How Criticism Makes You Better: a Case Study of Lindsey Stirling

So it’s been about a month since my last post on Chester, and I just wanted to pop in and say that I’m still alive, that it’s not all doom and gloom in the past month. I’ve experienced some emotional dips and crests, but life is all about riding the waves and making it back to shore anyway, so I’m choosing to take it one day at a time and focus on the things I can change and the things that make life worthwhile.

And recently I came across this (relatively) old video of the dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling and was blown away by how much she had improved since she first got her start on America’s Got Talent Season 5.

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Image from Glamour

So you may know Lindsey when she first entered the spotlight back in 2005. She got voted off the show by the judges, but then went on to make incredible YouTube music videos that have garnered – wait for it – half a billion hits so far.

Check out part of her discography:

Song of the Caged Bird

Crystallise

Roundtable Rival

Lindsey is amazing, so talented yet humble and inspiring. I’ve been a huge fan of her since she first took the audition stage, a bright-eyed manic pixie girl who could dance and prance across the stage while playing the violin.

I call her an inspiration because, like a true artist, she is passionate about her craft and constantly, tirelessly, seeks improvement. Her audition at AGT was, objectively speaking, not the best. She was still pretty raw as a performer, like every artist would be at the start of the their journey. But she’s worked hard to fix her pitch problems and stage presence to become the absolute star she is now.

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Like a true artist, she is not content to rest on her laurels and stick to the tried-and-tested formulaic way of performing or playing. She does covers of popular tracks like:

Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Greenday,

The Scientist by Coldplay (with Kina Grannis and Tyler Ward),

Radioactive by Imagine Dragons

Phantom of the Opera and Lord of the Rings medleys

As well as original pieces with her musician friends.

Like a true artist, she put herself out there, trying out for AGT and putting herself under public scrutiny and exposing herself to (often harsh) criticism, especially from the judges. Piers Morgan even said that she played like rats being strangled and that she wouldn’t be able to fill half a show at Vegas, and others said that the world doesn’t want to see a dancing violinist (basically implying that there was no place in the world for her).

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But like a true artist, despite feeling incredibly crushed after bring served all that criticism and voted off the show, she took all the judges’ feedback to heart and went somewhere with it. She knew that the judges were, in their own way, right. (Okay, they didn’t have to be so blunt but hey, take what you need from it and the rest is just white noise.) She became even better, more innovative and practised, in terms of her music and dance and craft and stage flair.

Almost 10 years later, she has released two original full-length albums and gone on sold-out world tours. Lindsey grew tremendously as an artist BECAUSE of the criticism.

 

And to see that rousing standing ovation she received at the end of her performance made me SO proud of her I cried. There IS a place for her music in the world after all.

She mentioned that despite being voted off the show, she still believed that she could make it, that she had something to offer the world. And she held on to that faith in herself. Turns out, there IS a place for her music in the world after all.

So perhaps, while we’re busy doubting ourselves as we take baby steps towards our dreams, we need to get out of our own way and hold on to the belief that the world will always have space for what we have to offer.

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Drama Review: Scarlet Heart Ryeo

A friend of mine told me that I’ve had a major fall at least once every year since she’s known me. And she’s not wrong.

In 2014, I fell right smack on my tailbone and had to work from home for three months. In 2015 I fell while boarding the bus, split my lip and busted my knees. This year, I fell on my left knee and the side of my right foot while rushing to work from the swimming complex on Monday morning.

So I spent the whole of Tuesday like a downright slob, watching dramas and camping out on YouTube, using my injury as an excuse to procrastinate on the proper work. The self-loathing is real, guys :/

It feels terrible not being able to move about freely, go for a swim, or even do a jumping Jack. Now I know how frustrated and upset my granddad must have felt after he broke his hip. So pardon me for hiding out in drama world for a day (and wallowing in self-pity).

The plus side is, I finally managed to finish this terrific South Korean drama called Scarlet Heart Ryeo (AKA Moon Lovers), and now I’m in a COMPLETE WRECK thanks to it. I’d been putting it off for a month before finally deciding to watch it since people around me kept urging me to.

