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.

 

 

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orientations and the issues of social programming

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It’s difficult to say the words ‘We have a problem’. It means owning up to the pain we may have caused and admitting we’ve made mistakes, and it’s human nature to want to be in the right. But progress only happens when we accept the situation as it is, and identify ways to deal with it. When it was reported that the NUS Orientation Camp had activities promoting rape culture and sexual indecency, it was surprisingly disappointing how many people tried to defend these activities but in that same moment, it was also encouraging that people were talking out loud about their experiences because finally the dominant narrative was being challenged.

I have a number of thoughts, but I need to make some declarations and caveats to my arguments. First of all, yes I don’t attend NUS and attend a college in the US, but I am Singaporean and have been witness to the numerous activities either through Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram etc. as well as the anecdotes of my friends. Secondly, even though the programs I’ve experienced to address similar issues aren’t perfect and perhaps approach a different culture, the intent and themes are the same through and through.

My first issue with orientation programs is their intent. Traditionally, they’ve been designed as a form of induction into a college culture or program. This can come in the form of team-building, sharing of values, and establishment of a safe space. But many times, this also comes in the form of establishing a social hierarchy and perpetuating social norms. The activities that tend to aim predominantly achieve this, either explicitly or worse, intuitively, are what we in the U.S. call hazing. Hazing is when in order to ‘fit into a group’, people are pressured to conduct themselves in a way. There’s normally a psychological deterrent from not participating, commonly through exclusion, ridicule or expulsion. Why is this a bad thing? I hope it’s clear to most people, but for those who find it difficult to accept social hierarchies as innately wrong, I refer you to your own experience where you were excluded from a group simply because of a choice you made that aligned to your own principles. A university is designed to be a place for groups from all parts of society to come together and contribute to a learning environment that will help them grow. When someone is under psychological duress or social stigmatization, it becomes difficult to feel safe and valued in a college environment. While in many ways, it’s meant to prepare you for the real world, which is a dark and difficult place, college is also meant to help you incubate your ideas for change and be a starting ground for shaping your ideas for the future. And don’t worry, colleges tend to be dark and difficult places for a lot of people already, and your experience isn’t necessarily representative of those who suffer on a day to day basis from social stigmatization. Orientation games that contribute to this message need to be severely evaluated and addressed. Hopefully, it also becomes the first step to evaluating all aspects of a college environment that perpetuate the lack of justice and the spread of social hazing.

The second and more obvious issue with the orientation activities was the sexualization of the activities. Let me caveat by saying that anything consensual between two willing partners is completely fine with me. I am not trying to be a moral pundit on what form of sexual expression is appropriate, but what I do believe in is that it is no place of an institution (in this case, the orientation camp committee) to decide to have any activities that take away the agency of a person in deciding his own sexual fate. There’s a huge problem with Singapore’s approach to sexism and patriarchy, and I could write a whole post about it, but this orientation camp clearly is evidence of how pervasive rape culture and the lack of understanding of consent is. Men and women are fed into a patriarchal system where hypermasculinity for men means not saying no and taking up space, both physical and social, even at the expense of women. And for women, they’re told that that’s just how the world is, and they cannot be active agents themselves, but simply passive to the direction of men. So while a legal system can set the first step in hope for equal rights, a culture that clearly does not understand and accept the intention behind the laws is self-defeating. 

The scary part isn’t the activities themselves because as many students pointed out, it’s already been removed and the camp can exist without them. It’s in the normalization of the beliefs above, and that people can talk about rape in a joking manner, or believe that they have a say in someone else’s sexual life. It’s the normalization that it’s fine to put someone in a position of submission or weakness and make him follow your way through power mechanisms. It’s the normalization that the ‘real world fallacy’ is justification for your own abuse of power and privilege. Because for society and more importantly, for college students, to progress, we must reject normalization and the ‘way things are’, and continue demanding for a new society built on the values we choose moving forward.

