Letters of Life

Been Around The World (Travel) rss

My travel stories and some great pictures!

In the Moment

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22:42, Thursday, 13 November, 2014

    Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life. Omar Khayyám (1048 — 1131) Riding pillon behind Kimmy on her moto (the Khmer nickname for motorbike), we rode the wide lanes of Monivong Boulevard in downtown Phnom Penh. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, we’d just had lunch at a North Korean restaurant (Pyongyang… Read More ›

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Diary

Inspired by English playwright Alan Bennett’s Diary in the London Review of Books (9 Jan 2014), I decided to pull actual content from my 2013 pages of a journal.  30 January. The tragedy of the two young brothers who died when a cement mixer accidentally crushed them as they were riding a bike home from school… Read More ›

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Every week, The Daily Post from WordPress issues writing and photography challenges. They are fun and I thought this particular theme profound. To take part, I should share a photo that says INSIDE. The word INSIDE recalled to mind an old hit called “Inside” by blind American country singer Ronnie Milsap. She tries for the… Read More ›

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Seven Days in Timor Leste (Part 3): Parting Shots

Save the best for last. There’s more to Timor Leste than most of the world knows right now. It’s a third world country, remote, often overlooked because it’s at the edge of the eastern archipelago of Indonesian islands. It’s not a must-go destination even for the intrepid among us. Mongolia, Peru and the Galapagos Islands… Read More ›

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Seven Days in Timor Leste (Part 2): Time with the Students

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Seven Days in Timor Leste (Part 1): A Day At The Market

Organic fruits and vegetables from the mountain are brought down by the farmers on vans like this one, to sell in the villages once a week. In a Timorese village in the district of Liquiçá, you can find anything from live pigs to tobacco to seaweed freshly caught off the coast. Comments? The urban experience of… Read More ›

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A Whole New World

Liquiçá, Timor-Leste — Being in a young country like Timor-Leste feels so new it’s like being in a big field of grass and watching, watching. For what, nobody can quite say. In conversation with the young Timorese, I tell them that their country has much potential to become a magnet for jaded travellers, for people… Read More ›

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The Adventure of My Life

On a quiet evening in February this year, I listened to two Singaporeans describe what it was like being part of a Christian network helping the people of East Timor—one of Asia’s poorest countries—rebuild this once-forsaken country, town by town, household by household, family by family. For far too long, East Timor had suffered terribly,… Read More ›

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

Dylan, 16, stands by the rushing waters of the Aare, green with glacial silt, at the village of Goldswil, in Interlaken, Switzerland. June 2012.  Be still By the rushing of the river Be still By the light of the summer sun The cold creeps Freezing memories of summer in the meadows of the mountains And… Read More ›

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Sea Anatomy

  In my recent venture into the sunlit depths, I realized that a lot of coral resemble the insides of our bodies. Looking at a giant brain coral for five minutes in the warm waters of the South China Sea, I wondered, which design came first? The brain coral or the brain of man? Is… Read More ›

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Tioman Revisited (1)

Tioman island, Malaysia. This hilly island and its surrounding isles was a popular dive spot for Singaporeans some twenty, thirty years ago. Unlike other West Malaysian dive spots like Redang quite far north or Langkawi on the eastern coast, Tioman was closer, about two hours by hydrofoil or 45 minutes by propeller plane. Singaporeans came… Read More ›

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More Things To Do This Summer (Part 2)

For my readers in the Northern Hemisphere who are, I hope, living things up in the summertime. Because the top post here still remains the Top 10 Things To Do This Summer. Here are more. 1. Go on a short vacation with friends of the same gender The word ‘summer’ and ‘roadtrip’ go together like… Read More ›

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Avoiding the Downbeat

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Sometimes it works out when one has lowered expectations of some upcoming event. It could be an occasion, a vacation, a visitation, an obligation. Random thoughts like these could flit across your mind: It might not be that fun. . . I have to watch my atttitude. . . I… Read More ›

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Gotta Love Geneva

Geneva has been described as “just a place with the UN buildings”, a city with nothing interesting, where the shopping is ‘boring.’ Yet I found this impressively clean city whose trains run like clockwork more than just a slice of modern Europe with “nothing much” to offer. Au contraire, as the French-speaking Swiss might say…. Read More ›

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Summer Breeze

The clouds have fled, the sunlight is strong, so strong the face burns. But there is solace in the green shade, where the pigeons coo. In the quiet town square, where the 13th century church stands gloriously silent, summer visitors stroll the cobbled lanes, passing French pattiseries and displays of handmade Italian ballet shoes.

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Places of the Heart: A Valentine for East Timor

Part Two of my 2012 Valentine’s Day posts.  Places are a lot like people. Some you’ve known since childhood, met through your parents, through school, mutual friends. These are the forever friends. Some you get to know out of choice, because you heard how much fun they were, or whom you met through your work,… Read More ›

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Jetsetting

Everyone loves a travel story. Here’s one. Late last year, a friend living in southern California bought on my behalf a pair of ballet flats in the most enviable forest green there ever was. Over an excited chat on Facebook, I gave her my address. She sent the shoes off by air to Singapore a… Read More ›

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The Faces of Cambodia

Photographs by Chan Kwai Onn and Daniel Sim We played games, gave prizes and Christmas gifts and even hooked up a photo printer in the village to a dangling electrical socket to print out these portraits of the children to give them as mementoes. They say that every picture tells a story. And so it… Read More ›

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Pensive in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, Cambodia — A varied day. We visited the genocide museum, Tuol Sleng, in the morning, and met one of the two remaining survivors of Pol Pot’s violent regime. To understand a country that is *still* recovering from the ravages of war, one must try to grasp what its people went through in recent… Read More ›

