Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Halfway there: Interview with Yi Lin

We were famous for awhile when Escape magazine featured our blog, and the Pittsburgh Tribune stumbled upon us when we were lost on a hill. The Straits Times later interviewed us for a page in Sunday Life!, and the article was rehashed on Asia News Network.

For the past few months, we haven't been so famous, and no
body came along to interview us again. I guess the F1 Singapore Grand Prix proved to be waaaaaaaay more exciting than us, huh? Or was it the Orchard Road Christmas light-up that beat us to the papers?

Well, so what's this couple to do but to interview each other in the middle of Argentina? Yes, so it all sounds a little off-the-rocker, but it proves the lengths that we go to to entertain our readers!

The man has dutifully completed his interview, answering all the difficult questions posed by his wife (one of which, as my friend Tracy claims, is a sneakily-disguised equivalent of "Will you still love me if I'm fat") and managing to garner a few "awww, s
o sweet" reader reactions with his smooth answers.

So now it's my turn. I'm feeling a little woolly in the brain from well, not using it too much recently. (I need to start on those still-untouched crossword puzzle books we've been lugging around for half a year.) So don't judge me on my creative writing skills or expect any clever answers here!

Q: What's your favorite place so far, and why?

Great. Start the interview with the hardest question, why don't you? Well it's definitely not the hostel in Cordoba where I started typing this post. I had to reach my hand deep into the slimy cistern in order to flush the toilet. Okay, at least there's a flush and it beats gingerly side-stepping over a gaping black hole in the floor and trying to wash it all down with a bucket.

I always cringe/wince/sigh/faint/snooze inwardly when I get a "favourite place" question. Don't get me wrong, I love sharing my favourite experiences around the Americas with everyone. But therein lies the problem with this question - I have favourite experiences. In a number of different places. All which appeal to different aspects of my personality.

But okay, let's try to narrow it down a bit. I'm partial to wildlife, warm tropical weather, the sea and being on a boat. Put that altogether and you would get the stretch of Pacific Ocean off Ecuador, somewhere between Puerto Lopez and Isla de la Plata (see, that's 3 places already!) (Actually, put those factors together and what pops into my head is being on a scuba diving trip in Malaysia or Indonesia. NO! Did I travel halfway around the world to realise that?!)

En route to Isla de la Plata, I was in awe of the majesty and grace of the giant humpback whales throwing their weight around (literally)... not in the sea, but in the air. Dogs can do flips in the air. Hamsters too. Monkeys, yeah, them too. But whales don't belong halfway between the earth and the heavens! It's amazing how something so many times my size can heave itself into the sky when I can barely jump a metre off the ground - and don't even talk about using a watery surface as a springboard. Oh, and can I mention meeting the funny blue-footed boobies on Isla de la Plata too? Oh come on.... it's in the same stretch of Pacific Ocean as the whales. So it doesn't count as 2 different places.

Don't ask me what my favourite place is again! *faint*

Q: You've always maintained that the trip will go on till March 2010 or until money runs out. What is it looking like right now, March or earlier?

Earlier, unfortunately. Although we have been fairly prudent with our finances, the figures in our bank account are diminishing at a rather scary rate. The reality is that while the things that we need to spend on (e.g. inter-city bus rides, entrance fees to national parks, tours) are, on the average, reasonably priced and value for money, they are still not cheap. To manage the situation, we are now prioritising what we want to get most out of this trip: spending on unique tours and excursions, and striking off destinations that we either don't really die-die-want-to-go for now (like Belize, Honduras) or might have the opportunity to visit in future (e.g. Mexico, Hawaii.) Erm, which means that the hubs would have lugged around my Central America guidebook for almost a year, just for us to visit one country. To be specific - one volcano.

