2019 Highlights. Welcoming a New Decade in India, Singapore, Germany, Switzerland, London, and the US. Pause for Thought.

🌟 Wishing you a great start to the new year & decade! 🌟

Reflecting on my highlights of 2019, I feel very grateful for every thought that pops to mind and every humbling, encouraging and expansive learning, and also all of the laughs, associated with those thoughts from the wildest year of my life so far — riding on a Danfo in Lagos, Nigeria with wonderful colleagues from all over America to get an idea of what informal transit in that part of Africa is like, meeting with sweet, welcoming students, NGOs and local connoisseurs from across India in Delhi and Bangalore and chatting with them about safety, women’s empowerment and how tech can be useful in their lives, soaking in all sorts of design-related impressions in Singapore, Zurich, Stockholm, NYC, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Seattle (and wondering which other geographical Ss I might be lucky enough to add to the list in 2020?), reconnecting with favourite people and places across London, and adding new ones to both lists, and getting to walk, run or cycle to work along Regent’s Canal smiling and feeling grateful for sweet, smart colleagues-turned-friends, an amazing office — with amazing food! — and meaningful projects to work on every day, experiencing my partner settling into and thriving with a new life in the UK after asking him if he’d be ok moving halfway across the world, creating valuable memories with him and our wonderful friends and families in Denmark, Germany, the US and Kerala, as well as roadtripping and hiking through Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, meandering around local markets and artsy villages in Provence, flaneuring around Paris, soaking up sunshine in Brighton, Glastonbury, Bath, Oxford and Norfolk, appreciating all seasons on the Heath together … and feeling that home is where our hearts are, in all senses of the phrase 🌟 HAPPY, HEALTHY 2020, y’all! And thank you to everyone who made my year what it was — I’m so excited for what’s ahead for us all!

The highlights of December were my parents’ visit to London, a weekend trip to Paris with Sanoop, and my last business trip of the year, to Bangalore and Delhi, before Sanoop and I went to Jutland for a wonderful Christmas. We spent the last few days of 2019 and first few days of the 2020s with his parents in Kerala, India, before moving on to Singapore to see friends, Düsseldorf to meet my family, and New York for a week’s work and family time. Back to London to breathe, before two business trips to Zürich, which Sanoop joined me on as well. Lots of air time to kick off 2020, and not a lot of time to reflect. I’ll do that here, starting with December nuggets and ending with early spring ones, which, finally, will bring this journal up to date.

