The Existence Of Chinatown In The USA

When I first went to Chinatown in Chicago, I was really surprised and dismayed by how old and run-down it looks. Granted, it really does feel like China, but it looks and feels like how I imagine a village to look like in China, or maybe China in the 1960s. There is nothing modern about it, and even souvenirs sold in the so-called souvenir shops are old and dusty.

The only other time I’ve been to Chinatown in the USA was in San Francisco, and perhaps because I was only there over the weekend or I was just in a great mood, somehow the Chinatown I remembered in SF was bustling and cheery. Nothing like the somehow kinda drab Chinatown in Chicago.

Recently, with work bringing me to Chinatown, I have a lot more opportunities to observe Chicago’s Chinatown and I have come to appreciate it more.

I realized that if you are a Chinese who do not know a single English word, you will still be in a complete comfort zone in Chinatown because there is absolutely no need for English to be spoken there. It is possible to have lived in Chicago for many years, not learn English, but still survive and be able to go about with your daily life if you just live and work in Chinatown.

While I am still slightly dismayed by the overall drab feel of Chicago’s Chinatown, I have grown to appreciate that this is instead an authentic Chinatown.

Having grown used to the extremely touristy Chinatown in Singapore, with lots of cool and cheap souvenirs everywhere, I have come to expect all Chinatowns to be equally bustling and touristy. In my heart, Chinatown is supposed to be a “tourist attraction” rather than an enclave really meant for the Chinese community to work and live in.

Sometimes I feel slightly sorry for the Chinese living in Chinatown who probably cannot venture out of Chinatown since they speak little English. This means they are essentially cooping themselves up in a small area, and the only USA they see is a Chinese-speaking one. In fact, if you just hang around Chinatown all the time, you can’t even feel that you are living in the US!

I know they would also love to explore other parts of the US, or try out different cuisine, but how is it possible when you can’t quite speak the language? And to say the truth, it is not easy to learn a brand new language i.e.English if you are already not young.

Therefore I now see Chinatown as a rather important place in each US city. It is truly a sanctuary for Chinese-speaking foreigners where they won’t feel alone and out of place.

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Scarlet Heart Ryeo vs Scarlet Heart Chinese Version (步步惊心)

Recently I started watching Scarlet Heart Ryeo, the Korean remake of the 2011 chinese hit drama. I think anyone who has watched the Chinese version before would agree that the Chinese version is better in terms of the intricacy of the plot, the characterization and the acting.

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Love Lee Joon Gi’s chiselled jaw line!

When I was watching the Chinese version, I felt that I was really immersed in the Qing dynasty time period, however when I was watching the Korean version I simply felt that I was watching an idol drama with the actors all donning traditional Korean costumes.

Chinese version wins in intricacy of plot

It might have to do with the shortening of the series. With just 20 episodes for the Korean version, there is quite a lot of stuff to pack in. And we all know that themes of fighting for the throne has a lot of potential for witty plots and devilish schemes, which are not really fleshed out in the Korean version. Rather, there was quite a lot of focus on the female lead interacting with the different princes in the Korean version, which actually does nothing much in developing the plot.

And because the characters in the Korean version are quite one-dimensional, it does nothing much in portraying the personalities of the characters either. To me, it was quite annoying seeing IU depicting a rather stupid? and cutesy girl in the first half of the Korean version.

Chinese version wins in characterization

In the Chinese version, it is easy for the viewer to fall in love or at the very least root for the different princes because their personalities are more complex, and they have more role to play in terms of helping either the 8th prince or the 4th prince in fighting for the throne. I mean, so many viewers fell in love with the 13th and 14th prince in the Chinese version, because their roles were really fleshed out very well, and they seem like such believable characters.

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The different princes’ characters are fleshed out better in the Chinese version.

As for the Korean version, I can’t help feeling that the different princes are simply role-playing. And the princes in the Korean version somehow feel a lot more immature. Especially the 10th prince. OMG.

Having said all these though, there are still redeeming qualities to the Korean version of Scarlet Heart which led me to watch them every week without fail.

Korean version wins in portrayal of 4th Prince

The biggest and probably only reason is Lee Joon Gi’s portrayal of the 4th prince. I was just so so so impressed with his acting even though I had never watched his dramas before. This drama really converted me into a fan.

