the end of this blog.

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I’ve always imagined life has some poetry to it and perhaps that’s why it’s fitting that my last post before this spoke about death and closure. I’ll make this post short because I’m sad to let this blog go but also excited to be launching two new blogs. I’ve realized that I want to tighten my message and make my posts more readable, both for my future self but also for those who do follow my content. I also recognize I’m at an interesting point in my life, where I am closing a huge chapter and making an intentional effort to move on to the next chapter. It’s more appropriate then, for me to modularize these experiences and refer back to them as necessary.

So here they are…

For my Travels and my thoughts on the wider theme of Wanderlust, join me at Wanderlust with Rovik – https://wanderlustwithrovik.wordpress.com/

For my continued thoughts on life, the universe and any short creative pieces I write, follow me at Magic in the Space Between https://magicinthespacebetween.wordpress.com/

With that,

goodbye, dear blog and thanks for the memories.

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let’s talk about death

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Content Warning: I talk about some pretty morbid topics, not because I necessarily want to but because it’s become important to process some recent events.

Last week, after an already incredibly emotional series of events, as I was waiting to board my plane to London, I found out that Eric Judge, my fraternity brother and someone I always respected and looked up to had passed away. If you have read my post about pain, then you’ll know exactly what my body and mind went through at that point. I had to find a space, sit down and try to calm myself before I got onto the plane, because I had lost someone I cared about and the realization that I would never see them again hit me. This time last year, my paternal grandfather passed away of old age, and I remember feeling a reeling sense of shock. Now, my body knew what death of a close one was and immediately reacted emotionally.

Eric was one of the first people I met in my fraternity as I began my education process and immediately I knew he would play an important role in my understanding of Lambda Chi Alpha. Yes, he was known as the frequent caps player and the teacher of all things beer related, but he was also a brother in the most expansive form of the word. He would celebrate everyone who joined the organization, and he would shut down anyone who spoke poorly of another brother without regard for their dignity. It’s weird to speak praises about those who have passed only after they left, especially knowing that he was in Chicago and I only spent one other occasion with him before his incident. I wish I could have told him all of this – how I respected him and how my time in the US was made that much more special because of him. I will remember him dearly. Eric, this is my way of processing your death. I tried speaking to friends and family, but it helped little knowing that I had lost someone I cared for. My friends mean the world to me and it’s horrible that the cosmos wouldn’t give us any more times to celebrate our lives.

Eric’s death made me all the more resilient in speaking my truth to others. I am no longer ashamed of being honest and spontaneous in my expression to those I care about. It’s naive for me to claim that as we get older, death will be a more commonplace occurrence because so will marriage, birth and all kinds of other celebration. I am entering a portion of my life where the innocence of living is eroding and I have to choose how I interpret the things that happen around me.

There is a part two to this post, one that I feel I must write although I’m not sure how to write it. As if Eric’s death wasn’t enough to dampen my mood, as I landed in London I saw on the news that there was another terrorist incident in northern London. The cities I plan to visit – Berlin, Brussels, Paris – are also no longer strangers to acts of terrorism. I am literally living in a time and place where the concept of chaos is close and familiar and I have to adapt to the fact that I have to choose daily to live my best possible life. I have to also choose more than ever to be cautious, alert and smart about things around me.

But there’s this weird what-if question that remains. What if I do die? I know, I know – the human psyche is afraid of the question. It’s one of my biggest fears in life – my mortality. It’s very much why I continue to do the legacy work that I do. I feel like I should start thinking about it though, not to give the enemy any upper-hand in mental victory, but to give it the intellectual space it needs to provide insight. I immediately thought of my family and my close friends, the ones who actually do care for me the same way I cared about Eric and maybe even more. I immediately thought of the same pain crashing through them and felt awful myself. I want my life to speak for itself, my values and my character to continue beyond my existence. I want my conversations to have lasting impacts on the people I had them with. I want people to keep believing in a community that supports itself and is resilient.

