A crazy long year that was 2016.

I used to measure my year by the number of countries I visited. Travelling has been such an integral part of my life – it is largely how I spent growing up into almost-adulthood since I was 20. The swift movement of packing, catching the planes and trains (or missing them) and exploring new sights while getting helplessly lost have in themselves been valuable lessons and shaped very much who I am today.

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I figure out life just like how I travel: looking perpetually lost.

This time round, however, counting the number of countries I visited seems to be somewhat… superficial.

I get a severe writer’s block every time I try summing up what last year has been for me. Often times, 2016 felt like a giant piece of blanket, made of patches of different cloths randomly sewn together, each piece as distinct as it is colourful. Way too often, the parts felt like it would give way any time, the thread holding them coming loose, but somehow it worked out, the fabric all stitched up somewhat nicely in the end.

(And you can tell that I am excellent at analogies. Not.)

Last year was my craziest so far, and by far. I lived in three different countries within a year, and did some extensive travelling in between. Most of my friends never quite knew where I was, and to be honest, sometimes I didn’t really know either.

I know that people say the older you get, the faster time flies. But I think I have found the recipe to slow down the time. You just need to have things keeping you constantly on your toes, so much so that it keeps you awake at night sometimes.

For me, trying to keep half-watch on what I own has been keeping me on my toes. I needed to make sure that by the end of every few months, I could still cram everything into my suitcases, ready to hurl them to the other side of the world. Being the hoarder and over-packing person that I am, it was a challenge in its own right.

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I have had 100% success rate so far packing all these into suitcases.

Not to mention that it was the first full year that I was jobless in a long time – the fact that I didn’t have a steady stream of income was hitting me hard. I had to think hard for a lot of purchases that I used to take for granted, although on hindsight, it did keep my possessions in check, hence helping me to be less of a hoarder.

Continue reading “A crazy long year that was 2016.”

The best of 2016.

A look back at some of my most popular posts in 2016.

Until yesterday, I was without both my camera and laptop for three long days. I had to send them both for some TLC, and I regret to announce that only one of them came back to me.

My camera, that I often affectionately refer to as my baby, went through some sensor cleaning and is now back with me safely. Considering I never left my flat without it for the past one year or so, having it taken away from me for full seventy two hours did give me some separation anxiety.

My laptop, however, suffered from a much more unfortunate fate. I will let the picture below speak of what had happened.

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And of course it went beyond repair one day before a big deadline.

The cost of repairing it would almost be equivalent to buying a new one, so after fighting furiously for its life, I had to make one of the most difficult electronic decisions in my life: I had to let it go.

You may find me weird for having such a strong attachment to a piece of technology (let alone sharing my sentiments for the whole world to read), but that laptop has gone through so much with me.

It was one of the main reasons for the birth of this blog. I typed every single post (129 of them to be exact) of this so-called travel blog on that laptop – it practically gave me back my flair for writing. My mediocre pictures appeared twice as sharp and brilliant thanks to its screen resolution that was way ahead its time. It travelled with me to all the different countries that I have been to since the end of 2013 (there were a lot of them).

So it does feel extremely weird that I am now writing this very post on a new laptop that I had just purchased in a rush to fill in the gaps so I can continue applying for jobs during my winter break. For one I kept touching my screen to try and scroll down since my previous laptop came with that function (I was spoilt I know).

But in the words of G.K. Adams that I recently came across in the book “After You” by Jojo Moyes:

Sometimes in order to keep moving forward, not only must you take one step at a time, but you must be willing to look back occasionally and evaluate your past, no matter how painful it is.

As a tribute to the enabler of this blog, I have decided to use this post to look back at some of my most popular posts in 2016, all of them came to life thanks to my now defunct Lenovo Yoga Pro 2.

Continue reading “The best of 2016.”

London Christmas sparkle, 2016.

Happy Christmas everyone! 🙂

While I am very grateful for my part-time job here in London, I often complained that being confined in Camden Market for 7 hours a day for the greater part of December meant that I completely missed out on the Christmas atmosphere that has been going on all over the city.

Before I knew it, the last month of this year has flown by – it’s Christmas Eve and it is time for me to pack for my trip back home.

As I was backing up my pictures to my hard drive and looked through some of the photos that I took over the past few weeks, I realised that I have actually visited a number of Christmas-themed landmarks in the city.

The good thing about London is that it is crazy about Christmas. The festivity has started since early November, practically right after Halloween. While some people including me find it slightly off seeing Christmas baubles being sold everywhere so early, it actually came as a saving grace this time round since that meant that I still managed to enjoy some of the beautiful Christmas lights sprinkled throughout the city.

