December 11, 2010 § Leave a Comment
So I’ve been home for almost half a year now.
Some friends have said I’ve changed since I came back, especially those who’ve been attempting to study with me for this semester’s finals. I’m more ‘slack’ (or distracted, in a way), less intense about studying, happier, but definitely slacker.
Is this really a ‘return from Europe’ syndrome? Not sure how the rest are faring, but half a year in Switzerland and traveling across more than 20 cities in Europe has taught me more about life than the close-minded, narrow-sighted tunnel vision rat race that we run, constantly and daily, as a Singaporean youth facing Singaporean pressures.
I have learned to relax. To enjoy time. To enjoy people. To have a clearer understanding of the ‘eternal perspective’.
I have been reminded to treasure the people God has blessed me with, to put people above results. To put human beings before goals. To value a person above perfection in their work. To let go of things I cannot control.
I have learned to treasure the gift of time. The gift of time to spend with family, loved ones and treasured friends. To appreciate the fact that at the end of the day, my grades are not going to save me, they are not going to make me happy, the endless chase for perfection can only satisfy for so long, and that my life would be meaningless and worthless if I had no one to come home to, and no friends I can call to share my happiest and crappiest moments with.
I don’t want to wait till I lose somebody, someone gets a terminal disease, or face a near-death experience to realize that it’s time to say ‘I love you’, ‘Thank you’, and ‘I’m glad to call you my friend’ to the people who matter.
So, don’t forget to tell the people who matter to you that you love them. Love them now, not tomorrow, not when the exams are over, not when you have the time, not when they become perfect or do the right thing, not when you can finally prepare something grandiose. But love them simply, and love them fully, and love them now.
This post is titled Missing Europe. So here are some other photos from my travels, some from later trips than the last Europe photo post which was of us in Spain. If any of the juniors going to Europe are reading this, please, get excited, travel lots and don’t just be caught up in the photos, but be caught up in the experience.
June 8, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Done with my first exam in Switzerland. My head hurts so much from the lack of academic stimulation over the past few months… I say academic and not intellectual stimulation, because there is a big chasm between two. Intellectual stimulation is enjoyable. Academic is largely regurgitation, even here. 3 more papers to go, one this Friday and 2 more in the last week of June after I come back from Barcelona (yes I’m off to Barca next Monday, envy me).
Okay… I have to drop the word ‘design’ from this entry because it’s finally about my favourite topic and the main staple of this blog before I came to Switzerland… FOOD glorious FOOD.
I finally caved in to my need to eat REAL Chinese food after 4 months (fried rice and eating instant noodles doesn’t count). So Walts and I scouted out some good Chinese food while we were in Rotterdam.
The Netherlands in general has loads of food of many diverse origins because of it’s colonial history. Loads of Indonesian, Thai, and of course, Chinese food everywhere.
Walts was buying a Crumpler camera bag so we asked the guy where we could get some authentic Chinese food, cause we’d been away from home for months and really wanted The Real Deal. He directed us a couple of streets down to the Chinatown-ish area where there were loads of Asian eateries… and his recommended place, which was famous among the local Dutch and Chinese populations alike: De Lange Muur.
It was really like a Hong Kong 餐厅; very very busy, Canto speaking staff, very loud conversations and a lot of Chinese people… Which I didn’t really mind, for once. We did hesitate quite a bit before going in though, because Asian food in Europe is RIDICULOUSLY expensive even with the good exchange rate at the moment. (When you have to fork out 12 euros for a plate of kang kong, you definitely do a double take.)
But our Chinese taste buds won the argument, and after wandering down the street and realizing prices weren’t going to get any cheaper, we decided that if we were going to blow a lot of money eating Asian food, we were better off spending it on the good stuff.
Walts examining the menu cause Liz can’t read it. They automatically gave us the Chinese text menu because we were Asian. The Dutchies get a picture book version with pictures of the various dishes and descriptions in Dutch. Lol.
Har Gao! Siew Mai! I miss dim sum DEARLY. I already told Jem Oh that when I return to Singapore I demand another dim sum & durian outing to Geylang ASAP. I think one of it was €3.80 and the other €4.20. And the money I had with me was changed at around 1.85, so go figure how much in SGD that cost.
Walt and I going trigger happy and getting weird stares. That stupid boy started nose bleeding as we were queuing up to get a seat. Then when we started eating he started bleeding even more. There was so much blood everywhere I think only the sheer fact of what food was in front of me stopped me from losing my appetite. I don’t know why all these things always happen to him when I’m eating with him. I still vividly remember the day he fainted in front of me after dinner at Plaza Sing sometime in December 2009.
Beef kuay teow. Not the way we do it in Singapore, but this was still omgood. The ‘chup’ was very nice. Plus all the chili (the kind that’s drowning in chili oil). Heaven. This was €10. Ha. Yes. Take that. For beef kuay teow! But it’s not as ridiculous as the €15 laksa we saw in Amsterdam a few days later.
