8 Years and 42.7K Tweets Later

As I sat on my bed, sipping coffee and scrolling on my phone for news from the 2019 Billboard Music Awards this morning; a curious landmark update dropped into my timeline. It was 8 years, the tweet told me, since I joined Twitter.

twitter-hearts-and-stars.0.0In early 2010 my childhood friend @rnvj encouraged me to join the platform ‘Facebook is where you meet people you went to school with. Twitter is where you meet people you wished you went to school with,’ he told me. So I got online, set up an account and tiptoed around the edges of conversations, unsure if I should join in. I gave the app three months tops, but I stayed much longer until 2011 when I finally found my groove.

In 2011, discovering you could connect with people you didn’t know through an app on your phone was genuinely life changing. For me, then discovering that you could meet them in real life ‘tweetups’ was even more amazing and I feel sad that the number of ‘tweetups’ I have attended over the years has diminished. How incredible it was that once a month you could meet with people that you had been interacting with online. Twitter was a place big enough to have a critical mass of people who cared about the place where they lived, the affairs of countries and celebrities with equal passion, and who wanted to see where this new technology would take us all together and as well as individuals.

I watched it all play out in my timeline, and it captures my attention till this day.

Seeing the real connections that I have made over twitter, started online and nurtured in real life at times, or even continuing on over 140 characters, reminds me why I love the platform so much. I have too many contacts, both professional and personal, people I legitimately care about and whose opinions matter to me, who live all over the world, with whom my primary interaction is/was through Twitter – these are people I never would have met without the network. It is still where a place where I can learn a lot about a lot. So while there are those who lament social media for it’s tendency to make us disconnect with one another, I look to hashtags and handles to show the power that social media, like Twitter, has to legitimately and authentically connect people. I can’t even talk about this without coming off sounding like a cliché, but for those of us who have experienced that, it is real and it is powerful. The last eight years has also cast the positive side of social media with the negative. Not everyone I’ve met online has been a beautiful person. But that is life.

So, thank you, if you’ve connected with me online or in real life. Your 140 characters, ideas and opinions make life interesting and rich. But if you’re reading this and we are still strangers, lets change that – follow me @sydneydxb and we’ll take it from there.

After eight years online, I believe twitter is a way of life – one that is well worth investing time in. So get a good healthy feed of what’s going on in the world and with the people you find interesting and soon you’ll find that it will become the first thing you check each morning.

 

 

 

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This Day, That Year

Early this morning Facebook reminded me that at this time in 2011 I was on my way to Malaysia. I was almost instantly transported back to eight years ago and to what made that trip so special. It was not a typical vacation or holiday and in fact it was the first time I spent a sizeable amount of time exploring a foreign city, with no set plans or itinerary. It was a transformational experience, to say the least and reflecting on that trip got me thinking about the power of travel and how it can positively impact the way we think, act and feel.

Everything about that trip to Malaysia felt larger than life. The smells, the sounds, the street level chaos… my senses were kicked into overdrive the moment I stepped out of the airport and into the street. Remember, this was back in 2011, a time before Google Maps, smartphones and travel apps. Information was not as readily available as it is today and it was simple moments like eating spicy noodles and drinking cold Tiger beer with a group of European travelers that left the biggest impression on me.

Now, the philosophical world traveler in me 😊 feels the need to describe these moments as rich cultural experiences, but, truth be told, back then, I was only interested in getting pictures for Facebook and the cultural education was a convenient bonus.

My trip to Malaysia wasn’t always easy, but the most rewarding things in life rarely are. I had a bout of food poisoning, lost my spending money and missed a bus to Penang. It taught me that travel really is about the travel.

It wasn’t the perfect white sandy beaches that left the strongest impression on me. It was navigating the confusing bus terminal and finding the right bus ticket. It was that anxious moment of trying to find a something to eat, in the middle of nowhere. It was connecting with other travelers faced with the same dilemma and finding a solution, together.

Looking back, it was that experience in Malaysia that laid the foundation for future trips and I will always cherish the memories and experiences I had.

Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen ~ Benjamin Disraeli

11 going on 12

As I touched down in Dubai last week, a familiar feeling came over me, a feeling I’ve had many times upon returning to the UAE after a trip abroad. It’s a feeling of coming home, a feeling of pride at what my adopted country has achieved in such a short span of time.

