Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why living in Brussels was difficult for me and how I adjusted

Brussels is the EU Headquarters and was an interesting place to live in, even though my time there was all too brief. Out of all the countries I've lived in, this place tested me in many ways. I needed to find that happy medium during the periods of adjustment that every expat goes through when moving to a new country. Some places are easier than others. Brussels was difficult for me. 

Some of these reasons are typical of an expat and periods of adjustment but mostly my personal experiences...

1) Language barrier. Brussels is a French speaking city for the most part and there is a small section that borders the flanders section which speaks Dutch. Having a small knowledge of both French and Dutch, I thought I would be fine. It was certainly challenging! Even small things like asking where the eggs, oatmeal, bread, dishwashing liquid are became an adventure. Grocery shopping was like a jigsaw puzzle for me. Knowing some Dutch words and some French words, I managed to find my way around the store. Google maps was my friend and luckily wifi was easy to find. 

2) Safety risk. I was actually fearful of a terrorist attack when I moved to Brussels for an internship and then I heard about safety issues in general that plague the EU headquarters. I was stubborn and still chose to move to Brussels even after there was a lockdown on the city a week after the Paris attacks. Looking at the news from afar was definitely fear-mongering and how much can we trust the sensationalization of the media these days. I minimized my risk by choosing to live near my office outside the city center so I wouldn't have to ride public transport during the morning rush hour and didn't go to crowded places very much. I dislike crowded places and rush hour traffic anyway.

3) Knowing no one. Most of the places I've lived in in the past, there was always someone I knew or an educational institution which made meeting new people and making friends very easy. Brussels was completely foreign to me. I only knew the people that worked within close proximity to me. Eventually, I started to slowly create a routine for myself going to the gym, taking a dance class, and signing up for a Swedish language course which had quite a small eclectic group of International people. When an acquaintance from Singapore moved to Brussels with her husband, I managed to meet up with them for some lovely brunches. Though it was difficult at first, I grew very comfortable with spending a lot of time alone. 

4) Adjusting to desk life.  I have always been very active in the art of the hustle working in performing arts and creative industries. It was quite the adjustment to working in an office with other people sitting nearby typing away on computers doing tasks that contribute to a large company. It was  a glimpse into corporate world for me and quite a different working culture than I was used to. As a creative go-getter that gets a lot of things done with an ability to multi-task. I felt like my previous skills were being put to good use. However, my eyes certainly felt tired at the end of each day. There was even a few days where I would come home and put sliced cold cucumbers over my eyes to let them relax.

5) The weather was unpredictable and gloomy. I moved during winter in Belgium and the winters there can have some very ugly wet days with strong winds. I have lived in New York City for most of my twenties and sometimes the weather in winter can be pretty cold, windy, frigid, wet, and also the appearance of blizzards! I never experienced seasonal depression much as I prefer when the weather is a bit colder and crisp. I think fall is the best season but I didn't dislike winter. I actually like snow and winter sports. BUT... I was certainly not prepared to experience the unpredictable weather of Belgium. In a single day, one can experience, rain, fog, snow, hail, strong winds, and sunny skies. On the rare days that the weather and skies were clear, I would grab the opportunity to go and explore! Those are also the days that I really appreciated the sunny skies.

I had a few more serious problems living in Brussels that I won't divulge here but when I left Brussels, I really began to miss it. I missed it a lot! When I returned a few months later for a few days, I was quite happy to be back and took the opportunity to enjoy what the capital of the EU had to offer in those few days. Perhaps I was adjusting to living there and making a new normal. As a third culture kid who has lived in numerous places around the world since I was a child, it seems every country has its unique challenges. The journey of life and where it takes us is not one to take for granted. Every ups and downs are meant to be lived through and experienced. Like the unpredictable weather, one needs to experience both to appreciate the good that happens. 

J'adore Bruxelles!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Letters to/from Laura and Alaine: Laura's Picasso postcard from Spain

Letters to/from Laura and Alaine: Laura's Picasso postcard from Spain

My dancer Laura sent me a Picasso postcard from Spain. I made a short dance film response to her postcard. Dancing under the Marble Arch in London.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Why I started travel blogging: I'm a third culture kid

A third culture kid (TCK) is a person who has grown up in different countries and cultures therefore developing cultural traditions as a mixed salad of different cultures as opposed to feeling rooted in just one. A hybridity of cultures.

