7 Essential Apps for Traveling

IMG_4526.jpgOver the last few years, I’ve tried quite a few apps related to different aspects of traveling. And deleted most of them. Currently I have nine apps in my travel folder, seven of which are extremely helpful:

  1. Hopper. This is one of the best apps I have ever used for finding the best airfare deals, and buying tickets straight from the app. Unlike most airfare apps, it starts with the date of travel and shows you the most expensive to the cheapest dates in that month, marked as red, green and yellow!
  2. Airbnb. If you are looking for inexpensive and unique places to stay, or a homestay with a local family, nothing can beat Airbnb. Also great for getting local advice from hosts through the built-in messenger, even before you book.
  3. TripAdvisor. Great to find local local attractions, restaurants and things to do in that city or in cities nearby. Or to read other travellers’ reviews about the suggestions you hear from the locals, and write your reviews to help other travellers.
  4. Google Maps. Indispensable whether you are walking, cycling, on a taxi or even on a public transportation. You know where you are, and where you are going, especially for people with poor navigational skills (like me).
  5. Speak & Translate. The fastest way to communicate to anyone in almost any language. Click, speak in your language, click. Then it repeats in the local language selected! I still have the Google Translate app when I want to practice speaking the local language, or showing the translation to the other person. But I miss the days of communicating just through body language, actions and expression 🙂
  6. PowerPlug. Helps you pack the right plugs for your devices. I don’t carry the bulky universal adapter any more. It also tells you the voltage and frequency for the country you are traveling to, though I don’t know what to do with that.
  7. Currency. Check exchange rates before changing money, or instantly convert local prices to your home currency, and multiple currencies at the same time.

The most recent addition to my travel apps is Travelpod, the online travel journal which I started using to keep all the photos, videos, maps and stories in one place. Needless to say, you need to have a local pre-paid sim with Internet access to make full use of all these apps 🙂  Hope you find this useful. Please share your most useful travel apps too.

Inspiration from Felix, of The School of St Jude


In 2002 a young lady, Gemma Rice, from a sheep farm in Australia, opened a small school in Northern Tanzania with the help of her family, friends and local Rotary Club. What started with only three students and one teacher is now a thriving school of over 1,500 students and over 400 local Tanzanian staff. The students and staff are located across three campuses and includes two boarding houses to accommodate more than 1,000 students!

Last week, I had an opportunity to join their fundraising event in Hong Kong, and meet Felix and Kim, the ambassadors. And the story of Felix really moved everyone. Starting primary school at the age of ten, attending class under a tree, writing in sand with a stick… to becoming a bus driver at St Jude so he could learn English by talking to the kids… to getting a job in the office… to becoming an ambassador and making the first trip outside Africa to travel to Hong Kong and Australia! The moral of the story:

  1. Change is possible. It’s OK to start small, like Gemma.
  2. When there’s a will, anything is possible. If Felix can do it, anyone can.
  3. There are still millions of people in this world who do not have access to basic needs – food, water, housing, education, medical. Those of us who have an abundance have some responsibility.

Here’s an amateur video I made of Felix’s speech, and here’s a link to the St Jude site if you wish to read more or support this amazing cause!

A small contribution can change lives!

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I just received this very moving story from Crossroads Foundation, telling us how a small contribution can make such a huge difference to people’s lives.

Bhavani is a 42 year old fisherwoman who lives on the coast of southeast India. Her family was, for years, totally dependent on the sea for its livelihood. Bhavani’s husband Muthu sailed out to sea each morning at 4:00 and Bhavani sold his catch at the local market. It was a precarious existence, however, and, as the family grew and their needs increased, the fish became more and more scarce. The income from Bhavani’s daily market sales was not enough to meet their needs for food, medicine and school fees. They had no option but to take out loans from a local moneylender who, typical of their kind, charged impossible rates of interest whilst intimidating those who could not pay. Bhavani could not keep up with the wildly inflated demands and she was terrified of the repercussions. She felt her family sink further and further into desperation, seeing no way out.
By way of background, Bhavani’s tribespeople live in southern India on sloping hillsides, in valleys, on the periphery of forests, as well as by the sea. They are marginalised and many do not have an official identity, are unable to vote and are cut off from other basic rights. Like most of her people, Bhavani has no access to electricity, clean water or formal healthcare whilst tuberculosis, skin infections and alcohol-related illnesses frequently claim their lives. Discrimination or lack of formal identity documents prevent children from getting into school and many fathers, like their fathers before them, are trapped in modern-day slavery, working without proper pay in rice mills. Continue reading

Inspiration from Dookaz

IMG_2506I bumped into Dookaz website when looking for good quality t-shirt suppliers for Dinchack. That’s how I met the owner, Iris Chan, whose story is nothing short of inspirational, and something I must share…

Iris is a qualified nurse who always wanted do something bigger and better, something that helps the community. So she founded Dookaz a few years ago, with a promise to:

  • make changes to our environment by doing what is right
  • encourage and conduct fair trade, fair business, equality and justice
  • encourage and protect our environment
  • spread positive messages all round

IMG_2502That’s quite an undertaking for a t-shirt company. After the initial challenges of any new business, her work became known in Hong Kong. They were the first company to offer anyone to print their own design, logo or message on t-shirts, without any minimum quantities – as long as the message was positive. Iris started teaching under-priveleged children and adults to learn how to make t-shirts and make a living. Business expanded to printing bags and shoes and labelling services, but still ensuring that none of the material or process would cause any harm to the human body or the environment. Her team grew to over 20 designers and workers, all of them as passionate as her to do good.

