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Skies

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.

This series is not in chronological order. This time, it will be about the Hong Kong trip I took last week.

Hong Kong is by no means foreign land to me. I’ve been there at least five times and needless to say I actually know my way around certain parts of Hong Kong already. I guess it’s a blessing that I have a good sense of direction, because it helps me navigate easily and I’m not worried about getting lost overseas as long as I have a GPS. I love reading maps so I think I’m familiar with that. 

I go back to Hong Kong every year not because I want to, but because I have a little sister who loves playing at amusement parks. My dad tells me to wait it out a few years more until she grows up and gets tired of playing, but until then, we’ll return back to the same place again and again. No sightseeing anywhere because she hates it.

That’s one reason why I’m really looking forward to exchange. It’s been a long time since I flew to any other place other than Hong Kong, and it’s been a good 6 years since I went to Europe. It’ll be a good few years before I venture further again, so I’m going to treasure the next six months in Europe and make full use of it. It’s finally time for wanderlust.

Hong Kong is a city of memories. I was there before things happened in my life, and I have been there after it all happened. Old and new memories mix together in a mush that is Hong Kong although the really old ones have thankfully faded away from memory. The new ones are about play.

Hong Kong is famous for food. It’s by no means cheap, but dimsum, crispy pork and Peking duck is sinful and tempting. It’s sumptuous and absolutely a must to eat. I ate so much; from these few, to dumplings, beef noodles, meat, Ichiran ramen, Teawood, the famous Australian Milk shop in Jordan (you have to try this if you go Hong Kong), and more. I walked a lot and played hard too. Ocean Park, Disneyland, Times Square, Tsim Sha Tsui, Causeway Bay, Jordan, Tung Chung.

It was an enjoyable five days with my family, albeit some tension with my dad. What I enjoyed most was the weather which ranged from 18 degrees to 22 degrees while I was there. From a country whose temperature right now is between 26 degrees and 35 degrees, this is amazingly cooling and refreshing. Europe will be colder.


Hong Kong’s service, however, was dismal. The people were rude and impatient everywhere and it turned me off even though the food was delicious. I never went back to the places where their service was unacceptable. Maybe it’s because I come from a place where service is important, or maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner that they treat me badly. They are known to treat foreigners badly, but I’m also a Cantonese so I’m not quite sure why they would turn me off on purpose. Sure, I’m not from Hong Kong, but my dialect group is Cantonese and I can understand the nonsense they tried to put me up with.

The only places with good service were, unsurprisingly, Disneyland and the airport.


A short snippet on this photo can be found here.

Lesson learnt: you travel to embrace others’ cultures and not to expect others to adapt to you. It’s the total opposite. Do not expect service because you have chosen to step out of your comfort zone. Service is simply a bonus that makes everything better. It is not an obligation.

Finally some updates! This post will be about enjoying the simple things in Singapore – food and nature. Singapore’s a food haven but we’re an urban jungle – you see trees everywhere, but you won’t find miles and miles of fields and green rolling mountains. Nope, we’re too small for that.

1) Pacamara Boutique Coffee Roasters

  

Complete natural lighting because it was early afternoon and the sunlight was so strong. My friend and I tried the duck confit with poached eggs and the caramel banana pancake. The duck confit was good, a little salty but that was what made the dish so delicious. Eating it with eggs was pure bliss and I would recommend this.

However, although the saltiness of the duck confit matched well with the sweetness of the caramel pancake, the latter was too sweet and thick. It became gelat after a while and we couldn’t finish the dish. I didn’t really like the thick hot caramel even though the cool ice cream on top helped to neutralize it a little.

The iced chocolate was a little thick. It wasn’t my favourite but it was acceptable.

2) D’Good Cafe

 
The interior was extremely pretty and totally my style, but the food was rather limited and this Portobello Mushroom Poached Egg dish was too… mushroomy for me. No such word but it’s the only way I can describe this – the taste of mushroom became a tad too overwhelming after a while. I would go for the normal one next time. This dish is good for mushroom lovers!

