Monday, August 24, 2015

TRAVEL LOVE: Cool Down Cameron

I made it a personal goal to travel around Malaysia as much as I can. Why not, it is after all my second home now, and what better way to immerse myself in its wonderful culture than to do what I love best. So much that when I saw the cinema Ad of Emirate's campaign 'Be There,' that celebrates curiosity, wanderlust, and the adventure that comes with travel, I immediately felt like a soldier on a mission.
My recent solo trip to Penang was nothing but wonderful. Georgetown is bustling with interesting architecture, unique art and awesome food fusions. There's so much things to see and do so I was on the go 90% of the time. On the other hand, Cameron Highlands offers a sanctuary of peace and down time. One of Malaysia's most extensive hill stations, Cameron Highlands is most noted for its cool weather, 18 degrees Celsius on average, but can drop to as low as 13 degrees at night and high reaches. It was discovered by British surveyor William Cameron in 1885. The British who flocked to the area, mainly to escape the crushing heat of Malaysia, soon realised the potential of Cameron Highlands' fertile soil to grow tea which was then considered a prized commodity. Malaysian-British entrepreneur J.A. Russel founded the BOH Tea Company 86 years ago, and it still remains to be the number one tea in Malaysia today. I hope you like history!
If Penang's a girl, she would be the adventurous go-getter who likes to entertain people with her own brand of art and music. Her polar opposite would be Cameron Highlands, the zen sister who's a little shy and introvert with a profound oneness with nature. She's nurturing but feels perfectly comfortable alone and in silence. A friend asked me which place did I like better as she's planning a trip for the long weekend, but I can't name one. To me, you have to meet them both. Penang will fire up your senses while Cameron Highlands will provide a sweet cool down. It boils down to what you need at the moment.

 Here's a list of Cool Down Must Dos in Cameron Highlands:  

1. Breathe Easy. Silence your Heart.
I'm city girl by heart. I live in a building beside a mall and in front of a major highway. I'm used to the noise and pollution. But Cameron Highland's fresh air is a welcome treat for the lungs! Hearing birds chirping instead of tires screeching before bed is also a novelty that I absolutely loved. 

2. Smell the Blooms
Cameron Highlands is peppered with beautiful flower farms. You can literally just stop and smell the blooms. I visited the Cactus Valley in Brinchang town which, aside from cute and weird cactus plants, also housed a wide variety of colorful pretty flowers that you can purchase. If only we had a car, I would have purchased flower pots for our veranda.


3. Eat Fresh
While Penang tops the list for the most popular food destinations in Malaysia, Cameron Highlands does not disappoint either. The night market in Brinchang is a haven for fresh and organic produce. From strawberries, honey, freshly cooked seafood and vegetable goreng (fried) to steaming Fish Laksa. Brinchang is also flooded with Steamboat restaurants. Steamboat is similar to Shabu-Shabu, where you boil and cook different goodies - from meat, noodles, tofu to veggies - in a base soup (herbal, Tom Yam, Chicken etc.) The only difference is that it's cooked in charcoal and not the usual electric pots. I'm not a fan but I get the appeal, and it's indeed a perfect choice for the cold weather! Usual Malaysian fares like Nasi Lemak, Char Kwey Teow and Nasi Kandar are also abundant. Plus, scones, pies and freshly brewed tea make the perfect 'Little England' experience in the heart of Asia. 

4. Buy Organic
Aside from strawberries and flowers, the rows and rows of green, crispy lettuce also caught my fancy. I was tempted to just pick and toss them in a salad bowl. Luckily, you can just order freshly made salad from the farm café. Pair it with a glass of strawberry lassi, and your afternoon is complete. Tourists usually bring home organic produce back to the city. It's fresh and really cheap (i.e. 3 HUGE packs of strawberries only cost RM 20 or Php 240!), you have nothing to lose. 

5. Meditate 
Cameron Highlands offers plenty of opportunities to empty your mind. I chose a good spot in the BOH Tea Plantation TEAteria with a stunning view of the hills covered in tea shrubs. It's tricky since the place is popular and hardly empty, but it's a magnificent place to meditate on a good day. Otherwise, get a hotel with a veranda and a good view, and you have the perfect backdrop for your morning meditations. 

