Yeouido Hangang Park, December 2017.

You’re not alone in the winter. You are never alone. When you need help, someone is always just a phone call away.

Trust that person.

Remember that there is someone out there who loves you more than you love yourself. Even when you feel like giving up, someone is there to encourage you, to push you, to be the support you need. You don’t have to stand up alone. You can stand up with the support around you.

I wish you knew that earlier, Jonghyun. I wish you could have seen that. But you fought a good fight, and you tried your best. It may not have been the best decision, but you have made your choice, and I hope you find some peace in the choice you made.

May you rest in peace.


Ikea Museum actually exists.

So everyone knows what Ikea is. It’s that famous furniture store worldwide. But if you want a bit more information on them, or some products with colours that are not typically blue or yellow, then Ikea Museum is the place to go.

Not only did Ikea Museum have products with colours such as green, black, orange, and more, they also had special food items on the menu, such as salmon meatballs. Yes, salmon meatballs. I loved them so much I regret not buying the frozen packet at the Ikea there. There’s none in my town or anywhere else.

Ikea Museum is situated in a tiny town called Älmhult in south Sweden. The town has about 8000 inhabitants and it’s characterized by Ikea. ALL the Ikea factories, offices, warehouses, museums, stores, hotels and bargain stores are there. At least one-third of the people in the town work for Ikea. It’s an Ikea monopoly, to put it simply.

So yes, Ikea has an Ikea Hotell and a bargain store, at which I found really cheap items. Really cheap in Sweden, that is. And cheaper than all the products they usually sell.

It was like Ikea was the government of the town. Pretty unbelievable, I must say. I expect Billund in Denmark to be monopolized by Lego as well. After all, these are the places where these world-famous companies were born.  I even read somewhere that Swedish people trust Ikea more than they trust a religion.

It was really desolate for a Saturday when my friend and I went. We took a train there and it felt like I was walking in a chilly ghost town. Not a soul was in sight in the half an hour walk through town. It was just my friend and I battling the snow and the wind.

No one was at the Ikea Hotel either. The counter was empty and the whole Ikea place was quiet. Of course, no one was working on a Saturday, but I imagined that there would at least be people in a hotel. I’ve never seen such an empty hotel and town before.

At the Ikea Museum, I saw the set where they shot 2017’s magazine cover. There’s absolutely no window or daylight as you would have seen in their cover photo.

Image from the Internet

They allow tourists to take their own photos at the set. You’re able to produce your own personalized catalogue cover with you inside. There’s already a camera and a printer set up on the set so you can get your photos right away. Of course I took mine as well.

It was a quirky trip – from interesting designs and ideas from Ikea, to having cheap thrills of finding special products, food and cheap bargains. Also, the town bus was free. Can you imagine? Free of charge to take whenever. We were really amazed.

And to end off, here’s a short vlog I put together showcasing some of the things I saw at the museum. Enjoy!

There are firsts for everything and I took the first bold step I needed to venture out. As the title goes, I went for my first solo trip. There are two places that I’ve gone to alone so far, but I will cover them in different posts.

This post will be on the very first day trip I took to Linköping in Sweden. You might not even have heard of it before so it’s okay. And people ask, why Linköping? That little town is just like the small town I’m in now and there’s nothing much to do. It’s not big or special. Why so random? Why Linköping?

I’m not that random when it comes to spending money. There’s a reason I chose Linköping. Have you heard or read the Malin Fors series? It’s a series of books under the crime genre, written by Mons Kallentoft. It follows the female detective Malin Fors as she solves cases against time as well as battles with her own issues. It’s a Swedish crime novel that I happened to pick up off the shelves a few years ago in Singapore, and the rest is history. I became hooked and I’ve read all the books in the series. There’s another book that’s yet to be translated into English, so I’m waiting for that.

And yes, you guessed it – the book’s setting is in Linköping.

