Reflections | 2014 Year in Review

Ringing in 2014 in Bali | Eager to leave a turbulent 2013 behind, I booked a last-minute trip to Bali with a couple friends in search of serenity and bliss (and a crazy NYE at the W). Was only supposed to stay a week but ended up staying three, going on a spontaneous road trip around the island with some new friends we met in Ubud. On the last day I stayed in Kuta by myself (the one place we hadn’t hit yet), befriended a local bartender, drank beer on the steps of 7-11, and made more new friends as we painted the town red. [Tip: If looking for super cheap lodging near Kuta beach stay at the Best Western; it’s clean, in a good location, and has a decent rooftop pool.]

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Popping by the Gilis | Being so close to Bali, we decided to spontaneously hop over to these remote islands which are so small you can literally walk around the whole place in a few hours. We went diving, did yoga, ate fresh seafood, biked everywhere, got massages everyday, made some new friends, danced, and detoxed from the New Years festivities. [Tip: Buffer in some time between coming back from the islands and flying off from Bali; storms may prevent the boats from running and you’ll be stuck on the islands until they pass, or be forced to take a roundabout way via Lombok.]

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Visiting Singapore | Our MMA apparel brand was involved with the OneFC fight in Singapore so I had the chance to visit after not having been there in over 10 years. Staying at the iconic Marina Bay Sands, I got to experience Asia’s tallest infinity pool and immediately fell in love with this fast-growing city. I didn’t get to do much since I got sick so I was determined to come back. [Tip: Only MBS hotel guests are allowed in the Skypool area so either stay there or find a friend who is!]

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Living in Taiwan | With my family being from there I have the chance to visit often, but this year I got to live in Taipei like an expat for over a month. Loved the fact that the cost of living is so cheap, all the food is so good, and the service is so great – and that I was able to get DinTaiFung and Mango Ice whenever I wanted. Good thing for my waistline that I didn’t stay longer. [Tip: As good as it is, only eat the street food if you dare — many vendors have been caught using recycled gutter oil. Ugh.]

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Official Launch of FLOW MMA | Took a while to get the right vendors and samples done but we finally launched our brand with some awesome MMA apparel and fight gear (designed by yours truly) at Taipei’s OneFC. Wasn’t really a huge fan of the violent sport before, but my appreciation for it has grown because of this business along with a personal love for Muay Thai. Check out our stuff at www.flowmma.co and contact me for a Friends & Family discount!

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Birthday with the Bro | I rarely get to spend our birthdays with my little brother (who is exactly 8 years younger) so this year I told him I would go wherever he wanted to celebrate. He said Colorado for the snowboarding (ahem) so I booked a cabin in Breckenridge and flew in from Taiwan, while my bro came from Texas, my sis from New York, and my parents from Miami — all within a week’s notice. I couldn’t have asked for a better present than being with the best family in the world. [Tip: Breck has a on-site dispensary so all your last-minute “recreational” needs are taken care of.]

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Pit Stop in Hawaii | I always try to take advantage of connecting flights by stopping by to explore whatever city I have to pass through. [Tip: Search by price then travel time on Kayak and try to get the longest layover possible; don’t forget to factor in airport transit time into the city to decide if it’s worth it.] On my way back to the states I happily stopped in Honolulu for 8 hours with enough time to chill on the beach, take a hike, eat an Acai bowl, get a facial, and catch up with an old friend. Doesn’t always have to be about getting to your destination – remember to enjoy the journey too!

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Going Back to Cali | Since I was finally back stateside, I visited my old stomping grounds to see friends in SF and LA and to decide if I wanted to move back to either. As much as I adore both places, I still found myself itching for new adventures in a new city I hadn’t lived yet. Sunny California will always have a place in my heart but I knew I wasn’t ready to return just yet. [Tip: If you have a long layover in LAX, grab In-and-Out or head over to nearby Manhattan Beach for some sunshine.]

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Trip to the Big Apple | Came here to celebrate a friend’s birthday and it was one of the few times being in New York as purely a tourist (as other times were to live or work). From fine dining to dollar pizzas (which I can literally eat every single day), I ate my way through the city as usual and ended up extending my stay to catch up with more friends and family. At the time I was actually open to moving back to this exciting place but it would not be in the stars.

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Getting New Eyes | This was HUGE. For the first time since I was 8 years old, I didn’t need glasses or contacts to see! I had the worst vision out of anyone I ever knew (-15 plus 4 diopters of astigmatism) so I actually had to undergo two excruciating procedures: ICL (where they implanted artificial lenses) and then 6 months later, PRK/LASEK (one eye at a time, so I was basically blind and useless for over a week). Can’t express how grateful I am for advanced technology making this possible, as well as for the family and friends that helped me through this painful experience.

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NBA Playoffs in Dallas | Back home for a bit, I decided to take my mom on a mother-daughter date to see Game 6 of Mavs vs Spurs. It was her first playoffs game and a great one because it was so close and we won. And because we got free t-shirts and tacos. #MFFL!

