50th wedding anniversary

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My godparents Mami Angela and Papi Roland.

A few weeks ago I was very happy to be in Mauritius to celebrate my godparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Yes, that’s right, 50th anniversary!

This is of course something that many couples, especially in North American culture, rarely achieve. We celebrated with 250 guests at a restaurant in the country’s capital Port Louis.

My godparents, whom I call Mami and Papi, are my first parents because they raised me for the first two years of my life in Mauritius before I went to Canada.

Mmmmmmm cake.

Mami’s brothers and sisters all in good health. She is one of 12!

Lovely cousins.

Cousins’ wives Jacqueline and Genvieve who are always so cheerful and welcoming.

My aunt’s family on my dad’s side. They are always so welcoming whenever I stay over and I love playing with their daughters. They have an endless amount of energy and always make me laugh.

My generous cousins on my dad’s side of the family.

My dad’s brothers and sisters who all live in Delicious Mauritius.

Ching ching (cheers).

Always playing.

My cousin’s daughter Lana. She’s so thoughtful to give me two of her jewelry for me to remember her and drew me a birthday card.

They’re always so photogenic.

My talented nephew who sings, dances, mixes and is my hookup to the cool places around Mauritius.

More awesome cousins Lonlon and Alain who I love hanging out with and are incredibly generous with all of their guests.

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The dream of Nyomen in Bali

The lovely Nyomen.

I was very happy to meet Nyomen, a staff member at the villa my friend was staying at in Bali, Indonesia. Every time we passed her, she greeted us with the most genuine and warm smile. She doesn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Indonesian, but I can feel the warmness of her personality. If she didn’t see us for a few days, she would run up and give us a hug whenever we came back.

Nyomen has worked in three villas and is also a mother of two, one of whom is not her biological child, but she so generously took into her family. She grew up in Bali with six other brothers and sisters and now is busy taking care of the family after her work shift is over.

Nyomen’s lifestyle, modesty and unconditional love for her family is typical of many women I have met across Asia. She wakes up early to make breakfast for the children and does a lot of shopping. Husband doesn’t cook but if he has a day off he will go fishing and bring fish back home.

Nyomen makes these beautiful bracelets and sells them. I bought two as a souvenir of her wonderful and generous personality.

Marriage is highly valued across Asia and if people are not married by a certain age, often between 20 to 30, then many people act like it’s the end of the world for you and you have not fulfilled your ultimate mission in life. The families of the bride and groom have to agree with the marriage.

I was curious and asked Nyomen what the common age is for people to marry and she said girls can marry as young as 20 years old and 24 to 27 years old for boys. Sometimes if kids don’t have a job they marry instead.

In today’s Western dating culture, there is so much gaming involved, playing hard to get and often acting like a bad boy/bad girl to attract a partner. So I found the simplicity and genuine affection in Nyomen’s story of how she met her husband very sweet and a great of example of old school romance.

Nyomen’s husband came from the same village as her and they met every day. She said, “We spent a lot of time together and one day my husband said he fell in love with me.” They were not in a relationship for a long time before they got married. She was 20 years old at the time and he was 25 and is now working at a hotel.

I asked her if she wants her kids to marry early and she said, “No, I want my children to go to university, have a good job and then marry. In Bali it’s expensive so I want my kids to be successful and I can help my kids go to university.”

 

Cambodian boy finishes Rubix cube in under 2 minutes

I was blown away when my friend’s cousin finished the Rubik’s Cube in under two minutes. I could spend an hour on this and still not finish one side. He was very modest about his ability and said other people could finish it within 30 seconds.  There are different strategies that he used that he looked up on YouTube.

 

6 days couch surfing in Palawan

 

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Our incredible couch surfing hosts Earl (the only dude in the picture) and Lia (middle).

I am now a huge advocate for couch surfing (CS) and definitely plan to be a host to travelers whenever I get my own place. My experiences surfing in Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines have been nothing less than incredible. Couch surfing is the best way to connect with local people if you’re in a city for a short period of time.

While my friend and I were in Manila, we were messaging a bunch of CS hosts to see if we could stay with someone and also hang out with people. To my surprise, a young girl named Lia who lives in Palawan messaged me first when she saw a post that we were couch surfing in her city. She said she didn’t have a place to host us but she could give us a tour around the city. This was impressive considering 9.8 times out of 10, I’m the one who messages people first.

Pristine beach. It’s not as nice as Nagtabon beach.

What impressed me even more was the day before we arrived in Palawan, she called me to ask if we wanted her to make a reservation for us for an underground river tour, which was said to be one of the must-see sights on the island. So we were told anyway.

Meeting Lia

Lia painted this in high school. Wow.

Before we actually met Lia, who quickly became our wonderful friend, she was so considerate to call and ask us if it was ok if two other couch surfers joined the city tour she was going go give us. To do an actual paid tour of the places we went would have been 600 pesos (about $13 US).

