2019 in the Rearview

Writing a look back on the past year hadn’t crossed my mind this time, not to mention my complete overlooking of the fact that another decade had just flashed by. I only realized this after the deluge of posts by friends online, listing their accomplishments, highlights and lowlights.

Photographically speaking (since this is technically a photo blog), 2019 was a year I spent capturing my experiences, vs. actively seeking out sceneries to photograph. There’s an important distinction here. I focused on the latter in 2016 and 2017, where I joined photography Meetup groups to visit beaches along the Sydney coast every weekend at sunrise, and later on with Sydney by Kayak every morning in Lavender Bay. My goal then was to learn to see, capture, and appreciate the same environments in the different seasons, clouds and light.

Here in Singapore, the beach-scape hasn’t inspired me to the same extent, though I admit it would be a good challenge to take up, to try capture the different essence that is Singapore. In any case, my motivation to consciously and actively seek out scenes to photograph has waned, and accordingly my DSLR and various lenses has for the most part, stayed in my cabinets.

So, 2019 was the year of documentation, of recording our numerous journeys and adventures around the world, and of little moments with friends.

We rung in 2019 while still on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, where we learnt that at those altitudes where the air is so thin, it’s safer to stow away our cameras and focus literally on just placing a foot in front at a time.

When Jeff went to Shanghai for work in January, we also made a weekend trip out of it, and spent long hours walking around the town, delighting in the clean streets and charming old school architecture.

In March we joined a friend for a weekend in Yangon. It was like stepping back in time, into a Singapore in the 1950s.

We also did our first week long kayaking and camping trip in Coron and Palawan in the Philippines. There, we got a first real taste of ocean kayaking, where wild waves and currents freaked us out just a tad. But the food, freshly delivered each evening on long tail boats, was heavenly, as was dips in the crystal clear waters at our lunch and camping spots.

We also spent a long weekend in Bali, where we dove at Manta Point and Crystal Bay, and also visited some padi fields.

Over the Labour Day long weekend, we visited Hoi An in Vietnam. We may have spent one too many days in that little tourist town, but had did enjoy visiting the Champa temples in My Son.

Mid-May, we went to Sydney for work, and made most of the weekends visiting with friends.

Over the Vesak Day long weekend in May, we went to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Even though the weather was unforgiving, we thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the different temples. Apart from the main Bayon temple, which was crawling with tourists, most of the other temples were quiet and serene.

Natalie visited for two weekends in June, so we went to Langkawi in Malaysia for one of the weekends. We were a little disappointed that none of the beaches had kayak or SUP a rentals because of the (small) surf, but we still had a relaxing weekend splashing about in the sea and pool.

August saw us visiting Copenhagen and Greenland for the first time. The food in Copenhagen was stunningly expensive but delicious, and the kayaking in Greenland was addictive.

In September, we spent another long weekend in Sydney, this time for our friends’ Garry and Linh’s wedding.

When we got back, I found that I had an extra week and a half before I started my new job, so I booked myself on a week long trip to Nusa Penida in Bali.

October saw me travel back to the States, the first time in almost five years, to San Francisco for onboarding. I made most of my weekend there, meeting up with various old friends.

Over the Deepavali long weekend in November, we went to Yogyajarkta with a friend. We weren’t blown away by the Royal Palace or Ratu Boko, but Borobudur itself is grand and worth a visit.

In December, we did the Raja Ampat liveaboard, and so thoroughly enjoyed the diversity and richness of live in these Indonesian waters, we are seriously considering jettisoning our plans to kayak in Greece this September for another liveaboard aboard the Blue Manta to Komodo Islands.

Jeff’s family visited over the Christmas break, and after a few fun and relaxing days touring Singapore’s attractions and lounging in our pools, we spent a couple days in Bangkok.

2019 was definitely a good year travel-wise. It turned out fantastic career-wise too. So I’m stoked for the many more adventures 2020 will bring!

Weekend in Shanghai

We took the red eye into Shanghai on Friday night, arriving before dawn on Saturday. Or what passed for dawn anyway, since it was overcast and foggy the entire day.

It was too early to check into the hotel, so we just deposited our bags and went searching for eateries already open for breakfast. Our first stop was this hole in the wall that served up famous soup dumplings, so famous that at other times, the wait can be almost two hours long and around the block. But at 7am, we were customers number 6. The dumplings were steaming hot, delicately wrapped in silky thin skins, and bursting with soup.

The edge of our hunger worn off a little, we then wandered across the road to another cafe, this time for pan-fried baos and also filled with juicy soup. What a treat.

We then strolled through People’s Please (上海人民公园相亲角) where anxious parents with yet unmarried children were already out in force, their umbrellas tacked with written advertisements touting the age, height, weight, and income prospects of their progeny neatly lining the footpaths of the park.

Looking at the advertisements though, I couldn’t help but feel that the parents had unreasonable expectations. just mentions of statistics and material aspects, none on their hobbies or interests. Parents of boys wanted girls at least 1.63m in height, while parent of girls wanted boys at least a year, but not more than 5, older than their daughters. The children had to have similar education standards, be earning the same range in salary, and preferably their own apartment. I guess Shanghainese are tall, but I can’t believe that every single girl was listed as at least 1.6m, and no guy below 1.7m.

Taichi session at People’s Park

Jing An Temple amidst the skyscrapers and the glittering shopping malls

Other highlights:

  • We walked all over PuXi on Saturday, down West Nanjing Road and popped into Jing An temple, an oasis in the midst of all the towering skyscrapers and glittering malls
  • Walked by Soong Ching Ling’s house, and her husband’s Sun Yat Sen’s old residence, but sadly did not manage to make it inside
  • Visited the French Concession, and grabbed some utterly flaky and yummy pastries at Bake and Spice, a hangout haven for the expats who packed the place on a lazy Saturday afternoon
  • Hit up several awesome cocktail lounges, the highlight being Sober Company. Their coffee negroni was spot on, as was their HK tea buttered rum. But the absolute standout was the food – the foie gras mapo tofu was positively inspired. I’m just drooling at the thought of it again.
  • Went to the top of Shanghai Tower. At 632m, it towered over the rest of the city. It was a very foggy – or smoggy? – day though, so we didn’t have the clearest views.
  • Walked the super cool roundabout pedestrian walkway in front of the Oriental Pearl Tower

The Shanghai Bund

The very foggy view from the top of Shanghai Tower

Other impressions:

  • This great firewall of China is quite frustrating, but thank goodness that I could continue to use Google products like maps and hangouts while on roaming. But I have to admit that at many points I was like, just collect my information already and let me browse freely.
  • I’m still quite overwhelmed by how much the city has changed since I last visited. I spent a night 10 years ago, on the eastern side, and didn’t really get much of a chance to explore. And the time before that was almost 20 years ago, when the city was a lot flatter, grungier, and toilets stinkier. But Shanghai today is thriving, hip and clean. We loved wandering around the different neighborhoods, taking in the different architectural influences from the Russian, English, French, Dutch, and melding it all into a blend that is distinctly Shanghainese. I love it. There’s so much character.
  • The toilets deserve a separate mention of their own – all the ones I went to were super modern and clean, even cleaner than some of the places I’ve been to in Singapore. What a far cry from just a few years ago when I visited say Xinjiang, but I guess that’s a different part of China and may as well be in a different world.

The Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower and the coolest roundabout pedestrian overhead crossing