All posts by koheiueno

Add some rhythm to your travel

It’s been about 2 weeks since my solo journey began, and I’m noticing that it could get a little lonely at times. Luckily though, I have my own travel companion called the Asalato, a West African music instrument (apparently from Ghana) that I recently stumbled across after watching this Youtube video.

It’s essentially two balls attached to a string with seeds inside, which you swing around the hands to make them hit each other, creating a percussive click, as well as a shaking sound.

I really love the simplistic nature of this toy, made out of sun drying a type of fruit called the Oncoba Spinosa.  They create a hollow but solid sound when struck, and the shake of the seeds add a very soothing flow to the rhythm.

According to Wikipedia they can also act as a skill-development tool to help improve dexterity, ambidexterity, brain hemispheric synchronization, and develop the ability to multitask. Best of all, it fits conveniently in my pocket, and I can whip it out whenever I feel rhythmic, or whenever I need some inspiration as I journey on.  When  I got lost in a forest, for example…

  

The Asalato has become my beloved travel companion which I always carry wherever I go. Try it out yourself and add some rhythm to your travel!

Feel free to grow, Singapore, just don’t leave behind your Soul.

This is my 6th day since arriving in Singapore to catch up with my family, or 2 hours left to mark the start of my journey as I wait anxiously for the Bus to Thailand. Initially, Singapore wasn’t a destination that was part of my so called worldly discovery, having lived here for over 10 years as a kid, and where my family still resides for close to 30 years – it’s my home away from home and I didn’t expect to learn anything from this country that I didn’t already know. Well, I was wrong. Times have changed, and Singapore continues to amaze me.

I happened to be invited to a beach party at Siloso Beach in Sentosa (_20141016_134354an artificial island, think of it like the palm island of Dubai stuffed with theme parks + Vegas), and it was one of those rave parties on the beach where girls wore bikinis without actual access to the beach. Instead, the venue sprayed luminescent paint all over the crowd and lit them up with UV lights making them illuminate like the Na’vis from Avatar. It was a spectacular event, with lights, music, alcohol, girls, and even better as I was given free VIP tickets by a friend who knew one of the organisers.

So a friend and I sat outside with a 6 pack as we waited for the organiser to take us in. We see rows and rows of young, hip, sexy girls and boys, many schoolies drunk off their faces marching into the gate aggressively like they’re about to enter war with alcohol, all while looking like they were having the best time of their lives.

Then as soon as I got in, I suddenly felt overwhelmed, a little turned off by the sheer scale of the event and the fact that these kind of parties happen on a weekly basis apparently. It’s so common yet so epic. I was a little culture shocked to be honest. The atmosphere was filled with modernillumination technology, with fluorescent lightslights beaming into the sky with EDM pumping energy endlessly into a sea of sweaty shiny dancing avatars, creampied from top to bottom with paint spraying out of gigantic fire hoses. At one point they looked like they were being possessed by some sort of demonic light god… Next minute, I turn my head and I see my friend making out with a random girl covered in paint. What on earth is this place? It sure doesn’t seem like the Singapore that I used to know.

Don’t get me wrong though, I was having a blast at the sheltered VIP sector, drinking heaps of alcohol, dancing and shaking my asalatos all night surrounded by sexy slim girls in their bikinis. But I just couldn’t get over the fact that everything looked so artificial, where people marched in like robots soullessly onto an artificial beach with artificial colours and artificial music. This party was one of those nights that made me feel amazed at how far Singapore had come in just over a decade. The pace of Singapore’s growth is not just fast, it’s exponential.

I feel nervously excited for what the future holds for Singapore, excited because I can’t wait to see how much more crazier it becomes, but nervous because I feel Singapore is starting to lose it’s soul. Did you know that Singapore’s GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world, and the nation has one the highest percentage of Millionaires in the world, and at the same time Singaporeans are also one of the unhappiest people in the world?

slide82Similar studies all point to the same conclusion, and I was shocked, because I know I wasn’t unhappy living here as a kid, it was quite the opposite. But then I realised – I’m not a Singaporean. I only just lived here.