The beginning of last year marked a minor milestone in my life: I’ve been living in the UAE for over a decade now. It’s been eleven years since I moved here; to a country that quickly became my second home.

Having spent my entire adult life in the UAE, I can say that on one hand, it feels like eleven years has passed by in the blink of an eye; I can distinctly remember wandering the streets of Dubai and Sharjah with nervous excitement and uncertainty at what lay ahead for me, but it also somehow feels as though I’ve been here much longer, like my life has been rooted here somehow, for years.

I owe so much to this country and to the people I have met here. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I feel like the UAE has changed me for the better: it has inspired me and re-energized me, and it’s helped me to uncover aspects of my personality that had long been buried by fear and self-doubt.

When I arrived in 2008, the Burj Khalifa was still a construction site that we looked at in awe and wonder from the campus of my school in the Safa area, Metro stations were sprouting in various locations giving Dubai a distinctly futuristic look and tenor and the only way to get to Sharjah on a Thursday evening was to brave three hours of traffic on the roads. Well, maybe not everything has changed.

In 2019, the UAE feels like a vibrant new destination that still retains its culture and heritage. This new avatar of the desert reimagined, provides a perfect metaphor for my life too. Change is constant, in cities, in countries and in individuals too. Evolution is inevitable and the UAE has certainly laid the foundation for evolution in all aspects; exponential technologies, architecture, sustainability, innovative practices (to name a few), placing the country in an enviable position on the world stage. One cannot expect to stay successful by working the same way. Life is about progress and keeping up with the rest of the world.

Like Columbus, Ibn Battuta or Marco Polo, I believe each of us came to this planet hardwired to explore, to push ourselves to our personal limits, to grow and to evolve – to discover new parts of ourselves and experience the world in ways we could not imagine before.

Over the years I have sat in cafes around the UAE, watching people go by, marveling at the infrastructure and ever-evolving skylines. I have learned so much about life, this country and myself by simply sitting behind my cappuccino and watching the UAE transform. In many ways, these structural changes also reflect a changed reality: here is a country incredibly proud of its rich history but choosing to be defined less by the past and more by its promising future. From sandy stretches and dunes to a Middle Eastern Shang-ri-la, the UAE has undergone such a transformation and I cannot help but marvel at how much I have changed along with it.

The sky really is the limit here in the UAE, for the country as well as for the people who call it home.

Your scars have stories worth sharing -Dhiman

Just last month I learnt that April 24th, is ‘Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day’. The genocide is probably Armenia’s heaviest scar, one that too many people don’t see or acknowledge. Struggling with the past is not unique to Armenia but more than a century later, the pain still surfaces and permeates every aspect of life in the country.

I can recall entering the Genocide Museum with its haunting music playing in the distance, like ghosts calling after their loved ones left behind. On my left a wall stretched on for half a kilometer towards the memorial. Etched in the stone are the names of cities lost in the genocide. Itʼs strangely unsettling seeing it carved into that wall. Still wet from the rain.

Untouched by the rain though, is the fire burning in the middle of the memorial: the everlasting flame. It burns in memory of all the people that died and for everyone else who shares their loss. I’ve never been superstitious, but this place felt ominous. As if the people killed still remained in that circle, waiting for justice or simply to be acknowledged.

From what my new Armenian friends have taught me, I understand that Genocide Day is not a celebration – it’s a somber occasion. The atrocities are still a divisive, sometimes heated issue. I knew very little about the history before I arrived in Armenia, but I had no idea about the political controversy that still surrounds it. So that’s not really what I want to focus on in this post. I don’t have anything to contribute to the topic – I haven’t done any in-depth research; I only know what I learned in Yerevan.

To the best of my memory, I never learned about the Armenian Genocide in school or heard much about it through the media. When it comes to history, there are plenty of things we don’t know. So what I can offer is only a reflection as an outsider – and why I think all tourists visiting the country should take the time to learn about the tragic events of its past. History will repeat itself if there is no recognition and contrition for crimes committed. A change in human behavior only comes when the behavior is recognized as wrong. Too many conflicts or instances of violence across the globe seem organized around one or more dimension of human difference, ethnic, religious, racial, gender, sexual orientation, and more. There is an endless stream of new stories of violence, conflict – even as recently as last weekend, in Sri Lanka.

