January 3, 2008

Gott Nytt År!

That's happy new year in Swedish. I hope everyone had a great holiday. Although I went through some tough moments experiencing my first Christmas far away from my family and friends, spending it with a close family friend on the other side of Sweden made all the difference. New Years in Gothenburg was a bit unusual though, as the main fireworks show went off at 5pm (spectacular though), and the "countdown" to new years involved counting up to 12... ?!?! It was quite anti-climactic as Paul and I were watching the event on TV because the counting totally threw us off and then we couldn't figure out whether midnight had already struck. That night we were housesitting the most fabulous apartment for Paul's friends — they're a gay couple and they have the such great style and taste! I loved it, it looked like those places that would be featured in Wallpaper* or something. So Paul and I made the most of our night there and prepared ourselves a delicious homecooked meal, enjoyed dessert of ostkaka with jam (literally translates to cheesecake but unlike typical cheesecake it feels more custardy), and drank some glögg, while watching a Sex and the City marathon. Ahh, what a wonderful evening it was.

Reading back on last year's year in review I realize I finally achieved what I had dreamed of doing for so many years: living in Europe. Even though it's what I've always wanted, the reality is that it hasn't been a magical ride as I had though. It was a bit of a struggle to adjust but now as I'm slowly meeting people, learning to accept the lifestyle differences, and traveling as much as I can, I'm looking forward to see where this adventure takes me this year. I've learned from my past mistakes of letting opportunities pass me by, and although I might question some decisions I've made over others to get to where I am now, there's no point in looking back or having regrets. I'm a true believer that everything happens reason.

Once again, here's a list of the things that stood out most for me for 2007:

Showed my photography at the You Are Here exhibit · my first opera Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk · finally figuring out how to do an S-curve in snowboarding · Nuit Blanche in Montreal Christian, Vanessa and Jeremy and getting into a random snowball fight with hooligans · being the proud owner of my very own Hasselblad · shopping frenzy in HK · visiting mainland China for the first time with Christian, but ending up in the hospital · my first photography showing at the CONTACT festival · photographing Siren Sounds benefit concert featuring local bands, Melissa O'Neil, and Fefe Dobson · family road trip to New England and Montreal · watching the live match of the final Argentina vs Czech Republic FIFA U-20 game · getting my first pair of rollerblades and bladed 3 hours along the lakeshore from the west end to the east and all the way back (and nearly collapsing in the end) · attending the awesome Daft Punk concert · watching a hilarious yet brilliant interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream in High Park · going to the CNE for the first time in over a decade and having a blast · racing and winning medals with Banana Boat dragonboat team · Eyal and Julie's wedding · road trip to Bruce Peninsula · staying out until sunrise for Toronto's Nuit Blanche · watching Cirque du Soleil's Kooza from the front row · making a fabulous Thanksgiving meal completely on my own · 1500km 3-day road trip (I drove the entire way!) to Pennsylvania, seeing Fallingwater House and doing mad shopping in Grove City (and randomly bumping into 3 groups of friends we knew all in the same store) · kicking butt in floor hockey with my beloved team · ate my way through all my favourite restaurants in Toronto for the last time · starting a new life on my own in Stockholm · reuniting with Jason for a weekend in Paris · seeing the amazing Christmas market in Frankfurt · experiencing Swedish Christmas · spending Christmas and New Years with Paul in Gothenburg

I hope you all can look back on the past year with wonderful memories and that any not-so-good experiences has made you a stronger person. I wish everyone all the best for an exciting, happy, and prosperous new year!

Posted by mich at 12:32 PM | return | dreams [0]

December 22, 2007

Swedish Christmas

Christmastime in Sweden doesn't feel much like Christmas to me. The holiday is really family-oriented here and not nearly as commercialized or so in-your-face as in North America. I admit that the excessive commercialism of the holiday has gotten to me in recent years (especially now when Christmas decorations start coming out even before Hallowe'en), but I really miss seeing all the colourful and festive decorations and hearing Christmas tunes everywhere you go. Things here are really subtle; even in the darkest time of the year* everyone's house is just simply decorated with a 7-stick electrical candlebra that sits on the windsill or with a decorative star lamp hanging from the ceiling. That's it — no colours either, just the incandescent yellow of the bulbs. We don't even have snow yet and apparently it won't come until January :(

Back in the olden days, December 13 used to be the darkest day of the year, which was the day that Lucia Day was and continues to be celebrated. It's quite an important day in Sweden and here it marks the beginning of Christmas. I woke up early that morning to watch a Lucia concert, in which a procession of girls dressed in white and are led by a girl chosen to represent Lucia, who wears a crown of candles on head. They stop and sing Swedish Christmas songs and then continue their procession. At my office that day we ate lussekatter (saffron buns), which are traditionally eaten only during Christmas, and drank warm glögg with raisin and almonds. That particular glögg had 10% alcohol however, and although I only took about 10 sips, I was pretty much out of commission the rest of the afternoon, zzzz.

julbord. It was my first time trying Swedish food, which consists of a lot of cold salmon prepared in various ways, raw herring in different sauces, and cold cuts. There weren't many warm dishes but the meatballs and Jansson's Temptation were delicious. I did make the effort to try the fish dishes that I normally wouldn't eat. I didn't realize the herring was actually raw so it came as a nasty slimy surprise. I also tried the fermented herring, which is a very Swedish dish. I never though I'd ever eat it when I read about it before coming here, but it's not as bad as it sounds when you eat it with potatoes. I probably won't ever eat it again, but now I can say I've tried real Swedish food :P Later that evening the restaurant converted into a karaoke bar at one end and a disco on the other, which seemed pretty strange to me. People were going nuts in the karaoke area singing out of tune to cheesy Swedish 80s pop music. I've come to realize that Swedes LOVE to sing. I hear them singing out loud everywhere I go: subway trains, dinner tables, airports, bars, and especially at karaoke. The dance floor was no better; the DJ was spinning all Euro dance, which I can't stand, LOL.

