Chasing Snow in the Winter Wonderland

Karen is a consultant in Maverick, who has been working for almost three years. She has been handling clients from different industries, including Microsoft and Sennheiser. Karen is a big fan of the K-Pop culture and sceneries. In December 2016, she took her Personal Development Fund to visit South Korea, the country that she has been dreaming of. This is her journey.

Living in the hustle and bustle of the capital city for almost a quarter of a century, I had been aiming to spending some of my time off in a much more tranquil place. A place where I can soothe my mind and gratefully rejoice the magnificence of nature. I usually relish this dream by watching movies at times, movies with beautiful nature as the setting.

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Until I see you again, Korea

Khalda is an account coordinator in Maverick, who has been working for more than a year. In December 2016, she took her Personal Development Fund (PDF) to visit a country that has always been her desired destination – South Korea. This is her story.

South Korea is a top destination listed by many travel sites, from Lonely Planet to CNN Travel. Its abundant charms have made this country too irresistible to be ignored. Korean culture has also made its way worldwide and is especially popular with the younger population who seem engrossed with K-Pop,K-Drama, K-Food, or K-Beauty.

For me, like many who knew what Korean Full House is, my first encounter with Korean culture is from its drama series. Somehow, they are really good at portraying and making their culture, top destinations, and food really appealing through their TV programs. A shot of Korean Ramyeon being eaten by an actor, or people making Kimchi on a winter day in the beautiful Hanok village, is enough to make us wonder “how great it is to live there”.

These instruments of “cultural diplomacy” finally got me hooked. One day, after way too much time spent watching Korean drama, my spontaneous nature suddenly kicked in. I searched for a winter flight to Seoul and started to make two lists: one of places I want to visit and another of foods I want to eat. This is going to be my second time going abroad alone, and I promised myself to enjoy it to the fullest.

Maverick had helped me keep that promise. With Maverick’s PDF – Personal Development Fund, I was able to make this Korea trip happen. As the name suggests the fund is set aside for Maverick’s employees to travel to new places, try something new, learn something new so that they can develop themselves as human beings. I’ve seen how my colleagues used their PDFs, and I’ve seen how taking a trip made them feel refreshed or how enrolling in a course gave them new skills. And now I have the opportunity to tap on the fund.

K-Culture

One activity that I had on my list is going to a Korean sauna, known as jjimjilbang. It was a really unique experience. I thought all the readings and TV shows have prepared me for what I’m going to see and experience at a jjimjilbang, but I was really caught by surprise.

I went to a famous jjimjilbang in Seoul with a friend that I met in my hostel. We paid our entrance fee and went our separate ways to the changing room. What I saw next still shocked me until this day. I saw naked women casually walking around the room, drying their hair, putting on make-up, or even casually chatting with a friend.

Thanks to the Internet, I already knew that I will see naked women at some point. It’s a sauna and public bath after all. But I was not prepared to see them casually doing things without a single stitch on! I was surprised and flustered. I did not know what to do, should I try to “blend with the locals” in the public bath (like how some well adjusted foreigners did), or keep my covers and go straight to the sauna?

That was the moment I remembered how I promised to enjoy this trip to the fullest. So I tried the public bath, local style. And I’m glad that I did. The public bath refreshed me after a long flight. I also tried their various saunas, which are awesome! The saunas ranged from super cold, just cool, medium hot, to super hot. My favorite is the Red Clay sauna. It was hot enough to make you sweat in a good way, but not too hot to burn you.

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I also went to several beautiful places in Korea. I visited Mount Seorak, a well-known hiking spot covered with snow. Coming from a tropical country, I was really excited to see snow, which was also everywhere when I went to Gangwon-do to visit the Daegwallyeong Sheep Farm. The weather was great so the winter view from the hill was stunning.