Then few months ago, her machinery broke down. With no money for repairs, business depended on handmade stuff only, and soon started to decline. She lost the entire team one after the other, but continued working all by herself to serve her existing clients as best as she could. Then last week, she broke her arm. All her family and friends told her this is a sign that she should finally close down the business. But Iris said, ‘I still have one arm, and the other will be ok soon’. And there she is, making t-shirts all by herself, with just one arm, serving her clients with a smile, and making a difference!

Iris is likely to read this piece, so please feel free to share your comments with her.

International Literacy Day 2010

Today, 8th September was the International Literacy Day 2010.

Worldwide, there are more than 770 million illiterate adults, two-thirds of whom are women. In addition, there are over 100 million children not currently enrolled in primary school and millions of others not currently enrolled in secondary school. Education is a lifelong gift that empowers people to ultimately improve socioeconomic conditions for their families, communities, countries, and future generations. Through the opportunities that only an education can provide, we can break the cycle of illiteracy, one child at a time.

The Literacy Site and Room to Read, are two of the organizations that provide books to children in some of the poorest regions of the world, including Tibet, India, Vietnam, and Laos. Check out their websites to see how you can help.

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Power of the Human Will: 100km Trek for Fundraising

Three university students, Hamza, Tom and Chris, trekked the 100km MacLehose Trail of Hong Kong to raise funds for the millions affected by the floods in Pakistan. It’s the same trail that’s attempted by over 10,000 people every year who participate in the Oxfam event – only 3,000 or so are able to complete it within the 48 hours time limit, despite many months of training.

Hamza, Tom and Chris walked and climbed for 38 hours, without much rest or sleep, in extreme weather conditions (hot and humid during the day; cold and stormy at night), without any training, experience or professional gear! There were times when they wanted to give up due to bad weather, dehydration, blistered feet, sprained ankles, sleep deprivation… but it was sheer will power, absolute commitment to the goal, and the support of family and friends that kept them going. And their only purpose was to raise awareness and funds for the millions affected by the floods in Pakistan. So far, they have raised GBP5,000 against the very ambitious target of GBP10,000! You can read the full story and still support them here.

What’s also inspiring is that three men from three different countries and faiths could be so committed to a humanitarian cause, and to making a difference.

[Photo taken on Friday 20th morning when we met them to replenish their supply of water and snacks. From L to R: Chris Tsao, Tom Owens, Hamza Mush. Some more photos here.]

Update (3rd Sep. 2010): JustGiving named them the Fundraisers of the Month for raising GBP8000 in just three weeks, without much planning or previous experience! Read the story here.

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Inspiring Quotes: Making a Difference

Being good is commendable, but only when it is combined with doing good is it useful.  ~Author Unknown

It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little – do what you can.  ~Sydney Smith

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.  ~Mother Teresa

Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something.  ~Author Unknown

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.  ~Winston Churchill

It’s easy to make a buck.  It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.  ~Tom Brokaw

You give but little when you give of your possessions.  It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.  ~Kahlil Gibran

Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.  ~Mother Teresa

Inspired by Hamza’s plan to raise funds for the 20 million people affected by the floods in Pakistan. Hamza and his two friends, Tom and Chris, will be hiking the 100-km MacLehose Trail in Hong Kong on 19th August. It’s one of the toughest hikes that takes up to 36 hours to complete; they plan to do it in 24 hours. They are making good progress towards their target of raising GBP10,000. You can make a difference too – check out details here.

Book Recommendation: Three Cups of Tea

A very inspiring book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. There are hundred of beautiful reviews of this book on the Internet. The following represent my views most closely:

“Three Cups of Tea is one of the most remarkable adventure stories of our time. Greg Mortenson’s dangerous and difficult quest to build schools in the wildest parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan is not only a thrilling read, it’s proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world.” (Tom Brokaw)

“Three Cups of Tea is beautifully written. It is also a critically important book at this time in history. The governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan are both failing their students on a massive scale. The work Mortenson is doing, providing the poorest students with a balanced education, is making them much more difficult for the extremist madrassas to recruit.” (Ahmed Rashid, best-selling author of Taliban: Militant Islam)

“Mortenson and Relin argue that the United States must fight Islamic extremism in the region through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls. Captivating and suspenseful, with engrossing accounts of both hostilities and unlikely friendships, this book will win many readers’ hearts.” (Publishers Weekly)

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Looking for a Cause?

Did you know that there are 41.2 million refugees and internally displaced people in the world? And 12 million stateless people living in limbo without citizenship rights? Recently, I had an opportunity to do a motivational session for a youth refugee group in Hong Kong. And I realized that people forced from their homes by conflict are among the world’s most vulnerable who all have individual stories of loss, heartache and survival.

Officially there are 6,500 refugees in Hong Kong. Most of them are asylum seekers who have suffered human rights abuses, persecution, torture or sexual violence! They usually come from South Asia (Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan) and Africa (Somalia, DR Congo, Eritrea, Burundi, Rwanda, Cameroon, Ivory Coast).

Ever since I have heard about these people and met some of them, it’s been almost impossible to complain about my small problems and challenges in life. The things that we take for granted – home, family, friends, job, food, clothes, education etc. – are daily struggles for these people. We are extremely blessed if we haven’t experienced war, famine, violence, displacement or other such calamities, and we should be very grateful!

If you are looking for a cause to support or an opportunity to contribute, you should consider Refugees International or Hong Kong Christian Action who are helping thousands of refugees with their basic needs.