Author Archives: Ruth Liew

2019 resolutions

    Live simply and with purpose
    Continue to nurture existing relationships and create new ones
    Continue to exercise
    Continue to discover and learn

2018 was unreal. At various points throughout the year, I thought, how could life get any better? I was on a real high. To the point where I thought something bad was inevitably around the corner.

Because that’s just life. It’s a rollercoaster. You have highs and lows. And the lows I’ve experienced have been painful, yet they’ve taught me a lot.

2018 was unreal because I was content in 4 areas which I’ve learnt bring me the most satisfaction in life. Those four areas are

  • Personal growth
  • Career
  • Love
  • Health

It’s rare that contentment occurs in all the above areas. But it happened in 2018, and I’m thankful for that.

What solo travel looks like – West Papua journals

Day 0, Saturday

Loving the dive vibes on the journey to West Papua from Jakarta. You see dive bags and fellow divers everywhere. On my final flight, I sit next to Paul and Sake, both seasoned freedivers. We geek out on free diving talk before falling into a deep sleep during the red eye. Small world, my freedive instructor, Azua was Paul’s instructor 3 years ago.

Day 1, Sunday

The Sorong airport is packed and there are no taxis, a big difference from 6 months ago when I was surrounded by taxi drivers. It’s peak season. Glad I had Arif’s number saved from my last trip here. Got in touch with him and helped Paul and his crew get a ride to the ferry harbour. It’s always a nice feeling passing on tips and helping other travelers. Paul’s crew was fun, we chatted and joked at various points along the way to Wasai. At one point on the insanely crowded ferry ride which seemed to carry every Papuan’s household goods, I burst out laughing when Paul goes “we’re surprised to not see livestock on this ferry!”.

We arrive at Wasai all sweaty and drained. It was great to see David who came to greet and receive me. I had met him on my last trip here. The acclimatization to Papuan culture started immediately as we waited 2 hours to take our last boat ride to Yenkoranu on Kri Island while the boys went to the market to get supplies. Met an interesting Catalonian and a funky Floridian, Lou. One of the guys who waited with us got impatient and started swearing. Lou and I didn’t care, we were already in island mode.

Finally arrived at Yenkoranu homestay around 3pm and to this beautiful scene.

I meet Helga (Austrian), Roberto (Italian), John (English). John had these AMAZING manta videos he had shot in the last few weeks. I hear from David that John has this routine where he spends the morning filming, edits them in the afternoon and has an audience oohing and aahing over them in the evening.

A few hours later I meet the Americans, Ben, Amanda, Leah and Nadr. Ben and Amanda moved to Kuala Lumpur 4 months ago to teach at the Mont Kiara international school. Leah and Nadr reside in Michigan. We geek out on conversation about Kuala Lumpur.

I greet Ais enthusiastically, a local diver and guide whom I met back in June. He’s probably my favourite local. The sweetest kindest person, always so positive and helpful. We bonded back then talking in Bahasa. He remembers me.

I’m so excited for the next few days.

Day 2 – Monday morning

First dive. Oh my fucking God. I did not dare tell any of my friends and family how terrified I was and saw my life in question during the dive at Cape Kri. SHIT. IT WAS INTENSE. The currents were strong, shifted at various points and they varied depending on your depth. At one point, the currents intensified as I was hooked onto a rock. My reef hook broke from the rock and I flew with the current and lost control. I remember screaming, screams that really don’t do anything in the water. I remember seeing my dive buddies ahead looking in the opposite direction. I remember thinking is this it? Thankfully Alberto noticed me after a few seconds, at which point I was 50 meters away, motioned to David who came flying for me. THANK YOU.

I surfaced after 45 minutes. The first sentence out of my mouth was WTF. In the following days, I spoke with the other divers on that dive, some of whom had hundreds of dives, were divemasters and rescue masters, and it was not just me who felt like they had a moment of panic and anxiety, not knowing what to do with ththe currents. The scary part was not knowing which way the current led to. Being caught in a down current would’ve been bad.

My second sentence was “wow that was really good practice”. And it really was as I brought my reef hook and pointer (to bang on my tank during emergencies) to all the following dives.

Alberto and David were professionals and amazingly sweet throughout and after, making sure I wasn’t traumatized. And I really was ok after a few minutes on the surface. I think what helped were two things

  • all the dives and aowd lessons in the months leading up to this
  • buddying up with David. I knew I could trust and rely on him with all his experience.

Second dive was a breeze. Haha. We went to Chicken reef. I needed that.

Day 2 – Monday afternoon

A week ago, I noticed that a childhood friend, Anand, was in West Papua. We texted back and forth and it didn’t seem likely we’d be able to meet up in this vast area. Due to luck and weather, his liveaboard docked close to Kri, the island I was on. I made the short 30 minute trek to the jetty, a short trek which involved hiking up and down a hilly forest, got hilariously lost along the way and decided to bumble my way down through thick forests in my flip flops. I found my way to the jetty where Anand picked me up with their inflatable boat and we rode to his liveaboard.

Met a fascinating group of Malaysians, half of whom live in the SF Bay Area. Had great conversation over lunch and spent some time catching up with Anand. Finished the day with a snorkel at Cape Kri and said our goodbyes.

That was really awesome, meeting a childhood friend in the middle of West Papua, an area that spans 15,000 sq meters and consists of 612 islands.

Back at Yenkoranu, I chat with Helga further, an elderly woman who is midway into being here for 2 months.

I go for a solo snorkel and return to the jetty just in time for a shark viewing. A dozen blacktip sharks.

In the evening back at Yenkoranu, I join Nadr, Leah, Amanda and Ben for dinner. Amanda starts rounding up people for a Manta dive the next day. It costs more to make the longer journey. Loving Amanda’s energy.

Day 3 – Tuesday morning

I find out that Alberto is a professional freediver…. and he was thinking about going freediving in the morning. I decide to skip the manta dive to go freediving with him. I did a freediving course a few days ago, and was keen on practising what I learnt with a pro and riding that momentum.

