China Calling: Punk, Pollution & Pasta

It’s been a week in China and it feels like something I’ve known for a lot longer than this. There’s a certain freedom and pleasure that comes with knowing your way around, whether it’s giving taxi drivers directions or walking to the subway station. And I walk to the subway station a lot.

It’s almost expected of you to speak Mandarin though, and if I’d only listened to the Singapore government when they declared, Hua Yu COOL! (Speaking Mandarin, Cool!) things would be much easier. But, we learn. No Hokkien here either, so the little I know isn’t of any use. #BoPian

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Hua Yu COOL

The stark differences between this city and everything I know are everywhere. I didn’t think I’d ever be this excited about grocery shopping, but there I was, in a very expaty and overpriced supermarket, internally shrieking in the pasta aisle. It gets better: olive oil. And next thing you know, you’re that expat shopping at April’s Gourmet, the Beijing equivalent of Singapore’s Marketplace, instead of Giant or Sheng Siong.

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ALL the pasta

Sometimes when you go to a public toilet, there are no doors. Sometimes when you think something is 20 minutes away, it’s really an hour. And sometimes when you order vegetarian, it comes with pork.

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No one’s looking because no one cares

 

As much as these things can be frustrating and upsetting and just really annoying, there’s something to be said for a city that doesn’t bend itself backwards for foreigners. Beijing constantly reminds you, you’re welcome to stay, but this is how we do it here. I think that’s what I both love and hate about China so far, infantile as my experience thus far might be.

Something that feels familiar is the very cool punk scene here. It’s as exclusive as it is inclusive, which is perhaps the way it is everywhere else. This documentary talks about how youth in Beijing quite suddenly had access to all sorts of music at once, which has created its familiar but original mess of sound that I’m starting to love.

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The Dider at School Bar’s Punk It Spring! Festival

What’s also pretty punk is Beijing’s roller derby team, who I skated and brunched with over the weekend. Derby is the best thing because you immediately have friends, a sport, and a support network in any city that has a league. There isn’t a league in Xi’an (where I’m soon moving to) yet, but there’s a possibility of starting one up, which is also very exciting.

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The pollution isn’t the worst, but it gets to you. I notice it most when the sun sets, and it’s just a blurry glow in the sky instead of the fiery ball that I’m used to. When you stand on bridges, the distance shows how murky the air is.

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#nofilter

In any case, all one really needs in life is to keep calm and cook pasta.

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China Calling: Finding your way

Day 3 in Beijing and I’m starting to love this city already. I haven’t seen that much of it, but so far it seems like a toolegittoquit big, authentic city that isn’t too unkind.

I suppose having never been here, and with Singapore’s hostility apprehension to PRCs, I was expecting dogs being barbecued on street corners and people being rude and mean. The little I’ve seen so far has been quite the opposite, with lots of people fussing over their pet doggies (friends not food) and locals being curiously polite about this foreigner. Yesterday I asked a girl for directions and she said, “I speak English only little. Speak slowly, please?” and eventually was able to help me out. Naturally, I fell in love with the girl at once.

My favourite thing so far is the subway. It’s massive, and fast, costs 2 yuan (SGD 0.4) per trip and is incredibly easy to use, even if you’re fresh off the boat from Singapore hopping into a train from the airport having never been to China before and holding on to everything you own.

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First view of the city from the Airport Express subway.
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Beijing Subway Map

The air is full of things (I’ve been told it’s pollen) and the smog isn’t great, but not as overwhelming as I thought it would be. Our apartment is 6 floors up with no elevator, so everyone’s heart and lungs are kept quite busy. Image.

It seemed like forever I was without Facebook, but VPN intermittently saves the day. I’m writing this at a nice cafe a short walk away from our apartment, and it doesn’t feel so far from home in more ways than one.

I wandered over to Tiananmen Square yesterday, and I love the fact that one can do things like wander over to Tiananmen Square. Touristy as it all was, the stories and history still overwhelm.

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Next Stop: Punk Festival and Roller Derby.

China Calling

So the adventure begins and I’m not sure whether I’m seeing stars or ships. Are we closer to the oceans or the galaxies?

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Passing time in Wuxi airport. WUX wins cutest airport code of all time.

Everyone I’ve met so far has been more polite than I was expecting. Already China stereotypes have been broken, though whether this friendliness is exclusive to Wuxi, or airports, is yet to be seen.

I just paid $15 for coffee, which is half as much as I paid for excess baggage. She said it was blue mountain coffee, but I have my doubts.

It’s about ten degrees Celsius and everyone is quite padded up; I’m glad my obvious foreignness does not extend to the chill.

