Day 744 | December 9, 2016 | Hong Kong Happy

The intent was to bring the kids where they will need to read and speak some Mandarin -- and to have a squealing good time at Disneyland. We met objective #2, but quickly realized English/Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong is not really the right place for objective #1.

I had an amazing time seeing my girls connect with M, and M caring for my little loves. It's been a long journey to get to this point, and it felt like two huge parts of my universe coming together, a magical big bang of sorts. It was also the first trip with the kids where I didn't have to plan every detail, because M worked out most of it for us, including the Kingdom Club at Disneyland Hotel which gave us exclusive access to Minnie and Mickey in the privacy of the Kingdom Club room.

Memorable trip highlights for the family:

1) Rides and parade in Hong Kong Disneyland Park, especially the Hyperspace Mountain. Even little Red went along for the ride, and I could feel my heart jumping against my ribcage with every wild turn, worried that her small frame would get thrown off into the darkness. I didn't have any room to be scared for myself!

2) Stay in Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel Kingdom Club Room! Exclusive perks include supervised arts and crafts for kids, unlimited cookies and nibbles, sunset wine or beer for the parents, and bedtime story for the kids in the Kingdom Club Lounge. We also loved being visited by mascots in the lounge and over breakfast. Happily skipped the lines to get snuggles from mascots in the park, because we knew the mascots would be coming to us instead. Disneyland Hotel also has a lovely heated indoor swimming pool suited for the cold weather, and with life jackets for kids. Was a challenge getting kids and grown-ups out of there.

3) Mott32. Located at the basement of Standard Chartered Bank building, we had a yummy duck, dim sum and roast pork dinner in a beautifully designed space. Not a single morsel was wasted, and I loved the look on Red's face as the roast duck was being served.

4) Hong Kong Signature experiences. Victoria Peak Tram and chilling at the peak while enjoying the views was an easy sell, even though the lines were long getting into the tram. Hong Kong used to be a fishing port, and the Dukling is a traditional boat where fishermen would live and work. Convinced the brigade to go on a Dukling Junk Boat cruise -- and it ended up a tad catastrophic as we were all freezing and underdressed for the windchill, especially at night. Kids were being diplomatic when they qualified that the cruise would have been lovely in Singapore weather. We also took leisurely walks and playtime around Tsim Sha Tsui and Yau Ma Tei where they have local cafes and book shops, and Kowloon Park with playgrounds and an aviary.

Let the images tell the story...
Too cozy!
Morning readings
Untangling!

Day 743 | September 1, 2017 | Mamang

Red caught Mamang's playful energy in this snap. Her smile, the glint in her eye
A little over three years ago, one of my proudest endeavors was to reconnect and rediscover my paternal family. Central to that narrative is Mamang, my paternal grandmother.

When I started reaching out to family in Zamboanga, I didn’t know what to expect. It had been 26 years since I last saw the family. With the reverberating drama from my parents’ divorce, I wasn’t certain how welcome I would be. Previous attempts to reach out to each other ended up as tales of missed connections. I’ve grown up not expecting much of anything, and always ready to move on, a defence mechanism, a protective shell that had served me well. I told myself, if I wasn’t welcome, I would have been happy enough to drive by the homes we used to live in, and simply take photos to bring home to my kids -- not very different from the tourist snaps I share with them from my other trips.

First contact was through a phone call. While working in Manila, I received a call from an unknown number. It was Mamang, calling from Zamboanga. She asked me how I had been, confirmed the details of my trip, inquired why I’d be staying for only a few days, and assured me that they were looking forward to see me. She sounded pleased from hearing that I’d done reasonably well in life, and I loved the singsong way she spoke. She urged me not to waste money, and simply stay with her instead. I was too afraid to accept, and felt tears and a childlike sense of wonder after we dropped the line. Had to catch my breath with a walk around the office grounds. Time blurred and I was a 5-year old child again. The hope that I could share my paternal family with my kids grew in my heart. We were not going to be outsiders looking in. We’d be part of the photograph, part of a story that's been missing in my life for so long.

day 742 | December 17, 2016 | Fat Duck Experience


An Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-Science-Expo meal. A once in a lifetime experience, as I feel guilty parting with that much money for a meal, thinking that if I were in my hometown, could have fed a whole town instead. It delivered as promised, indulgent, silly food, and a shared experience with lovely company. Was getting drunk with the generous wine pairing (and had whiskey at The Hinds Head beforehand). Floating pillows, and magic tricks, Fat Duck made time stand still for us.