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Although I do have to admit, sometimes London did take the whole Christmas thing a bit too far. They had a full-blown event for the Oxford Street Christmas light-up, which was basically when tourists flooded the street – I am ashamed to admit that I was one of them –  in the rain and freezing cold waiting for two hours for Craig David to flick a switch, with a prelude by some substandard band blasting their songs through crappy sound systems.

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Also, special appearance by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

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But other than that, the rest of the Christmas atmosphere was wonderful.

The alleyways right next to the busy Oxford Street was very charming for example.

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Continue reading “London Christmas sparkle, 2016.”

Whale watching in Tromsø, one year ago.

I just met a good friend for dinner, and we realised something.

The last time we met more than a year ago, life could not have been more different for both of us. Especially for her.

The last time we saw each other was in October last year in Copenhagen. At the time, I was wide-eyed with fascination after moving 10,000 km up north, while she had felt trapped living in Singapore and wanted to move somewhere else. That was what compelled her to go on a solo trip to Europe, and I was lucky enough to have her visit me while I was still studying in Denmark.

Fast forward a year later, she is living half a world away in San Francisco, a whole new world of opportunities right in front of her. While what brought her there might not be a job like how she had planned, she did break free in the end and is in the midst of her own kind of adventures.

Whereas for me, I am situated slightly less up north than last year. While I knew that I had signed up for a life of uncertainties when I decided to drop everything back home and enroll into my Master’s programme, it still did not prepare me for just how different and unexpected things could be in a year’s time.

Exactly this day last year, my sister would be arriving at the Central Station in Aarhus and we were about to embark on an exciting adventure in Norway. I would have broken down the night before because my computer had crashed 10 minutes before my exam deadline, forcing me to submit an incomplete paper without the bibliography. I would have feared that I might get expelled for accidental plagiarism and might have called my programme coordinator crying and begging her to still allow me to go to Berkeley even if I were to fail that exam (I passed). I would also have barely recovered from the shock of having my room broken into in the midst of my exam period.

This year, I am having a quiet night in my cosy room in London (theft-free, hopefully) on a Saturday, my legs sore from standing for 7 hours a day for the past 5 days working in a shop in Camden Market. Instead of going further up north for my winter break, I am flying home to see my family and friends again after having been away for only 4 months.

And as I am sitting on my bed overlooking the misty night pondering about this, I realised something else about myself.

That I truly am a procastinator.

It has been exactly a year ago since I went to Tromsø. Whilst I did manage to scrape something up about my successful Northern Lights chase, I have completely ignored writing about another major nature wonder that we did in the lovely city (and had spent equally a lot of money on): the whale watching.

Being a great travel planner that I am, I did not even know that whale watching is a highly recommended activity in Tromsø. It was not until a random guy who came to teach us fishing in the freezing cold on our first night there told us about it that we came to know about such expeditions.

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The said random Norwegian fishing guy.

At first we brushed the idea aside as some kind of tours that tourists get cheated into. However, when we failed to see the Northern Lights on our first attempt, my sister and I resolved that we would not leave Tromsø until we saw something else other than some snow and the all-day darkness.

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Okay and maybe the pretty city lights.

Continue reading “Whale watching in Tromsø, one year ago.”

The Wallace Collection at Hertford House, London.

A beautiful, non-touristy art gallery at the heart of the scarily touristy Oxford Street.

When a Londoner friend once told me that he would avoid Oxford Street at all cost, I remember looking at him slightly perplexed.

I was a tourist then, and while I wouldn’t describe Oxford Street as my favourite place in London, I didn’t detest it. After all, the area is practically a one-stop shop/street of every brand imaginable. Whenever I travelled to London, I could delay all my shopping until the last minute (as I do with everything else in life) and just head there to buy everything that I don’t need and shop for souvenirs for friends.

But now that I have lived in the city for two months, I began to understand why Londoners have such negative sentiments towards Oxford Street. The place is always overcrowded, big brands seem to be haphazardly put next to each other and in between them tacky cafes try to rip you off with their substandard food – a tourist trap in short, which is why you can hardly find a single local person shopping there.

Perhaps it is some kind of a rite of passage for living in London, but I find myself disliking Oxford Street more with every visit (plus it always rained whenever I was there).