Some useful tips to remember when you're traveling to Cameron Highlands:
  • Bus tickets sell fast especially on holidays. I suggest you buy online and just claim your boarding pass at the station. I booked via (nope, this is not a sponsored post) and went to the Pudu Raya/Pudu Sentral Bus Station 30 minutes before departure.
  • The nearest LRT station is Plaza Rakyat. Cost is RM 40 (Php 480) per way including insurance. Travel time is anywhere from 3.5 to 4 hours including a 10-minute restroom stop.
  • Buses stop at Tanah Rata. You can take a taxi to Brinchang for only RM 10 (Php 120). Buses are not reliable so better hop on the cab, or if you are up for it, hitch a ride with caution. 
  • Taxis are regulated in Cameron Highlands. You can rent one for RM 25 (Php 300) per hour for a minimum of 3 hours. So plan your trip to maximize your money. I met a really nice taxi driver/tourist guide, PM me and I'll give you his mobile number. :) 
  • Most 2-3 star hotels do not have air conditioners. My friend K and I asked about it, the receptionist looked puzzled and thought we're crazy. When the sun set, we understood why. It was freezing! 
  • Jackets, leg warmers and closed shoes are recommended, depending on your tolerance. But no shorts and flip flops for sure!
  • Places we visited, and you should too: Big Red Strawberry Farm, Cactus Valley, BOH Tea Plantation at Sungei Palas, Brinchang Night Market. 

Hello from me and my adventure bud, K :)

On to the next adventure. Happy start of the week! 

Much Love,

Monday, August 10, 2015

What I Learned Today: Inspirations from TEDxKL

This year's TEDxKL theme
I draw inspirations from a lot of things. Books, movies, websites, everyday conversations, the sky, my dog. Name it. I'm a firm believer of lifelong learning, that there's always something new and valuable to pick up even from the seemingly mundane things.
One of my favorites is TED videos. The first time I discovered the TED App on iOS, I spent the whole day on the couch watching speeches and presentations from all kinds of people across the globe. The thing I like the most about it is that on top of known personalities, the TED stage has also been an avenue to showcase ordinary people with extraordinary contributions to the society. Be it in the field of technology, energy, business or simply fighting for causes such as gender equality, right to clean water or even child marriage. It has revolutionized the way we share and celebrate inspirations, and who to draw them from. Age, race or PhD requirement is unheard of.
Thankfully, my company sees great value in exposing employees with these kinds of events and agreed to sponsor me and my colleagues to attend the second TEDx in Kuala Lumpur. It's been a while since I've drawn so much inspirations in a day, it would be a shame to keep it to myself. As TED puts it, these are ideas worth spreading.
Here are my favorite takeaways; may you be as inspired as I am, today and always!
Afdlin Shauki: actor, comedian, director and activist

  • "I'm excited to be wrong because it means I will learn something right."
  • "You don't lose anything by adding value to other people's lives."
  • "Visiting India, and other rural places while directing my films taught me that you can be happy without having a lot of stuff."
  • "If you want to live an extraordinary life, never accept the status quo. Think about the perceptions, and challenge them."
I love this guy, and not only because he's funny. Sure, he makes a living making people laugh. But starring and directing films in Tamil (India) and Thai when you only know Malay and English is no laughing matter. He came from a poor family who could only send him to school 50% of the time. He had to alternate schooling with his siblings. When everyone told him that he wasn't cut for the big screen, he challenged the perceptions of what actors should be, and proceeded to making and directing films that would eventually win awards internationally. More so, he put his fame and fortune to good use and set up his own foundation and started a mission to help the refugees of Syria in Jordan. Big guy with a bigger heart.
He said a lot of good things, but I can relate best with his statements on "being wrong." Not really proud of it, but I'm an obsessive compulsive perfectionist, and I find it hard to stomach that being wrong is not a mortal sin, that it's actually alright. In fact, mistakes can lead to better outcomes, because it stretches people's limiting beliefs, or perceptions of such. The most successful people are not the ones who don't commit mistakes, but the ones most quick to recover. I want to belong to the latter.

