Chicken Soup for the S(e)oul

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Those well-versed either in Chinese history (my mother) or Stephen Chow movies (the local Hong Kong public) would be able to identify the “ninth” rank as captioned above as the bottom level of a government official. Starting out life at the very bottom rung of the legal/corporate ladder for me has continued to be a box of chocolates, although the current selection has veered towards flavours such as anise-liquorice, artificial-banana and those of the like.  Nothing has changed from work-life-balance-what?, and the incessant mental chatter in my head trying to grasp at the meaning of this all doesn’t help with the growing number of distractions and interruptions each day. There was an increased urge to literally fly away from the 0.5sq. meters of office space I occupy and eat, breathe, and have on some occasions slept. Thanks to the Easter public holidays which overlapped the weekend, I was able to hop on the everything-Korean-is-the-current-trend! bandwagon a.k.a a flight to Seoul.

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Most of the days were hazy as with my mind and the occasional rain-shower…daily itineraries were planned around the myriad of restaurants, food stalls, cafes and bars that Seoul had to offer…and I don’t think there was a single moment I was hungry with something either savoury, sweet or caffeinated in my paw.

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I was also quite struck by the alarming number of coffee shops and cafes dotted around everywhere… each with its own style and diligent attention to detail in its interior design. The one with the loft – doesn’t that look like where Colin Firth, in earnest Portuguese,  proposed in Love Actually?

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Eat
Bibigo – chain fast-food restaurant for bibimbap
Korean Fried Chicken and Beer
. From anywhere. Nuff said.
Min’s kitchen – somewhere between traditional and modern Korean food
Osulloc – matcha roll, dessert and tea
Siwhadam – modern Korean fine dining; part of Relais & Chateaux
Two-Ppul, found at 532-9 Sinsa-dong, Garosu-gil – melt-in-the-mouth Korean Beef BBQ
Tosokchon (토속촌) – heartwarming ginseng chicken stew to warm up my insides after a whole day outdoors trekking on the DMZ tours
Woodbrick – Viennese coffee (where I burnt off half of my mouth), ice-cream macarons
*be on the lookout for all types of street food; I had this massive croquette-like item stuffed with kimchi for breakfast twice it was so yummy, not to mention inhalation of a variety churros, soft-serves, ice cream macarons… etc.

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Do
Changdeokgung Palace and the secret gardens
DMZ tour – a visit to the North/South Korean border
Shopping in Myeongdong (skincare), Dongdaemun (clothes)
Yeouido for cherry-blossom during April
Wander around Samcheong-dong – boutiques and cafes; art galleries

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Travel / lifestyle blogs, which I reverently study before jet-setting, make it look all too easy; holidays too relaxed. When one’s pulling all-nighter after all-nighter for a month, and bringing a suitcase into work just so she can go straight to the airport from getting off at 12am, just to make those four days or so out of town possible…although I’m thankful for the out of town breather it seemed to add on another type of stress. Or maybe I’m just still incompetent/have anxiety issues. This trip was one that the highly-strung me desperately needed, and somehow I felt that it wasn’t towards the end that I was able to loosen up..which by then sadly of course it meant the inevitable office-life came looming up again.

IMG_5422But if I don’t stop trying…maybe one day I’ll get it right.

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By the Sea

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The sea isn’t crystalline, the sand isn’t sink-in-soft. It’s not a Mediterranean-standard kind of beach but this coastline of Norfolk and the quaint town of Hunstanton offered a different getaway.

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Hunstanton is about 1.5 hours away from Cambridge, which can be reached by a bus from Kings Lynn. This seaside town is a purposely-built resort town that dates all the way back to 1846. My first impression was a run-down town full of old people, but I was way too excited at the prospect of seeing…

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these long whiskered fat blobs! The seal tour was originally fully booked (I threw a tantrum) but then I called again begging to be put on the waiting list and miracles do happen – the man said I was in luck; they’d decided to send out another vessel. And the seals were SO CUTE! I could just about see them lulling about through binoculars, and as the vessel turned closer to them they all waddled to the edge of the sand bay to investigate what was going on. Inquisitive little big creatures!

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We stopped to get soft serve cones. The wind was so ridiculous I couldn’t even take a bite without my hair being dyed white by ice cream; at least I didn’t end up looking like this poor kid (I don’t blame him)…

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The signature striped cliffs of Hunstanton was another something I did not expect to see in the UK. The three layers are white limestone chalk, red chalk and carrstone respectively, the reddening colours reflecting its iron ore content.