Soooo.. the food was so awesomely satisfying, that even though we were spending an average of SGD$20 on food we could get at a third of the price back home, we went back there again the next evening.
Mixed veggies. This cost €13.50, I kid you not. But the portion was gianormous! In fact the portion of all the food there was gianormous. And this came with a big pot of rice that Walts had to finish most of because we also ordered duck chao mian.
Their portions are HUGE. Only the Chinese can finish this much food. It was funny to observe how all the Chinese patrons really wolfed everything down or at least tar pao-ed their leftovers, and all the Dutchies would be stuck at their tables having eaten less than half of the food, then throw everything else away. Walts and I had to painfully watch copious amounts of glorious Chinese food being swept off the table by waiters.
Second night’s bill was higher than the first. And I was stuffed up to my nostrils. But boy was it a very happy two evenings of indulgences. Much better than the Thai restaurant we ended up in on our first night in Amsterdam, where Walts ordered Thai Green Curry that was 99% coconut milk. And the €5 tom yam soup that I shared with him that was about the size of two Chinese tea cups. Pfft.
And this area is just on the next street from the Red Light District, which wasn’t all that interesting the day we went. (Our hostel, which is a Christian hostel, was funnily in between these two streets.) Someone told me that the prostitutes on display were as hot as models, but that day I only saw a few girls on display and they were either flabby or saggy, so no further comments about the Red Light District if any of you want to ask me ‘So How Was Amsterdam’s Famous RLD??’. And if you want to ask me whether I smoked pot, the obvious answer is: No.
Anyway I digress. Going back to food, Walts and I of course also had to try the famous Vlaamse Frites… supposedly the Dutchies eat it with heaps of mayo, but I don’t like mayo. So we tried this one with their definition of ‘curry sauce’.
From another stall in Amsterdam. This one was supposed ‘sambal olek’. The guy warned us when we ordered it that was ‘very spicy’. We gamely grinned and told him we could handle it and asked for more. He originally only gave me a tiny dollop the size of a 50 cent coin. There was nothing I have yet tried in Europe that can compare to the way we Singaporeans eat spice.
Our verdict? Salty. I’m quite convinced the Dutch like everything salty. And it was barely spicy and only very vaguely ‘sambal olek’. But the fries were nice. These are about the cheapest eats you can get off the streets, averaging €2 onwards.
I also had a really good muffin. €2.50 from a sandwich place. One thing I must say about the Dutch is that they make DAMN GOOD sandwiches. Which makes Lizzy happy because Lizzy likes sandwiches. And it also made her very depressed the first day she re-entered Switzerland and tried to buy sandwiches off the supermarket shelf, which were pathetic slices of bread with miserable single slices of cheese or ham for more than 4CHF.
But oh well. Muffins.
And finally, on my last day in Amsterdam I tried something from Burger Meester. I first read about it on GoAmsterdam while researching before my trip but never really thought about making a point to find the place. But it turned out that they had a few branches and there was one on the way to the Dutch Resistance Museum and opposite the Artis Zoo. (I was heading for the Museum, not the Zoo, though I would like to go there if I get to go back to Amsterdam.)
So after my 4 hours in the not-particularly-large museum (which I thoroughly enjoyed. One of the perks of traveling alone is that I can spend as long as I want gazing at museum exhibits.), I decided to try this famed burger. I ordered a mini duck burger for €3.50.
And boy was it made for messy eating! The bun was so soft it was breaking apart because of all the meat juices and sauces. The sauce, cheese and meat was spilling out all over because the fillings were bigger than the bun. But it was a really enjoyable little burger while it lasted. The duck was lightly seared and slightly undercooked, which I liked anyhow since I’m a medium-rare sort. Yums.
And that’s almost the end of this little Dutch holiday series, probably one more entry to wrap up my day spent in the Red Cross Museum in Geneva and to talk about all the stuff I got on this trip. This was really the most ‘holiday’ trip for me so far. No rushing around cheonging museums and trying to get 1000 done in one day like we did in Italy. Very relaxing, very enjoyable, and I spent most of my money enjoying food, museums, buying books and postcards.
Think I’m finally settling into the Ways of Chill as they do it here. Europeans really know how to relax and enjoy life. My first couple of months in Switzerland I was permanently restless and edgy because a workaholic like me really couldn’t understand the concept of having NOTHING to do. But I’m finally starting to learn how to relax. :] Shall enjoy the remaining months of it before it’s back to crazy-can’t-stop-working Singapore again.
Okay. Time to study for one more paper on Friday. Then off to Barcelona on Monday!
June 4, 2010 § 1 Comment
So we move on to Day 2 of the Dutch holiday. You can read about Day 1 here.
