There’s an incredible source of freedom, when you make decisions that are free from obligations or responsibilities towards other people or societies.
I keep waiting to wake up from a good dream, and I’m still waiting I suppose.
Anyhoo, here’s how life has been as a digital nomad.
It’s been 3 weeks in Croatia.
I’ve been to one pole class in a very dodgy looking building. The security guard greeted me in Croatian, and asked me in English “dancing?”. This was an industrial park with hundreds of different businesses, all under one unit number – Radnicka Cesta 27. Yet he took one look at me, profiled me correctly and sent me down unmarked paths to find the pole dance studio. Surprisingly, I found it with no help from the non-existent signs. I’ve realized sometimes, when you just set an intention on something with no real pressure to find it, it finds you.
During class, the dance instructor went to great lengths to include me in the lesson. She taught in Croatian, but came up specially to me each time, to give me specific English instructions. I felt like she really cared that I had a meaningful class, and her effort made me enjoy the class so much I couldn’t help but smile widely to myself a couple of times. I’ve heard so many people say Croatians are hard to approach, but this was just one of the many times when I met really hospitable Croatians. They remind me of Singaporeans – guarded but full of heart, once you get to know them.
I haven’t settled the problem of a SIM card. So i walked out of the studio with no data on my phone. I approached the nearest person and asked her to direct me to the tram station. She walked with me for a little bit and we had a nice exchange about Zagreb, and I get to my tram station. There, I approached another girl, who recognized me from pole class. She missed her tram to accompany and lend me data, and we talked about me being a digital nomad. She’s been doing copywriting jobs in English (her second language) and dreams of having the job I have. I thought about having to work in Mandarin and I shuddered at that thought. It made me realize how much harder it is to work in a second language, and how lucky I am that my first language is English.
We exchange contact and make plans to meet again.
In the grocery stores, you have to weigh your vegetables and fruits. Unlike in Singapore, where they price every single item for you, here you follow the numbers on boards and weigh the fruits and vegetables according to the number. Unfortunately, the names are all in Croatian. And other than “Limun”, I don’t recognize anything else. So I usually play the guessing game, and see if the cashier spots my mistake. I might be paying celery prices for avocados.
Some Croatian words
Hi – Bok
Good evening – Dobra večer (veh-ceh)
Thank you – Hvala
Goodbye – Doviđenja (I still butcher this sometimes)
Life as a digital nomad isn’t as exciting as it was as a backpacker. But I enjoy that there’s a routine around my days now.
I get up about 7am and start checking emails.
8am to 12pm I have meetings with my colleagues in Singapore/Philippines
12pm I eat a little and let my brain rest a little
I work more till about 4.30pm
5pm I meet my friends (Marta from Italy and Nina from Belgium) and we do a workout together
7pm I start making some dinner/have a drink
8pm onwards I do whatever!
The days fly by and weekends come quickly. The good thing about weekends in Croatia is that you have options. We can choose to stay in Zagreb and host dinner parties for friends, go to bars, go to parks…..
Or we can choose to drive out to a mountain somewhere, or even 2 hours down to the coast, to be near the sea.
As all best trips start out, this one was completely spontaneous.
It didn’t take much for me to say yes to it. I had heard such great things about the island and the company going was even better. Together with 4 companions, I packed a bag of clothes and 0 expectations.
To get to the island itself was already an adventure. After 3 communal transports, a boat ride, and a 20 minute walk later, we arrived at our guesthouse.
Life on Chacahua was quiet and tranquil. In the early mornings, we woke up for the sunrise, and watched turtle hatchlings crawl their way to the ocean. Most of them don’t ever make it past their first day, but in this moment, every one of them is fighting for their chance to survive.
The village is sleepy and happy. We ate good home made food cooked by our host and took long walks along the beach. It was a few days of letting our minds rest. The constant breeze across the island made napping very easy on any of the many hammocks around.
I asked myself why Chacahua left such a significant mark in my travel memories. I think it was the combination of being detached from the world and the people we met there.
There was almost no signal on the island so we left our phones in our rooms and were freed to let our minds explore along with our eyes. With space created in our minds, I came to quite a few revelations on that island. Including the fact that I am indeed a free spirit. I don’t know why I always denied being one.
In Singapore, having no concrete career goals and no “hard skills”, I often felt like a failure. It was incredibly hard to feel like one especially when I had good academic results and often achieved awards while growing up. At 12, I was a UN youth ambassador for Singapore and by 16, had represented Singapore for multiple conferences overseas. You get used to people telling you “you’re going to grow up and become someone” and then realise there’s no one to teach you how to become someone.