I think NUS canceling the camps was a strategic move to regroup and avoid any future lapses. But I hope it takes the opportunity to through relook its whole culture and understand that systemically it may have a problem in perpetuating the wrong values. And this isn’t a problem just for NUS. It’s a problem for all schools in Singapore, Asia and even the world. I myself will take these lessons back to Northwestern and the institutions I’m a part of.

What I do encourage is for people to continue speaking up. Speak up about your injustice. Speak up because educational institutions in Singapore don’t have transparency on the pervasiveness of sexual crime in its institution even though there is a year on year rise in sexual crime . Speak up because more crimes in Singapore institutions go unreported because of internalized social hierarchies whether gender-based or not. Speak up because you can be an active agent of your own destiny and not a victim of the whims of those with power and privilege.

It’s scary to hear people say nothing is wrong with the way things are, or even that the problem can be easily solved by simply removing aspects of the program. There is a systemic problem and that requires all college students to actively fight to change the system. Don’t allow things to continue as they are, and continue to build a better future.

Keep believing.

hooah.

 

 

the singaporean mystery

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It’s a curious time here in Singapore. 50 years have passed (now going on to 51) and every time I talk to someone, the same question has popped up. What does it mean to be Singaporean? Why should I be proud to be here? It’s such a captivating mystery for so many reasons, the most prominent being that we’re becoming politically more active and our guiding principles for voting are starting to shape.

This question is very much tied to another question : Do I love Singapore? For some, knowing the answer to the first question helps provide the response for the second. For me, they’re independent. I know I love Singapore, but in a more adult way. As a kid, you love as a kid. You love without prejudice, and without reservation. But as an adult, your love is tempered. You choose to love because of all the reasons you choose to put over the reasons that would push you away. You choose to accept the problems and the blemishes. This consideration is important, because while I do not know yet what it means to be Singaporean, my love for Singapore remains. Because I as I continue to try to discover the Singaporean spirit, I’m presented with both the attractive and ugly sides of my fellow people and I choose to continue to love them because we have a shared identity somewhere. I wouldn’t call this so much nationalistic as much as I think it is simply in preservation of what I feel strongly to be home.

I have come to some interim conclusions though. Some conclusions based on recent history and some based on history as we know it. I think these are important conclusions to accept, lest we face a Trumpesque bigotry or a Brexitesque xenophobia.

The first is that Singapore isn’t homogeneous. Who we are is simply not tied to the 8 defining characters of personal identity: Ability, Age, Ethnicity, Race, Religion, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Socioeconomic Status. John Cena recently conducted a video for Americans on the 4th of July (Link Here) asking them to close their eyes and identify a typical American. Where most people would identify a white able-bodied straight male in the U.S., I asked myself what we would answer in Singapore. Do we accept that we no longer just have Malays, Indians and Chinese as Singaporeans? So what if they’re the majority races, why do we not include the rest in our conversation of Singaporean representation? Do we accept that the Singaporean narrative cannot be a patriarchal one, about how men have built this country and that women are allowed to be oppressed through institutions that do not stop sexual assault and allow casual statements on rape and a gender hierarchy? Do we accept that we do have people who are not heterosexual, and that regardless of our religious views that they exist and consider themselves Singaporeans too, that they have gone through NS or school with us and deserve rights just as much as anyone else? These are not Western ideas, these are humanist ones. Singapore isn’t the same fishing village that we started off as that could be easily segmented. No, we’re nuanced, we’re diverse, we’re richly different and we need to find our common spirit away from the social identifiers.

The second is that being Singaporean is an attitude. Think about it, when you picture the ‘What does it mean to be ________’ for most developed countries, you picture an attitude rather than a physical trait. And that’s good, because while it’s important to celebrate diversity and provide spaces for people to celebrate their identities, the political question of ‘Why am I proud to be here’ must be tied to a secular, neutral but values driven aspect of being Singaporean. Is it that we overcome adversity, because hell yeah we do. Is it that we pack more of a punch that it looks like, because this little red dot has done so much for its size. Is it that we celebrate all, because that would be amazing. Finding something common and innate is difficult. But it must be done, for being a Singaporean is a mighty title these days, and it must stand for something.

