Category Archives: Healthy Living

Join us as we share our experiences in learning to live a healthier life. Including our explorations with Yoga, Exercise, Escape, Meditation, and Mindfulness.

Sun Temples and Salt Lakes, Gujarat

Driving on the salt lake at Little Rann, Gujarat, India (Februar
Rajastan, the Golden Triangle, and the Taj Mahal are all well known tourist attractions in India. Even Kerala is attracting a following to its backwaters. But India has so much more to offer, that is just a little off the beaten track and attracts far less tourists.
Breathe in a bit of Gujarat
Gujarat is a state best known in India for its industrious people. The home of top Industrialist Ratan Tata (Tata enterprises) and Mukesh Ambani (Reliance Industries), Gujarat has commerce in its blood. It is also the home state of India’s Prime Minister – Narendra Modi. To change the perception that the state is only worthy of traveling there for work, a certain (very big) Bollywood star got paid an obscene amount of money to say the now famous and often repeated words “Breathe in a bit of Gujarat”.
But Gujarat does have more to offer than its industrialists and their money making ability. It is a place full of history, was the home of Gandhi (you can visit his ashram in Ahmedabad) and is worth considering adding onto a longer trip that includes neighboring Rajastan.
The wonders of Gujarat
Bordering onto Pakistan in the north, Rajastan and Madhya Pradesh in the East, Maharashtra (Mumbai) in the South, and the Arabian sea in the West, Gujarat has a variety of landscape, historical and architectural wonders to visit. I am going to focus on the area from Ahmedabad North, known as the Little Rann of Kutch and shown on Google Maps as the “Wild Ass Sanctuary”.
Salt Lakes and Temples

Much less famous than it’s big brother (the Rann of Kutch) my colleagues and even a friendly Gujarati who offered me advice for the visit, assumed we were off to the big brother, despite my protests to the contrary that we were going to Little Rann.

Little Rann lies about 100km from Ahmedabad, through new housing developments, crop fields, and cows. We passed goods trains, trucks and camels as we wound our way through the countryside towards the desert.

Our accommodation was a bit of a surprise. Nestled in the fields down a small road, the dusty entrance wasn’t promising, but a few steps further mud bungalows curled around green lawns. A veritable oasis in the middle of nowhere. While they unfortunately didn’t feed us Gujarati food for dinner, the rooms and lawns at Rann Riders were certainly inviting.

Visiting the salt lakes
From Rann Riders we climbed into jeeps to drive from Dasada to the salt lake and Wild Ass sanctuary of Little Rann.

Barry and Liam walking on the salt lake at Little Rann, Gujarat,

The driver stopped to point out migratory Cranes from Northern India and black winged ducks as we drove towards the flamingos on the drying up salt lake. Hundreds of them stood in the water, but as we tried to get a closer look the dried up mud gave way to slush and our feet got stuck. With a mud bath on our feet we headed off further in the jeep in search of the Wild Asses.

Flamingos on the salt lake at Little Rann, Gujarat, India (Febru

These beautiful white with black accented animals wandered in packs through the brush and sand looking for food. Wild antelope sheltered under a lone tree as the Asses ambled past.

Wild asses walking through the Wild Ass Sanctuary at Little Rann

Further along we came to the salt lakes where local men and women still till the salt by hand. Pulling rakes through the shallow water they spread out the salt to allow the sun to do the evaporation job, and collect up the salt into large sacks using minimal implements. Salt is one of the basic requirements for life, and its taxation and monopolization by the British led to the salt marches of Gandhi, one of the major resistances to British rule, which ultimately led to independence, starting right here in Gujarat.

Man harvesting salt on the salt lake at Little Rann, Gujarat, In

We drove back through traditional villages. Outside mud huts women washed clothes and waved in our direction. Children carried stones on a metal plate on their heads towards men building water lines. A boy on a bicycle tottered to a stop to let us past, his load on the back was too big for the strength of his legs, and he wobbled across the road in our dust as we left. This Gujarat seems a long way from it’s fame as one of India’s best developed states.

Modhera Sun Temple
50km away the Modhera Sun Temple is virtually unknown outside this corner of India. Even a colleague who used to work in this part of Gujarat hadn’t heard of it, or the nearby Patan Temple.

