Category Archives: Travels

Childhood Home

I decided after I graduated from university that I’d move to London and travel around Europe again. Before packing my traveller’s backpack, I remember taking a black permanent marker, and I hesitated for a split second before writing directly on the inside of my backpack my home address and phone number. I figured that will never change, right?

Fast forward to now, 11 years later, and my parents have decided to move and sell this home. I’m currently here in my room, sorting through my childhood, and I feel like I’m on an episode of Storage Hoarders, trying to figure out what’s worth keeping, trashing, selling or giving away.

And I have a lot of stuff. I mean, A LOT. I even went through my stuff 10 years ago and got rid of a lot back then but clearly I seem to have added more stuff to my life.

But unlike the first round, going through my things this time wasn’t overwhelming and a chore but it was actually fun and quite therapeutic. I found concert tickets (kept), my collection Goosebumps books (donated), photos of exes (shredded). I also discovered floppy disks (remember those?), and catalogues from dELiA*s (was sad about the bankruptcy but glad there’s been a relaunch!) and American Girl (Kirsten was officially archived *sniff). I looked through my sporadic academic life – books and notes on psychology and neuroscience to art history and languages. I found all my study abroad stuff such as brochures and notebooks. I remember that’s all I wanted to do in college was to study abroad and even planned out my academic life around it. That moment in my life was just as important as my degrees.

I found my personal statements for both college and graduate school. I went from “I was running away from life…” to “I was reborn…” Hah, so melodramatic!

I found some really out of date things – remember checkbooks and balancing them? My first check I wrote out was to The Sweet Factory. My parents never let me buy candy there so that’s probably the reason it was my first purchase. This proceeded by a payment to my college’s bookstore.

Holy shit I have a lot of stuff.

I also found an enormous amount of letters from my BFF. From 5th to 10th grade we wrote to each other pretty much every day. And during the summer when we didn’t see each other, we continued to write, then gave each other a bag full of letters on our first day back to school (I must admit, there were some summers I procrastinated and wrote a bunch within the week or so before school started). I even found the very last one written to me – we decided not to write to each other anymore because of “summer school, work, and just being too old”. We were 17 years old. I felt like I was holding proof of the end of our innocence. But I also found this fun one:

Letter 3

I found more letters from other people in high school – the days before text messaging, AIM (which is long gone as well), Facebook and other various forms of social media. In the letters to my BFF during elementary school we kept talking about the Contaminators – a term we came up with for a group of boys who always made fun of us. And boy, did we come up with the craziest stories about them! When I came across letters from one of these boys in high school I felt as if I betrayed my 10 year old self, hah. I was also amazed how beautiful everyone’s writing was. After sifting through all these letters, I decided to shred them all. When I was finished, I thought, I could’ve written a story based on all these letters, dammit! But this is about letting go (ugh, did I actually quote that Frozen film?) and moving forward.

With all this stuff I looked at the progression and changes of my interests, my crushes, even my eyeglasses and own handwriting. I found the poem I first recited in front of people – To A Butterfly by William Wordsworth. It was my first taste in spoken word even if it was an assignment for my English class. All I remember was that my performance was utterly horrendous. I still shiver thinking about it.

Yes, I’m a hoarder. But I think it’s good to keep things like these so that I can one day look through them, sort them out, and remind myself how much I’ve progressed which is something that I needed right now. In fact, I’m looking forward to another decade or so of clearing shit out – hopefully at that point there won’t be nearly as much stuff!

I thought the one thing I can rely on was my home. And now that it’s no longer going to be my home, I’m feeling a bit imbalanced. It was the one constant in my ever-changing life. But life’s unpredictable, and I’m going to miss this home. I was really sad when my parents decided to move. I was even sad when they changed their home number so imagine how this is a huge deal for me. But I’m learning to accept it and now that I’ve been to the new house, I’m even excited for them. I can’t be selfish, and I need to let them go on their own adventure and enjoy the next phase of their lives.


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These Eyes are Windows at 87 Hackford Road

Yes, these eyes are windows, and this body of mine is the house – Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

The first time I saw a Vincent van Gogh painting was Irises when I visited The Getty Center in 2004.  I thought it was so serene, almost calm in contrast to his other works, for example, Sunflowers. I was in awe over his ability to capture the movement of the irises with his expertise in twisting his lines (another great example, The Starry Night). Apparently he painted Irises within the first week at an asylum in Saint-Rémy, France.

