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!
We covered how as Singaporeans we are able to homeschool our kids legally in this post. https://www.hirojack.com/blog/how-we-home-school-2-kids-while-we-travel
We did cover some aspects of how we teach and what we use on our travels to homeschool them. I felt that I didn’t cover the road schooling aspect sufficiently.
Road schooling is basically homeschooling while being on the road (travelling/exploring/roaming).
What’s the difference you may ask? Well here is our odd life as Road Schoolers!
Permanence vs constant change
Most homeschoolers (as the name suggests) are schooled from their homes. Usually there is one homeschool parent at home who is the teacher. They may form groups where they co-teach with other homeschool parents or organise trips/enrichment/playdates. There is some form of permanence in the arrangement and location.
Road schoolers on the other hand are travelling and moving from destination to destination. They are usually homeschooled exclusively by their parent/s while they travel. They meet new people and have new classrooms according to their travel plans.
Road schoolers have to be lean in the physical items they use for school. They cannot afford to bring an entire physical library with them. This does not mean that they have limited access to materials. It means that they tend to go digital. Homeschoolers have the luxury of more storage space.
We carry only...
-A stack of writing paper,
We can't have the luxury of visiting a physical library overseas but we can access Singapore’s National Library’s collection on the Libby app. We can borrow and return books at any time as long as there’s an internet connection. They also use Khan academy (website and apps) often as a supplement.
Reading about it vs being there to experience it
Quite often, we are content to show children the maps and talk about landscapes, animals and history through the text books. We acknowledge that we don’t always have the time and resources to let them go where the lesson is and experience it.
We realised that road-schooling is a very experiential form of learning. We walked among the tea plants and climbed the steep slopes where rice terraces were situated. They didn’t just get to see and feel the tea leaves, they felt the burn in their legs (and on their skin) and realised how tough farming was.
Visual and auditory learners may be contented with watching a video at their desks but that would be a nightmare for others. Road schooling is a kinaesthetic learner’s dream. You’ll get to walk around in search of clues, look at exhibits and feel them (if permitted).
Road schooling kids get more freedom to choose what they will take away from a lesson. Be it a mall or museum, they are learning!
We recently visited this amazing little store in Mytown shopping mall that sells and showcases products that the older generation used to consume. It is like a time tunnel we took to travel back to the past when the idea of play and delicious treats were different.
We also had an amazing time of learning and reflection at the National Museum of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. We got to physically walk through a journey of how human civilisation came to be in this region. The different exhibitions led us through the lives of the early inhabitants all through colonial rule, Japanese occupation, communist insurgency and independence. Matthias also realised how much of history was treachery.
Matthias saw how much culture and History Singapore and Malaysia shared.
Did you know the region used to be one piece of land 18000 years ago? The low sea levels meant that we were mostly joined by land which allowed the floral and fauna to travel/spread throughout the region. It's great to learn something new!
Road schooling allows for more incidental learning (any learning that is unplanned or unintended). When we travel places, we learn bits and pieces of language, human behaviour and the different ways people conduct themselves. Apart from their fixed syllabus, exploring while travelling allows them to learn beyond purely academic knowledge. I’m not saying incidental learning doesn’t happen in a homeschooling environment or traditional classroom, it does. We just get a lot more of it learning while we explore and travel.
We’ve been catching quite a few rides on the KL Rapid transit.
Gwyneth has learnt to express her frustrations or boredom better. She enjoys describing what she sees, reading signs and advertising boards. She asks a tonne of questions from “what is makeup for?”, “papa, is this your big tummy?” “What does this sign mean?”
She has also learnt to cope better with crowded places and persevere when we have to walk more.
E.g. Matthias and I would go on Wikipedia to read about the top speed of trains, the rolling stock manufacturers and information about the KL Rapid Transit system. We also learnt of an AMAZING invention in KL called the BRT. An entire network of elevated roads that are solely for the use of buses to the ply the route like a train. These buses are FULLY ELECTRIC.
