Eat, drink, (not) be merry?

I gained 11 kilos during my university years due to eating high-calorie meals five times a day, including midnight snacking during crushing deadlines. I kept the weight until I started working and finally could afford gym membership and a nutritionist. I managed to lose 3 kilos and 10 cm in girth.

After four years of solid career work in Jakarta, I moved to Bali and pretty much threw in the towel on the diet front. I thought: I’m young and I want to live an island life: eat, drink and be merry. My only cardio was walking around five-star resorts in heels.

The alcohol- and pork-induced carefree life I had was over as soon as I moved back to Jakarta and subsequently became pregnant. I became very aware about my weight gain. First: my weight is recorded by the nurse. Second: if I gain more than 2 kilos in a month, my Obgyn will frown on me.

I’ve gained 15 kilos during my pregnancy and I still have a couple of weeks to go. But you know what: weight gain was the least of my problems, and I learned that the hard way.

As this pregnancy came much sooner than expected, Matthew and I wanted to savor our twosome time as much as we could. We’d planned a weekend getaway as our pre-babymoon. Tickets and hotel were booked and paid in advance. We got our flight permit from the Obgyn (even at 32 weeks along). At nine hours before the flight, I decided to cancel the trip.

COD: severe heartburn.

What a stupid reason to cancel a romantic trip, you’d say. You’re right! For weeks I had been having this terrible heartburn and we all thought it’s just the hormones. Well, it was the progesterone level that caused it but we should have worked around it. We should have altered my diet, which is hardly rocket science.

It’s now been a month since I quit red meat, high-fiber high-gas vegetables, acidic fruit, pasta, noodles, tea, coffee, baked goods, and chilli/sambal. It works! I no longer need to swallow an antacid every four hours. I no longer have to wake up in the middle of the night just to burp or let go of a massive fart (yes, pregnancy is really glamorous). I no longer have nausea. And more importantly, I feel normal and up for doing more activities like yoga and powerwalking.

Every day since I’ve been feeling better, I say to myself: if only we thought of this much sooner, we would’ve had that weekend away and we wouldn’t have spent millions of rupiah for nothing.

That was just a small example of how your diet really would define your health (and at the end: finance). People think diet only has to do with wight gain/loss. But no—so much physical discomfort is caused by a wrong or unbalanced diet. And by wrong, I don’t mean just junk food; I mean the wrong type of food for your personal lifestyle and preceeding health condition.

Yes it sucks to know that you can’t eat or drink certain things, but if you pay enough attention, your body won’t have to pay for it, and in the long run, you wont have to literally pay for it. There’s no point of living a long life full of discomfort, aches and pains, and to be drug dependant. My plan is to live large and die fabulous even when it means very limited access to sambal.

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(Pretending to cook) Wagyu and lobster fried rice at main kitchen of Flying Fish, Bali.

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Have bump. Will travel.

The day after I ditched my birth control pill, I experienced bleeding and just found out about this on the way to the airport. What did I do? I traveled to Kuala Lumpur and back.

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On the way to Petronas Tower!

A few weeks after, I fell pregnant. What did I do? I kept my commitment to my students and flew to Bali to deliver their course.

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At Bali Tourism Board HQ

As an inter-cultural international couple, our wedding was a two-parter. After a Christian ceremony and reception in Indonesia, we were due to have a marriage blessing in the UK that same year. What did I do? I became a six-months-along pregnant bride in the middle of winter (at the gorgeous Romsey Abbey no less).

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*pretending that we were not cold*

Now, I’m entering my ninth month pregnancy with fourteen flights under my (extra-large) belt. No more flights for me these days but not because I’m not allowed to but mostly because my husband is the ultimate worrier [note from Matt: I don’t think I am but I worry that Rebecca thinks I am]. 

For other ladies out there who have doubts about traveling while “turning food into human,” here’s the rule of thumb: as long as your doctor deems your pregnancy normal (no complications), and as long as you are up for it, pack your bags and go!

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Boarding into my last flight to Singapore at 7.5 months along!

