4

Hey Cherating, Love is a Balancing Act.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. – Albert Einstein

Royal Botanical Gardens

When I was in Melbourne last June, Nuds and I were walking at the Royal Botanical Gardens. It was the perfect place I wanted to end this trip of mine, one I followed his suggestion without any question. As we were walking aimlessly, there was a question he asked me which still rings in my ear today.

“Do you think you’ll migrate out of Malaysia?”

Given our history, growing up together, this question has been in everyone’s mind for years, in fact decades. Five years ago or even before that, I would have answered yes in a heart beat. Without thinking at all, I knew that would be my answer. No freaking doubt.

But as decades go by, I took a minute to digest. I know whatever answer I give, he’s one to never judge me. Who knows me inside and out.

“Maybe when I’ve got nothing else to give to Malaysia, I will.”

He gave me that boyish smile of his, like he knew what my answer was.

Melbourne Park

Then, last Wednesday when I got the chance to go on a firefly tour in Cherating, Pahang.. what I’ve prepped myself up for two decades turned it’s table with one humble man.

While sitting in a small room listening to this exuberant person, I was convinced he’s heavily influenced by Japanese culture. Or at the very least, must have studied with a Japanese. Everything about him, the way he speak, his body language and intonation, everything just reminded me of how a (passionate) Japanese would act. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s been learning with a firefly expert from Japan, Prof Ohba Nobuyoshi the past four years.

I’ve not been in a room with someone as animated of a character like him, this firefly whisperer by the name of Mohd Hafiz. He sure puts a smile on my face that night, just seeing him explaining about his love for non-syncronised fireflies just lifts my spirit that much higher.

Here’s a video I managed to capture, and at the right time too. Do ignore the last few seconds. Sorry about that.

I’ve always relate back the experience being around fireflies as a magical experience, the closest feeling to what Disney tends to gravitate to. This time around, with Hafiz around, that experience just got elevated 35364 times more!

It’s in the way he waves his wand red torch light that he’s able to speak with fireflies, requesting for them to go where he wants them to go. Who would’ve thought that there’s such study about firefly communication. Each flicker, wave means something. Ah, it just felt like I was in a different world – one we Malaysians are blessed by this fragile spirits yet we never knew much about.

Apparently, this particular firefly “language” he speaks is only meant for the non-synchronised fireflies – fireflies that are able to live in any mangrove trees (which are deem as the tougher breed) and they don’t flicker in the same rhythm. The ones we’re used to in Kuala Selangor are syncronised fireflies (Photinus Carolinus)- they huddle together in one group and in one specific tree. For obvious reason, they all flash at the same time, same beat. How did he know this? He experimented it and came to this very conclusion.

Pretty neat research isn’t it?

On top of that, he’s recognised by Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) which is an important status I might add.

So, what’s so awesome about this experience that you’ll need to go to Cherating, to be more specific – Hafiz’s? The thing is, only Hafiz gets to command for the fireflies to come to him, and they’ll flicker all around you. He’s capable of getting these little ones fly to where you are and be surrounded by them. Other similar tours just point to the firefly at the tree. That’s the special part.

Because the mangrove area is only seven kilometers, we took a boat which could fit in about eight people. That’s probably the only thing that I wish we could do better. Although, one boat can cost up to RM30,000; too big of an amount to spend right now. Honestly, despite Hafiz mentioning that Cherating’s mangrove area is a small one .. just being out there in the dark in the boat for seven kilometers per way is one I felt so happy about. In Kuala Selangor, you’ll prolly get a kilometer north and south but that’s about it. This one, it really felt like we were on a mission. One helluva adventure I might add.

Unfortunately, my trusty TG820 is incapable of taking any photos of the fireflies. I accepted that fact and captured those moments in my mind instead. You’ll just have to go there to know what I’m talking about.

Hafiz Cherating Firefly

You know how animals have wicked instinct about Mother Nature and what’s to come? Hafiz told a story about how he was in a boat with a passenger who wanted to check out these fireflies and his magic powers. When they were in the mangrove area, he tried calling out the fireflies but they refused to come to him. I wish I could demonstrate to you the way Hafiz narrates his story. It’s so fascinating. Anyway, so they (the fireflies) told him it’s going to rain heavily in a few minutes (when fireflies are hiding under the leaves and didn’t want to come out, it means they are shielding themselves from rain) but his passenger didn’t believe him, said the sky is clear, there’s no rain. Hafiz was adamant, if they were going to be out there in the dark any longer, it will be a big problem. So he turned around. Lo and behold, rain poured heavily the next minute just as they were nearing the jetty.

