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.


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.


​ 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.


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


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. 🇰🇬 🐏





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.









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!!!!!!!







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.


!ncredible !ndia

Exams are coming up, and I suppose that’s some sort of a relief for me (hah! roles reversed!)
I still have to revisit my lovely Central Asia trip, but here’s some of my favourites from Amritsar while I’m sieving through my pictures.



















CS in Sarajevo

I met Ivana here, in this quaint little place. And her little dog

I was so lucky actually, because the weather in Sarajevo was exceptionally brilliant during my stay. It was so foggy the days before.

I met Ena on New Year’s day. It was 3am as I walked to the bus terminal to meet her. A Polish guy accompanied me in my walk. It was cold. We talked about the refugees crisis, and I remember it was from him that I learnt about this ‘car trading’ business. His family drove second-hand cars all the way to Georgia to sell, and because they’re sought after there, they could earn quite a sum. They would then fly back to Poland. It was an annual trip they made. 
Ena. We woke up at 11+am. On hindsight I could have pushed for some hiking, but I didn’t. Instead, we went to a Turkish coffeehouse and spent the whole day talking. It still amazes me sometimes, when I think back about it, how we spent the entire day talking. Just talking, and talking and talking. It was so fascinating, especially when we drew parallels between Bosnia and Singapore. 
It was smokey, I had a chai, the people beside me unwound on the sofa with the shisha in hand
My incoherent notes:

Finding family
No man’s land 
Ovo Malo Duse
Stanica obicnih vozova
Otac Na sluzbenom putu 
Sjecas Li se Doli bel 
Atom egoyan- Ararat 
Dubioza kolektiv 
Kultur shock

‘The Bosnian nation does not exist’ 

Lawyers as the average – the ones that go partying, not sure what to do with their lives, etc 
Similarity between Bosnia and Singapore – if you covered the name, it could be bosnia’s wikipage, she said 

‘There is no nation,’ she said 
I was confused – what do you mean no nation? Isn’t it Bosnia? Bosnia is just a country, she says 
This brings to mind Anderson’s idea of nations as imagined communities 
I always thought of countries and nations as a single entity of sorts, despite studying Anderson’s definition 
It was my first encounter with a country that almost embraces this idea that they have 3 nations (?) and no single ‘Bosnian’ identity 
The Bosnian-Serbs (orthodox?), Bosnian-Croats (Catholics?) and the Bosniaks (Muslims?) 
Seems like their sense of national identity is very much tied to their religion (?) 
3 presidents? The ‘temporary’ constitution 
All a game to make people focus on nationalism rather than actual circumstances 
90% of people are nationalists 
And you can’t use non-nationalist terms somehow even as you are a journalist; there are no terms that do not contain that element of political connotation 
You can say ‘Bosnian people’ but at some point you have to use the terms Serbs/Croats etc 
A political ploy by Serbia to gain territory? For Croatia? To split Bosnia between the two? 
Even names – Croatia claims those with Slavic names have Croat origins – the importance of names – but what about mixed families? 
Croats can get both Bosnian and Croatian passport (Bosnian passport must be first)
Idea of victimhood (I was telling them about laos and they jokingly said – oh so we’re not the only victims)
Artist and what sells – war and the repeated (stereotypical) story 
You’re so lucky you have a story to tell (?) growing up in war 
Artists and their muse 
They had to go to Italy to buy jeans = jeans weren’t available here 
Soaking feet in Coca Cola as a way to taunt other nations

I realised there are so many gaps in my knowledge about SG, especially Singapore history 
They had the medieval times, what about us? Where does the history of Singapore begin? I only know the part from Sang Nila Utama. I realised the national language of Singapore is Malay, even though our key administrative lingua franca is English. How can their second or third language be as good as mine? How can I improve my Spanish? 
Do the Malays want to go to Malaysia? Like how the Serbs want to? Were Serbs being attacked during the siege? 
Who was i staying with.. And (why) should that matter? 

It’s interesting because for us, we looked different but we wanted to emphasize that we were the same. For them, they looked practically the same but wanted to emphasize they were different. 
Nevertheless, the country is highly secular and religion is seen as more of a traditional and cultural identity than a set of rituals and rules

Sarajevo is special to me because it brought about multiple insights. It left me many things to contemplate about. Nationhood, war and genocides, repeated histories and international bodies…

Sofia, Bulgaria

Ah, the iconic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia. 
Sofia, such a lovely name for a city, in my view. 

