Jakarta within a day – a peek into the soul of the city

Jakarta, with its population of 20 million, is a huge, sprawling metropolis. While culturally rich, the city is also infamous for its perceived concrete jungle character and the unfortunate distinction of having the world’s worst traffic . Travellers visiting Indonesia often skip the capital for Bali, Bandung and Yogyakarta – which is unfortunate.

While I agree that macet in Jakarta is incredibly frustrating (imagine spending 2.5 hours in the car for what would have otherwise been a 30-minute ride from the airport), this is a very exciting city. It’s clogged and congested, but also very vibrant and cultured, if you know where to look.

I have made it a point to visit the city every year over the past three years, and I was there last weekend, this time around with four cousins, for our own little family bonding time. We had a massively good time exploring the city.

For those who want to check out what Jakarta has to offer, and learn a bit about Indonesia’s history that culminated into the making of its people’s modern-day psyche, here’s a short itinerary of what you can do in Jakarta within a day.

Jakarta within a day

Start with a cuppa

Indonesia is known for its quality coffee beans, with regions like Acheh and Papua having their own distinctive beans.

Some of Jakarta’s best cafes and coffeehouses are outside the main CBD area, which may take some time to get to, considering the traffic.

So, if you want to try out the coffee without leaving the city centre, head to Djournal in Grand Indonesia – there’s a good selection of drip coffee there for you to try out. The ambiance is pretty decent too, and since it’s located in Jakarta’s version of our Pavilion (vibes and location), the crowd is pretty much young-ish. Expect a lot of Snapchat and Instastory shooting taking place around you, as you take your morning coffee.

The cafe also has a decent, albeit relatively limited range of brunch menu and sandwiches to choose from.

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After the coffee, it’s tempting to walk around the lavish Grand Indonesia mall for some shopping and people watching – it’s a great place to be, with many familiar international brands and some local names as well. There are also plenty of decent places to eat, and one thing you’ll notice about Jakarta is that a lot of them do make a serious effort to look good and dress well when spending their time in the mall. Quite a contrast from what we in KL; I, for one, prefer going to the mall in the most casual attire I could find in the wardrobe.

Enough with the mall. From Grand Indonesia, take an Uber, or as locals love to do it, Gojek (motorbike taxi) to Jakarta Cathedral.

Understanding Indonesia’s religious diversity

Indonesia prides itself as a beacon of religious tolerance, and a visit to Jakarta Cathedral and Istiqlal Mosque is a good way to understand the people’s pluralistic view towards religion.

Jakarta Cathedral, constructed during the colonial period, is a large Gothic style structure that wouldn’t look out of place in Europe. It’s still bustling with worshippers every Sunday, and acts as a symbol of strong Christian presence in the city.

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Locals worship in Bahasa Indonesia, and just outside the cathedral are Muslim hawkers selling Bakso and light snacks for hungry worshippers. Truly an image of harmony in the predominantly Muslim country (Indonesia is 80% Muslim).

Just across the road from the Cathedral is Istiqlal Mosque, one of the largest in the world. The location close to the cathedral was chosen by Indonesia’s founding father, Sukarno, to symbolise religious harmony in the then recently independent nation. Sukarno’s Pancasila assured equal rights to six major monotheistic religions. Unlike Malaysia’s constitution, Pancasila does not recognise Islam as the sole religion of the Federation, and because of this, it is often deemed to be comparatively much more secular and pluralistic in nature.

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Kota Tua – understanding Indonesia’s colonial history

Jakarta was called Batavia during the colonial period, and it derived its much of its prosperity from the bustling port of Sunda Kelapa. The Kota Tua area, which orientates around the Fatahillah Square, is the most preserved remnant of colonial Jakarta. Formerly run-down, many buildings in the area have seen successful revitalisation efforts over the recent years.

