Thursday, January 29, 2015

Life update: from LLB to the Bar.

WOW. Apparently I haven't updated my blog in almost a year!

Not that I haven't been writing though; I've been extremely active on Dayre (link!) since December 2013. I post nonsensical updates there practically everyday because well, there really isn't any quality control that goes into my Dayre posts. I don't care if my sentences are disjointed and if I use a disgusting amount of bahasa rojak (Malaysian slang – a mix of English, Malay, Chinese, and occasionally Cantonese and Hokkien) instead of proper English.

It's basically just me writing about whatever I'm up to that day or how I'm feeling, and I don't have to spend hours typing and editing and re-editing like I would a blog post. For instance, I spent 6 full hours on this post, whereas it takes me 30 minutes to produce a lengthy Dayre entry.

I started with it because I thought the stickers were just so adorable, but I ended up really loving the simple interface and the convenience of blogging from my phone. I mean you could still blog blog with a phone, but it isn't as convenient or practical when your posts are ridiculously long. Plus it's the easiest and quickest way for me to keep my family back home and friends scattered everywhere updated with my life.

Not sure how much quality control is gonna go into this post though since I haven't blogged in so long, but I'll try my best! Not exactly promising to revive this blog again, but I feel like I've changed so much as a person since coming to the UK in September 2013, that I should document as much as I can while I still can remember all this stuff.

Well first thing's first  where am I now?

I'm currently doing the bar professional training course (BPTC) in Cardiff University. It's been absolutely hellish, but I'll get to that bit later.

Some people might be curious about why I decided to go here, or how I ended up doing the bar course anyway, since my plan was always to go home and do the Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP) program back home. Bear with me now while I launch into a long tale about what transpired last summer.

I don't know if anyone still remembers this, but after my EU final paper in May, I kind of had an emotional breakdown, and wrote a very emotional, defeated blog post after I came home that day, about how I could no longer achieve a First Class after royally screwing that paper. I was beyond upset that day, and I regret that post so much because of all the anxiety I put my family through after they read it.

I'd deleted that post a few months ago because well, as some may know, I did end up getting a First Class for my LLB. No one was more shocked than I was.

I remember walking towards the Law Building with my two friends from Cardiff who were visiting at the time, and Abigail came out at that time. She told me that there was one person on the BAC transfer programme who got a first class, but she didn't know who. See, everyone's final result was posted up in the common room, but beside their student number instead of their name.

And not even for one second did I think that that person was me. Honest. When I recognised my student number, I think I just stood there slack-jawed for a few seconds, double and triple checking just to be sure. And I would subsequently find out that I was the only Malaysian transfer student to get a First Class, and one of two Malaysians to get it, the other girl having done all 3 years of her LLB in Reading.

Then it was like walking on air; like being in a dream. I'm beyond thankful for it really, and it was a very happy day for the Chow family. I would catch myself smiling for no reason sometimes for about a week afterwards heh. It's such a proud achievement that I'm very careful not to talk about it because I don't want to be seen as bragging, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've brought it up since then.

So anyway, the Bar course.

When I was skyping my parents after I collected my results, the first thing my father said was "Why don't you stay back and do the Bar?"

My answer was that I couldn't; the deadline for making applications was in January and it was then mid-June. Plus I was quite content with my UK experience and was looking forward to going home to Malaysia for good.

(From left: Cynthia, Mun Yew, Kelly, me, Khai.)

And then well, this happened. I went to Bournemouth with this bunch of people. Mun Yew and Kelly were the two friends from Cardiff staying in Reading at the time, with Khai and myself respectively. I've been friends with them for years now, and despite our differences in location and schedule, we'd managed to get together quite a bit in our final year.

And of course, all 3 of them were doing the Bar. We were just on the train back after a freaking amazing day trip to Bournemouth (hands down the best sandy beach I've been to!), and they were talking about all the trips they were planning for next year. Then I suppose I felt quite envious, and decided then to at least try to get accepted by a Bar provider.

The very next night (incidentally after a day trip to Oxford with the same gang), I wrote an e-mail to 4 bar schools  Cardiff and all 3 Bar providers in London, and all 4 of the Inns of Court.

As you can see from the excerpt I sent to Cardiff above, I was completely honest with my late application. I saw no reason to make up some elaborate lie about not applying, and I'm not about that kind of life anyway.

I was gunning for Cardiff, because well everyone was going to be in Cardiff, and I didn't want to live in London – too expensive and way too distracting. I had decided that it was Cardiff or bust.

And guess which Bar provider wrote back enthusiastically? :)

Middle Temple also wrote back, stating they would accept me, no problem. Then things progressed very rapidly after that.

I had to scramble about getting my formal application in place as fast as possible, and during this period I changed my mind practically a million times about whether I wanted to do the bar or not, now that it had become a valid option. It was quite an emotional few days for me there, and honestly I think if my father hadn't sort of ordered me to do the Bar then, I think I would've been back in Malaysia now.

Apparently it's quite an unprecedented thing to make an application this late. Dr Nick Roberts, my personal tutor back in Reading, said that he hadn't heard of such a case before.

I'd like to think it was my amazing creative writing skills that got Cardiff's attention, but let's be real here – having a First Class opens a lot of doors.

So after that really long background story, here's the proud Bar student now!


I knew this going in; I'd heard stories about how demanding and time-consuming the Bar course was, and let it be known that no one is exaggerating!

Cardiff bar students get Fridays off, and we have 4-6 tutorials each week. There aren't many lectures after the introductory sessions, and most weeks we won't have any lectures. Which means that unlike in the LLB where you did a tutorial based on what you've learned in lectures, what we have to do for each tutorial is to teach ourselves a brand new chapter and answer questions about it.

Obviously, this means that you need a whole lot of time to finish a tutorial. I'd say that you'd need at the very least 3 hours to complete a tutorial, but most of the time it takes 5-6 hours. And for bigger subjects like Submission Advocacy and Opinion Writing which require quite a bit of research, the required prep easily takes up to 12 hours. And just when you're done struggling through the week, you realise the next week is no less hellish, and the work just never ends.