Over the weekend I visited Skansen, which is an open-air museum featuring historical pioneer buildings transported from all over Sweden. You can visit each building and watch people dressed in costume demonstrating things like bookbinding, glass-blowing and weaving. My friend and I primarily went there to see the Christmas market and I picked up an English copy of a Swedish cakes and cookies recipe book that I'll be trying out this weekend. I think by the end of my year in Sweden my goal is to be able to read enough Swedish to buy myself a cookbook in Swedish :)

Good news on my housing situation: I got a new roommate from Germany, who's awesome, AND my landlady's finally moving out! Hallelujah! For a while she was being so wishy-washy about whether she was actually going to move out by the end of the month (her son had bought her a new flat, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to move there). But my roommate and I just kept persuading her with cheesy lines like her son will be so disappointed if she doesn't take the place, etc. In just a few weeks we'll be free to have pork, wine and boys at our flat, haha.

* The sun rises at 8:45am and sets at 2:45pm, depressing huh?

Posted by mich at 8:49 PM | return | dreams [0]

November 16, 2007

Daily Life in the Stock

It's been 2 weeks now in Stockholm and I'm getting used to the everyday routine of living here on my own. It hasn't been the easiest, but hopefully I'll feel more adjusted within the next few weeks.

Here are some of my thoughts about living here:

People

My colleagues are super nice and friendly so I really enjoy my work environment. Strangers however, sometimes seem quite cold upon first impressions but they are generally polite and friendly when you talk to them or ask for help. I'm still not used to salespeople in stores because they never greet or even acknowledge customers. They'll even completely ignore you and continue talking to their co-workers while blocking the shelf you're trying to look at. I'm told that this is quite common in Sweden since salespeople find the service industry to be beneath them so they tend to act snobby.

The thing that most surprised though is how pushy people are here. Multiple times, when walking up the escalator or walking along the people mover, people who wanted to walk faster (and everyone who's walked with me knows I'm definitely not a slow walker) would actually push me over the the right just to pass by. Like, what the hell? Who does that? Apparently lots of Swedes. The worst incident was yesterday when I was walking up the escalator and had to stop because there was a woman blocking the path. So I stopped too. But then a hand from behind extended over my should and pushed the woman and she fell over her kids! So then I turned around to the old man and told him he didn't need to push. And then he started to push me aggresively! Seriously, what's wrong with these people? Unbelievable! I wish I turned around and elbowed him in the face or something, but of course I did nothing.

Language

My company enrolled me in a Swedish class so I started learning Swedish last week. It's fun, but it's pretty hard. My teacher is really good but she speaks only Swedish to the class so most of it still sounds like gibberish to me. I did learn some basic things like counting numbers, saying "My name is," "I come from," "I speak English," and so on. The pronunciation is the trickiest because things aren't pronounced the way they're spelled. For example the letter 'K' can sound like 'sh', so "Kina" would be pronounced "sheena", which means China. The city "Göteborg" looks like "gotburg" but it's really pronounced "yur-teh-boray".

The Swedish language is still kind of difficult for me to distinguish (it sounds nothing like the Muppet Chef!), so sometimes I can't really tell if someone is speaking Swedish or not. If I were in a different country and I heard Swedish, I probably wouldn't be able to pinpoint the language. I thought it would be a bit similar to German, but it isn't at all - it's much more soft and melodic. Also, everybody here speaks English (and they don't sound like the IKEA guy) so I'm never forced to bust out my phrasebook.

Shopping

This place is freaking expensive! From the prices I've seen, many things are 2-3 times more expensive than back home. The most outrageous price I've seen was a puny head of iceberg lettuce for almost $8 yesterday!!! I almost dropped dead. I went shopping for running shoes since I couldn't find any sizes in the States or styles in Canada, and a simple pair of Adidas costed $200. Body Shop body butters were $30-$40 and books were double the price of the Canadian prices. On the streets in Stockholm, everyone sports a Canada Goose jacket, and even back home those cost a pretty penny, but here they seriously cost over $900!!! The most confusing thing is that full-time salaries are equivalent to those in Canada, but people here pay more income tax and sales tax and high living costs so I'm so confused how people can actually afford everything!

Fortunately, the prices at IKEA are cheaper than in Canada so I've already made 2 shopping trips there :) They also have a nice line of shower products and lotions so now I know where to go instead of the Body Shop!

