#1896| Girl vs Wild: Slovakia

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imagesKošice, Slovakia.

*Giveaway: Read till the end of the post to find out how to win shopping vouchers worth up to $4000 in exchange for sharing your unique travel stories and pictures with me!*



When one says Slovakia, you think Bratislava, and for good reason too. It’s the capital of Slovakia, tourist-friendly, pretty. Everyone who’s been there adores it. You have to go they say, it’s so charming. But charming isn’t what we’re after. We spun the globe and it landed on Slovakia’s second largest city: Košice.

I’ve blogged briefly about my three week duffel-packing trip through Easternish Europe: Praha, Košice, Budapest, Istanbul, Paris. The rationale we were operating on was alternating touristy / experience / touristy / experience centered destinations, and Slovakia was our second stop after the supremely touristy and beautiful Prague. We decided on Košice (pronounced: Koh-shit-zer) primarily because we wanted to see the famous Domica caves that trace the border of Slovakia and Hungary, and then decided to go all out and wing it, so I put in an open call for couchsurfing hosts in Košice while planning for the trip and within a couple of days Gejza sent me a message.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with couchsurfing, you can refer to my Broke Student’s Guide to Couchsurfing here. Although I’ve done it several times, it’s always an intensely different experience each time. My first time, the host in Salzburg told me we were going picnicking which in his books meant hiking up Mt Anif for a good few hours. In a dress. Couchsurfing is full of characters, is what I am saying. This time, Gezja offered us a place in his cabin in the woods outside the main city of Košice.

“It’s called Diana,” he explained, “and there’s no electricity or running water. But if you’re willing to rough it out, we’ll build fires, cook, and I’ll drive you to the caves.”

He seemed friendly enough, was extremely helpful in advising us on which train tickets would give us the best value, and I knew that getting to the caves which were really far out would be difficult on our own, so we shrugged and went for it. And I have to say – Thank God we did. On retrospect, this leg of our trip would have been impossible without a local to guide us, and Gezja was incredibly enthused to have us, which meant we did so much more than we possibly would have if we’d come the regular tourist hotel/tour way!

The first morning we trained in, we spent in the main city itself helping out at Gezja’s photography exhibition in the town square.

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I know. How artsy. It turns out he was publishing a photography book in collaboration with a few other photographers and writers on the history of the city. It was insane.

We dropped by the supermart to grab some groceries and essentials, before driving out to the cabin in the woods which lined the outskirts of the city. When I say cabin in the woods, I really mean:

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Cabin in the woods.

I think I didn’t really believe him when he said there was no electricity or running water till I reached the Diana. The entire place was pitch dark even in daylight – the first things we did were to open all the windows and light candles everywhere. Let me be frank: it was not luxurious. Our sleeping quarters were wooden bunk bed frames with sleeping bags flung over, and there was a consistent chilly draft running through the first floor that meant we could actually chill butter and sausages by leaving them out overnight. Gejza preempted us as much via our pre-trip chats, but even then he seemed a little embarrassed when we stepped in.

“It’s really old,” he started to say, but we quickly shook our heads. It had character. It was new (to me) and therefore exciting. And I loved it.

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In this way the next few days passed. In the daytime we’d do something new – go caving, hiking, canoeing. In the evenings we’d gather and chop firewood, start a fire, and cook on the open flame while Gejza got out his guitar and settled back to tell us stories.

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Trying to fry an egg in a tin cover

It was incredible. Gejza turned out to be obsessed with nature – he could pick out a berry from a bush and tell you if it was edible, in the mornings he handed us leaves that’d release mint when chewed on as a way of cleaning your teeth. He boiled tea from flowers he randomly plucked from the forest and could tell you if it was going to rain, or hail, just by sniffing the air. It was like living with Bear Grylls. And each night, when the sun started to set, we’d take turns to head to the stream and bathe in ice cold water. I did say – there was no running water in the cabin. I’m telling you, there is no experience quite like stripping naked and drenching yourself in ice cold water while hoping not to get stung by a water insect or cut by sharp leaves. It didn’t exactly help, but right before I went to bathe the first night I asked Gejza about the wildlife in the area and he cheerfully replied:

“Oh, there’s a family of wolves that live somewhere behind the cabin. But they’re shy, I shouldn’t think you’d get to see them.”