Insane right?! Bar students have so little free time and so much stress that it's really hard for anyone to understand, unless you've taken the Bar yourself or have dated someone who is. It's hard for other students to comprehend that there is no such thing as "I have finished my work" in the Bar, and that there is always more work to do. Most people think Bar students are just being dramatic.

But oh no people. This shit cray. For reals.

Lots of nights are spent like this. :/

I think about two-thirds of my Dayre entries these past few months are posts complaining about how stressed and busy I am with coursework. I still am, but things have gotten slightly better this term, at least for Cardiff students, because we've already concluded the final assessments for the Submission Advocacy and Opinion Writing modules, which were two crazy bulky modules.

Of course new modules have come in to replace them, but they're not as bad. It could also be that we're getting more efficient at our coursework after 3 hectic months. (Yay?)

Despite the craziness of it all though, I'm thoroughly enjoying my Bar experience in Cardiff.

There's a surging sense of achievement and self-satisfaction that you get when you hone your barrister skills. Like when you know you've kicked ass for a tutorial or one of your advocacy or conferencing sessions, which you wouldn't be able to get if you were doing the CLP. The course is very practical, and almost everything you learn will actually be used when you enter the working world.

Also, Cardiff provides for two placement weeks for court marshaling and chambers internships. These were during the first term, and it was a welcome change of pace from our crazy study schedule.

I absolutely loved my placements! I got placed in Thirty Park Place in Cardiff under one of the nicest barristers ever, who really talked me through everything that was going on and made sure I understood.

Ditto with District Judge John Regan, whom I marshaled with. That guy was probably the coolest judge in existence. Who else keeps a pack of cards in his court and does magic tricks there after hours? Plus he had a great sense of humour and made an effort to be relate to us, which I really appreciate since he really didn't have to.

(From left: dolled-up me, Nicole, Tausif)

The coursemates this year are amazing.

I think we started out with over 75 students (Cardiff only takes up to 80 Bar students), but now we're left with 71 after some dropped out or were cut. And umm 38 of us are Malaysian/Bruneian and only 17 are locals, with the rest being from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Mauritius.

Because there're so few people in the course, you really get to know almost everybody. It's a very supportive learning environment because we're all facing the same heavy workload, and everyone's normally willing to spend time talking and reasoning things out with each other, be it about law, politics, religion, culture, or anything really. I've never had so many intellectual discussions in my life!

And of course, people who take the Bar are damn serious about becoming a lawyer, so they work their butts off. They really keep me on my competitive toes; being a First Class student means absolutely nothing here. Noone can afford to be lazy while doing the Bar if they want any shot at passing anyway.

This was also the first year I'd ever hung out with people from Pakistan and Bangladesh. I didn't meet any whilst in Reading because I only ever stuck to my Malaysian friends, but here we've all just meshed together.

People from those countries have a bad rep in Malaysia, and quite a few back home were shocked and expressed worry when they found out that I was friends with them, but honestly, loads of them are huge sweethearts and are also bloody smart. It's really all about education I think  back home we avoid such foreign workers, not just because they've been known to commit crimes, because most of them don't speak English well enough for any meaningful conversation to take place.

The people I've met here have really helped reshape a lot of old racist views of mine, and I'm guessing those of other Malaysians as well. After a short while, you don't even see their skin colour anymore; we're just one big happy family.

Oh and this was the first year I was exposed to friends who smoke weed.

Or maybe I have had such friends, but they haven't smoked up in front of me. Anyway, it was quite jarring for me to see it for the first time. It's not something I want to get used to, so I usually just excuse myself whenever they head out to smoke.

I haven't tried weed, or even cigarettes actually, and I don't foresee a time when I would do so. It's just not my thing, but I don't judge or isolate people for smoking up, as long as they don't force it on me, which noone ever has.

If anyone has to deal with something similar and wants some advice on how to avoid the temptation to smoke up, my advice is to find friends with similar principles to keep yourself grounded, because the temptation is always stronger if you don't, and of course to always pray. I will say that my religion has really guided me through loads of challenges in the UK, and I know that loads of people have also turned to their religions to keep their moral compass straight over here.

(Pic credit: Yi En. Austria trip with the loveliest people!)

During our winter break (which is only 3 weeks long btw), I was blessed enough to go on a trip with a group of people that I wasn't really close to at the time. And we were all pleasantly surprised at how well we were able to get along and just have a great time together. Probably my favourite Europe travel group to date, just because everyone was so willing to accommodate different wants. By the end of it, we were all good friends and have hung out together quite a bit since.

Austria was so beautiful! We traveled through Innsbruck, Salzburg and Hallstat, and loved every single place. Though I think our favourite place was Innsbruck, just because of the many memorable adventures we had there.

(Pic credit: Yi En)

The Austrian landscape is absolutely breathtaking. So much love for this beautiful country. It's really no wonder that the views here inspired The Sound of Music.

It was a pretty awesome trip to round off the year, before we had to head home and get started on work for the new term. Bleh.

(Pic credit: Han Rui)

I think what I'm trying to get to is how much I've grown as a person while being in the UK.

My personality has become a lot more boisterous (though I can still be very shy) and I've gotten a reputation for being blunt/brutally honest. I remember being far more reserved when I was still in Malaysia, only being comfortable enough to act silly and be annoying in front of really close friends or family members.

But out here, everyone starts out with a completely blank slate, so I guess I unconsciously decided to treat everyone as a new family member. Sometimes I worry about whether my remarks will make people hate me though (social anxiety is a real problem for me); and I'm trying really hard to think twice before I speak, even though some friends have told me that they appreciate my brand of honesty.

I've also realised how much I filter my friends so that I never hang out with people who are full of shit or just want to cause drama. And I love that I've managed to find quite a few friends this year who think the same.

I've become a lot more independent and capable too, but that goes without saying I suppose  how else would I be able to survive?

