day 734 | February 29, 2016 | Maldives

 
Go to Maldives as a solo trip, certainly I must have gone crazy, a few friends asserted. Space to breathe and recalibrate, gather stories and inspiration, and take my cues from the reset button in the sky. Life led by twilight and simple hungers.

There was a boy looking for love, a hotelier who’s moved around the world. They say don’t hop into strange people’s cars, but he was so earnest, how could I not. He drove around Hulhumale, retelling stories of love found and lost, and seeking advice on relocating to the Philippines as he’s found a woman he is willing to risk for. Instead of playing local Maldivian songs on the radio, he would play Filipino songs, and ask me what they meant. He would sing along lines he knew. They are all love songs. He had been burned before, an ex-wife who refuses to leave London, an ex-lover who milked him for all he was worth financially. I shared my own misadventures, and he smiled at my jaded storytelling. Follow your heart, he encourages. This love thing, he confesses, is something he will always feel compelled to try again.

She, from Kosovo, has hiked around Nepal, extensively travelled around India, and is asking whether the summit at Kota Kinabalu has been reopened. He, from Netherlands, is a Europhile, talking about ski trips in fancy Swiss resorts, and sailing adventures in the Mediterranean. Plenty of good things to say about Croatia and Coastal Spain. I estimate they are in their sixties. There is an easy camaraderie, and they are clearly together, but there's a separateness to them as well, the disparity in their stories, that I felt I was with two singles. They are a new couple, exploring and learning about each other, both previously married, with grown grandchildren she insists look about my age. 

Dancing under raindrops, with wind and waves as our soundtrack. There was a beautiful young couple, dancing the night away. It was her that caught my eye first, all lithe and tanned and lovely. He couldn’t stop touching her, kissing her neck, his hands glued to her hips, the other sliding up and down her arms. She found ways and means to rub against him, sidle up to him every chance she could get. All smiley and giggly, and diabetes-inducing in their sugar sweet high. Enjoyed their energy, and envied it too. This is the sort of couple you’ll tell off to get a room, but not really, because while they made you ridiculously envious, they also injected a certain energy into the dance floor.

A mature couple, lady on the ground crying in a drunken stupor. She couldn’t pick herself up from the side of the pool, right at the edge of the bar. And her partner, holding hair away from her face, and gently talking to ease her into calm. She looked way heavier than him, and I could see him ponder his options, wanting to carry her away, but knowing they’ll likely both get hurt if he did so. So he talked, and soothed, for what felt like hours, crouched on the ground by the poolside, holding hair and wiping away tears. It must not have been comfortable, cold cement, and vomit, and tears. But he stayed, calm despite her storm. Then, when she was ready, they hobbled together, him supporting her, into the privacy of their room.

"When you wake up... I'll be a story in your head. But that's okay. We're all stories, in the end...just make it a good one, eh? Because it was. It was the best."
- Dr. Who

Beyond observed stories, my personal highlight was struggling against waves and swimming with sharks. Enviously peered at divers below, their tank bubbles floating up beside me, wondering if I’ll ever get to dive again. I didn't have the confidence to dive alone. Sometimes, you let go, and realize only later that untangling takes more time than simply loosening one's fingers.

Centara Ras was beautiful, and from welcome to farewells, a wonderful experience. The only complaint I would have is an all-inclusive package food and alcohol, which didn’t include coconuts! How can coconuts NOT be included? Even paradise has a wrinkle. 

day 733 | February 13, 2016 | AppJamming - A Coding Workshop

I've been curious about First Code Academy's coding (and robotics!) workshops for more than a year now, since I started looking at programming schools for my younger brother. While I was extremely keen on it, it is a substantial time and financial commitment on an already loaded plate.