So of course I had to see the actual place for myself. It’s my favourite book series and I couldn’t miss out on seeing the actual place for myself when I’m so near it. Since nobody else was interested in Linköping I set off on a solo trip on 10 February, 2017.

At first, I was scared and excited all at the same time – filled with trepidation because it hit me that I was all on my own and nobody really knew that I was going on a day trip, and exhilaration because I was finally being free and doing something I really wanted to do. I felt independent and empowered. There was a rough plan ahead, and I make all the decisions. It was a self-discovery process.

My first stop: the Trädgårdsförening Gardens. In the book series, it’s known as the Horticultural Society Park.

This place was massive. I didn’t know a city park was this big. The kind of parks I imagined in my mind were the small, can-look-over-the-whole-park-from-one-point kind of open-air park that you can find in Singapore. I thought that it was a small park for me to see.

I was not expecting such a big park with fields of snow, streams, hills and bridges. That day happened to be particularly snowy and the entire park was just white and cold. Also not the kind of park I imagined because in Singapore, it’s all green.

I spent an hour or two there. I simply wandered through the thick snow and watched a few people push their babies slowly, enjoying the little sunshine available during the day. The playground was empty and void of kids screaming and running around. It was such a tranquil place.

But the second stop I went to was even more peaceful. Gamla Stan Linköping is basically Linköping Old Town, where the buildings are old and preserved. It’s also known as Linköping Open-Air Museum. They have it in Stockholm as well, which also visited.

It was quaint, quiet and beautiful. When I went there in the afternoon it was snowing really heavily and I was the lone soul trudging in thick snow and freezing my fingers taking photos. Most people were indoors because these houses had shops, cafes and people in it. I imagine that a lot of people enjoy this place in summer, but since it was a bitterly cold and snowy day, there were few people to be seen. I was pretty much left all alone and to my own devices, which included finding my way around and keeping track of time.

The museum was beside some woods, and a short walk through that would lead you to a farm, which is part of the open-air museum as well. This was my favourite part of my trip.

It took my breath away. Upon emerging from the woods I faced a field so vast it stretched beyond my line of sight and seemed to disappear into more trees and snow. The sky and the snow were the same colour. So far and empty was this field that I simply wanted to walk towards it and walk on and on and on.

Beyond those trees in the picture are more fields and snow. 

I saw a small boy no older than six years old tend to a few goats on the farm. He was alone with three to four goats who pranced around him and simply walked around. I wonder where everyone went. It was like a ghost town.

Train tracks that were no longer used and covered in snow; fences that did not protect or keep in (or out) anything or anyone, abandoned playgrounds and houses, and a road that led on and on till God knows where. I couldn’t finish walking that road because I had to go back and catch my bus, but my curiosity was piqued. I followed it as far as I could. Who knows what amazing place I could have discovered?

Yes, I’m currently in Sweden for a six month exchange at Jönköping University. I’m into my third week here and it feels like a long time has passed. Even though the days pass quickly because of about 7 hours of sunlight, it feels like I’ve been here a long, long, time. And that I’m ready to go home.

But alas, I’m not even a month into exchange so I’m not going home anytime soon. I’m happy to report that I’m not homesick yet – I’m happy living here alone and I’m happy taking in so many new and interesting things. I’ve never felt so free before – to be able to plan everything on my own, to account for everything myself (of course, to my dad back home as well), and to live the way I choose to. Everything here is my choice. If I choose to go to the club, or stay in my spacious room, it’s all up to me with no one to tell me what I should do. I’m discovering a lot about myself and my values here and I’m very excited to know what kind of person I am and how I motivate myself.

Jönköping has been an amazing quaint little town. It’s located at the southern tip of Lake Vättern and as I always tell other exchange students, you could fit two Singapores into Lake Vättern. That’s how big (or rather, long) this country is. When the professor said that Sweden is a small country, I had to scoff. 