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Other beautiful places that I visited were Nami Island, Korea Folk Village, and Morning Calm Arboretum. The arboretum was exceptionally beautiful because all the trees had shed their leaves for winter and the staff there has decorated them with various lights. When the sun goes down, the staff turned the lights on. The lights, the decorations, and the snow created an amazing view for us to gaze upon. Everybody wanted to take photos of every corner, so the place was packed, but this is still a must visit destination if you come to South Korea in the winter.

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K-Food

The thing that made me most excited about coming to Korea is the food. I know there are a lot of Korean restaurants in Jakarta, but I wanted to taste the original, the true taste of Korean cuisine, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

From street foods like tteokbokki, eomuk, and bungeoppang to local delights such as kalguksu, samgyetang, and chimaek, they are all awesome. They all have this balanced flavor in their dish, a taste of sweet, spicy, bitterness, and savory. It’s enough to make my palate dance every time I eat those. Oh, and don’t get me started on the kimchi. I love their radish kimchi that’s very hard to find in Indonesia.

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And the verdict is?

My 10-day trip to South Korea was definitely one of the best trips I’ve had so far. I did keep my promise until the end; I enjoyed every single moment to the fullest. I ate and explored the beautiful South Korea, met a lot of nice people along the way, communicated with the locals (with my broken Korean and ability to read hangul), and had a great time along the way. I will definitely be back for a second time, and even a third time, given the chance.

 

The experience I got from the trip was priceless and I will always thankful for the PDF program that enables me to have this amazing trip.

A Trip to the Star

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“There are two possibilities: whether we’re alone in the universe or we are not. Either way, it’s equally horrifying” – unknown

My interest towards space started not so early in life. As a kid, I was a coward. The slightest image of extra-terrestrial life can scare me to a sleepless night. This happened even with the popular ones like Star Trek and Star Wars. I always think it’s better if we are the one and only intelligent beings in the universe. As I grow up, I started to think otherwise. This earth is not expanding, but the people, on the other hand, are. Maybe the only way of mankind survival is an expansion to other planets, other solar systems, and other galaxies.

This is the main reason I wanted to see the Milky Way, our closest neighboring galaxy: to reassess my whole view about life.

And that’s what happened during the course of 10 days in a trip I took to Flores. I’ve never been to Flores, nor have I seen the Milky Way. That’s why when the trip organizer stated we’re going to “chase” the Milky Way, I know this trip is going to be extra special.

This trip is made possible by Maverick’s PDF – Personal Development Fund. As the name clearly stated, Maverick prepared a designated amount of fund for its employees to try something new, do something different, or travel to new places. This is a policy I rarely see anywhere in Indonesia, and its purpose to increase the productivity of the employees works very well with my colleagues. I have seen how some of my office-mates got home from their PDF-funded travels or activities feeling all refreshed and renewed; and this time, it’s my turn.

 

Overland Trip

For this trip, I know only the bare minimum information, keeping the suspense, just like how I did before watching any movies. I didn’t search my way through the internet about our destinations, I didn’t tweet or post anything about this trip online until two days before, to keep people from spoiling it, I didn’t even check the full itinerary. All I know: we’re going across from Ende to Labuan Bajo on a car, and then living onboard a boat. I didn’t even know how long each trip will be.

Arriving in Ende through a two-transits trip (Surabaya and Kupang, both are cities I never set foot before), the first thing I realized is the poster with the words “Ende, the city of tolerance” hung on the wall, a clear sign that I’m going to like this trip. And boy, was I right.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this trip is an open trip, which means there are 9 other people traveling together with me, from different backgrounds, different ages, and even different cities. It took us less than 24 hours to actually bond as a group. Even when three other persons were added to the group on the LOB (Living on Board) part, the friendship is still so warm.

