5. Baobab Forest, Gweta, Botswana

In a country almost 10x the size of SG and only 2/5 of our population, we crossed paths with Jacqueline, had a good night of learning from the most random of topics, and listened to the first drafts of ‘Khaki Fever’ 😉 remember us when you’re famous!

chubby gan


Always wanted to see a big fat Baobab tree 🌳 This one’s more than 1500 years old, it’s seen many, many, many generations of you and me

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2. Qom, Iran – of Patterns and Prints

I take a taxi from the bus station that the Tehran-Qom bus drops me at, to the holy Fatima Masumeh Shrine.


It should cost no more than 50k rials, but the annoying taxi driver kept insisting for 100k, so we waited until more passengers came on board. Only then did we agree on the 50k, but upon reaching the destination I gave the driver 100k and he returned me 40k and acted like ‘his friend’ was the one that agreed upon 50k, and he was trying to insist it was 60k. 10k does not make much of a difference, but it really annoyed me, that sense / fear of being cheated. Anyway, I insisted it was 50k and he (somewhat begrudgingly) accepted, and that was that. 

On the bus to Qom

 

 

 

 
You need a chador to enter the holy shrine. There’s a free bag deposit there, so I left my backpack with them (seemed safe, had a ticket to claim it back) and the women sat me down in their tent while we waited for an available chador for my fitting. No DSLRs allowed, but mobile phone cameras were acceptable. A (free) guide was also available and necessary for Non-Muslims to explain the various functions / history of the mosque. How considerate(?) (!)
 
My guide, a very eloquent man who showed me around the mosque.

I loved the patterned tiles and prints I saw at many stops along the way. Part of the allure of Iran was the dazzling architecture, with their gorgeous pillars and ceilings.

loved these!

Qom is clearly a more conservative city. Upon reaching, most women (i would say 95%) were covered with the chador.
 

 

 

The Iranian government-mandated Islamic dress code requires women to be modestly covered from head to toe, and wearing a hijab is obligatory (or risk getting caught by the ‘fashion/morality police’ – @elaavor shares – thankyou!) While it’s not uncommon to see shawls loosely draped over the hair of Iranian women in big city Tehran, majority of the women in Qom, with its more conservative traditions, wear the black chador.
 

Can’t stop gaping at these beautiful patterns of the shrines/mosques 😍


 

 

It’s funny thinking about the responses from my Iranian friends from the second half of my trip. The first person I mentioned this to was Elham (Esfahan), the girl I had met by chance when I was lost. They (Elham, Azar and friends) asked me about the route, they laughed when I said I went to Qom. “Qom?” “Why did you visit Qom?” There was a certain chuckle in their statement and they seemed to stifle a giggle as they asked politely. It seemed that Qom was a very religious city, so religious that they didn’t want to visit it themselves. That was quite an interesting thought, and reminded me (though not really comparable) of Jerusalem vs Tel Aviv, and preferences of cities and perhaps stereotypes of its people.I liked Qom though, I found it an interesting visit and was glad I stopped by for the few hours, before setting off to Kashan.







Another interesting I found was the use of smartphone apps to resist the regulation of the dress code.





Additional reads:



https://www.google.com.sg/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/20/influx-of-morality-police-to-patrol-the-streets-of-tehran

Obligatory wearing of the hijab has been an integral policy of the Islamic republic ever since the 1979 revolution but it is one the establishment has had a great deal of difficulty enforcing. Despite fear of reprisals, millions of Iranian women, defy the restrictions on a daily basis by pushing at the boundaries.

7,000 male and female officers for a new plainclothes division

government-mandated Islamic dress code, which requires women be modestly covered from head to toe

They would take a range of approaches to enforcing dress codes, including handing out scarves as gifts, giving verbal warnings or having female officers physically remove excessive makeup.

At worst, offenders would be sent to court and face fines of up to $250 or hauled to the local police station until their family members gave a written promise that they would never commit the same offense again.

A new smartphone app is helping young Iranians avoid Tehran’s morality police, who have become notorious for harassing anyone whose dress or public behavior doesn’t adhere to strict Islamic standards.

The app, called Gershad, uses crowdsourcing to identify the locations of Iran’s morality police, known by their Persian name Gasht-e Ershad (“guidance patrol”). Ershad officers regularly patrol the streets of Tehran to identify men and women who violate Islamic code of conduct, and they have come under criticism for abusing their powers. Those found to be in violation — typically women who wear too much makeup, or the wrong type of hijab — can be thrown into the back of a van and detained. They’re often let off with a warning or released after being lectured, though some have been fined or prosecuted.

Gershad helps Iranian women avoid police checkpoints by crowdsourcing their locations and displaying them on a map. Users who identify a checkpoint can anonymously mark it on the map to warn others, in much the same way that drivers flag traffic stops on the navigation app Waze. When users report a sighting, a small police icon appe

After the Shah of Iran was ousted in 1979, Iran reverted from a legal system to Islamic law.

 

Mount Ophir with friends – Malaysia

IT’S A BIRD!
No, IT’S A PLANE!
No….. IT’S MOUNT OPHIR!!!!!!!!!111!!!!!111!!!!!!
(no it’s actually cashew nuts)
crew!
partner!
SUMMIT!

I liked this weekend trip, I like how a single weekend becomes memorable. A quick getaway to another place, unlike a usual routine weekend.

I also liked how my friends came along this trip. 😀 With work these days, it’s quite hard to find time to get everyone together. This was a great opportunity, and I’m really glad and appreciate that it was organized ❤

Photospam of memories, of people I appreciate in my life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ijen Crater (Photo Log)

A crater lake is a lake that forms in a volcanic crater / caldera.
Crater lakes covering active (fumarolic) volcanic vents are sometimes known as volcanic lakes, and the water within them is often acidic, saturated with volcanic gases, and cloudy with a strong greenish color.
‘The lake is the site of a labor-intensive sulfur mining operation, in which sulfur-laden baskets are carried by hand from the crater floor. The work is paid well considering the cost of living in the area, but is very onerous. Workers earn around Rp 50,000 – 75,000 ($5.50-$8.30) per day and once out of the crater, still need to carry their loads of sulfur chunks about three kilometers to the nearby Paltuding Valley to get paid.’

THE delicious blue flames licking the edges of darkness

tiny silhouettes crept closer towards it, the bellowing fumes that occasionally cloaked them out of sight
sunrise

 

What I remember: Ijen is a more arduous hike than Bromo of course, stumbling in the darkness down the rocky steps with our gas masks.

 

 

crew!

 

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.

 

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.