That’s probably when his passenger knew how special Hafiz is. He should, I hope.

I know what you’re thinking (or maybe not), where’s that heartbreaking part I’ve been talking about?

When we got off the jetty after an hour of awesomeness, I was determined to have a chat with the firefly whisperer. I don’t know what aura he has but it’s very alluring. It’s even more exciting to know that he also does other activities if you’re a nature person. The mangrove cruise we got to experience the morning after is another must do. I’m not a fan of reptiles or amphibians but just being here with them made me feel at peace for a short while. That I was doing my best pushing the thoughts about not taking action in taking care of our environment, ’tis too shall pass.

Sigh.

I can’t tell you how amazing I felt being out there with nature. It just felt so right, so wonderful..I swear my heart could’ve exploded with glee.

But..everything just went downhill from here on, the moment I hear his stories. Albeit they are not bad just for someone like him, I wish I could do something, help making something better for him.

Hafiz Cherating Firefly

So this magician, this whisperer we got to know for mere hours is actually from Myanmar. He ran to Kuantan in the 1980s when Myanmar had a major political conflict. At first he and his friend went to Thailand but found it difficult to learn Thai to survive so they decided to extend their journey to Kuantan where they worked in a local restaurant for 20 odd years. It’s from there that he learned Bahasa Malaysia.

Don’t be fooled easily, Hafiz is as bright as they come – B.A. in History from Rangoon University and a degree in Civil Engineering from Singapore. And after 25 years of settling here in Kuantan, it’s unfortunate that he couldn’t get a Malaysian Citizenship despite all his effort in keeping our eco system balanced. To know that he couldn’t go to a firefly symposium in America next year because of his refugee status just shattered my heart. It’s not that he hasn’t tried to appeal, it sounded like he has may times but things just falls apart along the way.

The thing is, he discovered his love for fireflies purely by accident. It was when he decided to take the boat out for a run along the river that he realised his hidden talent. That’s when he made a point to study about fireflies and make his place as part of a research center (well somewhat). He even held a dialogue with other firefly experts from around the world at his little corner of the world, discussing about everything and anything revolving around fireflies. Right now they are researching on a particular chemical from the fireflies.

Can you imagine the kind of mind-blowing, earth changing things that could happen if he is being supported by the right channel? The fact that he’s not even Malaysian to begin with and fights for our eco system is something I just cannot swallow. Purely because, here is someone who’s never seen fireflies, chose to be in Malaysia because of the incident back home yet we who inherit all the wealth and peace take our environment for granted.

The things is, it’s not just fireflies he’s fighting for. This man here even went to the sea and saved a lost Tapir. A friend of his called him up one day, telling him about this Tapir in the sea. Hafiz knew Tapir cannot survive in water and so, he took his boat to the sea, threw the rope like a cowboy and brought the Tapir back to the land. Blessed his pure soul, it’s people like him that makes me want to fight the good fight in Malaysia. There are still so many souls out there doing what he does, fighting for our future but are neglected just the same.

Hafiz Cherating Firefly 2

From what I gather, people all over recognised him for what he does and loves but we don’t recognised him as one of us. Yet you get stories like Bangladeshis who come to Malaysia with an identity card (IC) in hand. It just doesn’t make sense, not by a mile. Makes me so angry that I want to help but don’t know how. Politic world is not one you want to get your hands dirty but if no one cleans it up, what we have today is history tomorrow.

On top of that, he only charge RM25 per head for the tour. For something this amazing with someone with heart of a champion, I wouldn’t mind paying RM40 because at least I know that extra money will go into his research. It’s times like this I wonder to God, why would he put these brilliant spirits in this situations. I dunno. I’ll pray better things will come for all the hard work he’s put into. The fact that he goes out with his team three times a week to clean the river is beyond admirable. It’s no wonder the mangrove is spotless.