Let the images tell the story...



day 737 | March 17, 2016 | Magical Myanmar

A backpacking trip with my girls, soaking up Yangon and Bagan. I didn't check if a visa was required for Myanmar, and we ended up missing our initial flight because they refused to let us board. This also meant cutting the trip 2 days shorter than intended.

Despite the shortened trip and the mad rush schedule I rejigged, they held up pretty well. As a post-trip ritual, the kids and I talk about what we liked and disliked about the trip. They loved our stay at Ostello Bello in New Bagan, especially the cozy corners for chill-out and conversations. They loved the horse cart ride around Old Bagan, and being fanned by Uncle Min while their mom ran around to take photos. They enjoyed seeing the Pagodas at night through the bus journey. They were gleeful for pooltime, despite stick insects making them scream a few times, and crows stealing their food. And they enjoyed talking to their animal spirits in ShweDagon Pagoda and in Ananda Temple, pausing and praying in every stop where the day of their birth is written. They didn't enjoy walking under the dry dusty heat of Old Bagan. In all honesty, I didn't either, but I loved how they persevered and were willing to negotiate pauses.

It's clear it's not their most favorite trip with me, but I must say it is one of mine with them. They wow-ed me -- the way they responded to travel visa hijinks with reassuring pats and happy energies. The way they endured 10-hour night bus journeys to and from Bagan without complaint, waking up and independently gathering their things so we can find our way to hotels at 5am. The funny observations and the challenging questions we worked on answering together. Using Burmese phrases every chance they could get, and loving the pleasantly surprised energies from folks they met. The way they constantly remind me how magical it is to simply sit in stillness and soulfulness, telling stories and genuinely connecting.

We will come back for motorcycle adventures ("Mommy, how come they are on motorcycles and we are walking?"), for the Hot Air Balloon experience once Red meets minimum age of 8 years old, and for more zen time, discovering the world and each other.

Let the images tell the rest of the story. Had a hard time culling down -- so much goodness.
Excited energy
Filling in her own form! :)

day 741 | August 15, 2016 | Mount Bromo

Braved the narrow walk to the edge for a contemplative one with nature snap. Thankfully, survived it!
Another adventure worth waking up super early for. After freezing showers in our hostel around 4am, we packed ourselves into 4x4s to travel the dark path to Gunung Penanjakan. Being driven in the dark and through thick clouds at a mad pace, with very little visibility, made me fear for our lives. I had imagined we would drive into a deadly cliff edge several times. Would have been a dramatic backdrop to die in, tangled in earth and greens, bathed in starlight and lava -- Even through the windows of the 4x4, I could see innumerable stars, ancient light so far apart, yet seemingly sitting so close together. At that moment, I knew I was going to Bromo again, for the sole purpose of capturing star trails and the milky way.

We waited for the sun to rise over Bear mountain, the Sea of Sand, Mount Batok, Mount Bromo, and far behind, smoking puffs of smoke every so often, Gunung Semeru, the highest and most active volcano in Java. After one of the loveliest sunrises I've seen, we made our way down to the Sea of Sand to walk 3-4 kms to the base of Mount Bromo. There were horse handlers on the ready, but we chose to walk and enjoy the landscape at a slower pace. Having survived Ijen the day before, and fresh from a gorgeous sunrise, we were feeling fairly invincible. The steep climb up a flight of 253 steps was the trickiest part for me, with mud lining the steps, a flood of people jostling beside you, and narrow steps, requiring that much effort and care not to slip down. Once up the crater edge and looking into the whirling smoke inside the mouth of the volcano, hardship is forgotten and all is well again. Every effort, every struggle is rewarded with something worthwhile, stunning, and unforgettable.