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Family Safari in TX | Who knew Texas had a legit wild animal safari? The whole fam went to Fossil Rim for Mother’s Day and it was such a fun experience being so close to all the exotic animals. Everything from zebras to ostriches poked their heads in our car but hopefully my brother didn’t contract any weird diseases! [Tip: Try to go in a convertible if you can and definitely bring some tasty animal treats.]

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My First PGA Tour | Having finally picked up golf this year in an effort to spend more time with my parents, I was fortunate enough to get invited to the Byron Nelson Championship so I could better understand the sport. Admittedly I was more interested in the golfers and the parties rather than the game – but who’s surprised. I’ll stick to the driving range for now.

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SXSW in Austin | Decided to hitch a last-minute ride with the bro to hang in ATX for the weekend. Didn’t have an official pass but got to randomly reunite with friends from Texas, New York, and Singapore (discovered via Facebook and Tinder – ha!), grubbed at some delicious food trucks, and participated in the parties all around. [Tip 1 : Visit the SXSW Cottonelle Lounge for open bar, free massages, to charge your phone, and to get your hair and makeup did. Tip 2: Bring an umbrella.]

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Hustling in Asia | Losing patience trying to get a corporate America gig, I decided to make a spontaneous trip to Hong Kong and Singapore determined to find an opportunity to move back to Asia instead. Having no set agenda, I ended up being reunited with old friends, making new ones, going on wild junk trips, and leaving with several job offers in both cities. Steve Jobs was right: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

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Hiking Lamma Island | Managing to round up a group of friends from New York, China, and San Francisco that all happened to be in HK, we enjoyed scenic views, delicious seafood, and beaches next to power plants. It was the perfect day not only because of the gorgeous weather, but because I was randomly reunited with good friends from all around the world. God is good. [Tip: Go around 2-3pm so you can catch the sunset.]

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Cousins Tie the Knot | I absolutely love family weddings because I get to see all my crazy awesome relatives again. With all the cousins reunited in LA (twice), we proceeded in hazing each other all weekend, eating as much Korean BBQ as possible, having dance-offs, and trying to outdrink our uncles. With three cousins hitched to date I’m thankful that the grandparents haven’t been pressuring me to follow their lead, and that we have an amazing lawyer and dentist in the fam now!

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Working in Tech | Finally deciding that I wanted to work at a tech startup in Asia, I scored a gig at a company I discovered in Forbes by randomly emailing the founder. Doing a whirlwind trip between NY/SF/LA, we pitched VCs, wined with PR firms, dined with advisors, and partied with designers. Barely got any sleep but it was a dream come true and the perfect balance of working hard, playing hard, and getting sh*t done. [Tip: Hit up the Standard (High Line) rooftop during sunset.]

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EDC Vegas | Wow. Just… Wow. Not having raved in over a decade (yes I’m a dinosaur), I was blown away how massive and insane these so-called “music festivals” have become. I wasn’t even planning on going until a friend hooked up a last-minute ticket that day, but I was glad I got to experience this craziness at least once in life. Feeling way too old now to ever go again, but ended up being quite memorable so it was the perfect one to go out on. [Tip: Do not die of overdose before it even starts. Actually, try not to die at all. (And yes, sadly that did happen.) SMH]

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4th of July on the Lake | I was on my way to workout when I got a call to head to Lake Lewisville instead. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate America’s birthday than partying amongst booze-drinking, gun-loving, boat-hopping Texans anyway. Thank god for friends who don’t mind being DDs. ‘Murica, f*ck yeah! [Tip: If your friends are already out on the water and tied up to the boat orgy, nicely ask some guys with jetskis to taxi you over and give them some beers upon arrival.]

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One Night in Tokyo | Missed my connecting flight due to airline delays so opted to take the morning flight instead of the red-eye to see what overnight adventures I could get myself into. [Tip: Try to turn misfortunes into opportunities and keep toiletries and a change of clothes in your carry-on for emergency escapades.] Turned out friends from Singapore/Jakarta were also in town so we partied until 7am with rockstar DJ Bento and I was able to squeeze in both a yummy sushi breakfast and delicious ramen brunch before taking off. Also met a sweet guy who randomly helped me from the train station to the hotel renewing my faith in chivalry. Thanks for a great night in Tokyo, United! (And for losing my luggage so I could take advantage of my Chase Sapphire travel insurance. F*ckups FTW!)

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Working in Singapore | I was so excited to be back in Singapore, getting to explore the city I wanted to live in since earlier this year. (Sometimes you just gotta manifest that sh*t.) As I made new friends and went to new places, I began to feel a sense of “home” that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. Although the job didn’t work out in the end, I remain thankful that it brought me to this amazing city filled with some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. [Tip: Most cabs here do not take VISAs so make sure you have cash or MasterCards instead.]

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Weekend in Nepal | Happened to have a long weekend so decided to take a last-minute trip to a country I had never been, which required getting passport photos in the middle of the night. [Tip: There is a 24-hr photo kiosk in the Clarke Quay MRT station in Singapore.] I had less than 48 hours in Nepal but it was enough to drink with the locals, visit a homeless/drug shelter for kids, tour through the gorgeous countryside, see the majestic Himalayas, and explore Bhaktapur. Dedicated post on this trip to come for sure.

