Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 To Do List

1. Take mom for a trip. Driving her back to her home town. Or maybe taking a cruise. Or both.

2. Volunteer. Give back. Preferably, something involve kids or education. There are a lot of volunteer opportunities in Juba. Now there's something to do over the weekends in Juba.

3. Build a school. Or planning to build one. This one probably not going to happen within a year since all the research and preparation alone would take years. However, a journey to a thousand miles begins with a single step. I must take the first step.

4. Be a better friend. Call more, write more. A friend of mine lost his sister and I only found out a year later. I feel like a douche-bag.

5. Pick up Arabic. I went for ONE class last year. One class, that was it! While it was a timing issue, I must fess up that there was a commitment flop on my part too.

6. Buy more books, and read them.

7. Eritrea, Ethiopia, Burundi.

Now 2012, bring it on!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Chilled Kivu

Slowly, quietly and lazily and uneventfully peaceful time slipped away. It was like the ripples of wavelets skimming across the lake, no big splash, just calmly and gently.

I walked around the lake. I listened to the bird singing on the trees and the fishermen singing in the lake in the morning. I ate when I was hungry. I drank beers by the lake. I read. I took naps in the afternoon. I sat by the lake looking into the horizon afar. I swam in the evening, only once because to water was freezing. I slept early at night.

Three days and two nights.

One word to sum up Lake Kivu: chilled.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mountains Calling

I'm a beach person. I love going to the beach. It's such a relaxing and chilled ambience. So I always arrange my trip to end by the beach. And for my Rwanda trip, Lake Kivu was my last stop. It was a good relaxing 3 days chilling by the lake shore and doing nothing, not even weight seeing much. It was just hanging out with B&B: books and beers.

But my mind was far flung on the slopes of lush beautiful hills and mountains in Ruhengeri. There was a great sense of serenity and security being surrounded by those great mountains. It was humbling. The mountains were imposing but kind, feeding me their wonderful refreshing positive chi. In fact I still long for those amazing mountains and reminiscing about my days roaming there.

The view from my room in Ruhengeri, the magnificent Mahabura hiding behind the clouds and the mighty Gahinga.

This is the view from my bathroom, the Muside and Sabiyo, I think.

Maybe deep down inside, I'm a mountain person.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hiking the Bisoke Volcano

It was not hiking weather.

First it rained the day before. So the trail already turned into a muddy and slippery stream. All the time, my eyes were peeled on the trail, making careful and strategic steps and balancing with the hiking sticks. I was trying my damnedest not to fall down and not to get my boots soaked (I hate walking in wet shoes). But who was I to out-step the trail? Furthermore as we hike along, the rain came and gone, several times! Not even half way up, my body was drenched with the rain and sweat. Then there was the fog thick in the air, shrouding the woods blocking the view. It was miserable plodding along all wet and cold and compromised visibility.

After trudging along the wet, muddy and slippery trail for a good 4 hours, landing on my ass a couple of time and swearing under my breath endlessly and questioning myself why I chose this strenuous hike over chilling out over beers, I was rewarded with this view of the crater lake atop Bisoke Volcano. Oh what the fuck?!

The Congo-Rwanda border splits the lake in half and runs along the peaks of the various volcanoes in the Viruga mountain chain. Since Congo was just a stone throw away, we decided to take a quick trip over, sans immigration stamps, to check it out. Congo is the second country I entered illegally. Nice view?

But lady luck came in the eleventh hour, as we were about to descent. The fog lifted, revealing the beauty and marvel of the crater lake and the rolling hills.

Still wondering if I made the right call hiking Bisoke.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Another Christmas

I spent Christmas this year in two countries. I woke up Christmas day morning in Juba, South Sudan and going to sleep Christmas night in Khartoum, Sudan. Huge celebration and festivity in Juba but it is just another ordinary day here in Khartoum. Well Sudan is a muslim country, Christmas just ain't their thing.

With Christmas almost done, the year is drawing to a close. Did my year go out with a bang? It was certainly an eventful year. Sealing the deal on my own pad towards the end of 2010, I finally moved into my place in May. Just moving in, literally. Since I'm working and living in Khartoum, I hardly did any living in part my new apartment. I just done it up a little, very little in fact and brought in my clothes and books and kitchen stuff. That was it. Practically the place is vacant, so much so that the pigeons were moving in (into my balcony), leaving a couple of hatchings and a balcony of pigeon shit. Maybe I should consider renting it out? At least that would pay for the mortgage itself. It makes sense and cents. I'm Chinese, why didn't think of that is frankly quite beyond me.

