Sri Lanka Trip: Leopard Spotting Thrill

It was a Thursday when we flew to Colombo. Some people may not be able answer where in the world this city is, if asked. It’s in an island, connected to India by land, once a upon a time. The girl power team of three we formed was traveling for the first time. We booked tickets a month ago with a bare plan. Top of the list was Leopard Spotting, ofcourse.
 
It was a red-eye flight from Singapore, flying with the highly-rated airline for the first time. Indeed, it was already an experience, only to sleep dead shut for a few hours until landing. We bore visas we booked online weeks ahead and with some few curious questions from the Immigration officers, we were out and about ready to exchange our dollars and find our pre-booked driver. We found him and soon enough our tired souls snoozed their way on the four hour drive north to Wilpattu.
 
I wasn’t completely shut honestly. There were tons of zigzagging roads, braking and accelerating. The eyes kept peeking on the road ahead even if it cries for rest. Four hours later, we woke up to the sunrise, the first time we have ever seen in Sri Lanka. We’ve been to India a few months before this trip and I’m pretty sure they look nothing alike, in my opinion. We woke up hungry and still tired. The driver stopped by a restaurant and ordered us breakfast, snack and lunch as part of the deal. 
 
After all the formalities of transferring to our safari truck and buying tickets and getting all settled, we were inside the national park. We’ve never done it before so first impressions were great. It was clearly a preserved sanctuary for these animals. We saw a huge bird on top of the tree. There were also deers, buffaloes and peacocks but the grand prize here is to see the leopards. We went round and round and round for around 30 minutes and found a spot, crowded with other groups. Everyone was quiet and staring into the woods. There were 3 leopards! I could not believe it. There were 2 small cubs following their mother leopard just a few meters near us. They were walking inside the woods not even bothering to look at us. I remember the guides telling us to keep quiet so we won’t scare them away. I always wanted to do that, the one I always see on TV (LOL). After all the leopard madness, we searched for more. Round and round we go. It was a huge national park that we could go around for the whole day and see more wildlife up close. But we were tired and had been traveling and on the road since last night. It was time to close a really nice day.
 
That night I text my Sri Lankan friend about the experience! He said we were very lucky to see that many.  The gods have been good that day. We may be tired but it’s all for the love of adventure!

Small Win for a Third World-er

It is just almost two and half years ago since I first moved to Singapore. Opportunity knocked and there was no way I would let it pass. At the back of my mind, I promised to travel a little more. A dream I always keep in my back pocket.

Fast forward to today, I am a couple of months away from my second trip to Europe. And like the first one, trips outside of South East Asia require me a visa requirement check. I don’t feel bad, to be honest.  In fact, this second application for a Schengen visa changed how I look at things. A different perspective. A better one.

The application started with securing an appointment with the right embassy. In this particular trip, I did it through the Embassy of Germany. It is the point of entry and the country where I would be staying the longest.

The second step is to gather all requirements. As I live in Singapore now, even though it is a long list of requirements, it is no doubt easier than the one back home. The requirements are all well defined in the official website of the embassy. Nothing confusing. Nothing too complicated. A couple of papers from the employer, a travel insurance that covers the whole trip, a proof of income and bank statement, copies of an ID photo, the bookings for plane tickets and accommodation and lastly, the application form.

You’ll need to appear at the embassy to personally submit the requirements. Then come back 5 business days later to collect it. The whole process takes a little time and effort. There’s a need to schedule your day. It does cost money too. 100 SGD to be exact.

But more than all this inconvenience I had to experience, it’s that weird smile I carried while exiting the embassy. “Aha! I got you!”. It’s the success of a small win, the satisfaction it brought me. I remember thinking not everyone can experience this. It’s inconvenient but never impossible. It’s not the inconvenience that I would remember, it’s the win. And for that, I am thankful.

 

Uncool KL

Office work started pouring in like heavy monsoon. I know typhoons very well because I am from Asia and not just any part of Asia but right in the region of the “Ring of Fire”. Work is work and you do what you have to do.

It was late in the day and work is moving like a baby with its tiny steps. Coffee has been my serious life saver for the whole week because.. to give you a retrospect, I was in Bali the week prior, flew back for work while he spent more time in Java and then proceeded to fly to Malaysia a few short days later. I received texts from him about where he is in Kuala Lumpur and what he has been doing the whole morning. We keep in touch as much as we can especially when you are gifted with short but special moments to spend time in the same time zone together. It was a pretty normal adventure kind of day for him and he’s pretty much happy spending the last leg of his trip in a more modern city. He “complained” how Indonesia is very outdated and connectivity is not even a word. I’ve been to Malaysia quite a few times myself, with friends and family, and they were good trips to say the least. To me, it was safe and I know now that that last statement was only half truth.