Finally, the answer to my questions is not stuck in the past. One of my biggest grievances is that some of the biggest campaigns to find the answer to the questions has involved rehashing stories from the ‘good ol’ days’ and making us look to our forefathers. Yes, we’ve done great stuff to come where we are, and we should learn from them. But for all the great strides that we made in the past, we also took steps backwards in arenas of social progress and political maturity. And we’ll continue to make strides forward, and some steps backwards. That’s the way things are, that’s how societies evolve. History teaches us not to emulate the past but to grow from it. Is our future so grim (hardly, based on the work I’ve been seeing at EDB) that we need to be constantly reminded of our past in a form of propaganda to soothe our uncertainty? We need to look at everything: past, present and especially the future and realize that there is a continuum of experiences, each playing an important role in shaping our national identity, and that all must be appreciated to truly answer the questions.

I’ve provided some conclusions to what it is NOT to be Singaporean. I haven’t really given any more clarity into what it actually is, but the danger I’ve seen is that people fall into the traps of the incorrect conclusions way too often and that provides only problems for the country. The answer won’t be some major announcement, nor some big statement. It would be something that’s said once, maybe twice, and it will echo in the hearts of every Singaporean. The truth of the matter is that we’re getting closer to the answer and we must keep talking. We must keep discussing issues of importance; political, social, interpersonal, all of them. We will form a truer representation of who we are through that, and then we can finally demystify the great mystery. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to finally say what it means to be Singaporean?

hooah.

deconstructing myself

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I am probably the most self-aware I’ve been my whole life. It’s sensational, as if I’m tuned into more aspects of my being. It all started with the series of dialogues I’ve been involved in. From deconstructing masculinity, to discussing topics on identity, to brainstorming where the IFC community is at right now, I’ve spent close to 6-8 hours a week simply discovering more about what it means to be me and how that relates to my community.

I’ll be honest, I walked into these dialogues not expecting anything too personal to happen. I expected knowledge to be gained, and perhaps some form of empathy to be formed, but to see myself change and be affected was a prediction I would not have bet on.

Two of the biggest realizations I’ve made have to do with fundamentally significant parts of my life. The first has to do with National Service. As most people know, I have had very little reservations of my time in the Armed Forces, in fact being proud of my achievements and time in the army. But I’m actually surprised how little coverage has been put into understanding the psychology and systemic entrenchment of normative ‘masculinity’ that national service perpetuates. What happens is that aside from the fact that every Singaporean son can defend his country after 2 years, every Singaporean son also is unfortunately fed with the wrong idea that being a man means fitting into a box that is defined by cultural norms. Perhaps being a soldier requires you to be strong, have a command of the situation etc. , but that isn’t connected to your masculinity.

I was a part of the oppression that created a hegemony of the ‘alpha-male’ over other men. I compared weakness to lower levels of masculinity; I used terms like ‘pussy’ and ‘bitch’ when people had struggles, and even motivated myself on the basis that I had to prove my ‘manliness’. It’s difficult realizing that in so many ways, my narrative isn’t just my own, but in fact shared by so many in the country. We have a population that feeds this dangerous idea that being a man requires a certain type of profile, and this could potentially lead to violence, be it physical or emotional, internally directed or externally directed.

There’s so much more to this system that I’m slowly realizing and I wonder how to decouple the two : masculinity and soldierliness. I’ve seen great soldiers, but their self-respect as a man is questionable. And vice versa, can someone who frankly isn’t a great soldier not be attacked for his masculinity?

I’m still processing this.

