#73 up and up the tower in Prague

Y and I took the Euronight train from Prague to Poprad which is the starting point for High Tatras. On the way back, we had almost one whole day to explore Prague. Y and I went to the Prague castle and we decided to climb the Black Tower. There were many steps up the tower (as we have expected) and we felt rather dizzy from climbing up the spiral staircase too quickly. However, the view from above was rewarding and we could see the whole of Prague from there.

After taking enough photos of the view from the top, we decided to make our way down. On the way down, we met 3 old Chinese ladies who were climbing up. They asked us in Mandarin if they were close to the top.

Y and I spoke at the same time. I told them that they still had a long way to go while Y told them that they were reaching soon. Y and I later discussed which response was more motivating. My point of view was that I was giving them a realistic picture of just how far they were from the top so they would know what was lying ahead of them. Y’s point of view was that they would feel more motivated if they knew they just needed to put in a bit of effort to get to where they wanted. My question remains: will they be disappointed if they realized that it was further than they thought?

This episode reminds me that there are many motivation styles and some people prefer one style to another. When I want to motivate other people, I need to not just think about what I need if I am in their context but also ask explicitly in order to understand what they may possibly need. What works best for me may not be best for another person.

#72 a hitchhiker’s guide to High Tatras

On the second day on high tatras, we did the hike to zelene pleso which is a beautiful emerald green lake. We had lunch at a chata which was a little restaurant-hut that was strategically placed beside the lake. After lunch, we had to decide between returning via the same route or trying a different route. After some discussion, we decided to be a bit adventurous and try a different route.

The route was quite nice and less well-paved. However, we encountered a little problem when we finally got to the road- we realised that the next bus towards the tram stop was scheduled to arrive in almost 1.5h time. So we decided to do something crazier and try to hitch a ride. We took turns and tried out the universal hitch-a-ride sign by the road side. To be honest, I was really nervous to attempt to hitch a ride. To our surprise, the cars didn’t stop for us. In fact, several drivers actually increased their speed when they came close to us. Some of them waved at us but didn’t stop.

Feeling disappointed, we decided to just sit around and wait for the bus after some time. At this point, a girl came out from the woods and asked us for the time. Then, she proceeded to try to hitch a ride from the opposite side of the road. The cars also didn’t stop for her but she was rather determined so finally, about half an hour later, she got a ride from a hipster old man.

About 15 min after the scheduled arrival time of the bus, we were worried that the bus simply would not come. When I went to have another look at the schedule on the bus stop again, Y called me excitedly. A car stopped for her!

There were 3 people in the car, presumably a family. We told the driver our final destination and he said he could only drive us to the nearest tram station. That was already really good for us so we hopped onto the car. During the car ride, the lady seated at the back started talking to us and she asked us what we would be doing on the next day. Y told her that we wanted to go to the Slovak Paradise National Park and the lady started recommending a route to us. She even showed us pictures of the views along the route and wrote down the names of the major points of the route for us. To make things even better, they went the extra mile (literally) and drove us to the town that we were staying at.

That was my first hitchhiking experience and we agreed that we were initially quite surprised by how difficult it was to stop a car by the roadside. But the kindness and generosity of the people who gave us a ride really restored my faith in humanity. Sometimes it’s so easy to focus on the ugly side of humanity- the calculative, selfish and destructive. But an episode like this reminds me yet again that people can be nice, generous and kind to one another. And sometimes when the opportunity presents itself, you have to decide what kind of person you want to be.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can.” – Martin Luther King

#71 the hotel receptionist in Novy Smokovec

We stayed at a family-run accommodation in Novy Smokevec during our time at High Tatras. On the first day, Y and I took the cable car to the second highest peak in High Tatras and hung out in that area. At the end of the first day when we were planning what to for the next day, we saw pictures of a cave at High Tatras and we thought we could go there on the next day.

We decided to ask the hotel receptionist how to get to the cave. The hotel receptionist told us how to get there and she decided to go one step further and she reccomended a hiking route from the cave to a beautiful lake- Zelene Pleso. She laid out a map of the High Tatras on the floor and started tracing her recommended route for us. We thought it was a good idea and decided to take her advice. The hotel receptionist then went to the computer and started to check the bus schedule to the cave for us.

To our disappointment, she found out that the cave was closed on the next day. She said, “Okay, so now plan B.” She then laid out the same map on the floor and told us of a new route to see Zelene Pleso and proceeded to check the bus schedule to get there and back for us. She then wrote down some of the bus timings for us on a piece of paper.

Y and I didn’t do much research before we came to High Tatras and we were not sure what we wanted to see. So we were pleasantly surprised by how the enthusiastic lady just planned the day for us. Sometimes I think that everything happens for a reason and we meet the right people at the right place for a reason. 🙂

#69 what are you willing to struggle for?