We kept chatting and maybe overly sharing about what we’ve been doing at the time. But, we like it that way. He was buying some stuff and was about to return to his hotel in Ampang. A few busy minutes later, he replied with a surprising message. He was back in his room but all his cash was gone. Together with his credit card! He, then, started telling what happened between the buying of stuff in the mall and his way back to the hotel.

Here it is in my own words.

“Policeman”: Hey, sir. You, Not-Malaysian-and-I’m-sure-you-are-a-foreigner-looking sir.

Him: Who me?

P: Yes, who else. Why are you loitering here outside this mall ah?

H: Well, I’m waiting for my Grab because I will go back to the hotel after a good afternoon of shopping.

P: Aha. Okaaaaay. There is an African drug dealer guy that we are searching for in this area. And since I’m a police, I shall advice you to stay away from this spot.

H: Oh no. Okay, I understand. I’ll just change the pickup point. *click click click*
Alright, great I moved the pickup point.

P: And because I am that good of a police, I shall do my duty to identify you and inspect you and search your bag for anyting illegal. You know, protocol. Unless you want to go to the police station (for no reason) and get you inspected there.

H: Oh, I don’t want to go to the hassle of going to the police station. And also, I have booked a Grab to the hotel.

P: Well, good choice. Let’s start with your passport then…
Ok good. Not Moroccan.
Now, let me dig into your stuff!
Aha, okay… some coconut chips, a coke, an umbrella, a wallet.
Pretty normal. Nothing illegal.
Ok, then you are off to go. Thank you for letting me do my job.

H: Alright, Mr. Policeman. Thank you. I missed my Grab but I’ll just hail another one. No problem.

He reached to his pocket to pay the cab  driver and found everything gone. All his Malaysian ringgits and Euros and even his credit card. He went on to ask the taxi driver to wait for him as he try to withdraw from an ATM but, worse comes to worst, his card didn’t work.

I’m pretty sure we can disagree on how the conversation went between him and the so-called “policeman”. But we can agree on the challenge of identifying a scam right away when a scam is deviously wearing a coat of authority. If I were in that moment, I may have fallen to the same scheme. Trusting police officers or anyone, in general, start as default to me, especially in a world that you believe there’s goodness in everyone (I know, cliché). But, we’ll have to start reminding ourselves again that not everyone have good intentions and we’ll have to be constantly be taking measures to protect ourselves, maybe not directly from them because we won’t ever know who is what, but taking measures by being one step ahead of them. Separate your money and let your wallet not be the most obvious target inside your day bag. Print out copies of your passport and important documents. Bring body bags if you feel the need to. And be prepared for the worst cases like activating overseas access to your other cards. Letting know close to you where you are and what you have been doing. Protect yourself with travel insurance.

No one can tell when it’s going to happen to you. But when it happens, you got to be ready, like a brave firefighter who’s always ready to respond. These things are the reality of traveling. Some are lucky to not have experienced such things. Some are not so lucky and they’ve learned their lessons. But these things shouldn’t stop us from exploring the world, alone or not. “The world wants to be noticed.” And, it sure is worth noticing! Keep traveling.

**it Happens in Bali

I was extremely excited to hop on the plane for a 2.5 hour flight to an island below the Equator. Nothing beats a vacation after a long, tiring week at work. Not to mention all the drama that surrounds my workplace. To add to my excitement, I have been reading Eat, Pray, Love and was halfway through it. (Please read it, girls! Lol). Just the thought of Bali can make me smile in  that “kilig” way. 

He was there when I arrived. Reunited again after a few days of being apart. It was nothing really when you think about being apart on the usual 6/ 7 timezones. We were expecting the bookish, magazine-ish kind of Bali experience. One filled with all kinds of adventure. From the waves of the warm salty Indian ocean to the amazing rice terraces and mountains in the middle of the island to the high energy, overflowing alcohol, I-can’t-handle-the-dance-floor nightlife. 

Then, Nyepi happened.

I didn’t prepare much in the hopes of wearing my spontaneity hat. And also to find a relaxing weekend where I don’t need to follow any solid plan. Less than often that I get a trip like this. To think, we haven’t seen each other in months after that memorable Northern Lights trip in Iceland and what better way to see each other again than being laid back and worry only what to eat next.

