A Gem in the Middle of Sydney City

I came across this most magical of places by accident, as I seem to do with the majority of the things I love in life. What can I say, except to lift Paulo Coelho’s romantic idea from The Alchemist: “Maktub”.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship!

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Map of the Chinese Garden of Friendship

I set off one afternoon, stopping by at Emperor’s Puffs for a snack on my way. I thought it was apt – a Chinese snack before a Chinese garden. What are Emperor’s puffs you ask?


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Well, only the most iconic little bonbon you can get in Sydney’s China Town. It’s an institution and the lines snaking around the narrow street are testament to the cream puff’s goodness. Served from 12pm to 9pm, be clever and pick a time when people are likely to be at work or school. Oh and don’t pop them in your mouth whole and chomp down – they’re frickin’ HOT!! My burned tongue has so many horror stories to tell.


So three cream puffs (and a couple of barbecue pork buns) down, I made my way to Darling Quarter where this little haven of a garden is situated. Right next to the bustling Darling Harbour and with new construction happening all around, it really is a bit of peace and quiet amidst the chaos.

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Don’t tell me this doesn’t make you want to go in!

I find Far Eastern aesthetics fascinating, their attention to detail, the intricacy with which every element is gathered, joined, juxtaposed and displayed. It inspires me! This was what Bali did to me as well, if you remember. I was mesmerised there, as I was here. My mother back home, who has been saying she’ll visit someday suddenly declared that she wants to come here ASAP and go to this garden when I sent her some photos.

<<Warning>>: If you have ornithophibia, stay away. There are ibis everywhere, they have their nests in the trees all around. However, they are also harmless, only interested if you have any food. BUT there are small, over-protective birds that swoop down on your heads if it’s egg-hatching season. I kid you not, I nearly lost the hair off the top of my head.

While wandering around, rather quickly as it was nearly closing time, I snapped over a hundred photos. I surprised myself too, except every little thing here is photo worthy. And I have vowed to go back better prepared, with more time to spare, so I can soak in some culture, slowly…, sipping on some Chinese tea in the Teahouse.

The really magical thing is that once you have crossed the threshold, it is very difficult to remember that you are in the middle of a very busy city. Time slows; the steel, glass and concrete monsters a few metres beyond the walls melt away. It’s just the beautiful trees, buildings, flowing streams, bubbling waterfalls and birds. Oh, and a few people, but you won’t really notice them either.

I shall leave my words here and let my pictures do the rest of the talking. If you’re in Sydney and haven’t been here yet, shame on you! And for those planning a visit soon, you MUST add this to your bucket list.

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I was lucky it was a sunny winter evening – just look at the colours.

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Symmetry, beauty, natural and manmade.

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More beautiful colours and the Dragon Rock.

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Red and black – quintessentially Chinese.

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Poser pauses fishing to smile for me.

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Another model.

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“Do you think they’ll notice if we sneak in late to the meeting?” “Shhhh…”

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Adjacent to the Teahouse.

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As you can see, I can’t get enough of these trees and their drooping branches.

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Hall of Clear Shade. I just fell in love with this gnarled grey tree with fuschia flowers!

 

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10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Sydney

Preface: I really don’t know where the time flies in this country. And I am not even busy fighting off kangaroos for my burger or rescuing people from getting eaten by sharks. I genuinely have no reason or excuse for why it has been 21 days since my last post.

– Sincerely Shamefaced.

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So I’ve been here in Australia for close to five months, almost half a year. Where does time fly when you’re having fun, eh? My Master of Design education is wonderful and stimulating, and hopefully continues to be challenging in the coming semesters. I have made some wonderful friends, watched my little sister bloom into a confident and beautiful young woman in a supportive environment, and pinched myself more times than I can count, at all the beautiful things I’m surrounded by.

While it’s easy to wax lyrical about all the great things about the city I’m calling home for some time, there are many that I wish I’d known before I moved here. Not because I woudn’t have still chosen to live and study here, only so that I could have been better prepared as an international student.