You know you have so much respect for yourself when everything you do, you do it with respect.

“I tried passing this knowledge to my brother-in-law, everything I know but in the end if you don’t have the heart, it just doesn’t work.” Mohd Hafiz bin Abdul Majid said when asked if he trains other people.

Cherating Mangrove

When I go back to Nuddin’s question and I think of heroes like Hafiz, I feel like I have a responsibility to do here. At least for now, until Malaysia couldn’t tolerate me anymore. If all the good ones go away from their nest, who’s going to defend? And therein lies so many questions in my mind, uncertainties, dreams and hopes.

I guess as a dwarf, I can only take it one day at a time and hopefully a little piece of what I do in life makes Mother Nature feel a little bit better. Also for the rest of us who depend on her to be healthy.

Side Note: Anis wrote an awesome piece about Hafiz for News Straits Times yesterday. You should definitely read The Magic of Hafiz and The Fireflies. And if you wish to check out other activities in Cherating by Hafiz, check out his blog and facebook fanpage Hafiz’s Cherating Activities.

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6

The Medicalis

When I woke up on Day 5, reality hit hard. I couldn’t believe 4 days have gone by so fast and we’re leaving the day after. Good thing that reality came and went in a minute or two, I was back on this reality right away the moment I recognized the hotel decors.

At least we’ve still got one more day out of MySelangorStory.” I psyched myself.

This buddy system thing MSS had been applying throughout our stay is a good rule whereby whoever we share a room with, we’re responsible for each other. We’re suppose to know where our roommate is if one is not around. That way no one gets lost for no reason alone. Despite many times Chia Li had told me that I could go for breakfast first before she gets ready, I was adamant not to. What if Amelia asks of her and she’s not there, I’ll be sure to get some drilling. Also, if ever we couldn’t find the rest, we’ve got someone else with us to figure it out.

I highly approve of this system indeed!

Like many times before (especially during fasting month), my tummy has it’s own schedule to eat. When this message is transmitted to my brain, I automatically didn’t take any photos of our buffet breakfast at Sunway Pyramid Tower Hotel. I managed to shove nasi lemak into my mouth knowing how grueling our itinerary for the day would be.

After breakfast, we’re all set to go to the hospital. No, no one’s hurt or sick. This is one trip I underestimated since the day we were made aware of it.

This is Tropicana Medical Centre (TMC). It is situated in Kota Damansara, a place I often visit for IKEA’s meatballs, meet clients or friends. I never thought I’d stepped foot in this building. Then again, it’s a good thing I didn’t have any expectations for this visit. That way, I’m able to absorb and enjoy what they can offer us. Settle!

Going a day without warm greetings by people is a death wish. When we were greeted by TMC staff, all joy and happy to see us – it made the start of my day from nothing to Woohoo! Oh c’mon, if someone greets you sincerely, you would of course be just as elated as the next person too. Kudos TMC for rewriting hospital experiences for all of us even before we were briefed. 🙂

We were attended by TMC Management at the entrance, it’s like a field trip but with a touch of VIP-ness to it too 🙂 We were taken (even demonstrated) to many of their facility rooms like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scanner, Computed Tomography (CT) Scanner, Digital Mammography, Imagining Room (where Flouroscopy machine is seated) and even Sinar X room.

As much as I love to capture the photos of each and every machine they have, I was too busy figuring out what is where. There’s simply too many medical terms to remember and understand, I just had to put my camera down; chose to concentrate to what TMC staff was explaining.

It did felt a little bit like being in the Crime Scene Investigation scene.

When we were brought to see how the machines functioned, it opened my eyes to know how hi-tech TMC has been. Their state-of-the-art machines only speaks half of what TMC offers.