Food

I still haven't actually eaten out at a real restaurant since it's quite expensive. Pretty depressing huh? I've eaten a tiny plate of rice and chicken at IKEA that cost me over $10, and a food court meal, which also cost $10. Lunch time is when the best deals are to be had. That's when restaurants have fixed-price menus called Dagens Rätt offering salad, bread, entrée and a drink. I went to one place for lunch that had a huge selection of pizzas and I chose one called La Banana, which had curry, pineapple, banana, and ham. Sounded really unique and it tasted really good! The rest of the time I make myself dinner and lunch but It's usually boring stuff. I really miss good Chinese food. I did find a Chinese grocery store yesterday and bought some sauces and noodles... but... I don't know how to make anything yet :S

Flatmates

It's only been a week in my new place and already I've gotten quite annoyed with the 2 other women I live with: one is the landlady and the other is a Swedish woman and they're both middle-aged. My landlady is really nice and sweet but she's imposed some rules like no friends or visitors and no alcohol. There was a third rule I found out after I bought a package of spare ribs: no pork. She's muslim so she doesn't want pork around and made me return it to the store. I was pretty angry about that because I thought it was wrong for her to impose her own dietary restrictions on me. But being the softie that I am, I returned the ribs (surprisingly you can return meat...?) She's also been moving my stuff around in the kitchen and bathroom and comes into my room when I'm not home (and my door is kept shut all the time), so I had to speak to her about that.

As for the other woman, I had only met her over the weekend... sort of. She had gone travelling when I moved in and had returned on Tuesday. Her bedroom door was open and the light was on so when I passed by the door I looked in, but there was an old half-naked woman standing around! Yuck! That was awkward so I didn't say anything. The next day after returning to my building from work, the woman held the elevator door for me to go upstairs. I tried saying hi but she ignored me, so I thought she didn't realize I was living in the same place as her. But when we both got off on the same floor and she left the apartment door open for me after going in, it was obvious she knew who I was. Then I watched her take off her dirty shoes and throw them right onto my house slippers! That peeved me off but I didn't say anything. Later on when the landlady introduced us I said hi and smiled at her, but all she did was just look at me with a blank stare. No smile, no 'hi', nothing. Hmph, rude. The next day after coming home I saw her shoes on top of my slippers AGAIN. I wanted to say something to her but I didn't really see her come out of her room that night. So this morning I purposely put my slippers away to the side, pushed my two pairs of shoes together to the side of the shoe rack and made sure she had lots of space on the rack. But when I came home after work, there was an empty space on the rack and the woman's shoes were dumped onto BOTH my pairs of shoes!!!! *huff* I don't know what's wrong with this woman, but I was so mad I threw her shoes off of mine and off the rack. I still didn't see her tonight but I'm making sure I speak to her tomorrow.

Fortunately for me the Swedish woman is moving out in 2 weeks and the landlady is moving out end of December. There's a German girl my age coming in next month. Caaaan't wait.

Posted by mich at 3:14 PM | return | dreams [1]

November 7, 2007

Hej from Stockholm

Here I am in Stockholm. It’s been 4 days now and I still haven’t seen the city yet. I’m living in the suburbs 20 minutes away from downtown by metro and I’ve just stayed in my area trying to settle in since I arrived on Saturday evening.

At the airport before my departure I just didn’t want to go anymore. My flight over was miserable and depressing and I had no appetite when they served us meals at 1am and 6am. I had a 3-hour stopover in Warsaw, where I became hungry and thirsty with no Polish money and so utterly bored because there was absolutely nothing to see or do at the terminal. The place actually kind of reminded me of the airport in Beijing – both felt as if it had been frozen in time in the 70s.

Flying into Stockholm lifted my spirits a little as I saw the lights from above. It was so pretty, you could see the contours of all the islands… it reminded me of glitter scattered a in a curving, swirling pattern. The first thing I noticed when I landed was the piles of snow on the runway! It had snowed the night before, but it was all melting. Lugging my two overweight suitcases from the airport to the apartment was a struggle to say the least. When I couldn’t find elevators I was forced to take my luggage two sets of long escalators down to the trains. I seriously thought I’d topple over with them, but I was able to manage an efficient method… it was still pretty scary though.

Travelling from the airport I had these first impressions: people here are pretty stylish, it’s quite multicultural, it’s not as clean as I expected (quite a bit of litter), and there’s TONS of graffiti all over the place, even worse than Montreal if you can believe that. Can’t really say much else since I haven’t been to the central city yet, but hopefully soon!

My apartment is in Akalla, at the end of one of the metro lines. It’s right next to the metro station and 3 supermarkets, and it’s a 7-minute walk to my workplace. The place has 2 bedrooms and living room housing 4 people, and I have the huge living room. Tons of space, but unfortunately I’ve got barely anything to fill it up. I’ve even got a private balcony which would be really nice in the summer. However, it’s very sparsely furnished so it feels quite barren, and the only thing separating my room from the rest of the flat is a curtain. Not bad, but it’d be nice to have a desk and a real bed (I’m currently sleeping on a futon that caves in the middle when I lie on it), but that’ll change hopefully. Still don’t have internet at home so I feel quite disconnected.

