Combined chaos and serenity

In August we traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam and also booked the cruise on Ha Long Bay. Even though Hanoi International Airport was very modern, clean and shiny, some how the atmosphere managed to be past tense. And even though there were plenty of officials everywhere, we managed to get swindled by taxi driver. Lesson learned.

We spent one night in Hanoi before our cruise. The hotel was superb, and location in the heart of old town. IMG_7548Voices, noises, smells, colors, life. One step from tranquil hotel to the street, and all the hassle was embracing us overwhelmingly. Traffic was more or less chaotic – really need to be careful, especially thousands of motor bikes, well, at they were two-wheeled. I wondered, how many accidents happen daily, needed to Google it. (One estimation here.) Early in the next morning we waited for the transportation, minibus/van take us to the harbor. Trip lasted about 3-3½ hours, van driver had collected 5 persons before us. Transportation included the price of cruise. From downtown to harbor we saw a lot of rice fields, thin cows, people working hard under the merciless sun wearing Vietnamese cone hats. Many villages we passed by. Of course our “free” transportation included one stop in the huge local shopping center: bar, plenty of silk clothes and other silky textiles, food, handicrafts, art, and very interestingly quite a large park with (enormous outdoor) statues, of course to buy in.

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We had booked our cruise from Signature Cruises. The company has two ships to accommodate and one day boat. Our cabin was spacious, we had even a little balcony to relax. And to feel even more relaxed after day trips and dinners, there is Jacuzzi in every cabin. Ha Long Bay is one of the UNESCO Heritage Sites, extremely popular tourist destination. Before factually being there I didn’t understand, how amazingly large, peaceful, bIMG_7738eautiful it was. There were dozens of ships and boats, but still the tranquility is the priority. We spent two days in the ship, the timetable was tight and organized with minor margins. Local cruise manager/ host was friendly and touching, as Vietnamese are, friendly I mean. As Finn I felt almost embarrassed getting all that lavish service, in every turn. So beautiful their smiles were, and so hard-working they were, really long hours.

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One of my two favorite day trips was to access traditional, local floating fishing village. How well the village had survived and renewed its source of livelihood to match contemporary. Flow of tourists of course, but it was exciting to see cultured fish, pearl and oyster farms. We also witnessed, how precise and very hands-on it is to breed a pearl. After all that punctilious and hard work only minority of oysters grow a pearl, it takes 3-7 years. Hope that there were many tourists, who wanted to buy some pearly things, jewellery mainlVietnam_2015_HaLong_kalastajakylä3_maisema_wy. I am not that feminine I ever position any other jewellery than my wedding ring. But need to admit that most of pearly art was quite beautiful and shiny.

We were rowed by traditional bamboo boats around the village. Astonishingly all the rowers were female, and pearl breeders and polishers male. We tourists were mainly Westerners, and approximately twice as heavy the rowers. One hint it is a very good idea to have sunscreen and a hat. Sun was shining and sea was reflecting sun beams. And another more important hint, it is polite Vietnam_2015_HaLong_kalastajakylä2_veneet_w(well obligatory I’d say) to give tip to rower, and almost everybody. In the ship they have separate tipping boxes located conveniently at the reception just before you leave the ship. Cannot miss it.

IMG_8225Another favorite day trip was, when we had a chance to feel and be in the sea. We were packed onto canoes as pairs and the manager told us to come back after 75 minutes. IT WAS HOT. HOT. Fortunately we had chance to go ashore, we found nice little, peaceful beach, and what was the best – I had lovely swimming session in warm, transparent sea. With sea shells. Cruises also offered two trips to caves, first by canoeing, another by walking into bat cave. Such a claustrophobic I am that I passed.

In overall Ha Long Bay was something so peaceful, serene that I could not have ever imagined. It was amazing to sit on the deck and watch sunset. Noble rock formations (limestone pillars) and deep, but stoic sea, no urban lights, and after dinner very silent. Luckily travelers appreciate the silence of the nature. Since our trip Ha Long Bay I have tried to imagine, what kind of life it is there. Having a floating home in the middle of deep blue sea, mystic pillars surrounding, no noise, no electric light. How easily they can adapt urban life in the land? There are of course too many ethical issues to think of, but I sincerely was glad that so many still had sources of living from the sea. My little inner anthropologist woke up, and I’d love to spend some time in the village within.

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When I close my eyes I can hear and see dogs barking, babies crawling, women flapping fans, men repairing fishing nets or napping in hammocks. Floating village – every family had their own separate house, but houses were connected. Children probably learn to swim before to walk. Afternoon soft, hot, a bit of hazy sun shine created a scenery strangely unreal. To us it seemed idyllic, but of course, life is hard there. Very hard.

After lovely, blissful serenity we drove back to Hanoi. What an opposite! Full of noise, full of people, full of everything. We walked and walked, it was warm, we were sweaty, we ran into our cruise fellows (not so big city ..), we ate gorgeous food – I love Vietnamese food, so well combined tastes and dishes so elegant. Again service was excellent, almost everybody was friendly. But when you are tourist wandering around, you need to be able to encounter the fact that usually all white (fat) tourists are seen a walking purse by locals. But I really liked all that hassle and busyness even though after tranquil Ha Long Bay the contrast  hit at first, sorely. Plenty to do, to see, to smell, to buy (if you are a shopper) and above all to eat. Some language barriers were, but in my opinion everyone can speak hands. Signaling, smiling and money – they are common languages.

