Amritsar, India

 

​Namaste India! Did you know that India is the world’s 2nd largest country by population (1st being China), and 7th largest by land mass?
Last September, I finally visited India.
I say ‘finally’ because I’ve heard so much about India and the cultural explosion and the beauty amidst the chaos and the dust and the smoke
read about the history of South Asia in my module – before Pakistan and Bangladesh and the Gandhi Salt March
about the sacred cows, elephants, about the caste system
about global population and the rising megacities
about the call centres and the rising middle class in New Delhi
and speaking of Delhi, the glaring attention surrounding the violence against women

In light of the September holidays, I leapt on the chance of a flight promo to Amritsar and decided about a month before, my India holiday plans. It was a pretty intense and stressful period and I looked forward to venturing out by myself. I very much needed that time and space, that gap for myself. Stripped of all obligations to do anything. I could sit on a moving vehicle all day and read, while moving purposefully to another place



While I questioned myself slightly as usual before my trip, I was honestly not particularly nervous, because I knew that Amritsar was some distance from Delhi, had a different demographic, was in a Holy City (I was likely to sleep in the Golden Temple, the holiest place in Amritsar!), and I had hosts waiting for me. And Dharamsala was where the Dalai Lama resided, and known to be a really safe place from various hardcopy Lonely Planets and online sources. So I was pretty confident, and all went well indeed 🙂





i was slightly fascinated at the cultural integration into what i felt was western packaging (or maybe not, it’s a globalised world now)

Amritsar. A city in the Indian state of Punjab, it was less than 2 hours away from Pakistan, and I toyed with the idea of crossing over to Lahore, its nearest city. A brief Google search and the difficulty in visa (LOI, etc), articles on discomforting news and time constraints quickly erased the thought. 



I learnt that the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in Sikhism, was one that many visitors from all other parts of India came to visit.

I was pleasantly surprised that many women and men were coming up to me requesting for selfies, handing me their babies to carry to take a picture with against the Golden Temple. Hahaha

But it was through these encounters that I learnt that for them it was such an honour to be here, and to make this visit from miles away, from all the other parts of India and even the Sikhs living in the rest of the world. And here I was, almost too easily. How lucky!

My dear hosts. Rakesh just texted me this morning, actually. Intelligent, wealthy family with a family business in the textile industry. And 2 servants who did not speak English, who helped to pick up my cups and served me my food. I use the word ‘serve’ because it does feel that way. Or at least that’s what Rakesh phrases it to me – ‘feel free to tell the servants what you need’. I remember the initial discomfort with the word ‘servant’, it is somewhat unfamiliar because we use the term ‘maid’, ‘domestic helper’ in Singapore. Perhaps it is because of the non-native tongue, the use of the word ‘servant’ does come with some (unintended) uncomfortable connotations (to me, a native speaker of English). ‘Servant’ sounds harsh, and belittling, but I suppose that’s just me (or realities).
It was interesting observing the dynamics between the servants and my host, because… in Singapore our domestic helpers are often of another nationality. I am just wondering – with no clear view in mind – would it be different if our domestic helpers / maids were Singaporeans?
How does it feel, to have a local be your servant? Does this distinction in nationality erect a comfortably alien barrier between us and our ‘domestic helpers’?

shopkeeper whom i bought punjabi pants from, who has visited Singapore twice

interesting modes of transportation

A (judgemental, privileged) thought:


I don’t know why it surprises me, but when I see how similar these shops look like compared to the ones I’ve seen in parts of rural Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and South America, I’m surprised. The structures are the same, the poor lighting, the style. Save for the language on the signs, they’re the same. I don’t know why it surprises me. I suppose I’m just wondering how these ideas translate miles and miles and continents away. The look of the Developing Countries. The Rural parts.