On my first day here I did some grocery shopping downstairs. Food’s pretty expensive in Stockholm but not as bad as I expected. Cashiers don’t help you bag anything and if you use their plastic or paper bags, you have to purchase them along with your grocery items. Next I checked out a big mall in Kista (pronounced shista). I love how Swedes love hardwood flooring – they had it at the airport and the mall food court. There were 3 coffee stands scattered throughout the mall but the sitting area for those areas looked more like café lounges with plush sofas and chic tables and chairs – and they all had hardwood floors for their space :P My final stop was… IKEA! It was so incredibly busy and I had a mini spree shopping for a few necessities: hangers, laundry basket, storage containers, and an alarm clock. The alarm clock was an unfortunate purchase. Since it’s a windup clock it tick-tocks really fast and LOUD that I had trouble falling asleep that night. Then I was awoken in the middle of the night and couldn’t fall back asleep from the ticking. I stuffed it under my bed to muffle the sound, but it didn’t really help. To top it all off, the alarm never rang in the morning so I woke up only 15 minutes before I had to leave for work the next morning. Argh! Luckily I got a super sweet Sony Ericsson phone from work so I’m now using that as my alarm. I’ll give a summary of my workplace after the end of the week. Oh, and back to IKEA – they don’t have the equivalent of the $1 breakfasts that they do back home!!! The food at the IKEA restaurant was quite expensive, while their products are about the same price or cheaper than Canada.

ikea_entrance.JPG ikea_dinner.JPG

Many people have been wondering why as a Canadian I’d want to come live in Sweden. “Why trade snow for more snow?” they ask. Personally I love having seasons, and I couldn’t live somewhere that’s warm all year round and especially not somewhere that rains instead of snows during the winter. The thing I’d have a hard time adjusting to is the daylight hours. The sun here sets at 3:30pm and I think it sets at 2pm in December. The funniest looks I get are when people find out I’m not a hockey fan and I don’t drink coffee (apparently Swedes drink the most coffee per capita in the world after the Finns.)

I never had the chance to write about my last week before I left so I’ll do it now. In short, it was filled with gatherings: farewell dinner with friends at Fred’s Not Here, my last good Chinese restaurant dinner with relatives, a yummy dinner cooked by chef Wen San at her brand new condo, lunch with the March Entertainment crew at Penelope’s, and having my last amazing Utopia shrimp burrito with Eyal. I also played my last floor hockey game with my beloved team and I got to end my season with a sweet goal :P

I miss everyone back home but I’m so happy to get all the emails and messages from people! Send me your mailing addresses if you want a postcard or snail mail, you know how I love writing letters!

Posted by mich at 4:40 PM | return | dreams [0]

October 19, 2007

The Final Countdown

After over 3 months of waiting I'm counting down I've entered the last couple of weeks until my departure... 14 days left! *inhaaaale, exhaaaale* I couldn't wait for this moment to come but now the nervousness is hitting. The guys over there found me an apartment with 2 other roommates, but I didn't have the chance to ask any questions about it. I've never lived with any strangers before so the idea is a bit nerve-wracking, especially considering how anal I am about my personal space. Eek.

What I'm dreading the most, however, is the packing — how will I manage to pack a year of my life into just 2 suitcases (and under 50 lbs??) Being the pack rat that I am, my room's a treasure trove of things amassed throughout my lifetime (or more simply junk, as my family would call it) and I'll feel like a part of me will be cut off. Sounds a bit silly I know, but every so often I can spend a whole afternoon going through my room and just sit there looking through photo albums, postcard collections, birthday invitations dating all the way back to nursery school, old magazines and the like. My biggest dilemma was deciding which and how many cameras to bring with me. I've finally settled on just my digital ones because I'm betting that film developing/processing is pretty expensive over there (like everything else) — so my Nikon D70s, Leica D-Lux 3, and Rolleiflex Minidigi (big, medium, and tiny) :P As for book I'm worried those will completely weigh me down: 4 recipe books, 5 travel guide books (for Europe, Stockholm, Sweden, and Scandinavia), plus my design & leisure reading books (Anna Karenina, 100 Things to Do Before You Die, Houses of the World, Mapping, The Modern Girl's Guide to Life, and of course, my sketchooks.) Then all my necessities like coats, winter clothing, boots, sheets, etc. Oi... what a challenge.

Oh, and about my new Leica... I love it. I tried it out on my Pennsylvania trip and I'm pretty happy with the pictures, especially with the wide 16:9 format. All the reviews I read complained about the noise at high ISOs, which is a bit of a drawback, but it's not as bad as I had anticipated — plus I don't shoot at such high ISOs too often anyway. The main reason I went with the Leica was because it's like a pocket-sized SLR; it shoots RAW (although the RAW files are gigantic... 20 mb!), does bracketing, manual exposure, and a whole bunch more stuff that I haven't yet read about in the manual. Plus, it's so purdy!!

Posted by mich at 1:30 PM | return | dreams [1]

September 20, 2007

Sad Tales From the Kitchen

I'm home alone again so on Monday I attempted to cook myself some rice pilaf. I found myself a simple recipe in one of my cookbooks and starting whipping up the dish. It was starting to smell and taste great but the rice wasn't quite ready yet. I was getting impatient because it was taking too long and I just turned the stove a bit higher and left it for 5 minutes. When I came back however, all I could smell was burning and a 1-inch layer of burned rice had cake itself to the bottom of the pot. Most of the rice looked fine and unharmed, but it had absorbed all the burning scent so that it overpowered the nice aroma from the onions and spices. Even though the rice tasted like burning, I ended up eating a whole bowl because I had no other food in the house :(

The next evening Christian and I attempted to make our own butter chicken and ratatouille. The only reason I wanted to make ratatouille was because of the movie — I didn't even know what it was before. The ratatouille turned out great, but the butter chicken.... not so much. It didn't taste much like butter chicken but rather more like tomato sauce that left a sour aftertaste. Apparently we picked out a really sour yogurt that we used in the recipe. The consistency was too thick so it wasn't as saucy as the ones I've had at restaurants. Bah, how am I supposed to survive on my own?