Although we are happy of the positive impact of the network on traffic jams and emissions, we also learnt that Malaysia generates more than 60% of its energy using COAL and more than 30% using natural gas. Singapore also generates 95% of our energy using natural gas. All of which are finite fossil fuels that contribute to global warming and pollution. This is despite both countries being situated near the equator where sunlight is aplenty. These aren’t things you plan to teach an 8 year old but one thing leads to another and it makes learning fun/relevant.
Schedule changes, flight delays, accommodation change, climate changes, changing road conditions, different cuisines and the ever-changing circumstance of a travelling life builds resilience.
It is unlikely that one is able to road school without being minimalists. And that in itself teaches a child that they don’t need a lot. We have been living out of two cabin sized suitcases and our small individual backpacks for close to 20 weeks. It is perfectly fine being content with what we have.
Road schooling just provides a rich environment for resilience to be formed.
Not just the kids who learn
This journey of road schooling isn’t just for the kids. Debra and I have learnt so much in this whole adventure. In fact we’ve learnt to be the solution to our problems. It has been quite a journey trying to get Matthias and Gwyneth sufficient exposure to the Tamil language. Tamil books for young children are really hard to come by even if you have full access to the National Libraries. You will find entire levels of English books, probably half a level of Mandarin books, a whole section of Malay books and ONE SHELF of kids Tamil books. The shelf isn’t even usually full.
Debra was initially perplexed and frustrated with this issue. However with much encouragement, she pursued her dream of many years to publish a bilingual book series in Tamil and English for our children.
These books were written with an inclusion of the local context and in future to include scenes inspired by our travels. If possible, we would love to create bilingual versions with English and Mandarin/Malay but we will need help for that.
I’ve experienced a similar journey myself finding materials and stories that may help us in grieving and remembering my dad. The only way I am going to find a book that is specific to our life experience and journey is to write one myself. So I’ve put my English Literature degree to good use and wrote a book of my own in remembrance of my dad.
We hope to have your support when they are officially launched soon!
Road schooling has been quite a journey for us. What are you thoughts? Share them with us in the comments, anonymous message link (on Instagram) or simply click the red button and have a chat with us!
Our world and Mental Health
I am not sure what comes to your mind when the term “Mental Health” is mentioned.
“Mental health” has become a sort of a buzz word in the recent years. But…How much do we really know about it?
To begin to even understand the magnitude of the situation, let’s look at some facts:
-Poor mental health costs the world economy between 2-5 TRILLION USD. These costs come from fall in productivity and treating poor health.
-Suicide is the leading cause of death for those aged 10-29 in Singapore. Globally it is the 4th leading cause of death for those aged 15-19.
-Mental health issues significantly reduces one’s quality of life
-There is still significant discrimination and stigma attached to mental health issues
How is this relevant for you?
ANYONE can face mental health struggles and issues at ANY time in our lives. It can arise from…
-Serious/Chronic health conditions
-Distressing life events (E.g. Death of those you are close to, serious accidents, divorce, job loss etc…)
-Prolonged stress factors (E.g. Bullying, abuse, unemployment etc…)
They can feel overwhelmingly painful and impossible to cope with. We should be careful to detect if our friends and family are struggling. We should also be more self aware and be more open to talk about it and seek help for it.
I’ve had my fair share of struggles with my mental health over the years. It isn’t the easiest thing to talk about. I’ve also witness close ones struggle with their mental health. Many of these struggles are kept very very private. Culturally it still feels like it is like a dark secret that should be hidden. It is shameful and wrong to share your struggles and weakness.
There is still a dangerously dismissive attitude toward mental health struggles in our society that makes it difficult for people to seek help. It is real and we urgently need to fix it!
Being a man, I’ve been told that guys who struggle with their mental health are just WEAK. (This is precisely why men are more likely to kill themselves!!!)
