UK Countryside, Denmark | June, 2019

Summer resolutions

In June, I want to try out something. I have been feeling worried, shameful, stressed, fearful lately — and as if time is constantly slipping from me. That’s one statement. Another one is: I don’t feel like I am addicted to anything (denial?), but there are things in my life that people normally associate with — by definition — unhealthy addictions. For the month of June, I want to let go of these completely to see how abstinence affects my headspace and my wellbeing. Maybe I will feel a desire to take up other, healthy or unhealthy, depending on how obsessive they are, outlets — or maybe I will end up seeing that eliminating these factors will contribute to me feeling much better. Here they are:

  • Instagram. For a lot of people, unfavourable comparison is the negative component of Instagram … for me, not so much. I love seeing my friends and various photographers and other artists and travellers post beautiful, life-affirming, inspiring things. BUT, for me, the thing is that I spend a lot of time editing and posting my own photos. I have a desire to document my life. Hence, this journal. Making it all public has been a way for me to connect with the people I miss — and a way to discipline myself to create. To create photo albums and to formulate entire sentences. However, it means that I pop onto an app several times a day. I’ve now deleted the app, and will only reinstall it at the beginning of July (if ever, haha?!), and in the meantime see what that means — surely I will find other ways to connect, to truly appreciate my life and to have creative outlets — and I will keep taking photos and sending them privately to friends and family members. But hopefully it will contribute to me being more present in my thoughts and less preoccupied with tech; outside of work.
  • Picking my cuticles — Thursday night’s manicure was the first step. Every time I am about to do it, I want to stop up, notice what it is in my body or mind that makes me feel like tearing up my skin — such a visible part of me. I spend so much time thinking about health — why do I have such a self-destructive habit? When I was a young kid, my dad used to promise me new books if I’d stop (yes, I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years) — it would help until we went to the bookstore, and then I’d start again. Later, in my teenage years, he’d say that the reason why he fell for my mum, or one of the reasons, at least, was how beautiful her hands were. So different from the coarse, un-groomed hands belonging to the girls he’d grown up with in the countryside. I want to be presentable — and I want to avoid blood and swellings as well.
  • Eating out of nervousness, stress, boredom, or because I feel that it is demanded by the situation or other people. Simple as that. Pay attention to my body and only eat when it wants and needs food, and also, I want to be totally pescatarian and thus stop sometimes eating traces of ghee or servings of poultry because I feel it’s troublesome or impolite if I don’t — it’s 2019, after all, it will be fine, as long as I smile convincingly.
  • As for coffee, I just bought such beautiful beans in Seattle and Erfurt, and Sanoop got me a lovely reusable cup from the Allpress roastery in Dalston, resembling one of their takeaway cups. No way I am going to stop drinking coffee. Perhaps cut it down to one cup a day? Or try eliminating it in July? One thing I will do, though, is, again, start paying better attention to my body — does coffee make me anxious? Do I drink it just to have something to drink — could I, in those cases, replace it with tea?

1-2 June. Hottest days of the year in the UK: 24 degrees. Suddenly, like in Tiong Bahru, we experience what it’s like when scores of hippy happy people of all ages flock to our neighbourhood to hang out and enjoy themselves. From early morning to late evening, this warm, fragrant, happiness-loaded summer weekend, the village pavements and every inch of the heath are packed with ice cream-clutching hands, laughter, floral prints, panama hats, pastel coloured linens, cute dogs, and eager swimmers. There’s a stall at the overground station where they sell smoothies blended fresh in hollowed-out pineapples . I sit in our cosy, afternoon sun-drenched living room and write this, listening to the birds chirping, the wind softly rustling in the many millions of leaves outside, the laughter that travels up here from the ponds. Ahh. On Saturday, after our morning yoga and making a turmeric latte, we embark on a journey south — 50 minutes on the Northern line, which I while away by reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, gifted to me by my colleague, who said it was her best reading experience of last year; and now she’s reading Normal People by Sally Rooney. I say this, because, the friend I spoke with on Thursday morning, who lives in Sydney, and the friend whom Sanoop and I meet later on this Saturday for dinner, have both read the former book and are both currently reading the latter as well, something I find astonishing. None of these girls knows each other; a Danish, an English and a Mexican women, in their late-twenties-early-thirties. They are all well-read, reflective, sweet girls; they all know me, and I think of them as my friends… the usual “big world – small world – my world” phenomenon… the usual reminder that even though millions of books are published every year, and although we all do read things that no one else reads, we are still all primarily swimming in a little pool of New York Times’ Bestsellers, haha. Both of these books are very well-written; with the former perhaps being slightly incredible, and the latter as far in the other end of that spectrum as any fictive work goes, haha. They each touch me deeply; this Saturday, I was rolling in the grass in Dulwich Park with laughter over one paragraph written from the vantage point of Eleanor, while the next paragraph made me tear up — that’s how it continued throughout. So, yes, we took the tube to Balham, which has one very adorable little stretch of vegan cafes and their usual hippy happy friends. We had a lovely breakfast at Milk …. wandered around the quaint residential streets … to Dulwich … park, ducks, lawns with people … walk up to East Dulwich, stop for fika at Brick House, sitting on a narrow, sun-drenched wooden bench outside the hip bakery, fresh mint tea, rooibos tea, cake for Sanoop, juice for me, FT Weekend … walk … next pitstop is at a vibrant pub, for spritz (me), IPA (him) … continue over to Peckham Rye, summer vibes continued … meet a friend at the Bussey Building rooftop bar, where we continue the spritz and IPA menu, whilst enjoying splendid sweeping sunset views of the city. Sunday: yoga, walk on heath, reading by one of the ponds, coffee and reading at Morgan and Melrose, reformer pilates at Heartcore, picnic lunch on the Heath, Sanoop off to meet friend for late afternoon wander, while I head home to do some life admin and writing … evening of cooking, listening to music, drinking red wine, watching Our Planet on Netflix while munching on the amazing plant-based raspberry ripple ice cream from Booja Booja, topped with ripe mango. Early to bed. 