So make that an attempt to scrub yourself clean while naked, shivering, and harboring paranoid visions of exposing your bare bum to a hungry wolf. I didn’t actually see any while I was there, and I still can’t decide if that’s a pity or a blessing.

Guess what I did see though?

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Mice. Oh, mice! Let me tell you about the mice. First – they were adorable. You just wanted to scoop them up and play with them. The first time I saw one I nearly expired in excitement. Second – they were everywhere, and they just wanted your food. We spent most of our time trying to save our food from being stolen the minute we cooked them off the fire. It was very infuriating because you’d be frustrated and trying hard not to laugh at the same time.

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On some evenings, other couchsurfers would drop by and stay a night or just cook with us and swap stories. Pictured above are two Russian couchsurfers who sold everything and bought a rickety car they’re living out of right now. They started from Russia and were planning to end up in China. I have no idea if they finally made it but I hope so.

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Of course, the whole reason we were in Slovakia was for the caves, though it was easy to forget that while getting caught up in the whole Girl vs Wild experience. The morning of Day Two (and when I say morning I mean day break, as in, 6am) Gejza drove us a good way out to the borders where we went caving. On our last day, Gejza proposed we hike up to castle ruins on a faraway mountain.

“It’s a three to four hour hike, but the view is great.”

My heart sank. The heat was still unforgiving, I had blisters everywhere, and after five months in Europe I’d had just about enough of castles and castle views, which despite what the locals tell you, I promise are all about the same. At the same time, I didn’t want to be rude to someone who had gone out of his way to be incredibly hospitable to us. Something must have shown on my face, because Gejza paused and said:

“Or – I have a canoe in the back. We could go swimming?”

It was glorious.

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Photos taken on my phone because I didn’t want to risk bringing my DSLR down onto the canoe.

Plunging straight into the icy waters of the open Slovak lake while slow roasting in the heat, I thought to myself this would have been impossible if we’d just booked a hotel and trip advisor-ed our way around like we usually did. I’m not going to pretend that I’ll camp my way through countries from now on – I’ve never had a shower so sweet as the heated power jet of water the first bath I took in Budapest – but I can safely say that it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had.. ever. On our last day, Gejza drove us to the train station at 5am to catch our train to Hungary and gave us a hug before leaving – pressed up against the train window I thought it’d be the last I heard of him, given how he takes in couchsurfers so regularly we mustn’t have stood out particularly from his last or next. However, a couple of days later I got a couchsurfing notification that he’d left a message on my profile:

From Gejza RNDR.Legen
Kosice, Slovakia
Jem and Shane arrived to explore the wild east, hopefully they found it :)) They survived without complain the lack of shower in the forest and enjoyed all attractions offered, besides that they are talented singers of difficult songs :)), after 3 days spent together I can easily call them friends

And I thought to myself: friends. I don’t know if I’ll ever return to Slovakia or see Gejza again, but it was an incredible experience and I left with both a major case of de-princessifying and great memories of how hospitable and kind complete strangers can be. Many people have been to Slovakia, but an experience like this? Priceless.

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So, that’s my story. Now let me hear yours. When I told the Travel Made Different team from NTUC Income about the story of my Slovakian adventure, they got super excited. No hot water? Really? And – building a fire? Have you done it before? No? That’s… Amazing. The thing is, quite often, you’ll come across special moments that are out of the ordinary while you’re travelling. And it’s moments like these that make your experiences uniquely different from everyone else’s.

We were talking about the idea of travel’s relativity and the way individuals interact with different places to create a completely unique travel experience from the next person’s. Having traveled quite a bit over the past year, I’ve always tried to live like a local (successfully or unsuccessfully, only time will tell) and not like a tourist, and I think Slovakia was as close as I came. But it doesn’t matter where your travels have taken you, everyone has their fair share of travel stories to tell. Last week I watched one of my friends plunge off an insane cliff in South Africa via insta-video. The same week, another friend posted a selfie in Rome. First solo trip.. ever! the caption read, and I think to myself, traveling solo? That’s a story to tell, right there.

