Sunday afternoon in District 13, Medellin, Colombia. March, 2016

​Unlike District 12 in the Hunger Games, District 13 in Medellin is a lively and colorful place.

Unlike its past reputation of being violent and dangerous, that Sunday afternoon, District 13 presented us a local neighborhood with music, motor cycle washing, and warmhearted people.

One of the projects District 13 feels proud of is their 6 covered escalators scattered around the community, benefiting about 2000 people. Here is one of them, rising 400 meters up a very steep residential neighborhood.

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Among the many graffiti-es around the neighborhood, our cat the Laughing was very excited to meet someone of her own size on this one.

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and look, what happens when a cat saw a slide?

Walking up to a small hill, a panorama view with cooling breeze becomes the best reward!

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First encounter with South America – Cartagena, Colombia. November 2015

Cartagena welcomed me with its heat, its festival and its safety challenges.

On my way from the airport to the center on a local bus, I was touched and amazed. Finally, after all the months’ time in Europe and the US, with all the modern infrastructures, clean and organized streets, and well managed behaviors, I must say that I missed this chaos. I felt alive again on this tiny colorful bus which generated a strong shake every time it had to slow down, to speed up, or to make a turn. But I loved it. Looking out of the window, people were standing in groups and chatting, there were vendors selling street food, there were dirt and trashes around the corner, motorcycles were being used as vehicles, and loud music were screaming out from restaurants. All these seemed to be yelling to me: welcome to the world.

I swam and dreamed in my self-imagined happiness until the bus was approaching the center. After one stop, one guy got on the bus and tried to sell me something. He acted aggressively and I felt afraid. I passed on some cash, which was the changes from buying bus tickets, to another traveler. The guy moved his attention to the other traveler. He talked to him for a long time. Rather than talking, I would describe his attitude more as pushing and threatening. This incident suddenly pulled me out of my dream. Yes, here is the reality. I may love and enjoy the vitality and diversity in a world like this, but also have to bear the consequences it brings. Finally he got off the bus. Another local passenger started to try to tell us something. We didn’t fully understand his rapid Spanish, but one thing I thought we understood. That was when he formed his hand to the shape of a gun and pointed it towards his head.

For the first time in my trip, I felt unsafe on the streets. I was warned by locals to not show any valuables on the street, even under the bright daylight. I was told not to use my laptop at the front entrance of the hostel. I was suggested not to walk on the streets at night. So I used my mobile phone as GPS under the cover of a scarf. I hided in the small room behind the entrance of the hostel to use Wi-Fi. I started to head back from the city soon after the sun went down. And I brought the least possible things and cashes with me when I have to go out. But all these, were not comparable to the mental un-restless I felt in this city.

Lucky as I was, Cartagena was preparing for its Independence Day Festival when I arrived. Two days later, I experienced a Colombian parade and foam fights in its beautiful old town.

 

Yes, the old town of Cartagena is beautiful. I guess this is probably the main reason why Cartagena is the most visited and touristic city in Colombia. The old town has an official name as Cartagena’s colonial walled city, and it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. During the colonial period, it served a key role in administration and expansion of the Spanish empire.

 

 

Lost & Found in travel. India. May 2015

It has almost been a year since I started to travel. Thinking about the ‘me’ before travelling, so much have changed.

I’m in India now, with around 200 boys at a students’ home. Today I made myself free and came to an Internet cafe.

Sometimes, small things can invoke big emotions. It is only an Internet cafe, and a desktop PC. I can feel my heart is beating fast and my chest filled with feelings. When was the last time when I used a desktop PC, and was in an Internet cafe?

Life is hard and time goes fast. We don’t have to suffer to make the life hard, but.. just the every single moment we have to pass through, every breath we have to take, every emotion we have to deal with. Even though we are having a good fun, we know, this will not last forever. Enjoy the moment.

I don’t know if it’s better or worse to have awareness. Without it, I can be carried away with emotions, like riding a roller coaster, experiencing it’s ups and downs wholeheartedly, totally immersed. Laugh happily and cry sadly. With this awareness, it’s like watching and feeling a doctor doing me an operation, I’m aware of the pain, but not react to it. But there’s one thing that I have experienced and appreciated, which is the profound inner peace and loving feelings the meditation gives.

I do feel a kind of lost. Why did I start travelling? What was I looking for? Did I find it? Did I not? Why do I miss Cambodia so much? and Why do I miss Sweden?

I know where I am, there is home.

Yogyakarta. Indonesia. August 2014

In Yogyakarta I meet Adolf.

