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Missing Dublin

Late November, upon getting news that a close friend of mine would be back in Dublin all the way from Australia, I did a quick search for flights, asked for a day off work the following morning, and bought my tickets back to the Fair City too. It was impromptu enough for one of my aunts to complaint that I didn’t give her enough notice to make arrangement to see me!

Dublin from the air

Dublin from the air

I woke up super duper early to catch the first metro to Porte Maillot, then bus to Beauvais Tillé, and Ryanair to Dublin. Tired, I ended up taking a quick nap during the flight and when I next opened my eyes, we were approaching the Irish coastline and I could make out the Wicklow Mountains in the horizon. We approached by way of Dun Laoghaire, Dublin Bay and then Howth, before landing in Swords. It was a beautiful day for my homecoming.

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Trolling Fox (Faux) News

Life in Paris – and France – is gradually returning to the norm in the aftermath of the shootings at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher. In this past week, enormous queues had been spotted all over Paris at newsstands, everyone eager to get their hands on a copy of the survival issue of Charlie Hebdo, currently printed at a phenomenon number (5 million copies!) and being doled out to the newsstands like ration during tough times. The first mornings, they sold out rapidly and disappointed folks were told to return the next day after they were restocked.

Charlie Hebdo

I found myself standing in a queue on the third morning, fulfilling a request that came from abroad just the previous evening, and snagged the third last copy at my local newsstand. Not that I read it though; we had never read Charlie Hebdo before and were not particularly pushed in starting anyway. The copy got duly posted away and I hope it won’t disappear in transit. Anyway, this is less interesting than the skirmish between Le Petit Journal and Fox Faux News.

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Feasting on galettes des rois

January can only mean one thing in our household – it’s open season for galette des rois! It seems the limited time availability only fueled my hunger for more, so this addiction is unlikely to go away anytime soon. However, after two seasons of buying small/single portion galette des rois on a nearly daily basis, this year, a change of strategy. We would buy only at the weekends, and fancy galettes des rois are on the table. * happy dance *

Galette des rois

A whopping eight galettes des rois had came through our door so far. Well, we started early this year, over the New Year’s long weekend, before Epiphany officially kicked off. It made sense since C&M were staying with us and C loves them as much as I do! We’ve largely stuck to one galette des rois per weekend-day rule, except yesterday when we had a small tasting party with friends; three galettes des rois were served and today we’re having none. It was a “sacrifice” I’d gladly make because it’s a lot more fun to share them :)

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Let peace be the guiding light

I had not realised how significant these photos could be when I took them a few days ago, on a night out with friends to catch a ballet flamenco performance. I thought I was just photographing things that I thought to be pleasing to look at.

Peace and light

Today, millions – French and non-French alike – came out to demonstrate unity against extremism and terrorism, to defend their rights and that of their compatriots, and to mourn the deaths that remind us how fragile life can be if we choose violence against peace.

Anyone who the need to kill, to pillage, to rape, or to strap bombs onto a 10-year old little girl so to make a point, the only point they are making is their barbarism knows no moral nor ethical bound. How sad is that? Sowing fear does not make one a hero, but a coward who fear living a righteous life; the scheming, the plotting, everything in utmost secrecy. How sad is that? Living half a life and mostly lies; nearly loveless and nobody that truly cares. How sad is that?

Please, let peace be your guiding light, no matter where you are, which religion you adhere to, what custom you practice.

Let peace be the core of your being.

Laughing with

No one laughs at God in the hospital
No one laughs at God in the war
No one’s laughing at God when they’re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God, we’re all laughing with God

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Neige d’Été

When I stumbled across an article recently that pointed to a new praiseworthy restaurant in my neighbourhood (mere 5 minutes walk from home is a bonus!) it’s a no-brainer that I should check it out. Taking advantage of the fact that we have visitors to entertain over the new year period, we need no further excuse to try snagging a table. What’s nice – for once, we were not working so we could even opt for the more budget-friendly lunch menu.