We first met her at a coffee shop and got to know each other. I could tell right away she was very friendly and wanted to make sure we had a good time. We had no idea how long she would have stayed with us for the day, but our day was open and we appreciated any time she gave to show us around.

A beautiful sunset at Nagtabon beach.

The more I got to know her the more I was fascinated with her many skills and interests. She is a petroleum engineering student and also runs her own business, R&L Customized Shop, selling custom-made products and crafts.

I asked her how many girls there are in her engineering field and she said, “One out of every 10 students are girls. But I’m close to my friends and they don’t treat me any different. I don’t get any special treatment because I’m a girl.”

We were only the second group of people she was providing full day city tour for by herself and I couldn’t believe she was giving four full day tours in one week with other travelers! She is an incredibly generous, intelligent and very mature person. On top of all of these great qualities, she is a wicked pool player.

Lia’s City Tour

I clearly took too long to get ready.

Lia spent 10 hours with us the first day, I was surprised. She took us to the a vegetarian restaurant, Cathedral, war memorial, Baker’s Hill, a viewpoint, bay walk and finally a restaurant until 10 p.m. I couldn’t believe she was going to give this tour to a few more groups in a week spending the whole day with people. She has her own business so her time was flexible. But to give so much of her time and energy is so generous. We felt so lucky to be on her city tour with Lia on a sunny day. One of our friends went on the paid city tour and it was quite boring and they were sitting in a van on a rainy day.

We found our Shrek family.

I wanted to eat vat a vegetarian restaurant so she took us to one place and met Danius and Roman, two CS guys from Lithuania. After we ate, Lia took us to a few places around the city and stayed with us right until dinner. During dinner Lia was adorable and told us that she was a bit nervous meeting us for the first time because we have a different culture. I told her it’s admirable that she pushed herself to give a city tour to travelers on her own. She told us, “If I had time, I would have picked you up at the airport.” She went to pick up another couch surfer another day. Top notch hospitality. 

Needless to say, we bought some baked goodies.

Non-stop fun

Venga Boys ladyboy show. Great value: buy a drink and enjoy the entire show.

Since we met Lia, we met other fantastic couch surfers. Every day was an unplanned adventure. We cooked together, went to a few beaches, saw a ladyboy show, went out dancing at a local club and went for local karaoke together. This was such an easy group to hang out with and we also hung out with two guys who were staying at another Couchsurfing host’s home.

Earl, Lia’s Filipino friend, was also very kind to spend time with us every day since we met. He helped us whenever we had questions and is a very good help and cook in the kitchen. Compared to many 23-year-olds in Canada, he is extremely mature, considerate and articulate.

Beautiful burning sky.

On one of the nights, Lia and Earl took us to a local karaoke place and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. I have never been to a karaoke place with only one microphone and you have to sing in front of everyone. Thankfully it was mostly our friends and just four other Filipina girls. But of course, after you listen to an incredible Filipina girl singing, you pretty much don’t want to follow that up!

We hung out here after a full day tour with Lia before we went to dinner.

One of the days we went out, we checked out a ladyboy show and it was the very firs time the Lithuanian guys had seen a show like this. And just their luck, of the 150 people in the room, the ladyboys chose to pick on them. In front of everyone, the ladyboy said, “You are so cute like a lollipop. Do you like boys or girls?” Our friend was so caught off guard he didn’t even answer and was laughing uncomfortably.

Our awesome couch surfing group.

After the ladyboy show, we all went to the local dance place that Yunis and I checked out earlier. It looked kind of shady from the outside but Yunis and I wanted to see what it was like. There weren’t many people but we enjoyed the music enough to have fun on our own.

The highlight of the night though was when we met this very flamboyant 20-year-old gay boy on the dance floor. He was absolutely fun and hilarious. He kept saying to us, “I am miss Philippines 2014” and kept looking at our friends and said, “dannnnnnce!”  with a strong Filipino accent. When my friend told him, “You must do yoga you are so flexible,” he replied, “No, it’s all natural.”

Our energetic and hilarious Filipino gay friend we met on the dance floor. Totally highlight of our night.

Trying duck embryo for the first time

Yes, that’s right, duck embryo is a very popular food in the Philippines as well as Cambodia. It’s called, “balut” in Tagalog. Because Lia was kind to us, we couldn’t’ say no to her when she insisted that we try balut. She purposely waited until it was night so we wouldn’t have to look at what we were eating, and that was definitely for the best.

Pristine Beach

The kids who were so friendly to chat and play with my friend and I. They live close to the beach and returned back to their families after spending some time with us.

One day we were at the beach for the day and there were a few young kids between 9 and 12 began talking to my friend and I. They asked what our names were, laughed and played with us for some time until they had to go back home.

