There is something about Berkeley.

There is something about this little city.

I remember feeling slightly dreadful when I arrived here late at night a few months ago, jet lagged from my long plane ride from Denmark. In the dark, the place did not look like much – the sparsely-lit streets looked depressing and unfamiliar; the shadows of the houses looked rather creepy and I wonder if I had just moved from a small Danish city to an even smaller town. I started questioning, as I always do, what in the world I had gotten myself into.

The next day, however, draped in the famous Californian sunshine, Berkeley became beautiful. The Victorian houses turned charming, the campus buzzing with life, the streets outside quiet and peaceful, the green trees a nice change from the leafless ones that I got used to during the Danish winter.

I fell in love with the place from the very first fiery sunset.

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And then one day I walked past an Indonesian restaurant. I did not realise it until then, but I was missing home and felt a surge of relief and excitement at the sight of the place. When I finally went there with a friend that I was (and still am in many ways) very fond of, and spoke a few words of Indonesian to the waiter, I immediately felt at home.

Sunshine, a trusted friend, and excellent food – life could not have been better.

If only I had found a place to live. I came here only equipped with two days of Airbnb room booking. On the second night, I woke up at 4 AM (partly because of jet lag but mostly because of the panic of not having a roof for the next few months yet), and started firing emails to every single Craigslist listing that I saw (that I could afford). By some stroke of luck, I found a place in a beautiful house, for a reasonable price, and with the most wonderful, fun-loving and caring roommates I could ask for.

Life in Berkeley was finally in order.

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Then the heavy rain came, something that apparently California had not seen in many years. I was never one affected by the weather, but I was alone, away from my friend (who had been excellent in showing me directions) for the first time after days, and I was stuck in the middle of the campus, lost, my umbrella barely keeping me dry. I suddenly felt miserable and realised for the first time that I was in this all by myself and did not have the luxury of my friends in Denmark who wouldn’t let me out of their sight when something bad happened to me. I started questioning, again, what in the world had I gotten myself into in this miserable city.

Continue reading “There is something about Berkeley.”

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Visiting the ‘rival’, Stanford.

One of my favourite songs of all time is “I’m not that girl” from the hit musical Wicked. It is probably the most depressing song of the whole play, but one that I could definitely relate to during one period in my life, when I did not like myself for being this awkward person and not the conventional pretty girly girl that guys like.

One line of the song particularly hits home with me.

Don’t wish, don’t start
Wishing only wounds the heart
I wasn’t born for the rose and pearls

But don’t worry, I am not about to launch into a sappy story about my love life. The reason why I’m telling you this is because I was reminded of the very line of this song when I visited Stanford a few weeks back.

Before coming to Berkeley, Stanford was just the name that I had heard being thrown around by very smart people around me. My super smart junior high school crush graduated from Stanford a couple of years back, my colleague-turned-friend went there after quitting his job. I didn’t have any idea where Stanford was, nor did I care to find out – the elite air around the name suggested that the place was somewhere too remote and had long ago been filed in my brain under the category of “unreachable places I will never go” (said the girl who had travelled all the way to the Arctic to see the Northern Lights).

Life, though, has a funny way of working itself. I somehow ended up visiting Stanford not because I was particularly eager to see the place, but because my friend, who lives in South Bay, and I were trying to find a hiking trail that would be accessible for both of us. Stanford Satellite Dish Trail seemed to be the best place for us to go that weekend, and my friend then of course very kindly requested her friend to bring us around to see the campus.

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Grand Canyon camping and hiking, for dummies.

If any of you have read my ‘about me‘ page, you would agree that I could be considered as one of the worst kind of travellers, and certainly not someone you want to get stuck travelling with.

But time and again, as I mentioned, people do get tricked into travelling with me. This time round, it was 3 of my now friends that I got to know here in Berkeley who had to feel the brunt of travelling to the Grand Canyon with me.

And unlike most other trips where my annoying sides are only showing once I’m already on the road, I was already being quite a pain right through the planning stage for this trip.

I basically went into a panic episode when I found out that I would be sleeping in a tent in the freezing cold. I contemplated (out loud to my travel mates whom I barely knew at that point) about pulling out from the trip because I didn’t want to die in the cold I didn’t have any experience in winter camping. And in the process, I might have made one of my travel mates freak out a little too.

But before you discount me completely, this is the part that I’m always proud of myself. My love for travelling is often great enough to conquer my fears. So before completely deciding to bail out from the trip, I decided to go on a research rampage, finding out as much as possible about winter camping and hiking at the Grand Canyon.

How cold does it get?

Will you die sleeping outside in subzero temperature?

Are there any animals?

Can I hike in Grand Canyon without hiking shoes?

How steep are the trails?

