Fire Fire Burning Bright

Slowly, you come awake. The neurons start sparking, your brain starts lighting up as consciousness grabs a hold of you. As you hover in that in between region of sleep and wakefulness, you wonder what has woken you up. There is no uncomfortable heaviness in your bladder, after all. Soon, an acrid smoky smell trickles into your room, and fills your lungs. You realise belatedly that your house is on fire. What would you save?

Someone asked me that question yesterday and well – I was stumped! Naturally, any human beings in the vicinity. And of course, my hamster Leonardo.

Next? Maybe my macbook? It has my yet-to-be-published bestseller, after all.

And then I was stuck.

And I suppose that is the freeing nature of having little needs and material possessions that you treasure.

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Reflections on 2014

This comes rather belated, but then again, better late than never. I’m not a terribly huge fan of setting resolutions, but reflections are important in my opinion, because it lets you realise how much you’ve grown and developed in the span of one year. In my opinion, the recurring theme or thread through 2014 was self-discovery.

Slipping into my Singaporean Skin

Celebrating National Day 2014

Celebrating National Day 2014

2014 was the year when I finally felt like I settled into Singapore again. I still suffer from withdrawal pangs sometimes and a certain wistfulness when I think of Australia. I don’t know if it’ll ever go away. But for the most part, I’m proud and happy to call Singapore home once again. I daresay that there are much worse places to call home.

First Major Solo Trip

Climbing up Mt Vesuvius

Climbing up Mt Vesuvius

Certainly, I went to Sydney by myself in June 2013. However, being alone in Italy for the entire month of June 2014 was… freeing. It was waking up in the mornings, knowing that I myself was responsible for finding things to make my day and knowing I can depend on myself to solve any problems to crop up. It was lying by myself in a beach filled with hundreds of strangers, at peace with the world. It was swimming in the Ligurian sea, despite being half afraid that a riptide would carry me away. It was hand gestures and miming at times, when the language barrier proved insurmountable. It was helpful people going out of their way to help you when they felt you needed assistance with your luggage.

It was everything I hoped it would be, and more. For that reason, Italy will always have a part of my heart. Language barrier? Check. 10,000+km away? Check. First major solo trip? Check.

I became accepting of failure and more resilient

Previously when I began to hate what I did, I dropped into a blue almost depression-like state. This time, I didn’t hate what I was doing but I disliked the environment and situation I was thrown in. Despite it all, and despite the different circumstances, I still did my best (and in fact, did improve at the end of it all) – but it still wasn’t enough. However, I learnt to take things in my stride and just keep going on. Because no one’s going to save you unless you’re willing to save yourself – that’s what I found out for myself.

The Purge

Shia & I

Shia & I

Like EliteDaily espouses, sometimes some people need to be divorced from your life. I guess I realised that I have several toxic friends. The ones that you hang out with because s/he is part of your extended group, but you realise that it makes you a hypocrite, because being with them drains you and you do not actually enjoy their company. So I’ve actually made an effort to cut them loose, in spite of the fact that it makes me feel bad.

At the same time, I found a bunch of good friends – Abel, Alishia, Ali, Jon, Loki, my girlfriends at NIE, Phoebe – all of which I know I can rely on if I need someone to talk to.

Acceptance

Last but not least, I think I became more grateful for things around me this year. I hope that has made me a more appreciative person – I know it has definitely made me a happier person.

I also know I’ve done a lot of silly stuff in 2014 – especially after I came back from my Italian trip up till my birthday. I decided that this would be the time to find someone – and I became a serial dater. Up till I realised how silly it was, and started slowing down. And when I least expected it, someone in the background became a major contender for my heart. I don’t think I would have given him the chance if I wasn’t able to accept my shortcomings and kept chasing love for the sake of being with someone that I perceive as my ideal. But now, I can’t imagine my life without him and sometimes it scares me. But it’s something I hope I will come to accept in 2015. With that, come at me 2015 – let the good times roll!

J & I

J & I

Show not Tell

I was reading plenty of articles today on how to tell if your man loves you.

And then I realized it’s really irrelevant. Because, in many ways, you have shown me that you love me. When I teach English, we call it the show not tell technique. You have it in spades; your actions speak louder than words.

Daily Snapshots; Perth my Second Home.

The memory is not infallible. Already, images have blurred and taken on a sepia tinge. Rose coloured glasses have been tossed aside in favour of donning a (sometimes heavy) coat of Practicality.  Some days, I wake up and expect to see the morning sunlight slanting in through my balcony and spilling onto my sheets of my Queen sized bed in Terrace Road. Sometimes I stand there, stop and breathe in – and I can almost feel the minuscule coarse particles of salt against my skin, the air carrying a hint of sea salt. And other days I can recall the feeling of never being able to warm up again, despite being bundled in flannel pyjamas and blankets, my feet in woolen socks and curled up under myself. Perth is, was, and always will be these icons to me.