I saw van Gogh’s works again the following year in 2005 when I travelled to Amsterdam and visited the Van Gogh Museum. (And I’m freaking out right now because I was looking for my photos from that trip, and they are apparently missing). I remember lots of flowers (obviously). Inside the building itself was a colourful and bright atmosphere. I think the walls in particular were bright yellow. (Call off the search and rescue team! The photos have been found! I repeat, the photos have been found! But to my disappointment, I didn’t take any photos inside the museum. I guess I wanted to obey the rules at that particular time.) I like this shot though:

DSC01850 van Gogh museum

Which brings us to last year. Last summer, I ventured south of the Thames, and enclosed in a little neighborhood in South London, I visited 87 Hackford Road. One of many houses and flats along the road but what distinguishes this house amongst the rest is a blue plaque indicating a house that reads, “Vincent van Gogh, Painter, lived here 1873-1874”.

Reversing roles, a group of us five waited outside the front door until we heard the doorbell ring.

This house was the setting for the exhibition, Yes These Eyes are Windows, by Dutch artist Saskia Olde Wolbers in conjunction with Artangel. Opened to the public for the first time, the audience was given the opportunity to experience the “history” of the house. It was unknown that van Gogh lived in the house until a postman from the 1970s discovered this fact. Occupied by various tenants until 2012, this blue plaque has protected the house and its surrounding area from demolition.

Once inside, we walked around this empty house. The artist intertwined fictional narratives based on oral histories, press archives and literary works. And in contrast to the bright atmosphere of the museum, the house was left alone – barren, stripped of flooring, wallpaper. Only a few bits survived, such as a ceramic vase, part of a linoleum brick wallpaper, and a modern bathroom door with a red handle.

As a viewer, we were guided by these voices (and lights) starting in the front room and leading us up the two levels and finally inside van Gogh’s room. Wolbers gave the house a life and a story to tell even if it’s a fictional account based on facts.

Since 2012 it has been unoccupied, but this isn’t the end of the story. The property has now been bought by a Chinese violinist and will use the space as a music school.

I felt Saskia Olde Wolbers’ exhibition was an opportunity to experience something beyond van Gogh’s works. Yes, it’s absolutely amazing to see his works in person, but this exhibition, it felt more personal. It was like a behind-the-scenes experience. I stepped back in time to experience his daily life, and as his story was one of many (factual and fictional) stories of this house, it almost made him approachable and relatable. Dare I say ordinary? He was one of many tenants at this house. And for a time, he was a Londoner, just like me.

van Gogh flat 1Feb2015

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NYC Tour via World Cup

Disallowed goals, goals wrongfully allowed, missed penalties, French team boycotting then exiting early, Italian team also eliminated early…. so much drama during the World Cup!

My love for futbol was cemented at the last World Cup in 2006.  Living in student housing amongst fellow international graduate students in London as a graduate student was a bit easier to watch the games.  It was also the first time I witnessed a number of grown men cry when Portugal beat England on penalties during the quarterfinals.  It was a fantastic experience watching the games with my fellow international graduate students.

This time around the time difference wasn’t so much in my favor but I managed to follow the games online or in various places in three NYC boroughs.

England vs. USA – Unfortunately I had to work during this much anticipated match, but one of the advantages at my work is two big screen TV’s with cable (and to think I actually thought of leaving this place!).  However, it’s a bit lonely watching a game on your own as I am the only one here who’s into soccer.  It was nice to see ESPN trying to hype up the match with their ads, and as for the result, a draw is like a win to us underdogs.

Slovenia vs. England and USA vs. Algeria at work – I couldn’t watch the entire games on TV (I was at work you know) but once I heard loud cheering from our English art handlers all the way from the front of the gallery (and our gallery is a block wide), I knew England had scored.  Towards the end of the 2nd half, I assumed USA would be knocked out so I went out to do a few errands.  Upon my return, sullen and disappointed, I was ecstatic when the guys told me that Donovan scored at the very last minute therefore putting the Americans through to the next round.  Yippee!  I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney decides to make a film about this in the near future.

Brazil vs. Ivory Coast at Loreley’s – One of my coworkers suggested watching a game at Loreley’s, a biergarten in the Lower East Side.  We arrive about an hour before kick-off and I was slightly disappointed how empty it was in there.  I yearned for the hype I experienced at the last World Cup when I was living in London.  But once the game started a herd a people came in and soon enough the place was packed.  Save your appetite for their hearty food – I tried the Frikadelle mit Pomme Frites, pork meatballs with French fries, and it was fantastic.