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My recommendations of the week:

FOOD: Vietnamese spring rolls

BOOK: Dr. Chris Jenner: Fibromyalgia and Myofascial Pain Syndrome

PLACE: Coffee shops in Hanoi

SOMETHING ELSE: Breathing exercises

Can I bake problems off?

Several my Facebook friends have posted frustrated lately. And quite many on the contrary have posted extremely passionate and involved. Currently there is so much going on globally that I cannot create any holistic view. I bet many feels the same.

In Europe summer news were full of financial crisis, Greece mainly. News weren’t particularly positive in Asia either. Past one month has been in blur – in the news sense. Also China was dropping, a few of days there was nothing, but the whole world is collapsing due to China’s stock market dipping. And as suddenly it hopped to headlines, it was forgotten. Asian financial situation is relatively stable, a bit of growing, business friendly compared to Europe. Also USA announced yesterday it has been able to turn its financial crisis from minus to positive curve. Business cycles are awfully short nowadays, it would be thrilling to hear at least a few of companies to look forward more than a quarter (or a week or a month).

At the moment news are shooting too many saddening and soon to burst into cry issues. Masses of refugees in Hungary trying to reach Northern European countries. There has been such a lot of speculations from where the refugees originally are. Does it really matter, if human beings feel unsafe, totally hopeless, that they are willing to leave everything to behind, even to die, knowing nothing what the future might offer them? Why the world so often waits for too long before reacting, doing something? We are used to click support, but usually clicking online is not enough. It was more or less predictable, how some Finnish will react. I was surprised, how strong fear and resistance in the end were. On the counterbalance there was also strong empathy and welcoming.

Refugee problem is global, and dichotomy in the globe probably will shoot up. In Asia-Pacific many countries face refugee issue, and there are usually very one-way, straight procedure to manage it. Somehow it was ironic that former Australian PM Abbott emphasized Europe must act humanly even though Australian immigration policy is not dirty free. And Europe has answered Asia to take care of their own refugee problems, especially Rohingya refugee issue. It is easier, when it is in the backyard of someone else. On Asian news almost daily it is at least one new about illegal immigrants, too many too ill to survive and too many dying on the trip. Some very inhuman actions both in Europe and Asian have been announced by the governments, civil servants, but it is heart warming that some individuals still try to help. One shocking policy (well, for me) is that refugees should not be saved by local fishermen or other locals either. How many of us could watch dozens of people floating in tiny boat and just wave to them or return to ashore without helping? Not so many I believe.

And what is not the news – it is just too easy to combine financial situation and refugee problem. There are myriad of problems, and because they are problems, most of them are solvable, to mention the most obvious ones: continuing wars, female repression, the problem of clean water or huge issue of education. I am idealistic now, I know, but I also want to be problem solving person, doer, not just dreamer. Fortunately there are many organizations, which tirelessly struggle for better conditions (for instance Unicef, Amnesty). And also many persons, who want share their going forward views. Many African leaders tend to blame THE WEST has itself caused refugee problem, especially from Africa. But there are some, who say that African governments have to work harder too stabilize living conditions, so not so many feel the need to leave their own homelands (for instance Former Mozambique PM Luisa Diogo, BBC documentary Africa Surprising – Signs of Change, Episode 2).

The list of issues, problems, questions is long, too long. Refugee issue has touched me deeply in past weeks, but however, I have not ignored haze problem in South East Asia, floods in Japan, drought in general and its causes to environment, sinking of too many boats, ivory issue etc. Two past years full of elections, to change something, maybe. Last Friday Singaporeans polled and re-elected PAP as a major party for parliament. India, the largest democracy it is said, polled along the spring 2014; Indonesia elected new president last autumn – both countries have now been under spyglass. Myanmar will have its election in November, it will be a very interesting. Thailand and Vietnam  will hold general elections next year. Loads of expectations, how much eventually to be changed.

I have been addicted to news since I was young, pre-teen probably. I have no children of my own, but it really aches me, when I think all those thousands of children having no choice, not any chance to decide, whether they want to adopt hatred, fear, being biased, who have to leave their homes without understanding why, who die because we adult cannot communicate, solve the problems. Refugee problem is tightly linked with trafficking in human beings, and usually children are those, who suffer the most. They really do not deserve that. I am not political person, and I am biased referring my feelings and aches. Lately news have been too effusive and I have tried to blind my eyes. Sometimes succeeding, frequently not. It is not a solution keep my eyes and ears shut, but sometimes it is necessary to re-consider, how lucky I am with all my aches and problems, but they are not even close to real nor elementary troubles. And how I solve the confusion – by baking. I bake buns, sourdough bread, Finnish rye bread. It doesn’t actually help anyone else, but eases selfishly my feelings for a moment.

My recommendations of the week:

FOOD: simply bread

BOOK: Yan Lianke: The Four Books

PLACE: under beloved’s arm

SOMETHING ELSE: feel empathy

To beach or not to beach

I am not the beach person in the meaning of sun bathing and bikinis. But I love sea, its waves, its sounds, its movement. What I have learned to love is walking on the beach. I have always liked to walk on seashore, on riverbank or even near the lake, if missing sea. Moving to Asia has also changed my mindset with sea. The water is saltier, clearer, cleaner compared to The Baltic Sea. And of course a lot of warmer.  Also the color of the water is so different, not to mention flora and fauna.

