2. Dead Sea

An Iraqi mother and her 2 children were floating in the Dead Sea. The sun had set and it was raining, and the children were eventually lost. The civil defence forces arrived for rescue and one managed to grab hold of the 2 children; unfortunately the waves were too strong and they swept out of sight. The next morning they were found at the Israeli side of a resort, alive. They had drifted along with the current through the night. (Source: 2015 news – stories from our Jordanian host) 

Well I lost the photos from the first two days from my camera for some reason, sadly. 

I landed in Amman airport, lyn a day before. I waited for Mohammad at the airport. I was a little nervous, because of my text the night before, and also perhaps I carried with me a certain… impression of Arab men. I’m sorry, but let me acknowledge it here. I do. But Mohammad is definitely one person that helped me to reshape or rather broaden my perspective a bit. Of course he’s not like the other Jordanians, he’s a… generally more open-minded, more connected, able and willing to discuss issues. (I say this also because he’s the main Jordanian we hung out with, thus I may be mistaken when i say ‘more’).
I remember asking questions after questions (ahahahaha) and I’m trying to put into words now what were some things I learnt – i asked about honour killing (young members of the family to escape harsh jurisdiction), education, Amman as a medical hub, Israel (and his inability to get the visa despite applying 3 times + skewed (IHO) ‘peace’ agreement), complexities of dating a Jordanian woman (family, pressure, marriage, uncertainty in how to behave in a way that does not bring shame to her), gender issues (observable + haircut, etc), arranged marriage.
I saw the ‘religion’ channel on TV, in the hospital. 



Come to think of it, he’s the first Jordanian I’ve met in my life. 

Dead Sea – we managed to come up with a cost-free solution. Is it that Asians really love taking photos? What I mean is – is it fair for me to say it’s an Asian (cultural) thing? I do think so, but I’m not sure if i can necessarily pinpoint as that. It could be a social-media-generation thing. But then see Thailand, Russell (Philippines), …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On hindsight, what an honour to have visited this site. I count myself tremendously lucky. The dead sea! Afew years ago I’d never thought I’d get the chance to visit. I am tremendously lucky. I was bursting with excitement months before my trip, during my planning. It was more beautiful than i pictured it to be, more tranquil. We had the place to ourselves, the quiet. The mud, and the cool texture of it. Natural mud. The misty horizon. The smooth surface that a single stroke broke into a tremble of ripples.

 

Advertisements

1. Amman, Jordan



I didn’t write much this trip; each night I got home I was sleepy, and maybe a little lazy. I have an hour before the plane lands and I get sucked straight back to reality, so here’s to seizing time (and fresh memories).

More than one person asked ‘Why Israel?’ Why Israel and Jordan? Sometimes I am briefly amused at the fact that a year ago I wouldn’t have thought I’d be heading there. Some destinations feel so far away, and the Middle East is one of them. Like India, it’s not something I thought I’d visit this year either. I quite like these surprises. After these trips of the year I now feel like I don’t have to be surprised anymore, plans can happen and many things lead to them – opportunities, timing. Who knows where I’ll be next year? 


I suppose Israel has been in my head for some time now, from meeting Natalie in La Paz, the Israeli guy in India. Actually I’ve met a couple of Israelis. The idea of Jordan first emerged from my interviewee for my thesis. I remember balking at how she went to Jordan and Syria alone – a tiny girl like her. Then, my perception was of complete awe. Where is Jordan, isn’t it so dangerous? No! she said. She met the loveliest people there. She told me about Petra and the warm hospitality of the people. And then Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s instagram featured Petra some time back. I instagram-messaged that photo to Papa. I remember thinking: if Mr Lee can visit Jordan, and meet a group of Singaporeans there, surely it’s safe enough for me to visit?

What is safety, and what is danger? I find it so hard to say. ‘Is this place dangerous?’ I don’t know how to answer that. Is Jordan safe? Yes I felt safe, but I was with my host most of the time. Yes there were catcalls, yes it’s not the most organised so it may feel a little disorientating at times, but I did feel safe. And then there’s Karak castle shooting, and the man who reached out to Lyn, which was annoying. Does that make the place unsafe? Not really. It’s still pretty safe, because nothing happened to me. Right? 







