It’s to see the world, surely. After having been stuck in an island for almost three years (thanks Covid!), the need for it is even stronger.
At the height of the pandemic, I used to watch tons of travel YouTube videos, just to imagine how it would feel to be out there travelling again. Oh, the sights I would see and the food I would try!
I went to Europe in October 2022, finally. Well, Germany and Scandinavia to be exact. It has been a long time coming, what with the pandemic and me feeling too scared to travel again after all these years.
But over the years, I realised that the best memories are always in the little fleeting moments.
It’s when someone unexpected enveloped you in a tight hug after not seeing each other for four years.
It’s when you sneaked into the kitchen together to have some crackers because you were not full from dinner but too scared to accidentally wake the kid in the house up.
It’s when you met your best friend’s son for the first time, and he smiled shyly at you that you knew in an instant that you would get along.
It’s when your friend brought you hot chocolate in bed.
It’s when you sat with your friends at the cosiest cafe to hide from the cold.
It’s when the shy kid came up to you while you were reading to ask you to play with him.
Or even when you somehow ended up sitting by the lake on a freezing night under a full moon…
It’s when you realised that you had a bigger sense of adventure than the past few years led you to believe.
Some memories are special but hard to put your finger on why. And it’s all I can do to not let it slip through my fingers and remember it forever.
And to think that I was almost too scared to travel halfway across the world again. If I ever say that to your face, I’m giving you a free pass to tell me I’m a complete moron and just pack my bag and go already.
Because travelling makes me happy. Because to travel, for me, is to live.
Right after my first overseas holiday since the pandemic, I contracted Covid. The irony is not lost on me, but this is why I finally have so much time (and no excuses) to log onto my WordPress to update this blog.
Maintaining a travel blog during the pandemic, when most travels were not allowed, was challenging. But that is merely an excuse, because I had stopped writing regularly since 2017. I was jaded from all the moving across continents and travelling, and simply did not have anything to say about my trips anymore.
On hindsight, I realised it was probably because I took travelling for granted. It somehow lost its charm and excitement after so many years and because back then, it was so easy. After all, I could always hop on a plane whenever I wanted right? And in the second half of 2019, I was flying almost every other week for work. It was exhausting, and I started to hate travelling.
It took two years of not being able to cross the borders, of missing my family and friends abroad and being stuck in a small island, that I swore to myself, that I would never take travelling for granted anymore.
So for my first overseas holiday since the pandemic, I intended to make the most out of it. Sure, it was just driving across the straits to Malaysia, and sure it was only for a long weekend, but hey, all the better to ease myself in to travelling again, right?
Our destination was Rawa, an island just 20 minutes by ferry (or rather, speed boat) from Mersing. It’s very accessible from Singapore, and I’m really surprised that not many people have heard of the place.
And if you haven’t been to Rawa, it is a dream for beach lovers. Especially after you have been deprived of pristine beaches for two years. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and I’m not even a beach person.
The first impression I got upon seeing the island from our speed boat was how idyllic it was. Beach huts lined along white sands and sea water so clear you could see through to the corals and the small fish. It was exactly how Disney would picture such a place in its movies.
There are only two resorts on the island (it is very small) – the more upscale Rawa Island Resort and the more budget Alang’s Rawa. We stayed at the latter.
Alang’s Rawa exceeded all my expectations. To be fair, I expected very little – no air conditioning in the room, no clean water and mediocre food. While the no-clean-water portion was unfortunately true, they apparently upgraded the rooms during the pandemic and installed AC, which is a very welcome addition.
And the food was delicious. I had been disappointed with resort food previously (I’m looking at you, a certain resort in Bintan!) because some resorts thought they could get away with serving non tasty food and charging exorbitant prices since their guests are practically stuck inside.
But Alang’s Rawa saw it differently. Meals are included in the price when you book the room, and boy they did not disappoint. Every meal, we were served with a generous spread of dishes. It’s nothing fancy, but it had some local dish, potatoes (in many different forms, and all were excellent), seafood, pasta, rice, bread with delicious garlic butter… Alang’s Rawa certainly won in the little details and their earnestness to serve their guests.