Prior to this, I had only managed a 10 feet dive in a pool during my lessons with Azua. I had challenges equalising head down and couldn’t go deeper. During my open water free dive with Alberto, I managed to go down 25 feet and was able to equalise better. YESSSSS. Baby steps…

Freediving in the open waters was freaking awesome. We took turns going down and Alberto offered some guidance along the way. Alberto did 90 feet dives. As a free dive buddy, you’re supposed to keep your eyes on the other person and snorkel alongside on the top. With Alberto, he’d disappear into the blackness of the deep ocean and I’d only find him after a few minutes on the surface typically 100 feet away from me. Haha.

Day 3 – Tuesday afternoon

The manta divers returned super ecstatic as they saw almost a dozen beautiful mantas. So cool! Part of me wished I had gone.

Started to get to know Christian and his dad, Gerard. Really cool guys from Austria.

We go for a drift dive in the afternoon.

Day 3 – Tuesday evening

It’s Christmas Day!

I start observing and chatting with Helga more and more. She’s this amazing motherly figure to all of us visiting Yenkoranu. Whenever I see her, she’s always talking to someone and welcoming to others.

Nadr and Leah are in a pickle. Their booked flights were somehow cancelled and they were unable to purchase new flights with their cards. I help them out and after a few attempts and a call to verify with Chase, the purchase goes through. They were super relieved and thankful that they could return home tomorrow.

It was also Leah’s birthday, so it was nice to help them out and relieve them of that stress. The Yenkoranu cooks, Ua and Glen baked her a cake, and all of us guests sang and wished her happy birthday.

Christian shares his beer with David and I. I point this out because getting a beer here involves hunting for it at whichever homestay happens to have it in stock.

I’m loving the community here, the locals, the visitors, the views, the dives. I have 5 more days here and I’m already dreading the withdrawal symptoms when this is all over.

I fell in love with this place 6 months ago. I’m falling in love all over again. It’s a beautiful feeling.

I walk smack right into a gigantic spider web at night on the way back to my room from the dining area. It envelops my whole face. That was fun.

Day 4 Wednesday morning

A group of us go for 2 dives in the morning at Blue Magic and Friwen wall. Blue Magic had decent currents and a ton of divers from 5 liveaboards parked around the area. It’s a popular dive site. The strong currents bring in an abundance of life. I loved diving Friwen Wall. We drift for the most part and I was mesmerised by the walls of soft corals.

I get to know Joe and and Joan, Singaporean residents, a bit more during our coffee break in between dives. They are pro divers having been on numerous liveaboards. I’ve been observing their skills on previous dives: always ready before others, calm in the water with their pro cameras, amazing buoyancy as they focused their cameras in on micro life. Yenkoranu was the first time for them using a homestay as a base. Joan recommends liveaboards. 🙂 loved talking to Joan, she’s really sweet, funny and cute.

Day 4 Wednesday afternoon

Christian comes over, and we chat for a long time. He tells me about his experience during my first dive at Cape Kri. His was even scarier. He hung onto rocks for life at 50 bars (when you’re supposed to start your safety stop and ascend) and watched his air gauge drop rapidly as he waited for his dive buddies to notice him. Christian is the guy who has more than a hundred dives, rescue water certified and worked as a dive master previously. We talk more sharing stories. I loved hearing his stories diving all over the region. He was funny as hell too, in a dry Austrian way. God, one of the stories he told was a diver having mask squeeze, that diver noticing it too late to the point where the entire area around her eyes were purple. How it took her two minutes to understand that he was giving her the signal to exhale through her nose to relieve the mask squeeze. And how that entire area remained swollen and bulging throughout the day.

I go for a solo snorkel and return to the jetty just in time for sunset. It’s only me, so I take the opportunity to sing out loud like there’s no tomorrow to Matt Dimona’s The Universe We Dreamt, my favorite summer tune for the last two years.

I start getting to know Paul, a Papuan local guide who seems to be the expert on all things nature. I really like him. We speak in bahasa. I try to convince him to organise a manta dive on Friday. He’s game….

Day 4 Wednesday evening

Had dinner with Christian and his dad, Gerard. Gerard is a fascinating guy. He literally looks like Santa Claus, with his majestic white hair and beard, is 72 years old, dives frequently and has travelled all over the world. Gerard’s first time at Yenkoranu was in 2012, when the homestay could only manage 10 people at a time (now about 40) and when the setting was great and had a more intimate community setting.

I’m noticing that I’m meeting a lot of people who have returned here every year or every few years. I love that. There are even groups who have coincidentally bumped into each other every year.

Got to know Bilge and Kaan, two guys from Istanbul. They visited Misool, one of the four major areas in Raja Ampat, last year. Christian, Alberto and I milk them for information on Misool. Misool is one of the least visited areas with very little information available online. It is also one of the most beautiful and an area that I’ve read about on Nat Geo and covered by notable conservationists. They give us some tips and advise that you have to be really self-sufficient there. Noted. I have a strong desire to come back and visit Misool early next year.

Have I mentioned how much I love this place?

Some fellow Malaysians arrived today!

Day 5, Thursday morning

OMG, how is it the days just keep getting better. We dive sauwandarek and cape Mansuar today.

Sauwandarek was thriving with turtles, wobbegong sharks and all sorts of life. Paul, the sweetest and insanely knowledgeable local guide buddied up with me. I loved diving with him. He has an insane eye for spotting micro life, nudibranchs, Pygmy seahorses and robust ghost pipefish and helped me notice them. I start to get really comfortable managing buoyancy while hovering close to these tiny creatures. So so fun.

Hung out with Kaan, Bilge and Joan during our coffee break.

I’m starting to realize how insanely well traveled the people who come to West Papua are. They’ve been everywhere, to all 55 countries I’ve visited and more.