Ironically, even considering the impact of my death made me so much more committed to fighting to live and to fight the forces that threaten my or any of my loved ones’ existences. There’s so much more work that needs to be done on this planet and no one should be able to steal that opportunity from us. I also recognize that the issue is so complex because of the politics involved. Terrorism only seems real because it happens in cities with people of actual power, but attacks happen in other parts of the world including Syria and Iraq, by countries like the US and UK. People all over the world are dying because it seems easy to detonate a bomb. Death is becoming a stranger topic until it hits someone close.

That has to stop. This desensitization to death has to stop. We need to feel emotionally connected to every aspect of the human condition and that means recognizing that it’s completely wrong that people have to die for acts they were never responsible for. I am carrying and will continue to carry this pain. I have a few ideas of how to move towards addressing these problems and am making efforts towards them, but I hope everyone who reads this recognizes they have that power to change their perspective on death in the world.

this is a perspective shift.

make a difference.

the roles we must play

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The Fujiwhara effect describes the phenomenon when two nearby cyclonic vortices (I am aware my title picture is not of a cyclone) orbit each other and close the distances between the circulations of their corresponding low-pressure areas. It’s really a fascinating thing to watch – a dance of sorts between two chaotic, unpredictable elements that ultimately lead to a blending. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently – a product of the void left after graduation and a bunch of other significant events recently – and I’ve been wondering about how I’ve chosen to interact with people around with me and what that says about me.

When I was in middle school, my class tutor wrote in a note to my parents, “People will feel the wake of Rovik’s crossing”. I was 14 when this was written, but it has since stuck in my head. I never comprehended what that completely meant till recently when I realized that I was definitely leaving a presence behind, not in an egotistical ‘People will miss me’ kind of way, but in the manner that I’ve always aspired to – a legacy that is evidenced in tangible change created. More important to me though was recognizing how I got here, as a matter of introspection.

Perhaps the biggest thing about myself that I realized is that I’m a provocateur and activator. Just like a cyclone, I choose to be bold, overwhelming and a force to be reckoned with, simply because I come with a hope to bring change and evolution. I choose to disrupt because too many things gone undone have been regretted by the quiet.

But what about everyone else? I recognize my role but I also recognize it isn’t everyone else’s. It’s team-building 101 – know who’s on your team, understand their skills and recognize the roles they will play to take advantage of their strengths. That’s simple enough.

How about if we extend it to inter-personal relationships in general though? Here, there isn’t an engineered effort to drive synergies. No, we’re forced by life to encounter people and choose if we want to be friends with them or not. But while we may start to piece together their personalities and characters, we inevitably also build a dynamic between us. These dynamics are again tied to the roles we have traditionally assigned to ourselves. So if two cyclonic characters meet, there will be a collision that causes a new set of chaos. If a cyclonic character meets a quiet calm sea character, you can expect some pain to be felt. If a cyclonic character meets a sturdy rock, you can expect erosion and challenge.

But the roles must be played, both for the individual’s sake to stay aligned to their character as well as for the sake of advancement of the existing state.  Things must move forward, and the roles people play will assign the attributes to the progress created. This metaphorical way of looking at things helps me understand why people do the things the way they do and how things evolve out of moments of collision. Other cyclones are rare to come by, and when you do meet them, history has taught me to brace full on for the impact.

hooah.

 

 

may we never forget these days

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This post is emotionally wrought with stories of nostalgia, themes of reflection and thoughts on moving on. This isn’t a sad post, but neither is it necessarily an extremely happy one. But that is also how I feel right now – at the perfect state of bittersweetness.

I’ve heard how college changes your life. I’ve heard how it’s the best four years of your life. I’ve also heard how you make some of your best friends here. I’ve seen all of that come true, especially as the past month unfolded itself. I find myself at a really important point in my life, wanting to give it the time and space it needs to fully affect me as it should.

