Growing Up at No.195: Embracing my roots as a Rojak Malaysian

By Joanne Tay

There is a stereotype that the Chinese must have their soup daily, master the art of eating rice in a bowl with chopsticks and naturally, speak Mandarin. I was anything but those.

The girl from No. 195. Bubbly Joanne sure knows how to treasure her roots and the rich Malaysian culture along with it.

Give me Sambal Belacan anytime of the day and I’ll gladly have them with anything just like how the Westerners like their cheese. While I master the art of eating rice with chopsticks, I equally excel eating rice on a plate flooded with curry with my bare hands. This way of eating is usually more common amongst the Indians and Malays but as a child, it never crossed my mind as uncommon for a Chinese family. It was just a familiar way of life in my household. This goes to show that a child is not coloured by stereotypes.

Growing up, my father sent me to a public missionary school. Penang, where I grew up, was a former British colony and I was Mandarin illiterate. The vernacular Malaysian education system means Chinese was not taught as a subject in some public schools. I learned the Malay language (my national language) and English, while I spoke a dialect known as Hokkien at home like most Penangites.

The beauty of having Rojak roots

But, Hokkien with my late amah (grandmother) was a little different.

[Hokkien mixed with broken Malay] “Ini kasi lu sambal belacan gua yang buat. Lu bawak balik makan.”

[Hokkien] “Wa ka-ki cho eh sambal. Hoh lu gia tui ki chiak”

Meaning: “Here, this is my homemade sambal belacan for you to bring home and eat.”

Hokkien’s ability to switch, mix and match languages and made them her own never ceased to amaze me as a child. When speaking with the Indian uncle who rented a corner of our pre-war house to operate his little his tuck shop or the Malay couple who sold sheaved coconuts by the side of our house during the morning market, amah would pepper it with broken Malay slangs. Then almost at an instant, she would completely switched to a full-on Hokkien with the Chinese uncle who rented the front of our house for his tailoring business.

The streets of No. 195 saw Joanne’s growing up years – and that also include her dreams and challenges overcome. (Photo-grab from Google)

Claiming that she was a nyonya (Straits-born Chinese who are the descendants of Chinese immigrants in the olden Malay archipelago, now Malaysia and Singapore), she embraced the peranakan way of life – food preferences, language, attire of baju kebaya, sarung and kasut manik (beaded shoes) with her hair dolled up into a bun with decorated pins.

Little did I know then, those formative 18 years of my life growing up with amah would eventually shape a big part of my identity and heritage. Often robust with spices and intertwined with a myriad of cultures, my Taosist family who also adopted Indian gods worship during annual festivities like the Thaipusam, made us such a rojak (a local fruit and vegetable salad dish, which also means “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay) bunch! I could never quite settle for an identity.

The crammed space at No.195 with cracked walls and crackling wooden flooring was constantly buzzing with people as relatives live together. Situated along one of Penang’s major roads in town, traffic was always a little too loud and the house even shook a little when heavy vehicles passed by. But the aroma of amah’s cooking filled the kitchen (and our stomachs) daily and I always look forward to what’s cooking!

What’s cooking? This delicious rojak is very much a part of the Malaysian culture where food always takes the centerstage. (Photo from The Star Online)

By the time I started school, I had multiracial classmates and was welcomed into their homes. Because of my love for spices and eating with hands, my Malay friends’ families were intrigued by my upbringing. And yet, I was puzzled why can’t they eat at my home?

School had me learn, unlearn and relearn a lot. Sometimes, when your home isn’t as what the school taught it to be, things can be a little confusing. I didn’t understand why race, language or the colour of our skins would be barriers in defining who we are. Because where I grew up, it was multiracial with my neighbours, food and language.

Joanne as a baby in her gangstah-look; one of the few rare photos with her dad while growing up.

Education propels me to search for an identity to call my own. And like all beginnings, I started to question my Malaysian identity and what it means.

“I can’t speak, read or write Chinese (but I’m supposed to be Chinese!). Neither am I Malay (but I eat with hands!). Neither am I Indian (but my family pays respects to the Indian gods!). So how should I call myself? Should I even categorise who I am?”

“Are we so different by our race?”

Malaysian at heart and a global citizen of this world

In the later years of my life, I had the privilege to see the world a little more and worked with international friends. These made me realised that humanity in itself is one global race. We are not so different after all despite where we come from, the language we speak or the stereotypes the society puts on us.

Remembering my late amah and her way of life taught me that despite what are seemingly stark differences, we can live in harmony if we choose to adapt and adopt the cultures that surround us and welcome them as our way of life.