Thank you!  धन्यवाद

🙂

 

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there was nothing but blue; suspended in time – PADI Advanced Diving in Tioman, Malaysia

PADI advanced diving

 

 



Dive #5: tiger reef. 33m. 20 mins.


giant stride. we went down. the currents swept us as we held on the line. strong choppy waves for awhile. it felt deep, or maybe i did not pump my bcd properly. continued to be swept. tank cradle. 
we hugged our legs around the tank of the person in front of us.


one, two, three, descend. down we went.


it felt deep, for sure. down, down, down.clear ears, clear ears, clear ears. i was still grabbing daniel. he was above. he slapped my legs. i let go. 


i could see nothing in front of me. was i going up or going down? how fast was i going down? there was nothing in front of me except a canvas of blue. only blue. 
that was probably one of the most panic-inducing blank space of blue ever. 



it is like hanging frozen in time, stuck. you are nowhere, in another dimension perhaps. there is nothing around you. you are moving but you’re not quite sure where, because there is nothing around you. no sense of time, no sense of distance, no sense of space. 


my head felt heavy. i could feel the depth. i saw a pair of yellow fins from the corner of my eyes. this means there was someone behind me i wanted to turn but decided not to, in case this wrestle of movement cause that person to detach him/herself from me. 


suddenly we landed. i guess we reached the sea floor. everything was so slow-mo. everything was so, so slow. i could feel the depth of the waters because of how slow everything seemed to be. 
everything was mo v i n  g    s        o              s         l            o            w          l                  y 



finally in the midst of my confusion and anxiety i saw daniel and he gripped my hand and frankly, i have never felt so comforted by another human’s grip
it reminded me that this was not a dream, it was real, we were THAT deep underwater and i could feel it, and i was not completely alone and lost in this landscape of blank blue.


saw the others and jeff and we waited awhile. at one point we took selfies.
that calmed me down a little, some form of normality in the midst of this dreamscape where i felt somewhat… like i was on drugs. like this was a dream where i was trying to wake up. how do i describe the feeling? i had never, never felt anything like that. never. it was so… crazy in some ways.
jeff started to swim. i tried to follow. what scared me most was how there was just nothing, nothing around me. except jeff’s yellow fin in the distance. i could feel the current pushing. we were trying to fin against the current. the yellow fins started to drift further and further away from me. i could feel a ball of panic rising. if i don’t catch up i am screwed, i am washed away, i am gone, into this canvas of blue nothingness. nothing. everything was so slow mo. my brain was hardly working. think, think, focus, i thought to myself. i also felt like falling asleep, because it was so quiet, so peaceful, you could hear nothing but your own breathing, with a blanket of weight over me 


i finned hard
i tried to shake myself awake 
focus on finning, focus on finning 
catch up – i remember having a slight mental struggle as i tired a little 
but i can’t because this is my life
i suddenly thought about how crazy this was
jeff also couldn’t turn around to count
if someone were to be lost or left behind, how were we gonna find out in this canvas of nothing-blue? 
finally somewhat we were to hover which meant we were going up already 
finally we ascended
 
what was that? my puzzled thoughts echoed the confused eyes of others, i guess i wasn’t alone. well it seems like the current carried us too far away so when we descended it was too far from the coral. 
 
we tried again. this time we descended by ourselves – no more tank cradle.  
 
this time it wasn’t too bad. still, i felt that familiar wave of confusion 
at one point, i swam towards jeff and the line 
at another point, we swam towards the rest 
that mental picture is the most poignant – the group of them all trying to go back up, a blank blue in the background, the light gently cast on them as the bubbles sparkled
i joined the school of them 
we hovered and played with bubbles for awhile
then we went up
 
we didn’t get to see anything, but that was something intense and something i would remember
the drugged feeling 
the emptiness of space
of being completely alone with no sense of space and time




i realised the importance of objects in keeping me sane 





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We left Kranji with the chartered bus in the early morning of 6am. Fast forward- We crossed border, took the ferry, put our things, changed into our dive suits, assigned dive buddy, put on our gears, anti-fog, goggles and fins, d-i-v-e


it was somewhat familiar, and I was not particularly nervous. Maybe more of anticipation, anticipation because I remember how it was like and I briefly wondered if I forgot anything. 
First site – 
1. Temok – 10.2m where we recapped mask clearing / regulator throw, + learnt some advance skills, e.g. releasing the ‘diver below’ sign, the bag to carry things up to shore, the compass directions thing 
we saw a big coral bush
hello familiar scene 
hello familiar breathing
hello, my inhalation and exhalation, softly booming about me
 
