We’ve been incredibly blessed with 24 weeks/almost 6 months of full time travelling, homeschooling and being digital nomads. We set off knowing we needed a break away from the daily grind to just enjoy each other and the journey. It was our own journey of grief.
Travelling across Malaysia, Vietnam and now Thailand, we’ve enjoyed many experiences and made many wonderful memories. We have had a lot time to find ourselves, relax, reflect and reconnect with each other. But it still felt like something was missing. As Debra was creating her first published book "Ravi and Kitty", I had a sudden realisation that I could write a book as part of our amazing journey. To be honest, I was apprehensive about writing. I’ve never written or conceptualised a picture book.
“Nobody will think anything good about it!” were one of the many self-doubting thoughts that flooded my mind. Then, that still small voice in my heart went “It is for your daddy, mummy, your kids and family”. My heart almost immediately swelled up with passion and inspiration to embark on the project. The core ideas of the book came almost instantly. It must be about COFFEE! There I sat at the dining table, pouring my soul into writing a book that would be a fitting end product of our Grand Tour.
THE END PRODUCT
First and foremost, I must give due credit to my beloved wife and illustrator of this book. Without her support and countless hours of drawing, none of my ideas would be brought to life. I’m so very proud of how she connected my thoughts and ideas and communicated them so well through the art she produced. She also the artist behind our sticker, art card and t shirt collections.
She’s really the better half!
This is not just an ordinary book that comes off a regular profit making publishing house’s conveyor belt. "The aroma of his coffee" is our journey down memory lane as we remember a man's love for his family, travel and his coffee. Debra and I will launch this book on 28th September 2022 on what would have been our beloved daddy’s 70th Birthday. This book is first dedicated to my dad. We feel acutely his absence every single day. I feel this is the most fitting way to remember what he meant to us and what we meant to him.
WHAT WE HOPE TO ACHIEVE
I have also written the book while being profoundly aware that grief and loss is a huge part of everyone’s life. I hope that our book can help others journey through their grief of losing a loved one through remembering. We hope people will be inspired to explore the many forms that memories take. Photographs/Videos have been the primary medium through which we reminisce but we've realised how powerful smells and a sense of place are in rekindling memories. Remembering is always bitter sweet. It can initially feel painful to remember but remembrance can help us cope and inspire our steps ahead.
Anyone who has experienced loss and grieve would be familiar with this cycle:
What we really need however is to work through our grief and loss. (As we have discussed in our mental health post how important it is not to just chuck it aside)
We need to exercise remembrance to reframe our thoughts, accept the situation and have a go-to coping strategy. Grief will never actually go away. You’ll always miss the person you’ve lost. Working through grief can help to lessen the debilitating effects of the pain and cope better when the wave hits you again.
This book has done exactly that for Debra, the kids and I. Being the author/illustrator of the book, we’ve had the fortunate opportunity (or unfortunate for some haha) to read the book a million times before it gets published. It brings out the feelings of loss and pain but at the same time, we are comforted by the fact that we actually shared those wonderful moments. It gives us the impetus to make more of those good memories and do what really matters in the grand scheme of things. This reframing exercise helps us accept the situation and channel the emotions into something positive in our lives. We hope that our story can help you do that too.
E-Books will be immediately available while hard copies will be on pre-order while the press works on producing them. We hope to have your strong and generous support this launch!
Follow us on social media or join our mailing list (click login/register above) to get the latest news and updates!
You may be wondering if the end product also means that our trip is ending. To be honest, that prospect is looking quite real. We are not sure where we’ll be going next or how this will pan out long term. We hope that our work is well enjoyed and supported and in turn we can keep going for awhile until we decide on the next phase of life. We think that we would like it to go on for a little more.
In the meantime, please help us share this post and about our upcoming launch. Let us know your thoughts and comments too!
Jane Marczewski famously made Simon Cowell speechless and shed tears on America's Got Talent with the line above. Going by her stage name Nightbirde, the Singer-songwriter got the coveted golden buzzer for her amazing performance. I loved her voice and the song she wrote. It is extra poignant because she faced a recent divorce after a cancer relapse and only had a 2% chance of survival. Despite the circumstances, she CHOSE happiness. She chose to do what she loved.