Recently, I read a book by Mark Manson who argued that we should not be asking ourselves what we should do in order to be happy. Rather, the question should be what we are willing to struggle for. For anything in life to amount to something, we need to put in hard work and struggle for it. And the process is painful and not easy. In his book, he also suggests that we should not set tangible goals. After all, what is left for us to do after we have achieved that? Instead, he suggests that we should struggle for process(es). We would never really get there but each day of struggle brings us closer to the ideal and that is fulfiling by itself. So that’s a question that I have been asking myself: what am I willing to struggle for?

I guess one of my problems is that I tend to feel that I am right in many circumstances and this makes me feel rather entitled. I feel like I deserve better treatment even when I have not done too much to earn that. I feel like I deserve respect even when I don’t act as the best human being I have ever met. I feel like I deserve a work-life balance (and holidays) and sometimes I wish the work-life balance will be handed to me on a silver platter. But the truth is, to my dismay, I act like a self-entitled millenial. And when I feel like I deserve so much, what am I willing to struggle for? Deep down, these are things that I feel like I deserve so why should I work for it?

Mark Manson also argued that we should not struggle for something that depends largely on other people’s reactions; we should struggle for something that we can control.

I am not sure if I am able to explicate what I would want to struggle for but I think I am quite serious about relationships and I feel that people are worth the effort. I can try to deal with the negative stuff and put up with bad moments for the connection with people. What else am I willing to struggle for?

#70 the bus driver in Poprad

Y and I wanted to visit Slovak Paradise National Park from Poprad. Based on what we read online, the best way there is to take a bus to a small village and walked 3 km along the road to the start of the hike. So we followed the advice and took a bus from Poprad. In this part of Slovakia, you have to pay the driver directly when you get onto the bus. When we got onto the bus, we told the driver the bus stop that we would be getting off. He asked, “Are you going to Slovak Paradise?” We said yes and he nodded knowingly.

We tracked the location of bus using the GPS on our phones as we wanted to be sure not to miss the stop. Based on our GPS, we have to get off at the next stop and we were all ready to press the bell. All of a sudden, the bus driver stopped the bus at the T-junction, walked over to us and told us to get off there and that we had to walk down this path to get to Slovak Paradise. Because he dropped us at the intersection, that saved us about 2 km of walking along the road.

I think we were lucky to be on the receiving end of so much kindness from strangers on this trip. When was the last time you went the extra mile for a stranger?

#68 of the free desserts in Chania

A and I stayed in Chania for 3 nights. On the first night, we went to a nearby restaurant by the beach front and ate nice seafood and drink local wine. When we called for the bill, the waiter brought the bill over together with a complimentary bottle of raki and a chocolate cake. We were very delighted by the pleasant surprise.

So on the last day, we went back to the same restaurant. This time, it was a different waiter who was serving us. When we asked for the bill, he came over with the bill and a bottle of raki. We were midly disappointed- where are our free desserts?

It’s funny how quickly we get used to the feeling of entitlement. The bottle of raki and desserts are extra things that we probably would not even pay for in another restaurant. So the marginal benefits that we derive from them are not too much. However, when we begin to expect them and when reality fails our expectations, we feel disappointed.

Happiness is a state of mind. So perhaps it’s about lowering expectations and not expecting reality to be a wonderland full of only surprises and good things.

#67 of the windy Santorini

I flew from Athens to Santorini on Olympic Air. The plane departed late and that no longer came as a surprise to me in Greece. Approximately 10 minutes before landing, the pilot made an announcement that Santorini was experiencing strong winds and the plane may not be able to land. He said that he would try for 5 minutes and if the plane could not land, we would go back to Athens.

Some people groaned upon hearing the announcement. Apparently, there were people on board who tried to fly to Santorini in the afternoon but their flights had to turn back to Athens. They did not want to go back to Athens again. To our pleasant surprise, the pilot attempted a landing and we were all really happy that he was willing to try to land the plane despite the unfavourable weather conditions.

That was the worst flight landing that I have ever experienced in my life. Many passengers, including myself, adopted the “brace” positions and held our collective breath. Someone exclaimed, “Hallelujah!” while another passenger tried to reassure others by saying, “It’s ok, it’s ok…” I attempted a feeble, desperate prayer, “Please keep us safe, God…”

It turned out to be okay and all the passengers cheered to celebrate the safe landing. Everyone was jovial, especially the ones whose flights did not manage to land in Santorini earlier that day. I felt a strong sense of joy and I was just so thankful that I escaped death yet again and I thought that anything good that came after from this point was simply a bonus. I thought, “What more could I ask for?”

30 minutes later when I was in the hotel room with my brother and cousin, I realized I could ask for a lot more. For example, why isn’t there WiFi in the hotel room? We started looking at the bus schedule, discussing which bus we should take and what time we should get up on the following morning.

From this episode, I learnt that life goes on. Sometimes in life, you get a moment when you feel thankful to be alive but soon enough, you realize that the details of living will catch up with you. It’s hard to feel thankful to be alive when there are many other things on your mind that remain unresolved. I guess that is part of being human. But at the end of the day, when things are more settled and I look back at the day, I will make a conscious effort to remind myself that being busy with mundane stuff is a privilege by itself.