2. Sipadan boat wreck – 28.2m – 28 mins
we dived deeper this time, descending superman-like towards the downward sloping line 
equalize, equalize
i was very conscious about that 
little shell-like structures (can’t remember what they are – little clams? shells? barnacles?) clung to the ropes
i followed the yellow fins ahead of me 
i was here again, lost in this dreamscape of silence 
we finned forward
at one point, we turned and (as i envision the scene again) a wrecked boat was to our left
a Malaysian flag somewhat waving from its mast 
a school of fishes swimming orderly across my view
i could almost hear a cacophony of trumpets announcing someone’s arrival (like little mermaid you know, that scene of fishes welcoming some Sea King or something) 
i looked at the wreck curiously
I looked at the side walls curiously
I saw some slug like thing 
I hovered across some sea urchins
I finned and finned and followed Jeff
fin, fin, fin
a colourful fish (parrot fish) says hi, another flaps its wings robotically 
i briefly saw an eel
the lion fish
we emerged after
because i speak from one having come from a much greater depth now, i cannot remember if i recognized / felt the depth for this particular dive
but diving at a greater depth feels heavier, and lighter
3. Tedau reef – 10.1m – 31 mins
our third dive of the day
this was a very pleasant dive because our group was small(er), there were only 6 of us or something with Lishi, i bumped into people less (fewer people to bump), water was pretty clear and I was comfortable to observe the things around me
I didn’t bring my go pro (and it was the right thing tom do) because my open water reminded me that I look at the screen 
this time i finned and i observed and looked around me
it was nice because it was clear and we saw many interesting things – the nemos and the corals and the other fat fishes 
and it was just pretty, and shallow 
10m feels so… un-scary to me now
it makes sense that one would be able to come up quite readily at this depth
it made me realise that i had expanded my view from open water – hurray! was i so worried about this during open water dive? this was really pretty much nothing to be concerned about
(at this point, i am somewhat pleased!)
here, we dipped under a tunnel and it was fun 
we dived and swam between corals with lishi
i liked it
came up and had dinner 
4. Night dive – Soyak – 41 mins – 14.4m
night dive was not scary – the anticipation for night dive was of greater contemplation, the preconceived notions made it so. i pictured night dive to be one of pitch darkness, where i could hardly make out the surroundings save for the glowing source of light. I pictured the possible scenario of myself chasing the rest rapidly as they slowly disappeared into the darkness. I would cry, aloud, except I couldn’t, because no one could hear me. Even if I were to falter, no one would notice, it would be too dark for that. I could just disappear into the darkness. They would emerge, ‘where is siangyee?’ and by then i would have wailed silently as i spiralled downwards… 
nah, just being dramatic. frankly, knowing it’s only 14.4m, and having done the previous shallow and deeper dives earlier than morning, it didn’t feel so scary, i was fine and i was busy talking to the rest – there was not much time to dwell on the anticipation. i didn’t feel a wave of nervousness either, because of the 14.4m. plus it wasn’t the pitch darkness i pictured, it was just the sun that had set, and the boat lights lit the distance. we swam and laughed in the waters, fiddled with the torches. i felt some butterflies when we said to descend, but after that everything happened too quick for my brain to activate the associated emotions. 
down we went… i could see Daniel I think (best dive buddy ever, frankly, very conscientious in looking out for me which is GREATLY appreciated) 
we could still see fairly, with everyone’s torches, and my own torch was used to used to scour my surroundings
did i like night dive? i did, i liked it for its sense of discovery
i felt like my torchlight was my tool, and i was really exploring as i shone my torch over the corals, the treacherous sea urchins again, the nemo snuggled within the anemone – sorry for disturbing… 
the big big seashell – jeff passed it to someone
i wanted to see it! i went up, someone else took it and it dropped
oh well, next
the little unibrow that poked its head
nudibranch
at one part we reached the seabed. jeff indicated to turn off our lights. 
out. out. out. jeff gestures for us to wave our hands.
we waved our hands. 
little green dots came into vision. green flakes floating, like fireflies. 
small little planktons zooming past, leaving a streak of light. we waved for a while. 
fin on, fin on
a moray eel slides across. i hover above jeff as he points it out. the eel hides under the rock. jeff pokes it. the eel slides across, unveiling its full majesty. we crowded, watching its full body slide… 
we fin on
eventually we emerge 
night dive checked, another misunderstood fear marked off
5. Tiger reef – 33m – 20 mins – ‘Journey Into the Unknown’
We were deciding between Tiger Reef and Chebeh. Tiger Reef, apparently in the middle of nowhere, had strong currents that supposedly might wash us away from our targeted reef site. As tricky as that was as a dive site, the abundance of oxygen meant that the frequent currents carried meant that the corals and wildlife there would probably be very beautiful. they let us decide.
as usual, taking responsibility for my decisions is not something i like to do. i voted ‘fine with both’. sounds like everyone went for Tiger Reef… i only had awhile to picture myself getting swept away by the currents and disappearing into the middle of the ocean with my weak and slow swimming skills + other worries because i was too tired and the day zoomed by and before i knew it we were on our way
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
6. Chebeh – 21.7m – 37 mins
Cheetah was pretty. It had many things to see. it was a deeper dive than Tedau reef, but i could feel the depth of it making it somewhat smoother for me to hover. or maybe I’m more comfortable now 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mt Merapi, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