Instead of offering any form of concern, my wife was told by people (who were close to us then) that I’m a danger to her and my children. She was also told that she should protect herself because I was struggling with a condition.
Then there’s that generation that goes…“My generation just do it lah, what depression this and that! Nowadays all just strawberries!!!”
It is NOT okay to be dismissive of one's mental health struggles. IT IS ABUSE.
We need to call this behaviour out and be there for those we love.
The impact of his death
My journey of grief didn’t begin when dad passed on.
Allow me to recount my journey…
My daddy is a product of his time. Born in the 50s, he is a stubbornly responsible man who never took an MC even when he had a fever. He never let the lack of sleep or exhaustion of having just finished a night shift stop him from serving at church the following morning. He always made sure he cleaned the house floor until it squeaked when you walked over it. He would ride his bicycle from Eunos/Kembangan to Punggol (and back) just to see his grand children for awhile. That changed when his body began to give way and was first hospitalised for more than a month in 2019.
It was also when his knees started to give way and he would have episodes of suddenly losing all strength and collapsing to the ground while walking. I was able to be his chauffeur and caregiver on his many visits to the hospital. If you’ve been to a public hospital you’ll know that specialist visits are long drawn affairs that can stretch the entire day. I was there when countless tubes of blood was drawn from his arm. I was there when my stubbornly independent daddy refused to be held as he walked unsteadily. Scans, biopsies, putting a huge needle into his face to draw a sample etc etc….I was there.
His rare blood cancer also meant he caught on many different infections. At one point, I think he had appointments for close to 10 different specialists in different departments. All of us held on to hope that he will get better. But he didn’t. The treatment and drugs didn’t sort his illness out and he was hospitalised so many times we lost count. Each time he stayed for weeks with little positive outcome. In fact, he had a major infection once that left his right arm with nerve damage. He lost function of that arm and wasn’t able to write for a long period.
It was heartbreaking to see daddy frustrated at his disability. It was heartbreaking to see him so frustrated being “imprisoned” in the hospital. Being a cancer patient also meant he wasn’t allowed to have his Covid19 vaccine. The full blown social distancing measures prevented us from having family dinners. He also couldn’t visit malls or head out. I remember there was a time we had to eat our take-out lunch standing up in an open air garden because dining in wasn’t allowed and his appointments stretched from 8am to 5pm. Thinking back, I do cherish the times we sat in the SGH foodcourt and had our lunch, coffee and discussed various topics of life.
We also decided at a point that the treatment at SGH wasn’t working. We were very frustrated at the lengthy hospitalisations with no answers, explanation and updates. Not to mention the HOURS we spent waiting at the pharmacy for 5 pills or a tube of cream. The efficiency was NON existent.
We transferred him to Mount E where he was seen by another Haematologist. For some months, daddy’s condition saw some stabilisation and improvement. It was when he was also able to take his Covid vaccine and enjoy eating out as a family again. It was also when we spent evenings together playing board games with the children and enjoyed each other’s company. There was a glimpse of hope and some light at the end of the tunnel.
Sadly, that didn’t last very long. He had two emergency admissions and it became clear that the cancer had suddenly turned aggressive. It also became quite clear that survival was slim. He spent more and more time asleep because the cancer ate away at his blood cells. No amount of transfusion helped. I managed to share some last moments with him in PPE. Cutting his food into bite sized portions, feeding him, seeing him enjoy his last cup of delicious brewed coffee.
One day, they sedated him for a lung procedure to get a sample for detecting the infection but he never exactly regained full consciousness from that. Just like that he slipped into a coma shortly and a brain bleed was detected. The prolonged 2 years of having very little to no white blood cells (the cancer destroyed them) meant his blood vessels were extremely fragile. They opened his skull and tried to stop that bleeding but he passed on less than 24 hours after the surgery because the bleeding couldn’t be stopped and his brains were damaged beyond repair.