I remember meeting an Australian girl, younger than me by a few years. She had yet to attend university but had already spent about six months traveling around Europe. She spoke fluent Spanish and just exuded peace. She smiled with her eyes and listened to people intently when they were speaking. She had a beer belly but walked around with a bikini proudly. I wanted so much to be her. But the point was – that I needed to be myself. And I needed to learn how to love who I was, even if I didn’t know who I was going to be. I needed to love my flaws, my insecurities and recognise that I was on a journey.
Even just the act of watching the sunrise together was special to me. We didn’t set a time to meet. The walls and floorboards were thin. Once one of us started walking around, the rest of us got up at our own time and made our way to the second floor. Two people offer to grab us all coffee, remembering our preferences, and then we all sit in silence. Together, side by side, but each in our own thoughts.
The rest of the day is basically spent napping on hammocks, walking around the island, surfing or reading.
There were maybe 10 of us that night, and one of us suggested taking a boat to the side of the island where we could see the sunset. Of course, like all things in Mexico, there is never a fixed time to do things. We move alongside each other – someone takes the first step getting out of his hammock, and the rest of us follow suit.
By the time we actually get there, the sun has gone down, but the beautiful hues of an already set sun radiated across the sky.
That night, we gathered around a fire. Someone brought her ukulele along, and sang a few songs. I remember listening to her sing, and immediately connecting with her emotions, her memories, her history. The power of music is such that it removes barriers between people. The magic of gathering around a fire, is looking at each stranger beside you, across you, and seeing their faces glow.
Chacahua made me realise the strength that was brewing inside me. It helped me see clearly, the kind of life I wanted to lead. It also decided for me, that I wasn’t going home – not quite yet.
And it was really on this island, that I decided to continue my journey to Europe…..
Everyone who has visited Chacahua once, will always want to return.
I grew up as a pretend-rebel. I abided by all of society’s “guidelines” – study well, get into uni, get married, have a high paying job. Still, I wasn’t happy. I felt empty inside. I looked at my life and asked myself “is this it? is this what life is supposed to be?” I always thought I did things according to my own will, but I was a walking cliche. I wanted to be a rebel, but I never dared to veer outside of the comfort zone. I never dared to dream of a different way of life.
Once, in my early 20s, I told my mom “I never chose to be born, it was you who decided to bring me into this world, but now I have to learn how to live in it”
I don’t know how she didn’t give me one tight slap across the face. I must have caused her so much pain, but if she did feel it, she didn’t show it. I don’t recall what she said, but she never did give up on trying to understand me.
I’m now aware that those ungrateful thoughts I had, stemmed from living an unfulfilled life. Other than just being naturally rebellious, I was born with a sharp tongue. Ever since I was young, no one in my family could argue against me. My words were my weapons, and they often attacked people I loved in the name of defence. I had all of this anger.….built up in me since I was a teenager.
Just as any other family, my parents and I had altercations over many things. I always had my mind set on doing things my own way. I would question them when they didn’t allow me to do certain things, and ask them to justify their parenting. I remember always saying “you’re not going to get my respect just because you’re my parent, you’re going to get it because you deserve it.”
Trust me, even I am appalled at my own audacity. But I understand where I was coming from. It’s incredibly difficult to be a parent. My parents never received a manual for one. They did their best, trying to make the best decision in every phase of my life. They made conscious decisions to raise their children the way they felt best, and not how they were raised.
90% of the time growing up, my family got along very well. My parents chose to treat me and my brother as adults, even from a young age. Whenever we did something wrong, they would sit us down and try to hear us out, then give us a chance to apologise and always end the conversation with a hug.
Still, there were times when I felt so unhappy with life. I was yearning for more – I just didn’t know what it was. I always felt a disconnect, between what brought me joy, and “real life”.
Growing up, my parents found the most joy in doing outdoorsy things with us. Every Saturday morning, we would cycle and roller blade at East Coast park. Sundays were for swimming classes. Every public holiday was a chance to be at the beach for a picnic. Every other week, my dad would bring us to Clarke quay, to catch mud crabs (this was before marina barrage was built). Foreigners would always come by to see what we were doing. We had a picnic set up right in the middle of the concrete path. Every fifteen minutes or so, we would go round to collect the nets and see how many crabs we caught. Sometimes we got two, one time we got ten! Imagine walking along Boat Quay, going to bars and restaurants in fancy dress up, and then seeing a father with two children catching crabs from the Singapore river. We had our fair share of tourists come by to take photographs of us.
