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About Me

About Me
CrystalPhuong.net is a Personal Style & Travel Blog based in Singapore, written by Crystal Phuong. The blog was nominated FOUR times in Top 10 Best Fashion Blogs in the annual Singapore Blog Award from 2012- 2015, voted as one of the Best Lifestyle Blogs in Singapore in 2013 by Hotelclub.com, and Best Travel Blogs in 2016 by Foodpanda.com. Crystal hopes to connect and inspire young women to lead a healthy and happy life. Be confident, be positive, and be kind.
WHAT A YEAR, 2021!

WHAT A YEAR, 2021!

I remember at the beginning of the year, we all said 2020 was tough and 2021 would be better. Little did we know, 2021 was even more challenging than 2020. To many of us, 2021 presented so many challenges and obstacles that tested our strength and resiliency. I experienced an enormous challenge in the business, so much that it felt like there was an invisible person who kept throwing stones at my head as I was trying to climb up to the top of the mountain. I refused to quit even some days it felt like that was the easiest thing to do. 

Now, looking back, I'm still thankful for all that "stones" throwing at me this year. Every challenge is an opportunity to learn and to grow. I wasn't the first one who reaches the mountain top in my career, I was, however, able to achieve many big milestones in my personal life. Some of my long-time dreams come true. For that, I still came out as a winner, even though 2021 was a bitch (sorry for the harsh language, but it really was).  

As usual, I'd like to look at the bright side of things, hence this post is going to be a flashback of all the wonderful things that happened in 2021. Here we go! 

One of the biggest changes I've had in 2021 was the upgrade of my living space. Some of you have seen enough of my new home on Instagram. But in case you haven't seen it, you can have a virtual tour of my new home on this post "Home Sweet Home"

I spend so much time at home even after the lockdown was lifted. When I'm not working from home or sleeping, I'll find time to read, do something fun, and learn new things.  

A new home is also a place where I'd like to catch up with many old friends over tea time or dinners. Why need to go to the restaurant when you can have a candlelight dinner at home every night. Right?

Living near the sports hub inspires me to have more outdoor activities this year. Once in a while, I'd like to go cycling around the East Coast beach. 

Otherwise, on a regular day, this would be my beautiful walk around the neighborhood. This view was an instant cure for any frustration I had last year. 

2021 was also a year of learning for me. I never thought of one day I would buy a piano and start learning those C, E, D major notes, but I did. It's such a great stress-released activity. 

This year, I spent so much time and effort on personal development. I can't count how many nights I've stayed up until 3am to finish the course assignments, simulations, essays, and capstones. It's exhausting to study at night and work during the day. But everything has its price and it's so worth it. I've always dreamed of going to Harvard University to study, but I couldn't. The 18-years-old Crystal would have never imagined one day she'd own the Harvard Business School certificates. Not 1, but 4 of them. This makes me feel emotional and proud. Honestly, without all the lockdowns that happened in 2021, I would never have had time for this. Like I said, every challenge is an opportunity. Sometimes, opportunities come to look for us. Other times, we have to go out and create them. 

Since the Covid dining restriction eased up, I managed to spend time catching up with many good friends. Some I'd call my "guardian angels", the people who support me unconditionally and guide me through many storms in life.   

Health & wellness always stay on top of my list. I completed all of the Covid vaccine shots in less than 6 months thanks to the Singapore government. I exercised more. I went from doing yoga at home one day to going to the gym the next. A healthy lifestyle doesn't start from eating one salad bowl a week, it's the repeated activity that you maintain for a long period of time until it becomes your routine. 

Another proud achievement I've had this year was my contribution to this meaningful charity. I was invited by Multimedia, organizer of Vietnam International Fashion Week to take part in the charity auction event "From the heart to the heart". 2021 was a tough year for my country- Vietnam in fighting the battle against Covid. There were over 10,000 cases reported daily and many cities were struggling to cope with limited medical supplies and resources. With this auction, we hoped to raise money to buy equipment and medical supplies for doctors and hospitals in Vietnam. When I received this invitation, I couldn't say No. 

