#2069 | life update; feb

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Ola, guys

No, I am not drinking two cups of coffee. One is my boyfriend’s. Though I would not put it past myself to drink two cups at a go, or three, or four…

Anyway. Like I’ve been complaining rather self consciously to the people around me, life has taken a decidedly more contained outlook this year thus far. This relates mostly to matters of academia, where my not so secret double life as a masters student has been cannibalising most of my time, of which I’d already had limited supply. This mostly means that in between commercial work, hosting, teaching, and thesis-writing, I have a window of about seven and a half minutes to do other things like try and have some semblance of a social life, and so my social circle has shrunk to about three – my boyfriend, my cat, and my other girlfriend who also rents office space at the Hive a desk over from me.

The self conscious element kicks in because I know that all things considered, it is a good life. A brief sacrifice of social life / fun is hardly a blip in the grander scheme of things, especially since, as everyone tells me, it’s only till August! But knowing that and feeling it is completely different matters. All my friends have gone out to play 🙁 I told my boyfriend, and I wanna go too.

Then go, he said.
I cant. I’ll feel guilty.
Then don’t.
But I want to play too.

And so the conversation loops and drags on. Sometimes I just loop the same conversation over and over to see how long it’ll be before the boyfriend tosses me a glass of wine to shut me up. But his patience has been both amusing and impressive thus far.

The only till August part saddens me too, because I love being in school. I love it! I’ve always been the type of kid who loved going to school everyday because I am a nerd and i love learning about new things that i may not have had the chance to encounter otherwise. I think I only started hating school when I was eighteen, and that was because I am seriously not a morning person (side note: all three classes I’ve taught so far have been extreme morning classes, and so I’ve started to think the university has an agenda against me.. or something). But even then I freakin loved finding an empty spot by the study benches to drink cheap 3-in-1 coffee and eat dollar-seaweed-chicken and study with friends. And so it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t, because I wish I had more time but I love the thing that is precisely taking up all my time, ie. school, and so.. I don’t know. This is a good problem to have, and a privilege, and I am just being a whiny bitch.

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Having a 4pm beer by myself on the roof of my office during my 7 minutes of free time per day

In any case. The commitment I made to myself to not go out and play till, I dunno, August – with the exception of 1. momentous occasions, aka my friends getting married or something 2. friends playing the friendship SOS card, aka someone broke up, someone has a emergency and needs support, someone etc etc etc 3. a friend from abroad dropping in to singapore, which happens more often than you’d think – has given me the mental freedom to devote nearly all my time to work and writing. The idea was to start off with 1-1.5k words of academic writing per day, then on alternate days either moving on to replying business emails and working on commercial work, or continuing my academic research and marking student papers. So far the plan has been functioning okay. If nothing else, I had a moment where I realised that no matter how spontaneously I’d like to believe I can live my life, I am still ultimately the sort of person who thrives on routine and compartmentalised decisions. The word neurotic has been used on me far too many times in the past year. I cannot find it in myself to disagree.

In concrete terms tho, this meant that in Feb I read two books, wrote about the best six books in my past six months, had a new editorial out for Paypal SEA, started working on phase two of my Times x Jemma Recommends book collection which is rolling out soon, and hijacked exactly two talks (one talk show for power98, one hosting gig for huawei mobile) with what I thought modern feminism represented, despite them both having engaged Jemma and not Jemimah to speak. Which, again, is how I realise that no matter how hard i try to keep them apart, my two worlds always inevitably end up crashing into each other. The other day I went to school and told a student I liked her eyeliner. Horror!

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BTS of recent gigs i did

In general I was feeling pretty productive and proud of my progress work wise and academia wise, but that is not to say (i explained to the bf) that i dont miss just hanging out with my friends. I wish i had something else to sacrifice, like a video game habit, but i dont. Which is why I was so chuffed when we decided to work out of a starbucks instead of the office yesterday, and a couple of our friends nearby crashed!!!!!!!

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And suddenly life was flowers and rainbows again.

A new week. Onward, I say. Happy Sunday, y’all.

x
Jem

#2062 | life buoy

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Male, Maldives

The new semester has begun, as has my rubber-band launch back into the seesaw balance between my academic and professional life. Writing my thesis on a liveaboard in my head was one of the many ways one doubles up social and work life, an efficient use of time, if you will. Dive by day, write by night. I’m sure this wasnt what Papa Hemmingway had in mind but it works, for now. Surprisingly it’s been wonderfully productive. You’d think that an arrangement like that would never work, and it probably wouldn’t long term, but something about the mix of sea air, waves with a chance of dolphin, and literature, makes for a fantastic combination. The beer doesn’t hurt too, nor the dozen Blackmores Travel Calm pills I take per day. What’s a girl to do when she loves to travel but is deathly afraid of plane rides and gets sea sick at the slightest rock of the boat? Not sure if this question were ever asked, but if so, the answer is right here.

x
Jem

#2060 | Cafe (waiting love?)