December

Romantic Weekend in Paris

Due to severe nationwide strikes in Paris due to protest pension reforms, the second weekend of December sees a lot of cancellations: most Eurostar departures, most commercial flights in and out of the country, all public transport. We booked a weekend trip to the city of lights months ago, and luckily our specific Eurostar timings are spared. We get up early in the morning on the Saturday, feeling so excited, and head to St Pancras, where we buy a bunch of magazines and coffee, the latter of which gets put in a styrofoam holder to be transported through the security scanner — such a neat detail, haha. It’s been five years since my last trip to Paris, which was also out of London, on the Eurostar, but with a girlfriend, the two of us headed out there to visit a third friend, who had moved there a few months previously. Same as then, I’m so impressed by the wonder of this modern miracle: you get out of bed in London, jump on the tube, buy supplies, switch trains, and, bam!, 2-3 hours later you’re in the capital of France. Just marvellous! Getting off at Gare du Nord, we head straight to Montmartre and climb to the top, joyously soaking in the splendid panorama, but also slightly repelled by the amount of gangs of threatening-looking guys surrounding us and the other tourists around. Some of the gang members actually have the nerve to drag Sanoop aside and make him pay lots of money for the colourful yarn bracelet they force around his wrist. It takes a few minutes for me to realise what it happening right in front of my eyes, and when it does, I feel pangs of anger and regret swelling up inside me — get your filthy hands of my boyfriend! NO, this wasn’t what was supposed to happen; this was supposed to be so romantic! — and try to find some police officers, and when I finally do, Sanoop has been let go, and has caught up with me, and joins in, calmly trying to convey to the officers that they need to dissolve these gangs and prevent them from hanging out around all of the stairs in the area, making it virtually impossible for people to pass by. The officers do not understand us. We try with fewer words and more gesticulations. Still no breakthrough. We give up and get an Uber to take us to l’Orangerie, where we meditate on Monet for a while, and then wander along the pretty green/yellow/orange plane leaves framing the view of the Seine in the general direction of le Marais, where we’ve rented an airbnb studio, finally able to shake off the uncomfortable experience and get back into our carefree ‘romantic weekend in Paris’ mode. Eventually leaving the pretty river bank and turning left to enter a maze of charming narrow streets, we pass lots of quirky galleries, cute boutiques, and alluring wine bars, to get to our incredibly romantic airbnb, which is accessed through a stonewalled yard filled with fig trees and wooden benches. The studio itself is small, light, and bright, with a low wooden ceiling and beautiful prints on the white walls. A cosy little nest. We drop our bags, wash our hands, splash water on our faces, and then head out again, finding a late lunch at Les Jardins du Marais, a market that, to our untrained eyes, has a very local and hip vibe about it, what with its big groups of chic and joyous French 30-somethings sitting around and sipping wine and munching on baguettes and seafood. Mmm. Afternoon of flânerie — stepping on crunching leaves and gazing upon voluptuous stone statues in small parks, stopping for a glass of wine or a little snack at cool concept stores with such names as The Broken Arm and Merci, savouring the cosy Christmas vibe, all of the lights and tasteful decorations in the streets, ending up at a lovely seafood restaurant, Clamato, late in the evening, where we get a seat at the bar counter and are treated to the most delicious dry white wine, oysters, raw scallops in a neat presentation, and other utterly gorgeous seafood dishes. A guy sitting next to us is eager to engage in a conversation — American, professor, lives nearby, has never seen Paris this empty; usually, apparently, it’s impossible to just walk in here and get a seat. Those damned strikes! Which, in a way, make our trip quite easy. The next morning, second advent Sunday, we’re able to walk right into Musée Picasso Paris and enjoy the fascinating exhibition to ourselves. I feel sorry for everyone whose trip to Paris was cancelled, but there’s something to an empty Picasso palace … And the city still feels buzzing. We continue our casual stroll, today a bit more intentional than yesterday, through those beautiful, beautiful streets of Paris, stopping at a bistro somewhere to have a late ‘brunch’ of red wine and magazine reading, and end up at the Diptyque store on Boulevard Saint-Germain so I can stock up on my favourite fig scent, and then head over to Promenade Plantée. In places 10 metres above street level, this scenic 3-mile stroll from the Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes was the world’s first elevated park walkway, a Highline since ’93. Where, especially in winter, vegetation is sparse, architecture and art step in to impress. We walk circa 2/3 of the stretch, and then zigzag back to Shakespeare and Company, the perhaps most wonderful bookstore in the world. I spot and buy the screenplay of Before Sunrise & Before Sunset, containing the perhaps nicest dialogue in film history, excited to read it on the train home tonight, the whole thing made extra magical by the fact that the bookstore where the main characters meet, 10 years after their first chance encounter, is in fact this very bookstore (which is why they probably pile the screenplay high right next by the entrance, haha!). We buy roasted chestnuts in a paper cone off a street vendor and eat them while walking back up towards Gare du Nord, twilight kicking in, and have a quick dinner at Brasserie Barbès opposite the station before boarding the London-bound train.

In Paris — ‘Roofs reach the stars, the sky is low, / and closer to the earth, its vapours thronging. / In Paris, so large, so full of joy, / still the old secret longing. / The evening boulevards hum and throb / The last light of dusk dies. / Everywhere couples, couples in love, / Trembling lips and brazen eyes. / I’m alone here. How sweet … ‘

Bangalore & Delhi for Work

The Wednesday after Paris, I go to Delhi. On Friday morning, to Bangalore. On the following Monday morning, back to Delhi. That same Monday night, back to London. It’s a work trip that my team and I have been preparing for since September, and as much as I feel very weird about going anywhere without Sanoop or other than home mid-December, a notion that I know it’s probably healthy to challenge (?), I do manage to shake off those feelings of insecurity and homesickness and feel very thankful and excited about this opportunity. We work early morning to late evening on each of those days, which means it goes super fast. My only awake alone time is a quick dip in the gorgeous hotel pool on Saturday and Sunday mornings, preparing me mentally and physically for some super intense days. Fun days, too. It’s a great team, and we meet so many wonderful local stakeholders on the trip, and our project ends up going very well. An amazing way to wrap up the year professionally. So all is good … I love India. And I’m back in London — for a day of iceskating in the Tower of London moat rink, strolling around Hampstead to take in the Christmas vibe there, and packing for Sanoop’s and my trip to Denmark on the Wednesday — before any sort of jet lag even starts to consider kicking in.