Day 2 in Amsterdam was not about design. It was about attempting suicide by the sheer act of being an incompetent cyclist attempting to navigate the roads of Amsterdam.
Funky bike in Amsterdam. No they don’t all look like this.
This is Mike’s Bike, where I went for the ride of my life. I have decided that I’m never riding on the road again for a long, long time to come. Especially not in Amsterdam. The main reason I’d gone was because I met some nice Aussie girls in my hostel room doing a major backpacking trip in Europe, and they were going for this tour. I wouldn’t have considered it otherwise.
Nice Aussies. Nikki and Jade.
This is Pete (I think). He was our guide for the tour and here are some of the rest of the 11 confident people who weren’t as godawful at pedaling a bicycle as I was. The guy with the striped adidas jacket I pity the most, because he was asked to be the last rider. And you know what that means with a joker like me having to ride in front of him and his wife. I apologized profusely to him at the end and while he said it was alright, his eyes totally said ‘I’m glad you realize how terrible a cyclist you are’.
I don’t have a great deal of pictures of the LOVELY Dutch landscape we cycled through because I was more focused on staying alive and not causing unnecessary accidents. Just to emphasize how bad I was on the road, 5 minutes into the tour Pete came up to me and asked me if I could cycle faster, because he needed to get back by 3pm for his next tour.
I was pretty much praying in tongues during the entire time we were riding in the city. The country-scape was alright because there wasn’t much traffic and I just had to focus on not cycling into any of the rest of the group. The city bits were awful. I had so many near misses with other bikes and cars and I got sworn at so many times in a language I (fortunately) don’t undersand.
Here’s me looking terribly relieved to have survived the first part and safely end up in the ‘countryside’.
And a group shot at a touristy windmill (that thing is really just there for touristic purposes) in the bleak and fickle Dutch weather that goes from freezing cold wind/rain to sunshine any time it wants.
Passed many lovely houses on the way, none of which I have photographic evidence of.
Okay except maybe this when we stopped briefly for Pete to talk. Then we visited a cheese factory owned by a very cheekopek man who kept targeting me.
Passing around the cheese… aka demonstrating the power of this particular cheese shredder he was selling in his touristic little shop.
Said cheekopek in question demanding a photo halfway through his presentation.
In addition to cheese he also had a clog machine to make those famous Dutch wooden clogs.
And some of the lovely cheese that I really enjoyed but wasn’t about to fork out 8 euros for. Mmm. But Dutch farmer cheese (that is only produced and sold locally) is really awesome.
Here’s my bike (green!).
And I had to take a picture with Pete who congratulated me for coming back alive and having not killed myself or anyone else with my embarrassing cycling skills by giving me.. believe it or not, a Mike’s Bike condom (why do they even have these???).
I politely told him I didn’t need it but took it as a souvenir anyway. And that pretty much summed up my second day in Amsterdam, which I finished off with a generous kebab and some Dutch snacks before heading to Rotterdam for the night.
Speaking of Dutch snacks, I really used to hate marzipan. But the Dutch sell these RIDICULOUSLY sweet marzipan bars that were epic sugar-high inducing. It was like. Chocolate covered marzipan wrapped around a squishy marshmallow center. More effective than drinking coffee, I would think. I bought it by accident from Hema (sort of like the Dutch version of Marks&Spencer, do check out their website, it’s hilarious. Try to click on stuff) when I landed in Schiphol airport. Was really hungry and the packaging looked normal enough. Orangey marzipan half dipped in chocolate looked to me like harmless chocolate covered mini bread buns. But the first bite shot right through my veins and slammed my head really hard. My pupils probably dilated the moment the marshmallow exploded in my mouth and the sensation of utter, complete, indescribable sweetness sent warning signals from my mouth right to my toes. Yes, in short, it was damn sweet can? To my own incomprehension I actually liked it. Or maybe I was really THAT hungry.
Okay. End of entry for now, more on the conference later tonight or tomorrow. I have to study now.
June 4, 2010 § 2 Comments
So I’m back from my biggest trip of this semester. I hadn’t realized it was so long till I was there. Two days in Amsterdam, three in Rotterdam and another two in Amsterdam to round it off. Plus half a day in Geneva on my way back to Lugano. Boy did it feel long, especially towards the end. I thought I would never get back after camping 12 hours in Schiphol airport, taking a plane and 2 train rides (approx. 5 hours) across the Swiss landscape lugging more than 20kilos on my shoulders.
Exhausted, but feel like I’ve grown and learned so much on this pilgrimage of sorts. Right now it’s still difficult to put into words everything that is imprinted firmly in my head, I’m not sure if I will actually succeed in verbalizing what I’ve experienced, but I will try.
This is the first in a series of self-reflective entries about the trip. Each part of it was a different sort of learning journey for me as an individual and as a creative, so they deserve the attention.
