Last City I Loved: Abu Dhabi



An international student studying in the capital of the United Arab Emirates reflects on her personal life she’s spent in a place she both loves and hates, one to happily enjoy and to sadly demure, and also one she never really calls it ‘a home’ (as she says most of the city’s inhabitants, mainly consisting of temporary migrants from hundreds of different nationalities), but one with an everlasting knock-of-heart on her chapters of life.

You can read her touching, honest essay in one of The Rumpus’ sections, Last City I Loved.




I fly often too, although I get no joy from it. I fly long distances—fourteen, sixteen hours at a time. What do I do on all those flights, hours of my life being whiled away on nothing? I sleep, mostly, and do not dream. Sometimes it feels as if time doesn’t pass up there, as if we were stuck in a different dimension, far away from any notion of real life.

But then, real life often seems to me more of a dream than anything I could imagine. I have the habit now of tracing foreign words on surfaces in my own made-up Arabic calligraphy. The curling letters, the way they flow into each other like rivers joining to meet the sea. Although I know the Arabic word for dream, I prefer my own. I trace mine over and over again, thinking it, an endless script in my head. I feel a warm affinity when I hear Arabic being spoken, a sense of familiarity.

And yet my sense of home has somehow melted away. When I am in Abu Dhabi, I miss New York and Chongqing and Buenos Aires and all the other places in the world that mean something to me. And when I am in those other places, I miss Abu Dhabi. What a terribly strange thing it is to always be missing someplace wherever I am in the world. What a terribly strange thing it is to belong nowhere because I could, if I chose to, belong anywhere.

At the same time, my wonder at seeing new places has also diminished. The more places I go, the less charm travel holds. That awful human trap: becoming used to wonder. The ability to travel is an astonishing gift that I should never, ever take for granted—and yet, I do, sometimes. Often. Of course I do. It’s not new to me anymore.


A long story of our T-shirt

planetmoney t-shirt



Visit an apparel store, choose the best, most trendy, or candy-colored t-shirt as you like, pay it, and wear it: these are, in a sequence of events, the same things all of us virtually do.

But hold on a second. Do we really bother to know how a t-shirt gets made, and arrives, in the long run, into our department store? The story itself, if you think deeper, doesn’t turn out to be as simple as we ever imagine. Before we ever set ourselves to go round the planet, the cotton, and the t-shirt afterwards, has preceded us.

Probably our cotton is planted, at its best, in United States, using all the advanced machinery and genetically modified variants to yield the best quality, or at its worst, in Uzbekistan, where millions of people are, in a Hobson’s choice situation, conscripted into the country’s repressive, forced-labor cotton-planting system run by the regime’s cronies.  Probably the cotton is then processed somewhere else in Indonesia, Bangladesh, or in Colombia. Probably the t-shirt gets made in Bangladesh or in Cambodia, where most of the workers are paid decent wages with little safety standards. Or possibly, for happier end, produced in Colombia, where minimum wages are much slightly higher than those in average developing countries.

It takes money, time, sacrifice, blood, and even tears, to bring all these t-shirts to us, customers. 4 million people in Bangladesh, employed in the country’s garment industry, and mostly women, are salaried with one of the world’s lowest minimum wages; still, though, despite all the international protests, particularly after the Rana Plaza incident which killed up to 1,000 people, they feel relatively ‘safer’ than back in their villages; they can afford to pay off family debts; they gain more ‘freedom’ than having to be married off to local men who oftentimes become abusive; and, last but not least, they can provide enough money to pay for their children’s, or relatives’, education and healthcare. With all the hardships going on, they are creating dreams not only for themselves, but also for their families, and indirectly, for the whole nation currently experiencing economic boom, at the expense of their perspiration and hard work.

This is not only taking place in Bangladesh; elsewhere in this planet, either in Indonesia, Colombia, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, or even the United States, everybody is building up better dreams, one t-shirt at a time.

Watch the videos at NPR’s Planet Money to increase your understanding about your t-shirt.


NB: the picture above is Planet Money’s t-shirt, the manufacturing processes by which have been recorded, from how the cotton is planted, processed, and made into t-shirt, to how it is shipped back to the States.