Christian and Gerard were on our boat too. On our second dive, Christian went snorkeling and I jump in post dive and snorkel for a bit with him. I ask him what he saw during his dive. He names a couple of fish and finishes with

“…and I saw three humans peeing in the ocean.” I die laughing.

We said goodbye to Alberto, Amanda and Ben earlier today. I kinda miss them already. Alberto had this calming, reassuring presence and Amanda and Ben were just pure fun.

Day 5, Thursday afternoon

The yenkoranu staff brought back 4 cases of beer!

I hear that a turtle laid her eggs in front of one of the bungalows last night and had quite the audience. I’m bummed to have missed it. They’ve put sticks around the area to mark it. So cool. I pay a visit to the nest and wish the baby turtles a higher survival rate than the typical single digit survival rate.

After lunch, Joan, bilge, kaan, Christian and myself geek out on photography and photography gear. I milk Joan for all her knowledge. Her pics are awesome and she has a travel friendly camera housing. Traveling light is important to me. I’m even more intrigued and impressed by all of them. They are travel junkies like me, but on another level. Swoon.

We watch Johns video montage from the day. I’m jealous of his skills. It’s motivating me…

We have a few new visitors, Swedes and germans. I’ve yet to go talk to them. I’m loving the informal group that started forming yesterday.

David fell seriously ill yesterday. Helga and Jennifer have been checking in on him every hour. This morning his fever finally broke and he made his way to sorong for his permit. Helga and Jennifer are constantly on me for updates. I don’t mind. Sometimes you need motherly figures in one’s life to take certain things seriously.

Oh god, I have two more full days for diving. How did time fly so fast?

Gotta carpe every single second of that diem.

Day 6, Friday morning

OMG. Today was magical. At 7:30am we leave our homestay and head towards Arborek and Manta Slope with the intention of finding manta rays. I tried my darnedest to keep my expectations low with all of this being up to Mother Nature with the chance we may not see them.

We go diving at arborek and within minutes I spot my very first manta ray. Two more mantas were seen.

I hear that the arborek area is like a path way for these mantas as they move around and from a cleaning station (where mantas go to get their skin, grills and teeth cleaned) to another.

We have break in between dives at arborek. Having been there before, I gather a group to purchase some coconuts.

As we walk back to the jetty, Christian says in the driest most factual tone “your butt looks really good in the wetsuit”. I die laughing.

We proceed to manta slope for our next dive. Manta slope is a cleaning station, where the mantas congregate to get cleaned by butterfly fish and cleaner wrasse.

As soon as we descend and make our way to the slope, I see a few mantas flying gracefully in both directions. Oh my god.

We arrive at the slope, hook up our hook reefs. Paul, oh Paul, ensures I have a great spot to watch the magical scene before me. I find out later that I had the best spot and am featured in everyone’s videos.

I was mesmerized. So fucking mesmerized. I had thoughts like, if this were my last day, I will have no regrets ending my day like this. The mantas would fly around me, over me, all over me, soooo close to me. When they hovered it was almost like a black cloud shifted above me. And when they hovered, they were only a meter above me and I could see the beautiful dots on their bellies, the space between their gills. I looked into their eyes. I watched them swim gracefully. It’s like going to the ballet.

They are known as highly curious and intelligent creatures. I got to witness that.

I’m so in love. As soon as I descend I tell Ais “saya nak kahwin manta”. I want to marry the mantas and live with them forever.

I’m loving our informal group of divers that have bonded. Joe, Joan, Christian, kaan and Bilge.

Day 6, Friday afternoon

I go for another dive. This time it’s just Paul and I on the boat and in cape Kri. I make a stupid rookie mistake forgetting to bring my mask, and we have to go back to get it. I feel really bad, knowing how expensive gas is in this area.

I had a scary experience during my first dive which was at cape Kri, so was slightly apprehensive. But I was buddied up with Paul, an insanely experienced diver so I felt ok going down.

Cape Kri is known for its strong currents. Strong currents also mean an abundance of life.

I was much more relaxed this time. We hook our reef hooks and watch the show unfold in front of us. Barracudas, sharks, schools of fish. Paul made this sound by rubbing his pointer back and forth on his inflator tube and it attracted sharks.

Back at Yenkoranu, I lead the rounding up of people to pay the extra costs to go see mantas again (sites which are further away). My “informal group” are all game and say yes immediately.

Paul tells me to keep our trip on the low down to keep the group small.

Day 6, Friday evening

David motions me to the end of the restaurant pier. We see illuminated plankton and fish spinning around. I lie down at the edge and watch things unfold.

I hear from Paul, the freediver. They are headed back to sorong today.

One more full day… fuck. This sucks. I don’t want this trip to end.

Day 7, Saturday morning

Final full day of diving. Our attempts to keep our trip on the down low fails. Everyone wants to come. Haha. The boat has 12 people: 4 guides, Joan, joe, kaan, bilge, Christian, Gerard, Nebill and myself.

We head out to arborek again, see a few mantas swimming back and forth and lots of beautiful colorful fish. I spot a swimming wobbegong! They are typically under a rock sleeping during the day. Paul shows me two Pygmy seahorses. They are insanely cute.

We ascend from our dives and have a coffee break at arborek jetty. This time our break lasts for almost 2 hours as we wait for the tide to rise so that the currents increase in intensity. This will bring more mantas. I snorkel while we wait and see an amazing abundance of fish.

We head back out to Manta slope. As we close in on the site, we see dozens of mantas on the surface. My relief turns into an adrenaline rush. I’m so happy as this is my last full day.

We descend, there are no divers around yet. Amazing. We hook our reef hooks and watch the show unfold. Dozens of mantas come flying in, taking turns to be “cleaned”. It’s such a beautiful sight. While I wish everyone could witness this, I also don’t want these beautiful creatures to be impacted by mass tourism.

What helps is that these are challenging dive sites in a remote area.