I’ve learnt so much about myself the past 3 years, constantly facing challenges and having to evolve as I learn more about the world around me. I came into college with a head bigger than it should have been. I had completed some significant chapters in my life, but it wasn’t experience that beget opportunities, but humility and curiosity. I learnt that vulnerability is where you are fully taking in what is around you because you have fewer guards to stop you. For example, when I signed up to produce a musical, I walked into rooms, shut up and learnt from others before speaking my part. I learnt to trust the knowledge of the community and my peers, and that made me even more important as a collaborator and manager.

It is also this humility and curiosity that stopped me from judging people who were different from me, something that is almost endemic to the conservative Singaporean psyche and allowed me to connect with a fascinating diversity of people. I am so so happy I got the opportunity to come to Chicago, which is the crossroads of culture, politics and experiences in the US. The days I’ve spent just wandering the neighbourhoods and the nights I’ve spent traversing the beautiful urban landscapes of the city will always be etched into my memory as some of the most classically romantic points in my life.

Before college, I thought I understood what friendship was and what it stood for. A step backwards, I was also a very angsty teen growing up. I really thought I was undeserving of love, that I was someone who had to claw his way up in every situation he was in and prove his utility to earn a place amongst others. It’s a huge part of the underdog story I had to live as a part of growing up, both as a minority and an immigrant. But in college, again in the past month, I’ve seen my real friends take their place and make their love for me known. I’ve felt my heart explode a thousand times over as I feel emotionally connected to the people who have surrounded me for the past few weeks, months and years. I’ve felt distraught as I realise that this chapter is ending, that this story is taking on a new turn and that the cruelty of the life will not allow me to have the privilege of being just a five-minute walk from any of these people. But I’ve also felt the showers of affection. The more I give myself away, the more I get back and the more honest I become, the more connected I become to the people around me. I’m leaving college having a vastly different understanding of friendship and love, and I really am standing on a bittersweet intersection of this realisation.

I am a product of my experiences, my character and the people who support me. I have never felt more connected to life itself, to the wider ways of the universe. I will always be that kid from Singapore, the one with dreams bigger than he can handle, but I will also always be your friend and loyal companion if you choose to be mine. I will take every adventure on with you, and I will promise that our memories will be laced with surreal moments.

These are my transformations in college. may we never forget these magical days and may we always remember who we were at this point in our lives.

hooah.

we are complex.

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Recently I celebrated my 24th birthday and I’ve asked myself what changes I’ve seen in my life so far. I’ve gotten into the hobby of watching the world evolve as we speak. It’s very much being conscious of the changes that are happening around you and the dynamics that build into them. It’s also being aware of the complexities that intertwine our lives. It is a fair truth that the world belongs to those who engage in these complexities – of growth, love, passion and many others. But these complexities give both immense joy and tragic pains and I’ve experienced both in the past few days.

This will be a short post for the most part, not because not a lot has happened, but because so much has happened that cannot and should not be written. For the first time in a while, these records will have gaps that are intentional and there.

Now, immense joy. I’ve recently felt the true sensation of bliss in my life. Time and again, I’ve sought out the gem of happiness (pure, unfiltered and lasting) and I’ve sought it in various places. This is why I travel, why I write, why I try to solve problems. But I think the moment I felt bliss was when I felt love, in all of its forms, when I didn’t earn it. Love that was bestowed upon me because I was who I was and furiously committed to that. Love that was enveloping and entrapping. From my family that has been there since day 1, to my friends who have taken the journeys with me, to the cosmic sense of the world that has shown me its beauty, I have felt love in consecutive waves that built upon each other and it is beautiful. I am so grateful for these stranger things.