Based on my experience of traveling while pregnant, both short- and long-haul, both business and leisure, here are my top tips:

  1. Book your flight only after you get a flying permit letter from your Obgyn. In my case, I was always up for it so I booked it anyway and then go see the doctor a few days prior to my flight. You have to be in tune with your body, too. I had to cancel one trip once because of sudden, terrible heartburn nine hours before my flight—despite the flying permit.
  2. If you can choose your seat, ask for aisle and no more than five rows from the toilet, for hopefully obvious reasons.
  3. Upon checking in, tell the airline staff that you’re pregnant and show them your flying permit. You should keep the permit for your returning flight, so they normally just look at it or scan/photocopy it. Some airlines, like AirAsia, Lion Air and Garuda Indonesia, ask you to fill out and sign a disclaimer form.
  4. If you’re more than six months along and on a long-haul flight with transit/connection, do ask for a special assistance. They will assign ground staff to wheel you to your next flight and wheel you to the car/taxi at your destination. Low-cost carriers may charge you for this (AirAsia charges S$20 for assistance at Changi, whereas Singapore Airlines doesn’t charge at all—yay for SQ).
  5. Dress in comfortable material and in layers. Pregnancy makes you warm, but the aircon in planes can be chilly.
  6. Wear flat shoes, and for long-haul flights wear also anti-deep vein thrombosis socks. Pharmacies at international airport normally sell anti-DVT socks, which look like very tight and very thin stockings.
  7. If you’re flying with a low-cost carrier, bring snacks in your carry-on bag. If you’re flying with a full-service carrier, don’t be afraid to keep asking for snacks. You normally need to eat small portions every hour or two. However, be careful not to consume high sodium food like salted peanuts, as this will make you even more dehydrated and bloated, which comes with the territory when flying anyway.
  8. Airlines don’t allow you to take more than 100ml in liquid forms into the cabin, but when flying out of Singapore (and other airports probably), do take an empty bottle, which you can fill with water from the fountain inside the boarding lounge. I once flew with AirAsia from Jakarta airport and the security officer told me to just carry the full 600ml bottled water because he saw I was massively pregnant.
  9. On a long-haul flight, always, always allocate time to walk around (or rather, back and forth) the aisle. I did it on the way from Singapore to London and I arrived fabulous (or only as one can be after 13-hour journey). I did not do it on the way back because it was an evening flight so everybody including me was asleep. I ended up with pillow-like feet I could barely fit into my shoes.
  10. At your destination, if you can afford it, get a foot and back massage to release tension so you can enjoy your trip or recover from it. (And yes, pregnant women are allowed to get massages as long as you sit or lay on your side) I normally research spas that can handle pregnant clients and book it before the trip just because I’m a control freak.

If I could add one more tip, it would be to take more pictures of your pregnant self at different destinations, because you will want to show your little one that they started racking up mileage before they even had a passport!

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At London Waterloo station.

FIVE TIPS FROM MATT:

  1. I’d also add that given low mobility when pregnant, take everything you need out of your carry-on luggage and to your seat area and ensure you have easy access to everything from iPod to DVT socks. That way, you avoid having to stretch and reach—or have your partner do it.
  2. When you get your food, horde the small cup of water they give you and ask for refill from the attendant even before you need it. You may need it later when you don’t have access or there’s turbulence.
  3. Always travel with earplugs, eye-pads and medicines. This is a general rule of thumb for life.
  4. Ensure that all the arrangements as described above, like ground staff assistance, are made and confirmed way in advance and again with the cabin crew. Avoid missed expectations.
  5. Always be patient with your pregnant wife. Don’t lose your cool and be even more supportive than usual. Remember: the bulge she carries is a small piece of life, not 20 years of accumulated beer fat.
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On London’s double-decker tour bus!