I was born in Singapore, childhood in Jakarta, then pre-teen through teen years in Singapore, University in LA, early to late twenties working and living in New York, back to Singapore, then Graduate school in Switzerland, internship in Brussels, back to Singapore and now Global Nomad writing about my life as a hybrid of cultures and travel. Its quite confusing to tell people "where I'm from?" because I'm a mixed bag. A long story. A complicated background of cultures. I hold a passport that is pretty foreign to me and when going through visa applications and immigration it always baffles people. I have also spent summers living in Sydney, Lake Arrowhead, San Francisco, LA, Durham (NC), Washington DC, Toronto, and Edinburgh either visiting family, summer camps, and performing in festivals.

My accent is American with an international school lilt sometimes, Californian sometimes, and New Yorker sometimes. I have mostly Chinese heritage (my ancestors but my parents are as global and cultural hybrids themselves) but I speak zero Chinese except beyond "Ni Hao" "Xie Xie" with a English accent. English is my native language although Bahasa Indonesian is my first language though I've got the fluency of a 3 year old. I studied Japanese for 8 years in grade school and can only muster up broken Japanese these days. I studied Swedish in University intensively for a year then in recent years have been self studying with books, newspapers, music, tv/film, online courses, speaking to Swedes, and took a brief course while I was in Brussels and I read and understand it pretty well. Briefly studied German (what a hard language!) for 6 months and can still order food or understand basic German alright. I started learning a bit of French because of my love for wine (what a wine geek!)

So that's just a tip of the iceberg on my complicated TCK life... I'm not going to bother you with the rest

Why I started travel blogging

I wanted a little place to tell my stories. I've traveled my entire life and have been to so many places on this small world. It is my rolodex, my portfolio, and to inspire others to become global citizens. The world is not that big. 

My immediate family and extended family members live across world in different countries - there's no such thing as having a family reunion that all of us can make it. We would fill an entire grand ballroom if that ever happened. I have not met my entire extended family. 

Growing up as an expat kid and then later as an expat and world traveler means that I also have friends all over the world. My network continues to grow in geography. Its wonderful! 

Last but not least, I started travel blogging because I want to remember the stories and memories. Memories are my home and I don't want to forget them. 

This is my ever-growing list of Places I've been to

A showcase by Singapore International Foundation artists who have received funding in 2013/2014. My dance production, Habitat, toured to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2013. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

6 of my favorite Capital Cities in the world

6 of my favorite Capital Cities in the world

1. New York City

New York City is where it all happens. Wall street, Fashion, Broadway, Hipsters, Food trends. Technically not the capital city of the USA but in my opinion its the capital city of the world. I had a beautiful love affair with New York City as my home. Just walking in a city that literally never sleeps and convenience at your doorstep (Hello Seamlessweb, Rent the Runway, Fresh Direct, Beauty services, etc.) or a subway/bus ride away, you can get anything and be anything in New York. Its a vibrant bustling city with the most talented and no-nonsense people you will find. You either love it or hate it.

My Favorite spots in New York

2. Stockholm

Stockholm has beautiful architecture, islands, people, food, culture, fashion, fika, and lifestyle. This city is stunning! From my first visit to my 8th - the experiences and memories were all different and according to the seasons. This Swedish capital morphs and changes according to seasons along with its residents. In the summer, everyone is out ALL the time and partying. When the leaves start to fall and the air gets a little colder, people prepare for the holiday season and head back to indoors-only activities. During the winter months, the days are short and the dark winter nights make walking around a bit chillier but has that mysterious air that is captured perfectly in Nordic Noir films.

When in Sweden, YOU must have a Fika

3. Amsterdam/Copenhagen

Quirky, weird, architecture, canals, coffee shops, liberals, art, Indonesian food, and eclectic. Amsterdam has the trappings of what I love. A capital city that acts like a town. This is a walking city (or if you're an expert city biker) and the trams are also easy to navigate. Residents are always on a rush on their bikes so get out of their way! However, if you find them in a cafe, coffee shop, restaurant, they are certainly a friendly bunch. I've used Amsterdam as a pit stop for a couple nights in most recent years whenever I'm traveling through Europe. The architecture is really quaint and you will want to constantly be taking pictures of every canal and bridge you pass through.

