A Song In My Heart

I woke up with a song in my head this morning and it is amazing how much it reflects the prayer of my heart now as I leave for my next negotiations trip.

Jesus draw me ever nearer 
As I labour through the storm. 
You have called me to this passage, 
and I'll follow, though I'm worn. 

May this journey bring a blessing, 
May I rise on wings of faith; 
And at the end of my heart's testing, 
With Your likeness let me wake. 

Jesus guide me through the tempest; 
Keep my spirit staid and sure.
When the midnight meets the morning, 
Let me love You even more. 

Let the treasures of the trial 
Form within me as I go - 
And at the end of this long passage, 
Let me leave them at Your throne.


Traveling Solo Is So Overrated

Recently, traveling solo has been trending.

The virtues of doing so have been glamourised- finding yourself, absolute freedom, meeting amazing people, falling in love. Sounds absolutely wonderful right? It tempts even the most homebody, group-loving souls to grab their passports and catch the first flight out to start their solo adventure.

Well, I've been there, done that, and I really don't think traveling solo is all it is made out to be and here's why.

1. Lost photo ops. When travelling alone and wanting to be part of a photo, the solo traveler has several options:

ONE: Take a selfie. Result- big face and small background. Something like this. Not too pretty.
That's me at Tian An Men Square on a stormy day
TWO: Use a selfie stick. Result- Well, smiling at a stick. 'nuff said.

THREE: Search the area for a person who hopefully will not run away with your camera, look friendly and approach said person to take photo, try to pose in a non-awkward manner, hope the person is decent at taking photos. Most of the time, they aren't. Result- Lost photo ops like these.
Random stranger probably thought the shadows were beautiful
Sigh. The only photo of the Lady Liberty and I...
2. Freedom from friends, bondage to bags. Traveling solo means that your bags follow you everywhere you go, or you risk losing them. The number of times I have had to squeeze my luggage, duffle bag, handbag and shopping bags into tiny toilet cubicles while trying to ensure nothing touches the grimy floors is depressing. How I longed for friends during those times.
Forever chained to my luggage
3. Sharing is caring. Traveling with others means you get the benefit of economies of scale. Splitting cab fare, tour/audio guide costs, and accommodation costs with a fried would definitely save a pretty bundle which could be used on sharing a good meal which you can share and be able to sample a range of different food with all in the party.
Individual Portion

Shared feasts

4. Strange bed/seat-fellows. There have been too many times I have had to sit next to inconsiderate people who seem to spill over onto my already tiny economy class seat, resulting in terribly unbearable flights. Thankfully, I'm small. But it gets worse when they insist on talking to you with their mouthful of bad breath. Yup, too many unfortunate solo flights. And then there are the strange people you have to share a room with at hostels. I agree that some may be pretty cool. I've had the benefit of meeting a Syrian refugee in Armenia and a climate change activist in China, but my list of cool people I've met at hostels is pretty short, compared to the number of hostel roommates who are noisy, smelly, hostile, or just plain unfriendly. In those times, I always remember that some people travel solo for a reason. Maybe they just don't like other people, or maybe other people just don't like them.

5. Facing the big, bad scary world together. Like the night my best friend and I were hopelessly lost in a residential neighborhood in China with no taxis, or any other public transport in sight, even after walking for an hour, apart from a boat operator promising to take us back to civilization on a boat that did not even have any lights on it. Getting on the boat, we were convinced that we would end up as illegal immigrants somewhere 3 weeks later. But at least we were together.
The dodgy boat. My nervous hands don't take very good photos

6. Finally, I think everyone would agree, that any travel adventure is always a gazillion times more incredible when shared with people you love.

With all that said, every opportunity to travel is a privilege. So go forth and explore!


How Far Can A Wedding Gown Go

Slightly over 2 years ago, Mr Kwek and I were married. Eschewing the regular route of renting a gown from a bridal studio (which would have cost me at least $1000, and I would be sharing the gown several other people), or getting my gown done by a wedding gown designer (which would have cost me at least $3000), I got my gown done by a dressmaker which cost me a grand total of $500. That was the perfect route for me as I knew what I wanted the gown to look like (simple circle skirt, no bling, good quality lace and no tube), which was impossible to find at the bridal studios and well, I'm a self-confessed cheapo and control-freak. Having a dressmaker make my gown meant that I shaved off a huge amount of costs and had control over everything- from the details of the design, to the material used. This was the result and I love it to bits.