H for hotel (part 2)

This is the second page about what we appreciate in hotel rooms that we’ve stayed in. As a business traveller, we have different needs and wants. As a couple travelling without children…

  • A his-and-hers sink arrangement is a very good way to keep things tidy and peaceful. It allows us to have our own territory and to save time before going out as each of us can do our thing at the same time. Even better: an extra bathroom. This feature can easily be found on a club/suite level or a two-bedroom condotel or villa.
  • And speaking of bathrooms, we prefer ones that have perfect privacy. We have seen a number of design on boutique hotels and villas that actually have clear glass walls around the toilet or have a big open window from bedroom to bathroom. When travelling with a partner, you don’t want them to be THAT intimate with your bathroom business.
  • Balcony, preferably with a view. Maybe it’s the English part of us, maybe it’s just a vanity, but we do like to have tea in the afternoon on a balcony and enjoy the natural sunlight and breeze.

My birthday present for Matthew’s 41st: two nights in the sun. Conrad Bali.

  • Couple’s room spa. We may have separation anxiety issues but even if we were normal, isn’t it nice to have a spa treatment with your spouse in the same room?
  • Turn-down service. There’s something sexy about a white, clean, and made-up bed. This is what couples don’t normally get at home. Coming back to our hotel bed after a dinner out is something to look forward to when we know our room would have been made up. Even better: chocolate as turn-down favors. I have to say, I rarely find this in Asia.
  • Full-on butler service. Just another vanity. We’ve used this service to our delight! From drawing us a bath to packing our overloaded suitcases.

One of the most modest places we’ve ever stayed it but the coffee-shop serves coffee unrivaled by 5-star hotels. Fortville Guesthouse Bangkok.

When we book for a short getaway:

  • We choose location over luxury
  • We can stay in a budget hotel but never in a place that has no amenities, TV, and daily housekeeping
  • We would pay more for room size
  • We would not dine in the hotel, mostly because we want to explore the area and/or eat local food
  • We appreciate hotels that commit to providing a double bed when we book a double bed. Not a lot of hotels can guarantee this nowadays

Simple, cozy, and at a great location. Grey Hotel Bali.

Trust us, it’s NOT about the journey, it’s about the destination!

In the ocean of articles and blog posts on how people LOVE travelling, I’m glad you found this one. The past three years have been the busiest years for Matthew and I. Between us, we have booked over 250 flights in the past 36 months (even so, we don’t have the largest amount of air miles among our friends). Here’s why we hate the travelling part of travelling:

1. The getting to airport. No matter who’s paying for the ticket, we always choose the best available rate (because we feel guilty enough about the carbon footprint!). Therefore, we’re punished with stupid-o’clock flight schedule and worst transit scenarios (either too long or cutting it fine). Because of this, we need to wake up or stay awake at weird hours. Matthew is a chronic insomniac to start with, so messing with his sleeping schedule does not help. And I have serious tummy issues when being awake for too long or too early: hunger pangs.

One day, we needed to catch a 6am flight with Lion Air from Jakarta to Singapore. I didn’t know that terminal 2F Soekarno-Hatta airport is not ON for 24 hours. There’s no lounge or food counter open at dawn. After wailing excessively to poor Matthew, who obviously couldn’t do anything, we found a warung inside the terminal. I was surprised that there is such a thing! It’s a typical Indonesian warung: no AC, full of roaches and rats, sells instant pot noodles, and smoking is allowed.

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Cheap airfare gives you sunrise at the airport!

What discomforts Matthew the worst are the physical labours of the transfers: getting luggage down to the apartment lobby, stowing the luggage to the car trunk, getting the luggage out of the car and to the airport trolley, and so on and so forth. My quick answer to this in Indonesia is: bellboy and porter. Sadly, in countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, such service (even in 5-star hotels) is rarely available.

2. Effing around at the airport. You may have read our version of Amazing Race Asia and may understand that we’re not too keen on airports. But what we don’t enjoy specifically is the security screening and why can’t they find a way to make it efficient. Also, online check-in does not make baggage check in quicker. Why? Because there are so many rookie travellers who don’t prepare their documents and money for airport tax (in a few countries in Southeast Asia, you still have to pay this at check-in). Add to this: general people’s stupidity at unlikely hours.