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And boy, was it worth the watch! I had never really been into time-travelling historical fantasies, but this drama completely changed my mind! Historical dramas are now my new obsession!
(Especially now as I’m planning Land of Sand and Song, a YA historical fantasy novel, I’ve been reading up on bloody monarchs, one of which includes Emperor Gwangjong. Scarlet Heart Ryeo is centred around this character, how he came to ascend the throne and gained his reputation as a wise, fair, but ruthless emperor known for the emancipation of slaves and the extensive purges of nobles who rebelled against him. This Tumblr post offers a detailed yet digestible explanation of the early Goryeo dynasty (Korean dynasty established in 918 by King Taejo).)
Scarlet Heart is based on a book trilogy written by a famous Chinese author, Tong Hua (who also wrote Sound of the Desert, if you remember my earlier blog post raving about it), and there’s a reason why people get so obsessed about her stories. She has perfect acumen in terms of plotting, and a particular knack for delving into her characters’ psyches, fleshing out delicious backstories, and then transforming them over the course of the story.
I didn’t watch the original Chinese version (because the number of episodes it had is quite daunting), so I went in without any expectations.
With the Korean adaptation, I was first blown away by the beautiful cast
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Then by the GORGEOUS costumes and cinematic visuals
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And the EPIC orchestral OST (more on that later!)
The Korean version, at only twenty episodes, was fast-paced and concise – every scene and dialogue is crucial and I couldn’t skip any scenes because they were all so gripping.
Scarlet Heart Ryeo is, in a nutshell, a palace drama with a twist, beginning with a 21st century girl down on her luck who goes into a coma after an accident and ends up in the Goryeo dynasty as Haesoo, the cousin of the eighth prince’s wife.
There, she meets the princes and is caught in the middle of their power struggle after the incumbent king takes ill. She soon falls in love with the warm, kind and sweet eighth prince Wang Wook (played by the cinnamon roll that is Kang Ha Neul) AND IT’S NOT HARD TO SEE WHY
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His smile can thaw the harshest winter

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THEY TRADE POETRY as a form of courtship. Can we adopt this practice for the 21st century please *__*

But things change when the fourth prince Wang So (who would eventually become Emperor Gwangjong) enters the picture. Abandoned when he was a child (sent to a live with noble family, but basically abandoned) because of a scar on his face, Wang So (played by the charismatic Lee Joon Gi) is the textbook misunderstood bad boy with a broken heart.

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The lonely, misunderstood, often feared Wang So. As much as the eighth prince’s smile captured my heart, I wanted to give the fourth prince a much-needed hug 😦

He watches as the power-hungry Wang Yo (third prince) claws his way to the throne, backed by the ruthless Mother Queen Yoo (also Wang So’s mother, but he gets ZERO loving from her, that cold bitch), watches him try to exterminate all threats to his position, including his brothers, and vows to become king so as to end the bloodshed and indiscriminate killing.
Along the way, Haesoo and Wang Wook’s relationship changes as the latter begins to yearn for the throne. Haesoo and Wang So grow closer as she helps him cover up his scar and becomes instrumental in his ascension to the throne. So there’s a lot of deception, mercury poisoning, emperors driven to madness, bloodshed, regicide, fraticide, betrayals, broken promises and broken hearts, and also a lot of romantic swoon-worthy moments in this drama.
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The final episode of Scarlet Heart destroyed me – I was literally sobbing into my palms. It’s a tragic ending (the kind most historical dramas tend to have) that completely rips your heart out, but it was gratifying to witness the way the entire story played out, how some characters came full circle and how others changed, for better or for worse, how history came to be written.
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Scarlet Heart Ryeo was the first Korean drama project for Universal Studios and had a budget of US$13 million. It was significantly less of a commercial success than the Chinese version, and I know some viewers were frustrated at how the story ended, but I personally LOVED it. It didn’t have the happy ending everyone hoped for, but I think if the screenwriters had pandered to the audience’s wishes and wrote the cheesy, predictable happy ending, the story wouldn’t have ended on such a strong note – one that is ridden with regret and sorrow, and the yearning for more.
ALSO, the orchestral OST is the icing on the cake. It is THE BOMB – I’ve had it on replay for days!
Have you heard anything quite as beautiful?! I think what made this drama such a fantastic escape and reprieve from reality is its keen sense of place, and the OST definitely helped set the mood.
So tl;dr contrary to what the naysayers think, I absolutely ADORE Scarlet Heart Ryeo. It helps if you just take the drama for what it is without comparing it to the original version. Overall, the plot and pacing and dialogue are tight, intricate, and pack a mean punch. It doesn’t have a happy ending, but its ending is perfectly sublime in the amount of catharsis and pathos it evokes. GO WATCH IT IF YOU HAVEN’T, THEN PLEASE COME AND FANGIRL WITH ME.
What are your thoughts on Moon Lovers? Any other recommendations for period dramas? I am officially a fan of Lee Joon Gi now and am planning to watch his previous dramas, Gunman in Joseon and Scholar Who Walks the Night!

Here’s how to wing it for a 10-day trip in Italy

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If you’ve been following my posts on Facebook and Instagram, you would have seen all the photos of my recent Italy trip I’ve been spamming. (Apologies for that – there’s just too much to share about Italy!)