Whatever it is, the Travel Made Different team wants to collate stories – see Instagram-worthy shots of all these unforgettable travel experiences – and they’re now running a campaign to incentivize everyone to story swap. Share with them what made your holidays different and they’ll reward you for it – with $4000 worth of shopping vouchers in total to be won.

Contest Mechanics

From now till 31st December 2014, they’ll be giving away $100 shopping vouchers to 40 @TravelMadeDifferent followers with amazing ‘Same Same But Different’ (or #SSBD, as we like to call it) travel experiences, so submit your entry now – details as follows:

HOW TO TAKE PART:
1) Follow @TravelMadeDifferent on Instagram
2) Post a photo/video on Instagram^ of your ‘Same Same But Different’ travel experiences
3) Write an awesome caption about your photo/video and include these hashtags:
#TravelMadeDifferent #SSBD #country
eg. #TravelMadeDifferent #SSBD #ITALY/#THAILAND/#ISTANBUL

Contest ends 31st December 2014, so make sure you send in your entries before then!

^Make sure your Instagram account is set to allow public viewing. Terms & conditions apply.

I’ve already shared my story with you. Now it’s your turn to talk. I’ll be personally involved in picking winners as well, so I do want to hear all about your travel experiences and stories!

And with that – go forth and travel. There never has been a better time to quote Wilderness Explorer Russell, but:

ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE.
(caw, caw, caw!)

x
♥jem

#1895 | The Accident

The accident happened sometime late Saturday night. I’d spent the whole day at an airport cafe trying to get my shit together and imbibe some Renaissance literature good. I’d spent a ridiculous fifteen fifty on mushroom soup, one soy cappuccino, and a truffle chocolate cake. Yes, my love hate relationship with chocolate cake is still going on. Love hate as in, hate that I love it. It’s a long story for another time.

That night while showering I was thinking to myself how I always get Duffy and Amy Winehouse confused for no good reason. I was thinking this because when I shower every night I prop my phone up against a dry spot in my toilet counter, blast some Spotify, and have a karaoke party by myself, and last night Warwick Avenue was on. Come on, you know what I mean. Shower Karaoke parties are the best. And about halfway into the shower it happened.

I blinked water out of my eye and blinked some more. It wouldn’t go away. There was something annoying my eye and it wouldn’t go away. No problem, I thought. It happens all the time. It’s probably soap, or something.

I was wrong. A tiny, whitish, transparent object had somehow flown into my left eye and lodged itself in the lower lid of my eye. I would find this out approximately thirteen hours later.

I got out of the shower, still blinking furiously, grabbed some eyedrops from the kitchen and drowned my eyeball. We have a lot of eyedrops everywhere in my house because I have very sensitive eyes and these things happen a lot. It didn’t raise any red flags. After ten minutes, I still couldn’t stop blinking, so I pushed my way to a mirror, shined a torch in my eye, and flipped the lid. Cue: Ew. I know. I couldn’t see anything still, so I just dropped more eye lubricating drops in my eye and settled on the sofa to do some editing work. I was working on a short story for a spec fic magazine – more details on that to come – but I couldn’t see the screen properly and also, I couldn’t stop blinking.

“It’s probably your vein,” the boyfriend said. “These things happen.”

So I shut down my computer, put in more eyedrops, and went to sleep.

Sunday morning one of my eyes woke up. I say one of my eyes because I woke up, sat up, and realized only my right eye was open. I tried to pry my left eye open but SWISS CHEESE, IT HURT. I literally could not open my eye past a certain point because it felt like something sharp was pressing further into my eyeball when I did.

“Get changed,” my mum said. “We’re going to church.”

I got upset. Nobody understood my pain. This couldn’t wait for a sermon to end. I was not functioning. She made a call to one of our old family friends and we went to church.

I don’t remember much about the ride to church or actually arriving in church. This is where one of those life cheat codes come in. One of my mum’s oldest friends who also goes to our church is the best eye doctor in Singapore. When I say best, I literally mean she taught every eye doctor in Singapore how to perform lasik, rolled her eyes at vanity, and got herself a pair of prescription glasses. She is the reason why for the last few years, my church has been able to organize massive eye checkups with the best doctors and equipment in the healthcare industry for free for the older residents in MacPherson. She also looked at my eye, made a call, and told me to get myself to SGH’s A&E immediately.