There were a lot of traveling this year. Finally I've been to my motherland, China. Working with a lot of mainland Chinese, they always ask me if been back to China or pester me when am I making a trip back home. In Jun, I did finally, I went to Beijing on a business trip. Beijing was anything and everything beyond my expectations. I was expecting the streams of bicycles but I saw rivers flows of cars on the road. No one spit. Subway was convenient and cheap. The city was exuberant with energy and excitement. The minute I returned to Sudan, I was already scheming my way for another business trip back there. (Evil laugh!) Because of my work schedule, I was also able to see more of the mysterious continent I'm living now. I went to Kenya and Rwanda in August and October respectively. The nature attractions and adventures were certainly top notch, but the humanity and cultural of the trips were eye opener for me. TO me, poverty is the root of horrible messiness in Africa and education is the best tool to fight it. I want to do something about. I'm plotting something for that.

And then dad passed away. I just reached my apartment in Khartoum from my Rwanda trip when I got the call from my sister. The connection was crappy so she was shouting into the phone. "Dad's gone!" Deafening! I was little unsettled for a moment, crashing down from the post Rwandan adventure high to the losing dad low. My relationship with dad was a very typical Chinese father-son dynamic. He was always a stern disciplinarian and I was afraid of him. We hardly talk or do things together. I remember him bringing me to a barber when I was young and I brought him to one when he was frail. In the end it was more of a relief, more than sadness, that dad was moving on. He had finally came to the end of this road and now onto the next one. In reality, isn't death part of life?

With dad gone, mom is now all on her own back home. Mom is a strong and feisty lady. But unfortunately, not as strong and as feisty as she used to be or I remember her to be. I recently found out that she's still not quite used to sleeping alone at night. Dad had gone for more than 2 months already. We kids are all back at work in faraway cities. What can we do? How do we do it?

On the work front, it was a tough struggle most of the days. Perhaps I'm still not adjusting to the local work culture. It's too laid back for me and there's no sense of urgency at all at anything. Many a time it was more stressful delegating a task to someone else than piling that task onto my already full plate. Consequently I bitch a lot and stress out even more. I find myself running on a very short fuse. I don't like myself running on a very short fuse. There are also many politics (not politicking) and scheming, that the solution is made not with the collective best interest of the company in mind. That's I guess is one of the perils of working in a joint venture company.

I discovered that my ability to adapt is surprisingly astounding. As the South Sudanese celebrated their independence in July this year, the possibility of relocating from Khartoum to Juba, the capital of South Sudan was looming large. During this interim period I was traveling to Juba quite a bit, dealing with the new host authority, establishing network and seeking for approvals for our various project implementation. My job is pretty much a liaison and I was able to fit into that so quickly. I was like a salesman, going door to door pitching my sale and trying to seal the deal. I was ever so charming and accommodating and entertaining at whatever demand or request and managing their expectations professionally. Me being running on such short fuse, it was astonishing that I found the strength in me to suppress my dismay behind my ear-to-ear grin. Yes, it was part of the job description but seriously that is so not me. Yet I did it. How did I do it? I'm baffled myself too. Well maybe it is me! Now that's a scary thought.

As much as I'm smiling jovially trying my best to hide my disdain, my facial expression or my tone of voice or my body language or all of them would sell me out. Well, this art of masking feeling on the face, I'm still perfecting it. At the end of the day, I'm a pretty transparent no-nonsense guy. Looking ahead, it will continue to be even more challenging and exciting at work next year, as we'll be relocating to Juba for good. We are setting up shop temporarily in a hotel. Construction of the office space is on super rush super energized mode. The first batch of staff moving down would be in mid January next year, a month delay from the original plan. We are forging forward, forcefully.

Isn't that a good way to move into 2012, charging ahead at full throttle?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Jesus for Sale

Traveling through Rwanda, or Africa for that matter, it was interesting and fun to see that the entrepreneurial people would simply set up shop on the ground by the road, and sell anything and everything, including Jesus.

Jesus for sale! Anyone?

Well, it's a honest living at least.

Merry Christmas!

Note: Photo taken from a bus on the way from Gisenyi to Kibuye along the shore of Lake Kivu in Rwanda.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Coaster in Juba

Let's take a break from the Rwandan blog posts. What say you if we head over to Juba, South Sudan for a little snippet of life there.

Normally, we place a coaster under a glass to protect the table top underneath, from the unsightly condensation marks or scratches. Here in Juba, this is how it is done. A coaster is place over the glass instead.


