These 10 Photos of the Maldives Will Make Your Jaw Drop

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We were greeted by this boat and this water when we approached Fulidhoo, one of the inhabited islands. I literally went out of control, snapping about 50 photos on both my DSLR and iPhone in the span of, like, 7 minutes.

It’s funny that just three months ago I was adamant that I wasn’t a beach person at all. Whenever I was asked whether I preferred to go the beaches, the answer was always a resounding NO. Growing up, my family rarely went on a beach vacation, so I didn’t develop an affinity for it. I also said I needed constant visual and auditory stimulation when traveling, and while beaches are beautiful, they wouldn’t be able to assault my all senses the way cities do.

I didn’t lie to people, but it wasn’t the real reason.

Back in September, I received a promotional email from Tigerair about special deals from Singapore to the Maldives. The round-trip fare was $250. I didn’t really know anything about the Maldives then other than they have beautiful beaches and are a dream honeymoon destination. However, the fare was too good to pass, so I booked my ticket and went on with my life. I even thought that if I had to cancel the trip because of work, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

And it almost became a self-fulfilling wish when a week before the departure date, I had a motorbike accident.

Fortunately, it wasn’t serious and I recovered in time. This view healed my body and soul completely and is currently my iPhone wallpaper.

Anyway, the real reason I was beach-averse for practically most of my life is that I didn’t know how to swim. For me, it was an awfully embarrassing thing to admit to. All the more so when it was entirely my fault. I didn’t have any traumatizing experience with water when I was a child and thus wasn’t naturally jumpy in the swimming pools like many people. And I already took two swimming courses in the past.

YET at the age of 25, I was still swimming-illiterate. And goodness knows swimming is an IMPORTANT life skill to have!

So, a month before my trip, I registered for a swimming course. Thanks to the combination of a competent instructor and me really wanting to overcome my past failures, I was able to swim (the breaststroke) in less than a week. I’m not a good swimmer yet, but now swimming has now become a part of my exercise routine.

It’s unquestionably one of the best things I did for myself in 2015.

Here is the truth: Knowing how to swim made a world of difference to my time in the Maldives. My experience was so, so much better because what I could do was no longer confined to sunbathing and watching sunsets, even though I did a hell lot of both. I was able to partake in fun, beach-exclusive activities like snorkeling, something I had never ever done before.

(Technically, you can go snorkeling without knowing how to swim. But if you know how to, you’ll be more relaxed and able to snorkel in deep water, which is where all the out-of-this-world amazing-ness is.)

Bottom line is it’s fine if you swim well but genuinely dislike the beaches. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to; we all have our preferences. But if you don’t enjoy the beaches because you don’t know how to swim or are not very good at it, just be honest with yourself and fix that issue. There’s no reason to let it hold you back 😉

I’m in the process of finishing up my epic post about things you need to know if you visit the Maldives independently and on budget. Before it goes live, I want to share with you 10 of the best photos I took during my time there. I guess we can call this post a teaser, but I hope you find it a visually pleasing teaser nonetheless.

The water really, really looks like this in real life. CRAZY!!!

With this photo, I want you to know that you could still potentially look tan and chill AF when you get old, just like these two Europeans 😀

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Falling Head over Heels in Love with Stockholm

Gosh, Gamla Stan is so crazy beautiful!!!

“…I stood in the lobby, a vertical puddle, wiped the steam from my glasses with a corner of shirt tail and realized with a touch of horror, as I hooked my glasses back around my ears, that this was much too grand a place for me. It had potted palms and everything. For a moment I considered bolting, but I noticed a reptilian young reception clerk was watching me narrowly, as if he thought I might roll up a carpet and try to carry it out under my arm, and I became instantly obstreperous. I was damned if some nineteen-year-old pipsqueak with zits and a clip-on tie was going to make me feel loathsome. I marched to the front desk and enquired the price of a single room for one night. He quoted me the sort of sum that would necessitate a trip to the bank with a wheelbarrow if paid in cash.”

Neither Here nor There- Bill Bryson

As soon as I finished chuckling, I put the book down, turned on my laptop, and started composing this blog post.

