2019 has been a pretty good year for me.
First, I am grateful to have finally completed my studies in NUS. I enrolled in a part-time Masters course in Science Communication. The Masters degree is a joint Masters degree with The Australian National University (ANU). After two years of slugging it out, studying and working at the same time, I managed to complete and fulfil my course requirements to be able to graduate.
In November 2018, I submitted my thesis, and gave my presentation. The moment my presentation ended, was the moment I knew that I have officially ended my course. I remember being immensely relieved that I have completed the entire ordeal. It wasn’t easy working and studying at the same time. Late nights, weekends spent working on your assignments, multiple deadlines to meet. So when it all ended after my presentation, I was strangely at peace with myself. Finally the storm that has been raging in my mind became calm. One less thing to worry about.
In January 2019, I received an official letter from ANU, stating that I have officially graduated from the course. The convocation ceremony at NUS was to take place only in the middle of the year. I expressed my interest to attend the convocation and to receive my certificate on stage. The convocation ceremony was also another way to catch up and reunite with my classmates who went through the same ordeal as me. Graduation gown had to be rented. I had to look sharp, dressed in business suit, pants and a tie to match. But it was all worth it. I deserved it and I am grateful for the entire experience.
Knowing that I have completed my studies, it was time to get wild. 2019 was the year where I used up almost all my leave days from work (most of which were carried over from 2018) to go on multiple holidays.
First up, New York City. On Singapore Airlines’ premium economy class, non-stop from Singapore to New York. 19 hours of non-stop flight. It was gruelling, but tolerable since we were on premium economy. Larger, comfortable seats, better food and bigger entertainment screen to keep you occupied during the long flight.
It was my second time to the United States, but the first time for my parents, and they enjoyed it a lot. New York is an iconic city. A must visit travel destination for people who love exploring major cities of the world. All those internationally renowned landmarks and museums you often see on the television and on the big screen. To be there physically was a remarkable experience. I am truly grateful to be given the opportunity to visit New York.
But that’s not all. Shortly about a couple of weeks later, I was flying to Morocco, via London with my friends and colleagues. The trip was planned more than 6 months ago. I remembered having caught the Black Friday deal on Malaysia Airlines flight to London. We immediately booked tickets and secured our flights to Morocco shortly after.
I wrote a ten-part series of my adventures in Morocco previously. The fact that I had split the post about my time in Morocco into ten parts spoke volumes about how much I enjoyed my time there. It was not only enjoyable, but enriching at the same time. As I had mentioned, Morocco, as a travel destination is a country that just keeps on giving. I learned so much about the country during my time there and saw so many new things. It was the best decision my friends and I took when deciding on where to go for our holiday together. For that, I am eternally grateful to have such supportive and laid back friends and colleagues to agree on our holiday destination and to make the entire planning phase a breeze.
And not forgetting, reuniting with our former colleagues in London. After our trip in Morocco, before heading back to Singapore, we made a stopover in London for a couple of days to catch up with friends who were working in London. It was the best night ever, despite me being a little ill that day. I was down with a fever.
October was the highlight for me. I went to Iceland for the second time. This time I brought my parents along and they absolutely loved Iceland. I remembered the last time I was here, I was contemplating on whether I will be coming back to Iceland in the near future. The answer was yes, I will definitely come back. The question was simply a matter of when. About three or so years after I went to Iceland in February (full on winter) with my friends, I am back, this time during the autumn season. Not quite cold and snowy yet, but you start to see snow and ice being sprinkled lightly at the top of the mountains slowly making their way down as the time slowly marches towards November and beyond.
Despite going to Iceland for the second time, I was still amazed at how beautiful the landscape is and shocked at how different it looked the last time I was there. I made a good call in deciding to go to Iceland in autumn (which is more tolerable for my parents since they do not like the cold so much), giving me the opportunity to experience Iceland in a totally different landscape than before.
Because of that, everything felt new, I was re-experiencing Iceland in a totally different way, despite the fact that I have been to several popular spots throughout my travels in and around Iceland.
There were other major things that happened throughout 2019 that I am grateful of.
For one, I got a 20% pay raise that will be handed out in two incremental steps within a 6-month period. That 20% pay raise was significant and unexpected. My workplace recently had a town-hall meeting and announced an across-the-board raise in pay for most employees after they hired an outside consultancy firm to look at the pay levels across the industry. It seemed that a 20% pay raise was due to keep our wages competitive and to retain top talent that they desperately needed.
I had a relatively smooth reservist training this year. I was initially worried about the training this year partly because a number of my key personnel that I depend on to perform certain tasks were absent this year. They had to defer their training due to schools and exams. As I was short of manpower, I was concerned that it would be a stressful experience during the two-week training. But along the way, I had help from the most unexpected places which greatly maintained the levels of efficiency and effectiveness needed in carrying out the training needed for this year’s reservist. Overall, the training was smoother that I initially expected and for that I am truly grateful.
I bought the new iPhone 11 Pro Max and brought to my trip to Iceland. The picture that came out from the phone’s camera were phenomenal. The ultra wide angle lens was particularly useful in capturing the scope of the harsh landscapes of Iceland. Despite being only a phone camera, Apple has really outdone itself with its cutting edge computational photography to make you photos pop whenever you use the phone’s camera. I am grateful for my new phone to be able to capture wonderful memories of my trip to Iceland.
Finally, I bought a brand new camera, the Fujifilm X-Pro 3 camera paired with the Fujinon 23mm F2 prime lens. I have used this camera for a close to a month and I am loving the picture quality that is coming straight out from the camera. Fujifilm’s film simulation modes are a ton of fun to use and it is always interesting to see how your pictures look like after applying the various film simulation modes.
The rangefinder design of the X-pro 3 really harkens back to the good old film camera days. It even has an optical viewfinder for those who wish to experience how using a film camera was like back in the old days. I am really grateful to have chosen a camera that I know I will love using it for years to come.
What will 2020 bring?
I am looking forward to another road trip with the same group of friends who went to Iceland with me. This could be perhaps the last time travelling together, and so this time, I am going to go wherever they wish to go. It seems that through our initial conversations, they have been eyeing New Zealand as their next road trip. While I have been there before, it is a place where I don’t really mind going again, provided I spend more time doing hiking and trekking at some of the more famous routes in New Zealand. If they agree to that, then I don’t mind embarking on this trip together. All we need next is to agree on a date where we can all apply for leave next year and we will be on our way to another grand road trip.
I am also looking forward to another solo trip. Just exactly where is the million dollar question. I have not decided where I should go yet, but solo is definitely on the table, but only if my travel plans are sparse and I have enough leave days. The priority for a solo trip is low, but definitely on the table as an option.
2020 is where I will try and attempt to set a new savings milestone. In light of the pay raise that I have received, it only makes sense to set aside more to keep pace of the overall proportion of money saved against my total salary. I saved $15,000 a year last year. Saving $15,000 a year is challenging but highly doable. Will I be able to stretch myself further and save perhaps $20,000? If I become more frugal in spending less on travel in 2020, it might just be possible. If I skip my yearly iPhone upgrades and impose a moratorium on PC upgrades, it might be possible. If I save $10,000 on my bonus in April alone, and then continue to save about $1000 a month for the next 12 months, I would easily hit my target.