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.

 

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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 
Unemployment 
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…

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina



Watch 😥







With its east meets west ambience, it may feel like you are wandering the markets of Istanbul, or strolling through Vienna the next street over. This is because Bosnia was influenced by the Ottoman empire which ruled from the late 1400’s, and then Austrian-Hungarians who took control for a short period of time in the late 1800’s.


There’s something I really like about Sarajevo – the stories, the people I’ve met, it’s rich history, how the east meets west – you could be wandering the Ottoman-style bazaars on one corner and strolling through the European architecture on another. Somewhere near the Latin bridge, Gavrilo Princip assassinated Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, triggering the start of WW1.



The Latin bridge

 
Even looking through these pictures bring back the heavy-heartedness I felt when walking around the city. Has it already been more than 4 months? Wow.
I spent a long time in the Srebrenica exhibition. I went back to it the second day, because there was so much to see.



I am reminded of my time in Poland.




Near my hostel in the old town bazaar


you can still see the scars along the streets



a Sarajevo rose (without the red resin)

What happened at this very spot? I couldn’t help but wonder




After being here the words of brisi continue to float in my mind. I thought I’d be keen to find out first hand accounts of the war – I am, undeniably a part of me remains curious, but a larger part of me feels a little sickened. Sickened by the reality surrounding me. Depressed, a little. And at the same time feeling hypocritical because what do I have to be depressed about? How could I ever understand? What do I want to hear these accounts for? To satisfy my morbid curiosity, for drama?
What do you want to know this for? It feels like you come here and you take and you take all these information, and what do you give to us?





There was one thing he said that struck me – the idea that mankind learns from the mistakes of history hardly contains the truth 
The international community and its indifference 
A man wears a shirt that says ‘dead of alive’, the white slogan sprawled across his chest. He lies in a pool of red.
I pondered at the irony captured by the camera, and took out a piece of Turkish delight to chew. I stood there, watching the short film on ‘Syrias war: a journal of pain’, drinking my water and eating my sweets. What a picture I must make. 


I thought back to the hostel man this morning. He has lived through the Sarajevo siege. Anyone older that me has experienced the war in some way. Everyone that passes me. 
Too many thoughts
I think the war did impact the people and the city’s values in some ways and I could see how it did leave some kind of influence on her
Sarajevo’s unemployment rate is so high
At least 40% or sth
And seems like they get jobs by connections not qualifications
Bad for the future economy
Twin towers and contrasting theories 
As in the notion that the US could have been the mastermind behind the whole ‘war on terror’
I did read about how the war on terror could be a justification for their invasion of oil-rich countries but to think that they executed the act of destruction of the twin towers…
Calendars of Tito
International indifference
 

 

Moster – Sniper’s tower (dark tourism)

I spotted it from some distance away. I had read about it online, and I had to admit there was something intriguing about it, I wanted to see it for myself. Dark tourism – voyeuristic intentions to catch a glimpse of such a haunting past.

 

 
 
 
 
The graffiti art lined the outer walls of the sniper tower. It was in this tower that the Serbs had apparently gunned down many innocent lives.
The bulletholes leave their marks. The youths of today have tried to transform this scar-ridden landscapes and make their own meanings, to voice their views.
 
 
😦


 
 

they all end in -93
 
I walked around heavy-hearted, pondering about the people I walk by. 20 years, 20 years isn’t that long. The people next to me could have witnessed it, or their parents. I felt… sad.
 
But what do I know? Really, really what do I know? I am just a tourist, another cloud passing by, shaking my head at the poor bullet scars of bosnia’s tragedy, and then I move on, enraptured by the next panorama of a city, another picture-worthy coast. And I say ‘I felt sad’ – really? 

I felt sad, and then i felt hypocritical

 

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ah, from Dubrovnik I caught the evening bus to Mostar, and reached at about 9+pm. It was coooooold and foggy.



Mostar and Sarajevo are one of my favourite cities for sure. I learnt a lot from the days within the cities. 