Irshad Mobarak: naturalist, conservationist, Mr. Awesome

"Be fast when it's needed, be strong when strength is required, but remember that the most adaptable always survives."
Irshad spoke about nature's natural relationships (namely commensalism, mutualism and parasitism) and related it to human behaviors. The evolution of man, history, war, even genocide! He said Hitler wasn't a glitch of nature but a product of convoluted idea that the fittest (in this case, the superior race - blonde, blue-eyed Aryan) survives, or should survive. I've always been intrigued by the Nazi era and its ethos, and wondered how it was possible for human beings to be so corrupted and consumed by the ideas of superiority and playing god. I've read several books about concentration camps and such, and have watched documentaries, but it's my first time to hear its co-relevance with nature and evolution. I clapped so hard, my hands hurt!
Catch this guy in his responsible wildlife tours in Langkawi. I've heard it's a must!
Meanwhile, install the TED App or subscribe to the website and get random inspirations daily. It's addicting, so consider yourself warned. Have a good week ahead!

Spot the Edelman logo. 
 The venue (Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil) is 12 stations and 1 cab ride away from my place, hence the tired eyes, but it's all worth it! :)

Much Love,

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

TRAVEL LOVE: Penang Chronicles

A lot of things can be said about Malaysia, but you have to agree with me that their food is simply awesome. Why not? Bring three ethnicities under one roof and you get one of the most diverse, most flavorful cuisines in the world. Malaysian cuisine's influence include Chinese, Indian and Malay. The complex combination of herbs and spices, the layers of flavors and the thousand and one ways of preparation will leave anyone wondering when the next meal is coming.

I love eating, and I love talking about food. It is through these food chats that I learned about the foodie haven that is Penang. According to my colleagues, KL food are no match with what Penang has to offer. Mind you, I like KL food a lot. So if KL was able to win me over, then I thought Penang might be able to convince me to marry him. ;) I booked a weekend solo trip to test this theory, and boy was I happy! Penang food is indeed good. Damn good. But the fact is, food is just one of the things that Penang should be proud of.

I stayed mostly in the state's capital, Georgetown. Armed with a map, a camera, and insider tips from my Air BNB hosts, I walked my way around the city and got a taste of authentic Penang food and their quirky, artsy streets. I just stayed for the weekend so I could only cover so much. I reserved the rest (mainly beach strolling in Batu Feringghi) for my next visit with my housemates and boyfriend. :)

Lebuh Campbell, Georgetown, Penang
Here are some tips to hopefully help (entice) you to visit this artsy state:
  • Flight from Kuala Lumpur to Penang is less than an hour. Bus however, will take minimum of 5 hours. For short trips, I suggest flying to save time and energy.
  • Subscribe to Air Asia. They have endless seat sales to Penang. I got my return tickets for only RM 109 (Php 1,300). Bus is about RM 40/way (Php 480). The extra RM 20-30 is so worth it.
  • From the airport, board bus number 401E for about RM 3 (Php 36) and alight at KOMTAR Shopping Center (where the bus terminal is). Prepare small bills as you need to pay exact amount and there's no change available. From KOMTAR, you can either walk (15-20 minutes), board the free shuttle that goes around Georgetown (CAT bus) or take taxi. I took the CAT bus which brought me to Penang street (Jalan Penang) and walked for 5 minutes to my hostel near the famous Love Lane (where you will find boutique cafes and small but interesting restaurants)
  • Weather is crazy hot in Penang. Hats and sunnies are musts. Wear light clothes and bring a towel. Don't forget to apply sunblock. It's the number one beauty essential!
  • Do your homework, do some research and ask the locals. You'll get the best food from the hawkers and hole-in-the-wall places and not from the fancy restos. Much cheaper too.
  • Penang is backpacker friendly. Georgetown is beaming with hostels - from the very basic (and dirt cheap) to fancy and unique. I booked Dream Catcher Travelers Refuge via Air BNB. I got the private room with AC for only RM 70 (Php 840). The location is superb, right smack in the middle of the happenings and interesting places in Georgetown, and my hosts Ranee and Naz are really wonderful. Friendly and helpful but not intrusive at all. The alleys can be a bit dodgy at night, so exercise caution
  • Food that you shouldn't miss: Asam Laksa, Char Kuey Teow, Cendol, Mee Prawn, Nasi Kandar
Penang Road Famous Laksa. Starts at 6.50 (Php 78) 
Fish-based noodle soup that comes with shredded fish (sardine or mackerel or both) and vegetables such as cucumber, pineapple, onions, red chilies and lettuce. The gravy includes tamarind juice, more chillies and lemon grass. When served, the dish would be topped with a tablespoon of prawn paste.