---
Next session of AppJamming is on 16 April 2016, Sunday
2 Hour workshop tailored for 9 - 11 year olds (1pm - 3pm)
SGD60.00
---

When I was informed of this opportunity for a 2-hour workshop for kids, I jumped on it. Booked and paid before getting alignment from Roo and Red. Intent was to give both of them a flavor, some familiarity, and explore if they would be willing to commit more to learning code. Roo's already doing 3 sessions of supplementary Mandarin on top of 2 sessions of Ballet on a weekly basis. And we love our lazy hammock and skateboard chill outs. If we wanted things to work out, she needed to be fully committed and onboard.

day 732 | January 1, 2016 | The Simplest of Days

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, and another year has passed. Still ever thankful for the simplest things, and so lucky that I have two little angels who help reconnect me back to earth, the universe, my inner child, and the grown-up I aspire to be.

Last year has been about re-writing my personal mythology, actively working through fears, and being unashamed of my scars. It's spending time with my dad, his gentle wife, and my half-siblings. It's my mom reconnecting back to a self she has missed, and my younger brother growing up. It's friends who inspire with their choices, their struggles, and their stories, beautiful human beings. It's a conscious uncoupling that overflows with kindness and support despite all. It's adventures and exploration in new and familiar places with sweaty fingers in a firm accepting hold. It's precious time being a kid with the kids, dreaming awake, head in the clouds, barefoot, laughing at the silliest things, face up to soak rain or sunshine, whatever the sky is willing to provide. Nothing fancy, just the simplest of days, regardless of where I am, when play is love.

"And I learned what is obvious to a child.
That life is simply a collection of little lives, 
each lived one day at a time.
That each day should be spent
finding beauty in flowers and poetry and talking to animals.
That a day spent with dreaming and sunsets and refreshing breezes
cannot be bettered.
But most of all,
I learned that life is about sitting on benches
next to ancient creeks
with my hand on her knee
and sometimes, 
on good days,
for falling in love."
- Nicholas Sparks

day 727 | December 7, 2015 | Willing Hearts

All set for volunteer work :)
And we were back again, trying to stick to a family commitment of volunteering with Willing Hearts once a quarter, and continue to get the little ones exposed to a community that gives.

This time around, the volunteer coordinator was not comfortable with letting the kids handle knives. We were too late for the egg cooking, after spending close to half an hour looking for Red's misplaced MRT card. Willing Hearts receives donations from various organizations. Some of these are food donations from grocers, especially some of the products no longer deemed saleable. So we took on the task of sorting potatoes. It sounded simple enough, except when fungi and rotten bits were involved.
Good rules!
Roo and Red struggled with the smell of rotting things, and I was almost worried they would walk out on me. I have a high tolerance for yucky things, and had to admit some of the pieces were truly disgusting. But among the moist, rotten bits, were potatoes which were still good for cooking and eating. And ultimately, that was the job -- to soldier on through the muck to find the gems that could help feed other people.

day 728 | November 25, 2015 | Barefoot College

"Live simply, so that others may simply live." Gandhi

It was the TED Talk that captured my heart and imagination, an inspiration on how I would like to grow as a human being, and how I'd like to raise my girls. Wasn't until closer to the date of our Northern India trip when I realized that Barefoot College in Tilonia, a Gandhi-inspired community, sat right between Pushkar and Jaipur. Was not about to miss the opportunity to see it first-hand, and so thankful that Nandlal, Barefoot College's visitor coordinator welcomed us so readily despite our surprise visit.


Day 729 | November 24, 2015 | Pushkar, India

Moonset
Sitting on a sofa in a veranda facing Pushkar lake, a thick blanket keeping me warm from the 4am chill, I could feel the devotees' chants electrifying the air, like thousands of little wings on your skin, a swarm of bees. I hadn't been able to sleep. The indistinguishable prayers haunted the edge of my consciousness. So instead, decided to embrace the wakefulness to soak it all up. People were going into the lake, lighting candles, and making offerings to their gods, primarily the Trimurti. Behind the row of ghats sat the moon, almost full, resplendent in orange. Watched as the moon slowly disappeared from the horizon, and the colours of morning took over, and listened to the ebb and flow of articulated hopes.

