My case against haggling

Imagine coming to a country where the majority of the population earns less than USD150 per month. You earn 10–20 times more than them.

You start your morning at one of Phnom Penh’s only Costa Coffee branches. You gladly pay USD3 for your coffee.

Then you go to a market. A crowded, poorly lit, stuffy place. Single mothers ply their trade, taking their small kids along. Children have their lunch of rice and tiny pieces of pork and chicken next to a small radio that plays western Top 40 music from 3 years ago.

After browsing for a few minutes, you encounter an exquisite handmade local craft. A small wooden statue. You saw something that looked similar at one of the “hipster” art shops near your office before. It was sold for USD100, and while the price was quite steep, you knew that it was reasonable – especially for something that beautiful.

But at this Cambodian market, the statue, that probably took a day or two to make, costs you USD15.

85 percent cheaper. But here’s a thing. You’re a backpacker who tries to save every single cent so you get to splash out on more booze tonight, so you haggle and bargain really hard.

So you tell the trader, “7 dollars or nothing”.

Desperate for cash, the trader agrees to sell you the wooden statue for USD7.


Because you want to save USD8, which is equivalent to 2–3 cups of coffee at home, the trader takes home USD8 less today.

She has USD8 less to spend on her children’s education.

She has USD8 less to spend on providing nutritious diet of fish and meat for her family.

She has USD8 less to spend on buying medicine for her children when they fall sick.


This is the kind of unhealthy attitude that is sadly very prevalent amongst backpackers in Asia.

Respect the locals and their trade, and the locals will respect you.

***

This post was originally uploaded on Quora. Feel free to follow Faizal Hamssin on Quora if you want to subscribe directly to my answers there.

Bring me back.

This short story is a work of fiction:

***

The gravel path meanders around a hill, green meadows fill the horizon, alpine trees sway gently to the rhythm of the evening breeze, and I, settled on a stump, deep in introspective thoughts, blanketed by the silent wind, enveloped by the shell of solitude, body and soul at peace. The kind of conflicted peace, for it’s been a while, that the body has known nothing but peace, albeit a lonely kind of peace.

Should I stay here and enjoy the silence, or should I drive further down and see the world and find value in the people that exist in this small universe we call home? Should I remain here, continuing to be lulled by the complete solitude here to mistake loneliness for peace, or should I go out, find people to talk to, and connect with the reality of our world, even if that means, making myself vulnerable to the brashness of men?

Then I made up my mind. I needed some adventure in my life. “This place is dull. I need to go away, to a place where I get to savour the taste of adventure, to a place where I get to soak my feet in a sea of new possibilities. Endless possibilities, good or bad, who cares, I just want to see what’s out there, just to fill that void in my soul.”

So I gathered my strength and affirmed my volition, to leave this place of peace and solitude, the place that took me forever to find, and the place that wore me out, not for its imperfection, but for its predictability.

***

Then, in my favourite pair of yellow boots, and a light spring jacket, I took two stalks of lush emerald grass, a momento of the piece of serenity that I was going to leave behind, squeezed those stalks into a glass bottle that I closed tight. I filled the bottle with the scent of the place for I knew I was never going to come back, to a place this boring, this predictable.

I am a man of adventure.

I left. As I walked away, I saw my favourite stump on the meadow disappear gradually into the horizon. My favourite stump, my temporary home, where I sat and gathered my inspiration, where I placed a makeshift samovar of English tea that sustained me during those breezy evenings when I spent the entire time, staring at the infinite skies, counting stars, billions of stars, a reminder of the minuteness of us, those tiny specks of dust.

My favourite stump, now gone, replaced by the unfamiliar sights, first the alpine trees, then farmsteads, then cottages, then people.

So many people, that I no longer felt alone, and the moment my heart felt so, I knew I must stop my journey there. For I felt warm inside. The fuzzy feeling in my tummy. My emotions felt the kind of heat that I never felt before.

Could this be love? I don’t know. It felt good to feel that you were not alone after being ensconced in solitude for so long. This felt like an adventure. I was elated.

I thought it was about time that I opened up to people, I thought it was time that I sought validation from people. I thought it was time that I gathered my emotional strength from people.