She died in February this year.
Being happy is a feeling indeed but I've come to realise that it is a feeling we can decide to have. The thing is, we CAN feel happy and sad at the same time. We can REFRAME our thoughts and adjust our lives to make room for more happiness. That's exactly what we set out to do 22 weeks ago when we set off on a trip with no end destination in mind.
It has been stressful trying to publish books, balance our budgets, school the kids and travel at the same time. Despite the stress and worry, I find that there's still so much room to choose happiness, faith and hope.
So how can we decide to be happy?
I found this picture Debra took of Gwyn and I walking in the mall when we were back in Kuala Lumpur. This picture alone gave me the inspiration and answer to finding happiness.
I've always found great difficulty in understanding why a balloon (a piece of coloured rubber filled with air) gave my children so much joy. I realised that they found happiness because they received a gift (in their favourite colour). To an adult, you really can't do much with a ballon other than stare at it or take photos of it. To children, they can come up with a million games involving bouncing, throwing and hitting the ballon.
In the same way, life is a gift. Waking up tomorrow is a gift. It is up to us to find joy in the moment through contentment. I truly believe that even on the worst days, we can find something to be grateful for and to be happy about.
2. Numbering your days
How many times will get to hold my daughter's hand while she looks at her balloon with immense fascination? How many more years will I have with my kids around my dinner table every single day before they head to University, Army or have their own families? When we realise how little time we have left, it puts things in perspective. That helps us appreciate what we have more and feel that happiness deeper.
I don't claim that being contented and numbering my days to be an easy exercise. I grew up in a society where million dollar properties, a fat bank account, a shiny career and an expensive car defines success. Spending almost all our healthy and years of youth pursuing these things have become almost a commandment and the only way to live life. Societal pressures can be quite daunting at times.
It is perhaps wise that we took this trip to reshape our world views and grieve at the same time. This trip we've been on has completely opened my eyes to how little we need to have happiness and joy in our lives. I'll use a little throwback to when we were in Melaka to illustrate this....
We live off two cabin sized suitcases. It is quite obvious we can't bring their collection of toys and furniture on the trip with us. We also believe in giving the kids as much freedom to be kids as possible. After their daily dose of academic exercises, they are free to do whatever they wish. Sounds like a formula for disaster for many parents out there eh?
We thought that way too for a moment but we've come to realise how resilient and creative kids can be. They spent hours drawing on the floor with chalk, collecting rocks (pretending to be penguin parents building nests) and playing hopscotch. There were genuinely happy. We don't hear the kids telling us "I'm BORED! There's nothing to play/do!". We got so much of that back in Singapore when they had an entire room full of toys, puzzles, crafts and books.
Matthias took my deck of cards (that I sometimes play with Debra in the quiet evenings) and decided he wanted to play solitaire manually. It was a game my late-father played a lot and Matthias learnt while sitting on his lap. I was pleasantly surprised that a deck of cards can occupy him for afternoons on end.
We do of course still carry some age appropriate toys that they can enjoy along the way. This box of Lego with a carrying case is the best thing we've bought for the trip. They have been making all sorts of fantasy worlds and characters with them. Gwyn narrates an entire epic while she plays with them. Its fascinating and hilarious watching her play.
We really don't need a lot to be happy. What we need most is to be contented. That means we have to stop chasing something more exciting, something bigger, something better. We have to stop comparing ourselves with others and stop building our self-esteem around that. We need to number our days and enjoy the moment.
Our evenings nowadays are pretty intense. It is filled with sly deals, sneaky +4s and saying NO. Lowest scores that night will entail some push-ups or squats. The kids have an absolute ball of a time! I'm so glad we are able to create these memories. I'm so glad we are able to fill their core memories up with the simplicity and joys of being together.
After many days of heavy downpour, we finally got a break in the weather. The sun came out and we headed to Patong beach! And boy, its beautiful!
Now that the monsoon rains are more frequent and the school term has started in the US/UK and Australia, Phuket is experiencing the lull season. It is unsurprising that the beach is a lot cleaner (still has some plastic trash) and less crowded. It is really soul soothing to just sit and enjoy the wide open space.
