Deck the halls.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I count my regrets in sleeps, in the hours that pass by with my eyes closed and mouth unglamorously wide open. Each hour asleep is an hour away from my family, an hour closer to the UK, with its blustering winds and naked trees and water ready to drink straight from the tap. It’s funny how quickly a week can pass, yet how long it can feel as habits that felt forgotten in the midst of the hustle and bustle of LSE life slip back through the cracks that resulted from being flung back and forth across oceans. And as overdramatic as it may sound to someone who has flown much further and for much longer, coming home for the first time since going overseas to study is a milestone that does more than mark ‘the first return’’.

It’s a milestone that gives me a chance to reappreciate the things I only realized I missed the moment I went abroad, like how the cracks in my scaly skin disappear in the presence of Malaysia’s humidity and how the water we bathe in feel a thousand times better than the warmest shower in the UK, and even the way I get my eggs poached back home and the cute requests from my brother to give him back rubs. It’s a milestone that makes each visit to my grandparents’ even more memorable, and maybe even a little heart wrenching as grandpa smiles sadly when my sister tells him she’ll only graduate in another seven years, then chuckles and says that he might not be around by then.

My urge to speak better Mandarin and Hokkien became even stronger since coming home, maybe as a result of wanting to understand my grandparents better or maybe a product of wanting a more solid “Chinese identity” in a country where English is as staple as rice. And in the week that has passed, with Christmas celebrated amongst family with presents and a tree, and with trips to Penang, Ipoh, and Taiping, two of which are the parents’ hometowns and one which was where I grew up, the milestone became a sort of graduation ceremony from teenagehood to the world of two decades, complete with family and old friends in familiar backgrounds of the past, and with familiar food in our stomachs.

I have a lot of goals for the new year, because there’s just something about beginnings which makes us all feel as though we have a chance to start anew. I’ll keep with my Goals for each month, but this time with pre-determined ones so I don’t just decide to make up my mind to do something on a whim.

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I’ll probably talk a little bit more about the year I’ve had in another post but I just wanna write a little about the Christmas I had back home! For starters, I feel really fortunate to be able to spend it in this lovely house, surrounded my family. My sister flew back from the US for two weeks and it was the first time in over half a year that the house was filled with all three kids again! Open-mouthed smile 

I’m sure I’ve written this before in the previous years but Christmas is a pretty big deal in the Khoo household, and all the relatives usually gather together the night before for a round of Secret Santa!

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Presents under the tree! Open-mouthed smile 

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Woohoo, family!!

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With my present, which turned out to be a Sushi King membership and a RM20 voucher to come with it! Winking smile Seems like Santa knows me well! Open-mouthed smile Annnnnnnd, I look like a grandmother here.

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A little more grandmother than my actual grandmother too, if that’s possible!

But besides the Khoo clan festivities, every Christmas is filled with our own little mini present session amongst the family. We either assemble around the tree the night before or meet up in the morning before church to unwrap them all! Open-mouthed smile Open-mouthed smileOpen-mouthed smile 

And as cliche as this sounds, what I look forward to the most on Christmas is the reactions of my family members as they receive their presents! I love giving presents on Christmas because EVERYONE gets one! Birthdays are great for giving too, of course but it’s always more personal and not everyone gets to partake in the joy of taking something and giving something too!

This year, we spent Christmas morning in church, and then watched Frozen which was so wonderful!!! Open-mouthed smile Open-mouthed smile 

My sister and I were squealing throughout the movie and were smiling so broadly, I swear if any child saw our shiny eyes and inane smiles in the dark of the cinema, their magical Frozen experience would have been ruined! But thank God no one tore their eyes away from the screen, hahaha, and no crying children resulted!

BUT GAH. The music in the movie was just brilliant and the message was really good too. It’s one of those movies that end well and nowadays most movies just build you up to a hype then.. let you die down.. sadly. BUT NOH! Not this one! So if you haven’t, do watch it!

Eheheh. But before the movie session… PRESENT TIME!