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Lee Joon Gi is really great in acting!!!! I’m so impressed!

Even though the Korean version did not showcase the personalities of the other princes very well, it did succeed in showing the viewers the personality of the 4th prince. Wounded, violent, intense yet tender-hearted to loved ones. Of course, Lee Joon Gi’s acting really helped in fleshing out the character. It makes your heart bleed when you see his mother being nonchalant and malicious towards him. And you so very want him to get  good ending, because he deserves it!

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Nicky Wu as the 4th Prince in Bu Bu Jing Xin.

In the Chinese version, I wasn’t that impressed with the 4th prince even though he is supposed to be the main lead. I know many fan girls fell for Nicky Wu’s portrayal of the stoic yet intense 4th prince, but I just felt that he was slightly too intense and easily jealous for my liking. In fact I even felt that he deserved feeling lonely for snatching the rightful throne away from his brother who was a very likeable character. It is very important to root for the main lead when you are watching a drama yet I don’t even root for the main lead in the Chinese version.

Korean version wins in development of 4th Prince and female lead’s relationship

In the Chinese version, the female lead just suddenly became passionately in love with the 4th Prince which was really weird. In fact, when I was watching I wondered if I accidentally missed out some scenes cos it was that abrupt. When I watched it on youtube, many netizens also left comments wondering why is it that the female lead suddenly fell for the 4th Prince.

One fine day, the female lead just asked the 4th Prince if he is interested in marrying her. And from then on, the female lead became extremely in love with him. Which was really strange. Apparently the original book developed the relationship better, which wasn’t fleshed out that well in the Chinese drama.

As for the Korean version, the relationship between the female lead and the 4th prince was a lot more believable even though many scenes were also spent on developing the 8th prince’s relationship with the female lead initially.

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Lee Joon Gi with IU, the two main leads of Scarlet Heart Ryeo.

Firstly, because of how inferior the 4th prince felt about his appearance, we as viewers understand why he fell for the female lead, who was probably the first girl to see his scar and to fully accept his scar. From then on, the 4th prince was steadfast in his love for her, therefore when the female lead was ‘dumped’ by the 8th prince, it was understandable why the female lead started to accept the 4th prince, who was always there for her.

Because the Korean series is still ongoing, everyone is really clueless about how the ending will be. Me too! I can’t wait to find out!

 

 

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Ernest Hemingway’s Birth Home in Oak Park, IL

Recently, thanks to the Open House weekend in Chicago, I got a chance to step into Ernest Hemingway’s birth home without paying a single cent of admission fee. Yay!

Out of the 200 plus free architecture sites that offered free admission, Hemingway’s home was the only site that attracted me and thus I took my little trip to this suburb.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t as far as I thought for it only took about 25 minutes on the CTA train before I reach the nearest train station, Harlem on the green line.

Then I spent about 20 minutes walking to the site. Thankfully, the weather was great that day, cool and cloudy so I wasn’t cold and I wasn’t scorched by the sun either.

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A nice neighborhood, makes me feel like I am in Europe. Though I’ve never been in Europe before haha.

I really like the whole vibe of Oak Park. The houses are pretty. There is this really old-school feeling to the houses’ architecture and the whole neighborhood was really quaint with thrift shops and restaurants. Helps that there was great fall foliage too!

Long Long Queue

After I finally reached the place, there was already a long queue in place!

I thought it would move fast, but unfortunately not! In the end I spent about 1.5 hours queuing up although there were just about 60 people in front of me I think. Sigh. Thank god for the cloudy weather if not I would be grumbling non-stop about the harsh sunlight shining on my already pigmented skin.

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A long queue outside Hemingway’s house. Why didn’t I reach earlier!

After the long long wait, I finally proceeded in. I really like the vibe of the place! Apparently the house was an example of the Queen Anne Victorian architecture style (if I didn’t remember wrongly). By right there should be a guided tour of the second floor and the first floor. However because of the long queue? or cos it was just a preview for the Open House program, we were only given a tour of the first floor.

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The curved windows.

At least the guide still gave us a tour. It would be a complete waste if there was no guide around to tell us a bit about the history of the house.