Goodwood Estate

Work offsite featuring stately home and race course glamour, pottery class, bbq, and lots of successful networking.

Glastonbury & Bath

Sanoop and I spend a weekend exploring these two gems, one, a new age mecca; the other, super romantic and classy.

As simple a thing as renting a car and driving out of London makes England feel a little bit more like home. Most of the time, London feels like an island, and we’ve generally got no idea of the lay of the land around it. Although it’s always tough to leave Hampstead on the weekends, it’s also liberating and lovely to be on the road in our country; this is our country. Gorgeous sun-drenched evening drive, towards the sunset. At one point, on the highway way south of London, we wonder why, suddenly, out of nowhere, there’s a queue on the road. We look around, and to the right, we notice … Stonehenge. Oh. Wow! Other than that: rolling hills, poppy fields, forests. Somerset. Last time I was in Glastonbury, 6 years ago, I didn’t venture far enough away from Pyramid Stage to discover how gorgeous the hippy happy legend-immersed, crystal shop-filled village and sweeping green surroundings were … Glad to be back. With the sheep. The CBD coffee. The quirky arts and crafts. Get to West Pennard, where our airbnb is, check in, and then head straight to the local pub, The Red Lion, for a late dinner before their kitchen closes. This is where all of the local kids hang out, in their farm boots. In the early AM, we do a stormy trek up to Glastonbury Tor, just us and a bunch of sheep. Next, we check out the new age shops and spiritual bookstores, tales, and legends of the town. Breakfast at the artsy Red Brick Building. Vegan, of course. Drive to Wells — beautiful bishop’s castle, real moat, swans, country market, fields, cows. Drive through Mendip, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Get to Bath … how to describe Bath …

Bath. Just so clean (haha), fresh, truly a shower for body and mind. The neat limestone buildings, a bustling cultural hub. So much going on, and yet so blissful. The queues to enter the Roman Baths and the Thermal Baths are super long, so rather than waiting, we opt for a casual wander around town, getting coffee at Colonna and Small’s, and along the river. Early dinner at Acorn, ‘the only vegan restaurant to be included in the Michelin Guide 2019’ — one of the best meals of our lives, enjoyed in an intimate and clean atmosphere in a cosy, white panelled Georgian dining room, with views of the Abbey, and sunlight streaming in through some of the oldest windows in town (that’s supposed to be a good thing; I guess they’ve seen a lot!). Drive back to Glastonbury, and get up early the next morning for another walk up to the Tor. This time it’s less windy, still full of sheep. We stay on top of the hill for a while, meditating, glancing across the landscape. Then head over to town for breakfast at Hundred Monkeys. Back to Bath, for a second sip of coffee at Colonna and Small’s, haha. Lunch at a place called Nourish, which has got white cottonwool clouds hanging from the ceiling. Drive back to London.

Norfolk wedding

Third English countryside experience of this month: we drive north with a couple of English friends to attend the hippy happy wedding of a third couple in the bride’s hometown of Norwich, or rather, a gorgeous, lush secret garden fairytale location just outside of Norwich. The groom was my second-ever manager in the world; my first-ever manger is among the guests … in fact, twenty-or-so of my first colleagues in London are among the guests. The wedding is essentially a huge Groupon editorial reunion, and it feels very weird and wonderful.

