2013: the year in review

I’ve been meaning to write a 2013 “year in review” post for a while now. And suddenly it’s February, which is a little late, but never mind. Rebecca’s in Bangkok (I just checked online and her fight has landed) and the nanny is taking care of the kid, so there’s no time like the present.

But where to begin? It was such a strange year. One of the best and one of the worst in my life. Such extremes: I generally wish my life was on a more even keel and less prone to spikes and dips and peaks and troughs but there you go. Life, eh? Can’t live with it; can’t live without it.

About a year ago, we “lost” mum, which was a devastating blow still being felt today. I use quotation marks since she didn’t die, and is still alive today. But this time last year, she started to act very weirdly—severe memory issues and behavioral changes were the main symptoms. It was as if she had sudden and acute-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which generally doesn’t come on like acutely and suddenly. The most worrying thing was when she went AWOL in her car one time: to this day, we still don’t know where she went and never will. That was when we knew it was serious.

So we had a battery of tests performed culminating in a brain biopsy, which revealed she had/has PML, a viral infection that normally infects HIV-positive people. It infected mum because her immune system was suppressed due to years of immunosuppressant drugs for her arthritis. I say “we” meaning my sister and my dad since I am a quadrillion miles away in Jakarta, so am largely a spectator in all of this. This situation makes it all the harder to deal with, a theme I will return to later.

The prognosis was bleak. PML stands for Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy, and the key words in there are “progressive” and “multifocal.” The disease attacks the brain in many areas and doesn’t stop; it is always fatal, we were told, and so rare that nobody could tell us really what to expect.

The end result was that mum was hospitalized and eventually ended up in a care home where she lives to this day among other mental patients, for want of a better phrase. She has had periods of extreme physical distress, including one where we thought it was the end (to the point where Rebecca and I mapped out a plan for me to attend her funeral); she has had moments of lucidity, though they are few and far between; she is generally unaware of her situation and the comings and goings of daily life. She is child-like and maddeningly contrary at times. But she’s our mum and we love her.

That’s now, of course. Back to my year in review and April 2013 saw the birth of baby Rayven Matthew Leppard. As I type this, I have a photo of him only hours old in front of me stating his date and time of birth (April 4 at 8:30pm). A moment of pure joy, although also not without its problems: Rebecca’s labour was painful and problematic and complicated, though it all started so beautifully. Her contractions came according to plan and we checked in and shored up for the big push, since we desperately wanted a normal birth and not a Caesarean. I was prepped for Rebecca to swear like a trooper at me and she was psyched for a world of pain.

It wasn’t to be. After many false starts, the contractions just didn’t get stronger and many excruciating examinations later, it was decided that Ray had to come out of the front door. So Rebecca was wheeled down to the operating theater with me in tow, eventually decked out in scrubs and boots. Then we entered the theater. It was a surreal experience: I was shielded by a sort of canopy up by her head so I couldn’t see the goings on in Rebecca’s tummy. At one point, they put her out completely and that was weird: one moment she was talking and the next she was unconscious and I found this very unsettling. This was the moment of the big push, and out Ray popped, screaming. He hasn’t really stopped since—more of which later.

In May, my grandmother died, which in and of itself wasn’t a big surprise (she was in her mid-90s), but the timing was quite bad. We had already “lost” mum and now we lost granny. In the end, neither of them got to meet my son, which is a regret I have to live with, but again such is life. And of course, the person who felt all this the most deeply was and is my father.

So with all the goings on and with Ray still in the newborn phase of sleeping and staring at the ceiling in between crying, Rebecca and I decided that we should visit the UK in August, to coincide with the Muslim holiday here in Indonesia. It was a strange and bittersweet trip: the reduced family got to meet Ray and we got to see mum, which was less of a shock than I thought it would be, largely because she was still “there” physically and occasionally mentally though there is no doubt she couldn’t really put together who we were and who Ray was.