Christmas in Jylland

After months of constant travelling and being on in all sorts of settings, going home for Christmas has never felt sweeter. Christmas in Jutland is a completely lovely, clean, beautiful, delicious, cosy, familiar, and comforting affair. Positive adjectives only, haha. The holidays begin with a 3:30pm sunset in Juelsminde on the East Coast, a village name that at least phonetically roughly translates to ‘Christmas memory’ — that’s what it is to me. My dad and Sanoop are carrying home the Christmas tree, which my mum and I picked out together from one of the many vendors with lawns full of forests of already felled trees, as the sun disappears in an explosion of orange and pink in the sea, the waves of which we can hear rhythmically wash up on the beach in front of my parents’ apartment building. We put on some Christmas music and decorate the tree together. In the days that follow, we cook delicious healthy organic breakfasts, lunches, and dinners full of vegetables and flavour together, talk, talk, talk, listen, listen, listen, chill in silence, read papers and books. Venture out on daily bright, salty, and stormy runs and walks along the water and around the deserted summer house area to clear our minds and lungs. Spend a whole week just hygge. We leave the beach only three times in that period:

  • no Christmas in Jutland without an afternoon spent meandering around the Latin quarter of Aarhus, having smørrebrød for lunch at our favourite cafe, drinking coffee at La Cabra, our favourite coffee shop, munching on gløgg (everyone) and æbleskiver (only my dad) at a cosy little farm shop, and buying all of the usual delicatessen from various boutiques
  • meet my grandmother for the same sort of julehygge in my hometown, Horsens, where we have the best gløgg I ever tasted, the white edition at Cafe Gran, a tasty explosion of a stjerneskud for lunch, watch bunnies and goats hanging out on big fluffy piles of hay in the pedestrian zone, and notice a giant flock of wild swans taking a breather on a grassy patch in the countryside whilst driving over to our favourite farm shop for some homemade apple juice
  • having decided to only to go Jutland on this Denmark trip, i.e. not Copenhagen, where most of my friends live, I intend to keep the holidays as holiday-like as possible … we don’t want to drive as a pendulum between visits, even if we of course would like to see as many of our loved ones as possible. My priority for this trip, however (and Sanoop’s priority always;)), is to keep things very lowkey. We do, and this is where the third excursion comes in, pay my aunt and uncle a visit. A few hours one morning, coffee and oranges, chitchat about everything and nothing — very lovely.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, glorious solstice, everyone!

On the last morning of our visit, Sanoop and I head out for a final beach walk for now. The sun is shining from a clear blue sky and the wind is ever so calm, after a few days of pretty rough grey weather — Juelsminde’s way of saying, haha, I know you’re leaving today; think of me like this, let that memory stay like a big dollop of honey in your heart, and come back as soon as possible again. No matter how old I get it just never gets easier to leave home … even if it’s to go … home.

London Stopover

Productive evening of unpacking, cleaning, repacking for slightly warmer climes. Glorious morning in lovely Hampstead — we go for a walk on the Heath, get a cup of coffee in the Village, and find it really rather strange that we have to leave soon again. That evening, in fact, for Kerala, where we’re celebrating the coming of a new year and decade with Sanoop’s parents. An emotional rollercoaster of gratitude-homesickness-wanting-to-be-everywhere-at-once-missing-loving-aargh.

Kerala New Year

Treatment

Sanoop’s mum had a mastectomy in November, with a bunch of lymph nodes removed as well, and is getting chemotherapy for the next six months. She is being very courageous, optimistic and strong, she is getting a lot of support from Sanoop’s dad, her extended family in Kerala, and their maid at home, and we have been talking to her regularly on the phone since her surgery, but we were still very eager to go spend time with her. She doesn’t leave the house, she has turned her diet into one consisting of healthy homemade food, and she asks that guests shower every time they enter the house. We are totally onboard with these arrangements: happy to spend some time just chilling at home, just being, being present, being with her, comforting her, chatting with her, doing exercises with her, going out for hot, steamy walks on our own, taking frequent cold showers before giving her big, long hugs, and eating the food we prefer — organic, vegan, clean, fresh.

Contrasts

Sweet holiday life: Sanoop and I spend the 14 days in Kerala sipping coconut water, eating fresh, organic papaya, pomegranate, pomelo and pineapple, doing a long, blissful yoga routine in balmy, glorious morning air on the otherwise totally unused sun decks of his parents’ house, surrounded by palm trees rustling in soft wind, getting tanned under a burning sun, eating delicious vegetable curries, dahls, and salads made fresh by a maid, who also washes our clothes, being driven around by a driver, who’ll take us wherever we want to go, spending time with family, going for long runs and walks, going for massages, going boating in the backwaters, swimming and hiking in the cool mountains, meditating … gearing down. And around us we see, beyond all of the natural beauty and the pockets of affluence, deep poverty: the gatekeepers manning the entrance to the community where Sanoop’s parents lovely white villa is surrounded by a neat, lush garden earn next to nothing, just like most other workers hereabouts. At 5pm every day, we hear the sound of a horn announcing that it’s time for all workers to call it a day. They drop what’s in their hands and start walking down the road, remarkably darker-skinned and more physically fit than their employers. We hear of the financial troubles of the hired help and all of the students and charities that Sanoop’s parents support. And still, Kottayam is relatively prosperous in the grand Indian scheme of things. It’s at the forefront when it comes to education levels; in fact, it’s the first town in India to attain 100% adult literacy. We don’t see many homeless people in the streets, no beggars at all. But still. A lot of the houses look so dingy, dirty, dusty … often covered in clouds of bad fumes. It can be hard to wrap one’s head around, but it’s healthy to be trying, I think …