Bill Bryson is my most favorite travel writer. At that point in Neither Here nor There, Bill is recounting his experience arriving at Gothenburg in Sweden and walking into the first hotel he saw. Even though our circumstances are different (he visited Gothenburg in 1990 while I visited Stockholm in 2015), his experience- or the way he describes his experience- is uncannily similar to mine. It gives me goosebumps!

—–

I came to Stockholm in the middle of April this year after spending two weeks in Morocco. It was my very first visit to Stockholm (actually, to any Scandinavian city for that matter), and it couldn’t have been more cursory. I had about 15 hours to spare before my next flight to Reykjavik, Iceland.

(A 15-hour transit time is inadvisable, but I did a lot of that in the past when I flew back and forth between the US and Vietnam so I…don’t find it excruciatingly painful.)

My Ryanair flight landed at Stockholm Skavsta Airport at 11.30PM, which is 1.5 hours away from the center of Stockholm. The distance is ridiculous, but the flight was only US$25. (I’m a beggar and am not allowed to choose!) Since my flight to Iceland the following afternoon departed from Arlanda, the main international airport of Sweden, I had no other choice but to stay overnight somewhere in downtown Stockholm to catch the airport shuttle.

My plan was to stay inside Stockholms Centralstation (Stockholm’s equivalent of Grand Central in NYC or Gare du Nord in Paris) for the night and explore Stockholm just a little bit the next morning with my luggage kept in the station’s storage room.

However, the plan fell flat on my face when I arrived at 2AM. Stockholm is not like New York or Bangkok where people are willing to be overworked, underpaid, and undersexed. Well, don’t quote me on this last part. You need to verify with the Swedes 😀 The point is a lot of places that would otherwise be open throughout the night in other cities are closed in Stockholm.

Know in advance where you’ll stay at least the first night.

Within minutes, I was there almost by myself, as fellow bus passengers either got picked up by their families or took taxi to their hotels. Despite Stockholm’s reputation as one of the safest cities in the world, I was still quite unnerved, to be honest with you guys. I knew absolutely no single soul in Stockholm. I had no Swedish Krona, no map, and no 3G on my iPhone. The streets were vacant, and the night was quite chilly. There’s something about a combination of emptiness, darkness, and cold that really sends shiver down my spine.

I trudged on toward the more brightly lit streets and began to see sleek club-goers and swanky hotels. Knowing they were not made for me, I kept walking around until I saw the word Hostel a few streets away. But when I arrived, it was closed with a little note on the door telling guests arriving late at night to use the key code provided in their confirmation emails.

Before I had time to let my heart sink to the pavement, I heard a shout. Turning back, I saw a car heading toward me with three men in it, two of whom were looking out of the windows and yelling something indiscernible.

OH MY FUCKING GOD!!!

Me (and my luggage. How helpful!) versus 3 guys with a car in some dark corner of Stockholm at 2 in the morning? What the actual fuck?

I ran like madman in the opposite direction, toward the crowded crossroad. I could hear the car’s engine running, but didn’t dare to look back to see how close they were to me. I was so scared that if I had stopped, they would have jumped out and got me.

I had never been that petrified for my life.

When I came to the crossroad, I turned back and didn’t see any car tailing me. Relieved, I went right into the first hotel I saw, Elite Adlon Hotel, and gave the receptionist my credit card to get the US$120 single room without blinking.

I plunged straight to bed when I entered my room. It was the best sleep I had during my one-month crisscrossing the world.

—-

I woke up the next morning to shafts of sunlight penetrating through the window curtain. I looked out the window and squealed with delight at the glorious beauty of Stockholm.

Again, thanks to Instagram, I knew exactly what I wanted to see in the 5 hours I had: Gamla Stan and Stockholm’s legendary metro stations.

But first, let me have my Swedish breakfast. You guys! This part of my experience at Aldon completely justified the $120 I had paid. It was the most sumptuous, decadent breakfast I have ever had in the last 4 years roaming the world. Cheese, bread, salmon, tuna, salami, prosciutto, fruit, coffee…there was everything. I gorged myself on salmon and fruit to compensate for two weeks of eating poorly in Morocco.

Aldon’s central location made it easy for me to go to where I wanted to go. Just after 10 minutes, I arrived at the strangest, most jaw-dropping and evocative metro station–Rådhuset.