After all these months, I don’t remember the details of meeting Adolf anymore, nor my first impression of him. All I remember is that we had a good time. We had many interesting talks and a lot of fun. He knows quite a lot about a famous series of Chinese swordsman tales. I read them and liked them too. In addition to those fascinating stories, I guess he also understood and enjoyed the ancient Chinese philosophies behind them. Maybe that’s why he named my travelling teddy bear Du Gu Qiu Bai (独孤求败). What a “lovely” name, for such a cute bear. 🙂

I think he is also the kind of person who’s rare in the society. Listening to his stories, I would be amazed at how he could have done all these things, feeling envy about his experiences but never get jealous. For the level of his spirit of adventure, his gut for taking risks, and his tolerance of uncomfortableness, I would never reach anything that’s close by. What an amazing person and a good friend.

For him, I made my third toy on the trip.

Yogyakarta hosts two famous must see ancient temples, one Hindu, Prambanan, and one Buddhist, Borobudur. Travel guides recommend to see the sunrise at Borobudur, where you will see the sun rising over two volcanos across a misty plain with Buddha statues in the foreground. But this early ticket is expensive. To see the same sun rising over the same volcanos we went to the Punthuk Setumbu hills, where the temple tips of Borobudur became part of the panorama.

Being in the Philippines, looking at google images of Indonesia, I was already attracted by its beauty, its feeling of rich culture, and its deep calmness. I guess there is something mysterious and spiritual about this country.

Jakarta. Indonesia. August 2014

I was told that Jakarta was a big messy chaotic city, I didn’t have to visit there. But at that time, I would like to see the capital of each country, no matter how it was like.

A girl called Ika accepted my couch surfing request. On her profile picture, she had very short hair, and was lifted up by several people to the air. What a cool girl, I thought.

We agreed to meet up at a bus station and she came riding her motorbike. She was tiny. Even for the average smaller South East Asian people, she was tiny. She carried the bigger me and my even bigger backpack on her motorbike. While holding her, I was worried. If there comes one sudden accelerate, am I going to drag her out of her motorbike? We rode for a long time, through the, as rumor said, messy and chaotic Jarkata. There were traffic jams almost all the way, and we were always surrounded by tons of other motorbikes. This reminded me Phnom Penh, where the motorbikes were going fast through narrow lanes and would try every possible way to get forward for just a little bit.  There, I felt time fly back, to the wonderful time in the wonderland, Cambodia.

We went through many narrow alleys, passed many residents sitting or standing in front of their houses before we arrived her home. She parked her motorbike in a little yard in front of her house. We entered the house to the living room, it was dark. There was a TV in the corner and a sofa right next to the door. Later, that was the place we had our meals. From the living room walking towards the back of the house, there was the kitchen, where her mother cooked delicious curry beef stews, and she made by far my favorite Indonesia food: the Indo Mien. At the entrance of the kitchen, stairs leaded me to the second floor, where my room located. Like many other places in Indonesia, people place either a mattress or a carpet, and sleep on the floor. I slept there for 4 nights, it was comfortable.

During the days there, I did one thing special. It wasn’t anything special for most of the people there, but it was for me. I fasted. For 2 days. I didn’t eat or drink anything for 2 days during the day time when the sun was still above the horizon. Instead, I woke up at 3 am every day and joined her family to their pre-fasting meal. It wasn’t easy. Even though almost the whole country was fasting, sometimes we could still see people eating or drinking on the street. That amplified our thirst and hunger. During the late afternoons, I felt weak. I felt the energy were fading away from my body. I could disappear in the air or dissolve into the ground.

To end a whole month’s fasting, Indonesians celebrate it with a big festival, which is considered as Christmas in the western world, and as the Chinese New Year in China. That day I woke up as usually, no one was at home. ? Where was everyone? Did I wake up too late and missed the chance to join them to the mosque? I got myself ready and planned to look for them. I walked out of the house, I kept walking and walking, and, wow… what is this in front of me? I saw streets after streets in white. The streets were full of people dressing in while, kneeling on the ground, graying. I looked over them, I couldn’t see the end. The town was quiet and empty, with only preying melodies hovering in the air.

Her family made me think of home. That was what I thought when I was sitting on the couch in their living room. I can’t remember what it was anymore. Maybe it was the warmness and calmness in the house, or maybe it was the feeling of surrounded by many family members, or maybe, it was the delicious mama-made dishes, that made me think about home. I was treated as a member of their family.

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In the end, Jakarta might be a ‘messy’ city, but her family and friends made it a place worth to stay. I left there with a lot of gratitude, to her, to her family, and to her friends.

There, I made my second toy on the trip, a teddy bear. I call him/her The Ika Bear.