I don’t remember anything about the route to SGH either, because my eyes were closed the whole time. This I remember – listing my upcoming shoot dates in my head and wondering if I’d still be able to film. Wondering if I’d go blind. Imagining a life blind and wondering what writing would be like without sight. Isn’t much of the writing process seeing and revising words as they appear onscreen? Can it translate to transcribed speech? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. These are the things I thought of on my way there. By the time I reached the hospital I was already a fifty year old blind person in my head who’d let her entire life go to waste. I already know I’m melodramatic, you don’t have to tell me.

Thanks to the connections our family friend had, I was admitted far more quickly than anyone who walked in for consultation was. I say this with full knowledge of my privilege and I am grateful. They took my blood pressure and my heart rate and I wanted to shout OF COURSE MY HEART IS BEATING FAST, I HAVE SEEN MY FUTURE AND IT IS BLINDNESS. And then, thankfully, I saw the eye specialist.

After extensive probing and poking of my eyeball, the specialist told me how lucky I was to have come in as early as I did. There was something lodged in my eye, she had to wash it out and retrieve it. She dilated my eyeballs to check the back of my eye and everything was a blur for the next four hours. I didn’t understand why after retrieving the offending object my eye was still hurting. Big words were thrown around like “cornea wound” and “surface injury”. They made appointments for me to be monitored by more eye specialists. I got scared.

When you have an eye related injury and you’re a girl, people all assume it’s down to vanity. Every single well meaning person I love has asked me in no particular order if it’s my contact lenses, my eyelash extensions, or my make up. It’s neither, I’ve had to repeat so many times, something foreign flew in. It’s an incident. An accident. Are you sure it’s not your contact lenses?

I have been nowhere except the hospital and my house for the last couple of days. I spend all my time sleeping or tearing up. I’m tired of tearing up; I’m not even sad. I have so much medicine to take it’s not even funny. In a bid to cheer me up my family rented Transcendence which was a terrible movie with a female lead who looked creepily like Scarlett Jo. It’s some sort of cosmic irony that I was debating whether or not to take my Astronomy examination this week and now it transpires I can’t go for it even if I want to. These few days have been a lesson in keeping very still.

I’ve been sitting at home in bed feeling completely frustrated and useless. I have a story to finish editing and an exam to study for and precious time is ticking away.

“I feel so impotent,” I complained to the boyfriend.
“You’re impotent to me.” He replied smugly.

It made me laugh and laugh and I’m still laughing. I think to myself how lucky I am to have people who care around me, and how sometimes life gives you the people you need. Today it gave me a desperately needed dose of humor. Yesterday it forcibly gave me rest. Amidst the frustration and crankiness I feel grateful for the impotent things in life.

x
♥jem

#1894| Round up: 2014 Favorites

It’s that time of the year again, where I start to round up the products I’ve loved best over the course of the past year. I’ve announced on instagram that I’ll be away for most of December in New Zealand for a very exciting collaboration with Nikon, so I’m bringing this post forward to November in case I don’t get the chance to talk about this later on!

ACCESSORIES

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From left: hand stamped JEMMA bar necklace from Modern Minimalist Co | white feather earrings from EtherealFay etsy store | Silver Cage rings, Rose gold seamless bangle, and Clear droplet pendant from The Ordinary Co | Gold classic Quartz necklace and Gold Josie Ring from Byinviteonly Store | Bullet rock bracelet from Chainless Brain | Christmas Card from the KRISxERN collection.

This year has brought on board a new, clean aesthetic for my accessories collection – I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to the simple lines and angles of jewelry in classic gold, silver, and of course: rose gold. These are some of my favorites from the huge collection I’ve amassed this year – do you see a trend forming? Because I do.

HAIR

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From left: Sea salt surf bomb spray, Know Knott conditioning detangler, and Atomic thickening spritz from Original Mineral.
2014 Favorite: Know Knott Conditioning Detangler.