I was grateful for the opportunity to take part, for the mention of the local media in Vietnam, and most importantly for the generous contributions and donations from my family and friends. Together, we were able to raise USD120,000 in one evening. We bought some breathing machines and donated them to the hospital in Ho Chi Minh city. It was definitely the highlight of my 2021! 
This year, I also made some important steps to build a strong foundation for my retirement future. I was never interested in any investment book before, yet here I was reading it like my life depended on it. The book really motivates me to take financial planning more seriously. Not only was I able to invest, but I also diversified my portfolio into multiple assets. I was lucky to have help, guidance, and encouragement from my friends on this journey. Saying the word "portfolio" out loud feels so good and I can't wait to watch this "baby" grow. 

Before writing this blog post, I thought I didn't have much to share. I didn't travel anywhere exciting. I wasn't on the top of any list. I wasn't at the most fun and fanciful parties, I didn't receive an award. But then I realized that these are also the things that kept me grounded. It's ok not to travel, not to be recognized, not to be at the center of the party, and not to receive an award. What's more important is how you grow from the inside: mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

I took a photo of this tree on one of my walks and it resonated with me so much. I hope it resonates with you too.

Let's hope that 2022 will really be a better year, not like how 2021 had betrayed us. The lessons I learned in 2021 will help to shape me in 2022 (hopefully not in a round shape). I'll keep stretching, learning, and trying. In that process, I'll always be reminded of how lucky I am to still have support from many friends, mentors, and guardians angels.

If you have been reading this blog for years and we have never met in real life, I sincerely thank you for your support and time. Wishing you all a magical and successful year ahead! 
Till 2022!  

Crystal Phuong

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Before the global pandemic, I traveled so much for business and for pleasure that even my daily Instagram update couldn't keep up with the number of photos I had on each trip. Finding time to blog in between working, sleeping, and flying was almost impossible. Then, Covid put a stop to travel. It forced everyone to slow down and learn to appreciate. Work didn't get less busy, but I finally had time to work on many long-overdue travel posts. I'm still trying to catch up, so you can expect to have a few more posts like this in the coming months. 

Japan! It's a lovely country, yet it wasn't on the top 3 on my bucket list. Europe and US remain the number 1 and 2 on my list if I have more days off in the year to clear. Thankfully, business opportunities brought me to Japan twice in 2018. In between the meetings, conferences, and business dinners, I managed to spend one weekend each trip exploring different parts of Japan. My perspective changed.        

I had a short rest after 8hr red-eye flight to Japan. Here I was enjoying the room service with the first view of Osaka, a large port city and Japan's second-largest metropolitan area after Tokyo. I had plenty of Japanese food in Singapore before, but nothing was quite like the food in Japan. While enjoying the first meal in my room after a 10-hour journey, I felt immensely grateful for the job opportunity that brought me here. 

Osaka's showing off during sunset. This was a view I took from the hotel where I had a meeting the next day. How gorgeous!  

Every time I travel alone to a new country, I always want to experience the place from the local perspective. Instead of booking a group tour package, I'd hire a private tour guide for the entire day and ask them to have a free and easy day with me. My only request is to let me experience the food, the place like the locals as much as possible. I was lucky to find Kaori after viewing dozens of profiles on a tour guide booking website. She responded to my email so quickly and had all the itinerary plans prepared before I even asked. I knew I'd be in good hands and I was right. 

Kaori came to the hotel to pick me up and we bonded immediately. It felt as if we were friends for a long time. She could speak several languages and knew how to have fun. 
The first activity of the day, Kaori brought me to visit Osaka castle. It was raining heavily when we visited, but the rain couldn't stop me. I must have a photo of this iconic place. 