To say that the trip was good would be an understatement. It was my first free-and-easy holiday with my girlfriends and, all things considered, it actually went pretty smoothly and we had a grand old time in Pasta-land.

We traipsed around Rome for the first three days before taking a train down to Venice for another three (hitting up Verona for a day), and finally completed the loop with the last two days back in Rome.

In case you missed those posts and want to see the daily recap, here they are:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

Yes, that does seem like quite a packed itinerary. We broke our record on Day 2, when we visited SEVEN places: the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Capitoline Museum, the Trevi Fountain, Via del Corso and Via dei Condotti. Our calves and thighs were aching by the end of the day, but hey, we accomplished all that we set out to do!

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Those are grimaces, not grins

The rest of the days were no less tiring, but we still felt that we could have visited more places. We didn’t get to visit Murano, an island off Venice that manufactures exquisite glassware, and Burano, another island off Venice recognisable by its rows of colourful houses and is also known for its lace-making.

I’ve just about exhausted myself (and everyone) gushing about Italy, especially Venice. But I’M GOING TO KEEP TALKING ANYWAY.

Venice is so incredibly lovely, from its beautiful artwork to its rich, vibrant culture, to the cold, foggy weather, to the seagulls and the sound of water lapping against the shore, to the maze of alleys that present an interesting shop at every corner, to the lazy chug of water buses to the astounding architecture. Especially at dusk, before the fog creeps in (and even after that), Venice looks like something out of a fairytale.

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See why I can’t get enough of Venice? The Republic may not be a trading superpower anymore but it still retains its past glory like a dignified old dame.

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Rialto Bridge at night – The Rialto Bridge is the intersection where many merchants and traders gathered to unload their goods back in Venice’s heyday. These days, it’s a hotbed of fine dining restaurants, pubs, and shops.

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Outside Doge’s Palace

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Inside Doge’s Palace – the Venetians were not one to be defeated when it came to interior design! This is the Council Chamber, where the Pien Collegio (Full Council) met to organise and coordinate the work of the Senate.

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The Grand Canal at night

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A typical morning in Venice, where you’re woken up by the sound of seagulls and water boats chugging lazily down the canal

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Awe-inspiring architecture in Doge’s Palace. The doge (derived from Latin as “military leader”), was the chief magistrate and leader of Venice for over 1,100 years (697 – 1797). He was elected for life by the city-states aristocracy (the Council of Ten).

Anyway, I’m running off course.

Depending on what you plan to do on your trip, or the kind of trip you want to have (relaxed or action-packed), here are some tips on how to make the most out of your holiday:

1. Ignore the effects of jet lag

If we had given in to our weariness after a 13-hour flight (with a four-hour transit in between), we wouldn’t have been able to see the Colosseum and the Roman Forum in the day or the Pantheon at night. Why would you want to sleep off your first day on holiday anyway? Shake off the tiredness and hit the streets! There’s so much to do and see!

All psyched to visit the Colosseum despite our jet lag! #JLPtoItaly #colosseum #wanderingaroundrome #perfectweather

A post shared by Joyce Chua (@thewritesofpassage) on

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And boy, was the view worth it!

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The Roman Forum at dusk

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The remarkable street art that we would have missed if we had caved in to jet lag!

 

2. Visit the places of interest closest to you first

Our hotel, Duca D’Alba, was just a two- to five-minute walk away from the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill, so of course we covered those first.

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Trekking up cobblestone lanes lined with clementine trees #traveldiaries #JLPtoItaly #wheninrome #blueskyday

A post shared by Joyce Chua (@thewritesofpassage) on

Also, Vatican City was just a few train stops away from Rome, so we got up bright and early to visit it.

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After the tour of the Vatican (which took up the most part of the day itself because it is that huge and chock-full of magnificent things to ogle at), we made our way down to Saint Peter’s Basilica, which was only about a 10- to 15-minute walk away.

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It was dusk by the time we managed to beat the queue and enter the cathedral grounds

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But we got in a little too late, at half an hour to closing time (6pm), so we were being hurried out before we could venture deeper

 

3. Find convenient means to get around the city (or your vicinity)

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Image from the official Rome Tourism Site

Most big cities like Rome should have a transport pass for visitors. We got our 72-hour Roma passes for €38.5 each at the airport, and it allowed us: 1) to take any bus or train for an unlimited number of times, 2) two free admissions to any national and city museums in Rome, and 3) discounts to other sites after using up our two free entries. Pretty good deal, I’d say. It also saved us the hassle of buying tickets every time we wanted to take the train.