Apart from eating (which is important), you can expect to do what you can do on a beach holiday – lounging on bean bags for many hours of the day, hiking, doing water sports, and watching the sunset while having Pina Colada.
It definitely was a holiday to remember, not only because it was my first real holiday outside Singapore, but also for my travel company, the beautiful island and the resort.
Prior to this trip, I was nervous to travel again. In a world where, just not too long ago, it was dangerous to step outside our house, the idea of travelling and all of its uncertainties were unnerving. It was as if I had forgotten having those muscles that I used to think on my feet and just enjoy the misadventures that come with travelling.
But after this small trip, I’m ready. Heck, I even contracted Covid right after, which was probably the worst case scenario all things considered. Just like paddleboarding, when I needed to fall into the water to feel brave enough to stand up, perhaps this was what I needed. A small taste of what could happen, to realise that braving through it is so, so worth it. Travelling, is so worth it.
Things to note about Alang’s Rawa Resort:
It is a budget resort, so don’t expect luxury. Room is basic but decent with air conditioning.
Bring ear plugs. It is a party resort. When we stayed there, there was loud music playing well into early hours of the morning.
Drinks are charged to your room number. Do check the bill at the end since they don’t have a sophisticated system to record the orders, and there are often errors. Also, just brace yourself when finding out how much you spend.
Bring a supply of fresh water (we just bought big bottles from the petrol station in Mersing).
The resort prices cover the ferry to and from Mersing and meals (not snacks).
I have been away from this blog way for way too long.
What started out as a one-month break from writing to “collect myself together” after somewhat traumatising few months has turned into a ten-month long case of a writer’s block.
My last post was 1 January this year.
In my defense, I did try to come back at the one-month mark. I have an unfinished draft from February as proof – and by “draft” I meant that I clicked on the “new post” button and failed to come up with a title nor a single word to write. I even tried writing about my writer’s block in May, which was supposed to help writers get the words flowing again, but that didn’t help either.
I have even travelled to London (and Birmingham) in the meantime, but even they didn’t inspire me to write again.
It took a trip to my most beloved city Copenhagen to get things started again. The moment I landed at Kastrup Airport, I was miraculously already itching to write.
I have lost count of how many times I have been to the Danish capital. Yet, every single time, Copenhagen still finds new ways to charm me.
I came right at the end of the summer. Or as some people told me when I was there, summer returned for a few days just to greet me.
I haven’t been able to write for weeks. I don’t know why but words just do not seem to flow anymore.
I’ve tried everything. I’ve blocked out time to just sit down and write. I have sat down and gone through my hard disks full of pictures over and over again to find inspiration. I have opened the Everywhereist and reread old posts more than I care to admit. But nothing seems to work. Nothing has yet spilled on this screen, no moment of sparks that made me go ‘aha’. Even if I had set myself a topic to write, I opened up my blank canvas, browsed through the pictures that I could potentially use, and did not feel inspired to write.
So the only way left now is to address the elephant in the room: the writer’s block itself. I have decided to look at the gargantuan problem straight into the eyes and say, “Hey I acknowledge your presence. Now can you please get the heck out of here?”
And I know that it’s not because of a lack of stuff to write. I have so much that I want to share with you from the countless trips that I took over the past two years. But I guess this being a travel blog, I sometimes find it inappropriate to share about my past trips when I’m technically not an active traveller anymore, at least for now.
And when I looked at old pictures from this year (yes all those travelling days felt soo long ago), I was surprised at how much I have forgotten, and there were even pictures of myself that I did not recognise. It felt much like when I was reading “The world this year” section of The Economist’s Christmas Special edition. I kept saying to myself “I can’t believe this happened earlier this year.”
So here are some of those moments, the forgotten pictures that have been part as much a part of 2017 as those that I had somehow remembered more vividly.