Summer part 1 in Brussels and Amsterdam


Copenhagen is another fantastic walking city that is lined with colorful buildings, Danish design interior furniture, cobble stone streets, castles, palaces, museums, and tons of Michelin starred restaurants and bars. Similar to Amsterdam, Copenhagen also has residents that are in a hurry on their bikes to get to their destinations so I would only recommend renting a bike if you're an expert city cyclist. A lot of innovation and creativity goes on in Copenhagen and you can see it in the food, fashion, design, and architecture. Always looking forward and innovating, the Danes have a great quality of life in a sense that they make sure they take breaks to refresh their mind before figuring out the next great design.

My journey to Noma

4. London

Oh London! You amaze me with your stunning old architecture and new skyscrapers. Winding little alleyways to riverside walks along the Thames. I have to be honest, the first time I was in London, I wasn't too impressed. I was in a weird headspace at that time and kept comparing London to New York. London is not New York. London is London. A British metropolis with traditions of standing outside the pub while drinking beer, eating fish and chips or pie on the way home, rushing around in the tube stations, walking fast and looking preoccupied, free art museums, beautiful palaces and gardens, thriving art scene, and very cool residents. The more I visit this fine metropolis, the more I adore it and simply want to discover different neighbourhoods.

Wandering amongst hipsters in Shoreditch

5. Vienna

Music, easy public transportation, urban, good food, palaces, cafes, museums, art, and good coffee, wine, beer, schnitzel! Vienna is a wonderful city and its no big surprise that its rated very highly as one of the most liveable cities of the world. With moderate prices, big wide streets, lots of bike paths (I did rent a bike and ride through the city here - with a lot of caution of course!), friendly residents, and just gorgeous architecture. I have been to Vienna only a couple times but I want to keep returning because there is so much to do and see in this beautiful city.

Summer part 3: Music, schnitzel, museums, and palaces in Vienna

6. Singapore

And now we've come to my birth country and where I hold my permanent residence card proudly. Singapore is a small island country off the tip of Malaysia very close to the equator. The tropical temperatures really get to me and I spend most of my days indoors in Singapore. I grew up here as an expat kid and went to an international school. Those were some good and bad memories. The food scene in Singapore is incredible with local food dishes to the multitude of hipster eateries and cafes, celebrity chef owned restaurants, and not to mention the cool speakeasies, cocktail bars, and pumping clubs. Its a love/hate relationship with Singapore for me at times because it isn't easy to be a third culture kid returning to a place that I once called home. I feel like an anomaly because I speak, act, and think differently from true-blue Singaporeans due to my background. My friends in Singapore are mostly other expats or globally-minded Singaporeans. Though most of these feelings are personal conflict, subjectively speaking... Singapore is a great place with skyscrapers, urban gardens, abundance of food, shopping centres, and the mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, Expats, Tourists, make it an interesting multicultural country.

A bourgeois guide to eating, drinking, shopping, and pampering in Singapore

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Fika is the best Swedish habit

Fika is a mandated coffee break in the middle of the afternoon in Sweden. A coffee break to unwind, socialise with a friend or colleague or a casual date. But it is also acceptable to have a fika by yourself. The most traditional way to take a fika is to have a coffee with a cake or a savory snack. The most similar I have adopted taking fika in the afternoon when I need to unwind and have something sweet with a coffee. My favorite fika snack is kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon bun) or a chokladbollar (Swedish chocolate ball). 

When in Sweden, take a Fika! 

Saffransbullar paired with bryggt kaffe (black coffee) at Fabrique

Taking a fika in Malmö at Folk å Rock

One of my favorite activities is to take a fika and observe all the people around me. It is a great people-watching activity without the pressure of a full meal. Just a coffee and perhaps something sweet too. People watching in a cafe is a great solo travel activity. Fika is equally satisfying when shared with a friend. Having a good conversation over coffee and cake. We are so connected on social media and the internet these days that we forget to reconnect in real life. Fika is one of those activities that make it worthwhile to reconnect with another human being.

I high recommend that you check out this super cool documentary web series about Fika made by Fabian Schmid, a Swiss filmmaker who spent a lot of time in Sweden and interviewed the owners, employees, and guests of cafes in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, Lund, and Helsingborg. Its a super cool series that you should check out!