While growing up I remember hearing lots of complaints from my local Singaporean friends about the government and the PAP, blah blah blah, Things that I chose to ignore as it never applied to me, and I hated politics (I still do), but now I realise that their suffering is partly due to people like me – the expats who are quickly taking over their role, their workforce, their economy, their culture, and perhaps their happiness too.

How can you feel happy when you are only just getting by but at the same time you see others in your country earning millions and living the high life? There are many people in Singapore who are struggling to get by, but at the same time the country has a nick name – “the playground for the rich”.

A glass of beer costed me $18 last night, when I can get a bigger, better, fresher beer in Australia for $7, while still being paid twice as much. A fresh grad from Britain double’s the salary of my local Singaporean friend even though he’s been working for years, regardless of work ethics or performance. You’d probably have to be ten times more effective just to be ‘treated’ on par with an expat, who by the way accounts for 30-40% of the population.

Personally I felt like this beach party was a good representation of the current state of Singapore. Dazzling and amazing with shiny lights and VIP treatment, but in the expense of liberty, consciousness, and nationhood. I think the people here knows it, just that they can’t do much about it. I don’t know what Singapore will become by the time I return, but as the saying goes – “the best way to predict the future, is to create it” 

My bus to Thailand leaves in an hour, take care Singapore! 🙂

Goodbye Australia

It was only after running desperately through the airport terminal as my name was being called for final boarding and after just making it onto the plane that I could finally relax and settle at my allocated seat, when the thoughts of leaving Australia began to finally sink in.

Random flashbacks of my 10 years in Australia started popping up one after another, speeding up in sync with the jet engine of the plane as it shot down the runway at 300km/h. The G-force pressing my body against the seat, my blood, my thoughts rushing to the back of my head as if they couldn’t keep up with the speed of the plane. Then I remember feeling nervous, with anxiety peaking in my stomach as the plane continued to speed up.

I was scared, not because of flying, but because I realised that there’s no turning back anymore – I’m actually leaving this country now, leaving all these great friends and memories behind.

The plane lifted off the ground, my stomach sank, my thoughts literally felt like it was sucked out of my body. This is it. The memories are now the past. Goodbye Australia.

Moments after I reminded myself of a quote: “Goodbyes are not forever. Goodbyes are not the end. They simply mean I’ll miss you until we meet again”

Fuck I’m gonna miss you all

A journal a day keeps the travelers awake

The self proclaimed life lessons learnt throughout this preparation phase have so far been very educational and enjoyable. Quite unexpected really, to once again be reminded and relive the joy of learning stuff and discovering new things (especially about yourself). So fun that it makes me wonder what I’ve been doing for all those other times, years, where I probably wasn’t learning anything useful, or at least enjoyable to say the least.

As described in my previous posts, I feel like I now understand the power of setting goals, or the essence of packing lite, and feel proud to have discovered an idea that life may not need to be a one way direction; these discoveries are happening almost every day, and I feel good that I’m able to document them onto this blog as I go.

At this point, I realise that inspiration comes and goes,  almost instantaneously, and if I fail to document them while they’re fresh, I probably wouldn’t remember them, I wouldn’t learn them, thus I wouldn’t have discovered them. So blogging has now become one of the top priorities on my daily ‘To-Do List’ as I embark on my journey to keep my mind awake to the discoveries that lay ahead.

However, I know I’m not going to have the luxury of being connected on my laptop everyday when the journey actually begins, which is when I imagine to have a lot more of these inspirational moments coming and going quickly, probably more than I can handle and definitely more than I can blog about. Which is why I’ve decided to get myself a little pocket journal to capture as much moments as possible on the go.

At first, you might be like me and question the difference of taking a notebook, a journal, or even just a pen and paper. I certainly started off by searching for the cheapest notebook on ebay, but as I continued scrolling, the more I started noticing the different types of notebooks out there, and started daydreaming the different use cases that I can picture myself in with them, and suddenly a rush of good-feeling. Yes, that’s the moment of inspiration.

After spending about an hour of scrolling through pages and pages online, I think I’ve finally found one that hits the spot. The Midori Traveler’s Notebook

The Midori Notebook seems highly regarded, or at least frequently talked about amongst seasoned travellers, or within the small but prominent underground scene of adventure journalism (Yes, It’s there).  Apparently the paper quality is great for writing, the leather cover ages quite nicely as you travel, and the design of the journal allows for owners to customise it to their own liking with ease with things like attachable papers, folders, photo inserts, zip bags, etc, all made possible with just one piece of string,  it’s simple and concise, I see it as an art form of pure engineering brilliance.