My mum would often come back all excited, telling me she has signed me up for lessons. Other parents would sign their children up for tuition, my mother signed me up for windsurfing courses. She always had a thirst for life, but never had the same opportunities as me, because of her situation growing up. My grandmother lost both her parents in a week at aged 19, and since then, had to rely on herself to support her family financially. My mother, from a young age, had to go out to work and help out with her family’s finances. She didn’t have the same luxury that she gave me. She wanted me to live out the things she couldn’t. She wanted to gift me the experiences she never had. I just didn’t know how to appreciate it properly when I was younger.
When I started my travels in January, I had no expectations. I was lost, heartbroken, and utterly clueless. I saw my life from a third party’s perspective, and could imagine the shock and surprise. After all, I looked like I was living the life. I partied all weekend, gave tuition on weekdays, bartended at night, and had a lot of friends. Plus I was married to a husband who is a fighter pilot. On paper, I led a life that some sought out as a goal. What went wrong then? That was the one question that lingered on my mind. From sitting on the sandy beaches of Mexico, to exploring the museums in Paris, this question sat like an uninvited guest, always on a front row seat, watching me like a live theatre show.
What went wrong?
My parents of course, wanted to know as well. Of all the people in my life, they felt my heartache the most. If my heart hurt, theirs hurt a hundred times more. When I cried, they cried harder – they just didn’t do it in front of me, because they had to be my rock. They would cry later, at moments that caught them off guard. I heard my Dad cry for me while crouching down in my study room. He cried a deep cry that I had only heard once before – when his brother drowned in a boat accident. My mother cried much later on, at random moments, triggered by random incidents.
I knew my parents were hurting. And still I chose to stay away. Still, I chose to keep my distance away from family and friends. I wanted to answer the question. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to show my parents that I was going to be okay. So I sought out the answer, and I didn’t want to stop until I figured things out. My parents understood, and stood by my side. They supported me emotionally and patiently waited.
It isn’t easy, as a parent in Singapore, to witness your child go from a good career to working in a hostel in Albania for free. My mother’s friend likened me to a ‘hippie’ and asked her if she was worried I was going to be “lost and aimless” for the rest of my life.
On one hand, my mother knew why I was traveling this way, and she supported it wholeheartedly. On the other, she couldn’t help but be affected by people around her, whispering things to her and pressing their own anxieties upon her. I felt like telling her “just ignore those people”.
Instead, I decided to bring them around Croatia, and have a taste of my nomadic life.
I didn’t feel a need to explain myself to the majority of Singapore’s society, because I never wanted to be in the majority anyway. I wanted to belong to the people who made decisions for themselves, listened to their own desires and walked down unfamiliar paths. I’ve always been inspired by friends who made mid career switches, moved overseas to start new lives, and defy societal gravity by rebelling against what the world thinks is ‘happiness’ and ‘love’.
During the trip, we talked about many things, very honestly and openly. Even though I am my parents’ child, they listened to me intently. They gave me their ears and their minds. When I got impatient trying to prove some of my points, they told me “Jane, we’re only just starting to see your world through your eyes, give us time, we will get there.”
They didn’t tell me “you don’t know better,” just because they had more experience than me. They even thanked me for showing them a different perspective, and I saw a shift in their mindsets.
I saw how much they wanted to understand where my new found love for life came from, and during the trip, we enjoyed each other’s company so much. The simplest pleasures were much more appreciated.
When we were together, all we cared about, was being together.
We enjoyed going to the markets in the morning, buying fresh seafood for dinner.
We marvelled at the rainbows we sighted, and took time to stop and take in sights that we found beautiful.
I thought I would be the one teaching my parents how to enjoy life. In actual fact, after observing them during the five weeks, I realised that one reason I have come to be this way, is precisely because of how my parents are. I started to see myself in them. My source of strength and thirst for life came from them.
My mother did a mid career switch when she was 38, she has battled with back pain all her life and still makes it a habit to run, cycle and hike every week. She has trekked through the Gobi desert for charity, and is planning to hike up ABC before she’s 60.
My dad started his business in the middle of a financial crisis, and has always advocated playing with your children, not just standing at the side of the playground and watch them play. Even though his parents never gave him any physical affection, he decided from when we were young to always hold us close and tell us he loves us.
