Another chapter begins

So here I am back in Switzerland sitting in my long johns with a hot cup of coffee. Oh did I miss winter! I’ve been back in Luzern for one week and Chris and I have settled a bit into our new apartment. It feels lovely to have our own home and the opportunity to furnish it together. Chris is working right here in Luzern and as of today I’ll officially start an internship in Geneva with Gavi in March. It’ll run for 20 weeks, putting a bit of a hiatus on the furnishing and settling, as I’ll have to live in Geneva during the weekdays.

Leaving Singapore was strange for me, I felt ready to go home but the people I met there were hard to say goodbye to. The year I spent there changed me, something which grew evident when I came back to Canada in December. Being back in my old environment, the only home I knew three years ago, showed me how much I’ve grown through living abroad. It’s hard to describe how it happens, but suddenly you realize that the person who left isn’t you anymore – you’ve seen too much and experienced too much to see the world in the same way. Perhaps you don’t have to travel for that to happen. Perhaps that is just growing up and experiencing the world; be it in your own rural town, city or global community.

After a pretty crazy travel schedule I managed to make it to Canada for Christmas with my family (with a weekend stop in Tokyo), travel back to Singapore for a week to defend my thesis, and eventually back to Switzerland to stay. I have to await the results of the thesis examination but if all goes well I will graduate at the end of February! What’s next? I am not entirely sure. This internship will give me the chance to see how these international organizations work and if that is something I’d like to pursue. I want to use the skills I’ve been given to make a positive change in the world, so I will continue to take the steps necessary to making that happen. I’m keeping my options open, whether it’s further education or the start of a career – the world is full of possibilities and I am just going to take it one step at a time relishing in all that has been and all that will come.

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Goodbye Singapore – Goodbye Summer

Eleven months have passed incredibly fast.  I think it was only yesterday when we set our sails in direction of Singapore, not knowing what will be awaiting us. What has awaited us? A short summary.

An incredible journey through countries and cities I never knew I was going to visit. Bali, Bintan, Borneo, Cambodia, Vietnam, Kuala Lumpur, South Korea. I think we scratched a little on the surface of what could be seen in SE Asia, but I am happy that we saw so much and also such a variety of cultures. All countries and cities amazed me in so many different ways that I am not sure if I have a personal favorite.

SO MUCH FOOD! Malay, Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, Thai and so on. My personal favorite became Vietnamese: Simple, fresh and tasty. But I also love South Korean food, as in a lot of meat, good sauces and vegetables. I sure will miss the street food of Singapore!

We met fantastic people. It was my first time realizing that you can basically live wherever you want on this planet, as long as you have some good people to share your life with. Living life alone is not fun, neither in Switzerland nor in Singapore.

I also started to understand development differently. While traveling it was interesting to see how far developed certain countries are and why some are further than others. My lesson from Vietnam about corruption (“corruption is only fair for those who have money”) might have been simple, but it seems like a lot of countries with economic problems also have corruption difficulties. So while 1% of the population gets extremely rich, the other 99% have to suffer. Not fair.

It is no coincidence that Singapore is so green. I really like the emphasis of the government and their clear direction on certain topics. They sure get stuff done.

To sum it up, I have learned so much about this world in the last year and I am truly thankful. What will I miss? I will miss the food, the chances of discovering something very different every month, wearing shorts every day (everyday!), our new friends from all over the world and also our condo. Thank you guys for making it so awesome!

Here some of my favorite shots:

Cambodia – more than Temples

I expected an endless amount of temples. I expected to come home and say: “Wow, there were a lot of temples!” I thought of saying this because, quite frankly, there are a lot of temples. But there is much more to Cambodia than temples.

The most famous sight in Cambodia – or probably in SE Asia – are the temples of Ankor. Even though the word “temple” covers mostly the type of building we have encountered, I never knew that they could be so different. With a three-day pass, we took our time to explore Ankor intensely and saw a variety of majestic, moss-covered, detailed and well-planned temples. A true wonder of this world, which was hard to process in such a short time.

Some temples are overrun by tourists, which does not make it a peaceful experience when you get pushed through. Tourbuses pull up, release their hounds and wait for them to come back with their trophies. There are many locals (mainly children) trying to pitch a sale, which is both heart breaking and exhausting. I am not sure if I have ever said “No thank you” so many times. A little escape was our Tuktuk with our driver Vothy. He drove us around and took his time showing us rural Cambodia, leaving more authentic impressions than during the first few days at Ankor. Next time I will go to Cambodia I will definitely explore this area more.