We were devastated. He was only 69.
He has been gone for 8 months, I’m still devastated. The grandchildren still miss him and talk about him every other day. It is still hard to accept that our beloved daddy and yeye is gone.
Have you ever felt like you are just so sick of feeling that dreadful feeling of defeat? Of being trampled over? Feeling like you’re good for nothing and nothing good will ever work in your favour? I’ve felt so much of that recently.
That gut wrenching sick feeling in your chest. Feeling defeated because I lost my dad to cancer. That glimpse of hope when he was better for a few months and then just absolutely ravaged by the aggressive cancer in the final weeks.
It has been 8 months but that feeling of emptiness and helplessness still happens when I get flashbacks of his lifeless body in the ICU. I would dream of walking the corridors and different areas in SGH and Mount Elizabeth with him. I would wake up feeling absolutely defeated.
Feeling like crap because we haven't been able to make a trip to NZ work out logistically and financially. Feeling exhausted from the world still being pretty much chaotic from the effects of covid. Feeling tired from the toil of building something from scratch, again.
Week after week, month after month you still feel that sinking feeling. You almost just resigned yourself to feeling it forever.
Mental Health, grief and our travels
Travelling has helped me process my grief. It has become the process of grieving. Travelling has given us space to feel, understand our sadness and to be with our loss.
It doesn’t have to be travelling, selling your house and changing your lifestyle entirely like us. Everyone grieves differently. The most important part we would like to encourage people to do is to TAKE TIME TO PROCESS YOUR GRIEF!
Starting this blog and talking about my/our journey has helped. TALK TO SOMEONE you can trust. Avail yourself to someone who is grieving, drop them a message to ask them how they are!
Being able to intentionally live our lives to the fullest doing something we are passionate about has brought much comfort. It brings much comfort because we know we are able to do what was to be my dad’s last encouraging words.
We’ve realised how much of grieving, depression and other mental health challenges require our ACTIVE participation to overcome. Passively “sucking it up” as many toxic people suggest we do is the very thing that will destroy you.
Apart from writing about our travels, we have been focused on writing books as a way to remember my dad.
I’ve written a book that is close to completion to remember him. (I’ll update more about it as we go along!)
With much encouragement, Debra has finally pushed through to work on her long time ambition and passion to publish her very own books. The first book of her very own bilingual book series is finally completed! We are posting a preview of that in our next post this weekend! You can check it out here: www.instagram.com/kwanslearntamil
Stay tuned for it!
We are always happy to discuss the topics we bring up on our blog! WE are happy to connect with you! Drop us an anonymous question on Instagram or click on the red chat button to chat!
We fell asleep on the ultra plush 5-star Sofitel bed in Saigon hoping for a good rest before we headed for the dreaded city. Worry plagued our subconscious and our minds were very heightened the whole night.
What if things turn out bad or worse than our previous nightmare of an experience? What if we hate it so much that we can’t focus on publishing?
What if we run out of money trying to secure a good accommodation?
If only we had a little faith…
Many may ask “Why go back to a city where you’ve had such bad experiences?”
There’s so many reasons why we are stuck in the region. An obvious reason is the ridiculously expensive airfares and accommodation across the world due to pent up demand and limited supply. Our limited budget limits our destinations.
China, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan are either too restrictive to enter or closed to tourists. The effects of covid on travel are still deeply felt.
Some call it fate but we think its divine intervention that we didn’t proceed with flying to Seoul. We posted on Facebook about how we were SO close to getting a PCR test and purchasing the flight ticket during our layover in Singapore. We felt no peace and decided against it. A couple of days later, Seoul experienced a deadly flood.
The flight from Saigon, Vietnam to Kuala Lumpur International Airport was smooth. Our worst nightmares didn’t happen and we are incredibly blessed with a great property in the middle of Kuala Lumpur City Centre. We wake up to the views of the magnificent Petronas Twin towers.