They insisted on bringing us out every weekend, to East Coast park for inline skating, or to Bukit Timah hill for hikes. We all dive as a family, marvel at the underwater world together, and also climb mountains, windsurf, swim, do marathons.
The reason why I find city life so boring is exactly because my parents have always brought us outdoors, to love camping and sky diving, to love trying new adventurous things that might look daunting.
I witnessed how my parents spoke to people we met, with a lot of warmth and curiosity. They asked them good questions, gave them lots of interesting insights into Singapore, and were great company! They were never afraid of being silly in front of others, and could make conversation with just about anyone.
As we traveled together, all of us fell into roles we were all good at. Daddy at organising the bags and groceries, me at planning the itinerary and finding us places to stay at, mummy with making breakfast and injecting her laughter into our daily lives.
I began to view my parents as people, not just as people who raised me. Throughout their marriage, they’ve hit bottoms and struggled with communicating well. They committed to going for counselling and through it, learned how to understand each other better. They’ve been together for 38 years now, and you can still see the love they have when they look at each other.
It gives me goosebumps still, to see them so in love. It makes me proud to be their daughter.
This trip to Croatia was such a precious bundle of memories for me. It’s the last trip I take with my parents before I leave Singapore for a while. I don’t know how long I’ll be away for, but my parents have already said, “okay where are we going to next?”
I’m grateful to my dad and mum, for always being my best supporters, my best friends. They teach me that life is full of opportunities to better yourself, and this phase of my life was a great time for me to reflect and recuperate. They show me that you have every right to live your best life, if you only have the courage to dream for it. Because of them, I know that I’ll always be loved and supported. Love you, daddy and mummy, thank you for everything.
The best thing about visiting the park during winter is having it almost all to yourself. In our 4 hours roaming around plitvice, we saw maybe 4 other people. There was also more water because of the rain that was pouring down the few days before.
Pictures say everything! I definitely feel that going during Autumn was a much better idea but we didn’t have a choice since my parents were in Croatia for the winter. Still, we made the best of our situation.
We took the suggestion of the park attendant and took route E. It starts from the 2nd entrance of the park.
There are many different routes you can take in the park during the warm weather days in plitvice. Winter weather would limit your choices if snowing occurs and freezes certain boardwalks making it unsafe to walk on. However, we had a magical day when the sun was up, there was a low fog covering the entire lower lake section. So the views were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It transports you to another world, where fairies probably exist.
I’ll definitely come back to plitvice during the summer and we shall see what the difference will be. We had a great time, walking through the different pools, having a noon picnic and then being surprised by different sights while walking in the fog.
I’ll write about Krka national park in the next post and tell you how it went! Ciao
It’s 2pm and we have been drinking Rakija for a few hours now. Alejandro serves up a huge pot of pumpkin stew with chicken – chicken they had slaughtered with their bare hands the day before. I take a bite of the kampong chicken and immediately ate three more spoonfuls. When the bowl was done I ate another one. It was just SO GUD. He had added some barley in there too so they combination of all the flavours and textures just WORKED.
Petra used to be a professional horse jockey, but according to her wasn’t a great one since she was very tall. I’m sure she was just being humble. After retiring, she brought her horses along with her and started a farm with her husband. They have 24 acres of land, 6 horses, 4 dogs, 3 cats and big hearts.
We came to the farm to visit chloe, my sweet friend from New York who arrived in Croatia around the same time as me. We had met in a hostel and spent some time together, forming a bond that led us to meet again and again over the next few weeks. She has been doing a workaway at this farm, and I was happy to find her in her element, working with animals, being in nature, and finding many opportunities to reflect and be with her thoughts.
Petra isn’t much more older than chloe and I, she’s 34, once divorced and a bad ass boss lady. In Croatia, people are still rather sexist and she ignored social norms and did things her way. She and her husband have worked hard to build their farm, and are still in the process of finishing a building with a swimming pool. They build everything on their own. Brick by brick, pebble by pebble.
Another workawayer, Alejandro, was a real treat to meet. Although only 24, he has travelled around for 7 years and left Colombia at just 17 years old after high school. My mum asked him “why did you want to leave?” and he replied “I just wanted to, I knew I didn’t want to stay.” I thought about the 17 year olds of now, or the 17 year olds of then – were we so sure of things? Being so sure of something, sure is great! He’s been working everywhere in the world and doesn’t plan to stop. Of course, many Latinos travel because going home isn’t a better option. Unemployment rate is high, governments are more corrupt, social unrest is higher. That is why, I feel that there are even less excuses for singaporeans to go out there and slow travel. What’s the worst that could happen?
