Photography 101: Swarm

Many of us had moments when we were in a crowded place and the sheer volume of people was just too much to handle. But I challenge that most of us don’t really know what “too much” truly is until we travel to a developing country where safety codes are meager if they even exist.

Admit it. When we read the news about horrific tragedies such as a stampeded killed more people than the cause of the stampede itself, some of us wonder how that’s even possible. Filing out of a door in an orderly manner is something we’ve been doing all our lives, right?


Traveling and living in developing countries gave me perspective and understanding how those events happen. As mentioned, in many of these places crowd control is not a known discipline. Not in terms of movement and flow. More often, any policing would be focused on thugs, crime, and disorderly behavior. The idea of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands depending on the event, needing to move fluidly is not necessarily a priority.

One event where I and my traveling companions got seriously concerned about our safety sole because of the crowd was during the Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown of Bangkok, Thailand. One end of the street where the festivities took place was completely taken up by the stage, with a narrow sidewalk on one side for exit and entering if you were to approach that end. The sides of the streets were completely taken up by vendor stalls. We were wrapping up our evening, trying to get out as the crowd ballooned in size from the after-work and Friday evening crowd.

Another thing about these cultures is there is no sense of queuing. A lot of the mentality if focused on grabbing your space because no one was going to offer it if you just stood by. There is no giving half of the space for traffic going the opposite direction. Crowds do not have a sense of courtesy or unspoken traffic flow rules. Free space is space to be claimed. So people started pushing forward in a narrow sidewalk. A building wall on one side, a chain link fence on the other.

We were pushing, body to body for space. Even if we didn’t want to move, we were being pushed from behind. It took almost half an hour to get through ten feet of distance. When we finally broke free, we admitted to each other that we each were eyeing the chain link fence in case we needed to hang on in an event of a stampede.

After that, almost any crowd in the Western countries pales in comparison.


Finding where it hurts!

In the souks of Fes:

Vendor: 60 dirham!
Me: This dirty little thing? It’s even got a crack in it! 5 dirham!
Vendor: Tsk tsk. OK. 50 dirham!
Me: 10, final price!
Vendor: No. 15.
Me: Two for 20.
Vendor: Keep looking.

I finally found my haggling groove back.. it’s only taken almost two weeks. I admit I’ve gotten a kick out of hearing the following:

– “You are killing me!” (younger man with better mastery of colloquial English there!)
– “Please. You are hurting my family.”
– “You are my first sale. Insha-llah! 10 more dirham”
– “You are a tough woman” (got that right, mister!)

ps: 5 Moroccan dirham at time of haggling was about US $0.61. Heh. I really wasn’t that interested in it. I wanted to find that bottom line. Looks like I found it.

I do have a weak spot though. Men old enough to be my grandfather… my traditional roots show. In my upbringing, they should be taken cared of by their families, not dragging out their wares day in and day out. I am well aware some of them do so by choice, whether it’s the life they know and want to keep or for the company they have around them, but that particular demographic is my Achilles heel.

Middle-aged and young vendors? Bring. It. On.

Tales of the Wanderlust Daughter: South Dakota

I started this series last year.. and forgot about it for a while. It was born from sharing some stories with my mother to show how I encounter so much kindness and care, especially as a lone female traveller.

I have seemed to rid of my writer’s block and wanted to revisit the memory lane with these stories. Furthermore, having recently experienced some bad, I needed to reassure myself and many travellers out there, that I had experienced the goodness of humanity and those far outnumber the evil.


On a cross country vacation I took back in the USA between my moves from Asia to Europe, I stopped through South Dakota. I got off the train in North Dakota, and drove to South Dakota. I wanted to see the parks in the area- Badlands National, Mouth Rushmore, Wind Cave, Custer State…

I found a charming bed and breakfast run by a sweet couple who still maintain the working ranch it sits on. I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that it was SD’s busiest two weeks of the year- the Sturgis rally. As a last minute booking, they worked to accommodate me, asking me to move from their main B&B building to a separated coach house usually rented to families for one night in the middle of my stay. No problem.

I completely underestimated the distances I had to drive to get to all the sites I cared about. As a native New Englander, I completely lost perspective of how large some of these states are. So I found myself driving longer and later than anticipated.

One morning, the day I stayed at the coach house, I slept in. I had a particularly late return, the night before, barely awake enough to grab my pajamas out of my packed bag to change into before collapsing on the closest bed to the entrance. So I took my time getting up the following morning, rummaging around my new surroundings to find the kitchen and prepare a breakfast. I also took advantage of my access to laundry machines to do a couple loads.

I heard car tires rumbling up the dirt road and looked up to see the owner pulling up. He popped his head in, apologized for intruding, saying his wife asked him to check on me. They hadn’t seen my rental car turn in before they went to bed last night and wanted to make sure I was OK before they call the cavalry.