20161016_150322_resized20161016_150234_resizedI would have loved to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright house nearby which was also one of the site with free admission for the Open House program. Unfortunately my dear husband has no more patience for long queues and hence I didn’t visit in the end……

But Oak Park is definitely a place I will introduce friends to stop by if they are ever visiting Chicago!

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A Romantic Night In Seaport Village, San Diego, CA

Recently I have been researching on my next travel destination, which is San Francisco, and seeing all the pictures in San Fran reminded me of my time in San Diego several months ago.

Even though Seaport Village has been described as a rather touristy place, I really liked it when I was there. It might be the balmy weather (which I have a special liking for), or the waterfront views, but somehow Seaport Village really left an impression on me, and surprisingly on my husband too.

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Beautiful Seaport Village.

I first headed to The Headquarters at Seaport, and the very minute I reached, I heard live Spanish music being played and saw people dancing energetically to the music. That was completely spontaneous and such a romantic concept. Spontaneous dancing just cos you heard music? Definitely won’t happen in Singapore.

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Dancing on a cool evening.

And amazingly everyone could dance very well. In fact I was wondering if it was an outdoor dance class? Because that’s really some sleek moves. My husband and I were really amazed. That scene of people just enjoying the music and letting their bodies sway to the music really left a great impression on me. I still think of that scene fondly till this day.

After that I walked on to Seaport Village and the first thing I saw was the vintage hand-carved carousel. At about 3 USD per ride, I felt that it was a must-do, however touristy it might be. And I was glad I took the ride because it was the most exciting carousel ride I’ve ever taken! It was surprisingly fast, totally unlike the kiddy slow carousel rides usually in theme parks or amusement parks.

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The pretty hand-carved horses.

Actually the appeal of Seaport Village is in strolling down the waterfront, taking in the views, and browsing through the quirky items in the shops. As someone who really enjoys shopping, Seaport Village is really suitable for me as there are many interesting shops, some of which sell touristy souvenirs, some of which sell really cool items like wooden toys, super spicy chilli, intricate paper weights etc.

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Apple Box Wooden Toys which sells wooden toys, naturally.

Maybe because I went in the evening, there wasn’t really a lot of people and the whole place was quite serene. All these aspects added to the romantic charm to the place, especially since I was there with my husband.

Definitely worth a visit if it is your first time to San Diego. Easy to go too, I went via the trolley which stops near the Seaport Village.

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Cocoro Sushi: Yummy Comfort Jap Food in Chicago

I love Jap food. And I love affordably-priced food. Therefore after researching a bit on authentic Jap food worth trying out in Chicago, I decided to try out Cocoro in River North area.

It seems that many Yelpers highly recommend the eel seiro, so that was what I chose for dinner even though I’m not a mega-fan of eel.

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It is quite affordably priced at 16 dollars, with a reasonably sized portion. I am not sure how eel is actually supposed to taste because all the ones I had in Singapore always had this smooth, slimy texture, but the one in Cocoro was quite dry.

However I was really satisfied with the takoyaki appetizer  which is quite cheap at $6 for 6. The ones I had in Singapore sold in random stalls (not even restaurants) are already priced at about 3 USD for 3, so I think it is really quite a good deal.

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Also ordered the scallops which tasted pretty sweet and fresh!

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All in all, we had 2 main entrees and 2 appetizers, all for about $56 before tax and tip. Not bad. Originally I wanted to order the shabu shabu for 2 which cost $56. But then I decided to opt for 2 mains and 2 appetizers for the same price. If I want to get hotpot, I might as well just get them in Chinatown for half the price haha.

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Exploring Jiufen, Taiwan

For anyone sick of shopping non-stop in Taipei, Jiufen is an ideal day trip as it is reasonably near Taipei city, yet offers a refreshing change in scenery with mountain views, old-fashioned walkways and cool teahouses.

I’ve visited Jiufen long ago when I was a student in Taiwan but couldn’t quite appreciate its beauty and charm because I visited in the daytime where it was crowded and bright. Plus, I wasn’t aware then that this is the destination that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away movie. Now that I’ve re-watched Spirited Away, visiting Jiufen takes on another significance and adds a romantic aspect to its charm.