Of course after Rakija, you start to use a spoon as a mic. Of course….. (Rakija is a home made liquor made from natural sweetness from fruits. Pears, grapes, cherries etc) it’s distilled for a few weeks or months and the percentage of alcohol is quite high! About 30+ percent.
We started sharing music, and mama put on a Chinese song and belted it out. Alejandro completely immersed himself into it, and jived along with her, while taking a video to commemorate the moment. I took pride in searing this precious memory into my mind. My mummy is experiencing what I have been enjoying for the entire year. She’s meeting a stranger, younger than her youngest child, and singing karaoke together like they’ve been forever friends.
The fact that my parents were dancing the night away with my friends was such a fantastic experience. I wasn’t surprised of course, my parents have always been fun loving people. But seeing Petra, Chloe and Alejandro have so much fun with them, made me extremely proud to be their daughter. I have such cool parents!!
The great thing is how curious my parents were about all 3 of them. They asked questions, good ones! They made the effort to get to know my friends, go beyond the surface to get to really know them. They showed care and love to them as I would. And that’s when I realized, that who I am is greatly influenced by who my parents are.
After a whole afternoon of drinking, our friends kindly invited us to stay the night. We cooked chicken masala for them and slept on mattresses in the attic. We also bought Petra a whole tub of ice cream which she almost finished. The next day, they brought us to their neighbour Goran’s place, where he’s also building his own place and a few glamping tents for tourists.
From Goran’s place, we started a short walk to visit a cave. I love caves so I was really excited!!!!
Mummy was pretty scared at first, because she didn’t like how dark the cave would be. So I told her to “find your fear and do it anyway!”
I’m really glad I decided to show what slow traveling is to dad and mum. From the start I told them I wouldn’t make plans past 2 or 3 nights, that I wanted them to experience how not planning makes room for spontaneity. Because we had no plans at all, we could accept the invitation to stay. Because of that, we were able to exchange recipes with our friends, and gift them our spices. They also made time to bring us to the cave to show us what we wouldn’t have found without them.
Not planning is pretty hard to do at first. But once you get hooked on it, you pretty much never turn back. Letting go of trying to control the future helps us be in the present. I couldn’t explain this to my parents but I’m glad I could show them. Life unfolded, and we received what life gifted us – 36 hours of being in a ranch with 3 amazing hosts and their precious animals.
“Joanne, you’re absolutely crazy. How can you be going to Croatia now when it’s still covid times??? And you want to risk your husband’s life as well by bringing him there?”
My mother, unlike me, has a problem fighting against her people pleasing tendencies. By a stroke of luck, I have always grown up as a natural rebel. The more someone says it can’t be done, the more intrigued I am in getting it done. But not my mother.
I had been in split with some friends when my mum video called me. I showed her where I was and she said “Waaaaaaahhhhhhh I want!!!!!!” to which I said “technically you could come! Just have to pay for quarantine when you go back.”
Against much well meaning advice and concerns, my mother made an executive decision to come find me. Me – her daughter who powered through covid times and continued slow traveling, as though I were invincible. The recovery from grief and trauma makes you a little delirious sometimes, and that’s what brought my journey to Croatia. A few days later, my dad joined the rebel team. We were a formidable trio who had our minds set on reuniting in a few weeks.
For the next few weeks, we got everything sorted – what they needed to bring me (mostly food food and more food), where they would serve quarantine, travel insurance etc etc. My dad would ask “how many days!” and from 25! It went down to 19! Then 5! Then 18 hours!!!
My parents brought along 30kilos of baggage, a ton of guilt, took a 15 hour flight and arrived safe in my arms about a week ago. They were made to feel very guilty before leaving, and were tremendously afraid of contracting the virus and being irresponsible to their family and friends back home. But love prevails, and their love for me helped them swim against the tides of societal pressures. The first thing they asked me at the airport was “Here need to check in anot” I hadn’t got a clue what they meant so I said uh….. No?
After taking a test and providing their negative results to the government, they received confirmation that they could be released into the wild. They only had to quarantine for 48 hours.
After completing their quarantine, we spent a few freezing days exploring Zagreb before coming to sunny Zadar, where blue skies are taken for granted and everyone is happy and says hi to you.