  1. The popular stance is that the winter here is unworthy of being considered winter. Cue *eyeroll* and a lot of *shivering*. Pack your thermals if you have them, bring your coats and throw in those extra socks and gloves too. If not, don’t worry, H&M is bound to have sales before you freeze to death.
  2. Crows in Australia, I’m forced to believe, didn’t get the memo on what noise they’re supposed to make. They sound like dying cats or someone retching violently after an alcohol fuelled night. Why do I wish I’d known this? So I could have slept through my jet lag the first few nights without feeling like I was an unwitting participant in a horror movie.
  3. The price of bread here is pretty ridiculous, that is if you want to eat anything other than the ubiquitous and nutrition deficient soft white variety. 5 dollars for multigrain bread. Really!?
  4. You can’t really watch the sunset from the famous beaches in Sydney – no, Siree, not from Bondi or Coogee or Maroubra. Because it’s the east coast. So if you’re like me and have no hope of ever catching a sunrise, you’re going to have to kick the ‘watching our big happy star go to bed in the sea’ habit.
  5. While I have not experienced peak summer here, let me tell you, the Tasman Sea is a chilly, chilly woman! I cannot, with complete confidence, say I will ever go swimming here if the water doesn’t heat up beyond 25 degree Celsius! Which isn’t likely either from what I can glean from the wise ol’ Internet.
  6. If you wear anything below AU size 6 shoes, your hopes for finding inexpensive shoes or even cute thongs (flip flops, for the uninitiated) are very narrow, my friend. Read: Bring all your shoes!
  7. Be prepared to get lost, quite literally. The road system here is tricky at best, as baffling as the Mad Hatter’s riddles at worst. If I had a dollar for every time I got lost in Sydney, I’d be cozying up to a glass of expensive bubbly as I relaxed in my very own hot tub.
  8. Which segues nicely into the activity of walking. If you no like, no come here. Seriously. I’m not saying there aren’t buses and trains to everywhere but you’ll still have to put your pins to good use. Upside though – great legs, come bikini weather!
  9. You will want to eat out very often. Even if you’re an avid cook like me, the temptations at literally every corner are sometimes too much to ignore. Heavily leaning towards, though not limited to, all things Far Eastern, the aromas are irresistible. This can also be interpreted as ‘work on your willpower, because your pockets may sometimes be threadbare’.
  10. And lastly, clothes shopping isn’t expensive enough to be prohibitory. Unless they’re that great, avoid stuffing your bags with excess clothes and instead bring all your teeny tiny shoes!

Thanks accepted in the form of cash or presents. Please contact me for address and bank details! :p 

Until next time! Which I can’t promise will be less than 21 days. 

It Feels Like Love!

I cannot believe how long it’s been since I last wrote here! Apologies, to myself, and to the few people who look forward to my posts. I bet I’ve lost your interest too by now. Sorry!

So, for those who don’t follow me on Instagram, guess where I am?! Answer: AUSTRALIA!

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That’s right, after almost 9 years of dreaming about it, I’m finally here!! Sometimes I don’t believe it myself, and have to give myself a hard pinch. *ouch*

So, firstly, how is it going? Glad you asked! I love it here! Once I got over the jet lag (and even during), I was just so grateful to be here. Yes, the weather is unpredictable and mostly hot, but I’ve never loved the feel of the sun on my skin more. Secondly, what am I doing here? I’m also pursuing the Master’s program I’ve wanted to since ’09, at last. I’m so excited that I sometimes just spontaneously want to break into dance!

It’s orientation week at my university this week, so I’m usually on my feet, walking around all day. (Oh, and that’s one thing about Sydney I didn’t know before I got here. Sydneysiders love to walk everywhere, and you kind of tend to just do the same once you’re here.)

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Next week, I start classes and then, hopefully I’ll be able to be a bit more organised. Ha! Wish me luck y’all! And until then, enjoy some of my pictures of Sydney!

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The beautiful Central Mall building

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My Penny’s Worth: Photography

Firstly, I know I have been terribly delayed with my posts. I have been unable to keep up with my schedule, and that is due to a variety of reasons. The Australian Open being just one of them. The meaty details will be let out in a matter of a couple of weeks, and then you, my dear readers, will completely understand.