But tragic pains also are part of the parcel of existence. I stay conscious of the fact that too many good things beget one bad thing, and while there’s no rationale for that belief, it keeps me wary. I stay wary that others are complex and are on their own paths, and sometimes in my attempt to understand their complexity, I can misstep. I stay wary that the world is built on tensions between dualistic forces and sometimes we got caught in the midst of them. I stay wary that sometimes pain is an energy by itself, and it can inspire thought, empathy and progress. Emotional pain drives itself to the soul, lunging at the core safeties that we’ve built for ourselves and tears them apart. It drains you of your energy for the quickest moment, leaving you a vessel, but then provides you the option of response. How one deals with pain show probably some of the most defining moments of their character, especially if it is tied again to the understanding of our lives. I have felt pain recently and it was excruciating, but it was honest and truthful and the most connected I’ve felt to my humanity in a while. These too are stranger things.

We are essentially dancing all throughout our lives, between moments of joy and pain. Some are stumbling through, and some ride the waves, but everyone is in their own complex performance. But the dance cannot be beautiful without the tension, and it cannot be interesting without the momvement, and so dance we must, and dance we shall.

hooah.

have you ever seen a grown man?

Salar De Uyuni In The Rainy Season

04 Feb 2010, Bolivia  — Image by © Kazuyoshi Nomachi/Corbis

I’m taking a break from all the travelogues to finally write a thought piece. It’s been a while, and I’ve forgotten how much I enjoyed writing in this space. This has served both as a dumping ground for all kinds of thoughts and yet, paradoxically also a curation of who I am. Leaving this space to rot will give very little for future-me to reflect on.

I’ve been in a naturally reflective state recently, given the stage of life I’m transitioning through. I’m graduating out of college, and while I’ve always believed I came in here at a different stage from my class (given my experience with the military and running a company), I still find myself grateful for the maturity these 3 years have granted me. I find myself thankful for the friends I’ve made – I’ve never wanted to stay in touch with people more than with these souls who I’ve had the privilege to encounter. I pause at moments to breathe and appreciate the range of opportunities I’ve been granted – from governing over a council of fraternities to producing a musical to signing a big name artist for a festival to running a research project at one of the world’s best museums. I struggle with the difficult lessons I’ve learned and I contemplate daily how to apply myself to advance social justice, community building, and leadership development both in my daily life and the various contexts I’ve become embedded in. The worlds I have to straddle become discrete yet overlap and I feel challenged yet empowered to care about all of them. I think frequently about Singapore, my home, but I also care about Evanston, the US, the world I belong to and to which my friends around the globe live in.

It makes me wonder how college is supposed to serve the individual. Yes, the primary purpose is the education. My Computer Science degree will serve me will in the future, both as a bolster for any career choices I make and a foundation to understand the world as it evolves.  But this environment has been rich in its experiences. I came to the US with an objective of transplanting myself away from Singapore – not because I disliked my home but because I loved it so and needed space to understand it from afar. Contrast and juxtaposition increase awareness of what makes us unique. Northwestern has provided me that platform to explore my passions and goals in a setting that is relatively free of expectations. I don’t have to fit a preconceived notion of a college student in the US – I can be whoever I want. Success belongs to those who find excellence in whatever form. It’s starkly different from Singapore, where as a country we struggle to appreciate the humanity of our society. We think in numbers, laws, and achievements – not in values that connect us. Because where the former keeps us safe and moving, the latter keeps us alive and excited for life. The joy of life is in our ability to choose our own struggles to earn the rewards that matter – not in inheriting struggles imposed by social hierarchy, hyper-legalism, and history and finding ways to accommodate our existence.  Our children must find meaning in their day, they must see themselves molding society. That shining sense of opportunity has to surpass the ‘needs of the economy’. The economy grows because of our ambition. Our ambitions should never be limited by the decisions of society.

