Saturday, 29 November 2014

You are always a valuable human being

Do you like to take note when you study, travel, attend an event (talk / conference / party) or after meeting people?

Bill Clinton is known to note down the details of his classmates, professors, political organizers and other acquaintances in index cards, so that he could revise them in the years to come. The index cards contain important interchanges Clinton had had with the person. His diligent and indefatigable habit of taking notes and revising them, has contributed to his charm and charisma, mixing glamour and compassion (in the words of Bel Mooney).

The Renaissance most famous polymath, Leonardo da Vinci, wrote everyday, about his studies, observations, discoveries, inventions, comments, and plans. For his entire life time, Leonardo produced around 13,000 pages of work. A left-handed, Leonardo uniquely wrote, drew, sketched in mirror script. A systematic and an artistic creator of notebooks and journals, Leonardo used notes to link art, science, and engineering, synthesizing novel things such as the Vitruvian Man.

Taking notes can also be a form of journaling, one of the five recommended happiness-generating actions by Shawn Achor. Writing more positive emotion words enhances relationships (PubMed 16913946). I find that writing nourish and heal our soul, mind and body.

♥ ♥ ♥

In my early days living in Cambridge, England, UK, I was given a Bible of New Testament and Psalms. I did not know the giver personally, but the Bible was printed by the Gideons International.

Founded in 1899, the story of the Gideons International began when a boy named John H. Nicholson, promised his dying mother that he would read from the Bible every day for the rest of his life. He kept his word. One night in the autumn of 1898, when staying in the crowded Central Hotel at Boscobel, Wisconsin, John agreed to share a room with Samuel E. Hill. Both Christian men became friends and developed the idea for the future Gideons International to furnish a Bible for each bedroom of the hotels in the United States. Today, copies of the New Testament and Psalms published by the Gideons International are given to people in workplaces, schools and universities. I am grateful that an idea conceived over a century ago, was so powerful that it has benefited me and many other people.

♥ ♥ ♥

There are many breathtakingly beautiful churches in England and Europe. It is indeed a blessing to be able to visit a number of them. Since the Gideon Bible is small and of pocket-size, I could easily carry it while traveling to understand more about Christianity. Sometimes, I just note down interesting inspirations.

Last night, I flipped over my Gideon Bible and re-discovered what I wrote some years ago. The words are very comforting especially if you have been living a compulsively achieving life in the competitive world.

"You are always a valuable, worthwhile human being,
not because anybody say so,
not because you're successful,
not because you make a lot of money,
but because you believe it and for no other reason."

Then, I learn today that the quote is attributed to Dr Wayne Walter Dyer the author of Your Erroneous Zones. Thank you!

There is always be someone better and poorer than us, so stop comparing ourselves to other people. Live in the present moment and focus on using whatever talents and gifts that Allah has given us to serve other people. As long as you are doing better than your previous self, you have fulfilled your responsibility. Surrender your fear, worry, and insecurity to God.

You are always a valuable human being servicefromheart panda singapore river safari
A photograph courtesy of Ren's paternal grandfather.

♥ ♥ ♥

The words of the re-discovered note also remind me on the movie Lan / 我们天上见 directed by  Jiang Wenli 蒋雯丽.

Since Lan was 3 years old, she was raised by her maternal grandfather Tang. Lan was often mocked by her schoolmates for sharing a surname as Chiang Kai-Shek, a national enemy in China. Lan often felt worthless, and would hide inside the cupboard eating candies.

She discovered hope from the world-champion gymnast, who also shared her surname Jiang. In a hope that she would not be sent to a countryside for tough labor, her grandfather encouraged her to start practicing gymnastics. Her grandfather also lovingly sewed a gymnastic suit and made a practice bar for Lan. However, the teacher thought that Lan was too weak for gymnastic and did not bother to teach her. Other gymnastic students also looked down of her, calling her 'the amateur'. All these experiences worsened her self-confidence until she stopped going to the gymnasium.