Cambodia went through a lot in the last few decades and a lot is still visible. There are obvious left-overs of the Khmer Rouge in the mid 70’s, including corruption and a damaged economy as a whole. We visited a Swiss pediatrician who set up five children’s hospitals, because the government is not taking responsibility for this. He offers a cello concert every Saturday evening to raise money, which we gladly attended.  We also saw a lot of people volunteering to help Cambodians in different ways, where the local government is not contributing.

I truly hope that Cambodia will not reduce itself to the temples in Ankor, forgetting where the real attractions are hidden. Only then they can develop into a stable and secure place for its citizens, where not only the current generation can benefit, but all the generations to come.

Hanoi – an uncut diamond

It was Tuesday early afternoon when I’ve met my parents in Hanoi, to enjoy a 7 day trip together, after they visited us in Singapore for several days. We started off visiting Hanoi’s sightseeing spots, like the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the Temple of Literature. On Thursday morning, we left in direction of Halong Bay where we joined a cruise for one night. Halong Bay is protected by UNESCO and therefore a very pretty, but also very touristy spot. After visiting the amazing cave, a short kayak tour in a small isolated lake and a sunset party on the deck of the boat, we were amazed with delicacies from the junk kitchen. The next morning started with a short hike and swim in the ocean. A cooking demonstration followed, where we were introduced into Vietnamese Kitchen secrets. And of course, we made some spring rolls. After lunch, we headed back to the terminal, where we decided to wait going back to Hanoi, but drove to Hai Phong instead. We found a city with a raw beauty, which was way less hectic and also more authentic than its neighboring big city. After some sightseeing, we enjoyed great food in a restaurant close to our hotel. After lunch the next day, a real journey awaited us. A train trip for 3 hours and 3 USD showed us how close you can build a house to train tracks and also, that traveling in Vietnam does not have to be stressful. Our arrival at the train station in Hanoi was clearly to early, as it seemed like it has not been finished half way. Our hotel awaited us with open arms and we even got the same room again. On our second last day in Hanoi, we visited the Ethnology Museum, where we learned more about the Vietnamese Culture. Later, we visited a small city outside of Hanoi, which is famous for silk production. As we arrived, we found a restaurant where we were amazed by what we were able to order without even speaking one word in the same language as our hosts. It was absolutely delicious. Silk was buyable in all types of size, colors and quality, which surely amazed my mother’s curiosity. 🙂 Later on, we went back to the city for a delicious supper. Our last day did not start as we imagined: We ordered a driver who spoke English for one day, but our driver could not speak, and more importantly, had no idea where our destinations were. But thanks to his uncountles turns, and wrong side streets he took, we saw a side of Vietnam which was hidden from us. People, so friendly they invite you into their homes, willing us to show us their business and just happy, with what they have. It deeply impressed us and gave us a sense of what the “real” Vietnam looks like.

Vietnam is still very simple in a lot of ways, but also very advanced in others. So many things seem to unrattle, getting ready to blossom and I am excited to see what will happen to this uncut diamond in the future.

The trip with my parents has been enriching. It was absolutely amazing being able to travel with them, seeing their energy and curiosity to discover the unknown. Thank you.

Home Sweet Home

The question of “what’s next?” has been with me for a while. My job was done at the end of July and then August went by too quickly to find an answer. At the beginning of August, I decided to make a trip home, simply because I did not know if an interview would turn into a job and if our stay would be extended. Maggie will stay until February anyway, so it seem like a good opportunity to go home and see how things stand.

The answer to the question remains “something in Singapore” for the next little while. I will update you with more information as soon as I can.

Below you can find a few pictures of some glorious moments of my time in Switzerland. Thank you everyone for taking some time off to meet up and spend precious hours together.

A few weeks with Josine

So I’m a little delayed with this post, but now that I’ve found my footing again post-vacation I think it’s about time I update you all on my sister’s visit! We basically alternated between the mature women that we (obviously) are and silly little children getting to stay up late loading up on copious amounts of junk food. But who would have expected anything else…

We first met in Korea, spent a week there (as described in the last post) and then Josine came to Singapore where I met her at the airport at midnight on a Tuesday. We spent the rest of the week here. I showed her the cultural highlights, including Little India where we entertained a restaurant full of Indians as two ungraceful Dutch girls tried to shuffle their curry rice into their mouths using their bare hands. We spent a very rainy Wednesday morning in Chinatown, paid way too much money for an umbrella and visited the Buddha Tooth Relic temple where religious ceremonies were taking place. This city still has ways of surprising me.

