Sunday, November 27, 2016

Charmed in Chamonix


Breakfast at our hotel came with a wonderful view. We took a seat by huge floor-to-ceiling windows (or a glass wall if you wish) and were treated to a scene of snow-topped mountains so picturesque they seemed almost unreal, like a printed backdrop off a Macbook. But in spite of my disbelief, it was real and I was truly there, so filled with gratitude and wonder that there must’ve been a huge grin spread across my face.

After a laughably disastrous dinner the night before, with chewy fondue that was worryingly reminiscent of plastic rather than cheese, it was a relief to wake up to a spread of delicious pastries, perfectly runny eggs, and unlimited bottles of Actemel (a European Vitagen/Yakult equivalent).

I stuffed myself silly with Nutella and croissants, and we were soon fuelled for our agenda of the day - a hike in the woods!

Well, to be precise, it was more of a gentle stroll on a perfectly horizontal trail. But if we’re being liberal with the term hike (which we are!), it was a hike... for beginners… new beginners.

Armed with a map scribbled with very helpful directions by our hotel receptionist, and a duffel bag filled with sustenance (chocolate and water, obvsly), we set off on our adventure!

A gastronomic adventure, that is! Before we even reached the beginning of the trail, an icecream store beckoned. For some reason, ice cream seems to taste even better in cold weather and it certainly held true here. Maybe it’s because it takes ages to melt and we don’t quite have to deal with sticky icecream droplets everywhere, or race against the sun to have the last lick!


Three scoops of rum & raisin, salted caramel, and some Mont Blanc (a decadent combination of caramel and cream) later, the buildings slowly faded behind us as we headed to the woods. It was such a beautiful day with blue skies and the yellows of turning leaves in autumn.



I was truly having the time of my life learning how to skip pebbles and watching Boyfriend throw large rocks into the river to make a big splash. We picked up sticks and raced them along the current, crossed small streams by balancing on little rocks, and walked hand-in-hand, two people surrounded by the enormity of nature.


He  picked up the flatter pebbles for me to skip although I’m truly hopeless at it. It isn't even that I have problems getting the pebbles to skip - that's completely forgivable! Blame it on poor coordination, awful luck, or just bad aim, but even with the stream stretched out before me, almost all the rocks I threw would miss the water (!!), either getting lodged against a protruding rock or get tangled within the branches of trees below. But he still kept giving me the best pebbles anyway, even though they were completely wasted on me.  

And it's little things like these which make me feel so incredibly blessed! But it seems almost unappreciative to fail to credit everything, both big and small; the effort and expense behind the entire trip to Chamonix, being shown around Geneva, the voice notes along every step of the way, the hard work in the office, the prayers over the relationship… All of it to remind me how blessed I am.

We  left the woods in high spirits and spent the rest of our day having delicious sweet treats and relearning how to play chess with the giant chessboard at the lobby of our hotel. Cue flashback to high school days of being a chess club member, spending an hour a week playing and yet managing to get progressively worse at it. Yep, I was that kind of student. 

Boyfriend and I left the game incomplete to catch our ride back to Geneva but since then, have spent many Facetime conversations over quietly competitive online game of chess. Such is the LDR life. 

And here we are now, miles apart, with Chamonix feeling like it happened ages ago. It was a beautiful place, perfect for a getaway that filled us with memories like charge on a battery bar till we meet again!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Cooling off in Chamonix


Over October, I took a week off from work to catch a flight to Geneva for some crisp autumn weather and quality time with Boyfriend and his parents. A few days into my visit, we got up not long after dawn broke and headed to Chamonix in south-eastern France. Our ride on the Cham Express went by so quickly and smoothly, without even a peek at our passports, that I hardly noticed we crossed the border!


But indeed, one and a half hours later, we were in France, marvelling at a fantastic view of Mont Blanc peeking through the mist.


It’s a good thing that I procrastinated packing up and storing away my winter wear after moving back to Malaysia, because out came the puffy jacket and thick scarves for the -1°C  weather. We wrapped ourselves warmly and headed out to the village for some good old exploring.


Chamonix is the kind of place that would be heaving come ski season, but we were a few months shy of any snow and the streets were fairly quiet. This gave us plenty of opportunity to be unabashedly loud and silly on the streets, intermittently popping into shops without having to push our way through throngs of people.