We are who we choose to embrace. I am Malaysian without a doubt because it’s the only home I know. But I am also a global citizen who choose to think beyond the labels of races.

So what if there is a certain perception how a Chinese should eat their rice? Well, I  choose to eat it differently. So what if people say you’re not Chinese enough because you can’t speak Mandarin? I choose to embrace that part about me because as a Malaysian, I can effortlessly string three languages into a sentence!

I hope in your own journey in discovering an identity, you will choose to embrace the cultures that uniquely shape you. Those are the stories that define you. As for me, No.195 was a little chaotic but it was the spices of my roots. And it will always be my truly rojak Malaysian chapter.

What’s a rojak? No other dish embodies the essence of being Malaysian more.

Building her goals one brick at a time, Joanne’s journey is as fascinating as her cultural heritage.

Joanne Tay is proud to hail from the little island of glorious sun and food haven of Penang, Malaysia. She was a humanitarian worker and loves a good conversation, especially with children. Joanne is venturing into the new grounds in the field of science education for her next adventure. She believes FUN is the essence to creativity!

A touching letter from my mother: It’s fading ink got me to where I am now

Lucy graduated from the University of Nairobi in Kenya with a degree in Communications and Political Science with a lot of inspiration from her mother Miriam.

By Lucy Murunga

One of the things I am eternally grateful for is having such a strong female figure in my life. This would be none other than my mother. There are a ton of things I admire about my mother. For one, she brought me into this world, then she took care of me and nurtured me all the while doing things that inspired determination in me.

However the one I can still recall vividly that I have kept it to this date, was this letter she wrote me in 2006 when I was in my second year at the University of Nairobi in Kenya’s premier city. A letter that reflects the selfless and determined sprit of a loving mother – a precious letter I possess until today.

My mother Miriam was born 54 years ago and was formerly a primary school teacher. Teachers weren’t that well-paid but somehow she and my father, a school head teacher, were able to make ends meet pooling their income together. She now works as a girls’ boarding school principal and lives with the rest of our family in western part of Kenya.

In part here goes my mother’s letter to me, “Receive much greetings from home. The rain is too much, the weather is cold and I think causing malaria for people…I received your note, thanks. The children received the books and were grateful. I am really encouraging them to read. Otherwise, receive Kenyan Shillings (Kshs) 4,500 (USD 45) for now. I will send some more money next week let’s say latest 15th May…

This letter made me emotional as we were just about to do exams and there was some remaining balance in my tuition fee that need to be settled. As I waited for mother to send the amount – I was forced to reach out to my father’s elder brother Uncle Ole for Kshs10,000 (USD100) and I was able to sit my exams that year. He might not remember anymore but I will never forget his kindness.

The inspiration glowed into Lucy’s life until she found the humanitarian work she really loves.

My mom’s letter and this particular experience taught me these key lessons:

  • The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory; I still have the letter with me, a constant reminder of how mother did the best she could to raise university fees
  • The joy of simple things; Nothing like my mother’s simple handwritten letter; the letter makes me have beautiful nostalgia
  • Sacrifice; I read that letter with tears filled in my eyes, I could taste the saltiness as the tears streamed into my mouth because I knew very well, there are lots of things and projects she had to put on hold, so that she could send me the money.
  • The virtue and joy of perseverance; My mother’s letter taught me that even a little of something can bring you reassurance that someone is always trying their best
  • Hanging on to a glimmer of hope is worth it; even from the faintest, there is a prize for the persistent.

The letter always gave me the strength I needed to work hard, if not for me then at least for my mother who saw a brighter future in me and invested all she had, not just money but also her consistent key advice of working hard and being determined. A very religious mother, she prayed things would work out someday, and yes, God answered her prayers!

To cut the long story short, when I completed university, just before my graduation, I was very privileged to get accepted to intern with one of the leading international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kenya. My determination only got started and I worked extremely hard, never letting anyone or anything put me down.

I excelled in listening to other people’s stories, writing and sharing them with a much wider audience. Oh how I loved travelling the country, meeting new people, listening to their stories (some sad, others happy), and I could always relate with a character in my stories, because in one way or another I had been through what they were going through. 

Sharing people’s stories and advocating for better lives for children became Lucy’s lifelong goal.

I have worked there ever since 2008 and daily I continue to mature in my career, spiritual journey and even the social life.

My mother’s determination got me here. Her parting shot was always constant: “Hard work and determination will grant you success”. I strive to inspire determination in those God may put me into contact with in my life’s journey who might find themselves in similar circumstances because of what my mother instilled in me.