To me, Jiufen is best explored when it is during the cool season, because when you go during the summer, the heat plus the crowd in the narrow alleys makes it quite unbearable which takes away the positive experience.

It is possible to take a bus up to Jiufen, but being lazy I just boarded a cab from Ruifang train station since it wasn’t expensive either, about 200 TWD.

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The mountain view you get when you reach Jiufen.

Jiufen is all about shopping along the old streets and trying out the snacks. And even though it is quite a touristy experience, I really enjoyed it, because I’m just someone who likes cheap and cute trinkets, and Taiwan is really great in producing cute stuff!

Due to Jiufen being the source of inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, there are many stalls selling Spirited Away’s merchandise. But of course, the most famous attraction is still “A Mei Teahouse” (阿妹茶楼), which is cited as the teahouse that inspired the bathhouse in Spirited Away.

This teahouse looked pretty nondescript in the daytime, but started resembling the famous bathhouse once the sky dimmed and the red lanterns lining it were lit up at night.

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The exterior of A Mei Teahouse.

I was quite surprised at how expensive it cost to have tea in A Mei Teahouse. 600 NT for 2! And all it included was a small pot of tea for 2, and a few random pieces of snacks like sugared plums and crackers. Completely unsatisfying. And the cost price was probably 50 NT.

Surprisingly, Jiufen was still pretty crowded at around 7pm even though most of the shops have closed or were in the midst of closing. I guess it is because everyone is just like me, waiting for the sky to turn dark so as to capture the iconic lantern-lit scene of Jiufen. However because it was so crowded, it was impossible to capture a serene lantern-lit Jiufen as seen on postcards, but one with many people in the picture.

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A still crowded Jiufen at 7pm.

Most daytrippers would go home by about 7pm to head back to Taipei, but I had booked a night’s stay at Jiufen because I heard reviews that you can then wake up to fresh air etc. haha. In the end, it is not like I woke up bright and early to take a morning walk anyway.

But I do appreciate the fact that staying in Jiufen means I can enjoy Jiufen in the morning before the hordes of tourists come. In fact it was probably the only time when there were no crowds. It is for once quite peaceful.

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An empty Jiufen in the morning.

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Jiufen in the morning.This is a nice place for picture-taking!

One of my best discoveries in Jiufen this time round is a shop that rents out costumes from different eras which allows you to cosplay in different settings.It is called 秘密基地. I had a great time trying out the different outfits and trying to look like I am a princess from the Qing Dynasty though I was suffering inwardly from the heat.(Read it here)

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The place where you can cosplay and take pictures!

Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed myself in Jiufen since I basically like everything about Taiwan. Looking forward to my next trip there.

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A Freezing Dip in Su Ao Cold Spring, Yilan, Taiwan

I’ve visited Taiwan many times, but I have only visited Yilan once, therefore when I made a holiday trip to Taiwan again this summer, I decided to place more emphasis on Yilan as opposed to Taipei.

As anyone knows, Yilan is known for its hot springs. But because it was so swelteringly hot in summer, I gave the hot spring a miss but opted for the cold spring instead, which happened to be just one of the two natural cold springs in the world!

Given that it is a rare find, I expected Su Ao to feel slightly more touristy, or at the very least, slightly more bustling. It was thus quite disappointing to alight from Su Ao train station to be greeted with a sleepy-looking town.

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I alighted from the Su Ao train station and walked to the cold spring on foot.

The cold spring wasn’t exactly very easy to find either. I had to look for road signs and ask for directions, but all in all it was just about 10 minutes from the train station on foot.

The entrance of Su Ao Cold Spring looked quite impressive, unfortunately the interior was not. I guess i was hoping for an onsen experience like that of Japan’s, but this was more ‘local’. It was only after my visit when I realise that there is actually a more upscale cold spring in a hotel nearby, oh well this is what happens when you don’t do your research properly.

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The entrance of Su Ao Cold Spring.

When you go in, you can opt for a private room which was what I did. I chose the hot and cold spring combo in a private room whereby you are supposed to inter-switch between the hot and cold pool to get your blood circulation running.

I think the staff did not clear up the water in the hot tub properly before I went in. By right the tub should be empty when you enter, and you are supposed to release the hot spring water from the tap yourself. Unfortunately, I just went into the filled hot tub when I saw it.