Chokladbollar at home is the best

Homemade chokladbollar with coconut

Homemade Chokladbollar with pearl sugar

I have been making chokladbollar at least once a month for the past few years. The recipe is fairly simple but you make your own variation to the original to make it that much better. Swedish kids grow up learning to make chokladbollar since its a no-bake recipe. I think the best chokladbollar has dark chocolate sweet, bitter, moist, and dry. The best chokladbollar I've purchased come from Östermalms Saluhall Roberts Coffee and NK Konditoriet i Nordiska Kompaniet department store in Stockholm. 

You can find Swedes taking a fika at home, at cafes, in a park, in the summer cottage. One thing is for certain it is a time to reflect, unwind, refresh, and reconnect. Sometimes we forget how to reconnect and life passes us by while we bury ourselves behind work, electronic devices, social media, chores, errands, that we forget to take a moment to stop and reconnect with the present moment. 

A savoury fika of lax, dill cream cheese, knäckebröd at home

Sometimes I don't feel like a fika with a sweet something so a little knäckebröd with lax (smoked salmon) and a smear of cream cheese washed down with coffee is perfect. Fika doesn't always have to be something sweet. Something small and savoury can be equally satisfying if one does not have a sweet tooth. 

Snickarbacken 7 in Stockholm

Snickarbacken 7 in Stockholm is part gallery, part cafe, part boutique, but so Swedish and makes the perfect place to take a fika. Located on a dead end street in upscale Östermalm district you would think that this would be a place that wouldn't have that chill vibe. With tall ceilings, quirky art on the walls (that are available for purchase), and a boutique in the corner; it appears to not have a holier-than-thou attitude. 

This cafe is in the documentary web series fika:to have coffee as one of the locations.

Fika is a wonderful Swedish tradition and taking a fika in the mid-afternoon slump can probably reinvigorate your energy levels. Fika does not have to be chokladbollar, kanellbullar, saffransbullar, chokladtårta, prinsesstårta, etc. it can certainly just be a banana, knäckebröd with lox, a piece of fruit, acai bowl, as long as it goes well with coffee, tea, or juice.

Fika is a tradition, a habit, a way of life of being present. To unwind, energise, restore, either in solitude or in the company of others. I like it. I've embraced and adopted it because coffee (especially a good cup of joe IS truly the nectar of the gods!)
Vill du fika med mig?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Wine Tasting in Singapore

Tasting the numerous wine at Wine Fiesta 2016

Drinking wine or alcoholic beverages in Singapore isn't cheap but going to multiple wine tastings for the sake of furthering my wine education is important and a much more cost effective way instead of buying dozens of bottles.

Sopexa: Understanding and appreciating Bordeaux 

Sopexa is a marketing agency to raise the profile of food, wine, and lifestyle brands based in Southeast Asia. 

This masterclass of Bordeaux wines was hosted in the fabulous Raffles Hotel for the wine industry and F&B. The focus of this master class was to demystify the exclusivity of French Bordeaux wines and pairing Bordeaux wines with Asian cuisines. A lot of Southeast Asian cuisine has a lot of spices and flavor infused into the sauces, marinades, cooking style that can be daunting for the establishment to find interesting wine pairings. The classic Bordeaux wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc full bodied wines but may or may not stand up to some of the more spicier foods available in Southeast Asia. However there's always exceptions and of course one must be experimental when pairing wine with Southeast Asian cuisine. 

In my personal opinion and taste, I love Bordeaux wines especially from the Right Bank of Saint Emillion. I was excited for Sopexa to host this masterclass. 

My purchases of the day :-)

This crazy festival hosted by Straits Wine was a free-for-all wine festival filled with winemakers selling old world wines (France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria) and new world wines (Australia, South Africa, China) as well as a few food vendors. There were free master classes during the festival and an opening dinner party (pre-booked dinner) to kickstart the festival. 

For $50 there were free wine tastings from 350 winemakers and free master classes. Sign me up! The winemakers were also offering discounts for their wines. 