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Oooooo! HAHA, look at the fancy wrappings on all the other presents except the red one at the back. Hahah, who do you think wrapped that? Smile with tongue out 

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Long-time blog readers have probably watched Dom grow up. Look at him now!! Surprised smile 

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And look at my sister with her hair all chopped off! Surprised smile 

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Ehehhe, and since I’m usually the one holding the camera I got to take a separate picture standing up. Smile with tongue out 

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Brother bear in the shirt I got for him! LOL, so lame right but I didn’t know what else to get! The worse part was… I bought that shirt in Spain! Who me?

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And then brother bear with his much cooler Miami Heat jersey from the sister. Open-mouthed smile 

As for me, I got wonderful things this year!

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Book from the brother, and bathrobe set from the sister! And an Estee Lauder make up kit from the parents. I got Guess sandals as well but they aren’t pictured here.

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In my favourite colour! Open-mouthed smile It comes with an eye mask too. Heheh, so those in the UK, be prepared to see this very comfortable looking Smurf every time you knock on my room door. Smile with tongue out 

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And here’s the make-up kit!

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OooooOOOOOoooOO! Hahaha, I guess my parents felt it was time I finally learnt how to put on a little makeup. I’ve been surviving the past few years of parties and performances thanks to the kindness of my friends and teachers.. but NO MORE. LOL, okay no la, I still have to learn but maybe one day I’ll be able to fly with my own wings lolololol.

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And on the day after Christmas, we went out as a family to run some errands, and the next thing I knew..

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I came home with this! Surprised smile Surprised smile Surprised smile 

Heheh, it’s in gold. *chuckles* *sniffles* *snorts*

I was using an iPhone 4 before this so I’m still getting used to the wonderful camera and pretty iOS7 interface. Open-mouthed smile 

That was Christmas! It became very dramatic and heartfelt at the end of the day when the whole family sat together and shared, but it was also that element that was more memorable, more so than the gifts or the laughter. (LOL, despite the ratio of it being mentioned in this post. Smile with tongue out)

So, yeah. I count my regrets in sleeps.. because every moment asleep is a moment away from this wonderful family.

4 Things I Loved About Barcelona!

Monday, December 23, 2013

As I write this, about a month has passed since I last updated. Since then, I’ve handed in 5 essays, started coaching debating under DebateMate for a school in an under-privileged area, ran uncontested for a post in LSE’s Malaysian Club, dropped by Bristol for a visit, flew to Barcelona, and finally, returned home to Malaysia! #bestofbothworlds #gettotravelthencomehome

The heat back home is ridiculous and I feel almost dizzy when I have to be in a non air-conditioned area. From 1°C on its worst days (it’s usually about 8°) to a stark 32°C, the 3200% (LOLOL) increase in temperature is leaving me sweating and longing for the cool of Barcelona, which was the pleasant temperature of 12-16°C. *sighs*

Well, I’ve decided to use these three weeks to settle back into my traditional hobbies of eating, sleeping, reading, and of course.. blogging! Open-mouthed smile I still want my blog to be a place to document significant things in my life, especially travel, so I actually hope to be able to churn out a couple of posts to wrap up my US trip, Legoland visit, and Penang trip! Of course, my food adventures deserve a place up here as well!

But firstly, let’s talk about Barcelona!

Our trip for 7 of us cost about £170 each, inclusive of return flights from London to Barcelona, 4 nights in the hotel, and for transport from the airport to the hotel! For those interested, we booked via this site and stayed at this hotel!

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Ahh, so cozy!

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It was so well equipped! Even had a full-sized fridge.

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It was a lovely hotel in a fantastic location along La Rambla and was very close to Placa Catalunya, which is the City Centre! But they don’t have lifts and we had to trudge up 3 flights of dimly-lit stairs and luggage. But for the price, I’d still say it was a steal! Open-mouthed smile

Without further ado, here are some of the things I found so amazing about Barcelona!

1. The Food

Spanish food is pretty much tapas, paella, and seafood. And sangria. Yeah, lots and lots of sangria.

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Every meal starts off with some bread and after realizing that they don’t serve tap water like in the UK and a tiny water bottle is about 2 Euros, we had sangria for many many meals. Sangria normally consists of wine, chopped fruit, a sweetener, and a small amount of added brandy. Alcohol is such a staple in European diets, something I’m very not used to! Surprised smile 

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Look at their convenience stores!