The pastries on offer were a feast for both our stomachs and our eyes, which really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Boyfriend and I were let out a couple of “Mmmm”s and “Yum”s to each other through mouthfuls of food, as we feasted on a slice of crispy bread with an excellent anchovy-onion-olive combination that we bought on a whim. It may not sound like the most conventional mix, but the flavours sure hit the spot!

With our tummies filled with savoury goodness, we merrily headed down a random street, taking pictures as we went along, thoroughly amazed at how beautiful the views were with every twist and turn. The experience was even more cherished knowing that the hours we had together were numbered.


When we worked up an appetite for lunch (which to be honest, happened pretty quickly), we headed to a restaurant that drew our attention for its cute signage. As the restaurant specialised in omelettes, we ordered one each and dug in.


Its penchant for cuteness wasn’t limited to its signage, with the fries served in a mini fryer.


And this cutie too!

The food was by no means spectacular, but somehow, breakfast food for lunch always feels like a treat and we enjoyed our meal very much. What was good however, was their gigantic serving of orange juice that went down very well!


And of course, cheese is always a great idea! But psst, stay clear of the other juices – they’re all overpriced bottles.

After lunch, we checked into Hôtel l'Héliopic, which in itself was a treat. Definitely recommended.



After all, the lobby greeted us with free Haribo gummies and packaged apple juice. But if children goodies aren’t your kinda thing, the spa itself was lots of fun and worth the stay – it comes complete with plunge pool, sauna, jacuzzi, steam room, ice room, and calming music playing over the swimming pool!

Soaked till my fingers got wrinkly, but hey, that’s how you know you’re having a good time!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Book Nook: Letters to a Young Poet


I’m in the midst of reading Letters to a Young Poet and it’s a testament to how beautifully written it is that it’s a short book and I’m not even near half of it. Now on the face of it, that seems to defy the very definition of page-turner, but the best analogy I can think of (surprise, surprise, it’s food related – but hey, you write what you know!) is when you take a bite of something so delicious that from the get go, you force yourself to slow down and savour every bite. It isn’t only that every phrase I’ve read uses words that feel so deliberately chosen and lyrical (hehe, like how a great chef chooses every ingredient of his dish), but Rilke's advice itself is nothing short of insightful. 

I confess that I've never consciously read any of his poems, but that's definitely going to change. Although his letters went to an aspiring poet that he got to know, they are just as applicable to any one of us. Here's one of my favourites:
“to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your while development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to question that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer.”
Yes, yes, and yes. 

As he shares his advice, he holds little vanity for the help he offers. In his words, “many things must happen, many things must go right, a whole constellation of events must be fulfilled, for one human being to successfully advise or help another.” Sure, this doesn’t necessarily gel with my job of giving out legal advice, but when we look at how people receive advice, often it has to come at the right situation, with the right words, at the right time for it to really hammer home. Recognising this reality takes away so much of the pressure with giving advice and even in receiving it. 

It must be incredible to write with the passion with which he does. He implores the recipient of his letter to seek the reasons for which he writes, to see if it has “spread its roots into the very depths of his heart”, and if so, would he “would have to die” if he were forbidden to write. Whoa, right? I don't know if such an intensity even exists. There's hardly anything I can find myself dedicating months to, yet alone an entire lifetime. But let's say we've found this passion, this thing of which we could not live without; Rilke then advises that we “build our life in accordance with this necessity, and turn our life, even in its humblest hour, as a witness to this impulse”. Purposeful living at its finest. His words ring with a religious rigour and have roused a desire in me to seek out things I’m passionate about, rather than pick out the life that brings the most comfort. How rewarding it must be to pursue passions and yet know that the validation we seek isn’t external. 

I’m not sure if Rilke intended this, but I find his words so inspiring in my exploration of Christianity. When asking us to seek out what we would die for and to dedicate our lives to it, it gives a little insight as to how the disciples must have felt when sharing the gospel. Looking away from external validation reminds me to look to God because it’s not about what the world thinks. And as I learn more and more about this faith, I stumble across so many hurdles and am by no means done learning. Rilke has this to say about growing: 
It's not like “numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast.” 
Maybe if I had read this sooner, I wouldn't have written my previous post the way it turned out. Because I have dedicated many thoughts on adulthood and growing up, and if I just trust in it and do as Rilke suggests, maybe I'd be less concerned with who I want to be, and instead, be more interested in who I am. 