However, Lan later proved to be a precious and valuable human being, especially when her grandfather fell ill. She started to care for him, from cooking meals, bathing him, making funny faces to make him laugh, to  painting their home with plants. Yes, plants are soothing.

An important lesson we can learn from Lan is not to link our self-worth to our achievement, but to link our self-worth to internal security. Always remember that you are a valuable human being.

With love,

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Postcards from Chinese Heritage Centre and the inspiring stories of the Yunnan Garden campus

Every graduate (and even dropout) feels something special about his/her alma mater. It is where one spent his/her youth, formed lifelong friends, and undertook intellectual challenges to prepare oneself for serving the society. Herein, I write about Chinese Heritage Centre at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where I pursued my undergraduate study.

Schools and universities, especially those with history, are among places to visit wherever I travel. On the open house day of the Chinese Heritage Centre, I was very grateful that I could bring baby Ren to visit his mother's almamater.

NTU is the first university that baby Ren visited, and I deeply hope that he would visit and learn from a number of great institutes worldwide as time goes.

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart

If there are public transports to reach a destination and I am not short of time, I prefer to take public transports. Yes, I am concerned about sustainability and frugality. Experiencing public transports allow me to sense the feelings and the attitudes of people who commute to a particular destination.

I have been grateful that an NTU student volunteered to help carrying Ren's folded stroller while we boarded the bus. I was alone, carrying Ren in front of me with a baby carrier, a backpack of his milk, hot water, diapers, toys at my back; my hands were to carry the stroller and tap the EZ-link card.

I really admire single parents, and people in the past had succeeded to raise many children. My thought went that, if these people can do it, so can we!

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart

We just need to be more strategic, such as anticipating possible scenarios and preparing for them. When I travel without Ren, tapping the EZ-link card is as smooth as waving a good bye. However, that day I had to plan carefully, so that the bus would not wait too long for me boarding and getting down from the bus.

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart

Ren's uncle waited for us at the 179 bus stop. When I was an undergraduate of NTU, I brought Ren's uncle - then a primary school boy to NTU and he posed for a photograph at the Lee Wee Nam library, one of my favorite places in NTU. Now, he ends up as an engineering student of NTU after studying hard in his high school. Perhaps, bringing young children to campus early can help them to define their dreams.

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart

On our arrival at the Chinese Heritage Centre, opposite the lush Yunnan Garden, two kind volunteers rushed down the main staircases to help us. Thank you very much! I did not know that there was a wheelchair access behind the building.

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart

Baby Ren was given a Doraemon (ドラえもん) balloon. Like many parents who aspire their children to be creative, I hope that Ren would have a lot of creative ideas that flow incessantly out of his mind, just like how Doraemon can always produce futuristic gadgets, medicines and tools from his 4D pocket.

We were fortunate to have a guided tour on two exhibitions: The Nantah Pictorial Exhibition and Chinese more or less (an exhibition of overseas Chinese identity).

I knew about Nantah (Nanyang University) since I was in high school. My chemistry teacher, Madam Yong Mu Lin, graduated from Nantah. She taught us not only chemistry, but also the virtues of hard work and commitment.

I remember clearly how Madam Yong willingly stayed two-day-per-week after school hours, to help weak students with more detailed explanation and to help me preparing myself to compete* in a national chemistry competition. I always think that emerging as one of the winners of that competition, helped me to win a Nanyang Scholarship** that has positively changed the trajectory of my life.

*In the initial stage, there were other students invited to join the training. But I ended up as the last who continued practising using China GaoKao 高考 materials. Grit matters. The psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth highlights that grit plays more significant roles than IQ, social intelligence, good looks or physical health for success.

**I am forever grateful to Nanyang Technological University, especially because my parents told me that I had to figure out the finance myself should I be interested in pursuing a tertiary education.

Perhaps, it was partly because of the tremendous dedication of Madam Yong, that I wanted to study at Nanyang Technological University, even though National University of Singapore has been more established and of higher ranking.