I recently was reading Oprah Winfrey’s book: ‘What I Know For Sure’ where she encourages readers to persist: “Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you too will keep encountering challenges. It is a blessing to be able to survive them, to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other-to be in a position to make the climb up life’s mountain, knowing the summit still lies ahead. And every experience is a valuable teacher.” 

I salute you Mother for teaching me what it really means to be determined in life!

This quote reminds me of the circumstances in my family and how mother sacrificed a lot to ensure we had a decent life and a decent education, that’s for sure. However, we did not all achieve the kind of success she hoped and desired for us; my two brothers did not make it to university, they are grown ups now with no employment and college education. Mother is hopeful that one day, they will rise above their circumstances, because everyone can.

That competitive spirit! Lucy juggles her busy schedules from work and running marathons. This Kenyan lady knows how to live the life of a champion!

Lucy Murunga is a Nairobi-based Communications practitioner and currently pursuing her Masters Degree in International Relations from United States International University. She has written numerous blogs highlighting the plight of people in need of world’s care and attention. She loves reading, writing and blogging.

From the Middle East to New Zealand: Traveling mom explores new horizon

By Manel Balbin-Marzan

Manel’s adventurous spirit took her to different countries and new cultures. Not all are beds of roses but she rose up stronger and tougher.

Going out of my comfort zone, leaving behind familiar faces and places has been my life after graduating from college. My first adventure was to build my nursing career in a very conservative country in the Middle East– Saudi Arabia.

I packed away everything including my sheltered life to learn what it is out there in the big world. I conquered the new city with unusual bravery, adjusting with the culture and religion that is totally different from my own.

I dealt with homesickness every single day, my eyes welling in tears until I sleep. Without even a month of hospital experience from the Philippines, I faced the competitive world of nursing abroad. I did not know how to operate the modern hospital beds and machines; did not know how to handle non-English speaking patients and worst, how to handle people with seniority complex.

I was a newbie finding out that the world out there is not at all that lovely. Some people can be cruel. Living through the newness, I managed to get by. I learned the country’s language, worked hard to be a better staff nurse, discovered new friends and lived life as happily as possible.

However, I cannot put aside my sense of adventure. I dreamt of going out of that country, work and explore another. With that in mind, I left my job and moved to Qatar working with Hamad Medical Corporation. I met Borgy, the love of my life, married him twice in a civil and church wedding, got pregnant with my son Red.

She found Borgy in Qatar and they got married twice in civil and church weddings.

Marriage and motherhood is not a walk in the park especially when you need to balance it with work on shifts and studies. At 30, I realized that my life was different: it was faster, harder yet fuller. I was living my dreams of having a family and my dream career was on track.

With my spirit firm, I knew that there are still dreams to pursue, places to see and people to meet. I looked back at the dreams I have listed when I was 23 and realized that my dreams are still alive.

Just when I thought I have settled in Qatar for good, my family and I decided to jump into a void. I took the risk to leave it all. With tears, we left our careers, our comfortable life and our friends who are already family.

Just when she though she has settled well in Qatar, Manel packed up for another adventure.

Almost a year later, I found myself in New Zealand, braving another chapter of my life pursuing further studies at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology taking Post Graduate in Management (Health).

My dream, in parallel with my husband is to move into a country where our child can grow up with quality education and healthcare. We wanted a simple, laidback life unstained by politics and discrimination.

I do not know yet what is in store. I do not know yet the human strategies to succeed through this new phase. I only know one thing—that I was a girl with big dreams, now a woman with great faith. I will never stop dreaming and believing.

My tips moving to a new workplace and environment:

Read a lot about the place. I always read about my country of destination. Adjustment is easier if you know what to expect. Travel guide books are worth the investment and I make sure I read the essentials about mode of transportation, fares and passes, rules of the road, emergency contact numbers, accommodations, communication, customs and duties, health insurance and safety.  I download maps and train/bus routes and timetable.

Be friendly. Expand your network. I believe in the saying that network is your “net worth.” I talk to anyone who gets in my 30 degrees angle. On my way to NZ, I talked to my seatmate on the plane and found out that he is going to the exact same town where I am going. He became my instant travel buddy for the entire 17 hours journey. He looked out for me and my luggage. I eventually met his wife who turns out to be my classmate and up to this day, they are my friends. You will never know if the people you talk to will be the friends who will become family.

Borgy, Manel and Red. Now she has her boys as travel buddies for life.

