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Tea, milk and biscuits… the culture shock.

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Come August I’d have been living in the UK for two years – time really flies!

I haven’t written for a long time now, that’s because every time I open up my WordPress page, I’d just freeze and ended up on Facebook instead. I must say, the last 19 months have been overwhelming and at times painful. I really don’t like to write about it.

I am prompted to write this one because of an amusing incident on Tuesday at a work event.

We had a whole day event in an external venue, and the administrator either couldn’t remember or thought it’s not important for us to know that there will no snacks during morning and afternoon coffee break – or should I say tea break, because the ‘ang mohs’ here drink more tea than coffee.

So I ran out with a colleague to the nearest supermarket to get some biscuits for everyone. I decided to get:

  • Milk chocolate digestives
  • Dark chocolate digestives
  • Toffee digestives
  • Rich tea biscuit

I thought the selection was ok, but my colleague told me that English people don’t like dark chocolate. So I ditched the healthier dark chocolate for the milk chocolate biscuits. She didn’t comment about the rich tea biscuits, so I went ahead with those too.

Boy, was I in for a culture shock. The delegates cleared the milk chocolate biscuits in no time – and asked for more! And I had lots of rich tea biscuits left over after the event. I brought the leftovers back to office for colleagues to enjoy, and when I left office on Thursday evening, there’s still some left! This is really odd, considering the fact that rich tea biscuits are supposedly English. I was told by another colleague that they like milk chocolate stuff. Might I also add that they ALWAYS put milk in their tea…

I’ve been asked quite a few times which part of China did I come from, been referred to as “the li’l Chinese girl”, and someone actually asked me REALLY SLOWLY (as if I’m retarded) “so – how  – do –  you – like – the   – weather?…”. It’s really upsetting when people do that because it means they think you’re la lot less intelligent than them. It’s taken quite a lot of effort on my part to prove that I’m not stupid, and it’s really tiring.

For the record, I hate the weather here. It’s cold and damp in the winter and cold and wet in spring. The summer is usually not hot enough, so I can’t understand how come some people can faint at 30degrees temperature. Depression hits during winter because its dark from 4pm to about 8am. Not getting much sunlight can kill your spirit -so I’ve discovered.

I still struggle to make friends, I have about 3 friends that I’m particularly close to, one have left recently to return to Korea, and two really lovely English colleagues who showed that they really care about me. They’ve both left the company, but I am keeping in touch.

I miss my old friends, and I want them back in my life. I miss going out for lunch with colleagues – colleagues here always bring lunch from home. I miss Old Tea Hut’s gula melaka kopi. I miss the lotus root pork rib soup and curry chicken from the soup place on Stanley Street. Heck I miss everyone and everything back home.

It’s tough teaching an old dog new tricks, and that’s how I’ve been feeling since August 2014  – like an old, tired dog trying to learn new tricks to impress the “ang moh” and develop the love for fish and chips and cold sandwiches. Some days I’m ok, although I seem to have many black dog days.

It’s not all that bad. The beer and homes outside of London are cheap – or at least affordable. We now own a 4-bedroom house, which we wouldn’t be able to afford in Singapore (so I do count my blessings). We have space, and it’s really quiet where we live. We enjoy the long quiet walks. Being in the UK also means easier access to vacation in Europe, and we’ve been to a few places since we got here. Barcelona is next on the list, and I look forward to getting a sunburn then.

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Walking along the Colne river

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One of the more popular walking trail in Colchester

So we plan to get as much experience as possible out of our stay here. There’s always something one can learn – what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. We dream of the day when we move again to another new experience. Hopefully, the next time we relocate, it will be closer to my char koay teow and bak kut teh…

 

 

 

 

Fifty shades of sunshine – reminiscing the long summer days

I was checking out my blog and I realised that I didn’t post anything during summer. I must have been too busy enjoying every bit of it and soaking up natural vitamin D because I knew the dark days will be back. And they have returned. It’s dark at 4.30pm these days and I feel hungry and tired when I leave office at 5pm because the body thinks it’s already 8pm (dinner time!) and the mind is tricked into thinking I’ve worked overtime!  I’m starting to get a bit depressed again, the short days somehow makes me feel that I’m running out of time all the time!

What have I done in the last 14 months in the UK?? Let’s see…

What’s obvious is that Clod and I have been able to travel to Europe more often that before. I am grateful for that opportunity, for I have always moaned about not having enough time to visit Europe when I was in Singapore.

We’ve been able to visit Romania twice within the last one year and it’s quickly becoming one of my favourite places to visit. It’s has three key things: good food, good wine and beautiful landscape. I’ve only been to Bucharest, Sinaia and Brasov, and I’m looking forward to discover more.

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Black Church, Brasov

Because of Clod’s work, I got the chance to tag along when he had to go to Lisbon for a few days. It was really a relief when we got to Lisbon because the weather was a lot warmer than the UK. I even got a sunburn from the trip! We had lots of fish and I had my first Moscatel: very sweet fortified white wine. Plus, I found out that the alcohol allowance for EU residents travelling within the region is 10 litres! Happy days!

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Moscatel de Setubal – Fortified wine

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Hilltop view to Lisbon

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Sardines, grilled with sea salt and garlic

We also managed to squeeze in a trip to south of France, mainly Arles and Marseille. We tried the rabbit stew (a local delicacy) and visited the square where Van Gogh painted the famous Cafe Terrace at Night. While writing this I realised I have yet to process any of the photos taken during the trip, so I’m only including what I manage to salvage from the iPhone..