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My first view of China

I wouldn’t say no to Facebook, but for now I’m glad that the option to share is unavailable to me. Like a secret.

There is an internet place full of Internet Explorer logos. This amuses me much.

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My flight for Beijing leaves in half an hour, and the fact that I’m moving to a country I’ve never been to kicks in. I don’t have any idea what to expect. It was a subconscious effort to not Google too much; I want it to be a surprise.

It’s time to board, and we shall soon find out.

How strange it is to be anything at all!

Xx

This (is not a) love poem.

I don’t write love poems.
I’ve spent so many years reading
these poems of passion
and tales of truth.
And I’ve spent just as long
feeling like a girl
For whom this love had no time for.

So I don’t write love poems.
But I do write poems about you.

I write about falling headfirst into an abyss of adventure
And I write about my burning eyes
Fixed on the bright lights of tomorrow.
A tomorrow that is ours, but does not belong to us.

I write about the wind in my hair on the trains of Bombay
that I’ve fallen in love with
And I write about the same scenes that mean a thousand different things
Every time we race past.
I wonder if you ever see your city through my eyes
The way I sometimes see mine through yours.

I write about how you fill my mind
with a new world of wonder.
Architecture and Indian Gothic,
History and Music,
Planets and Stars
that seem to shine especially bright
When both our eyes scan the sky,
For the constellations that we know,
And those who know us.

I write about the dull ache that has started to spread,
keeping time with the impending distance.
A symphony of sadness and suspense.
Our ongoing anthem of what’s next, and where to.

This romantic tragedy I make no attempt to escape from.
Though Mars is always too far away
She burns just as bright and bold
Even when you can’t see her.
Her presence a greater pleasure
When you can.

In this chaos I find simplicity and I find peace.
In pixelated Skype calls I find closeness.
In the pictures you draw I find the stories we continue to write.
In our stories I find adventure.
And in adventure I find love.

I don’t write love poems.
But I do write poems about you.

 

 

 

Kitteh Overdose: Cat Cafe Neko No Niwa

As a self-declared future Crazy Cat Lady, I’ve been itchy & Scratchying to head to Singapore’s first Cat Cafe since it opened in November last year (2013).

Kitty artwork all the way up the stairs!
Kitty artwork all the way up the stairs!

It’s the best concept – a cafe where you can chill and have a drink, surrounded by cats. Obviously it all started in Japan, the land of crazy ideas that actually work.

Here's a cat to keep you going.
Here’s a cat to keep you going.

$12 an hour and $5 for a subsequent half hour and you’re in Kitty Heaven. Except for a few frisky ones, the cats are largely unimpressed by us groveling humans fawning over them. This takes the concept of Spoilt Rotten Cats to a whole new level – they have people giving them head scratches, belly rubs, grooming and cuddles ALL. DAY. LONG.

These kitties don’t run to the door to greet you. They luxuriously lie there and magnanimously allow your grubby hands to worship their soft and silky selves.

The Fluffiest Fluff of Fluff.
The Fluffiest Fluff of Fluff.

What’s good is that it’s extremely therapeutic to be in the presence of that many cats. It’s also the perfect place to sit and get some work done, which I fully intend to do since the cafe is a short walk away from the office.

If you want to write a novel/poem/whatever and don’t have a cat, here’s your spot.   As Barbara Holland said, “it would be easier to write with a herd of buffalo in the room than even one cat”.  An entire room of cats, therefore, is a writerly must.

Carrot Cat Strikes Again
Carrot Cat Strikes Again

As anyone who has/has had/has met/has encountered any cat whatsoever in the briefest of moments will know, they take their time to do as they please. Neko No Niwa is a very catly reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around you, you can’t always have it your way, and sometimes you need to just slow down and smell the kitties (they do smell really nice there).

Kitty Kisses.
Kitty Kisses.

If you play gently, you can even sort of style the cats, like hipster  cat over here, also known as Little Miss Muffet. This style was inspired by Hamilton the Hipster Cat.

Le Ironic Moustache for Cats

If you have your own cats, you might feel like you’ve been frolicking about town with a whole clowder of cats while your own beloved/s wait patiently at home. This will happen, and no one can help you there. Feel the guilt. You deserve it, as your cats will sniffingly and suspiciously tell you.

woah wait what
woah wait what

Check out Neko No Niwa’s Facebook and Website. Definitely worth a visit – it will do good things for your cold and bitter soul.

Ubin: The Brightest Shades of Green

I’ve been meaning to check out Pulau Ubin for a while (about 10 years would be a fair estimate) and like many things in my life, it’s gotten pushed outta the way in favour of other distractions. Work, travel, pubs, cats, the usual.