We will be based in KL for several weeks to focus on publishing our books. We are also working on new designs. You can check these new art pieces inspired by our travels in Vietnam…
That doesn’t mean we won’t be exploring the city and putting up some amazing content!
Is Kuala Lumpur the next New York City of Asia?
We’ve been here well over a week and we must say that we feel so blessed and happy to be here. It is as if we’ve got a 180 degree flip and the experience is absolutely phenomenal. It begs the question, is this the next NYC of Asia?
Anyone who has been to NYC, London and other great cities will tell you that what makes a great city is:
Kuala Lumpur has ALL of these qualities!
Seamless transport connectivity
Landing in KLIA, you’ll find a dedicated express train line connecting you to the middle of KL. You’ll avoid all the jams and hit the city centre in 40 minutes. If you are familiar with London, this is just like the Heathrow express. We opted for a 1 hour Grab car ride that cost 70RM including tolls to our apartment in the city centre.
I must say I’m very impressed with the KL transit system. The trains are comfortable, fast, clean, modern and on-time! Children below six travel free so we don’t have to pay for Gwyneth! We are well connected throughout the city and only have to pay between S$1-S$2 for 3 of us each way. The signs are easy to understand and a lot of the information is very well integrated into google maps. You can navigate anywhere in the city easily via google maps and it will tell you which buses and trains to take.
GoKL city buses are FREE buses that plough parallel to many LRT lines around the city centre. There are 5 routes that bring you to all the major attractions and areas in the city centre. Some of the buses are FULLY ELECTRIC buses.
The Malaysians have every reason to be proud of KL’s public transport. There are many moments I’ve felt I was somewhere along Singapore’s Circle or North East line! I told Debra a few days back that this is WAY cleaner than parts of the old dingy London Underground.
There’s a convenience store round every corner. They don’t charge an arm and a leg for a good snack or drink. We got this massive Cornetto Unicorn ice cream for RM3.
Grab Car, Foodpanda, Panda Mart and other delivery services work very well here 24/7.
Internet connection here is WAY better than Vietnam in our experience. You get 5G network in some areas of Saigon but it only crawls at a pathetic 7mbps. We easily score 35Mbps on 4G LTE in KL on Celcom network.
You’ll find everything you need at the amazing malls across KL. Here are some of the malls we really enjoy here:
KL is also only a 1 hr+ car ride/2 hr bus ride from Genting Highlands.
Easy access to great food
We’ve been eating very well in KL. Fortunately for us, we look forward to our meals these days. Unfortunately for us, we may be gaining back the weight we lost in Vietnam haha!
We did this survey recently about the tastes we miss when travelling
We don’t need to miss ANY of these anymore in KL. We must applaud the creativity in the food scene in Malaysia. Cafes don’t just sell what everyone else sells. There are many who do put in effort to create their own food and identity.
The past week we’ve had the most heartwarming and tantalising culinary experiences. Not an exhaustive list but these are some must visit places if you visit KL!
Serves amazing roast pork dishes and Nasi Lemak. (Jalan Sin Chew Kee)
Feeka Coffee Roasters (Jalan Mesui)
Serves awesome breakfast sets and western dishes. We had our first cup of properly good expresso based Latte in 6 weeks. Special mention of their Vegetarian Tacos, these tiny packages pack some blowing flavour! (The dip makes it even better!)
Karaikudi Chettinadu Restaurant (Jln Palestin)
A banana leaf indian restaurant. The Sambar, Rasam, Chicken/fish curry and Dhaal curries are ALL CRAZY GOOD. Need a curry/indian fix? Eat here!
