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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!

I’m at peace.  The past two weeks in London and Ireland have been filled with love, laughter and music and my soul is content.  Being jet lagged flying from the East to West is a wonderful thing.  Being awake while the sun rises, getting things done while listening to music, chatting with my other two jet laggers and having  some me time is just grand.

I’m terrified of growing old.  It scares me.  I want my legs to stay strong, my heart to keep beating with vigor, so it can support the many adventures I’ve yet to have in the next few decades.

If there’s anything I learnt in Ireland, it’s that growing old is a beautiful thing.  You age gracefully, you hold a thousand more stories, life becomes simpler and the number of things that matter decrease substantially.

I haven’t been back to Malaysia for almost two years now.  In Ireland I reached a level of homesickness I haven’t felt in a long time.

Four months ago, Siobhan, Sara and I had to go back to London in August for various reasons and decided to get together and fly to Ireland where Siobhan is from.

I think I have the best friends in the world.  I really do.  I think they outdo any other person on this planet.  They continuously give me perspective, challenge me, make me laugh, cry, and sometimes I want to murder them.  I could write an entire novel and it would make you laugh, cry and feel the same.

If there’s one thing all 3 of us have in common, it’s our love for music.  We don’t necessarily love the same music, but a lot of it overlaps.  If it doesn’t, it’s easy for us to understand why the other loves that seemingly odd tune, as we’re all very close.

I don’t know how best to eloquently describe the experience we had, more so in Dingle, than in Dublin.  The Slea Head Drive was beautiful, and Dingle was full of pubs with character, musicians, and those who loved and adored music.  The musicians were older, but they played with so much youth and vigour, that I felt my heart was going to give way at certain points.  It was an experience, one I won’t do justice trying to put into words, and will instead end with something I wrote while listening to a beautiful piece performed by a husband and wife…

It’s moments like these, where nothing else matters
I’m swept away by subtle love, beauty, passion
By the beauty of figures strumming away
Led by delicate harmonies
It’s only three layers, but they are the only ones that matter
I want to be reminded every day that life is this simple
Nothing else matters
Nothing…but only what invokes the fluttering of our hearts

Song and dance

Jungle vs Las Vegas

CVS girl (looking at my basket): travelling somewhere?

Me: Yes! Going to be in a jungle in Colombia for a few days. So worried I will forget something when I’m out there.

CVS girl: Ohh me too. I’m going to Las Vegas in two weeks, so worried I’ll forget something..

Me: (speechless)

A New chapter in New Hampshire

The Holstee Manifesto

I moved to New Hampshire from London 3 months ago.  Long story short, after the dust settled with relocating over, I had a really hard time adjusting to the pace here.  I couldn’t step outside, walk the streets of a city, watch people from all walks of life, eat pretty much any cuisine I wanted.

It was tough. I saw myself slipping into a dark hole, and before tipping over the edge, decided I was simply being such a city snob, snapped out of it, and did a couple of things.

Sometimes I’m thankful there’s such a thing as “years”.  It’s a great excuse to go, “alright, this is a new year, let me do something different, and approach life from a different angle.”

And so I did.

I’m beginning to really appreciate New Hampshire.  It’s a state with just over 1.3 million people.  I live in this tiny town known as Bedford, which has a population of about 21,000.  Yes, twenty one thousand.  London? 8 million. 🙂

I find myself REALLY treasuring the simplicity of life here.  When you live in a massive city, you are exposed to extremes: personalities, attitudes, actions and consequences.  You meet all sorts of people – which is great – but extreme deviant social behaviour starts becoming “normal”.  Moving to a small town from a large city also encourages a different type of creativity.  You can no longer step outside, and get smacked in the face with 100 things to do within a 1 mile radius.

This past week has been great, in terms of keeping busy and having numerous conversations outside of work with colleagues who grew up here.  The conversations have been enlightening, interesting and different, hence spurring this post.

With that being said, I still love a city, and am heading to NYC next weekend to spend some time with my dearest friends.  But my point here, is that, wherever you go, you can always find something to do, learn, explore and enhance your personal wellbeing.

About that poster on the top right, it was put together by the folks over at Holstee and is such a great reminder of how I want to live each day.  As they put it, it’s a “call to action to live a life full of intention, creativity, passion and community”.  Do check out their video below: