Personal: The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I couldn’t travel both, and be one traveler, long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.


I encountered this poem titled “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost for the first time while doing English Literature in High school and it has been my favourite ever since. When I prepared this post, I looked at the photograph and immediately thought this was the perfect accompaniment and wanted to share it with you.

The story behind this picture is a long and tedious one which involves us trying to look for the entrance to Hiraoka Park in Sapporo, Hokkaido, to catch the last of a festival of Plum Blooms in late May. The GPS kept sending us in circles around the park, redirecting us this way and that onto expressways which led away or onto quiet dirt roads, or to the wrong side of the park from which we could not enter. I thought it made sense to enter from the other direction, but the GPS kept debating with my instinct.

After being lost for over an hour and with each minute taking us closer to the end of the festival, I maintained a cheerful face but was increasingly frustrated as I saw my meticulous plans going awry. We eventually ignored the GPS and took a chance, and finally found the park’s entrance. I ran down the steps and went quickly on ahead to look for the festival, only to run into a group of five Japanese teenagers who responded to me in halting English that the festival had ended. We made it- only too late- but it helped me realise that sometimes your instinct may just be right. And although you can never be fully certain about most things in life, sometimes some things are worth taking a chance, and the “best” path is often not the straight, symmetrical, balanced-looking one.

When I finally emerge at the end of life’s journey, I would like to be able to say that two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

May 2014, Hiraoka Park, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symmetry.”

Personal: Love Is

Love is

The breakfast of tuna and eggs that mom makes every weekday morning. It’s dad falling asleep on the couch while waiting to give you a ride to the train station at 10.45PM because you’re heading out. It’s the texts you get at 3.30AM asking whether you’re on the way home. It’s when you wake up to find your curtains magically drawn so you’d have an uninterrupted sleep. It’s why grandpa used to bring back toys from McDonald’s every few days without saying much – I’d only later realised what it’d all been about, many years after he’d passed on. It’s also when everyone says they’re full because they know you’d like that last fillet of salmon.

Love is

The warm hand that holds your cold one. The sweater that you’d come home with but had left the house without. The knowing glance from across the table that tells you you’re both thinking the same thing. The knee that accidentally touched yours but that you both let stay. The things that make you laugh- and later, when you recall them again, you’d smile to yourself. It’s when someone insists to take you out to dinner or drinks because they know you’re feeling down- or when someone tells you you’ll be better soon and promises they’ll stay, even if they don’t know exactly how long it might take.

Love is

The tune that you both dance to- the rhythm of your hearts. The shared experiences and all the memories, and promises. The same passion and shared enthusiasm for life and what lies ahead- to chase dreams together. It’s having someone cover you while you bazooka the crap out of the damn enemy to complete that mission that you’d otherwise had to do over and over again in solo campaign.

And although I still have much to learn, this much I know – Love is always there, whether or not you notice it. Happy Valentine’s day (:

Poetry by Photography: Whispers on the Mountainside

I knelt to look at a tuft of white, leaning from the wind’s strong might. Parachuters airdropped from up above, sailing on their wings like doves.

And then- with sudden epiphany, I understood how the mountainside came to be. For every few who downward fell, rather more, flew up as well.

I looked on up to the summit top, which I hastened to reach without a stop. For I realised what might’ve seemed colossal at first, was nothing more than life’s tiny verse.

June 2014, Mt Moere covered in dandelions, Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Scale.”

Prose by Photography: The Falcon sees

An unshaven Arab man approached us at the gate of the campsite after the end of our Dubai dessert tour. He was thin, had a red checkered head wrap, a thin moustache and one lazy eye. He smiled gently at us, his dark skinned wrinkling from too much time in the sun, stretched out his arm which wore an arm guard on which a falcon stood, and asked if we wanted to take a photograph with it.

The falcon is a majestic bird, and even more so, up close. I observed her as she fixed her gaze on the horizon where the sun was about to set, and I wondered what she could be thinking – did she want to soar again into the sky as she once used to? Did she resent the little chain around one of her feet which kept her from flying? Did she resent the man who had taken her freedom and yet sustained her? Or could she understand that now, as much as she relies on him, he relies on her too?

I noticed the large chip in the front of her beak and wondered how long ago that happened- and if the wound reminded her of things she wanted to forget- just like how our scars, visible or otherwise, sometimes inevitably remind us of a time of pain and suffering, no matter if we thought we’d moved on.

Yet she remained poised, her plume of chest feathers raised high, her gaze still fixed unwaveringly on the horizon, her brown eyes ignited into a shade of amber by the last light – She was chained yet undefeated, wounded yet not discouraged. And I wondered if a day might come that she might find freedom again.

March 2014, Desert, Dubai, UAE

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Depth.”

Travel Diary: Journey through Bangkok, Thailand

Our taxi came to a halt behind a row of cars as the light turned red. A little girl, barely seven or eight, was standing next to the front door of the car in front of us, speaking to the driver. She was motioning with her hands, showing off something. I leaned over to the right and caught a glimpse of orange and yellow. They were flowers. She’s selling flowers in the middle of a main road. The intersecting traffic slows, and the drivers ready for the green. She turns, swinging a pole with garlands of flowers hanging from its ends, and quickly dashes to the road divider just as the vehicles begin to pick up their pace and get back in tempo. As we pass, I notice her head bent at a slightly downward angle, her shoulders slightly slumped, her feet grubby. I noticed that she had no shoes.

