Amina Qureshi | Gold Leaf

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Destination: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Develop an interest in life as you see it: the people, things, literature, music - the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people.

I've recently began a new chapter in my life, which perhaps accounts for why I haven't been as vigilant at keeping up with blogging as I would have liked to. So many changes to account for, I hardly know where to begin. I left Montreal, not knowing exactly where I would land up. I ended up in Dubai, getting a job that I absolutely love - working with fantastically creative and innovative people, having family nearby, and I couldn't be happier. I'm the Social Media Manager for The Address Hotels + Resorts and I think it's a fabulous account to work for. There are many ways to grow it creatively and from a digital perspective, there are so many areas that are only just developing that there is ample room for growth and improvement.

From a personal standpoint, it's always tough to move to a new place, but I think I have become such a seasoned traveler that it has almost become second-nature to me. But like I have always maintained, to belong nowhere is in itself a freedom and an obstacle simultaneously.

I found this in a recent hand-written diary of mine and I wanted to share it because I think it so accurately describes the duality that we are sometimes confronted with on a day to day basis:

Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for the one who has the vision to recognize it as such.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Destination: Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

As mentioned in my previous post, one of the highlights of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand was reuniting with a best friend of mine from university in Vancouver, Elena Omura - who currently resides and works in Japan. Although we met in Bangkok, the majority of the time we spent together was in Chiang Mai, nestled in the rolling foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.

Getting from Bangkok to Chiang Mai meant we had to take a fifteen hour night train. It was not exactly luxury traveling, yet it would've been acceptable and tolerable had the train not been in such unnervingly dire and poor conditions. It was unstable and rackety, old, rusty and decaying. The windows were not fixed firmly, and were open for the entirety of the ride, resulting in loud crashes of noise from the train tracks below. The cold and frigid incoming night air reminded me like a constant whiplash that yes, this whole train experience was indeed chaotic, loud, dirty, disturbing, and overwhelming.

In retrospect, these were perhaps a slight over-exaggeration of emotions resulting from my weak and feeble physical state. I felt the darkened, damp night of Thailand imminently about to crash down upon my sleep-deprived, exhaustion-stricken body. It was a ride of epically miserable proportions, but upon reaching our destination of Chiang Mai, things abruptly brightened as I was about to again see my best friend, Elena and celebrate my birthday there.

We went tiger petting during the day for my birthday. Contrary to popular belief, they are docile and friendly - you can pet them, lay alongside them, even cuddle and nestle up within their warm, breathing bodies and noble paws. Some tourists were skeptical that the tigers were drugged and sedated, however, their regular and active daily movements seemed to suggest otherwise. 

Later, Elena treated me to a heavenly massage at one of the most beautiful spas I have ever been to. Coming from somebody who goes to regular massages in almost every city I have visited, this is certainly an entitled accolade - thank you very much Elena for such a lovely birthday treat!

That which the islands of Thailand possess in beauty and imagination and that which Bangkok possesses in the endless opportunities for nightlife are undoubtedly qualified by the rich, bold, and flavorful dishes of Chiang Mai cuisine. This was by far my favorite Thai food if differentiated by regional gastronomical qualities - spice, flavor, taste, color, and authenticity. Besides the subtle nuances of flavor, I loved the sheer variety and choice that was provided too. 

Later that evening, I spent my birthday dinner with James, Elena, and her boyfriend Rémi in a beautiful restaurant overlooking a placid canal, sharing memories of times nearly forgotten, catching up on our new life changes - both emotionally and professionally, and making an absolute and fundamental pact to remain friends forever, despite where life brought us globetrotters next. 

What I learned from Chiang Mai was my natural proclivity towards differentiations and categorizations, thereby instilling some sort of value judgment upon them. Simply because the train ride to Chiang Mai was not up to my standards certainly doesn't mean I did not learn an exceptional amount about myself, my endurance for an otherwise intolerable experience. That any perspective I have about any person, place, culture, experience, religion, ideology, or object is only a relative truth. I doubt I can go further into this without morphing this post into one about modernist philosophy, epistemology, or subject-object distinction - so I will leave it at that. 

I left Bangkok to return to Karachi, Pakistan for one evening and then onwards back to Dubai. Thailand was a remarkable journey and as blasé as it may sound, it simply served to reinforce that which I believe to have already valued in life: friendship, love, compassion, honesty, helping others, stillness, and appreciation. I'm infinitely grateful to have been granted the opportunity to share some of these values with incredible individuals along the way and it truly was an insurmountable trip of a lifetime - even for somebody who has tiptoed all across the world. 

Perhaps because this time, I actually dug my toes in.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Destination: Bangkok

The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if it were for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted. 
To be completely out of your element creates an uncomfortable, almost overbearing feeling of discomfort and vulnerability that takes an incredible amount of courage to overcome. Once you have accepted immersion, you appreciate precisely what a tiny place in the massive world you occupy and it is one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences to have come my way on this particular journey. 