Birthday Boating

On Sanoop’s birthday, 29 December, the two of us and his dad go boating in the backwaters, a tradition almost — we also did it two years ago, when my parents were visiting (read about that here). First, we sail in one of the traditional wooden houseboats, and then in a nifty little speedboat, taking a break in-between at a beautiful yoga resort on the bank of the water, surrounded by banana and coconut trees. It’s so lovely here, one of my favourite things about Kerala.

Environment

Sanoop’s dad is obviously spending most of his time and mental capacity on taking care of Sanoop’s mum through this difficult time, and happily so. When her friends drop by to pray with her, leave some freshly made food or fresh produce with her, or just to chat, he immerses himself in one of his other greatest passions: nature and the natural environment. He takes us to the ancestral farm, where he’s growing all sorts of tropical vegetables and fruits, and on a tour of TIES, the local tropical institute of ecological sciences. Twice a week he teaches molecular biology and bio technology at a local college, and his newest idea is to engage the students in a sustainability programme, where they’ll able to do lots of cool things to protect their local natural environment. When he asks us if we want to go chat to his 100 female botany students about whichever sustainability trends we’re aware of and engaged in, I’m initially a bit hesitant. This trip is about family time and chilling, easing into 2020. He then adds that the students will be performing — traditional Kerala dancing and singing, and acting about the problems that women face in Kerala and the rest of India (general discrimination as ‘the second gender,’ sexual harassment, etc, and men’s role in changing the systemic challenges). I’m easily convinced to go. At first we go on a tour of the college, meeting lots of Sanoop’s dad’s friendly colleagues and sweet students, and checking out the very old and very simple nooks and crannies of the small campus, saving the pride of the place for last: a beautiful new auditorium, built on donations from previous students who now all work in Dubai. This is where everyone gathers for today’s environment events — female students and teachers in the audience wearing festive saris and the men wearing the flowy white traditional festive male Kerala outfits. On stage, the principal and former principals talk about the achievements of students receiving scholarships for Sanoop’s dad’s environment programme, and then the manager of TIES speaks — he, apparently, played a significant role in India’s recent ban of single-use plastics in a handful of states. Then Sanoop gets up and wakes up all of the sleepy students in the room with a motivational speech, the only speaker to not stand behind the sturdy counter with its fixed microphone and speaker on the stage, but moving around freely with a handheld microphone, making all of the students laugh at his improvised anecdotes and jokes. I talk a bit about Greta Thunberg, and how no one is too small to make a difference. We then water a jackfruit plant, also on stage, the state fruit of Kerala. And then comes the moment I’ve been excited for: we retreat to the audience rows, and the students take over the stage with their wonderful performances. This is one of the poorest colleges in the state. The students come from relatively low-income families. Most professors teach for free. They are dedicated students — and dedicated performers. The dancing, singing, and theatre pieces are gripping, heartfelt, beautiful. Family and religions is important to these girls. 99% are Hindu; 1% is Christian. The Christian ones aspire to eventually work abroad. Everyone else aspires to graduate — get a job — to get married and settle down in the village. I’m curious about what singing, dancing and acting means to them. They do all of this with so much passion. But when, after the show, I ask about their art, they smile and change the subject to botany. In class, Sanoop’s dad encourages them to ask questions and be critical — about the subjects, about the environment, about the world. He treats them with love and respect, which means that they all feel super at ease around him — and also explains why they keep smiling at Sanoop and me all day. All of them are extremely welcoming and lovely. I learn so much from talking to them. About their lives, and their environments. And then we take a million wefies. Share a yummy festive banana leaf lunch. Take a few more wefies. Namaskaram🙏🏼

Ayurveda

Sharply fragrant oils, and lots of them, first utilised for a firm scalp and face massage, applied while you are still standing, and then you lie on this wooden table, first on your back, then on your belly, then trying to balance yourself on each side without sliding too much around in all of that oil. Two therapists work hard in synchrony — long, slightly painful movements. Leaving you feel like a newborn — a newborn with a strong herbal scent and shiny skin for hours. Which is why you never wanna wear your newest, most favourite clothes when going to and from these treatments. When my parents came to visit Sanoop’s two years ago, we all went to a really nice Ayurvedic resort for the treatments. This time, Sanoop and I are just sent to a local hospital. Three times in the run of our stay. It’s still nice, calm, simple, peaceful, effective … totally addictive!