A picture of pure happiness of me at a Copenhagen Metro station. My happiness knew no place.
Some of the best things in life come when you least expect it. The same goes for travelling. Sometimes some of the best places may not be listed on a Lonely Planet guide – you just happen to chance upon it while being lost on your way to somewhere and voila! you couldn’t stop talking about it to anyone who would care to listen.
But if I keep relying on that philosophy in life, I would never have discovered Norwich, a city in Norfolk, of which one travel journalist has labeled to be “on the way to nowhere”.
It sounds harsh, but there is some truth to it. Norwich is located in East Anglia, that little bump in the east of England. It is not easily accessible from any major cities, and there is nothing but barren land between London and the place. Moreover, train prices in Norfolk are generally more expensive than the rest of the kingdom, which only further discouraged people from visiting the place.
So my decision to visit Norwich had to be completely deliberate (there is no other way I would have ended up there otherwise) although it did take me almost a year to board that Greater Anglia train from Liverpool Street.
I never doubted that Norwich was going to be lovely, but the comments by some people about the place kind of got to me…
“What is there in Norwich?“, “Why would you go there?”, “I mean Norwich is lovely, but why?” and a few more things along the line.
… that when I got off the train, I was wary and wanted to take the next train back. I was even hiding behind a pillar at the station, trying to hide from my host but he somehow still managed to find me.
And it was a good thing he did, since I proceeded to have one of the best weekends I have had in a long time.
I fell in love with the city right at the first stop, an area at the outskirt of the Mousehold Heath. It was a hill overlooking the whole of Norwich, and I took to calling it the “Prison Hill” since it was located right across the street from the HM Prison Norwich.
It was wise of him to bring me here since I love hills with a view.
Apart from the stunning view, there is something else to be said about the prison: a lovely cafe called Cafe Britannia located at the former Britannia Barracks, which is now part of the prison. It served affordable brunch (and yummy-looking desserts) that I wished I got to eat more. But the most amazing thing about the cafe (apart from its cosy atmosphere and good food) was that they employ offenders. I couldn’t remember a much better feeling than eating a cheese scone and drinking tea with a great company while contributing to a good cause.
“Serla, let me repeat this once again, you are running short of time.”
I was two-and-a-half weeks away from my thesis deadline, and I was slightly behind in my progress. Sitting in my supervisor’s office, I was surprisingly calm for someone who only had 2,000 out of the 12,000-word requirement that I was supposed to churn out to graduate with my Master’s degree.
As for my supervisor, he was freaking out.
The good man, bless him, was so convinced that I would become the first student he supervise to fail the Master’s thesis. Yet, no matter what he said to jolt me awake, he simply couldn’t invoke that sense of urgency that he so hoped to see in me.
“Why don’t you tell me what your plan is for the coming week then?” he said.
“Well, I’ll be working at my part-time job three full days next week and…” I stopped as I watched his eyes widen in horror. “And I assure you I’ll have 6,000 words ready the next time I see you,” I blurted out quickly.
What I had wanted to say was that apart from my three days of work, I had also planned a trip to Oxford on that coming Saturday. But I was pretty sure if I had told him that, he might have disowned me as his student right on the spot, so I decided that it was best if he was kept in the dark about it.
I don’t dispute that travelling while you have a MAJOR deadline looming is irresponsible, but it was necessary. Because you see, my dear readers, thesis writing can be such a chore. After several weeks of sitting in front of the computer, words simply couldn’t flow anymore, and wouldn’t it be even more irresponsible had I done nothing to get rid of the writer’s block?
That was why my friend C and I decided to spice things up a little. What started out as a mission to try out all the different libraries in London turned into something slightly more ambitious. We decided that sticking to one city was not enough and we needed to try out libraries outside London as well.
We picked Oxford for several reasons. First, because even we were realistic and we knew that going all the way to Edinburgh wasn’t an option. Second, my friend C had not been to Oxford previously and I couldn’t let her leave the country without seeing the place. And third, because Oxford is full of intelligent people, we were hoping some of their brain cells might rub off on us – we clearly needed all the help we could get.