Jakarta’s Kota Tua is very touristy, however, so expect the main square to be extremely crowded during the weekend. Locals love their selfies, with many taking photos of themselves using tongsis (tongkat narsis selfie sticks). If you want to join in the fun, there are plenty of stalls selling low-grade selfie sticks, along with other cheap souvenirs.

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While buildings surrounding the main Fatahillah square are fairly well-maintained and taken care of, some of the gems of old Jakarta have sadly fallen into various stages of disrepair, like this one:

So much potential, let’s hope the authorities will do something to preserve the building as a reminder of the city’s history.

For some cooling drinks and a respite from the searing heat outside, head to Cafe Batavia, conveniently facing the main square. While the food is mediocre at best, the colonial cafe has a very Instagram-worthy interior. Expect to pay premium prices here, as this place is a tourist trap.

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Monas – still a popular hive of activities

Construction of Indonesia’s national monument (Monas) began 1961, during a turbulent chapter in Indonesia’s post-Independence history. President Soekarno wanted Jakarta to be Indonesia’s showcase capital, a manifestation of the nation’s emergence as a new regional power, and he directed for Monas, with its gilded flame of Independence on the top) to be erected during the time of tough economic situation in the country – still a controversial decision for some critics today.

Monas is still a prominent landmark in today’s Jakarta – it’s no longer the tallest edifice in the city, but it remains as an enduring symbol of the city. The parklands surrounding Monas is also extensive, and functions as the much needed green lung in the city where parks are scarce.

At night, Monas park becomes a hive of activities, popular amongst many Indonesians, especially those from the working-class backgrounds. Families picnic here during sunset, and couples sit on the benches, holding hands into the night. There are also some bikers testing their rides just outside its compounds.

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Immersive cultural experience at Dapur Babah

Five minutes from Monas is Dapur Babah Elite, a place that I have fallen in love with. Set in an old shophouse building in Gambir, the restaurant is owned by a prosperous Chinese Indonesian family. The interior is very intimate as much as it is lavish, with antiques owned by the family faithfully put on display. Dining there does feel like eating in a well-curated museum gallery.

The food is also top-notch, from the perfectly marinated sweet beef satay to the rich sup rawon, the kitchen definitely does the Indonesian rich gastronomy justice. It’s also not too pricey, considering the opulent setting – expect around Rp200,000 (MYR70) per person.

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Martabak for dessert

Martabak is a new street food phenomenon in Indonesia – it works like our apam balik, but thicker, and commonly prepared with thicker fillings. There are many variations of martabak, some of them savoury (eg cheese and meat), while others, and arguably the more popular ones, are sweet (eg Nutella, cheese & banana, Toblerone).

Martabak Boss in South Jakarta is particularly popular – I got to try this one, and their chocolate martabak is sinfully good. Expect to pay about Rp60,000 (MYR20) for a good size of martabak that can feed 2-3.

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Party with the locals

Jakartans know how to party too – clubs in the city close at 4pm. There is no centralised entertainment districts and bar strips like KL’s Changkat and Singapore’s Clarke Quay here, however, so make sure you have your Uber and Grabcar application ready if you plan to do bar hopping.

Bauhaus in Kuningan is my favourite – the crowd here is predominantly made up of friendly young professionals. The place is quite small however, and the place works more like a bar than a nightclub, so if you love dancing, this might be a deal-breaker. The space, with its small mezzanine floor, sofas and lounge seats, wouldn’t look out of place in Berlin and London.

After a drink or two in Bauhaus, head to Dragonfly for the real action. This is where Jakarta’s wealthy young socialites go to for a dance, and the steep entrance fee Rp350,000 (MYR120) means that the place is out of reach for many. The music is awesome, however, and the club’s awesome 360 degree lighting setup adds on to the experience.

I felt a little too old for Dragonfly, so Bauhaus is definitely my favourite :p

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So there you have it –

Within a day you will have seen different sides of Jakarta, from Jakarta Cathedral to Dragonfly, where the trendiest youth dance their night away, and from Soekarno-era Monas to the remnant of the Dutch colonial legacy in Kota Tua.