Kumily

One of the Kerala days, Sanoop and I drive up through the beautiful clusters of fresh green heaven that is the tea plantations in the highlands of Kerala, which were planted by the British back in the day to make them less dependent on Chinese tea, to get to the slightly cool-aired Kumily, a town we last visited together on my first ever trip to Kerala, in March 2017, such sweet memories. This time around, we’re staying, just one night, in one of the thatched cottages at the ecotourism dream of an organic, lush microcosmos, Spice Village, going for a hike in the nearby nature reserve, swimming in the chemica-free-but-still-clean pool, munching on all of their locally sourced fresh food. Paradise.

Beach

The day before we leave India, Sanoop and I hug his parents goodbye and drive out to the coast, just south of Kochi, and check into a resort on the wide white Marari Beach. This is the first time I’m going to the beach in Kerala; hopefully not the last! Midlands for city life, highlands for tea and spice plantations, lowlands for backwaters and coastline. Miles and miles of pale sand lined by soft waves and coconut trees — no trash, not a tourist stall in sight, in fact we have to walk quite far to find a coconut to drink / carve the tender meat out of. Stretching, swimming, reading, laughing together. Pure bliss, and a wonderful way to end and digest three weeks of family time, relaxation/yoga/hiking, various cultural impressions, and thoughts of what we hope for 2020! 💚

Fort Kochi

Near the quaint backwaters and green lowlands of Kerala sits Kochi, the bustling commercial capital of the Land of Coconuts. Arab spice traders and European explorers have flocked to Kochi for over 600 years, creating an intriguing melting pot centred in the quaint, lively and delightfully walkable Fort Kochi, bordered by Jew Town and the turquoise Laccadive Sea. A breezy wander or auto-rickshaw ride along the sea-facing promenade and winding cobbled streets of Fort Kochi will take you past giant pre-colonial Chinese fishing nets, Mahatma Gandhi Beach, a dozen mosques and Hindu temples, the largest art exhibition space in South Asia as well as churches, museums, monuments and heritage home-stays speaking of its time as a Portuguese, Dutch and British colony. Vibrant street markets, spectacular Kathakali shows, Ayurvedic spas and fragrant seafood eateries are all signs of the Kerala heart that’s beating intensely in the multicultural body of the Fort, while hip boutique hotels, exciting art cafes, sustainably sourced silk and cotton clothing boutiques, quirky bookstores, and glorious sunsets on the beach make us keep coming back for an afternoon here whenever we’re about to leave Kerala via the first airport in the world to be powered solely by solar energy. This time around is just as wonderful as the previous — a burst of creative, colourful stimuli to see us off.

Singapore

When booking the trip to Kerala, we both thought that flying back to London via Singapore seemed like a no-brainer. Making the stopover last for five days seemed totally logical as well. We land at 7am on a Saturday, having hardly closed an eye on the bumpy overnight flight from Kochi, and yet, when we land at Changi, an airport whose toilets are cleaner than most 5 star hotels around the world, whose light-filled corridors are filled with classical music, and whose processes are ever so quick and smooth, all traces of exhaustion we might have started to feel wash away. We can’t enter through the automated passport lanes that welcome residents home anymore, but this seamless landing experience still very much feels like coming home … on the taxi ride through lush rainforest trees, with a gradual view to the city of the future, adrenaline starts building up in our bodies … and when we’re dropped off in Tiong Bahru, our old hood, tears start streaming down my face. Standing on the neat pavement, surrounded by small neat red-stemmed palm trees and clean white art deco buildings, an overflow of emotion takes hold of me: gratitude, love, nothing-is-lost, so-much-is-gained, sweet memories. We’re staying with the friends with whom I stayed when I first moved here four years ago, in their spare bedroom, which was mine when I first met Sanoop. Over the following five days, tears turn into clarity: we made the right decision in moving to London a year and a bit ago, and we’ll always be able to come back here to visit, in dreams and in real life too. I find comfort in the entire experience and rationale. We spend the Saturday roaming around our favourite places, first standing for a long, long time below the windows of our own old flat, at 66 Eng Watt Street, our plants still alive and well on the balcony, then moving along to Tiong Bahru Market, nodding and smiling to our usual fruit and flower vendors, and then continuing through the vibrant neighbourhood before heading to China Town and Duxton. In the evening, we meet our hosts for drinks and dinner at old favourite haunts along Club Street. Last time we saw them was at their wedding in Bali last autumn. It’s wonderful to connect with them again. And to return to the same flat at the end of the night, just as we did in the very, very early days of knowing each other. The next morning, I go for a run in Tiong Bahru Park, relishing in the Tai Chi practicing all around and the familiarly sticky air, and then take an Uber to Dempsey with one of the friends with whom we’re staying, hitting up another friend’s Body Sculpt class at the Core Collecitve. This is my testimonial of the class, which I send to the owners of the studio later:

