Tag Archives: travel

Witnessing the loss of the Hmong Tribe – Sapa Vietnam

With hopes to find a place to bunk for the night at one of the remote villages in Vietnam, away from the tourist infested city of Sapa, we biked down the mountain aimlessly until a lady wearing a pink turban, approached us from behind and shouted “HEY! you want come my village stay my home?” – That was the start of our encounter with the Black Hmong tribe of Sapa..

It’s safe to say that ‘homestays’ are a popular tourist attraction here in Vietnam,  where you get the opportunity to stay at a home of a local Vietnamese family, eat what they eat, sleep where they sleep, and get a glimpse of their lifestyle and culture. What was different here, is that it wasn’t just a homestay at a local family, it was a homestay at one of the tribal ethnic groups of the mountains – the Black Hmong Tribe.

They live on a beautiful region east of Sapa, away from the tourist infested city on a hilltop overlooking the Fansipan mountain. The view is truly spectacular. But what’s more beautiful was their culture, which I was fortunate enough to learn over a dinner chat during that one night of stay.

If I heard it right, there are apparently 7 Hmong tribes that live in Vietnam, what’s amazing is that they all speak completely different languages to one another, and have very different traditions and cultures. The Black Hmong people wore colourful  patterned dresses, head scarfs instead of hats which the other Hmong tribes wore (some wore combs, etc). Basically they are different not just in tradition and culture, but also outfit and style, which I thought was really cool.

The other thing I liked, is the fact that all women learnt how to weave clothes since childhood, taught at home by their mothers, and all men learnt how to make jewelry, taught by their fathers. So the women made clothes to warm up the men, and all the men made jewelries in return, to beautify their women and make them look pretty. Apparently this is a big part of their culture, like every family does this, and that’s fucking awesome. The rest is simple life. Farming rice and vegetables, some pigs and chickens to feed the family, and any leftovers are sold on the market for extra money. They are even legally allowed to grow unlimited amount of marijuana, since they’re used as hemp fabrics for their clothes (I’ll talk more about this later). It’s a beautifully simple life, but within the midst of all this, I see some modern tech in the household, like TVs, scooters, light bulbs and speakers, which got me thinking, and the more I thought about it, the more I got disturbed. I had the urge to write down my thoughts as I fell asleep that night. This is an exert from those notes.

Mai, our homestay host said she bought the TV for the children

“they like it so we buy it. If we don’t get one the children will go to the neighbours and won’t come back”.

She also says its good for learning English, Vietnamese, and to ‘see the world‘. I kept quiet and listened as she talked about how TVs are good for education. I agreed to what she was saying, and I respect her for showing so much care for her children, but in my mind I couldn’t stop thinking the fact that this might wipe away their tribe one day. These kids will grow up knowing that there’s a world out there full of colours and interesting things, materials, and i can feel their curiosity growing by the minute on screen. These kids may grow up wanting to become like us, to leave the village and become an accountant, an office manager, a jet fighter pilot, a mortgage broker, a movie star, or whatever we all work as in the ‘real‘ world. If that’s what they want, that’s fine, evolve, commercialise and modernise, but I have a very strong feeling that they are perfectly happy where they are, and I think they know it themselves. What they probably don’t know is the brainwashing power of TV and other media and the effect it has on children while growing up. Or at least I think so. What I’m basically trying to say is that I wouldn’t want to unplug their TV, but I wouldn’t be happy plugging it in either.

mei and hash
Mai, our host, and the hemp plant that she gave to us as welcome gift..

Mai’s dream is apparently to visit Halong bay, as written in English so cleverly on this little donation box hanging on her living room (aimed at visitors like us). To be honest, from our perspective that’s a pretty small dream to have. Its like saying your dream is to visit Osaka if you lived in Tokyo.. Humbling and nice and all, but at the same time, I didn’t feel good about this dream, because she wouldn’t have had this dream if she was never exposed to it in the first place.  Okay, a little harsh, but think about it. If she was made aware of Halong bay from a story from her mother, father, chief village master or something like that, then that’s a wonderful dream with a story behind, but If it’s from seeing it on a magazine cover or a TV show, then that dream is the bi-product of fake signals telling her to buy things that she doesn’t need. To buy that camera, that watch, that car, that trip to Halong bay or Hawaii. If money is what we need to get there, then I’ll work hard and do anything to earn that money – kinda thinking.

The thinking part is not to blame, you can’t blame someone from being sold, its not within our control to be brainwashed. In fact i think TVs can be a good thing if they showed the right things, like national geographics and discovery channel, those real educational shows, but obviously most aren’t, since 80% of media are apparently owned by one family, those that can afford to wipe their asses with thousand dollar bills. Anyway, as I chatted along with the family as they kept pouring me shots of ‘happy water’, I couldn’t stop noticing the children’s eyes glued to the TV and that wasn’t making me happy at all.

Kids are our future, yes, this phrase is scarily true. The future is inevitable, slowly but surely these tribes will one day become like us, following our footsteps just like how we all began. The only difference is that we just got there faster, forced into modernisation and the industrial revolution, capitalism, thereby the future that we all currently live in. But then again, The paradox is that I want them to stay the way they are because of my own personal desire, my wishful thinking, my greed. Who knows what they want.

My mind was going in circles as I spiraled into deep thinking. Maybe I was too high when I was writing this, but it seemed like an endless cycle at that time. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? Why can’t they just co-exist in harmony like oyakodon – if you know what I mean.

I managed to get to sleep that night after convincing myself that it was okay to be greedy this time, because my wish that they remain the way they are is not for me after all, it’s for them.

    “Who is more important, you or others? The conclusion is clear; even if minor suffering happens to all others; its range is infinite, whereas when something happens to me, it is limited to just one person. When we look at others in this way, oneself is not so important.” – Dalai Lama

Anyway, it was a good segway to the next chapter of my journey into Nepal,  one of the most poorest countries in the world, but also one of the most sacred places in Asia for many religions, namely Hinduism and Buddhism, the ultimate pilgrimage of Zen worshipers, the birthplace of Lord Buddha 🙂

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

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]