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Market Bistro in King’s Lynn is strongly recommended by Tripadvisor, which is where we headed after an hour of slotting in 2p coins into the Coin Dozer – not winning anything but fully understanding why this mindless arcade game was just so addictive. We sat our tired selves down to gin & tonics, and a dinner of crab, quail, pollock and trout. Market Bistro dishes are seasonal, and they claim that their catch(es) of the day depends on what they receive from suppliers every morning. This Alaskan Snow Crab Salad below is inspired by one of the starters we had. Crab salad, air delivery from UK to HK.

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Hunstanton to me was no breathtaking, love-at-first-sight town. But I guess life’s about learning to find that one thing to appreciate in a setting and giving second chances.

Alaskan Snow Crab Salad

(From when I was young up until now, my dad has unfailingly given me a hand (or two) with shelling crustaceans. This was no exception; without his help I would still be wedging crab flesh out of its shell.)

approx 10 legs of Alaskan Snow Crabs, flesh removed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 pack salad leaves
6 cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 purple sweet potato, cubed
3 radishes, sliced
6 mint leaves, torn into shreds
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp (or more) tabasco
salt & pepper

1.     Place the salad leaves, cherry tomatoes, sweet potato, radishes and mint into a large bowl, leaving a couple of slices of each for garnish. Drizzle olive oil over it and add salt & pepper to taste.
2.   In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise and tabasco together (you get tabasco mayo that can be used for dipping chips as well!). Empty that into the salad bowl too.
3.      Squeeze lemon juice over the crab flesh to get rid of the salty/fishy taste (dad’s tip!). Keep a few shreds to put on the side, and empty the rest into the salad bowl as well. Cover the salad bowl with a large plate and give it a couple of good tosses to mix well. Garnish and serve!

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References:

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Lost Count

of what happened between the 9 weeks since I was a Scaredy Cat and yet I’m back in the same place on the same chair…it feels like a time loop. Where have I been (besides stuffing my face with peanut butter cheesecake mmm.)

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36 hours were spent crossing borders. Was in London for 12, then arrived in Cologne. (I’d really wanted to go over Christmas but quite soon realised the Christmas markets were a big part of the reason why… boo.) Which is why we proceeded to…

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…have mussels in Brussels (yes the rhyming was deliberate).

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“Life is for surprise kisses, full moon swims, and Dandoy biscuits”. And yummy Belgian waffles, frites with mushroom sauce and good Belgium beer. And a collection of memories from downing a bottle of wine in 5 minutes, dancing and singing in public (I pity those who heard me). 

IMG_0377In February I checked off quite a few to-dos. Made every single thing on the plate above (other than the fried egg. I had help with the fried egg. Eggs have, ironically, never been my strong point). Duck burger recipe from the gorgeous, she-has-it-all Mimi Thorisson.

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Improvised late night meringues made with leftover eggwhite, with a dash of vanilla extract, rosewater, and the use of a grill for those who couldn’t wait to put a mouthful of sugar into their mouths (me me pick me).

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(I always, always, always worry about this tiramisu cake not setting…)

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Mum asked me whether I’ve been eating well. I’ve eaten month-old Chinese New Year Turnip cake (it was in the freezer). I haven’t been eating as healthily as when I was back in London, but there have been good days.

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The vast amount of credit given for the siew yoke below doesn’t go to me, and I very happily sat and stuffed my cheeks with it. There was a debate over whether roast pork belly had to be cut at a precise regular shape. Whether this was better. A lot of what I perceive as good depends heavily on the memories a particular edible can revoke. This was made the way I’ve tasted siew yoke at home from all the way since I was a child. This was what I chose.

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There’s the danger of stuffing an iCal with so many blocks of a day that I lose sight of what I should really be focusing on because every task and commitment is just a mad rush with a constant worry at the back of my mind about what I should be doing next. It’s a vicious cycle of unnecessary stress and while it’s good to have something to look forward to doesn’t mean the present should be relegated. Especially when the present is a pocketful of giggles and sunshine.

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Saying that, however, one should always, always look forward to dessert.

overwrite

On Scaredy Cats

I almost didn’t go.

I almost didn’t go on this trip to Hanoi with J and D which happened all the way back in the summer…a good five months ago now. A trip that we’d talked about on end since J’s graduation in 2011, then mine and D’s in 2012. It was all still talk up until May of 2013, when we finally got our act together, booked, confirmed, and paid.

And what almost kept me from going was frustration paranoia uncertainty  simply the scaredy cat in me.

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Our flight was scheduled for a Saturday morning, and it was around 4.30pm on the Friday before that it suddenly occurred to me – would we need visas to enter the country? I googled “do australian passports need visas to vietnam” (I ask google everything he’s my best virtual friend) and idly started scrolling through expecting reassuring answers…

…or not. Turns out all three of us had to have applied for visas well in advance.