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Starbucks Singapore, Tanglin Mall

Singapore, you were pretty exhausting today.

It is a perpetual struggle to accept that it’s okay to be both fulfilled and exhausted. To love what you do but also want to give everything up for five more minutes in bed. A horse a horse my kingdom for a horse and all that. There are easier routes but none in my head. Life has become a giant check list and my brain, cotton candied mush. How can you ache for something you’ve never had? How can your chest pang for something you know you wouldn’t want if offered? We are walking ironies stitched together by the kindness and love of others. We all hope they will accept us for the ridiculousness that we are.

x
jem

#2055 | The Golden Years

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Los Angeles, America

Back in LA I was given a choice: attend the premiere showing of La La Land (Emma Stone was to make an appearance at the end) or catch Maroon Five live. I chose Maroon Five because I reasoned that I could watch the movie when it broke in Singapore, and also, I’m generally not star-crazy so I was happy to just watch Emma onscreen forever. Ah, this life of privilege. And looking back, I’m kind of glad I didn’t watch it in LA, because I don’t think I’d ever recover from being a mess in front of the international media over there. The show hit me hard, friends. Hard.

I wonder how much of it I can go on about before giving it away. The premise of the film already begged to be loved by my sort – song, dance, and color? And Emma Stone?! Count me in. Emma is incredibly talented – I absolutely adore her work, I love love loved her in Easy A, in The Amazing Spiderman, Crazy Stupid Love, Birdman.. I don’t think she’s ever really been fully utilised to the best of her talent, to be honest, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to see a lot more of her in the coming years. Neither she nor Gosling can really sing, but that adds to the adorable factor of it all, I suppose.

And I also liked that it’s a standalone movie. Not a sequel to yet another Marvel film (which, full disclosure, I also love, but am kind of getting numb to) or a prequel to a huge franchise (Fantastic Beasts) or borrowing from a wealth of popculutre/literary tradition (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children). Just something fresh, something that resonates with people aching for the nostalgic old films from golden hollywood, something that promises to please..

The film opens on a jammed up freeway, classic los angeles. Everyone is listening to something different on their individual car radio, and a brown girl in a yellow dress leads the first solo. Soon, everyone jumps out of their car and starts dancing. It’s extravagant. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. It makes your heart jump. I found it an interesting and deliberate choice that the first two solos of the show’s first song were people of color, which I thought was fantastic, and although I would have liked seeing more people of color as leads in the show (John Legend makes an appearance as a supporting character in the middle of the movie) but yknw, we take what we can get. The musical number soon cleaves to introducing Emma and Gosling, and then we follow them from there.

The movie is essentially the age old tale of the tension between romance and ambition. Emma wants to be an actress. Gosling wants to be a “serious” jazz musician. Boy meets girl, boy and girl dislike each other, boy and girl decide that they kind of really like each other after all, boy and girl admit to Loooove, capital L, multiple Os. But they don’t just like each other, they like the other’s passion for their craft. At one point, someone says: “People like people who are passionate about things they love!” And when different ideas of who should chase what dreams clash, hearts ache.

I found myself in a mess at the end of it all. To be fair, it’s always been a genre that hits me hard – the idea of lost time and big dreams sweetened by sugary sweet showtunes and moony dance numbers. The music plays my heart like a fiddle. The plot smacks me in my big sappy face. And I loved it so much, but I couldn’t listen to the soundtrack without breaking down into tears again. Private crying! You learn to do it as you get older. Cry in the toilet instead of in front of others. Then talk about your feelings on the internet. Thus the modern generation is espoused.

2016 has been a strange, tiring year. Not just for me – for the world, I think. You know what I mean. People were dying left and right – and not that they generally dont, of course, and this is not to say that one person’s death means more than any other. But people become icons that represent something to us, personally. Prince and Bowie gave many struggling kids all over the world representation, and a means of understanding that they can be safe, be accepted, be welcome in a weird world. Alan Rickman is, well, Snape!! The number one icon of love for the Harry Potter Gen! And Christina Grimmie was our best friend, the everyday, relatable, girl next door, who touched people with her open heart and her talent. When these people were lost to us in 2016, the world seemed strange and suddenly alien. Nothing was sacred anymore. This is, of course, rubbish. Statistically 100% of people die. Plus three out of four of the people I mentioned were old, which is when it gets more acceptable to expire. But they were iconic to many, and in their icons they became more than just another person, and so their deaths hurt many. And it’s not just them. Somehow, in 2016 the internet felt more raw and open than ever, a gaping wound that was ready to fight back. Alton Sterling’s death slapped rage and hurt across the world, and people started to stand for fairer, more human treatment of everyone. (At least, it seems that way to me). Women the world over rioted at the outcome of the Stamford rape case – a widely publicised one that triggered in more ways than one women who’ve ever felt harassed, unfairly treated, and plain violated.