In Bulgaria, nodding means “no” and shaking your head means “yes”. Some know that if they’re speaking to a foreigner, they do it the opposite way.
‘Is this the way to the train station?’
‘-shakes head-‘
‘It isn’t?’
‘-shakes head-‘
1 euro = 2 lev
My first impression… It was cold, I could smell weed in the air for some reason, and I noticed the peeling walls and worn-out buildings. I was a little taken back at the start, because it seemed too obvious, the crumbling paints. It was rather different from Italy and Switzerland; though I had heard that Eastern europe is different, the rather stark contrast did catch my attention. I would soon grow used to it though.

This is apparently a pumpkin, a useless inedible one. Because mankind always tries to make useful things out of useless things, they decorate it, using it as an art piece. Or, if you cut it into half, you can get a spoon! Wow.

During the Christmas season, some restaurants switch into Christmassy tablecloth, and Christmassy napkins. I haven’t observed that in Singapore before, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there are restaurants or eateries like that, but I also wonder if it’s because of the greater emphasis they place on Christmas and its meaning.

Here I met an Irish girl who’s teaching in the UAE – Ireland recession a couple of years ago, and she said it wasn’t unusual for people to go to the UAE to teach. This idea was planted in my head
During the tour we tried many local dishes, such as banitza, the Bulgarian yogurt drink, the sour yogurt soup with cucumbers that I struggled to finish… Bulgarian yogurt – what’s so special about it? Well apparently, there’s a kind of bacteria that grows only in Bulgaria due to the optimal conditions here that allows it to grow. Other countries that want to imitate this can’t, because of this bacteria that’s the secret to it. Except for some countries such as Japan and Singapore, where there’s some trading agreements / treaties between the countries that allow for the export of such bacteria which grants them the condition to make Bulgarian yogurt.

She also showed us this
Wall to wall poetry project
Poems in EU
Apparently EU is doing this poetry project where different countries and their poets leave their poems on the walls of other countries. For the one above, it’s by a Hungarian poet and speaks of freedom and peace. Interesting project which I’m going to google more about

Initiatives around the city
I thought it was a good idea, then I talked to one of Mira’s friends who was an architect and he said such projects are ‘shallow’ in the sense that they don’t make actual changes, he wanted to do something greater like designing seats that allowed you to sit, and then had an under layer that could emerge to become rain covers. Something like that. Still, it’s interesting to hear about how important he feels his job is, his ability to change people’s life by setting a street this way, or that.
These are interesting ‘basement shops’ found at random parts of the streets. This was because during the Soviet times it was easy to just open your basement window and then you can set up a shop using your basement. Such ways of setting up a business continued through the times.

The night
30 lev for my bus to Macedonia (32 original, 30 because I’m a student; she says) = 15 euros

Russian Orthodox church

another angle, because i like


Went for the Sofia food tour!! Such a great idea, Singapore (‘food haven’ or so we claim) should do something like that, really.



Painting these boxes to increase vibrancy of the city

this zebra picture illustrates a common matchstick box design used during the Soviet times


These are interesting ‘basement shops’ found at random parts of the streets. This was because during the soviet times it was easy to just open your basement window and then you can set up a shop using your basement. Such ways of setting up a business continued through the times.
the night 


I went swing dancing with Mira and her friends – more like I watched; i am a klutz
it was nevertheless really interesting, especially since she picked it up only when she was 25
she carries with her an air of confidence, a never-stop-trying, an unshy, unbothered, air that i would like to emulate. 
reminders to self