Stay positive. Along the way, you’ll meet people who has more experiences to share than you. Listen to them and pick out what best applies to you. At the same time, you will meet people whose life stories are depressing or sad. It will put you down or discourage you to continue your journey. Listen to them but never allow them to dishearten you. Always stay positive.

Pray. Going out of your comfort zone and your own country is not easy. Going to NZ a month before Borgy and Red, I immediately felt the loneliness especially when I am alone. Homesickness is real. But there is courage in crying.  Eventually, I realized I need to experience these moments because my little family needs a mother who is courageous. I will never know my strength and my character have I not experienced these things. And these are the times that you can experience how God works in your life and how His love never runs out.

I knew that there will still be a few more tears along the way. But with everything that I have now and with everything I was put through and managed to survive, I know that it is only by God’s grace. I am excited as I anticipate answers to all my prayers. My dreams and my heart are steady.

Traveling is meeting people, learning new things and skills. Traveling alone, Manel found refuge in people and prayers.

Manel is a Registered Nurse from the Philippines. She is a wife and a mommy. She is currently an international student in New Zealand taking up Post Graduate in Management (Health). Traveling, reading and learning a new language are her interests.

A journey of faith: The day I met my best Guide in Jerusalem

By Echo Chow

From a very unlikely messenger, Echo received her first gift from above.

I received my first Holy Bible when I was traveling alone in Jerusalem.

One afternoon in a restaurant, a middle-aged man came and asked about my nationality. After leaving for a while, he then returned and passed to me a Chinese Bible.

“Thanks for the gift,” I said politely with no intention to read it for the rest of my life. “Not from me but a gift from above,” he pointed at the sky and disappeared in the crowd.

What an odd reply to a non-Christian like me at that time! Only after nine years that I realized the true meaning of the word “gift”.

When I got back in China, the design of a book called “Desert in the Streams” caught my eyes in a bookshop. I opened it and could not stop reading. I wondered why I can see religious books in China. I was so curious and phoned my Christian friend in Hong Kong, just to make sure that it was not heresy.

Later, another friend gave me a book entitled “The Purpose Driven Life”.  Again, I finished it with keen interest. One day, an idea emerged that what I had been reading was “second hand” information on Christianity.  Why not try to experience the original version?

Among the Bibles she received.

Yes, in between those years, I received six Bibles in different versions from different people.

The year 2008 was the turning point. On Christmas Eve, I shared my sleeping problems with my friend since childhood.  Among the many strange dreams I had, the one about the struggle between “good” and “evil” scared me most.  “Go home and read the Bible. Only Jesus Christ can save you,” she concluded.

That night before bedtime, I was reading Romans 7:22-25 “I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

These verses shocked me completely! It seems that the author from a thousand years ago understands me better than myself. I could not figure out why, but I felt a very deep fear in me. I could do nothing but pray for the first time accepting Jesus as my Savior.

The journey has its ups and downs, but Echo knows in her heart she found her best Guide.

There is no fear in love

Suddenly, the fear is gone. I felt like a baby sleeping in a cradle with someone comforting me. My hands were getting warm, and my heart was at ease. “It’s just an illusion.” I thought with disbelief. It was an instrumental prayer. I used Jesus Christ and denied him after that.

Two weeks later, I visited a museum in Singapore. Inside the museum was a church. Touring around alone, I felt a drop of cold water dripping on my left hand. I saw nothing on my hand but above my head was a huge painting of Jesus and his disciples. At the bottom of the painting was a sentence like “This wine is my blood”.  And I was just standing beneath the cup the disciple was holding.

Water … wine… blood…

I asked myself whether it was just an illusion again. But it would do me no harm to confess and follow Jesus. Why not have a try? The church people were happy to meet me. Yet I needed to answer them a few questions before attending classes.

“What is sin?” they asked. “Motivation,” an English word suddenly flashed into my mind. “It’s not just action and motivation matters, right?” I replied.

“Why do you trust the Bible?” They asked again. “Consistency,” another English word appeared in my mind, again. “I guess the book was written by many people living years apart, right? And the message is consistent even though some of these writers might not know each other,” I said.

Even a car she once saw on the road one day when she was upset reminded her that she should be thankful God too time to shepherd her.

With limited knowledge about the Bible, I could not understand why what came to my mind was English but not my mother tongue which is Chinese.  At that time, I could not even distinguish the Old and New Testament and misunderstood that the Bible had a “printing mistake”, for it repeated the story of Jesus Christ for four times!

That is not important, though. What matters most is that I have started a journey of love, faith and hope. There are always ups and downs in life, but I know with Jesus in the boat I can smile amidst the storm as we go sailing home.