Our ascent was more challenging this time. The currents become stronger towards the end. It’s a scene that looks like this: I’m kicking really hard to move 10 meters and ascend slightly to a depth suitable for a safety stop. I hookup to a reef, catch my breath, and do it again until I’m at 8 meters from the surface. I hookup again, and wait 3 minutes during our safety stop. It’s tiring, and you want to ensure you have enough bars as you’re using a crap load of air.

Day 7, Saturday afternoon

Christian and I go out for a snorkel in the late afternoon around 5:20pm. He has his TG5 camera, I have my GoPro.

I see two beautiful turtles and swim alongside them for awhile. I spot two box fish mating. I’m honestly not sure if they were mating but I figured thats what it was as they were rubbing their bodies together. Christian spots two ghost pipefish. Amazing. They look just like sea leaves and are difficult to spot.

Our snorkel trip finishes just in time to watch the sunset. Bilge is at the jetty so we join him.

After dinner I open my bottle of wine I’d been saving all week and share it with Christian and David. Our informal group hangs out, we watch our videos of the day.

Today is the last day for Joe, Joan and myself. We exchange contact information and some epic pictures.

At one point Christian goes “I think I will miss you all next week”. Oh god, I will miss all of you and this place so much.

Day 8, Sunday morning

Sunday is an off day for all the staff. This means there are no guided dives or planned trips.

David and I grab some tanks and scuba gear and go for my last dive of 2018.

I’m so content. 2019, here I come.

New York, Mental Health and Dear Evan Hansen

Inspiration: Dear Evan Hansen

Post was originally written in May 2018, published recently after seeing Dear Evan Hansen again in San Francisco.

New York City holds a special place in my heart. My best friends used to live there and I’d grab any chance I could to drive down or fly in from NH to hang out with them. We’d have the most carefree nights as well as deep soul-enriching red wine conversations that filled my heart with contentment.

I was back recently over a weekend for the musical Dear Evan Hansen (DEV), tickets I’d bought almost a year ago. I was devastated when Ben Platt left the show in November, but nevertheless, could not wait to see it.

It was beautiful. Simply beautiful and raw. DEV isn’t a grand production in the way that musicals like Wicked, Lion King are. But it was relatively simplistic, focusing on 8 characters (each of whom had depth, its own arc) with breathtaking music and themes of mental health.

I already want to watch it again. It’s my “Spring Awakening”, a musical I watched 4 times during my London days.

A few hours after I’d return from NY, I had a sudden realization in connection with mental health.

The realization being that over the last few months, I’ve had numerous conversations with various individuals about mental health in all sorts of forms. It affected them personally or a close friend or family member. I’m talking at least 10 conversations affecting 10 different people in the last 3 months.

I recall a recent conversation with A. As I sat across A listening to A’s story, I cried with A, as I remembered the depth of a similar pain I had gone thru a decade ago.

That personal memory is a powerful one, one that reminds me of the signals leading up to it. One that reminds me to listen to my body, my mind, my soul. One that reminds me to be there for others in the same way others were there for me.

That realization of what seemed to be an increasing number of people experiencing a negative form of mental health turned into anger. What is wrong with our environment, relationships? Why is this happening seemingly more often? Or perhaps this realization is occurring as a result of an increased awareness, education and conversation around MH?

I’ve recently been educating myself about mental health. The more I learn about it, hear firsthand experiences and read others’ stories, the more I’m able to look back at my life, reflect and recognize instances of when I’ve experienced a mental health issue.

A form of depression in 2008. It was triggered by an experience that I let unfold for too long, longer than I should’ve let it gone on for. That experience taught me to recognize the unhealthy signs and to immediately distance myself from it.

A form of burnout in 2011. It was triggered by an unhealthy devotion to work, an addiction to fixing problems, an addiction that I let go on for too long without taking a break. That experience has taught me to balance work, health and personal endeavors. It has taught me to be selfish, understand what wellness is for ME and what I need every now and then.

I’m no expert in MH, but I’m learning and curious. And if there’s anything I’ve learnt from it, it’s…

…to surround yourself with friends, family that love you, care for you AND are positive influences in your life. Because when you are deep in that hole, not realizing it, they are there to help you take a step back. And when you get to the next point of awareness of what is happening, they are there for you no matter how shitty it gets.

…to process it and learn from it. Set some time aside to reflect & think back. It’s rare that a person “gets it” immediately, but it takes thought, conversation to discover and understand it. Live through that journey.

Because we will come out on the other side. And we will be richer, happier and have more capacity to live our lives to its fullest potential.

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Carpe that F* Diem

Inspiration: the Free Solo documentary and recent Barry’s Bootcamp session

I watched Free Solo over the weekend, a beautifully made documentary about Alex Honnold’s journey towards free solo-ing El Capitan. It was a reminder of a few things…

  • Perspective….. unless I’m hanging on a vertical rock with merely 2 thumbs and feet on a vertical slab 2,000 feet up, stranded in an ocean with no one in sight (has actually happened to me)… quit bitching…
  • Knowing oneself
  • Not giving a shit

Free Solo unleashed a bunch of thoughts I’ve had for awhile that I wanted to put down in writing. And the reason why it inspired me is that Honnold didn’t give a shit. Honnold is the only person who has rock climbed El Capitan without any ropes. His amygdala is extraordinarily interesting and doesn’t get triggered to a place of fear like the general population (including myself) does. Secondly he LIVES. He lives life to its fullest. He does what he’s passionate about. Doesn’t give a shit. He’s selfish about what he knows fulfills him and has tremendous tenacity to grow and develop that passion into something great. And yet he’s in an unusual way, compassionate and loving when he knows he’s found something rare.

My thoughts are really about the world I wish I lived in… or the world I hope we get to some day. A world where it’s about the individual, what makes them tick, inspires them. That our horizons are continuously expanded, challenged by either experiences or the people around us. That we truly appreciate a person, a thing, an experience no matter how different we are from them or how outside our comfort zone we feel. That we’re able to put aside societal pressures and not conform to the thing that is expected of us, especially if it’s so wildly different from what/who we are.