Admittedly, Sweden is far longer than I’ve ever been able to imagine or estimate. Abisko is in northern Sweden and it takes more than a day to go there by train. The distance to northern Sweden is as far (or maybe even further) than the distance directly down south to Italy. It’s really, really big. 

This country is full of nature. There are forests with pine trees and cones everywhere, and lakes dot the landscape. The air is fresh and cold (save for the areas where people smoke), the skies are really clear, and the pace of life is slower than Singapore. People love the sunshine and come out as much as they can when there is sunlight. After all, the sun rises after 8am and sets by 4pm.

I took a five-hour train down here from Stockholm. Cities rolled by with large distances between them, and from the plane I saw white everywhere – snow covering the roads, landscapes and even the tops of trees. In this subarctic climate the people dress up thickly in puffy winter clothing, but they dress very well. Their makeup is on point even when they’re in school. They dress stylishly and take care of their appearances. It’s really different from how people simply throw on a shirt and shorts in school back home.

I walk everywhere here. It’s either the bus or it’s walking. Strangely, it’s sparse outside – especially on weekends. There are very few people on the streets on weekends, and buses run every half an hour as compared to every ten minutes on weekdays (that’s for bus 1 and 3 here). It’s a stark difference from Singapore, where the malls are crowded and packed with people, and nearly everywhere you’d see people. It’s difficult to have your own personal space in public. Here, personal space is everything.

Last Sunday I went to eat a proper meal at a cheap Swedish restaurant. In Singapore, the staff love to seat people as close to each other as possible, and close off a part of the restaurant. They’d usually lead me to a seat beside someone else, which I have never liked. I like being alone and being far away from people so that no one hears my conversations and I have a lot of space. I’m someone who hates small spaces – I was once claustrophobic.

In Sweden, they sat me as far away from everyone else as possible. You cannot believe how incredibly happy I was. I was happy to be alone, and I noticed how almost every occupied table was in its own bubble, as far away from the next occupied table as possible. It’s their culture here – they like to leave each other alone. They’re not willing to make conversations randomly, but they are friendly people. 

Other parts of their culture include fika, which is the Swedish word for coffee break. They love fika. They will take a break from work or school to have some cinnamon buns and a cup of steaming hot coffee. My lectures are filled with breaks because it is a must. 

Another word I learnt was lagom, which meant something like having everything in balance and in-between. No loud clothing like bright reds, yellows, or greens ridiculously hashed together. They like black because it’s easy to match outfits and it’s not striking. Swedish also are fairly quiet on the streets, and you don’t really hear little children screaming and shouting. When I came here with the Singaporeans, we liked to call each other across quite a distance when someone wandered too far off. A big no-no; we tried to behave and blend in with the Swedes.

I stay at Råslätt, commonly referred to as the hood of Jönköping because many foreigners (immigrants) stay there. There are also three rows of blocks reserved solely for exchange students. I live with a Mexican and a Dutch exchange student in an apartment where we share a bathroom and a kitchen.

Our rooms are huge. It’s unbelievably large for a single person and should be since space isn’t an issue for Sweden. I thought my room was large when I had a big square that’s bigger than my bedroom with three girls staying inside. I have a lot of storage space and empty space in the middle of my room. I could practise dancing in my room more easily than I ever could back home.

But I entered my flatmate’s room and I was blown away. Hers was a large rectangle, as big as two rooms combined back home. For one person. All rooms have a coffee table and a reading chair along with a reading lamp, but she had a huge empty corner with two reading chairs just because there was too much space. She had at least six shelves and cupboards, and her bed was tucked behind two cupboards, almost like a room within a room. She had so much space. I can’t believe how I’ll live if I got that room. (Her rent is higher, of course.)

It’s true; everything in the house is from Ikea. From cupboards to pillows to beds to pans, they’re mostly from Ikea. And Eldorado is another cheap and popular household brand here in Sweden. They have everything from different kinds of foods and cereals to toilet paper and shampoo. To save money, buy their products – they’re pretty worth it. I bought 1kg of sliced cheese from them.