Perhaps, it is the Nantah Spirit and the story behind the founding and the demise of Nanyang University that allured me and many others to the Yunnan Garden.

I wonder if it is human nature to take for granted what we have and only long for things (and people) once they are gone forever. What we can do is to remind us everyday (yes, every morning and every night) the importance of being grateful, as the thankful hearts are always closer to the riches of the universe, so that we can do more meaningful things in our limited hours, days and years.

♥ ♥ ♥

At The Nantah Pictorial Exhibition, we learned more about the history of universities @ Yunnan Garden, Singapore.

In 1953, the Chinese communities in Singapore, Malaya and other parts of Southeast Asia responded enthusiastically on the proposal to form a Chinese language university by Tan Lark Sye 陈六使 (1897-1972), a rubber entrepreneur and philanthropist who firmly believed in the value of education.

People from all walks of life in Singapore as well as other regions of South East Asia, from rich tycoons to poor hawkers and trishaw pullers, had made generous donations and rendered tremendous assistance.

I especially appreciate the contributions from the poor. For example, $1 may not mean a lot to the rich, but one who earns less than $2 has to sacrifice largely to donate $1 away for a cause that he/she believes in. I know each $ equals sweats, tears and bloods, for I also worked as a part-time student being paid $6/hour in the 21st century NTU.

In 1954, William Goode (Colonial Secretary) visited the construction site of Nanyang University, acompanied by Tan Lark Sye and Lien Ying Chow.

In 1955, the arch of Nanyang University / Nantah -- the first and only Chinese-medium institute of higher learning outside China, was built.

In 1956, Nanyang University started classes for courses in arts, sciences, and commerce. The certificates of the degrees of Nanyang University were written in three languages, from left to the right: traditional Chinese, Malay, and English.

In 1964, Nobel Laureate Professor Yang Chen Ning 杨振宁 visited Nantah. Professor Yang works on statistical mechanics and particle physics. In 1957, he and Tsung-dao Lee received the Nobel prize in physics for "for their penetrating investigation of the so-called parity laws which has led to important discoveries regarding the elementary particles."

In quantum physics, a parity transformation is the (simultaneous) flip in the sign(s) of spatial coordinate(s). The conservation of parity states that the parity of the total wave function describing a system of elementary particles is conserved. Parity is conserved in electromagnetism, gravity, strong nuclear forces, and strong interactions, but violated in weak interactions.

Do you think that Chien-Shiung Wu 吴健雄, who performed the decisive experiment verifying parity violation, should also be awarded the 1957 Nobel Price in physics, in a similar way that Rosalind Franklin (whose work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA, led to the discovery of the DNA double helix) should be awarded the 1962 Nobel Price for Physiology / Medicine? Sadly, Franklin passed away in 1958 at age 37.

Sorry, I digress. Let's return to the history of Nantah.

In 1972, Queen Elizabeth II visited Nantah. Photographs of the Queen - wearing an aristocratic hat and sleeveless knee-length dress, at the same staircases where we just climbed with the assistance of the volunteers, made me imagine the campus atmosphere and the feelings of the students at that time.

At the era of Nanyang University (1956-1980), being a Nantah student was a very prestigious accolade. Not all young people had the opportunities to present the required intellectual requisites to be admitted, i.e. to pass the admission test.

I am curious if financial difficulties would hinder one's aspiration to pursue study in Nantah.

A piece of story from a former staff serving the Nantah registrar, appears to highlight that financial challenges should not entirely thwart a dream to pursue a higher education in Nantah.

While a staff, he fell in love with a female Nantah student, who was as precious as panda. The power of love can be so great that he ended up realizing his university dream. He secretively prepared himself for the admission test to surprise her, was successfully admitted with flying colors, and worked hard to support himself financially. The only regret that he has is that he did not join as much student activities as he wished.