Having not met them for a year, it was hard at first to adjust to being together all the time. Certain topics came to discussion and there have been tears, laughter and lots of hugs and holding hands. For those who haven’t read my personal blog before, 2020 has been, for me, a year of healing from a divorce. A divorce happens not just to you, but to your family too. My parents have also been hurting and being emotional caregivers for me, needed this break to breathe and let loose.
Since we’ve been reunited, we spend every day enjoying the little things. Being able to see each other once we wake up in the morning, borrowing tooth paste to brush our teeth before we sleep at night. We enjoy watching the leaves fall, we laugh at seagulls stealing food from pigeons. We hold hands while walking to the grocery store, we watch sunsets together, go for long walks together, and cook alot.
In Croatia, most restaurants and shops are open, although only till 10pm, which is fine because the sun sets by 5pm, making you sleepy by 9pm.
Mum enjoys taking her walks, cooking soups and then watching Korean drama shows while facing the sunset.
Dad enjoys following me on grocery runs, twirling me around like he always does when we walk, and drinking Croatian beer while flipping through Croatian TV channels.
I’ve always known my parents were special, but this trip is extra unforgettable. I’m thankful for them taking this leap of faith and trusting me to bring them around Croatia safely. Its not easy to go against the grain, and have to constantly answer to people. Luckily, now that they’re here, they realize its completely doable to keep a 5 metre distance from people if they wanted, and that its not that scary to travel amidst covid.
We have 5 precious weeks together, and I’ve got a good number of places to show them. Croatia has been one of my favourite places to explore so far, and my parents being here with me just tops the cake. Plus gelato here is $2, I think that’s reason enough to stay here for a while.
Life is a gift, and it’s up to us to decide how we want to enjoy this honour of living. When we dare to make our own choices, walk our own paths and tell our own stories, we take ownership of our lives. We stop blaming things or situations, and we learn that there are a million things that are out of our control. We only get to choose how we behave as people, and how we respond to what life throws us into.
My parents gave me this sweet breath of life, they taught me what love is, and they’ve always had my back no matter what. They’re my tribe, my people, my best friends. I’m so thankful to them and incredibly grateful that we have this chance of a lifetime to explore Croatia together – covid or not.
Till the next update! The Tor Rebels sending everyone love and light.
“What do you think couchsurfing is?” “it’s like staying with friends -“ “NOooOope it’s not. We’re not friends. It’s not staying with friends. It is two strangers meeting, maybe exchanging some stories, spending some time to cook and make good memories”
I got caught off guard and stared at him wide eyed.
I didn’t like that he cut me off and continued talking about himself for the next 10 minutes. I wanted to change my mind about staying 3 nights on this guy’s couch.
R is a driven, motivated guy, who came from humble beginnings but has done well for himself. He likes to cook, is invested in the travel industry and lives between 5 different cities.
This definitely sounds more “humble” than what he told me. “at 22 I started my own company, and had 400 employees, now I’ve just launched my own startup and we have received millions of funding from x. I have 5 different houses, and alot of friends who own big companies. In India I have 3 restaurants and they are the best in my village.”
For alot of us who come from an Asian background, we would think this guy is a showoff, and that he’s not humble. But I fact checked my judgmental thoughts and asked myself why I thought this way.
In Singapore, we are used to talking down ourselves. So much so that when we go for interviews sometimes, we find it hard to praise ourselves and need to take courses to portray ourselves better. When we cook for others, we always say “this is probably not very good, i forgot to add the xx, this could be better in this way etc etc.”
We learn this from our families, our society and our peers. In school if we do well and are proud of it, our peers will call us nerds or closet muggers. Parents often ask children why they didn’t do even better than they did, and would send them to more remedial classes. I’m sure we are all familiar with being compared to other cousins or neighbours.
In the society I grew up in, its extremely important and expected of us to be excellent in what we do, all that we do. We put so much pressure on ourselves to do well. Yet, when we actually have done well for ourselves, we hardly celebrate it! We might give ourselves a light pat on the back and then ask the question “But can I do better?”
I remember, in my 3rd year of work, doing better than ever. I had doubled my sales and my name was flashed on the projector for being top 50 in my rank in the entire company. I had worked hard for this. So hard!!! And yet I didn’t feel a single shread of joy. All I thought was how I could sustain this for the next year. I quit the next year.
Last year, I gave myself the task of figuring out how I can derive joy, and be proud of what I’m doing. To be really proud! I did a few jobs, from teaching babies to be water confident, working in a childcare centre taking care of fifteen children, to making cocktails in a bar. I started to understand how doing something you’re passionate about is so important.