After all, by then, I had already made peace with my inner self, in that lonely spot by the meadows, where solitude was bountiful, in a place where it was me, my samovar of English tea, and the stars at night, mingled to form a galaxy that validated my existence.

I had my peace in solitude. It’s time to start a new journey, with people, their feelings, their emotions, their desires, and their dreams.

I felt validated when I made my first encounter with people. I thought the people would welcome me with open arms. I thought they would complete me. I thought what I had, would be valued.

So at that time, during my first step into the world of people, I said to myself: “Let’s take this step out of the me-zone, into a zone that I get to share my wonderful existence with people. This is a new adventure. An exciting new journey. Let’s begin this adventure.”

Then I got weary.

.

.

.

Bring me back to that little stump. I want to see the stars at night. I want to go back into my old, lonely soul. I felt lonely, but I felt fulfilled. I felt validated. I want that back. Bring me back to that place. Bring me back to my favourite stump by the meadows, overlooking the gently rolling emerald hills.

Because I miss the simplicity when life is about what your soul yearns for yourself, not about what another person thinks how much you are worth.

Bring me back to that little stump, by the meadows, overlooking the gently rolling hills.

Bring me back.

A short island hop: Bunga Raya Resort, Gaya Island

A few friends and I was in Sabah last weekend – we were there for Glenn’s farewell, plus Falah was in Malaysia for a month, so a getaway was what we needed.

It was a short trip so we didn’t have much time to spend at the beach – but since we were in Sabah it would be sacrilegious not to do so at all, so we figured out, a day trip would be nice.

And we had a good time: Here’s a short daytrip itinerary to Gaya Island that you guys could probably follow as well.

There are several islands that you can choose to go for a daytrip; Manukan, Sapi, Mamutik, Suluk, Gaya…

We decided to take up a half-day package at Bunga Raya Island Resort – a secluded 5-star property, complete with a private beach.

We headed to the Jesselton Point jetty right after a breakfast of Sarawak laksa (yeah KK has that too!). The boat left at 1030am, and payment for the trip had to be made prior to boarding.

It was about RM170 per person, for a 4-hour excursion at the Bunga Raya Resort. This is all-inclusive, which means that boat ride, lunch, pool access and facility rental is all covered.

The jetty is equipped with basic facilities, there are also stalls selling run-the-mill snacks and packed meals, in case you want to bring some nasi lemak and mihun goreng to the island. Nothing fancy, but adequate.

The washroom stank, however. As Falah described it “poops everywhere”. Quite embarrassing, considering that the facility caters to tourists – the management needs to do something about it.

The boat ride took us about 20 minutes. It’s a very scenic ride to the island – the weather was fantastic that day. The five of us shared the boat with a group of French tourists.

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We reached Bunga Raya Resort and I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet the place is. It’s perched nicely atop a gentle bay, surrounded by forested hills. We were given a short brief and access to the facilities – there are kayak and paddle boats for those who fancy something more adventurous. There’s also facility for snorkelling.

There are of course plenty of lounge seats and gazebos where you could just sit down, relax and enjoy the sea breeze.

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Bunga Raya Resort has a limited number of accommodation units available. It prides itself as an eco-friendly resort, so the chalets and villas are all designed to blend seamless with the natural setting – non-obstructive architecture.

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Given the remote location, 4G worked wonderfully here – so if your idea of travelling includes taking plenty of Instastories, you’ll be happy here.

There’s a beach bar there for those who fancy a tipple or two – drinks are unfortunately (yet understandably) not included in the half-day package tab, so be prepared to pay premium prices here. A coke costs RM19, while a cocktail, RM40.

There’s no ATM machine, so it’s probably safe to bring some cash with you.

Lunch is included in the package – it’s a 3-course meal, with soup of the day, two choices of salad and three choices of main course – between fish & chips, lamb shank and chicken wings. Be prepared to wait though – we waited for 40 minutes to get our order served. The wait was quite unfortunate as we only had 4 hours to enjoy on the island, so time is precious lol.

The lamb shank came, it’s delicious. Worth the penny and the calories of course.

