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Holi-dating Our Children

In place of our annual family holiday, this year, my husband, Terence and I decided to try something different. We decided to go on a “holi-date”, a holiday consisting of…

In place of our annual family holiday, this year, my husband, Terence and I decided to try something different. We decided to go on a “holi-date”, a holiday consisting of one parent and one child, visiting a new destination. We thought it would be a fun challenge for us and a meaningful way to get to know our children better. We are parents to young children, a five and two year old, both at an age where they are very active and dependant on us. So this was not a holiday to kick back and relax – we knew that it would be hands-on and would require some compromise on our ambitious idea to see everything at the holiday destination. Still we chose to “holi-date” for the reason that it would have a long-term trajectory of building bonds through travel as our little ones continue to mature and grow as individuals.

I had S, our 5-year old boy as my travel buddy and Terence had little E as his co-explorer. Our destinations were a no-brainer. I’ve always wanted to see and taste Taiwan and Terence decided on Hong Kong as photos of dim sum lured him from afar. We booked our tickets way in advance, taking advantage of cheap flight fares but the planning only started about a month before our “holi-date”. When we got into the planning, we researched on public transport, places of interest, child-friendly attractions and the weather. Our itineraries were kept fairly loose to make room for any sudden-lies such as prolonged toilet time, uncalled for melt downs, slower pace of travel and other factors that come with travelling with young children.

Since I had S with me, I also wanted to try staying in hostels to give him the opportunity to mingle with different people from different countries – so we chose two different types of accommodation during our week in Taiwan, a few nights in a hostel-type accommodation and a few nights in a hotel. Much to my delight, he had a lot of questions while at the hostel, asking about different countries and why people travelled, listening in to different languages and sharing common spaces with strangers.

I was particularly excited to explore Taiwan with S. He’s at the age where he can read maps with a little assistance, enjoys different foods, gets excited about trying new things, follows instructions well and is able to articulate this experiences in words. I knew he would be an excellent travel buddy and he proved right! We explored the city from morning till night, always ending up in one of Taiwan’s bustling night markets. We went on a free walk tour where we got a low-down of Taiwan’s history and culture, visited the massive Taipei zoo – the largest in the Asia, rode the glass-bottom gondola to Maokong, decorated paper lanterns with heartfelt words and set them off into the air in Shifen – an enchanting village with a railway line running across it, meandered through the hillside town of Jiufen whilst trying not to get lost in the narrow alleys, witnessed the majestic Shifen Falls, stood in awe of Taipei’s jaw dropping skyline at the top of Taipei 101, elbowed our way through the crowds at Ximending – one of Taiwan’s busiest districts, took a dip in Beimen’s public hotsprings pool where old people hung out and talked all day and gobbled down the best of Taiwan’s street food.

Terence and little E explored bustling Hong Kong – Apliu flea market, Sham Sui Po, Tsim Sha Tsui, savoured many dim sum meals, wandered through Kowloon Park taking time to feed the fish and chase the birds, took the cable car to Ngong Ping, watched fishermen hauling in their catch at Sai Kung and enjoyed a full day at Ocean Park. His days in HK were a lot different from mine. Terence’s bag was packed with E in mind – diapers, milk, thermos, extra clothes and wet wipes. He also carried E in an Ergo carrier when it was time for her morning and afternoon naps. When she snoozed, Terence took the advantage to explore busier sights at a faster pace.

We returned home on the same day after a week of being apart. We were thrilled to see each other, shared many lingering hugs, exchanged gifts, scrolled through photos and spilled stories! While the children went off to play, running around the house and making it come alive – Terence and I took to our journals to pen some lessons we’ve learned from our “holi-date”. It’s without a doubt one of the best travel decisions we’ve made and hopefully, we can repeat this in a couple of years with the other child. What a privilege!

A holi-date in a heartbeat – here’s why:

  1. Special memories & stronger bonds

Extended time together in a new place is the best set up for growing relationships. Shared experiences such as savouring all kinds of street food or hiking to the waterfalls are powerful mental milestones that form special memories exclusive to parent and child. Imagine you’re your child’s best friend and closest buddy for a whole week!