What this one-day itinerary shows you is the great diversity that not only Jakarta, but also Indonesia, possesses. This is by no means a monochromatic society; it is plural, artistic, rich and in many ways, tolerant – the latter, I found to be very precious.

Will be back for sure.

Speak soon,
FH

Cairo’s Garden City – a tale of decay and perseverance

Cairo, throughout the first half of the 20th century, was one of the world’s capitals of culture – the indisputable primary city in the Arab world, with strong and growing European influences adding a unique character to the Egyptian capital.

Wealthy travellers from across the world flocked to the city, not only for the Pyramids in Giza and the exotic, colourful bazaars in its Old Town, but also for its stylish Haussmann-style Downtown and its glamorous cafe culture.

It was also during this period that Cairo received its Harrods-style department store Omar Effendi and some of Africa’s best hotels like the Heliopolis.

As efforts to Europeanise Cairo at that time intensified, Garden City, a planned neighbourhood with tree-lined avenues and Italian style buildings, was founded. Located next to the famous Tahrir Square, Garden City, whilst still stylish to these days, exudes the air of rustic grandeur – a witness of Cairo’s enduring story of growth, decay and perseverance.

Over the years, some of the neighbourhood’s grand buildings fell into disrepair – many of its original inhabitants of the Greek and European heritage fled the country in the 1950s during President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s reign. The exodus left some of the villas in the area unoccupied. While the attractive address attracted wealthy Egyptians to move in to fill the void, some of the area’s most palatial mansions are still left in various stages of ruins to these days.

I strolled around the area in October 2015, and took some photos that I feel best encapsulate the area best. It is still a beautiful neighbourhood, and an oasis of calm in the middle of the maddening frenzy that Cairo is. It’s impressive how they managed to keep the area’s calm character intact, while the rest of Cairo became engulfed in blocks and blocks of tall apartment buildings and miles and miles of gridlocked streets.

Take a look here:

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Speak soon,
FH

Of having something but not everything

We all want the best of everything.

Me too. Sometimes I feel that I want to have everything in my life sorted and in order. Just the way I like it.

I want to have a fulfilling job that pays well, while maintaining a healthy amount of friendship with people who appreciate me as much as I appreciate them.

I want parents who understand me, a partner that deeply values me, a home that is fault-free, a car that does not act up on me.

I want to look good and still eat to my heart’s content. I want to not have breakouts.

I want to go on big trips to exotic locations without having to worry about emails from my clients. I want to be able to pay the bills on time every month without having to worry about how much aircon I have been using. I want to go shopping without having to be afraid about the consequences it will have on my finances.

I want Life to be perfect. I want things to fall into place, to run smoothly. I want perfection, because, perfection allows me to be content.

But that’s not what Life is.

***

We as human beings have a degree of control over how things are going to turn out to be in the world.

We are given a degree of freedom to chart our own course.

But at the end of the day, it’s not us who decide how fate should treat us.

And this is when God’s wisdom is at full play.

***

The compassionate God does not give us every single thing that we want.

No one in this world gets everything. There must be one thing that we want so bad, but do not have.

No one lives a perfect life. A billionaire may die alone. A high-flying career man way not have the time to do what he truly enjoys doing – painting. A woman may receive boundless love and affection from someone who appears to be perfect, except that he also happens to be debt-ridden. A successful couple may have everything sorted, except for the very fact that one of them is barren.

You see, for every blessing that we receive, there is something that we yearn for, but do not have.

I used to blame fate for playing game with us – how could we be made happy and content with all the good things that have happened to us, only to feel sad one day because the thing that we really want in this life is just not ours.

Why must our lives, no matter how hard we work and how meticulous we have been, are still imperfect? Why must there be imperfection?