And yet for every angry person there were a thousand more anonymous ones brushing these off as no big deal. At the end of the year, people started crying as they watched numbers tick across a vote count that told them they and their problems were possibly no big deal.

Yeah. It’s been an exhausting year.

Will La La Land fix that? Of course not. It doesn’t have the answers. But it does have something else, something almost as precious. It has hope, but not stupid hope – it’s dashed with realism, but at the end of the movie you can smile and choose to be foolish and nod at your younger, sillier self with near respect. At the end of an insane year it’s with something like hunger that I inhaled the film, having forgotten how hungry i was for that kind of silly, sweet hope. It’s another day of sun, the characters sing during the opening number, even when the world lets you down.

Yes. Yes it is. And there are worse ways to close the year than with some tears and a smile.

Recommended: 10/10

x
Jem

#2050 | LA Diaries: Airbnb Murder Mysteries / Trips, Experiences

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Taken at The Last Bookstore, Downtown Los Angeles

imagesLos Angeles, America

What are the stories you want to tell?

This is a question that followed me around like a little rain cloud throughout my press trip to Airbnb Open LA 2016. I’ve been working with Airbnb for over a year now, and sometimes it feels like I’ve told most of the stories that can be told. I mean this in the best way possible – I love that people can open up their homes to others, create a micro-economy of their own. That tourists and travellers alike have a way of injecting currency into an economy on a very local level in a way that directly impacts the people who actually offer their homes to you, as opposed to having your virtual money disappear off into the endless loop of commercialised corporations. And host stories are new every trip, of course – each new place I stay in I hope to make friends that give me some sort of insight into their world. But something that I always wonder is – how do our voices evolve – how do we start telling newer, better stories?

And that was one of my small, secret aims of this trip, to try and come away with one good story, one thing that I feel resonates with me and hopefully you guys.

One of the biggest announcements Brian Chesky (CEO of Airbnb) made this Airbnb Open conference was the launch of Airbnb Trips. No longer offering only the opportunity to rent homes, Airbnb is now evolving to become a one-stop travel service. This means booking flights, ordering groceries, making restaurant reservations, all within the app. It means the launch of audio tours, free city e-guidebooks, car rental services. It means the launch of Experiences.

Experiences is without doubt the single biggest thing about Airbnb 2.0, simply because it is so novel, and makes so much sense. Is it a completely new idea to pay a local to bring you around? No. These things exist, and they’re called tours. But is it a new idea to have a local invite you to partake in the intimacies of their lives? Possibly. And now it’s being made so convenient too – to do it all on one app: booking accommodation, food, flights, and having your days planned out for you. This, Chesky announces, to gasps and insane applause, is the future of travel.

As the press con dissolved, I found myself wandering around looking for hosts to talk to, to try and understand what sort of experiences they would actually be offering. I met a dude from Miami who brings guests paddle boarding, diving, and for a boat party, over the span of four days. I met a couple from London who want to teach people to pluck and grow their own organic food. These were all interesting and sounded all kinds of awesome, dont get me wrong. But I kept looking. I was searching for something else.

And then I got a text from Elaine, one of the Airbnb girls.

“Jemma, you here?” she asked, “There’s someone I’d love for you to meet.”

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This is Nicole Biondi from Cape Town, South Africa. She’s an author – she’s penned crime thriller novels for the last five years, with more to come, and has worked in tourism for 17 years as the head of the Cape Town tourism board. Elaine introduced me to her because I also write fiction (albeit less successfully with exactly zero novels to my name lol) so she thought it would be interesting. Well, it was – but not for the reason she might have suspected.

What I wanted to know from Nicole was:

1. Did hosting on Airbnb subsidise her artistic endeavours?
I mean, let’s be real. Unless you’re JK Rowling, writing hardly pays the bills. You run on passion, mostly. And your day job – be it working in a cafe, teaching english, or being a train attendant. Or being an instagrammer, lol. What I wanted to know was if Airbnb hosting could be your day job, a supplementary income that got you by while giving you flexibility of time to work on your creative projects.

PS. the answer for her was not really, because she only decides to host on Airbnb twice a year max. (Hosts as in, in her home, not host a Trips experience)

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2. What was a crime thriller writer doing hosting an Airbnb Experience, anyway? As an aspiring writer myself I can tell you that any time spent not at your desk writing is frustrating. Why have dinner or watch a movie when you could be working on your writing? As you can tell, my social life has gone out of the window. But I had a strange suspicion about her agenda, which turned out to be more or less true..

Nicole’s experience is called Madame Mystery.

