melanie liang

To share my little thoughts and experiences in this big world

SEP and Traveling


Madrid, Spain, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.

In September, I flew from Singapore to London, then to Morocco (Marrakech, Fez, Tinehir), up to Spain (Sevilla, Madrid, Barcelona), then to Italy (Venice, Dolomites, Florence). After which I went to Glasgow to start my term, visited various parts of Scotland and the highlands (breathtakingly beautiful). And I also went to Dublin, then to Iceland, then I did my exams… and after my exams I went to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Budapest and Rome. Did some pretty cool stuff along the way… The more vivid ones I can remember are going to the Sahara, hiking down a waterfall, seeing the Northern lights, jumping off a plane by myself, walking on a glacier, searching for a cave which I never found, ate fermented shark which was the worst tasting thing i’ve ever had, stuff like that.


Madrid, Spain, 2014. Photo credits: Leon Yip.


Sevilla, Spain, 2014. Photo credits: Dawn Ho.

When people ask me “How was your trip?” I try to condense everything I’ve experienced – excitement, amazement, anxiety, disappointment, anger, joy, tiredness – and all my memories into a short paragraph, but more often than not I just end up with this answer, “It was ok.” Because I’m never good with describing these personal experiences and feelings. Maybe because I would like to keep them to myself, or maybe because they were just too momentary to describe. So… I figured I should probably summarise my thoughts about SEP and my traveling adventures while I can, before I store these memories into a box forever. I’m not good at blogging about my personal life but I’ll try.


Dolomiti, Italy, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Venice, Italy, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Since I came back a few days ago, seemingly everyone has been telling me that I’m so lucky to be able to go on a “5 month long holiday”. Well, yes I’ve been really, really lucky to be able to travel around and experience so many amazing things, but I wouldn’t exactly say it was a 5 month long holiday. Before I left I used to look at pictures of friends who went for SEP on social media I’ve always had a perception that my SEP experience would be exactly like what they were going through, or exactly like what people told me it would be. That’s a false perception of course. After going through it myself I realised that the experience is very personal, very subjective, and dependent on what kind of traveler you are to begin with. The reason why I don’t think I was on a long holiday is because I was simply on a really tight budget. I was backpacking all over, wearing the same clothes every day, sleeping in some shit places, and at the end of it I was so tired. So so tired. Contrary to what many of my friends believed, I was actually looking forward to coming back home, back to my comfortable life. Of course I had fun. I had the most exciting experiences in my life! I’m just saying that it wasn’t all glorious and relaxing as my pictures put it out to be. People say that pictures speak a thousand words. But I think when it comes to traveling, pictures speak a thousand words less than the actual experience… (and also a few circumstances when pictures speak a thousand words more than it actually is).


Oban, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Edinburgh, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Like I said it depends on what kind of traveler you are. I’m not really a shopping kind of person, nor am I a foodie. So cities don’t really excite me that much. In fact, it was when I went to those touristy spots in cities where I realised that sometimes, pictures can overstate the actual experience. Maybe also because I had false expectations from those pictures which got me a lil’ disappointed in real life.

The most memorable moments that I experienced happened in places which took pains for me to reach, which is why those places seemed so raw, so natural, so untouched by humans. Absolutely breathtaking…


The Atlantic Ocean, Isle of Seil, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Isle of Seil, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Isle of Seil, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Photo credits: Dario Cippitani.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Photo credits: Dario Cippitani.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Photo credits: Dario Cippitani.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Photo credits: Dario Cippitani.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Photo credits: Dario Cippitani.


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Taken with Canon EOS 1200D.


Isle of Skye, Scotland. Taken with my iPhone.


Isle of Skye, Scotland. Taken with my iPhone.


Isle of Skye, Scotland. Taken with my iPhone.

When I used to see such pictures in the past, such a sua ku (uninformed person) like me would kind of imagine myself just appearing at that place out of nowhere, effortlessly admiring the view. I never knew that I had to get dirty, to conquer my stupid fear of slippery slopes and climbing rocks countless of times just to see the panoramic scenes that I saw. (I also stupidly slipped and stepped into mud and rivers many times and realised that this was probably the first time I’ve encountered so much nature in my life). Of course it was all worthwhile. You forget the discomfort, the cold, the hunger, and marvel at how amazing that part of the Earth looks. And in those circumstances, my pictures are an understatement to whatever I was seeing, thinking and feeling at that time and place!

That’s my kind of traveling.


“Confirm overbudget.” Not entirely true. Surprisingly, I didn’t spend as much as I expected to. But like I said I was on a tight budget. It was tough (for me, because i’m weak like that)… I can’t even forget those horrible nights I spent sleeping on benches at the airport. Not fun at all. People say it’s an experience. Well, I honestly think anyone should avoid such experiences if they can. On the bright side, I cooked for myself every day and discovered the joy of cooking. It’s fun to cook for yourself because if it tastes like shit you know you’re the only one eating it anyway so it’s not that bad.