And it was only after I looked at the instruction manual on the wall that I realised that the tub is supposed to be empty. So it means I am actually dipping myself in water that had already been used by others!!! OMG.

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The hot tub that was already filled when I went in.

As for the cold pool, it was indeed freezing cold. It was supposed to be a refreshing dip, but somehow I just kept feeling really cold, even though it was summer. Due to some natural minerals or something, the cold spring is supposed to be bubbly, and it would be quite a fun and interesting experience if not for the fact that I felt quite cold.

Strangely enough, I felt that there was an iron smell from the pool. Initially I wondered if it could be that the natural cold spring water contained iron minerals? After all it was quite plausible. But then no articles I read ever claimed that cold spring water contains iron. So my conclusion was, perhaps the pipes are just rusty?

All in all. I think it is not a fantastic experience. But then again, it is not really expensive, so I guess I shouldn’t expect too much. It is still a rather interesting experience, and also a tick off my bucket list. After all there aren’t so many cold springs in the world for you to try out. So to any first-time visitors to Yilan, I still think it is an activity worth trying out, especially if it is during summer.

 

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Good Food And Cheap Buys In Maxwell Street Market, Chicago

Recently, I have taken to going to Maxwell Street Market on Sundays, not because the items sold are really that fantastic, but simply cos it appeals to my bargain-hunting auntie nature. The items I see sold in most fairs and street markets I’ve been to in Chicago are usually not that cheap, especially after converting them back to SGD currency.

Maxwell is the only one which offers cheap choices as it is essentially a flea market selling both second-hand goods and new items.

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Bags bags and more bags! All at cheap prices!

I’ve hunted for a huge bag with many compartments for a long time, and I finally found it in the flea market! It is a brand new “High Sierra” bag at only 20 USD, which I believe is one-third of its original retail price.

Actually I always wonder how and where the vendors get their goods. In fact I have a feeling that the process in which the vendors get their products are not that legitimate, because the prices for new items are just way too low. There are even Maybelline foundations at only $1! But then again, I don’t care where the product comes from. I just want cheap and value-for-money items, and it is possible to find such items if you dig hard enough here.

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Military equipment.

The items sold here are really interesting. There is even a stall with all the military equipments. I truly wonder where the vendors get all these?!

I even see a stall selling all sunglasses for 10 USD, many from brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci. And the thing is, they look pretty genuine. I was too shy to ask if they were genuine or not, and even if the vendor says they are genuine, I’m not sure if I should believe them. But this will be a good option for souvenirs to bring back to Singapore (if my friends don’t mind not-sure-if-it-is-really-branded-or-not items).

One reason why I like frequenting Maxwell is because my husband likes the tacos here. And they are indeed pretty good! I don’t even eat Mexican food in Singapore, I mean I don’t know which place sells Mexican food. But I’ve been having quite a bit of Mexican food in Chicago and grown to appreciate it a bit.

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Yummy and cheap! About $2-$3 for one.

I also ordered a pina colada. Unfortunately I didn’t hear properly and ordered the one that comes in a pineapple and hence it is very expensive! It is over 6 USD, which means it is about 8 to 9 SGD?! OMG, can’t believe I am having such an expensive drink in a flea market. On a positive side, at least it looks pretty in photos.

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My pretty but expensive pina colada.

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When You Are No Longer Excited About The New City You Are Living In

This time last year when I just set foot in Chicago, I remember how I viewed everything with a sense of wonder and anticipation. Skyscrapers! Gorgeous parks! Street performers! Everything was viewed through rose-tinted glasses and I couldn’t help feeling excited about what lies in store for me, from making friends to exploring cool places.

Fast forward one year and I am simply filled with a sense of ennui.

Nowadays my biggest joy comes from buying groceries in supermarkets. When I landed back to Chicago last week, all I wanted was to go back to my apartment and catch up on my sleep. And when I woke up, all I wanted to do was to watch Korean dramas and Taiwanese variety shows on my laptop.