For me, I felt okay, relatively safe (normal) in Jordan, and I felt safer in Israel. I think back to the 2 Korean boys we met. We told them we were heading to Israel and they said ‘wow, [we] heard that Israel is the most dangerous country in the world!’ The most dangerous country in the world? I felt absolutely safe there, and if i were to compare West Bank, Jordan and Israel, I’d say I felt safest in Israel, because of its level of organization and structure and clean streets. I think again to Rio de Janeiro. I did not feel unsafe there, it felt normal, even though I was walking alone. 


p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; min-height: 14.0px}
p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica}

So what is safety again, do I perceive safety based on its level of development / structure? I suppose so. And of course the fact that nothing happened to me. And I’m really glad of course, and thankful. Thankful that I’ve got a pocket of experience that has helped me to understand the world a little better. Thankful for all the beautiful people we’ve met, thankful for all my helpful hosts, male hosts who weren’t sleazy at all. Thankful for the opportunity to have asked questions that filled my ignorance, understanding the Middle East a little better – geographically, politically, culturally. I would say I have learnt a lot, and each time I come home after these visits I am intrigued by news articles discussing them. I like that very much, when I find myself interested in these issues I was previously almost apathetic to, because of my prior ignorance. But now I can connect with it perhaps in some sense, and it makes me appreciate the world a little better.




carls junior?

Dharamsala, Himchal Pradesh, India (Triund Hill)

‘Dharamshala is a city in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Surrounded by cedar forests on the edge of the Himalayas, this hillside city is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile.’


Mcleodganj, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. Here, I met the craziest fun-loving guitar-playing-on-a-hill hosts whom I learnt from about the caste system, the hijras, the sacredness of the cow in Hinduism, and other cultural curiosities.

my hosts

I had so much fun with them, we were laughing nonstop from almost the night we met to the next day. Short, but sweet. I took many videos of them singing. We did one birthday song with them strumming the guitar. I was so happy.

full of nonsense (as usual)

People my age, exactly my age. Making fun of my Chinese eyes. Man, I don’t get that too much around here, it took me awhile to get used to and reminded me to check my privilege here.
I think back to the first night my bus reached the terminal at Dharamshala at 9pm or something. The sun had set. Divyang said he’ll pick me up. I didn’t feel that worried, but my panic meter started rising when we drove into the darkness (poor street lighting) and he said he wanted to bring me to a place. We stopped at the entrance of a gate. It was a cemetery.

The rest, as it unfolds, is a hilarious memory. I will always remember this epic experience. Lollllll

Dharamsala definitely feels safe. Tranquil. Many restaurants here sell Tibetan food – the mantou and noodles, etc. Shop signs in Tibetan. I briefly asked if the locals here feel threatened by the influx of culture. Seems like in the initial beginnings yes, but now it’s better and generally peaceful. Borders.

 

The Golden Temple – The Holy City of Amritsar

​ A family sits and waits for the sun to set. Fathers bring their daughters to wash their faces by the holy water. At the Golden Temple of Amritsar, free food and accommodation is provided for the pilgrims that come from all other parts of India and the rest of the world.

 



I point to the belly of Punya, my pregnant host, and ask if it’s a boy or a girl. She says she doesn’t know. One of the interesting things I learnt is that identifying the gender of a fetus (prenatal sex discernment) is banned in India, due to cases of female infanticide. The doctors are not allowed to reveal it, or legal actions may be taken.
Outside the Golden Temple:

 

Here, we queue at the various lines to deposit our bags and our shoes. We are not allowed to bring in our bags into the Golden Temple, nor put on any forms of footwear. Everyone must have their heads covered in this sacred site. Shawls are provided at the entrance of the Golden Temple. Anyone without it will be stopped by the security guard of sorts.