In Spain, they eat dinner at a rather late hour and eat tapas throughout the day to keep themselves full! Tapas are pretty much small appetizers meant for sharing and could be anything from sausages to bread!

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Octopus!

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They chopped up the one from the pic above for this plate of really really delicious octopus! Red heart

In Spain, we found out that most restaurants have Set Menus or deals written in Spanish meant for the locals, which would include appetizers, dessert, drinks, and a main course for about 14 Euros! As a tourist, one should always ask for the available set menu and they’ll (probably a bit reluctantly Smile with tongue out), pull out one in English from some hidden corner.

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Seaaaafoood! About 30 Euros?


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Ahh, such delicious grilled prawns with amazing sauce! Looks like mint sauce but it was more like some garlic-ish finish.

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Squid rings!

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A typical paella menu! Each dish cost about 11 Euros, depending on the type of paella and its ingredients!

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This was some sort of noodle paella which had cheese and sausages.. and really really short noodles! Tasted like some microwaved mac and cheese, wasn’t the most memorable dish, and definitely not the best. D:

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Mixed chicken paella!

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Ng had paella every single day! Surprised smile

My favourite was definitely the Paella Negro, which is the squid ink paella! The ink gave it such a yummy gooey texture and when accompanied by fresh seafood.. Ahhh! *salivates* Not exactly the most appealing meal looks-wise and after a whole plateful, you’ll definitely have blackened lips, but it was so good we ordered it multiple times!

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In gigantic portions as well!! Don’t worry, this was for four! Smile with tongue out That inky thing later proceeded to spill all over my dress. Sad smile 

Besides main dishes, the whole of Barcelona is peppered with stores selling gelato and churros.

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Both of my churros experiences were terrible! The first one Shane and I tried was like some weird version of yiu za gui, the fried dough one eats with Bak Kut Teh or congee. IT WAS SO DEPRESSING because we were looking forward to it so much and the chocolate they gave us to dip it in was like concentrated hot chocolate (the drink!)!!! WHICH would be a good thing on a normal basis.. but when you’re craving for Nutella-like consistency for your churros (which ended up way too Chinese for our liking), it was such a disappointment!

DSC_0557The second one I had was this huge one outside the Sagrada Familia, which looked so promising! But it was cold and the chocolate was very strange. Sad smile I know churros is a pretty big deal in Spain so we must have been so unlucky!

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Spanish egg tarts? Warm and gooey, bought from a Spanish bakery! Open-mouthed smile 

The food there had its local quirks and there were a couple of things we definitely couldn’t get used to seeing!

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Their market!

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With its mutant strawberries..

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And… lamb heads?

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And private part plants.

Yeah, not weird at all, Spain.

2. The Company

Of course, the trip would not have been as amazing had it not been for the wonderful company! It was such a weird group of people comprising of 6 Malaysians and 1 Hong Konger from 3 different universities, studying 5 different courses!

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Fun times though!

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MichMich! Red heart

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…?


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The three girls on the trip! Open-mouthed smile


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I was… trying to be a prawn.

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Heidi and Asian Wolverine, who is also my ice-cream-for-breakfast buddy!

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The Magnum one is very very good, by the way if you like sour-sweet combinations! Yum!

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Park Guell-ing with these cutie pies!

From this trip, I learnt that there are a few types of tourists. There are those who like to keep their days busy by sightseeing and visiting museums, etc. And then there are those who would rather chill in the hotel room and leisurely embrace the culture of foreign lands as a local by dining and shopping like one. I think our group was a mix of these when we’d spend our mornings walking and snapping pictures, and get a lot more relaxed throughout the night by having DMCs (deep, meaningful conversations! – a term I learned from the Hong Kongers) and just sitting around.

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All of us minus En Leang, who ended up playing photographer for the most part. Smile with tongue out Because I wanted to be in all the pictures!!

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LOL and when I took over, the picture comes out so bad!

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I only got to know Heidi through this trip, but it was so much fun with her although it felt really weird being the ‘short one’ of the group because she’s so tall!!