My loner instincts have become more pronounced this year though. I don't live with any of my friends, which means that for friends who aren't in the same tutorial group as me, I see them only once or twice a week. Most of the time I'm in my room alone just studying or wasting time.

Surprisingly, I really like it this way. And even though I'm spending quite a lot of time alone, I haven't really felt homesick this year, compared to how torn up I got last year. Guess I've gotten very used to living and being on my own.

The unpleasant bit though is of course the weight gain. The difference in my weight in October 2013 and August 2014 is a whopping 6kg, and I'm still the same weight now, though I suppose it's a cold comfort that I haven't put on anything further.

I'm quite shocked and upset with myself, since my resolution when I set out in September 2013 was not to put on any weight in the UK. I had also been gymming quite a lot in Reading, managing to train myself to cover 10km of running distance on the treadmill. I struggled quite a lot with my self-esteem, and I still have intermittent days now when I just hate myself.

The weight gain has been mostly in my face and stomach, with everywhere else staying pretty much the same, since my jeans still fit pretty much in exactly the same way as before. But since my face has gotten so much bigger and rounder (just compare it now to my sidebar pic), of course I feel like shit a lot when I see pictures of myself.

...But hey, shit happens.

I've recently started the Insanity workout, and by recently, I mean yesterday.

I know, I know, am I crazy to even attempt this? I've heard so many stories about how tough it is and even fit friends of mine have given up on it before because it's just too damn hard. Plus I have mock exams coming up in two weeks and an all-round heavy workload; do I even have the time to commit to this challenge?

My answer is I have no freaking idea how I'm going to do this, or whether I'm going to crash and burn out within a week, but I see no harm in trying it out.

I've even told some people that I was going to start it, just to make myself more accountable to follow through with it. Two of the people I told are in my tutorial group, so they would see me everyday and would be able to tell if there was any difference.

Yesterday was Day One, which was the fit test. And even that had killed me, and I started feeling the muscle sores just 5 hours later. I still feel a little sore today, but I know that my muscles get the most sore the second and third day after a heavy workout, so I'm not looking forward to tomorrow's aches. I'm definitely gunning to finish at least 10 days of Insanity before my mocks start (11 days from now) though!

Interval training is a completely new thing to me; I'd only ever done low resistance cardio for long periods, and dancing. My back-up plan if Insanity fails is to start Shawn T's Hip Hop Cardio, which would be a much more fun challenge, but for now I just want to push my out-of-shape body until it breaks.

2015 is definitely a year to be a hugeass over-achiever. There's no other reason for me to want to undertake Insanity at the same time as the Bar wth.

Oh and this happened this year too. (Link!)

I've always wanted to do covers, but have always been too shy and self-conscious to make videos, so Soundcloud was a great alternative. I also don't play instruments very well; but "Creep" turned out to be a really easy ukulele song. I'm not that impressed with this cover, but I was proud of myself for finally recording something so I just decided to put it out there.

Am hoping to get a few more covers up there, but I naturally tend to harmonise rather than sing the lead vocals, so I'm going to figure out how to layer audio tracks before making my next cover.

I told you this is going to be an over-achieving year! Just gonna go out there to chase all the dreams I've ever had.

Speaking of which, I suppose I've kind of put my writing dreams on hold. I still love writing, and I think I'm fairly skilled in it, but I still have no clue what I can actually make of it, unless I one day become a famous blogger.

I dunno honestly. But what I do know is writing is still my favourite method of release, and I'm never more honest with myself than when writing down my thoughts. I'll figure it out one day.

(Pic credit: Joy Lene)

I think that's all I have for this update. I'm still growing and changing every day, and I'm thankful for the multitude of blessings and opportunities that have come my way.

I'm no closer to figuring out what I want to do with my life than I was when I first started out with my degree, but I guess I have a lot more confidence in my abilities than before. For now though, I'll just give my all to the Bar so that I pass it, and make sure I don't let the people I love down.

Till' next time!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

When #fitspo goes too far.

I remember updating my Facebook status some time last year with a statement along the lines of "everything posted by elitedaily is trash". At the time, everyone I knew was always sharing stuff from the site on my news feed. So every time I checked my news feed, I'd see a barrage of posts along the lines of "10 things you should do in your twenties", "5 reasons you shouldn't settle down", "7 types of friends you don't need"...etc etc.

And to me, it was really all just trash. It just bombarded us all with the stereotypical elitist lifestyle of partying, getting rich, and hooking up with as many people as you can, so you won't have to endure the horrors of a joint account. Or something like that. But I do remember very vividly that one post shared talked about dabbling with comfort women, because you get your quick fix without any complications or emotions.

At that point, I honestly just shut off from that website and didn't bother clicking on any of those links again. Everything on the site was just so shallow. Maybe it's just me being a huge prude, but there's so much more to life than turning it into a bloody MTV music video. And honestly, I didn't need anyone telling me that I need to have a threesome in my twenties.

But lately, I've been wanting to write something about the insane health and fitness craze that has basically overtaken everyone's lives, myself sort-of included, but only because there just seems to be no way of escaping it.

Suddenly, out of nowhere everyone you know is posting online about the distance they ran/cycled/swam/rode donkeys. Or about the weight lifted or reps completed in the gym. Sometimes, they even top it off with lovely pictures of them flexing their muscles; here it differs, some literally look like rock hard Greek God statues (kudos to them), but some are just sad, though you have to give them props for trying.

And of course, there's the food. You know, where they subsist on protein shakes and green juice or fruit and berry salads or whatever. They only ever steam or poach, and know the exact calorific value of every morsel of (super)food that passes their lips. They tend to hashtag their pictures with #cleaneating or #healthylifestyle or #fitfam and what have you.

I mean it's fine that you consider yourself a nutritionist and want to share your words of wisdom with the world. You feel great about yourself and your healthy lifestyle, and you can't help but want to show it all off. If you've got it, flaunt it, right?