The trip also gave us the opportunity to reconnect with my sister and father, which was much needed given all the stresses and happenings. Ray was on top form: fat and full-on with his crying, he didn’t let up for the whole time it seemed. It was also nice to see our nephew Thomas and Saffron’s husband Rich, as well as one or two friends. Warm and fragrant, the summer was in full flow: the nights were long and humid and it was in stark contrast to our winter visit there the previous Christmas.

Mum’s absence in her and dad’s home was one of the hardest adjustments to take, speaking of contrasts. Where before she had driven the house and home, now there was no driving force. My dad simply isn’t equipped to deal with life alone and the house felt incomplete and unfinished, wanting for life and ringing with absence and loneliness.

Still, we did manage to take mum out a few times for walks and trips into town and these, along with trips with dad and Saffron to Winchester and Bournemouth, remain my abiding memories of the trip.

Back to Jakarta and shortly after our trip, Rebecca started work at a local luxury hotel. This was a big blow to me, of course: my job is demanding and tiring and she had been my home-based angel of mercy since she moved to Jakarta shortly after I started my own job. Now, with baby on board, she was going to be working. I felt at a loss for a long time and found the adjustment hard (I still do at times). Ray was starting to be more demanding and mobile and suddenly needed day care. Rebecca’s mum stepped in but this could never be a permanent solution.

But we coped. We eventually found a good nanny and settled into a sort of routine. We both leave early in the morning together and then I get back from work a little earlier than Rebecca: with just about enough time to hit the gym and then prep Ray for sleep. Both of our jobs are demanding and Rebecca’s involves being on call in the hotel late into the night once a month. Again, a tough adjustment for me, but we coped. We always do.

A few months ago, Ray started pre-school in a gym in a local shopping mall. He bounces and crawls and gurgles and rattles all the toys (he started crawling at about the same time as he started school) and goes three times a week. Once with Rebecca and me and twice with grandma. He seems to enjoy it and it’s a good way of helping him get rid of all his excess energy, of which he seems to have a boundless supply. Ten months in and he’s more of a joy than he was at first, chattering endlessly and with a definite personality. He just recovered from his first serious illness: hand, foot and mouth disease, which saw him house-bound for two weeks.

So that’s about all for 2013. Rebecca and I ended the year in the Brewhouse at her hotel. It was a low-key affair but I managed to put away enough beers to overcome my social awkwardness and have a reasonably good time. Rebecca was in her element and we were happy. And in the end, that’s all that matters. The year won’t go down in memory as one of the best of my life, despite the birth of Ray: there is simply no way of offsetting the mum situation. But it had its fair share of moments, and those I will cherish.

Two years later…

There’s something about heading towards your 30’s. It makes you think about your 20’s. I have to say, though, I did not enjoy my early 20’s. From 20 to 24, I was under pressure to succeed: graduate on time with honours (√) and get my name on the masthead of a national publication (√).

After I got a job, I worked hard both to lose weight and get a promotion, which means working 9 to 9 and be at the gym for an hour everyday. Again, I achieved both and still unhappy. I didn’t know what it was; I thought it was just a quarter-life crisis. So before my 25th birthday in September 2008, I made a conscious decision to live my life carefree. (See the irony there? I planned to be more spontaneous.)


Slingshot ride to celebrate 25th birthday

I quit my job in August 2008, joined a new company and after 8 months, accepted another job offer in June 2009. I still have the piles of old business cards in mint condition! I couldn’t (be bothered to) file my tax form because I had three jobs in one year.

I remember being miserable at 2009 New Year’s Eve party because I had nothing to look forward to. That’s what I said to my best friend that night. Especially that I wasn’t really happy with my new job I felt had nothing exciting waiting for me that year. Boy, could I be more wrong?

I made my biggest career move to Bali by mid 2009 and subsequently broke up a short-lived relationship that was not right anyway.