Even I got interested in digging up the sand to find out what was below and bubbling! I didn't get to find crabs though. If you are a geologist or an expert with beaches, please comment and let us know why are there little holes in the wet sand that release bubbles!? It is so liberating to be on a beach that doesn't want to eat you alive. There aren't mosquitoes or sandflies here!
We were gifted one of the most beautiful sunsets we have seen on this trip. It really drove home the message for us. Life is as fleeting as the beauty of these sunsets, we can't wait until it isn't hard anymore to feel happy and enjoy it. We need to seize the moment because life will always throw difficult times at you.
We just want to end off by announcing the title of our second book and to give you a sneak preview of it!
"The aroma of his coffee" is our journey down memory lane as we remember a man's love for his family, travel and his coffee. Debra and I have been working together on creating this book that to help others journey through their grief of losing a loved one through remembering. We want people to explore the many forms that memories take. Although Photographs/Videos have been the primary medium through which we reminisce, we've realised how powerful smells (and other senses) are in rekindling memories.
Please support our work by generously purchasing our merchandise, art and book at www.hirojack.com :) We're also accepting donations and support for a remembrance trip!
Ovid the ancient Roman poet once said....
Winged time glides on insensibly, and deceive us; and there is nothing more fleeting than years
We have already travelled around South East Asia for a whole 21 weeks. By the end of our time in Thailand, we would have travelled for almost half a year. To be very honest, we didn't think that we would last this long with the little we had to finance the trip. We still crack our heads about how next month will be. But it has been an incredible feat, a journey by faith and grace. I'll talk about the crazy flight in bit...bear with me.
We know that our years are numbered and life is more than just accumulation of wealth or climbing up shaky ladders that may topple anytime. Having faced the very harsh reality of our mortality, we chose to spend our time and resources building lasting memories and doing what we are passionate about.
It has been a mammoth task juggling travel, homeschooling, budget constrains and a post pandemic world. On top of it, we are also walking through a very difficult journey of grief. This is why I'm incredibly proud of Debra who has completed the first book in a series she intends to write. It feels crazy to have an ISBN number allocated to your work and sending a copy to NLB.
We are thankful for those who have purchased the books! We've also set up a listing to accept support for a remembrance trip to New Zealand to complete a bucket list destination on behalf of my late dad.
On top of that we are also already in the process of publishing a second book called "The aroma of his coffee". I've authored this book and Debra is illustrating. This book is very very close to our hearts. Those who personally know us and my dad will know that we absolutely love coffee. The aroma of coffee has brought an enormous amount of comfort, memories and strength in our journey of grief. We hope this book will help others not shy away from reminiscing and remembrance.
We are deeply thankful that we've been able to create this much since we spent a month in KL to focus on writing. We haven't done much travelling in KL but enough to write this post about it!
The city was much kinder to us compared to our previous nightmare visit to KL. We even got to meet some old friends and our children had a whale of a time meeting up. So blessed to have a wonderful afternoon at the soft play and a pizza dinner to celebrate Matt and Gwyn's birthdays!
Our 30 day tourist visa quickly came to an end and we had to move on to the next destination.
The almost fateful flight
We thought we were catching a routine short haul flight from KLIA to Phuket, Thailand! Lo and behold, we had to come face to face with our mortality.
We only managed to get Batik Air (previously Malindo Air) tickets because other airlines offered unearthly timings and ridiculous prices. It almost turned out very very wrong. After we were issued the boarding pass, we went through the formalities of security and immigration checks before walking towards the gate printed on the boarding pass. Upon checking the screens indicating departure information at the airport, we realised we were heading the wrong way. The gate for our flight was printed WRONGLY on the card.
As the plane filled with passengers, it became really hot in the aircraft. We were all perspiring. The plane also departed late.
The full thrust came in and we were rather violently pushed into our seats. There were sounds of worried squeals on the aircraft. As the pilot accelerated hard down the runway, we were being swayed from side to side pretty hard by the pilot constantly kicking his rudder right and left. It felt like he was struggling to control his aircraft. It was a hot, sunny and still day. I'm not so sure if he was fighting a crosswind.
I quickly put that worry behind and just assumed there was a suddenly rush of crosswinds. The flight was uneventful for the next 1 hour but we were rather annoyed that the aircraft had entertainment screens but none was turned on.