One specific instruction that I gave the dressmaker was for her to save all the leftover fabric for me. So with the leftover lace and some tulle, I made my own veil.
Couldn't really find a picture which showed the veil well
 I still had a significant amount of satin fabric left so at the beginning of this year, much of it went to creating the base of my sofa covers which you can read more about here

And with the last bit of leftover satin from the gown, several youtube tutorials, months of procrastination, too many sewing short cuts and much struggling with tulle, my tutu skirt was born. Sew Happy!
This picture does not do justice to the real poufiness of the skirt, but at least I look pretty here
While I am unlikely to wear my awesome wedding gown again any time soon, I get to wear a mini version from time to time. 

Looking back, getting my gown done by a dressmaker was probably one of the best wedding decisions I made :) 

So how far can a wedding gown go? Pretty far, I'd say, with a little sewing skills.

Encouragement Unlikely Places

Sometimes, God knows that we all just need a little encouragement.

Yesterday, He sent it in the form of a little boy in my English reading class who whispered, "this game is very fun." 

Coming from the boy who used to cry and refuse to enter the classroom, and who is usually silent or mutters barely audibly when compelled, this unsolicited affirmation spoke volumes.

The stress of teaching these 5 year olds melted away with 5 words and a cheeky grin.

Just the night before, I was at a loss, trying to come up with an interesting programme to help the class revise over a hundred new words while knowing there would be two new children who would be joining the class. With another work saga at the back of my mind, I was fighting a losing battle on my own. So I did what I could, said a prayer, committed it all to God and went to sleep. Having inspiration for the programme when I was already running late after a frustrating day at work, and seeing how the kids enjoyed learning, it was clear. It can only be the Lord's grace.

So 5 simple words whispered by a 5 year old changed my day and pointed me to God. I am challenged to be that encouragement to others today. Won't you join me too? 0 comments

Turning 29

I turn 29 today. I woke up to many birthday wishes which cheered my heart. On my way to work, I spent some time thanking God for all that I hold dear- love and grace, the people and places, and above all, His hand in my life. I took half a day off work and spent the afternoon with Mr Kwek roller blading at East Coast and enjoying awesome zi char at night. I'm low maintenance like that. 
As I look back on the last 29 years, I'm amazed at where The Lord has led me and I look forward with excitement to the fulfillment of His plans for my life. 

At the same time, this birthday, more than ever, I am reminded of the brevity of life. Today, Malaysia observed a day of mourning as it welcomed home the remains of some of those who perished in the MH 17 tragedy. My heart goes out to those who have lost their loved ones. 

My mind keeps going back to the verse in Psalms 8:3-5: 

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And have crowned him with glory and honor.

For what is each day, each month, each year? They are but gifts from God. And who am I that God would do so much for me? I am but a child of God. 

And my response like the psalmist, through each year that I am given, should always be, "Oh Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!"


Flunky in the African Land of Black Gold

My flunky African adventure continued as we landed in Luanda, the capital of Angola. (We had just flown from Rwanda to Luanda, you can imagine the confusion with the travel agents and bosses' personal assistants during the preparation for the trip, especially with Singapore pronunciation being not quite perfect) The multiple transits to get there had resulted in our luggage being damaged and looted of all gifts that we had brought along- everything from letter openers to brooches to electronics that had been in the check-in bags and boxes were taken. I was beginning to understand the extent of petty crime of the region.

Angolan leg of the journey would soon reveal itself as one of my most eventful ever. So much so that even at the retirement speech of the person leading the delegation several years later, I had a special mention because of this Angolan Adventure.  To make matters worse, by this leg of our journey, either my strong malaria pills had kicked in, or some African virus had taken a hold of me and my memories of the country are coloured by nausea.   

View of the congested capital city

Angola was the second largest producer of oil on the African continent after Nigeria and all the major oil companies had set up shop there. The country was enjoying immense economic growth from the oil industry since the long civil war ended in 2002, but looking around, one could hardly tell how much wealth there was coming from this country's resources. Having been engaged in internal conflict since independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola's infrastructure was crippled, population poorly educated and bureaucracy inefficient. But the large oil companies seemed to be able to work around these limitations, as they always do, and extract whatever they needed, while leaving most of the rest of the country unchanged. 
Street in front of our hotel
As the flunky of the delegation, I was sent to pick up the luggage from the conveyor belt while the rest waited at the lounge. I checked each piece of the delegations luggage off my list, but alas, my luggage was nowhere to be found even as the last piece from the plane tumbled out. I was sent to get my statement taken along with the 20 or so other angry Angolans who had luggage missing as well. How they manage to miss out that many pieces is beyond me. So with me speaking only English and everyone else crammed into that little office speaking only in Portuguese, I somehow managed to be interviewed by an airport staff barking at me, and get a Portuguese form filled in about my lost luggage. The rest of my delegation had been taken to the hotel for a little rest, and thankfully they sent a car back to the airport for me. That night, I understood why torch lights were common issue in every hotel we stayed in Africa as I experienced multiple electricity cuts, which I was told, was the norm in the country. 