Another big aspect of my being that I’ve been questioning is my emotional intelligence. For the longest time, I thought I was emotionally resilient, because I was able to avoid letting my emotions affect my logic. That was how my family raised me, and how society nurtured me. In fact, the idea that there are good emotions and bad emotions was something that was fed to me too. Being sad or crying was not good. Being angry was allowed only if you were in a place of power. Force yourself to smile on the outside even if you’re not on the inside.

But I realized recently that I struggle to label emotions I feel beyond a certain point now, and because of that cannot identify how they affect my behaviors. Once I started introspecting more, I discovered that so much of my actions have been destructive in not just building my own emotional resilience, but even those of my siblings, who in the same way I was thought to, would be encouraged by me to stop feeling sad or angry.

I even remember asking myself many times – ‘Why am I not allowed to be angry?’ , or ‘Why is this emotion not allowed to me?’

Inside Out as a movie has great take away points, but I’m only starting to realize the gravitas of liberating one’s self from the idea that there are ‘bad emotions’ and ‘good emotions’. Sure, some have negative impacts on you, but to disallow yourself from feeling them or acknowledging them prevents you from even understanding what’s happening to you and how you can target your life to resolve conflict.

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Personal Development is a never-ending process. There’s always more for someone to gain by understanding himself, his community and society. I’m glad I put myself out there and have been able to retroactively see how I need to change my lens on the world. I can only wish more would have the benefit of these sessions.

I’ll keep working on it.

hooah.

 

understanding invariants

Maturity hurts. It’s a weapon you carry in your inventory, embellished with the pains of your past, that adds to its ferocity in battle. When you carry it, you become slower, but therefore more calculated. You become tired easily, but also calmer. The stronger your sword becomes, the less you have to use it. One day then, you’ll have to leave the sword, and the person who carries it from you will have to learn to handle its weight.

I’ve been called ‘mature’ since I was young, without ever understanding what that meant. I’d nod my head, and say ‘Thank you, sir’ . I never thought I was ever mature though. I was curious – that was probably the better word for me. ‘Curiosity killed the Cat’ right? Well, I let myself face death, danger and disgrace many times in my life.

My curiosity was derived from a dissatisfaction, a dissatisfaction that was fed by my environment’s challenge to always be better. It was initially academic, and once I discovered I had a handle on studying, I wanted to deepen my knowledge of more fields. I wanted to be a better adventurer, a better leader, a better social butterfly. As I entered into these fields, I faced my first big hurdle. Rejection. People told me I couldn’t do what I wanted to do – that I wasn’t good enough or that I wasn’t fit for it. I was distraught , disgraced even. Then I gained my first taste of maturity. My parents and friends presented me the sword. ‘You’re growing up’ , they said. ‘You’ll need this’. I wiped the blood of my wounds on it, and felt its strength. I walked forward, and claimed my place. People won’t define who I am, I said, and did what I knew was right.

The problem with carrying a sword as powerful as maturity though, is that you think you’re prepared for any battle. I walked into the military, thinking I could handle this without a stretch. I was brought down immediately. Hubris and physical toil hit me hard. I remember so many times being at the end of my limits, and having to dig deeper. I had to remember my family back home, so that I could continue on my mission. I had to remember my platoon mates had families too, so that I could help them build their shellscrapes. I had to remember my own mission to be better, and that helped me get a Gold in my fitness test. People yelled in my ear : ‘Is this how you want to go down, Rovik?’ , and I realised my sword was definitely in need of more embellishing. I wiped the blood of my wounds on it, and felt its strength. I became a better leader, and a better soldier. I saw my friends almost die, from all kinds of ailments and physical conditions, and realised how truly sacred life is, not to be meddled with.  I was going to take life and security a lot more seriously.

The moment when you decide to start teaching others how to wield a sword is an interesting one. I had the benefit of mentors since I was 18; people who invested in me as a person and gave me personalised advice. When I started The Hidden Good, I was put in a position to train people and envision the same future I was seeing. More than that, I wanted them to add to it – to share it with me. I realised I was building an army then. An army of mature, wise and passionate individuals who knew how to wield their own swords and carry on the good fight. While teaching them, I too learnt how to better wield my own sword. I had to be confident in my lessons, and uphold them , bettering myself as I went on.

