Sunday, 31 July 2011

I'm a stranger here myself

The title of this blog has been blatantly stolen from Bill Bryson's novel where he writes about returning to America after living in the UK for 20 years.

I am no Bill Bryson, nor have I been away from home from that long, but still I find myself feeling a bit out of place as I sit here in the house I grew up in.

As my time in London has come to a close, this blog must inevitably end. It started as a means for me to keep in touch with people back home and fill them in on the little and big events that would occur in my life.

It became a place for me to regale my friends with stories of bad dates, fun trips, mishaps and misadventures. I could have written more. I should have written more. Going back and reading some of my old entries brings me back two years and I can clearly picture myself tapping away at this laptop wondering where my life was going to take me next.

If you look at my About Me section, most of what I wrote there more than two years ago still applies. I still am addicted to my blackberry and my books and I still enjoy jotting down many to-do lists.

I may not have found the perfect pair of black heels, but I did run the London Marathon and I probably averaged visiting more than two cities per month, especially in the past couple of months. I've gotten a slightly better at using my DSLR and the last two years have been the happiest I've ever been.

I'm at a loss as to what else to write. I miss London unbearably at the moment. My friends and my life there, it's as if I'm back to square one and I'm trying to claw my way desperately back to a time and place where I was happy. At the same time, I'm excited to carve out this next chapter in my life and move forward into this world they call adulthood.

I may decide to re-enter the blogging world. Already I have ideas of blog posts that I've jotted down on various scraps of paper and notebooks.

Who knows, if this unemployment thing continues, I may have nothing to do but blog. Until then - thank you for reading my adventures the last 2+ years and sharing your comments either on this blog, through facebook or emails. To my London friends, I miss you all dearly and love you even more.

Monday, 27 June 2011

An Ode to Tobi the dog (not the Viking)

I ended my solo Eastern Europe jaunt with a quick visit to Bremen, where my close friends Caroline and Bjorn live. Having moved across the pond meant that over the last two years, I've been able to spend lots of time with them, including being a part of their wedding celebration last summer.

It was then that I met Tobi for the first time - a lovable and adorable dachshund who completely and inexplicably fell head over tails in love with me. He followed me around the apartment, whined whenever he was separated from me, barked jealously if I petted other dogs and would greet me slobbery kisses whenever I came into the room.

On my last visit, Caroline and Bjorn decided it would be a good idea to take Tobi to the airport to see me off. He would get a better understanding then that I was leaving and not coming back. It was a heart wrenching farewell, but a necessary one.

Still, almost a year later when we were reunited, I was shocked to discover that Tobi still not only remembered me, but his devotion was still as strong.

Here a few of my favourite photos of Tobi, the most lovable, adorable dachshund ever. Fraulein + Bman, I can't wait to come back and see not only Tobi, but your little chicken nugget :)







Thursday, 26 May 2011

Bouilla-what?


(I know, it's been AGES since I last blogged - apologies. This post has been in my drafts folder for the last few months and I've just gotten around to adding the photos and publishing it)



For my birthday, Suey bought me a gift certificate for cooking classes at the brilliant Jamie Oliver's Recipease.



We both are huge fans of Jamie. He may not be a Michelin star chef, but there's something just utterly lovable about him. And I dare you walk into one of his stores and not come out with a tea-towel, or a garlic press, or an apron.

In our class we would learn how to prepare the classic Provencal French dish - Bouillabaisse, or fish stew.

Upon arrival we were given aprons, clearly not made for short 5'1 Asian girls.

We were also given our complimentary glass of wine.



Perhaps not a good idea when chopping vegetables...



After blitzing through the veggies, trying to devein the shrimp and de-beard the mussels and making quite possibly the best rouille ever, we were left with a pretty kick ass Bouillabaisse.






Don't believe me? Just check out the yummy photos for yourself.



Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Why I need a better alarm clock

I woke up to sun streaming into my room and the sense that something was very very wrong.

Then it dawned on me that my flight leaving London Luton to Budapest in an hour was going to leave without me. And I went through the typical stages of emotion that come with sleeping through your flight:

1. Panic - screaming obscenities, run to the bathroom, quickly put in contacts and frantically look for clothes

2. Anger - those obscenities? yup, still screaming them, this time also angry because said clothes cannot be found. Also your flatmates may at this time be cowering in their bedrooms, afraid to experience your wrath

3. Despair - the realization that your flight might leave without you

4. Resignation - figuring out that really, no matter how fast you ask the taxi to go, you ain't gonna be on that 8 am flight. This is the time when said flatmates emerge from their hiding places and make fun of you.

And so I went online, went onto Wizz Air and bought another ticket. To be fair, I was bracing myself to pay an obscene amount for a new ticket, but thankfully, budget airlines are still budget the day you need to fly out.