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Photo by P.Jarvinen.

A week ago we returned from Langkawi. My spouse had one week vacation left before company’s fiscal year end, and surprisingly we hadn’t booked anything beforehand. After having such a stressful period at work, we decided to have relaxed vacation, not that much of hiking and exploring than usually. We managed to book flights to Langkawi and also two hotels, first one in Cenang, another in Kuah. We spent seven nights in the island, and to be honest we were a bit of concerned, how to manage, if there was nothing to do. Of course there is a lot of to do, but we both prefer not to experiment water sports and such. And there were plenty of activities like sky gliding, jet skiing, various of guided tours. We are not exactly group people, especially on vacation, so we discovered the island independently.

It was rain season, and off season. Good for us. Our first hotel was Ambong Ambong. What a hotel it is! Absolutely fantastic! We spent there four nights, very short time. It seemed that hotel was recently renovated. Hotel is located uphills. And if you are not willing to climb all the stairs, there is car service by personnel from early morning to midnight. We considered stepping stairs up and down as keeping ourselves fitter. Room was spacy, there was terrace/ balcony in every room, neighbors only above or under, not by side. Ambong Ambong is literally in the middle of jungle, rain forest, so be prepared to meet various species (both flora and fauna). We shared our room with two very friendly lizards, they were very tiny. Unfortunately I spotted also a couple of spiders, one of them one awfully big and yellowish red. Needed to wake up my spouse to vanish it 🙂

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Photo by P.Jarvinen.

And monkeys were curious enough, also a bit of frustrated, when watching through window we enjoyed our breakfast, but they couldn’t reach it despite seeing it too clearly. We are used to monkeys in Singapore, so we quite well knew, how to handle them. No feeding, it is absolute principle – unfortunately not all respect the principle.

We wandered on several beaches, most of them were quite peaceful, not crowded. Off season, yes. Due to rain season there were red flags, and so not allowed to swim. Instead of swimming we walked kilometer per kilometer, and soaked ourselves in the sea near the shore. Waves were very powerful indeed. And while standing in the water, waves splashing, and feeling, how the sand just melts under you, it is not a joke that current is too strong for human being and red flags are to be obeyed.

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Photo by P.Jarvinen.

Our nearest beach was about one kilometer from our hotel Ambong Ambong, and wonderfully almost empty every time we walked there. One noon we spent a couple of hours reading, watching waves, having mango juice and one drink and just strolling and floating in the sea. Fortunately we were able to have sunbeds under thick twig tree.

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Photo by P.Jarvinen.

At Cenang there are many activities, attractions, especially for families with little kids, or even older. Also for us middle aged couple traveling between us it was surprisingly nice.We rented a car fro two days, and drove to Sky Cable and from there we headed to SkyBridge. Cable car ride was smooth, even though I have fear of height. And need to say the cable is hanging high, very high, 708 m above sea. The ride is long, nearly 2 km. The fog created a bit of spooky appearance, while riding to the top. But only it was raining, we were allowed to start our trip to the bridge. I managed to go stairs to up down, minding my head (low twigs and sloping tree trunks on the path), it was really slippery.

Photo by P.Jarvinen.
Photo by P.Jarvinen.

The SkyBridge was open and totally inside clouds and mist. I was too scared to walk it back and forth, so I waited for my spouse to conquer it. It was blowing cold and my ears were honestly aching. Then it started to rain heavily, and the bridge needed to empty anyway. I managed to peek down and saw beautiful white head sea waves beneath.

Oriental Village was very touristic, but it is understandable to construct akin to location, where travelers ahead. We drove down to Perdana Quay and had lovely Indianish lunch there. Waiter was from Bangladesh and he was worried about, how I liked the wine. He said in Langkawi it is duty free zone, but the quality is second rate 🙂 Very honest. He also repeated a few of times, how white people are so healthy. Probably polite way to say fat … He explained his mother was white and beautiful (like you Ma’am), and his father tiny Indian. Couldn’t have this kind of discussion anywhere in Finland I think.

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Photo by P.Jarvinen

We also drove to Northern coast, spotted again a few of beaches. One – Pasir Tenkorak – was totally isolated, only two stray dogs watched us to change swimming suits , then diving to the waves. Not sure, if the place was closed, because of rainy season or if it was deserted. For us, a paradise. No sun shine, no people, no rain either. Just waves and us.

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Photo by P.Jarvinen.

My spouse wanted to see Gunung Raya, we drove there in heavy rain and fog. Top of the mountain it was so foggy, cloudy and rainy that nothing could be seen. Very exciting drive though. Here is a short video, when we drove down, and it was already getting clear. At same day we visited also Langkawi Craft Complex. We were told it is not so touristic, but couldn’t avoid the feeling that its purpose is to attract tourists along introducing Langkawian hand Arts.

I read guide book before traveling to Langkawi. Writers were not extremely fascinated of the island. They had been there on rainy season as we also, and unfortunately writers claimed quite a lot of weather. But surely you know beforehand, whether it is rainy season or not and you can plan your visit out of rainiest period, I assume. For us rain was just okay, and to be clear,  it rained only one whole day and a couple of nights during our stay.