The Denpasar Ngurah Rai Airport is a pot full of local drivers, chirping and purring and barking to give you a lift to wherever you will be staying in Bali. And it’s not surprising how they can and they will overcharge you, just like any other tourist destination on Earth. One local driver was more curious than the rest. He started a conversation regarding Nyepi. 

“You are aware that it is Silent Day on 17th, right?”

I replied with a “Yeah, yeah”. Lazily finding my way out of the conversation. 

“No one go out. Only in hotel. No walking outside.” That’s how you get my attenton. It hit me in 52 levels of shock.“Wait. What?! What do you mean?”

“Oh, you don’t know?!! It is holiday. Bali holiday only! No one allowed to go out outside. Everything closed.” 

I ask you to insert disappointment right now.

Did I ask for it in a way? Did the vacation fairies hear me while I was flying at 35,000 feet?  A relaxing, laid back time to enjoy each other’s company and get to know the other? But never to be a total prisoner in the hotel ! The old folks always tell us, “Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it all.” I knew they forgot, “…and even more.”

I’ve been meaning to see Bali in that tourist package-y way. Just to see the everything in a really short amount of time, the different kinds of adventure it can offer me, a person with that little attention span. But fate stepped in or the lack of prior preparation (But who checks for public holidays of the destination anyway? I don’t.) Either way, we enjoyed our stay in an unexpected way.  And it indeed assured me that travels are not always about moving and waking up early and taking tons of photos. It gave me the proper kind of stress-free days that I needed in my life at that time. More importantly, the time we spent together meant a lot. Time flew and it flew in business class. Equal to what I thought I would be feeling. Or probably even greater.

Things happen. And sometimes you can’t do anything about it. We just need to get the best out of it.

So here’s to us who had that trip where you were totally forced to take that unexpected turn at that fork in the road but still got to experience a vacation worth remembering!

3 Newbie Traveler Destinations to Get You Started With Thailand -But be Prepared

Try Thailand and you’ll end up like me. I promise…

You’ll keep coming back.

Like your first primary school crush, Thailand has its own charm. Somehow unique from its other South East Asian neighbors, maybe even incomparable. I’ve visited it a few times over the last years and none of the trips ever changed my mind. Thailand is one of the first countries I visited when I started traveling in 2013. It has that kind of craziness I grew up with. Crazy, interesting and familiar. But nothing like its culture, brimming through its busy streets. It is bright, shiny, like their elegantly built temples, beaming high and proud, right smack in the middle of the city. You can tell I am in love with this country. In one fell swoop, this girl learned to appreciate this place, its people and let’s not forget about the food! Any newbie traveler is ought to find something new about Thailand.

Without further ado, here’s the starter pack on where to go in Thailand.

1. Bangkok. Definitely, first on the list! In my opinion, probably the most newbie-friendly. You’ll find guides all over the internet. There’s a lot to do in this densely populated, traffic capital city of Thailand, honestly. Even I have not seen everything in this city yet. Find something that suits you.Visit the most popular temples within the city, Wat Arun and Wat Pho, explore the Grand Palace and check some museums. Ride a boat and maybe flex those bargaining muscles in one of their floating markets. Try Damnoen Saduak. Set out on a shopping spree and put your haggling skills to the test. When you finished filling your luggage, fill your stomach next. Get the best Pad Thai ever. Where? On a random street! I swear it is none like you have ever tasted. And make sure to visit where the parties are, Khao San road, maybe? I wrote too much and that is not even half. Looking forward to my return!

2. Phuket. It was quite a memory, that one sunny weekend in Phuket. This place is beautiful and relaxing with an interestingly wild and naughty side. Go for some fun activities by the beach. Lay down and chill at Patong, popular for tourists because right around the corner is Bangla Street. In the morning, it’s just an ordinary shopping lane but at night, it turns to red, if you know what I mean. You’ll find it crowded with wandering tourists, looking to party hard. Bars, side by side. Music, loudly playing. And ladies, on top of your table dancing on their, I want to say.., sexy attire. It’s not for everyone, though. But, there’s a lot more to experience than this and for that you’ll need to see it for yourself! Phuket, during the day, has tons of activities to offer like getting on a tour to Thailand’s famous island, Phi Phi, or rock an ATV and get all hot and adventurous. Next time, we’ll do much more as we tried to relax that particular visit. Picture this, laid down by the beach with mango shake on hand. All afternoon.