A. Romania – Bucharest

Feels like so much happened within these days
1. Dropped my wallet (first time abroad! Forgiving myself) and frantically searched for it in the middle of the bus terminal. I looked up and saw the driver walking towards me, holding the familiar black rectangle in his hand. Seriously, luckiest girl ever! As usual, surrounded by amazingly helpful and kind people who guided me to train stations, people who talked to me, chatting about Romania and education (free till high school) and healthcare (‘free – but is it really?’) and quality of medical care (certain operations/diseases sought abroad eg cancer)
2. Hanging garlic like hanging dream catcher hmmmmm
3. Government – paternal leave 3 weeks (?!) and receiving a sum of money (50 euros for those who haven’t worked consecutively for a year) for 2 years
4. No elevators at all metro stations, no ramps, a cause for concern for mothers (services for encouraging motherhood)
5. Minimum wage 250 euros a month
6. 80-80% Orthodox Christians + abortion is legal + cohabitation / not marrying not as common (vs Netherlands)
7. Whole of EU does not have capital punishment
8. Landscape of Bran changes into a barren white – higher altitude lower temperatures = snow!
9. Dracula – Bram Stoker chose Transylvania, one of the three large regions of Romania. Irish writer Bran Stoker combined the mystery of Transylvania and the historical facts – Vlad the Impaler and his bloodsucking cruelty, folklore about vampires etc to convert Bran Castle into such a popular tourist site today. Shops selling Dracula cups and magnets, haunted houses; everyone’s tapping on this. If he hadn’t set it here, how would things be? This and Laos has got me thinking about how something seemingly small can make significant contributions to shape the economy and livelihoods of a place and for its people.
10. Roma people / gypsies
11. Romanian and Italian linguistic similarity
12. Fire broke out in a club and 400 people were stuck, 60+ people died – people were angry, prime minister was forced to step down. The buildings are old, not earthquake-protected, no proper fire evacuation routes, no proper checking. Because this has been a cause for concern for some time, when the fire happened people were really upset about it. Shops located in the old buildings shifted elsewhere, that’s why many of the shops have closed down.
13. Conflicting views over how to raise Santa issue
14. A girl from Moldova invites me to stay with her. She’s 24 and married, showed me this Mongolian friend she met before (Asians association?), said she’ll drive me around to show me the sights. Really warm, friendly and open. This is the first time I’ve received an open invite, hence noting it down 🙂
15. Piazza Romana is the hipster bookshops street
To be honest, Bucharest is not quite pretty. (Maybe because it was winter -it was cold, snowing, I wanted to stay indoors). I’m glad I went to Brasov and Bran.
I noticed this ‘volunteers’ signboard in the city centre

“The pretzel – in Romanian covrig, is probably one of the most common street foods in Romania. In many large intersections in Bucharest, there has to be at least a pretzel shop on one of the street corners. Pretzels are not just simply pretzels in Romania – recipes have been updated, and now you can have pretzels with fillings, and other products made of pretzel dough, and filled with different ingredients (sausages, cheers, apples, chocolate – well, not all of them mixed). Take the Covridog, for example, Covricheese, or Covriking, all brands and products invented by a company called Petru.
Most of the shops selling pretzels are local brands, no-names, although here are a few ‘chains’ as well, such as Luca and Petru. The name for pretzel shops in Romania is covrigarie, or a more fancy name, simigerie. Whatever you choose, the majority of Romanian covrigarii have very good ‘covrigi’
With RON 10 – or some EUR 2 – you can buy several covrigi which could last you for a few hours until searching for more.”

Ah, I miss these pretzel-like things. They were delicious and incredibly cheap. 1 euro (or less?) for the delicious, hot yummy bread sometimes filled with cheese, oftentimes (the ones i chose) filled with hot chocolate oozing out in this winter breeze. And so filling too, great for backpacker food. Yummmmmmmm

I learnt quite a bit from Alina. Motherhood / strong beliefs / issues in Romania / ‘raising a genderless child’ 
It wasn’t easy to find a suitable bus to Sofia, possibly because it’s winter… Or not. After some googling we found a website that had a suitably overnight-ish timing that allowed me to utilize my night more efficiently. Even though I was due to arrive at 2am, I took it. Only the website states the pickup point at ‘BUCHAREST’ – but no specific bus directions, none. 
I emailed the company and I was pleasantly surprised to actually receive a reply the next morning.
‘Good morning,
           The bus station in Bucharest is Filaret.
Have a nice day.  
Etap-Adress AD / Grup Plus OOD’


At 7.30pm the bus starts driving from the Bucharest Filaret bus station.
At 9pm the lights turn on and a man collects our passports.
Reached at 2.13am!

The bus station in Sofia was really cosy, warm, you had to pay for the toilet, it had (unlimited) free wifi and the money changer was open. It was pretty good.

Here, I had my first encounter with Cyrillic alphabets. I was excited because I could pronounce some, having practised reading some cyrillic alphabet in the month before. I tried to read the signs, to speak them aloud. It was like a game.



4. Couchsurfing in Vientiane, Laos

remnants of french colonization

Village vs city – “village at least you don’t have to worry about food, you get food the next day you go hunting in forests for birds at night, or you go fishing. Here in city you have to plan for the next day how you can get food.”

There is a part of me that misses frolicking around villages in my elephant pants, spamming mosquito repellant, observing plants and trees in the backyard and watching dogs and cats and chickens roam around nonchalantly. Playing with babies as mothers pluck the feathers off chickens, and maybe catching just a tiny, tiny glimpse of another’s way of life.