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Right after lunch, we just lounged at the beach and took a dip in the infinity pool. There were some drinks involved too, so it was perfect. We had the whole pool to ourselves, with the exception of a couple of guests who came for a short dip. We also saw a gay family enjoying a vacation at the resort – nice to see an idyllic scene of fathers watching their children play at the beach.

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We stayed there until half past three – walked to the pier and felt quite sad to leave. If you do feel like treating yourself with an expensive vacation, you can choose to stay overnight at the resort. A room costs upwards of RM1,000 during off-season, so be ready to splurge.

More pictures below. Enjoy!

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KL 2017 SEA Games Opening: A Journal

The SEA Games opening last Saturday is an excellent spectacle, a visually stunning display of the colours that make up Malaysia – and who we are as a nation.

The event had a wet start – spectators were drenched as they lined up to get in. There were also no clear signboards indicating where the queues were formed or where the lines began, so it was quite confusing. All we knew was, the gate we were supposed to get it, which did not really help, as the queue extended more than 500 m from the main stadium.

Pretty chaotic. People were getting frustrated. The organiser could’ve managed the crowd better.

The pedestrian plaza that stretches between the Bukit Jalil LRT station with the main stadium was a party ground. Plenty of food trucks filled the space, selling yummy stuff from mango juices to buttermilk chicken. I wish I could try all of them, but the queues were really long, so I didn’t really bother. The foodtrucks will be there until the end of the Games, so you should probably check them out.

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Anyway, once I got in and took my seat, I was in awe. The team behind the refurbishment of the two-decade-old stadium clearly did a good job. The stadium looked fantastic, with brand new seats and brilliant purple roof lighting. Very elegant and classy. We have a world-class national stadium, indeed.

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The rest of the evening happened smoothly – Aznil came out with a campy rendition of a Sudirman’s song, complete with some colourful rickshaws (very fabulous).

Dayang Nurfaizah performed the Games’ theme song – she delivered a rousing vocal performance, but the song sounds like it belongs to AJL, not a regional games. I’m a fan of her ensemble, though – the crystal headgear is definitely a highlight. Very glamorous.

MonoloQue Ft Lan & MaliQue delivered a strong performance of another song for the Games, Tunjuk Belang, which is a much better tune for the purpose.

The rest of the evening was filled with cultural performances – a spectacular show that displayed our nation’s diversity and long history of tolerance. It was aptly opened by the orang asli (recognising their status as pioneer of this land), the Malay, Chinese and Indian segments would only follow after. There were also caravels traversing the ocean – a homage of the Malay’s renowned seafaring capability way before the Portuguese discovered the Nusantara.

The different ethnics in East Malaysia were also amply represented in the show. There was even a scene of bajau laut horsemen traversing the water, a reminder of the forgotten history of the bajau people.

Good job to Saw Teong Hin for the very visually stunning show that encapsulated the very essence of Malaysia’s diverse culture and traditions.

18-year-old diver Dhabitah Sabri had the honour of lighting the Games’ torch. The ceremony ended with a 3-minute firework show – that we, at the stadium, couldn’t see as clearly as the people outside the venue lol.

I posted below a compilation of some photos that I took throughout the opening ceremony. There’s also a timelapse video that I took during the event here.

The #KL2017 opening ceremony is a visually stunning affair. . It's a display of Malaysia's cultural heterogeneity and diversity, the colourful spirit of our people and the nation's history of openness and tolerance – there's a part that shows the locals welcoming foreign vessels with open arms, a homage to pre-colonial Malaya's status as a cosmopolitan civilisation. The cultural performances, which chronicled Malaysia's journey, were kickstarted by the orang asli – a fitting gesture, considering their role as the pioneer on this land. . Dayang Nurfaizah was also there – while her singing was on point, the song fell short – KL1998 did a much better job with Ella, back in the day. . I had a good time. Made a compilation video of the #timelapse that I took just now, so enjoy!

A post shared by Faizal Hamssin (@faizalhamssin) on

Good luck to our boys and girls competing in the Games!

FH

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Because no Hello is in vain

Every human connection, be it a fleeting bond or a lifelong commitment, starts from a Hello.

Have you ever wondered how many people have you met in your entire life so far? It’s impossible to keep track – a few thousand, perhaps?