Perhaps the most forgotten aspect of swords is that while they’re heavily offensive, they play defensive roles as well – protecting you from the vile forces of others. I’ve let down my sword too many times. I trusted people too many times or I was tired of the weight of the sword and wanted to forget it, lapsing into immaturity. I had to remember to carry my sword again, and I would be reminded why it was so heavy in the first place.

Why is this topic important now? Because I’m realising how fleeting almost anything I do in college can be. My maturity, in its limited capacity, has reminded me that there is no point stressing or worrying about aspects that honestly would be forgotten in a few years. I’m reminded to invest in things that last – relationships, lives and futures. Love more, live more, smile more.

And in all of it, carry your sword with pride.

geronimo.

breath of the dragon – visiting east asia (part #4 – Hong Kong)

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The final stop of my adventure, Hong Kong was meant to be less of a ‘traditional’ adventure and more of an opportunity to meet friends and see the city as a young adult. But of course, this collection of islands and territories surprised me once again. this time with its history and evolution. Lan Kwai Fong will dominate as my best memory of the place, but behind all the raucous noise of the city, you can see a society accustomed to its place as a world market leader.

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My host, Jethro, and I were having a conversation. I said that unlike the regular tourist, the true traveler values engaging with sights and experiences first, and so we resist paying for needless frivolities like ‘taking photos at the top of a building’. He quickly retorted ‘Well, in Hong Kong, paying is engaging’. I guess that very well summarized the spirit of Hong Kong City. Malls span most places, and right at Causeway Bay where consumerism finds its home, you’ll be blown away by the pure diversity of products you could purchase. At Times Square (obviously named after New York) you’ll find tall and large digital billboards reminding you that the giants of Gucci and Prada still extend dominion even in Hong Kong. You’ll find many more examples of cultural appropriation here, such as at Hollywood Road and SoHo. It’s almost funny how we find issue with the West when they appropriate our cultures, but yet here we are appropriating theirs.

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Probably one of the things you could enjoy and yet escape paying for is the night skyline along Victoria Harbor. In my opinion, both sides of the Harbor are magnificent for the viewing, and one should take the time to admire not only the symphony of lights . Take time to reflect also on the development of a city that was given away ‘in perpetuity’ to the British and then taken back. It’s probably been liable to more political instability than most countries but yet it has stayed its course and arrived here. That’s really admirable in my opinion.

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The Star Ferry brings you across the harbor for a meager HKD 2.50, or USD 0.40 . Reaching Tsim Sha Tsui brings you to the supposed ‘better’ side of the harbor in terms of skyline viewing, and one can also witness colonial buildings that incite curiosity. They’re definitely worth spending the night exploring and admiring.

markets

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Hong Kong’s markets are worth spending half a day exploring. From Bird Markets to Fish Markets to pure fake goods markets, there’s no shortage of products for you to expend a couple of dollars on. Go to Mong Kok or Prince Edward Station and simply walk south towards Jordan Station on the MTR and you’ll be wondering whether the value for money is too good to be true. It probably is, although if you don’t have expectations that are too high , you could enjoy a few good steals.

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Here’s where the trip gets slightly more interesting. Having been to Hong Kong twice before, I decided to take a risk and go into the New Territories. Although the ‘NT’ take up most of Hong Kong in landmass, most people only identify the City as the boundaries of their visit. I’d strongly recommend taking a quick MTR ride out and exploring the Territories, including this Walled Community located at Kam Tin. This is one of the last Walled Communities from the time of the Five Clans i.e. pre-British Hong Kong. Fun Fact : Everyone in the community is supposedly born with the last name ‘Tang’.