Circle of Life

Gorgeous summer morning, skipping up through the streets of Hampstead at 6:30am for my reformer pilates class … strong, healthy, vibrant … come out, see that I have a missed call from my parents, call them up: my grandmother’s boyfriend died last night … he had been very ill for over a year, 88 years of age, cancer, it’s good that he’s got peace now, as he really was suffering in the end, and it has been difficult for my gran as well … she is 90, and this is the second time she’s been taking care of a sick partner, with my grandad dying after long time’s illness around about a decade ago … I ask my parents if I should come home right this instant, to be with my grandmother, but they think it’s enough if we come home for the funeral and spend some time with her then; she’s got their support and that of the rest of the family — this week, she’s busy with logistics … and so, I go home, shower, share and digest the news with Sanoop, sitting in the sun-drenched window seat with our cups of tea. The following Friday, we get up at 4am for the short flight to Billund, where we pick up a rental car at the airport and drive to Horsens, my hometown. It’s bright and sunny. We walk downtown. Stop for lunch at a new tapas bar run by my brother’s best friend. He’s here today; tells me that he wanted to do something that was a bit different for Horsens. We tell him that he did very well indeed; this place looks like something out of Aarhus or Copenhagen. We sit outside in the sun, enjoy the delicious food, and then head down the pedestrian stretch to the church at the far end, passing folks from my primary school pushing prams, greying parents of old friends, and other familiar faces on the way. It’s a beautiful ceremony, with his favourite hymns, and everyone singing loudly and clearly: his niece and her children and grandchildren, and then my grandmother’s closest friends, and her family, us, who quickly became his closest family. Around five years ago, when he and my gran had been dating for a year or so, there was this family walk where he offered to push my cousin’s pram containing her two toddlers, confiding in my cousin that this was the first time in his life he’d ever pushed a pram. The boys called him great-grandad, and today they’d made drawings to stick onto the casket. He spent Christmas with us every year. We appreciated his kindness, properness, curiosity — and the love and generosity he bestowed on my grandmother. The two of them met some years into widowhood, had 6-7 good years together, where they did loads of things together — hours spent at home in each their reclining chair with books and coffee, sharing stories from their “past lives” of over 50 years of marriage, career, hobbies, travels … they lived in the same building, kept separate flats, he’d come over to her every day at 9am on the dot for morning coffee, they’d share all meals, do weekly trips to the library, and go on wild shopping sprees (he bought her heaps of fancy clothing, to the enjoyment of them both, haha!). They worked at a charity shop together, went on various excursions, drove all over Denmark to see exhibitions, stayed at country inns together, took the train to Copenhagen, went on bus trips to Germany, even came to see me in London once. But the past year and a half, since he was diagnosed with cancer, things were tough. It’s been going downhill drastically; he was suffering; she’s found herself taking care of an old sick man for the second time in her life, and although she’s been positive and resilient about it, it has clearly been a strain, and it has bound her to his bedside for the most part. So, of course it’s sad saying goodbye … she looks so incredibly small and fragile when throwing her rose on top of his casket … I walk over and embrace her … Sanoop and my brother, who both helped carry the casket out of the church after the ceremony, an honour for them, and something she was grateful for, look at her lovingly … we all do … she is so resilient and strong … at dinner with my brother, parents, uncle, aunt and her, later in the evening, after Sanoop and I’ve made a quick trip out to Juelsminde to check into “our” summerhouse, the same little cabin near the beach that we rented last summer and for Christmas, had a dip in the ocean and worked for a bit, we all talk about the importance of family, love, positivity … she wants to enjoy whichever amount of years she’s got left … she’s 90 … she’s allowing herself time to grief, but she also expresses joy at her newfound opportunity to go out … for the past year, she’s been staying at home, nursing him … he’d feel unsafe when she left to go anywhere … she’s been reluctant to leave, but now she’s already planned a holiday with a girlfriend in Germany and Northern Jutland; she wants to drive out on trips around the country, visit family and friends, see exhibitions, concerts, theatre … she’s as excited as us that my parents have bought a new sail boat, which will be delivered next year in the spring, and we’ll give it the same name that she and my grandad used for all of their many many dinghies and yachts over the years, De gæ nok, a sort of Southern Jutland version of “hakuna matata”… it’s good to have something to look forward to, and for many years, when my brother and I were little, we sailed with them, so now it’s wonderful to be able to take her … she’s still hungry and curious, she wants to come to London as well … I smile and hug her. Dinner is great … warm summer evening … light until 11pm … we drink champagne and red wine … Saturday, morning run we all gather for breakfast, tea, coffee, and nice conversations in my parents’ new flat, and then I go for a run on the marina and along the beach … I love Juelsminde so much … the smell of salt in the air, the wholesome normalcy of Denmark … there’s probably nowhere in the world I feel so grounded and comfy.