Power is perfected in weakness

My journey seems to be pre-destined long time ago yet heading to somewhere to my surprise though I have never been a well-planned person.

It is natural that most people would like to use their strength to perform and achieve. The more confident we are, the more we will succeed. In my entire study and career life so far, I see the Lord has been protecting me from my weaknesses and strengthening me in areas I was never even aware of.

At university, my major was Communications but I scored highest in Philosophy and Religion. My news sense was not sharp but I was elected the chief editor of the school newspaper simply because I could communicate better with the Taiwanese professor who supervised us on this project.  When I was still puzzling what to do after graduation, I was offered a job in a renowned international news magazine as a staff writer per recommendation by the professor.

That was how I jumped into the media field, in spite of the fact that I had very little understanding of international affairs.

The job came with immense pressure. I found myself totally inadequate to write in-depth analysis on topics like regional conflicts or economic crisis. I drank six cups of coffee a day to keep myself awoke, and slept only three hours a night.

The journey of faith continues …

We can make our plans, but …

Such hard times continued six months until I resigned because I wanted to gain more front-line experience as a local news journalist. Out of my expectations, though, the newspaper I just joined shifted its editorial policy to intentionally nurture journalists with global perspectives. I became one of the potentials, perhaps due to my previous background.

A golden opportunity arrived when I was 26. I was offered a post stationed in the US for two years as a correspondent. That was my dream for a long time! But my mom opposed so strongly that I gave it up. Several months later, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and she died two years later.

Lesson learnt – when the world values personal achievements and prestige, the Lord tells us that staying with our loved ones is more valuable than anything else.  And He loves me so much that even though I didn’t know Him at that time.

Frankly speaking, I was very nervous during those days. My English and common sense were far from satisfactory, but the job required me to deal with many unfamiliar technical topics from missile tests to human cloning, as well as natural disasters and international development conferences.  All these not only widened my perspectives significantly, but paved the way for my future career in the NGO sector.

Now I am working in an international non-governmental organization (NGO) operating in China, a place beyond my plan. I am not sure why and how long I will be here. But I know I am in God’s hands, for “we can make our plans , but the Lord determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Echo’s journey with God pursuing her is such an inspiring message that He is around watching and keeping us – an amazing message we can ponder on Easter celebration.

Echo is a graduate of Intercultural Studies and Public History and is now a communicator in an organization based in Hong Kong pursuing poverty alleviation. She loves traveling but often gets lost even in her own hometown. She is a curious life adventurer keen on learning new things and meeting people.

Taiwan Diaries: 6 baby-friendly travel days in amazing Taipei and other day trips

By Diane Laguardia-Paquingan

Taiwan’s sights are non-stop colorful visual and gastronomic experience. The place is also baby-friendly with facilities at your convenience.

Day One: Packed ahead of time

After a month of planning for our 6-day trip in Taipei, Taiwan, we again decided to bring Maddie, our 1-year old toddler. Just the three of us. Her first trip was in Japan with my in-laws and in Hong Kong with my sister Dyessa.

Two weeks ahead, I packed Maddie’s things not to miss anything. I ended up still missing my own things, my facial cleanser and my leg warmers. Boo! Pack your own stuff in advance too!

Having a toddler in this trip, we decided to have more time with nature and the wildlife. Maddie is beginning to appreciate flowers and colors. She even started imitating animal sounds. Her enjoyment became a priority. I was not able to find more information about Taipei in the internet especially for those visiting with babies or children. This blog will help moms with some tips travelling with their little ones.

What I love the most about this charming city is its convenient transport system. Everything is accessible by train and bus. Nappy breaks for your baby is almost never a problem. There are plenty of family rooms and diaper changing stations everywhere. They even have free baby wipes inside.

Taoyuan International Airport

We landed at Taoyuan International Airport at close to midnight. We went through the long immigration process but I requested us to get through first because I was carrying a sleeping baby. This is also one of the perks of travelling with a child. You get a priority pass!

The airport is located 45 min away from Taipei Main City where our Airbnb accommodation and most of the local attractions are located. I decided to book us a hotel room near the airport for us to settle right away after a long trip from Davao City.

I suggest, however, that you travel to the main city straight away, as there is not much to see in Taoyuan. You can also save time and money as you check out more attractions.

Day Two: Do not miss the Taipei Main Railway (MRT) Station food treats

Sharing a laugh with Maddie at the Taipei Main Train Station. She loves trains so much she can sleep soundly through the trips.