***

Then it occurred to me that imperfection is important – by not having everything, we discover the feeling of yearning for something. We know what it feels like to lack something. We know how crushing it feels like to need something without getting it no matter how hard we try.

This, eventually, leads to empathy. Because we have been through that situation, we understand the feelings of people who want or need something, but do not have them.

We become kinder to them. We treat people, including strangers, with kindness because we know that there is one thing that bonds us, and them.

That we’re all struggling, and that the personal journeys we all take are all marred with difficulties.

That we all live imperfect lives.

And this, the empathy, is a beautiful thing.

Speak soon,
FH

Scholarships – First of all, what do you want to do?

Since we’re currently in the season of scholarship application, let’s talk about scholarships – especially since some SPM leavers must have already received call-backs from their prospective sponsors by now.

The views that I will share on this article are rooted from my observation as a former scholarship recipient – I graduated 5 years ago though, so my views may not be very current.

First thing first, ask yourself:

What do you want to do?

 

As cliche as this may sound, it’s really important that you know what you want to do. What are you passionate in? What sector do you want to venture into?

With the dwindling number of scholarships year by year, the old adage “beggars can’t be choosers” is becoming even more relevant to many.

For example, an SPM leaver, lured by the possibility of spending a few years overseas, may forgo his dream of becoming an architect and do engineering instead.

“Asalkan dapat biasiswa pergi UK, kan?”

While the seemingly pragmatic decision often makes practical sense, it also tends to end badly.

Tolerating that one subject that you dislike, let’s say Physics, and still score that A+ in SPM, is one thing. It’s just one subject, out of nine. You can still do lots of past year papers, commit yourself to some serious rote learning, and try your best to get the result that you desire – with a high chance of success.

But tolerating 4 years of learning Engineering, which goes deep into the subject matter, often with staggering level of complexity (especially in top universities), is a completely different thing.

When I was in Melbourne some of my unimates had to drop out because they simply couldn’t take it anymore. They found it untenable eventually, committing so much energy and intellectual capacity learning subjects that they simply had no passion in.

These were top students in SPM, mind you. It’s not that they weren’t intelligent. They just hated the course the scholarship that they received made them do.

Fast forward to this year, some main sponsors like MARA and JPA offer scholarships in a very limited number of fields. Engineering is one of them. Architecture isn’t. Arts isn’t.

Many SPM leavers who love Architecture will end up receiving a very tempting offer to further their studies in a course they are not very passionate in overseas.

If you’re one of them, think twice before you accept the offer.

What are your favourite subjects?

 

Random bookshop, Soho

When I received my SPM result 10 years ago, I was quite clueless of what I actually wanted to do with my life. I had a very limited exposure to the career world. My dad, along with most of my uncles and aunts work in the oil and gas sector, and seeing what they do everyday greatly influenced my perspectives at that time. I thought a career in oil and gas was what I wanted (and needed).

Long story short, not knowing what I wanted was a big mistake on my part.

If you’re in the position to choose today, don’t be as clueless as I was 10 years ago. Know what you want, if not clearly, at least have a rough idea of what you would like to do for the next 10-20 years of your life at least,

***

Here are some guides, compiled based on my observation and that of people around me in various industries. The fields of study are lumped in based on the subject that you love the most in high school.

Additional Mathematics: Actuarial Science (if you’re really good in Maths, this is a really difficult course), Economics, Finance, Accounting

Physics: Engineering, Geology (if you’re into Geography too)

English/BM: Mass Comms, Literature, Creative Writing, TESL, Law

History: Political Science, Law

Biology: Medicine, Pharmacy, Biomedical Sciences

Chemistry: Chemical Engineering, Biochemistry (if you love Biology too)

Arts/Design: Architecture, Graphic Design, Broadcasting

***

Will there be bonds?

 

This is another important question. A lot of SPM leavers look forward to furthering their studies overseas that they tend to overlook that some scholarships come with a package – a long bond.