Neige d'Été

Neige d'Été

Neige d’Été (a somewhat whimsical “summer snow”) is discreetly located, with nary a sign pointing to its existence, until you’re right at the entrance and see the name palely etched across the glass of the door. Its interior – work of Japanese architect Shinku Noda – of minimalist features with shades of white is punctuated by occasional colours from the bouquet of fresh flower near the door and earthy tones of the settees. It felt a tad delicate to step in. Even the cutleries were hidden from sight – check the drawer in front of you but be careful not to spill everything onto your lap!

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Postcards: A Parisian sunset (FR)

The start of year has been very kind to us. We hosted a couple of friends since New Year’s Eve, which we celebrated by attending a graceful performance of the Nutcracker at Palais de Congrès, and since then we’ve been busy with various activities. That was how we ended up at Jardin des Tuileries on day 2 of the year and caught this beautiful sunset.

Sunset in Paris

Sunset in Paris

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(re)focus

Happy New Year! Bonne Année! Selamat Tahun Baru!

Lightshow

I suppose this signals another yearly recap is due. Did I learn and did I make mistakes in 2014? A-plenty! Did I go off (life) tangent and lose sight of goals that I’ve set for myself? Ab-solutely! Did I carry bagfuls of regrets and mutter sorries along the way? Nope!

I refuse to wallow in laments for things I cannot change.

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Hong Kong by night

Central Hong Kong puts up a colourful display of neon lightings no matter where you go and look, and over at the harbour waterfront, the Symphony of Lights set to wow visitors nightly at 8pm with its almost-15 minutes lightshow. I caught the show one evening from the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, and for anyone interested in listening to the accompanying narration, the places to be are the Avenue of Stars and Golden Bauhinia Square (Wan Chai).

Hong Kong by night

Hong Kong by night

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Occupy Central with Love and Peace

It is difficult to walk around central Hong Kong and not run into the occupy protestors, with their tents and living areas pitched on a number of streets around Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Admiralty. The Umbrella Movement valiantly stood their grounds, but alas, their courageous protests and occupations were brought to an end last week. It is a complex socio-political issue and one which I don’t have enough knowledge to discuss, so all I can offer are a few photos, guiltily taken, during the week I was in Hong Kong.

Occupy Central

Occupy Central

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Chinese desserts galore

One Chinese New Year many moons ago, I organised a dinner in Dublin for 35 friends and colleagues. In keeping with the theme of the meal – Chinese dishes which non-Chinese can’t find on their version of the menu (the restaurant owner was very nervous when he saw 35 non-Chinese walked in with me because I had pre-ordered some very traditional dishes!) – I had specially ordered red bean soup for dessert. The meal was a great success but I wish I could say the same about the dessert; a majority of the diners abandoned it after a spoonful or two, and proceeded to order frozen desserts available in just about every Chinese restaurants in Europe (you know which one I’m talking about, right?).

Asian desserts

Asian desserts

It is true that Chinese desserts are not very conventional by European/Western standards. Many are in the form of warm soup or custard, the ingredients often include beans or seeds or nuts, there are glutinous and/or jellied textures… I could go on, but that’s no reason to confine Chinese/”Asian” restaurants’ dessert menu to ice cream, frozen stuff, and at a push, banana/pineapple/apple fritters. If bubble tea and the chemically-induced flavours could gain popularity in the West, why not other desserts too?

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Postcards: Stanley (HK)

For yet another change of scenery from central Hong Kong and its skyscrapers, A and I took the bus out to Stanley, one of the oldest villages in Hong Kong, and the site of a former English fort that is now famous for its market bearing the same name. En route, I spied the cable cars that transport visitors to the Ocean Park and some of the park’s rollercoasters, and I also looked admiringly at the scenic Repulse Bay – nothing repulsive there, right? We found Stanley Market highly commercialised and generic to many other local markets; walking along the main street waterfront and Stanley Ma Hang Park was decidedly more interesting.

Stanley

Stanley

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Tai O Fishing Village

A short 20-minutes bus ride away, to the west of Po Lin Monastery, lies Tai O, a traditional fishing village that sits partly on Lantau Island and partly on a small island mere metres away – not immediately obvious until I had a closer look at the map. The small island is today connected to Lantau by way of 2 bridges: Tai Chung footbridge (completed 1996) and Sun Ki bridge (completed 1979); until then, river crossing relied on punting and even rope-tow ferry pulled by elderly Hakka women! If you want to experience the latter, it may be possible on some weekends and holidays, but not on the day I was visiting.

