Next Stop: Berlin, Germany

It’s been more than 7 years since I, for the first and the last time, visited the city of Berlin. After having made the decision to live in Berlin for a few months, I asked German visitors whenever I had the chance to. In case they were from some other place in Berlin, I asked, “which place do you think is the better, Freiburg or Berlin?” When they were from Berlin themselves, the question was, “what is it like to live in Berlin? Would it be benign enough for me to live in?” For the F or B question, the answer was always B(erlin). For the yes or no question, it was of course yes. And for the open-ended question, there were countless positive comments that I cannot even dare to summarise.

Berlin hat was.” Berlin has something.

I don’t know if people say the same thing about Seoul, too. But there are a few cities that are so well-known for their one-of-a-kind charms they throw on people. New York City, Paris, London, Barcelona, Hong Kong and Tokyo may be some grand examples. Just the idea of being there and breathing the air makes some people shiver from the excitement. Does Berlin make it to the list as well? Honestly, I have no idea yet. What I highly appreciate, though, is what the inhabitants of Berlin say about their city – that Berlin has this ‘something.’

What this ‘something’ refers to, I am quite clueless at the moment. I’m about to figure it out sooner or later. Berlin would be the city that I have inhabited for the fourth longest period of my lifetime. Actually I can barely wait to be there and look around, not as a traveller this time.

It’s also funny how your knowledge about the language makes you feel more closely related to the place itself. Here in Italy, I am constantly and unconsciously maintaining my alert mode. For instance, I tell myself that if something happens to me, I should do this and say that. But when I think about the time that I’ll spend in Germany, I let my guard off just a little bit and feel a bigger sense of comfort rather than alertness reigning over all the other possible senses.

See you in 16 days, Berlin.

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Lagging Behind on my Reading Plan

As a matter of fact, I think I have it written somewhere on my blog, but to read much was one of my new year’s resolutions. During the first four months of this year, I was quite devoted to that and went to the library whenever time allowed. And when you keep record of the books you read, you’d know what I mean – as the list gets longer, you feel something that could possibly be described as a feeling of achievement.

But that plan kind of fell apart when I started work.

I’m not even going to try and come up with an excuse – I know I had time, but I spent it otherwise. I cooked and ate and chatted and slept. Maybe a little bit more than was necessary. So I’m lagging behind on my reading plan, literally, and didn’t even finish the books I brought when I first came here, which was almost 5 months ago! I should read, think and write more. Maybe a public statement like this post would get me going.

So, during the last few months. I finished Andy Weir’s <The Martian>, of which a movie was made and will be running in the cinemas soon here in Italy. It was a relief that I bought the book before the film poster edition was all over the place, by the way. And then came Dan Brown’s <Da Vinci Code>. Dan Brown books were no exception in that they largely were based on a similar frame, and I guess I lost interest more quickly in this book about what’s going to happen compared to when I was reading a more recent book of Brown, <Inferno>. Most recently, I finally read Fannie Flagg’s <Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café>! It was on my wish list for such a long time, and it was worth the anticipation. I’m planning on writing more about this book soon.

And I’m slowly making progress with David Sedaris’s <Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls>. Up next, Ian McEwan’s <Solar> is waiting for its turn. Although I had to admit that I already want to get properly started with the latter, which is a fiction. But wait, if eBook samples also count, I may be reading <The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie> by Alan Bradley. I’ll keep updating – off to work again!

Bologna: My First Ride on the Italian High-Velocity Train

This is what you get after climbing 498 steps of Torre Asinelli.
This is what you get after climbing 498 steps of Torre Asinelli.

Finally, an update!

Italy has been treating me fairly well – except for a few occasions which I would rather not bring myself to recall – and only two more months of work is awaiting me. The strict schedule doesn’t allow me much time to explore Italy yet! But I managed to drop by a few places that sounded especially intriguing, and Bologna is the biggest and the most recent of my destinations so far. (They include Vigevano, Pavia, Bergamo and Monza.)

At the same time, it was also the first time I took the high-velocity train. In order to get to the Expo site, I get off at Rho-Fiera Milano station everyday. And on the screens at the station, there are always a number of train connections approaching and leaving the station. When my eyes find the names like Roma Termini or Paris Gare du Nord, I can hardly repress the almost nostalgic feeling of wanting to catch one of those long distance trains and getting away. Although I know that from time to time I most definitely will feel some kind of heimweh – opposite of fernweh – about Milan.

Most of us would associate the city of Bologna with, naturally, Bolognese pasta and the University of Bologna, which is known to be the first institution to be called a university. And some of you may already be aware of the fact that Bologna is the place where the Gelato University sits as well. Despite these titles, I found Bologna to be a modest city.