Kuey Teow. Get it everywhere. It's the number one hawker food! Starts at RM 6.50 (Php 78)
"Stir-fried ricecake strips", the noodles are fried with pork lard, dark and light soy sauce, chili, de-shelled cockles, bean sprouts, Chinese chives and sometimes prawn and egg. This is my most favorite Malaysian dish by far. In KL or in Penang, I've had to stop myself from ordering this on a daily basis. 

Penang Road Famous Laksa and Cendol at Lebuh Keng Kwee. Starts at RM 5.50 (Php 66)
Cendol usually consists of the conspicuous green jelly noodles immersed in shaved ice mixed with coconut milk, gula Melaka (palm sugar), and kidney beans. Some stalls would enhance the dessert by adding in chunks of pulut (glutinous rice), sweet corn and nuts. A sweet treat on a especially scorching hot days. 
  • What to do in between eating: Take a walking tour and find the best street arts for free. Visit the clan houses and century old temples. There's also some interesting museums, some free, while others charge minimal fees. Love pets? Visit the Purrfect Cat Café and meet the naughty residents. My favorite is the Scottish Fold Grey cat, Bear.
Indian Boatman
Bruce Lee 
St. George Church
Camera Museum

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
Hello, naughty Bear!

Have fun in Penang! I did. :)

Much Love,

Sunday, August 2, 2015

GOOD READS: A Thousand Splendid Suns

I have good news. I got my reading mojo back, or at least I'm getting there. We can think of all the excuses in the world - work, school, errands, digital distractions, with the latter being the biggest culprit, why we don't read as much. Today's generation has been so used to a connected world that curling up in bed with a big fat book is not as appealing as it used to be anymore. Our attention has shortened significantly and we expect stories in bite pieces. Personally, I do a lot of reading and writing at work, hence the fatigue. But finishing a good novel brings me incredible feelings of joy (and sometimes grief, I get engrossed with the characters so much that I feel sad to be separated from them after finishing a book. Am I normal?), so I try to find time to read as much as I can.

“Of all the hardships a person had to face, none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.”  

My friend P has told me about A Thousand Splendid Suns a while back so I downloaded the e-book, which I conveniently forget the past months. I chanced upon it during my recent flight to Manila. It's a heavy read, as much as it's powerful. It tells the story of two Afghan women whose lives were entwined by decades of war, loss and love. They developed a mother-daughter bond in the most unlikely situation, having to share the same fate and an abusive, detestable (and gross!) husband. A Thousand Splendid Suns, which chronicles thirty years of Afghan history, is a compelling story of the extent of a woman and a mother's love in the most unforgiving time. The story also gave me an opportunity to learn and appreciate the Afghan culture, which to be honest, I wouldn't have bothered to read about if not for this book.

If you're a feminist, you'll probably cringe and cry twice as much. I can't count how many times I paused and thank the heavens that I was born in a different generation and well, place. 

Get your hankies ready and fall in love with the mind of Khaled Hosseini. I loved him so much, I finished his other book The Kite Runner in two days. It's even better IMO, so it totally deserves a separate post.

Happy reading!

Much Love,

Friday, July 31, 2015

Project Healthy: An end to #Roadto125

It's Friday and I'm ought to share something happy on my favorite day so allow me to gloat on my not-so-recent health success: I finally (over)achieved my target weight.

