What I Miss About Traveling

Usually, around this time of the year, I would be preparing for my annual trip, but obviously, it’s not happening this year. In fact, I don’t know when I’m going to be able to travel again – even traveling inside Vietnam has become riskier and riskier. So, to quench my wanderlust, I’m looking back at my past travels and seeing what I miss most about traveling. I’m not talking about the obvious such as discovering new sights and new cultures, and meeting new people, though I do miss those too. Rather, I’m thinking things that you experience with every trip but rarely think about… until you can’t travel anymore. Things like…

– Before the trip: The excitement (and even the stress) of planning for the trip – researching the destination, coming up with an itinerary, booking tickets and accommodations, and packing. I’m very much a planner, so I love all of it. And of course, there is the feeling of anticipation as you sit at the airport (or the train station), waiting for the adventure to begin.

iceland day 1Before our adventure in Iceland

– During the trip: Getting to know a new place with all of its everyday details. Where is the nearest grocery store/supermarket/cafe? Where is the nearest bus/train station? Even the novelty of your hotel room/AirBnB never wears off either, no matter how long you’ve been traveling. I’m terrible with directions, so I especially love it when I can remember the way back to the hotel/AirBnB without having to rely on maps.me. It feels like I’m finally coming “home”.

The road to our AirBnB in Moscow, Russia

The view from my hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Our casa in Trinidad, Cuba

And despite my love for planning, I always leave room for some flexibility during the trip. No matter how well you plan, something always goes wrong, but sometimes, these unplanned moments can result in the best memories!

Like these bakers that invited me in to watch them work in Yazd, Iran


Or this field of cosmos I found when I wandered away from the tour bus in Seoraksan, South Korea

Or these puffins we saw in Vik, Iceland

– After the trip: The sadness that the trip is over, mixed with the relief that you’ll get to sleep in your own bed again. And the fun of sorting through all your photos and reliving the trip all over.

So yes, I miss traveling. But at the same time, I feel incredibly lucky that I got to travel to so many amazing places over the last few years – Iceland, Cuba, Iran, and Russia are definitely the highlights. Fingers crossed that I’ll get to travel again soon!


Outtakes Of 2020

Here we are, on the last day of 2020. It has been a truly shitty year, and I can only be thankful that it’s coming to an end. And what better way to end a shitty year with some laughs? So here’s a selection of my outtakes throughout the year.

As usual, my outtakes are divided into two categories – “Doggy Photobombs”…

… and “Wait, wait, I’m not ready”:

This year, though, I’m adding a new category – I called it “Dancing the Jig”:

I hope you’ve enjoyed these goofy photos. Let’s say a hearty “F*ck you”to 2020, and hope that, if 2021 is not any better, than at least we are prepared for it!


A Year In Review: Books Of 2020

This year, I’ve branched out from my usual fare of sci-fi/fantasy and non-fiction to include more mystery and drama/romance. Also, this is the first year in a while that I didn’t read a single Discworld book. But I tend to save them for “rainy days” when I don’t feel like reading anything else, and this year has been filled with interesting books, so they can wait (plus, I’m rationing them because I don’t have that many left that I haven’t read!) Anyway, here’s a look at my reading of 2020:

Best book you read in 2020:

– Crime/Mystery: The Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer

– Horror/Thriller: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (this is more of a fantasy/horror, but I’m including it in this category anyway.)

– Sci-fi/Fantasy: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

– Romance/History/Other: Time Stops at Shamli and Other Stories by Ruskin Bond

– Non-fiction: Catch & Kill by Ronan Farrow (I debated between this and Ace, but in the end, this wins because it was more engaging to read. Ace is impactful but on a more personal level.)

– YA: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Most surprising (in a good way) book of 2020: Agatha Christie – an Autobiography (I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, since I almost never read biographies and certainly not autobiographies, but her description of life in Britain in the early 20th century is great.)

Book that you read in 2020 that you recommended most to others: Ace by Angela Chen, Catch & Kill, the Enola Holmes series

Best series you discovered in 2020: Enola Holmes

Favorite new author you discovered in 2020: Ruskin Bond

Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love but didn’t: Let’s Talk about Love by Claire Kahn, Around the World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh

Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre to you: Time Stops at Shamli and Other Stories. I don’t usually read “slice of life” books like this, but sometimes you just want something uncomplicated.

Book you read in 2020 that you’re most likely to read again: The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore, A Campaign in Tonkin by Charles-Edouard Hocquard (they’re good as reference books)

Favorite book you read in 2020 from an author you’ve read previously: Piranesi, Ninth House

Best book you read in 2020 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else: Time Stops at Shamli and Other Stories – this isn’t a recommendation from someone else, but rather because I saw a cover of another book by the same author and thought, “I would like to read something like that.”