2. Stage for education

Most of school learning is done in the classrooms, through books or audio visual material. Traveling allows our children to learn with all their senses and it gives them real-world practical lessons that can only be thought through experience. For example street smartness, appreciation for diversity and respect for different communities.

3. Ownership results in responsibility 

From the get go, S packed his own day bag filled with a couple of books, a travel journal, wireless headphones, a bottle of water, jacket and a cap. He carried his day pack everywhere and knew that it was his responsibility. There was one incident where left the bag in a shop while waiting for me to buy some souvenirs. Upon realising that he was missing his bag, he dragged me off the streets and back to the shop to ask the shopkeeper for his bag. It was a lesson as a parent that in order for our children to learn responsibility, they have to first feel a sense of ownership.

4. Adaptability

Life will not always be a set routine. If we teach our children to be adaptable and accepting of change, they will be better navigators in life. Adaptability involves living in different conditions, eating different kinds of food, taking different kinds of transport – in general appreciating the differences and similarities that each country, community and and place has to offer. Exposing our children to new cultures and places also fuels their sense of curiosity and wonder.

5. Seeing the world through their eyes 

It’s interesting to see our child’s personality emerge in different situations, such as getting lost, sticking within a budget, studying maps, choosing the places of interest to go to and deciding on what to eat. By allowing our children to make these decisions, it empowers them to step into new (and sometimes) unchartered territory. For example, S was given the option to choose between going to the public hotsprings bath or visiting the national science museum (which I thought was a better choice for children). He chose the public hotsprings bath filled with old people and was not allowed to jump and splash around. I thought he would have hated the experience, but he loved it. He sat in the hot pool listening to old uncles chatting away, people watched and sipped green tea for two hours! What an old soul!

Practical tips for traveling with children

Before you pounce on the next travel deal to plan your own “holi-date”, here are some practical tips that will help you along:

1. Age appropriate

Our children are at the age where they can walk, talk, is curious about their surroundings and don’t need a long checklist of things just to survive. They are also at the age where attractions make sense to them (eg. zoo, theme parks, etc). In short, I will probably not go on a “holi-date” with my baby and wait till he/she is a little older – but I’d gladly take them on a holiday! The purpose of both is quite different.

2. Fly early

Catch an early morning flight because when children wake up, they are ready to go! Morning flights are also usually less crowded and you reach the destination in the day which makes it easier to get around and navigate yourself in a new place.

3. Pack light

Especially if you’re traveling with young children, they cannot help you with larger bags and you don’t want to be in a frenzy waiting for multiple luggages to arrive on the belt while taking care of your child. Pack only what you absolutely need – swap strollers for carriers and bags with rollers are easier to get around.

4. Bring some meds

When traveling with children, you want to be always prepared to combat any bug or treat wounds. Essential medicine include paracetamol, antihistamines and small first aid kit. I also always carry some multivitamins or vitamin C for them to boost their immune system.

5. Encourage them to keep a travel journal

S kept a travel journal of his trip to Taiwan. He scribbled the different places we went to, foods we tried and things we saw. He doodled what he saw and stuck entrance tickets and stickers in it. He absolutely treasures his journal (which is nothing fancy, just a few pages of A4 paper stapled together with brown cover and self-decorated cover) – but this will be in his library of memories way into his adulthood.

6. Do some pre-trip learning

Read up, watch videos and talk about the place you will be going with your child. It helps create a sense of excitement and anticipation before the travel.

7. Take your time

Remember, it’s a holiday between you and your child. Give yourself enough buffer at the airport, getting around, having a meal or sightseeing. Young children love to explore and they don’t care about time. Older children perhaps like doing things that is not your usually fancy – but giving them time means and doing it together allows you to appreciate the world through their eyes. Terence was with E at a park and he thought a walk through was enough, but E decided to pick leaves, gawk at birds, pick up stones and wander around. Terence instinctively got the cue to slow down, enjoy nature and taught her about the tortoises and ducks in the pond and the different birds they saw. 

