Olivia Choong - Off-grid Living

This segment of 'The Pause Life' takes us to a 'nature spirit', Olivia Choong. In her quest to lead a double life as a country and city girl (from the concrete jungle of Singapore) with aims to live off grid eventually, we are intrigued and needed to chat with her whilst she is on the grid. Olivia is a passionate individual who has spearheaded initiatives in the South East Asian region where she brings conversations on sustainability, environmental issues and a conscious lifestyle. From Green Drinks, Saferskin campaign to now a personal journey to self-sufficiency, we wanted to know more about how she lives this low impact lifestyle and self-sufficient practices in Singapore and beyond.

Olivia, what is intention and motivation of living off grid eventually?
I wish to move to the countryside, possibly overseas, where I can lead a self-sufficient life and live with the rhythms of nature. The goal and intention to do so is to have a gentler, simpler and healthier existence on the earth and is wholly responsible for what I consume and dispose of.

We like to think that living off the grid in a digitally connected yet so disconnected world seems like a better deal. What are some of the things you think might be the greener grass on the other side?
While there are many conveniences available in cities, I feel more at home in the countryside. There's a different energy in the country, the air is cleaner, being surrounded by nature and wildlife, able to grow my own food and the nights are very quiet! It's also nice to live amidst a like-minded group of people, where every dollar spent goes to building that community.

Speaking on grass, you lead The Tender Gardener. Gardening is a profession that one wouldn't think of in a city like Singapore. Why gardening?
Have you heard, plant lady is the new cat lady? :P As a city in a garden, Singapore is the perfect place to have lots of gardeners.The plant world is a fascinating one, there is such a wide variety of ornamental plants, medicinal plants, and edible plants to familiarise ourselves with, and the gardeners that love them have interesting stories to tell too.  There is a growing number of hobby gardeners and urban farmers who find joy in gardening and farming, and do so for reasons of beauty appreciation, to slow down, create something with our hands and/or go into another world entirely.

We like the association of nature to our wellbeing. Nature is patient and powerful. How would you describe your state of being using nature as parallels?
Nature is a great teacher and reminds me that when there is balance in the ecosystem, everything thrives - just like our bodies. Nature also reminds me to slow down, everything will come together in time. One saying that often comes to mind is, we reap what we sow, whatever goodness we put in, we will most certainly get out.

Studies show the tremendous benefit of gardening for one's mental health. Have you experienced such benefits in all areas of being?
Gardening is especially therapeutic for me and a meditative experience. I can get lost in my thoughts when tending to my edible and ornamental plants, and often, ideas or thoughts float to my conscious mind, which I can then act on. Also, nature and insects are beautiful to observe and relaxes me immensely.

We enjoy knowing your journey in learning about self-sufficiency and sustainable living (from Japan to Australia). What and why did you decide to embark on attaining such skills? (please educate  us, we are city snobs that expect all things to be ready at the mall :p)
From my work as an environmental advocate, I learned about off-grid living - self-sufficiency, basically, and how it's good to be self-reliant and resilient, and not add to the burden of city infrastructure. From my travels to Byron Bay and Japan, I have experienced facets of a handmade lifestyle, and this form of slow living appeals to me. My desire to eventually own an off-grid property fuels my hunger to learn more and work towards that goal.

Tell us more on how and what you do for self-sufficiency in the day to day. How can one start to be self-sufficient and add sustainability to their way of life?
The best thing we can do as individuals for the planet is to use and buy only what we need - without being preachy about it. Through doing that, other people will be inspired and persuaded to do the same. Consider borrowing from others where possible, and when we do purchase anything, try to buy local or close to local as you can, and second hand if applicable. Recycle what we cannot reuse. These are some things that people do when walking the path of a zero waste lifestyle and feed into a self-sufficient way of living. 

To become self-sufficient, it helps to have certain maker skills, like sewing, growing one's own food, carpentry, electrical repair etc.To lead a more self sufficient life, I grow some of my own food, I have a beehive but the focus hasn't been on making honey, in their heyday my hens laid eggs but are now barren, I harvest rainwater for my plants to reduce reliance on tap water, and compost my vegetable and fruit waste in a worm bin and get worm castings and leachate which I can use on my plants.

It was during my time spent in Byron Bay (around 1.5 years in 4 years) living in the rainforest where I had my closest brush with self-sufficiency. Water was piped from the creek, I grew some of my own food, composted our fruit and vegetable waste, much warmth was provided by wood on the property, and the cabin had solar hot water, energy was still from the grid so it wasn't a fully self-sufficient residence but close! I also took some self-sufficiency related courses such as natural building, beekeeping, woodworking and permaculture.

Do you agree that living well in the modern world is more than just financial abundance, social success, but also the connection of one with themselves? Was there a point in your life that you felt you lost that connection with self?
For much of my life, I felt there was a void in my life, and that there was something more to being human. When I was 12, I began contemplating the meaning of life and questioning why life seemed to have a rigid path of studying, joining the rat race, raising a family, retiring and dying. Like many others, I went to work and didn't think there was anything beyond that until I hit rock bottom around 9 years ago. I then began soul searching and doing a lot of meditation and seeking counselling and emotional healing. Through that self-connection, and getting to know myself better, I began feeling emotionally fulfilled and am now a much happier person.

3 things you should grow in the home: Ginger, mint, pandan
Best plant for natural remedies: Indian borage is great for those who suffer from occasional sore throats, make a tea with its leaves
Gardening hacks: Trim herbs to encourage bushier growth
I thank mother nature: by growing plants with natural inputs
I stop: worrying about life when I step into any garden
A conscious life is: one which requires looking inwards and reflecting on how we can be the best version of ourselves
I #pauseforwellness: by observing and smelling flowers

Words: PAUSE / Ferina Natasya Aziz
Photos:Little Red Ants Studio