When I accepted the PETRONAS sponsorship, I effectively agreed that I would be bonded for 10 years.

I was 17 – I didn’t really think of the implications. But after graduation, it dawned on me that the length of my scholarship bond was …quite long (duh).

So, be careful when you sign. There are pros and cons of a scholarship bond.

Pros:

Bonded scholars normally get called for job interviews in the organisation that sponsors them, even before graduation. To those who seek job security in reputable organisations and GLCs, a bond means less headaches and stress.

Job seeking, especially for fresh graduates, can be a fairly daunting process.

Personally, I feel that imposing bond means a fair proposition for the sponsors. They already spent a lot of money to provide you with the degree and plenty of exposure, of course they would want you to come back to contribute back to them. These are corporate-driven entities after all, not strictly charitable bodies.

Cons:

A scholarship bond may also prove a disadvantage for those who wish to:

  1. Continue their masters – while a lot of companies allow their staff to take unpaid leave to do masters, normally you have to serve them for a few years first before this is possible
  2. Migrate overseas – you may only think of this after 10 years, so you can forget about staying back after your graduation
  3. Have freedom in choosing career field – a lot of graduates decide to work a job that does not strictly follow their field of studies in university (eg Engineering graduate working in a corporate consulting firm like McKinsey). This is not possible for bonded scholars after their graduation. They have to wait for…10 years before they can switch firms or fields
  4. Be adventurous and do whatever hell they want – this is not possible. You have to follow the career path that the organisation has to offer you, and stay there

Different people have different goals and priorities in life, so whatever yours are, please put them into consideration before accepting a scholarship that has strings attached.

Bonds are not necessarily bad, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Choose wisely.

How about studying locally?

 

If no overseas scholarship covers the course that you want to do, or if there is a mismatch, you may still enrol in local Pre-University foundation centres. Universiti Malaya has a reputable foundation programme, upon the completion of which you may further your studies in a THES Top 200 university locally – not shabby at all.

After graduating from a local university, you may still further your studies overseas for masters. I personally know of friends and acquaintances who are currently doing their masters overseas, and they did their degrees locally. Many of them are there on sponsorships.

The door will always be open for you, if you really want to study overseas. If not now, later. You don’t have to rush. What’s important is to know what you want, and to do what you want. Locally or overseas.

***

Overseas education is definitely not overrated – it provides people who are privileged enough to go abroad with a good exposure and plenty of opportunities to broaden their perspectives. It builds character.

But it’s also not everything. It’s not something that one must have to succeed.

Follow your interest, trust you instincts, grow upon your passions. You will thank yourself in the future.

 

p.s. This post is written by a guy who did Geology in uni. He currently does PR (Content Development & Digital Strategy) for a living – and is quite happy where he is. Life works in mysterious ways.
Speak soon,
FH

Luscious by Lisa T – the new lepak place in Mont Kiara

A new cupcake joint had its first day of operation today in Mont Kiara today, and my colleagues and I went down to check it out.

We had a lovely time.

Luscious by Lisa T occupies the space in 1 Mont Kiara that used to house a German bakery – which did not do well (RM17 for a tiny takeaway sandwich, anyone?). It’s located on the ground floor, just in front of the florist and next to Pierre Cardin.

The interior spells new (duh) and it’s very Soho-esque, with dark walls and red chaise lounge chairs. There’s also a small private corner – perfect for a lazy Sunday gossip session. The drinks selection is very much standard cafe fare – latte, hot chocolate, caramel latte and such.

The floor lights up, which is pretty cool.

The very friendly and bubbly owner, from which the cafe got its name from, was there. We had a short conversation with Lisa and it was clear that she was very passionate in making cupcakes and sweet fares. And she’s a big fan of Fazura too! One of her cupcakes was named…Fazura.

Team #sayangidirimu lah ni.

The cupcakes are absolutely gorgeous, and the flavours are varied, from conventional (Rocher) to something more interesting (rose bandung and lychee, anyone?).