Tai O

Tai O

On arrival, we were lured by the touts selling boat tour of the village and to see the pink dolphins. The 30-minutes ride is very affordable, and while no sighting of the dolphins for us that particular day, what I actually found more fascinating is the way of life in this small village that relies heavily on the river and the sea for their livelihood. It is as different from central Hong Kong as day and night. No skyscrapers, no shopping malls, but houses so close that the neighbours could stick their heads into each other’s living rooms.

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Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha

SL and I arrived at Tung Chung, and we started to hem haw – should we trek for 3-3.5 hours or queue up for for the cable car in order to get to the Ngong Ping plateau, where the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha are located? It was already past noon, the sun high in the sky, and the queue for the cable car didn’t look too bad (it ended up being a 40-minutes wait). And I admit it, I was feeling lazy too. Cable car, it is!

Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha

Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha

The 6km-ride from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping plateau took about 20-25 minutes, over uninhabited peaks and rather magnificent view. We could also see the trekking trail just below us, and spotted the occasional walkers heading downhill towards Tung Chung. Clearly, they’d been up at the Lantau Peak much earlier in the day and were ready to wind things down.

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Wong Tai Sin Temple

The temple of Wong Tai Sin lies a couple of kilometres to the west of the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. It is also just one MTR station away from Diamond Hill (“Wong Tai Sin” station, exit B3) for anyone looking for a quick access option, although frankly, it’s easy enough to walk between them. A and I walked it in about 20 minutes.

Wong Tai Sin Temple

Wong Tai Sin Temple

Home to three different religions: Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism – there are distinct differences between them even if they’re often lumped together as “Buddhism” – the Wong Tai Sin Temple complex is large and bustling with worshippers and visitors alike. Apparently, there is an one-way system which visitors are encouraged to follow, and during festival periods, this system is compulsory to keep things in order. Well, since we arrived through “Supreme Paradise Gateway” that was definitely not the main entrance, we explored the complex randomly.

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Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

I found myself heading towards Diamond Hill on my second morning in Hong Kong, in search of the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian Garden, for something more traditional and away from the gleaming towers in the Central district. For anyone travelling by public transportation, the access of the Chi Lin Nunnery is easiest through the Nan Lian Garden, mere minutes walk away from the MTR (exit C2).

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

Founded in 1934, the temple complex of the Chi Lin Nunnery was renovated in the 1990s. The elegant wooden architecture was constructed using specific interlocking systems to hold the wood together, very much like how they used to do it during the Tang Dynasty, and thus not a single iron nail was required in the present-day buildings. A series of temple halls can be found, with exquisite statues of the divinities, including Buddha, Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) and other bodhisattvas. (Sorry, no photos of the halls and statues allowed!)

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Postcards: The (Victoria) Peak (HK)

Victoria Peak is the highest peak on Hong Kong island. Locally known as The Peak, it gave a superb view of the Victoria Harbour as well as other neighbouring islands. I trekked up there twice during my six-day stay, blocked sinus notwithstanding. I was glad to have repeated the experience since the second go was on a clearer day and right before sunset; it was beautiful.

The Peak

The Peak

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More dim sum, please

Even prior to landing in Hong Kong, I knew what I wanted to eat – dim sum! There are a few dim sum places in Paris, some better than others, but I miss those that I get in Asia which somehow always tastes better and comes in more variety. I know, this could just be the biased Asian in me speaking. ;)

Dim sum

Dim sum

Four of my six lunches in Hong Kong constituted of just dim sum. The first among them was at a small place called Ding Dim in the Central district, and we were so glad to dig in our food that not even a single photo was taken. Two of the next three dim sum restaurants I went to were noticeably packed with Asians and barely a couple of token Caucasians. If they were, I’d hazard there have been a lot of cart peeking and dish pointing instead of ordering, unless they are long term residents in Hong Kong. Fun times!