London

Fitzrovia. One night after work, my colleague and I walk to the community centre in Fitzrovia for a reformer pilates class with a Russian former professional ballet dancer, but there’s as there’s no space for me in the class (she booked in advance; I stupidly didn’t think it necessary), I leave her there and go for a walk in the beautiful neighbourhood, vibrant with a fresh energy after a day of pouring rain, ending up at Planet Organic, where I pick up some goodies for dinner, and then I listen to a podcast on the tube home, eat, call into a late work call, home alone, as Sanoop is out with some folks from the Queensland government until after midnight, having a great time. After the call, I find my drawing kit, draw a scene from the Heath: two swans swimming around in a pond surrounded by trees, one says to the other, “When I look into your eyes, I see a new day rising, this is our time, this is our place. This is the space my heart wants to be.”

CamSnoop Day. The 11th of every month we celebrate the day we met. Today, that’s a pilates class followed by a guided meditation, and then we head up through gorgeous Hampstead, the Bath of London, past buskers and happy shoppers on the high street, to Morgan and Melrose for breakfast. Sanoop hands me a card from Sweden, “To my love, Today is three years of CamSnoop. I still remember and can feel the moment you walked into my life. It was June 11th 2016. A balmy Singapore evening in a parking lot bar! I’ve loved all of our moments together. Both at home and while on the road to adventure. Lots of love for you, for me, as we celebrate the joy of love. Again and again. Sanoop.” He picks me up from work at 5:30pm, and we take the tube to Covent Garden for a glass of wine at Terroirs, before watching BalletBoyz in Them/Us, a wildly impressive show.

Sanoop is thriving in London. After just a few weeks here, really, he’s feeling right at home in our nest in Hampstead, and he’s got 1-3 daily meetings all across town, allowing him to explore all neighbourhoods and get to know amazing people, friends of friends, mentors, and colleagues from America, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and folks whom he just runs into randomly, from finance and media people to artsy photographers and neuroscientists, taking him to everywhere from co-working spaces in Hackney to grand home offices in South Ken mansions, from pints in the City to posh members’ clubs in Mayfair to hip vegan cafes in Notting Hill to walks on the Heath. Some of these encounters may turn into fruitful business ventures or friendships; others may just be that one good meeting. London being the hub that it is also means that a lot of his old friends from (literally) all over the world are travelling through quite frequently, so he can catch up with them. Besides that, he’s calm, balanced, cheerful, taking the transition in strides and spending lots of time each day meditating and nurturing our relationship in its new setting and with our new circumstances.

Copenhagen

Late one Thursday afternoon, I jump on a Barclays bike outside the office and head down to Liverpool Street Station. I love this ride, past Islington and Shoreditch. So familiar; haven’t done it in such a long time. I feel so light and happy — my family is happy and healthy, Sanoop is happy and healthy, they are all very stimulated and balanced in their everyday life, work is going well, my colleagues are lovely, I feel good, physically (having just shaken off a cold from earlier this week) and mentally. I’m on my way to Copenhagen, my fairytale town. I moved there when I was 18 and I loved every moment of it — studying English and German, hanging with friends, feeling ever so free and worldly. Copenhagen has a cosmopolitan yet small and beautiful vibe about it, so neat and fresh. Its role over the past 8 years, when I’ve been travelling there at a bi-weekly or bi-annual cadence from London and Singapore, has been to provide compact happiness — visiting friends, walking in its beautiful streets, soaking up the love, beauty. Ah. This weekend, it’s blazingly hot and sunny, and everyone is out and about and happy — cycling, sipping wine, swimming. I love Copenhagen at all times of the year, but at times like this, my heart beats for it more than any other place on earth. Landing at 9:45pm, twilight, golden sky, I take a taxi to my friend’s beautiful flat by Glyptoteket and Tivoli. She is waiting up with two glasses of red wine. We sit on the living room floor and chat and drink. Her husband comes home at 11pm, from an office summer party, and we continue the party for a while. And then we all head in to take a look at their two adorable kids, sleeping across the vast expanse of the California king size bed in the master bedroom. I sleep in my usual spot; a sofa bed in the office.