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Arles

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Rabbit stew and potatoes au gratin – typical dish in Arles

What’s next? I’m not quite sure yet. We have talked about going to Finland, Iceland or Norway to see the Northern Lights. I’m also keen on seeing more of France, or perhaps visit Spain (never been there).

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return – Leonardo da Vinci

Turtlenecks and beanies – Spring in Colchester

The days are definitely longer now, and Daylight Savings time started on 29 March. But when I check the weather forecast, and when I look out the window everyday, I don’t feel the spring coming at all.

I looked back at my ‘fashion statement’ for the last 6 months, and it hasn’t been much of a statement and by that I mean 6 months of turtlenecks and thermal pants from Uniqlo. They should pay me as a walking advertisement. Black, gray, purple, burgundy, dark blue, light blue and light orange – those are the colours of the Uniqlo Heatech turtlenecks I own. I cover all that up with a really puffy down coat that makes me look like a Michelin man, and I top it off with a really thick beanie. Winter kills fashion. I despair.

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There’s still frost on some mornings, and it is raining more often now. The only relief we had was when we flew over to south of France (Arles and Marseille) for a short weekend a few weeks back. That was when we had about 20 degrees and a fair bit of sunshine.

The spring and summer will arrive at some point, but I doubt it will ever be an equivalent of 32 degrees, where I can just throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, slip on my slippers and walk about the whole day. My legs have not seen the light of day since 2 August 2014… I’m pretty sure they are of the same shade as Sheldon Cooper’s legs (horrors!)

Bloomsbury Coffee House

IMG_1830One of the perks of working around Bloomsbury area: cafe in every corner.

Bloomsbury Coffee House was one of the first independent cafes that I visited when I started my work in London. It is at basement of an old block in Tavistock, right under St Athans Hotel. I really like the flat white and I keep going back for it in the afternoons when our office cafe is closed.

One morning, I arrived at work early so I decided to just have my coffee with a pain au chocolat. Pastry is fluffy and buttery, and it goes really well with the coffee. Reminds me of Paris.

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IMG_1832Based on the information on their website, the ingredients used in their food and drinks are locally sourced. They use free range eggs and organic meat as well. I’ve tried some of their cakes before as well. I recommend their Devil’s Food cake (sorry no photo, I ate the cake before I thought of taking a photo).

Late Winter/Early Spring in Colchester

So here we are, confined to wandering around Colchester, thanks to rail improvement works that has caused the Colchester train station to be closed during weekends since early February until end March. While some residents here are willing to take the bus and travel for 3 hours (one way) to get into London, we decided to just stay put and enjoy what Colchester has to offer: peace and quiet, and like this weekend, lots of sunshine.

We would usually go for our weekend walk to Castle Park, along Colne River. I enjoy it because you get to see squirrels, ducks, swans and dogs along the way – they cheer me up during the cold months. As we walk, we would plan for short trips in the spring and summer, and wonder where we will be next winter. Being in the UK has made it more convenient and economical for us to travel across Europe now, which is great, because it has always been my dream to visit all of Europe.

Going through autumn and winter in the UK has been quite an experience. When I arrived in August, it was still relatively warm and the sun doesn’t set till about 7pm. As we gradually move on to October and November, the environment changed. Along with the drop in temperature, leaves start to fall and I’ve been photographing same spot over the months to record the change:

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I’m slowly crawling out of depression and I am looking forward to longer days and warmer temperature, when I can hold on to my camera without having my fingers frozen stiff…

This year is also the first year I celebrated Chinese New Year away from home and family. Well, in this case, I wouldn’t actually say I celebrated CNY because it is not a public holiday here, and I am the ONLY Chinese in my department. However, Claud and I managed to have our “reunion dinner” in Chinatown, we had Peking duck and dim sum in a Chinese restaurant two days before CNY and also on the 15th day, so that’s good enough for me considering the circumstances. I even had a colleague who actually said “Gong Hei Fat Choi” to me in the office 🙂

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And now that CNY is over, we shall slowly settle into spring… 🙂

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4pm

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I swear, the lack of daylight is really getting to me. Not being able to see light past 4pm. It plays havoc to one’s system. Makes you feel like you need to have dinner because it looks like dinnertime (7pm). Makes you feel tired because it feels like you left office at 8pm. Makes you feel like you only had 4 hours of sleep because it’s still dark at 7.00am when you leave the house to catch the unpredictable train to get to work.

I got a jetlag of some sort during the first week. I felt really disoriented and after more than a month, I actually feel depressed. We resorted to taking vitamin D suppplement because the lethargy was so great that you just feel like resorting to alcohol to numb the feeling.

I miss my sun, I miss my 32 degrees. I know I sound like a moaning ass right now, but I never felt lonelier than this. I miss my life back in the east. I wish I was in a cafe right now with some girlfriends, enjoying a good cup of flat white. I miss my soy flat white at TBB and Jewel cafe.

Do I sound melancholic? Well, I guess that’s what happens when you are alone in a pub, with a glass of rosé, staring out at the darkness, right in the heart of London.

So here’s a silent toast to my family and friends, who are enjoying warm tropical weather in Malaysia and Singapore. I dream of the day when we shall meet again, sipping iced tea(either long island or ice lemon tea), wearing shorts, singlet and slippers…

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