Walter was with me for about 4 days, the 3 in Rotterdam and 1 in Amsterdam. I think he thinks I’m a very sad person, I don’t know why. Contemplative, reflective, more so than usual, but I’m now ready to reconcile with myself and push forward with walking down this path.
I return with a renewed sense of strength to pursue my craft, with an understanding of the maturity of Europe’s design culture that is so gapingly absent back home. Now my thoughts are, how do I bring these things that I have learned and apply them back home? The Dutch are really fortunate in how supportive the private and public sectors are of good design.
I used to think that Swiss design was good, then I went to Holland, and now that I’m back in Swiss things are starting to feel ugly. I know I’m going to encounter even more grief once I return to Singapore. But truly I was hard-pressed to find bad graphic design in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The government really supports the design community, and in turn the design community is allowed to experiment and grow so much as designers that they have reached a comfortable sort of pinnacle in terms of their work.
Of course with some entrenched ‘schools of thought’ in that circle, designs sometime become stifling and predictable, but still very strong and largely, admirably brilliant. I must not despair. (Though I did, in the immediate aftermath of the conference.)
I will bring my work to a higher level, and I will bring it back home with me. I will live to see the day that the Southeast Asian design community is strengthened through collaborations and unique work that is excellent but definitively ours, one that will be distinct from the European schools of thought but still equally brilliant.
Okay! Design stuff later, but since I like chronology, we’ll start with my first evening as an introduction to Amsterdam.
Okay, yes Amsterdam has lots of canals and pretty houses. But those pictures above were more of my general first impression of the place (after the copious presence of bikes, read on to find out. City-wise I felt very comfortable there. Maybe because I was finally somewhere I could speak English and be understood. It took me a while to readjust to saying ‘Hi’ and ‘Thank you’ instead of ‘Bonjourno’ and ‘Grazie’.
And maybe also because Amsterdam has very diverse ethnicity, sort of like Singapore. But whatever it was, it didn’t take me long to feel pretty comfortable there. The whole place is actually pretty small and walkable. By my last day there I didn’t really need a map to navigate around.
On my first evening (was past 7pm by the time I got to my hostel) I went for Art Amsterdam. Now, I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but what I did encounter was a little bit of a surprise. It was essentially an exhibit of exhibits, of various galleries exhibiting and trying to sell their 4-digit priced pieces to rich people sipping champagne. It felt somewhat like a display of modern day bourgeoisie. Eager artists and sellers trying to pawn their goods and sidle up into the good books of people with lots of time and money to throw around. (But hey in the context of it I’m just a lowly uneducated peasant, so what do I know. )
On the way to the exhibition hall my bus passed this van, which I just managed to get a snapshot of.
I realize you can’t really read the words but it says ‘Art doesn’t give answers, only questions’. Little did I realize what a premonition this was for my experience at Art Amsterdam (I paid 10 euros to walk around for little over an hour. And that’s student price mind you, it’s 20 euros a pop).
If art asks the questions, then I suppose design hold the answers. I have heard, been told and totally agree with the statement that design isn’t art. Design has a function. Art, well, it’s subjective there. But I guess after going for this exhibition I must say that the converse holds true. Art is definitely NOT design. I’ve always had an issue with post-modern art. Most of the stuff in London’s Tate Museum flies over my head. And most of the stuff at Art Amsterdam I likewise, could not appreciate.
But I did catch some photographs of the things that I did like better, even if I didn’t understand it.
So that was Art Amsterdam for you. No other opinion apart from how out of place I felt at that rather ‘chi-chi’ event.
More about Day 2 later when I get up, where I nearly die every 10 seconds attempting to ride a bike on the streets of Amsterdam (which can also be referred to as the day I got sworn at the most in the life).
Amsterdam is a bike friendly city, which is a nice way of saying that almost everyone here bikes, cars and bikes travel at almost the same speed: fast, and everyone has to share that same little bit of road and you have to look both ways all the time because bikes/pedestrians/tourists come from EVERYWHERE and ANYWHERE. It is shit scary. I have no better way to describe it.
But just to whet your appetite and give you a small sense of how it is, here’s the bike parking space outside the central train station. It was the very, very first thing I saw of Amsterdam and I literally LOL-ed as I walked out of the station and gazed upon this amazing spectacle.
Get ready to be blown away, though the pictures really do it no justice.
And you know what’s the best part? The bike park ain’t enough, seriously. The bikes overflow and spill all over the outside as well.
Truly one heck of an amazing sight!!! (Yes I think it deserves 3 exclamation marks.)
So I’ll update more in a bit. Right now though I realize I have two exams to study for before my next trip to Spain on the 14th. One on Tues and the other on Friday. Let me attempt to remember what this ‘studying’ thing is. It has been so long and under normal circumstances I would be panicking just about now that I haven’t, at all, started studying.
But circumstances here are different.
So catch you guys in a few hours.