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Walk through the wall and you’ll find narrow alleys and people living in close unity. It reminded me of the ‘kampung’ settings in Singapore. What struck me the most was that it wasn’t just the elderly living here, as you’d intuitively expect. Whole families and even children populate this community and add some well appreciated life to this almost ancient and forgotten part of Hong Kong.

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Onto food! My favorite dishes from Hong Kong are Condensed Milk Toast and Milk Tea. It’s a sweet tea-time snack, and the crispy toast is well matched with the soggy texture of the condensed milk. Wash it down with the Milk Tea and you’ve tasted some of the best of Hong Kong. Tsui Wah, a popular chain selling regional dishes, is a great place to grab some of these.

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There’s a lot of dishes Hong Kong is famous for. Go to Mak’s Noodles for Wonton Noodles and Tai Hing for Roast Meat (especially their juicy Char Siew), but don’t leave Hong Kong without going to a Dai Bai Dong place, which is essentially a noodle place that adds ingredients as you ask for them. It’s an old penchant of Hong Kong street-fare and is not lost in the pursuit of great flavors. Chopsticks Kee on Wellington Street was the place I went to, and not only is the food absolutely lip-smacking good, the service staff are very friendly and homely, and the prices are very much value for money. It’s a quiet hole in the wall so you may have some difficulty finding it, although I’d recommend asking around. Most Hong Kong people have proven to be very kind in my adventure.

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And finally, how could we talk about Hong Kong without talking about Dim Sum. Traditionally a brunch meal, dim sum is famous for providing a huge diversity of small dishes that are savory, sweet and even herbal. Most are served in bamboo steamers, which allows the food to be freshly delivered as they’re cooked. We went to Lin Heung Tea House on Wellington Street. One of the strongest merits of this place is it’s traditional demeanor. Most Hong Kong Dim Sum places tend to be in fancy hotels and restaurants and therefore jacking up the prices. Here you’ll find regulars and families, people who value what this humble place has to offer. Don’t take it’s simple outlook as it is though; you will have to fight for your seat, and you will have to join the mad rush to get the dish you want. That’s part of the fun I suppose, and it made for some really fun photos. For a full look at this teahouse, check out ‘Hangry Nat’s’ blogpost here : https://hangrynat.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/forever-1926-lin-heung-tea-house/

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Although I don’t have pictures (for good reason), Lan Kwai Fong definitely ranks up as one of my most memorable watering holes. Accompanied with SoHo, the range of bars and clubs provide no end to your night. Although costly (even costlier than Singapore, who would imagine) , the experiences you will make at LKF probably will never leave you. Accompanied with the ups and downs of the slopes and the open drinking on the streets by expatriates and locals alike, you’ll always leave LKF a little more happier than when you came.

I’ve always compared Hong Kong as a more ‘Chinese’ Singapore, and in many ways its still true. East definitely meets West here as well, but where in Singapore we’ve integrated a lot more cultures, Hong Kong still remains predominantly a Chinese city. It faces the same struggles as Singapore – some search for meaning is going on in all the noise. But you’ll take away a sense of achievement here . People are proud to live in Hong Kong, they’re proud to have a stake in this city. That, to me, is magical.

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Here’s where I pen down my final epilogue on the whole ‘Breath of the Dragon’ adventure. I spent my summer trying very hard to heal the broken parts of myself. I gave myself that goal at the beginning of the year. I never identified as Indian, and always thought I was more Chinese than anything else. I was somewhere in between, almost stuck. These two major trips sought to reconcile these aspects of myself. I’m glad to admit I found the answer ; that while I find strong connections to both cultures, I am definitely neither one nor the other. It is perhaps in that respect, that I find myself indefinitely Singaporean and more so than before. By extension, I’m also an international citizen. The world is my domain and I’ve discovered the ability to empathise with a wide range of people.

Spending my last week home has let me corroborate my thoughts. Summer has been amazing, and I can’t wait to take on the rest of the year.