Favorite cover of a book in 2020: These three

Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2020: Ace, Read My Pins by Madeleine Albright

Book you can’t BELIEVE you waited until 2020 to read: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (too bad it turns out to be a disappointment)

Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody about it (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss etc.): The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (I wasn’t reeling or anything, but the plot definitely merits some discussion)

Favorite relationship from a book you read in 2020 (be it romantic, friendship etc.): June and Toby in Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Alex and Darlington in Ninth House

Most memorable character in a book you read in 2020: Enola Holmes, Piranesi

Genre you read the most from 2020: Non-fiction

Best 2020 debut: Followers by Megan Angelo (I’m still a bit hazy about this category – does it mean a book published in 2020 or an author that debuts in 2020? I went with the latter, which is why I chose Followers. If it’s the first, then it’s Piranesi. I may axe this from future reviews.)

Book that was the most fun to read in 2020: the Enola Holmes series, Ninth House

Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2020: Tell the Wolves I’m Home

Total Number of books read in 2020: 47


Book Reviews: December 2020

Usually, around this time of year I’ll post my yearly book reviews, but as I’m doing my “yearly review” posts next week, I thought I’d post my monthly reviews now. It’s another eclectic collection:

Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewelry Box by Madeleine Albright

I know that Madeleine Albright was Secretary of State under Bill Clinton and was the first woman to hold that position, but I didn’t know that she is also famous for her collection of brooches and pins. Just like Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RIP) and her collars, Madeleine Albright used her brooches to send certain messages and convey certain images, and this book shows us a number of those brooches along with stories of their significance to her. You guys know I love my brooches, so this book really speaks to me. What I love about Albright’s attitude to her brooches is that the sentimental value of each brooch is far more important than its monetary value. And of course, the accompanied photo illustrations are beautiful and make me green with envy. 5/5

Babel: Around the World in 20 Languages by Gasten Dorren:

The idea sounds great – exploring the 20 most-used languages in the world (starting with Vietnamese at #20) – but the execution is rather uneven. What I find really annoying is that the author’s idea of “exploring” the language is so inconsistent. For example, the chapter on Vietnamese is about the author’s own experience of learning the language, then the chapter on Korean is about the characteristics of Korean pronunciation, then the chapter on Tamil is about its role in the national conflicts of India and Sri Lanka, then the chapter on Turkish is about the history and development of modern Turkish. You see what I mean? There is no uniformity in approach between the chapters, so in the end, I came away with a bunch of trivia but no complete view of the languages. 1.5/5

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia:

The title says it all – it’s a Gothic novel set in Mexico in the 1950s, in which a spirited young socialite is sent to a remote town to check on her cousin, who has married into a family of English mine owners and is now sickening and behaving oddly. I’ve never actually read any classic Gothic novel (unless you count Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights), so I quite enjoyed it. It’s very atmospheric and reminds me a lot of Crimson Peak. However, it can feel too familiar – I appreciate the subtext of colonization and racism, but I think it can dig a lot deeper and put a new twist on the traditional Gothic tropes. Plus, book commits the cardinal sin (in my opinion) of making the main character an observer instead of directly involving her in the plot, so there isn’t much urgency behind her journey until the very end – and even then, she doesn’t exactly discover anything; it’s all told to her. 3/5

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen:

After being disappointed by “Let’s Talk about Love” and its failure to represent asexuality in a nuanced and interesting manner, I have to turn to a non-fiction book instead. Using interviews, social studies, and the author’s own experiences, this book explores what it means to be asexual in a society where sexual desire is treated as default. It really resonates with me – I don’t think I’ve ever highlighted so many passages in a book before. It’s really helped me to better understand not just asexuality, but sexuality on a whole. On the other hand, it made me a little depressed that in this day and age, asexuality is still so misunderstood and underrepresented, and a non-fiction book like this is unlikely to change that. What we need is more representation in the media. Maybe I should get on that. 4/5

Stay tuned for a yearly review of all the books I’ve read!


Ghibli-esque

I wore this to a concert with my mom, sister, and niece last weekend – it was a concert of Studio Ghibli’s soundtracks, hence the title. This dress/tunic is appropriately whimsical, and the green color and the lotus embroidery fit the natural theme of many Studio Ghibli’s films, especially those directed by Hayao Miyazaki, so I thought it would be fitting. My sister said I looked like a cult leader, but if I did, it would be some sort of fabulous cult, so I didn’t mind 😀

The concert was fun. I’ve always loved the music in Studio Ghibli’s films, so it’s great to hear it live. I’m only bummed that I didn’t know about this series earlier – I missed a concert of Harry Potter soundtrack. But hey, maybe they’ll have something even better next year. Anyway, here’s some videos for you guys (sorry about the potato quality, it’s the best my phone can do):