Just in case you don't know, Osaka castle was built in 1583. It is widely known as an emblem of the power and fortune of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a Japanese samurai regarded as the "Great Unifier" of Japan. The castle went through many historical dramas and was repeatedly seen as the battleground of the major wars in Japanese history. A few years after Hideyoshi's death, Ieyasu Tokugawa- Hideyoshi's chief retainer, ruined the Toyotomi family and destroyed Osaka Castle (in the Summer War of Osaka) in 1615. The castle was rebuilt by the Tokugawa government in 1620, but its main castle tower was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire. 

Today, Osaka Castle is the 3rd generation, but its magnificent architecture, impressive stone walls, and picturesque surrounding still impress anyone who steps into this place. Myself included. 

After Osaka castle, we visited Horikoshi Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in Osaka (a Centuries-old Shinto shrine), where wishes & prayers are said to be granted

I made my first prayer in Japan, enjoyed some quiet moments at this peaceful place before making my way to one of the most crowded places in Osaka- Dotonbori. Welcome back to civilization! 

Drizzling rain made the Dontonbori canal look more romantic and charming. It's hard to believe that such a modern-looking and happening area was built in 1612.

Dotonburi is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Osaka. The bright neon lights, larger-than-life signages, enormous variety of restaurants, bars, and shops will make you feel like you are living your best life. You can't feel lonely at a place like this, but if you need a quiet corner in the mid of chaos, walk a little further, you might find yourself at a random place like where I was standing (and jumping). 

Eat like the locals, they said! We had lunch at a restaurant in Dontonbori and it was so delicious.  When it comes to food, I'm not fussy and I'd like to try many things. That makes it easier for people to travel with me I guess. At least, for Kaori since she did most of the food ordering. 

The next morning, I woke up early to prepare for my full day of adventures with Kaori again. She picked me up at the hotel, we had breakfast before catching a train ride to Kyoto. I have to say the Osaka subway system was efficient, fast, and oh-my-god overwhelming. I don't know how long would it take other foreigners to get around in Japan by train. Even buying a train ticket took me a couple of minutes to complete despite having Kaori's help. I completely gave up the idea to "do it myself" and relied on Kaori for all the transport arrangements after that. I just ran behind her like a little puppy (people walk fast in Japan, I don't know why).    

A short 20-minute train ride later, we arrived in the beautiful Kyoto. Of course, we had to visit Fushimi Inari Taisha, the most popular shrine to Japanese people and is the head shrine that all the others are affiliated with. For 1300 years, people have gathered here to pray for business prosperity, safety, success, and happiness. In return, companies and individuals donated a tori gate with the name and date written on each gate. The entrance where I was standing is Senbon Torii, meaning thousands of torii gates. It leads to a hiking trail and has become one of the most Instagrammable places in Kyoto. 

Following the tori gate led me to the Yotsutsuji intersection. This beautiful view of Kyoto was a reward after a hot long walk. 

The whole of Inariyama, the mountain where Fushimi Inari Taisha rests is a precinct of the shrine. There was beauty everywhere I walked. Even the trees in front of these houses looked beautiful. 

After Fushimi Inari Taisha, I wanted to play dress-up, so Kaori took me to a costume rental shop in Kyoto. Apparently, this is quite a popular activity for foreigners to do while in Japan. I wanted to experience how fun it would be to put on a kimono, so I walked into the shop as a Vietnamese lady, walked out as a Japanese-wannabe woman. 

I can finally say "I've tried wearing a kimono and walking around Kyoto street like nobody's business". Although, not much of walking I could do in that tight outfit, to be honest, I still had fun pretending to be a Japanese girl for a day.

After having a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, we made our way to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, one of the most photographed places in Kyoto. Because it's quite a popular tourist attraction, you can imagine the number of people visiting this place every day. I was lucky to visit Arashiyama bamboo forest during the off-peak season, so the place was rather quiet. It's possible to walk the forest path within 30minutes, but if you want to take it slow, have a moment to stand still in the midst of this lush green bamboo grove and look up, you'll find it quite an enchanting and breathtaking experience. 