It’s such a great book, with a pdf available online here for those who are interested. Highly recommended for anyone who's stuck in the millennial conundrum of who to listen to now that real life is rearing its head. If you’ve read it, do let me know your favourite bits and we can start a conversation.

Till next time! 

Friday, September 16, 2016

What makes us adults?

Not the kind of question that there's a definite answer to but the kind that gets lots of answers anyway. 

I think adulthood is the sort of thing that always seems a little elusive - you know, when we're 13, we think we'd really be grown ups after high school at 17, only to realise ha, not really, we're not; then waiting till we're 18 because somehow being able to legally drink means society trusts us enough to make responsible decisions, which well, for the most part just plainly isn't true, so maybe we'd be adults after university, or after our first jobs, or after our first heartbreak, etc - and it's something that seems almost perpetually out of reach because when will we ever be truly mature??

I think we live a lot of our lives having people look after us, and then almost suddenly, we're the ones responsible for someone else. I suppose, one day, you'll be reflecting on your life when you wake up to find that you have lived a decent number of years and learned very many things and perhaps, that's when you'd realise that adulthood you were searching for as a child has arrived and boom, you're in it and people are relying on you. Well, that's what I think. 

And it's a fitting thing to think about because in a little over a week, I'll be turning a year older. It's not so much the age of 22 that's significant, but the fact that in the year that's passed, there has been many milestones to celebrate. From graduating from university, to moving back home to Malaysia, and starting my first ever full-time job, (which are conventionally 'adult' things), there have been a couple of times where I've wondered if this was what adulthood is like? 

After thinking about it, I've come up with a preliminary hypothesis about how to do life that would work for every scenario. Put simply, focus on priorities and consequences. It's pretty obvious but once I vocalised it, it really helped me think about the person I want to be and making decisions became a lot clearer. I don't think anyone knows our priorities better than ourselves and we are the ones who have to live with the consequences of our decisions. 

When we make decisions, we can always ask ourselves what are our priorities and what are the consequences of it? What is it that's important to us? Why is it that we do the things we do? Family? Money? Feelings of validation? Once we determine what's important to us, we know the choices we'd consider. 

After that, we think of the consequences. And this is a potentially never-ending list depending on how imaginative we can be. But when it actually comes to making a decision, the only question you really want to ask yourself is.. "Can I accept the consequences?" Every action comes with its own set of consequences that may range from good to bad, to meh doesn't matter, and if you can deal with these consequences, even the worst possible one, then make that decision. No one can tell you how the consequences make you feel, because like it or not, we all react differently to different things. 

It's easy to get bogged down with making the right decision. At the end of the day, think about things that matter to you, whether it is God, or your family, or the opinions of others, and recognise there aren't really any right decisions; if someone makes up their mind to do something and things do not go as planned, if they can deal with the consequences, they can make the best of the situation. 

So in the past few weeks, I've been trying to live life with that in mind. My family recently adopted a dog from the SPCA, which was a very difficult decision to make. We've been dog owners before and it definitely isn't easy. We eventually settled on Lisa, a golden retriever mix with tendencies for nipping that she developed at the shelter. It's been a tough journey trying to get used to having her but rewarding at the same time. At the point of adoption, I felt that getting a dog was a priority to me. 

I really wanted one after coming home, but it was the consequences that we had to think about. If things didn't work out, what was the plan? Since she's been home, she's chewed on furniture, bitten me till I bled, and we have a few ripped pairs of slippers. But I find myself being blessed by her company and her cheery face; I felt that I could deal with the consequences, although I've had others recommend that I send her back or even wait a few months before picking her up again. It was what mattered to me and being able to accept those consequences made me more relaxed when dealing with her, and I don't just hope she doesn't act out, but prepare for the event that she does. 