And I have absolutely nothing wrong with these people. If they just want to post about their wonderfully healthy, zen, muscle-building, #legsday lives to share them with the world, who am I to put a damper on their #fitspo? The problem only arises when they start updating their status with pictures and/or quotes along the lines of "fat people are lazy people", "a moment on your lips forever on your hips", and of course, "what's your excuse for not exercising today?".

I mean screw you.

It used to be that we complained Hollywood superstars set unreasonable beauty standards. You know, where every single superstar would triumphantly appear a few weeks after giving birth with this impossibly hot bikini body you couldn't have if you spent your whole life working on it. Even poor Kim Kardashian (who would've thought I'd ever use that adjective in relation to her?) that was ridiculously made fun of for putting on weight during her pregnancy, bounced back with a vengeance.

We used to say that of course they managed to do that; its their job and they have legions of nutritionists and personal trainers and contractual obligations to make sure that they always keep in perfect shape. It was always us, i.e. the normal average workaday people, against them, i.e. the nip&tuck goddesses.

But now we're getting the same pressure, but worse, from our fellow peers. It's not anymore the case of having that annoying skinny friend who either eats like a pig and never puts on weight, or keeps complaining about non-existent fats. Suddenly everyone around you is caught up in the revolution of becoming a member of the #fitfam, and you're made to feel like crap everytime you catch a status update from them.

You now feel like you should be ashamed for having fried rice or a burger or God forbid, a slice of cake. (Cue collective horrified gasp.) The travesty of empty calories! How dare you allow yourself to partake in such careless culture, you glutton! Don't you know that a single bowl of rice needs 30 minutes of solid running to burn off?

So for the first time in my life, I find myself actually siding with an article on elitedaily: The 11 reasons why the fitness culture on social media needs to stop. Because this fat-shaming culture has gotten out of hand.

Just because someone isn't gloriously sculpted doesn't mean they love themselves any less. Some people actually have work to do and what precious free time they have isn't going to be squandered on a visit to the gym when they're already bloody exhausted, thank you very much.

No, at the end of a long and shitty day, I want to curl up with a tub of Ben and Jerry's and watch romantic comedies starring Ryan Reynolds. Because there's nothing remotely "fun" about sweating buckets and pumping iron. And after I'm done pigging out, I don't want to log on to Facebook and be made to feel like shit when facing a plethora of "motivational" updates saying "Have you ran/lifted/rode donkeys today?"

It's like religion. I'm a stout Catholic, but I'm going to use Christianity as an example anyway because well we all have that certain stereotype as a friend.

This person, lets call him Bob, is a great guy. Bob is friendly and generous and is always ready to help you out with a smile on his face if you're ever stuck in a rut. Bob regularly praises God in regular conversation, like "God has blessed us with great weather today!" or "Praise the Lord, class is cancelled!". Bob is a very active church member, and he's always tagged in pictures during church events. Everyone loves Bob.

Until one day, Bob decides to become more pushy. Bob used to just invite you to church events and was cool with any answer, but now he insinuates to others that if you're not a Christian, you're going to burn in eternal hellfire, and is no longer happy with getting no for an answer. Obviously, non-believers now dislike Bob; they avoid him and dub him "the super Christian".

Now just switch out the scenario, and you get "Bob the super health freak"; someone who is unable to accept that there may be others who are happy with not leading a #fitfam lifestyle. You know, people with taste buds that actually function. Normal people who don't always eat unrefined carbs and may have greasy meals more times than a weekly #cheatmeal.

I realise that I sound like a bitter, obese bitch, and I suppose I am, to a certain extent. Especially considering my last depressed post, it now looks like I've just entered an angsty denial phase. But I've been toying around with these thoughts for ages, and all I needed was that one elitedaily post to make me realise that I wasn't the only person around that was fed up with the fitness craze.

Fat-shaming is disgusting. You can look down your nose from your plate of egg-white tofu omelette at my greasy pizza slice all you want. But at the end of the day, I'm just as happy with my life as you are with yours.

I'm lucky enough to be blessed with self-confidence, that took me years to build up, having never been skinny all my life. But fat-shaming is what makes perfectly average-weighing girls have their confidence shattered and subsequently turn to eating disorders.

Maybe these people may have good intentions. I mean, they've turned their lifestyle around and now they look hot and have tons of admirers and feel really good about themselves everyday, and they just want everyone to experience that same amazing transformation. Well then goody for you! But Bob, believe it or not, there's more than one way to lead a healthy lifestyle. And not everyone wants to be part of your #fitfam.

So by all means; it's your body, do what you want with it. But don't be that annoying person that tries to get everyone around you into the insane fitness lifestyle if they're just not interested. Don't be Bob.

Nobody likes Bob.

Shut up, Bob.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Story of A Fat Girl (Episode 3)

It's no good. You still look like a fatface.

Jules cringed yet again at the reflection she'd grown to hate. Every single day she was reminded of how much weight she'd gained when she checked herself before leaving her room.

But she was kind of sadomasochistic in that way. So she traced every inch of her reflection's outline with her eyes, noting with heartwrenching dismay the ever-growing paunch. The stopping of dance classes clearly has not agreed with her.

But worst of all was her face, in all its round glory. In the past, though she had never been skinny, you'd never be able to tell from a mere face shot, and she used to be proud of her oval-shaped face and defined cheekbones and jawline. Now, she had the puffiest face in the world and horror of horrors, a freaking double chin.

She hadn't taken a selfie in ages, which is a big deal because she always used to be a huge vainpot. But she just couldn't deal with looking at the person she had allowed herself to become. It was just too much to let everyone back home see how badly she was getting along.

The weight gain signified how unable she was to take care of herself. She remembered announcing that since she would be preparing her own food in England, as well as joining a gym, that she would come back a much skinnier person; or at the very least, she wouldn't have put on any extra weight.

Obviously she had spoken too soon. That giant creature in the mirror taunted her with her words every day.