I'll post up the recipes later but here are some nice pictures:

ratatouille_butterchicken_strip.jpg

butter_chicken_ratatouille_meal.jpg

Last night our hockey team, Puck Off, had our first game of the season. We won 6-3, with the first goal scored by yours truly :P I'm really looking forward to this season- Christian gathered all our CS friends from school so it'll be so much fun, plus we're actually not bad!

Posted by mich at 4:55 PM | return | dreams [0]

September 17, 2007

Abandoned Part II

My family's gone on a huge vacation without me... again... *cries* The first time was a cruise to the Caribbean, this time it's a trip to Japan, HK, and China. Woe is me — I need vacation!! Being the sweet daughter that I am though I bought them a new digicam, the Canon SD750 and gave it a test run on a biking excursion from Eglinton to downtown along the Don Valley trail.

The nicest thing about the camera is the gigantic 3" LCD screen. At first I wasn't a big fan of the Canon buttons and interface (whereas Sony's interface is much more more elegant and intuitive), but after getting used to it, it's not too bad. The face detection failed me many times, so the most difficult part was getting it to focus where I wanted it to and there's no image stabilizer, so steady hands at high zoom is a must. Another thing I didn't like was that it only had a night portrait mode but no simple night scene mode so night pictures are killed by the flash. If I simply try to suppress the flash, it doesn't try to compensate for light by using a longer shutter so the picture ends up completely underexposed... big thumbs down.

But overall it was a great camera to use on the bike ride and Christian and I had loads of fun shooting ourselves scaling rocky bridge underpasses, running through open fields, and hiding in ferns that double our height. Actually it was just me doing all that crazy stuff and Chris doing the picture taking since he was wearing his super-duper clip-on shoes for his bike :P I had considered just getting a consumer point-and-shoot digi like the Canon one, but after playing around with it, I was pretty irked by the focusing and exposure problems. So today I finally ordered myself the Leica D-Lux 3 after eying it for months. The fact that it's a Leica that's actually somewhat affordable, has manual controls, shoots in 16:9 format, and it's not as clunky as my SLRs completely hooked me in. I went into a spending spree today because on top of the Leica, I also ordered a new Nikon 18-200mm lens o_O They're currently on their way to my cousin's place in the states and he'll be bringing them up for me when he comes visits in October... hey, gotta take advantage of the crazy exchange rate right? :D

---

During this year's TIFF I only got to watch one movie, but it turned out to be a little gem. None of the Toronto media had reviewed Son of Rambow so I had no idea whether it was actually good, but the premise sounded so precious. It's a coming of age comedy about two kids, one a bully and the other who had never been allowed to watch TV, who become inspired by the first Rambo film and set out to create their own film Son of Rambow. The movie's filled with colourful characters, hilarious muckups, imaginative fantasy sequences, and whimsical doodle-like animations. I absolutely loved the film and even cried a bit over the touching ending.

Posted by mich at 4:06 PM | return | dreams [1]

May 1, 2007

Reflections on China

Here are some of my reactions to several things on my travels through the motherland:

Toilets
I was prepared for the squatters, but my first mainland toilet experience was quite traumatizing. I was forced to use the public washrooms on the streets, and boy, were they ever public. Upon entering the facility, I was faced with a whole row of women just squatting there doing their business. No stalls, no doors, just low dividers! I freaked out and rushed back outside. I kept going in and out trying to muster up the courage to use the toilet and when I finally got the guts to go, I hid myself in the very last stall furthest away from the entrance. Yech, I felt so icky afterwards.

Cars
The drivers in China were all crazy. They had no respect for the rules of the road, traffic signs/lights, or other motorists for that matter. If they weren't honking for one reason or another (and they were ALWAYS honking — we didn't need alarm clocks to wake up at 6am every morning), they were charging through crowds of pedestrians or bikes. Even when crossing an intersection on a pedestrian walk signal, you still have to watch out for oncoming cars/bikes/mopeds, otherwise you'll most definitely get run over. The most appalling thing to me was that vehicles don't yield to anyone or anything, not even ambulances in emergency. I couldn't believe my eyes while I was watching an ambulance trying to crawl its way through an intersection for 5 minutes while all the crisscrossing traffic was zooming and weaving around it. I guess the only privilege you get from using sirens is not being honked at for obstructing the vehicles, sheesh.

Language
After the first couple of days in China, I made a vow to learn Mandarin after the trip because I realized that Cantonese does jack all for you in the most part of mainland. In difficult situations when no one understood English, I resorted to Cantonese, hoping that there would be similarities with some key words. It rarely worked, especially in northern China, but sometimes it was still worth a shot. I tried ordering congee in Guilin using the Cantonese word jook, but no one understood me. Apparently over there they referred to it as rice porridge, but in Shanghai they knew it as zhou, which was close enough for them to understand me. Another time, in Yangshuo I wanted to know whether the vendor had a new doll other than the floor model but he didn't understand the word "new" nor the Cantonese word I tried using, sun. Fortunately I remembered how to write out the word for him (I guess those 9 years of Chinese school paid off), and the guy finally understood and exclaimed xin! What a big difference. By the time I got to Shanghai I picked up a tiny bit of basic Mandarin and was able to go into a convenience store and ask what kind of food the old woman was pushing me to buy. She knew I didn't understand much so she started making mooing sounds to explain that it was beef! Completely adorable.