The highlight of my trip was Mount Merapi. I’m so happy to have been so close to it, to have stared into its crater. There are few things that can incite that buzz of excitement like seeing the things you’ve learnt about in books, come to life.

I wrote a draft, but it disappeared 😦 here’s repeating it round 2

The day before the ascent we watched the sunrise, looking at its golden rays above Mount Merapi. I thought: 24 hours on (or less), I will be there, at its tip. Hopefully. I was jittery and nervous. I tried not to think about it. I tried to stifle thoughts of eruptions and rain and other possibilities.
We set off for the base of Mt Merapi in the night. 
It rained a little, and at 3.30am or so, we stopped and they set up a fire for us. We huddled closer for warmth. Here, I learnt from a fellow traveller about a trail mix: his consisted of peanuts, raisins and M&Ms. Yummy!!
I remember taking this photo. At this point, it was my first glimpse of the layer of clouds. I knew we were reaching, 20 minutes away. Almost, WE WERE ALMOST THERE!!!! The city was waking up, the lights. The sun was rising. I was excited, pumped by adrenaline that fought the fatigue.

so happy :’)

so proud of US!!!! despite the rain and the cold and the fatigue we fought our ways up relentlessly. HAPPY!!!! 😀 😀 😀

then the downward descent begins

​Ramly has been a guide since he was 19, now he’s 41
Walkie talkie warning system
Ramly, my dear guide, holds a walkie talkie in his hand. It’s what he uses to communicate with others regarding the situation in merapi (fogginess at the peak, vulcanicity)
I asked how he might feel about his son being a guide. He seemed hesitant, highlighting the risks involved, and the fact that his son does not know of how to watch out for levels of vulcanicity

The government built the signs to stop visitors from proceeding; going nearer proved risky
Nonetheless tourists continue to proceed, except perhaps those people that come without a guide
You could see the equipments for measuring vulcanicity from a distance

Learnt many interesting things. Apparently, every year they do throw cows’ heads into the crater during some festivals as a form of offering. This explains the small bouquet of flowers we saw them selling in Mount Bromo.