It got to the point where she hated herself every time she ate something, be it stir-fried or boiled. She hated that she had to feed herself, because every spoonful meant yet another calorie intake which she'd then have to sweat out at the gym.

And that was the part she could not understand.

She ate healthily. Her only meats were turkey steak, chicken thigh, and salmon. She ate loads of veggies: kale, spinach, bakchoy, carrots, sprouts - but never iceberg lettuce; and of course loads of fruit. Cooking methods were only ever stir-fry, oven-roasted, or boiled, because she didn't know any other way. She didn't eat rice, though noodles and (wholemeal, seeded) bread were consumed a few times a week. She alternated her morning cereal between muesli and her favourite almond & raisin clusters.

She exercised a lot. She only ever did cardio at the gym, and it was always for a minimum of 1 hour. For someone who had absolutely hated running back home, a (very expensive, but bounce-proof) sports bra investment had now changed things. She went to the gym 3-5 times a week.

She hadn't fallen sick even once, and she knew she was healthier and had more stamina than ever before. How was it possible that the weight could still creep on?

True, a biscuit or two and/or a few pieces of chocolate would regularly sneak its way into her day as after-meal desserts, but she'd always had something sweet after meals back home too. Come to think of it, she had carbs for every single meal back home, not to mention the regular mamak sessions, but she was still slimmer back then.

It just didn't make any sense now. And it ate away at her self-esteem, which was now completely non-existent. Self-pitying spells had always come and gone back home, but it was even worse now, because it meant she was doing something wrong in taking care of herself.

Thankfully, she wasn't the type who would ever turn to starvation or bulimia or any other eating disorder; she still had some measure of self-respect. But she also wasn't the crazy diet type either, i.e. she would never survive on meal replacements, and if she had to steam everything she ate she would probably kill herself.

She had stopped buying cookies since before cny, because they were such a horrible weakness. Her snack pile, which previously was restocked every week, had now dwindled to a few straggling Oreos and chocolate truffles. So she'd already drastically reduced her intake of empty calories, and she just didn't know what else she could do.

In the whole scheme of things, all she'd really put on was 2-3kg, and her clothes still fit in the same way as before. And some days she'd remember that and things would go okay.

But in darker moments and on bad days, she would continuously stare into her reflection and mentally punch herself for every unsatisfactory, wobbly inch. And then she'd tell herself that the reason she'd been single for so many years was that no man could ever love a fat bitch. Those days usually ended with binge eating and self-loathe.

Those days are now happening too often for comfort.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Year Travel Log: Part Two


Day One: 

It was night time when we got to our apartment, possibly some time after 9. We were staying at this Airbnb apartment at Las Ramblas, which is this super happening place! I mean like there were so many restaurants and bars open till late night, and I was beyond excited! 

Places stay open till late back home in Malaysia, and it sucked when you wanted to head out at night in UK but everywhere closed at bloody 5pm. So it was such a welcome change when we got to Spain and found so many people still going about at night! 

(We later found out that because of its popularity, Las Ramblas is actually a really dangerous, dodgy area crawling with pickpockets and the like. Thank God we were all safe from everything all throughout the trip!)

Went grocery shopping and bought cookies! Basically just grabbed whatever caught our eye that we knew we couldn't get back in the UK, and had what Natalie termed a Fat Night. Life is good when you find yourself freely eating junk food without a care in the world!


Day Two: 

Our first stop early in the morning was the beautiful Casa Battlo (pronouned bai-yo).

I really don't know what adjectives to use to describe the exterior of this place; it is just so amazingly gorgeous I want to squeal everytime I see it! I don't know anything about architectural classifications, but to me the design is just so romantic, it sucks you back to a balcony atop flower gardens at midnight with a masked gentleman you've been tangoing with at the masquerade party at the manor...

I absolutely loved it. So, so much I couldn't wait to get inside and see what other lovely surprises would await!

...But umm, it was pretty disappointing. Most of the rooms were closed off, and what was left wasn't very impressive. It seems like way too much effort was spent designing the outside, that there wasn't any good ideas, or even matching ideas to fill up the inside space.

There was nothing remotely romantic about the interior. Instead, the design seemed kind of quirky, with lots of swirls and curvy lines and the color blue.

Like this ceiling.

And this skylight at the winding staircase we kept having to climb.

And the unimpressive rooftop.

It is such a shame that the inside couldn't match up with the beauty of the outside. This place could have been so much more amazing if that happened. With a touch of baroque, perhaps?

So anyway, leaving behind our first Gaudi experience, we moved on to the next one!

Say hello to Casa Mila/La Padrera!

It's just a short walk away from Casa Batllo, but we still had difficulties finding it, because for some reason we were told it was called "Casa Milano" and ended up walking right past it when randomly asking people for directions in my uber broken basic Spanish.

Conquered La Padrera alone! (Hurr dramatic backstory which noone needs to know.)

Visiting a tourist site alone turned out to be an interesting new experience. You don't have anyone to talk to about what you're looking at, so you just end up restless and buzzing with creative energy, with noone to direct it towards. You also end up taking a lot of pictures of everything, for want of something to do.

But the roof of La Padrera was beautiful! I spent almost an hour making sure I could view every inch of it, and the city far below, from every possible angle.

La Sagrada Familia in the distance!

So after that, I headed downstairs to check out the displays. And it honestly wasn't that great. They were displaying "olden" furniture during Gaudi's time. So basically you would have a look at the small bedroom, sewing room, kitchen etc.

Like this. Not particularly inspiring or interesting to me.

Anyway after my solo tour, it was time for lunch! We walked around for a bit, then decided to head into this unassuming place because the owner was enthusiastically promoting his "menu del dia" (menu of the day) and it looked cheap and good! 

Ended up ordering a marinara octopus dish, and it was insanely delicious! LOOK AT THAT MOUNTAIN OF FOOD PLEASE! It was soooo so good and only cost 8 euros! Impossibly affordable find omgosh I wish there was such a place back here in Reading.