In the end, however, it is just a notebook, and I admit  feeling embarrassed for spending hours looking at reviews and user feedback, but the more I researched, the more inspired and curious I got, and slowly I started understanding why there is a hidden niche market of journal fanatics across the world.

Now I’m convinced that a diary/notebook/journal essentially becomes a part of you when you’re travelling, becoming imbued into the characteristic of each person’s individuality, your one and only companion that sees everything you see, ages as you do, and develops as you go.

The cost was 3240 Yen, about $30 USD. Shipped together with various accessories and customisable parts, I ended up spending about 7000 Yen. Currently on it’s way from Tokyo. Expect to see this journal in action soon, for notes, sketches, ideas and discoveries!

How I will save up $25k in 4 months

MONEY SAVING ANATOMY 101 

This was the part where I wished I had prepared much earlier. There’s no denying that you will need money to travel for 12+ months. How much? That’s totally dependant on your travel style and where you go, but I budgeted my trip (being conservative) to be roughly $25k.  If you want to see an example of how I calculated this, please leave a comment and I’ll share a doc with you privately.

The idea of the trip only became real to me when I told my manager a few months before D-Day, giving me just 4 months to make $25k. To make things worse, I didn’t have any savings large enough to even buy a round the world ticket. For years I lived by comfortably, going out, eating out, drinking heaps, buying things, without ever thinking about saving up, which I think is the symptom of being too comfortable. With the high cost of living in Sydney, plus a mortgage to pay in Melbourne, I don’t have a salary to net $25k in 4 months. Even as I type this I am nowhere near that amount. So how am I going to get it? I did a quick google search…

Aim at the sun, and you may not reach it; but your arrow will fly far higher than if aimed at an object on a level with yourself
– J. Howes

Okay Mr.Howes, that’s inspirational but no where near rational. How about:

Make a plan, put them on a spreadsheet, and do it.

I did a bit of research into my cashflow and I was surprised how much money I could save by downshifting a few notches, and spending money on just the bare essentials (just like packing). Not only that, how much I could make by selling stuff, renting out stuff, or quite simply getting a part time weekend job.

Quite literally, that’s what I’m doing now. I’m not going out, not dining out, not drinking beer each night, stopped smoking, changed banks, selling heaps of crap and working a weekend job to save as much as possible to reach this target.

Another valuable lesson learned: Money is hard to make, so why not put as much hard work to save?

If you put my average weekly expenses on a scale of 1 to 10, I’ve shifted from about an 8 to a mere 2, and increased my cash inflow by about 15%.

If I carry on at this pace for 4 months, I may not hit it, but I’ll be closer than ever to reach $25k.  One thing I forgot to mention was the extra cash you get from the annual leave/vacation/holiday pay out when you quit your job (which applies for most countries), and also things like the deposit/bond from your leasing property that you get back, as well as tax refunds (if you’re in Australia) where you can claim back a portion of withheld income tax.

Anyway, the point that I wanted to get across, is that things may seem out of reach at first and we often give up at that instant. But if we put our minds to it, persist, and explore every possible angle, there may be things that we’ve simply overlooked. Our mind is strong enough to come up with ideas, but only if we really wanted it to.

I think I’ve finally understood the true power of setting a goal and working towards it. I hear it all the time, but could never apply it until now. It’s a powerful stimulant to move you forward, as long as the goal you set is something that you really really want.

All these wonderful new learnings before the journey even started. Ernest Hemingway, you are one wise man…

[Now, let the Journey unfold..]

1 year travel with a 40L backpack? It’s not as hard as you think if you know this one advise. maybe.

PACKING ANATOMY 101 Mountain Design - Escape 40L

As soon as I made the decision to leave and started thinking of what to pack for my 12+ months journey, I already began learning things.

Sure, “pack lite” but that’s a given statement, not a formula.

Initially I underestimated how difficult it would be to only pack what I considered to be the bare essentials. Although I’ve always tried this  concept each time I took vacations, 100% of the time I would end up with a suitcase load of crap with more than half the items never being  used.