Dating from 1000 AD it features a geometrically carved tank from which worshipers can purify themselves for the worship of the Hindu sun god Surya.

Modhera Sun Temple, Gujarat, India (February 2013)

The temple itself is richly carved and there are also example of erotic art within the carving of the temple. At the time it was built it was seen as an act that brought about fertility and it was neither suppressed nor moralized. In fact it wasn’t until the British reign of Queen Victoria that such things became frowned upon and the long arm of the British empire had its effect in India as suggesting women should be covered, and erotic temple art frowned upon.  Take a look at the exterior walls of the main temple itself to find it.
Detailed carvings adorn the Modhera Sun Temple, Gujarat, India (
We didn’t manage to fit in a trip up to Patan, but the Jain temple of Patan and Rani ki Vav stepwell are both worth seeing if you can fit them into your trip.
Adalaj Stepwell
Heading back towards Ahmedabad, the Adalaj Stepwell in Gandhinagar was built in 1499. Intricately carved, and five stories in depth, it was built by a Muslim king to collect rain water and has long been a stopping off point for travelers to cool down and collect water on their travels. In a state known for its droughts, water collection and protection has long been held high in importance, as the intricate carving on this beautiful stepwell shows.
It is still visited by travelers, although this has now resulted in it being unceremoniously positioned next to a bus stop. Crowds of locals shelter from the heat amoungst the cool shade of the stepwell. Cooled from below by the water, it is a welcome respite from the heat. Behind the stepwell a small park shelters those enjoying a picnic or a game of cricket before traveling further.
Stepwell, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India (February 2013)
To get a little further taste of Gujarat, you can enjoy Big B telling you a little bit more about “Breathing in a bit of Gujarat”
Architecture of Gujarat – including Modhera Sun Temple