It is to shield the glass (very important) and the beer (even more important) from the millions and millions of flies buzzing around, annoyingly!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rwanda: Land of Thousands Hills

Rwanda, land of the thousands hills. The stunning and mighty mountains are omnipresent wherever one goes. The rolling lush green hills sprawling out across the countryside like an undulated giant green carpet. The splendidly majestic Virunga volcano chains in the northern province is more than a marvelous spectacle. Formidable but alluring and inviting at the same time, those seeking for adventures come here to track the gigantic mountain gorillas or hike up the volcanoes for the picturesque view.

Looking at the mountains and hills afar is soothingly hypnotic, be it from a over-cramped van/bus, or wet and cold and muddy and beat hiking on the trail itself. The view took my breaths away, set my mind free and aloft. It was moments like that that I was humbled with admiration and delighted with the greatness of nature. Nothing mattered and life was full with joy of simply being, pure joy.

Rwanda, land of the thousands hills. That is a gross understatement. To me, Rwanda is the land of millions of magnificent hills.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Balancing Act in Rwanda

Life, as we all know it, is a balancing act. It's a tough struggle. We learn to accept it, and try to perfect it. Unfortunately, some have to learn that the uber-hard way, in such a tender age.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Whitey Softies

We hiked through some farm land before coming to the start of the Bisoke Volcano hike. We walked past vast fields of white little flowers. In the morning breeze, they swirled and billowed like the foamy white of waves, rushing into the stunning mountains afar. The view was picturesque and breathtaking, quite a fairy-tale setting. I was expecting the goats and the birds and the farmers in the field burst out into song and dance any minute.

These were the Pyrethrums, or commonly known as daisies. It is a major crop cultivated here in Rwanda to produce insecticides or repellents. Funny how these white little daisies appeared so pretty, pure, gentle and soft in the field, but they were turned into something lethal to the bugs and mozzies, the creatures we came to hate as we embarked into the mountains. So we slathered generously all over our bodies the repellent cream or spray to fend off those little creepy crawly buzzy buggers.
Look can be deceiving, no?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Clean Kigali

I've been to a few African cities. Clean is definitely not the adjective I'd ever use to describe those cities. So when my friend KB told me about how clean Kigali is, my eye brow raised in skepticism, almost like a reflex reaction. "You have to see it to believe it. Kigali is so clean, you can't find a plastic bag litter!" KB added adamantly.

So to Kigali I went, for seeing is believing.

The plane landed on a rainy day. As it approached for descent, I could see some parts of city were flooded. "Oh this is not going to be fun, and not going to be clean!" I thought.

I went out for a walkabout to get myself orientated on the city. Rwanda is famously known as the Land of Thousand Hills. Kigali, the capital is spread over some undulated hills. After the horrific episode in spring 1994, the city is rebuilding slowly but steadily. Roads well paved and high-rise beautifully erected and there are even city landscaping carefully manicured. The city is set abuzz, vibrant and full of energy. Businesses and investments are coming back to town and Rwanda as a nation is moving on forward together. There isn't the tiniest hint of the atrocity of the genocide.

And yes, the city is clean, spotless even. It's true that there's no litter on the street at all, or the back alleys or the side lanes for that matter. Cigarette buds, plastic bottles, candy wrappers, plastic bags, none in sight. What floored me with the cleanliness of the city was that there was not even fallen leaves from the trees lining alongside the roads. I was truly impressed.

Yes, now I'm a believer!

It was not until I visited the Kigali Memorial Center, I found the city is just sterilely clean, artificial and fragile. Are they not trying too hard, to clean up the city? And cleaning up the city, is it not an effort to polish off the stubborn black stain of the nation's past? Suddenly the cleanliness of the city was reduced to merely a cheerful facade, to hide the hideous monstrosity happened some 17 years ago. Are they sweeping it all under the carpet, for when it's out of sight then it'll be soon out of mind?

So there it stands firmly, the Kigali Memorial Center. The exhibition documenting the genocide through photographs and survivors accounts on video and various articles such as the victims' clothing and the killers' machetes. Many a time during my visit I would want to skip ahead. But the exhibits were as powerfully captivating as they were eerily chilling and torturously painful. They are reminders to Rwanda that hatred can be spread so easily, driving normal folks to do some insanely abnormal deeds. More so, they reminders to the world that inaction is just as hurtful and guilty as action.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Super Simple

A few nights ago I put together, pretty much literally, my dinner. It reminded me of the Korean meals served by the Korean volunteer, A, who generously offered a spare room to me, stuffed me full with Korean food and showed me around town while I was in Ruhengeri, Rwanda. The meal was super simple. Basically it's just bits and pieces of whatever I had, few strips of crispy bacon, an egg fried with the bacon fat, spicy sambal, freshly cut lettuce and tomato and the star of the meal, Korean seaweed, all served with rice.