Next morning, I leave at 6:30am, to meet another friend for a walk on Kastellet. She and I met in Singapore; she’s from here, and just moved in with her boyfriend in a flat by Kongens Have, literally around the corner from where I used to live in Nyboder. Memory lanes, coffee, catch up, talk nonstop for 1.5 hours, listening to each other, laughing, and having so much more to cover and unpick when we have to say goodbye to go to work, but she’ll come visit in London in a week. I walk through the cobbled streets of central Copenhagen, past candy-coloured facades, to the Danish outpost of my company, such a neat and adorable office as well, where I work from the canteen all day, smiling briefly at my Danish colleagues, but speaking with no one. Comfortable anonymity. It feels so strange to hear snippets of people’s meetings — discussing well-known topics in a different language. The first time I did this, worked from here, it occurred to me how I’ve never associated Danish with business: to me, the Danish language is for all other sorts of communications. I’ve never worked here, and my parents’ business language is Germany, so to me, it’s novel and fascinating to hear language being used as a tool to describe what it is that I do for a living. Around 4pm, my friend and I pick up her kids from kindergarten, and then I continue work from home, and then we have a cosy Friday night in — wine on the balcony, building train track with the kids on the living room floor, munching on sushi. I’m in bed with Sally Rooney’s brilliant Conversations with Friends at 10pm.

Saturday: hen do. The bride-to-be is another Danish friend from Singapore, and the day is a true cornucopia of hilarious moments with all of her sweet, bright friends and girlfriends. Lavish yet cosy champagne brunch at someone’s flat near the Lakes. Super fun, cringey quizzes. Cycling in a big flock with the bride in a cargo bike decorated with flowers, balloons, and a speaker (standard detail for a Danish hen-do). Putting on harness to do a thrilling (and slightly terrifying) climb on Reffen (to the tunes from Copenhell). Using champagne for a drinking game in an idyllic little lakeside nook of a park. Twerk session to loud Jamaican tunes on Israels Plads, taught by an energetic professional, and to the stares, laughs, and applause of by-passers. Continuing the dance in a party bus all over town, the beach (in the sunset), and on the dance floors of Noho in the Meatpacking District. Singing (karaoke before dinner, and just in general), shouting (ditto) and cycling through the midsummer sunny streets of the most wonderful city in the whole wide wonderful world. I paddle home way past midnight, vegan gourmet wrap from 7-Eleven in hand. Lock myself into my friend’s flat. I’m alone. They’re in Hamburg. I feel so young, haha.

Sunday. Shower, yoga, cycling through the city centre to cross the Lakes to get to Nørrebro, where I meet two friends for a birthday breakfast at Mirabelle. Next stop is a cafe in Søborg up north, where I meet a friend whose husband passed away earlier this year, and it’s so good to see her, and her newborn child, who is with her … she’s amazing. After lots of tears and smiles, I cycle back to the centre to meet a friend at Torvehallerne for a late lunch and glass of rosé at the lively plaza. For dessert we have sea-buckthorn sorbet in the Botanic Gardens, sitting on a lawn and chat away, with too much to say for one short afternoon rendezvous, which is the story of my speed-dating Copenhagen life. I cycle back to the house where I’ve been staying, leave the bike there, and pick up my bag, and walk across Langebro, looking down across Islands Brygge, where thousands of people are hanging out on the lush lawn and cobbled stones, sunbathing, picnicking, swimming in the harbour. There are bonfires on rafts on the water for Sankt Hans later tonight, and I wish I could stay, but I also really want to go home (story of my life as well). I meet a couple of friends, who live here on Islands Brygge, for dinner — sourdough pizza from a food truck on the water. As dusk starts to kick in, they walk me to the metro, and 20 minutes later I’m through security at the airport, receiving a much-needed love messages from Sanoop; if it weren’t for him, I don’t think I could leave this place. But as I sit on the bus to Golders Green from Stansted a short while later, and we pass Hampstead Heath in the dark, I know I love London, too. I really do. I’m just grateful I can go to Copenhagen ever so very often.

Follow-up on resolutions:

  • I’m back on Instagram, realising that the break didn’t make any difference to me: yes, I post a lot, but it’s a nice creative outlet, and I’ll probably keep on doing it, just being very conscious of this activity not taking away from what’s actually going on in the present. Present experience first and foremost; digesting it is secondary.
  • I’m back to picking my cuticles — maybe you just gotta have one bad habit? (Deception: I’m sure I have more, but … oh, well!)
  • Food and coffee: I’m definitely more mindful about my consumption … it’s an ongoing, and probably also fluctuating, depending on what’s going on internally and externally, process

 

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