We had a pretty uncomfortable descent with quite a few shakes and drops but I just assumed it was the clouds causing turbulence. As we rushed down the last 500 feet, it became quite clear that we were in for a pretty harsh landing. True enough, the aircraft landed with a very loud THUD AND CLANK. It sounded like something in the landing gear took a pretty bad beating on that landing. The plane swayed again from side to side again as the pilot engaged reverse thrust to slow the aircraft down. Gwyneth was holding on to her mother for her dear life as Matt and I held on to our seats.
I've travelled extensively and have flown enough times to consider myself a seasoned flyer. This wasn't normal at all. I've never had to feel like I was gonna die or experience a serious aviation accident in my entire life. This was just something else.
I would definitely avoid Batik Air at all costs in future!
Welcome to Phuket
The airport was efficient and we cleared immigration, customs and collected our baggage in no time. We were told by the taxi counter staff who claimed that our hotel provided free taxi transfers. We wasted 15 minutes walking back into the terminal and being asked asked to join this resort package sales talk to get a free taxi transfer. Don't waste your time like we did! (unless you would really want to purchase a resort package). We obviously declined! We are just poor aspiring authors, writers and designers!
We settled into our accommodation and had a hilarious conversation with the receptionist. I asked him about putting on masks in Thailand because no one wore one outside of the airport. He replied "You see, if you believe you don't have virus, and you don't test, you don't find out! You don't have to go to the hospital! So no need any masks, you are free!" We had a good laugh! Off with the masks then!
For the first time in 2 years, we walked down the street with our bare faces, seeing smiles and feeling the wind on our skin. We took an evening stroll through the Patong Beach areas.
The last time we hit the beach was at Port Dickson more than a month ago. It was nice to watch the sun set and be lulled to a relaxed state by the crashing waves. The beach is fast becoming lively again with tourist activities and local doing their Zumba to loud catchy music.
We tried to enter Junceylon mall for a stroll and grab our dinner there. We were shocked to find that the mall was closed except for the supermarket and a handful of shops around it. I've been to this Island 5 times and I consider this mall to be the crown jewel of Patong beach! You get all the family friendly entertainment, food and shopping in a large mall.
We explored the area further and found many surrounding hotels and resorts abandoned or shut.
It became clear that quite a lot of the tourist oriented businesses have folded after two years of continuous closure. We also discovered numerous other shops and hotels that were shuttered, empty and abandoned all around Patong. It was a sad sight.
A quick google search showed that some larger hotels and Jungceylon itself is being refurbished and scheduled to reopen in the 4th quarter for high season of 2022. If you want a quiet and less crowded time in Phuket, now is a good time! If you want to see Phuket in his former glory, it would be better to come by next year!
As many businesses shut, a huge new industry has emerged in Thailand. For the first time outside of the US and Holland, we've seen weed (Ganja, Cannabis, marijuana) being sold in public. They are everywhere! Booths, pop up stores and full blown stores selling them. I'm still not very sure how to feel about this development. Still have mixed feelings about it. Smoking anything would harm your health and addiction is a real risk. However, research has also shown that medicinal weed can help ease some very severe illnesses.
Despite the changes in Phuket, we were thankful that affordable and delicious Thai food can still be found! You just have to walk away from where the major tourist crowds gather. We are just so happy that the kids are eating well. No complaints, no protests and fussing at the dinner table. They absolutely love the simple stir fried dishes, fried rice, Pad Thai and omelette dishes. They cost just S$2.30 to S$3.10! There are of course more sophisticated curries, BBQ meats and salt baked fish that don't cost more than a maximum of S$10 a dish.
The weather is also pretty nice in Phuket at the moment. It ranges between 25 to 29 celcius daily. We are surprised it hasn't crossed 31 celcius. You'll still perspire at the beach but it isn't the searing or suffocating heat we experienced in Vietnam. We are positive we could get some sightseeing, beach days and our books completed over the next few weeks here!
Drop us some suggestions of family and pocket friendly stuff we can do in Phuket!
Thanks for reading and joining us on our journey this week! If you enjoy reading our musings, do consider joining our mailing list to get notifications when the latest one is posted!
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
Drop us an email at email@example.com