Great architecture and culture
We explored the china town area and roamed the alleys around vicinity. What was very apparent is a stark juxtaposition between the new and the old. On one hand, you have a really old street shophouse, temples and a shaky old iron overhead bridge that I remember from my visits in my childhood. On the other hand, you have Merdeka 118, a brand modern engineering marvel being completed in the background. (2nd tallest in the world after Burj Khalifa)
We also visited Central Market where you’ll find shops selling art and crafts representing the Malaysian cultures. The place has lost a lot of its tenants possibly due to the pandemic. Tourists are slowly streaming back to the area so we hope it’ll be bustling again!
The glory of a great city is its ability to host a diverse population and support peaceful coexistence.
We’ve been treated very very kindly by people in KL. Our children have been offered seats on EVERY train/bus ride we’ve taken. Even with masks on, the service staff smile and are very patient. Nobody is yelling or honking at each other non-stop. We are surprisingly free from the frustrations of being in a big city. It has been an amazing experience so far!
Even in a supposedly world-class Singapore transport system, it is often quite unbearable to travel around the city without your own car. We get really frustrated with the huge crowds, people’s rude stares and inconsiderate behaviour. (Absolutely cannot stand self-entitled people who deny wheelchair users/parents pushing prams from taking the lifts in train stations when they are completely able bodied.) We were actually really anxious about being in an Asian city without our own car.
It is completely unexpected that we have had such a good experience.
What do you think? Has your experiences in KL been comparable to that of NYC or London?
Is KL the next NYC in Asia?
Anniversaries and birthdays tend to remind me to consider my mortality. It teaches me to number my days and savour the moments. Do you feel this way too?
I spent my last 7 years being a stay home dad, homeschool teacher and entrepreneur. I have had a lot more time with my wife and children compared to most people. But it still feels like the time flashed by. The babies I carried in my arms are now running around, talking back and will probably be off to college before I know it.
The studio shoot
The best way to keep memories in my opinion is to photograph and write about them. It is ironic that as a photographer, the last thing that I'd do is pay someone to take photographs of me and edit them. It is like an occupational hazard. Well, that's where you need a better half. Debra was the one who suggested taking studio photos and I reluctantly agreed.
The photos turned out really nice although the process of taking them were rather exhausting. If we got paid for asking Gwyn to look at the Camera, we'd be rich by now. She even put up a strike nearing the end of the shoot. Nothing some Haribo gummy bribe couldn't do....
The whole cost including the clothes, make up, studio and photographer was about 2 million Dong ($118 SGD). This would have cost us $500 bucks in Singapore...
When we got back to the hotel, we flipped through our iPhoto albums to compare the pictures for fun. Oh, we laughed till our tummies hurt. Unlike most people who accumulate wealth, we accumulated fats, white hair and wrinkles. haha!
If you missed out on our epic 10 year journey story, read it here!
Our time in Saigon
We didn't do very much in Saigon. We visited Saigon Central Post Office and had the intention to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon but it is currently being refurbished. We also took the Saigon River bus to catch a glimpse of the Landmark 81 building (2nd tallest in South East Asia).
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) is really the up and coming economic power in South East Asia. The amount of foreign direct investments is very apparent when you travel through the city. In fact, Singapore is the biggest foreign direct investor in Vietnam. You'll find tall buildings occupied by Keppel and Mapletree. There is even a mall in town that is named Vivocity. You'll also find NTUC Fairprice's joint venture supermarkets and Cheers convenience shops across the city. We were surprised to find that the bread wrapped ice-cream/ice-cream wafer got exported there too!
It is a HUGE contrast to what you'll find in Hanoi and other smaller cities. The subway system in Saigon is also near completion.
We are spoilt Singaporeans
We've enjoyed a good 6 weeks being in Vietnam seeing the most epic mountains, learning about the cultural heritage of the tribes, understand the war from the Vietnamese perspective and savouring some tasty Vietnamese dishes. But to be very honest, we are starting feel a little weary. There are things we just cannot get used to.
We are in no way criticising the Vietnamese and their way of life. It is just not something we are comfortable living with. Our biggest struggle as a family is the food in Vietnam. I know of people who absolutely enjoy the Vietnamese cuisine. We do like a few dishes ourselves. But we are so SPOILT by the wide (and VERY affordable) selection in Singapore and Malaysia. We also miss the taste of spice in our food.