Kuah, photo by P.Jarvinen
Kuah, photo by P.Jarvinen

In Kuah we spent three nights, our flight back home was early on the Saturday morning. We had wonderful view from the 13th floor (Bayview Hotel Langkawi). Kuah is the urban village, town in the island. It is said to be shopping paradise, and indeed a lot of shopping possibilities, but due to the end Ramadan, quite many shops were closed. We walked fairly lot, and spent one completely lazy day shopping and on the pool. What was a tiny surprise was that Islam as religion was more shown street wise than in the countryside around other parts in the island. It might be because Friday was Hari Raya festivity day. We saw so many beautiful dresses, and every chocolate shop was crowded – really it was like combined Christmas and Easter.

Food was excellent as Malesian food usually is. I liked especially seafood we had several times. And also I want to praise Phoenix Chinese Restaurant, such a dinner feast we had. Langkawi is duty free zone, so it is fairly easy to have drink or two also at restaurants, in Cenang, but now necessary with in Kuah. I was truly surprised, how much I enjoyed vacation we named relaxing beach holiday. Every person we met was effusively polite and friendly, weather was warm, food excellent, beaches solitary enough. I feel fed, relaxed, content, blissful.

Photo by P.Jarvinen.
Photo by P.Jarvinen.

My recommendations of the week:

FOOD: any seafood @ Langkawi Fish Farm Restaurant (obs. portions very large)

BOOK: Any book by Agatha Christie, perfect reading on the beach

PLACE: Beach

SOMETHING ELSE: Relax once in a while.

Praised Botanic Gardens

The Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG) was awarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What a wonderful news! One of my favorites places to walk around, have a picnic, just to relax in Singapore. SBG was established already 1859, but of course Sir Raffles had pointed out the idea of such garden already 1822. I am sure that since it was founded the gardens have been crowded. I visited first time at SBG in July 2013, when we were here on vacation.

Our picnic company at SBG, summer 2015. Photo by P.Jarvinen
Our picnic company at SBG, summer 2015. Photo by P.Jarvinen

When we moved to Singapore in October 2013, SBG was absolutely our most popular place to go. At first I had some hernias in my lower back and wasn’t able to walk properly, but it was easy to get onto SBG by MRT (or even easier by taxi), and because the area is so large there are so many different spots to investigate many, many times. We have had several picnics there, and we have taken all our visiting friends there too.

Picnic

There are so many different gardens and places to spot, but I am not to describe all of them, just picking a couple of my favorites. Swan Lake of course is very obvious, but I do like the atmosphere and flora & fauna on it. Usually you can observe two swans swimming proudly, but delicately. Going very near to edge it is possible to see manifold fish and turtles. And several times we have also spotted quite a long monitor lizard gliding in the lake. Juhannus_BotanikGardens_20150620_154810What is sad, that you shouldn’t feed the lake animals, but it is really popular to do so. And that’s why it is easy to spot fish and turtles, because they react your reflection in the water.

Another favorite is absolutely Ginger Garden. Peculiar to say, but among my favorite spices ginger is very special and on TOP3 (garlic, chili, ginger – cannot pick the best). I hadn’t seen ginger flowering before I visited first time at SBG. Absolutely fabulous! SBG’s Ginger Garden is Gingervery lovely garden in the gardens. Hadn’t realized, how many different types of gingers really exist. And what’s marvelous, when walking to our nearest MRT station I can see hundreds of gingery flowers in our home park. Almost too sad to eat ginger though.

There are many surprises in SBG, one of them is Rain Forest. A little amazing forest in the middle of gardens. And it is real, and it is ancient. Singapore has been more or less a jungle ’til modern days, and in the Rain Forest you can imagine it – if you close your ears from traffic noise 🙂  Boardwalk through Rain Forest is lovely, quite short and it is accessible with ease. Especially in the rain forest animals are plenty, for instance plantain squirrels, many birds, macaques, lizards, insects. I don’t like spiders at all, and have been very fortunate not to see too many of them. And I haven’t ever spotted snakes at SBG, not even sure, if there are any. In Rain Forest there are several ancient trees, protected and saved for future generation. Many old trees wear lightning rod, luckily.

SBG is so abundant, and I could write a book of it to cover it sufficiently. I mention still National Orchid Garden, which is located in Central Core. SBG is virtually free, but there is tiny admission for Orchid Garden, this suOrchidmmer it was 5 SGD (adults). If you love flowers, especially orchids, Orchid Garden is the place to be and spend time. There are over 1000 species and also 2000 hybrids to see. Inside Orchid Garden is also VIP Orchid Garden, where you can find hybrids created to honor many celebrities and especially government principals and monarchs all over the world. Of course we tried to find any Finnish, and we found a hybrid to honor ex-PM Matti Vanhanen (Dendrobium Matti).

We have lived in Singapore over 20 months now and visited and wandered around at SBG at least a dozen of times. As so many other locals, but also tourists, we will return there over and over again. And if you visit in Singapore, it is the must for a visitor.

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My recommendations of the week:

FOOD: mini blinis @ Raffles Hotel, brunch

BOOK: Audrey Magee: The Undertaking (2013)

PLACE: The Singapore Botanic Gardens

SOMETHING ELSE: To see selection of honorable hybrids: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hr44JnEoxJk (Dendrobium Matti 4:49)

Being foreign

Before I moved to Singapore, my longest period abroad was autumn 1997, when I spent 10 weeks in Senegal. Now I have lived in Singapore 20 months, and at the moment we don’t have any intentions to return back homeland, to Finland. Of course staying here is not only our will, Singaporean government has a lot of to say of the issue. But at least we try to stay here (legally).