College built my hope in change. I’m notoriously known for my optimism and it’s exacerbated by my youth. When I was running The Hidden Good, I remember the countless number of not only older people but also my peers feeling the need to provide a ceiling to my goals or a signpost back to their idea of reality. I’ve always been fearful that perhaps I do live in my own head too much – that perhaps my hope for society can only manifest itself in the smallest of doses. But college has given me the platform to shape my own future, not because it’s a magic bubble, but because if you look deeper it has similar levels of unfairness, inequality, and injustice. Yes, the progressive slant of Northwestern is enabling, but reality is encountered quickly when you push for anything more than a statement or declaration. Action requires getting down in the mud, and I’ve focussed my time away from the surface level politics and in the work of understanding and empowering change. The successes have given me momentum but the failures have only riled me up more to recalibrate and go again.

There’s so much more I could probably write about. From the thoughts on traveling as a student to the consistent effort to diversify my circles, but I think I’ve run out of mind-fuel. This post will continue to serve as my reminder of my optimism, just as my posts from the last 10 years have been equally charged with positive energy and the journey to improve the communities I’m a part of. I’m excited because I’ll be graduating college excited about possibility.

The world is a jungle and I’m excited to explore it.

hooah.

 

 

seeing south america: lake titicaca + la paz

Peru had been an absolutely epic adventure, but it was time to move on and explore new territories. Taking a bus through the mountains, I was on a journey to Lake Titicaca and Bolivia. Whatever I thought I knew about South America was going to be challenged by what I was about to see across the border.

Puno

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In order to cross the border, I booked a seat on Bolivia Hop which is a really affordable bus service that takes you from Cusco to La Paz, with stops along Lake Titicaca. Most of the people on the bus are fellow travellers and backpackers, making it a worthwhile time to get to know people who are probably on similar trails and willing to explore with you.

The bus makes a stop at Puno early in the morning, which is a Peruvian town on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable water body on the Earth. Altitude is still high, so expect to see mountains all around and still have shortness of breath. The lake is absolutely beautiful and supports so many people. What’s really interesting though is the Uros Floating Village, a village made on reeds that sits in the middle of the lake. The people were escaping from the Incans and formed a defensive settlement on the lake so they could move quickly.

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The islands are stable, housing ‘communities’ which are a couple of families pooling resources together to live on an ‘island’. The Uros start new islands normally when marrying out or wanting to start a new chapter of their lives, and the process takes a long time. The amount of reed needed is incredible, and the politics of it all is pretty interesting. The Peruvian government has committed to respecting indigenous populations and supports the Uros, even providing solar panels if you look closely enough, to ensure a basic standard of living. A lot of critics say that the Uros these days only live as such as a way to earn money from tourism, sharing that it’s kitschy. I don’t know how I feel about it, but I definitely found it interesting that such a way of life even existed and that there’s more to South America than just grand civilisations and beautiful landscapes. Indigenous people add to the flavour.

Copacabana

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From Puno, you’ll cross to Bolivia, which has quick border crossing process. People joke that it’s like stepping back in time, but honestly it’s not that bad. The visa process is a bit of a struggle, so I do recommend planning ahead for it, but Singaporeans get to go for free if you go to an Embassy or Consulate before crossing the border. To be honest, the only reason why I wanted to go to Bolivia was to see Uyuni, which ended up falling flat for reasons I’ll share later,  but I was about to discover some interesting sights. For one, Lake Titicaca is more beautiful on the Bolivian side, and Copacabana which is the city on the lake in Bolivia gives you access to more parts of the lake.

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One of the things you must do is to take a boat out to Isla de Sol, which is precious in Incan and Ayamara history as the birthplace of civilisation. It’s a small island and takes a hike to get around, which is difficult given the altitude. There are a couple of things to see on the island, including the famous but small Sun Temple, but the real prize are the views out from the island.

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One of the best views are of the Cordillera Real, a beautiful snow-capped mountain range that just takes your breath away. Seated in the foreground is Isla de Luna, the sister island to Isla de Sol.

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The Yumani village is situated on the island, and there are donkeys, alpacas and lots of hard labour. The woman are incredibly strong and visibly present carrying loads up and down the hills, while the men work on construction activities or are smoking outside. It’s quite the sight, seeing the villagers just live.