 

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Malaysia: What I hope others knew

As work takes me to the interiors of Sabah every week, I’m given the privilege to reflect and experience two worlds – the urban life in Kota Kinabalu and the…

As work takes me to the interiors of Sabah every week, I’m given the privilege to reflect and experience two worlds – the urban life in Kota Kinabalu and the rural life in Kota Marudu and Kudat, that’s the tip of Borneo if you were wondering. My family and I travel two to three hours to get to these places, bunk in a hostel with bare basic amenities (fan, cold shower and toilets that don’t flush properly) and spend a few days there building relationships and mentoring youth and children.

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Kota Marudu, the second ‘rice bowl’ of Sabah after Kota Belud. Paddy fields aplenty!

As a West Malaysian, I spent most of my life living in urban Petaling Jaya where houses are neatly lined, where cars rule the road and where shopping malls sprout like fresh shoots. I was driven to school by my parents and I barely had to use any public transport until I started working. I enjoyed eating out and trying new food joints and never had to worry about my next meal. As a child I enjoyed family holidays abroad, as a teenager I had the opportunity to study overseas and as a young adult, I had enough savings to feed my wanderlust occasionally.

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One of the many hidden beaches near Kudat

While I grew up in this environment, I was never sheltered from the world beyond mine. I was actively participating in community work in remote areas, going to places where the need is undeniable and where basic necessities are not commonly met. These short trips gave me a glimpse into the rural life – the life where many urbanites don’t even know of or have experienced. And because urbanites have not seen or experienced it, it’s hard to empathise or even tell others about it.

As I travel to the village every week with my husband, my almost-three-year-old son and a baby in my belly, I’m reminded of how great a privilege we have to see and experience Malaysia as a whole and not just Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya or the big cities. It helps me to appreciate our country for what she has to offer, not just the polished side and to connect with the very people that makes this nation a multi-cultural wonder. Did you know that Sabah has over 20 ethnic groups and Sarawak over 40 ethnic groups? What incredible diversity this country has!

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Pure joy! Playing with kampung children despite the sweltering evening heat.

So as we travel weekly into the interiors and sometimes off the beaten path to explore Sabah’s hidden treasures, I hope to pass these lessons on to my children:

  • That we are birthed in a country for a reason. We are Malaysians for a purpose, find out what it is and stop looking outward for a better life, a fatter paycheck or an easy way out.
  • There will be people that have it better than us, but there are a lot more people that have it worst of – learn to appreciate what is given to us and never complain until you have tried hard enough to find a solution.
  • There is beauty in the simple life. The greatest things in life are not things.
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Beauty in the interiors – you don’t have to look hard.

As embarrassing as it sounds, I feel that I know very little about East Malaysia (Sabah & Sarawak) – her different indigenous cultures, way of life, language and hidden paths. This has challenged my adventurous spirit to get on it and to see more. As an avid traveler, I hope to pass these thoughts on to other travelers:

  • Explore your own country at some point in life because the journey can be a real reflection of you as a citizen.
  • Where possible, travel independently – go off the beaten track into narrow alleys and dust roads. There you will see the places for what it is; exposed, as is and authentic.
  • If you’re only used to only traveling in luxury or five-star comforts, take up the challenge of going for a more rugged option. It will change your perspective on life and allow you a glimpse outside your bubble.
  • If you are traveling with children, it is your responsibility to give them the opportunity to peer into the lens of a bigger world out there. Take them on a volunteering trip or a community development program.
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Kampung children playing traditional gasing (tops)

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Saying Hello At The Asian Women Empowerment (AWE) Conference

There are conferences all around the world that collectively bring people of like mind together – TED Talks for those who seek ideas, inspiration and new genius, Awesomeness Fest for…

There are conferences all around the world that collectively bring people of like mind together – TED Talks for those who seek ideas, inspiration and new genius, Awesomeness Fest for world changers and innovators, TBC Asia for passionate travel bloggers in Asia and TBEX for savvy social media travel professionals – the list goes on, and on. When I heard of the Asian Women Empowerment (AWE) conference in 2013, I was a little skeptical at first. Not another one off pump-it-up, you-can-do-it, feel good conference, I thought. But since it was in Kuala Lumpur and I had no plans for that weekend, I decided to pop in and registered for the conference. I wanted to drown the skeptic in me and truth to be told, I wanted some me time as I had just become a mom six months prior – so a breather at a women’s event sounded like fun!

