In brief...

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
My interests vary from conservation to education to heritage to Nature (biodiversity & wildlife) to outdoor activities to life in general.
They occupy most of my waking moment.
Do read my blogs, follow me on Twitter (@jocelynesze) and friend me on Facebook (subject to my discretion). Visit my Nature blog, Nature Rambles, at http://natureramble.wordpress.com.

UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit jocelynesze.wordpress.com if you're interested in more recent writing.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in review: a year is fairly long

I'm currently 2/3 through my trip in Italy, and in Naples now. It's quite a good place to celebrate New Year's apparently. Fireworks/fire crackers/various other explosives have been going off since the afternoon (including some yesterday), and especially since sunset at 5pm. Though crowds and loud noises aren't my thing.

Time again for reflection and resolutions. I'm quite a reflective person I think, so the end of a calendar year is just yet another opportunity for me to think about my life, and how I affect others. But also what I've done this year and what I wanna do next year. It's quite funny how time is continuous, but we break it up into days and months and years, just so we can do some stock take once in a while I guess.

I've quite enjoyed 2015. Highlights for me this year include West Highland Way, final exams, Brisbane and Silwood, cos they all marked a period of time when I learned something about myself, and grew a little more. Physical and mental limits, getting over disappointment, my interactions with others and trying to find peace within myself.

Looking back at what I wrote last year on NYE: "May 2015 be a good year for humanity, with stronger climate action and more social justice and that everyone will be kind, sensible and see the joy in life. I hope that I do get to dive more in the coming year, that I learn more programming skills (and go on adventures with R woohoo!), finally get round to picking up some trad climbing skills, be disciplined in my fitness and studies, read and pray more.", I think 2015 has kinda lived up to my expectations.

Pope Francis' Laudato Si called for environmental justice, the Paris climate talks succeeded in coming to some agreement amongst countries, and I think people are showing more kindness and humanity to each other, if only to counter the seemingly increased occurrences of terrorism. I guess with no darkness, there is no light; with no bad, there is no good.

I've not dived at all this year, but my programming skills have improved (and definitely will next year). I've done my first trad lead climb, and I hope to do more next year. Discipline is probably still lacking for me, though I think I have read and prayed more this year. Finished Guns, Germs and Steel, An Unnatural History of the Sea, A Short History of Nearly Everything and Your Inner Fish, which I was only halfway through a year ago. Also Serengeti Shall Not Die, Night Climbers of Cambridge, Tigers in Red Weather, and Call of the White: Taking the World to the South Pole (and a bunch of others I can't remember).

I'm really looking forward to 2016. Finally working on a proper research project, on a topic that I'm interested in using skills that I'm very keen on. I really hope I will learn discipline (time management) and coding skills by the end of it, and, fingers crossed, a publication too. Looking forward to more climbing (and hopefully my first 7a lead), and more experiences that give meaning to my life.

May 2016 be filled with peace and joy for you, and in the words of Pope Francis, may you come
"to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously".
The last sunset of 2015 of the Bay of Naples.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Three weeks in Italy.

After 11 weeks of term (the horror, after having had just 8 weeks of term for the past three years), it's finally Christmas break. It's gonna be my first Christmas without my family :/ But thankfully I've got a good bunch of friends to spend Christmas and New Year's with in Italy, where I'm gonna be spending my entire vacation. The highlights of Italy are probably lost on me, being a plebian who cannot appreciate art, but thankfully I can still appreciate the landscape. My main reason for being in Italy anyway was to climb in Sicily in Jan, resulting in me having to lug around a 17kg backpack stuffed with climbing rope and quickdraws.

Milano 18 to 20 Dec 2015
Also known as the fashion capital of the world (though I didn't feel too out of place in my hiking boots and jeans). We flew into Malpenso airport, before taking a coach into the city centre and walking to our hostel. Spent most of our time wandering around the Duomo area, and checked out Luini's panzerotti (which looked and kinda tasted like Singapore's hum ji peng).

Highlight: Cimitero Monumentale

[Update 4 Jan: still can't figure out why some of the photos on my iPhone are not appearing on Photos on my Mac, but least I can import them using Preview into a folder]

A very very tiny fraction of the beautiful graves in the cimitero. 

Trees are just way cool. Also found in the cimitero.


Firenze 20 to 23 Dec 2015
Took the train from Milan to Florence, which reminds me of a mix of Innsbruck, Austria and Heidelberg, Germany, probably cos of the Arno river. I thought it was prettier than Milan, with some nice winding cobblestoned alleys. We usually cook dinner in the hostel, but this hostel (PLUS Florence) turned out to be more like a hotel (just imagine a regular hotel but instead of your own private room it's a dormitory room with bunk beds) that didn't have a kitchen, and banned food and drinks from rooms. My friends had already bought groceries though, and so it made for an interesting dinner, eating on the window sill outside our room. The mercato centrale was pretty good, had the best ravioli ever, with a pumpkin filling and bolognese sauce. We also visited a pottery studio which was pretty cool.

Highlight: Fiesole (day trip, taking bus 7 from San Marco piazza)

The archeological museum in Fiesole (that wasn't open when we were there)

The ruins in Fiesole

Sunset from Fiesole

The river Arno cutting through the city of Florence

The pottery studio where the owner hand paints these plates.