Rann of Kutch

Gir Lions

Somnath Sun Temple


Safe Travel for Women in India

Ambassador car on Raisina Hill, New Delhi, India (January 2013)
We lived for 2 years in India. To begin with I felt very safe. I didn’t mind traveling alone for work, I went up to the local mall in the evening, and I caught a taxi by myself on arrival in another city. But I got a lot of reactions from locals when I did that. My boss wanted me to SMS him on arrival at the airport and hotel when I traveled. Another colleague insisted on driving me to the airport himself. Women recounted their stories of “eve teasing” (sexual harassment) on buses throughout their teenage years, but still I felt safe.
I was under the illusion that because people were friendly and hospitable, because there was normally other people around, that I was safe. And try as they might, my colleagues couldn’t really convince me otherwise.
The first year went off incident free (well apart from that guy who liked staring at me rather than the road in Chennai, and the bunch of guys at the local mall who wouldn’t leave me alone, and the rickshaw drivers who looked like they were going to eat me with their eyes…)
But, ever since Nirbhaya (Jyoti Singh) was raped in a moving bus and dumped from it in Delhi (not far from our house) India has gotten its fair share of bad press for the safety of women. I have to admit, that Nirbhaya also altered my feeling of safety, and the way I conducted myself. Up until then I felt very safe, and was even a bit lax on my personal safety. After Nirbhaya I was very vigilant. After Nirbhaya I started listening to some of the advice I was given.
The succession of tourists who were raped while traveling, not just in Delhi but also in other parts of the country did not help. As a result the safety of women in particular has become a cause of concern for many people when considering a trip to India.
But it doesn’t need to be. Like traveling in any big city, it pays to take some precautions. Here are some tips, including ones we were given by locals, for traveling safely in India as a woman.
Taxi driving through Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, India (February 20
Get a local SIM card
Pre-paid local SIM cards are readily available at major airports. This not only means that you can more cost effectively call people in India, but you have an Indian number with which to book taxis. You can’t book with local cab companies without an Indian phone number, and this leaves you with less reputable cab companies and flagging down cars and rickshaws. If you get the attention I did in a cab, you can also pull out your phone and pretend to call someone waiting for you.
Take a reputable cab company
In major cities, Easy Cabs (+91-11-43434343) and Meru Cabs (+91-11-44224422) are a good choice, although the drivers will rarely speak very good English. You will need to get someone at your hotel (the doorman can normally do this for you) to tell them where you need to go, and give them directions on how to get there. Do expect that they will turn up a bit late (getting stuck in Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai traffic is a fact of life) so make sure you order them for half an hour earlier than you actually need them.
Or take a daily car rental
For daily car rentals, Swift has reliable drivers, and you can ask them for a driver who speaks English. (+91-11-48055555). Swift is not only available  in 17 cities of India. I used them in Delhi and Chennai, but I can’t guarantee English speaking drivers in all the other cities.
While the English of the drivers won’t be perfect, it was always good enough to be able to explain to them (in simple language) where we wanted to go, and when they should be back to pick us up. If you do take this option, then make sure you have a local SIM card, and take the number of the driver. They will go away while you have your lunch, and you will need to be able to call them to come back and get you.
An "auto" in Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, India (February 2012)
Take a photo of the number plate 
This is something I had never considered before moving to India, but it was advice that many people were very insistent on. In fact my boss insisted that I SMS him the number plate each time I was collected from the airport when I traveled. Taking the photograph means that he is aware that you are vigilant, and probably also that you know someone else to send it to. There is even an app for Indian Women’s safety that collects this up and tracks them. You are unlikely to use this as a tourist, but they will think you are using it.
Listen to your instincts, but don’t go overboard
If you feel uncomfortable in the car, then pull out your cellphone and make a call – even if it is only to the hotel you are traveling to – so that it appears that you know people and are being looked after. I was once in a car in Chennai and the driver had his rear view mirror trained on me. He spent more time looking at me than at the road. I started giving him instructions on how to drive, and called one of the guys where I was going to inform him that we were not far away so that the driver knew I was being expected. It was enough to get his eyes back on the road.
Driving down Raisina Hill, New Delhi, India (January 2013)
Don’t take a cab on your own at night
Unless you hire a multi-day driver from Swift and are confident in your driver, it is best to avoid traveling at night on your own. Get someone to drop you off at your hotel, accompany you to your hotel before traveling on to their own, or take dinner in your hotel. I created a lot of concern by driving myself in India, but I preferred to drive myself or use my own driver at night rather than take a cab. (I don’t recommend you drive yourself on a visit, the traffic is a real experience…)
If you are traveling from city to city, book a car to collect you
The craziest part of travel in India is often the rugby scrum for a rickshaw or taxi as you step out of the train station or the airport. You can save a lot of hassle by booking a car in advance to collect you – they will hold up a name board – and having a destination hotel for your city of arrival. This saves you getting caught by touts (who earn a commission on the hotel they take you to) and ending up with a driver you don’t feel comfortable with. Often the hotel will send a driver for you (for a fee) if you ask them to.
Take the ladies section
The Delhi Metro is rightly the pride of Delhi, but “eve teasing” (sexual harassment) as it is known in India is a little too prevalent. Avoid this by taking the ladies only carriage. Avoid the buses. The safety record of the green buses is appalling (they run over too many pedestrians) and you are unlikely to be helped if “eve teasing” starts on the buses. In Delhi, stick to the metro and taxis. In other cities, stick to taxis. They are anyway very cheap.
Take a sense of humour with you
Travel in India is an adventure, in so many senses of the word. So many things are not as you expect, and approaching it with a healthy sense of humour will get you through so many situations. Don’t mention that you are just visiting, fake being an expat, say “challo” if you want someone to go away, and enjoy the ride of wonderful, crazy, magical India!
I loved living there. I love visiting there still. I became more cautious about traveling on my own as a result of living in India and Jyoti Singh, but I wouldn’t avoid going out of concern. A lot of people will genuinely offer you help and hospitality too. India is a wonderful place with wonderfully warm people. Enjoy!
Two men on a bus, Nataraj temple, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India