On our way to Wae Rebo

On our way to Wae Rebo

 

The highlights of the trip:

  • We hiked Kelimutu, as early as 4.30 in the morning. The way up is nothing short of exhausting, but the view from the top is worth all the sweat and tears. I’m joking of course, there’s almost no tear involved.
  • I lived without any cellular signal and communication with the “outer world” when I was in Din Tor and Wae Rebo. The trip to Wae Rebo is twice as long as the Kelimutu hike, and almost twice as steep; But the view, the serenity, and the friendliness of the locals, left me with nothing else but gratefulness.
  • We got onboard the boat on the 7th day, and it’s nothing like I imagined. The boat was totally comfortable, enough for the 13 of us to sit around doing nothing comfortably.
  • During the island hopping to great islands such as Padar (where I witnessed one of the best view in the world as depicted below), Rinca (where I finally see a komodo dragon up close), Gili Lawa Darat (where I witnessed the Milky Way with my naked eyes), and many others, we took a short stop at the Manta Point. I can’t even swim properly, but I jumped into that strong current area to see the majestic Manta, and I regret nothing.
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Padar Island, one of the best view I saw while island-hopping.

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Sunrise in Lake Kelimutu

In one trip, over ten days period, I did more new things than I have done on the last 10 years of my life. That is where it hit me hard, that there are so many new things that I haven’t done. From the depth of the ocean, to the sky and beyond, humans are but a tiny speck of dust in the galaxy; and it really puts life into perspective. I went home from this trip feeling refreshed and renewed, ready to handle what life has prepared for me.

The Milky Way over Gili Lawa Darat

The Milky Way over Gili Lawa Darat

I thank Maverick for the opportunity. I never have imagined I would be lucky enough to be supported on doing something like this by the company I work for. Paying the employees with salary good enough for them to save up and plan a holiday is one thing, but setting aside a separate sum specifically for the purpose of doing something new and expanding horizons is extraordinary, at the very least; an extraordinary thing that I can’t feel thankful enough of.

Like Nothing I’ve Seen

Where I’m concerned, Maverick has the coolest “out-of-office” program ever.

The first time I utilized Maverick’s Personal Development Fund (PDF) in February 2014, I ended up roaming through the deserts in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Last December I used the PDF again and this time I found myself trudging through the snow in Europe. Since this was the first time that someone raised in the tropics like I saw snow, I couldn’t help but be as excited as a small boy, taking lots and lots of photographs and videoclips of falling snowflakes.

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The PDF, for those of you not steeped in Maverick-speak is the Personal Development Fund that the company sets aside for its staff for them to develop themselves through doing something new or going to somewhere they have not been before.

Now back to my trip: Besides experiencing the snow, I also had three other big “missions” in this trip: Christmas market hopping, moving from one city to another by hitchhiking & car sharing, and having a Christmas dinner with a European family.

So I started my solo journey in Köln, a charming city in Germany where I really enjoyed my midnight walks around its town square with the view of a very gorgeous old church. The morning after, I went to the Christmas market for the first time. It was pretty, but the rain dampened my experience.

At noon, I car shared via BlaBlaCar.com to Stuttgart, the where Porsche and Mercedes-Benz originated from. BlaBlaCar is a website that is commonly used to find a ride from one city to another. You pay for it either with money or by striking up a conversation with the driver so both of you would not be bored (hence Bla Bla).

My first BlaBlaCar driver was Pia Rommel, a girl from Stuttgart who is currently studying in Köln. That day Pia went back home for Christmas. It took three hours from Köln to Stuttgart, and we had many interesting conversations along the way.

When we arrived, I fell in love with Stuttgart’s Christmas market. It was big and quaint, just like what I expect from seeing too many movies. Dominik Jens Ryn, a German friend of mine, accompanied me to try a lot of the food there. He asked me to try glühwein (a very delicious hot wine with some orange drops and cinnamon), maultasche (the German version of ravioli, even better than the Italian), and Bailey’s-covered almonds. They were all so delicious that I was craving for them while writing this article.