 

I join the lively crowd

 

 

This family requested that I take a photo of them with my camera. They then peered at my screen and smiled.

the Holy water

gold

Gold by night

it was crowded and lively even after sunset

as we walked outside the Golden Temple with our lassi (YUMMY!!!), we saw many people outdoors. Why were they outdoors, lying in the night, instead of within the Golden Temple? Don suggested perhaps it’s more cooling out here.
volunteers help to give out the plates and utensils to visitors and pilgrims

 

 

I met Don and Chen, on my last day

^ on hindsight, it was my meeting with the Israeli guy at the Golden Temple that led me to decide on my trip to Israel. what a chain

I learnt that in Israel the name of the baby boy is revealed only on the 8th day after circumcision has taken place
‘Which toilet do you want to go? Police or railway station?
Only girls? Go to the railway station. Don’t go to the police station.’
 

 

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

🙂

 

Couchsurfing in Athens, Greece

Posting this because I spent my day sitting on the sofa in the hotel lobby. And this has been my most meaningful encounter of the week.

Let me recollect my thoughts about my conversation with Mocca (Vasiliki). She signs while she speaks.

As always, I walk away from each encounter, no matter how short, with a slight shift in perspectives. At this moment, I wonder if I’m wasting my day away, sitting here with my laptop on Cyberworld, instead of talking to more people who can tweak my life in ways.

I believe a year ago I’d probably arrange at least a noon meetup. I feel a slight apprehension or consideration at arranging meetups, and I wonder why. Is it because I’m a little tired from my Greece holiday week with family so I need these days to consolidate my thoughts a little, or is it my growing guardedness with age? I’m not too sure. Actually, I think it’s more fatigue, and perhaps my curiosity about Greece has been eased.

Anyway, digressing.

Meeting Vasiliki is meaningful. I was excited to meet her, I wanted to, mainly because she was a Special Education Teacher. A fellow teacher, and one far more certain and specialized than I was at handling children of Special Needs. I hoped to glean some insights into why she ventured into this, how she handles them, and if I could take away any advice for myself.

I would like to remember her stories (from the very short encounter we had).

Let me try to weave together the various strands of thoughts I have.

We watched The Voice (Greek) in her cousin’s house

Chatted about Greece (700 euros a month for a teacher, hmm. Refugees shifting in. Macedonia. Eurocrisis / EU referendum and their reaction to take a holiday the next day. Summer holidays flocking to Greek islands – how lucky! The church and its… involvement (?) in politics hmm. Stray cats. Greek cats.)
A teacher of Special Education – why? I shared with her my background, and she shared hers with me. She wanted to be a teacher, and as a teacher she wanted to help every child. Every child, regardless of their backgrounds and abilities. She was curious about how she can help children of special needs, took up volunteering and started off there.

Sign language classes. In Greece with only less than 70 Deaf interpreters, and limited deaf schools, it is difficult to cater to this group of children.

She told me about her volunteering at this project that aims to help the Deaf refugees of Syria. There is a boy there, 6 years old, caught in the midst of the war and the turmoil, did not learn any language. No Syrian Sign language, no hearing-aid-assisted English language, Syrian spoken language, nothing. When he came, she had to teach him from nothing. Nothing. At 6 years old and communicating without a language, I wonder how it is.

At first, he kept indicating he wanted to go home. Tried to play games with him but he’d reject, because he didn’t understand how to play. But it’s getting better, today he smiled, she said.

We also talked about the integration of children of special needs in mainstream schools. She agreed it could be helpful to some in inculcating inclusivity and understanding, but it was also debilitating for children, especially Deaf children. A parent had opted for hearing aid for their child, and often the Deaf would learn the Spoken Words (Greek) before the Sign Language. It was wrong, she said, it should be in reverse. Sign should be their First Language, and then when they grow older, they can learn the languages of the Hearing. I loosely quote from memory:

‘Why should a child struggle so hard to fit in a place where he’s placed at an overt disadvantage? He can learn but he’ll be studying and working really really hard all day thinking he has to. But does he? Why shouldn’t he then learn Sign, which is his first language?’