I guess what’s important is to identify what you’re willing to splurge on, and what you are willing to forgo in order to save money to splurge on the things you want to splurge on. For me it was the solo skydiving course and Iceland. No regrets at all. I mean, Northern lights and skydiving… 2 things off my bucket list. Come on!


Madrid, Spain, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Dolomiti, Italy, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


Dolomiti, Italy, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


I was never a big fan of food. I don’t know where the local foods are in Singapore and I honestly never thought that I would miss having local food at all. But to my surprise, my eyes glowed when I found an Asian supermarket near my place in Glasgow. And there was one night I dreamt of carrot cake. Yeah, the best dream ever. Well, home is home.


There are many bad people in this world but there are countless of good people too. I’ve met some helpful and big-hearted individuals while traveling which got me through quite a few stupid situations that I got myself into. You often hear that there’s hardly a place that can be as safe as Singapore is. Kinda true. Lol. But ultimately, I think we should remember that there are good people and not so good people in every country. Some are just more visible than others. We just have to protect ourselves. 


Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone. 

If you did not know by now, I was a really stupid traveler one day and so my iPhone got stolen, along with some cash. I wasn’t shocked or anything though. It was more of a “sigh…. Guess who’s having a bad day.”

Anyway, the point is that I spent the next 2 months without a smartphone. It sounds cool to say that I traveled without a smartphone for 2 months and everything, and honestly I was not very affected by it. I actually like my retro Nokia-without-a-camera-or-internet-function phone. But, in all honesty the experience was not cool. I almost got stuck at the UK customs because I didn’t have my iPhone which contained my return ticket…. Anyways, it is NOT COOL to travel without a smartphone. Because wifi is free and old school phone credits are not free. Tried and tested.


Felt like I spent most of my time educating my foreign friends about Singapore, and helping them to get over their shock over “No chewing gum” and realise that it’s really not a big deal. One funny thing I realised is that when I spoke english, my European friends were shocked. When I spoke mandarin, my Chinese friends were shocked. Also, the number 1 question I got was, “What’s your national language?” It was really fun though. Sharing about Singapore makes me miss my home even more every time.

Oh, and the thing about not needing to study is so not true. Ok, the workload was indeed way lesser. But I think that’s just because sometimes Singaporeans give ourselves way too much unnecessary stress, just because… well, yeah. Anyway I think the difficulty lies in the fact that the teaching styles are different overseas, hence in the end we still have to put in effort to adapt and study anyway. It’s not as easy as it seems, at least for me.


Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


 University of Glasgow, Scotland, 2014. Taken with my iPhone.


I was probably dressed inappropriately 90% of the time, being fooled by the unpredictable weather in Scotland countless of times.

Also, I have to reiterate that I saw snow for the very first time this year (My life is complete). Winter’s fun and all, but only for the first 5 minutes when you’re playing outside. I finally realised how annoyingly cold and slippery it can get and how much it obstructs day-to-day activities. I finally understand………..


Opi, Italy, 2015. Taken with GoPro Hero 3+.


Opi, Italy, 2015. Taken with GoPro Hero 3+.


Opi, Italy, 2015. Taken with GoPro Hero 3+.


Of all the places I’ve been to, my favourite has got to be Iceland. Maybe because I went there not knowing what to expect. And it was incredible! Those moments where the pictures taken with my iPhone (before I lost that sad little thing) were inadequate to capture the experience of standing at that place, at that time, by yourself. Sometimes you don’t even want to take pictures because you just want to store those memories in your mind for yourself.

Pictures from Iceland:


Photo credits: Leon Yip.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Photo credits: Leon Yip.


 Photo credits: Leon Yip.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Taken with GoPro hero 3+.


Photo credits: Leon Yip.

People say that when you go for SEP you don’t want to come home. But I feel like being away made me appreciate what we have over here. It’s all a matter of relativity and perspectives. I guess there’s something good and bad about every country. We just got to choose what our priorities are and what kind of “bad” we are willing to live with, depending on our needs in different phases of our lives. For me, for now, there’s no place like home.

I’m not a trophy


I’m not a trophy girlfriend.
To be left standing on a shelf, dusting from time to time.
It’s a choice I make; To be independent, but never to be taken for granted.

I’m not a trophy girlfriend.
Don’t change the way I dress.
I want to be comfortable in my own insecurities, not layer myself in fake confidence.

I’m not a trophy girlfriend.
I sing, I dance, I strive, but I am not for show.
I choose when I want to reveal myself; what I want to do; who I want to meet.

I am my own person
I am a strong young woman
I am not a trophy girlfriend.