Again, for Matthew it’s the physical challenges that hurt: the ridiculously long walk from drop-off to check-in counter to lounge to gate to the actual plane. Then the temperature of airports, which is mostly very cold, but can be very hot due to laughably outrageous design flaws like the glassy Suvarnabhumi airport. Plus, airport toilets can be appallingly dirty or far or hidden.

3. Boring boarding time. OK, no matter how many books, magazines, and iPod playlists that we bring, boarding time sucks. You can’t really be into something in case you’re called on PA. Um, it happened to me twice: being the last one to board because I was watching a TV show on my laptop.

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On my 27th birthday, alone at Hong Kong Int’l Airport on a 4 hour delay T_T

Provided there’s no flight delays, Matthew claims that waiting during boarding time is no issue for him; he can just sit and do nothing.

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This is Matt, doing nothing. At T3 Soekarno-Hatta airport.

The issue is the physical hassle to be into the gate with the extra security X-ray (are you noticing a recurring theme here?). At Changi airport, you have to take your gadgets out of the bag too. One time I was queuing behind a fit Chinese guy in his 50s that had to take a gizmo out of his bag. The security guards were examining it. Baffled. No idea what the finger-size glassware was. The guy finally said, “It’s for sex okay!”

4. The actual take-off. Nobody likes being seated up straight in a confined space, and buckled up next to strangers. Plus, we’re not allowed to listen to music. Plus, we never know if our neighbours bothered to shower. PLUS, some parents are too stupid not to anticipate what air pressure will do to their baby’s ears. And I have no idea why it’s not mandatory for flight attendants to advise people who fly with children!

Matthew enjoys the fact that it is the most peaceful time on the plane, provided that there’s no baby screaming bloody murder. He does still have the child-like excitement of taking off, even knowing that most plane crashes happen at take-off and landing.

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Taking off from Ngurah Rai airport Bali ^_^

5. Tedious air travel. Remember when you’re a kid and you’re excited to fly? I do feel that still, sometimes. Normally when I’m flying to a new destination or with a new airline. But that excitement wears off as the plane takes off. And of course, when you feel like it’s been forever, you find out that you’re only half way there.

The only two things that made flying feels quick for me are: being stinking drunk, straight from the last club in Bangkok to catch my 6am flight back to Bali (only happened once) and TV show marathon on a fully charged MacBook. By the way, I used portable DVD player to pacify me during traffic jam back when I was working full time in Jakarta.

Me and my best travel companion =)

Matthew occasionally finds it easy to sleep during flight. He thinks it’s the buzzing sound of the engine. But most of the time, it is when the boredom/irritation starts to kick in. One AirAsia flight attendant woke him up just to try and sell their merchandise. That’s annoying. However, fellow passengers are always the culprits of a negative flying experience.

Stupid passengers are worst than turbulence and I have experienced sudden altitude drop! Some of passengers that ever sat next to me are: an old Chinese man sneezing during the entire flight, an Arabian extra large man spraying himself with a cologne every 15 minutes, an Indonesian domestic worker watching my personal in-flight entertainment despite having her own at her own seat, and an Indonesian guy with a 3-year-old boy on his lap that kept kicking my legs while screaming. Also on the list is a disturbingly handsome Brazilian guy that did not ask for my number.

6. Immigration line. A few times is enough times to want to punch an immigration officer in Indonesian airports for inefficiency and lack of respect. Enough said.

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Long lines at immigration check T3 Soekarno-Hatta airport, just because there are only 2 officers out of 6 cubicles

7. Waiting around destination airport for baggage and transfer to hotel. Emotionally, we’re slightly glad that we arrived safely. But there is still a room for a mix-up: baggage claim. I’m happy to report that we’ve never lost our baggage ever. We are also clever enough to have huge stabilo-boss yellow and very gay purple suitcases. They are easy to spot and hard to miss.

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Landed on HK airport, pick up baggage, hop on a train to the main island, hop into a cab to bring me downtown… at zero-hundred hour!