Now, as someone who enjoys taking, and sharing, photos, there are a few things that I believe make a good photograph. Almost everyone today has access to a camera, be it in the form of their phone, a digital ‘point and shoot’ or a DSLR. For this mere mortal, fiddling about with buttons and settings, a degree here and then another there has never been anything to write home about. For the few months that I did have a DSLR, I  admit that I thoroughly enjoyed its power, but it is also true that I did not dedicate too much time to learning many settings.

If you are new to photography and want to up your game, I’d say, join Instagram. You will find tonnes of inspiration, and will be able to observe how the pros do it, and pick up tips. Read on if you want my penny’s worth of advice on what I believe are the golden rules to good pictures. But since they come from me, they might just be silver. I’ll let you decide.

What I’m about to share with you all is in no way an exhaustive guide, nor are they rules; do what makes you happy.


1. Lines: If the object/subject you are clicking has lines on/behind/under them, either vertical or horizontal, frame it in such a way that those lines are straight. Or at least fix the skew before you post it somewhere public. I find that it gives a more finished look to the photo, like you actually cared to spend more than a second to p&s.

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Lines, lines, they need to be parallel, and perpendicular, unless you’re deliberately trying to piss people off.


2. The Horizon: When shooting a landscape, sunset and such, if you take the time to ensure that you frame it in such a manner that the horizon line is, well, horizontal, it will make a world of difference. It is one of my pet peeves to have a skewed horizon line in photos.

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While this may still look skewed due to the colours, I assure you, that horizon is as straight as a ruler!


3. Editing: It is absolutely okay to touch up your photos a bit. Sometimes you just don’t have time to spend ages perfecting a shot, or what you’re clicking might be time sensitive. The above points can be achieved with a tiny bit of tweaking. However, bear in mind that you might lose the periphery of the image as the tilt is adjusted into a rectangle or square.

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A tricky demo, this one, as I was standing on a ramp. See, my flip-flop clad feet were visible in the original. Then I had to adjust the image so that it’s straight, and lost out on the feet. Terrible business.


4. Focus: No matter what kind of hurry you’re in, taking a couple of seconds to check that the subject, say, a bunch of sunbathing turtles is what is in focus. And not, say, the abundance of foliage in the foreground, as can be seen below.

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5. Over editing: Ugh, seriously, I hate this. When was the last time you saw cobalt blue trees or buildings that had halos around them? Some people just don’t know when to stop. However, having said that, if you mean to go for that effect, it can be stunning. But I’d still suggest you use that super power sparingly.

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What’s not to like about purple clouds and ombré waves, I ask! Surreal? Yes. Just remember, the watchword is ‘sparingly’.


These are just the bare essentials, and I would like to share more of what I believe helps to make a great photo. So keep a look-out for that one. Also, comment below with your personal tips and tricks for great photos; let’s compare notes! 🙂

 

 

 

A Promise, a Dream and a Plan

 

This year, while still very young, has me feeling old. I know no-one likes a Debbie Downer so I’ll keep the downing to a minimum. Essentially the hit my immunity took a couple of months ago has left my body a wreck, prone to falling ill again and also making the recovery very slow. Not one to pop pills, my new best friends are ginger, lemon, honey and hot water. Oh, let’s not forget good old black pepper. That leaves me thus: a blocked-nosed, pallid-faced, lackluster little dreamer.

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Dreaming got me here, after all!

Oh no, the dreaming must not stop. Though I read something profound on a traveller’s page the other day, about not thinking of something as a dream, but as a plan. Inspiring. That’s what it was. Why do we relegate the things we want with every atom of our being into those wispy puffs of fantasy that disappear faster than the sleep we rub from our eyes each morning? Why must it be a dream? Why not a goal, a plan? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful thing to dream, I’d be lost without it. However, for a dream to have substance, there must be some work to propel it forward from the ether.

As you can see, in all the time that I try to force myself to nap (and fail over and over again) in a bid to regain some energy, I do some thinking. And I thought, in relation to the promise I made myself this last birthday, why was that trip so monumental? I mean, it wasn’t like I went on an ayahuasca (which I didn’t know existed until a few months ago) self-revelatory trip to some obscure town in South America. No, I did something most people would probably find tame, I went on a trip, albeit alone, spent a week there and thoroughly enjoying myself, came back a happy kitty.