Our life is now here, our home is here, my spouse has permanent job, we are more or less adapted the way of life, how it is in Singapore. There are of course differences between Finland and Singapore, but quite a lot of similarities as well. Human being is human being everywhere.

I have always moved a lot, so I have no childhood or teen home like most of the people I know have. In Finland I lived in 30+ locations including 8 towns, several different types of housing. So moving was not the issue for me, when we decided to leave Finland and start a new era of our lives abroad. Of course there were several issues to consider, for instance what I shall do, can I ever get a job, what kind of job etc. Work has been very important to me, also it has defined me, perhaps too much. ( I blogged of this before, my writing On leisure).

My main subject in the university was cultural anthropology and I have always been interested in different cultures. But probably had never dreams of living in another culture than Finnish one. Moving here has been super! Totally incredible, I have no regrets (even though getting a job has been more difficult I assumed). But being foreign is something I am struggling a bit, still. I managed, but there are so many cultural nuances that I am not deeply aware of. Especially in Singapore there are loads of Hokkien or other Chinese manners, habits, but also Malay and Indian etc. And me being Caucasian it is always the subject, where ever I go.

My most common discussion with locals begins always “Where are you from?” And it continues with a series of questions and comments, most usual are “It is too hot and expensive here, isn’t it”, “Why you are here?”, “Do you like Singaporean food?”, “Oh, you live here, for how long, when you go back?”, “What is your rent?”, “Do you have children?”, “Why you want stay here, wow?”. After living here for a while I have gotten used to these questions. In Finland we do not speak to strangers, sometimes not even with our beloved. And surely we compare Singapore to Finland. In Finland the most common discussion is to talk about weather. Of course weather is important issue here as well, but due to not have four totally varying seasons, so talking about Singaporean weather is just forecasting rain or thundering – a bit of exaggeration, but more or less.

I feel home here in Singapore. I speak both Finnish and English every day. I don’t remember being different from locals, when walking in the streets and buying food from hawker centers or grocery shops. What frustrates me is that when speaking English I cannot properly, deeply express myself as I could in my native language. New challenge has also been to start to study new language with foreign language, meaning we started to study Mandarin, but not the help of Finnish, but in English. My notes are both in Finnish and English, it has been interesting to browse them. Sometimes it is easier to write Mandarin (pinyin) translation down in Finnish, sometimes it is easier in English. Quite often I think in Finnish when trying to learn new phrase in Mandarin – our teacher translates or explains it in English and I try to understand it in Finnish. I haven’t ever been good to learn foreign languages, so learning Mandarin is not exactly simple. When I started to write the blog, I wrote it at first in Finnish, but even though I cannot write English especially well, I chose English, because it is my daily language and writing of Singapore in Finnish doesn’t exactly suit so well.

My status in Singapore is foreigner. I belong to minority, under 4% of population (Singaporean or PR) are Caucasian. At the moment I qualify only traveler, tourist, temporary resident before we get our PR. I myself consider already being more or less permanent resident, our permanent home is here and we travel to Finland, it is vacation, not going back home or returning home. We return home, when we come back to Singapore. Whenever you live abroad as non-local you need to consider living in the country the way the country itself exists. That’s why I have been amused to read one blog article, which has been shared several times in social media. Especially comments have been hilarious. But I am not to comment the article. Just like to remind myself, perhaps others at the same time, that living in peace and seeing others through tolerant lenses leads to more content life.

My recommendations of the week:

FOOD: buckwheat noodles

BOOK: JP. Koskinen: Kuinka sydän pysäytetään (only in Finnish so far)

PLACE: Pulau Ubin (it is so great that I will probably again and again recommend)

SOMETHING ELSE: Tolerance

Walking in urban nature

The best way to get to know any place is walking. Since we moved to Singapore we have walked frequently nearby, but also a bit farther from our home. At the beginning we explored more our neighborhood to locate grocery stores, restaurants, food courts, markets, walking trails, medical clinics, pharmacy etc. After managed to positioning them quite clearly, we started to hop in mrt and hop off somewhere to walk around. What we truly love is walking on nature trails, and luckily Singapore is full of them. And it amazes a bit – Singapore is regarded as financial hub, urban and filled with skyscrapers, but also there is huge amount of nature to explore.

Banana tree
Banana tree
Funnily under the banana tree.
Funnily under the banana tree.

A little while ago my Danish friend, who organizes Walk & talk-tours in Singapore, took us, three ladies to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. At the moment nature park is under renovation, but there is still some possibilities to hike and walk, but one must be aware of mountain bikers, who cycle extremely fast. We had perfect weather to walk, some clouds, no direct sun shine and it started to rain just after our walk. We walked approximately 7-7.5 km. For me Singaporean nature is very fascinating. I used to walk a lot also in Finland, but the nature there is not this exciting, Finnish flora and fauna is not multiform than here in Singapore. World of sound is intriguing – birds and macaques and locusts and so many other voices I cannot even recognize. Well, I am not able to recognize specific birds to be honest, just it is a bird. Some plants I can identify, but not many.

Ant having sweet lucnh.
Ant having sweet lucnh.