Sweden is expensive, so eat at home and cook your own meals. Supermarkets like Netto and Willys are pretty cheap here and everyone buys from them. Swedish also have a bring-food-from-home culture. In school, we have an entire room of at least 12 microwaves for everyone to heat up the lunches they pack to school. It’s very crowded there during lunch. Everyone brings their own food and some will store them in the fridges provided.

They also love salads. They’re healthy people and I was served salad for lunch on my first day at school. They’re big on cheese as well, so the salads were filled with cheese that became too gelat after a while. 

And of course, they exercise. Even in winter people are running outdoors as long as the sun is out.

I went to Stadsparken, a popular park on a hill. It was a chilly day but fortunately it wasn’t snowing. We kept slipping on the rocks though. 

The park was filled with young children and their parents. There was a playground and children were all running around even if they weren’t screaming loud enough to break the tranquility. There were also more than a hundred ducks that were being fed by the kids. It was amusing to watch the ducks because they kept fighting over the food thrown at them and some would steal them and run for their lives. It was entertaining to watch. The white ducks were more aggressive and kept flying around to get the food. And because it was mostly ice on the rocks, the ducks looked like they were ice skating.

It was golden hour then and the place was beautifully lit. I loved the warm glow of the sun against nature and the long shadows and stretched out on the other side of it. The warmth made the park look like a happy place and nothing like the mild winter it was going through. By then, there was barely any snow. The snow only lasted a few days upon my arrival in Sweden, but it quickly warmed up and melted away.

I learnt about many cultures and their stereotypes and I was really intrigued by them.

Yesterday, I had a dutch pancakes party with several exchange students from Holland, Mexico, USA and Australia. We started sharing about our lives back home and it was mind-blowing to see the large differences in different societies and cultures. I became a lot more aware of my own culture after coming here and having to explain what Singapore is to everybody, but I was fascinated by actually knowing how another culture was like, hearing it firsthand from someone from there.

(I’m very glad no one thought Singapore was in China or part of China. I’m glad no one lives under a rock here. Maybe only my Intercultural professor, who said that Singapore was China in class.)

I heard a lot about Mexico, about how corruption is present on all levels, from the government to the businesses and to the citizens. It’s become a way of life. They don’t blink an eye selling the answers to an upcoming examination and people actually buy them. They get into good schools and universities through money and connections. They won’t bat an eyelid running someone down on their horrific streets. That’s why nobody walks or cycles – sometimes they don’t even have pavements for that. Everyone drives. Even public transport isn’t common – apparently only the poorer people who cannot afford a car take public transport. And that becomes a sign of status in society. It’s inevitable.

My flatmate was telling us about their buses being nothing like Sweden’s – Swedish are big on punctuality and their buses and trains usually come and leave on time. They have an app that tells you what time the bus is coming and it’s mostly accurate. She was telling us that Mexico had nothing like that and sometimes the buses didn’t even stop for you. Sometimes they didn’t even come if the bus drivers didn’t feel like driving.

My other flatmate then commented that it was like a religious faith there – trusting and believing that the bus would come because nothing would tell you whether it was coming or not. Everyone laughed. It was a good night telling about how differently we live – in Amsterdam, everyone cycles and people would think you’re crazy if you drive. The Dutch people also said ‘get a baby’ and they learnt that it was better to say ‘have a baby’. It was these little quirks which I really enjoyed. The Australian didn’t know the English abbreviations so when the American texted her ‘lmk’ she went, ‘what’s mmmk?’ as a single word (she thought the l was an i). It was really funny. 