The Black Swan

The Black Swan – an emblem from the seal of University of Western Australia.

London Court, Perth City Centre

London Court, Perth City Centre. I never shopped here myself but it never failed to stop me in my tracks to study the colours and contast of this place.

Where it all began - PLC

Where it all began – Presbyterian Ladies’ College. I will always recall letting off school and crossing the busy Stirling Highway to take the bus home.

Ye Olde Swan Brewery

Ye Olde Swan Brewery

Crawley Bath House

Crawley Bath House. Cycling from my apartment in the City to the University, this icon was a part of the cycling route I took.

Swan River

Swan River – the blueness is amazing.

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Broadway intersection

Broadway intersection. So many times I’ve passed by here, when walking from Broadway shopping centre to the apartment that I shared with Yan Hong.

Fairway

Fairway. I used to live here and walk by here everyday in High School.

Walking down these roads take my mind down memory lane. I remember hot summer days where the heat would rise up the pavement and turn it a rusted brown, that was how intense the heat was. In contrast, there were those rainy winter days where the rain would seep down my stockings and by the time I got home, my toes would be wet through – and cold like little blocks of ice.

Also, I remember walking down and talking to neighbours like friends. There was no such thing as strangers in Perth, only people you’ve yet to meet.

Reid Library

Reid Library

Winthrop Hall

Winthrop Hall

Winthrop Clock Tower

Winthrop Clock Tower

Perth is one of those places that will forever hold most of my heart and mind. No matter what, I’ll still maintain that the bluest skies, the fluffiest clouds – nowhere does them like Australia.

Chocolates in Colmar

Colmar, timber, timbered houses

Colmar’s Half Timbered Houses

If you think that the above picture is from the set of Hansel and Gretel, well… you’re not alone. Cobblestoned roads, half-timbered houses, meandering streets that wind in between houses that looked that they might fall on you at any moment… Colmar was a page of a fairytale novel come to life.

St Martin's Church, in Colmar is entirely made out of pink stone (or shades of pink).

St Martin’s Church, in Colmar is entirely made out of pink stone (or shades of pink).

Wandering around its windy streets, we came across St. Martin’s Church, which was built in pink stone. I know it doesn’t look really pink here, but it’s most likely a product of the lightning (or lack thereof, in winter).

La petite Venice

La petite Venice

Enchanting Colmar is known as La Petite Venice (or Little Venice), as it bears a resemblance to the city of canals. Maybe with much imagination 😛 Colmar is beautiful on its own, but to liken it to Venice is to compare a domestic house cat to a majestic Tiger. Parallels exist of course, but nothing will ever touch the beauty and promise of Venice. Instead, Colmar should be appreciated for what it is and as it is rather than be dubbed a second Venice!

Route des vins d'Alsace (The Alsace Wine Route)

Route des vins d’Alsace (The Alsace Wine Route)

Before visiting Colmar, we drove along the winding roads that form the Alsace Wine Route. This is one of the oldest wine routes in France. The Alsace region produces a variety of wines, primarily white wine (that I determine from my very brief encounter!). The white wines are typically dry, but with a slight sweetness to them that I don’t encounter very often. Anyway, moving on.

My handsome chauffeur!

My handsome chauffeur! 😉

Wine Tasting!

Wine Tasting!

We stopped by on the way for a wine tasting; I tried Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling and a Muscat which are typically produced in the Alsace region. I also found out (as educated by JJ, who laughed at me when I compared a Muscat to a Moscato) that Moscato is an Italian wine. Pffft. They all come from the same family of grapes anyway, surely!

chocolatier, france, alsace

At a chocolatier

And of course, our first stop was at a chocolate factory to satisfy JJ’s sweet tooth.

It’s strange, I suddenly recall how Andrew always steered away from chocolates and desserts. I always found that sad – although I guess doing so would be quite good for me 😛 Still, give me a man who loves his sweets in life.

Southwestern Serendipity – a Singaporean female in Exeter

I awake slowly, my eyes opening incrementally in millimetres every minute. My forehead and nose is telling me that outside is cold and no sane person would consider leaving my (third level) bed at 6.45 a.m. But then again, not everyone finds out a day before their trip to the UK that their ex-colleague and dear friend from Singapore is now studying in Exeter, a 3 hour train journey from London. So yes, amidst much whining from my snug-in-a-blanket warm body, I pull myself out to have a cold shower (my hostel didn’t believe in hot showers in Winter…. tragedy). 30 minutes later, I am at Waterloo Station all excited to travel down to Exeter to meet Netti!