It didn't hurt that I hadn't eaten any vegetables on the trip yet, and now I had a mountain of raw veggies sans dressing to devour! Became a very happy little rabbit after that!

We all ordered different things and everything turned out to be good! It was an excellent way to start out our Spanish eating adventure; made me super excited to try out more random unassuming Spanish places!

And I've just realised that every single sentence above has been punctuated with an exclamation mark. But what better to get excited over than good food?

After lunch, we just did some shopping around. Zara and MNG are about 10% cheaper in Spain than in UK! But we didn't end up buying much, possibly because of our already precarious baggage situation. And than it was back to our casa for an early night in.

Oh but I did buy marble cake from Carrefour! (Yes there is Carrefour in Spain! Made me so happy to see that little element of home!)

The marble cake was just okay though. The choc part tasted yummy but instead of vanilla, the yellow part was ginger. It wasn't bad, but it just wasn't what I expected.

Day Two: 

Rise and shine! It's La Sagrada Familia day!

We were unfortunate enough to be struck with crazy strong winds that day, of up to 50 mph! It was so bad and painful to be outdoors, but umm we kinda had no choice but to bear with it. Not worth passing up the chance to see the magnificence of Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece!

And it was one of the most amazing places I've ever visited in my life.

Every aspect of the architecture was breathtaking. The way the lines curve and meet along some dynamic fluid plane; no amount of amateur description could explain how much the building was brimming with its own unique character, that enveloped and welcomed you the moment you stepped in.

It was one of the most beautiful churches I'd ever seen. Totally worth every euro, despite that we couldn't go up to the tower due to strong winds.

If you could only pick one place to visit, make sure its the Sagrada!

We spent quite a bit of time in the Sagrada, so by the time we came out it was lunch time. We couldn't get very far due to the crazy wind, so we literally just ducked into one of the first places we saw. And then had what turned out to be the worst meal of the entire trip.

Pizza that was clearly from the freezer section of a food mart.

And tasteless "seafood" risotto that came with the most pitiful amount of ingredients I've ever seen.

We also had sangria, which was fine by my amateur tastebuds, and at any rate my non-existent alcohol tolerance meant I could only stomach a few sips before turning completely red all over and becoming dizzy/headachey. But the others said that the sangria wasn't as nice as the one we had the previous lunch.

Lunch obviously did not go down well. We were super unsatisfied and some even suggested we go for a second lunch, though thankfully we decided not to in the end.

Instead, we decided to head up to Parc Guell! Which is a gigantic national park up the mountain where you could get a bird's eye view of the city. Best part: free entry!

And I'm really not kidding when I say this place is gigantic.

See the bit in the middle where there's an area surrounded by palm trees? Okay no you can't because the picture is really small, but you can make out an area in the middle where there is a separating wall between the trees right?

It is literally on the other end of the sort of U-shaped hill. We just walked blindly without any idea of where we were headed, and winded up there anyway!

With of course a few YOLO acts along the way.

And ta-dah! The main attraction of Park Guell (other than the lizard bench) is this terrace where you get a beautiful backdrop of the city behind you.

But umm we don't have either of those pictures, because you needed to pay 6 euros for timed entry. Our logic was that we'd already covered practically the whole national park; we did not need to see a silly bench to feel any more satisfied with Park Guell anyway.

So then we had to take a long trek down the mountain to the train station.

...Which happened to have the biggest vending machine we'd ever seen! I have no idea why we found this so fascinating that we all had to take pictures with it wth. But fun fact, a few days later I saw pictures on Facebook of other friends that were in Barcelona posing with the same vending machine (before we posted any pictures online)! Malaysian minds think alike I guess.

After our long day spent walking and walking, we decided it was time for a well-deserved treat! So we headed to this little cafe near our place called Artisa, which I'd been dying to try since I saw it on TripAdvisor.

And we had our first ever churros con chocolat! It was sooooo good omgosh.

I LOVE Spanish hot chocolate! The way they make it is so thick and rich yet not overly sweet; exactly how a truly sinful drink should taste like! And I mean add a deep-fried dough stick covered in powdered sugar to that already delicious mix and you've got yourself a sure-fire winner!

The thing about our visit to the Magic Fountain: it sucked big time.

The music they played was Spanish classical instrumentals, which started out interesting, but got really boring and monotonous after they basically repeated the same song over and over. And the water didn't put on any kind of good show; it just kind of sprayed in almost the same way throughout the song. And don't get me started on how the lighting guy might as well have been a kid pushing random buttons.

Actually, if that had been the case, maybe there'd have been more variations and at least something interesting to see, rather than just a big fountain that changes colour. Huge letdown here! Nothing compared to the magic fountains I'd previously seen on my US trips.

Day Three:

We had a train to Madrid at 7+am in the morning, so it was byebye Barcelona really early!

Honestly, I think that Barcelona has so much to offer, and my short visit just wasn't enough to cover all the sights. And of course there was so much food I hadn't eaten! I would soon grow to regret my earlier penny-pinching ways, once we got to our later Spanish culinary experiences. Stay tuned! :) 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Year Travel Log: Part One


Snow. Mounds on freshly fallen snow, as far as the eye could see, atop a mountain 10,000 ft above sea level. It marked the first day of my life where I saw real snow, and wow did I pick the most beautiful place for it to happen!

But maybe I should rewind back a little and start from the beginning.

Day One:

I rang in my New Year whilst on a train to the airport. As depressing as it sounds, it actually wasn't that bad, because I had good company with me, and we were lucky enough to glimpse some fireworks at not too far a distance when the clock struck 12.

I had friends who didn't manage to get in to see the London Eye fireworks, because apparently security closed off the entrances fairly early. So I guess even if I was planning for a London countdown, it might not have been all that great. Public countdowns and all the smelly (if it wasn't winter), spitting people who always manage to step on my shoes have never been my favourite thing anyway.

We had a flight to Zurich at 6.50am, New Years Day. For obvious reasons, it was ridiculously cheap to travel at such an hour, though public transport to the airport would've cost a bomb, hence why we opted to take the latest possible train there and spend a night at the airport to save costs.