(Some background information for those of you who don’t know about Stockholm’s subway system yet, courtesy of Visit Stockholm: The Stockholm subway system is said to be the world’s longest art exhibit – 110 kilometers long.Traveling by subway is like traveling through an exciting story that extends from the artistic pioneers of the 1950s to the art experiments of today. Over 90 of the 100 subway stations in Stockholm have been decorated with sculptures, mosaics, paintings, installations, engravings and reliefs by over 150 artists. The Kungsträdgården subway station looks like an archaeological excavation, with the remains of the old Stockholm Makalös palace. At Östermalmstorg the artist Siri Derkert highlights women’s rights and peace and environmental issues.)

Rådhuset is located in central Stockholm, on the T-Centralen blue line. It was designed by Swedish artist Sigvard Olsson and “uses organic architecture, which leaves the bedrock exposed and unsculptured, appearing to be based on natural cave systems.” When I posted this photo on Instagram, the prevalent comment was “wow, look like staircases to hell” 😀

T-Centralen is another favorite of mine. It’s the heart of the Stockholm metro system, designed by Finnish artist Per Olof Ultvedt in 1975, and “features boldly painted blue silhouettes of vines and flowers on the walls and ceiling, giving the impression that you are passing through a large forest.” I’m here to testify that the blue silhouettes of vines and flowers really do have some calming effect.

I didn’t have much time so the last station I paid a visit was Kungsträdgården. According to Stockholm Our WayKungsträdgården was designed by Swedish artist Ulrik Samuelso in 1977 and features “art and special creepers” and “is known to be the home of spiders that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Sweden.” I didn’t encounter any spiders, but that’s one chilling fact.

Because its platform is located 34 metres below ground, Kungsträdgården is the lowest situated metro station in Stockholm.

A visit to Stockholm wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Gamla Stan, also known as The Old Town. I only had an hour before I had to head back to the hotel to pick up my bags, so I barely scratched the surface of Gamla Stan. But it was an incredibly lovely morning stroll, not just because Gamla Stan itself is so enchanting and atmospheric but also because I had it almost to myself and thus had the silence and solitude to absorb what was in front of me.

As you can see, most of the shops weren’t even open. I thoroughly enjoyed the quietness, but next time I come back to Stockholm, I want to see how lively the area is when it’s business time.

I have to be honest and admit that before I came to Gamla Stan, I was feeling ambivalent about Europe. After 5 countries, the continent had started to lose its luster. I found it homogeneous and repetitive. Gamla Stan and Stockholm truly have resurrected my affinity for the Old Continent.

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My First Black & White Portrait Shoot

My friend asked, Who is this pensive thinker? LOL.

Near the end of 2015, I did something that I hadn’t done before. Which was to ask someone take photos of me.

Oh don’t get me wrong; I have asked people to take photos of me a million times. But those people are always family members and friends who have cameras and take photos for fun. I never asked someone who is serious about photography and treats it like an art form.

Anyway, my narcissism level was off the chart last December so I wanted to take a few good portrait photos just for the heck of…having a few good portrait photos. At the suggestion of my sister, I contacted Do, a very young photographer in Hanoi known for his B&W photos. His distinctive style and skill and maturity really belie his age; I could hardly believe he’s only 19.

For me, the experience was enjoyable and educational in a way. I mostly do travel and nature photography, which, I feel like, is somewhat easier because you know, everything is right in front of you. You don’t have to manipulate light like you do in a studio. And capturing the essence of another human being and conveying it in photos…tough job!

We took a fair share of photos, but picked only a handful of them for the final edit. And I want to share some of them with you guys today :)

Okay, it sounds exactly like I’m blowing my own horns, but I personally really like this one.

IMG_1591This one, I feel like, could be Saint Laurent Fall/Winter 2050. HAHAHAHA!!!

IMG_1708What do you think about the lighting here?

This was my Instagram profile photo until yesterday. Haha.

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The Biggest Lesson I Have Learned in 2015

IMG_1708A fun photo-shoot I did at the end of 2015. I will share with you more photos in the next post :)

Hello, it’s me. I’m still alive and kicking. How are you?