 

Manila again. Philippines. August 2014

My trip in the Philippines ended in Manila again. There I meet other old colleagues who I haven’t seen for two years. I was very happy to see them again, especially one of them. He’s name is James. He was a team member of our project. During those hectic days, he was one of the two members who kept working with them easy. He always knew what he was doing, he always delivered on time, and he always explained his ideas clearly. When the project was under tight schedule, he was the one who was willing to put extra effort. As a new project manager working with busy experienced experts, I was thankful that we had a team member like him.

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All together, we went to their favorite Filipino restaurant. There, they ordered food that I’ve never seen during my one month’s time in the Philippines. They were diverse and delicious. Yes, that’s another thing I noticed from travelling: locals knows what to eat.

Cebu & Oslob. Philippines. July 2014

He replied my Couchsurfing request within half an hour with a SMS and a smiley.

He is from Sweden and had been travelling for nearly 2 years. At that moment, he rented a room and had stayed in the Philippines for quite a while. We meet around an IT industrial area and walked into an area full of small houses. There was his room and another room of his house mate. His room wasn’t big, around 25 square meters I guess. And at the moment, he was hosting two couch surfers and one more is going to arrive. We all slept on the floor on mattresses, while he had a tiny small bed for himself. He is a hard-core traveler. He told us his travelling principle, never pay for accommodation and transportation. I was surprised, and was also amazed about the fact that it was possible to travel in this way. By far, I’ve only heard about it from TV.

Together with another couch surfer, we had quite a lot of laugh, which I don’t remember for what reason anymore. But one thing still stays fresh in my mind. That is a coconut. We discovered this coconut in a super market, whose face somehow resembled the face of a grandpa of a carrot. We called him grandpa coconut. We took him to the tourist attractions, posed and created many pictures.

The arrival to Cebu City was amazing. It was on a boat where you can sleep over nights. Everyone slept on layered beds in the open area. There was no lock, no furniture, just simple beds. Surprisingly, the night was comfortable and peaceful. People woke up early in the morning. I joined them and walked to the edge of the boat. There, at that moment, I was stunned by the beautiful view of the morning sea unfolded in front of me. I had been on many boats and had seen many seas, but that one, I had to say, was the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen. The calmness, strength and softness of the sea were well blended. Together with a golden touch from the morning sun, you see, she is waking up.

In Cebu City, many people were telling me about one place: Oslob. There you can snorkel or dive with Whale Sharks, which is the largest fish species in the world. Interested by the excitement on their face when they talked about this experience, I decided to give Oslob a visit. I borrowed by host’s tent and went on the trip. In one of the beach hotels, the owner let me put my tent in one of their huts and charged me a very little amount. There, for the first time, I learned how to set up a tent. It was windy at night, but my tent was safe. 🙂

On the next day, very early in the morning, groups of people in blue uniforms started to collect people from different hotels and transform us to the whale shark watching center. Little boats, with five or six people, were coming and going one after another, like products being transformed on a streamline in a factory. After received some basic environment conservation and safety instructions, our boat followed others to an area where many boast were stationed. As we went close by, I saw that on each boat there was a fisherman, who constantly threw something into the water. Around them, there were many whale sharks. Little boats like ours, loaded with tourists, drove into the area, and unloaded the tourists. I could hear people shouting and laughing, I could see them jumping in and out of the water. Yes, they were excited.  But me, no, I felt bad. I felt so bad that I wanted to leave the place right away. This wasn’t the nature I wanted to see. I didn’t feel that I was in a sea, but at a zoo instead. I knew these sharks were totally free. They just came here for their daily food. Even the whole route for them to swim here were well protected. But this crowded feeding, crowded visiting, and this crowded man-made interaction with these beautiful natural creatures, made me feel bad.

Surprisingly, this marked my worst experience when interacting with nature.

 

Boracay & Iloilo. Philippines. July 2014

After the Sabang bay, I had a decision to make, whether to go west and take a 7 hours boat to the famous beautiful Palawan, or to go east and down to Cebu. At that time of the year, typhoons were still around. Locals told me that there were strong winds and high waves at the east side of the island. So I had to leave the famous beautiful Palawan in this trip, and head directly down to Cebu.

On my way, I crossed Philippines’ No.1 island Boracay. I stayed there for 2 nights and I didn’t like it. Like every time and for everyone, to enjoy or not enjoy a place, it depends a bit of luck. And I didn’t have it at this time.  The beach was stunningly beautiful. I walked along the beach hoping to find a quiet place to sit down, have a drink and read a book. That wasn’t possible. All the cafes and restaurants along the beach were fancy and were at least 10 meters away from the beach, with a wall made from plastic bags in between. It was crowded and commercial.