 

4. Plan a day trip to somewhere nearby

Given that Verona is just an hour’s train ride from Venice,  we decided to take a day trip down to visit the home of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. And it turned out that there was a Christmas market going on! This just goes to show that you need to venture out a little more around your area. You might just be surprised at what you’ll find!

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Charming ole Verona

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The Bard

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Love locks outside Juliet’s house

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Christmas cookies for sale!

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Verona was certainly all ready for Christmas!

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Dusk falls over Verona

 

5. Check out all the shops you want to…

… the first time round. Because you might not be able to find it again and you’ll waste time retracing your steps! Don’t bookmark the shops you want to explore later – just enter when you see them.

Be it Venetian masks

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Sweet treats

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Specialty lace from Burano

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Special edition books

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Fair warning: these cost upward of 50 euros each

Pretty stationery

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Candy (with the Pope’s face on it)

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Gelato

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More sweet treats that are packaged too delectably to eat

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Or gorgeous artwork on magnets and postcards

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Look at all the pretty art! I wanted to get one of each!!

Whatever it is you’re itching to get the first time round, GET IT. You’re likely not going to be back for a while, and you don’t want to go home regretting not having bought what you wanted when you first saw it (just like I’m regretting not buying those postcards now).

 

6. Allow ample time to catch your transport

We very nearly missed our 2.30pm train back from Venice to Rome, because we had lunch at 12.30pm at the highly-recommended La Zucca

After visiting the Libreria Alta Acqua (High Water Bookstore) in the morning

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The shop front is so nondescript you’d have to know what you were looking for or you’d miss it!

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Yes, they have an “erotic corner”

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Book nerds will rule the world one day … after we finish the next chapter!

So it was a mad dash from our Airbnb apartment (which was GORGEOUS, by the way)

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Spazzing over the decor

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To the Santa Lucia train station by water bus

We made it FIVE MINUTES before the train pulled away from the station. In our carriage, we panted and laughed like lunatics. Good times.

 

7. Squeeze in some time for shopping

While my travel companions were very much into the commercial brands offered in Rome, I was more fascinated with the novelty stores in Venice.

Black Friday shopping in Rome. #traveldiaries #JLPtoItaly #BlackFriday #shoppingtime #roamingaroundrome

A post shared by Joyce Chua (@thewritesofpassage) on

But whether or not you’re a fan of shopping, whether you prefer international commercial brands or indie one-of-a-kind novelty stores,  you’ll be glad you got some sort of memento for yourself or souvenir for your loved ones to remind yourself of your time in the place you visited.

 

8. But also make sure you get your culture fix!

One of the main reasons why I travel is so that I can immerse in the different cultures all around the world. Italy is not only rich in history (the Roman Kingdom was founded way back in 753 BC, and Venice was part of the once-mighty Byzantine Empire before it usurped its position as an economic force to be reckoned with), it is also fiercely proud of its culture, which it has for the most part retained over the centuries. So it’s perfect for culture and history buffs seeking inspiration and wonder.

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A bird’s eye view of the Roman Forum

 

9. Stop and smell the roses (so to speak)

Buskers, street art, ancient architecture, the people … There’s just so much to take in about Italy. While you’re busy Instagramming the moments (guilty), do take time to glance up and admire the sunsets, the street art, inhale the scent of olive oil and clementines, and keep your ears peeled for the strains of a street busker playing his saxophone or violin.

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Sometimes, I feel sad that talent like this goes unnoticed. But you are not invisible to me, sir!

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One thing I love about these Italian street buskers is that they seem to be having such a good time just playing music for the crowd without expecting much in return!

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This guy was so genuinely grateful for the appreciation passers-by showered him with. It’s like he didn’t expect his music to resonate with so many people!

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10. Be flexible with your itinerary

There are times when things don’t go as planned. We wanted to see Murano and Burano, but we didn’t have enough time. We wanted to see the Pantheon before the sun set, but the bus came late. The girls wanted to shop more, but we had to catch our flight home.

If you’re going to grind your teeth over every little thing that doesn’t go your way, then you’re going to make this trip miserable for yourself. If you get lost, explore. If the place of interest you planned to go is closed, go somewhere else. Problem solved!

 

11. Don’t get distracted by cute babies (or dogs)

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This cutie was so amazed by the plastic taffy being sold everywhere on the streets in Rome!

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While this little guy kept “roaring” at us and toddling around chasing pigeons in the square!

Okay, I understand if this is impossible. Because Italy is teeming with cuteness like the above. It’s like everywhere we went, there’s a basset hound or Golden Retriever or shih-tzu sniffing around. And they’re all so well-behaved!

And the tots! They were all so precious I just wanted to squish them!!