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Cucumber-Cool in Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia — One thing I learned in the newsroom back in the day was to establish one’s dateline (the date and location of the story, placed at the top) when one is abroad, in the field. Coming to Cambodia soon after Christmas can be an iffy thing. Either I am unprepared for the… Read More ›

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Safari Adventure

The title of this post is a nostalgic nod to author Willard Price, whose adventure books for boys I read as a fourteen-year-old girl. The quotes here, though, are all from Karen Blixen’s now-classic work Out of Africa (1937). The geographical position and the height of the land combined to create a landscape that had… Read More ›

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Out of Africa

Nairobi, Kenya — I have left the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and have decided to highlight the opening line and other memorable lines from the 1985 film Out of Africa. It was narrated by Meryl Streep who played the heroine Karen Blixen: “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The… Read More ›

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In Transit (Really)

Nairobi, Kenya — Who would have thought I’d end up spending one night in Nairobi and reach home with just five days to Christmas? We’d left Tanzania and were transiting through Nairobi to Doha, Qatar. Seven hours thence and back home. To cut a long story short, we missed the connection.  Five out of the eight of… Read More ›

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Natural Elegance

The Serengeti, Tanzania— What makes the endlessness of the Serengeti so thrilling to the soul is the absence of Man’s hand on the land. No bridges, no telco structures, no lamp posts, traffic lights, no pylons. No road signs or billboards advertising good things or a good time. Even the roads are paved with good… Read More ›

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How Many Miles To Babylon?

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania I found myself reading the flight destinations off the flight board at the departure terminal in Nairobi, Kenya. Kinshasa, Entebbe, Dar es Salaam, and my favorite, Zanzibar. These are the kinds of places you only read about in the papers, in Nat Geo, Time magazine. I looked at these names with a sense… Read More ›

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The Secret of the Serengeti

The title could possibly belong to a book of my youth because on clear days, you could see forever. The name ‘serengeti’ — the sound like a syncopated beat of an African drum — means endless plains in the Masaai language and this beautiful word peppered stories like Willard Price’s Adventure Series (Safari Adventure, Elephant… Read More ›

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Mauritius Memories

Mauritius is the less glamourous cousin of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. It’s more of an island surrounded by smaller gems, rather than a series of atolls. Still, there’s something about being in the middle of the vast Indian Ocean that casts its spell on you. Click any picture to see a carousel view… Read More ›

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Business Class

The only bad thing about travelling on business class is that the magazine pocket on the seat in front of you is so far away one has to lean forward and stretch out one’s arm just to get at the meal menu, the inflight entertainment guide, or one’s latest issue of Vanity Fair. Otherwise, the… Read More ›

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The Myth That Is Mauritius

Like a carbochon embedded in a tiara of islands in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius has long been something of a myth to me. Some 40 years ago, my mother’s youngest sister married a Chinese Mauritian doctor she’d met while in nursing school in London. They settled down in Mauritius. At a time when people travelled… Read More ›

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A Burmese Picture Story

Recently, I’ve been reading George Orwell. You might remember that Orwell was an English author and journalist, who also wrote the acclaimed and once-banned books Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949). Wikipedia describes his work as “marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in… Read More ›

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Waltzing Pagodas

Once a Jolly Shandy Sat by the Irrawaddy Under the shade of a banyan tree And she sang as she sat, a lacquered bowl in her palm, You’ll come a-waltzing pagodas with me. Waltzing stupas, waltzing temples, You’ll come a-waltzing pagodas with me And she sang as she sat,  A lacquered bowl in her palm… Read More ›

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Bali Postcard

Unlike the party beach towns of Kuta, Legian and even high-end Seminyak, Ubud tucked amid the rolling padi terraces of Bali, is comparably cooler, especially when dusk falls. Even the main shopping streets are quieter, idyllic even, for the storekeepers are less aggressive and let you browse, and the absence of beaches means the absence… Read More ›

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Lessons from a Ski Slope (Part II)

This is a phrase widely quoted: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” (Obvious lesson here.) I didn’t get to ski anymore during my stay at the Hokkaido ski resort because rising temperatures and all-night rain melted most of the snow by the next morning. I was surprised to see grass—previously… Read More ›

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Lessons from a Ski Slope (Part 1)

In the ski town of Niseko, Hokkaido, one takes a chairlift for a 10-minute ride up a hill. I’ve been to a few bunny slopes before– Michigan, Indiana, Vancouver–and these were *real* bunny slopes:100m mounds you slid down endlessly until you found your feet. I imagine today’s was a mother bunny slope, five times as… Read More ›

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When a Higher Court is Needed

The whole history of the world is summed up in the fact that, when nations are strong, they are not always just, and when they wish to be just, they are no longer strong. Winston Churchill, 1874-1965 Where there are too many policemen, there is no liberty. Where there are too many soldiers, there is… Read More ›

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Disney Faze

Ever get that trapped feeling in any of the Disneylands of the world? The saccharine colours, the overpriced souvenirs, the preponderance of Mickey, hidden and otherwise, the mind-deadening jingle-like songs, the vastness of the grounds, the lines for rides and shows, all make the place much too much larger-than-life, loud, and tiring after a while…. Read More ›

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Tokyo Daze (I)

I’ll try and make it a Top Five List of First Impressions for now. It’s early into my 10-day reconnaissance trip of the Land of Hello Kitty. #5: As urban places go, it feels like Hong Kong on a larger scale. Nipponphiles will cry foul, but when I found myself on a cold, grey afternoon… Read More ›

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