To be honest, we're a bit shy to open our mouths and ask for financial help. Because many of our friends are all at the stage of life where they are saving up for big items like marriage, new homes and children. And we're too old to be treating our parents like ATMs. In fact, I'm just thankful that no one has told us to grow up, get real and go back to work like everyone else (oh, such harsh words!) But we can't bear to just sit here do nothing to help ourselves. So we're offering limited edition 'GO' 2010 calendars for sale to raise funds. The calendars feature photos taken on this trip, which are really nice (we promise!) - like the one below:

A delicate springtime bloom in Provo, Utah

One part of me knows that however long (or short) this trip lasts, I should be happy that we at least got down to living a dream. But my stubborn (and greedy) wanderlust-y self says that this falls short of what I had set out to do, and thus doesn't want to go home yet. Well as much as reality bites, we have bitten the bullet and booked key (and painfully expensive) flights back towards the US. But we haven't fixed the date for our flight home yet - so we're still hoping to make this trip last it's full term!

Q: So far, we've had visits from your family, and Ching Ching, and Elaine & Rhys, your law school friends. What's your secret in getting them to visit?

Seriously, I'm not THAT charismatic a person to attract people all the way from Singapore to this continent! It's just that opportunities for travel to South America open up for everybody at some point or another. Ching managed to get a month off work and when you have a hard-earned month of leave, you don't just squander it on destinations near to home like Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok. You get as far away as you can afford to. It also depends what type of travellers your friends are. Unless you are loaded with riches, South America is pretty much a backpacker's destination. Rhys and Elaine are the adventurous sort who won't cringe at the thought of living out of a backpack for 3 weeks and will brave a shower-less five-day trek in the mountains. Also, my friends who visited have yet to start a family (sorry, pet doggies don't count, no matter how cute they are) so it's easier to travel as alone, with friends/colleagues or as a couple.

As for my family - everybody there is just travel-crazy and will jump at the chance of living in close proximity for 3 weeks, driving one another nuts in a 8-seater people mover, and eat mum's cooking.

Don't forget that we did a fair bit of visiting on our part too. We met up with Jon Kher in Cambridge, Fadzuli in Pittburgh and Steve in Washington D.C. Plus, we made new friends from all over the world (Taiwan, Korea, France, the US, just to name a few) while on the road. So if you can't get friends to come over, you go looking for friends all over the Americas instead!

Q: How many photos have you taken so far, during this trip, and (this is a tough one) what's your favorite? Seriously... choose only ONE photo.

Okay, this is seriously a damn mean question. The husband probably just wanted to keep me occupied by making me plough through thousands of photos taken over the last 7 months right? Luckily, I've been sorting out my photos along the way and storing the ones I like best into my 'favourites' album. Even then, that's a few hundred to look through. And erm, the most recent photo in there was taken in Salt Lake City, in May!

I like this one taken of a waterfall in Yosemite National Park, California. Although I've owned my Canon 450D since end-2008, I never really got down to playing around with the shutter speed and perfecting those coveted silky waterfall shots. At Yosemite, I spent some time tinkering with the shutter function while trying to ignore the biting springtime wind and cold spray from the falls, and after much trial and error, I eventually got the camera settings spot on and ended up with a photo that I am very happy with. So I learnt something and improved upon a skill in the process of getting this shot. It felt like a real accomplishment (albeit a small one) as opposed just pointing the camera and snapping a pretty scene that is "just there".

Water - one of the hardest elements to photograph, in every form.

But, if you haven't already noticed, I've been taking the opportunity to sneak in my other favourite photos in other parts of this post.... Nyeah nyeah.

Q: There's this phrase that recently surfaced... about you needing help. What's the story here?

Well this story surfaced while we were hobbling (okay, while I was hobbling) back to Huaraz with Ching after abandoning the rest of the group on the Santa Cruz trek. I was saddled with a bad case of altitude sickness and had to stop for a breather amidst some cow and donkey poop, and under some unforgiving, drizzly rainclouds. Ching, being her usual chatty self, continued talking about people, places and everything under the sky (all part of her kind plan to entertain me and distract me from physical pain) and in spite of hearing my heart pound in my ears, I caught her mention a rumour about me needing help with my life.