But in the midst of this chaos, there is a gem hidden just 5-minute walk away from the main street. At Manchester Square stood the Hertford House, a beautiful mansion which houses the national museum for the Wallace Collection, an art collection by the Wallace family.

The art collectors of the Wallace family consist of four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. I don’t mean this to be rude, but after visiting the museum, I concluded that art collectors are practically hoarders with a lot of money.

(I hoard things too, but I don’t have that much money. You should have seen the thrash that I accumulated when I was moving house.)

These five guys, for example, have accumulated a whole mansion of art, paintings, sculpture, china, armoury, arms and everything else you can think of that can be classified as art work. It was only when Richard Wallace had the sense to realise that their family’s collection could be a museum that he decided to work on leaving the collections to the Nation. The administrative process was so long that after he died, his widow Lady Wallace had to finish off the job and eventually made ‘the single biggest bequest of art treasures to a Nation.’

My friend and I visited the place spontaneously on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and it was quiet, a stark contrast to the bustle and elbowing at Oxford Street. It was as if I was magically transported to a different era of civilisation, to the time when women’s fashion was about covering your body with as many layers as possible and there were literal knights in shining armour.

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Or your idea of a pet is a lion and you just casually trimming its claws while exposing your breast.

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Continue reading “The Wallace Collection at Hertford House, London.”

Guy Fawkes Night from Primrose Hill, London.

Remember, remember, the 5th of November.

It hasn’t been an easy week, one marred with lingering uncertainties, crushing self-doubt and sinking disappointment of an invitation that never came. The cold wind and autumn rain have crept in through the colourful fallen leaves. On top of these, I fell ill right at start of the week, which had not helped to lighten my mood.

It has been such a crappy week that my lovely flat mate decided that we needed this for dinner last Friday.

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Don’t even ask why we were stuffing fat into our body at home on a Friday night instead of going out like normal young people do.

In our defence, I did feel instantly better after the first bite of our dinner. The crispy tortilla chip/crisp covered in greasy cheese dipped into guacamole was exactly what I would call the recipe for the perfect comfort food.

But then I started eating too much and not long after, I fell into a state of stupor and increasing regret that all the sugar-free days and exercises I did for the past week just went down the clogged artery drain.

In summary, it has indeed been an emotional roller-coaster of a week, although admittedly some of the miseries were self-inflicted.

Good thing I have Primrose Hill at my backyard that I could simply take a walk to and clear my head (while desperately try to increase my metabolism rate after the said food). It is such an understated luxury to live within walking distance to one of the best places where you can get a vantage view of London.

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Continue reading “Guy Fawkes Night from Primrose Hill, London.”

Strolling along South Bank, London.

My favourite walk in London.

When I like something, I have the habit of going back for it many times it’s borderline ridiculous.

I have visited Copenhagen, London and Stockholm countless times, when I could have spent my money and time exploring new cities and countries. I always went for the same super spicy noodle at the same small Thai restaurant in Berkeley. I go for the same hoisin duck wrap every time I visit any Pret-A-Manger chain for lunch. I would have gone for the same chocolate chunk cookies too every time I’m there, but they always tend to run out of that particular flavour it breaks my heart.

And there is something else that I realised recently have made it to the list of things I will never get tired of doing: strolling along the River Thames at South Bank.

I have seriously lost count on how many times I have done the walk over the past few times I have been in London. It is very touristy, yes, but somehow the charm is never lost even when thousands of other people are flocking the place at the same time.

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For those of you not in the know, South Bank is a riverside walkway that stretches along the south side of the River Thames. It is London’s biggest cultural hub where you can walk through it while getting a magnificent view of many of London’s world-famous landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament.

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Previously, I have always visited the South Bank from Waterloo station, starting from the most touristy bit where the London Eye is and down towards Blackfriars Bridge. But due to London’s infamous tube suspension last Tuesday, I was forced to go to South Bank through a different route, starting from London Bridge and walking towards Waterloo Station. I have to clarify that I did not discover this route by myself, but I was lucky to be in the company of someone with a much better sense of direction than me.

I like the new route so much that I decided to retrace it last night. Also, because I was too stuffed from a Diwali dinner that I just had to take a post-dinner walk to prevent myself from exploding.

It was only when I started walking down the route that I realised how much detail I had missed because I was so absorbed in the conversation that I was having the first time I was there.

I vaguely remember this, but I did not realise it was so beautifully gothic.

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But I completely did not realise that I walked past this LED tunnel.

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Just around the corner from there, the magnificent river view started for about 2 miles.

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Continue reading “Strolling along South Bank, London.”