Malaysia, Trekking

Penang National Park hike

December 13, 2015

A while back we went to Penang for a weekend (can’t remember if there was any special occasion, there must have been, probably a film festival or something) and on a Sunday morning we went for a hike. This was my first beach-jungle hike and if you happen to be in Penang, I do recommend you do it.

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Asia

7 inspiring tree house hotels in Asia

December 6, 2015

I have a pretty collection of inspiring hotels and places I would love to stay at someday. I am a bit of a bookmark hoarder, I confess, I save a lot of different links (hotels, things to do or see, cafes to go one day etc) and I thought, why not share it with you? That way one of us gets inspired and sooner or later goes, right? Double-win.

Since many of you found my previous post about KL getaway hotels useful, I thought I’d share more. So here’s the second round: 7 inspiring tree house hotels in Asia. Bookmark, share and enjoy!

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Malaysia, Trekking

Cameron Highlands Mossy Forest

December 1, 2015

To wrap 2015 debt-free, I want to see what happens if I post twice a week and share all the things I’ve been wanting to share with you for a while. I was shy of sharing the not so beautifully edited photos, like when Anton takes the camera, so these articles were collecting dust. I really don’t like editing pictures.. So it took a while to just put this one together. Heck, the Mossy forest itself closed down while I was contemplating on the imperfection of my iPhone camera!

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How-to's, Ukraine

What souvenirs to buy in Ukraine

November 8, 2015

I meant to write this a year ago, then it felt a bit inappropriate because of the political and economic situation. I just felt bad writing about souvenirs and pretty things to buy in Kiev while the country is in war. But now I look at it differently: yes, the economy is sh*t, but there are great people making great products, so if you are reading this and would like a suggestion for a meaningful hand-made Ukrainian product, here you go. At least you’ll support local talent and not the Chinese mass market.

As you’ve probably figured, I’m not a big fan of souvenirs, but I do like to bring locally made gifts to friends and family when I visit. So here you go:

What souvenirs to buy in Ukraine

1 week trip to Kiev. Visiting family, hugging friends, catching up and doing some chores – all in all it was a great trip! With a rotten apple spoiling a bunch (read the story here), but all in all, a very good trip.

Just after my mind recovered from the riddle of what souvenirs to bring from KL another challenge appeared – what souvenirs to bring from Kiev?

Here’s some ideas (all covered by one trip to the grocery store):

  • Dark rye bread
  • Dark chocolate
  • Caviar (#yolo)
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Cheese

Ok, ok, just because KL doesn’t have all that in abundance and affordable prices, I’m bringing all sorts of food from home.

Supporting the local talent

On a more serious note, this is what I thought of, if you need proper souvenirs from Kiev. These are all projects very dear to me, created by friends or not yet friends but generally very pleasant folks.

Remade bags

photo via REmade

photo via REmade

Handmade bags and purses, made with love and meticulous attention to details from repurposed leather. A brand founded by a dear friend Anna, I now have two of their bags: “banana bag” like this one and a cross-shoulder clutch which went out to the theatre with me – we both looked very appropriately theatre-like.

The guys are soon opening a new show room and I do suggest you check them out: follow REmade on Facebook.

photo via REmade

photo via REmade

Heartwarming ceramics

photo via Sandra Prachuk Ceramics

photo via Sandra Prachuk Ceramics

A new and very promising project – Sandra Prachuk Ceramics. Homeware, decorative trinkets and definitely heartwarming pieces. Check ’em out on Instagram and Facebook. Sandra is also REmade’s founder’s cousin – these women have talent in their blood!

photo via Sandra Prachuk Ceramics

photo via Sandra Prachuk Ceramics

Travel map

photo via travelmap.com.ua

photo via travelmap.com.ua

These are the maps with a scratch layer that you can hang on the wall and scratch-off the countries you’ve visited to brag in front of your friends that come over. A girl I went to school with founded this project with her now husband and I couldn’t be more proud of them! They have a few really exciting projects coming up too, so do like their Facebook page to keep updated.

Ukrainian books

image from starylev.com.ua

image from starylev.com.ua

If you are (like me) a believer that books make the best gifts, check out Lviv’s Vydavnytstvo Starogo Leva (Old Lion Publishing – no English on their site, please use Google translate) – they have some very impressive books, I got about 10 Ukrainian books of theirs and two of the (very trendy now) colouring books for adults.
So if you happen to be in Ukraine and want to leave a few of your heard-earned dollars on our fruitful soil, I do suggest you check out these projects. Also please don’t disregard that food list at the beginning of the post. There’s a lot of interesting local food you can shop for in supermarkets, do make sure it’s made in Ukraine and not imported, mmkay?