I generally place more emphasis on styling products – like texturizing sprays, volumizing sprays and so on, but this year I went back to the basics with haircare products. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my sea salt spray, but over the past year my conditioning detangler has been a lifesaver, especially with my severely bleached hair. It’s the price one has to pay for blonde locks – and there’s no point having great color if it doesn’t look silky. I use the detangler everyday after my shower with my TangleTeezer and it works through my hair like a dream.

STYLING

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Bosch Hair curler and straightener. Image cred: Google

I bought this on Drea’s recommendation and use it almost everyday: it’s a fantastic 2-in-1 hair curler and straightener with a surprisingly less-than-hefty price tag of less than 90SGD – similar range curlers cost upwards of 100SGD. You can get it in Takashimaya I think, but it always sells out there. It’s also available at Great World City but I’m not sure exactly where else. I use this in conjunction with a styling spray by Original Mineral.

SKINCARE

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Benta Berry Girl’s skincare line

This one is a no- brainer. I’ve been raving all about it – it works wonders for me and has become the foundation of my skincare routine ever since I got back from Germany. You can read my in-depth review here.

MAKE UP


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Mac’s Gel Liner. Image Cred: Google.

I’ve been through so many liners over the years – liquid, gel, pencil – and I think I can safely say I’ve found the perfect liner for my needs. You have to use this with a liner brush, which can easily be purchased separately from drugstores, and it requires a bit more effort than straight on dashing your liner on with a liquid liner, but the difference is palpable. It’s pretty waterproof and smudgeproof, and gives you that clean solid line that’s essential in any eye-emphatic make up look. When I was trying to decide what my make up favorite would be, it was a tough toss up between this and Benefit’s Porefessional, which gives a surprisingly perfect matte look to your skin, but I use eyeliner literally everyday, so this one won. The Mac Gel Liner is available in stores at about 30 bucks.

THE ALL PURPOSE BAG

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Black leather backpack from Yesstyle.com

My love for leather has seeped into all aspects of my life. I saw a black leather backpack on Rumi Neely’s instagram page a couple of years ago and fell in love. Last year I started using a black leather backpack a friend got me from Korea, but it broke my heart in the form of an irreparable zipper earlier in the year. I never realized how heavily I depended on it – did you know, a black leather bag goes with everything? I couldn’t find one I liked enough to replace it (I always had issues with everything I saw online or in stores – didn’t like the zipper color, didn’t like the shape, looked too fake, etc) until I went to Germany ended up buying one from Yesstyle.com, which is a Korean site if I’m not wrong. It ships free for all orders above 25USD, which isn’t difficult to hit. Best decision ever – it fits everything including my laptop and DSLR, and I brought it everywhere. This baby has been halfway across the world with me.

IF I COULD ONLY CHOOSE ONE WARDROBE ESSENTIAL

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Black tailored pants from Zara

I don’t know how I never realized that I lacked a high res shot of these pants, but they’ve been an absolute essential of late. The above picture was taken at the Klarra studio preview, and I’ve been wearing these pants to everything – there’s just something about proper black pants that makes you look classier and more presentable immediately. Statement pieces aside, this is such a wardrobe essential. I’ve been looking everywhere and I finally got this pair from Zara for a cool 79 bucks I think. Topshop does something similar for slightly cheaper but the cutting is less flattering, and for a staple like this I think it’s worth investing a bit more. The picture does it no justice, obviously, which reminds me that I really should take proper shots of this soon.

IF I COULD ONLY CHOOSE ONE WHATS-IN-MY-BAG ITEM


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17 month agenda from ShopBando. Image cred: glamorousrevelation.blogspot.com

I cannot live without my agenda. I simply cannot. When I leave home without it by accident I feel like my life is collapsing in on itself. I always have a photo of the upcoming month’s pages in my phone in case I need to refer to it at any time. (Lifehack alert!) I’ve been using a Fashionary over the past two years on Shini’s recommendation, but this year I thought to try something different so i went for the supercute Ban.Do 17 month planner after seeing it on their instagram page. It’s got a very kiki.k feel, except more.. American? I dont know. It’s adorable and I adore it. It comes with a bunch of extra things which dont do much functionally except add to its quirky feel, like stickers and motivational doodles and messages, but it works for me. I also love that it starts from August and ends in December the following year – following the academic year. Unfortunately, it’s sold out at the moment but you can wait for next year’s edition.