I finally learned that one really couldn’t plan one’s future. With that thought, I refused to buy a car or a house in Bali despite people’s advice. I couldn’t even commit to a year-advance airline promotion because my job required me to be able to travel in short notice.

One of those business trips was to Singapore, attending a trade event. The event is regular, but I didn’t know if I was gonna go and how long I was gonna be there because there’s a black-tie event in Jakarta that I also had to attend.

Little that I knew that it was THE trip that changed my life.

If you don’t know me, I should tell you that I lived my life like a Samantha Jones of Sex and The City. True to form: I was a PR pro who refused to settle down and saw men as interchangeable parts of a woman’s life.

So I went to Singapore with my “Samantha Jones” costumes lined up, along with the attitude *snaps*. That was without knowing that it was going to be my last stint as a carefree single woman.


That night! (Notice how we sort of wanted to get closer to each other?)

It was the party where crème de la crème of Asian travel industry gathered where I met Matthew, the man of the evening and who eventually made an honest woman out of me. (Didn’t know it was possible!)

And just after Matthew and I recently mapped out our Q3 and Q4 travel plans, including my monthly business trip to Bali, my birthday celebration in London, and Christmas vacation in Hanoi, we were again being laughed at by fate.

Yup, mere two years after our first encounter at the coffee stand of Suntec Convention Centre Singapore, we found out: we’re pregnant.

Happy anniversary, honey! All I want for anniversary present is a good back rub and foot massage please 🙂

The story of a low fat oxtail soup

Okay… This is an impromptu post due to popular demand of my Low Fat Oxtail Soup recipe.

Disclaimer: I honestly don’t like oxtail. My good friends will testify that I normally only eat the broth and vegetables around oxtail soup.

So, this began with Matthew and I being unhappy with our existing stubborn body fat. We both love eating so much that we think it’s just not possible to reduce portion or frequency.

At Warung Eropa, Bali. LOVE the crispy duck and sambal! (Notice that Matt only eats itsy bitsy tuna salad? Pfft!)

The best way is then to make sure that what we put in our mouths is the perfect balance of high in taste and low in toxic, sugar, and trans fat. And the only way to ensure that is to always cook it myself whenever possible. Matthew and I always eat my home cooked meal every day, three times a day, except when we’re travelling or attending a social call.

Matthew’s lunch box. Prepared every morning with BBC News on the background.

It’s pretty embarrassing when we have guests at home and they sometimes point out that every product we have in our fridge is low sugar, non-fat, and unsalted. It’s embarrassing for me because I never wanted to be that pretentious girly girl who orders skinny latte. *pokes finger in the mouth* But fair enough, since we’re not getting any younger and none the slimmer, we do have to watch our health on top of our waistline. So I agreed to go down this route that Matthew started.

A big HOWEVER, I have to claim that there are things I don’t want to give up. First and foremost is MSG. Second is rice. Third is meat. Go ahead and call me Asian!

And now back to the point, my low-fat oxtail soup and any other of my low-fat dishes consist of basically the same thing as the original recipe. What makes them low-fat is the smart ingredients substitution. For example, while restaurants and warungs cannot afford using with olive or canola oil all the time, I can! Also, we follow the right proportion. For each plate, we serve 50% vegetable, 25% meat/protein source, 25% starch/carbohydrate source.

Cooking tip: I stir fry the carrot with spring onion before mixing them with the oxtail soup. It makes the carrot crispy! Plus, the aroma of fried spring onion is yummy!