She shares about this boy whose parents eventually opted to let him learn Sign along with his hearing aid. She says he seems happier now, and it builds confidence, you know, being able to communicate with a community which you perhaps, feel you belong. It makes me consider- a Deaf with a Hearing Aid learning the Spoken Language – does he belong to the Deaf community, or the Hearing? It does seem neither here nor there.

She also shared her interest in researching the learning through play. ‘It can also be used for overcoming fears, you know.’ She brings up this incident which I really like.

There was a child that had a fear of hairdryers. In order to help the child overcome his fear, the teacher designed a series of challenges for the child, with a character/hero and an ultimate task to complete to save him. The hairdryer task is the last challenge before this ‘story’ ends. They dressed up the hairdryer like a dragon, and the task was to retrieve a slip of paper from the hairdryer, in order to rescue the hero. As it is the last task now, the child has ‘bonded’ with the hero, and this creates greater impetus for him to go through with the task. They brought him to ‘practice’ by trying with the hand dryer in the toilet, before his actual mission. He did it, and quickly too.

‘Helping a child overcome his fear should not be waving a hairdryer and telling him ‘look, it’s not scary, it’s okay’. When you create a task like this, you give him the choice, to participate, and the choice to overcome his fear, on his own accord. He makes the decision to overcome his fears in order to save the hero, rather than forced to encounter it. ‘

I thought this was a very inspiring story. A plot / story carefully thought out, creatively enacted, can help a child and touch his life indeed. I really liked this. I am reminded of our powers as adults and our abilities to shape lives if we want.

At this thought, I am also thinking about my own desires. I am not sure I am as driven as passion by they are, I cannot quite seem to dedicate the time and energy to extensively think through my curriculum. I would like to seize all my free time to pursue my other hobbies like reading and Spanish or just to watch youtube and scroll through websites. Is that bad?

 

 

 

She makes for me some tea from the tea leaves her mum has collected from their hometown. Imagine, collecting tea leaves when hiking and placing them in a jar, brewing tea from them in the days to come.
How lovely.
Part of travelling is also travelling into another’s worldview. Someone of my age, in another place, leads a different set of experiences so different from me.

 

13. TJ – Dushanbe

We spent our morning

Buzzing with Colours and vibrancy and glitter

Bye to the Pamirs.

 

 

I will remember you.

 

Last meal with Shuric (and his daughter)

This reminded me that.. Shuric has a daughter,  my age. He is a father. Spending so much time with us, as a tour guide, also means time away from his own family. Earning these money as a tour guide, is also a means of giving his family and his daughter a better life. Everyone’s (only) trying to make a living.

Dushanbe:

Got a couch about 24 hours before. Alisher responded quickly and welcomed us to his home.

His kids are clearly eloquent and on their ways to becoming open-minded charismatic individuals. Very welcoming to their guests, good attempts at making conversations, and only… less than 12 years old.

Hurray!

​ I am once again filled with gratitude and almost disbelief at the hospitality of people towards strangers. We barely arrived 4 hours before, and there we were, with food on the table, a shower prepared, a place to sleep. Please let me remember to pass on such kindness, please. Someday I will! Host. And I will cook nice meals, and I will be kind to backpackers. I will I will I will.
Met Shakhnoz to walk around the city the next morning.

Sweethearts!

This part is funny. He shook his hand, and then did the gesture for money. Hahaha

We visited the beautiful library!

Interesting because I realised the kids here, in coloring / depicting a picture of their environment / country / childhood, they depict mountains and their traditional costumes. The children in Singapore will depict something so entirely different. It will be buildings, it will be cars…

We also visited a library. I never thought I’d go for a library tour in another country. I used to look at those foreign groups coming in to our libraries and our schools and I thought they were weird. Why would they want to spend their time in our libraries when they can be elsewhere, at Marina Bay Sands or something? There’s nothing much to see.