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MAGIC | Headed back to Vegas for the biggest fashion trade show of the year. Having been there over half-a-dozen times, I still love it because it’s the true embodiment of “work hard play hard” (although this year I partied way less than previous years). This season was particularly special because I was on the buying side for the first time, and I reflected on how I’ve come full-circle from being an indie designer to an established brand to a manufacturer and now to a retailer – in just 7 years.

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F1 Singapore | Always wanting to experience Singapore during F1 weekend, I was excited to actually be a part of it this year and score a private tour of the race grounds. Producing all the fashion shows for Podium Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton, I worked around the clock 3 straight nights to put on a show for over 7,000 people. My wonderful parents even flew in from the States to support, and my amazing friends hooked them up with everything from a place in Sentosa to fancy meals to all-access F1 passes. Was so exhausted after that weekend but felt so incredibly blessed. [Tip: Many roads are closed during the races so make sure you know your MRT routes around. Also, pace yourself to survive the entire weekend of parties.]

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Getaway to Jakarta | Needing a quick break from Singapore after splitting from my company, I popped over to Jakarta to visit a few buddies and see what it’s like. Didn’t do that much but made some awesome new friends which made the trip totally worth it. Decided that I still like SG better but would definitely be coming back to visit. [Tip: Check out SKYE Restaurant & Lounge for decent food and good views of the city.]

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Stopping by Dubai | After visiting home for a few weeks, I arranged to have 9-hour connection in Dubai on my way back to Asia (did I mention layovers FTW?). Flew on the Emirates A380 Airbus for the first time and was in awe over the massiveness of the plane, the extensive entertainment options, and the fact that the combined crew could speak 16 different languages. I usually don’t plan ahead during trips, but since I was limited on time I targeted the key sights I wanted to hit: Burj Khalifa, Jumeriah Beach, Burj Al Arab, the Dubai Fountain, the Dubai Mall, and Gold Souk. Checkkk! [Tip: Book in advance if you want to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa during sunset.]

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Pacman Fight in Macau | I was back in Singapore for less than 24 hours when my girlfriend asked me to fly to Macau the following day to watch the Pacquiao fight with her. I actually hesitated for once since I just got back, but 10 minutes later she was already sending me my SQ ticket confirmation. Spent the weekend dining with poker celebs, getting Banyan Tree spa treatments, running into rap stars, and sitting ringside at the biggest boxing event of the year. Moral of the story: Just go. Another lesson: Do NOT miss the ferry back to HK. (We ended up missing 3 flights trying to get home. FML.)

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An Expat Thanksgiving | This was one of the few years I preferred not being home for Thanksgiving so that I could bring one of my favorite American traditions to my new family of friends in Singapore and let them experience what a “potluck” was. Was really last-minute, but it turned out amazing with lots of great food and company. I’m definitely thankful this year to have made so many great friends in such a short amount of time. [Tip: More international guests mean more international dishes!]

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Chillin on a Superyacht | When friends ask you to join them on a $100-million-dollar superyacht for a couple days in Thailand, it’s really hard to say no. Wakeboarding, jetskiing, paddleboarding, hottubbing, yacht swinging, swimming, Frisbee, Jenga, Twister, Bum Darts, water slide competitions, swimming with elephants… We did it all. We also had the best group of people from 7 different countries and everything from the gourmet meals to the custom cocktails to the awesome crew was beyond perfect. Definitely one of the most epic trips ever.

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Detoxing in Phuket | With our place rented out on Airbnb, I was essentially homeless during the holidays. I really didn’t feel like going anywhere but when a friend suggested a detox retreat in Phuket, I was sold on the idea of being at peak health going into the new year. Within 12 days, I felt healthier than I had been all year and didn’t even mind the fact that I was drinking a smoothie for Christmas Eve by myself at a Muay Thai camp. Also met some really wonderful people at the retreat and will definitely be sharing more about my experience at Atmanjai soon.

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Finding Paradise in Phi Phi | Still homeless, I decided to extend my stay again and hop over to the nearby Phi Phi Islands. [Tip: When in doubt, go to Thailand; any length of time makes sense because it’s such a cheap, beautiful country, with great food, warm people, and a variety of scenic places.] Phi Phi was one of the most amazing places I’ve been to date, and the entire time I felt like I was on a paradise set for movie (oh wait, it was). So much to say about this magical place so I’ll save it for another post, but it really was the perfect ending to close out an incredible year.

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Staying in Singapore | Not sure what’s in store next, but now that I’m in love with this city and its people, I plan to stick around. Stay tuned for more adventures to come… 😉

Carol Chen

Avid Adventurer. Startup Hustler. Lover of Life

5 thoughts on “Reflections | 2014 Year in Review

  1. In the segment about the Official Launch of FLOW MMA, I think you meant fight gear in stead of “fight fear,” right?
    I really like how you include travel tips for each location. Very thoughtful.
    Good luck in Singapore.

      1. Looks like you’re doing quite well in Singapore. Saw the COVETELLA stuff on facebook. All that work done in a few months! Great concept for women to NOT buy too many dresses. Did not think that was possible. Hope you expand to Taiwan. Cheers.

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