I was surprised, but pleasantly so. Even I knew I had returned at an extremely late hour. But, as B&B owners, they didn’t have any responsibility over my coming and going, as long as I paid for the lodging I booked. Knowing that they were concerned on my behalf was both embarrassing and comforting. The fact that they were willing to notify someone if I wasn’t present after one night alone, gave me the assurance that despite the vast and seemingly desertedness of the state, I wouldn’t have been stranded unknown for long, were I to encounter any troubles.


Other posts in this series:

Book Review: Lean In

I have to admit: I’m not done reading yet!

Many of you have heard of Lean In, by current Facebook and former Google execute Sheryl Sandberg, to start the conversation about women in leadership and why there is a lack thereof.

I sometimes blog about my travel with the slant of doing so alone as a female. What I tend to mention less is my work and being a woman in a male dominated workforce. I had considered work a territory I won’t go into in this blog, as I find it blurs the line of professionalism once I start venting or gossiping about that side of my life.

Sandberg’s book, however, resonated with me. It would with any female professional, especially those of us who have well-established careers. There was no way any woman could work this long and not encounter an incident or anecdote similar to those that Sandberg shared from her own experiences in the book.

I’ve now set into a brief routine of reading a chapter at a time, then going into work with the most recent chapter in mind and being aware of my behavior likewise or otherwise.

I am a book snob. I will always evaluate writing style. I’m a terrible writer myself, but I love to read. Lean In is rather basic in writing style. It won’t be wining any Pulitzers. It’s is a narrative, in a didactic style. Sandberg wrote in her introduction that the goal of this book is to serve as a conversation. She accomplished that. At times, I could imagine her in front of the room, talking out these points to us in person. The book is a conversation and she wrote it as one.

I recently was told quite rudely that I was not welcome to participate in a business meeting because I am a woman. The men who told me were mostly foreigners, of a culture I will refrain from specifying. My only salve was I wasn’t the only woman told that and that made the insult feel less personal. It still smarted. I considered myself the senior person present. As much as I knew it wasn’t directed to just me, it took a good week for the emotional reaction to subside, and another week of another project to distract me altogether.

The rejection made me realize that this wasn’t the first time I encountered discrimination based on gender but that, in most of the past incidences, I had an incredibly supportive network that defended me when faced with such attitudes. I lacked it this time around and the hurt and humiliation I faced forced me to realize I needed to start standing up for myself.

A female manager had approached me after that last rejection to give me a morale boost, try to keep me from getting too discouraged. She broached the topic of whether I would be willing to share my lessons and experience for those women who will follow. It was a bit of a reality check to be reminded that I may not longer be considered the newest working generation. At the same time, I never felt more empowered.

That was when I started reading Lean In. Between the timing and the content, I felt like the book was written about me.

I had barely finished the first chapter, The Leadership Ambition Gap, when I went online and ordered a copy to be sent to my father. Growing up in a conservative Asian household, I was taught humility is a virtue. My father once saw me in a somewhat professional setting and commented to me afterward that my confidence was “not pretty.” I felt anything but confident, but I had learned to exude it. In reading this one chapter in Lean In, I knew I had to send a copy to Dad. He adores the notion of accomplished tech sector executives and the book would have more credibility than I in telling him why I needed to appear confident, not humble. The Asian deferential attitude would not serve me well in an American business environment. The fact that I am a woman made it a double-edged sword.

I can go on an on about how I related to the book. At the end, though, every  woman can. Sandberg does an incredible job incorporating research that backs up the sentiments, even the subconscious, women feel in being treated differently in a corporate environment. Countering by changing our own behaviours as women isn’t enough.. an awareness needs to be established in the public as a whole. Sandberg attempts this by publishing.. let’s hope many more people, both men and women, will read her book.

More importantly, while Sandberg started the conversation, we need to carry it on.

Santorini Smiles

As what I call my “Do-Over sunny get away” I went to Santorini, Greece. The Greek Islands never really appealed to me.. they struck me as cliche, build solely for tourists these days. But it was the perfect therapy.

I was sitting in a restaurant for a late lunch, on a day that was also Greek Orthodox Sunday. Enjoying the quiet, digesting a phenomenal bowl of mussels and savoring a glass of white wine. The only other occupied table was being assembled to stretch across the entire length of the restaurant balcony. Someone approached me and insisted I join them for a glass of wine. It’s Easter, he said, and they feel very uncomfortable having me eat on my own on this special holiday. Please join then for a glass of wine to celebrate.


Three courses, countless glasses of wine later, I finally excused myself. They had ended up serving me their share of the Easter lunch. I wasn’t the only invitee.. Italian, Austrian, and this American.. they had opened their tables to their visitors and friends.

A-Z Archive II: B Challenge

Beer Festival!

Even though it was an intra-EU flight, German police were standing on the ramp as we deboarded the plane, asking us to present passports. The officer I walked up to asked me why I was in Munich. For Oktoberfest, of course! He gave me an amused eyebrow-raise and bid me to enjoy my stay.


Check out other A-Z Archive participants at