Ahilya’s class is a treat for body and mind!

  • Structure: I love the way it’s structured, with a clear focus on each of the large muscle groups and an energising flow from one segment to the next — it’s easy to follow, feels super effective, and the exercises are a great mix of classics and fun variations I wouldn’t have thought of myself
  • Intensity: Ahilya’s programme is built up around small, controlled movements, with some fast-paced cardio thrown in as well, which creates a perfect balance — you work up a sweat and can rest assured that you’ve strengthened — and elongated! — small and big muscles across your entire body, but the fact that a pair of light weights is your only piece of equipment makes for a very harmonious workout. My favourite bit is the 10-15 minutes that Ahilya reserves for a proper stretch and mindful body scan towards the end — so soothing and important
  • Style: while exuding a wonderful calm and confidence, Ahilya is very good at noticing everyone in class and swiftly moving around the room to correct people in a thoughtful, kind manner. Throughout class, her cues and encouraging repetitions/countdowns are encouraging and easy to understand. She’s good about incorporating a focus on breathing, and her music choices are spot on! Great rhythm, great vibe in class — all students felt happy, even if we were struggling 🙂
  • Effect: I like to think of myself as fairly athletic and in great shape, but somehow Ahilya’s class left my glutes and quads feeling super sore for 3 days!!
  • In summary: if I lived in Singapore (sadly I was just visiting when I took her class!), I’d make sure not to miss any of her classes — such a perfect start to the Sunday, especially at the beautiful Core Collective and close to delicious healthy brunch options in Dempsey

After class, a third friend and I brunch at one of the many gorgeously healthy and lush cafes in Dempsey. So wonderful catching up with all of these lovely friends that I met while living here, and being reminded of the fact that these friendships can stand the test of physical distance. After brunch, and a stroll around Dempsey, we Uber over to Orchard, where I meet yet another friend, who is in town from Auckland, where she moved to last year, to promote her sustainable clothing designs via a popup at one of the many bright and spacious mall spaces on the busy shopping stretch. It’s so good to see her again, and we sneak in a catchup over a cup of matcha and a scoop of vegan ice cream between her tending to her clients. I buy one of her beautiful jackets. Then meet up with Sanoop, so we can stroll up past the gorgeous Peranakan shophouses along Emerald Hill to pay our friends at the Hilltop condo a visit. They greet us with big hugsshe’s pregnant, he baked delicious bread, they’ve put out a delicious lunch spread for us. We talk, talk, talk, eat, drink tea, and they mention how much they want to move to London, and I look across their streamlined flat and glittery pool and think to myself that it’s incredible that anyone can ever leave this sort of life in Singapore. Well, it’s not. We miss them; when we lived here, I missed the smell of spring in Europe, and I missed loved ones in London and Denmark, and now … ahh. Haha. After lunch, we join a party in Keong Saik Road, the purpose of which is to support the Australian bush firesevery cent made on the sale of beer, wine, and sweet koala acrylic paintings goes straight to that purpose. The street is buzzing with cheerful Aussies, a few of them our friends, all of them familiar somehow. In the evening, Sanoop and I meander slowly around Tiong Bahru again, finally ending up at our favourite Thai restaurant for a late dinner. Every second of the weekend has been vibrating with joy: the joy of walking down a street on the other side of the planet from where you pay your rent and go to workand knowing it so well. Monday: morning run in the park, work at my local office, meeting my sweet designer friend for a lovely East Coast night. I get to check out her bright and airy Joo Chiat studio, where I obviously add a new piece to my growing Esse collection of classic, smooth and luxurious sustainable pieces, before we venture out on a tasty tropical foodie spree: delightful thunder tea rice at Thunder Tea Rice, scrumpy prawn noodles next door, and a cooling açai bowl at An Acai Affair to finish. Feels like no time passed since we were both living here and meeting up often, and at the same time I’m blown away by all of the lessons and experiences we’ve each picked up since then! Tuesday: barre with my old barre company (feels like coming home, even if they’ve moved to a new studio than the one I visited almost daily for 2.5 years; the new studio is even nicer than the old one … in a big, airy, bright shophouse), working from home, meeting two friends, a florist and a travel guide book writer, for dinner in Duxton. Wednesday: barre, working from a cafe, meeting a friend for lunch in Telok Ayer Street, being surprised at home by my Esse friend, who brings me a thoughtful travel kit: calming scents and oils and creams for long journeys. I’ve got tears in my eyes as we head back to Changi that afternoon, working for a few hours by the Jewel waterfall before flying back to London.