Since the first AWE in 2013, in Kuala Lumpur, I’ve been hooked and I found myself registering for the second conference in Kota Kinabalu last year. 2015 would make it the third year running and network of people have grown stronger, AWE Alumni’s are now friends instead of acquaintances and most significant of all, AWE has not lost its special authentic touch to connect and empower. More of what makes AWE so special?

  1. It’s a small conference born out of a vision to empower women the same way Juno Kim of Runaway Juno was empowered to take a daring step out of the career world into the world of travel. You can feel the heart and soul of Juno throughout the conference – it’s nothing like another event based, sponsor-centric, soulless mega-conference.
  2. The people! I made friends there that I continue to keep to this day thanks to Facebook and Twitter. I reckon because the event is so intimate, we end up befriending almost everyone and some special ones stay on as friends event after.
  3. The conference is down-to-earth and relatable – while it is fantastic and valuable listening to high-flying CEOs and professors speak, there is a connection that can only be made with peer exchange and shared experiences. At AWE, successful entrepreneurs, budding writers, and promising trendsetters share their success stories, but they also share the struggles involved in the journey. I have been incredibly inspired by people like Lois Yasay of We Are Sole Sisters,  Nila Tanzil of Taman Bacaan Pelangi, Caroline Nguyen Ticarro-Parker of Catalyst Foundation, Jeannie Mark of Nomadic Chick, Amalla Vesta Widaranti of Swanky Traveler and of course, Juno!

Sadly, I won’t be attending this year’s AWE as my schedule is packed. A couple of months back, Juno asked if I would like to shoot a short video to say hello to the participants. I was delighted and thought hard and long about what I wanted to say in a few short minutes. The past year and half have been a steep learning curve for me with many exciting life changes and daring leap. I’ve gleaned so much in this short time and sometimes I wonder if I’ve gained a few extra strands of grey hair as signs of added wisdom! 🙂

P/s: There is a short appearance of a very special little boy named Seth in the video. Enjoy!

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LIFE Questions I Ask When I’m Traveling

For me, travel is a big part of my life. I make time to travel, I save to travel, I work hard to make travel a constant part of my…

For me, travel is a big part of my life. I make time to travel, I save to travel, I work hard to make travel a constant part of my life not because I’m an idealistic dreamer or a vagabond of sorts, but because it enriches my life.

Every time I go on a trip, I feel a surge of excitement, a longing anticipation and quite literally butterflies in my stomach. I’m not referring to just the long extended trips to New Zealand, South Africa or to Europe, but those short trips to neighbouring states or provinces or even exploring my own backyard.

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Every time I embark on a new adventure, I bring with me a sense of curiosity, a new wave of wonder and a greater sense of appreciate for PEOPLE – different cultures, varied ways of living and delicate social fabrics that make each people group unique and for PLACES – changing landscapes, awe-inspiring views and a varied scenery. Places always reinforce my appreciation and justifies my awe for the Creator who made them all.

So, many times, I purposely and intentionally disconnect myself from social media just to appreciate the moment. It’s okay if I don’t get the perfect Instagram shot or the ‘in-the-moment’ Facebook video because I’m on journey of growth. When I travel, I’m observing, learning, pondering, penning and hence I’m growing.

I’m a better person for the travels I’ve done and will be a better person for the future travels that I’d be doing. I’m on a mission every trip, with an aim to GAIN and to GROW.

I’ve scribbled some questions that I reflect on while I’m on the road. I don’t necessarily answer all of them on every trip, but they are at the back of my mind. And for different times and seasons in my life, these questions produce poignant answers. I’m sharing it for the first time here:

  • What am I more appreciative of? What matters most to me?

  • What is happiness? What can I learn from the smiles I see around me?

  • What can money not buy?

  • What is the difference between living and existing?

  • If God made the whole earth and I’m seeing only a fraction of it – there must be more, right? I want to see it! Where next?

  • If not now, then when?

  • Are there things that I can simplify so that my life can be more simple? Am I holding on to something that I need to let go of?

  • When was the last time I stepped out of my comfort zone?

  • What do I have in common with the different people & cultures that I see? Can I celebrate our similarities and appreciate our differences that make this world so unique?

  • Life is sometimes unfair (some have it easy, others have it harder) – but what do I make of it?

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