  • A world where a person’s sexuality is not a question. Questions or thoughts like “I wonder if he/she/they are [fill in the blanks]?” Think about it.. it’s like wondering if someone is straight.
  • A world where talking about our innermost vulnerabilities, fears is not taboo. I’m talking about mental health, etc.
  • A world where being married, in a relationship or having kids is not imposed nor expected of others to be their life long goals.

But rather the question becomes, what is of importance to you? And what is it like? And maybe you/I don’t know. And that is OK.

At the end of the day, we are who we are. Whether it’s our past, our experiences that shape us. Whether it’s what our individual ideals and values are. Whether it’s what we don’t know and are trying to discover.

Stop giving a shit about societal pressures. Stop wondering why people aren’t the way you are.

Carpe that fucking diem.

It is only you who knows what that diem looks like.

Carpe that diem.

Mid-year reflections and why I travel….

Soundtrack: The Theory of Everything

This year has been so fulfilling, amazing on so many levels – personal life, work, health. There’s so much I want to write about, but I will focus on one specific experience…

I celebrated life and hitting 55 countries in Raja Ampat, an area far east of Indonesia in the West Papua region.

During my last day in RA, I was overwhelmed with a feeling which is hard to put into words. Two months has passed as I write this now, and I’m still overwhelmed by this feeling.

55 countries and hundreds of cities visited over the last 30 years of my life… 3 destinations/experiences have given me this distinct feeling which I will try to articulate.

Firstly, the destinations…

It’s a feeling that comes from

  • chasing & experiencing something almost supernatural, whether it’s a type of magnificent beauty specific to that place or a story to be witnessed
  • being completely immersed in that beauty and story that unfolds in front of you – the people, the site, nature
  • exploring with friends and sometime strangers. A feeling that comes from the satisfaction of trekking thru jungles in the heat, or wading thru water and seaweed to get to my homestay, diving with sharks or hundreds of fish, or traveling 40 hours in every mode of transport to experience a specific type of place. Friends and strangers who you instantly bond with, because for god’s sake if they are in the mindset to do this, you know they love many of the same things you do. And they do as you hear their stories that are so enriching

Raja Ampat. Jesus. This region is a collection of 1,500 islands, has 10x the number of coral species in the Caribbeans and is home to 75% of all known coral species in the world. It is also pretty remote and hard to get to. All of the above equates to a raw type of beauty both in nature, culture and very few tourists. I had initially thought this would be a that holiday where you just lie by the ocean and do nothing, but no.. as soon as I took the first boat trip to snorkel, I knew I had to do this and explore everyday. My first snorkeling trip to Arborek was mind blowing. I swam amongst formations of hundreds of fish, beautiful corals, sharks and turtles. God knows what else I could discover in the other areas.

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So you have that raw beauty – seeing the beautiful life that exists above and under the ocean.

And I discovered something else… 

I don’t think I’ve met so many amazing travelers within a week, whether traveling solo or non-solo. I met and talked intimately with roughly 20 people, whether at my homestay, the trips or at other home stays. Every single person was not only fascinating, their personalities, souls were so enriching. Some were the kindest I’ve met, others were beaming with positivity or had a sense of humor that would make me laugh for hours. In a nutshell I was so drawn to everyone, I could have spent my entire life happy being surrounded by them. If it’s anything we all had in common, it was our love for exploration, nature and seeing the rawest parts of the world.

As soon as I arrived at my very very humble homestay (a homestay that had a total of 4 bungalows), Katia and Laure, 2 French girls who had been there for a few days immediately came up and chatted up with me. They brought me on their first trip to Piaynemo in my first full day which they organized with Freddie, our homestay host. Another guy, one of those who is the epitome of doing EVERYTHING at the very LAST minute, joined us on our trip. His whole demeanor screamed “I’ve just been through so much shit trying to get here solo, I’m so damn tired and and am so glad to have found you guys to share the costs of this damn boat trip to the most visited viewpoint in Raja Ampat”. Yet, he was in good spirits and funny throughout.

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That very first night, Laure, Katia organized a group dinner (the alternative was a depressing affair having dinner in our individual bungalows) in our homestay. Fazia and Matthieu from the 3rd bungalow joined us. Together, every single person in that homestay congregated, broke bread together and we shared our stories, our backgrounds, what brought us here and laughed so hard talking about all the crazy things we’ve encountered.

This particular dinner is one of the most beautiful memories I have on all my travels. The concept of strangers coming together for a meal, brought together by something in common AND having a good time. Laure, Katia, Fazia, Matthieu were all French, and I was very appreciative of them communicating in English merely because of my presence. The last memory I have of something uniquely similar to this was from roughly 8 years ago, where I went on a 3-4 day hike at La Ciudad Perdida with a group of people from all over the world.

That night, we talked about our plans for the next day, to avoid cabin fever and explore as much as we could. The previous day, Laure and Katie had waded across to Kri island from Mansuar (the island we’re on) during low tide to look for people to get information from. They found Yenkoranu, a homestay with a dive center that organized daily diving/snorkeling trips. They met David, the dive manager, got his number and later, used my phone (Indonesian SIM card) to organize a last minute trip the next day. What they did, was the start of something beautiful, that I’m still experiencing, that I will struggle today to put into words and need to wait it out…

In the days that followed, I passed on the kindness that Laure, Katia showed me – information sharing, group dinners and laughs.

This trip has evolved me.. it was like my body, soul was injected with passion, love and all sorts of introspective thoughts about life. It has also propelled me forward to take action on some things I’ve been thinking about for ages.

The thing is.. what evolved, energized me isn’t necessarily what makes everyone evolve, energized. I get that.

What I hope to get across through this post, is that I hope we all find those moments, experiences, things that bring energy, love and passion to our lives. The kind of energy that makes us gaze out into the skies, smiling, thankful for the world we live… contentment, peace, love and happiness.