What was interesting was seeing how everyone became aware of their own privileges. Aside from my flatmate commenting that she was really privileged to be able to have money to own a car, study at the university and come on exchange, we also realized, from listening to her, how privileged we were as well. For me, I realized not everyone had the same opportunities to study abroad as I had. I was finally fulfilling my dream of studying overseas and travelling in Europe. I had always taken it for granted as my university had the exchange programme and I qualified, so I could go. But then, thinking deeper, there were a lot of factors that seemed like a given, but was actually privilege. I am privileged to be able to have the finances to study abroad and travel even though I am on a tight budget. I am privileged to be able to be selected for the university and the country I wanted because God blessed me with decent grades. I am privileged to be staying in Singapore, which is a first world country and is safe. I am privileged to be brought up with the ‘right’ moral values and to be taught ‘good’ things (both ‘right’ and ‘good’ are subjective – I’ll leave you to consider what you think is right or good).

It was one of the most fun nights I’ve had here. I was deeply interested in hearing about other cultures and how they represented them. It was also enlightening to find out what Singapore’s culture and identity really was through such exposure. ‘Singaporean’ is a nationality, not a race of people – we’re a country made of up different races that all come under one identity as a nationality. And we all live under the same ‘Singaporean’ style. We all speak Singlish, for example. It doesn’t matter which race we are, we are still Singaporeans.

That’s not the case in other countries – for example, Swedish people are mostly whites. Duh. The ‘original’ Swedish are whites and therefore the other races here are immigrants or refugees. And they don’t live the same even though they try their best to adapt to Swedish culture. It’s totally different from Singapore and quite a hard concept to grasp if I wasn’t exposed to it here and didn’t discuss about it in my Conflict class. What seemed like a natural thing was totally not to the others. For example, washing machines in homes should be normal, right? No – they have communal laundry areas here in all apartments. Even for locals.

Exchange is a wonderful experience. You will not only get to live in a totally new place and learn a new culture, you will get to see many new things and understand a lot more about many different cultures worldwide. You will learn to be independent, cook your own food, and manage your own finances and expenses. You will cooperate with other people and make friends who can’t understand ‘aiyo so jialat ah’. You will speak good English (more slowly, and maybe with an accent that you unconsciously put on), and you will invariably try to find things that are familiar to you. An Asian mart, a familiar song, or a home brand. Anything at all.

There’s also the less glamourous part of exchange no one likes to say. You will have work to do and exams to take. You will get homesick along the way when Skype calls are all you have to sustain your relationships with your friends and loved ones back home. You may break down and cry even when you have friends during exchange. That’s normal. Embrace it, and if the tears threaten to flow, let it flow. Let it go.

So three weeks into exchange, I’m adapting to this new environment and I’m satisfied to be able to say that I love this place and I’m comfortable in my own skin. It took me a few days to come to terms with myself and reality over some issues I personally faced a week into exchange, but I overcame them and became stronger myself. 

Time actually flies. It’s February and as I look into free weekends to book trips, I realize that I don’t have a lot of time at all. Before I know it, it’ll be time to leave. I don’t want that to happen so quickly. I want to be able to enjoy and savour every moment of this refreshing new experience I may never get to experience again.

So, a quick look back on the first two weeks of exchange – I’ve filmed a short vlog, and it serves as a form of memory for myself. What I’ve seen and heard, what I’ve gone through, and what will be a part of me.

Attachment. The clasp closes around my wrist, locks itself around my hands, and clings on to me, never letting go.

This is its symbol. Fastened securely, it accompanies me through snow, sweat and tears. It stays while I study, it sparkles as I laugh, it comforts when my tears flow. It is the embodiment of dad, of home, of family, of everything I ever knew.

It may be overly attached to me even as dad handed over money bills across the counter. It is an expression of love, of worry, of faith, of hope, of embrace. It tells me to be safe, to be healthy, and to study hard but enjoy myself. It tells me that even though my ears may have been aching from dad’s nagging, he still loves me.

Dad might not be with me overseas, but the Father will be with me always and forever. Just like how it envelops me and rests peacefully on my skin; how it is a form of solace, of joy, of peace, and of memories.