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Being satisfied by having looked at the stunning Boracay beach, I continued my journey towards Cebu. I had to make a stop at Iloilo. Knowing nothing about the city, I sent my first solo Couchsurfing quests to Iloilo and a girl accepted me.

She was calm, kind and confident. I waited for her in front of a shopping mall. She leaded me to her home.

She lived with her parents and they were blind. That was my first encounter with blind people. They had a normal and peaceful life. I looked at her cooking simple food for her parents, taking care of them. They didn’t talk much, but I saw trust, love and responsivities.

My intended one day stay extended to four, because of the pouring rain and because of her and her friends. We spent a lot of time in her room. I liked her room. It was also a room that could show that the owner had been living there for a long time. But this time, with a different style. She used simple and natural things to decorate her room. It was spacy, and it made me feel relaxed and free.

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We read books, shared music, videos, movies, and had long talks. I visited a mango plantation, saw endless mango trees and brought back the sweetest mangos in the whole world. Oh, and there’s one more highlight: her friends made me some cookies that forever ended my curiosity to a certain spice in this world.

 

Sabang Bay. Philippines. July 2014

My trip continued to Sabang bay, Puerto Galera. I went there because of its diving.

That was the beginning of my real solo travelling. I was a little worried. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to have a good time.

I didn’t pre-book any accommodation before I set my foot on this island. I wanted to keep my choice free. A small boat with ‘spider legs’ approached the shore, we walked onto the jetty. A mid-aged woman walked towards me.

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“Do you need room?” She asked me.

I liked her energy. It felt kind. I said yes, and told her that I need a cheap accommodation. Then I followed her.

We walked into the town, passed through the busy noisy club area, and turned into an area full of white painted individual houses. The place looked compact, one house next to the other. We entered one of them, and talked to the owner. It wasn’t high season, some renovation was going on in the house, and I was able to get a fair price for my stay there.

On the same night, I got lost.

I walked through the streets back and forth but couldn’t find the turning point to the white housed area. I started to feel a little worried and afraid. “Do you speak Chinese?” A sound attracted my attention and I turned around. I saw a Chinese standing in front of me. He was not tall, but looked pretty young. He told me that he was the owner of a Chinese diving shop on the island. He noticed that I was looking for somewhere. I told him the name of my stay, and he leaded me there. One the way, we passed through his dive master students’ resident. I saw a big group of young Chinese eating, drinking and chatting around a table. I felt happy and relaxed. If I don’t have anything to do the next night, I could come and join them.

The next day started with diving.

I think at that time, I missed diving. I missed the feeling of being under the water, everything become so calm and quiet. In the whole world, the only thing you can hear is the sound of your bubbles, and all you see are the underwater creatures swimming or laying around you.

I didn’t plan which dive sites to dive in, I just wanted to dive.

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The dives were not disappointing, as well as the people. Every time after we finished a night dive, we would expect the manager waiting and welcoming us with a big jar of beer. I met a group of divers and we connected strangely well. We learnt together how to crack a huge fat crab with a tiny hammer, we stayed at the same spot under the water for 30 minutes just to wait and see the mandarin fish for 5 seconds, we seated on the top of a jeepney to visit the waterfall. We had nice talks and funny activities. Before our departure, one of us made bracelets for each of us, with a diver’s sign and our group name – “dodgy”.

I wished we had more time together.

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Manila. Philippines. July 2014

A colleague I met 2 years ago picked me up at the airport. I was raining.

I was happy that I didn’t need to walk under this heavy rain with my backpack to look for buses and coordinate around the city.

We drove around the city and finally arrived at his apartment, which he shares with his younger brother.

It was a small apartment in a big building. Probably like many apartments in many Asian countries for the young professionals, the apartment was very compacted. There was a bed with an upper and a lower layer, a couch next to the bed, and a TV placed in front of the couch. Next to the TV, there is also a small desk with computers and books on it. At the entrance of the apartment, a small area with a gas cooker and a couple of pots formed the kitchen.

I felt the life and a feeling of home in this place, which was full of daily stuffs that one shall accumulate over years of living at the same place.

With the air-con turned on, the air was cold and humid.

For I was going to share their home with them for a couple of days, they placed a self-made ‘curtain’ over the lower layer of the bed for me. Very sweet.

There I spent days with these two warmhearted boys in the big massive Manila. There were parts of the city made me think of the California I saw in movies. There were parts of the city full of people, noise, markets, and colorful jeepneys. We toured the tourist attractions, wandered in night markets, seen the beautiful view of volcanoes, and shared our cooking skills. 

From their national food Adobo to some grilled Pao that resembles a Chinese dish, from the Halo Halo to Dunkin Donuts, I tried and enjoyed many of the Filipino dishes.

I know, without them, I would have been lost in the big massive Manila.

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