I recalled how my friends in the 21st century NTU enthusiastically dragged me to attend events, from VIPs talks to concerts. Honestly, I was a struggling student. I realized that to succeed academically, I need to spend more time studying than other students. I also had to do tasks for extracurricular activites (ECA), so that I had sufficient ECA points to stay on campus as off-campus accommodation has always been more expensive. I also worked part-time as a student assistance. When a friend managed to get a Fish Leong / Liang Jingru 梁靜茹 concert ticket for me, I was deeply touched. When a senior walked half the campus to my hall, to brought me a supper of nasi lemak on my birthday, I was tremendously grateful. There are many great memories on the Yunnan Garden Campus.

The friendships formed during our school years are among the most beautiful ones. The relationships of the young people, full of idealism, aspirations, excitements, hope and commitment, in the face of life challenges, will never fail as the themes of any drama, simply because every one is the actor / actress of his / her life, as the saying goes 人生如戏,戏如人生.

I personally know many friends who found the following treasures on campus: their lifelong and close friends (知心朋友), soul mate, wive, husband. All these people have become the support they have for the rest of their life.

In 1980, Nanyang University was merged with the University of Singapore, to form National University of Singapore. If you google to find out why, you will learn different perspectives explaining the destiny of Nantah, and it is up to you to make your own conclusion. The old Nantah administration building  of a beautiful Chinese-style architecture, now houses the Chinese Heritage Centre.

For a quarter of century Nanyang University, affectionately called Nantah, was a hope for the supporters of Chinese medium education and culture in Southeast Asia. Students hailed from not only Singapore, but also Malaya, Thailand, Indonesia, and the alumni are now all over the world.

In comparison with other universities, especially another alma mater of mine that celebrated 800-year anniversary recently, Nantah was indeed short-lived. However, the story behind the founding of Nantah and her development, growth and demise, will evoke strong emotions among many people today.

In 1981, Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI) took over the ground of former Nantah. NTI was an English medium engineering college.

In 1991, NTI was promoted to Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and merged with with the National Institute of Education (NIE).

In the 21st century, on a summer day I arrived at NTU, where the former Nantah was. The writing 自强不息 (continuous self-improvement) stroke me forever. Some places are especially magical because of people who had been there. Places where people have prayed for years and centuries, such as churches, temples and mosques are very sacred. Similarly, places where people have studied with their heart and hoped for the best, have that kind of spiritual forces that will never fail to encourage the future generations.

Every time I listen to the song Chuan Deng 传灯, I will remember Nantah. Perhaps, it is also the Nantah Spirit that has sustained me and my pursue of knowledge across oceans and continents, and now in the desert.

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah spirit Yunnan Garden servicefromheart
Nantah Spirit that I pasted on my study desk in my NTU hall room to remind myself to work hard.

♥ ♥ ♥

In 2001, NTU established School of Biological Sciences.
In 2004, NTU established School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
In 2005, NTU established School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.
In 2009, NTU established School of Art, Design and Media.
In 2013, NTU and Imperial College London jointly established a new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

In 2014, QS World University Rankings rank NTU first for Top 50 Under 50, 39th globally, and 6th in Asia, placing it in the top 1% of universities globally.

I am grateful that NTU is rocketing in the global competition. Based on the experience of many people whom I have encountered and mine, a good degree helps one to secure a good job and a good business contracts.

However, we need to remember that eventually it is the substances of the people that make a university strong and sustainable. Modern facilities or historical architectures alone are insufficient to create and sustain a good university, only when her graduates make significant contributions to the society and the world, the university is successful.

♥ ♥ ♥

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden hostel Hall 1 servicefromheart
My (transient) room in the oldest hall of residence in NTU: Hall 1 (established 1957). Looking back at this photograph, I realized that I am still using the same bed sheet of bears and pink stars. Wow!

Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart heart love
There is something magical about the heart shape! A student committee posed in a heart shape on my request. Yes, I have been inspired by love and servicefromheart, since many years ago. I admire people who self-sacrifice themselves for others, like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Mandela, and the list goes on...

 cupid love Chinese Heritage Centre Nanyang Technological University Nantah Yunnan Garden servicefromheart
An angel or a cupid on campus (thank you our dear volunteer!) brightened the days of many women.