Checking out of our hotel in Taoyuan, we took a taxi back to the airport for the MRT transfer to the main city. It was spacious and high speed. We stopped by Taipei Main Station to grab a quick lunch. After a few MRT transfers, we headed to our Airbnb accommodation to leave our luggage. The food court in Taipei Main Station is worth stopping over. It has all my favorites from burgers, sushis, doughnuts and all the good eats!

First in our itinerary is the Yangmingshan National Park. It was a 45-min bus ride from Taipei Main Station. My only regret is not having enough time to roam around this beautiful Northern part of Taipei. Yangmingshan National Park is home to numerous small parks, hiking trails and interesting plants and wildlife.

The Yangmingshan National Park is located at the northern part of Taipei and a good 45-min bus ride. Maddie loved the park!

We also missed to locate the Visitor Center where you can hop around for a free shuttle bus to visit all other attractions in the national park. We were lucky enough though to spot a small park (I forgot the name) while walking not far away from the bus stop. We had our pictures taken under the cherry blossom trees and Maddie had a quick stroll with the ducks around the pond. Lovely!

It was so cold we stopped by and shared hot chocolate with Maddie in Starbucks.

Back in the city, we headed to Shilin Night Market to check out some tasty treats but I realized weekend was not the ideal time to explore. It was overcrowded! We put Maddie on a baby carrier and went along with the crowd anyway. We grabbed everything we wanted to taste and left. It was just too much too handle for our first day.

It is best to buy pasalubong (gifts and souvenirs) here but we never went back, too afraid it will still be crowded even on a weekday.

The Shilin Night Market is a haven for street foodies. Colorful, too!

How can you resist this? We did not and binged hard.

The crowd was just too much and we have a baby with us. We went with the flow and left in a huff.

The train ride to Houli Flower Farm.

Day Three: Flower picking day!

We went to the Houli Flower Farm with our Taipei-based Aunt Imelda. We took the train from Taipei Main Station to Tai’an Station, a good 1-hour trip but it took us longer because my husband left his phone on the train. Good thing we were able to locate it through the help of the information center in Hsinchu.

We ate lunch at the flower farm entrance – an unlimited Shabu-Shabu for Ntd350 (roughly around P590) and free flower farm entrance. Entrance alone to the flower farm is Ntd190.

The farm is a visual treat and perfect bonding place for families.

Fancy all these! I can sit all day and read a book.

The place did not disappoint. It was worth the long train ride.

It must be perfect living in a house like this.

Day Four: Wildlife, pandas and pork buns

Initially we wanted to go to the Taipei Zoo as early as we could but Maddie woke up late. She had it her way! It was drizzling and meant a little colder than yesterday’s weather but the little girl chose her own outfit with her pink cap. Yes, she has fashion sense now!

Animal time at the Taipei Zoo.

Taipei Zoo is easily accessible by the MRT through Taipei Zoo Station. With only Ntd60 (Php90) entrance fee, I never thought we were in for so much treat! It continued to drizzle until we got to the zoo so we decided to buy this stroller cover at the shop near the zoo entrance.

The shop attendant was kind enough to give us the stroller accessory I have been looking for to hang our diaper bag and other stuff. Yay!

Maddie slept during the drizzle. This plastic stroller accessory was helpful in keeping her dry along with our other things.

After visiting the Panda House, our little girl took her afternoon nap so my husband and I did a quick photo session. The zoo was one of the best I have been to, even better than the one in Singapore. Talk about value for money!

After a long day at the zoo, we checked out the famous Din Tai Fung Restaurant at a prime location in Taipei 101 Tower. We had Xiao long bao, pork buns and beef noodle soup! Just a tip, go here earlier than 6pm to get a table like we did. As we were leaving after our meal the queue was very long!

Couple-moment at the zoo.

Writing this was quite an experience!

Day Five: A mix of everything touching and nice

When you try to google all these locations, you will find out it is almost impossible to visit it all these places in a day. Thanks for my husband’s research skills and the Taiwan’s efficient train system, we did it!

Shifen is an hour of travel from Taipei Main City. We decided to go out early to maximize our day. When in Taiwan, do not miss to fly a colourful sky lantern at Pingxi District. You get to choose the color of the sky lantern according to your wishes. You also get to write your dreams and prayers before you release it to the sky. To get to the shop that sells these lanterns, you get to pass other shops that sell yummy treats.

Flying the lantern to the sky was even more memorable because we were with Maddie.

We missed visiting Shifen Waterfalls because it was raining. Instead, went to Jiufen Old St. It was another 30-min train ride back to Riufang Station and from there we decided to take a taxi up to Jiufen. It was worth it! I love how charming this old town is. I wish we booked an overnight stay here. There is so much to see including the Jiufen Night Market that we failed to check out since we need to get back to Taipei Main City.