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So, what changed? It was the promise. It was this: before, I’d always waited around for things to happen. Waited for someone to make me feel special on my birthday and ended up disappointed. But in all fairness I had said I didn’t want a fuss (when an over-the-top fuss was what I did want). Something about the way I was brought up to refuse offers of gifts, help or food. Don’t ask, I’m as stumped as you are! And let me tell you, refusing food when your tummy is growling like an angry Bengal tiger isn’t very convincing.

What changed was that I decided I’m not going to wait around any longer. My happiness, my responsibility. Did I have to travel to another country to figure this out? Not really. But you know what, having all those beautiful, endless views of the sea, the gorgeous food, and first-time experiences didn’t hurt! Not one bit.


How is your 2016 going so far? Any new life philosophies picked up along the journey of the last one? Also, any advice on how to shake a pesky cold & cough?

 

An Impossible Love: The Time Traveler’s Wife

 
I read a lot, and I mean a lot! The only times that I didn’t were when I felt the most disconnected from who I am. Books have been my companions through homesickness, then later through farsickness. Whether I am grounded or 30,000 feet in the air, rare is the moment when I am not accompanied by one of my trusty friends. There are many books that have touched my heart, leaving me broken at the end, sobbing like I’d lost my love, and ones that left me wistful (because it was over) but happy and glowing. I don’t usually talk too much about books I’ve read or ask for suggestions because tastes vary wildly. 

This is an exception though. Maybe because it was that much of a blind path I set down with this one, The Time Traveler’s Wife. I hadn’t heard much of this book, and didn’t personally know anyone who had read it. While flipping channels many months ago, I did feel intrigued by the title of this book (as a movie) among a string of others. I never watched the movie though, and got the book as a back-up read for my recent trip to Bali. I wanted to start December with ‘After You’, but then I knew I’d race through it and want need another one to keep the sadness of not having another Jojo Moyes offering for a while at bay. The Time Traveler’s Wife was my pick, I didn’t even glance at the author’s name, just hit ‘Buy’ on my Kindle.

It might seem weird to many of you, but one of the things I most like about getting a book by an author I’m not familiar with on Kindle is that I don’t check whether they’re male or female. It makes reading the story more interesting for me, guessing who penned those words. So, diligently not skipping the author’s note (no name mentioned there), I started the book. It took just a few pages to know I’d care deeply about this book, that I would be left devastated at the end. After I finished, I did find out that it was written by a woman, and I wasn’t expecting that for some reason, which made me love it even more. 

As is my usual style, I galloped through the story. And then forced myself to slow down, only taking small bites of the book at a time; a feeble attempt to eke it out for as long as possible. Then towards the last quarter, knowing the inevitability of imminent heartbreak, I tried to get it over with sooner rather than later. Like yanking off a Band-Aid.

Oh, this book touched me, it moved me. I haven’t read any others based around the theme of time travel before, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. But why should it be compared? This is only my opinion and my experience of it, after all. Relatable human emotions, flaws and stupidity woven together with the eternal feeling that haunts us all in one way or the other: love.  It made me laugh, cry, and cringe. It made me angry sometimes and it also made me believe. I’m not talking about the concept of time travel and chrono-impairement though. I will keep this book close to my heart. And when I have a house of my own that has more bookshelves than any other type of furniture, this one will be up there with the favourites. Oh, and I wish Audrey Niffeneger would finish writing Alba’s story soon!

Bali – The Wonderful Beginning

I’m back from my momentous, ice-breaker of a trip and still giddy about it all. When I started this blog, I remember dreaming of going somewhere alone, just me, my passport and a bag. I wasn’t sure how it would happen, let alone if it would happen. Now look at me, first solo trip done. And thoroughly enjoyed! I always knew I’d enjoy travelling alone, and am just so excited for all the places I have yet to see.