2017 -> 2018

2017 Reflections

2017 felt light. I danced and twirled from one thing to another. I felt carefree. It was a year of little worry, pain and challenges in comparison with the past years.

One of the best things I did early this year was read a letter (for the first time) I wrote to myself in 2013 (thank you Sara and Siobhan for the idea!!).  It’s a bit too personal to share, but the letter touched on four areas – work, personal growth, health and love. It reminded me of the things that were important to me, the things that invigorate and motivate me. My letter to myself had so much zest, it did what I had intended it to do when I wrote it. It woke me up and injected another level of energy into my being. An excerpt from the letter

“I love being with people that challenge me, question my opinions. I would die a horrible slow death if I didn’t surround myself with these type of people. I want to always maintain this. It’s inspiring, thought-provoking, and helps you grow as a person. If I ever run my own company, hire people who have this courage.”

The letter also reminded me of something so deeply ingrained in my personality (something confirmed through multiple personality tests).  I live in the moment. I live for the journey, the adventure and the unknown.

I live in the present, make the most of it, but I know and want things to be constantly changing.  You make a goal at work, you meet it, and put in 200%, you reflect, and then you move on to the next.

I recently went back to a blog post I wrote in 2007. 20 freaking 07. This whole love of the unknown, working on a goal, something I had no idea what I was getting into, and moving on to the next, was screaming at me.

I did one of those #bestnine things, but when I actually sat down to write my favorite moments of 2017, social media wasn’t a reflection them…  so here’s an attempt to capture some of my favorite moments in writing….

1. April 2017, Penang and KL – Visiting home (Malaysia) and having the opportunity to share it with Mia. We’re both huge foodies, the number of gastronomy related experiences we’ve had over the years of our friendship is something I’ll always treasure. Malaysia is home to the best food, food that represents the diversity and many different cultures we have: Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc. And even within those cultures, the nuances are vast.

2. July 2017, Formentera –  Eniko and I organized a last minute trip to Mallorca, Spain to get some beach holiday on the books. As part of the negotiations to get her down, she made me promise that we go surprise her cousin in Formentera. Little did I know that making the trip from Mallorca to Formentera in one day basically meant 14 hours of traveling in one day… So we set off at 6am and got on every mode of transportation possible. And it was so worth it. What was worth it? The beauty of Formentera (crystal clear beaches), cycling and ditching our broken bikes on the side of the road and last but not least, the emotions and uncontrolled happiness as soon as Eni’s cousin realized who was standing in front of her.

3. July 2017, Kerry, Ireland – So Siobhan and I have this history of getting into running together and also lots of adventures. Early this year, she sends me a text asking if I’d like to go on the annual 180km Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle in Ireland. We are not cyclists and had no perspective going into this. An hour into the cycle, I’m thinking, “Oh shit, ok, I’m starting to see how this isn’t going to be easy.” 11 hours into the cycle and I see the that I’m 2km away from the finish line. I start welling up in tears, tears that represent “I don’t know how the hell I did this, but I did it, and I’m so damn happy”. I couldn’t walk straight for a few days following that…

4. August 2017, London – I LOVE going to live sporting events. Wimbledon is one event that I’ve been to about 6 times. I was also fortunate to have lived in London during the 2012 Olympics and got to see a number of events. This year, I went to watch the World Athletic Championships and got to see both Usain Bolt and Mo Farrah race. It also turned out to be Usain Bolt’s last event before retirement. The atmosphere of the stadium combined with being able to watch these super humans who put in so much hard work and dedication into a career that offers little security was highly satisfying.

5. Mid 2017, Stockholm – This year I’ve had many opportunities to visit my dear friend Sara who lives in Stockholm. With Siobhan, we are godmother to her 3-year old daughter Elsa. During one of those visits, while Elsa and I were playing on the couch, E looks up at me and goes, “I love you Ruth”. God knows if she even remembers that, but in that moment, she grabbed my heart in a way that made me well up.

6. Gothenburg – This moment.

7. Dec 2017, NH – Something I’d been working arduously on throughout 2017 was elevating the impact of the team I manage and making our team more visible on an organizational level. Early Nov, I was roped into a meeting and our agile coach team was given a responsibility – design and facilitate a 2018 strategy meeting with 50-60 people from our Product & Engineering teams.

In the month leading up to the meeting, what ensued was…

  • hard work
  • panic
  • hard work
  • stress
  • hours or hard work
  • major team bonding experience
  • 5am PT calls

Day 1 of the actual meeting, I remember a moment at 3pm, where I thought, I have no idea how things are going to come together, ok breathe, trust the process. At 5pm, as we watched the presentations based on the deliverable template my team had put together, I remember thinking, holy crap, it’s coming together…

On Day 3, and in the following retrospective surveys, the number of accolades my team got was so damn fulfilling, and justified all the hours we had put in. I remember that as soon as the meeting ended, I ran out of the room and jumped  (or collapsed?) for joy.

That was an amazing way to end 2017.

Another chapter… again

I seem to go through a pattern, moving cities every 3-4 years (not sure if that’ll continue!), blogging consistently for the first 2 years. I wonder why…

And now I’m 5 months into San Francisco. I do think I love the city, I have so much more to explore.

2016 was epic and hectic.

Work wise, it was fulfilling, I climbed the corporate ladder, got more exposure to management, my boss in 2016 was truly a mentor and one that made the most impact on me, growing me in a way I hadn’t expected to grow. I travelled a ton for work, worked with a ton of our other offices in Europe and India, and established a ton of relationships globally. This is something I love and that I thrive on: travel, continuous improvement and meaningful relationships.

Travel wise, I visited 7 new countries: Costa Rica, Bahamas, Denmark, South Africa, Tanzania, Greece and Japan. Bahamas, South Africa and Tanzania were highlights, having adventures with my dear friends and exploring the unknown together. Ah friendship and the unknown… I LOVE that.





