travel

Retracing my Roots in Hainan (Part I)

Qīngmíng Jié, also known as “Tomb Sweeping Day” is a special occasion observed by some Chinese families. It’s a time for them to visit the gravesite or temples to pay their respects to their ancestors. Unlike Singapore, countries like China, Hong Kong and Taiwan all recognized it as a national holiday with most people taking the day off from work/school to travel to their ancestral grave sites. All these years, my family’s custom simply saw us paying respects to our ancestors at the local temples. This year was different. My parents felt that the time was ripe for my sister and I to trace the legacy of our ancestors and so in April, we booked that flight to sunny Hainan island…

The Arrival

What does being Hainanese really mean? I don’t understand the dialect and neither am I able to speak it. The only Hainanese thing about me is that I like to eat roasted Chicken Rice. But then again, despite its name, I learnt that this popular dish was actually invented by Singaporeans. The closest version is the 文昌鸡 (Wen Chang Chicken) which bears close resemblance in appearance but not in taste. Upon arriving at Haikou (better known as “Coconut City”), we were warmly greeted by three of my distant cousins (met them for the first time!) who took their day off from work to be our ‘guides’. Good weather, checked. The traffic situation in Haikou reminds me of being in Bangkok. Rules here are practiced half-heartedly. Cars and motorbikes cruise in all directions. Ferrying a family of three to four on a motorbike is also normal.

Getting Around Haikou City 

Personally, I feel that Haikou embraces both modern and old vibes. On the modern side, you see modernized architecture, high-rise condominiums, interlining expressways and a couple of shopping complexes. Streets are also lined with a variety of food stalls selling their homegrown fruits – betelnuts, coconuts, jackfruits and lychees. The people’s love for BBQ seafood is also widely seen here. As you drive around at night, bustling night markets and colorful neon lights illuminate the streets. I recall feeling so in tuned with a character in the Chunking Express movie. Never mind that I had to squeeze with four other passengers in the car, the warm glow of the neon lights was simply a sight to behold.

Conversely, much of the old city remains unchanged. Some of the buildings still reflect the colonial influence with tiled roofs “flying” or upturned. Technology adoption here remains slow. The 4-stars hotel which I stayed surprisingly had really poor WiFi signals and zero facilities like the gym or swimming pool. Since smoking is also not prohibited indoors and outdoors, it’s hard to find a spot in Haikou where you can dwell in fresh, clean air.

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photo (2)Culture and Dining 

Throughout the trip, my family really felt the warm hospitality and generosity expressed by my distant Uncle and his wife. To say we were well-fed at every meal is an understatement. I feel that the people in Hainan or traditional Chinese in general enjoy entertaining guests in decent places like restaurants. It’s their way of building and strengthening “关系” – Guanxi or relationships, one of the most powerful elements in Chinese culture. This term expresses the relationship of one person to another, almost like an obligation built overtime by a reciprocation of social exchanges and favors.

By establishing this type of relationship with someone, the other party is implicitly agreeing to be also available to reciprocate when the need arises. After dinner on the first day, an old friend of my Uncle (who was coincidentally dining at the same restaurant) actually foot the dinner bill and joined us for a bit before leaving. I also noticed that most of the table arrangements were already pre-booked by my Uncle’s family. Being surrounded by chatter and laughter while dining in a private room is also a typical ambience throughout the trip.

Hainan people love to eat. The style and taste of cooking is similar to Singapore’s. My only gripe is their habit of not eating rice. Originally, I thought the staple food in China was rice. I love rice! So naturally, I was mentally prepared to see bowls of rice (and lots of steamy xiao long baos) on the table. But no! I kept seeing an assortment of meat, vegetables and tofu dishes. Once again, I said hello to the 文昌鸡 (Wen Chang Chicken) and still no sight of rice! Maybe because everyone assumed there was enough food on the table and rice was not necessary. Everyone but me. So, I courageously signaled to the waitress for a bowl of steamy grain goodness. Ah…now that’s what I’m talking about!

I shall end Part I of my Hainan travel encounters here and leave you with more snapshots of this city. Stay tuned for the highlight of this whole trip in Part II where we’ll escape civilization and travel to Qionghai Village and meet the rest of my distant “Pang” relatives.

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(All photos taken by my sister and I)

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2012 & All That Jazz

2012 has been a year filled with a myraid of wonderful moments. There was a culmination of great, fulfilling opportunities for most life aspects such as travelling, self-discovery, career, studies, social relationships and love. It tested me in many ways and I’m thankful I emerged through happier and stronger.