 
They even brought us to the Physiotherapy Center for kids and adults. The parquet tiles they used for this entire section is very similar to what I have in my house, the only difference is – they applied a special coating on the surface to protect their patients from falling down or suffer injuries if they do fall. Indeed, it shows how meticulous they were when they build this hospital. From a visitor’s point of view, it looks more like a gym than a physio room. Cool eh?
I remember drawing Mickey Mouse & Goofy as a thank you message to my doctor after my first surgery when I was younger and he pasted it on his message board at the waiting room. I would looked at all the messages/drawings that was pinned there. Somehow it gives a certain comfort while you’re waiting.
When I saw this thank you note on the glass door, it put a smile on my face. A small gesture is never too small to give an impact to others. 
In case you were curious, that’s how Brandon Lee looks like. Next to him is Mr. Alan Chin, TMC’s Marketing Manager who were so patient in answering my 1001 questions -______-
We also managed to make a trip to the Fertility Room. Most famous visit among all. Since we were divided into two groups, and I was with a bunch of curious cats, our tour lasted way longer compared to the other group. I’m not complaining, because I learned so much as everyone asked questions.
We even managed to go into the labs at the semen collection room, intensive care unit (ICU) room, delivery room, as well as the one and only – viewing room.
What’s this viewing room about? It is where some very qualified doctors play god. It is the room where In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is performed. I used to read this from science textbooks. Now that I’m able to be present where it takes place, it gives that much more impact. 

You know what would be perfect with this field trip? All schools should make a point to do the same. Our education system has been known to be full of flaws and students shouldn’t be confined in the classroom and books to learn something. They should go out, be curious and see things.

That and at least it knocks some senses in their head about what reality, responsibilities and consequences are about.
Yes! This would be the perfect visit. At least for the 16-17 years old.
Each doctor in the Fertility room has a featured wall and therein photos of every baby they had help. Got me wondered how do they remember so many babies but when you’ve touched so many people’s lives, you will somehow manage to remember each single one of them.
I didn’t know TMC is the leading fertility centre. With so many articles and success rates, this is something Malaysia should be proud of 🙂 Hello, you can give birth to twins with 18 months separated in between. That’s.. almost unheard of until that very day. This world..it’s moving so fast, or I’m just not on the same page. Hmm.
Their suites are very comfortable. Being the kid that I am, I love their kid’s suites for it’s cartoon murals. It just brightens up the room. Their room rates is stated here and with the kind of facility they offer, I think their rates are affordable. It’s bigger, newer, cleaner and more comfortable than many other similarly reputable hospitals close to it’s rank. 
The best part is, TMC really wants to rewrite every patient’s experience being in a hospital. Their suites are enough to justify that.
As we waited in the International Patient Centre, I found a leaflet regarding the classes and workshops they offer for expecting parents like Ante Natal Class, Parent Craft Programme and many others for a very affordable price. Had I not found this leaflet lying on the table, I wouldn’t have known about it. See, there are many of us who are not aware what classes like this are able to help parents to expect after a baby is born. Those who do also knows that such classes are expensive to join as they’d charge you per session.
So this is definitely a blessing for all parents, one TMC should promote everywhere. I would know because I’ve got a friend who was interested but wasn’t able to commit to the price outside, and a few others who went and praised about it. 
For instance, the Parent Craft Programmed has 2 sessions, first session is about the development of foetus, understanding the stages of labour, the miracle of stem cells and baby immunisation. Second session comprises of nutrition in pregnancy, pre and post natal exercise, breast feeding and care of newborn. This package only costs RM140 per couple for both sessions. Tell me this is not the best news ever? 🙂
I’m very glad that TMC really placed people’s needs as their utmost priority, even if they’re not (yet) a registered patient of TMC. Small steps like these would most definitely woo them in 🙂 Hey, they won my heart like many other thousands of hearts out there too.
We were served with refreshments(more food!) before we left this incredible hospital. 
Amelia then announced of TMC’s new plan; to publish their own medical blog which is A GREAT NEWS. They should spread the greatness to others.They should and they must.  I hope they’ll go all out in advertising their services because I couldn’t imagine the amount of good deeds they’ll able to do with people.
Trivial fact of the day, the world medical derived from Latin medicalis/medicus for physician.
It’s only 1/3 of the day, and I’ve been made aware about the science of medicine. It’s a tourism on it’s own, one I just found out too. 
See, not expecting anything is a good thing indeed. I wouldn’t be as excited as this if I had expectations.
Well done Tropicana Medical Centre. You rock. 
There’s still 2/3 of the day to go and I assure you, it’s a ride not to be missed. 😉 So stay tuned!
All thoughts are welcome here. It’s evident by the way I write that I love to communicate. Sooo..feel free to do so 🙂 And if you think this entry deserves a vote, it’s been awesome to go to MySelangorStory/TheMedicalis 🙂 Grazie mille!
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Le Petit Paris à Viêtnam: Part 2 – Daylight Run Around Day 1

Much like the title suggested, I really do think HCMC is the Little Paris in Vietnam for it’s well organised and structured town planning, all thanks to their French counterpart back in the day.  Even the compact sized tall buildings were are build according to a standard measurement to keep the consistency of look and feel of the city. Like the French, HCMC has many parks for everyone to work out or wind down.