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First impression: Hong Kong

Growing up, I’ve seen enough TVB dramas to have an idea of what Hong Kong is like. In fact, it was thanks to these series that I learned Cantonese; daily lesson, every weekday evening, seated next to my greatgrandparents and glued to the latest riveting tales of love and rivalry. The actors and actresses were pretty much the same from one drama to another, so even a child could pointed out right from the first episode that who was likely to be the nice guy and who the bad one. ;)

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Still, it is very different to experience Hong Kong in person. Somehow, in my head, it is geographically a single main island surrounded by a handful small ones. Imagine my surprise to find Hong Kong island actually constitutes of a small part of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) and a large part of it attached to the mainland China. It is also a lot bigger than I had envisaged. I was in Hong Kong for six days and I barely covered the grounds around Central, Kowloon and Lantau Island. I’d love some time to go out to Yuen Long, or to Sai Kung, or even trek the Dragon’s Back trail.

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What can I do in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is located just across the border from Shenzhen. It was also the perfect location for me to recharge after a very intense work period: I could visit SL who lives in Hong Kong (ahem, mooch a free bed for the trip), satisfy my craving for great Asian food (dim sum!), and sightsee a little in a region that I know very little about.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

The trouble was, I did not have much time to research what I could do in Hong Kong either. Before leaving, WL helped identify a few key things to, and once in Hong Kong, I am grateful for SL who came to my rescue. She made a list of places we must eat in, suggested places to visit, and even took time off work to play guide a couple of the days. If you know how preciously few paid holidays there are in Asia, you know how significant such an effort is. She is the hostess with the mostest!

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Postcards: Hello from Shenzhen (CN)

Work took me away to Shenzhen for a few days recently, and for my maiden trip to China, I was pretty much ensconced inside a fancy hotel throughout the period. I wish I had seen more of the city but each day, I was up and on the go pretty much between 7am and 11pm with little down time in between. Nonetheless, I made some effort to escape the glittering chandeliers for the very modern city filled with skyscrapers.

Shenzhen

Shenzhen

A couple of hours walk barely took me anywhere beyond the couple of blocks around the hotel. The distance that seemed doable from the map I’ve secured from the hotel was dauntingly further, and it did not help that I got lost at some point in an urban park and none of the exits (except the one I came in through) were accessible. A lot of walking hopelessly in circle until I found the way out…

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Run, baby, run

At the end of September, I rather impulsively decided that F and I should sign up to do a semi-marathon. A bit of a wacky idea considering I am hardly the model jogger/runner, while F would dutifully head out once a week for a good hour or so; I’d do so about once every 2-3 weeks, not to mention I’m also more likely to do a shorter route. Honestly, I’m really not great at self-discipline when it comes to sports/fitness-related activities. Just ask C about my “standing pool date” with her…

10K run

In any case, I have time to work at training, no? Afterall, March seems so far away, even if I’ve started drawing up all kind of potential training programme etc. And the sheet of paper is now sitting right underneath a big pile of papers that I’m supposed to read for work. Training three times a week – hah, who am I kidding? Instead, time is ticking away and I still manage to weasel my way out of weekend jogging sessions with F.

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Not your average traiteur: Jin Xin Lou

When I was a young visitor to Paris who barely spoke French donkey years ago, the first time I noticed the sign “traiteur” while walking around town, I wondered out loud “how could a Chinese takeaway be a traitor” (yes, it’s usually outside a Chinese restaurant/ takeaway that you’ll see the sign). My friend chuckled. “Nobody’s a ‘traitor'; the word traditionally stems from giving yourself a treat at home – i.e. dine in but don’t cook. However, today, it simply means a caterer or a takeaway.”

Anyway, I digress.

The recommendation of a friend of a friend brought us to my old neighbourhood of Cité U to check out a restaurant within a restaurant. Or more accurately, a French restaurant within a Chinese traiteur. Tucked away on a street at the edge of 13ème, bordering the 14ème and near the périph, you’d easily walk past without even noticing it. There’s not much to shout home about the decor and this is not a place for a romantic dinner à deux either. Yet, at 7.30pm, on a Saturday night when the streets were eerily quiet in this corner of the city, the place was bustling. If you had not made a reservation ahead, you’d be out of luck.