So, please find yourself or use whatever recipe of whatever dish, I don’t create new recipe! But here’s the substitution I normally have instead of the fattier one:

Oxtail lean stir-fry cut beef and/or mixed with lean minced beef… in supermarkets you can ask the attendant for beef that has less fat or you can see that the meat is all red without white fatty bits.
Palm oil canola oil, sunflower oil, olive oil
Sugar the good ol’ honey… I never like nor recommend artificial sweetener because it’s laxative, expensive, and does not taste good at all
Fruit to blend or juice To refrain from using sugar at all, always use the very ripe fruit. If you see a banana or strawberry that doesn’t look appealing, as it’s almost rotten, don’t throw it away! It will make THE best smoothie ingredient.
Yogurt I am currently in love with Elle & Vire brand as they have a 0% fat product line with various flavours that have the fruit pulps in it!
Spices Since I cannot not include MSG in my food I try to limit the amount. But my Asian taste buds need strong and powerful flavour. So what I normally do is to go liberal on spices like onion, spring onion, shallot, garlic, chilli, paprika, and pepper. I use a combination of most if not all the above in one dish every single time. I live in Asia where spices grow effortlessly and I thank God for that.
Rice I don’t and can’t substitute rice with anything. Also, I’ve just learned that the tip I’d been practicing was a myth! It was: to cook/steam rice the day before you want to consume it. Take it from the cooker, let the steam out, and then keep it in a container over night in the fridge. Reheat it just before you eat it.The new tip I learned today, which I will start doing is: to always choose brown rice if possible and to soak the rice overnight before cooking it, as the rice will be easier to digest. This will prevent constipation and other digestive problems.

The important thing to remember in any diet method is to enjoy your meal. Matthew and I always clean our plates because we don’t sacrifice flavour over calories. Really, life is short so not enjoying an activity you do 3-5 times a day is unacceptable. Tasteless dish is bullshit. But above all, there is no food or drink in the world that is literally to die for!

Grilled chicken breast with garlic, lemon, and butter sauce. Served with a side dish of boiled string bean and l.o.v.e

Running in heels

In between sprinting from domestic to international terminal at Manila Airport, I managed to pick up Glamour magazine. (As to why I had to sprint [and swear!] at that airport is for another post.)

The US edition of Glamour magazine is my second option if there’s no Marie Claire US in sight, so it had been years since I read that magazine. It wasn’t disappointing at all. And there’s an article that took me back to my life in 2005–2008, the four years of pure hard work climbing the corporate ladder in print media industry. The article is called “The Assistant Diaries”—how to master an entry-level job.

I remember myself saying to my assistant a couple of years ago: always treat your first jobs as internship program, where you do whatever it takes to get your work recognized and get paid very little. One must not grumble because soon enough, one’s work will speak for itself when one negotiates a better pay in the next job.

I have to say, I’ve no regrettable job experience throughout my career. I graduated from one job to the next one with flying colors and a happy note. I was also quite lucky that I carefully chose my formal and non-formal education as well as extracurricular activities that supported my career goals. My parents and my high-school psychologist helped a lot in forming these goals.

However, most people these days are in the job that they weren’t educated or trained for. My husband, for example, is a marine biology graduate who runs a publishing company and critiques fashion whenever Joan Rivers is on.

One day when he was going to speak to his editorial staff, he asked me, “Honey, after being in the work force for so long what do you wish you had learned in school?” I said, nothing. I went to schools that prepared me for the field that I do now. The only thing I didn’t know is that dealing with people you work with/for is often the biggest challenge of the job.

That’s why when I read the article about how even Christiane Amanpour worked her way up from being an assistant, I thought: you could almost forget everything you learned in school, as long as you can master being a good assistant you could end up in the corner office.

Here’s why being a good assistant is a good way to get ahead:

  1. A good assistant is often asked to be involved in projects. This is an opportunity to show that you’re more that just good at making coffee. Pay attention to what is being discussed in the room and be confident to pitch your idea. Even if they turn down your idea, you wont be too embarrassed because you’re a junior anyway. I remember pitching an idea (protests that were happening around the world against Valentine’s Day) that was considered too political for the young female magazine I worked for. In time, you’ll learn what sort of ideas that is welcomed in a particular project.
  2. A good assistant gets the cool assignment. Reporting Jazz Goes to Campus 2004 with an ANALOG SLR camera!