Any place with parks around is good for me when I feel like walking among the greens and not worry about crossing roads or cafes closing. Parks are perfect when you need to collect your thoughts at any time of the day or night, one thing that KL will never have due to certain regulations. Once, my Science teacher once said if my eyes are tired, all I need to do is look at the trees or anything green to relax. So yes, parks are a definite sight for sore eyes 🙂

This particular section of the city in Dong Khoi Street, District 1 (opposite Majestic Hotel, where I stayed) definitely resembles the French flair. The cafes are all around the city; left right, up down. It’s everywhere! And I realised they love their New Zealand Natural ice cream too. Food wise, there are a whole selection to choose from whether you prefer your food to be served in restaurants, markets or by the street. This particular part reminds me a lot of Malaysian food. Vietnamese food is a mixed of Chinese, American, French, Japanese, Thai and a bit of Malaysian. So, don’t worry if fried insects or snake wine isn’t your thing, there are a lot of other edible food around too.

 They have this concoctions to make drinks and desserts. They could make Ais Kacang (Red Bean Ice)!

If you haven’t heard, Vietnam is synonymous with Phở bò – a type of beef noodle soup. Oh so very delicious. And if you choose to have it from the small stalls, your eating area will be the streets itself. Anywhere you like 🙂 The prices ranges from very affordable to very expensive. Pretty much caters to all.

No city can get away without having a go-to market. It’s your one stop to do all kinds of shopping, at least that’s what Cho Ben Thanh is about. Front part of the big market will satisfy your clothes/shoes/accessories/souvenirs and the other half is dedicated to all kinds of food/drinks you can imagine. It’s a mad world in there. So, if you do go in, put on your best poker face and make sure you survey the prices before bargaining. They can be very aggressive to sell you anything and sometimes, it pays to be nice and talk to them to distract them from selling you things you don’t want.

 

I’m horrible at bargaining. Seriously. But I do enjoy chatting up with the sellers, some of them are really friendly. When they found out I’m from Malaysia, they put on this big smile and get so excited. It’s an amazing energy just being around them.

I was snapping her photo when she told me she’s shy then proceed to make conversations with me. The owner of this stall is the guy who was waving in the picture asked if I had taken his picture, and thank god for this one! 🙂

You know, now that I realised it..wherever I go, I’ll bound to discover a piece of Malaysia around me. I don’t know why but it’s just one of those things. Like being in this very chaotic market, so chaotic, I had to remind myself to focus..lo and behold, I heard someone speaking in Malay out of the blue. Turns out to be one of the many sellers who happened to marry a Malaysian or something like that selling material cloths.

 Busy busy.

🙂 No matter how many times something like this happens, it’ll always manage to surprise me. Possibly one of the reason why I love traveling so much – the further you are away from where you come from, the closer you get to it.

Ok, I underestimated. It’s more than 2 parts :/ It’s obvious I love my stay while I was there and there’s just so many things I experienced that I can never put it into a few words.

I’ll sign off with this quote that I can relate to 🙂

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake.
The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

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Le Petit Paris à Viêtnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Formerly known as Saigon) Part 1 – The People

I realised how different I have become traveling these days as compared to my first time. We all grow up, hopefully a better person and through traveling, it is easier to see where we stand in this world (if it even mattered at all). So through this blog, I’ll see where/when/what and how my perception changes in every place I go while writing about it. 

The thought of being ‘bare naked’ for the world to see me is a little intimidating. Oh well. If one out of billions of people can learn something from my journey, it’s all good.

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things
– Henry Miller

In a way, this was the lesson I learned when I went to HCMC/Saigon.

