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Soraya: Soul Of A Wanderer

Soraya: Soul Of A Wanderer

Get cosy as Lite announcer SORAYA KEE lets us in on her eye-opening odysseys across continents

(Photo courtesy of Lite)

Sunny, sweet, sociable – all adjectives that describe Soraya Sunitra Kee Xiang Yin (or simply ‘Soraya’), the smiley-eyed radio announcer who presides over Lite between 10am and 4pm, keeping listeners glued to the Relaxing Favourites WorkDay segment.

The young lady, who at age 11 hosted a fake radio show, has come a long way indeed, officially joining Lite in 2015 – and the 30-year-old Petaling Jaya native is loving every second of it, although work behind the scenes isn’t as glamorous as one might think.

“I’m on air from 10am to 4pm, but there’s a lot more that goes on besides telling stories and announcing music,” says Soraya. “I might bounce between my shift, conducting an interview and recording a commercial – no two days at work are exactly alike!”

As much as she enjoys shooting the breeze with fans of the station on air or shining the spotlight on inspiring women in the ‘Power Women’ sub-section, there’s one thing Soraya probably loves more – and that’s travelling the globe. Join us as the she shares her eye-opening odysseys across continents – and her desire to journey to “the ends of the earth”!

Share with us some of your favourite holiday destinations, foreign and local.
Soraya: I think Penang is so popular for a reason. My dad’s from there and we used go there once a year when I was a child, but I’ve rediscovered it now – and I see it in a whole new light. I’m enamoured with its architecture, history and culture, all of which I took for granted when I was a kid.

I’ve also had some really enjoyable ‘Cuti-Cuti Malaysia’ trips to Kuala Terengganu, Melaka and Kuching, and even to some of the forest retreats that aren’t too far from Kuala Lumpur (KL).

As for my trips abroad, some of my absolute favourite countries of recent years have been Tunisia, Iceland, Mauritius and Georgia. Tunisia was teeming with wonderful surprises, from the lively souks of Tunis to the date palm oasis of Tozeur.

(Photo [right] courtesy of Soraya Kee)Delightful Tunisia! The Street and the Square of Martyrs(L);
beautiful doors in Kairouan

Iceland was one of the quirkiest countries I’ve ever visited and its landscapes were otherworldly. Mauritius really charmed me with its vibrant but laid-back island life.

(Photo courtesy of Soraya Kee)Black sand beaches in Vik, Iceland

And Georgia was such a gem of a place – I loved its snow-capped mountains, the national dish ‘khachapuri’ (which is essentially a cheese-filled bread boat and is as amazing as it sounds), and the utterly charming nooks and crannies of Old Tbilisi.

(Photo courtesy of Soraya Kee)The mountains of Georgia were an incredible backdrop

Do you have a favourite destination that you never get tired of visiting?
Soraya: I’d have to say Turkey. I’ve been there four times and each time I leave, it’s with a deep melancholy. There’s something about the country – and the city of Istanbul in particular – that really tugs at me.

Some of my most memorable travel memories have been made there: cruising the Bosphorus, rice- stuffed mussels and tripe soup after nights out in Istanbul, wandering through the surreal landscape of Cappadocia, hiking part of an ancient walking route in Fethiye. I’m always envious whenever a friend or acquaintance tells me they are going to visit Turkey!

There’s something about Turkey

What are the top 3 destinations on your ‘Bucket List’?
Soraya: Slovenia, Jordan and Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, often described as the ends of the earth.

Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, often described as “the ends of the earth”

What do you love most about travelling? And what do you hate most?
Soraya: What I love most is being a stranger in a strange land – especially when I’m completely alone, nobody knows my name, and I don’t speak the language. There’s something incredibly liberating about that, and it gives you great perspective. At the same time, I love how travel takes you places that might be so different from your own home, and yet there are so many pockets of familiarity you stumble across. You’re reminded of how there truly are so many things you have in common with people despite the fact that they live on the other side of the world from you.

The baobab trees in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania are hundreds of years old!
(Photo courtesy of Soraya Kee)

What I don’t like is the fact that I’ll never be able to completely absorb or comprehend any place I visit, because visiting temporarily only offers me a small slice of the full experience of living there. Knowing I can only scratch the surface of each place, as opposed to becoming a full- fledged local, reminds me that whenever I leave a country there are still so many things about it I may never know.