So I’ve just turned 21 this year. My wish is to be one of the many cows I’ve seen during my train rides within Scotland, just lazing… eating grass…. Enjoying the sun…. Yeah right.

Surprisingly, this 21st has been the most eventful year of my life. I’ve….

Been through a roller coaster ride of extreme weather changes.
Turned many heads with a selfie stick.
Sung in the streets with random strangers.
Ate food that contained bits of sand from a sand storm.
Played with some village kids in the middle off nowhere in the midst of a bus accident, until we had to run away when they all started asking for money.
Sun-bathed on a huge, huge, rock.
Went to the Sahara desert, and…. (my friends would continue the story)
Named my camel Mel Gibson.
Fell asleep on a sand dune under a blanket of stars.
Danced salsa on a sand dune under a blanket of stars.
Took the most uncomfortable 8 hour taxi ride ever (without showering the day before….)
Saw a handful of UNESCO world heritage sites.
Went up a mountain range in sneakers and ankle socks (not advisable)
Hiked up and down a waterfall in sneakers and ankle socks (also not advisable)
Got stuck at the airport in Barcelona alone overnight without a boarding pass or my luggage.
And here I am trying to spot a Nessie at the Loch Ness in Scotland, wondering how the referendum would turn out tomorrow.


2014-09-17 16.20.15

Loch Ness, Scotland


Good or bad, big or small, for a born and raised city girl I think I’ve been thoroughly amazed to see how much the world has to offer. And words cannot explain how thankful I am to be able to see these things.

Young people sometimes say that “this is what life is about” – “enjoying life”, traveling seeing the world, instead of constantly working all the time. Well, I get this point of view. But to me, I see this as a privilege. A privilege I got because my parents “worked all the time” to pass on this privilege that they could have had to their kids. Makes me wonder what our current generation would lay down as a foundation for our next.

That was completely random…

I love traveling. I really do. But who doesn’t?
My question to myself is WHY. Why do I like traveling? I think everyone has their own definition of traveling. Some like to cross as many borders and set foot into as many countries as possible. Some like food. Some like the thrilling activities. For me, it’s more than the physical act of being in different places and seeing new things. It’s human interactions. Communicating with people from different places, in the same or different languages, verbal or non-verbal. Even backpacking with my 6 relatively new friends was intriguing to me because we got to see each other thrive out of our comfort zones back home. Our unique personalities and individual contributions to the dynamics of the group became more evident and impactful as the weeks went by, because we fulfilled more than our “role as students” back home. I think each time I speak with someone new and from a completely different background, I discover something new. I recently realised…

We are all extremely different people because of the circumstances we were born into; this has been said many times. Some of us grew up with farm animals, some of us grew up with iPads. Each of us have a different story to tell. But what’s common between us is that we all have our hopes and dreams, and our plans to get there. Like when I zoom out to look at the big picture I imagine people from every single part of the world working toward their goals, finding their own motivations. Sometimes it’s inevitable to compare and wonder why others seem to have more opportunities within their grasp while many many doors inevitably remain closed within a small country. Sometimes it’s inevitable to get confused after realising how much more possibilities lie ahead out there in the world which you’ve never known. But I think it’s fine. The best thing about being young is that you get confused, you make mistakes, you get enlightened, you learn, and you grow. While there seems to be a constant pressure to know what we want for the future because everyone seems to be getting it, perhaps sometimes it’s good to just take the backseat for a while, be glad that our peers have (seemingly) figured their lives out, and embrace the day which you’ll find your own.

Completely random thoughts again. What’s new.

Insights from Morocco

It wasn’t very easy backpacking as a student on a tight budget. There were times when I just had to stay completely motionless in an 8 hour taxi ride just to conserve energy under the scorching weather. Most of the time we slept without ventilation, and there was once I resorted to bathing with a sink because the shower system was practically non-existent. But it was indeed an intriguing experience which I would have never imagined myself to have.

The city of Marrakech was so vibrant, the natural landmarks along Tinehir and Merzouga were amazingly beautiful for a city girl like me, the sands of the Sahara desert was pleasantly soft, and the city of Fez was so rich in history and culture. Morocco also has the most homogenous cities I’ve been to by far, with absolutely lovely people who went out of their way to help us.

If people were to ask me what I liked about Morocco, I would say…



I loved the way I ended up basking along the streets with some random Argentinians because there’s beauty in such spontaneity.

I loved the way people are kind and helpful toward each other, not only to tourists.

I loved to watch the intrigued faces of people as if they’ve never seen Singaporeans before, and how they say random Japanese words to us on the streets.

I was fascinated watching a family share a large stew of Tagine together with their hands; how nimble they were with their fingers, eating with a subtlety artistic manner. You just have to see it to understand! And I love how they kept wanting to invite me to join them when they saw me staring at the way they ate.