To learn more I bought a couple of guide books of Singaporean flora. Although the books are well located in my bookshelf, not in use, yet. Next time I will take guidebook with me! Fortunately our Danish guide is expert of plants, trees and flowers, so we had a lovely tour in Bukit Timah. We saw for instance banana trees, prehistoric ferns, so many blossoming trees and bushes that I cannot remember the names any more. We heard many concerts, but saw not so many animals. One medium size lizard clumped to the forest and some birds flying quickly. Two of us saw also nature drama. Snake has caught a baby frog or it might have been a baby turtle. Noise was awful – I thought first it was sort of bird in distress and when going closer to bush I saw near my feet a snake. A frog or turtle baby in its mouth. Noise was coming from that poor creature in snake’s mouth. Very sad, but in the other hand snake was fed that day. I love to watch wildlife documentary, and it has been fantastic to experience wildlife alive.

Always much of interesting to see.
Always much of interesting to see.
Mangrove, low tide.
Mangrove, low tide.

About a week ago we traveled to Changi Village with my spouse. Our first time there. We had a lovely stroll on seashore. We started from Changi Beach Club (Changi Boardwalk), and ended up to Changi Ferry Terminal. Trail was about 7km, and weather was again excellent. After harsh sunshine it was cloudy and rain was lurking, but didn’t start before we got home. There are plenty to do in Changi Village including swimming, grilling, sailing, boating, just relaxing. We saw many families and groups having fun playing different kinds of ball games, listening to music, having picnic. IMG_6358Lots of fishermen with their hooks and lines, some even throwing fishnets to gather little clams, perhaps fish and crabs as well. We had no picnic food with us, but even it was Sunday we found many places open to feed us. SAF has its own resort there for its employees, but fortunately Beach walk is open to everyone. And if you are plane watcher it is just your place to spend spare time. From Changi Ferry Point Terminal it is possible to take a ferry boat to Pulau Ubin, a lovely Northern island, where you can find mangrove trail, historic relics of past time, good food (as in everywhere in Singapore) and a lot of fauna and flora, what is not found anywhere else in Singapore. My recommendation is first to head to Pulau Ubin, and after the trip to have a lunch in Changi Village.

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No for littering.
No for littering.

Walking is my passion, I love nature and I have found it especially fascinating and beautiful in Singapore. What I am concerned about, how we residents can be cautious and aware to protect and conserve the exquisite nature. It is so heart breaking on trails to observe plastic bags, bottles, even oil cans, buckets etc. in sea, but unfortunately also on mangrove roots, inside the forest. We should know better.

Even though it can be quite pretty on the sand.
Even though it can be quite pretty on the sand.

My recommendations of the week:

FOOD: Many good dishes @ Ding Dong

BOOK: Anthony Doerr: All the Light We Cannot See

PLACE: Nature, anywhere

SOMETHING ELSE: No littering.

Big news last week

I am more or less addicted to the news. Although funnily nowadays I do not follow that much specific news channels and publications I used to, but more from numerous sources. At home I choose either to watch CNA or BBC. On the road (or sofa) I check quickly dozens of posts from different kinds of news medias  using Facebook mobile. Back in Finland I used to stick on YLE (national broadcasting television company) or HS (Finnish newspaper). Not so often I check YLE nor HS anymore, only briefly on Facebook, but rarely logging in their services.

Last week news offering was peculiar enough. Two major events were broadcasted at least twice an hour: New princess to be born in UK and The boxing match in Las Vegas. What was funny that usually I do not follow royal news and ever sports news, but now I had no choice, because both events were so broadly presented in main news at every turn. The most weirdest was the preview of turnover of THE match Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. Almost ten minutes devoted to this. My spouse just laughed at me, when I gazed in awe. Also no news without new born princess, at first to be and then born. I felt pity thinking the parents, especially mother, who just gave birth and then very soon after holding baby publicly, waving to the crowds, smiling and evidently being in pain. Tough. But well, at least she has chosen the life path, unlike her husband. I wish all the best to the princess.

Mentioned two news were unavoidable, and I couldn’t quite understand all the fuss. There were a lot of interviews from Philippines. People were really excited. THE match was obviously unifying event. What I appreciated that in poor country community houses organized screen and pay television for inhabitants nearby to come and watch the match, and those, who could afford their own pay tele opened their doors to kin to share the event. Sports apparently connect people. Tried to think, whether in Finland ice hockey is such a connective genre. Due to weather it is not easy to organize open air screens to the communal squares, but has there been common houses to gather Finnish to watch world champion ice hockey competitions together, for instance at schools, sports halls etc. Cannot answer, because I honestly do not follow sports. Only, when it is spoken out in main news! But it was heart warming to hear common men to tell about being proud there is Champion from Philippines, it seemed they felt to be in the same ring together. Whether Mayweather unified American people similarly?

Nepal earthquake is so heart breaking news. Poor country trying to its best, and now so much is destroyed. Death toll is still counting, but at the moment it is over 6000. News from Nepal have been so saddening. The contrast between Nepal disaster and mentioned two news is devastating, but almost preposterous. Tears in my eyes I watched the news, how survivors try to survive. At least it is warm, not snowing, but soon is monsoon coming and the next fear with it. It is delightful people are sending tents, blankets, money to the victims to help them to get up again.