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3. Krabi. Unexpectedly, the favorite of all three. I visited the place in late 2016 when we found a really cheap plane tickets one boring office afternoon. No one expected the kind of charm it possess until you see it upclose. There is a laid back aura to it. With probably no concrete plan before traveling, we wandered around the not too crowded beach (way less than Phuket), went on random restaurants for their Thai food, and as per routine, get a lovely massage we always try to get overseas. Try to escape Krabi town and find a tour that can bring you to other Thai Islands. Enjoy some drinking nights here for an amazing price, get a beer pong table maybe. And, my final suggestion is to just relax. No pressure. I think that’s the charm of Krabi.

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The 5 Stages to Software Darwinism – And how to cure your OCD!

You might be a software developer, who like many others in that profession, has got an OCD! The kind of OCD that makes you want to redesign and make clean classes and homogeneous interfaces. You learned a lot about software engineering and design patterns in school (or from the internet?). It formed an ideal perfect image for how software architecture should be like. The role model that got stuck in your mind that drives your dream of refactoring one day! So first, …

You come into the world with innocent views. You think that in the “professional world” developers respect design patterns and make clean, reusable, and modular software. And that there’s a common theme and coding style that everyone is following. It might even seem so when you’re new to a project. But once you go deeper, you notice a lot of inconsistencies and what looks like violations to what you learned in the design patterns class. Sometimes modules are not modular. They might exceed their roles and scopes. You notice some redundancies that could have been put in a separate module. You think something is wrong and you wanna use your school design patterns skills to fix it. So …

You live on the hope of refactoring one day. There’s probably something wrong and you have got tons of ideas to make the software more modular and scalable. More reusable and portable. You assume that things look the way they look because whoever wrote it didn’t have the time to do it right. Or because there was already a software written in the past but we can’t get rid of it now because it’s stable. And you’d assume that the developers who wrote it were cavemen who didn’t know how to write a neat code and only cared about making it work! You start getting frustrated and assume that’s how things are in your project or in your firm because they are not good enough. Maybe that’s just a local problem. So …

You think the grass is greener on the other side. You start thinking that in other tech companies, there are “real architects”. You think people there are encouraged to invest time in cleaning up things and making a nice software design that satisfies your OCD! Maybe you’ll find your dream job there! Perhaps you’ll live on the hope of joining one of these and finally get to use your skills. But once you get exposed to enough projects or jobs, you start realizing that it’s the same everywhere. So …

You learn to let it go. Actually at this point you might have lost your passion already. You’re less motivated if not motivated at all. You’re also at the stage of life where this is “just a job” and you just wanna get paid and go home. You’re not enjoying it anymore. You start complaining about Mondays and start hating “morning people” who talk to you before you have your coffee! You think at this stage that you’re finally an adult and you have reached maturity. Some people stay for a while in this stage. But you don’t really reach maturity until …

You realize that this is the nature of things. There is no such thing as “Intelligent Design” in the human world or in Engineering. Machines and Software are not intelligently designed but evolved! No one figures out everything at once. Things take time and people build on top of what other people achieved. You start believing in “Software Darwinism“.

You now know that software evolves and goes through natural selection (or customer selection?). The software might go through different changes. And the ones who satisfied the customer and adapted to its environment, survives. That’s what we call a stable software. When the requirements change, the software changes with it too. It doesn’t start from scratch. The stable parts are already carried over as long as it can still survive and no other alternative shows that it’s better at survival. Starting things from scratch, a.k.a refactoring, is not always a good idea. As long as it can survive it’ll still be there. Refactoring will only happen when that piece of software goes extinct because it’s impossible for it to adapt anymore making the only way to save it is to refactor it.

You might even take it to a further step and realize that a more evolved software doesn’t mean better. It’s simply more suitable for its environment and circumstances. Sometimes more evolved means more complex. Sometimes you get more complex then you realize you don’t need that complexity anymore so you simplify things then make them complex again. You might as well call yourself a software “adapter” rather than “developer” that looks like it’s only going for a general better.

You start acquiring a new skill for understanding how a software works. Not by the usual class hierarchies and design patterns, but more through software fossil records! And if you’re lucky enough, these fossil records requires no archaeology if you already have a recorded history for it, a.k.a version control!

So if you ever see any imperfections or inconsistencies, it shouldn’t bother you anymore. You now understand that that’s the way of the things. The way of the force!