I was impressed by one of our tour guides at the Sahara desert. He’s 18, used to be a nomad. When I asked him how did he become so fluent in so many languages and so equipped with much knowledge, he said he attended the school of life; simply by interacting and learning with people all around the world. School was too far away from the desert for him.

I was inspired by an Italian man called Lorenzo. We met him at the Sahara as well. We talked about many things under the blanket of stars at the desert. As a 40 year old, I must say he is a very passionate man. Passionate about stars, about children, about learning, about love. I think to be truly passionate about something requires courage. Courage to stick with your believes against social pressures. I also realized that the contrasting social norms between western and asian cultures that shape our behavior may also lead to varying concepts of Love, something that seems universal yet understood and practiced so differently.

On the way from Fez to Tangier, I was warmly touched by the Arabian woman who carried her 4 year old daughter on her lap just to make a seat available in the train for me and my 10kg backpack. It must have been very uncomfortable for her but she put herself in an uncomfortable situation for a stranger like me, when others just preferred to stretch out their legs and occupy two seats. There were no exchange of words, just smiles, but a whole lot of gratitude.

I’ve only conquered a third of my travels before studying in Scotland for the semester, but I must say the beauty of Morocco and its people in itself made me realize quite a few things. Yes there were many unpleasant moments. I hated the painfully long bus rides, the heat, and the lack of hygiene in the streets, but sometimes, learning and experiencing only starts to happen when you step out of your comfort zone.

Having strong interests in astronomy and constellations, Lorenzo said something to me about the relativity of light and time in our perceptions on Earth as compared to the universe. I interpreted it as such – compared to the universe we are like nothing but grains of sand in time. Every minute that we hold so dearly in our hands is nothing compared to the time that has already passed by the time Light hits our earth. Why are we always striving to do something at every minute? God created so many beautiful things around us, how could we not see it?

I see beauty in the way strangers along the streets interact as if they’ve known each other for a long time. I see beauty in the shadows created by the contouring of sand dunes. And now in Seville I see beauty in the music of buskers lifting my spirits as I walk past the architectural beauties along Santa Cruz. That’s why I like traveling. It opens up my mind to see beyond myself and experience so many wonders of life.

Not-so-boring afternoon

I am currently enjoying the wonders of music; how it makes me so emotional, makes me smile to myself and makes it so difficult for me to avoid getting up on my feet to dance. And this feeling is addictive, it’s like a drug. I wonder what would happen if everyone listens to music together in the office…

What is it about music that stirs up so much emotions in me? Is it science, like how the right blend of sounds when detected by our brains triggers emotional reactions within us, or is it just an amazing gift from God which happened to become a universal language so robust across time and across generations of people. OR maybe I am just way too bored in the office today.

I don’t know how the effect of music on me could be so strong but all I know is that it absolutely amazes me. I think one of the greatest gifts that I’m thankful for in life is to be able to just sit down and appreciate good music, and the existence of music itself. It’s like, even the dullest moments can come to life, and the emotions stirred up inside you then amusingly colours your interpretation of daily routines that would otherwise seem meaningless. At least for me.

Either way, the elements of a song (the tune, the rhythm, the timbre), the psychological effects of it, and even the concept of seeing music as a universal language is definitely spicing up my boring afternoon today.

My fear of being too comfortable


Humans are said to be rational beings. Are we really rational? If we are, why is it that we don’t seem to discern between what are feelings and what are thoughts; between being alone as compared to being lonely; or being too comfortable as compared to being contented? Sometimes we can’t even discern between instances that are pure coincidences as compared to things that are “meant to be” (fate, religion, whatever you believe in).

Maybe we’re both. The act of thinking seems like what rational beings would do, yet our feelings are irrational. Should we listen to our rationalisations, or our feelings? If there’s a straightforward and full-proof answer to that, maybe the word “regret” might cease to exist.

On a side note, I might have a fear of being too comfortable with the way things are. Not that I’ll put myself in uncomfortable situations for no good reason, but I just think that sometimes, being too comfortable with the current situation would make me stop questioning what I’m doing. Being too comfortable might set me in a meaningless routine which goes on merely for its own sake. I am still contented with my life though (I sure hope so). I think that contentment and comfort are separate entities. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know (who is to determine what’s right or wrong anyway…), but to me, although I can feel contented with where I am and what I have, I still see the need to question my purpose of doing the things I do in order to stay where I am and protect what I have. I actually don’t think I make any sense at all. Perhaps it has to be put into context as to why I’ve been questioning myself these days. And perhaps I think too much about everything.

There are pros and cons to this way of thinking, obviously. While I continue to learn more about myself and try to understand why people do what they do, I might be missing out on the chance to just feel and not think, or the choice to just let go and let nature take its course…