The old city is incredibly small. From the maps, I was pretty sure that it’d take quite a bit of time to walk from the lovely apartment I found on airbnb to Piazza Maggiore. Only it turned out not! It was a mere 15-minute walk, and a pleasant one too, especially by the night.

To tell the truth, it’s just really old buildings and monuments around each and every corner – without even knowing the names at the time, I walked past so many of Bologna’s landmarks. The names came later when I peeked into this book and others at a bookstore.

Too bad I discovered this book after dinner. It also serves as a good guide for places to eat in Bologna.
Too bad I discovered this book after dinner. It also serves as a good guide for places to eat in Bologna.

Each and every province of Italy boasts its own traditional cuisine and specialties. Bologna, of course, is no exception. It takes very much pride in its culinary culture and those I’ve met were very specific and definitive on the questions what and how to eat. For example, the Bolognese Ragù shouldn’t be cooked with spaghetti but tagliatelle or tortellini. Once I’ve tried the original tagliatelle with ragù, I was able to understand why right away though. Let me show you a picture of the last meal I had in Bologna.

Osteria dell'Orsa
Tagliatelle al Ragù

I wouldn’t dare say that this osteria is the best ever to be found in Bologna, but it was decent. Along with this I shared a cold dish with fresh vegetable, cheese and something that looked like an uncooked burger steak. It had barley and sun-dried tomato in it and I enjoyed it very much! If someone knows what I’m talking about by chance, I’m begging you to let me know.

Tortellini are the pasta of Bologna, or so it is said. They are one of the stuffed kinds, both ends of which are attached to each other so it resembles a ring.
Tortellini are the pasta of Bologna, or so it is said. They are one of the stuffed kinds, both ends of which are attached to each other so it resembles a ring.

As a souvenir, I brought half a kilo of these with me back to Milan – the original tortellini. When I went into the store, I found something that looks exactly like these but is slightly more expensive. They both had the same filling so I wondered what the difference was, and finally mustered up the courage to ask the man at the counter with my broken Italian. Not to mention I was extremely proud of myself when I actually understood! So, according to him, the higher priced one has a thinner dough and therefore contains more meat, cheese and other ingredients inside. On the other hand the lower priced one has a thicker dough, but is therefore more delicate and soft when cooked. I thought, okay then I’ll go for more stuffing but it turns out thicker dough will be just as good as the other. It was a perfect way to remind myself of this trip.

Now I wonder why it’s all food that I’m talking about.
But Emilia Romagna region is about food, as a matter of fact!

Eataly - Librerie.CoopWorking at the Expo, I pass by the Eataly pavilion almost every other day. Okay, I’ll admit, I often go there for some seriously nice gelato. Anyhow, the first Eataly offline store that I went to was also in Bologna. It was not like any other grocery store – to begin with, it’s a collage of a bookshop, grocery store and cafeteria. While the upper story was filled with cookbooks, the first floor displayed some of the trending novels too. Browsing the shelves, you’ll find yourself in between the tables where people are enjoying a salad or a ‘chopping boards’ with smoked ham and cheese. And the building itself is very old and some parts of the wall show it, like in the picture above.

Tagliere con Tigelle e Crescentine
They’re called tagliere and was a nice inspiration for my everyday supper. (I was running out of ideas what to eat.) The fresh Bufala cheese and tomatoes made a great partner for the smoked ham. The wooden plate is a proper chopping board! People enjoy them with warm tigelle, a kind of bread, and crescentine. Crescentine is a regional specialty in Bologna, and as you have already guessed from the name, it looks like a crescent and is very small in size. It is most of the time fried at the diners and restaurants.

I find Bologna to be a very nice place to walk around when dark. After the sunset, the arcades and buildings are beautifully lit with orange lamps. The streets in the old city center are mostly very narrow and there are simply too many things to observe on the facade of the building, too! Actually, the arcades are a typical trait of the city of Bologna. The total length amounts to almost 40 km – which makes Bologna a perfect place to wander around in rain even without an umbrella.

I probably won’t have another chance to go to Bologna. It’s a good thing I did not have more than plenty of time in the city though – because it leaves some room for me to miss Bologna.

Food-consciousness and Cooking

 One of the dinners me and my colleagues prepared for ourselves last week. Deep-fried chicken breast with Korean sweet and spicy sauce & Pork fajita.

Living in a densely populated town means a lot of restaurants and diners around. And it consequently leads to eating out often – even more so when the work finishes late in the evening. I used to buy something to go on my way home or warm up ready-made meals from the freezer for dinner. Guess I was not willing to make a nuisance of cooking and having to clean up the mess.

In Lainate – a commune not far from the city of Milano – where I’m residing at the moment, there are not many places to go for a quick supper. Even the supermercato (yes I have to practice Italian!) closes at 21.00! It’s a disaster when you’re starved and out of stock on food and it’s already 10 o’clock in the night.