I couldn't catch a wink of sleep at the airport though.

There were two ladies who bought bottles of (presumably cheap) champagne, and were offering them out to strangers, seeing as everyone was miserably stuck at the airport instead of partying it up. They started out being just excited, but as the night wore on, they became increasingly loud and drunk. And loud. Did I mention loud?

So yeah, not exactly a good start to the New Year. And it gets much worse.

For some reason, which in hindsight I really cannot fathom, all six of us going on the trip brought one trolley case and one backpack, and one handbag of course for all the girls. Which means that between our group of four girls and two guys, we had 16 pieces of hand luggage, which we had to find some way to compress into 6 pieces, as Easyjet only allowed one hand luggage apiece, with no allowance for personal items, meaning even our handbags had to be squished into our luggage.

It was a freaking disaster. We were on the airport floor for what felt like ages, cramming and stuffing as much as humanly possible. But it was a doomed mission from the beginning, and we ended up having to check in 3 items, at 45 freaking quid apiece(!!) We were also the last freaking people on the plane, and during our frantic stuffing moments I kept worrying that the plane would leave without us.

So basically, my New Year morning had gone horribly. In my sleepless state, I was horribly missing my parents, especially my dad, who'd know exactly what to do in such a situation. Or more likely, he wouldn't be in such a silly situation from the beginning. What in the world possessed us all to think we could legitimately bring so much stuff aboard anyway?

And then we reached Switzerland. Once we were safely there, all the stress and fatigue just melted away. All I wanted to do was get out and explore!

Our plan for Day 1 was to visit Bern, the capital of Switzerland (not Zurich, mind you). But once we got there via train, we realised that there was no locker area to store our luggage, meaning that we had to lug all our stuff around with us. We were also really blurry and disorientated and hungry, and had no idea how to get anywhere.

The solution? Find some place with food and wifi. God bless good ol' Starbucks.

My first meal in Switzerland was some chicken and cheese sandwich, along with an Americano. It was bland and semi-filling and expensive. I would've loved a muffin instead, but I felt something more substantial would be needed for the day ahead.

I should've realised there and then that my meals were doomed, because there was noone there who would've split a muffin with me. Sigh.

Caught in the act of drawing on my brows before heading out. The only bit of make up I feel is necessary to look decent in a photo!

We were pretty pressed for time, because we needed to get to our hotel in Interlaken to check in by 6, so we needed to get going in just a few hours. The plan was to visit the Bear Park and the Rosengarten, but a quick check on Trip Advisor told us that the bears were already hibernating, so off to the rose gardens we went!

Umm, it was a pretty sorry sight. The rose gardens were really small, and there wasn't a single flower to be seen. Guess it was too cold for the roses.

The view from the rose gardens was just alright; nothing particularly breathtaking and mostly obscured by trees. Supposedly you could get a good view of Old Town Bern from here, but I think you get a much better view from just taking the bus. The only thing that kept us sitting on that wall was that it was ridiculously sunny, the likes of which England hadn't seen in a while. I suddenly understand why Europeans like sunbathing now!

There was absolutely nothing to do there though, and after we got bored, Natalie the yoga enthusiast decided we should make use of the wide spaces to do yoga/gymnastics poses, which shall henceforth be known as "YOLO time". 

I feel that I should mention that I did not start the YOLO references, and this trip was probably where I said YOLO more times in my life. Please slap me if you ever catch me using that term ever again though.

The result:

It should be noted that I hadn't done a bridge in years, nor have I ever lifted my leg that way before. I was pretty proud of my retained flexibility from years of dance classes.

We spent quite a bit of time with the coordinating and photo-taking, attracting quite a lot of attention in the process. Imagine going to a tourist attraction in a European country and seeing a bunch of Asians act like amateur cheerleaders. 

But, it was fun! I got swept up in everyone's excitement, and was too far from anyone I know to feel self-conscious anyway. 

And umm, that's it for Bern. Just one single tourist attraction visited. In hindsight, it may have been a better idea to check out the old town and the Parliament buildings and the like, but no big regrets, because we perhaps got a little too much of that in Spain, as you will soon see.

This was the view from the train. It was so insanely beautiful all I could do was sigh in rapture everytime the train turned a corner. Imagine looking at this every time you take public transportation! 

Okay to be fair, the view gets old when train stations are 20 minutes apart and you just wanna get there as fast as possible without all the unspoiled beauty of snow-capped mountains and shimmering lakes as far as the eye can see. 

It was already dark when we reached our rented apartment. We rested up a bit and thought we'd go check out the many stalls at the night market we saw on the way over. 

But alas, today really just wasn't our day. We came out only to find throngs of people moving in the opposite direction; apparently we'd just missed a fireworks show. We did hear it, but didn't know it was coming from the town square. And of course, practically all the stalls we saw earlier were closed, but I did manage to grab a bratwurst. Wasn't very good though, more filler than meat; not anything like the German standard I assumed we'd find here.


Day Two: 

We had to make a really early start, because it was a 3 hour journey to Engelberg, where we'd take the cable car up Mount Titlis. Was happily snoozing away the whole time.

Once we got down from the train and I stepped on snow for the first time in my life, it was insanely surreal. It felt like I was dreaming, and it helped that Engelberg was such a picturesque town.

This was the view from our cable car. Look at all the perfect little wooden houses! 

As you may be able to tell though, the weather was not on our side. It was grey and gloomy, and very windy. Imagine having heavy snow relentlessly blowing in your face at 57 miles per hour. You can't see very well ahead of you, and there's always a danger that the snow in front is deeper than you think.

It did give our pictures a nice effect though! This was the best photo I could find where noone's hair was being blown all over the place by the relentless wind. We also looked deceptively happy, or at least I did anyway. I remember feeling so frozen, especially my toes, that all I could think of was getting the phototaking over with so I could go inside and warm up. I was so terrified thinking that my toes could turn blue.