When we have found a job that we like, that we are good at, we want to give it our all, and we want to know we’re good at it. If we are, we should praise ourselves for it.
Looking back at what R said, I don’t think he was being arrogant at all. He was confident and rode on a high for being extremely good at what he does. I now feel that I placed my conservative judgment on him. Every sentence he said was a fact, none of it was meant to boast. But I took it the wrong way because of the way I was conditioned to think.
If I had followed my first instincts, which is to decline his couchsurfing offer, I wouldn’t have known what a kind man he is. I spent 3 nights on his couch and 3 mornings listening to him talk to his employees. He was a good mentor, always ready to give good feedback to them, and he spent quality time listening to his team.
He shared with me his home, and cooked delicious meals for us. His homemade chicken masala was the best I ever tasted. We walked together through Old Town in split and talked about his ambitions and he listened to my dreams of studying art/design. We shared good moments together – 2 strangers from different parts of Asia, crossing paths in Croatia.
How we view others is so much a reflection of how we treat ourselves. Sometimes if we find it difficult to be proud of our own achievements, we think it’s haughty of others to be proud of theirs. We can be proud of them, but noooo they can’t boast about themselves.
I’m glad that i opened my own eyes to observe my reactions, and fact checked myself. Otherwise I would have missed out on a wonderful opportunity to meet dear R.
I’m learning that though people may rub us the wrong way at times, we can choose to question ourselves first, and see if we could think a little kinder of others. In putting kindness first, we also learn to be kind to ourselves. And that’s the most important, especially when we go through difficult times.
Kev is cooking everyone some eggs for breakfast. It’s a sunny morning in Berat, Albania, and we are all sitting in the cosy sofa corner, shaded by trees and a canopy.
We’re talking about the difference between Chileans and Argentinians. Besides the way they speak, and with Chile being more expensive, there is a familiar comaraderie between them. They feel like friends who haven’t met for years and are just catching up to make up for lost time. Yet, they’ve only just met.
I think about this and wonder if Singaporeans would feel the same even if we met while traveling in the world. Its sad but I think most would agree with me, that singaporeans don’t have the same warmth towards each other. There is usually a wall between us, and maybe only a small percentage of us would ever make the first step to break the ice.
“How’s the situation in your country?” is a common question nowadays as we come together, all travellers from different backgrounds and nationalities, but all finding ways to continue this nomadic lifestyle. “It’s bad, ” is a usual answer.
But bad means a world of difference when placed within different countries’ contexts.
“It’s bad” in Singapore might mean not being able to travel, not being able to keep the same high level of income, or having to wear masks everyday everywhere.
“It’s bad” in many Latin American countries refer to masses of people dying, young people getting tear gassed for peacefully protesting against their corrupted governments, and having to loot from shops because there are not only no jobs to be found, but no other alternatives because welfare isn’t a relevant word in some of their countries.
I find this dichotomy unsettling.
And yet its existence is evident.
I open up Instagram stories and see that a friend is talking about his family back in Colombia not having enough money for food and his struggles to send parcels back to them. Right after a tap, I see a Singaporean friend doing her nails with the caption “Finally able to secure a stay cation!!! Had to wait 2 months just for this, getting my nails done now to pretend I’m in Bali”
We’ve always known of the inequality in the world, even in Singapore. But we tune it out and keep it out of our minds because we can, and because we think “well its not like I need to be starving before I can want more in life”
Something in me is stirred, and I feel like my perspectives have changed so much. Its sometimes no longer enough to just talk about these injustices at dinner tables. I feel a want in me to do something about things. I just don’t know how, and what I can do.
I know that we in Singapore, can do much more. Much more for the people in our country we call home. I wish for communities to be built up again, so that we can tackle difficulties together, instead of only looking out for “our own”. I wish that a day comes, when singaporeans will realize we are capable to love and should give so much more of it.
I know I usually only write when the down days come so I wanted to pen down some other thoughts too, to show the reality of my mentality and persona nowadays. I want to also remind myself how my thought process and outlook about life has changed.
It’s an early morning, i can’t sleep anymore even though we all slept pretty late last night after pizza and beers.
M and I found ourselves in a nice little community in Berat, Albania. We are part of a team that takes cares of a hostel, we run it and work in different shifts starting from 830am to 1030pm. The synergy of the group is great, we all get along well and I’m really starting to make good connections with them.