My colleagues and I got a few boxes (each holding six), and here’s what one of the boxes looks like:

The cupcake with the tall caramel popcorn and cream topping turned over (unfortunately, but never mind).

The cupcakes here are big; significantly bigger than those that you’d get from Wondermilk, and they cost about RM9-10 each.

Favourite:

George, the Rocher cupcake is absolutely delicious. The Rocher ball sits nicely on top of a bed of ground nuts and a generous dash of dark chocolate mousse.

The chocolate cake base is moist, with a very slight hint of cocoa bitterness – and not too sweet. This one melted in my mouth. Lovely.

Least favourite:

This one, called Scarlet Lady, looks absolutely gorgeous, but taste-wise it is slightly underwhelming. The mango cream has a very weak hint of mango taste, it tastes more like butter cream, and the base is quite dry. There’s a nice dash of passionfruit puree at the bottom. The soury goodness of the passionfruit puree saves the otherwise boring cupcake – allowing me to finish it. The maroon lips topping the cake is edible – it’s made of chocolate.

Luscious also sells gelato, which I didn’t get to try, and some savouries as well. I took out the salmon and squid pie called Finding Nemo.

The filling is very creamy, with the salmon very soft and nicely cooked. It’s a decent pie, ad quite delicious at that – not huge, but good enough for a light lunch.

Verdict

Well, this place is just downstairs from my office, and now I know that I need not leave the 1 Mont Kiara complex whenever I need some sugar rush.

Mont Kiara has a really awesome new lepak place, and that’s obviously good news.

Speak soon,
FH

Train stations around the world and why they are special

It is where millions of Hellos are exchanged, plenty of Goodbyes are said, and countless promises are made.

Train stations are where palpable emotions are experienced. It represents farewells as much as it greets you Welcome.

It’s also the pulsing heart of the city it serves – always practical as much as it is evocative.

I took my first train ride when I was 18 – I grew up in Sarawak, and there is (still) no train servicing the state. I first came to KL as a child with my family for a holiday, but then again, we always cabbed around town.

My first train ride felt like a rite of passage; I was a young adult, and I remember how exciting it was for me to be on the LRT, zipping across the city over the buzzing streets of KL. It felt surreal, and I was sold, instantly – the fascination remains to this day.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of taking train trips in different place, from the pleasant journey from Warsaw to Krakow on the new high-speed railway to the slow ride on the chugging train connecting Melbourne with Sydney (well, partially, anyway, since I had to finish the trip on the bus), intercity train ride is still something that I look forward to.

As much as the ride fascinates me, so do the stations. Train stations are great places to observe people and learn more about the cities you’re in. It’s where you go to if you want to feel the real pulse of the city.

Also, some of these stations are absolutely gorgeous too!

Took these pictures during my travels, and I thought I’d share them here. Enjoy!

Weekend getaways: Why Phnom Penh?

Weekend trips to ASEAN destinations are always a possibility nowadays (thanks AirAsia for the frequent promos and the price wars) and the most common getaway ideas are to go for a beach-and-party jaunt in Bali and Phuket, shopping trip in Bandung and Jakarta, and a splashing Songkran weekend in Bangkok.

Having been to these destinations, there’s no denying that they’re all excellent weekend destinations, albeit a little crowded, especially in the case of Bali.

A little off the beaten track is Phnom Penh; that Cambodian city that’s often overlooked by travellers in favour of Siem Reap (which is also fantastic).

Phnom Penh!

Phnom Penh is one of my favourite cities in the region. It’s excellent for a 3-day weekend visit, and here’s why:

It is cheap. Very cheap.

Think that Bandung is cheap? Phnom Penh is even cheaper. While the use of USD has made Cambodia slightly more expensive for Malaysian travellers, the country is still cheap.

A meal in a good restaurant that wouldn’t seem out of place in Bangsar would cost you around RM10.