First, I just want to wish each and every one of you a very belated Happy New Year. It’s quite late to say that because it’s been two weeks into 2016, but it’s better late than never, right? I hope 2016 will be a healthy, happy, and productive year for all of you.

And thank you for those of you who came here in 2015. I don’t know how many of you are still hanging around, and I wouldn’t be very surprised if there were none.

I was an awful blogger last year. Last week when I was in Singapore, I gave a link of my website to a fellow traveler I met. The first thing she told me after she clicked the link was, wait…you haven’t blogged since November. You have no idea how ashamed of and angry at myself I felt that moment. I consider this blog my baby; I have invested a lot of time and energy (and money, of course) building it from scratch. YET, I have neglected my own baby!

I was disgustingly lazy toward the end of 2015, even by my own lax standards. I had enough time to write, but I wasted all of it on mindless and useless Internet browsing.

I was also too preoccupied with my teaching job, which is a good one from a financial standpoint. The thing about it is that I don’t dislike it enough to think of quitting so I just accepted any offer that came my way.

However, the more I work and the more money I earn, the more I feel like I’m letting my own dream of building this blog into something meaningful and stable slip away. Even though as of right now it generates little to no income, I still want to write and to share with you guys my thoughts about fashion and my travel experiences. I really, really do! So I feel guilty as charged almost every freaking single day when I let my greed overtake what I love doing. If you have ever found yourself torn between working for money and working on your dream, you’d know exactly how I feel.

Anyway, for the last week of 2015 and the first week of 2016, I was in the Maldives and Singapore for vacation. I was able to regroup and think about what I want to do with this site. And the answer is clear.

I want to consistently produce fun and helpful content that I’m proud of.

I no longer want to start a bunch of posts and never finish them like I did in 2015. Because the biggest lesson I have learned in 2015 is that the shortest way to become unhappy and restless is to forget what your dreams are.

I hope you guys will stick around for the ride!

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Very Ridiculously Dressed at 2015 AMAs: Justin Beiber in…whatever

Justin-Bieber-2015-Style-American-Music-Awards-PictureAllow me to be frank: I think Justin has pretty poor taste in clothes. Or should we say his stylists do, to be more accurate? To me, every single thing he has ever worn reads: don’t take me seriously.

It’s quite funny because for the last year or so he has constantly demanded that we treat him as a grown-up man. Which at the end of the day is a reasonable demand, since he was no longer 13 years old. But the way he’s dressed makes it very difficult for us to think of him as an adult, right?

THAT, coupled with his still erratic behaviors, has led me to the conclusion that all the public apologies are nothing but lip services.

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Most Ridiculously Dressed at 2015 AMAs: Harry Styles in Gucci

harry-styles-600x800You guys, where do we even start?!?

I strongly believe one of Harry’s goals in wearing this was to attract attention. And he sure as hell succeeded. Congratulations, Harry. My eyes are glued to you!

But I’m scratching my head at the same time too because I don’t know why he believed that he could only achieve that by looking completely upholstered? This Gucci suit is basically the newfound younger sibling of Kim Kardashian’s 2013 Givenchy MET ball gown and thus has all the hallmarks of a fashion disaster. I especially hate the fact that the pants are flared. I don’t care if this 70s-inspired menswear trend is coming back for real or just a passing fad; to me, it’s just downright unflattering and heinous.

Harry, I pray that this is the only time that you and your team do this kind of disservice to your image.

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Best Menswear Look at 2015 AMAs: Charlie Puth in Acne Studios

Charlie-Puth-2015-Style-American-Music-Awards-PictureA moment of truth: I had no idea who Charlie Puth is until 2 minutes ago. I had to do a quick google search and apparently, he’s an “American singer, song-writer, musician blah blah blah and known for the song See You Again.” Again, I had no idea what the chart-topping song See You Again is all about, so I had to do a quick YouTube search. It turned out to be the song I have heard repeatedly at the gym I go to. All of this just goes to show that I’m old and behind with American contemporary pop culture.

So…Charlie Puth is a new artist, but he certainly seems to know his way around red-carpet fashion. His Acne Studios tweed suit is really, really, really good; the color, the cut, and the fit are literally perfect. (Pink is not my personal kind of jam, but if I had to wear something pink some day, this is exactly what I would envision myself in.) And the simple white shirt and black shoes are very complementary, since the suit is already a big statement in and of itself. Overall, a spectacular look!