WARNING: the planner itself is only 20 bucks, but the shipping will kill you. If you’re in Singapore, the shipping is nearly 1.5x what the planner itself costs, so ship it to a friend in the US and get it from her. That’s what I did.

Alright, that pretty much sums up my 2014 favorites/ essentials. I doubt anything else will suddenly pop up over the next month that makes me want to bump off a spot on any of the above, but if it does, you’ll hear about it on my instagram. :)

Have a great year end, everybody. x

x
♥jem

#1893| Jemma for Orchard Hotel Singapore: Checking in for Cram Week

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Location c/o Orchard Hotel Singapore | Photos by Warren Tey and Martin Hong

People underestimate the positive effect a well timed staycation can have on you. There was a particularly painful week last month with mid terms and deadlines all crammed together (read: university cram week) and we decided to do our final year’s hell week in style: upgrading from overnighting in Starbucks to overnighting in a hotel room.

Orchard Hotel was where I had my very first prom back in 2008, so returning felt kind of nostalgic, like I was reliving a bit of the harried glamor from that night. OHS very generously offered us a premium room with club lounge access for all our studying caffeinated needs, and boy oh boy it was a long night – but arguably one of the most comfortable cram sessions I’ve ever had.

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Cookies and gummies from the club lounge delivered to our room

The thing about OHS is, they’re located right on the fringe of town and a short walk from the train station (nearest MRT station: Orchard Road), but not so smack in the center of Orchard that everything becomes inflated price wise. Right across the hotel there’s a 24 hour macdonalds, and in the vicinity there’s a Starbucks and Coffee Bean, if you’re thinking of popping out for a shot. And while the hotel itself has fantastic dining options, if you’re up late and want to explore a little, there’s the famous Jane Thai down at Orchard Towers open till 4am, which some have ventured to call the best thai eatery in Singapore. Our initial plan was to cram till 2/3am then grab some Thai takeout, but it never happened because we were so full from the insane dinner buffet at the Orchard Cafe:

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Serving lobsters, shellfish, sashimi, and local fare

The sashimi in particular was mouthwatering, something I didn’t expect from a non-japanese specific buffet spread. And even though we realized that it was due to our being invited down, we were impressively well taken care of. From the moment we walked in to take a seat to the time we finished our meal, the restaurant manager and chefs came up to us to greet us and describe the menu to us – we felt like very undeserving VIPS, given how we were basically there to cram.

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In the club lounge

Post dinner happy hour in the club lounge, where they serve cocktails from 6-8pm and screen soccer all evening.

Imagine this: intermittently napping while revising for midterms, then waking up in the laziest way possible – in a flurry of white down quilts and pillows with gentle sunlight streaming in. It was glorious.

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The burning question is: how effective is studying in a hotel room, really?

I was up most of the night revising and practicing for my BTT – yes, i know, late to the party – and I passed a day after check out, so I’d say the cram session fulfilled its purpose for me. But more than that – it was a supremely well timed break in a period where stress levels are normally flying high. And there’s just something about waking up in a hotel room that puts you in a good mood for the rest of the week, no?

Thank you for having us, Orchard Hotel!

x
♥jem

#1892| Jemma for Nikon: Krabi, Underwater

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imagesKrabi, Thailand.

Before we get into any narratives on Krabi, let me first address the burning question in the room: how did I get this instagram photo, would I recommend the camera, and is this the beginning of another Instagrammer’s Guide To post?

The only way to answer the above seems to be to run an unbiased and unprofessional (read: non hardcore, user viewpoint) review of the camera based on my experience with it. For the past month or so, I’ve been carrying the Nikon AW120 around in my various handbags, using it interchangeably with my iPhone camera for instagram. You can, as usual, track the photos taken with it via the hashtag #jemmafornikon on IG. It’s tiny, much lighter than my DSLR, and very, very convenient. Here’s why:

GREAT THINGS ABOUT THE AW120

It’s hardy.
Waterproof, coldproof (to -10deg) and shockproof for a 2m drop, which is more than my height, so that’s perfect.