More than a hundred years on, the impact of the Armenian genocide reverberates loud and is echoed by the other atrocities that dot our social media feed daily. New Zealand, Syria, Sri Lanka, India, Too often despair stands in the way of action and knowledge leads to a sense of hopelessness. We cannot bring back to life the dead of the past or those who have been victims of political mass murder throughout the ages, but, through courage as well as knowledge, we can act to bring about a world free from the scourge of hatred. In committing ourselves in the everyday things to creating a world of peace, freedom, and mutual respect, we honor the memory of those who have fallen victim to the ultimate crimes.

Scars are sign of hurt but they are also indications of slow healing.

“Spira, Spera” (Breathe, Hope) Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

We walked upto and past the beautiful Notre Dame a couple of times before we finally decided to beat the lines to get inside the cathedral.

Our plan worked perfectly, except as we found out when we got to the front of the line, we were in the line to climb up to the top of Notre Dame, and not the one, to go inside. But, we had waited too long, and dammit, we were going to see Notre Dame, even if was from the top. I am not a very fit person, but with a steady slow step even I managed it, and I am so glad I did. After a dizzying number of stairs, we were greeted by a spectacular view of Paris and got to hang out with some of the coolest gargoyles. Certainly one of my favorite memories of Paris from that trip. The inside of the cathedral was breathtaking – a symbol for peace and acceptance beyond religion or spirituality.

There are so few things today that hold the world together. Monuments and Cathedrals are living works of art and stand as mute witnesses to the worst and the very best in us, in humanity. Seeing Notre Dame fall tonight is a terrifying reminder that nothing, no matter how strong or beautiful, lasts forever.

As I type this, the French authorities have just released a statement saying that the the fire at Notre Dame cannot be contained and the cathedral will burn on, till it burns out. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to experience the grandeur of Notre Dame in person but I am saddened as we watch history, art and beauty go up in flames tonight.

Today is a reminder to not wait to travel the world. If you can, get out there; meet people, experience other cultures, reflect on history and the beautiful parts of our shared humanity before it is too late.

“Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of the ages” ~ Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of 🇫🇷 #NotreDame

Get Set, Go!

It’s that time of year again, tourist pamphlets and summer offers from travel companies litter both my desk and my inbox. ‘The 100 Places to Visit before You Die’ guide has been referred to countless times by now, there are multiple browsers open on my laptop and a flurry of illegible scrawl fills the pages of my notepad. There’s even a new folder on my uber organized desktop and it has been labelled with the name of country number 17! Inside it, countless PDFs and word documents tell a compelling tale of someone in a serious wanderlust state of mind. Occasionally during my research, I stop to take a deep breath – to recompose. In some fleeting moments, I start to feel confused by the sheer amount of planning travel takes, but then as suddenly as it comes, the fog lifts and is replaced by the joy a new adventure brings with it and that familiar feeling of itchy-feet.

Calendar blocked, tickets paid for, hotel rooms confirmed – I have officially initiated ‘Travel Research’ mode – the part where I start putting my dreams into action. This sometimes results in serious air-fist pumps and a surge of joy and excitement as I begin to check things off my list and start planning out the things I want to do, the sites I want to visit and the experiences I have been waiting to have.

In a few weeks’ time I will be exploring country number 17. As I stare at my computer screen and switch between tabs, I soak in all the information I can, stopping intermittently to make notes in my diary. I check the location of my hotel, its proximity to the beach, restaurants and tourist attractions in the area and the best ways to get there. I download route maps and check on ticket prices, I read through all the websites looking for the best deals and day passes, I even watch YouTube videos of scams I should be aware of. This btw is one of my top tips for travel, the more aware you are of possible scams (and there are scams everywhere, including the country where you live) the safer you will be.

Reading done, notes made, *air-fist pump*

I can recall distinctly the first trip I took with my family. Back then, maps were paper pamphlets that you picked up at a station/ airport or found at the back of a guide book, and figuring out your location involved some thought and getting help from actual people. You did not have the luxury of pressing a button on your phone and having information within seconds. Also back then cameras still used a thing called film and the anticipation of seeing the photographs developed and slipped into the cellophane sleeves of a photo album, prolonged the wanderlust for a few days after the holiday had actually ended.