Monday, 9 May 2011

When life gives you lemons - make vodka tonics

Or in the case of Amsterdam - when confronted by the unhappy news that after spending a few hundred euros on flights, hotel, car rental, etc - the day we had eagerly been anticipating and talking about for MONTHS was crushed by these few words:

"The engine on our boat doesn't work" (or something to that effect)

So there we were, finally on the boat, happily passing around cold beers and waiting to join the throngs of other orange-clad revelers on the canals of Amsterdam. Except we weren't. We were on a boat with a broken engine, not enough beer, next to no food and rapidly melting ice. And disappointment. Lots and lots of disappointment.

But when life gives you lemons, or in our case, a broken engine - you battle on. You take a nice gulp of the still-cold beer, look around at the faces of your friends who have become more than family, you bask in the warm April sunshine and you remember how lucky you are to have this life.

I will be leaving this London life soon - but those memories, oh the memories - I can't even begin to describe how wonderful the last 2 years have been.


Group shot minus Dutchie




Flatties on the boat!



Touring the Heineken Museum



Dutchie being the worst tour guide ever - but the most lovable!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

All Orange'd out

Thanks to my good friend Alex, I've celebrated more Dutch holidays than I ever knew existed. Last year we rang in Christmas at the local Dutch pub with complete with lots and lots of Dutch beer, a Sinterklaas and really horrible Dutch pop music.

Exhibit A: The dreaded, but incredibly catch 'train song'



Tomorrow my London family (minus one Viking) and I are off to Holland, the land of Dutchies to celebrate Queen's Day in proper style. I have my orange t-shirt all packed and ready to go. Now it's time for bed as I'm getting up at stupid hour to catch our flight.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Why Mothers are the most efficient people. Ever.

I've been putting off booking my flight back home for weeks now.

I think my mom got a bit fed up asking me when I was leaving because last night on Skype she asked me what date i was planning on going.

"umm... July 24th, no, the 21st. Hold on, maybe sometime the week of July 20th. No wait, actually no, definitely July 24th"


Less than 10 minutes after ending our Skype call, I received an email from Air Canada informing me that my ticket from London Heathrow to Toronto Pearson had been booked for July 24th.

My mother does not waffle about. She does not procrastinate. She acts. That's just one of the many things I love about her. Also, she has a lot of air mile points to transfer --> * Bonus *

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Barclays Bikes of Death

I crossed another two items off my bucket list today.

1. Ride Thames Clipper

Result? B minus

Not quite the romantic vision I had of standing on the top deck, wind blowing through my hair watching the impressive skyline of London pass by. It was more like sitting inside because it was too cold to stand outside, and having screaming children run around. Also the windows were too dirty to make out any of the buildings.

2. Rent a Barclays Bike and ride around the city

Result? Massive fail.

First we couldn't get the bikes out of the docking station, even with me and Jess (aka the strongest girl I know) tugging on the bikes. Then the seat, even at the lowest setting, was too high for me. Clearly these were not made for Irene-sized people.

And then there was the issue of actually riding through the streets with the rest of London's traffic. Scary? More like life flashing before your eyes terrifying. Imagine trying to maneuver through cars, London cabbies, double decker buses, other bikers and pedestrians who walk as if they own the street. Now imagine them all on the wrong side of the road.

...yup I know... not fun.

Thankfully it wasn't a long journey and I made it home in one piece, albeit with shaking legs and newfound appreciation for anyone who attempts to travel through this city on two wheels.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Leaving London - Part 1

Most, if not all of you know that I am leaving my beloved London home in a scant few months.

One of my late discoveries of this gorgeous, noisy, hectic city is the simple pleasure of afternoon tea - a timeless English tradition that embraces a freshly brewed pot of tea, scrummy scones and a variety of cakes that look almost too good to eat.

The other day, I indulged and introduced my cousin Kim to afternoon "sweet tea" at one of the city's most popular cafes - Bea's of Bloomsbury, which is consistently rated one of the best places for cakes, cupcakes and well - anything sweet.

I used to be shy and slightly embarrassed about taking photos of my food in restaurants. Now it seems that everyone whips out their cameras at the dinner table and goes snap happy before taking their first bite. When did we all start documenting our eating habits? Maybe when the food started to look so damn good....

check out exhibit A -




...and then there's beautiful sight of freshly baked scones with a heap of clotted cream and strawberry jam on top







Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Yes, asian girls can drive

In your face Young Drivers of Canada - you may have failed me three times before granting me a license, but it's true - asian girls CAN drive.

...well snowmobiles at any rate...

Here's something I wasn't expecting about snowmobiling across a glacier

1. Even if you show up dressed in layers + snowboarding pants/jacket apparently it isn't warm enough. No, you need to don a full body suit, which unfortunately for me, didn't come in irene-sizes.