It’s cheap.
>Under $500 for a camera? That’s pretty rare.

It’s made for instagram.
Read: WIFI enabled. I’ve been beaming photos straight from the camera to my phone via a Nikon photo app, which has been extremely useful all over Korea, Krabi, and Singapore when I’d rather have a 16mp picture to edit over an iphone-quality one.

It comes in a cute camo design.
Need I say more?

However, having all these functions is great, but not crucial. Meaning, it’s fun to have a wifi enabled, army print camera, but is it really necessary when you already have a perfectly serviceable iPhone to take photos with? I dont know. On the other hand, when I flew to Krabi last week, the hardy little camera suddenly became indispensable.

Beach holidays are always a toss up between beautiful pictures and risky situations. Very few places inspire similar feelings of utter relaxation, but at the same time you’re always finding yourself in precarious situations while trying to capture the perfect beach shot. I’ve had friends lose phones to sudden monster crashing waves while trying to capture pictures, and have long lamented not being able to take great photos while snorkeling in the gorgeous cave pools of Ponza. The fact is, most times you just cant risk bringing your thousand dollar DSLR near a body of water, and the few times I’ve brought my iPhone out to sea for the pictures I was hyperventilating the whole time. Is this what the Nikon is then? The pictorial parallel for what you search for in every relationship: Security.

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In any other circumstance, this picture would have cost me a good camera’s life.

I felt like I spent most of my time in Krabi dripping in a swimsuit. The AW120 came in incredibly handy – most days I just slung the camera around my neck and went swimming or snorkeling happily, without worrying that it’d bump into something (it’s shockproof anyway) or that it’d get wet (that’s the whole point). The clarity of the pictures depend on the murkiness of the water body – pool pictures turned out sharp, sea pictures were less so but still pretty clear:

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Taken underwater

I imagine, though, that in Singapore waters the pictures would just be a blur of sea green. Still, the camera’s best features really come out when you take a proper summer vacay.

On our second afternoon in Krabi, we took a boat out to the Phi Phi islands and went snorkeling in waters that were famous for brazen fish – the minute we dropped into the water, they came swarming over us. And this time, I have pictorial proof:

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Getting photobombed by a fish? Check.

It’s not so much that I captured so many priceless moments with the camera (seriously, I must have about a thousand pictures of.. fish). It’s also that we could take photos in the water, not necessarily underwater, that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to capture. Selfie in the water anyone?

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Off the shores of Maya Bay.

Out of the water, the photos taken by the AW120 are serviceable, to say the least. It runs with a wide-angle f/2.8 NIKKOR lens, which means great landscape or group shots, and you can switch it up to Macro mode for crisp pictures with a minimum focusing distance of 1cm. Here are some of the pictures I took with the camera while out of the water, subject to basic editing in Lightroom as I do all my pictures:

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The picture quality is vibrant enough for a compact camera, much better than others of the same price range. I’m comparing this not just against my vague memory of my first camera, but across the many compact cameras I handled in Krabi. You can’t really holiday in a tourist destination without people constantly coming up to you and asking you to take a picture for them, especially if they see you snapping away.

On a whole, I’d say that it’s a good camera. It won’t replace my DSLR – I feel like I’ll always be a DSLR girl – but it works well as a stand in on days I don’t want to lug it around and when I’m traveling to highly elemental places. It’s got a great price point, and the battery life is pretty decent. The wifi is also a huge plus point, especially in this day and age of instant updates and connectivity.

THE BOTTOMLINE: GET IT IF YOU

- don’t need incredibly professional (read: DSLR) photos and rather not compromise your shoulder blades for pure megapixels.
- are looking for a casual camera that works better than the average.
- are clumsy. I knocked the camera against a couple of hard surfaces accidentally and carried it around in my bag without a case (sorry, Nikon SG!) and it’s still hunky dory.

VERDICT

It’s a perfect family camera, and in the same way teenage girls go for flip screen selfie cameras, this is one that you should get if you’re the outdoors-y type who also likes to instagram.

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All pictures in this post taken with the Nikon AW120, except those of the AW120, which are taken with the Canon 500D. Full list of specs here.

Thank you for the love, Nikon SG!

x
♥jem