As said, UK really put on its best dress for me. Here was a picture of the sunrise that I was treated to on the journey down to Exeter.

The beautiful sunrise that greeted me enroute to Exeter

The beautiful sunrise that greeted me enroute to Exeter

Exeter Cemetary?

Exeter Cemetary?

Some berries spotted on our country walk

Some berries spotted on our country walk

Not sure what berries these were, but I HAD to stop and snap a shot of them. Pretty, aren’t they? Originally, Netti and I had planned to visit a Donkey Sanctuary near Sidmouth, Devon. However, we had overestimated the capabilities of Sunday public transportation. In the end, we were (somewhat) stranded in the country at 2 p.m. and took a leisurely stroll down the countryside.

Netti & I

Netti & I

Came across this small stream and had to stop to take a wefie. I’ve missed this girl. She was a bedrock for me when I started my contract teaching in CHIJ Katong. We started together and although our paths have diverged, it felt so good to get the opportunity to meet up with her again and see the many blessings that life has brought her after a tumultuous period in her working life.

Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral

High Street, Exeter - reminds me of Perth's city centre!

High Street, Exeter – reminds me of Perth’s city centre!

Netti & I at High Street, Exeter

Netti & I at High Street, Exeter

We ended up having a hot coffee at Costa and taking some pictures along High Street. In many ways, Devon reminds me of Western Australia and Exeter, Perth. The public transport, the buses, the weather, the long leisurely walks, beautiful scenery and the city centre structures. I’ve barely been here a day and I see the many ways I could fall in love with Exeter. Oh, to leave parts of your heart everywhere you travel. It is both a blessing, and a curse.

Trains from London to Exeter depart from both Waterloo and Victoria stations. More details may be found on Southwest Train’s website at http://www.southwesttrains.co.uk/exeter-guide.aspx.

Accommodation Review: Smart Russell Square

Overall Rating: 2/10

– Stay Away unless desperate and the only option is to sleep out on the streets.

Alright, alright. So I booked into the hostel of hell. To be fair, I’ve visited my share of hostels and I expected to be slumming it (the one in Naples was scary enough – I thought I was going to wake up raped or sliced up in bed). But still, this one was one for the infamous lists.

Let’s start with the Positives.

1. Staff were friendly. The doorman always greeted me with a smile, and the baggage check person (Ryan) had a nice conversation with me.

2. Location was very convenient. It was within walkable distance of the tube station (Russell Square) and a supermarket.

3. Beds had a curtain to draw which hid your bed from the room and allowed me to change in privacy.

Moving on to the Negatives.

1. Toilets were only located at Level 1 (separate from bathrooms) and Level 3 (with some shower stalls). If you wake up with a near bursting bladder and had the misfortune to be located all the way up top of the bunk beds, let’s hope you have practiced your kegel exercises.

2. Charging points – only 2 charging points were provided in my room of 9. The math doesn’t compute.

3. Common Room was crowded and there was nowhere to sit (except for the tables). This was caused mostly by the lack of charging points in the rooms – people started bringing their electronics to the common room to charge.

4. The kitchen was dirty and had unwashed dishes in the sink. In these type of 9-bed and 18-bed hostels, it only takes one to set off a chain reaction and I suppose I was there during those bad days.

5. Organization of Room – the beds weren’t bunk beds, they were set into the walls. Which were both good and bad. There was sufficient space (in my 9 bed room) for luggage. However, they had 3 beds on top of each other – which kinda sucked if you have vertigo and are stuck on the top bunk (moi!). I was convinced I would fall off every time I climbed down the hell long ladder.

6. No free lockers (I even brought a lock). Either way, a group of 7 checked out the second day I was there and hostel staff also removed my linens and towel by accident (which I had paid 5 pounds and a deposit of 10 pounds for). This was in spite of me putting in my check in and check out dates in the little dongle provided. No effort was made to replace my towel. My slippers also went missing, I assume it was thongnapped by one of my hostel mates.

7. I had two showers here. The first time, I tried the shower stalls in the basement. The basement showers were worse than communal gym showers. Curtains that stuck onto you. To turn on the water, you had to press down a knob otherwise the water stopped running after a few minutes. This would be alright if the water wasn’t so BLOODY COLD. IN WINTER.

The second shower I had was up in the 3rd level showers, which at least had nicer shower cubicles. However, the water was still cold. My first few showers in Europe in winter were yes, cold showers. I nearly froze to death.

If you would like to sleep in discomfort, there are probably better places to do it in London.

Website Link: http://www.smartrussellsquare-london.com/

Tripadvisor Reviews: http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Hotel_Review-g186338-d1233082-Reviews-Smart_Russell_Square_Hostel-London_England.html

Hostelworld Reviews: http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Smart-Russell-Square/London/29412/reviews