Basically I looked like the shorter, Asian version of the Michelin Man.



2. Snowmobiles are not made for people with small hands. I may have "the perfect hands for violin" as my violin teacher had proclaimed so many times, but they ain't built for handling a snowmobile

3. Snowmobiles are not made for sharp turns. If you try to make a sharp turn, you may find yourself heading straight into your tour guide instead.

4. If you want to go fast on a snowmobile, make sure you're at the back of the line of other snowmobiles, then sneakily slow down and get a good distance behind before speeding up. Try to avoid bumps.



At the end, happy that I had survived a white-knuckle, slightly terrifying experience snowmobiling, there was only one thing left to do....

Thursday, 31 March 2011

A Tale of Unemployment

Yup it's official, I'm unemployed. No job, no paycheque, no desk job....

It was my own decision. With only 2 months left to legally work in the UK, I decided to be incredibly irresponsible and quit my job early in order to fit in more traveling before heading back to Canada.

So here I am, living the lap of luxury, except I'm not. See that's the thing about being unemployed - money doesn't grow on trees and unfortunately I don't have a sugar daddy to keep in my creature comforts.

I swing between getting excited and booking trips to freaking out about this self-imposed career break at 29 and think about just booking the next flight back home.

I wish my 40-something year old self would tell me to just relax and enjoy this time off that I have. Because in a few years, heck in a few months, I'm sure that I'll be stuck behind a desk at a job that I love with my standard 10-days (shudder) holiday....

Monday, 7 March 2011

No fermented shark for me please

This weekend I'm heading to Reykjavik, Iceland. And yes, I did just google Reykjavik to make sure I spelled it correctly.

Unlike some of my previous weekend trips, this one promises to be jam-packed full of activities.

I fly in Thursday night, then Friday morning, us five girls are heading over to the Blue Lagoon. Incidentally this isn't a remake of the famous Brooke Shields movie, but rather a natural hot spring/spa, which will be a welcome break after a long and stressful week at work.



Friday evening we have a Northern Lights tour booked. I'm already mentally planning how many layers I'm going to wear, because despite having spent most of my life in Canada, anything below 0 degrees is unbearably cold to me.

Saturday morning, Jess and I are getting picked up in the morning and whisked on a 'Golden Circle' tour of Iceland which involves...wait for it... one exhilarating hour of snowmobiling across the Langjökull glacier.

(cue jokes about Asian female drivers)



Saturday night will be spent enjoying the famous nightlife of Reykjavik and sampling the famous cuisine of Iceland.

Sunday I will be planning on going for a run as part of my marathon training. Still not 100% sure if that'll happen though. Then it's a hop skip and a jump back to London town for another few days at the office.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

the end of an era....



Tonight I spend my first night at my new, albeit temporary, home.

It's a bit full circle really. When I first moved to London, this flat was my home away from home. I literally spent every free moment I had here, sleeping on the couch on the weekends, stopping by on my way home from work for dinner, and would only go back to my actual flat to sleep, change clothes and shower.

Still, it's strange not to be in my own bed, where I've slept for the past year. To not have the lights of the hotel across the street, streaming into my window. And even more strange, to not be able to call out and chat with my flatmate Suey in the next room.

After an extremely hectic day of moving, we had our last 'flattie' dinner at Pizza Express... and after feasting on pizza and antipasti, we walked out and were greeted by the most amazing sunset. Not a bad way to bid farewell to Flat 68...

PS. on an entirely separate note, I just found a bug on my pillow, scurrying around. not cool. I've done the obligatory search of the rest of my bed, but I still don't feel comfortable sleeping here... (whimper)

Sunday, 20 February 2011

my fastest half marathon - the small triumphs in life

Untitled by irenepoon88 at Garmin Connect - Details

This morning I dragged my ass out of bed to run 14 miles.

I got up to 13 miles and hit that dreaded wall. Actually I hit that wall around 12.02 miles and pushed myself to finish at least half a marathon. It's a bit funny how your mind plays tricks on you when you're running. The other week, I was finishing a 12 mile run, and at 8 miles I was convinced that I only had 2 more miles to go.

Today I willed myself to finish the fastest half-marathon distance ever. I was a good 25 minutes faster than my last half marathon, and about 12 minutes faster than my best ever time.

So I'm taking that away with me today. Not the fact that I just couldn't get that last mile in, but that I beat my best time. Next week will bring another long run for me to accomplish.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

my love for zara (uk)

When I lived in Toronto, I never bought anything at Zara. The clothes were always randomly thrown around the store in no real order, and the tailoring was so horribly cheap, you could tell from a mile away that the fit just wouldn't be right.

When I moved to London, however, Zara quickly became my favourite go-to shop to pick something up. No matter what, I always find something at Zara. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that at least 40% of my London wardrobe was picked up from wandering into Zara and walking out with a shopping bag in hand and a lighter bank account.