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Of course, while in Copacabana, you should try to get Trout which is caught from the lake. It’s fresh and delicious, and if you find the right local restaurant you can get the above meal for 2USD.

La Paz

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After Copacabana, I made my way to La Paz, which is the seat of government of Bolivia. It’s a chaotic city, with noise and confusion everywhere. Bolivia is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, which makes travelling around it slightly dangerous and sketchy. On the bus ride, we had to go through El Alto which is where most locals live (La Paz is more of an urban work area). The roads were horrible and you couldn’t help but get scared as you went through it, but I guess that’s why they tell you not to go there.

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One of the best things to do in La Paz is to take the cable cars, which is a form of public transport in the country and therefore only costs 3USD for a two way trip lasting 20 minutes. Locals actually use it to commute, but tourists are allowed as well. The views of the city are stunning and remind you of how many people actually live and work in La Paz, and how chaotic this sun-baked city is.

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Now La Paz has a lot of history. It was the heart of a lot of revolutions, especially with the Spanish. The Ayamara, which is the indigenous civilisation before the Spanish, still have a large presence. The city was divided between the rich Spanish and the simple Ayamara, making city tours a diverse walk through two concurrent histories. The picture above shows the typical garb of a cholita which is an Ayamaran woman. The bowler hats are quite the sight.

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Calle Jean is a neighbourhood in the Spanish side of the city that’s colourful and full of art galleries and shops. It’s said to be haunted at night, but there’s also alternate explanations that describe how secret conversations of revolt happened here, sparking some of the biggest moments in Bolivian history.

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Another good sight in La Paz is the Witches Market, that’s in the Ayamara side of the city. It could make you a bit queasy, with all the strange smells and sights including Alapaca carcases, but it’s an insightful look into local culture and traditions.

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A lot of what I loved about Bolivia was the food though. It was exceptionally cheap, simple but delicious. Sopa de Mani, or peanut soup, is a local favourite and is a slightly peppery concoction that fills you up well. Llajuita is a good chain restaurant that serves local dishes in a clean environment so go there.

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Silpanchos were one of my favourite meals, made up of rice and potatoes with a large thin piece of meat and egg over it. It’s really tasty, but very greasy. Silpich is where you want to go for this for a clean and cheap meal.

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Of course, you can’t go to Bolivia without trying Saltenas. They were my favourite snack and I had so many. The chicken one comes with an egg in it, and while it’s similar dishes around the world, what makes a saltena stand out is its mix of spices and sauce that bring out so much flavour. The famous ones come from Pacena La Saltena and they’re really cheap and quick. Add some peppers for a strong kick.

Bolivia doesn’t use Uber so walking is probably your bet for getting around, although cabs so exist. I only used it to go to the airport, so I think you’ll be good with walking.

TIGO should be your choice of SIM Card, costing only 5-6USD for a comprehensive data plan for a whole week, and I’d recommend going straight to their HQ building to set up your phone.

Be careful of ATMs in Bolivia, because they have heavy transaction fees and also some of them run out of cash but don’t tell you until they return your card. Some have been heard to even deduct the amount from your card without giving you money so go to banks to get money from the ATM and make sure you can talk to someone in case things don’t work out.

Be prepared for unexpected changes in your plans to Bolivia though, as protests happen frequently and they mean business. My trip to Uyuni had to be cancelled as they shut down the town and had gun patrols blocking travellers going in or out. I met people who had to sneak out at 2am under the cover of darkness and walk for 20KM before reaching the nearest town to take a bus out. Don’t plan for more than the next day.

As for safety, practice regular safety habits and you should be fine. Go where there are a lot of people, and eat at places where there are lines. A great hostel to stay at is Loki Hostel, which is admittedly a party hostel but a great community. I have a lot of memories at their rooftop bar that has a beautiful view of the city and some of the craziest party animals.

Next post, I’ll share about my time in Salta and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Look forward to it!

hooah.