3) Pompompurin Cafe

   
  

            
Okay this – this is beyond cute. The interior is warm and lively and definitely matches a child’s cheery mood. It was very bright and well-lit when I went, so photos turned out nice too. I adored the few random pompompurin cushions that were scattered around the place for customers to hug while eating. 

We also got to bring home the small mug you see on our dishes. They gave us a new one when we were paying. This cafe is by no means cheap and isn’t the everyday-to-go kind of cafe. It’s more like an experience you should try at least once.

The pudding drink I got, however, was way too diluted and it tasted like whipped cream and water. I’m serious. The food is decent and tasty, so I recommend trying the food when you go. It’s more worth it than whipped cream with water. 

Now that I’ve introduced three cafes I tried during this holidays, it’s time for me to let you feast on some visuals of the Singapore Botanic Gardens – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I went there to film for my D&D and while it was scorching hot (no kidding, be equipped with sunblock), it was insanely pretty. I had forgotten that Singapore also has pretty places for us to enjoy. 

My favourite was the blue skies – it wasn’t very cloudy and the sun shone through in all of its glory.

  
                               

    

 

It’s been raining all day, every day these few days, which marks the coming of ‘winter’, or shall I say, wet season? It makes me feel cold and comfortable in my room and that makes me really happy, if only I could actually relax with a book or watch my favourite shows. These days, it’s been all about studying for finals next week and hence I’ve been burying my nose in notes and books that have decided to bore me to tears of frustration and weariness.

You know it’s been a burn-out semester when you’re just so tired that you don’t want to do anything at all, but you still have to keep on going. There’s no way out of this except through it so I pray that I will make it through and see the rainbows and sunshine on the other side of the tunnel. I’m really looking forward to the holidays just so that I can escape the reality of school. I want to be able to spend time with my friends and doing the things I like to do.

So yes, it’s back to the books now. Perhaps this wet weather mirrors my life and mood right now, but I hope for clearer skies when I want to do my photoshoot or when I want to go out and play. For now, cry away – my heart goes out to the grey skies that feel me.

I like to think that when I feel blue, I can always cheer myself up. Being able to be happy at some point in life is a goal I personally make every day so that there’s something to look forward to – whether small or big. I like to base my happiness on myself and the things I can do.
I believe that one should never base their happiness on someone else or something – whether an object or a virtual experience. Those things will fade and they will not be there to cheer us up all the time. The momentary emotion you feel from them will fade. Other people won’t be there all the time for you. Virtual things do not really make one happy – it becomes either an addiction or simply a distraction so one does not feel bad. Sadly, many people subconsciously rely on those things to make them happy and distract themselves from the problems of the world. It’s too dangerous. Likewise, people also tend to take for granted the little things in life which they could appreciate but don’t. They are never satisfied or happy. They spend their time absorbed in things that they think make them happy and don’t give themselves quality time to reflect on what they’re overlooking and what is really the cause of their problems.
Perhaps it’s just because I’m a thinker that makes me aware of myself. Nevertheless, it is true that happiness comes from being content with who you are and what you have. Treasure everything within your reach and don’t hanker for things you don’t have. Your time is spent a lot more wisely this way.
I went to the beach a week ago to do some filming for my university portfolio. It was a lovely afternoon, windy, cloudy and yet sunny. Lately, our sunsets have been late, a rare occurrence in a tropical island where sunrises and sunsets are around the same time all year round. I love being able to watch the sunrise daily due to work and soak myself in the beautiful palette of colours in the late evenings. I think the colours of the world are the softest and prettiest then.
I caught the sunset at the beach one week ago. It was enjoyable filming light filtering through different objects and angles and while I won’t be posting those, here are some beautiful visuals of my favourite moment of the day.
There’s no more blue at sunset. It’s a glorious yellow filled with hope and happiness.

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