Charlie, while I haven’t warmed up to your music yet, I quite like your fashion-forward way of dressing.

(But let’s get real, your on-stage make-up session is weird and superfluous.)

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The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Eddie Redmayne in Gucci at The Danish Girl Premier

First of all, I enjoy the fierce model face Eddie is giving here. Eddie is not Sean O’Pry or Tyson Ballou kind of handsome, but there is something quite striking and memorable about his facial features, don’t you think?

Second, this plaid Gucci suit itself is GLORIOUS and Eddie looks spectacular in it. His hairstyle is fantastic as well.

I have said it before and will say it again today: I’m extremely interested in learning about the thought process or going behind the scenes of how Eddie and/or his glam squad prepares for his red carpet appearances. Like, of all the thousands of sartorial options at his disposal, how does he make his final pick? Who is/are responsible for his sartorial success? So many questions!

Anyway, I initially thought Eddie should have worn a different pair of shoes, as it seems a bit subdued. But when I scrolled up and looked at the color and texture of his tie, I couldn’t think of anything else other than what he’s already wearing.

So, it’s all good, Eddie. You get a big fat A+ for this!!!

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Wednesday Pictorial Nutrition: People’s Sexiest Man Alive 2015

Gosh, you guys! I haven’t been on here since forever, and I want you to know that I feel guilty every passing day because I consider this blog my baby and no responsible parent neglects his baby. But for the last two months I have been feeling extremely lazy and unmotivated and restless and stuck. I go exercise perhaps once each month. I go through the motions in my day job. I decline hangout invitations because I don’t feel like going. I hate these debilitating and disheartening feelings so much. I’m trying step-by-step, day-by-day to get rid of them, and thanks goodness for today’s strong kick-in-the-ass!

Normally, I don’t pay much attention to People’s Sexiest Man Alive list because it has nothing to do with my life and I find the title way too hyperbolic and most importantly I tend to disagree with its pick. Like, I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that Adam Levine is a former Sexiest Man Alive. He sure has a lot going for him, but he sure wasn’t (and isn’t) sexiest man alive even when the award itself is just meant to be frivolous.

Not this year, though. When I read the announcement, I was just like, “Oh good, the people at People have come to their senses. They have finally given credit where credit is due”. Neither David nor I need this kind of confirmation, but when something accurate and long overdue finally happens it feels nice nevertheless.

Congrats to the dream husband of every woman, the dream partner of every gay, the dream father of every child, the dream son of every parent, the dream friend of everyone, and the dream business partner of every brand!

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Dog Day Afternoon

IMG_4728It’s been quite a while since my last outfit post. But this time I’m not going to apologize 😀

I have been thinking a lot about what I want to do with my website, and even though I haven’t been able to decide on a definite direction yet, I know I want to steer clear of the personal outfit route.

Here’s why: I don’t have a huge wardrobe and a personal photographer tailing me, so I can’t keep up with creating regular outfit content. The thing is I don’t even have a desire to keep up because I have better things to do with my hard-earned cash than to spend it hoarding more clothes. My closet is already brimming with unused stuff, and it’s time to stop this consumerist madness.

Also, when I put myself in YOUR shoes, I’m just like, “Why the fuck should I care about what he wears?”. If that is what you really think, rest assured that I’m not mad at you in the least. It’s totally legit. I’m no celebrity or menswear icon, so there’s no reason for you to be interested in what I wear. In fact, I’d think that something is inherently wrong with you if you were curious. Ha!

So, bottom line is outfit posts will be few and far between. I’ll post only when I have something to share!

Like yesterday, for instance :)

It was Sunday and the weather was kind and I thought why not turning our walk into a fun photo session. So I dressed up a little bit nicer (actually, much nicer) than I normally do on our daily walks and asked a friend to help out. Here go a few photos of Mr. Bun, Ms. Milan and me.

That’s simply it. No prep talk or bullshit about what you have to wear for fall or the essential fall items. Just a few photos of Mr. Bun, Ms. Milan and me.

Hope my babies’ cuteness and nature’s greenness help ease your Monday anxiety.

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