Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sabbatical - The Madrid Edition

Has it really been almost exactly 3 months since I've left Spain? I figured I have to finish writing about my sabbatical in Spain before more time has lapsed and more trips have passed me by.

Madrid was all about creative street art, and lots of interesting murals on the walls and shop fronts/gates/doors. I am still trying to figure out what a mannequin propped up in a balcony mean? I noticed that in at least 3 balconies in different areas. It was too much to be a coincidence. Was it code for some illicit business that takes place in that particular flat? Or just that some really cool artist lives there and nothing more nefarious?

Madrid was also about beautiful blue skies and puffy white clouds streaking across the azure. Gorgeous patterns in the dazzling brightness. I could never get enough of how beautiful and interesting the sky was every single day.

And lastly, the huge flea market and the laneways on the slopes with all the shops selling antiques and vintage ware. There we were, most aptly located in our Airbnb apartment with the biggest flea market on our doorstep. We loved checking out the little shops even if that mean trudging up and down the hills and wandering around the flea market and trying to score a bargain at the market stalls. And now back in Singapore, I wear the lovely reversible skirt I bought in Madrid, and as I finger the pretty fabric, I remember my time under the sun, under the dazzling blue sky, under the puffy white clouds.

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Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sabbatical - The Barcelona Edition

Barcelona was amazing for its cool cafes, great coffee (we discovered a cafe con leche was pretty much the equivalent of a flat white), yummy food (both traditional tapas and contemporary, modern Spanish cuisine) and of course, Gaudi (and other architecture).

It helped that we were in an area which was central but yet residential as we we amongst several cafes, restaurants, bars and bakeries. The residential buildings were old, several hundreds of years type of old. Many had no lifts, the twice-a-day down/up the 5th floor where our Airbnb apartment was, definitely improved my cardio-vascular strength after our 5 days there. There were several very interesting cafes just below us with tastefully curated interiors, pretty young girls and/or hipster guys with big beards (a dead giveaway) running the place. The food was fresh and delicious, the drinks just as good. For cafe lovers, we could not be in a better spot.

I had the best Galician octopus in a tapas bar/restaurant here too. This is a seemingly simple dish, the waitress told me they boil the octopus and then add paprika and olive oil. The texture was perfect, not too chewy, not hard, just so tender. A few pieces of bread was handy to sop up the leftover oil/ sauce. After this, everywhere I went, I looked to see if I could find this on the menu.

Now onto the modern cuisine scene. We were lucky to have obtained several recommendations from my colleague who works in Barcelona and even luckier that his recommendations were spot on. Getting recommendations is one thing, getting those which actually come from people who have good taste or at least taste which is not too far off from yours, is another thing. This was kinda a lucky dip as I didn't know this colleague personally but someone introduced us on email. But out of the 5 places he gave us, we went to 2 which were a stone's throw from our apartment and because they were so good, we actually repeated one of them.

And then finally, the architecture. I loved the old buildings (apart from the old we were staying in and climbing those stairs up and down) and was looking up the entire time in Barcelona. You need to look up to get the best photos! Of course then there were the Gaudi buildings. We were disappointed by the Sagrada Familia because of how the succeeding architects have "continued" with his legacy. But the Casa Batllo, we loved. This House of Bones was simply amazing and the augmented reality tour was quite inspiring. The organic and weird features were just beautiful.

So Barcelona, good bye for now. But I think I will be back.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Sabbatical - Home Improvements Edition

It is absolutely true when they say statistics show that a large proportion of people quit after going on sabbatical. The thought of going back to work, facing the deluge of emails waiting for you is just daunting and depressing. I think however, the studies focus of people who self- reflect and feel that they can/want to do more with their lives etc. Maybe the daunting emails play a part as in "I can do more than just respond to these irritating emails."

A week and a half before I was supposed to go back to work, I wrote my boss to ask for another 3 days' off to make it a whole week out instead of returning to work on a Wednesday. As I was arranging my social calendar with friends in Singapore, from Seville where I was at that time, I was thinking I didn't have enough time to pack in all these meetings, plus do those little and not-so-little home improvement jobs I wanted to tackle.

After not hearing from the boss after 4 days, I wrote him again and asked if silence meant consent? This got me an immediate response, the good man replied that he thought he had said yes on email before and if he didn't, he said it in his head, resoundingly. Ahhh... who wouldn't love a boss like that? It makes the mountain of emails less irritating, almost.

Anyway to put work out of my head, I started tackling the home improvement jobs. I patched the few holes in the master bedroom walls left by the removal of the curtain rods which were never in use, ever. Not a great job as I did that in the semi-dark but I think better than nothing. And we finally bought a can of Nippon paint called "Charming" this afternoon. I was really impressed by the whole computerised system they use now, the computer dispenses a few drops of coloured paint in the right concentration into the can of white paint and then the can is placed into automated shaking device which shakes it up to mix it well. So no one needs to stock a bunch of coloured paints and hope that they all sell equally well. Anyway this is NOT my kitchen but what I hope the Charming colour will be close enough to. But I got a sneaky feeling it is going to end up looking exactly like the colour of my cabinets now...