Let the images tell the story...
View from Bromo Crater Edge
Stars from Gunung Penanjakan

day 740 | August 14, 2016 | Ijen Crater Lake Trek

In the darkness, under the rain, wet and shivering, struggling to work with my photography equipment while navigating slippery slopes and muddy rocks. It must have been at least 3 hours of what felt like blindly trekking, only knowing the mud in front of you made visible by headlamps. As we approached the area where we expected the blue flame, sulfuric gas escaping the depths of earth to ignite with air, we began to worry we would see nothing. Rain dims the flame, washes it away, we were told. Rain kept on pouring down, drenching jackets underneath flimsy raincoats, soaking cold into bones, and rendering eyes and camera clumsier in the darkness. All I could see was darkness and smoke, all I felt were cold raindrops, and my lungs fought against the thick volcanic fumes. But we were luckier than most. Despite the rain, blue flame danced for us, hiding behind sulfuric clouds, then coming out for a while to dance again. Here is another place where nature held us enthralled by its magic. 

After watching the flame and failing to photograph it, exhaustion weighed heavy on my body. We had seen blue flame, tick the box, time to move on. It was then that S insisted that we wait for sunrise and move further inwards to see the lake. And he moved forward as if he didn't feel rain, or cold, or weary, like the rest of us human beings. There was very little shelter to wait in the caldera. Just a makeshift tent, which was already occupied by several people. With all the smoke and rainclouds, I was doubtful there would even be a sunrise. I sought warm and comfortable as soon as possible. Took a few minutes to regain myself, and rejoined the group just as the light slowly revealed the inspiration I needed to soldier on. In daylight, I saw all the details I had missed. The vibrant yellow hues of sulfur, the shades of red and brown on the rocks, the vibrant green of the hydrochloric acid lake, and the dramatic landscape before us. So thankful the group decided to stay. I would have turned back sooner and missed the point of the journey.  

As the beauty unfolded itself in front of us, there was a growing awareness that perhaps if I had seen the path on the way to the blue flame and the lake, I might not have made it, intimidated by the scale, the height, the hurdles. But because I couldn't see anything around us as we marched on, I simply focused on the next couple of steps ahead. Leaving the caldera and backtracking where we came from, every angle, view, and detail was a revelation. It felt new and familiar, and incredibly satisfying that with a combination of a big ambitious goal, and small focused steps, we made it all that way.

My images don't do this place sufficient justice. Take a peek here on what it must look like when the sky is clear. :)

"Sometimes you got to get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side..." 
- The Good Dinosaur 

day 736 | July 29, 2016 | Restaurant ANDRE

Octaphilosophy Menu for the day
This restaurant has been on my list for a long while now, even before the Michelin Stars were awarded. So when a friend of mine buzzed that she was flying to Singapore, and specifically focusing on Restaurant Andre, I checked the price list, checked my bank account,  reshuffled by dining budget, and responded with a hearty "YESSSSS!" to weekday lunch.

I felt the pinch in my wallet, but by golly, no regrets. Thoroughly enjoyed the experience, all the little details, and perhaps the extra attentiveness (and extra alcohol) we got because of my companion. One of the best dates ever, for this year, at least. :)

Won't muddle it with words. Let the images and the food tell the story. :) Capturing happy tummy memories to fondly look back on.
Lovely dining area 
Their wine list is a book!!! :) So beautiful

day 739 | May 28, 2016 | Bali Surf

View from El Kabron
Surprised myself this trip. First surf adventure, not knowing how to swim, fighting with the unrelenting waves, deeply breathing, and reassuring myself this is not the way I will die.  There were several supportive Rip Curl instructors hawkishly watching, and I knew M and M were surfing around. While there were several moments along the way when my feet couldn't feel the sand, we didn't go beyond chin-deep waters. These were things that were reassuring to know.

Survived, though I was terrified and frustrated. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, eh? Managed to stand on the little waves for a fraction of a second, enough for the photographer to get a few encouraging snaps. Those little wins were like a quick recharge of boundless energy. A second standing up, conquering fear, and flowing with board on waves, provided fuel and inspiration to weather through the dozens of falls and fumbles in between. Immensely fun, especially if you prepare for scratches and bruises.

Let me do more planks and warriors, finally learn some basic swim techniques, and build more water confidence. And one day in 2017, I'm going to ride reasonably-sized waves with some semblance of grace. And so it is written.
Trying to stand, Hesitation 




Looking down from Uluwatu
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