There are more than seven billion people living on this Planet. Each with different character, quirks, values and habits. No two persons are the same – because each and every one of us is given free will to decide how we want to live our lives.

Everyone is given some leeway to chart their own destinies. Everyone is exposed to different preconditions and environments – these moulded them into who they are today.

What are the building blocks of a human mind?

A human mind is a complex territory, it is nothing but a fascinating hodgepodge of different things, an amalgamation of a person’s personal experiences, stacked on a domain constructed upon a person’s view of the world.

So powerful our mind is, that our interactions with the society, the way we treat others, and our daily actions and reactions, are all mere manifestation of the state of our mind.

Actions and reactions. How we treat others, is affected by what we have experienced as a human being.

Therefore, how a person treats you, tells a lot about what he has experienced in his life.

Every time we have a human encounter with a person who has been through a lot, we get to see his view of the world and of course the complex concoction that created who he is a person today, just by dissecting the way he treats us.

By having an emphatic pair of eyes, we can embark on a journey to his past, and draw lessons from what he had been through. Suddenly, his tragedies become relatable. His triumphs become something that we glorify – and feel somewhat envious about. His insecurities suddenly makes us feel less mystified by his over-sensitive nature – we become understanding and more discerning.

We eventually learn to treat a person, not based on what our experience tells us, but with a solid understanding of what the other party is like.

We become kinder.

Everyone has their life stories to tell.

What we need to do is, for every encounter, listen to what the other party has to say.

Dissect their reactions. Study their actions. That way, we’ll find out that with every encounter, good or bad, and with each Hello, we get to take a peek into yet another human’s soul.

No Hello is in vain. No relationship is completely futile. No friendship is worthless. The least that these human connections do is, they allow us to look beneath a person’s skin, right into his soul. Their experiences become ours. The travails that moulded them, that turned them into an angel, or morphed them into a devil, become important lessons to us too.

And when the time Goodbye is said, we know, deep in our hearts, that we have become a much richer person.

 

FH

12 Hours in Porto, Portugal

I had the opportunity to visit Porto in May – just as the summer began to hit Portugal. While I did not get to spend as much time there as I did in Lisbon, Porto has definitely left behind a lasting impression.

When it comes to beauty, few cities match Porto. It is so maddeningly beautiful. A feast to the eyes.

The streets are charming and not too busy. The old, historical inner quarter exudes the vibes that are very typical of any other Southern European city – weathered buildings, slightly corrugated window bars, laid-back ambiance, cobbled streets, and al fresco cafes. The main streets are not as touristy as in Lisbon, and the cafes and restaurants cater to the locals, so they are quite affordable.

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Portugal is significantly cheaper than Western European countries – you can get a cup for coffee for EUR1.5 here, and a decent no-frill meal at EUR5. Pastries are plentiful in Portugal, and in Porto, you must try the codcake. It’s EUR3.5 each. Very tasty, especially with the melted cheese filling.

Cod cake, Porto, EUR3.5
A lavish squid stew, EUR10

Bom Sucesso is a popular food market in Porto. It’s quite upmarket, so prices are slightly higher here than other smaller, less known markets in the city. However, it’s still quite affordable – EUR10 should be enough for a decent 2-course meal here. There’s a lively seafood section as well, and you should try the barnacles – locals seem to love them.

Bom Sucesso MarketPorto also has a medium-sized railway station – rail infrastructure in Portugal isn’t as developed as in France/Benelux/Italy, and the railway station caters to regional trains. There is a regular service between the city and Lisbon too.

The railway station is stylishly decorated with some really impressive artworks depicting Portuguese history.

Porto Railway Station

Porto’s subway system isn’t very complicated – it consists of several light rail lines, mainly at-grade, but with underground sections in the city centre. It’s quite cheap too, fare starts at EUR1. The light rail is very extensive and it takes you to nearly all of the popular tourist attractions in the city. The system is also very easy to navigate – much easier than the relatively poorly signaged and convoluted Lisbon Metro.

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Porto also has its share of modern architecture, and the most impressive display of this in the city’s new opera house. Designed by Dutch maestro Rem Koolhaas, Casa da Musica is an impressive performing art centre, surrounded by a very attractive urban square. Critics raved about this building -Nicolai Ouroussoff of NYT called it “one of the most important concert halls built in the last 100 years”.