On Friday we flew to Bali, and spent our first days in Kuta. We surfed, ate great food, had early morning swims and shopped around. Trying our hand at bargaining with the local ladies. We met Freddy on Sunday morning and drove with him to the north of Bali stopping at temples, villages and various sights on our way to Pemuteran. In this little town the beaches are black, remnants left over from the volcano. We did more swimming, floating in the water as the sun set in the distance, more eating, and more sightseeing. We also spent a morning snorkeling which was absolutely amazing. I (Maggie) had never gone before and it was amazing to see this whole other world under the water. So vibrant, colorful and alive.

After a few days in Pemuteran, on Tuesday we went back south to Ubud. It was here that we walked through rice terraces, visited the Sacred Monkey Forest, made new friends who will sponsor me when I eventually move Bali (okay, not really – but one can dream), drank lots of Indonesian coffee, discovered delicious potato chips, took a cooking class and did some cycling. The ultimate cultural experience was the Cockfight our bicycle tour guide randomly pulled us into, something I didn’t expect to experience and I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t have to see it again. Nevertheless, I saw another side of the culture. The Cockfight was set up in an arena and many men were cheering and throwing down their money in favor of one rooster over the other. Yet another reminder that people all over the world have an affinity to gamble, drink and smoke.

Early Friday morning, we were back on an airplane to Singapore. Once we arrived Chris had prepared a delicious brunch which set the tone for our next few days. We went on to spend some time in Sentosa playing soccer in the heat on the beach, which lasted all of 20 minutes. We went to the Sound of Music in the Marina Bay Sands on Singapore National day, followed up by a drink up on top of the hotel. One full day was spent in the waterpark on Sentosa having a blast taking all of the slides. We rode the gondola from Sentosa Island to Mount Faber (highest hill in Singapore, 105m) and hiked down in the dark to our house. All the while imagining various snakes lurking in the corners of the trail. But we survived. Moreover, we shopped, visited museums, ate, laid on the poolside and just relaxed. Exactly as one should do on a holiday.

After a few weeks like this I could have really used the ice bucket challenge to wake me up before I was thrown back into reality. That being said, the time away was really the best. It re-energized me to keep working away on my thesis and it was great for me to give Josine some insight into the life Chris and I have here in Singapore.

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Korea – a journey beyond boarders (Part 2)

The second part of our journey was more beyond boarders than the first part. As you will see later, it was also meant in a metaphorical way.

So on Wednesday evening, Josine joined the gang and we had quite the program ready. Well, actually Dan and Jinhee did, we would not have found half of the places in double the time. Anyhow, Thursday morning Josine, Maggie and I went to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where we got a tour and another lesson on history. The troops settled 1953 around the 38th parallel (Breitengrad), where North and South Korea are still divided today. In between the two countries, there is a strip of 4km high and 241km wide which is demilitarized and therefore untouched. Beautiful fauna by the way. Anyhow, in the middle of this DMZ there is the JSA (Joint Security Area) where they try to enable talks between the two countries. That’s also where we set foot on the ground of North Korea. So the entire day was filled with impressions of the tense relationship of the Korean countries starting from the JSA visit all the way to the abandoned train station, which has tracks going to Pyongyang. In the evening, we went back to Seoul (60km) and enjoyed a Baseball game, which had a number of cultural differences to the US version. The chanting, singing and cheering will stick forever!

Friday was an early morning, as we headed South with a high speed train. We landed in Gyeongju, a beautiful city about 2 hours from Seoul. Right when we arrived, we were picked up by a tour bus which gave us a compact tour of the area. Thanks to warm and sunny weather, we were also able to take some nice pictures. The greenery reminded me strongly of the Napa Valley, only the wineries were missing. We visited temples, tombs, and statues all over the Gyeongju area. In the evening, we camped at a local site, which was very comfortable type of camping. The wifi, big tents with power plugs and the BBQ right in front of your place, surely made it one comfy place to stay.

Saturday was the last full day together, so we made our way down to Busan, where we enjoyed the beach in the afternoon. In the late afternoon, we headed to the fish market. At one of the stands, three fish were selected for our supper. One fish was going to become Sashimi and the other two were just fried and prepared for us. Shortly after, we got everything served. Not sure when I ate that much fish last time, but it was absolutely phenomenal. No fish smell, pure goodness. Around seven, we made our way back to Seoul, where we got a few hours of sleep, before we headed back to Singapore.

This week in South Korea has been extraordinary. Not only because of the peerless organization of Daniel and Jinhee (including the uncountable times of ordering for us), but also because of the luxury of being able to spend a week together. The “journey beyond boarders” did not only entail the journey to South Korea or putting a foot on North Korean ground. The siblings of Maggie are far away from Switzerland and Singapore. Therefore, spending time together has given us the opportunity to push back the boarders of “in-law hood”, which is usually limited to annual visit at Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday. To sum it up, it has been one amazing trip and I am in for another visit, wherever it might be. Thank you!