Plus, come to think of it, it wasn’t as if we would be spending so much more time getting to a library in Oxford. The journey from Paddington took just over an hour. On a bad day in London, your commute could take as long.
Or so we thought.
When we got off the train, we realised immediately things wouldn’t be as simple as we had predicted.
First of all, we did not know what the University’s main library was called. Whenever I googled “Libraries in Oxford University” several options popped up, and I couldn’t possibly visit every single one to see which one was meant for us?
Luckily, we figured out pretty quickly that it was the Bodleian Library. However, a second problem immediately occurred to us – we did not actually know whether students from other universities were allowed to use the facility. We had just assumed it was open to all students from other universities.
Once again, we got lucky. After cajoling the librarian, we were allowed to make a one-day pass to use the facility.
These unexpected logistical problems had certainly set us back by an hour or so. By the time we were done getting ourselves admitted to Oxford University for a day, it was time for lunch.
Tentatively it’s being called Project I-should-stop-sulking-just-because-I’m-not-in-London. Sometimes I also refer to it as Project Self-reminder-that-Singapore-is-actually-an-awesome-place. (If anyone can come up with a better name, I welcome any suggestions).
Perhaps I also secretly/not-so-secretly want to lure some people into visiting me from the other side of the world. Hence, I have decided that I will blog more about my life in Singapore and what this tiny island has to offer.
(Also, I have a spare bedroom at my flat at the moment, and the public transportation here is a quarter of the price in Denmark, the UK and the US. AND, we have some awesome food in this side of the world. Practically a dream for travellers on a budget. Just saying.)
Ahem, but I digress.
When I returned to Singapore after my two-year stint all over the place, I was swept by a weird sensation of being back at a place that is both familiar and strange. I felt disoriented – small things that I had taken for granted would simply work did not. My transportation card that had never failed me for the past seven years didn’t work because it had expired. My mobile phone data did not work properly. I forgot that thunderstorms are permanently imminent and did not have my umbrella with me on my first night – I got caught in the rain as I was stepping out of my flat for dinner. I behaved like an awkward tourist while trying to order some food. And I got some stares when I ate by myself – I forgot how much of a taboo it is here to be seen having a meal on your own in public.
But as time goes on, I’m slowly tracing my old steps and a sense of familiarity starts to take over. After all, I still live in the same flat, and I am working in the same business district as I was before I left. It is taking a while but at least I can feel some progress in fitting back in.
The first time I felt that I found some of my footing was when I went to the Singapore Night Festival with these two friends who have not changed a single bit since I first knew them a few years ago.
The Singapore Night Festival dates back a decade to the time when I was studying for my Bachelor’s in SMU. Being a student at a university with a campus smacked right at the city centre meant that we were at the heart of the festival that lit up the whole Bras Basah area. Visiting the festival also brought back memories from my Singapore university days which had ended, ahem, seven years ago.
The festival’s flagship display has always been the light show at the facade of the National Museum. This year’s performance boasted a fascinating 3D effect that certainly felt a notch above the previous editions’.
“You are going to Birmingham this weekend? I’m sorry.” – Informant #1
“There is not much to do there and it’s not the nicest place.” – Informant #2
“Birmingham is certainly not the prettiest city. Haha, even without knowing which area you were talking about I would say yes, it’s likely to be dodgy.” – Informant #3
No one I spoke to had anything good to say about Birmingham.
Having been at the receiving end of such comments from three people who didn’t know each other, I was understandably not thrilled about visiting Birmingham.
The city was in the spotlight a couple of months ago after the horrid attack at Westminster in London. The police raided a flat at Hagley Road in Birmingham and arrested three men there who were allegedly related to the atrocity. When I looked up the address, it was just a few blocks away from the Airbnb that I had stayed in a couple of weeks prior.
So what brought me to Birmingham you asked?