Pushkar is one of the oldest cities in India, among the sacred pilgrimage sites for devout Hindus. Around the lake, there are 52 ghats where pilgrims can descend to bathe in holy water. I understand what drives people to pilgrimage, though I am self-professed areligious. The seeking of a higher energy you're struggling to sustain on your own. To recover your "muchness" after life has thrown many things your way, both bad and good. This place is like a charging dock -- reconnected to earth and many gods, disconnected from real life, to be able to look at life and self from a different vantage point. Surrendered, and offered a humble gift to the universe. Clean heart, fervent wishes, the best of intentions, and a commitment to authenticity in words and actions. And it's a cosmic coincidence, that the consistent message I received was to simply "trust and let go."

India is not for the soft. It is hard edges and starkness that overwhelms. But that doesn't mean it's core is not delicate. In this place, there is so much to hope for. Moksha and peace. A deficit in sleep, perhaps, but twilight memories that will sustain.

We were there towards the tail-end of Pushkar Fair, and saw a place that usually only has about 20,000 residents packed with more than 100,000 pilgrims and revellers. Added into the list of places I will definitely go back to, next time when the fair is not going on. Here are some of my images from Pushkar -- Let them tell the story...

day 734 | November 22, 2015 | Pink Rajasthan

Jaipur has imprinted itself on senses. Cool winter air contrasted with sunlit explorations, lovely weather for walks up hill forts and beautiful palaces. The rich texture of lassi served in a handmade claypot cup from a hole in the wall shop off MI Road. That first sip of sweet candy coffee in Jaigarth Fort after a morning hike. The simple perfection of a thaali with Naan, Aloo Gobi, Palaak Paneer, and Dal, topped off with Kheer and Kulfi. Dining under the stars like a rajput in Amber Fort, and trying local classics like Laal Maas, and the softest goat meat I've ever tasted.

So many things yet to see, and come back to -- a few of which are Blue Jodhpur, Brown Jaisalmer, and White Udaipur. I do feel like I missed out on some of the stories, and will need to do more readings. But alas, the list grows longer.

Let the photos tell stories...
View from Jaigarth
View from our room

day 727 | October 28, 2015 | Otter Totter

Roo called to inform me that Otter had passed away. I thought she was joking. After all, Otter was perfectly fine when we left for work that morning. I didn't even realize I was crying, until someone passing by the office pantry where I had walked to take the call asked me if I was ok. As soon as my meetings ended, skipped everything else, and ran back home to check on my wee ones and my bunny. True enough, Otter was lying in his cage, covered in Red's old shirt, no sign of life. Breath, playfulness, starlit eyes shiny against black fur, all gone. It's strange and frustrating how loss enables us to truly appreciate what we had, and what we still have.
"People have forgotten this truth," the fox said. "But you mustn't forget it. You become responsible forever for what you've tamed..." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
I was heavily pregnant with Red when I met Otter for the first time at a friend's home in Kuala Lumpur. My friend, Lady L, was looking a for a home for him. The shiniest black fur, playful intelligent eyes, and hop hop hopping along confidently like a little boss despite his young age. As soon as we met, I was in love. A look, then a touch of his soft fur, and I was done for. The moment I exclaimed 'Otter' as if greeting an old friend, W knew we were going to have to bring him home with us.

Wept as I stroked him for the last time, saying thanks and goodbye. The kids stood by as I carried his body delicately into a box, to prepare him for cremation. He left so abruptly, likely from a haze-induced lung infection that had weakened him over time. During dinner, the kids and I were telling Otter stories to each other, celebrating the 5+ years he spent with us. This is the kids' first real brush with death that they will both remember, and as expected, it has hit Roo more than Red. Before they slept, the kids asked to print photos of Otter, and proceeded to post them all over our home.

Once the kids were asleep, W accompanied me to bring Otter's body for cremation, and there was something beautiful about connecting over shared grief and guilt. It felt like well and truly an end of a chapter. Stepping back, there is a recognition that funeral ceremonies are truly for the living -- to acknowledge, remember, say goodbye, and seek support. There will be more questions from the little ones, about loss, life, death, and afterlife, but there will also be many fondly shared Otter stories.
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