This one's a bit more realistic. The suspension bridge was actually atop a deep gorge, and under normal circumstances I would've been thoroughly terrified, but the snow just blanketed everything so all anyone could see anywhere was white stuff.

It wasn't the best way to experience snow for the first time, given it was so extreme and all, but it was definitely one of the most memorable sensations of my life; being so cold everything became numb and painful. 

So we went in and had ice cream! Specifically, ice cream from the Swiss brand Movenpick. Because when it's 15 degrees below freezing, of course you'd go for ice cream!

It was yummy and creamy and the sugar rush helped perk us up. But the absolute best part was what happened whilst we were halfway through our treat.

The sun came out to play!

It was nothing short of a God-given miracle! The winds just stopped and the clouds parted; suddenly the snow became dazzling and inviting again! 

A mini YOLO moment and the mandatory snow angel picture!

Suddenly the area was full of people just laughing and playing and taking pictures with the breathtaking was so magical. Something about the snow just made everybody seem more playful and childlike!

My favourite group picture. 

I was pretty sad though, because my toes kept freezing up and I kept having to go back in to defrost for awhile before coming out again. I thought I had abnormal sensitivity to cold, but it turned out it was because my socks had gotten wet, and there weren't any blowdryers in the washroom to help me out.

After having our fill of phototaking, we headed halfway down the mountain to the snow park for some free sledding!

We were literally on tiny plastic surfaces going down a 60 ft incline also open to skiers and snowboarders, with only our legs to steer us and no way of stopping. Once your leg touches the ground though, it sends up a spray of snow that hits you strongly in the face.

But again, it was fun! It was like going down a long water slide at the theme park, but much more exhilarating.

I even went on a two person sled! Which is more fun for the person at the back because snow doesn't hit you in the face. Yay!

(I don't know why I feel there is a need here to disclaim that I am not the type of person that uses peace signs in pictures, but for some reason on this trip it just kept happening. Don't judge me.)

After that, it was time to make the long journey back to Interlaken. So we waved bye bye to our beautiful winter wonderland.

This was one of the stalls I saw on our first night; it was literally plain bread, with oodles of melted cheese from that giant cheese wheel, topped with generous amounts of cinnamon. I wanted to go back and try it out that night, but it was just too late when we got home.


Day Three:

Today was Zurich day, and also really exciting because it was Eat Out Day!

With the cost of living in Switzerland being as it is, and because we were on a (overly) tight budget, our meals had been really simple stuff. For Day One and Two, the only food I paid for was one-third of a bratwurst and one ham sandwich.

This was the stuff I brought along for the trip, the idea being I'd have the biscuits or cereal bar for breakfast or a midday snack, eat out for lunch, and the instant porridge for dinner, with hot chocolate for dessert. Because we were being that frugal.

I ended up barely eating anything from my stash in Switzerland. Surprisingly, I didn't have much of an appetite for any of the days, possibly because the food wasn't particularly appetizing.

These were local pastries I picked up from the supermarket, simply because I'm a sucker for all things dairy and wanted to try out as much local food as possible. These would come to last me all the way till Madrid!

But I digress.

After doing a little research, it seemed Swiss Chuchi at Hotel Adler would be the best place for our one meal out. The place got glowing reviews online, and was conveniently located in the old town of Zurich anyway.

What's a Swiss meal without a cheese fondue?

The traditional cheese fondue had 4 types of cheese and wine. It came on a bubbling little stove, with enough bread cubes to feed a small family, considering it was a single portion.

You're probably thinking "Mmm, look at that ooey-gooey yummy cheesy goodness!". But guess what, it sucked.

I thought a cheese fondue would be rich and decadent and well, cheesy. This one had a strong wine taste, with just a hint of cheesy aftertaste. It was nothing like the melted cheese we're used to having over pasta, so it was a huge letdown. 

We also got another German sausage with rosti on the waiter's recommendation. Again, quite a big letdown.

Alpermagronen, or Swiss mac 'n cheese, served with applesauce on the side. I honestly really enjoyed this! The fried onions helped bring out the cheese taste, which again wasn't particularly strong, and the applesauce added an interesting dimension to the dish.

Last but not least, we had a raclette with pork something. Basically, it was a self-grill where you put your ingredients on the top of the grill, and your square piece of raclette cheese in the pan at the bottom.

So it would look something like this. 

The raclette cheese thankfully actually tasted like cheese, though a little mild; I personally still prefer the stronger tastes of cheddar and mozzarella. The set also didn't come with much ingredients, but it did come with an entire sack of baby potatoes.

So basically, our entire meal was carbs (loads of potato and bread, and macaroni) and cheese. I shudder now just thinking about it. Swiss food just turned out to be so bland and simple and unimpressive. No regrets at all that we didn't spend much on food here.

And then it was time to take in the local sights!

There was a large canal in the middle of the old town, and it was so clean you could clearly see the bottom. 

We basically just walked around town, and ended up visiting two cathedrals, and also Banhofstrasse, which is the Oxford Street of Zurich.

I absolutely loved the Church of Our Lady (Fraumunster). Don't let it's unassuming appearance fool you! It's famous for its stained glass windows by Marc Chagall. Go google it! Probably the most beautiful stained glass windows I've seen in my life, and it was an amazing spiritual experience to view them up close.

The view from atop the canal bridge. You can even see the Swiss Alps in the distance! Switzerland literally has the most unspoiled environment I've ever seen. All the time I was there, I didn't see a single skyscraper; the tallest things were either clock towers or church spires.

I believe its the most beautiful country in the world. Unfortunately, it might also be the most uninteresting in terms of food and attractions. And of course its one of the most expensive. But definitely a lovely, rustic place for a relaxing New Year getaway!

Amidst all the Swiss beauty, here's a picture of a dog pooping on the street. Teehee.

And that wraps it up for my Switzerland experience! Now on to sunny Spain and food extravaganzas!

Stay tuned!

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