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Category: Thoughts

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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