Peace, love and support #MadeInUkraine!

Happy thoughts

Documentary synchronicity… again

November 5, 2015

So something awesome just happened again. Another documentary synchronicity happened and I had to share.

By the way, synchronicity (as first explained by Carl Jung) is when events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related. Which continues the recent Happy thoughts train (there’s one about perspective and travelling, one on meditation and my recent retreat and now this, also somewhat travel-related actually).

So let me tell you a story. Get a cuppa, wrap a blanket around your knees and sit cozy, here it goes.

Documentary synchronicity

Last week I went home for a short visit. Home is Kiev, Ukraine and it met me with a fantastic warm Autumn. Look, how pretty:

Documentary_featured

One thing I love about visiting home is that I can walk the streets. It might sound weird, but KL friends can relate – we rarely get a chance to have a truly enjoyable walk in the city, not to mention getting from point A to point B on foot – it’s almost impossible here.

So walking around, meeting friends and Family, doing chores, buying cheese and books (my suitcase was half cheese, half books and clothes tucked here and therein between – true story), I was carrying a backpack and having a bunch of things in there every day. A passport, wallet, some papers. Do you see where I’m going with this? Keep reading.

On my last but one day I was visiting friends and decided to get them a nice hipster pie as a housewarming gift (it’s also a very common tradition in Ukraine to bring something when you’re visiting someone’s place for the first time – we don’t come empty-handed: pastry, flowers, tea are usual things to bring as a gift). So walking the beautiful city centre streets with a pie in one hand, my phone in the other, 10 minutes later I’m getting into a friend’s car and… you guessed it… the backpack is open.

First reaction – damn it, the wallet. It was missing. Second thought – nah, I must have left it at the bakery. No, it wasn’t there (we rushed back to check). Someone must have snatched it, but when? I was walking the whole time! Oh waaaaait… I did stop at a traffic light. Can you imagine?? They followed me, seeing where the wallet was (not in a trivial pocket), waited until I stop at the traffic light and took it like nobody’s business. I didn’t feel anything. Such professionals.

Sad as it is, my family is pro in dealing with such situations now (read about why we will never go to Paris Disneyland. Neither will our kids. No one is ever going to Paris now). So we took it as a learning experience, quickly blocked the credit card and counted the good things that came out of this experience.

Documentary via TinyBlackBird 01

Learnings from having a wallet stolen

  • I took out all Malaysian stuff the day I landed, so at least there was a backup.
  • On that day I decided to not put my passport into the wallet like I sometimes do. Never put your passport into a wallet – carry it on you and trust your intuition.
  • Better yet – never put all your eggs in one basket (eggs in this case stands for cash and cards).
  • Don’t take more cash than you need. I had just a bit and that just made it double-sad – the wallet was such a dear memory and the most valuable thing in it was… drumroll a driver’s license. Which is… double-drumroll… not renewable in Malaysia.Only in Ukraine. And I have a day. So no way it’s happening. And the sad part is that I had it valid for 50 years (I know, right?) and the newer ones are given for 5 or 10 years only now. Sad panda.

I don’t know if you’re still with me, the story is becoming a bit long, but I wanted to share it in details so you feel my pain and appreciate even more what’s coming next.

Documentary via TinyBlackBird 02

Synchronicity. It works

So not much damage, but the feeling is there. I’m not letting it go until the next morning when suddenly I accept the impermanence of things and let it go. The feelings for the wallet and the event, I mean. Here’s what happens next.

  • Anton gets me a new wallet. A grown up proper ladylike wallet. Yay!
  • I have a tingling little curiosity on day 3 to check Facebook messages, the “other” tab it is.
  • There is in fact a message. “We found your wallet tucked behind a wall in our building. We found you by your name on the driver’s license”. So it wasn’t tossed out and I still have a driver’s license! Yay to having changed a name a few years back. There are at least 30 people I used to share my last name with. As far as I know, there’s only one Olha Yohansen-Veselova out there. And yes, keep trusting your intuition.
  • That person’s office (where they found the wallet) is close to my parents office. They collected it on the same day.
  • Someone happened to be going through KL from Kiev next week (not a common destination, so it’s pure luck. Or better put, true synchronicity).

So yeah. Great it happened and ending so swiftly. Like the last year’s story – very swift. I feel blessed and I just had to share it with you as part of the learning – there had to be a lesson in it, right? One thing I don’t know though: is it a yearly thing now? Last “Documentary” happened precisely las November. I do certainly hope it’s not.