Jin Xin Lou

Jin Xin Lou

Once seated, ask for the French menu; a small and regularly changed, but not the single-menu variety (like many of the trendy new openings), there are 2-3 options per course. Seasonal ingredients were prominently featured. But, first thing first, a small basket of prawn crackers appeared at the table. I got munching away, and perhaps enjoying too many pieces of them, that F confiscated them away in case I ruined my appetite. As if! :p

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Along River Seine

Do you know that the Banks of the Seine is listed as an Unesco World Heritage Site? Not the Eiffel Tower, not the Louvre, not the Musée d’Orsay, not the Notre Dame; these are but supporting stars – albeit major ones – to the source which fed the city and saw it rose to the grandiose that we enjoy today.

Along River Seine

Along River Seine

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Fondation Louis Vuitton

When you are wealthy and could dictate the kind of legacy that will bear your (brand) name, why not hire Frank Gehry to build a museum with unique vessel-like architecture in the splendid setting of the Bois de Boulogne?

Fondation Louis Vuitton, opened with great fanfare and ticket giveaways last weekend, will house art works from Bernard Arnault’s personal collection as well as those owned by the LVMH group. In return for the permission to erect this monumental building, its ownership will be transferred to the city of Paris in 55 years.

Fondation Louis Vuitton

Fondation Louis Vuitton

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Parisian autumn

A crispy autumn day is perfect for exploring Paris. The natural light is softer, the colours of the leaves brighter. It is neither too warm nor too chilly to remain outside. There is a certain spring to the step, so to speak. Last weekend, we retraced the route from our apartment to Montsouris.

Paris

Paris

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Un samedi au marché

My first year in Paris, I used to meet up with A most Sunday to go together to the market at Auguste Blanqui (13ème). Since I moved to the 6ème and subsequently the 15ème, the market trips have become infrequent. There are a number of markets within walking distance that I could go to at the weekends, but somehow I didn’t. I love going to the market; I’m just not there as often as I’d like.

At the market

At the market

I guess playing house with a partner does change one’s shopping habit. Any week that there are not enough fresh produce to last till weekend, or too much that it runs through past weekend into a new midweek, means we would be topping up our purchase elsewhere. Or sometimes, there are just household item shortages that necessitate visits to the supermarket so while we are there, why not get the grocery too to save some time?

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Views from seat 6A

I got lucky with a seat by the window on our flight back to Paris from Treviso, flying over the Dolomites, the Alps, and various lakes. Shortly after taking off, I whipped out the camera which was already kitted with a 50mm fixed lens, and started shooting away. No superzooming needed for these gorgeous views!

Aerial photos

Aerial photos

Of course, I couldn’t tell where I was for most part of the journey, and I think at one point I spotted Lake Garda – the end where Riva del Garda is located – although, frankly, does it matter if I could or could not name places or lakes I saw?

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A very picturesque Bassano del Grappa

Tucked away at the foot of Monte Grappa, Bassano del Grappa was the final destination of our Italian Escapade 2014. This was also where we celebrated L&P’s wedding – truly, no better place could have been chosen. We got in a couple of days ahead of the wedding so we could chill out and rest our weary feet – we’ve been walking a lot in 10 days! Good thing this is a small town, easily explored in a few hours.

Bassano del Grappa

Bassano del Grappa

The most iconic feature of the town is the Ponte degli Alpini, formerly Ponte Vecchio (“old bridge”), a 16th century timber bridge designed by Andrea Palladio. What stands today in River Brenta is a reconstructed bridge, having been destroyed many times, most recently during the World War II. It was the Alpine soldiers who raised the fund to finance the rebuilding of this bridge, and thus they were honoured, with the bridge renamed after them.

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Postcards: In search of Padua (IT)

I imagine this could qualify as what the French would say, “jamais deux sans trois“? We spent a couple of hours in Florence in transit, then a couple of hours in Parma also in transit, so why not spare two hours in Padua in transit too? We managed to locate a left luggage at the train station, so we could pretty much move freely in that time.

Padova

Padova

The only time I was in Padua previously, I was hosted by a friend and was driven and guided everywhere. We got around easily and I didn’t need to figure out where I was or the distance between places. Everything seemed so doable. I was optimistic that F and I could see a good bit of the city, like we did when we were in Florence, before hopping on the train to Bassano del Grappa.

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