The meal was super simple indeed, but full with flavors: savory bacon and egg, spicy zingy sambal, sweetness of lettuce, tad of sourness of the tomatoes and salty seaweed, all that tickled my tastebuds with delight as well as rekindled the warmth of friendship and stirred up fond memories of the trip.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Colors of Rwanda

It has been slightly over a month since my return from Rwanda. It's a small country but packed full of adventures, natures, history (unfortunately bloody) and of course, wonderful explosive burst of colors.

More Rwandan stories to come. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ahoy Sailors!

Lamu town is the heart of the Lamu archipelago, with a predominantly Muslim population. Life still goes by leisurely on this beautiful island, immersed in a Swahili culture rooted here since the 14th century. We were led by our dhow boat captain, Jamal, maneuvering the narrow winding streets of Lamu town after the Muslims ended their daily dawn to dusk fast during Ramadhan. We were stocking up supplies for our 3 day 2 night dhow boat sailing trip tomorrow.

"We need booze. Where do we get them here?" We asked Jamal, sheepishly. We were asking Jamal, a Muslim, to show us where to get alcohol in a Muslim town during the holy month of Ramadhan. We noticed the irony and laughed awkwardly over it. We were so going to hell!

After a 20 minute walk in dark, in what seemed like a maze, we came to the place, Lamu Police Canteen. Booze available for sale in the police canteen?! Talk about irony, again!

So, tugged behind the counter (or was it a bar?) was a small room. The door swung open and lights turned on, and this...
"Gentlemen, name your poison!"

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Balcony of Good Luck

During my last trip back from Sudan, I came home to a whole balcony of pigeon poo. My balcony, pigeon shit EVERYWHERE! That stank up the whole place to high heaven. Though exhausted, I scrubbed the place down, grumpily. Then I found them, 2 baby pigeons nesting under my drying and dying pots plants. That explained the shit then, you two little buggers.
Then I remember the cold and drizzly morning when I got to Fisherman's Camp on the shore of Naivasha Lake. As I walked up to the camp ground office under the dense canopy of pine trees, a bird flew over and took a dump on me. The lady at the office smiled at me gleefully and told me that the African believe that getting shit on by a bird is a sign of good luck.

Now with a balcony of bird shit, oh good luck to me!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


The view from my balcony on a late evening after an earlier downpour. The sun making the final appearance before the curtain of nightfall being drawn. The air was still heavily saturated with the moisture from the rain, shrouding the city with a thin veil of mist and refracting the last rays of the day, gloriously.

Oh I love sitting by my balcony. I love my pad.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Overheard #21

A scene from the movie Hachiko:
Father:"Michael, you love my daughter?"
Michael:"Yes sir. Yes I do."
Father:"Now that's good. That's what you wanna remember on the bad days."

I think of you, bad days or otherwise.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dad's Gone

It was about 9 at night in Africa when my sister called to tell me the news. I accepted it quite matter-of-factly. It was a shock but I was calm about it. Perhaps my senses were all numbed by the shocking news that I appeared to be calm. There was not so much sadness at that moment. It was relief, that he finally came to the end of his road. That night I did not shed a tear.

My flight was scheduled 8.30 the next evening. I've been taking this route a few times before but this time seemed to be torturously long. I was not sure how the mood would be when I reach the funeral home. I thought I would cry seeing mom. I thought I would cry looking at dad laying still in the coffin. But I did not. I held them tears in, damming them tears up in my eyes.

On the morning of the funeral, we were briefed on the ceremony. When I saw the hammer on the table, to be used to pound in the nails sealing the cascade shut, I was stirred a little within. I thought I would cry hearing the sound of the hammering. It wasn't thundering loud amidst the chanting of prayers by the monk. But it was clearly audible, and shaking. I tried blocking it out, throwing my thoughts far away. I did not cry.

It has been more than 3 weeks.

I was on the flight returning to Africa for work. Another long haul. I was watching Larry Crowne, a new comedy flick starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Hanks played a recently retrenched blue collar taking speech class in a community college taught by Roberts, who played the professor role. It was a scene of their final exam where students were to make a 2 minute speech in front of the class on a previously given random topic. Hanks was giving his speech on Geography Show, and he was relating his 20 years serving the navy, the places he had been to, the things he had seen and done. That moment, tears just welled up in my eyes. Full, and they streamed down ever so gently. There were funny bits in the movie then but sadness was hanging heavy around me. I thought of dad and his life. I wasn't sobbing uncontrollably but the tears just kept trickling down my cheeks, non-stop.