Germany vs. England at Loreley’s -Since the game was at 10am EST, not to mention Loreley’s is a German biergarten, we decided to meet at 7:30 am.  Running late, I arrived close to 8am and was greeted by a huge line that already went around the corner.  And what a way to start the day with sausages, mashed potatoes, and sauerkraut and of course a pint of beer!

Spain vs. Portugal at Cafe Bari on Broadway – My mom and brother came to visit for the week so after we took a stroll around Central Park (aka getting lost), we  After David Villa’s goal, our server offered us $2 vodka shots which we couldn’t resist.  My brother and me that is.  Mom is a teetotaler.

Uruguay vs. Ghana in Queens- We just got off last stop in Queens off the F train to screams at a local bar called AJ’s Sports Pub (or I think it’s called that – tried googling and all I could find was the street view and blurry image of its sign).  I immediately rushed over to see Uruguay’s handball and Ghana’s penalty miss as well as the fantastic penalty shoot-out.  I just love watching those penalty shots.

Netherlands vs. Argentina – As I was watching it from home, I found myself arguing with my mom, pointing out that 1 point is not just 1 point and it’s not so easy to score just 1 point!

Paraguay vs. Spain in Brooklyn – After a nice lunch with my mom and brother at Sea Restaurant (first scene in the cheesy film Garden State), we were lucky enough to catch Paraguay’s last chance at leveling with Spain at Zablozki’s.

Spain vs. Holland at Spitzer’s – My coworker and I couldn’t find a free spot at Loreley’s so we ended up at Spitzer’s.  I highly recommend their amazing vanilla pancakes.  And being on Team Orange, of course my bad luck streak of rooting for the losing team was proven once again.  Le Sigh.  Then again, a team who’s player would karate kick the opposing player (amongst the other record-breaking 13 fouls) surely does not deserve to win.  Remember this?  The better team deserved to win, and that interview with Iker Casillas and his girlfriend was just too adorable.

Thanks to to the World Cup, I was able to conduct a tour of the city I’m growing to love.  As for the next World Cup, I hope to see you all in Rio de Janiero!

P.S.  For you non-Americans (especially the English) who make fun of us Americans for calling it soccer – in the past the English actually coined it soccer and used the term synonymously with football.  So there.

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Insomniac’s Reflection

Van’s Travels 2008 – Buenos Aires

I have about a week left here in Buenos Aires, and I can’t sleep.  It’s 6am, and I’ve been up since 3am.  I have no clue why so let’s delve into my inner psyche to find out why:

(Strange Brazilian man asked if he could turn off the light in the lounge room that we’re in.  Weird)

1. Someone that I haven’t been in touch with in almost ten years reappeared into my life two years ago.  Then last summer I regrettably lent her a shitload of money and after a little over a year of broken promises, still owes me money.  In the end I did a good deed but this has been unnecessary stress.  Now I’m debating whether or not to take her to court which would be more of a hassle since I’m moving to NYC in a month.

(Strange Brazilian man is now making the moves on some Argentinian chick.  Ahh, that’s why he wanted to turn off the lights.  He’s showing her how his SLR camera works by sitting behind her with his arms around her (and God knows what afterwards)

2.  Moving to NYC –  I’m uber excited about this as I’ve now got a roommate sorted out and soon an apt.  But I still need to find a job.  Am I willing to take on temp jobs or even become a server until I find something in the arts?  I may not have a choice on this one.

(I think strange Brazilian man is trying to convince Argentinian chick that he wants to kiss her yet she keeps pulling away.  Perhaps I’m cockblocking.  Sorry dude, I ain’t going anywhere)

3.  Yesterday was the best day so far as I was able to get my usual dose of art and music.  The Nacionale Museo de Bella Artes is a lovely museum.  It was great to see the contemporary and modern art work by the South Americans, and they sure do love their vibrant colours.  The building itself is very nice and the way everything is situated was pretty unique.  For instance their bookshop is situated within one of their staircases.  Quite clever.  Afterwards I headed over to the Cultural Center in Recoleta as their was a mini festival with video installations and clips.  I was especially impressed by Uva vs. Massive Attack’s “United Snakes” and this one piece which included elongated flourescent light bulbs sticking out of a wall in one line, and the lights of different colours would move and appear to different kinds of beats.  Plus, I had dinner with Evita’s corpse.  Actually the restaurant was directly across from the Recoleta cemetery where Evita is buried. Still, that’s pretty sweet.

(Strange Brazilian man is now massaging Argentinian chick.)