Here’s to what’s best in 2012, highlighted pictorially.xmas'12-2Last Christmas gathering of the year spent with two of my most remarkable girlfriends at NAM NAM Vietnamese Restaurant followed by a gift-exchange at PS Cafe. From previous working colleagues to faces I look forward seeing to each work day to travelling buddies, I am truly blessed that our life paths crossed.

eventsBeginning of 2012 went by so quickly. I remember being mostly bogged down with prelims, exams and followed by the killing suspense leading to release of results. Managerial Economics (ME) was a subject I enjoyed thoroughly but it was also the one that took a toll on my mental health for fear I wouldn’t make it. Weeks into my internship went by and upon seeing my ME results , I recall pumping my fist into the air at my office desk. What followed up from my boss, (who was a man with few words) was clearly unexpected and funny. He might have sensed some unusual vibes erupting nearby so he stood up and I declared to him, “all passed!” And he went “hi-five!!!….”

As the year stretched on, I was also elated to attend the long-awaited wedding ceremony of my secondary school tutor, Edmund the avid smurf collector. Other joyous highlights to remember was our family trip to Bali. After learning that Sis will be home for two weeks, we thought a quiet escapade to somewhere serene will be timely. It was in Bali that I experienced parasailing, tasted the yummiest indonesian cuisine, met the friendliest people, rested our tired souls on a scenic beach under the buskin sun and witnessed a beautiful sunset with great company. The moment when the sun rays hit the pristine waters, reflected its majestic light on passing fishermen boats, is a sight I’ll never forget.

friendscollageGaining an extension after my internship with CBSi was another milestone of the year. Four months into juggling work and school in this crazy-paced world is no simple task. However, the people I work and learn with simply makes working seems so much more enriching than reciting theories.

There’s another aspect which I believe in life is to always be on this journey to pursue a greater, ultimate you. So I took up Toastmasters two years ago to master my communication skills and build a solid network of friends. This year, I finally attained my Competent Communicator Award and also plucked up the courage to participate in an Evaluation contest. Didn’t came home victorious or anywhere close but it really fueled my determination to improve speaking and contribute more to my club in the coming year.

evanandiAs I type this post, E is currently freezing his butt off in Korea. He has been sharing with me photo snippets of this bustling city, amongst them pictures of a toppoki dish, seaweed rice balls and a shot of busy night market.

I have appreciated every minute of our journey together. May we be able to continue savoring each other’s company, grow wiser together and discover more new places on our two-wheelers!

2013, may you be about new adventures. Happy new year, everyone!

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Enchanting Moments in Bali

I made it through a whirlwind of eventful happenings. In a blink of an eye, two months of my internship have already passed. A trip to Bali has also ended on a good note. During our time in Bali, we will remember how we were graciously hosted by the locals, other tourists and strangers.

Bali was a picture a minute, a smile everywhere you turned. Each day presented us with endless opportunities to enjoy each other’s company, delve deep into each other’s minds and tolerate with different travelling needs & wants. All the above, we wouldn’t have experienced if not for this trip.

If there’s a chance, I would love to be back again when the weather is cooler and perhaps with a different company. In case you’re visiting this enchanting place, here’s the place where I stayed and some other noteworthy places and things I like to share.

Accomodation: Dewani Villa (Kerobokan) – huge room and off the beaten tracks

Places I recommend:

  • Padang Padang Beach – very popular among surfers ; pristine waters
  • Sukawati Market – selling local produce, handicrafts, clothes, fabrics, shoes (remember to bargain for at least 30-50% lower)
  • Mount Kintamani and Lake – Breathtaking view uphill and downhill when you get close to the crystal clear lake
  • Rock Bar at Ayana Resort – luxurious experience as we caught the sunset while at the bar located at edge of cliffs. Must not be missed!
  • Visit a street stall and try their Babi Guling Rice. It’s essentially roasted pig stuffed with different spices. The whole pig is then carved and served with rice and other dishes.

We couldn’t have conquered all the above without our taxi driver. Initially, we boarded his cab with an intention of only a 1-way trip. Minutes into our journey, we were won over by his opinions of what to eat, do, and see.  Later, we ended up spending an entire day discovering Bali with him. He is Mr Putu Astawan, do connect with him (+6281 23807592) if  you’re looking for skilled and experienced driver to show you around. 12 years in this driving line, we can’t help but trusted him with our travelling needs.