You’ll hear from me soon.

geronimo.

breath of the dragon – visiting east asia (part #3 – Taipei and Jiufen)

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You have been warned – this post has an unprecedented display of photos of food. Known as the only other place that can satisfy a Singaporean’s food cravings , Taiwan didn’t disappoint in any way. I spent a good 4 days in Taipei, and another day out in Jiufen , to get a more balanced exposure to what Taiwan has to offer and I’m glad to say that among all the cities I’ve visited, I’ve shortlisted Taipei (alongside Berlin) as my top cities to live in. There’s so much to see and do, and the proliferation of street food everywhere adds the cherry to the top. Let’s jump right in.

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I don’t really visit museums when traveling, unless it has an interesting exhibit I want to check out. The National Palace Museum in Taipei stands majestic with the hills in the background, and one wouldn’t guess it was a museum till they read the signs. The Museum is easily accessible by bus from Shilin , and once you enter it, you will be taken aback by the quality and diversity of Chinese art pieces. My favorite are the landscape paintings by Fan Kuan, that evoke so much subtlety while projecting magnificence. You’re not allowed to bring cameras into the museum and so in respect I didn’t take any photos – but take my word that the exhibits will make you want to spend your time’s worth there..  cks

You could probably knock out most of the tourist attractions in one day. Most of them are just sights that you can awe at – for example the Taipei 101 tower and the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall park in the title photo. Here you can see the courtyard for the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. While the hall itself is grand and holds a bronze statue of the eponymous man, the courtyard struck me for its calming sense of balance. The courtyard also holds the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall. Take the time to visit the Concert Hall, and you’ll notice groups of youth practicing their Hip-Hop, which is a sight in itself. Youth culture in Taipei is exciting and its presence is felt all through the city.

confuscious

I don’t really visit temples during my travels, although I like to awe at the architectural styles they possess. I’ve always felt that architecture emotes the feelings of the time and the hopes of the society. Taipei has a strong collection of interesting temples, but the one I remembered the most was the Confucian temple. This collection of buildings and gates translate Confucius’ edicts into physical interactions that you can easily take away a lot from. In this case, the pool represents knowledge, and the fence is in the shape of bamboo thorns to represent the struggle necessary to attain true knowledge. Deep, right?taipei sausage

Now onto my favorite part of the trip. Night Markets. There are almost 8 night markets in Taipei itself, and unfortunately (or fortunately if you think about it differently) , each market actually serves its unique range of snacks and dishes. That means you can actually eat something new at each night market, and the inner explorer in me couldn’t bear that I wasn’t visiting them all. Perhaps it was coincidence or a blessing, but I lived literally adjacent to Shihlin Night Market – the most popular one in Taipei. There’s so much to try, but my top choices are the Sausage in Glutinous Rice buns (in picture) , Oyster Omelette, Pepper Pork Buns, Gua Bao, Scallion Pancakes and the bubble tea (of course). There’s so much more you can try, and I’d recommend shortlisting both Shilin and Shida for visits. Having friends to share snacks with can also be a huge boon.

beefnoodle

Beef Noodles are known around the world, but having it in Taipei definitely lets you feel the difference. You could compare it to Pho in Vietnam, but the Taiwanese beef noodles are special because they braise (or stew) the beef, giving it an extra kick in the soup. In fact, Taiwanese love braising everything, which you’ll come to discover as you walk the streets. My friend , Jacky, brought me to this out of sight beef noodle place that definitely knocked the rest of my experiences out of the water. Located near Ximending, on Yanping South Road (張家清真黃牛肉麵館) , the broth for this leaves you wanting more as you devour the dish. The noodles are slightly al dente, as most good soup noodles should be, and the beef melts in your mouth. I actually got myself hungry writing this, wow.

taipeifood

You’d think this is a simple dish, but this is a Taiwanese staple – Lu Ruo Fan, or braised pork rice. It’s so simple, but the flavors are balanced and make the dish easy to be eaten by itself. If possible, I like to get a bowl of this to accompany side dishes, and am always satisfied at the end of the meal. If I’m not wrong, they’re making it into the Taiwanese national dish, and I’d support that all the way.taipeibreakfast