But their library tour was so fascinating. We were shown the different rooms – rooms for the blind with books in Braille, and a space for the handicapped. I thought that was very good and very inclusive. Do we have something like that in Singapore?

They also had different language rooms – Chinese room, Korean room, French room, etc etc. These specific language rooms held language classes for people to attend and converse in groups. Very interesting, in all. I now understand why foreigners go for these tours.

what we spent our leftover change on

at least 8USD hahaha

I LOVE ALPEN GOLD!!!!!

My favourite night would be lying down in the dark, taking turns to recount all the things we’ve learnt. I wish I took them down. That was fun.

Central Asia has been wonderful. Has it only been half a year? Gosh. For some reason it feels really long ago. I learnt so much though, from knowing absolutely nothing (seriously – not even which countries form part of it, or how to spell them) to an increased understanding of the place – its languages, historical ties with Russia, cultural differences etc. Broadened geographical imagination. Thank you world for the opportunity! 🙂

Until Iran, then. 🙂

 

4. KGZ – Hiking in Ala-Archa (Bishkek) / En-Route to Arslanbob

Tu vida no la escribes con palabras… la escribes con acciones. Lo que piensas no es importante. Lo 

único importante es lo que haces. 

 

Things I learnt about Kyrgyzstan from my ‘fake-Kyrgyz’ (too cosmopolitan) Friend:

– Flag of kyrg has a yurt


2. Kyrgyzstan has a nomadic history

“Kyrgyzstan has a deep-rooted nomadic heritage that went along untouched until collectivization in the mid-1900s.  Nomads lived in yurts and herded livestock in the mountains; cities were never in the picture.  If you aren’t familiar with yurts, imagine the tip of a crayon that’s been used and then the part just above the paper label is cut off, and that’s the basic shape of a yurt.  A yurt has circular latticework that rises from the ground, then you attach curved poles to the ends of the latticework.  All the poles curve inward, but don’t meet at a point.  There’s a circular piece of wood that levitates above the middle of the latticework that all the poles connect to.  Everything is tied together for stability and covered with felt to help keep out the rain and cold.
However, things changed when the Soviet Union introduced itself to Kyrgyzstan’s history.  Collectivization brought on by the Soviets translated into villages and cities popping up in Kyrgyzstan where a lot of people ended up settling down.  Not all nomads planted roots though, so after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, nomadic life began to make resurgence. While not everyone has returned to a nomadic way of life, there are still many nomads living in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan today.”
 
Sanjar stayed in a yurt of his relatives when he was young. How fun!!!!!!

– 90% of the country is mountainous

– Dominant ideals of masculinity and non-smiling

– The shared taxi system here is also, well, interesting. They do not move until they have enough passengers, so you don’t have a definite time of when you’ll start moving. Nicolas, the guy from couchsurfing, waited 4 hours for his vehicle to Osh. In the end, he took a flight instead.

We went to the Tajikistan embassy in Bishkek the next morning. The process was fuss-free and quick. 75usd + 100soms admin fee. Fill up a couple of forms and you’re done. Collection same day possible. To think I was most concerned about visa, sigh. It was easy.

We went back and took a taxi out to Ala Archa, picking up Sanjar along the way.

Trying the Kymiz – horse milk, on our way back

It tastes sour to me, I make a face as I taste it

‘She’s not open minded enough,’ Sanjar and CZ laugh at me

How interesting that the Kyrgyz flag has a yurt symbol in its middle, the traditional home of its nomadic people. 🇰🇬 🐏

 

 

WE ARE READY!!!

ALA ARCHA LET’S GO
ROUTE- UP UP UP

The skies were rather gloomy.
Rest points:
best decision to buy the super huge kebabs. THEY WERE AWESOME, THE BEST KEBAB EVER in the cold hunger.

 

 

whee!

WHEE!

 

 

WHEE!!!!

hurray!!!!

finally done
or was this before we set off? hmmm

fight fight fight

no la don’t la *cheesy*

As you can see, it was cloudy and moist and drizzling a little at the end. Nonetheless, the company was awesome, and the process is what mattered.
En-route to Arslanbob:



Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan –> Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan

Such an eventful ride.