Düsseldorf

Sanoop and I wrap up January by whizzing to Düsseldorf for the weekend, a day after landing back in London from Singapore. We’re here for the big annual Boat Show. We land a bit before everyone else, checking into the funky boutique hotel 25 Hours Das Tour (very recommendable), trying out the record player in our snazzy room and the sauna on the top floor, before taking a quick stroll of the surprisingly charming town … obviously ending up at an old traditional brewery by the river, sharing a quick beer before hurrying back to the hotel to meet my parents, uncle, aunt, and grandmother (my brother is joining on Sunday), who have now landed from Denmark, for dinner at a local artsy place. We spend 9am-5pm on Saturday and Sunday at the boat show, mainly drawn to our own boat, which the manufacturers have, graciously, been allowed to display at the show by my parents. We all act like excited kids, my dad and uncle more so than anybody else, as we meander around the gigantic place, constantly circling back to what will be our new family member when she’s totally done being built in a few months (read more about why we’re so excited here). On Saturday evening, we celebrate my gran’s birthday at one of the traditional breweries, the highlight of which being when she accepts an invitation to come down a bunch of Jägermeister shots with the merry folks at the neighbouring tables, with whom she dances and chats for a long, long time. She’s amazing. On Sunday night we have an early dinner in the hotel’s lovely panorama vistaed restaurant, and then Sanoop and I head back to London (the others stay till Monday morning). Once again, it’s awful to leave my family, but we know we’ll meet again, and we were grateful and excited to see them now.

February Highlights

New York & Philly

In early February, my work team and I spend a week at our New York office, with two days down in Philly, where we go for a wildly impressive tour of the Barnes Collection, check out the cute colonial houses of Elfreth’s Alley, lunch at Reading Terminal Market, and get together for a scented candle workshop (mine becomes a successful mix of fig and lemon notes). Sanoop travels with me to New York, staying back in the City when I go to Philly, so he can use that time to hang out with old school friends. We stay in the city during the week, which allows us to go for long runs and walks on the Highline and in Hudson River Park in the mornings and meet for dinner in the evenings, and on the Friday, we take the train to Hastings-on-Hudson, crashing with Sanoop’s brother and his family for the weekend: morning run in pouring rain along the trail overlooking the Hudson, munching on sushi in a Japanese food court in Jersey City, family karaoke with sake and roasted chestnuts in the Korea Town of New Jersey, family dinner at an Italian establishment on the Upper East Side, red wine by the fireplace in the living room in Hastings, watching the Taylor Swift documentary with our nephew late into the evening.

Zurich for Work

Great projects. Sweet colleagues. Sanoop is tagging along — we spend the mornings and evenings exploring the town. Very lovely trip.

London Outtakes

My brother visits for a long weekend — he gave us tickets to see Book of Mormon with him in the West End, such an awesome gift. It’s wonderful spending days with him exploring London together, which is the only way we really get to bond, 1-2-3 times a year, and the musical is hilarious. Other than that, we go for long walks, check out Broadway Market, do some shopping, meet a friend for drinks at the Conduit, take him for dinner at that church-turned-swanky-food-market in Mayfair, cook and hang at home … hang out some more at home when his flight is cancelled due to strong winds and he has to stay an extra day. Valentine’s Day: roses from Sanoop; date night at a local bottle shop/wine bar; home-cooked meal. First weekend in months and months without plans. Morning yoga at Keats House. Friends over for tea. Clear, dazzling sunset walk on the Heath after a day of gloomy torrential downpour. Caribbean hole-in-the-wall. Dinner at the Flask in Highgate, perhaps the cosiest pub in London. Daily pilates classes at Heartcore in Hampstead, where I’m lured in by the promise of excellent, caring teachers, who all know my name even if I haven’t been here regularly for ages, the steaming liquorice and peppermint tea from Pukka greeting me in the check-in girl’s nook on the first landing of the studio’s staircase, the long spine exercise that always wraps up every class, where you place your back on the carriage and loop your feet into the foot loops, stretch out your legs and circle them around, two blue springs turning the circling movement into a satisfying stretch, which only intensifies when you curl your tailbone up in the air at the top of the leg circulation to then massage it thoroughly as you curl it back down, vertebrae by vertebrae, a million times at least, and, of course, the world’s best oat flat white from Ginger and White on the way home through the fairytale streets of our quaint village. Ah. Every weekday this week starts similarly: wake up, speed walk/run/cycle up to Heartcore for my class, and skip back home totally energised. An old friend visiting from Sydney for a weekend of long walks, runs, and conversations, Sunday roast at our old regular gastro pub in Islington, and a modern dance performance at a small theatre in Holborn. New friends over for dinner. Date night at the Royal Opera House, watching the breathtakingly beautiful ballet, Onegin, Sanoop’s Christmas gift for me, with a wonderful dinner beforehand and wonderful cocktails afterwards.