There, the bridge of Mostar





I met 2 Turkish guys on the bus and we went to look for a hostel together. They told me a little about the history of the place; on hindsight I knew so little then. Never heard of Bosnia y Herzegovina before 2014, didn’t know how they looked, what language they spoke, the streets, the history. Nothing, no geographical imagination of it, none. (mm, ignorance i admit ignorance)


Books to read: 

The death of me of Yugoslavia
They would never hurt a fly slavenka drakulic
 
I find signs like this intriguing. It’s like seeing ‘ARGENTINA’ etched across a bus, knowing I was actually heading there. Likewise, seeing Sarajevo and Dubrovnik. These are cities I’ve heard about, read about, researched about, and I was here, standing in front of signs that were actually leading me there. My heart buzzed with excitement. 
 
Well, Mostar in the morning. I woke up at 9+, eager to head out. Said bye to the guys who raved about the bureks in Bosnia – ‘people in Turkey sell ‘bureks from Bosnia’ as a branding’ – and headed towards another hostel. It was a lovely hostel, one located in the central area of the lively bazaar.
 
 
What struck me about Mostar: the buildings… the crumbling remains of buildings. The scars of the snipers. The broken hollow echoes on the ground. I’d never seen the remnants of war so upfront, so starkly and nonchalantly sitting in the corners of the city.
It felt… strange. Understanding its history later on in the museums dropped some sort of weight in my heart as i walked along these… pretty recent remains.
 



Went into the mosque and the viewing tower


 
how many hundred(s) years old is this?


 




The beautiful Stari Most!


 
Where are the summer frogmen that dive into the river?
 
 
 
 
Such a quiet lovely place. I walked past a boy singing (basking). I gave him the rest of my oranges. He was so young, only 12 or so.

Pisa, Italy




yay! just another tourist posing the same thing as everyone else! woohoo! ‘look at me lift that tower!’



 
It was pretty cool to see the leaning tower of Pisa in real life. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – i expected a leaning tower for sure, but well… it was tall and pretty grand and actually leaning for real, that was pretty cool and i smiled, amused
 

just the 1038931736198th tourist to do this 

‘damn, i feel so uncool and unoriginal, i thought i was unique as a snowflake BUT I CANT THINK OF A BETTER POSE TO DO HERE’


 
golden hour
 
This is the last post for my family trip. Thank you World Wide Web and Blogger for your infinite memory space and thank you for letting me leech on it. 
Incredibly blessed to be able to visit Europe with my family again. I know, I know! I am seriously privileged. This also marks the 10th year Papa brings us abroad on a plane on a family trip. It means a lot to me (other than the perks and joys of travelling) to be able to witness these sights with them. 
I AM REALLY LUCKY
 
 Some things I took away from the family trip:
 
We saw many Bangladeshi workers in Italy, along the souvenir shops, the ones selling leather bags, some food, jewellery… I didn’t think much of this 2 years ago. Sister was buying shawls, however, when the shopkeeper asked where we’re from, and she asked him in return if he’s from Italy. Also, one shopkeeper said ‘terimah kasih’ after learning that we’re from Singapore, and another said it was a nice country and he had worked there for 14 years. 14 years! That’s a long time, we exclaimed. Yes, he said. And after 14 years all he got was a work permit.. But here in Italy he worked for 2 years and he got a citizenship. His family is here now, and the kids attend the school here. 
This anecdote is echoed by another salesperson of leather bags – now he’s opened his own shop. It makes me wonder if Singapore is a stepping stone to his goal here, or if this is the case for many others.
Citizenship makes such a big difference, I’ve come to realise. Now his family and himself gets free healthcare and free education, as an Italian. 

 

Venezia, Italy

Always, always, always wanted to go Venice

one of my dream dream dream dream destinations so i’m incredibly thrilled to have been here (!!) all that i’ve read about, heard about, I was SO close to Venice the last time

only an hour away, catching the flight from Venice Mestre airport back to East Midlands

i chose verona over venice because i had hoped that someday i’d be back, with my family, or people i care about

and i did, i did, seriously lucky

though admittedly i wondered what it’d be like to couchsurf here – having a host bring you around to her school, her favourite hangout place, to peek behind the beautiful windows in a city like Venice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

boarded the water bus that reminded me of kampong luong except there were no kids rowing their boats in the waters