I have once again been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time (thank you Universe!) as the two-week Chinese New Year celebrations kicked off just after I arrived in Penang, Malaysia. With Chinese comprising about half the population of Penang, it is the perfect place to experience this crazy, colourful, chaotic event. I was staying in Georgetown which is all decked out for the holidays. There are red lanterns adorning every street, and giant sticks of incense burning outside the numerous Chinese temples and clan houses in the area. Lion dances regularly take place outside the temples to the rhythm of deafening drums. Fireworks explode over the city at all hours of every night. The Esplanade in Georgetown also serves as a focal point for much for the festivities, which is apparent from the visuals on display there for the holiday period. On the street side, hundreds of hand-made paper hot-air balloons hang from the arches of a pretty walkway – they are individually painted and decorated, and, along with the red lanterns, truly make for an enchanting setting when all lit up after darkness falls. On the other side of the park by the water, there is an installation with big colourful plastic statues of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. As we are entering the Year of the Monkey, the monkey statues are given center stage. I was born in the Year of the Monkey, so I was excited to be coming into my own year – until I learned that this can actually bring bad luck! Guess I’d better be extra careful this year…
My first stop in Malaysia was a short visit to the capital city, Kuala Lumpur. And as luck (or the Universe) would have it, this trip just happened to coincide perfectly with a Tamil Hindu festival I hadn’t heard of – Thaipusam! Turns out this one is a pretty big deal in the Hindu calendar, and is also renowned for being a particularly gruesome event. Over the course of the weekend I was fortunate enough to witness devout Hindus going to extreme lengths to demonstrate their faith or to seek favour from Murugan, the Hindu God of War to whom the festival is devoted. The experience was extraordinary to witness, and has given me a bounty of food for thought about the personal choices and sacrifices people make in the name of their faith, and why.
Warning: If you’re of a sensitive disposition, there are some pretty intense (although blood-free) images of facial and body piercing below – proceed at your own risk!
As my time in Ko Lanta draws to close (for now at least), I realised I’ve been holding back a bit from you guys. I’ve talked a little bit before about how difficult it can be to really open up and put myself out there publicly through a blog. This is a continual work in progress for me, not just on this site but on social media too. I’m generally always lurking around in the background but have never been one to post every step of my daily life online. I’m more a once-a-month than a once-a-day kinda gal. This is definitely on my “needs improvement” list, but right now it means that I haven’t shown you nearly enough of just how idyllic life on this island is.
It has officially been one month since I arrived on Ko Lanta. I know, I can’t believe it either! Time really does fly…
Apart from finally managing to get my Abu Dhabi trip all written up and posted, it might seem to you that I’ve been sitting back, taking it easy, and not getting much in the way of “work” done. Well, you’re not entirely wrong. But you know what? I’m not beating myself up about it. Not any more anyway.
See, during my year of intense student life, every single minute spent doing anything other than burying my nose in a book was riddled with guilt. There was always that feeling of “I should be doing <something>”, no matter how much I’d already done that day or week. That kind of guilty auto-response is probably familiar to a lot of people, whether you’re a student or a worker or a parent or just a person. And this is exactly the kind of automatic response-to-self that I am trying to escape, and that I have realised is unnecessary, pointless and even harmful. Harmful to your own sense of happiness and well-being. Why is it that we condition ourselves to berate ourselves far easier than patting ourselves on the back – or even simply giving ourselves a break?
For the last post in this series, but most definitely not least, we turn to Friday brunch, by all accounts a “must do” tradition when visiting Abu Dhabi or Dubai. Imagining a tasty plate and maybe a cheeky Mimosa, I was like, “sure, I love brunch, let’s do it!” when Cait suggested it. Turns out I really had no idea what I was getting myself into…
Friday brunch serves as the epitome of indulgence and extravagance in Abu Dhabi. Quick side note: weekends in the UAE are on Friday and Saturday, so the fact that it takes place on a Friday is not strange. Everything else about it, however, blows your mind.
After an introduction to the luxury and opulence of Abu Dhabi, it was time to experience another aspect of life in the desert – adventure and adrenaline on a desert safari! I was particularly excited about this excursion, particularly to get out and take in the view of an endless sea of sand in the open desert for the first time. The experience certainly did not disappoint!
With a full day of activities planned, we woke up bright and early and headed over to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. “Grand” doesn’t even begin to describe the opulence of this building. “Immense” would be closer to the mark. Visible from many areas of the city, it stands out as the white marble jewel of the city. Even at night, spectacular blue lighting, which (incredibly) varies each night to coincide with the phases of the moon, draws the eye to the imposing domes. And that’s just the exterior.
Now that I’m finally decluttered, packed, goodbyed out and all ready to go, it’s time to fly!
Going from Dublin to Thailand is a looong journey, and as my lovely friend Cait lives in Abu Dhabi, it made sense to take a long transfer there and visit her for a few days. I also figured that Abu Dhabi could be a nice introduction to life in Thailand – they’re both pretty hot, right? As I soon realised, that is pretty much the only thing these places have in common. My time in the desert was awesome fun and an eye opener to a wealthy and extravagant world, but ultimately my short visit served to reinforce my decision to locate myself in the rustic charm of SE Asia. Abu Dhabi is definitely worthy of at least a visit though, so follow this series to discover just how much fun and amazement we managed to squeeze into three short days!
I am weary.
My head hurts.
My shoulders are stiff.
My back is aching.
My hands are dry and shredded.
I have bags under my eyes.
…I can’t stop smiling 🙂