  This made me super food-conscious, which is quite appropriate when you think about the fact that the theme of the Expo Milano 2015 is “Feeding the World, Energy for Life.”
I plan ahead to go grocery shopping, and know what to have for dinner already by noon. Pretty big a change in feeding myself for me! A couple colleagues and I will have some ravioli and a bowl of healthy salad with olives and feta cheese soon. Greek style. Maybe.

  Cooking turned out to be more fun than I thought. The process made me savour the result of it more pleasantly. Looking up the internet for the recipes made me realize how many different ingredients went in, for instance, a bowl of steamed mixed vegetables. Sometimes I wince before scary kitchen knives thanks to an awful experience where I cut a part of my nail off my finger while trying to get an onion chopped, but other than that it’s all good and fun.

  Besides knowing how to cook, there’s something else. I imagine that a long long time ago, before our food came free of soil packed in plastic bags and cans, it must have taken a whole day to prepare two to three meals a day. Not only because of physically exhausting labour but also because people knew where the food came from, cooking and eating must have been an entirely different experience from what it is now!
  Of course, it’s not like I became a farmer myself and went to the marketplace to exchange my crop with some eggs or meat. But choosing, buying and cooking the food myself every single day made me become aware of how much food we consume without paying any deed to how it’s possible that we get food so easily from pretty much every corner of the world. And I’m thankful for that.

  Food-consciousness does not only have to do with what we are eating but also with how we are eating. Healthy, whole food in prepared in food consciousness consumed in balanced moderation is what I regard as a proper eating habit.

Arrived in Milan

IMG_8511
Malpensa Airport, Milan, Italy 22. 4. 2015

IMG_8500Malpensa Airport, Milan, Italy 22. 4. 2015

Sooo, I earned about 7 hours yesterday by jumping time zones. I’m in Milan, Italy! Well to be exact it’s a town near Milan, a very quiet place with nothing spectacular to speak of. I went for a quick run this morning and found out that I really should find a park nearby. It’s a pretty neighbourhood. My 184 days here won’t be too melancholy.

On the flight, I managed to do a couple things I’ve been meaning to do for some time. One is reading: with prepping and meeting up with people before leaving, I couldn’t quite have some time to read just to enjoy it. Andy Weir’s The Martian is so full of humour! I honestly cannot follow all the technological things that Mark does to survive on Mars, but I surely enjoy his narrative, chuckling from time to time.

The other was filling in my journal – I was a few days behind. Despite the fact that I have been quite active on WP, sharing and writing about my life and thoughts, it was still extremely difficult to remember, for example, what I had for lunch and what I felt like on a certain date. I’ll try and dedicate 10 minutes every single day before bed to think and remember what happened throughout the day – it’s such a shame that I don’t get to remember many of what happened. I wish I’ll be able to go, ‘oh yes now I remember, it definitely was pleasant to do this and that!

All in all, it was a pleasant and fruitful flight. The problem comes after the flight.

The connection to internet around here is way too bad. I get almost no signal inside my room. So I couldn’t possibly read my feed on WordPress even though I wanted to! I’m really curious about what the writers I follow managed to write about for the last couple days. Hopefully the landlord can do something about it so that I won’t have to ditch my laptop and my WordPress page.

The ‘Health’ App and the Art of Having a Reference Point

One of the first thing to notice upon upgrading the OS on my mobile phone was the new ‘Health’ application. It basically records the user’s physical activities such as steps, distance covered, sleeping hours and so on. It can be used in collaboration with outernal healthcare devices or other apps installed on the phone.

Since I’m not in possession of any device that connects to this service, I mainly use it as a footstep counter – it is more or less precise as long as I carry my mobile phone with me. Average number of steps I take every day is a bit lower than 10,000 – yesterday topping with some 16k steps, although it must be closer to 20k actually! (My legs are inexplicably sore!)

Recently I came to realise that from the point  I’ve discovered this app and started utilising it, I am walking more! Several time throughout the day, I open the app to check the numbers. If it’s lower than expected, then I try to walk more. In case it’s higher than my anticipation, I’m satisfied and encouraged at the same time so that I walk more to try and break the record.

This is the beauty of knowing! Ignorance is not necessarily bliss in all situations. Knowing where you stand helps you set goals and adjust your pace. This applies perfectly to managing your health and condition. Because managing means enhancement in a lot of cases – for enhancement you need a point you can refer to to evaluate the present.

Whether it’s about staying fit, maintaining good relationship with another person or even being successful at work, there ought to be a reference point. And having one may not be such a complicated thing to do!