The next day, there was still no news about my luggage. While my boss had told me to always bring an extra change of clothes on my carry-on, my suits were all packed away in my check-in bag. So this little flunky showed up for the official programme for that day in a tank top and pencil skirt (lightest items to hand carry). Brilliant first impression I was making. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the day was filled with site visits, and in the African heat, I was glad I was not in a suit.
Flunky at the broken dam in a tank top looking rather malnourished
We were taken to visit a dam which was so damaged by the civil war that it could no longer produce hydroelectricity. Neither the government nor the private sector was willing to pump in the upfront costs to repair the dam so it sat there in decay and disrepair. It was hard to witness such unfulfilled potential. It was harder to think that in a land which produced so much fossil fuel and had so much renewable power potential, much of the population still relied on candles and firewood, and power cuts were a daily occurrence. This was my first run into the incongruence of this country, which also characterised much of the region.
The glassy swiftly running river

I also remember the river there as one of the most amazing things I had seen. At first glance, the water seemed to be still. Almost like a sheet of glass covered the water, yet at each drop, we could see the ferocity at which the river ran, and the raging rapids almost instantly disappeared into another glassy mass. I have never seen anything quite like it again. 
River meets rapids

Our next stop was a little chapel at the coast. The tiny white unassuming building did not betray its dark history as the place where thousands of Africans from Angola and its neighboring countries were "baptized" before being shipped off to Europe and America as slaves. Most never made it to the other side of their arduous journey. I thought of the thousands who where marched for hundreds of miles to the point where I stood, with the knowledge that only death, torture or immense hardship lay head. It was the place where "saving souls" and taking lives stood hand in hand. In the thick, warm coastal breeze, I could almost hear their cries of anguish.
Where the ships filled with slaves set off to the "developed" world

We were next told that we would be heading to a nearby township for a traditional lunch. I have come to learn never to trust anyone when they use the term "nearby". It turned out to be a 3 hour drive outside of the capital city, on majorly potholed and unpaved roads to a building in the middle of nowhere. 

By the time we got there, it was 3pm in the afternoon. The buffet spread was clearly laid out since normal people's lunch hour and the flies had taken over. I managed to shovel some potatoes and chicken into my mouth while praying the flies didn't carry some exotic African virus. Meanwhile, tribal dances and music was performed in all their glory for our enjoyment, but with my tummy churning, I could hardly enjoy anything.

It was soon time to take the long drive back. But of course, even the drive back could not be smooth sailing and we got a flat tire an hour into the journey.

That evening, I got back to my hotel room to find that my lugguage had been delivered. Seeing my stuff again brought an inordinate amount of comfort after the tough day. I embraced my stuff and slept like a baby that night through the sound of the dripping plumbing and the multiple electricity cuts that my colleagues complained about the next day, as our adventure continued...

Happy Birthday Singapore

The 9th of August. A day when Singapore is awash with red and white. The day when loyalty to the nation and patriotism is at its peak. A day when the everyday man looks forward to the most spectacular fireworks display of the year. 

This year, Mr Kwek and I were fortunate enough to score tickets to the NDP preview show the week before National Day. What a treat it was. With thousands of others at the floating platform, waving our national flag enthusiastically, we sang the old national day songs that we grew up singing, watched the deafening fly past, and stood in awe as the night sky exploded with a brilliant fireworks display. The experience was made even more incredible with the beautiful Singapore city skyline as the backdrop transforming magically from day to night. My heart swells with pride and joy. And I recognize that there is so much to be thankful for in our tiny country.

In recent years, my frequent travels have made me appreciate our little city state even more. Having seen incredible beauty, experienced exceptional efficiency, and felt exuberant vibrancy in other corners of the world, there is still no other place that has that perfect mix and holds my heart like Singapore does. And this year, as we celebrate national day, the words of the ever popular song resonates in my heart, "this is home, truly, where I know I must be."