Fancy a tipple? A drink at one of the bars overlooking the Tonle Sap costs you as little as RM10.

A tuk-tuk ride that takes you across the town costs you around RM8-10.

A massage? RM30 per hour.

A decent room in Phnom Penh’s legendary Mad Monkey hostel: RM100/night.

Phnom Penh is cheap, and it’s a good place to relax for the weekend. With RM200-300 per day, you get to live like a king there.

The architecture is varied

During the colonial period, Phnom Penh was considered the pearl of French Indochina, which explains the many French-inspired buildings that still dominate the urban landscape in the city’s old downtown area.

Phnom Penh’s main post office

Wide French-style boulevards used to cut across the city centre, but these thoroughfares are no longer “wide” nowadays, as hawkers and haphazardly parked vehicles take up much of the space.

Phnom Penh’s typical streetscape

The central market building, constructed in 1937, is an art deco gem. It was the largest market structure in Asia when first opened. The market is still bustling today, with a large food section selling really cheap street eats (try it out if you are adventurous) and China-made household items and souvenirs.

The food section, Phnom Penh Central Market
Phnom Penh Central Market

Like other Southeast Asian capitals, Phnom Penh also has some very interesting temples and palaces. Luckily, these structures survived the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime.

The Royal Palace

The food is amazing

Yes, Thai food is amazing, but Cambodian food also deserves some credit.

It’s underrated.

In Phnom Penh, you must try amok, which is Cambodia’s de facto national dish. It’s basically a meat dish (beef, chicken, fish or pork), cooked in very creamy light curry. It tastes different; more like a fusion between Thai green curry and our masak lemak.

Amok

Their cooking style is similar with the Malays’, but Cambodians love santan so much that their dishes are most of the times very creamy.

For those seeking halal food, there are also plenty of halal dining options in the city, as Cambodia is also home to a sizeable Muslim community. Many within this community still speak Malay and practice Malay culture and traditions.

Cambodia’s version of masakan kampung

Vietnamese food is also very ubiquitous in the city, so if you fancy some pho in the morning, you’re in for a treat.

If you’re…uhm…into that kind of thing, there’s a number of Happy Pizza joints in Phnom Penh.

There is so much history

Cambodians have this air of gentility and politeness about them. They are also known to be very cultured; it was their ancestors that built Angkor, the city which, during its peak, was the largest urban settlement in the world.

However, their recent history has been marred by tragic events.

The Khmer Rouge regime, upon its takeover of Phnom Penh, began Year Zero – a push to get Cambodians out of the cities back to the countryside.

Thousands of intelligentsias, professionals, businessmen, even teachers, were systematically murdered.

Close to downtown Phnom Penh is the Tuol Seng Memorial Museum – the building was originally a school, and during Khmer Rouge’s era it was used as a prison and torture facility.

I’ve been to Auschwitz, and the feeling I got at Tuol Seng was similar. It’s a gruesome place.

Haunting in every sense of word.

The gate of Hell
It looks peaceful today; a contrast from what it was during the darkest days of Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror

It still feels very local and authentic

Many travellers liken Phnom Penh to Bangkok before the latter became famous.

There’s truth in their claim, because Phnom Penh still feels very local and original. The tourism boom that transformed Siem Reap into a mecca for western traveller has so far eluded Phnom Penh, so expect some really interesting local sights throughout the city.

Monks walking in central Phnom Penh

There are the drags too!

Well, what’s a visit to Phnom Penh without seeing the drag queens perform traditional Cambodian dances…

So yes…

Phnom Penh is only 2 hours away from home, but everything about this place, from the old-school layout of the city to the slow, less-hectic daily pace adopted by its people, feels very different.

The resilience of the Cambodian people, even after some very tragic events in their recent history, is inspiring – and if you’re still not convinced:

A book seller at the riverside

Speak soon,
FH

Why solitude matters

You walk into the cinema with your friends for a nice Friday night movie session.