Our Couchsurfing friend Roman started chatting with a 20-year-old boy who was an elementary school teacher. He said very wisely, “Anyone can be a teacher by profession but not by heart.” He because a teacher at first because his mom wanted him to follow that profession then he grew to love it. 21 teacher meesa

While we were in the shade, we met a fun Finnish girl named Ira who was very adventurous. She traveled to India alone and was going around Asia for a few months. She said many Finnish people are shy at first and aren’t so adventurous. She is not a typical Finnish person. She came back to town for lunch with us and hung out with us every day until she had to leave. We would later discover what an amazing singer she is.

Nagtabon beach

Nagtabon beach is considered the best beach in Palawan by the locals.

We were told Nagtabon is one of the nicest beaches in Palawan so we decided to spend our day there. We had a hard time finding enough scooters for everyone to get to Nagtabon, about an hour away, so Earl and Lia arranged to share a van to take 11 of us to the beach. She got a discount price for us. Locals are always have the best hookups.

Oliver is building a small resort and uses solar power.

Nagtabon was nice and quiet and we shared food for lunch. It was a perfect way to spend the day with the group. Earl had a friend who was building a resort on the beach that was five stories high. The top of the building had a beautiful view of the beach and surrounding areas. His friend was nice to offer us as many shots as we wanted when we were visiting his place. He also gave two of us a short boat ride. You could rarely have an experience like this if you come on your own with a group of backpackers.

Calm waters.

While most of us were in our happy place, we ended our time at the beach by watching Ira, riding the resort owner’s white horse on the beach during sunset. What an incredible way to ride a horse for the very first time!

Ira’s new horse friend.

Cooking at Lia’s

Eggplant, spaghetti, fish, mashed potatoes and other yummies.

Lia was nice to open up her home to us so we could cook a meal for her and Earl who have been doing so much for us. Earl helped Zu, my friend, and I shop at the local market. Zu noticed that the vendors were staring at Earl and Lia because they were hanging out with us Westerners. I guess not many foreign people spend much time shopping at the local markets.

Zu noticed that vendors were quite confused trying to figure me out because I looked like a local Filipina girl but was wearing Western backpacker clothes like the white people they are used to seeing.

Earl: wannabe musician, cook, weightlifter and couch surfing assistant host.

We just needed Lia and Earl to help us shop for the ingredients and just wanted them to relax once we got home. But because they have high standards of hosting in their blood, they helped us with most of the cooking and also contributed a soup dish and grilled eggplant.

In all, we ate spaghetti, mashed potatoes, grilled eggplant and soup. It was a fantastic meal. In all it cost about $4 US for a few of us to make all of that food. After that massive meal, Lia let me take a hot shower and sleep on her bed to take a rest during the afternoon.

Last day

We were so comfortable in Palawan that we lost track of what day we were leaving and we realized the day before our flight that we only had one more full day when we told our friends we had a few more days on the island. So we invited people at our Couchsurfing host Jon’s place to cook together one last time.

Jon was so nice to open up his home for us. I really appreciate our friends making time to cook and eat with us one last time before we left. I always believe that the best gift you can give to someone is your timeAnd the friends we have made in the Philippines spend time with us from their hearts.

We had an amazing last night with our wonderful friends at Jonathan’s bamboo house.

Me and two other friends split the cost of cooking for 10 people, including our friends where we were staying. Earl and Lia helped us shop at the market one more time and we all went to Jon’s house together. As usual, Lia and Earl helped us with most of the cooking and we shared a delicious meal.

After dinner, we had a memorable jam session and Jon and Ira also sang a beautiful duet. It couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end our night there.

Flexing with Earl at Nagtabon beach.

It was still early in the night so a few of uswent to the café to check the internet for a bit. We told Earl and Lia they didn’t have to stay, especially if they had school or work the next day. But they said, “No it’s ok. It’s your last night.”

So while we were checking our email at Magnut café, we had one more karaoke session and Lia and Ira shared their beautiful voices one more time. Lia was so sweet and gave each of us a customized gift from her company. On our last nightI texted her, “I wasn’t sure if we should come to the Philippines because I was tired of moving around. But you’ve mad our trip very worthwhile I will keep your gift forever.”

Our last sunset in Palawan.

           

Delicious Mauritius 101 from slavery to independence

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One of the many beautiful beaches in Delicious Mauritius.

I’m just going to do a blanket apology for all future delays in posts because it happens every now and then when I’m caught up catching up with friends and family wherever I am. Sorry. The last two weeks I’ve been posting from my birth country Mauritius, a small island-country 2000 km off the southeast coast of Africa. No, I’m not in Malaysia, Mauritiana or Madagascar. Memory trick: Delicious Mauritius.

Most North Americans have never heard of the country because it literally is a dot on the map, but many Europeans are familiar with Mauritius because it is often a resort heaven and getaway for tourists. But there is so much more richness and diversity than its beaches.