Take care guys. Be safe but do keep an open accepting mindset always. And remember that synchronicity is real. And never lose faith in humanity, ok?

Malaysia

Giveaway: Tiny Black Box from Malaysia

October 3, 2015

Want a surprise bundle of tiny yet meaningful goodies from Malaysia? Read on.

The first Tiny Black Box from Thailand was a great success, brought a lot of joy to the girl who won it and to me – picking up all those items from markets, designer shops and hidden little stalls on markets.

I though why not do it again? I want to put together another Tiny Black Box, this time from Malaysia.

Chances are, this might somewhat resemble the souvenirs from KL in a way, but I want to add a personalised twist to it this time.

So how? Simple: no shares, reposts and stuff (although I would definitely love it, the more, the merrier). Just leave a comment below (one comment per person, please) and mention one thing: what would you love to receive as a souvenir from Malaysia? Anything that associates with Malaysia, that could fit a small box and can travel through snail mail. Read a few posts for ideas, maybe?

The comments will close on Friday, October 9th midnight, Malaysia time, I’ll give each comment a number and will randomly choose one on Saturday, October 10th.

Let’s roll!

p.s. And if you are from Malaysia, do take part in this too, because hey, you travel too, right? You can use it as a souvenir for someone special as you go :-)

Diving, Malaysia

Pom Pom diving – Mandarin fish!

September 29, 2015

Pom Pom diving. No, no, it’s not a bathtub filled with pom-poms and you jump-dive into it in a “Geronimo!” manner. Pom Pom is an actual island in Sabah, Malaysia.
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia

Getting there

Pom Pom is a very small flat island, 2.3 km in circumference, it has two resorts – a dive and a non-dive one and only a few people actually live on the island. There are no seasons in that area which makes it a perfect diving site all year round. There’s no public transportation to the island – you need to fly in to Tawau, then take a car to Semporna and then a boat to the island. The car and the boat are covered by the resort and quite surprisingly, from our dive experience, it was one of the fastest islands to get to (no waiting in between each leg of the commute).
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia
The whole package – diving, accommodation, food and a return transfer to the airport – is a bit on the pricey side, but boy was it worth it!
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia

Celebes Beach dive resort is still a tiny resort, I think it has 10 or so rooms only, but they’re planning to expand.
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia
There are no cars, no shops, barely any roads on the island, so do take everything you need.
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia
The resort provides all the food and they also sell soft drinks, so no worries about that one. But it’s still Malaysia, so don’t expect cheap alcohol there. I don’t think there was any alcohol at all actually, just some beer. So take note.
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia

Diving at Pom Pom

Now to diving. We went after getting inspired by colleague’s advice (read his posts about it). Booked 5D/4N stay with 10 dives package. It was plenty for our comfortable pace of two dives a day, but we only covered maybe 10% of the possible dive sites.
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia

Small stuff

What can I say, the place is famous for all the macro life you can see underwater – nudibranchs, shrimp, little crabs and finally – the holy grail for underwater macro enthusiasts – the Mandarin fish! The resort hosts yearly underwater photography competitions, here is the link to this year’s album of best pictures, truly remarkable!
Small stuff @ Pom Pom diving
You need to have a very good eye to spot things like this:
Small stuff @ Pom Pom diving

(you see that purple fella in the middle of the photo, don’t you?)
And this. That’s an Orangutan crab I suppose:
Small stuff @ Pom Pom diving
Unfortunately we didn’t take the camera for the dusk dive (that’s apparently the only time to see Mandarin fish in all its beauty) because it was our first sunset/night dive and we were, well, we were a bit scared of the unknown.

Even though we are both at almost 50 dives each, we only did our first night dive here in Pom Pom. Here’s the article about this special fish so you can get the context on why there’s so much fuss about it. So here is a perfect shot of mandarin fish by Celebes Dive Resort’s own Nurul Yazid. We saw about 10 of them in one dive, just saying (divers, envy!):
Mandarin fish by Nurul Yazid

Nudi, lots of nudi

Of course, there were TONS of different kind of nudibranchs. Nudis are my favourite things to spot, but now the definition of macro, of course, changed a bit, so nudi is more micro to me. There are smaller things to spot underwater, now I know. After all the teeny tiny things we now can spot, finding a nudi it easy-peasy.
Small stuff @ Pom Pom diving
Small stuff @ Pom Pom diving
Small stuff @ Pom Pom diving
Small stuff @Pom Pom diving
Small stuff @ Pom Pom diving
Small stuff @ Pom Pom diving
This one’s my personal favourite:
Small stuff @ Pom Pom diving
Now, to bigger things. This is the juvenile harlequin sweetlips – the cutest little sweetie:
Small stuff @ Pom Pom diving
Pom Pom diving

Venomous stuff

These are the things that if you touch, you die in a slow painful death:
Venomous things @ Pom Pom, Malaysia
Well, maybe not exactly die, but it would be rather uncomfortable either way. So rule of the underwater-thumb (whut?) is: don’t touch anything that’s either too pretty or too ugly – that’s most probably venomous. But to be honest, the complete rule should sound be: DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING.