I chose Bali because I was enchanted by pictures I’d seen, photos by friends who had been there, and a sarong that a family friend brought back for me from the island some 18 years ago. *I am usually someone who, when left to her own devices, picks the most absolute worst item on the menu to try.* Not this time though. This time, I hit gold! All the way, baby. I am so glad that it was Bali that I went to, wide-eyed and happy, because I came back equally wide-eyed and happy.

The night before I had to come back home, I remember lamenting the unfairness of the tricks of time, slowing down and speeding up at the most inopportune moments. I wanted to make those 8 days stretch for an eternity. Then I asked myself, who is stopping me from going back? That’s right, no one! And once that realisation struck, I was back to happy.

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Nusa Dua beach – where I spent most of my first day. Blue sky, clear waters, salty air, what more could one ask for? Perfection.

In the ‘land of gods’ as Bali is affectionately known, I found my creative home. Other than the effortless beauty of this gorgeous little island, the food, and the friendly people, I was absolutely captivated by the art, carvings, handicrafts and pure talent. For someone looking at the items on display from a tourist’s point of view it might get tedious. But for me, looking at them through artist’s eyes, the aesthetic was immensely inspiring; one of the main reasons why I am boldly declaring that this is only my first trip of many to Bali.

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Batik weaving on a traditional loom.


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The application of hot beeswax by hand, one of the crucial steps of the process of Batik printing.


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Batik patterns on a finished bit of fabric.


Wood carving, so intricate, so detailed and delicate!

Wood carving, so intricate, so detailed and delicate!


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Buddha – all shapes and sizes, only my luggage limits stopped me from throwing all my money at this place.


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How graceful!


These are just glimpses that I caught on my camera. Most of the time, I even forgot to click pictures as I was gaping at everything in wonder. (Now there is a little something I’m holding back from sharing, merely because it isn’t 100% set in stone, but once it is, the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.) In the meantime, my creative juices are flowing and I have so many ideas teeming in my head, so many new dreams acquired and more castles in the sky to build. To be honest, there’s so much this trip did for me, on so many levels. Above all, I feel gratitude that it was possible. A trip hasn’t ended; in reality, what has happened is the beginning of a lifelong affair with this island.


How many of you fell so in love with a place that it felt like returning home? Which was that place? Let me know in the comments, and as always,

Happy and Safe Travels, my lovelies! x

Selamat Pagi from Bali

So my trip to Bali finally rolled around in the midst of a rare bout of cough and cold (I rarely fall ill), and low energy. And yes, of course the routine depression when you realise you’re turning yet another year older. The 6 hour layover at Singapore Changi airport would have been easier to bear if I’d made it in time to register for the free heritage tour they had going on. Not to mention the fiasco it took to get me to Kochi in the first place. I found myself fearing for the rest of trip, lest this was an omen for things to come.

Then this happened:


Okay, so not an omen then. Phew. I have already spent two nights and one day on this beatiful island where the people are friendly, everywhere I look are frangipani trees, the weather is balmy (not my favourite but hey, I did choose a beach destination), the food is amazing and the rates affordable.

As I turned 29 yesterday, I spent a relaxing, lazy day on the beach at Nusa Dua. I lay down, looked at the endless blue of the sea and sky, felt the breeze in my hair and watched as the dappled sun falling on my bare legs played hide and seek with the shadows. I read some pages of the much awaited After You by Jojo Moyes, contemplated life, stopped caring about most things I usually worry about and just was. A yummy lunch with a glass of white followed by a languid-paced walk and foot massage at Bali Collection saw a perfect day pretty much winding down. I came back to my hotel, swung my legs in the pool and sketched one of the water-spout holder ladies pictured above.

No birthday cake, no candles and no annoying singing of the (recently allowed for public use) ‘Happy birthday’ song. And yet, it has to be one of my favourite birthdays ever, probably my favourite actually. Now I find myself sitting by the pool with a platter of fresh fruit beside me and the sound of the water gushing from the lovely ladies’ pots into the pool and making a promise – that each year, I’ll do something like this for my birthday, for myself. And to top each year’s experience with the next. It may be a tall order but I won’t know till I try!