Queues
There's no such thing as lineups in China... just crowding around. It also doesn't matter if you're lining up behind someone for anything, someone will push and bud you. Someone might even go and bud that offender. As annoying and frustrating as it was to me, it's so normal over there and no one really cares or thinks twice about it.

Food
I was a bit disappointed by the food — nothing we ate ever compared to the Chinese cuisine in Toronto. Having to eat Chinese food twice a day of basically the same dishes with slight variations on the tour can get quite sickening and have you craving for McD's. In Beijing we were excited to have amazing Peking duck, but we were presented with a mediocre dish that wasn't even prepared the proper way. In Shanghai, I waited 20 minutes at a stall famous for Shanghai dumplings, xiaolongbao, but those too were nothing remarkable. In Xi'an though we had a great dumpling dinner, during which we sampled 16 different kinds including interesting ones like pumpkin, walnut, curry, and roasted butter, and some that were shaped as pigs and fish!

But aside from all my rants, China was an amazing cultural experience and I only wish I had more time to explore it. Next time I'll probably trek along the Silk Road or venture to Tibet, and hopefully no more hospital visits!

Posted by mich at 2:30 PM | return | dreams [1]

January 17, 2007

My First Shiner

Yesterday was our team's first benchball game of the season. I fared pretty well in the beginning and even scored a goal, woo! But in the middle of the game while I was sitting out on the gymnasium stage, the other team had kicked the ball real high. I was watching the ball coming towards me in slo-mo, but I couldn't move. I received a nice slam in the face by the ball, knocking off my glasses and giving me a couple of throbbing cuts and a nasty bruise. My first thought after the initial "OWWWWIE!!!!!!!" was that my mom was gonna kill me. One reason being that I thought my glasses were completely busted, but luckily I was able to bend it back into a decent shape. But after I took a look at myself in the mirror, I knew I was in trouble. She hates it when I play sports; she even scolds Christian for playing too whenever he gets injured. So once I got home I stayed away from my mom and iced myself in my room. It still hurts when I squeeze my eyes together >_<

In other bad news... Hosu is on my list of banned restaurants. As I had posted back in December, I encountered a cockroach incident at the Queen Street West location. Well, two weeks ago, Christian and hit up the Yonge/Eglington location when our first restaurant choice was closed for renovation. I had ordered a bowl of udon noodles and was eating it contently, when near the end I saw a bunch of black dots floating about in the soup. Most of them were specks of pepper, but one of them looked a bit funny. Upon closer inspection, the pepper bit actually had legs and a head. Ew ew ew! It was a tiny cockroach. Seriously, 2 incidents in my last 2 visits at different locations?? We brought it up with the management and they were really apologetic, but after seeing my pouting face the rest of the evening they offered ice cream (um, no thanks) and no charge for the food. I loved you Hosu, but this is goodbye.

Posted by mich at 5:40 PM | return | dreams [1]

January 2, 2007

Happy New Year

Compared to the tumultuous year back in 2005, this past year felt like the sky finally opening up after the storm. Things started to finally fall into place for me as I settled into working at a neat little animation studio and I started coming to terms with the mistakes I've made. There's always the lingering regret of not taking an opportunity I had, and now I've learned to not let myself be pulled into different directions by other people. I guess the biggest blow to my plans on hold was waiting for an event in the summer that ended up crumbling to pieces. Yet, life goes on... I feel that the buildup of all the past experiences and this desire of mine that I've been harbouring for the past 3 years will finally culminate in achieving my big plan - and I'm not letting anyone get in my way! I won't reveal what it is yet for fear of jinxing myself but it's in the works.

Last year I've had to say goodbye to friends who've moved away. I've also unfortunately made emotional cut-offs from friends from whom I've grown apart, as hard as it was. Not caring anymore equates to less emotional stress and more happiness. Yes, this girl is moving on. On the flip side, I got to meet a whole bunch of fantabulous TNA people dodging balls, paddling dragonboats, and incurring ball hockey injuries.

And now for my yearly tradition of listing my memorable (and not so memorable) things from 2006:

All my baking/cooking hits & misses · Winterlude in Ottawa with Christian, which was cancelled due to the super warm weather · the Philosopher King's performance at First Canadian Place · getting published in a photography magazine · Filogix's Festivus party at Crowne Plaza Hotel · my 25th birthday >_< · Coldplay concert with Kris · Montreal during Easter with Christian, Sunnie and Vanessa · highlighting my hair for the first (and last) time · climbing the CN Tower for WWF with Kris and Cat · becoming a converted steak lover at David Duncan House · 2 food poisonings (one of them from East- never eat there!) · TSO concerts with Kris · family trip to Montreal in May · going to my first baseball game (aka snoozefest) · having my cousins from Boston visit · biking along the Gardiner/DVP for the Ride for Heart · learning to play Squash · last get together with Cass at the Royal York · crazy hardcore shopping in Grove City, PA during Canada Day weekend · winning bronze in both of our dragonboat festivals · exhibiting my button design at the One Inch Punch show · trip to Quebec City with Christian and trying rabbit at Le Lapin Saut� · Taste of the Danforth with family and Lilly · cottaging for the first time (never again- I'd rather go camping) · going to Sudbury for the first time (again, never again) · a day riding kiddie rides at Centreville with Christian · volunteering at the Film Fest and seeing Brad Pitt up close *sigh* · playing Waking City · exhibiting at the Red Head Gallery for Nuit Blanche · staying out all night (almost) for Nuit Blanche · taking Kris to the Sleeping Beauty ballet · volunteering at the Santa Clause Parade · selling my work at OCAD's Whodunit exhibit · watching the Chicago musical starring BSB's Kevin Richardson (and was he ever fantastic!) · discovering my inner ball hockey killah · exhibiting at Toronto Pearson Airport until June