Ching had heard the story from a Little Bird, whom she is related to. The Little Bird happens to be colleagues with Somebody from a past relationship, who now works for an airline with a Yellow Bird for it's logo. Apparently, that Somebody has been talking about me, saying that I need all the help that I can get from friends and family. That I need help with my life.

I don't know how that Somebody came to such a conclusion. Cos as far as I know, everything in my life is going pretty well - lovely family, loving husband, great friends, a meaningful (well, most of the time) job, good colleagues, a nice apartment and the opportunity to live a dream. So it was really amusing to hear that I need help. And in the event that I really need help, my dear sweet husband is always by my side, readily offering to do whatever he can. His love and care is plain for all to see, as documented by the Granny Smith Bandit in her post. But hey, if anyone wants to offer me any kind of help, please feel free to come forward and let me know instead of sending a messenger pigeon all the way to Peru.

The story gave rise to a pretty convenient excuse for me though. The rest of our time in Huaraz was peppered with "complaints" like, "I can't wash my own clothes. I need help. Didn't you know?" *cue pitiful look* Hee hee.

Q: Is there anything you have learnt or experienced during this trip that you think will help you further your career?

Such a big and serious question, this is. In short:

(1) Learning a new language is always good. Hopefully it will open more opportunities for work travel in Spanish-speaking countries.

(2) Seeing other cities' placemaking efforts in person, instead of attending workshops and seminars, and being fed examples from overseas as part of a Powerpoint presentation. I was impressed with Denver city's pedestrian mall, which comes complete with a free electric tram service to ferry pedestrians along the mall. I also liked how movable chairs were strewn all over Times Square and outside the New York City public library for people to arrange according to their group size.

My brother dutifully and patiently waiting for some cute chicks to fill those empty seats around him at Times Square

(3) I now have some street cred as opposed to being an armchair traveller, who reads second-hand information about places that they have never been to. I can actually say that yes, I've done this, and seen that, instead of second-guessing what a certain place is like or digging around the Internet and quoting information from online sources. I've even been mugged! I'm not exactly sure how being more streetwise would help better my career prospects per se at this moment though, but you never know when such things can give you a leg up further along in life.

Q: Is there anything you've seen, (hardware, software or heartware) that you would love to bring back to Singapore?

Wow, you sound like an urban planner or place manager. I wonder who has been teaching you terms like these.

Generally, I love cities which have pedestrian malls right smack in the city centre. The feeling of being able to walk freely without having to watch out for traffic is amazing. I don't have to worry about which direction the cars are coming from when I cross a road (which I'm really bad at), whether it's my turn to cross, how much longer is the green man going to keep flashing, should I cross or wait, etc. People can turn their full attention to reading a map, or chatting with their companion, looking around at their environment (i.e. shop displays!) It makes for a more enjoyable experience of the city. Imagine what walking down Orchard Road would be like - you would literally be walking down the road. No tricky underground mazes to decode.

Another piece of hardware that Singapore is badly in need of is a decent international bus terminal (even if the only international route here is Singapore to Malaysia and vice versa), as highlighted in a letter to the Straits Time forum page (yes, we
still read news from home.) We have a world-class international airport and are building a spiffy new international cruise terminal at our downtown waterfront. We even have an okaaaaaay-quality (okaaaay only cos it's not ours!) railway station right smack in the CBD. We seem to have forgotten that many tourists arrive by bus from Malaysia and are dropped off along Beach Road, in front of the grotty Golden Mile Centre. Some of the bus terminals in South American cities put Singapore to shame in this aspect.

Beautiful spanking-new international bus terminal in Quito

Finally for heartware, I realise that maybe we try too hard to organise large-scale, big-name and expensive events in Singapore. The activities I enjoyed most were simple ones, such as weekend second-hand book fairs held outdoors, and school music groups and marching bands performing in the park or along the city streets. Simple, easy, cheap, enjoyable.

Incredibly entertaining marimba school band in Boulder, Colorado

Q: What is it like, having to be with Dan 24/7?