10 hour shared taxi ride to Arslanbob:

The ride here was homely. The bus driver bobbed his head along with the music, and the curves on the road.

The women behind broke her bread into pieces and handed them to us. The man in front of us poured his drink into plastic cups as we passed down. We clink our cups – ‘cheers’.

To me, the way they so casually ate each others’ bread and drinks so nonchalantly – no sense of paisehness / 客气-ness – no wave of thank you or mentioning of it whatsoever, but a very normal kind of sharing between family, provides an insight on their sharing culture (?)

 

We stopped halfway for a short break. Met a group of locals here who were really excited about the polaroids. Gave away a few. We also took photos on my camera, and tried exchanging emails. I say ‘tried’ because it didn’t seem to be a proper address. I tried to send from my phone but it failed. There was a little communication error, I have to admit.

everyone’s really excited to be our photo actually. They requested for the mass group photo!

The people at my side are all looking at my phone instead of the gopro. LOL
our awesome driver!
happy people

We watched the sunset from the carseat

and slowly the night swept in.

We are riding through the valleys towards Arslanbob. The road ahead is dark; occasionally the flash of the vehicle moving in the opposite direction approaches. Beside me, a white scar etches across the dark sky. Tiny patters of raindrop fall with the rhythm of the windscreen wipers.

My heart races a little as I peer at the road ahead. The sky flashes nervously.

They’re such experienced drivers, I thought as I watched him steer the wheel – carelessly? Confidently? Nonchalantly, you added

He chatted on, tapping the cigarette ash out of the window, leaning with the turn of the wheel

My mind flits briefly to an arcade game

3. KGZ – Bishkek

Osh Bazaar, Bishkek

More than 80% of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous, but in its capital and largest city of Bishkek, locals sell their fruits / vegetables / bread / spices / toilet rolls without the cardboard ring in the middle (which makes some sense to me) at the Osh Bazaar.

We took a shared taxi to the Kazahk – Kyrgyz border. Crossing the border was pretty fuss-free, although I was nervous. No tricky issues though. I had read that we had to take note, to ensure that the immigration officer gives 2 chops. She did. We crossed, and pretty quickly, around the afternoon.

Cz took photos of the Kyrgyz immigration building. A guard walks up to him and asks to show his camera. I get nervous for a bit. After showing him the photos and deleting the ones taken during the border crossing, he waves us off. Still, I was nervous. I had read that one blogger had all his photos deleted from his camera. Man…

And of course, corruption when crossing the border. But all was well, hurray! The taxi uncle wanted to charge us 100usd (no typo there) from the border to the city centre. Joke

Pleased to say that after the practice from the Balkans and parts of Central Asia, I can now pronounce (not the most accurately) CYRILLIC!!!!

(Yes, this says ‘Kyrgyzstan’)

Stairs to USSR hostel, Bishkek! It was nice and cosy. Here, we met the very chatty Sascha, and another Japanese girl who was travelling around Central Asia etc alone, and had come from Iran alone. There, one of the contributing impetus for my plans next June.

Bishkek is full and gloomy, it’s raining and it’s cold. Sanjar says that in May, it’s usually dry and sunny weather, but this year has been strange, for it’s been raining all week.

We stayed in our hostel for awhile. The USSR hostel (8+USD / person / night 4-man dorm) is pretty nice, free laundry, nice owner, comfy pillows and bed.

We met Sanjar, a couchsurfing local, at Sierra Coffee. Went to change some money.

The currency changed within an hour.

67.5 to 68.3 (USD to Soms)

I had read about the frequent fluctuation of the currency in the country, but was nonetheless surprised at how the currency indeed fluctuated within an hour. We changed money before we entered Sierra Coffee and when we stepped out it was different. :O

I heard about how Almaty used to be doing pretty well economically, until the oil crisis which upset their currency, causing it to dip by half. Imagine that – your savings halved all too suddenly. My mind floats to Malaysia.