Our favourite coffees of Singapore

cappucinos with latte art
Singapore is a such a stop over destination. On the way between Europe and the Pacific, transit hub between many Asian destinations, and an often visited business destination. What ever your reason for visiting (or living in) Singapore, a mini break to a great coffee bar is a nice way to Escape. 
Here are some of our favourite cafes of Singapore for a great cup of coffee. 
40 Hands (78 Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru ) was established in 2010 (and that is a long time in the hospitality industry), 40 hands was one of the original coffee bars that aimed to bring high quality coffee, or known origins to Singapore. Over this time, its presence has also turned Yong Siak Street in Tiong Bahru into a trendy street that is worthy of an afternoons stroll. Nearby “Books Actually” bookstore is also a great place to sift through the shelves for gifts or unusual books, such as the “Alter SG” guide to Singapore.
La Ristrettos (8th floor, Novena Medical Centre, enter from Novena Square – Square 2 shopping centre) has virtually become our local coffee shop. With coffee roasted on site, the owner really knows his coffee, and makes a great espresso. Located in a slightly strange location on the 8th floor of a medical building, it does share an outside courtyard where you can sit in a little oasis in the sun and enjoy your coffee or tea.
Dutch Coffee Colony (Pasarbella: 200 Turfclub Rd) imports beans from around the world, and uses a number of different types of coffee brewing methods to create delicious coffees. Located within the PasarBella Food Market, it goes from bean to cup to create smooth tasting coffees. You can buy different coffee brewing machines and their imported beans.
Chye Seng Huat Hardware (CSHH coffee bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road) got its name from the hardware store that stood in this location before it turned into a high end coffee joint. From the same owners as Papa Palheta and Loysel’s Toy. This flagship store features a coffee roaster, an island coffee bar, a coffee school and a private coffee tasting room. It’s a convenient spot to stop for a good coffee when you’re exploring Little India.
Just Want Coffee (1 Everton Park) located in the ground floor of a renovated HDB (housing building), Just Want Coffee is a cosy little cafe to have a chat and watch the world go by. Brewing a nice cup of coffee or tea, it has a relaxed informal feeling to it and music to match. Just what we love in a local coffee shop. 
Just want coffee cafe at Everton Park Singapore
Common Man Coffee Roasters (22 Martin Rd) is the same owner as 40 hands, and you will see their coffee in many other cafes around Singapore. Including a café, coffee bar, and wholesale coffee roasting service, Common Man knows a thing or two about coffee, and it doesn’t brew a bad cup either.
Letoile Cafe (160 Owen rd) is a cute little cafe, with a chill out space on the second floor. A strange combination of Japanese and French influences, it (unlike the rest of this list) is actually a place to go for the food and the ambience rather than the coffee. It can’t compete with the other coffees on this list, but it is a great cafe to hang out in and escape the city. 
Jewel Cafe and Bar (129 Rangoon Rd) is located not far from Letoile Cafe in Farrer Park. With an extensive menu (including the delicious Red Mullet Fish salad), and an industrial feel, it is a great place near Little India for a coffee. It’s a bit on the expensive side though.

The Plain (50 Craig Rd) serving Genovese coffees, The Plain is a great place to sit down while you explore the Duxton Hill and Tanjong Pagar neighbourhood. The menu is not particularly inspiring, but it does do a great cup of coffee. It can be a bit hard to find but it is located next to the antique shop with the large yellow banner.

Stranger’s Reunion (35 Kampong Bahru Rd) was opened by Ryan Kieran Tan, Singapore National Barista Champion 2011 & 2012. In a row of beautiful shophouses and with an adjoining cafe serving waffles, it serves the top coffees you would expect of a Barista champion. It is not far from the Outram Park Metro station.
The Clueless Goat (189 Thomson Road, ) has become our new local. Recently opened in Novena, and across the road from the Novena Square Shopping Centre, the young owners brew a great cup of coffee that has us as repeat visitors. Its relaxed vibe and friendly staff is really refreshing. And our 6 year old son is a big fan of their waffles 🙂
Department of Caffeine (15 Duxton rd) has a great little location tucked away in Duxton Road. With an industrial feel to it, and a short walk from the shophouses of Duxton Hill, it is a great stop off location between Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar.
Department of Caffeine


Snorkeling Pulau Bunaken, Indonesia

Pulau Bunaken is an island off the coast of Sulawesi in Indonesia. Sulawesi lies next to Borneo, and is approximately 1700 km from North to South as you can drive it.

Getting there and away
A flight from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur (Silk Air, Air Asia, Garuda) into Manado leaves you a half our drive and 40 minute boat ride from the island and some of the most spectacular diving and snorkeling in the world. Boats to the island can either be arranged through your hotel, or there are both private boats and a regular ferry service from the Manado harbour to Bunaken and Siladen.