  3. A good assistant is trusted by their boss(es) enough that they are allowed to be in the room for an important or high-profile meeting. This is a great way for you to be exposed to what executive levels normally discuss. You will know that as a low-level employee, all this time you have only seen a fraction of the business. Being the “fly on the wall” in these meetings is like getting a free course on doing the job/business on a macro level. I sat down as a research assistant in a meeting of Commission IX Indonesian House of Representative in 2005. I sat on the tribune with nothing to do but listening to a government-level discussion about local TV stations that were just starting to bloom. That was an eye-opener.
  4. A good assistant of a good boss is lucky because they can watch and learn closely. Treat your boss as a mentor because there must be something that they know about the job that lead them to that position. When there’s a problem or a debate, I listen carefully to what my boss says/does. I take note on the principles in handling crisis because THIS is what they don’t teach you in school!
  5. A good assistant is so good that their boss is dependent on her. This is a great opportunity and leverage. Now I don’t suggest you be cocky. I suggest that you keep showing to your boss that you are irreplaceable and indispensable. Unless your boss is a douche, they will quick to understand this and then promote you in no time.
  6. A good assistant automatically gets good references when applying for a new job. So, never burn bridges!

Carrying years-of-salary worth of designer tote bags for a photo shoot was the most glamorous thing for me at the time

A good assistant…

  1. Is never too proud to do minor tasks. Stuffing goodie bags, taking lunch orders, drive for the team, entertain boss’ kids, or help a model put on a bikini, all of which I’ve done in the past with grace.
  2. Asks questions, even the stupid ones, every step of the way when doing something completely new. Hey, you’re there to learn from your boss so the next time you have to do the same thing, you won’t have to bother them again.
  3. Takes notes. Trust me, you will never remember (to follow-up) things unless you write it down. Always have a system! One of my assistants in the past writes everything I say when I come to her desk. It may sounds ridiculous but she said to me, “You talk rather fast and sometimes it’s hard to understand which one to do first out of the five things you say. So I just write everything down and read it after you leave.” She is one of the best I had!
  4. Always has a pen and a paper. Because you will be thanked to when your boss needs it. Don’t be that guy who’s searching for a pen in pockets, bag, and looking stupid and unprepared while doing so.
  5. Is proactive. When you’re booking a flight for your boss, think beyond the airline and ticket cost. Think about the airport transfers. Think about the timing: how much time will they need to drive to the airport and is it convenient to leave the city at that hour? Will the boss be happier to land home early or late at night when the traffic from airport to home is easier? See what I mean?
  6. My first time entertaining journalist as a PR.Guess what, my boss didn’t even know I went there and my being proactive scored great rapport with the journos!

  7. Is a fast learner. Hopefully, it takes only one learning curve for each task so next times you don’t need your boss to remind you stuff. My worst assistant ever actually made ME her “assistant” because I was always the one to remind her what to do and when her next deadline was.
  8. Is not a gossip. Tagging along your boss everywhere means you have a good chance of overhearing their personal conversation or high-level discussion. No matter how itching you are to tell your colleague about your boss’ new young score or the company’s plan to let go a few people, DONT! If you want to ever be a boss someday, you have to put your feet in their shoes. Wouldn’t you want your assistant to be able to keep a secret?
  9. Does not lick ass. BUT know which button to push to please the boss. It would be a life-saver for you to mark the calendar for your female boss’s PMS week!
  10. PR’s their boss. Yes, I know it is almost mandatory to talk about your boss at lunch breaks. But unless your boss is a real bitch—in which case I suggest you to find another boss/job—you have to be fair to your boss and not only talk about the negatives. What assistants forget sometimes is that their boss represents the company they work for. So if you talk bad about your boss and then somehow a prospective client of the company hears that, resulting a loss… that means you are costing your company actual money! At the end of the day, it is your business to keep your company’s image intact. So do find something nice about your boss to talk about.
  11. Is fun. It is the boss’ job to be serious and moody and hard. Having a fun assistant brings rainbow to the office. Find what you can do to cheer up the room especially when you all are working late on a big project. Tell (appropriate) jokes, take fun pictures, bring snack, play music, suggest activities for company outing, plan a surprise party for the boss’ birthday, remember to pay a visit when a colleague just had a new baby, and try your best to ALWAYS be in a good mood. Your goal is to leave a good impression on everyone in the office so they will miss you when you’re gone and take that new job you always dreamed of.