 

first time feeling not-so-tall (ya first time, first few times)

At night we ate at Fariz, where I had more lagman. The food here caters pretty well to my taste, very Chinese food (to me) and suits me very much indeed. Lagman, manti, plov… Yummmmm. I don’t quite like meat though, the horse meat is terribly hard to chew through.  Ah Bishkek, the huge toasty kebab (2+usd) is also awesome. The potato bread (!!)

This menu makes so much sense to me, it’s brilliant. I can’t read Cyrillic so the photos MAKE SO MUCH SENSE!!!!!!! So amused and thrilled when I saw this photo menu
Other curious sights:

 

there, the toilet roll without a ring in the middle
The second night, we ate at:
It was an absolutely lovely place! The ambience was awesome and so were the prints. Can’t wait to visit Uzbekistan!!!!!!!

 

EVEN THE TEAPOT COVER!!!! A YURT

 

 

IT WAS A GOOD NIGHT

 

1. KZ – Almaty, Kazahkstan

I didn’t know much about Central Asia before May this year. I didn’t even know some of the countries, much less how to spell them, I admit. 
 
Central Asia is sometimes also referred to as ‘Middle Asia’, and, colloquially, “the ‘stans” (as the six countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix “-stan”, meaning “land of”).
 
Since the earliest of times, Central Asia has been a crossroads between different civilizations. The Silk Road connected Muslim lands with the people of Europe, India, and China. (Look at the world map!) This explains the richness and diversity in their culture, the Turkish / Asian / Russian influences, the East-Meets-West aspects apparent in their food, culture, dressing etc. Interestingly, from its beginning in 1917, the Soviet state never included Kazakhstan in Muslim Central Asia, preferring to give it a non-Asian identity by linking it closely to Russia and Siberia. 
 
These countries only came into existence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The five Central Asian countries gained independence after  Kazakhstan (pop. 17 million), Kyrgyzstan(5.7 million), Tajikistan (8.0 million), Turkmenistan (5.2 million), and Uzbekistan (30 million), for a total population of about 66 million as of 2013–2014. Afghanistan (pop. 31.1 million) is also sometimes included.
 
The Silk Road: 

The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that connected the great civilisations of East and West / Europe and Asia. Traders, merchants and diplomats all travelled the Silk Road, exchanging ideas, goods and technologies (e.g how to make paper!) in what has been called history’s original ‘information superhighway’. Some key routes of Central Asia were important trading points throughout history.

We flew in to Almaty, Kazakhstan from Dubai (sg > dubai, dubai > almaty, because it’s cheaper). My first ever FlyDubai flight was alright, quite comfortable enough. In fact, I quite enjoy these long travel hours where I have the free will to decide what I can do with my blank space of time.

 green market

mountains, mountains 🙂

my favourite memory of Almaty

My travel read: 49 Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. 

On hindsight, it was a random yet surprisingly appropriate trip for the read. I knew nothing of Rumi prior to my trip, yet spotted a quote by Rumi at the end of my trip on the plane. A few weeks later I spotted an article about the Shams of Tabriz.

The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation. Do no harm. Practice compassion. And do not gossip behind anyone’s back – not even a seemingly innocent remark! The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space, and they will come back to us in due time. One man’s pain will hurt us all. One man’s joy will make everyone smile. (Shams of Tabriz)

It was an easy read that hooked me in almost immediately, and already I feel somewhat connected to its themes. Why? I feel like I’m attracted to books that discuss things about eternal love, love, the complexities of affairs of the heart. I remain intrigued.

“Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.”



overnighting in Dubai to catch our second flight to Almaty – well prepared 





apple almaty


Day1: Airbnb, dinner with lucy

Day2: big Almaty lake + Kamila


Almaty’s green, clean. We drove past some shiny buildings.