Accommodation options are available on Bunaken, Siladen or on the mainland in Manado. We stayed at the “4 Fish Hotel” in Tongkaiana which allowed us to go over to Bunaken and Siladen, but also explore the volcanoes and markets around Manado. The 4 Fish can be booked through or Agoda. We also had lunch at the Siladen Resort Hotel, and if you are looking to go a bit up market, then this is a beautiful choice with a very nice pool, spa and close to the Siladen reef.

Where to go snorkeling
Pulau Bunaken and Pulau Siladen are small islands, surrounded by coral walls. These walls house drop off to around 30m, and house an abundance of life. They are inhabited by a myriad of fish, turtles and sharks. Sea snakes can also be seen amoungst the reefs.

Lekuan 1, 2 & 3, Tengah and Bunaken Timur 1 & 2 are the best places for Snorkeling on Bunaken. For Siladen, jump off the jetty and follow the current down the wall to the old jetty. It is quite a distance and there is an abundance of life in the shallows above the reef, and along the wall. Be conscious of the currents (especially with children) as they can be quite strong when the tide is turning.

If you are looking for even more diving or snorkeling options, you can also head across to the other side of the peninsular to the lesser visited Lembeh Straight, which also has spectacular diving spots.

Dive sites bunaken siladen and manado

What to pack
We were traveling with 3 children this time – 12, 8 and 6 years old. For our 6 year old son we had flippers, and this helped in the stronger currents. It also helps to get them confident swimming in a snorkel in a swimming pool before you go.

A rash shirt is essential to avoid sunburn and avoid touching the corals. I also wore yoga pants while snorkeling as I am prone to burning. If you have your own snorkeling gear then it is a good idea to take it with you as the gear available for hire is not necessarily the best quality.

Please be careful not to touch the coral. It is not stone and you will damage it, but  there are also fire corals that leave your skin very swollen and itchy if you brush against it. “Mopiko” anti itch cream which you can pick up in the pharmacy at Singapore Airport is quite effective against the itch if you do end up touching the fire coral.

Plastic pollution is a real problem in Indonesia, please don’t add to it by throwing your plastics into the sea. Take your rubbish with you back to your hotel rather than leaving them on the boat.

We had an absolutely brilliant time snorkeling around Pulau Bunaken and Siladen. Swimming hand in hand along the reef with my 6 year old son, with a myriad of fish around us, in a life sized aquarium was an experience that will be long remembered.

Snorkeling Pulau Bunaken Sulawesi Indonesia

A lesson in bravery

Lois snorkeling, Pulau Bunaken, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Last week we went to Sulawesi in Indonesia for the week with family, and I got a lesson in bravery. Not from a grown up, but from a little girl.
We normally think of bravery as something macho. People who go into burning buildings. Who ignore fears, or are fearless. But I say that bravery is feeling the fear and doing it anyway, and that is what Lois did last week. 
Lois was horribly scared the first time we lowered her down the steps of the boat, mask on and snorkel ready. She was scared of the depth of the water. Worried about the fish and what there would be hidden in the water. Worried about the things she couldn’t see. 
It took some time, but we got her into the water. Hand in hand she panicked. It was too much, and she scampered back up the steps and into the safety of the boat.
We headed off and came back with stories of how amazing the under water life was. How beautiful the corals were. Would she like to have another go? Where we are now is not very deep, you can see the coral through the water, would you like to try?
She looked worried, but agreed to try again. Barry lowered her into the water, gave her some reassuring words, held her hand and pushed off from the boat over the shallow corals. Little fish swam below her, she could almost reach out and touch the coral. 
Slowly she increased in confidence. Slowly she dared to cross the deeper water to get to the reef. Eventually she even swam by herself without holding someone else’s hand. By the end of the week she could dive under the water in the swimming pool and blow the water out of the snorkel tube. She was comfortable in the snorkel and mask, she had felt the fear and done it anyway. 
And that to me is true bravery. 