Always be happy to be the office clown and always be prepared to (one day) be the office diva 😉

H for hotel (part 1)

View from our room at Meritus Mandarin at Orchard Rd., Singapore

We worked in travel magazines (and at one point of our careers Matthew and I were rivals).

He and I met on a coffee corner at a convention centre where a travel trade show was held.

The first 12 hours we’ve ever spent together involved: a party on a hotel rooftop, another party in a hotel ballroom, and a room-service midnight dinner in another hotel room.

In the first year we’ve been a couple we’ve stayed in more than 30 hotels, mostly in Southeast Asia and including some that were under renovation or even under construction.

Those were fun facts about us that lead to this blog post. We’re summing up a list of things in a hotel we fancy and/or found handy. I think this would be helpful for hoteliers who are designing and building hotels at the moment. For fellow travellers, this list will be useful in choosing your next camp!

On a site inspection at a big white colonial private villa. East Bali.

Attending a travel & tourism summit, NOT as an Egyptian delegate, obviously. Westin Resort Bali.

Things we need and want in a hotel when we’re on a business trip…

  • First and foremost: high-speed Internet connection, preferably free and wireless. These days we may not bring our computers with us but only portable tablets that depend on WIFI. Also, this is not the era where you put on “auto-reply: out office” when you’re travelling. You’re expected to be online anywhere and at anytime.
  • A big working desk is appreciated. Even better: one that has multiple and universal electricity sockets. A club/suite room normally features a study or a working station. The separation makes it easier for you to focus when working or trying to sleep.
  • Iron and ironing board. Even better: free ironing service. This service is normally offered for club/suite guests so don’t be shy to ask, as it is mostly only valid on arrival.
  • Portable hairdryer. I know that hotels fear that guests will steal hairdryer but there must be a way to prevent this other than plugging it to the wall of the bathroom. Some of us have long hair and need to look sharp for that important business meeting, so it needs work for at least half an hour. And we’d like to dry our hair while watching TV, please.
  • Full cable service. Business travellers normally stay alone in the room. It gets boring if you only have limited channels on TV (and no Internet connection!). Even better: a DVD player and a library of DVDs for guests to borrow.

The coziest rooms we could find (so far) in Singapore that has greenery as the view. Fort Canning Hotel.

  • Room service that comes at 30 minutes or less. This is pretty standard actually, but we could get food delivered from outside the hotel for the same wait. So when we stay in a hotel that delivers at 20 minutes, we tend to order in, especially if our schedule is packed and we can’t be bothered to explore what the foreign city has to offer.
  • Breakfast in bed. Eating alone is no fun. Ironically, the only hotels that serve in-room breakfast without extra charge are honeymoon hotels, not business hotels. I guess it would be a hectic service if all thousand of your guests order in-room breakfast every time.

More praise for Fort Canning Hotel: most distinctive room service tray!

When we’re company delegates:

  • If given the choice, we would stick to the budget but choose our own hotel
  • We choose free WIFI over breakfast inclusion
  • We would order a paid airport transfer over public taxi for comfort, safety and security
  • We don’t care for iPod docks, we care about user-friendly control panels and uncomplicated lighting systems
  • Swimming pool and gym are not a consideration but would be nice to have for when we feel like it

Breakfast with a view. Karma Kandara, Bali.

Yes, we were on a business trip in Bali. It was for an interview and photo op, also attending a beach club opening. Envy us, please. And now we’re wishing we could have a nickel for every person that envies us 😉

Now, if you wanna know our preference when we travel as a couple, read here.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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