The #1 thing I learned about traveling that I carry around with me is to never have (or have as little as possible) expectations about the places you will be going. When I have this in mind, I’ll be guaranteed to have the time of my life no matter the outcomes I’ll be getting. It just makes it that much more easier to appreciate what you have and accept things the way it is and not the way you want it to be.

When I was getting ready in my seat to HCMC, I really don’t know what to expect (even with the materials I read up about the city) except to capture as many photos as possible and..

to cross the roads of Saigon! 

Yes, it was in my To-Do-Before-I-Die list. A true testament about how little expectation I had.

The journey is about 2 hours from KLIA to HCMC. There are over 20 airlines with direct flights via this route. Malaysia Airlines(MAS) offers low fares (RM180 per way) and it sure as heck worth the money + 20kg (It never hurts if you do shop a lot).  🙂

South East Asia’s essentials are the sun and rain, but different levels of humidity. In Saigon (I’m so used to saying this than HCMC), the weather is somewhat similar to KL, not as humid but I was told it can be just as hot certain time of the year.

This is the view of HCMC from the top. Compact as compact can be.

When I saw this from my window, I was taking away but it’s density yet you can still sense the French town planning. Like a kid getting a lollipop, I was excited to land and go crazy with my camera. Oh the many visuals I had in mind.

Superfragilisticexpialidocious!

The people are great, friendlier than I could have imagined. Always one to smile back at you, one to say hello. Heck, one of the motorist on the road near Notre Dame church who was planting a kiss on his son’s forehead, waved at me when he realised I was taking his picture. He even greeted good morning to me too. That was simply the icing on my cake.

The guy who made my trip sweeter.

I have come across many friendly faces while I was traveling but that particular one easily stood out among the rest. Thank you for making a permanent mark in my mind whoever you are 🙂

So the moment I sat my foot on the ground, I asked Tom who was my guide during the stay what would be his advice for me to cross the street. He simply said – Just cross the road!

Right, in theory; that sounded so absurd, it was just not possible.

Being the scaredy-cat that I am, I took a second to close my eyes and prayed that I’ll be able to cross the street in one piece. Even if it was just one street. Took a deep breath and crossed.

Holy mother of all things crazy, Tom was right (obviously) and it was really about just crossing. The road users will stop/slow down for you. So this was what it must be like for Moses to part the Red Sea back in the days huh?

In a way, I could relate that concept with driving a car. When you are driving, just drive. Once you feel hesitant in overtaking, pressing the throttle or making a turn, you will be dangerous not just to yourself but everyone around you too. In other words, being confident makes a big difference in saving your life.

After that, I’m a pro at crossing the roads 🙂 Day or night. One more thing less to do before I die.

During my unfortunately short stay, I knew the best way to get to the heart of HCMC is through it’s people. And it pays to just be yourself, happy and smiling like you know them. I can’t tell you how effortless it is to break the ice with them just by smiling, as if their walls come crashing down.

Despite the war, the wound is still very much open and in recovery mode. It’s so raw, it makes you realised where you come from, how lucky you have been and above all else, the fact that they can still carry on with their lives, put a smile on their face and welcome people as their own is one that I find humbling most. I can’t imagine the pain they have to endure with the side effects of Agent Orange, made a million or so victims deformed.

I could still remember the feeling as I type this like it was only yesterday I was there. Devastating indeed.

I can’t imagine being in the photographer’s shoes when he witnessed all this behind a lens. I really can’t.

So in reality, this city is walking with sorrow and motivation to move forward hand in hand. Not an easy task I must say but they are making it work, building up the people and city one step at a time. All I can say is that, they can move further as long as their good heart remains intact. They have a big heart. They truly do.

Ok, this entry turned out to be longer than I expected it so I’m breaking it into two parts – The People & The Art. I have so many things to say about this wonderful place but no words will do just therefore you people have to go there and experience it 🙂 There’s always a good reason to travel.


*A month later I got to know @Vietnam720 from twitter. Had I known his existence way before, I would’ve gotten a lot more out of HCMC but that’s ok 🙂 I shall make a return someday. For those of you who haven’t, add him up. He’s a cool guy who knows a lot about Vietnam.

Till the next post 🙂 Make the most of what you have around you!