I went on the last day of the festival and thankfully it was a bit of a rainy, cloudy day because this festival is held under a tent outside in Singapore's tropical heat and humidity! The rainy day deterred quite a number of attendees but it was still so crowded and cramped in that small amount of space. I was determined to try everything though despite my hatred for crowded places and anxiety when I feel claustrophobic. I value having space and time to be able to talk without straining to hear what the winemakers have to say about their wines.

With less than ideal environmental factors (and the sweating!), I managed to taste around 50 different wines and deduced my favorites to be the Hebrard Saint Emillion Grand Cru, Pasqua Chianti Classico,   Domaine de Piaugier Gigondas, and Fanti Brunello di Montalcino. I also tasted some delicious whites as well as a beautiful nutty natural Sauvignon Blanc from Australia (Pictured above). 

Would I go to another Wine Fiesta again? Sure but I hope they host it in a bigger indoor location next time to keep the stability of the temperature of the wines and reduce the sweating and body odors. 

PS cafe: New Zealand wines

PS Petit Cafe at Martin road hosts a month free Wine Tasting almost every month and I happened to be eating lunch there one day and noticed the flyer. This restaurant location of the PS Cafe chain is a beautiful relaxed space and one of my favorite restaurants in Singapore. 

A free wine tasting!? Why of course... 

I showed up that Sunday early for the event and was pleasantly surprised to an array of different wines presented by PS Cafe and the winemakers as well. The new world wines from Australia and New Zealand are a lot more affordable in Singapore to purchase than old world wines so a F&B establishment would have an easier time to sell bottles or glasses from this region. This particular tasting was focused on New Zealand wines. In my personal opinion, out of the two new world wine regions, I prefer New Zealand wines, particularly the Rieslings. The acidity, stone fruit flavors, mineral finish, with a hint of herbal flavors make the Rieslings particularly interesting and complex. 

WEA wines of Burgundy:

This event was a pretty good sampling of the wines from Burgundy hosted by WEA Wines. They host regular wine tasting events and dinners as well as sell wines from Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux. This was my first time attending one of their events and it happened to be their biggest week of winegrowers festival with wine dinners with the winemakers themselves. 

The standouts for me Gevrey-Chambertin, Meurseult, Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru. The selections were quite well curated and WEA wine portfolio builds a solid case for the wine collector, wine enthusiast, wine fanatic, wine writers, wine alcoholics, wine snobs, etc. 

WEA Wines: Domaine Duroche Burgundy masterclass

The following night was a wine tasting by Domaine Duroche's winemaker. This collection is superb and the pinot noir offered were classic Bourgogne but had a beautiful delicate complexity, particularly the Lavaut Saint Jacques from 2014 (and 2015 for the previous night!)

The young winemaker is pushing the perfection and complexities with his wines that are taking notice among the winemaker circles. The wines are priced moderately high end for the Singapore market. (I'm always appalled by the prices of wine and spirits in Singapore)

This event was a nice casual wine tasting in the storage for Underground wines. This event focused on New Zealand wines. The winemaker for Unison wines was there to walk us through the wine tasting. Sometimes going to wine tasting events, you meet many people who are there to just drink lots of wine. I get a bit of weird looks when I use the spittoon to spit out wine. My reasoning for spitting is to make informed tasting notes without the blanket of being slightly intoxicated. Usually at tastings I try everything and then decide which are the standouts and may have a glass or two of vino. At this particular tasting, the place was certainly out of the way and I had to figure out where the actual office/storage unit was in the office building that was pretty much desolate by evening. I felt like I was part of some kind of underground wine club.

WEA wines: Natural wines of Burgundy 

Another wine tasting by WEA Wines. This time the focus was on natural Burgundy wines and Yann Durieaux. There were 4 wines at this tasting and the standout for me is the DH Rouge. This pinot noir  had a smooth rounded appeal with the flavors of candied cherries, hints of blackberries, and perfume. A lovely long finish with medium tannins and acidity. I have been interested in natural wines a lot more these days as there are added flavors to natural wines that are not as present in regular wines. I hope to try more natural wines in the near future.

Burgundy/Bourgogne pinot noirs are one of my favorite wine regions and the wines are beautiful, delicate, and very easy to drink! The complexity of the wines (chardonnay, pinot noir - are the majority grap varietals) coming out of this region are traditional yet there are winemakers such as Yann Durieaux in the natural wine category that is exciting to watch!