To cut a long story short, what we did was pay triple the amount it would have to get a “letter” from “some Vietnamese authority” saying they would “approve” our visas upon landing.

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Overexposure and extreme behaviour. “what if the letter is fake what if they lock us up what if we’re detained and denied food is this going to be a real life version of Taken oh no im guna dieeee.” Ohhh I was so close to chickening out – and backing out of a promise from two whole years back. What a scaredy cat.

And I’m so so glad, even though I was fretting all the way to the airport and on the flight (much to the amusement of J and D who tried, and failed to convince me everything would be fine and we would not get eaten alive just because of a visa issue), to say I spent four days and three nights in Hanoi.

Where we basically, spent four days and three nights eating in Hanoi. Lots of pho, grilled fish, and the best chicken congee ever.

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Oh, and yeah, scenery of some sort…

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I take that back. Halong Bay was one of the breathtaking moments on the trip, the moment where we sea kayak-ed though a cave and being greeted by sheets of limestone that seemed to descend from the skies…I felt for a split second I’d been transported into a wuxia novel…and of course dreams from my overactive imagination were rudely interrupted by threats to throw me into the water if I didn’t keep weighing down the kayak. The joys of going on a holiday with bullies boys..IMG_2701

Other scaredy cat moments? I was convinced I was going to get run over any minute. People on vehicles just went whenever they wanted and in the end I gave up comprehending the order-within-disorder in this city, stepping out onto the roads with my eyes closed and pray that they’d avoid me.

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There are too many things that I don’t understand, such as human beings, such as  what is wrong in this picture.

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Some people say there’s light at the end of the tunnel, others say the light at the end of the tunnel is an approaching train coming along to run you over. It’s often the case that along with pessimism, the unnecessary fretting and being a scaredy cat holds you back from reaching your full potential. Limitations are brought by apprehension and fear,  and life is about identifying these limits then challenging them to reach places you never imagined you could.

“and in that moment…I swear we were infinite.”

BKK

…and it’s February. Finally done with all exams for the 1st Semester. Not used to having nothing to complain about. New found freedom.

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But it didn’t mean that I couldn’t fit in a trip to Bangkok before the last assessment…have been needing this R&R since September last year. Escape. Momentarily having nothing to worry about except where to buy postcards in Bangkok (which turned out to be quite a mission to find one.)

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“Hainanese Chicken Rice!” Not sure why I had a craving for this the minute we landed in BKK. And since I was the baby of the group (being only 3 months younger than the second youngest…) I got my way. Also quite glad we didn’t get violently sick from eating at a semi-street food place. Thank you for putting up me.

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This made me sad. And the fact that you would have to pay to set a bird free. Surely if I did that it would just create a vicious cycle because these mean people would keep catching birds to play on other people’s sympathy.

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One of my biggest achievements (not that I have many to choose from) on this trip – I cycled around Bangkok for four hours and survived! I did crash into a wall. And a scooter. But otherwise I managed to come home in one piece. Milestone Date. For the record, the last time I rode a bike I actually crashed into a parked car and fell off. And it was just around Regent’s Park as well. Thank you C, for carrying my camera around in your backpack for me whilst we were cycling.

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Oh I love my special (‘special’) friends. Especially the moment where a certain someone put conditioner on her legs thinking it was moisturiser.

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Somboon and their famous fried curry crab. But not before being taken on an unnecessary detour by a clueless taxi driver. “Was it a fraudulent mistake?” We were taken to a fake “Somboon seafood village” which was about 30 minutes away, as opposed to the 3 minutes or so that we thought. The taxi driver was pretty much a teenager who did not even know where Hong Kong was and could not speak a word of English. We – or rather M – had our fun reading Thai off our travel book with an accent so atrocious that he could not understand us.

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Gaggan. Indian molecular gastronomy inspired by Heston Blumenthal. One of the most interesting meals I’ve had, and most accommodating too. I have a coconut intolerance, and M is merely a picky eater who does not eat about a trillion things. And they still patiently substituted numerous courses on our tasting menu.
P.S. I’m not always a fan of mousse but dessert was amazing.

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I discovered how much a new place can remind you of based on your past experiences. Whilst on the cycling tour we saw different sides of BKK, the markets along back alleys reminded me of Marrakech; the Chao Phraya, a fleeting memory of Venice. I wonder which place will remind me of Bangkok next. I rediscovered the power of prayer through remembering to say grace before meals. Being both aware and grateful for the food on the table, the company we are in, the experiences we are exposed to. And this elephant needs a name.

safe & sound