 

12. Lastly, always keep your GPS on

Google Maps was our saviour for the entire trip. It also helps that we had Liz, who is actually good at map-reading, to save us all.

 

So, where to next? Any recommendations? I’m thinking Sicily, Florence, and Naples. Or maybe Versailles. Or Positano. Or Santorini. Or Wales! Sigh. So many places, so little time (and so little money).

Oh and if you have any travel tips, do share them in the Comments section below too! Off to dream about the next holiday now. Thanks for reading and have a great week ahead! :0)

Travel Review: 20 Things About Beijing (Plus Pic Spam!)

How did the last week fly by so quickly?! Feels like I was just busy packing my luggage yesterday and now I’m back to reality. Beijing already feels like a lovely dream I’ve woken up from all too soon.

I had high hopes for the trip, mostly because I finally get to immerse in all the rich culture of my ancestors, witness something authentic and steeped in tradition, and collect research materials for the new novel I’m planning that is meant to be inspired by ancient China. Oh, and also enjoy some chilly fall weather away from the humidity and heat of Singapore.

And boy, did Beijing live up to those expectations. This is going to be a long post, so if you have the patience and interest to read all the way to the end, I applaud you in advance. Suffice to say, the trip was rewarding in terms of food, accommodation and itinerary, and we went at a comfortable pace.

Here are some of the highlights (because no trip to Beijing is complete without a visit to those tourist hotspots and historical and cultural landmarks):

Day 2: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Shichahai (什刹海) 

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Tiananmen Square is a heavily guarded and monitored area

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Entering the Forbidden City

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The Forbidden City is closed on Mondays, which explains the Sunday crowd

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Such ornate furnishing! Such detailed embellishments! *__*

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The court in which the emperor welcomed his visitors is out of bounds to the public, so we could only jostle for a glimpse (and an unobscured shot, if you’re lucky) of his majesty’s seat

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Palace grounds

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Strolling down the streets of the historic, scenic Shichahai

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The food street!

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There was a mini railway track for the city tram to pass through!

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This ice-cream stall saw long queues even in fall, so my dad had to give it a try. It sells green tea and strawberry soft-serves!

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Boat rides around the Houhai (Back Lake) shopping and happy hour district

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We took one of these trishaws around the area – little did we know we were in for the ride of our lives! Seriously, what are those trishaw-pullers’ thighs made of? I call it three-wheeled Formula 1

Day 3: the Great Wall and Ming Tombs

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This Chinese guy made his son take a picture with these three American triplets, who were quite the star of the show as everyone cooed over them as they climbed. Their parents were incredibly gracious and amiable even though they didn’t understand what the locals were saying half the time. They remind me a lot of the Obamas in terms of disposition and mannerisms.

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We came, we climbed, we conquered!

Day 4: the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven

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Entrance to the emperor’s summer villa

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And my stone lion obsession continues

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This old guy was dancing to a Chinese pop song and totally played it up for his bemused audience who were filming him. The tourists LOVED him.

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This old street artist is so incredibly talented. Keep scrolling down.

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How can someone be this talented and unrecognised?

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The portrait of an artist

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This guy’s still going strong.

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MIND. BLOWN.
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The qilin (麒麟) is a mythical chimerical creature with oxen hooves and the head of a dragon. It represents prosperity or serenity.dsc_0636

 

 

 

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The Temple of Heaven

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Magpies! I’d never seen one before. They were hopping all over the palace garden.

Day 5: Day Trip to Tianjin

The bullet train down to Tianjin took only half an hour. Tianjin, being a coastal city slightly south of Beijing, was understandably more blustery. But we were too cold to walk about very much and stayed near the riverside to take pictures.

Tianjin is a lot calmer than Beijing, without all the crazy neon lights at night and roads roaring with waves of traffic. It’s got beautiful European-style architecture because it contains several concession territories ceded by the Qing dynasty to European countries, the U.S. and Japan. These self-contained concessions were each complete with schools, prisons, hospitals, and barracks.

The pace of life seems slower there too, and our tour guide told us that Tianjin is like the Canada of China, where its people have a laidback, easygoing vibe and a sense of levity and humour for most things, vastly different from the severe, businesslike Beijing-er.

Day 6: Day Trip to Chengde

Up north, the town of Chengde is a four-hour drive away from Beijing. Temperatures are notably lower, and it sees snowfall weeks earlier than Beijing. When we got there, it was already experiencing single-digit temperatures (Celsius), and the rain didn’t help.

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Our agenda for being in Chengde was to see the replica of the Tibetan Potala Palace. But the place was half-closed for renovations and the local tour guide couldn’t wait to make our money, forcing us to pose for a group photo as soon as we arrived at the foot of the palace and then taking us halfway up before telling us the rest of the place is closed for renovations. I can take the rain, the cold, and the slippery ascend. But we were the only souls there, and the tour guide was kinda pushy. She offered no information or background about the place.

