one of the toll gantry in Malaysia while doing a reverse (I drove into the card lane). One of the cones, that separated the lanes, literally popped out from the front of the car, after making some noise from being dragged underneath.

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  • Some parts of Singapore. I had terrible drawback syndrome after coming back from the exchange and solo trip and actually hiked Macritchie (10km++) by myself. My friends and I also managed to explore some of the park connectors that lead to Henderson wave bridge. Then, there were also other National Parks and, not forgetting the visit to the new UNESCO Heritage Site, Singapore Botanical Garden.
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Macritchie Treetop Walk

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Little Guilin @ Bukit Gombak

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The tree on Singapore’s $5

  • Johor for a Christian Fellowship camp, which forever changing the way I look at things. For the better.
  • Batam for a visit to an orphanage which was an absolute thrill. We played with the kids and give them early christmas presents!

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Also worth mentioning, I was short-listed as 8 out of over 600 people who applied for a travel internship. It was organised by fellow travelers who were looking for travellers with the interest in writing. Check out @thetravelintern on Instagram. My cousin, the same one whom I visited in Brisbane, asked me to try it out. Although, I ended up not getting the internship, but honestly I felt encouraged being just short-listed. The people who applied were some crazy, adventurous and daring people. I have to admit, I have been stalking the Instagram accounts of those travel interns and gosh, they’re having so much fun!

All I can say, I am grateful for 2015. It’s been a habit for me to take the coming new years as opportunity to keep improving and hope for exciting surprises to come, be it happy or sad events. All I can say, I am not perfect but it’s been shown to me that I should try to be, not for myself, but for people who are just as human. Though it’d be hard (trust me, I tend to think so highly of myself), I should know that the effort would be worth the world to others.

Many other non-travel-related happened this year, things that I didn’t expect would happen. One of them is me being selected as one of the script writers for a musical project, Indonesian Cultural Night (ICN) organised by the Indonesian students in NTU.

I don’t think I ever felt this excited entering a new year. 2016 have so many things to look forward to. I have planned a trip to Hongkong with fellow writer of the blog, J. Randall, who is so great at planning city trips. For the summer, I have plans to look for an opportunity to join the AIESEC community. And there’s also exciting trip to Myanmar with another cousin of mine and my sister, as a follow up to our South East Asia Part 1 trip in 2014. South East Asia Part 2 will happen in 2016, you guys. That, of course, will happen after the musical that is scheduled in fall.

In the mean time, let’s save up till the next adventure!

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Favourite piggy bank by far

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