You can eat at a local eatery like this and have a Bahn Mi (Baguette sandwich) for a low as 15,000 Dong (0.88 SGD). You can also get a range of dishes and rice and a family meal will cost between 150,000 to 250,000 Dong. (9-15SGD). There are however many flavours and smells that we find very strange.
We spent almost an entire month in a mountain station town called Sapa. Eateries sold mainly local food. Even the local cup noodles were odd to us. We ate most of our meals at this restaurant called Ladybird restaurant. They sold a mix of western and asian dishes that tasted more familiar. But an average meal for the family here would easily cost 500,000 to 600,000 Dong (29-35 SGD). We were so grateful to have found this place in Sapa!
When we left the small town for the sprawling metropolis in Saigon, we found more food we are familiar with. But they can cost MORE than you'll pay in Singapore/Malaysia.
Another thing that we are very uncomfortable with is the noise in Vietnam. The very loud talking (sounds like yelling to us) all across Vietnam is something we never got used to. In hotels that more locals visit, you'll often be woken up by locals who all seem to be early risers. They would yell across the corridor to speak with their friends or family in another room at 5am in the morning.
We had to move hotel because we just got so sick of being woken up by yelling. The hotel breakfast was catered more to the local tastebuds too.
Although we are no longer startled by the incessant honking, it is still something we can't drone out and ignore. A good number of people have little concept of personal space (especially the older folks) and queue cutting is also something we find unpleasant.
Since it was our 10th Anniversary weekend, we took the opportunity to celebrate it at our favourite brand of hotels. We've been to Sofitel Heathrow, KL Damansara and now Sofitel Saigon Plaza. Guaranteed an awesome bed, a comfortable room and a great breakfast.
Gwyneth REJOICED when she found cereal and milk again at a hotel breakfast buffet. We took it for granted that it will always be possible to go to a local supermarket and find breakfast cereal, we were so wrong. The more local supermarkets in less touristy areas often don't carry cereals. Those that do sell them at a premium.
We still think that Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is a great place to spend a short vacation. You can find 5 star hotels that charge a fraction of what Singapore hotels charge. You will find many well stocked shopping malls with a wide array of good food. Grab rides are cheaper than Hanoi and the cars are of better quality. It just isn't a place we will base ourselves out of to get our books, art and photography done.
We decided to slow down and give ourselves more time to create our work in a place with the comforts of familiar food. We were extremely apprehensive given how the last two visits to KL gave us anxiety attacks. We were very lucky to find an apartment right smack in the CBD and very affordable too. We hopped on a VietJet (Vietnamese budget airlines) flight to KLIA. We are so thankful that everything went smoothly other than a 45 minute delay on the tarmac due to a technical fault that needed fixing.
ALL OF US were so grateful to be back in Malaysia. When Gwyn realised she was going to Malaysia halfway through the flight she thanked Debra so loudly a few rows of ppl looked at her HAHA! It felt like we were going back to a 2nd home. The immigration officers greeted us and smiled at us. We had lunch at the airport and we never smiled so much. FRIED RICEEEEEEEEEE and SAMBALLLLLLLLLL. Yes we are hopeless spoilt Singaporeans.....
We took a grab car to our accommodation. (Costs 70.50RM including toll) The ride was so peaceful. No honking and no dangerous manoeuvres. Grateful and relieved that the apartment is clean, comfortable and offers a gorgeous view!
We've already got a line up of posts prepared for August. We have planned a list of places in KL to visit. This time we are visiting places on public transport! We are also working hard to expanding our Tees range, stickers, Art cards range as well as brand new book launch. Stay tuned!
Before we go, let us know in the comments what are things you can't live without when you're overseas?
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
Drop us an email at email@example.com