I had a quick outfit change before leaving Arashimaya Bamboo Forest. Kaori and I decided to have dinner in Kyoto city before heading back to Osaka. We explored many cute and small streets in Kyoto, caught a beautiful sunset, had another delicious dinner, and called it a day.   

My heart, my mind, and of course my stomach were full. It was a wonderful way to end the week. 

As soon as Monday hit, the "tourist" hat I had been wearing all weekend immediately changed to a business one. No more sandals, flip-flops, or kimono outfits, it's time for the blazers, high heels, laptop, and business talks. I couldn't let all Osaka's charms make me forget about the reason why I was here. 

Meeting went so well because I had spent so much time preparing for this. 

After work, Kaori took me out for a dinner. But first, she wanted to bring me to this place- HARUKAS 300 Observatory.  If you want to have a good view of Osaka from 300 meters above the ground, this. is the place you should go to. 

I remember how overwhelmed it made me feel. I stood there, stared at this view for a long time. We managed to catch the sun before it went down completely. It was an emotional moment and I couldn't believe that I was actually in Japan. I felt so insignificant and inspired at the same time.

As if Kaori didn't impress me enough, she brought me to this underground restaurant for dinner. "We eat like the locals," she said and boy, we really did. I lost count of how many plates of food and how many glasses of beer we finished. We were so full of happiness and food. What a first trip to Japan,  I said to myself. 

One month after my first trip, I had another opportunity to be back in Osaka again for a business conference. This time flying back to Osaka felt like visiting an old friend. 

When work requires you to dress up, meet new people, enjoy delicious food and visit new places, doesn't it sound too good to be true? I know I'm lucky and I've never taken any moment like this for granted.  

I met Kaori again once my work finished. As usual, she planned out my weekend perfectly, picked me up at the hotel, and suggested that we should visit Nara for the day. We took the train on Sunday morning after breakfast and an hour later, we were in Nara. 

Known as the first permanent capital of Japan, Nara Prefecture is an ancient city filled with natural beauty, historic buildings, charming townscapes, and national treasures. Not to mention the cute friendly deers roaming around the street. Nara is also a home of three World Heritage sites: Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, Buddhist Monuments in the Horyuji Area, and Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii mountain range.

There are many beautiful houses and shops like this in Nara. We had to cut our visit to each shop short as we didn't have much time here.  

When in Nara, you have to visit Nara Park. Here, you'll encounter many deers roaming around. They are so cute and friendly as long as you don't tease them with food. It is said that one of the deities had ridden to Nara upon a sacred deer from Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture. Because of this legend, deers have become sacred animals and protected as natural monuments in Nara for many years. I tried to feed the deers and they bowed down to me. 

Some followed me around as they knew I was carrying crackers to feed them. How smart! 

Leaving Nara Park after feeding these deers my last cracker, we made our way to Todaiji, one of the most famous and significant temples in Japan. 

Inside this beautiful temple, there is a Big Buddha Hall that houses one of Japan's largest bronze Buddha (Daibutsu) statues which is 15 meters tall. The picture below doesn't do enough justice to how magnificent it is. 

As if this temple isn't impressive enough, you'll also find a giant pillar with a hole in its base that is the same size as the Daibutsu's nostril. I was told that those who can squeeze through this opening will be granted enlightenment in their next life. I had to try, and guess what? I made it. You can watch the travel vlog below and see me in action. I guess, being petite has some benefits at least. 

Soaking up this sunset view of Nara before I headed back to the hotel. It was the last day in Japan and It was so perfect. I couldn't expect more. I first came to Japan with a little fear of not being able to enjoy the place so much. I left Japan with a heart full of gratitude and beautiful memories. More importantly, I made a new friend, tried many new things, and experienced a new culture with open eyes. 

Writing this blog post now makes me miss Japan so much. I really wish I could visit this country soon again. 
Till next time, Arigatō, Japan! 

Crystal Phuong

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