Roma 23 to 28 Dec 2015
We then took the train from Florence to Rome for the other main reason why I chose to travel in Italy - Christmas Eve mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica :D A friend told me about papal masses and that one had to request for tickets for them. It's all free, but you either have to snail mail a request form or fax it to the Vatican, and you usually had to do that well in advance to get the tickets. Thankfully I managed to get 3 tickets despite requesting just 2 months in advance (apparently people usually request 6 months in advance? Especially for big groups) so I was very very happy and excited.
Obtaining the tickets and attending mass involved a lot more queueing. Had to wait in a line on my own (cos the security personnel decided that we shouldn't have friends with us when queueing...) that was barely moving for 50 minutes to collect the tickets for mass itself. Real trial of patience that was, I hate queueing and would usually skip a stall if it involved massive queueing. For the mass, we started queueing to get into the Vatican at 5pm, managed to get past security after about an hour, then waited another hour before the doors into St Peter's Basilica itself opened at 7pm. We thought it was a midnight mass, but it started at 930pm, so we only had to wait about 1.5 hours (cos there was rosary recitation at 9pm).
The longest procession of priests I ever saw preceded the arrival of the Pope. Then a sea of cameras: phone cameras held in hands, on selfie sticks, DSLRs etc. I wondered what the cardinals/altar servers thought, because people were obviously trying to take photos of the pope not them. And I wondered what they thought about camera phones in mass, cos some/most of them must have been there since before everyone had a camera phone... I refrained from taking out my phone until mass ended, and I somehow wished that cameras were banned, cos they somewhat spoil the mood for mass. Mass itself was mostly in Latin, but with bits in various other languages - first reading in Portuguese, responsorial psalm in Italian, second in English, prayers of the faithful in an assortment of languages included Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and Aramaic. The gospel was the most beautiful I had ever heard though, chanted in Latin.

- interjection of felicitations: Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad! Feliz Natal! Frohe Weihnachten! 圣诞节快乐!Merry Christmas! -

Most of the rest of the time in Rome was spent visiting various tourist attractions, which I was not overly enthused about. Too many people for my liking :X We almost didn't visit the Vatican Museum, as it was closed on St Stephen's Day, 27 Dec was the last Sunday of the month which meant free entry (and an insanely long queue that stretched a kilometre probably, from the entrance of Vatican Museum to St Peter's Square. They stopped accepting people at 12.30pm and we probably wouldn't have made it in), and we were leaving about 11am on 28 Dec. On the way to the Vatican on the 28th, we passed this tour agent who was advertising queue jumps for the Vatican Museum, so we paid €28 each (student price, instead of €8 if we had queued on our own) and got into the Vatican Museum at 9.25am. Whizzed through/skipped most of it due to lack of time, and headed straight for the Sistine Chapel. I can only say I wish I had more time to spend there, and that there weren't that many tourists. But wells.

Highlights: Christmas Eve mass and Riserva Naturale di Monte Mario

St Peter's Square and Basilica

The nativity scene in St Peter's Basilica
Rows of pines in Monte Mario

Roma from Monte Mario

River Tiber at mid-morning

Columns at the Roman Forum, one of the many tourist attractions. It was quite nice to have people familiar with Rome on the trip.

Napoli 28 Dec 2015 to 1 Jan 2016
From Rome, we took another train to Naples. Having had enough of the city and crowds, we spent the first two days around the region - Vesuvius, Vico Equense (a little seaside town), and Sorrento. Skipped Pompeii cos I had had enough of tourist attractions - Vesuvius was rather disappointing. Then spent the next two days wandering around Naples with no particular objective. Spent a nice New Year's Eve in the hostel room with wine and good company, though the celebrations are quite raucous in Naples.

Highlights: Sunsets on the rocks by the pier, and a little hike to Sant Agatha village in Sorrento

Sunset on the rocks (we just stumbled into this little gem)

Above the clouds on Vesuvius

View of Vesuvius and Sorrento (foreground) from Monastero di San Paolo

From the tower in Monastero di San Paolo, Deserto, Sorrento (access to tower only from 3-4pm)

One selfie on the last sunset of 2015

View of Naples with Vesuvius in the background from Castel San Elmo


Catania (Sicilia) 1 Jan to 3 Jan 2016
[Time to sleep. Updates on Sicily later]




Thursday, December 10, 2015

A terrible cold, and home sickness.

I'm just about recovering (I can talk and make noises!), but the past week has been slightly crappier than usual. Caught a cold bug, likely from someone on campus, at some point last week, and was trying to stave it off. Went for a nice wander around Seven Sisters at South Down on Sat with some people here, and that probably killed any hope of that - started coughing terribly on Sunday, and lost my voice on Monday. Being in this rather non-stressful environment was quite helpful for recovery, since there weren't essays or any assignments due, nor did I particularly have to attend lectures. So I stayed in bed almost the entire day on Tuesday, getting up only for lunch, dinner and a 2-hour practical that looked like it would be useful (it was, vaguely). I wouldn't normally be too fussed about colds and a quick recovery, but it's Silmas tomorrow (celebrating Christmas in Silwood. Like Bridgemas back in Cambridge) and I am in the acapella group which is gonna be putting up a few songs, along with general carolling.

Anyway, the thing about being ill is that it affords a lot of time alone. I managed to finish two books (Tigers in Red Weather by Ruth Padel, about tiger conservation, and Call of the White by Felicity Aston, about an all-women expedition to the South Pole), and watched lots of funny videos, and episodes of BBC's The Hunt. As well as managed to feel a little homesick, watching this





It's my grandmother's 80th birthday soon, and my mom was digging up old photos, to put with more current photos for a slideshow. All the memories of childhood and times spent with family. And all the more recent photos from which I'm usually missing (cos I'm here, halfway across the world). I've been blessed to be able to spend most Christmases with my family, this is going to be the first without them, but I've missed Chinese New Year for three years already, and at least one more to come. Along with all the weddings I've missed. Ah wells, such is life I guess. I chose to come here to study, and I'm glad I did, but it also means missing out on everything back home. It's something I've gotten used to over the past few years, which is why perhaps suddenly thinking about all of that again makes me homesick.