Lionfish aka Pterois:
Venomous stuff @ Pom Pom diving
Same lionfish, but from the side. I’ve never seen them swimming like this, they would usually sit somewhere hidden, but here, they’re the kings of the sea.
Venomous stuff @ Pom Pom diving
Venomous stuff @ Pom Pom diving
I accidentally landed on hard coral while getting into the water at low tide on our first dive and ended up having a pretty nasty cut that’s still healing a month later. The coral on the other hand was perfectly fine. So touch nothing, divers :-) But overall it was a fantastic trip! Great diving, friendly people, the clearest sea I’ve ever seen and a strong feeling we will come back.
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia
So see you soon, Pom Pom!
Celebes Beach Resort @ Pom Pom island, Malaysia
p.s. And as always, thank you Anton for taking and editing the photos :-*

Happy thoughts, Malaysia

Kechara beginners meditation retreat

September 26, 2015

Meditation has circled around me for a while now – I’ve worked at a company that promotes mindfulness and meditation for 3 years and I’ve tried to meditate, I really did, but I just couldn’t get it right. I always thought it’s something that you either can or can not do. And since this year is very much about personal growth and overcoming and challenging some of the beliefs I have, I thought I’d give meditation another try. But if you know me, you’d know that I need to “learn the rules of the game” first, so to speak, so I headed to a two-day meditation retreat to study the basics.

Learning meditation basics

Image by Jennifer Yuen @ Kechara Forest Retreat

Actually it was more like this: the day I though I’d give meditation another round or trials, someone from the team posted about the upcoming retreat and that she just came back from one and loved it and swoosh! went the thought: “Oh my, synchronicity! It’s meant to be” and next thing you know, I’m already arranging the details with Kechara people. What’s Kechara?

Kechara is a Buddhist organisation. “Using creative and contemporary methods to reach the spiritual seeker via their natural interests, be it reading, shopping, art, travel, dining, etc, Kechara seeks to provide a comfortable and nurturing environment for spiritual aspirants to learn and equip themselves with tools to develop inner and outer peace.” So back to meditation.

The retreat teaches the basics, how to sit during meditation, how to breathe, what to do, what’s contemplative meditation, what’s walking meditation, how to eat and meditate, awareness through movement class, sunrise meditation. All that in two days at a beautiful place, built with lots of love and taken great care of. Oh, and the food is amazing.

While I was writing this, a new article came out on Kechara founder’s, Tsem Rinpoche’s blog: “It is a misconception to think that only Buddhists or Hindus can meditate. Those who believe this do not understand the true meaning of meditation. Meditation is a method through which one can calm the mind and achieve a state of deepened consciousness. Everyone wants a peaceful and stress-free life, and the processes and principles of meditation have been scientifically proven to yield these desired results. On top of that, there are many other benefits that one can achieve from engaging in meditation, resulting in greater productivity and happiness in both work and home life.”

Meditation in nature

Image by Jennifer Yuen @ Kechara Forest Retreat

And, adding to that, it won’t take long to see the results. Meditation and calligraphy, to me, are some of the most rewarding activities these days because I can see progress and results of effort put into these activities so fast. With meditation though, you see its impact when you DON’T meditate for a while. Like those good vitamins that you get used to taking and then you miss a pill for a day and your hairs starts falling out. Wait, what?

Jokes aside, meditation is awesome and I’m very grateful to have learnt it and that’s it’s part of my life now. It’s a pity it’s so fussed about these days in the media, that it’s almost intimidating for many people to approach. But hey, people were intimidated by brushing their teeth every day a few decades back, so high hopes for meditation to stick around and become a new habit for the humanity.

I’ve also done a five-day silent retreat with them (which is an expanded version of a two-day one). FIVE days in silence, people! Yes, I can see you, Vipassana attendees, smirking, but to those of you who haven’t locked yourselves in a cave for 10 days, trust me, silence for the whole five days is definitely a refreshing experience.

p.s Kechara opened a registration for their upcoming retreats, so if you’re looking for a beginners meditation retreat in Malaysia, check out their schedule.