Another disgusting, tragic news is from Paraguay, where 10-year old girl was raped by her step-father and is denied to have her life-saving abortion. When saw this news I just couldn’t read it. How any adult can rape a child, and furthermore doom the child dead. So shocking and outrageous. How can the child ever survive after experienced such an immoral behaviour by adults, who are supposed to protect precious life of child. Amnesty International is doing great job, and via pleas we all can help and act. As one Finnish writer mentioned sometimes it really affects. In the case I truly hope so.

My recommendations of the week:

FOOD: soba noodles

BOOK: Winnie the Pooh by A.A.Milne

PLACE: home

SOMETHING ELSE: Take action, not just worry.

On leisure

Since 19-year old I have worked more or less as FTE. And also studied along the work. On summer 2002 I graduated from the university, autumn before I had managed to pass my marketing degree. From 2000 working hard, long hours has been as a rule. I have no children, so probably it is fair enough to say I have lived for my work or from my work. Spare time has not ever been a problem, basicly because there has been none – to exaggerate a bit.

In mid-October 2013 I moved to Singapore due to my spouse’s permanent job here. Suddenly there was nothing else, but leisure in my hands. All day long. At first it was very peculiar. I had worked over 22 years, no any sabbaticals. Fortunately I have always enjoyed solitude, being at home. But of course all of a sudden being alone at home weekdays needed some time to adjust. Quite many suffer from loneliness, that there is no one to talk with. For me it was not the major issue. But only because I am not totally alone, my spouse comes home in the evening, sometimes earlier, often later. I have option for human communication daily. It is important. But what I am trying to say I can spend whole day without speaking to anyone, and have no complications whatsoever.

After the beginning I realized, how exceptional and precious option this is. To have a lot of time to think, to revert from work, to explore plenty of new. I have not had any sort of awakening, I don’t praise leisure gods, but I feel that there is time and place for everything. Leisure this degree was exactly I needed. I was happy to work long hours, under pressure, deal not always just pleasant challenges, but work was something I regarded being the very essence of me, my core. I have tried to work hard, full, flat out, not counting hours or my energy. Protestant backbone! When I turned 40, I realized that there must be something else than long hours at work and work-related events in the evening (or on weekends). It was a struggle to break away from it. And soon after I was here in Singapore, having more than too much of time. Well, honestly, time flies by. And I feel very content, more peaceful.

What I have done during these long hours of leisure? Living in a new country guarantees there is no dull moments. How you upload your days it is up to you. What I have pursued is not to fill every second. I want to avoid performing. I love walking – I have done that a lot, many streets and roads are familiar, but only nearby. It is astonishing, how easy it is to integrate in a new surrounding neighborhood. I cannot remember from where I read years ago that people usually move from home to work at the longest, beside that usual daily distance from home is approximately 3-5 km. I truly agree. Moreover I haven’t ever looked after my home in this extent. Most satisfactory is to have time for cooking and baking, which I have really missed yesteryear. Of course I have been able to read more, and to guzzle the news even more.

Finally I have had time to experience funny trends and such. Just to mention a few: for instance diet 5:2, not for me. Or “no poo”: didn’t act on my hair or actually with hair it was just fine, but my scalp as my fingertips hated baking soda. And honestly no poo test was too messy and took a lot of time, which I have enough, but rinsing loads of extra water not recommendable at all. Although keeping your bath tub and  sink clean baking soda is highly recommended. Two new try-outs worked well, still upholding them: water walking in the pool and walking on treadmill in the gym. A bit of variation for standard walking and wandering. Some other experiences I also have had, but cannot remember all of them. At the moment I try to nurture my own bread starters, a couple of attempts already failed, but constantly re-trying. I have managed to bake already one sourdough bread using my own, but still very young starter. Waiting for now it to bubble and keep it alive, then I can really bake my first own sourdough bread. Two other starters growing are tend to bake Finnish rye bread. Rye flour seems to be very sensitive. But if I manage, I will give my bread report then.

Homebaked bread
My first sourdough bread from my own starter

My recommendations of the week:

FOOD: home baked bread

BOOK: Alexander McCall Smith. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (An Isabel Dalhousie novel)

PLACE: Marina Barrage

SOMETHING ELSE: Walk from Tanjong Pagar to Marina Barrage to Marina South Pier, back to Tanjong Pagar.

Hanami prime time

I have longed for to see Japanese cherry blossom as long as I can remember. Probably heard of hanami first time, when I was still tiny child. This spring was finally the spring to experience blossoming sakuras. We tried to find out beforehand the best time to visit in Japan to be able really to see the blossom of its glory. It is always difficult to forecast, but we managed perfectly. It was such a blossom, just started, when we landed on Japan, Tokyo on the 28th of March and we were lucky to see more and more cherries blossoming day by day. My best risk taken ever, in forecasting sense.

Sakura

In Tokyo we saw our first and a few of cherry trees blossoming, some of full of lovely white bloom, some just starting to blossom, and some young cherry trees with delicate pinkish flowers. We walked amazed at the Imperial Garden (with mainly local admirers). Lots of people wandering and wondering around the Imperial Garden, every blossoming tree targeted with cameras. Everyone wanted to have a picture, maybe many with blooming sakura. And no wonder. They really were breath-taking. Our luck continued also with the weather, such a lovely vernal breeze, blue sky, subtle clouds, sun shining. Perfection.