What was challenging about 2016? 

Living in NH became tougher for me personally. I did enjoy the first few years exploring and making the best of it, but at the end of the day, it didn’t mesh well with my personality. I’m one who loves city vibes, culture, art, music and NH did not have it to the extent of other cities I’d lived in (KL, Philadelphia and London). I was ready to leave. It was somewhat bittersweet because I was sad to leave the office that felt like home.

I also spent an early part of 2016 recovering from the end of a relationship. I somewhat remember the intensity of the pain I went through. It was a beautiful kind of pain, one mainly from sentimental reasons: we had a lot of things in common, our passion for travel, our discomfort with NH, our passion for exploring together. Yet we both knew deep down it wasn’t going to last. The pain I felt was one from losing something that was once good and someone I did care deeply about.

Another challenging part was my boss from 2016 leaving the company. He’s one I’d truly call a mentor. He grew me in a way I’d never expected to grow and I overcame certain ingrained challenges with his guidance. I smile remembering that day he pulled me aside to tell me he was leaving. I remember having my best poker face on. I remember very quickly finding a way to excuse myself after some polite chatter about the why and when. And I remember giving in to tears and sadness as soon as I was alone. And I remember telling him the truth of how hard it had hit me, us joking about how we are so shitty dealing with these things. Today I look back on the last few months, and I can very tangibly see how he grew me to be self sufficient and hold my own ground in the role I’m in today. And for that I am so thankful.

And now I am in San Francisco…no challenges yet but lots of getting acquainted with my new home!

In the last few months, I have had city type moments I used to have that I dearly missed in NH. Those moments I used to have in London, NYC (I’d drive down 4-5 times a year in NH to see my best friends) where I felt carefree, sheer happiness and passion about life, swept up in experiences that a beautiful city like San Francisco has to offer.

There’s the usual stuff, but I wanted to share a random yet beautiful moment that occurred. My friend/colleague E was in town. She had heard about a Diego Rivera mural at the San Francisco Art Institute. I didn’t know about it but was familiar with Rivera having been to Mexico City and seen his house and other murals, so I was excited to go! We stepped into a beautiful courtyard at the Institute and walked around in circles trying to find the mural. We finally found the big room, stepped into it with loud haunting folk music in the background with this beautiful 15feet mural in front of us. The only reason the music was on was because a worker had left it there while doing some maintenance work in the room. The music were songs from Dark Dark Dark, and while I was unfamiliar with them at the time, it’s exactly the type of music I loved (think Daughter or Phosphorescent).

We went to the back of the room and sat on the floors for ages staring at the mural in front of us listening to the beautiful music in the background and being present in the moment.

The music ended when this cool chick came in to grab her speakers and pack up. That in itself was another moment we observed in fascination. She was one of those interesting feminist type chicks, unshaven armpits, bra-less, huge gaping sleeveless top, boots.

At some point in this room, we look at each other and go “wow, that felt that a scene from a movie”.

Here’s to more random yet magical moments in San Francisco!

Takeaways from Egypt

A post three months too late, but watching The Square tonight inspired me to resurrect the draft that had been sitting around for ages.

Reuben and I decided to meet up in Egypt over Christmas.  I was apprehensive about the situation there, well sort of.  Was secretly hoping I’d get to see a demonstration…but that didn’t happen!

Some takeaways/notes from Egypt…

Tourism

Just like Colombia, I was met with skepticism when mentioning I’d be going to Egypt.  Having spent a total of 10 days in Cairo and Sharm, I’m happy to report that things were quite normal there, apart from the very obvious hit in tourism thanks to the media and travel alerts.

Two days into Cairo, and you could sense the people’s sadness and keenness to restore this beautiful country back to its days of tourism glory.  This was noticeable by the rows of closed street carts around Giza & Memphis and by the tone of vendors that were somewhat pleading.  At one point, I was in a pyramid in Dashur all by myself.  From conversations with various Egyptians, they report that tourism has declined by 90% since the revolution.  With tourism being the nation’s main source of income, it has affected millions of people.

What does this mean for us travelers?  This is one of the best times to visit Egypt.  The hoards of tourists are not present.  You have the loving attention of locals who want you to feel safe and happy with your experience.  Prices of hotels, excursions are currently very very reasonably priced.

Travelling solo

In my first two days in Cairo as a solo female traveller, I was cautious.  Not so much about revolts, bombings, but more about being in a large city.  I wasn’t sure how I would be seen or approached in a different culture.  As the days went by, I began to relax.  Having walked around some really dodgy looking streets, talking to vendors, cafe owners, smiling at the friendly locals, I felt at ease.  There are certainly other cities in the US where I’ve felt more unsafe.  Regarding the current political situation, there were a few incidences throughout my time in Egypt, a bombing at a police station north of Cairo and clashes at the al-Azhar university.  I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t read the news.

Egyptians encoutered

When traveling, I look forward to conversing with the locals.  I love hearing first hand accounts from people with backgrounds different to mine and then arriving at a mutual understanding of “I’ve let you into a special place, you get it.”  There were some memorable folks we met: Peter, our Coptic Christian contact in Sharm who shared personal accounts of the current political situation, Yasser, my funny diving instructor, Maha, my tour guide who shared a lot about Cairo life with me, and Mohammed, our Mount Sinai guide.  Mohammed was my favorite.  I think he hated me at first as I kept wanting to wander off from the group by myself, but by the end of it, we were running down the mountain, stopping for tea, sharing Bedouin jokes while the others caught up.  He also shared some very sad personal experiences, and I admire him for how he’s been able to move on.  He was full of life.