The Jiufen view took our breath away.

The charming Jiufen Old Street was a buzzle of colors and merchandise.

The food treat does not stop. No diet in this trip.

Back in the city, we went to the National Taiwan University aka Ying de University. It is where parts of scenes of the International hit tv series Meteor Garden was shot.

The Taiwan National University made famous by the hit TV series Meteor Garden.

Just in time for dinner, we checked out Raohe Night Market where I got my third round of Bubble milk tea with pearls in just a day! We tasted everything from peppered pork buns, bite size sausages, egg tarts, cubed pork steak (locally called), fried taro, takoyaki.

The Raohe Night Market is a must visit if you love food!

A pork bun – yum!

Day Six: Old streets and food treats go together in Taipei

Aunt Imelda suggested we visit Tamsui District for cherry blossoms before we leave. I am glad we did! It is an hour away by MRT from our accommodation so we decided to leave early again. Luckily, Maddie woke up early. We visited the Fisherman’s Wharf first.

When we got out the train station, the bus stop to the wharf is conveniently few steps away. I suggest that you do not to spend too much time here if you are in Tamsui for a day trip. Go to the Tamsui Riverside quick!

Maddie enjoying the Tamsui River view and the cool weather.

A priceless mom and daughter bonding.

Next stop, the Tamsui Old Street. I found that if you are in Taiwan and it says old street you are in a for a street food adventure! Tamsui has a different charm compared to other places. It is very accessible for a day trip. We just strolled around the seaside district listening to some locals playing instruments along the street while eating local street food. The weather made it more special and romantic.

We were sad to leave Tamsui for Ximenting for our last minute shopping and pasalubong hunt. Before we reached Ximeting we stopped by Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Palace. Another must-visit attraction and most prominent historical landmark in Taiwan.

The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.

We fell in love with the Old Street’s art and grafitti.

If Tokyo has Shibuya, Taipei has Ximenting. Usually crowded at night, this is the liveliest neighborhood and shopping center of Wanhua District. I checked out some beauty loots and bought items from H&M and Uniqlo. We went Japanese for our last Taiwan meal. Ramen forever!

Ximenting will give a run for Japan’s Shibuya.

Shop until you drop at Wanhua.

Changing diapers at the airport (and almost everywhere else during the trip were very easy with clean facilities.

Going home!

It was one of my most memorable trips. I love everything about Taiwan: the cold weather, the local street food and the friendly locals.

It is baby-friendly, too. Each elevator is easily accessible for strollers and luggage. People give way to those who need it most.

Based on the journey we enjoyed having Maddie, Taiwan is one of the best. Give it a try!

 

 

“Most people delay traveling with their kids until they have a full grasp of the experience. I would argue that travel when it is possible. Travel when your kid is still not busy growing up and with school activities. Go travel with your children!”

Traveling is a good family bonding experience. Do not underestimate your baby’s memory. Maddie will surely have all these tucked in her smart head.

Diane is a nurse by profession, an online fashion entrepreneur of Kanami Fashion Shop, a travel blogger and currently a full-time wife and mom.

Note: Date traveled March 10 to 16, 2017

My father has cancer: How do I deal with a news like this?

By Maryann “Mai” Zamora

Mai recalls how her father felt guilty that she had to work in a fastfood shop to buy things she needed in school.

“Mai, your father has stage 3-colon cancer.”

I remembered how it went through my ears. Then I turned cold and endlessly sobbed in our couch. I was shattered.

It was my mother Mama Bebei who broke the news to me just after I got home from work in Cebu City.

It felt like spinning in a dark tunnel. Why him? I cannot fathom why it needed to be him. For a few months after my father Lando’s diagnosis, I hated the things that I used to love and the things that kept me sane.

I hated watching the sunset, the feeling of being surprised, all the traveling and the idea of uncertainty. I hated sunset because I was afraid that he will die when the sun rises; I hated surprises because I do not want to be caught off guard that he will go the next day; I hated traveling and uncertainty because I was afraid to lose him while I am away for work.

I thought I would feel guilty not seeing and taking care of him on his last days. I grieved in advance and lived in fear. I cannot lose the person who has been the reason why I do well in everything I do. There was a time that I gave in to these fears. I felt it was hopeless to fight the battle.

But my father’s words through the years gave me the courage to fight and survive. I cannot lose the battle without giving it a good fight. I can clearly recall when I told him I might not be able to go to college because he lost his job. He simply told me, “You will go to school.” No ifs and buts. I did.