Not only that, I underestimated how much space a pair of jeans or a pair of jacket takes up when stuffed into the backpack. This becomes a problem when you know that you’re stepping into the  Himalayan winter right after South East Asia.

The break-through came when I met a guy from one of the camping stores who mentioned that his favourite fabric to wear is Merino Wool. Naturally I have no interest whatsoever about fabrics, but after researching more about this Merino Wool, I learnt that they are naturally anti-microbial, fast drying, lightweight, packable, and great for temperature control in both hot and cold climates.

What this meant was, I don’t need to wash as often as cotton or synthetics since it will not build up smell, lightweight so it won’t add on weight, packable so it takes less space, dries fast since it wicks out moisture in vapour instead of liquid form, keeps me cool in warm places but warm in cold places. Simple right? But I never knew about these things and how this could significantly reduce the amount of clothes I’d need from 7 or more T-shirts to like 3. More importantly, it motivated me to research on almost every clothing materials out there, their effects, the science behind performance, ultimately making me better at picking the most essential items to bring. Not just clothes, but bags, towels, shoes, and packing cubes.

Mountain Design - Escape 40L
          Mountain Design – Escape 40L

Don’t research quantity, research quality and prioritise functionality and science.

So, the ski jacket was out, the cotton hoodies were out, the synthetic T-shirts and underwears were out. All items that I initially planned to pack was becoming less and less essential, all thanks to the discovery of Merino.

The lead up to what may be the biggest decision of my life

This has been by far the most difficult thing that I’ve ever attempted.

The master plan of where I was going for the next 12+ months, how I was going to explain to my parents that I’m leaving the best company to work for in the world, how I was going to survive without a steady income, without knowing 10 different languages, with only 4 months to save up, and pack 10 years worth of possession into a 40L backpack and venture out into the unknown.

It’s a very frightening thought I must admit. There were countless times when I thought of turning back and give in to the comfort of Google to be on track to lead a successful career (See Why I Left Google).

But just as I was mentally preparing and tossing up the options, I had an opportunity to go on a 10 day liveaboard scuba diving trip at one of the most remotest oceans of Indonesia called KOMODO. This trip played a pivotal part in finalising my decision, giving me ample time to reflect on how I wanted to feel
like waking up each morning, and how it became clear to me that life existed outside of Google.

 

By the time I stepped foot back onto land, after spending more time being surrounded by fishes than humans, the kueno bug had grown so large inside of me that it finally found a voice of it’s own. On the first day back on the job, I told my manager that I’m quitting.

[see Why I Left Google]

Some fun facts of Singapore

This post is completely unrelated to my journey, but that’s only because Singapore is like my 2nd home where I’ve spent over 10 years living during my high school days. So instead, I’ll tell you some interesting fun facts of Singapore to warm things up before I take off on my journey.

To tell the truth, I just wanna post something to experiment the use of tags and categories... (can someone tell me how to make fonts smaller?)

Majulah Singapura. That’s the title of the national anthem of Singapore, a song of national pride which every Singaporeans knows by heart.  But I bet most of them don’t even know the meaning of each of the words in the lyric, because they’re all in Bahasa! a.k.a Malaysian, which accounts for less than 15% of the ethnic race that makes up Singapore’s demographics.

What’s even more interesting is that Singapore’s population is around 5.5 million and Australia is 22 million.

SINGAPORE 5.5 million
AUSTRALIA 22 million

 

Now compare the two on the map:

                          ….. (- _ – ; ) ….

 

Singapore is so small you can’t even see it!

I think you get the idea. Singapore is mega tiny! Too small that the red dot you see above is bigger than the actual country it self. However they have a population of 5.5 million, compared to Australia’s 22 million, which makes them 4x smaller than Australia if you put it that way.

Let’s carry on the maths. Let’s use land mass this time.

Singapore: 716km²        Australia: 7,692,024 km²

                          ….. (- _ – ; ) ….

 

Singapore is 10,743 times smaller in land mass than Australia!

Visualise ¼ of Australia being shoved into the tiny dot you see above.

Yeah, not a pleasant sight. No wonder Singapore is the 2nd most densely populated country in the world…