I didn’t realise it till Leolani commented, “So what does Singaporean English sound like? Say something! You’re the only real Singaporean here.”

I had felt so completely at home chatting with this bunch of people – many of whom I’d only met for the first, second or third time – that I didn’t realise that we were all from different countries and continents.

Leolani herself is from Los Angeles, an American girl who is in town for a couple of days to conduct dance workshops at Tahitian Dance & Fitness. She is a professional Polynesian dancer, having learnt the traditional art from age 6. She has since competed in many international competitions, and won several awards.

She looked Asian to me, so I asked her if she had Asian blood. “Yes, predominantly Filipino,” Leo explained. “And a bit of Spanish and Mexican.”

Leolani Gallardo from LA

Leolani Gallardo from LA

My dear friend Beatrice Caisson looked Asian to me too. In fact, when I first met her at Ukulele Movement, where we were attending the same Module 3 class, I thought she was Filipino. But she has an unusual accent – almost French sounding.

Being the journalist and world traveller that I am, one of my first questions to her was, “So, where are you from?” I was pleasantly surprised when she replied, “Tahiti!”

My Tahitian friend, Bea!

My Tahitian friend, Bea!

Bea is a Chinese-Tahitian, and her family is actually Hakka. It was hilarious when she was sharing with us last night that when she lived and worked in China and went to a Hakka village, the locals didn’t understand her. And when she first arrived in Paris and spoke French, the people didn’t quite understand her too. What an interesting world we live in!

She is a dream chaser. She opened Singapore’s first and only Tahitian Dance & Fitness school and is an instructor there.

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Bea had invited me to join a cosy dinner gathering at her new bachelorette pad somewhere in the north of Singapore, and it was heartwarming for me to see how happy she was to finally have her own place!

Lots of space for guests!

Lots of space for guests!

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I love this statue of Buddha in her living room – it was the first thing I noticed. And I learnt last night that Bea is Tibetan Buddhist. How unusual for someone from Tahiti! But then, she is vegetarian too so I suppose there is a link somewhere?

As a journalist, radio DJ and TV producer, I have met many people from around the world in my line of work. I’ve even conducted interviews for broadcast in Inner Mongolia, the Seychelles, Timor-Leste, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand etc. But it was only in this past year that I made not just one, but two friends, from French Polynesia.

Antoine is from New Caledonia, an island in French Polynesia. I’d met him twice before and am struck by the fact that while he is a high-flying finance guy and a Stanford graduate, he is very much an island boy who loves the ocean and Mother Nature.

Ocean boy, Antoine.

Ocean boy, Antoine.

Within five minutes of his arrival – bearing a delicious home-baked quiche for us – he shared this awesome video with us on his iPhone. And we subsequently spent much of the evening talking about diving and the ocean.

We were so fascinated by this female spear-fisher called Kimi Werner that we all Googled her! She has an amazing philosophy on man and the eco-system, and she is a painter too. I suppose that’s why she is an ambassador for Patagonia. I would love to meet her one day, and do an interview with her for Asia!

While sitting by the pool, chatting over quiche and Mee Goreng, our conversations drifted to pursuing our passions, chasing our dreams and living overseas. Someone (I can’t say who!) mentioned wanting to take a one-year break to travel the world. That’s what I did in 2011. We talked about doing what we love, and finding ways to get paid for that. My philosophy too.

One thing I took away from that conversation – among other things – is how Nature is the great leveller. I was sharing how humbled I feel amidst Nature, especially out in the ocean or in the midst of lofty mountains. Antoine observed that in cities, we are defined by what we have achieved – our economic status, our professions – but it’s different out in Nature.

Out in Nature, you can be the CEO of a company or a road sweeper, and you’re the same. If you get lost in the mountains or are confronted by bull sharks in the Deep Blue, how do any of these things matter? It’s just about you and Mother Nature. What matters is who you are and how you respond. It’s the greatest leveller.

I was blown away by that concept.

He said he wouldn’t mind being killed by bull sharks while spear-fishing or being lost in the mountains because it’s a fair death. We are all part of Nature, all part of the food chain, and if he died that way, it would all be good. I don’t know if I’d like to be torn apart by sharks, but I get his point – theoretically. *shifty eyes*

It was also good to meet Roumel again – he’s from the Philippines. We had Starbucks Coffee together some months back. I was at a crossroad in life, and so was he. I was planning to leave my full-time job as a TV producer with Channel NewsAsia, and he was leaving his full-time job too, and planning to go into humanitarian work.

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Roumel had white paint on his hair – “highlights” I joked – because he just got back from Cebu in the Philippines, painting schools for children there. He had also made a trip to Sri Lanka since I last caught up with him. He shared about volunteering with a boys’ home here and joining the Red Cross, and I felt very happy for him.

It was funny that we were in Singapore, right smack in the middle of a very Singaporean housing estate, but I was the only  Singaporean in the group. Yet, I felt so much at home with these people. Other than Bea, whom I have known for a while, I’d only met Roumel twice, Antoine thrice, and Leolani for the first time.

Friendships aren’t bound by race, nationalities or intentional borders – not anymore. More and more so, I’m realising that there are many stronger ties that bind. Like fundamental values and philosophies.

Pico Iyer puts it so succinctly on his TED Talk, “Where is Home?”

It’s a beautiful time to be living in this world. Travel and technology have opened up borders and torn down barriers. And now – more than ever – we can learn from friends from around the world, and that to me is a GOOD thing.

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