♥ 南大站 
Jurong West Nantah Arch by Remember Singapore 
Childhood Memories at Nantah 南大 by Apple, a cancer survivor and a mother to a daughter with Down syndrome 
#ministory and #travelxp posts by ServicefromHeart 

With love,

Last updated 20141115

Monday, 10 November 2014

Postcards from Dubai Mall, United Arab Emirates

Inspired by Americans who love superlatives, I am grateful for a visit to the Dubai Mall (迪拜购物中心) of UAE - the world's largest shopping mall (based on total area).

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Dubai Mall was developed by Emaar Properties, that also own Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world as of today).

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Visiting Dubai Mall on almost on her sixth anniversary (it first opened on 20081104) was a blessing for me. I always love birthdays, not only of mine but also of others. Birthday = a reason to celebrate the miracles of being alive and continuous growth.

We drove from Abu Dhabi to Dubai on a morning of sand storm. We could not see very far, but I managed to catch a glimpse of Burj Al Arab from far far away. Our petite beautiful driver was hungry, so we stopped at a gas station with a McDonald.

servicefromheart uae best coffee ADNOC

Fabrice said the most delicious coffee in UAE is the one sold by ADNOC. For me, I still love South East Asian roasted coffee the most.

Although I grew up as a child in Jakarta, where malls are ubiquitous, I had also called Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, UK my home. In a town like Cambridge, malls (not to mention malls with inspiring design) are not common, though I appreciate the convenience of shopping in small supermarkets and shops. 

Dubai Mall has more than 1,200 stores. We had a lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, which I had heard about while living in La Jolla, California but had not have a chance to visit until today. I ordered (1) fresh kale salad and (2) portabella mushroom avocado and zucchini fries. i also sampled (3) beets with goat cheese comprises fresh beets, apples, baby arugula & pecans, (4) burger (5) salmon (6) chicken. Consequently, I had no more space left for the dessert. I will be back for trying the cheesecake!

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The Dubai Mall implements courtesy policy: shoulders and knees should be covered, no kissing or overt display of affection in the mall, no smoking in the mall, no dangerous activities (e.g. sport games, rollerblading, skateboarding), no pets are allowed in the mall.

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My impromptu tour guide once worked in the construction of a nearby hotel. He told me that when things were challenging, they de-stressed by gazing the fish swimming in a carefree manner, without worrying about the burden of life and work.

Herein, may I please suggest a must-do list in @TheDubaiMall:
  1. Visit the Dubai Aquarium and Discovery Centre. Admission fees range from AED 80-110. Dubai Aquarium Underwater Zoo reminds me on a night sleepover in the Underwater World, Sentosa Island Singapore; thank you Luke How!   
  2. Cage snorkeling with the sharks (AED 290)@ the Dubai Aquarium.

  3. servicefromheart travelxp dubai mall uae emirates
  4. In Dubai Ice Rink in Dubai Mall, imagine the romance of ice-skating as described by the ballet-loving and warm-hearted Veronica Weston of the Sadler Wells by Lorna Hills. Remember to bring a pair of socks. 
  5. Appreciate candies and chocolates in the 2010 world's largest sweet shop "Candylicious" spanning over 10,000 sq ft (930 m2) inside Dubai Mall. I bought a Belgian dark chocolate for our driver simply because the cover girls remind me on her. Thank you for driving us safely! I also bought a 70%-cacao Mucha-covered chocolate by Chocolate Amatller for myself. 