It is fall season now and probably the best time to enjoy Chicago before the cold sets in. The temperature is comfortable and the scene beautiful I guess, with leaves in the midst of turning yellow. Yet I am not at all interested to check out the view. As mentioned, I am only interested in going to supermarkets to buy groceries so that I can whip up my own comfort food. I remember excitedly waiting for the leaves to turn yellow last year because it was my first autumn in another country but this time round I just can’t bring myself to take a stroll around the nearby parks and streets to take in the beauty.

On a positive side, it might mean that I am no longer a tourist. After all I am also extremely nonchalant about checking out interesting stuff to do when I was living in Singapore. On a negative side, it might also mean that I am completely bored in this new city that I am living in.

I am someone who really likes living in a foreign country, but I guess there is a limit to how much exotic stuff you can take. After a certain period of time, you just want to be in a country where you feel completely at ease with the culture. And I am so not an ang moh pai. If I were living in Taiwan or Japan instead, I believe my sense of wonder won’t cease so easily.Or rather, even if the excitement were to cease, I would probably have progressed to the stage of being comfortable in the new city, much like a local.

Therefore, when choosing a country to relocate to, I think it is extremely important to factor in the culture and of course the cost of living.

Hopefully my current state of sian-ness stems from me still adjusting since it is just my first week back after 3 comfortable months in Singapore.

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Writing Travel Articles Without Stepping Into That Travel Destination

With the ease and low cost of travel nowadays, it seems like everyone I know travels very frequently and could easily branch into travel writing.

Of course, if you are someone who enjoys writing and travelling, travel writing seems like the best job on earth where you get to experience life and culture in different cities and still get paid!

In the past, whenever I read travel articles, I will be very sure that the writer did go to these destinations that he or she was gushing about. However it is no longer the case in today’s context whereby creating “shareable viral content” is the key. Sometimes I check out those articles with attention-grabbing headlines like ” 10 Must-go Attractions in Paris”, “5 Cutest Cafes In Japan” etc, and I read them with interest. Then I start to check out other posts by the same writer and realised that he or she had been proclaiming must-go attractions in all over the world, and obviously this person couldn’t have gone to so many places within such a short span of time.

Naturally such writers did their due research before publishing all these attractions that they are gushing about, however how can they write with such certainty and such authority when THEY HAVE NEVER BEEN TO THESE PLACES? I mean, wouldn’t you feel embarrassed about it? What if the online content you found wasn’t updated and the attraction had already closed down? If you just check these attractions’ websites, of course they will be tooting their horn wouldn’t they?

And then these people proclaim to be travel writers. Isn’t travel writing all about sharing genuine experiences so that readers can gauge for themselves if they want to go? Isn’t the whole point about sharing new undiscovered gems so that readers can have more places to check out? By rehashing material already in the online sphere and rewriting them, how can there possibly be new content? At the end of the day isn’t it just following the crowd? All those hidden gems that you are introducing are in actual fact not at all hidden because if they are, you wouldn’t have found it online, copied it and rewritten it for your travel story.

Recently I managed to get a regular freelance writing gig where I am supposed to come up with regular Singapore travel articles. The pay was pretty ok and it means I can have regular income while enjoying my sabbatical/part-time studies in Chicago. Yet it also means that I will be doing armchair travel writing because all these travel articles are for Singapore while I will be in Chicago.

I really wanted to do it so that I can get regular income with flexibility in time. It means I can write travel stories while in the comfort of my home! But I just can’t bring myself to do it. I tried one, and I ended up feeling really paranoid, and ended up travelling to that attraction that I was writing about just so that I can confirm the information. And the thing is, when I reached the attraction, I realised that the ticket price online is wrong! If I did not head down to that attraction, I would have given a wrong ticket pricing for the travel article in which I wrote like I was such an expert on it.

Therefore, the conclusion is, even though I love money, I hate bluffing people. So it is bye bye to regular income for me. Also, while I really appreciate good writing, I also appreciate people who write stuff that they mean. Sometimes I read blogs where the blogger has really bad writing skills, but I can tell that she is really writing about her personal experiences in her blog. At least she really did try the food she was recommending and visit the country that she was writing about. And this matters. I can’t bring myself to respect people who call themselves travel writers when they don’t visit the places. I also disrespect websites that call themselves travel websites but publish such content even if it means it will get high readership and all. Haix… guess I’m getting obsolete in this era where being viral is everything.

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