Nonetheless, the structure was majestic and we managed to get some good shots, even though we were freezing our butts off. But really, the cold is lovely once you’ve gotten used to it. And the rain made everything more beautiful. The top of the palace was laced in mist, and tree leaves lay slick and gleaming around our feet.

Mercenary locals, though. This was one blemish in an otherwise perfect trip.

Day 7: Back to Beijing

Shopping day! As mentioned, the standard of living in Beijing has gone up rapidly over the years, so don’t expect to go crazy in the shops. I spent mostly on snacks (girl’s gotta have her fruits) and souvenirs, which I regret not buying more of.

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Real-life scorpions wriggling on sticks before they are fried to a crisp!

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Selfie time!

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Well, hello handsome. How could I resist?!

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I don’t know these children. Why are they staring at my foot?

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My personal loot … looking too pink as usual

Our tour guide, Yoko, is a petite lady who was born and bred in Beijing. She’s been in the tourism line for over a decade – she became a tour guide right out of college – and you can tell how seasoned she is through her efficiency and practised manoeuvring at ticket counters, through crowds, and with the schedule. She is unfailingly polite, professional, and amiable. Plus, she’s well-versed in the history and sociocultural and political landscape of China (although some of her opinions are entirely her own), which makes her a very captivating story-teller and us a very rapt audience.

Here’s some trivia she shared with us along the way:

Ancient China

1. Emperor Qianlong is the longest-ruling emperor in Chinese history. He ruled for 60 years before passing away at 87.

2. The Temple of Heaven is where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties went to pray each year for good harvest. The Taoist temple is painted an unconventional blue (instead of the typical gold and red) to mimic the sky.

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3. Empress Cixi is a major female ruler of the late Qing dynasty. (The other is Empress Wu Zetian, who ruled China during the Tang Dynasty.) She started out as an imperial concubine who later ousted a group of regents and installed her nephew as emperor before rising to power herself. Despite her ruthless ascent, Cixi was an effective ruler. She was in power for 47 years from 1861 until her death in 1908.

4. Majority of the thirteen Ming dynasty emperors’ tombs are buried in a cluster near Beijing. The place was first set up by Emperor Yongle (the third Ming emperor), who selected his own burial site and created his own mausoleum.

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5. The Summer Palace consists of a man-made lake, Kunming Lake, and hill (the earth dug up for the lake was piled at the back), Longevity Hill. This is because the emperor believed in the fengshui of being fronted by water (to receive prosperity) and backed by mountains (to have support in hard times).

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6. The third Ming dynasty emperor, Zhu Di, reigned from 1402 to 1424, after he rose in rebellion against his predecessor, his nephew Zhu Yunwen. He named himself Emperor Yongle (永乐), which means “eternal happiness”. I don’t think his nephew got to experience eternal happiness.

7. The Forbidden City has over 1,000 rooms that the emperor would select at random to stay each night. This made it hard for assassins to try and kill him in his sleep.

8. The Forbidden City is called Zijin Cheng (紫禁城) in Chinese, which means “Purple Forbidden City.” This refers not to the colour of the city’s walls but to the night sky.

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9. The concubines who have fallen out of the emperor’s favour are banished to the  “cold” palace (冷宫), which is not cold in temperature. Rather, it’s similar to the English expression “to give one the cold shoulder”. The “cold” palace is relegated to the outskirts of the Forbidden City, far away from where the emperor usually roams, so the emperor can go up to months without sparing the shunned concubine a glance.

10. The oldest parts of the 8,851km-long Great Wall date back to as early as the 7th century B.C. That was when Chinese rulers first erected border fortifications to keep the northern armies at bay.

Contemporary China

1. Beijing is the political central of China, so most people there try to keep themselves up-to-date and well-informed about global current events.

2. China classifies its cities according to tiers. Tier 1 (一线城市) includes well-developed cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzen and Guangzhou. Tier 2 (二线城市) includes Tianjin (below), Chengdu, Wuhan, Nanjing, etc. These are the more modernised cities with dependable infrastructure.

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3. The standard of living in Tier 1 cities has shot up rapidly over the past few years thanks to the skyrocketing property prices and an economy that’s growing faster than the people can keep up with.

4. The stereotypical Beijing-er is someone who is straight-talking, no-nonsense, all-business and methodical in his/her work.

The stereotypical Shanghainese (according to our Beijing tour guide) is one who believes herself to be in the centre of the world, and constantly in touch with all the contemporary trends in fashion, art and lifestyle. (They didn’t dub Shanghai the Paris of the East for nothing.)