Then you bump into a person that you know; sitting alone in the middle row, with a large tub of popcorn and a tall diet coke.

What would be your first reaction?

“Pity him, why is he all alone on a Friday night like this?”
“Where are his friends? Does he not have one?”
“Did he just break up with his girlfriend?”
“Is he depressed?”

These are the common reactions that people would make when they see someone they know spending time alone.

We live in the world where having company is a reflection of a person making it in the social world. The more friends a person has, the higher the position the person has on the social hierarchy.

We love making friends, and sometimes, we go out in groups most (if not all) the time not because we need to, but just because we are scared of being seen alone.

We don’t want to be that loser who fine dines alone.

Being alone, or being viewed as a lonely person, is still a taboo in our society that so values company.

There’s always a sense of shame associated with people who prefer spending their time alone.

We tend to think that when a person is alone, it must be because he has no choice but to be alone.

That he is undesirable. That he needs help.

And of course, that he needs our pity – which often comes in a way that also borders on schadenfreude, unfortunately.

***

Let’s go back to the person that you bumped into the cinema, devouring his popcorn and watching that chick-flick alone.

Why is he alone? Was he forced to do so by circumstances? If he indeed chose to be alone, why would he?

It’s simple, really.

We need solitude as much as we need company. And some of us, including the introverted ones, need the former more than the latter.

And that’s perfectly fine.

Imagine this situation – you go to work in a job that involves a lot of human interactions. You talk and write to people to get things done. Then you open your phone to take a 5-minute break and the first thing you’ll come across is your friend’s selfie – that friend that you just texted 10 minutes prior.

Then you go to the cubicle, and you meet a co-worker at the urinal. You exchanged some lines, probably about the group task that is due tomorrow, then you return to your cubicle and continue with work.

Then at home after dinner, with most of us millennials having to share their apartments with flatmates nowadays; chances are you will not get the whole couch to yourself either.

This is the reality of our generation today. Everywhere we go, even when looking at our iPhone screen, we see people, we interact with people, and we deal with people.

With all these happening day in and day out, don’t you think that we are often in desperate need for space?

I think we do.

And it kills us inside if we don’t.

Have you ever thought of your partner or friends annoying you so often, with the little things that they do? Have you ever blamed yourself for getting annoyed or moody so easily over the little things that people do?

If you have, you probably need some me-time. You need some space.

I love my space too. Frankly, going out to dinner alone sometimes, spending a week or two doing solo trips, and even taking a 2-hour drive alone to Melaka have really helped me put things into perspectives.

It’s when I am alone that I most appreciate the company that I have. Walking alone in a busy street of a foreign city reminds me of how good it feels like to have my close friends walking with me.

In many ways, spending some time alone, and getting ample space to be with myself, helps me enhance and preserve my relationship with a lot of people.

That’s why I really believe that solitude matters.

People who are out alone sometimes are not losers; nor are they miserable. They just know what they want – some space, and they are not ashamed to provide themselves with exactly what they need.

Solo latte at Huckleberry. Bring a book; lovely place for a read.

Speak soon,
FH

Of darkness and light

Nights make us miss days.
Days make us miss nights.
The glaring sun makes us miss the calming full moon.
The soft hue of moonlight makes us miss the joyful frenzy of a sunny day.
Persian rugs, with its explosion of vivid colours make us miss the monochromatic Swedish mat.
The grey IKEA chair makes us miss the ornate Turkish divan from grandma’s home.

What is life but a series of darkness alternating with vivid, bright spectrums of light?
And darkness is not always bad, nor is light.

Of malls and piazzas

What do you want?
More Park!
*builds a mall with the largest indoor amusement park in the world

What do you need?
More trees!
*builds more Doubletrees

What do you look for?
More grass!
*paves a piazza

** It rains every single day nowadays. I miss blue skies.

Speak soon,
FH