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I smiled and waved at an elderly Spanish man and he ushered me over to take a picture with his huge dog, all via sign language. Surprised smile 

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They call themselves The Council. Smile with tongue out

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There is so much going on here, I don’t understand.

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And finally, a picture of all of us! Open-mouthed smile (And my inked dress Sad smile)

3. The Beach!

What is Barcelona without its beaches!

For the most part, flying to an European country after living in London for a few months isn’t as fun as when you fly from Malaysia. For starters, the cobblestone streets and cool air doesn’t differ too much from the staple everyday view and except for the language spoken and written, the shopping streets all start to look the same after a while!

But what really made the difference for me between Spain and London was the seas!

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It was the bluest sea I have ever seen in my life!

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The boats and dock made me feel like we were in Penang, but the cold air was a reminder that we were no where near the equator. Open-mouthed smile

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A Boy and A Boat!

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Take it all in, my precious!

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There was a grand total of one bikini-clad girl spotted on that day, whilst the rest languished on the sand in their coats and jackets. Smile with tongue out Such a weird thing to see because it looks so sunny and beach-like but yet, everyone is dressed so warmly!

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HAHA, what an unhappy looking En Leang. Smile with tongue out

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And not bad for a candid picture, ey?

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The beach was the highlight of my trip and walking along it during the night felt so good. At night, the sea was a deep blue and the sky was this dark shade of navy.. It was one of those sights that couldn’t be captured on camera and as cheesy as it sounds, I doubt I’d ever forget how it looked like or how I felt.

The wind was so so cold but I had this glowy warm happiness within me which made me giggly and so incredibly high on life. I just very much loved being alive.

4. The Architecture

Three words: Gaudi, Gaudi, Gaudi!

The celebrated schizophrenic seems like the apple of Barcelona’s eye, with his intricate buildings and bizzare creations featuring all over!


Barcelona Cathedral, one of Gaudi’s. Open-mouthed smile 

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A rose amongst the thorns!

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The weird and wonderful Casa Battlo! Thanks to Heidi’s and my eavesdropping on some tour guide, we found out that it was meant to be modelled after a dragon. The balconies show the skulls of its victims whilst the pillars are its spine. The mosaic patterns of the building are its scales.

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The roof is the back of the dragon whilst the cross looking thing is the hilt of the sword that was stuck into the dragon’s back. Surprised smile

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This is Casa Mila, another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces! To be honest, I have no idea how to appreciate architecture but as a good tourist, I obediently go around taking pictures with them. Smile with tongue out 


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Then there’s his marvellous work of art, Sagrada Familia! My dad was here years and years ago and he told me that it was even more incomplete then. It’ll be complete in another 30 years, and has already taken hundreds and years to build to this point.

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These hand carved statues outside the church depict the life of Jesus, from his birth to the betrayal that ultimately resulted in his crucifixion.

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Gaudi loved nature and the tree-like pillars in the inside of the church illustrated that.

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Red heart

We paid a total of 16 Euros to enter the church and to go up to the tower for a view of Barcelona.

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With one of Barcelona’s wonders – Heidi taking selfies. Smile with tongue out 


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The back of the church!

Pictures really don’t do the place justice as it is so grand and large and detailed! We spent hours in there and even for someone who has practically zero understanding of it, I can see why it is such an architectural wonder. However, I preferred the Milan Cathedral in Italy which had a much more peaceful interior. Smile 

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On one morning, some of us who could wake up went to Park Guell which had a beautiful view of Barcelona and showcased some of Gaudi’s other works.

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My father told me that Park Guell felt like Disneyland..

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HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAH… but no.

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Although it is colourful and weird, the atmosphere is not as fanciful as the Happiest Place in the World and because we were short of time, there didn’t seem like there was much to see.

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LOL look how bored they were! Smile with tongue out

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You can sort of see the view in the background. Smile with tongue out 

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Meant to look like a wave!

Finally fed up with Gaudi, at night we went to the Barcelona Museum for the night view of the city. London is actually a really really flat city so it was nice being able to be in a hilly area with so many opportunities for bird’s eye views. Smile 

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Annnnd, that’s it, folks!

Phew! What a long post.

Congratulations on getting to the end. Open-mouthed smile Have a fluffy puppy for getting all the way here!

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