But the real question that I was trying to answer was: Would someone like me – a beginner (and somewhat unfit) outdoor traveller, who has no skills in camping, lighting up a portable stove let alone cooking on it, setting up a tent, blowing up sleeping pad,… the list goes on (I did not tell them these. They found out on their own pretty quickly the moment we arrived at the camp site.) – be able to survive a three-day two-night camping trip and hiking at the Grand Canyon?

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On being constantly on the move.

Almost exactly a year ago, I made the decision to uproot myself from Singapore and move all the way up north to Denmark. I remember it was during the Easter holidays that I had a long conversation with my parents about quitting my somewhat decent-paying job and pursue something completely different (and one that is potentially not going to pay me very well).

It has definitely been one of the best decisions in my life.

I have learned a lot of new things, become a little street-wiser (although I know someone who thinks I still have a looong way to go, to the extent that I need to live on the streets in Nairobi before I can even be somewhat decent. Yep, he is brutally honest, but we are also still friends, which probably means that I agree with him), travelled to some amazing places in Europe, seen the Northern Lights and lived in two new cities (so far).

But it has also been one of the most confusing situations that I have got myself into.

I have been having a lot of difficulty in updating what’s been happening in my life on this blog. Whenever I sit in front of my computer, I simply do not know what to write. Not because nothing has been happening and that I have very few things to update. In fact, I have a whole Airbus-sized-cabin to update, but I just can’t find a way to do so.

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The A380 that brought me here.

At first I couldn’t quite place why this is the case, but these days I have come to realise that the reason I have been having some writer’s block about my own life is because things have been happening so fast that nothing has properly sunk in on me yet. I left Singapore, my home for nine years, last September, tried to settle into my new home Aarhus, only to find out a month later that my supposedly one-year stay would be cut short to mere 6 months because I got this incredible opportunity to finish my first year of Master’s at UC Berkeley. So within a span of half a year, I have had to move across three different countries in three different continents.

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Hello, from Berkeley.

 

Hello, it’s me
I was wondering if after all these weeks you’d like to hear
What I’m up to in USA
They say Cal’s supposed to be sunny
But all I see is rain here

Hello, can you hear me?
I’m in California studying at UC Berkeley
But don’t you worry ‘bout me
I’m still moving to London before I graduate next year

There’s a time difference between us
And a million miles

Hello from the other side
I must have moved a thousand times
From Indo to SG and then to Denmark
For a whole year I never seem to be home

Hello from the outside
At least I can still send Whatsapp
To tell you my dear friends that I’m missing you
And you still matter to me though I don’t see you often anymore

Hello, how are you?
It’s so typical of me to talk about myself I’m sorry
I hope that you’re well
I did at last make it out of Aarhus where nothing ever happened

It’s no secret that the both of us
Can’t wait to leave the place

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Header of the Month: Alaska in Summer.

Denali National Park, Alaska.

Alaska

I have always thought that our planet is a beautiful place. But I have never really comprehended nor imagined how beautiful it can be before visiting Alaska in 2012. It was my first time travelling for nature – previously it has always been for a mix of historic sites and culture plus a bit of nature but never was the entire trip dedicated to immerse myself in nature, from the landscape to the animals that depend on it.

When my dad first sounded the idea that we should visit Alaska, I looked at him incredulously. Mainly because I mistakenly thought that Alaska and Antarctica were the same thing (and I found out later on that a lot of people had this misconception). How on earth were we supposed to get there? And what is there to do besides looking at vast expanse of nothing but white?

This is the part where I’m glad that I’m such a dutiful daughter that despite thinking the idea was out of this world, I still went ahead and did some research. Of course, the first thing that I found out was that Alaska was NOT the same as Antarctica (how did I even make the connection?). I mean it was still cold, but summer seemed manageable and even pleasant. Secondly, it was not that hard to get to Alaska. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is well connected to other parts of the States and Canada. Alternatively you could take a 8-day cruise to and from Vancouver or Seattle. Which was what we did – we booked an 8-day Royal Caribbean Cruise from Anchorage to Vancouver and before the cruise we drove about 300 km to Denali National Park.

As it turned out, there is so much more to Alaska than the coldness it seems to have a reputation of. Here are my favourite moments in Alaska that hopefully will inspire you to get visiting next summer.

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A child’s trip to Liberty Island.

I love looking at old travel pictures. Besides bringing back so many wonderful memories, they give me the reassurance that I have indeed grown up over the past few years, albeit very slightly.

My visit to the Statue of Liberty was testimony of this. Since the conversation about New York City has come up a few times recently, I decided to look through pictures from my very first visit to New York and the United States back in 2009. And boy, I know people have often called me childish, but if they had seen how I behaved back then, they would probably think I am a proper mature adult now.

The visit started normally enough. We made our way from Wall Street to Battery Park Ferry Terminal rather uneventfully, except for some cheeky stranger who deliberately told us to take the wrong Subway line and me pretending that the clouds were speech bubbles.

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And off we went to Liberty Island, leaving Manhattan behind us.

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