The first day, we reached Almaty in the evening. We walked around with Lucy and had kebab and pizza. The apartment had a beautiful kitchen and it was cosy, absolutely recommended as an apartment. Russian signs, so fascinating to me in my first Cyrillic city of Bulgaria, don’t faze me anymore, I realised as I walked around trying to read them. I’ve been learning some Cyrillic / Russian before the trip, but learning Russian is really difficult right now despite my increasing Duolingo levels. Can’t. Remember. Them.



Quite frankly THE best value-for-money airbnb accomodation I’ve ever stayed. 

For $15 SGD for 2 people a night, and such a comfy and conveniently located place, coupled with a gorgeous kitchen (MOST BEAUTIFUL KITCHEN EVER where we sat and drank hot tea in the cold but I can’t seem to find the photo… 😦 ) it is amazing and highly recommended!





Ascension Cathedral

Day 1, when I still bothered to look nice for pictures

Green market!

Here we found many stalls selling nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruits, spices, bread, vegetables, and some Korean stalls selling Korean salad. How curious. Why so many Korean food stalls? And Koreans selling them!

Something to do with the history, as I gathered from talking to some people.

Now, as I’ve googled:

‘In 1937, Stalin began a campaign of massive ethnic cleansing and forcibly deported everyone of Korean origin living in the coastal provinces of the Far East Russia near the border of North Korea to the unsettled steppe country of Central Asia 3700 miles away. 180,000 Koreans became political pawns during the Great Terror. The Koryo Saram (the Soviet Korean phrase for Korean person) were designated by Stalin as an “unreliable people” and enemies of the state.



 Many of the Koreans in Central Asia are descendants of 182,000 Koreans that were forcibly deported by Stalin from Vladivostok to Central Asia in 1937 because Stalin feared they would spy against the Russians for the Japanese, who had just invaded Manchuria. Ironically many of the Koreans that were deported had escaped from Japanese labor camps and hated the Japanese. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: China, Russia and Eurasia edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company]

More to be read here (Deportation of Koreans in the Soveiet Union) and here (Koryo-Saram)

Interesting! Interesting how I pay attention to the ethnicity of the people, which links back to its history (duh). I just never thought about Singapore’s that much, how we became an multi-ethnic nation because of our history. We learnt about it but I’ve never really given much thought to it… I wonder if other tourists look at us and wonder about that. (am sure they do)


Almaty is such a… City. I had no impression of Kazakhstan before I arrived, much less of Almaty. It was neat and had so many trees. People sat in the parks, we walked part the Church on a Sunday and it was lively. There were flowers blooming by the streets. We walked past one flower lying randomly; did you leave this for me? I asked. Yup, you played along. I brought the flower to the Big Almaty Lake.
Met the dearest Kamila for dinner after our hike from the Great Almaty Lake:


I was a little stressed because I was worried about being late in meeting Kamila. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that easy to get free wifi in the public space of Almaty, unlike Sofia (SOFIA HAS THE BEST PUBLIC WIFI!!!)  I had to walk some distance to search for the free public wifi.

We ran to meet Kamila, I called with my M1 simcard for the first time travelling. We took a taxi to a wonderful place where we could sit down, wrap a warm blanket around ourselves, sheltered from the rain by a curtain-draped square to ourselves. We sipped chai, we ate the manti and the plov and the lagman and the salad and the broth, and we laughed and we talked and we laughed. The waiter said they were closing; we eventually reluctantly left. I shook Kamila’s hands as we said, we had so much fun, we really enjoyed our time with you, thank you for everything, I squeezed her hand and I hope she knew I meant it. It was so fun. We waved goodbye. I went home and sent her a text and our photo together, our adorable Polaroid.

^ I wrote this that night when my eyelids were slowly coming to a close

This was one of my favourite dinners, ever! Really glad we met Kamila, talking in the rain, in the cold. We sat and chatted amidst the lightning, but the blankets were really warm. I LOVE the concept of the place. Being allowed your ‘private’ space to eat, with those beautiful curtains, your own seating spaces, and blankets! Pillows! How cosy, I truly made myself at home. Sipping tea and chilling. Loved it.