I’ve always felt Asians do breakfast the best. It’s more complex than just eggs and pancakes, but they set you off on the right food each day. Make the trip to Yonghe Dou Jiang Da Wang, on Fuxing South Road to be treated to aromas of eggs and soy milk. There are so many options, but try the freshly fried You Tiaos (dough sticks), and the Da Bing (in picture) which are thin egg pancakes that you can top with soy sauce for one of the most mouth-gasmic experiences. Wash it all down with a cold soy milk and you’re good for the day. shavedice

Let’s not forget about desserts. Mango Shaved Ice take over the streets of Taipei as the best possible dessert around. Similar to Ice Cream, except that there’s more Ice than Cream, this dish is sweet and its texture gives you the sensation you’ve always been looking for in a dessert. Most important to this dish are the fresh Taiwanese mangoes diced for you. I’ve always been in love with fresh fruit, and if you come to Taiwan and don’t try the mangoes fresh I’d feel sorry for you.The sweetness could bring you to another level.jf2

Taiwan’s notoriety isn’t just in its food. The land is filled with mountains and lakes that take your breath away and incite imagination. You’ll come to appreciate the stunning efficiency of Taiwanese public transportation. Buy a refundable EasyPass and use that to get you anywhere around Taipei, including the outskirts. An hour away from the city by bus, you’ll come to Jiufen, the mountain town that reminds you of an Asian Santorini. Climb the mountains to get magnificent views and burn off all those calories you gained from eating at night markets.goldmine2

In a nearby town, Jinguashi, you’ll see the gold mines that were the main reason for occupation here. There’s a lot of history in the place , including the Japanese and Chinese exploitation of the mines, and you’ll feel transported to a different time in this nicely preserved part of Taiwan. Entrance is free which makes the visit all the more worth it. There’s even the ‘largest gold bar’ ever which people queue up for. I’d avoid it, unless the photo is absolutely necessary. Imagine the germs on that one bar. goldmine

Among the numerous hiking paths, one of the ones that I’d recommend is the path to the Japanese Shinto Shrine, built high over the town of Jinguashi. You’ll notice many people drop out from fatigue, but persist and you’ll not only be treated to a stunning view, but a bit of history as well. You’ll be quiet once you reach the place, partially out of solemnity and partially because you’re too tired to say anything anyway.

waterfall

Another trek worth taking is the one to the Golden Falls. Named after the assumption that this waterfall was pouring liquid gold, you’ll notice quickly it’s the copper in the rocks that are providing this unique color to the waterfall. It’s right next to the Pacific Ocean as well, which in all honesty , is pretty darn cool to look at.taroballs

Head back to Jiufen in the evening to walk around the night market on Old Street. Once again, there are many unique dishes for you to try, but the Taro Balls Dessert are famous and for good reason. Chewy and fresh, these balls provide a cool counterbalance to the heat in the area. They’re handmade right in front of you, so you can trust it was made with love.ximending

Taipei ranks as one of my favorite cities for many reasons. Above all, it’s the strong vibrant culture that’s present, without the stress of regular city life. Visiting Shanghai and Hong Kong infects you with the ambition of their societies, but it also passes on the stressful hurry that’s apparent in everyone. In Taipei, that sense of hurry isn’t that common, and that gives you a pace of life you can appreciate. Want to experience nature? Just take a quick bus ride out. Want to eat good food? Just go find a night market. Clubs such as Lava and Elektro give you a good look at the youth culture in the city as well (Lava is by far one of my favorite clubs in my adventures)

I honestly see myself coming to Taiwan a lot more times. With friends and with company, there’s still so much to discover.

Shoutout to Emma, Jacky, Nicole, Kevin, Angela for showing me the haunts of Taipei I wouldn’t have known to go to by myself.

The adventure ends in Hong Kong in my last post.

Till then,

geronimo.