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GDP vs Social Progress

Biking in Copenhagen, Denmark
Since the Great Depression in the 1930s we have defined the progress of countries based on their Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We determine progress based only on wealth. We don’t look at social progress: the distribution of that wealth, the investment in education or healthcare, or the health and well being of the populations.
By focusing only on Gross Domestic Product as the standard of success in our global economy, we give ourselves a passing grade if the top 100 people in the county gets wealthier, or a lot wealthier. GDP counts bombs and prisons as progress. It counts overeating and over consuming as progress. It ignores environmental impact. It ignores whether the population is happy, and even whether their basic needs are being met.  
This counting ourselves rich while we make ourselves poor is something I have been thinking about for a while, and also talking about with some friends for a while. We need to change the metric for success. We need to move away from measuring wars and pollution as success. 
The Social Progress Index as an alternative
The Social Progress Index offers an alternative to GDP as a goal for nations to aspire to. It measures progress along 3 axis:
  • Basic human needs – Nutrition and basic medical care, water and sanitation, shelter and personal safety
  • Foundations of well being – Access to basic knowledge, access to information and communications, health and wellness, ecosystem sustainability
  • Opportunity – personal rights, personal freedom and choice, tolerance and inclusion, access to advanced education
The 2015 Social Progress Index Results
In the 2015 Social Progress Index Results, the Top 5 reads like a list of one of the “best places in the world to live”. #1 Norway, #2 Sweden, #3 Switzerland, #4 Iceland, #5 New Zealand. In fact, the recently published list of the happiest countries in the world in the UNs World Happiness Report is remarkably similar – #1 Switzerland, #2 Iceland, #3 Denmark, #5 Norway, #5 Canada (Canada was #6, Sweden #8 on the social progress index, Denmark is #8 and New Zealand is #9 in the happiest countries in the world list).
What this shows is that these countries have not only focused on GDP growth (in fact New Zealand’s GDP per capita is modest when compared to some other countries), but have had a focus on the welfare of their people, and the result is social progress and societal happiness. With universal literacy, welfare states, and universal health care, the basic human needs of (almost) all the population is taken care of.
These countries also score highly on personal rights and freedoms. Canada and New Zealand score highest on Opportunity, and surely the efforts both of these countries have made in redressing the rights of the aboriginal populations of these countries (not saying it is perfect yet, but they are making efforts compared to other countries) has contributed here too. 
Outside the top 5 what does the data show?
What else the data shows is actually quite interesting. It shows that increases in GDP only translates directly into improvements in Social Progress when the country has a GDP lower than $10,000 per capita. Once GDP per capita goes above this level, GDP becomes a poor indicator of social progress. We see the same relationship with happiness. Once your basic human needs have been met, each salary increase has a diminishing return on how happy you are, and above a certain point, it even makes you less happy, less satisfied with life. 
Once an economy has reached this threshold level, it depends on what they invest this wealth in to how the society progresses. The United States is an interesting case in this point. Without the universal healthcare and access to quality education that you find in the Nordic countries, it scores lower on Social Progress, relative to its wealth. Or Kuwait, with the highest levels of GDP per capita, but with lower levels of Social Progress than Costa Rica, with far lower GDP levels.
So what?
So how do we move to a world metric where we define success based on the social progress of a nation? How do we get politicians to be interested in the basic human needs of its population and not just the total wealth number? How do we get economies to invest in healthcare, education and equality of distribution of wealth as a key to success? How do we redefine success to one that does not include bombs and prisons in the metric of success?
I don’t know. That is the million dollar question. But having a different metric available, a different measurement system. Starting a conversation about how this alternative measures something more meaningful and sustainable can only help. 

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Finding our ideal place to live