Ready, set, panic

pa*Let's just understand that 'panic' in the title is a verb. Okay, thanks!:p

I remember a naive me, sitting in this very same seat, tapping away at my keyboard 3 weeks ago, all calm and collected. Anyone see that person around anywhere? If you do, please let me know! I am now 5 days away from my much awaited (understatement of the decade) trip. And about as prepared as a jellyfish is for a life on land. Well, maybe just a tad bit better than that. Let’s take account.


Packing

  • Not even close. Usually I have some kind of clue as to what I want to pack. All I have swimming around in my head right now are: swimsuits, palazzo pants and shampoo.
  • Do I roll, fan and spread, or just go with traditional folding?
  • With a luggage limit of 7 kgs (yes, I picked that option), I have to pack much lighter to allow for the souvenirs I’ll pick up.

Planning

  • Zilch. Nu-uh. Nada.
  • True, I have asked some people who have been there before for help but I have to consolidate all the info into a plan.
  • I have vague images of snorkeling, the Gili Islands, cocktails and nasi goreng in my mind.

Budget

  • Again, I have a blanket sum that I can spend comfortably but that’s about it.
  • Day to day expense limits have to be calculated.
  • Occasional luxuries to be accounted for.

Keeping Calm

  • Not happening. I’m actually just penning this in a sneaky tab with work screaming to be finished in 4 others.
  • Zits. Yep, the stress ones! Nooo…. my pretty as a fairy Instagram pics seem doomed from the outset.
  • Emergency holiday diet begun in lieu of exercise, which I can’t find time for. Hate to report that cravings for the bad stuff are still in the building.

That’s all folks. Well, not really, but I must get back to work! Have a laugh at my expense and Happy Tuesday all! x

The Countdown Begins

Pixabay Image Courtesy: keulefm

Pixabay Image Courtesy: keulefm

Okay, so technically it may be a bit early, but who are we kidding, the countdown must begin! A month from now, somewhere around this time, I will land in beautiful Bali, Indonesia. To say I am looking forward to this trip is an understatement. To be honest, as with most things I look forward to, I’m afraid to jinx it. This time though, I’m letting all those doubts and unnecessary inside-head dialogues go. Go. Go, be free and don’t bother me.

I made a public announcement to break up with my favourite shopping site, Jabong, a few weeks ago. I am a little bit embarrassed to announce that I haven’t been able to keep myself away; man, J tempts me with these amazing deals and offers, and even makes me feel special by saying, “Psst, items in your wishlist are on sale.” I’m no weakling, but a girl can only hold herself back so much. I have been getting items with a view into the future (I’m being cryptic for now, deal with it), and I know that isn’t what one is ‘supposed’ to do, but I can’t remember the last time I gave a flip about what I was supposed to do. I have no intention of breaking that streak now that the going’s good. So yes, I have many nice new summery dresses, swimsuits, a spankin’ new carry on case, a handbag, a sling bag, new sandals, and assorted. I will follow the philosophy that has got me this far: Thou shalt not regret a purchase. Ever.

Where was I? Oh yes, the classic, wandering off despite having a map in hand that is my USP. Bali. That picture up there makes my mouth water, as do the innumerable Google searches that lead me to Bali’s precious ‘secrets’, what I must eat, what I must see, where I must go. I might be being a little over-optimistic (that’s a thing, right?) with all the things I want to actually eat, I mean I have a tiny appetite and a long list in my head, but I’m going to try dammit. And can I also say, I am so looking forward to Instagram-ing the beep out of my trip! Oh, yes!

The actual list making will be done in the last week before the trip, because I don’t want to be jumping around like the Energizer bunny for a month. This is my way of being Zen, or pretend Zen. Turning 29 in Bali, I can think of worse things I can do on my penultimate birthday before the big 3-0. Ha! If you hadn’t guessed, this post has no real purpose than to release some of the energy that surged through me upon waking up and looking at the date. So, my fellow travellers, help this girl narrow down the “must” lists with your valuable suggestions and experience. Oh, and I’ll make sure to tag you in the photo on the iconic swing in Gili Trawangan as a thank you! 😀


 

As always, Happy and Safe Travels all!