So since le bf  is in town (check out his food journey through Singapore here) and adventure is our thing, we took the $2.50 ferry from Changi Point Ferry Terminal to Ubin on Friday morning. Don’t be alarmed if the boat suddenly stops moving; it’s just the captain making his rounds, collecting his cash. Ubin is all about the DIY.

ubin

You can read all about stuff to do in Ubin here, but some definite highlights worth mentioning.

This might be just me, but wild boars casually strolling about #likeaboss was just a bit  massively exciting for me #boargasm. There were 2 bigger ones and a few little ones, just roaming about. The biggest boar seemed to be in charge of the monkeys as well, so obviously he’s the BigWigPig of the jungle.

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On a not altogether separate note, pick up yo trash, kids.

Now, camping. Camping is cool. You feel a bit special when everyone starts to leave for le mainland and you’re comfortably keeping to the island, waiting to see what secrets Ubin will reveal once all these day-tripping visitors are gone. A gorgeous sunset, for one, and hanging out at the coconut/snack store with the island locals.

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I’ve heard good things about Mamam Camp but I personally felt like it was too close to man-made buildings to feel camp-y enough. Noordin Camp is closed, so we settled at Jelutong Camp, which is where the awesome sunset photo was taken. The nearest toilets are a 5 minute walk away – bring your torch if it’s already dark. And there weren’t any ghosts – I checked.

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One of my favourite parts was the Che Guevara Chek Jawa wetlands, which is quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. When it’s low tide, the shiny surfaces seem to go on for miles and miles.

Also a great chance to show off my HTC One sweet panorama feature and no they’re not paying me to say this.

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Miles and Miles
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Shadows of the land.

Both walking and cycling are a great way to explore the island (anything except hiring a van, our path was once so traffic- and exhaust-free and now you’re all up in our way and everyone hates you) so we hired bicycled on Day 1 and set off on foot Day 2.

Bike prices range from $6 (don’t believe the “from $2″ signs on the rental shops – the only thing we found for $2 was a bicycle wash) and cost aside, you’ll want to go for something better. You’ll thank yourself for a pricier but better bike with better gears when attempting to cycling uphill. The no-pedal freefall on the decline makes it so, so worth it though. Our bikes were $8 a day.

The Quarries

The best view of the quarries has to be up the path beside Merbah Hut, which is towards the Eastern part of the island, overlooking Ubin Quarry. It’s a bit of a climb, but won’t take very long. I’d say the view is worth it. #justkeepclimbing

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All the way up.

Nearer to the central bit of Ubin is Pekan Quarry, which is much easier to get to and just as pretty, but not as high up (don’t be lazy go to Ubin Quarry you’re on Pulau Ubin not Pulau Malas).

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Nearest to the public jetty.

Besides the quarries #ilovequarries #teamquarries and the obvious adventure of camping, it’s the little random and often WTF things that I love most about Ubin. This sign, for example.

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oh yeah don’t stop unless it’s for a drink oh yeah

And this sign of a shrine.

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For reasons as mysterious as the story behind this shrine, we missed the actual shrine. Apparently the World’s Most Haunted Doll in the universe lives there. It’s like a weird ghost story where we walked past like 6 times looking for it (okay, twice) but for some reason managed to miss it. *twilight zone music*

But I took another picture of another yellow shrine (note, not German Girl shrine) here.

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A non-German Shrine

And here is another old, wooden, abandoned house. Even if you hate history, nature, camping and mysterious stories, this place is Instagram heaven. Yes I’m looking at you hipster she said to the mirror.

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My battery had died into the 2nd day, so I sadly missed a couple of great shots of cool naturey things. My favourite bit was the mangrove trees. Seriously, I was all about the mangroves in school.

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Mangrove Ultra-hipsters: When even underground is too mainstream.

The best thing about Ubin to me is that everything slows down a bit, as demonstrated by these charming gentlemen – the island’s taxi drivers.

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Lepak like a boss.

The people are friendly, time takes its time, the sights are gorgeous and the air is fresher – oh so much fresher. I think a weekend in Ubin every now and then would be an excellent reminder (and one needed by most of us neurotic workaholic Singaporeans) that the brighter pastures we so eagerly seek are perhaps on our own shores.

Well, sort of.

India: Where not everyone fits.

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You think you have seen,
And then you see India.

India and her singsong accents.
India and her deafening crowds.
India and the smiling eyes of her people.
India and eyes devious with chance.

India and her energy.
India and her death.

There is space for everyone in this city
Where not everyone fits.

*The above is an excerpt from a longer poem that I’m still working on.

Digital delinquent with a passion for words, pubs, conversation and all associated forms of mischief.

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