What’s the first thing on your itinerary when you visit a brand new destination?
Soraya: I always try and hop on a local bus or train to get to my accommodation. It’s often the cheapest mode of transportation and it’s great for getting a feel of the new place. Going to a local market is also one of the first must-dos.

What are some of the travel essentials that you must have with you during your travels?
Soraya: I always bring a notebook with me, to keep a record of my travels. Other essentials include earplugs for noisy hostels, good walking shoes and a foldable bag, the kind that you can unfold and that expands into a big bag that’s great for souvenirs.

Also, I bring a thick wad of notes on every trip. They’re all the notes I’ve made after researching blogs, websites and TripAdvisor, which I then compile into a Word Document and print out. They come back home with me after the trip all faded and dog-eared – I’ve kept them all.

Share with us at least ONE of your travel quirks.
Soraya: I’m not a morning person at all when I’m home. But whether it’s jetlag or excitement, or a bit of both, I’m always up at the crack of dawn when I travel. It’s common for me to be up by 5am, ready by 6am, and out on a morning walk while everyone in town is still asleep. This would never, ever happen back home in Kuala Lumpur!

(Photos courtesy of Soraya Kee)Taking a dip at Wadi Shab, Oman(L);
zipping around on an e-bike to visit the temples of Bagan, Myanmar

Holidays are often peppered with funny/interesting/embarrassing/memorable episodes. Share with us ONE such memory – something you still talk about to this day with a glint in your eye.
Soraya: I was on a night train in Armenia, travelling to Georgia. The train stopped at Georgian border control in the middle of the night and immigration officers went through the train checking everyone’s passports. They singled me out, ordered me to disembark and follow them to their office. I wondered why I was the only one they summoned, and panicked, thinking I had been accused of some sort of crime.

In the office I was interrogated briefly by a whole pack of stern officers. Eventually they asked me what I did for a living. I told them I was a radio deejay and suddenly all their eyes lit up and they started talking excitedly in Georgian. One pointed to his colleague and said, “This one – music boy!”, and they all laughed and sent me back to the train. To this day, I have no idea what he meant by “music boy”, but I’ve always been amused by their complete switch from being these gruff, unapproachable guys, to a bunch of goofballs.

Are you an adventurous foodie? Please share with us some of your most memorable culinary experiences.

Crunchy scorpions anyone?

Soraya: I love trying new food and some of my more adventurous meals were a scorpion in Cambodia, and alligator in New Orleans. I once took a bus in Tanzania that stopped at a rest stop, where some mystery meat was being grilled. Nobody would answer me when I asked what meat it was, but I ate it anyway (and it was delicious!). A taxi driver in Georgia brought a bottle of some homemade wine out of his glove compartment and I tried some out of a drinking horn that he just so happened to have with him, which in retrospect was a pretty risky thing to do.

Bizarre culinary adventures aside, it’s hard to choose my favourite meals. But if I had to narrow it down, some of the most unforgettable breakfasts were idiyappam in Sri Lanka with tangy coconut sambol on the side, elaborate breakfast spreads in Japanese ryokans, and steaming hot mohinga served up at a street stall in Myanmar.

I also loved lunching on a houseboat in India … sampling some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever had in Greece. And I’m convinced that every foodie has to make a pilgrimage to the Djemaa el Fnaa in Morocco at some point in their lifetime!

Djemaa el Fnaa in Morocco

What services and facilities do you find most appealing at KLIA or klia2?
Soraya: I think klia2’s range of dining options is great – I’ve had friends who are quite happy to give me a lift to the airport when I’m leaving on a trip because they actually like hanging out there!

The KLIA Express/Transit has also been very helpful, and the Skybus is one of the cheapest and most convenient ways for me to travel to/from the airport.

Do you have any pre-boarding rituals?
Soraya: I download my favourite podcasts to listen to on the plane, especially when I know there isn’t going to be a wide variety of in-flight entertainment.

How do you handle flight delays?
Soraya: Unless I urgently need to be somewhere by a certain time, I’m generally not too fussed when my flight is delayed.

How do you keep yourself occupied on long layovers?
Soraya: This reminds me of the worst long layover I’ve ever had, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I sat for 12 hours staring at what seemed to be the only two F&B options in the entire airport – a doughnut shop and an ice-cream shop. I somehow survived that by listening to podcasts, taking many walks, and fashioning a makeshift bed on the very uncomfortable seats! That said, I also think layovers can be very useful for catching up on reading and on journal entries.

* Photos © iStock by Getty Images (unless specified otherwise)

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