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My favorite place in this trip was Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a small town in Germany that inspired Walt Disney to create Pinocchio. It really looked like Gepetto’s village, with unique gingerbread-looking houses. Its Christmas market was also very lovely. I went there with my cousin, Sukma Aina, who has been living in Germany for a year. During our three-day trip we stayed at Ochsenfurt, a nearby town that was also very amazing! Max Langer, a local who provided a free hospitality for travelers via CouchSurfing.org, hosted us in Ochsenfurt. He was very kind and friendly, gave us an unforgettable experience with many stories about himself, his previous work at Heineken Germany, his one-month South American trip, and the stunning town that is famous for its framework houses.

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On my bus ride from Ochsenfurt to Prague, I sat next to a Czech woman named Andrea. We had a very nice conversation about her travel plan to Indonesia and European culture. I told her that I want to spend Christmas eve in Prague having Christmas dinner with a European family. I had been looking for a CouchSurfing host, but everybody was traveling, spending their family time, or hosting other travelers. So I had to take that mission down from my list.

Surprisingly after spending a few more minutes to chat (and probably proving that I’m not a psycho), she invited me to come to her house for a Christmas dinner! She said her father, mother, and brother would be glad to have me there.

I directly said yes, and the morning after I spent my time buying them flowers for the table decoration and some bottles of wine. That was one hell of a memorable night; we had Andrea’s mom’s roasted turkey and baked potatoes. It felt really like in a Hollywood movie that featured Christmas dinner of a western family. Her family was so warm and friendly and made me feel at home.

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Luckily, that was not the only family that hosted me on their warm hospitality. After Prague I went to Lublin, a small town in the eastern part of Poland. There, I stayed at Mateusz Sawka’s snow-covered house. I knew Sawa (Mateusz’s nickname) and Natalia (his girlfriend) when they traveled to Jakarta last August. In Lublin he introduced me to his adorable parents, Rajmund and Ewa, who always kept me warm despite the -7 degree Celsius weather. That was the coldest weather I have ever experienced, and also the first snowy day in my life.

Sawa and Natalia gave me a city tour around Lublin. That afternoon, I saw the most beautiful view I have seen in my life. Lublin’s old town is too beautiful to describe, especially with the white snow. It really looked like a travel postcard. Very peaceful, even though it had a dark history about the Jews under the Nazis. I left my heart there, and someday I will take it back.

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The snow experience continued in Berlin, the coolest city I have ever visited. After spending a whole day sightseeing with an Indonesian friend named Rachel, I went back to my hostel by foot because no cab was available due to the snowstorm. I was all wet; my feet were buried under the snow. I was a little bit scared at first, but I really enjoyed the sensation. And in the morning, it was so pleasant to see Berlin in white. Everything was covered in snow; Rachel and I made some snowballs on the street and threw it at each other.

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My most memorable hitchhiking moment happened when I traveled from Berlin to Paris. I was picked by a Congolese guy named Freeman who did a road trip all the way from Barcelona, Monaco, Rome, Prague, Berlin, and Paris with his two lovely daughters, Gdyina and Amélie. We shared the 11-hour ride with laughter and stories about everything. He made me richer by sharing his travel experiences, African culture, and stories about Congo. That moment I realized that in this trip I met a bunch of marvelous people along the way and made connection with them that probably will last a lifetime, and I was so grateful for that.

The same incredible thing happened in Paris. Besides spending my happy days at Disneyland and every corner of that romantic city with two of my good friends from Jakarta, I also met Antoine and Michael Guittet who let me crash on their air bed in Paris. These brothers beautifully closed my three-week trip in Europe, so I could fly back to Jakarta while smiling from ear to ear.

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A Whole New World in The Middle East

At Maverick, the employees are entitled to take Personal Development Fund (PDF) that can be spent to do anything to develop themselves personally. It can be attending a cooking class, undertaking a music course or even traveling to a destination you haven’t been before. The company realizes that professional development is not enough to make somebody a good consultant; personal development matters.

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Lyric:

Have you ever dreamed of paradise?

It`s a long long way from here.

If ever you decide.

I`ll take you there, away from here…

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