Of the 7, we are 1 aussie, me, 3 Argentinians and 2 Chileans. We start talking about how we started slow traveling, and many of them shared that they were looking for better work opportunities abroad, since their countries are so poor. At this point, I take a mental note to appreciate how lucky I am to come from Singapore, where that’s the least of my concerns. I know that at any point in time, I can go back and earn a decent living, save up some money and go traveling again.
We talk about future plans and it seems like everyone is trying to go to Croatia from here. Croatia is an entry point into the rest of the EU so naturally, our plans gravitate towards entering Croatia from Albania. We worry about quarantine, about needing negative PCR tests, about whether there are workaway jobs there…… And then we all resign to the same slogan – Hakuna Matata.
There are worries of course. Many of them. But if I’ve learnt something about slow traveling, it is to let the tides push you along, instead of trying desperately to control every aspect of life. Not trying to plan has been a difficult lesson, but I think I’m getting a hang of it. Letting go of the reins is so freeing. It is knowing that difficulties will come, even more heartbreaks will happen, but that better things will follow too.
I’ve truly learnt to listen to what I want, instead of what I think I should want. Coming to Albania was completely not anything I ever planned to do, but I’m glad I allowed spontaneity to bring me here. Here, I’ve learnt how no plan is almost always the best plan.
It’s important to be authentic. I don’t regret anything that has happened before and I’m really glad I have learnt so much about myself over the last year.
I’m now sipping a cup of hot tea, with ginger, honey and lemon. Drinking too much raki has led me to lose my voice and get a bit of a cold. Cause and effect right? 😂
What I really do enjoy now is the freedom. The freedom to pursue my own set of perspectives, to carve out truths for myself. The freedom to go where I want, spend time with people I like, visit places I want to go to. The freedom from toxicity and negativity, from people who want to pull everyone around them into their psychotic chase of what they think will bring happiness.
Being kind is important, being compassionate is vital, and being all of that to yourself first, is life changing.
“why don’t you come home Jane? What are you looking for? Are you running away from your problems? “
At the start, staying away from Singapore was a desperate attempt to stay away from the memories. But now that I have started to move on well, pictures no longer bother me, and feelings about D are no longer jumbled up. I know very clearly how I feel about things now, and I feel good about the future. I don’t mean to say I don’t feel the sadness anymore, but as most grief exists, it never fully goes away. It remains somewhere in your life, having made a mark once. But it doesn’t hurt anymore.
I’m looking for inspiration for living. I’m looking to continue this nomad life, until one day I get sick of it. Until I want to find a permanent home for my toothbrush. I’m searching to learn even more about myself.
Of course I wanna go back to Singapore. And I probably will soon. I have to pack all my things and sell them. Catch up with old friends and say hi to family. And then ill be off again. If I meet you in Singapore, I’ll give you a hug!
I’ve had many people write to me, pouring out their hearts just as I have to you over the last 9 months. I want to embrace each and every one of you and thank you for being here with me. Your presence has been amazing for me, and I only hope I get to hear your stories one day.
I didn’t plan on going to the beach. The beacheest piece of clothing I owned was a t shirt, red and white striped and even then it was a little hot wearing that. But I met a few friends in Oaxaca who were heading that way and because I was also pretty tired of looking at buildings, I jumped on the Puerto Escondido bandwagon.
La punta beach, amongst the many beaches in Puerto Escondido, was my preferred one because it had the most relaxed vibe. The beach itself is beautiful and quite long, the waves got pretty big and probably more popular amongst surfers instead of swimmers, but it’s definitely the choice for most backpackers in terms of accommodation. There are more hostels here with very communal vibes. There are also nice places to eat at, not too expensive like on Zicatela beach. Most people walk around barefoot and gather on the beach for sunset every evening
Puerto escondido is on the coast of Oaxaca. You could either take a flight there or a sleeper bus from oaxaca. Its a 10 hour journey and you wouldn’t get much sleep because of the windy roads but i found it bearable and probably better than the day bus that’s for 6 hours but even more winding.
8 days in Puerto Escondido felt too little! Hostel Akumal definitely made traveling solo alot easier. The crew gathers together for shared dinners, volleyball games and sunset evenings, then go out to party together at whichever bar is hosting the mega party of the night. The sunsets steal the highlights of the day because they’re so breathtaking. You start getting used to them but then leave Puerto and start missing them.
Time stops in Puerto Escondido and worries are taken away when you’re surrounded by people with good energy, fresh food to eat and the ocean’s lullabies.