Having a guide

A guide in a vast city like Cairo can be helpful for any first timer.  I’ve never done this previously, but with the advice of my brother, I asked for a guide during my time in Cairo.  Guides here have to get licensed, i.e. they have to study, pass exams.  Maha, my guide was like a textbook.  I could literally point to anything anywhere, ask her what the story is, and she’d get into it.  In a city insanely rich in history and culture, this is quite helpful to have.  She also prepped me before we’d walk into a site, how much to tip, what is a reasonable price, what to do to avoid hagglers, etc.  I spoke to other travellers and on a few occasions and they were overcharged, sometimes up to 10 times what I paid.  I also noticed different behaviors when vendors saw that I was with an Egyptian woman, versus when I wasn’t.

Food

Food.  God, I love Egyptian food.  Koushari, fresh grilled seafood in Sharm, bread, Egyptian tangine….  I love carbs, seafood and spices.  Koushari surprised me.  It is a Egyptian dish where they mix macaroni, rice, beans, vinegar, tomato and hot sauce.  Sounds weird and atypical right?  It’s delicious.

Diving

Getting Padi certified in Sharks Bay was an incredible experience.  During the last day our group took a boat to Tiran Island and dived around Jackson Reef.  The sights were incredible.  My brother and I stayed at Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village which I’d recommend it to anyone who visits Sharm.  It’s the complete opposite of the loud, Russian tourist filled, all inclusive hotels that populate the coast.  They have a lovely spot by the beach (with its own jetty) which seemed to be used by a number of pro-diving groups.  Food was reasonably priced, delicious and the restaurant was cozy and comfortable, with an accompanying bedouin tent area where you could sit on the floors, smoke shisha and have tea.

Facebook and connections

Facebook can be pretty annoying, especially when loads of people post nonsense like “ugh worst day of my life”. Period. I don’t mind the rant, but my dear friend, why don’t you say specifically what happened that made it the worst day of your life? Same goes with garbage like “best dinner ever (pic)”. Where in the devil was this meal? I’d actually like to go there when I’m in the area next time! Add value to your posts, share specifics with the masses. After all, this is one of the biggest benefits of social media. Crowd sourcing.

Facebook has its share of benefits and it’s ahhh moments. I wanted to record one of these ahhh moments as it made my heart all warm and fuzzy.

I love human connections. Especially physical moments where you’re getting to know someone, it’s just you and that person conversing, and something specific you both share sparks this mutual understanding of “I’ve let you in to a special place and you get it.” This is one of the main reasons I love traveling. Being in a foreign country, out of your comfort zone, listening to someone’s (a local) story from a background completely different to mine is priceless.

These days, in a work environment, you typically converse with colleagues from all over the world on a daily basis, some of whom you never get to meet. In my head, I’m thinking of all the missed opportunities for the scenario above! A certain colleague of mine, I shall call him Zack, works from Bangalore, and I talk to him pretty much every day. Four months into working with Zack, I finally had a chance to meet him in Mexico, during a company yearly trip. Because there were 800 colleagues, and the 3 days are hectic, you typically spend your time working for the most part, trying to talk to as many people as possible and catch up with old colleagues you worked with in a previous location. We spoke a few times, but not enough. I did get many opportunities to observe him while doing something else, and he was life. Always smiling, in a great mood and had such positive energy that was infectious. We parted ways and continued working/talking to each other everyday.

A few months later, after observing pictures of his beautiful baby daughter on FB, we were on a conference call and had a few minutes where it was just the two of us. I referred casually to the pictures. He went into this 2 minute monologue about her, and said in the most genuine voice which tugged on my heart strings that “she is my life and soul”. I wanted to die. I’ll never forget the way he said it.

Following that, there was a new type of understanding between us, on the phone, and on FB, I.e. his increasing “likes” on almost all of my pictures, and I made an effort to stay up to date with his. Now, simply seeing a Iike on one of my updates brings a smile to my face and seems to mean so much more. Of course he might not feel the same way, but my point here is that he brings joy to my life in small doses.

There are these situations where FB helps facilitate these human connections via the interweb. It could provide context prior, or in this case, after meeting someone.

It can be enriching.

And I’m thankful for this.

Living… how long does/can it last?

Two main things have occurred in the past weeks that have jolted my insides…

1. I get this question a lot, “Why do you blog?”.  It’s simple.  I live for new experiences, and I want to learn and grow from them.  But I also know that I have this tendency to put things aside easily, not remember that one profound moment I had, person who inspired me, and move on to the next.  I don’t want to forget what I’ve experienced (through travels, meeting new people), how that experience made me feel, want in life, and what it taught me.  This particular blog is public, because I know there are many others out there who can relate.  I’m touched by the mostly private responses I get from childhood friends, strangers, anonymous readers sharing their thoughts and experiences.

2. My two friends, S&S, were out last night, and they had a brilliant idea.  It started off with the often asked question, “Where do you think you’ll be in 10 years?”  They then decided we should all write letters to ourselves, based on what we are, feel right now.  We’d hide them away for the next 10 years, and promise to only open them in 10 years.  I started thinking about my letter.  I started thinking about my 38 year old self.  I had a moment where I panicked.

Right now, I freaking love life.  I am passionate about certain things, I run, am a firm believer in certain things.  I don’t ever want to lose sight of these things.  Yes your personality, character can change, but I don’t want to lose this passionate side of me, and get jaded by certain things.  I’m passionate because I’m able to find inspiration.  If I lose that creativity to find inspiration, I might as well be dead.  I’m so excited to write this letter to myself, and it’s going to start with something like this..

“Dear Ruth, when you were 28, this is how you felt about life, and this is how you lived.  Do you still feel that?  No?  Why?  What the f*** are you doing?  Snap out of it you pompous shi*t.  If you still feel this way, congratulations, you still have a soul.  Your 28 year old self is proud of you.”

On a more somber note, my brother has been sharing pictures/comments on his current experience, which is pretty challenging.  There was an article about how the camp where he’s been working at was attacked.  Reading that article, his reality hit me, it hit me hard.  I was at work, and it took every ounce of me not to shed a tear.  Anyway, long story for another time, but this is another moment I don’t want to forget.