Dad's gone.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

T-5 Hours

T-5 hours to take off.

Visa, check! Passport, check! Flight ticket, check! Money, check! Packing, check!

I'm both thrilled over the moon and scared shitless for the 10-day trip I'm about to embark on my own. Butterflies, millions of them, in my stomach but they are floating gracefully in a garden in full bloom of the most amazingly beautiful flowers.

I'm going to Rwanda!

Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Overheard #20


My flat-mate, L was going off again bitching endlessly and furiously about Western media bias against the East, more specifically, against China. Yet, BBC and CNN are the channels he watches religiously.

Today I learnt a new word.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Couscous Craze

Another food blog post.

Well this one is more of an assembling rather then cooking. I made the couscous, which I'm totally crazy about because it's soooooo simple to make and sooooooo difficult to mess up, just by simply adding boiling water into the same amount of couscous with a bit of seasoning and letting that sit for a few minutes. That was it! Then I got the chopped fresh vegetables, serunding (spicy meat floss a colleague brought for me from KL during his Eid holiday), sambal of onions and dried anchovies which I cooked and frozen a week ago and leftover fried peanuts and crispy anchovies from my nasi lemak, piled them all up on a bed of the fluffy buttery couscous.

Let's eat!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Another Salad Dinner... and Lunch!

I'm on a salad craze at the moment, making another salad meal. It was super easy, involving opening up tins of can beans: white beans, chickpeas, sweet corn and peas plus some dicing of red onions and carrots. Then a quick toss in a simple dressing of lime juice and honey and extra virgin olive oil.

I made so much that it actually lasted me for 2 meals, piling up on my dinner plate and filing up my lunch box the next day.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Salad Lunch

Getting (was it stealing?) the idea from a friend, I tweaked it a bit and made this avocado cabbage onion salad with honey mustard dressing. I switched the lettuce to cabbage because lettuce is ridiculously expensive here and I added an hard boiled egg for the texture and protein punch. The dressing was super simple with equal part of mustard and honey and then whisking them up in double part of extra virgin olive oil, with a squeeze of lime and pinch of herbs (whatever is available) and salt and pepper to taste.

Love the creaminess of the avocado and the soft bite of the egg with the cabbage and red onions crunch. The sweetness of the dressing and the aromatic olive oil brought them all together very nicely.

And it was surprisingly filling.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

To Hell And Back

I've been to hell, made it back in one piece and loved every single minute of it. Hell's Gate National Park that is. It was named Hell's Gate by the German explorers Fisher and Thomson in 1883, after a narrow break in the rugged cliffs, which was once a tributary of a prehistoric lake within the Rift Valley. However, according to my guide Brian, Hell's Gate is a translation from a local name Menangai, which mean burial site or grave.

What is impressive of this place, aside from game watching, is the panoramically towering and rugged red cliffs in the vast savannah landscape. Due to the volcanic activity of the area, there are hot springs and geysers in the park. The best bit, you get to roam free, on foot or on bike, along with the animals in the park, with the possibility of close encounters with lions, leopards, cheetahs, elands, zebras, giraffes, baboons and more than 100 species of birds.

Entering the park with the red cliffs flanking on the side.

The Devil's Nose, rock climbing allowed here.

The sheer rugged cliffs with a lovely hues of red, brown, orange and yellow.

Lone tree in the vast expense of the open savannah.

The massive awe-inspiring cliffs

Fisher Tower, a volcanic plug, a landmark within the park.

Hiking down the to the Hell's Gate gorge.

At the bottom of the gorge.

The art work of the wind and heat and water over millions of years.

One of the numerous hot springs in the park, collectively named Hell's Shower.

Silently strolling at the bottom of the gorge, slightly eerie but calming too.

The trickling hot springs sculpts the gorge walls into funny shapes and colors them in wonderfully splashes of hues.

The colorfully layered earth exposed by the elements.
Riverbanks of white, black and yellow, with bursts of lush green vegetation.

The river flows so quietly and patiently.

The mother of all geysers here in the park, collectively name Hell's Kitchen. (Gordon Ramsay was nowhere in sight.)

The vast open space of the gorge valley.

The amazingly colorful riverbanks, love it.

The picturesque spectacle of the gorge and cliffs.

Hiking back up from the gorge.