“Tell me about it,” I said. And so she did.

She’s penned a whole story that she’s inviting you into, a mix of fact and fiction, called the Botanist Brigade Murder Mystery legend. You begin with a hike up Table Mountain, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, and a total bucket list item on every traveller’s list. Halfway up, she brings you into Woodstock Cave for a picnic breakfast, and then introduces you to the name carved into the cave wall – J. W, Lawrence, a man who died on the 15th of May, 1965. Your mission throughout the day is to follow the timeline between 1865 and present day, to figure out why and how he died. It’s a real life Cluedo mystery! And, boy – if you like Escape Room games, you’ll love this.

The Experience consists meals and snacks (starting with breakfast in the cave), a gorgeous hike, an artisanal gin-tasting session that also includes a tour of how gin is made, and ends off with a three course south african meal where you become the characters in the story to try and solve the mystery. All this for 2,000 South African Rand, which translates to about $143. Not bad for an all-inclusive, unique experience.

But that still didn’t answer my question – why is she doing this? So I asked her, again, and she looked at me. Aha, she said, and I knew she knew what I was referring to.

“Because they think they’re having fun, these guests. But I’ve tricked them into coming on a little history lesson with me, on South African history, the black community, and how life has changed for those of us living in Cape Town.”

There it was. She was using Airbnb Experiences as a vehicle for social commentary. I wanted to punch my fist into the air. Yessss! I had solved my own little mystery correctly. She went on.

“Writing is exorcism. There are things you need to get out. This is common to every storyteller..”

And storyteller she is – she told me on the side that she not only wrote stories, she also worked as an emcee, a performance poet, and a voice artist.

I nodded. Go on.

“And when I tell these stories, be they on paper or to unsuspecting Airbnb guests, I want to change the way they see the world. Just a little bit.”

Yes.

Something you need to understand about Nicole – after seventeen long (and I should think, successful) years as the head of tourism, she quit to work in an NGO called Innovation Edge that focuses on developing early learning in children aged 1-6 by funding ideas and initiatives in marginalised communities. It made sense for her, I think, as someone so passionate about social issues, to move from tourism to a non-profit.

“Did it annoy you?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “To have tourists caper up to Cape Town just to look at it as a gorgeous tourist holiday destination without bothering with understanding the social structure or history of the place?”

“Oh my god,” she rolled her eyes. “You have no idea.”

We then spent a good part of the next hour talking about South Africa – mostly her, talking intensely, and me, listening, trying to absorb, and asking the occasional question. Much of this conversation had nothing to do with Airbnb as a platform, therefore potentially majorly irritating the Parisian journalist who was waiting to interview Nicole on Airbnb Experiences. But Airbnb is not a product in and of itself. It is a platform. And this platform you can use to book accommodation, browse listings, read city guides. So why not use the platform to push a social agenda? I totally got Nicole’s rationale behind what she was doing, and loved it. And despite not being technically a part of the official Airbnb Experiences Ethos, it still aligned nicely with Airbnb’s aesthetic of trying to get people to understand each other and cultures, trying to create a more inclusive, loving world (Look at their latest announcement – a mandatory non-discriminatory rule). Just that what Nicole is doing is on a far, far more local level.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post called The Broke Student’s Guide to Being Human. Those of you who remember that will understand why meeting Nicole was so important to me. As someone who comes from a position of privilege (i mean, come on. A chinese woman in Singapore is like being a white person in America), it is easy to forget and important to remember that your privilege often works at another person’s expense. Let’s not play the privilege game – the comparison of who is more, who is less, who is equally privileged. There will always be someone more fortunate. Someone vastly poorer. You are born into a body and social station which is not of your choice, and all you can do is try to be fair, and kind while learning to navigate it.

But in traveling, this is easy to forget. It is so easy to ooh and aah over the gorgeous mountains of cape town while ignoring the incredibly insane income disparity that exists there. So easy to shudder at the gunshots in the middle of the night, that you hear from your rented room in a small town of Medellin, Columbia, thrilled at your authentic local experience. But your holiday experience is another person’s everyday reality. And while it may not be your responsibility to familiarise yourself with the entire social historical context of whatever city you go to, it sure doesn’t hurt.

I wont attempt to explain the social fabric of south africa. Learning about it from Nicole was endlessly interesting to me, but I have no faith in my ability to do it justice, or replicate her words with the same level of conviction that can only come from a lifetime of personal experience. But go. Ask her. Ask any host you stay with, any local you meet on your Airbnb Experience. Ask them for their story. Ask them why they’re doing what they do. If it pans out well, you’ll find yourself enriched, your perspective widened, your capacity for empathy hopefully deeper by the end of it. And if it doesn’t, well. You’ll have a story of your own to tell.


Airbnb Experiences is now available on the updated Airbnb app.

x
♥jem