I've just had a peek at the Zara store online, and there's already a few items that I'm eyeing and will undoubtedly add to my wardrobe the next time I'm out shopping.





Monday, 7 February 2011

Fish are Fussy too (apparently)

I really do think that you learn something new every day.

Sometimes it's groundbreaking, life-changing bits of information. Like the realisatiion that you should never ever buy jeans that don't quite fit because they're on sale. Or maybe it's the fact that you've finally figured out which way the paper goes in the printer when you have to make labels.

Other days, it's really random stuff that is utterly and completely useless. Like Saturday, I went to Camden Stable Markets with Elke to try out the increasingly popular fish pedicure.

Imagine dipping your feet into a tank of teeny tiny fish (and as we discovered, a few bigger ones) and as you plunge your feet into the warm water, those fish instantly swarm towards your toes and all of the sudden, you feel the gentlest nibbling sensation.

it's rather unnerving, and unluckily for me, incredibly ticklish - especially when the little fishes decided to delve in between the toes. I spent most of my time giggling and having to lift my feet up every few minutes for a moment's reprieve.

Sitting across from us was a woman who had been sitting there for some time - but unlike the rest of us, her feet were completely free of mini-fish. In fact, Elke overheard her complaining that no fish were eating her feet - something you definitely don't hear everyday.

I always thought that fish were rather simple creatures with extremely short-term memories. But my revelation of the day was that these special piranha fishies, well they're actually rather fussy about what feet they'll nibble on.

The end result of the fishy pedicure? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure, my feet are pretty gross from all of the running I've been doing.

Would I do it again? Probably not. It was a fun, one-time experience. But if the fish decide to be fussy with my feet, I'm not sure me and my dry heels could take the rejection.



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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Happy Chinese New Year!

It's the year of the Rabbit.

I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I'm sure that there are a variety of auspicious reasons to be getting married or having kids or changing jobs and your hairstyle.

Chinese New Year at home always meant one thing - food. My mother would spend days in the kitchen preparing the traditional dishes that go with the celebration, each dish representing something to bring in the new year. I would only ever remember that shrimp brought laughter and that noodles meant long life.

Once my brothers moved away and the house got quieter, she would still insist on making the 10 course meal - even when it was just a handful of us gathered around the dinner table to get through that mound of food. I would invite friends who had never experienced Chinese meals outside of the realm of sweet and sour pork, and watch in amusement when they were encountered with whole steamed fish with heads still attached and that funny black fungus that looks like a clump of hair.

Last year I rang in Chinese New Year with my friend Jess on the slopes of Chamonix. To be honest, I kind of forgot about the holiday completely. This year though, I'm going back to my roots and will be having dinner with some friends at a Chinese restaurant in London. Only a handful of us are actually of Chinese descent, the rest are a random assortment of backgrounds - such is my life in London. One thing's for sure though, there will be food - lots of it. Because nothing says Chinese New Year more than a marathon dinner of endless courses and food comas.

Gung Hai Fat Choy

Monday, 31 January 2011

My Shakespeare Country run by irenepoon88 at Garmin Connect - Details

This past weekend I visited the land of Shakespeare with three good friends - Jess, Mal and Dutchie. It was meant to be a total road trip where we wouldn't make any plans other than drive up to Stratford for the weekend. No hotel bookings, no tours, nothing other than us, a car and a few google maps.

Two days before the trip, I crumbled and went through a frenzy of google searching and trip advisor research and booked us into a self-catering cottage called Weston Sands. They laughed, but my control freak nature wouldn't let me just show up with no plans. And besides, it turned out to be an amazing place for a great deal. Three bedrooms, all modern mod-cons, comfy couch and a big flat screen tv. Plus we were in the middle of the country... it was gorgeous.

Anyway, I debated on whether or not to bring my running gear, but in the end, the thought of having to run 10 miles on Sunday night, or even worse, Monday morning was too dreadful and I made room in my bag. It turned out be the best decision as I managed to find a trail cutting through the rolling fields straight into Stratford Upon Avon. Below is my run... you'll notice a bit of back and forth near the end, that's because I got back to my starting point and still had another 1.5 miles to run.

While I'll always be a city girl at heart and the thought of living in the countryside strikes fear in my heart, I have to say that running in the countryside definitely outweighs running in the city. For one thing - no stop lights... also, people are so nice when you run by. I've never smiled and waved at so many people while running. And when I passed by a couple who I had ran past earlier, they actually made eye contact and gave me a thumbs up.

You'll be happy to hear that despite my history of (ahem) navigational mishaps, I managed to stay on one path and not run around aimlessly in Shakespeare's country.

My Shakespeare Country run by irenepoon88 at Garmin Connect - Details