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

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

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.

My first snow experience

Tell me of that particular first time experience that you would like to go through again.

I want to go back to the day I saw my first snow. I was 20 at that time, it was a chilly November in Seoul. It also happened to be my first solo trip ever – I planned to go there with my friend over our summer break, but he had to bail out last minute for a completely legitimate reason (but Pau, I must say I’m still salty over this lol).

I remember running around the palace courtyard like a child. The snow wasn’t particularly thick, and it melted after a couple of hours just before noon, but the very sight of the snow-covered traditional Korean palace roofs truly warmed my heart.

I felt like a child, I felt alive.

My first snow experience!
That was me, 8 years ago. Notice the hair – if only I knew better!
Of course, the automatic toilet in my room completely caught my attention

However I must admit, my love affair with snow was short-lived; I still remember getting caught in the middle of a blizzard in NYC, and it was not pretty.

But the sight of it, still warms my heart.

The significance of Seoul

My parents have never appreciated travels as much as I do; mom wouldn’t mind going places, but dad hates long-distance flights. It’s something that he does only when he absolutely has to. So I grew up being envious of my friends and classmates who always shared with me their travel stories with their families; They would go to London and bring back some Harrods pencil cases (very much en vogue at that time!).

I didn’t go out of the country that much.

So when I did start travelling, it was a great experience. Traveling alone was an intimidating experience at first, I felt like I was thrown into a different planet where few spoke English, but I ended up having a good time.

I found out that I could be an independent person; it taught me that I could still have a blast, alone.

It taught me that I could do things alone and still have a lot of fun. It taught me to trust strangers, and the people you meet along the way.

I want to go back to that time, when things didn’t seem to be as clearly defined as it is now.

The time of discovery, the time of adventure (peppered with some misadventures sometimes), the time of not having much to lose cause I was 19 anyway.

I’m 28 n0w, and I have a mortgage to pay every month and a job that only allows me 4 weeks of vacations a year*.

Life’s not too shabby nowadays – being adult can be fun too, but of course it’d be nice to go back to 9 years ago, to relive those moments once more.

*I know I shouldn’t complain; some of my friends out there only get 2-3 weeks off a year! :p

Speak soon,

FH