Even though baggage claim is rarely an issue, the transfer to hotel is can be tricky if you are unfamiliar with the destination. If you can afford it, I advise you to always get airport transfers service from the hotel you’re staying at. But more often than not, we travel on a budget. So, do master your airport-hotel route and prepare the fare in their currency before you fly. That’s another thing: exchange the money before you travel!

Matthew and I have experienced being stranded in Dubai in the middle of the night just because we didn’t have enough dirham to pay for taxi to get from where we were to our hotel. We walked to the nearest mall to find moneychanger but they needed passport for it (not the photocopy we always carry with us). Of course our real passports are in the safety deposit box, in the hotel!

8. The front office saga. We often travel compliments of the hotel management. But no matter how many stars a hotel has, someone in some department can manage to stuff up our room reservation. And then we have to call up higher management and everybody’s embarrassed. And for the entire stay, we’re known as “that couple that gets the room for free”. Good thing is, we normally build good rapport with our butlers. One of them is Karen at St. Regis Bangkok, who diligently took pictures of us before we went out.

One of the pictures that Karen The Butler took of us in the suite.

And then there’s the awkward silence Matthew and I have when we got to the room. The wait until the bellboy comes with our yellow and purple luggage. More awkward moments? Trying to think whether it’s okay to tip in that country and how much in their currency is appropriate. By the time we finish calculating, the bellboy is already at the door, wishing us a pleasant stay and shutting the door behind him. Then for a split second, we feel guilty. It soon passes.

When it’s all over, we take in the view from our room, marvel at the amenities, flip through the TV channels, unpack, and then shower. Feeling shattered and ready to sleep in yet another foreign bed.

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Our Jakarta residence, when we were not Jakarta residents.
At Ritz-Carlton Pacific Place.

Banged up abroad!

Matthew posted a three-part story about our Southeast Asian adventure that started the day he got deported. He promised himself to blog about it… but because it’s a long story and he’d been back traveling since then, it took him 4 months to finish the story. Here, I’m going to help you with a synopsis and links to read his posts.

This is a story about an editor-in-chief of the bestselling travel magazine in Asia, a British passport holder who was based in Bangkok and had a girlfriend who lived in Bali. Obviously, he traveled a lot to Asian countries, namely Indonesia, China, and Cambodia, all of which give out large visa stickers on visitor’s passport. Even though his passport wouldn’t expire until 2019, it’s a no brainer that he would need a fresh one much sooner than 2019.

Naturally, this series of unfortunate events include the British government issuing a new regulation that says all British in Asia that wishes to renew their passport shall send it to Hong Kong office and wait for 4 weeks to get a new one. This regulation was issued in 2011, just the year when Matthew travels fortnightly.

(rather) fresh passport but full of stamps

Around the time when there was no blank full-page in his passport, we were planning to get engaged in the UK, so he thought he might as well renew the passport in London. But *long sigh* since Matthew doesn’t live in the UK, he cannot renew it in London. God save the Queen!

Change of plans: Matthew secured a job in Jakarta (Hallelujah!), so why not just go to Indonesia with what was left in his passport page and stay there for a month till he gets a new one out of Hong Kong (*rolls eyes*).

It was the Muslim’s Lebaran holiday that week. Since I tragically lived in Bali at the time, we both flew from Bangkok to Bali to unwind for a few days before Matthew starts his first day.

I got my baggage and waited for Matthew’s long immigration queue. It was way too long. Apparently, he had been moved to detention. It’s official: Matthew Beech Leppard is being deported.

You would think two people with connections like us could have asked someone to help out, wouldn’t you? Well, it was August 29, a public holiday in the UK and the next day was August 30, a public holiday in Indonesia. All of our friends in the “high places” were on a nice long vacation and incommunicado.

De.port.ed.

It means, he would be sent to his last port, the one city he had grown to hate: Bangkok.

Since I was innocent, immigration wise, I was free to go. But looking at my poor refugee, I guess I could be the Good Will Ambassador and stayed with him. But staying in an airport requires one thing: a flight ticket. That’s right, I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok, while canceling all my meetings and gatherings for the following weeks.