Tokyo surprised me being so tranquil even though population over 13 million. Even cars seemed to roll smoothly without any noise. People were extremely friendly and super polite with smiles and bows. It was the prime time for hanami, and people were having picnics, strolls, parties all over the Tokyo, and yet no chaotic bellowing, shouting or harassing. (Such as Finn I am used to observe, when celebrating spring and soon to begin summer 🙂 .)

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My Japanese vocabulary contains only six words: arigato, hai, sakura, hanami, onsen, oishi. Still we managed to communicate moderately and thank god there are translation apps. Our first dinner was full of warmth and speaking with hands and loads of smiles. We stepped in a local eatery, sort of traditional steakhouse-pub. Atmosphere was cozy, not too loud, smoky, menu only in Japanese and none of the waiters spoke English. No prob. With waiters’ mobile apps and with patience I managed to get the most excellent vegetarian dinner I have probably ever gotten, at least on the steakhouse. And by saying arigato, made all of them including chef himself to smile warmly, but friendly and their bowing was so embarrassing deep when saying goodbye.

We also had picnic under cherry tree, like so many Tokyoites did. We chose to go Ueno-Koen, and oh boy, it was truly crowded. Fortunately walking a bit further after entering the park we found our own little slightly blossoming cherry tree to sit under. Well, beside it anyway. Our plan was to buy lunch-box, but near the park all the places were already emptied from them. So it was a delightful surprise to find food stalls around the pond. We bought very abundant and delicious fried cabbage noodles with pickles and had some red wine. Locals had amazing amount of food and loads to drink, some even had carried tables and chairs there. It really reminded me Finnish spring festival, Labour Day 1st of May, Finns call it vappu. But only, somehow celebrating hanami was more enjoyable and peaceful. In Kyoto we had chance to hear all night long, how locals enjoyed Friday night literally on the street. The street was closed from cars and other traffic than walkers. People were sitting down on the cardboard and blankets, taking off their shoes, drinking sake, whiskey, beer and tea and of course eating delicacies. On the pavement there were many food stalls and beer kiosk, also the stage, and we were lucky to hear local vocalists to entertain partying people ’til early in the morning. At first music was disco like and after some hours it became more nostalgic and not absolutely sure, but it sounded also like karaoke. In the morning the street was quite clean, empty, normal, when we left the hotel at 8.15 am. Comparing again to Finnish parks, streets – vappu party people do leave such a mess behind, and it is not rare to spot even some exhausted celebrants to lie on the streets.

Sakura-dori in Kyoto

There is no words to describe the variety, freshness and taste of Japanese food. We had a chance to eat in so many traditional places – we had excellent teppanyaki dinner, pub food, sashimi of course, sushi, oysters (yammy – so oishi), fish, miso soup, wagyu and kobe beef. To list all of we ate, I just have no time nor enough space. Feeling full. We visited The Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, highly recommended market to go. Remember not to eat before going there. Also Nishiki Market in Kyoto was a great place to visit. And again go there with empty stomach.

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So much to see, so little time. I definitely will return Japan. Hopefully sooner than later. I truly fell in love with cherry blossom, Japanese being friendly and polite and suitably distant, all the temples and parks I didn’t mention, but you know there are plenty. I could change my diet wholly Japanese (excluding meat). I feel blossomed.

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My recommendations of the week:

FOOD: sashimi

BOOK: Elina Hirvonen: Kun aika loppuu (only in Finnish at the moment)

PLACE: The Tsukiji Market

SOMETHING ELSE: Miyako Odori, Kyoto

Around the island

Friends of Museum (FOM) organizes plenty of programs. FOM is an excellent example, how people can with just a very easy way and comfortably little sum to support rich and lively cultural life. I have paid for the joint membership of FOM, only $85 annually. It allows me to enjoy very many events, join to all the programs, entry to museums basicly free.

The program I selected is FSS = Field Studies in Singapore.This spring is my third season. Program is organized twice a year. I have enjoyed enormously all our tours under the program. Participants are mainly expats or relocated in Singapore from overseas. It has been so nice to get to know so many, who have moved from their own homelands to elsewhere. Making friends is equally important than explore Singapore.

I have had chance to visit NEWater visitor center and also at the same tour to hear important information of Marina Bay Barrage. Quite often I walk to Marina Bay Barrage and/or Gardens by the Bay on weekend. It is so lovely to experience the line, where fresh and sea water confront each other. Our FSS tour also inspired me to explore other water reservoirs in Singapore. But that is another story. FSS tours have carried me to know better Fullerton history, clan associations in Chinatown, into so many temples, Kampong Glam, and also to observe intriguing art in Marina Bay Sands Mall among so many other interesting subjects. In general so many places that by my own I necessarily wouldn’t ever have chance to enter. Last week we walked a part of Toa Payoh heritage trail, and a month ago we heard a lot of fascinating flora and fauna at Pulau Ubin’s Chek Jawa. Our enthusiastic guide was, well who else than botanist Joseph Lai. One of the most interesting places we have visited is The Intan , private museum of Peranakan heritage.

The Intan, some of so lovely handmade shoes.

Sometimes is nice to explore new country of residence by your own, but I need to say that it is such a fun to have group of people to explore together. And there is indeed plenty to explore in Singapore. Waiting keenly for our next tours.

My recommendations of the week:

FOOD: dinner @ Katanashi An

BOOK: Yiyun Li: Gold boy, Emerald girl

PLACE: The Intan

SOMETHING ELSE: Field Studies in Singapore