View from the pool at the Vivanta by Taj hotel  looking over Sri
Every couple of months an article about the best places to live in the world is published. They are all different – where to live as an expat by HSBC, the best cities in the world, the happiest countries in the world – but also more or less the same. Today I came across another of these articles but this one captured my attention for a little longer. While the world has become obsessed by improvements in GDP, this one said that we should look at a complete set of metrics, and not GDP alone. I like this concept, because I strongly believe that there is more in life than money alone. 
Living around the world
We are currently living in Singapore – a country obsessed with wealth, shopping and prosperity. Before that we lived two years in New Delhi, India – probably the most polluted, crazy, and interesting city in the world. And before that we lived in small, “gezellig”, 16th century Amsterdam which you can bike around and enjoy the parks and coffee. 
Living in these cities has made us think a lot about what really matters to us. What do we consider important and where do we actually want to live?
So what do we want for our lives?
So what is our favorite place to live? Is there any such thing? Are we even capable of living somewhere for the rest of our lives?
Genevieve is from New Zealand and I’m from Holland. Two opposites in the world, literally. But both countries we call home and we are very lucky that both of our countries normally end up pretty high on those best places to live lists. The fact that we were born in those countries, does not mean for us that we have to live in one of them, either now, or forever. I think too many people just live where they do just because they were born there, not because it makes them happy. Most people probably haven’t even thought about where they would like to live. It just is the way it is. That is human nature. 
What is important to us?
Over the last few months we have been thinking about this question. What is important to us in where we live? And after living in a few different countries, it became clear that a few things are important us. We love being outside, we like green stuff so being able to go out and have easy access to nature – forests, mountains, beaches – is really important. 
Keeping our bodies healthy
Living in Delhi also made us see first hand what pollution can do to your body. Running outside for 20 minutes was followed by coughing for at least the same length of time. Pollution is rapidly becoming one of the leading causes of death in Delhi. So a healthy living environment is also high on our list.
Equally important is a good education for Liam and quality health care. Space for Liam to run, and an ability for both of us to exercise and keep ourselves healthy so that we can call on that quality health care system as little as possible.
Eating safely
As you might have noticed, Genevieve and I love good food so access to good restaurants, cafes, but also healthy veggies or even the possibility to have our own vegetable garden, is also really important. The food scares that China has experienced over the last few years (pesticides, ingredients in oils, milk powders, the list goes on…) and some of the scares that we experienced in Delhi (our purified water supply being stopped because of a water scam that was refilling Purified Water canisters with filtered tap water, watermelons being sprayed with over the counter medicines and Yamuna river water…) has also made us extremely conscious of living somewhere where we can trust the quality of the food. In Delhi we found a way by finding a local organic farm who supplied our vegetables, but we would prefer that we can trust a wider portion of the system at large, or at least have a selection of local farmers that we can trust. 
People we care about
But life is also about people, relationships. While living in Singapore we met some lovely people – just like we did in India – and made some great friends. But we also came to realize that it is very difficult for a non-Singaporian to meet Singaporians and to mix in local life. Singaporians stick with Singaporians and so we mainly hang out with fellow Expats. Which is fine but Singapore is a country where most people only stay for a couple of years before they go back home or move on to their next destination.
So as soon as you have a group of friends, half of them will leave. For us relationships are very important so in our ideal place to live it should not be too difficult to make and maintain friends. Which basically makes living in a beautiful but remote mountain village in Nepal not ideal…
Work life balance
One of the other things we have learned from our time in Singapore is the importance of work – life balance. Genevieve’s job here is one in which she has to travel a lot. Almost every week she takes a flight, and by the weekend she is often jet lagged and exhausted. It impacts on our family life, and while she really tries to use the rest of her energy for us, it doesn’t leave any work – life balance for her. Where ever we choose to stay next, and for a longer time, we need to get a better balance than what we have had here. 
Job opportunities
Maybe this should have been higher on our list. Maybe a year ago it would have been higher on our list. Maybe we are changing and it has come lower on our list as our priorities have changed. We still want to have meaningful working lives, to have jobs where we feel that we are valued and can make a difference, but maybe climbing the corporate ladder, participating in the corporate games became less important for us the more of the world we have seen. 
Colour in our lives
We don’t want to live boring. We have a sense of adventure. We love to explore. We like to see and experience new things and new senses. We need sunshine and places to visit and opportunities to travel. We need open minded people around us who want to talk rubbish late into the night over a nice dinner. Who want to dream with us. 
So where is this place…?
We don’t know, we are still working on that. And maybe there isn’t one answer anyway. Maybe there isn’t one answer for the rest of our lives. Maybe we aren’t destined to live in the same place for the rest of our lives. Or maybe…
How did we get to decide all of these things?
Over the last months we have created a number of mind maps. Both together, and separately from each other. Basically we started with a blank piece of paper. We wrote one of the following questions on the middle of that paper, and we connected words to it that resonated with us to look for patterns in what we thought about.
  • What is important to me?
  • What is important for us as a couple?
  • What is important for us as a family?
  • What is important for us in where we live?

And then we talked about them together. We did this over the course of a few weeks, and were inspired by the book “