The Terminal

He needed me. I have never been certain about anything else. He needed a translator while being held captive for 24 hours in Bali airport. He needed a personal assistant while his big-move suitcases were scattered in Bali, Jakarta, and Bangkok. He needed a mother to protect him from cockroaches or just cocks. He needed a secretary to book his next flight, appointment with multiple embassies, find a room to decamp, and an ongoing flight to ensure any immigration we would have to encounter that Matthew was not going to permanently stay there, where ever “there” is.

So we went back to Bangkok...  Thank goodness Muslim holidays are not celebrated in Thailand. The UK embassy was open! Matthew got his single travel emergency passport.

One.Single.Travel.To.Indonesia. Alright!

Short of cash and short of breath. We decided to take a road trip to Pattaya and have a taste of backpacking.

Of course, with Matthew’s bad back and my menstrual period, we ended up dragging suitcases on the streets. I managed to feel good about myself. Easy. Just look at every single woman in Pattaya.

I celebrated my birthday in Bangkok, on our way back to Indonesia. This time, we opted for a direct flight to Jakarta.

We arrived midnight, buying us enough time in the morning to get Matthew’s photo taken for his new passport application. But the British government asked someone in Jakarta who is not a family member to write a statement that they have known Matthew for over 2 years. Man, he just arrived 7 hours ago! C’mon!

Well, the following day I was due to fly back to Bali. I had to wrap it around my head that I actually have a job to keep. So I left Matthew in Jakarta without a single paper that says who he was.

Today, he has about a dozen of papers, books, and cards that say: Matthew Beech Leppard, subject of the Queen, resident of Jakarta, technical advisor of a media mogul, fiance of Fredina Rebecca. Phew.

Fugee fun, part 1*

Bali, August 29, 2012—And so it finally came to pass, as I always assumed it would given various life choices to date, that some sort of life-altering poo-poo would hit my personal fan. Inevitable, really.

I was stateless and homeless for a short but sadly memorable time, exiting Thailand by choice but rejected by Indonesian authorities on arrival.

It’s no surprise that during this brief but unsettling time, Pink Floyd’s The Wall offered an appropriate slice of camaraderie with the chief protagonist. But that’s another story and one that my better half won’t want me to dwell on. At all.

So moving quickly and quietly onwards, how did it all come about? Well, as I often have done, I had assumed the best for a quiet life—in this case and at the time, that my on-the-full-side passport would be good for at least one more 1/3-page Indonesia visa stamp when I entered Bali as a precursor to a fatefully doomed but long-planned trip to the UK.

Relying on beleaguered immigration authorities to be lenient is not a decision I would, of course, take lightly—not now, especially. The world is full of cheats, chancers and shady characters who seem to move from state to state unhindered. (Rhetorical question, but how on God’s good earth do they get away with it? Perhaps I should have claimed political asylum.)

In this case, the gaze of suspicion fell on me. Traveling with a full passport with no proof of onward travel is Not Advised in the book of wrong-headed thinking.

And so it came to pass that I was not allowed to enter Bali due to a lack of visa space in my passport. Instead, I was escorted to the “detention room” (yikes!) where problem travelers were sent. Well, it could have been worse: two people emerged following what seemed to be a full cavity search. Thankfully, my mistaken assumption needed no deep probing.

Saying that, what happened next might certainly make your eyes water. Especially if you travel with plans that are time- and career-dependent. It did definitely deepen my bond with my dearest Becky Beech, but it did test the limits of her tolerance, bless her heart. It also afforded some more time to explore Thailand in a way I had never before: with no money, no job and no home.

DENIED!

Read parts 2 and part 3 for more fun in the sun, airplane madness and a trip to Pattaya that was clearly rooted in evil. For down that long motorway lies suffering and madness…

*The Fugees were a band in the 90s who had a brief but shining time in the spotlight with a cover of  “Killing Me Softly,” originally by Roberta Flack. The band name is a contraction of “refugees.” If you believe in coincidences, it’s playing outside as I write this 🙂