Posted by mich at 6:55 PM | return | dreams [0]

September 17, 2006

Emotionally devatstating week. How can things continue going from from bad to worse in just a matter of days, and at the worst possible time? I So much has been lost, it's too painful to think about it. I don't think I've cried so hard so much. I feel like I'm all cried out and have run out of tears but somehow waves of emotion just hit unexpectedly. Then comes the numbness, helplessness, and exhaustion.

Posted by mich at 12:34 AM | return | dreams [1]

June 7, 2006

In a World of Pain

My body's only just starting to recover from a painful last few days. Sunday morning was the Becel Ride for Heart along the Gardiner and DVP. Christian and I woke up at 6:45am and biked down to the CNE to meet with his corporate team. We had a small breakfast then hit the Gardiner at 9:15 and reached the halfway point of the 25km route at 10. We rested for 30 min waiting for the rest of the team and took a bunch of group pictures before turning around to head back to the CNE. Thank goodness I didn't do the 50km this year; even though the 25 route doesn't have the massive rolling hills like the 50, I was still getting a bit grumpy. I did not want to repeat my miserable mood from last year's 50k- I don't think I even looked at my bike for a month afterwards. This time was a bit better- a week break from my bike shall suffice :) We finished the ride at around 11am and rested and ate while waiting for the rest of the team. A few of us later biked to Old York restaurant for a filling brunch where I had some french toast covered in apple compote with fresh fruit.

As if we weren't already exhausted enough, Chris and I headed over to Queen/Sherbourne for a double dragonboat practice- one hour pool training and one hour dry training. In the pool we were taught proper paddling technique. I had no idea how strenuous it is to paddle... there's no way I can do a whole race! My back and shoulders were killing me after that. Dry training was even worse: 2 laps around the soccer field, 5 laps around the gym, situps, push-ups, 2 minute plank, then a game of tag and dodgeball. In the evening our whole team had a BBQ at one of the captain's backyard, so that was a nice relaxing break to end the day.

The next morning, I kept waking up from my sleep every time my body moved because it HURT SO MUCH every time I moved an inch. Can we say itai!!! I literally had to roll out of bed since I could not bend anything in my body. I had a dodgeball game that night and I was so pumped to play even though I was aching all over, but come the afternoon exhaustion and a headache had set in. I really should have just gone home, but the crazy person in me still told me to play. And I did play, just not that hard :P The upside was that playing made my headache go away... or maybe I was just so much more sore that I forgot about the headache o_O

Needless to say, my initial plan to play badminton on last night was scrapped. And Eyal had actually wanted to bike downtown to work with me this morning, but I was like helllllllll nooooo. This girl's gotta rest. ZZZzzzz...

Posted by mich at 9:44 PM | return | dreams [1]

May 26, 2006

Food Poisoned :X

On Wednesday evening I went out to dinner at East before heading to the TSO's Salute to the Tonys performance. Our seats were on the main floor so they were pretty close to the stage. The show was great and the conductor turned out to be a hilarious character who played along with the singers' antics. I'm not sure if I was a big fan of all the vocals though... sometimes they seemed to take away from the orchestra. The soprano singer was absolutely awful, and none of the singers or the choir could sing in sync (but I must say, the baritone and tenor were amazing singers on their own).

In the middle of the night, I woke up feeling reeeaaallly sick. At first I thought I was terribly dehydrated so I had some sips of water. But no. This was something bad. I ended up having to run to the bathroom throughout the night and morning until my stomach completely emptied itself out. It left me so exhausted I ended up sleeping most of the afternoon away. And what did I have for dinner? Just a simple dish of satay tofu and veggies... not even meat. I'm never going back to East again (and neither should you)!

Tonight I attended my very first baseball game. The game was... *yawn*, but I had a good time just chatting with Cass and attempting to be part of a wave. The Jays were actually winning, but I needed to leave early because my stomach was still in a bit of pain. On a day where I couldn't eat anything, I was surrounded by food stalls selling fries, pizza, ice cream... *drool* Waaaaah :( I ended up just eating half a sandwich consisting of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber but my grinding stomach later made me realize that raw veggies are much harder to digest than meat (which I was trying to avoid).

Posted by mich at 11:29 PM | return | dreams [0]

May 3, 2006

Milk Poisoning

So it turns out that my unwellness last Wednesday was stomach flu from drinking spoiled milk. How could I have managed to drink a cup of bad milk without even noticing you ask? It was becuase I used the milk in a strawberry banana smoothie I had made for breakfast. Right after I drank it I developed stomach pains, but I only figured it was attributed to my fast drinking. After I got to work I realized that I had a mild flu; my body was going from hot to cold and back to hot again. I really didn't believe that it could have been a result of my smoothie...how could it have turned ou so bad? But on Saturday morning when I opened the carton and smelled inside, the reek of sour milk said it all. And it wasn't even expired yet! I can't believe I actually ingested that, yuck.