Shanghainese typically find Beijing-ers old-fashioned, conventional and crass in their manner of speech, while Beijing-ers find Shanghainese proud and loquacious.

5. Beijing is the city with the highest concentration of top-ranking officials.

6. Methods of governance that work on cities like Beijing don’t work on other provinces like Yunnan or Macau. That’s because those places are mostly made up of minority groups that are less likely to abide by the hard-nosed policies set by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and more likely to revolt if they’re being beaten into shape (so to speak). Macau, being a sovereign state of China, even gets special privileges like NO taxes. Yes, the people don’t have to pay taxes to the central government.

7. Beijing speaks the official putonghua (普通话), Mandarin Chinese, that the rest of China speaks, so everyone can understand them. However, they may not understand everyone else because each province has its own dialect and accent.

8. Beijing-ers love their tea. It’s cheaper than water, and they also believe it clears their breathing passage and keeps them hydrated during the cold and dry winters and smoggy summers.

9. Chairman Mao Zedong is a revered figure in China – his painting on the wall of Tiananmen Square is renewed every year on China’s National Day, 1 Oct.

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However, there were dissidents like the artists and intellectuals who were beaten down during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976). One of them, Lao She, was persecuted, denounced, and publicly humiliated. Devastated by his fall from grace, he took his own life by drowning himself in Taiping Lake. But these intellectuals made up a very small percentage of the people; the majority of the populace worshipped Mao. After the Cultural Revolution ended, though, Lao She was posthumously “rehabilitated” – his works were republished and several of his stories were made into films.

10. Beijing is home to major top universities like Beijing University and Qinghua University. Because priority is given to those living in Beijing, many parents moved to Beijing for a higher chances of getting their children accepted to the schools. (So you can imagine what that does to property prices in the area.)

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Congratulations, you made it to the end! You are either incredibly patient or have a deep fascination with Chinese culture. Either way, thanks for reading! I can’t express in words everything I’ve experienced and learned on this trip, but I hope what I managed to share is evocative and insightful enough so you didn’t just waste your time reading this post.

Beijing is a beautiful, vibrant city with a dynamic mix of the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary. There is so much to take in when you’re there. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of Chinese culture, I absolutely recommend a trip there.

I’d love to hear YOUR stories if you’ve ever been to Beijing! Which other parts of China do you recommend as well? I’m thinking of Hangzhou (the pictures look GORGEOUS, and I’ve heard lots of rave reviews of the place) or Shanghai next. Share your thoughts in the Comments below!

Joyce xx

Some chicken soup for the creative soul is brewing…

I know. It’s been more than a couple of weeks, and I did promise I’d blog at least fortnightly, if not weekly. But in between a back sprain and nonstop events for work, it’s only now that I managed to squeeze in some blogging time.

It’s been two week of aches and pains (which means I have to do everything slightly slower now so I don’t aggravate my back – this is torturous for someone who typically walks at 6.5km/h), and with all the work piling up in the office, I’ve been completely overwhelmed. Well okay, I got to attend a movie premier and a couple of makeup launches which weren’t quite so bad but man, the day job just doesn’t quit (pun intended)!

Thanks for the invite, @cloverfilmssg! #CallofHeroes Date with 🐴🐝 @yuyanpeng

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Anna Sui's new collection is soooo dreamy can I haz it allll 😍😍😍 #perksofthejob

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Lost in Anna Sui wonderland (and spazzing over customised palettes and new fragrances)

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#friyay #tgifridays #onassignment

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I’ve only been able to snatch a few moments here and there to work on the manuscript , but at least I’ve got some inkling of where it’s going. I’m at page 186 now so things are gaining speed, as they should. If only I can devote the time to write! As it is, I’m still trying to catch up on work and finish up a report (UGH, Excel. UGH, number-crunching)
Still, the plus side of my job is that I get to write about the things I like, such as:
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So there’s that, at least.
Also, I’m preparing to launch a series of interviews with creative types called Create Your Life.
The name for the interview series came about from the quote above. We’ve got a lot of storytellers in our midst – writers, artists, songwriters, musicians, and people who champion the arts – who have a lot to share about their own creative processes, inspirations and hangups. And as a writer myself, I am fascinated with how others find their stories. How they carve out a path for themselves as they venture into the unknown. How they satisfy their imagination and curiosity. How they overcome all the odds to make their dreams a reality.