The dog that gets treated like an Egyptian goddess 

I've been trying to make my family a top priority and have been taking steps trying to show them more that I appreciate them. The great thing about finally beginning work is that I now get a paycheck, and I was privileged to have been able to treat them to a meal from it! Now it's not anything extravagant but it's still a pretty satisfying feeling being able to sit on the other end of the bill. 

My brother very kindly offered to get the cheapest thing on the menu :P 
Over one weekend, my mother and I headed back to Taiping for some food hunting with the grandparents. Is it just me or are sunsets in rural areas so much better?? As per custom, we took a walk around the neighbourhood my mom grew up in, complete with the requisite oohing and ahhing over the changes her old primary school went through. We strolled as the sun began to set and by the time we got back to my grandparents' house, the sky was a burst of warm colour - a beautiful gradient we couldn't help but stop and admire. 


Spent some time admiring the gloriousness of RM3.50 meals (about 70p?) too.




Weekends are built for activities and my mom and I even signed up for a pretty lame workshop on making candle holders. Notwithstanding the damage I caused to my fingers with the provided hammer, I have to admit it was pretty therapeutic putting my hands to work. And I suppose thinking of my priorities and the consequences I'd accept helped me a lot more in deciding whether to hammer that next nail in. And well, what I wanted to do with my time, money, and stomach space. 


Hammered at my fingers so many times because.. hand-eye coordination is a stranger I never got to know. 

Right now, adulthood is as elusive as ever. But I like where I am and am going to enjoy it. I'd like to think the decisions I'm making now are ones I can look back fondly and free of regret in the way I'm choosing to spend my days. It's not to say that years later I won't look back and wonder why is it I chose to spend so many hours of my life typing away here, but I guess for now, that's a consequence I can deal with.

Till next time! 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

It Takes Two!

Best faces are familiar faces.
 
Sealing the deal as Zhengs' manager. :P
Loved ones.


Zheng Xi and Joanna, two people I'm very happy to call friends, had their debut duet performance at Theatre Lounge Cafe yesterday. There comes a tinge of pride with having to pay money to watch high school friends perform ("Yes, we were all good friends back in the day," I would say to a reporter, insisting that I be referred to as an anonymous insider) and more satisfyingly so, to do that, and leave knowing every Ringgit was well worth it for such talent.

In the intimate setting of the Theatre Lounge Cafe, Jo, Ce and I were seated at the back of the room, where we were treated to a great view of the stage, and a welcome drink to boot. We arrived at customary Malaysian timing, reassured that we weren't really late, as we were walking through the doors alongside Zheng Xi's brother. We squeezed in a few hellos to familiar faces before the lights dimmed, we were ushered to our table, and the show began!

And what a delight it was. The show was like peeking into an audio diary, as both Joanna and Zheng Xi shared experiences from their university lives and time in London, taking us on a ride with them through happiness, sadness, and a little bit of sass along the way. Some favourites like Frozen's "Love Is An Open Door" planted a wide smile on my face whilst their rendition of "All I Ask of You" from the Phantom of the Opera left me wiping away some very proud tears.

Having known them both personally, their talent was never in question. But the extent of it was shown that night as Zhengs seemingly effortlessly accompanied his singing with the piano, and Joanna laid out some pretty sick rap lines. They took on ridiculously ambitious songs and although I'm no music expert, did them so well I wish I was more familiar with the musicals they quoted and songs they sang. There were times after the intermission that you could feel their energy fighting to stay high, and kudos to them both for powering through, always with a smile on their faces!

Throughout it all, despite the sheer professionalism in their singing as they embodied their characters, the audience got to know them better as their personalities shone through their lovingly awkward script. I couldn't help but smile as they made friendly jabs at each other and cracked jokes so lame that I felt forced to laugh. When they adorably told us they prepared an Encore number for the audience (even before we had finished clapping), I thought to myself, "How could anyone not love these syok sendiri people?"

It takes two to tango and from the name of their performance, it misleadingly implied it takes two for their show. But I assure you, once you've heard them charm the audience through their solos, you know for sure that those two could very well hold their own. Both of them have remarkable individual stage presence, but luckily for us, decided to perform together anyway because they have excellent stage chemistry too.

I had a wonderful night watching It Takes Two, and when you know the performers are loving their work, you can't help but love them for it.


They featured on The Edge here.