With the help and encouragement of the others I was with, I was fortunate enough to explore majestic and celestial temples, pagodas, and palaces, beautifully downtrodden backstreets, main thorough-ways, markets, bars, and food stalls. 

Each element existing in its own space and time: in a seemingly bygone, yet fundamentally modern era of monarchical ruling, commercial chaos, tourist fever, and a hyper-sexuality that lingers in the thick, humid Bangkok air, enfolded like a suffocating towel around the long, hazy nights ahead. 

So is the culture of Bangkok. There is no judgment that can be passed upon it from an outsider, for it is a place of privilege to visit, visualize, and experience such a unique sliver of Eastern culture, mixed with the influence of the West.

There is a level of poverty so ingrained in the urban landscape of Bangkok. I felt a deep connection, yet a simultaneously fundamental detachment from the poor, the beggars, the peddlers. There is no way to say this but from a position of hierarchy, but I felt helpless in helping them... as if taking it as a basic and ignorant assumption that they needed my help. That my way of living or my beliefs and values would somehow bestow upon them the peace and happiness I was wrongfully convinced it would magically summon.

And so I did nothing. Nothing but take a few photographs that will perhaps one day serve as a reminder of a different time and place, in which things were basic, lifestyles were simplified, and people were yet still perhaps satisfied and content with whatever little they possessed.

Our next destination would be Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand with none other than my best friend and partner in crime, Elena Omura. Any travel adventure we had planned would be nothing short of thrilling, novel, and thoroughly memorable.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Destination: The Majestic Islands of Thailand

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Must Begin With a Single Step.

The sense of wanderlust, the thrill of adventure, and the deepened desire for change and renewal struck me once again. This time, I was on my way to Bangkok and the surrounding islands in Thailand, rendering myself vulnerable to the cultural experiences, knowledge, and personal self-discovery that I was sure to encounter there.

I had lived in Malaysia for four years during my high school days, and even in Indonesia during my younger years. I had visited Singapore, and the surrounding countries in Southeast Asia, but Thailand was one country I had never explored. In a way, I am fortunate I never was awarded the opportunity to experience it at a young age, because it would have become yet another relic of a country, under-appreciated by what was then my uninterested and desensitized mind. This time, I would make the needed effort to appreciate the cultural significance and minute details of people and places that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, had it been a different time in my life.

Thankfully, I had James with me, who is an avid traveler, friend, and what some would call an overenthusiastic tourist, fully immersed in temples, pagodas, royal palaces, and everything in between.

The following are a series of photographs, which may give you an indication of the unbridled beauty and the unique essence and underlying culture of Thailand - but they are simply pictures: a less than accurate or adequate depiction of what was truly an unforgettable experience of a lifetime.

The Islands

Here, on the various islands, we had mostly uncommon and wonderfully unique experiences. I learned that the beauty of a moment is when you least expect it, that the lasting value of an experience is that which doesn't necessarily resound as meaningful or even remotely important in a very instant - but upon reflection: it teaches you qualities like patience, appreciation, cooperation, and most importantly - compromise.

Some of the experiences we had included, but are not limited to: The Full Moon Party, rock-climbing in Railey (a world-renowned site for climbing), witnessing the centuries of geological erosion and creation of what is now the Phranang Caves, a Muay Thai fight, many Thai massages, and ringing in 2013 with some of the most phenomenal and inspiring individuals I have met: James, Josh, and Yemina.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Destination: Austin, Texas

Keep Austin Weird - the official city slogan. There is a lasting cultural legacy, an undeniable charm about Austin that distinguishes it from the rest of Texas. The rolling limestone hills and peridot-colored waters starkly contrast the typical Texas landscape, which is flat, flat, flat. Having just returned from my ten day vacation there, I have to say it was a startling, but welcomed change from Montreal. It has this very iconoclastic mentality, so different that it seems to exist in its own space, completely detached from the rest of the state.

The cityscape is infused with cultural icons and unique artists thriving off the indie underbelly of Austin. One man I met made his living carving out plastic toy dinosaurs, growing plants within their hollow bodies. Everywhere around the city, you see street art - on doors, buildings, pavements, road signs. Austin is also the live music capital of the world, so we got the privilege to see some pretty cool up and coming musicians.

My favorite part might have to be the food trucks. Unlike Montreal, there are no real "after hour restaurants" that people go to. Instead, they've established a nice twist on street food, everything from traditional Tex-Mex to pho buns and Korean BBQ.

In the evenings, a purplish haze settles over the city and the rolling hills are silhouetted against the firey glow of sunset. The air becomes slightly less heavy, becoming breathable for the few hours of evening ahead. I think it's safe to say that Austin has secured my heart. I hope I get the opportunity to go back soon!

Images 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
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