4.  President George W. Bush addressed his fellow Americans the other day, and he basically said that we should panic if this dodgy bill isn’t passed by Congress.  That wasn’t too clever.  Really, we should panic?

5.  I need to book my flight to NYC.  One-way or return?

6.  Should I go to Uruguay next Friday?  I really should save my money but when’s the next time I’ll ever go to Uruguay?

7.  Today is a funfilled day of the ferias in San Telmo and Palermo.  But let’s see if I wake up as I’m going to attempt to fall asleep now.

8.  Testing my self-discipline:  no sweets until my last day in Buenos Aires.  I’ve been eating way too much sugar.  In fact I’ve been eating way too much since being here.  Self-control and everything in moderation!

Wow, that’s a lot going on in my mind.

(Strange Brazilian man and Argentinian chick have now left the room.  Defeat or victory?)

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I like that word.  I want that word to be the center of a poem but can’t seem to think of anything.  I should be at school, working with my year 2 class but instead I’m at La Giralda, sipping on semi-warm cafe con leche.  There are bits of chocolate due to dunking churros con chocolate earlier.  I motion for the server for my bill. He nods to signify that he understands.  I’m watching portenos walking to work.  School.  Home.  It’s cold and cloudy.  Is the lack of sun getting to my emotions?  I stir my cafe con leche.  Chocolate bits swirl round and round.  Still waiting for my bill.  I don’t want to be stuck in some black hole, sucking me down into some dark place, unwilling to escape.  My dreams are vivid.  Strange.  Bizarre.  Disturbing.  I look outside again.  The sun is beginning to shine.  There is hope.

Dammit, where’s my bill!??!

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Worth the worry

Van’s Travels 2008 – LDN and NYC

Before I mention LDN, let me regress to NYC:

I must admit, before arriving in NYC I was worried.  They say London and NYC are very similar, therefore I would like NYC.  However, I absolutely LOVE London and thought, well, could NYC compare?  Would I really like it?  After spending five days there, I can say that I’m happy and relieved that I enjoyed my time.  I absolutely adore the city!  I didn’t do much tourist-type stuff because I ended up running all over Manhattan, going from one art gallery to another.  My one interview I had expanded to four.  In fact, a nice stroll in Central Park in a bicycle taxi sounds ideal but not when it’s pouring down, while rushing past cars to get to uptown from downtown for another interview.

My trip to NYC was a success.  Too much of a success I think.  I bagged a job without expecting it but it came with a price – I was able to head to London but would have to sacrifice my South America trip.  Plus I had a flat pending for me.

So what is this blogger to do?

All of July my life was in limbo.  I decided to turn down the job offer because deep down in my heart it didn’t seem right.  Then I found out the job that I really want was given to someone internally.  However, they wanted to interview me for the same position but in a different field.  So it was very convenient that I had yet another interview last week in London.  First, a phone interview in California.  Then an in person interview in New York City.  And finally a third interview in London.  Dammit, I better get this job!

And now London.  Again, a few weeks prior to London I was getting worried again.  But I’m happy to say that once again London’s charms have reminded me how much I love and miss this city.  (You should have seen me as I got out of the tube station at Picadilly Circus – tired but smiling due to this rush of happiness that overwhelmed me.  Good God I’m quite saccharine!).  I’m pretty certain that in a few years time I’ll be based here permanently.

At this moment, my life isn’t nearly as in limbo as it was, say a week ago?  I won’t know about this job position until next month but it is certain that I’m heading to South America in a couple weeks!  I got an email confirming my stay and what to expect on my first day of work.

Downside to London – I’ve spent way too much money here, and it’s only been 2 weeks!  And I’ve decided to stay one more week so let’s see if I can survive on £100 for the next 2 weeks…

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Van’s Travels 2008 – London

While wandering around Leicester Square:

“Excuse me…”

Right when I turned my head I thought, “Damn, I shouldn’t have done that!”

Since he was carrying a red rectangular bag, my intuition was that he was going to convince me to buy something useless or donate money to a third world country. But then he proceeded to vent about his long distance relationship. He lives here in London, and she lives in Toronto. She thinks he’s cheating on her but apparently he isn’t. And now he thinks she’s cheating on him. I found it amusing that this character had no problem telling me his love story. And the fact that he was so animated, jumping around, swaying side by side whilst informing me about his problems made it all the more entertaining. (Later, he mentioned that he’s a dancer for children’s shows). And after declaring his love for his girlfriend to me, he asked for my number.

“Stay away from dem London blokes,” says a friend of mine. Clearly, I will.

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