The Challenge

Thanks to Tham who challenged me to posting “nature photography” on FB to counter the flood of selfies, I’ve just posted my last picture of the series tonight.

These seven pictures, like it or not, were carefully selected. I have tons of photos, many of which have scenery much more beautiful than these, but these seven … they have stories.

~ of the Elephant Valley Project, Jack Highwood and Dusty ~


Ladies shower

Elephants are some of my most beloved animals. I’ve loved films made about them and I’ve written about them – my first article published in the New Straits Times so many years ago was about how elephants had feelings just like we do. The three days spent at Mondulkiri were my closest encounter ever with these gentle giants, and it’s all thanks to Jack Highwood, who has dedicated his life to studying and saving elephants, and providing them with a home, love and care for their remaining days.

My love for elephants pales in comparison to what Jack is doing out there for the Cambodian elies, the Bunong community, and in his efforts to protect the forest from depletion. He is the Elephant Man I respect so much that, if I became a writer or artist one day, I will use his nickname for me – Dusty – as my pen name. Ha, that name came about over lunch on the first day – he asked for my name and somehow (as most foreigners would, I guess) he only got the “Hui” part, which he said meant gray or dusty in Cambodian (in Chinese too!). And so, Jack would call out Dusty! every time he saw me over the next few days.

~ of the 10-km hike to HK National Geopark with Cindy ~ 


Definitely not one of the sights people easily associate HK with

I rarely travel with friends. The number of times I actually travel with someone other than family can be counted on a single hand. Because we live fairly close to each other, Cindy and I used to be bus buddies after work, and would chat all the way from the Eightrium to when I had to get off the bus. So why not, we should take a trip! Cindy found this gem of a place. The 10-km walk in took a few hours at our leisurely pace, but we didn’t mind it at all. We talked and we talked. I don’t remember what we chatted about, but I sure do miss those times when you can actually be at peace and truly connect with your friend, your surroundings and above all, yourself.

The following stories are rooted in Couchsurfing (CS), which once upon a time, was actually connecting people and creating lifelong relationships in spite of our distance and differences. It is really sad the platform is no longer what it used to be, a stern reminder of the ugly reality that sets in when indie goes mainstream.

~ of a nearly missed connection that is Mike and Seiji of Chagrin Falls ~ 


Niagara Falls in autumn 2010

All I had wanted that autumn, was to take my first trip back to New York since 9/11. It would also be the last vacation before I packed up my life in Singapore for a new one in Shanghai. It would also be 10.10.10, the day I planned to visit the new WTC (Freedom Tower) still under construction. Woo hoo! The stars were aligned. Except that after I arrived in NYC, I suddenly wanted badly to go to the Niagara Falls as well. That would mean canceling the rest of my hostel stay, and putting myself at risk of not finding accommodation upon my return from the Falls.

But I was adamant about going, so I put up a notice on “last-minute couch in NY” on Couchsurfing. Within the hour, Mike responded with a detailed email describing the beautiful neighborhood and cozy pad he was living in, and where I was welcome to stay. Being a single female traveling solo, my risk antenna was up because this guy had seemed overly enthusiastic, despite the fact that we shared many interests, particularly in animated films and Japanese culture. As I declined his kind offer to put me up, we arranged to hang out.

“Hey, that’s my dog on your bag” was among the first things he said to me. My bag was full of cartoons. “What?” I said as I turned my bag around to see his finger pointing to a cool dude with a husky. I think I actually squealed. Didn’t you know? My two favorite dog types are the cool husky/malamute … and the sunny labrador/retriever. So Mike told me about Seiji and Chagrin Falls, which made me think of Calvin and Hobbes : )

We managed to hang out some more before I had to leave blustery NYC and my new friend behind, but thankfully, he’d be moving to Tokyo almost right after I arrived in Shanghai, so we could visit each other often. Although trips have been hard and far in between, we have kept up with our friendship online (on Line : ). We both were amused to find out that we could have met much earlier – either in Takayama where we were both attending the Sanno Matsuri in spring 2009, or even in Singapore itself when he was visiting barely a month before I went to NYC – perhaps we had rubbed shoulders without knowing either of us existed in the same space (maybe one day, one of our pictures from either Takayama or Singapore will surface with both of us in it!). Fate works in mysterious ways.


At Chuzenji-ko in Nikko, April 2009, at the start of the trip that would bring me to Takayama where I had my very first CS experience, and narrowly missed bumping into Mike, a year and a half before our paths would cross in NYC : )

~ of the free-spirited Hunter and Bei-er, of Guiyang and the World ~


This is a little forest just outside of Guiyang we happened to pass by. Just like these trees in the wild, Hunter lets Bei-er grow the way he should, in any way he would, always shooting up and reaching for his own dreams

I was overjoyed when Hunter accepted my CS request to stay with them over the Mid-autumn Festival break in 2013. I had written to him knowing him to be a teacher who cared deeply for education for impoverished children in the mountains of southwestern China. Little did I know that he was so much more than that; his freestyling parenting is one I have so much respect for, and one I feel should be how kids are raised. His son, Bei-er, knows freedom like no one else I know.

Hunter and his wife did not stop Bei-er from obsessing over Italian soccer teams, which led to a passion for Italian culture and language, which would eventually bring the boy to college in Rome for a few years. During his time there, Bei-er lived like a hippie and hitchhiked across Europe. Thankfully, he was back home at his parent’s house during my visit, and had time to share with me his adventures abroad and teach me about volunteer projects in Africa where he spent almost two months in Uganda.

Back in China, his hippie lifestyle does not end. As I write, Bei-er has already traveled thousands of miles with his friends in a mini van all the way from Guiyang crossing through Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe to Rome, stopping in time for the Woodstock Festival in Poland a couple of weeks ago. If you have WeChat, be sure to follow his adventures on the official account – 公路面包车.

~ of Master Chef Jeffrey and the Singapore CS gang ~


Eating right from under the sea

I don’t know how Jeffrey started calling me Master. Perhaps because I had taught him a few tricks on working the CS website. But lo and behold! Jeffrey is the real master – the true Master Chef – he makes some mean crabs! But unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how one looks at it – before I had to leave for Shanghai, I managed to join a memorable seafood makan trip to Malaysia, and another delicious crabby get-together at his house. With all of the Singapore CS gang. We’ve all kind of drifted apart with our own lives now; I’m not sure if some of the guys are still in touch, and I sure have not been in touch with Jeffrey in a long time. Here’s hoping we can get-together again when I’m back!

~ of monkeys, monkeying around and no monkey business ~

upp peirce

Sunset over Upper Peirce Reservoir, which I have been to no more than five times, all my years in Singapore

I chose this picture from home for the final shot of the challenge. Maybe because I miss home. Maybe because the beauty in things and places comes mostly from the little moments you remember of the people you care about. Like this time when Ching felt sick and vomited into my hand after the car ride and I didn’t feel yucky. Like when her grandma remarked how Ching’s and my strides were so similar. Like how she asked to be carried and fell so trustingly into my embrace, and then held on to me tightly and slept. Like how, back in her home, I laid her down on the floor so she would continue sleeping, as I kissed her goodbye and disappeared into the night, for the last time in many moons before we would meet again.

About transez

Design researcher: curious about people, passionate about life.
This entry was posted in discovery, family, friends, nature, ramblings, travel, writing, youth and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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