I remember the countless number of street-side stalls as being one of the most striking things about Bangkok. We would walk down pavements along shop fronts which felt more like narrow back alleys. The street-side stalls formed a blockade between us and the road, and would go on endlessly – light cotton apparel, thai boxer shorts, cheap plastic sunglasses stacked high, in between which were food stalls – letting in no air and no light. People walked past in a constant viscous stream, squeezing past each other to go in opposite directions, while groups of bored-looking Thai girls sat outside massage parlours, fanning themselves in the midday heat, calling out every once in a while to prospective customers an invite to come in.

Bangkok was everything I’d expected it to be. Crowded, lively, chaotic. In Platinum Mall, you would see that people from all around the world have come, dragging huge plastic trolley bags going from shop to shop to source for bargain apparel to sell at a profit. It was energetic yet exhausting to be part of, and we ended up finding solace at Starbucks.

Street side food stalls in Bangkok Roadside stalls in Bangkok Thailand

Food in Bangkok was cheap and readily available, although I did end up rushing to the toilet about 4 times a day (which, by the way, is not usual). Every once in a while, smells of food would be interrupted by the smell of sewage coming from the gutters and drains, and would inspire cringed noses and a quicker walk.

Corn based dessert at a street side stall in Bangkok Thailand

Whilst touristy, Jaktujak Weekend Market was a highlight of my trip. The sections selling apparel did not appeal to us but we did find much to our fancy at the other end of the market where they sold dried food items ranging from mango to ginger, and also aromatic oils of bergamot, rose, and lemongrass, packed into display-worthy bottles forged from glass. Leaving Jaktujak, cabs were lined up alongside the road near the exit, their drivers standing by the curb. A cabby approached us to ask where we were headed. Upon hearing Sukhumvit, he made a face, waved and said that it was “very very far” but would take us there for 600THB. I’d seen the map; it wasn’t that far at all. We walked farther from Jaktujak and got into a metered cab which ended at 150THB.

Sad to say, the cabs were a major reason for my schlocky impression of Bangkok. We once boarded a cab waved in by a Bo.lan staff from the road which claimed he was on “meter”. It was a sort of van that looked more like it belonged in a zoo; heavily dented, with masking tape around the handles and on the doors where parts were on the verge of falling off. We were even more appalled at the state of its interior – cans stuffed between the top of the seat and the ceiling to prevent it from collapsing, a stool supporting the seat where my mother sat, and a lot of rubbish everywhere else. We were laughing about how shocked the hotel staff would be at seeing this “sampan” (a Chinese flat-bottomed boat, but literally meaning “3 planks”) come into their lobby, when my dad noticed the meter was off. The driver then insisted we would pay 250THB, and when we refused, veered to the side of the road and forced us out- but not before he demanded 50THB from me.

Cabbing in Bangkok Thailand

Nightmare cab in Bangkok Thailand

I didn’t know much about the Somboon Seafood scam until I got back to Singapore after experiencing it first hand. We’d tried to get to the restaurant several times, and every cabby we’d encountered said there was no Somboon Seafood, only some variation pronounced Som-boon-dee. We eventually got into a cab whose driver said he knew where it was, only to inform us halfway that “Somboon Seafood doesn’t open on Sundays. I take you to Somboondee. When my friends say they want Somboon, I bring them to Somboondee because Somboondee is better! I know the boss – he will give you 10% discount because you’re my friend.” The liar took us down some quiet gravel road where a wire light was poorly bent an attached to a flimsy fence to form “somboondee” in a wiggly writing. He lowered the side window and hollered to the owner, who’d been sitting at a table smoking and didn’t look at all like he’d been expecting guests, and straight away we knew something was amiss. The “restaurant” was practically empty except for a poor family of four seated in the dark, all of whom promptly looked up, surprised, stared at us miserably and totally halted their meal. The seafood selection was miserable, the prices steep, and the whole place was barely even lit. It was eerie, and we promptly said we’d had too similar a meal the previous night and started to walk briskly back out to the main road. The cabby had parked by the side, and upon seeing us, ran up to us to ask why we were leaving. As we walked, the discount steadily increased from 10% to 15% to 20%. We kept walking.

Mango Sticky Rice at Siam Paragon Bangkok Thailand

Unfortunately, Bangkok just wasn’t my kind of city and left much to be desired, but it still could be yours, just as I’ve had friends who’ve gone back twice or thrice. While there was beauty in some of it, such as their piousness and cuisine, and of course, it is an inexpensive holiday destination, I especially wished the cabbies were more friendly and honest (to me, they’re sometimes tour guides who can teach you about the city, and are often the first locals you encounter extensively upon setting foot in a country; the ones in London were fantastic) – that would’ve helped preserve the impression that I’d gone to Bangkok with but sadly departed without, and that is “the land of a thousand smiles”.

Religion in Bangkok Thailand