Too bad my visit to Porto was so brief – it would be nice if I could go there again to catch a performance at this impressive venue.

Casa da Musica

And here’s the best part about Porto.

Its dramatic setting.

No trip to Porto is ever complete without a stroll across Ponte de Dom Luis I. The walk gave me vertigo – the bridge is as high as 85m. Completed in 1886, the bridge was, at one point, the world’s longest.

Just have a look at the pictures below. The view from the bridge was so brilliant I ended up coming to the same spot twice. The breathtaking view, soft wind blowing on my face, the slowly changing hues of the skies as the sun began to descend – I felt calm and very much at peace just sitting there at the bridge. So simple, yet so beautiful.

Definitely the highlight of my Portugal trip.

FH

A Walk in Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is a gorgeous city, with laid-back vibes and modern shopping malls emerging amidst streets with rickety cars and weathered shophouses.

I was there last weekend for a short getaway with friends – we spent much of the time at the beach, so the city wasn’t really the main focus of the trip. We did, however, take a walk around KK’s downtown area, where some humble hawker gems and charming old coffeeshops could be found.

The walk was something that I looked forward to, as I had not been in KK for quite some time – my last visit was in 2005.

My observations:

First of all, most of the buildings in KK City Centre were constructed in the 1970s-1980s – this was the time when Sabah was one of the wealthiest states in Malaysia. There are some really popular kopitiams serving local fares like the piping hot laksa and wantan mee.

We went to Yee Fun on Gaya Street for laksa – it’s a RM9 bowl of rich laksa broth. It’s alright, but I prefer spicier and less creamy broth of Kuching Laksa.

Sabah Laksa

Gaya Street, one of the main thoroughfares in KK City is lined with weather shophouses, some of them are already converted into fashionable cafes and boutique hotels, while the rest is still occupied by kopitiams, family-owned hardware stores and corner shops.

The old Milimewah at Jalan Pantai, which used to be quite popular during its heyday, is still there – albeit in the rickety state.

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Much of KK’s new developments are concentrated outside the city centre, with the area surrounding KK Times Square and Imago mall attracting much of the new money in the city.

Gleaming condo blocks, KK

This has culminated into the decaying state of some of the office blocks in the city centre.

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Inner city urban decay is something that is typical in many Malaysian cities – and KK is no exception to this trend. Kuching and Penang city centres also have some underutilised commercial and office spaces.

Fortunately, there are still many active 5-star hotels operating in KK City Centre, like Grand Hyatt and Le Meridien, ensuring the somewhat continuing viability of the inner city.

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There are also some interesting cafes to explore at the area, most of them rustic (faux-rustic rather) – if you fancy some latte and cakes, that is.

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For a good bird’s eye view of the city, we took a 10-minute hike up the Signal Hill lookout point. The view is quite impressive – too bad we were there just before a heavy rain descended upon the town, so the picture below was taken sans a backdrop of a blue sky.

KK City view

KK’s waterfront is a fantastic spot to catch sunset. Upon sundown, it becomes a vibrant social hub in the city, where tourists and locals mingle and drink. The Irish pub here is also popular among the expats living in KK.

We also went to the Filipino Market located just next to the waterfront – it’s a bustling place in the evening, with hawkers frying noodles and grilling fish amidst the chaotic scene of noisy trinket peddlers and fruit sellers. While the waterfront is a neatly maintained place that taps into the tourist market, Filipino market is unkempt and messy. A different world.

No trip to KK could be perfect without a seafood feast. Kampung Air near Plaza Shell is an excellent spot for that. The place is filled with Sunday dinner patrons, many of them mainland Chinese tourists. We had a really good dinner of lobsters, tiger prawns, smallers prawns, clam soup, steamed fish and local vege – and the price was reasonable at RM140/pax. Considering the size of the feast – this is a fraction of what you’d have to fork out in KL.

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The seafood dinner was the highlight of the trip – the lobsters are to die for, easily amongst the best meals I’ve had this year so far.

With its picturesque outlying islands, great seafood and interesting inner city streets, KK is quite a place to visit. Perfect for a weekend getaway. I like it.

FH