That was five years ago this month – March 2012. I was then 25. Yes, my father went and rose through the 5-year relative survival rate for colon cancer patients. He survived! My family dealt with the pain gracefully. We survived the drama that cancer can inflict in a family. My father said earlier this week, “Mai, let us celebrate this victory when you get home”.

You must be wondering how we – as a family – survived?

Behind Mai’s smile is a superwoman’s spirit of flying through the storm to save her family from harm and pain.

You will never know how tough you are until the situation hits you. Having a loved one diagnosed with a serious illness does not compare to someone knocking and asking if he can come in. It is a long-winding road until you get to the point when the only choice is to face the situation. Your strength is weighed on the scale.

Two days after the diagnosis and before his operation, my father wanted to see. He requested from the doctor and nurse to wait for me before he gets inside the operating room. I ran fast to see him. I knew he wanted to have the assurance that I got his back; our family’s back. I acted tough to show him all is ok with us. I told him, “You need this, Pa. Or else you will suffer more and it would be more difficult for you and for us.”

That was my most heartbreaking sent off so far. I sobbed with his red rubber slippers in my hand. We all waited outside until the major operation was finished. The procedure remove portions of his large intestine and small intestine.

Be open to take it as an opportunity to know God on a personal level. It was on this moment when in everything I do and decide, I talked to God to make sure we are doing them right. I was very young back then. I am unsure. I needed God’s wisdom as guidance. I thought I cannot afford to fail because my father’s life is at stake.  It was the first time that I offered to pray for someone. As he was about to be wheeled inside the operating room, I approached the doctor and asked if we could pray for my father.

I held his hands and prayed. I cried, making the doctor’s hands wet with my tears. The doctor tapped my shoulder and said, “Pray and trust God. Everything will be all right, Mai. I will do my best.”

Her father surviving through cancer was a team effort. It was a bayanihan spirit at work from Mai’s family, relatives, friends and neighbors.

Saving for retirement early on. The experience taught me the value of saving and investing. When it happened, I have no savings. By the time we needed to pay the hospital bills, I have to find means and exhausted all the resources I have. I kept it a secret from my family that I was running out of money.

I remembered writing an email requesting our office if I can borrow from my salary. I cried shamelessly at the internet shop while doing it. It was humbling. The financial and emotional challenge did not stop there. Two weeks after my father’s operation, he complained of pain and asked if he can be brought back to the hospital. The insurance has been exhausted and will not cover his further treatment. It was difficult to say no but I have no means to pay the bills.

In the end, it is all about family. Do not be afraid to ask for help, I did. Having someone with cancer is not just a family thing. It needs the support of the entire community and the people around you.  I am blessed with the best support system possible. My aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors who never left us during those moments.

Whenever I am down to my last resource, my Aunt Chona, the sister of my father, would call me and just listen how my days went. My uncles and aunties were also around anytime we need them. My younger sister Sha, a Biology student, patiently explained to me the treatment processes.

Five years after the surgery, surviving cancer is her father’s best gift to the family.

The bayanihan spirit is very much alive in Filipino communities. Bayanihan is the Filipino trait of coming together to help a cause. While my parents were in the hospital, my neighbors would clean our house, bring food for my brother and for my parents at the hospital. They reminded people in our village not to talk to my father about having cancer. It was only after three months when my father learned he has colon cancer.

When I got back to work, I would ask my friends for help – such as my friend Crislyn Felisilda-Dacut paying the hospital bills for me. I do not want to burden my family to know how much it had cost us. I wanted to condition their mind that I am in charge and they need not worry.

Learn from the process, no matter how painful. It initially felt it was unfair for my father and all of us to suffer. In those darkest moments, my workmates would send me messages or put a note on my table, reminding me of Bible verse in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know I have plans for you; plans to prosper and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and future.” True enough, after five years, He kept His promise.

I learned the hard way that major breakthroughs come from major heartaches. Looking back, I now understand why it needed to be him. Why my father? Why him? I realized God hits us in our weakest points to become the person He wanted us to be.

I am not used to showing my emotions. I was stonehearted and always wanted to be a superwoman. With what happened, I am kinder and learned to empathize. The journey gave me a big heart for others because I know how it feels to be broken and left empty-handed.

Mai continues to give back joining outreach initiatives of small organizations in Mindanao.

Mai is currently an aid worker sharing powerful stories from the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in the Philippines for eight years now. She has been deployed in major emergencies in the country and finds time to travel and learn from different cultures.