The island is fortunate to be sheltered from the open sea by the world’s third largest coral reef. The island has 330 km of coastline and you can drive across the island within an hour. Not so big.  I was born in the capital Port Louis in 1985 and after a short two years, I moved with my parents to Vancouver, Canada in 1987. I’ve come back to see hundreds of relatives a few times since I moved to Canada and it’s always fun house hopping.

Language and mixed people

My cousin playing with his band at a live show in Quatre Bornes, Mauritius.

English is the official language, but Creole and French are spoken more often every day. Creole is a French-based language, but I compare it to being like French slang. There is no grammatical structure and people write the way they talk. Delicious Mauritius is known for its diversity of people and religions. Hindus, Muslims, Creoles, Chinese and Tamils live side by side relatively peacefully. The diversity is definitely reflected in the variety of food that is sold on the streets and cooked in homes. You can eat food with Creole, European, Chinese, Indian and Muslim influences.

Tourist books will talk about the diversity of Mauritius but of course they won’t tell you about tensions or divisions among different ethnicities. Creole people have been historically marginalized and there are generations of poverty among the creole population that still exist today. I went out with a friend who has grown up in Mauritius and he told me there are even hierarchies among Creole people. I will learn more about the day-to-day dynamics as I spend more time here.

Sometimes I feel a bit disconnected from the past of our ancestors the more I travel because after seeing cultures with strong traditions and maintaining their language, the more obvious it is I am a product of past colonialism. I’m mixed Chinese and Creole (and probably another ethnicity I don’t know about), but I’ve grown up speaking English and French. It’s not that I don’t appreciate those languages, but it’s a reminder of some lost languages as the generations have passed. I really appreciated going to places like Indonesia where there are literally hundreds of languages spoken in the country.

Colonial past

Delicious Mauritius is a very young country that gained independence in 1968. I just learned the country was discovered by  Portuguese navigator Don Pedro Mascarenhas in 1505, but Portuguese people did not settle on the island. The Dutch colonized Mauritius from 1638 to 1710 and left Mauritius after to a neighbouring island called Reunion.

In 1715 the French renamed Mauritius Ile de France (French Island) in that period. Like in Reunion and the West Indes, French created a plantation economy in Mauritius built on slave labour. By 1777, 85% of the population were slaves from West and East Africa, Madagascar and India.

In 1810 the British took over the island and by the 1830s, slavery was abolished and plantation owners began bringing Indian labourers to replace them and they would soon become the majority on the island. Because they were isolated from the British and French-speaking elite, they took up creole as their day to day language.

Making more friends

Wonderful girls I’ve recently met who are very fun to hang out with and know all the great beaches and local spots.

The last few times I’ve been to Mauritius, I’ve always just stayed with my relatives, whom I love seeing and are extremely hospitable. For this trip I want to also expand my circles and meet more people from other cultures here and spend more time learning about their lives the way I did with people in Asia. It’s really fascinating to watch Indians, Chinese, mixed and black people all speak Creole around the island, it’s quite a fun language. I mostly speak French but I’m trying my best to learn Creole while I’m here.

Ko Chang jungle trek

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I was ready to do something active in Ko Chang so I decided to join the Kongoi Jungle Trekking. The tour leader (sorry I forgot his name) is associated with most of the tour agencies around the island. I booked a full day tour and it was a decent price (about 1000 baht) for the day including lunch, water and snacks.

I was impressed by our solo leader, who clearly grew up in the jungle and answered most people’s questions. Anyone who would attempt any routes alone would easily get lost since most of the trails look very similar. This guy manages everything on his own from the transportation, bookings, getting all the supplies ready and planning the route. He changes the route regularly.

One participant holding our new tarantula friend.

While we were in the forest, he knew where to spot a tarantula’s home in a hole in the ground. He had to lure it out, make sure it was calm so it doesn’t bite anyone and asked people who wanted to hold it. A few people held it and one guy even put it on his face! Oh my. The rest of the walk he stopped to let people climb parts of some unique-looking trees, enjoy a swim by the waterfall and walked at a nice pace.

Sunset ride

A fun ride on this 125 cc Kawasaki

After being in Cambodia for so long and being friends with mostly local people, I was really missing hanging out with local people in the other countries I visited. I was one of the last people the leader dropped off and he told me he had to move his stuff to his new house tonight. I asked if he needed help and he said yes and would get me a drink in return. He even let me ride his 125 cc bike to his place. I love how people around Asia are so easygoing when it comes to letting people rides their bikes or drive their cars.

I helped him pack his truck and followed him on the bike. He had a great custom house that he just built and it had a great sunset view too. It was awesome just chilling with him and my friend for a bit then we had to get back.

Another wonderful and hospital Thai friend.

Sunset view by the house.

Climbing during a break.