Dear 40-Year Old JD,

I write to you from ten years in the past.

It’s almost Christmas. Did you decorate the house this year? I sure hope you did, and that you have done so for the past few years. Did you finally make that Christmas tree using different-sized nonlas, or have you outgrown Southeast Asia? How tall is the tree? How much gifts are underneath? However it was done, I’m sure BJ took care of all the details. I bet it’s a standout!

Have you travelled the world? Do you still eat on the streets? I hope we did not become too good for streetfood and only eat fancy. How were the brownies in Amsterdam? Did you climb the Andes and see Machu Picchu? Have you proven the existence of the fountain of youth in Okinawa? Did you follow the Gringo Trail, the Silk Road, Route 66 and, ultimately, have you finished off the cities in the Banana Pancake Trail?

Speaking of the trail, did the restaurant make it? Is it restaurants now? Did you use monobloc stools and stainless tables like the ones in Hanoi? Did you remember to enclose the original burlap banner in glass and place it at the wall of the dining area? Are we still using the same decade-seasoned woks? Did BJ finally agree to use our old travel pictures to decorate, disregarding how chubby we were on our temple selfies?

Or did we not make it at all? Did you go back to teaching? Did you start a different business?

How is Sam and Jared? How is BJ? Is the relationship still going strong or have you two already divorced (assuming that’s already legal in our country at your time)?

I’m sorry for bombarding you with questions. I guess that’s all I have right now. I’m sure 40-year old us would have bigger problems and you’d probably have questions that I can never answer in return. But I write to you to remind you of how we were in 2016, in the hopes that you can pick up something from it.

If the Christmas decor is not as great as you wanted it to be, I hope you look back at 2016 when we didn’t decorate our house. In fact, we have not done Christmas decorations since 2014. In my time, life was faster than us, and we can barely catch up. But we never lose our spirit.

If you missed a few trips in the past decade, I hope you remember how we cannot even afford a nearby vacation, moreso a plane ticket to Yangon. And even if we did, we wouldn’t have any funds for food and accommodation. But we never lose our passion and wanderlust.

If the restaurant is not doing well or worse, failed, do not forget how much sleepless food bazaar nights we had to endure; how this particular December drained all our physical, mental, and emotional strength; how breaking even does not compensate; and how much pride we had to swallow. We did all that just to keep it running. We never lose hope.

If Sam still eats with one foot atop the dining chair, think of the time when Sam can hardly feed herself without supervision. If Jared still cannot express himself in ‘regular’ language, remember the time when he cannot utter anything at all, word or non-word. We should relentlessly help them improve. We never lose patience.

And if you and BJ are falling, or have fallen apart, do not forget how we almost fought everyday in 2016; how we had extended arguments in the car over driving routes and where to have breakfast; how we hurt each other. But most importantly, how we win each other back. Every. Single. Time. Because we never, never stop loving each other.

You see, if you think things are not going well, don’t forget to do what we do best: keep going. When things go wrong, remember 2016. When we learned that Christmas is ‘truly in our hearts‘. When we learned to travel without leaving home. When we learned how to start a business. When we learned to be a better parent. When we learned to forgive. Because we never stop learning.

With hope from the past,


P.S. It’s her birthday again. I hope you have been doing better at her birthdays the past decade. We always forget the cake in my time.




I am sitting alone in a couch. Poolside. Hotel rooftop. I wish I didn’t want to do some contemplating, but the loneliness, ambient resort lighting, the mellow sound of the water, and the night sky makes it almost mandatory. Besides, I haven’t written in a while.

Truth is, I’m having a genuine case of fernweh. Far-sickness.

A pair of Merrels that I excitedly received as a gift last year, which I thought would be abused in another globe-trekking journey with the missus, is now ripped and worn out. But not from climbing temples or braving dark alleys of a red light district. Instead, it was overused in the gravel of a food market that we work at every weekend.

The cheap Hershel rip-off backpack we bought in Melaka, which should contain travel essentials, now holds a coin box, contracts, and a checkbook. Sure, it has souvenir keychains and a bagtag that screams adventure. And yes, I never take out my almost empty travel journal and “A Cooks Tour” by Anthony Bourdain in the hopes that I would finally, someday, fill up the journal in another border bus ride and finish reading the book while lying down a beach cot, sunburnt in the shores of Nha Trang.

But the reality is that the bag is now a work bag. And that travel journal now contains market lists and expense reports. And that book will forever have page 16 folded, and I will never have an accidental meetup with Tony B. somewhere in Hoi An to have him autograph it.

The reality is I am sitting on a hotel poolside couch, but not as a guest. I’m here for work, and I’m taking a quick break.

And that’s exactly why I’m feeling fernweh. Because I should be sitting in this couch, but I am wishing that the couch was in another poolside, in a faraway hotel, with similar ambient lighting and a slightly different night sky.

I miss riding the cab to the airport (instead of driving). Then getting caught in traffic and almost missing a flight.

I miss being frustrated at our ridiculous international travel tax and terminal fee.

I miss giving my most charming smile to the ground attendants to get a good economy seat for the long flight.

I miss having expensive airport food for brunch.

I miss the claustrophobia inside A320’s.

I miss arriving and looking out the plane window, and seeing weird signs and right handed cars.

I miss the snobbish immigration officers.

I miss the money changers.

I miss riding the first cab in a new place and not taking my eyes off the window because everything, everything we see is new and foreign.

I miss checking in and comparing our English to that of the hotel receptionist’s.

I miss exploring markets and streetfood.

I miss taking touristy photos and selfies.

I miss talking to locals and fellow tourists for the first and last time.

I miss having an itinerary.

I miss not having an itinerary.

I miss finding new places.

I miss being lost.