I'm not new with the weight loss saga. I think every girl would have to deal with body image at some point in their lives, albeit on many different levels. Some go to great lengths to lose weight, resorting to not only unhealthy but dangerous diets, pills, surgeries, what have you. Thankfully, I've never really detested not being a size zero. My mom was a size zero and despite her nagging, I actually liked being curvy. I was fine with my size.

But summer days are cunning. I found myself wishing I could fit into the nicest swimsuits, which BTW keeps on getting smaller every season! So I tried every known diet on this planet with limited success until I finally realized that it's not diet that would help me. It's a conviction to feel better and live healthier. Not too fat nor too skinny. Just healthy. Comfortable in my own skin. Hence, I started my 'Road to 125' and 'Project Healthy'. I'm on my second year now, and I have no plans of looking back.

Same dress in 2012 vs. 2014
Hitting lightest weight since college
Corporate photo 2013 vs. 2015

Since I've been getting a lot of inquiries, I thought of sharing some practical tips. These are based purely from my personal experience, so please exercise caution.

1. Decide for yourself. It's tiring to hear and read about people and so-called experts telling you to eat this, not that. The more pressure I get, the less encouraged I become. So I stopped following a set guideline and took control of my journey. It takes a little research and close observations but the more you understand your body, the easier for you to get the hang of it. I became more selective on what to put in my mouth. More real, organic food. Less processed and junk food. It takes longer to prepare a pasta dish from scratch, but I get more satisfaction with less serving because it's customized to my taste. More water and less sugary drinks. When a crave for Coke, I buy the smallest portion (in can) and take small sips and drink more water afterwards. More walking, less driving. I take the stairs, not the lift. It's no science, just a lot of common sense. Consistency is also key.

2. Learn to compromise. If I had a big lunch, dinner will be small and simple.  I stick to my usual, home cooking on weekdays as much as possible. I treat myself to fancier meals during weekends mindful that I'm eating good food in small, just enough portions. Cheat days are meant for eating what you like, not eating all you can. If you're a coffee junkie like me, choosing between coffee and cake/doughnut will help lessen your sugar intake. Either I get a cup of coffee or a lovely dessert which I wash down with warm water. I also steered clear of instant coffee. Freshly brewed coffee/tea with a bit of milk and sugar (no sugar if you can) is much better and more satisfying!  
3. Don't deprive yourself. Again, crash diets will get back at you big time. I learned this the hard way. Plus, when you feel deprived, you get depressed; then it's very easy to slip back into old, unhealthy eating habits hoping it would make you feel better. I'm selective with what I eat, but I make sure I eat healthy food that I actually like. Experiment and tease your taste buds. You'll be surprised on how much healthy food you actually enjoy. Case in point: I love ice cream, but I discovered that freezing lassi with roasted almonds makes a yummy, more healthy alternative. If you love rice like most Filipinos, convert to brown and red rice which are more filling and have better nutritional value. Make sure to soak them in water an hour before cooking for better texture.

4. Take baby steps. Losing 20 pounds in 2 months is unrealistic. Plus, losing weight too fast will leave you weak and looking sick. Make gradual changes. Putting too much pressure on yourself won't help. Set a realistic goal and regularly track your progress. In my case, I made a pact with my former colleagues. We posted a weight track sheet that we update every so often. It made things more exciting and fun! (Hello, NaiNai and Jelleh) Lastly, instead of forcing myself to go to the gym four to five times a week (to me, it's punishment), I looked for workouts that I actually enjoy like yoga, running and badminton.

5. Be appreciative. Give credit where credit is due. Thank yourself when you make progress. Gratitude comes in all forms - telling a friend, getting a big gelato, taking a selfie, buying a new dress. Whatever rocks your boat. Personally, I like my massages.

I hope this helps a bit. Just remember that life is not all about your waistline. What's inside matters a lot more. So don't forget to also invest on learning new things and improving or mastering your craft. I'm an advocate of lifelong learning. Everyday is the best day to learn something and one is never too old to try new things. Most importantly, be a kind and loving person. No one wants a  36-24-36 doll without a heart. ;)

Much Love,