I know I was preaching the words you tell yourself over and over again. I’ve been telling myself the same thing as well – but the visualised, physical form of reference point such as the Health app truly struck me hard with its practical help. The only obstacle that we’d face in trying to establish a reference point is that we’re not machines and henceforth need to consciously examine and evaluate the present. Friends, family and colleagues around you can be great sources of data and information.

As soon as I’m ready, I will happily share my other reference points and the advantages they brought along. I’m curious about yours, too!

Currently Reading : Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian’

Andy Weir’s The Martian is next on my reading list!

I started using my mobile phone as a reading device not long ago, and it became a weekly-or-so ritual for me to browse iBooks to see which books are coming out or trending at the moment. Plus, for beginners, the end-of-the-year choices are actually an excellent guide to exploring new territories! Andy Weir’s The Martian was listed among the best science fiction novels of 2014.

Andy Weir - The Martian

Science fiction novels were not exactly easy to go for. My hitherto attempts to read through sci-fi novels had mostly been botched for it was simply too difficult to make sense of unfamiliar mechanisms in which unfamiliar items operate. I guess I was kind of allergic to them. Hyperreactive. Sort of.
Anyhow, I figured trying something new would do no harm – and, to be honest, the cover design is gorgeous. I won’t deny that I went ‘oh, this will look pretty on my shelf.’

What did I think? Well, I can’t be too sure for I am only a few chapters into the book, but so far so good! The narrative so far is evaluative and relatively calm given that Mark Watney is basically stranded on Mars with no means to return to Earth. I am under the impression that, if it further focuses on what happens inside his head and not on his hands, it would be an awesome read.

Has anyone read Andy Weir’s The Martian already? I would love to hear what you thought. I’ll make sure to share mine afterwards as well. 🙂

1 Year After the Sewol Catastrophe

  

One year has passed by and the passenger ferry still lies underwater. One year, 12 months has passed by and the families of the victims are still calling for thorough investigation. Just one year, 12 months, 365 days has passed by and there fingers pointed at them, accusing them of ‘going way too far,’ while the wound never seems to be able to close up.

This is my personal memorial post. I will not forget about today one year ago and will continue to support the family and their endeavor to seek the truth and to arrange the legislation of an act that prevents such calamity from happening again. We need to do better.

Blurred by Rain

rainblur

Rain pattering on the window muffles all other sounds, and it’s calming. Rain pattering on the window makes it difficult to make out the outlines of buildings outside, and it makes me look harder out the window. Not to make out the lines that divide things from one another but to gaze at the blurriness.

Hong Kong: on (Un)friendliness

383563_10151724445306209_642566125_nSuddenly I miss my long hair so much. And Hong Kong, too.

When the Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman‘s famous Rubber Duck stayed near the Hong Kong island, I spotted him(or her?) and the surrounding crowd when passing by the harbour where the duck was temporarily residing by accident. It was quite a scene, especially because I did not know what on earth was going on. I happen to be one of those who met the Rubber Duck twice in different places! I feel so special. Had I searched on the web about what to do while in Hong Kong, I most probably would’ve known about the duckie coming. That’s how much I feel at at comfort when I go to Hong Kong.

The words that I personally associate with Hong Kong are (un)friendliness, relaxed, loud, comfort and – last but definitely not least – gourmet. I assume Hong Kong deserves a chapter in my travel log, so I decided to share what I experienced from the 7 visits. Now, let’s get started with the unfriendliness, then.

I’m sort of immune to the general unfriendliness of strangers to strangers. In the eyes of a tourist, however, that of Hong Kong is almost incredulous. Oftentimes it’s as if my willingness or feelings have zero chance of being taken into consideration. Without being asked, you have to sit with a complete stranger at the same table if you’re occupying a table with some empty chairs. The dishes will be almost thrown across the table, the server would flatly deny your order without a word of apology when the menu you asked for is not temporarily available. Maybe you’d even be pushed off the cramped spiral staircase by a fellow passenger who is trying to get off the tram.

Am I ranting about the lack of kind service in Hong Kong? No way. Sometimes it’s simply different how people get by. To a foreigner like myself, this kind of experience is fun, even. In no way I found the aforementioned occasions offending. I’m emphasising the parentheses in the word, separating the ‘un-‘ and ‘friendliness.’

It was probably my third time to Hong Kong that I finally understood that it’s a different sort of being friendly. Whom I met were never overly nosy or tried to interfere with what I was in the middle of doing. (Oh, now that I think about it, minus the time when the diner’s owner was overly interested and never stopped asking me questions between bites.) When I ordered something that was not on the menu but was in the picture on the wall on the outside of the diner, the cook nevertheless tried and gave me what I’d come for, and it tasted heavenly. It’s just that they didn’t bother to make it sound friendly. It was better than a no decorated with halfhearted apologies.

So, (un)friendliness is just attention undercover. And I love Hong Kong for that.