#qotd for the dream chasers @yuyanpeng

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I think this is one of the main reasons why I like Eddie so much. Not just because he’s a pretty face – there are many pretty faces around, but what makes me relate to Eddie on another level is because he is someone who is incredibly passionate about acting. He’s not just a celebrity – he’s an artist. He revels in the process of delving into his characters’ psyches, experiencing the world from their shoes, and presenting it on the screen. To him, the process of understanding and portraying his characters is what brings meaning to his job. He gets to experience life from various points of view. To him, the outcome (box office success, awards, etc) doesn’t matters as much as the process.
As writers, we aim to do the same. We want to view life through different lenses, from different perspectives, and create characters that readers can relate to, root for, and find solidarity in.
And sometimes, when it seems like the manuscript is never going to be done, or that I will never be able to find the time I need to finish it or devote more of myself to my craft, I turn to Eddie-isms, his quotes on fighting for your dreams. He’s suffered setbacks before in his career (he even considered quitting before), but through sheer grit and hard work, the willingness to take risks and to devote himself entirely to his one true passion, he has now made a name for himself and is able to do what he loves for a living.
Here are some that I return to every time I feel stranded on the same spot:
The places you’ve been, the things you’ve seen, will shape your life. If you get stuck along the way, never let yourself remain stuck. Tell yourself this is what you have to go through now so that you will come to cherish the fruits of your labour even more.
Some dreams start off very far away from us. But the more you strive to achieve them, the closer you get to them.
Stay grateful for everything you have experienced and you will find the road to your dreams a lot easier to endure.
This is the reason why I’m doing the Create Your Life series. It’s to understand other artists’ journeys towards their dreams, their struggles, their fears, what drives them, what defeats them (temporarily). Hopefully it will awaken the dreamer in the rest of us and inspire us to make something good out of our one wild and precious life 🙂
Joyce x
[Psst! You may like to read more quotes here: Writing Inspiration for the Week]

The Muse Waits for No One

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~ Laini Taylor

You know how you’re in the middle of charging through a scene and you don’t really want to stop for any interruption in case the Muse decides to go play with someone else?

^ Current situation as I make the leap from act 2 to act 3 of Before I Remember You.

So I’m just sharing this inspiring TED talk by Lisa Bu before I bounce back to the manuscript. Enjoy!

QOTD: “I have come to believe that coming true is not the only purpose of a dream; its most important purpose is to get us in touch with where dreams come from, where passion comes from, where happiness comes from. Even a shattered dream can do that for you.”

This is incredibly important. Don’t give up on your dreams no matter how shattered or bruised they may be! They are what make you stronger and more resilient. Find a way to fix that dream, and protect it with all your heart.

 

Joyce ♥

Protecting Your Creative Mojo

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Came across this article on my Twitter feed today: Protecting Your Creative Mojo

“If you want a really creative life, full of the color and temperature of your ideal world, you’re going to have to do something drastic: let everyone down.”

Do we really have the courage to do that? It may sound noble to say that you’re making sacrifices to pursue your creativity, but how many of us actually dare to set those creative boundaries and carve out the life we had always dreamed of for ourselves? Maybe someday.

“If you want to do mediocre work and just kind of be average, then yes you can make gray washes of so-so, keeping anyone from commenting, much less noticing. But if you’re trying to do anything honestly creative, chances are you don’t actually have a burning desire deep down inside for blandness.”

In other words, be extraordinary like you always dreamed to. Even if it only means something to you. It’s quite in line with what Elizabeth Gilbert said in her book, Big Magic (which is an inspiring, motivational book everyone should read, IMHO).

“When you let others down it means you are defining your edges. You are deciding what exactly you’re willing to do, where you’re willing to live, who you’re willing to surround yourself with, how you’re willing to work. Those edges aren’t just borders, they are definitions. And for the artistic type, when everything is a possibility, creating definitions is what keeps you on track.”

“We forget to be honest when we’re so busy being polite.”

Ain’t that the truth. Stay true to what makes you YOU, don’t apologise for the things that inspire you or the things you love. The right people will understand, the ones who love you will support, and the haters will be drowned out in a sea of white noise.

Keep pursuing your creativity, keep chasing the muse, and stay inspired!

Joyce xo

Words In Progress

We think it’s infallible. We think just because we have mustered our creative mojo once that creativity will always be palpable, readily at the surface every time we get to work. The problem with this assumption is life will inevitably get in the way. If we are not diligent in how we get to work, the magic dissipates. The wondrous act of creation becomes a memory from the glory days rather than a measurable, living, breathing practice.

There are many different reasons we lose our productive push: our energy levels drop, we don’t have an environment that supports our work, we don’t schedule time to work. It would make sense that if we truly wanted to live a life of creative fulfillment, we would easily be able to just do it. But there are other elements at play when we self-sabotage like this and one of those things is our need to please others.

Unfortunately, as obsessed…

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