Haha, yeah, my dad gave Dan strict instructions to never leave me alone on this trip, and I remember that back in 2005 when we announced our impending marriage, one of my aunties warned him to take good care of me and threatened to go after him if he didn't! So yes, he's stuck faithfully by my side ever since. Either that or get whacked by a fiesty little 1.5m-high aunty.

While we're in each other's presence practically 24/7, we take time out to do our own stuff. For me, that means either reading, sorting out photos or planning the travel itinerary. For him, it means playing endless rounds of My Brute and Bejewelled on Facebook... Well, okay. He works really hard on designing the blog too.

Dan is amazing cos he still finds ways to give me little treats, which don't involve spending money or complicated planning behind my back. Tiny actions - like noticing how dry and scaly the skin on my legs were in the desert and moisturising them while I slept, and molding himself around me like a human armchair throughout the night because the hostel bed was so uncomfortable - speak volumes. To be honest, he's better at initiating these loving touches than I am. I need to do some reciprocating here!

This is a time to be treasured. How many couples have the privilege of spending every day together, away from the responsibilities of work and without having to tend to household errands or to the needs of children? Even better still, we're discovering new places with each other every day and also the joy of recording our memories in a joint husband-wife blog. I don't see another opportunity like this coming up once we get back to our real lives, not for another few years at least.

Q: How many arguments have you had during this trip already?

None that I can remember. As sickening and unbelievable as it sounds, we have never had a major argument throughout our marriage. We both have our moody days and snappish moments (admittedly, more on my part) but I don't think we have had a full-blown argument on this trip. If we did, the kiss-and-make-up process (which usually involves Dannie telling a very stupid but funny joke) takes place really soon after anyway. After all, in a continent full of strangers, we only have each other. So why waste time and effort having a petty quarrel with your only loved one in sight? Most of the time, the angst and irritation is brought upon by external factors anyway, and being married is not an excuse to use your spouse as a punching bag. (Yes, Mum and Dad - I read that book on relationships that you gave us for Christmas!!!!)

Q: What are you doing about Dan's hair?!

Nothing! Cos it's now such a celebrity in itself that it can jolly well employ it's own entourage to cut, trim, wash and blow it...

Well, we were going to get it professionally cut in Chile. Then we ran out of Chillean pesos. So we thought we would cut it in Argentina. Then we ran out of Argentinian pesos, cos I forgot to transfer money into our bank account designated for our travel expenses.

Then the next thing we knew, we were panicking about our budget and selling calenders to raise funds for our trip. Meaning professionally-cut hair is now low on our priorities, along with new underwear (cos mine got stolen somewhere in the Atacama desert!) We just cut his hair ourselves again. I say "ourselves" because it was a joint effort - he held it, I cut it. So it's not just my fault if it looks strange (which it doesn't! It actually doesn't!)

How come nobody asks about my hair? I've been trimming my fringe with the tiny pair of scissors in Dan's Swiss Army knife set!

Featuring Mr Hair, as styled by the Bolivian desert


Tracy Su said...

Eh, Auntie, for someone with a woolly head, this is a mammoth post! hehe..

I agrees on the 24/7 stuff. Methinks couples argue most when they don't spend enough time together or if both of them are stressed out, cos then one gets short-tempered, impatient etc etc.

Dannie said...

Oh c'mon, Trace, surely you've heard that familiarity breeds contempt? But not for us! Let's see if our familiarity breeds offspring!

That being said, I think it's cool that we both had a similar last question. Shows that we're still concerned about how we feel about each other :)

Lint said...

HAha the whale picture and caption was funnnniiiiiEEEE!

celine tan said...

I'm sorry I always leave posts so late but I LURVE this post. So warm and sweet and funny. A journalist couldn't do a better interview, lol!

Dannie said...

Hey Celine,

Better late than never, as people tend to say. We forgive you because you have your own interviews to conduct too :p

But hey, I think my interview was just as good, no? :)

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