Fast forward about 26 years and in a few short minutes I can know all there is to know about a location, restaurants and best places to stay and things to do. Sure nothing beats getting lost in a new city only to stumble upon a true gem, but I am still so thankful for Google, Zomato, Uber and travel apps.byylw-kz.jpg

As with all things, you need to take travel advice with a grain of salt. Be it a blog, trip advisor review, or Instagram post everyone always has a different opinion on what they like and dislike. The trick is to take in all the information you can and then make your own decisions. There are some amazing travel blogs out there – I am trawling through many of them now and using their experiences to hopefully enrich my future travels.

Having said that, I must confess that maps, plans, itineraries are about knowing for sure, about owning your path, about control. That’s a good thing, or else you could end up in a bit of a mess in a strange place. Direction is important but what’s equally important is sometimes, throwing away that schedule and allowing yourself the freedom once in a while to not know where your next wow moment is coming from.

You see, I am a zealous planner, not because I need to plan (and ironically, I disregard 40% of my plans once I’m “on-site”), but because I love the reading and research ahead of time almost as much as the travel itself.

Life is like that too, sometimes you need to really plan and chart out a clear pathway for yourself, and sometimes not planning things will still lead you to exactly where you’re supposed to be. NO?

Darkness Brings The Light Too

I, like many, got lost within the darkness of this past week. Watching news unfold of unimaginable horrors and horrific violence against a little girl – so tragic, the unnecessary loss of human life and the shattered worlds of all those who loved her. I sat in my room, shades drawn to block out the sun, and watched TV newscasters speaking to women and activists – the faces and stories of all the beautiful souls fighting for justice.
Lost within news like this, the world seems to grow darker somehow, doesn’t it? I know evil exists. I am not naïve. I’ve seen it firsthand. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the depths of deplorableness humans can sink to, and the absolute devastation humans can do to one another. We have all seen it. Sadly, many of us have experienced it. Over the course of our lives, we will, at some point, be touched by it. Evil lurks next door to us; down the street, around the corner, one city over, or sometimes, under our own roof. It’s not just in other countries, other states or places we will never step foot in. It’s everywhere and strikes without warning. Evil changes humanity.

But I have come to see how evil also brings out the most amazing good this world has ever seen. Good this world desperately needs. Evil unintentionally brings Good to the forefront so that its light can scatter the darkness of all. Not in any grand, sweeping gesture. Oh, no. But the quiet, suddenly present good that shows because it’s the right thing to do. Light born from a darkness that threatens to overtake us, the good shows up in force to help, to heal and to love.

Yes, there is evil in this world. Yes, it demands and takes headlines, it overtakes our airwaves and generates millions of sound bites. News stories, photos all in real time make it feel like we are in the middle of a war of good vs. evil, and the evil is winning. And the truth of the matter is – we are. Sad fact, evil wins a lot. It does. Just watch the news, read stories online; you see it right in front of you every single moment of every single day. It draws you in, breaks your heart and if you are completely honest with yourself makes you feel some small token of relief that it wasn’t you. Then, the guilt overtakes you, and you are spinning down a road of an uncertain life now. Scared to do things you’ve always done because next time, it could be you. It could be someone you love. It could happen anywhere, at any time.

It’s true. It could.

There is so much good in this world, yet it is so easy to lose sight of. Until moments in time like what we have been living lately – when darkness shows the light of humans reaching out to other humans. Start where you are, with what you have inside of you, right now. Start with your neighbors, strangers at the grocery store or wherever in the world you find yourself. Stop judging people who are different than you. Stop letting your fear control your actions. Stand firm in your beliefs and live your life by them but, for all that is good in this world, give that same right to others.

Sometimes the darkness shows you the light. Sometimes within the darkness, you are the light. Love will always heal. Love will always be a way out. United we are a force to be reckoned with. But, we must first be open and willing to unite with others who live and believe and love differently than we may. Because if we don’t, if we fail to come together and listen and appreciate where others are coming from –evil will always win and all those lives lost will have been in vain.

We live in a world where we will always need to remain vigilant, aware of our surroundings and willing and able to defend not only ourselves but those around us as well. A sad but true fact. However, that being said, we also live in a world that is filled with amazing souls who do good  and who put as much love and light out as humanly possible.

Be a light.