And now boys and girls, the moral of the story is: do not buy Nielson milk! It goes bad, fast. I used to always get the bagged Nielson milk but when the milk always turned pasty and lumpy before I even got to opening the 3rd bag, I thought it was an issue with bagged milk. Then after switching to Natrel cartons I never had a problem with spoiled milk... until I got a Nielson carton because all the Natrels were gone. And look what happened.

Posted by mich at 10:25 PM | return | dreams [0]

April 3, 2006

My New Razr. It's Pink!

Yup, I got a new phone... so jaaaang! I've succumbed to the throw away consumer culture that corporations force down our throats. My two-year old Motorola V300 is still perfectly fine (with a few scratches here and there), but how can a girl resist the sexy Razr? Especially when her old contract ended and can take advantage of savings on a new phone??! She can't. Even Joy's rants isn't enough to deter me from getting a big banana phone like the ones I was enviously admiring while travelling in Japan.

Sunday afternoon Chris and I ended up walking 2.5 hours along Queen street from Ossington to Yonge, up and down the Eaton Centre, then back to Ossington (that's 14 TTC stops man!). We stopped by the crpes place for a savoury snack to satisfy my ice cream craving. YUM. But now my ankles are killing me and my knee keeps locking with every step I take >_<

Posted by mich at 10:59 PM | return | dreams [1]

January 4, 2006

Happy 2006

It was a festive and, for a few people, a wild new year's eve party at Christian's. Let's just say that the few us that stayed overnight were up until 4am... the photos that will never see the light of day tell the story. However, I *will* put up pics of my oh so yummy Candy Cane Cake! It's actually an upside down angel cake because when I tried to flip it right side up, the whole cake cracked >_< Luckily my dad was around to help me flip it back without completely destroying it to pieces :) As per usual, continue reading for the recipe!

New Year's day was spent doing some cleaning up at Christian's before heading up to Pacific Mall to meet with my family and relatives for dinner. The rest of the evening was spent at my place playing mah jong and poker until 3am.

Reflecting back on 2005, this year turned out to be a huge emotional roller-coaster for me. A bit of it was of course school related, having been stressed with not only school work but with creating the CSSU yearbook. But those were just peanuts compared to having to come to terms with the fact that I was entering a new phase in my life and was forever leaving my student life behind me. Immediately following my convocation it all hit me- hard, and I fell into a sort of depression that I hadn't experienced since my high school days. It was a variety of different things that kept putting me in slumps. I had all these plans of things that I wanted to do after graduating, yet I didn't know exactly when I wanted to do each thing... it felt like I was being pulled in all sorts of directions and I couldn't focus on one thing. Even now I get anxious thinking about what path I should follow. I gave up the photography job on the cruise ship in the fall (and instead, landed a job from hell) and I don't know whether I should still go for it come summertime or just give up on it and move on. During my last year I never worried about going to those career fairs or applying to companies to get a job right after school. That wasn't my goal- I didn't want to feel stuck in a job so early on before I got a chance to do something adventurous and exciting. I figured doing my own thing would be satisfying and fulfilling, but in the end it was frustrating and I feel like it didn't amount to much. I hate to say it, but sometimes I regretted not getting a stable and boring computer job... at least I wouldn't feel useless and demoralized. Through it all, sweet BFF helped put things in perspective for me and lifted me up during my lowest lows, and for that I am so thankful ^_^

On a happier note, 2005 also had its memorable moments:
Bus driver losing bus keys during the CSSU ski trip and waiting a few hours for another bus to drive us home reading week trip to Montreal with Christian dogde ball games at Hart House salsa dancing for the first time experiementing with a Hasselblad seeing the CS gang all dressed up for the CSSU formal having my photographs published and exhibited completing a decent application for Capstone waiting 7 hours in line to see Coldplay at The Edge only to be completely shafted 24 marathons biking 50 km along the Gardiner and DVP camping trip at Algonquin Canada Day in Ottawa with Christian discovering the amazing gym classes at Hart House taking a fashion photography course leading to fashion shoots with models watching Kid Koala perform at the Harbourfront's Dim Sum festival seeing Nel on his summer visit back from HK spending a day at Centreville with Christian and winning stuffed toys for the both of us beach volleyball at Ashbridges Bay getting creamed with bananas sitting front row centre at the Blue Man Group show tennis nights with Dennis & co. seeing big stars while volunteering at the film festival hiking in the Cheltenham Badlands 6 days of Disneyworld "boot camp" dining at Canoe and Rosewater Supper Club having had the best Christmas holiday to date

Candy Cane Cake

Cake
1 box Betty Crocker SuperMoist white cake mix
1 1/4 cups water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon red food color
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

White Icing
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk or water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla, if desired

Decoration
Crushed candy canes or crushed hard peppermint candies, if desired

--------------

1. Heat oven to 350F. Generously grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube (bundt cake) pan.

2. In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil and egg whites with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds; beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.

3. Pour about 2 cups batter into pan. Pour about 3/4 cup batter into small bowl; stir in food color and peppermint extract. Carefully pour pink batter over white batter in pan. Carefully pour remaining white batter over pink batter.

4. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Turn pan upside down onto wire rack or heatproof serving plate; remove pan. Cool cake completely, about 1 hour.

5. In small bowl, mix all icing ingredients. Stir in additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until smooth and spreadable. Spread icing over cake. Sprinkle top with crushed candy.

Makes 12 servings.

Posted by mich at 7:36 PM | return | dreams [0]