Why Hong Kong never sleeps

July 2011



Before you watch the time-lapse videos below, let me ask you one question: do you thoroughly realize the ultimate hustle and bustle that never ceases preoccupying this city? Either you see it from its light-coruscated skyline, its seemingly endless flow of passers-by, vehicles, buses, and trucks going back and forth, or the slam-bang noises you hear in almost any restaurant, or even simply moving boats, ships, and passenger jets, this is undeniably true of the real spirit of Hong Kong.

Whatever people have said that situation in Hong Kong is generally deteriorating after its handover to China in 1997, or whatever they quoth that the British administration did much better, the Hong Kong spirit is still maintained to this date. But, in the long run, though, nobody can lucidly predict the long-term future afterwards.

Whatever the discomfiture, soothe down your mind awhile and watch the videos below!



The most recent one:


Monocle’s 5 loveable cities in 2013

colombo skyline

Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka

Source: Skyscrapercity


These cities may not be deemed as remarkable as the others, on a global scale, have been; yes, each of these cities faces problems, either of political instabilities or tumultuous, acute social problems, of little salubriousness or dim prospects, but things often turn out not to be one-sided. From one viewpoint they are perceived as not meritorious, but on the other hand, concurrently thanks to their setbacks, they possess rare qualities that the rest of the world may not have. They may not be considered ‘livable’ for bulk of the populace, but instead of being termed the former, they engrave a new title they probably should, in their glory, adhere to: lovable. Lovable for their uniqueness, their one-of-a-kind-ness, that tourists and globe-trotters alike may hardly find the replicate somewhere in this planet.

Monocle has just released its new list of ‘5 loveable cities in 2013’, and here are the winners:


1. Palermo (Italy)

Problems they face: run-riot mafia, endemic corruption, urban mismanagement

Good things: plentiful markets, friendly locals, picturesque beaches, tranquil urban parks

2. Colombo (Sri Lanka)

Problems they face: current recovery from civil war, poverty

Good things: economic boom, improvement in public transport, bustling tourism

3. Tel Aviv (Israel)

Problems they face: Middle East-related political violence, social insecurity

Good things: plentiful cafes, hip-hip-hurrah creativity in arts and culture, vibrant nightlife, booming start-up industry

4. Chiang Mai (Thailand)

Problems they face: barely any (only slow-paced life)

Good things: strong cultural identity, plentiful Buddhist temples, thriving arts industry, robust entrepreneurial culture

5. San Jose (Costa Rica)

Problems they face: refer to Chiang Mai

Good things: quality education, serene lifestyle, solid entrepreneurial spirit, tranquil urban parks, appreciation of historical values


Watch the video at Monocle for further description.

Javin Lau – Hong Kong is Home

Hong Kong is Home.

I remember when I first arrived in Hong Kong almost a decade ago, I felt like I had walked into an actual movie set. It was a place that I had only seen on TV as a kid, with its strange red taxi’s, odd stop lights and driving on the other side of the road.

My intent with this project was to illustrate the grandeur of Hong Kong that most people would never get to see. When I had recently watched the movie Oblivion, it had somehow starkly reminded me of Hong Kong, with the feeling of being so insignificantly small — almost irrelevant to my surroundings. Hong Kong is an unbelievably dense city, where much of the world can be accessed at your fingertips. But in a city where you can access the material world in a matter of seconds, it also has the ability to isolate you from the 8 million people around you as well.

With this piece, I hope that you are able to engage in this contradiction. – Javin Lau, creator of this video.

Well done, Javin! I can’t help describe more about my fondness of your breath-taking, hyper-realistic depiction of the world’s most vertical metropolis. I am sure everybody will love peeping into these microcosms that you piece, that make this place a vibrantly living ‘organism’.

Please visit his website for more over-the-edge, picturesque depictions of skyline over the world’s metropolises.

After a full-month hiatus, here’s my latest post….

Well, I’ve got little enough words to say, but this was the very first time in my lifetime my face (altogether with my shorty body) was exposed to TV station, and well, it’s a general-knowledge competition about ASEAN and its member-states!

Note: I bet you won’t be able to see me (hint: I’m the one in the yellow, ornamental Riau Malay clothes)




Click on the link above. Oh, one more thing worth telling you : it’s almost 40 minutes long. Expect no tedium to serve your eyelids.