The All England, the oldest badminton tournament in the world (or the Wimbledon of badminton for those of you who have made a grave mistake in your choice of racquet sports), was held there in March. As a testament of how little the city has to offer, apparently the badminton tournament no one outside the badminton world had really heard of constitutes what would be “the busiest week in Birmingham” in the whole year. Hotel and accommodation prices skyrocketed as tourists flocked to the city from all over the world to witness the battle for one of the most prestigious badminton tournaments.
Had I not been a student, I would have jumped at the opportunity. But having almost no income at the time, I just had to be prudent with my spending; taking a train ride up north and staying at an overpriced Airbnb (I’ll come to this later) seemed to be rather… imprudent.
After a thorough deliberation, I still went anyway. Because badminton.
But I clearly wasn’t as excited as someone who had once travelled all the way to Copenhagen from Singapore to watch her favourite badminton shuttler retire should have been.
I booked a 7AM train on a Saturday morning – that alone had made me slightly grumpy. Add to the fact that my Airbnb host was giving me a lot of problems, asking for 20 quids extra for that one night I was staying because it being the busiest weekend of the year meant that he could have easily found someone who would be willing to pay much more than 30 quid a night for a room in a dodgy location – I started to question my sanity for deciding to go in the first place.
But after my week-long rant to my flatmate and anyone else who would listen, Birmingham, bless the city, was really pulling all stops to prove me wrong.
First, they impressed me right away with their breakfast. Or rather, how cheap their amazing breakfast was.
Although to be fair, before the food even arrived I already knew that the trip was worth it when I was greeted by this awesome friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in 3 years.
And if there is anything that I should know about myself by now, badminton tournaments excite me to no end. Just being in the stadium, surrounded by like-minded dorks who actually care about the sport, is exhilarating in its own right. Let alone the adrenaline rush of trying to interview the athletes after their matches, running up and down the steps of the stadium to reach the press room in time – the motion was all too familiar and reminded me so much about all those years reporting at the Singapore Open.
Sometimes, I think it is up to us to make the days count.
When I first arrived in Berkeley, I had too much time at hand. I practically had no friends. I only had classes for a few hours each day, 3 days a week. There were not many assignments and no academic paper to read. My ‘commute’ involved a mere 10-minute walk to my (very lovely) house.
This was not something I was used to. I started feeling uneasy, not knowing what to do with all this luxury. I could use it to acquire some new skills, but the irony of life is, the more time you have, the fewer the things you will get done.
So one day I decided I needed to get my lazy ass out of the house. Instead of lying around on the couch, I put on my sporty outfit, my colourful crocs and decided to go for a little hike to the Big C.
The Big C, I had read, was a giant concrete block of the letter ‘C’ built on the Berkeley Hills. It offered a stunning view over the UC Berkeley campus, where I was studying at the time. Definitely a perfect incentive for a rookie hiker. I decided to go during sunset because I wanted to witness the transition from the golden soft lighting of the sun to the dark expanse being studded by the city lights.
The starting point was from the North Gate Hall, Berkeley’s journalism school.
From then on, I just needed to follow some paths that led me to the top of the hill. For example, these stairs that greeted me right in the beginning of the journey.
I don’t know why I always end up going to them. During my first month or so in London, I even had a museum-and-cake buddy – we made a pact to visit a new museum every weekend and have a cake afterwards. I secretly only looked forward to the cake, but I didn’t know my friend too well back then to admit that most museums bored me to no end.
(I suspected he realised that pretty soon, and our museum-and-cake meetups transformed into anything-but-museum meetups after a few weeks. Which suited me very well and we became much better friends after that.)
I think it boils down to the fact that I don’t understand much of art and history. Later on, I realised that having the right company – one who appreciated the artefacts way more than I did and were willing to explain the history patiently to me, would make all the difference to these museum visits.
I have been to the British Museum several times, but I remember enjoying my last visit the most. During the first few visits, I mostly just admired the structure of the building and the immensity of the place.