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Sabbatical - The Paris Edition

My long-awaited sabbatical (five years) started with Paris being the port where we landed for our Spanish sojourn.

We had an apartment in the Bastille district and our flat was near a daily fruit and vegetable market. The riot of colours and shapes was simply gorgeous. The variety, impressive, just look at the different types of tomatoes! I ate donut peaches every day as they were cheap and plentiful. And sweet.

Even better than the fruit and vegetable market was a bakery that we stumbled upon on our first morning. The baker-proprietor was a delightful Frenchman. We visited it faithfully every single day of the five days we were in Paris, some days, twice! Every thing was made on site, every baked item delicious and beautiful. The only reason I don't have a photo to capture this highlight of my Paris trip is because everything we get our hands on from that bakery, we gobble down too quickly and then realise we haven't documented anything!

We also found this deli which had nice cheeses, pates, empanadas, quiches and cold meats. Together with a crusty baguette from the bakery, we fed ourselves well in the apartment when we did not feel like going out for dinner.

The pastries were definitely the highlight of our Parisian leg. We ate our weight in pastries I am sure, but then we also walked so much, we walked off every single calorie. I can still taste the heavenly flavours...

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Friday, April 03, 2015

Home Improvements - You Win Some, You Lose Some

After installing blinds in the living room, I lost the free form hanging wall (aka window grills) for my various artworks. That was a lot of space that was surrendered and there were many pieces of work which are now missing a display spot. 

So when my new Zhu Hong watercolour was delivered, I had to find somewhere to hang my new treasure. I decided to swap out my own red masterpiece. I love being able to enjoy my new purchase while I sit in the living room surfing, or watching tv. I like how the black frame makes the orange pop.

I don't know yet what I am going to do with the other pieces that no longer have a home. Should I create a salon wall, if so, where? Or should I put them into the store room and have the discipline to rotate them on a quarterly basis?

I like home improvement projects. I like the fact that every step makes me love my home even more.

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Saturday, March 07, 2015

Coffee & Art

Apart from good coffee, I like good art and design. Weekends are spent checking out cafes, critiquing the quality of the brew as well as the interiors, marrying our love of cafes and design. Often we just head off to our favourite cafes and safely know that the standard of the cuppa will not let us down, experimentation can come second. We also like exploring museums and galleries, but that hasn't been as religiously followed through as with the coffee drinking.

However, one thing which has been religiously adhered to in the last few years every since we moved back to Singapore from Sydney, is that upon receiving my annual bonus, I pay a visit to the galleries with a view to purchase a piece of art. Ever since I graduated art school in Sydney and came to the conclusion that I was not going to be able to make a decent living in the arts, I told myself that the way I was going to support the arts is to buy art, apart from wandering around galleries and museums and hanging out with a couple of artist friends and vicariously absorbing their vibes.

And so I buy art, ranging from a few hundreds to a few thousands. I buy what I like and what I feel like I would like to spend on something which arguably is both a luxury and a necessity. Yes art may not feed a hungry stomach, but it certainly feeds a hungry soul.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hand Made

I have always liked arts and crafts since young. When I was ten, we had to pick an extra-curricular activity and mine was the arts and crafts club. I remembered making a macrame pot hanger back then. Since then, I've upholstered wooden stools with cow print fur covered foam, made myself a yoga bag for carrying my mat and also recently a handbag from old vintage Japanese obi belt, sewn several placemats, soft toys, beaded dangling things on everything from shirts to bookmarks!

Recently, I've been inspired to make felt phone cases and particularly, superhero phone cases. I've made Batman & Robin and Superman. Then I broke from the mould and couldn't resist an owl. But I think I'll go back to making another Batman and also a Captain America. I need to go buy some more black felt first.
The other item which I have been making a few of is this origami Christmas wreath. Once I got the knack of it, I was really quick if I focused and didn't get distracted by the TV. I was making a wreath in about 16 minutes. I like the 3-dimensional form and it makes such a simple but lovely holiday decoration.

There is something deeply satisfying in making something with your own hands. We connect with the output and feel a sense of achievement, even self-worth. And that is why the hand made movement is making a comeback. People are willing to pay more for something hand made by an artisan. And artisans are willing to make things for sale, even though if you take the time put in, in some cases, the hourly rate is very low. As for me, I will make the things I like for myself and my friends and family. I don't think I will put them up for sale because the hourly rate will not be worth my time, but the ability to give my loved ones something hand made will be priceless.

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