  6. servicefromheart travelxp dubai mall uae emirates candylicious belgium chocolate

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  7. Imagine yourself as an Alibaba being surrounded with the glitters in Dubai Mall's Gold Souk. Caveats: (1) unlike Alibaba, you must pay the price before taking any gold out of the souk (2) "All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost." ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.
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  9. At The Emirates Official Store in Dubai Mall, be a captain of the Emirates A380 - the world's largest aircraft.  A 30-minute session of simulator flight costs AED 350. I am also grateful for my past experience of flying A380 with Singapore Airlines and Qantas, and look forward to flying A380 with Emirates. 
  10. Experience the Dubai Fountain - the world's largest dancing fountain, designed by California-based WET, the creators of the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas. I recommend the daily evening shows every 30 minutes from 6:00pm to 11:00pm.
  11. Enjoy bird view of the Arabian Gulf and desert from level 124 of the world’s tallest tower, At the Top, Burj Khalifa (first inaugurated 20100104). Dated & Timed Adult ticket costs AED 125, < 12 years old AED 95, < 3 years old free. Fast track ticket costs AED 400.
  12. Meet and Pose with the DubaiDino, the original skeleton of a long-necked, whip-tailed vegetarian sauropod (Amphicoelias brontodiplodocus member of the family Diplodocidae) that is over 155 million years old, and of 80 ft (24.4 metres) long and 25 ft (7.6 metre) high. When it was alive, it weighted as heavy as five elephants. The dinosaur could have died during drought in a natural trap - Dana Quarry, Wyoming, USA. I love to imagine arriving at a world we have heard of only in stories such as Jurrasic Park.
    servicefromheart travelxp dubai mall uae emirates  dinosaur dubaidino

  13. Pose with the Dubai Mall Waterfall, designed by Singapore-based DP Architects. This is my favorite artwork.
    servicefromheart travelxp dubai mall uae emirates waterfall

  14. Visit Kinokuniya bookstore and forget the time.
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    servicefromheart travelxp dubai mall uae emirates kinokuniya

    servicefromheart travelxp dubai mall uae emirates kinokuniya
    A mango lemonade with some Spanish and Belgium chocolate appear to be ideal companions for a happy reading session.
    "Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is." ~ The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.
  15. Do shopping and window-shopping.

servicefromheart travelxp dubai mall uae emirates  mickey mouse
Mickey Mouse with its iconic ears always bring back the happy memory in Disneyland Paris.

servicefromheart travelxp dubai mall uae emirates  pinocchio
Since I could remember, I have loved stories, and Pinocchio was among the first few stories that I read. I appreciate how Jiminy Cricket reminded Pinocchio (and us), "remember always let your conscience be your guide."

servicefromheart travelxp dubai mall uae emirates  vogue
Once, I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer and a fashion model. Everything starts with a dream. I have created handmade dresses for my (only) Barbie girl. Though I am not a professional model, I have done some catwalks in Vancouver and Singapore, to promote the causes that I believe in. Thank you for the opportunities to do so! "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it." I always admire beauty, as I do for truth and kindness. I think ... I am highly sensitive to beauty, especially of people and nature that I grow loving more than ever. Beautiful things make me happy.

servicefromheart travelxp dubai mall uae emirates  keep calm
The design of postcards sold in the Souk Al Bahar (Market of the Sailor) reminds us to "keep calm we still have oil." In 2013, petroleum engineering is the most lucrative college major. Will the situation be still the same several years and decades down the road? I am concerned for our children and grandchildren. I believe in the importance of research and development for alternative renewable energies, because eventually the non-renewable fossil fuels are going to be used up.

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This is the first Spinneys market that I visited in Dubai. It is situated in the Souk Al Bahar (Market of the Sailor).

What's next?
♥ visit Abu Dhabi Yas Mall, the second largest mall in UAE after Dubai Mall. Like Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld, Yas Mall is situated on the Yas Island.
♥ I am grateful to be able to view the world's tallest building hitherto. I also look forward to appreciating the next world's tallest building. I imagine that the future world's tallest building will reach the outer space (perhaps anchored by a satellite for stability) and ordinary people like me, can fulfill our dreams to visit the outer space.
♥ re-visiting postcards from our other #travelxp always evokes special feelings of contentment and excitement.


Many thanks