Life Drawing

One Wednesday night, two of my colleagues come meet me in Hampstead after work. We grab a sandwich and juice at Joe & the Juice, and then walk down the high street to the community centre for Life Drawing Night. We take a seat in the horseshoe of tables surrounding the model’s platform, smile excitedly at each other as we sharpen our pencils, and stuck in, as they say. I love it! Can’t believe it’s been over a year since I last went, despite the fact that it’s been popping up as a recurring reminder on Wednesday nights ever since that January night last year when I first went and felt sure I’d be back every week for my new lovely community activity. Then I guess travel happened. A lot of travel. More than 21 weeks out of the country, just last year. I have no idea how this year will turn out, travel-wise, but … one week at a time. And one sketch at a time. We have a lovely time tonight, for sure! All of the different approaches! I noticed that I tend to start out with the broader outline because I worry about getting the proportions right, and once I’ve got the loose imprint of the body (as I see it) and its planes and curves, I relax more and start thinking about details and shadings, while others immediately dedicated an entire A2 or A3 sheet to one single curve of a limb or minute lines and circles of an eye or perfectly capturing the essence of the facial expression. It was so much fun, so deeply satisfying and enjoyable to immerse myself in. Surrounded by sweet colleagues and local regulars (who’ve been going every week for the past 25 years!), men and women of all ages, some shy and quiet and others more talkative and willing to show (off) their work. Watercolour, coal, fine mechanical pens, perfectly sharpened 5B and 6B pencils, stylus on tablet. Someone noted that my sketches were quite delicate and stylised – and it occurred to me how a lot of people’s works were, some exaggeratedly curvy, some super simplistic or abstract even, with an older or younger expression and emphasis – and how it’s an art to either perfect your own ‘style’ or aspire to let go of the comfort and restrictions of this habit and rather try to ‘sketch the body as it is’ – and then the fact that everyone was literally seeing it from different angles as well! Very fascinating! We’ll be back — come and join! Wednesdays 7-9pm, Hampstead Community Centre!

Early (pre-lockdown) March

Friends visiting from Copenhagen: running amongst daffodils on the Heath, long breakfasts at home, and drinking ice-cold beers and wine on stoops on Broadway Market. Zurich work trip: staying at funky airbnb with Sanoop, long, satisfying work days with wonderful colleagues; a cheeky one-day ski trip to the Alps, which feels like such a dream … to think I have a life where all of this is possible. I’m very, very thankful. Falling in love with a new wine bar off Exmouth Market, with Sanoop. Going down to lovely, vibrant Brockley on a Sunday morning (which makes us want to venture south of the river much more often, haha!) for an International Women’s Day run organised by a friend of a friend — a big group of girls run from a local little indie brewery and around the neighbourhood and its big, lush park, and return to celebrate with fresh draft beer. Afterwards, Sanoop and I have lunch at one of the lovely little cafes by the overground, and he gives me an appropriate gift, the book, Girl, Woman, Other, which he found at a local bookstore when I was running. Excellent read. We walk over to Greenwich to check out the village and the park — Sanoop’s first time here, and it’s around 8 years since I was last here. Beautiful sunset with a panorama view of the city. Gorgeous spring walks around London: Hampstead Heath with Sanoop; Brompton cemetery with my friend who lives around the corner from it with her toddler. Meeting a colleague for wine in Belsize Park. She and I first met on a business trip last June or July and haven’t really spoken properly since then, but since we’ve both been meaning to catch up, and we live really close to each other, we meet tonight, and immediately feel a connection, a sense of chemistry and a desire to confide in each other and share thoughts, stories, and ideas. We chat, chat, chat for hours, and as wine turns to dinner which turns to more wine, I spontaneously agree to join her for a concert with a sexy French band at Oslo in Hackney. Jumping on the overground and dancing at a club, vodka/soda/lime in one hand and a sweet friend by my side, is so, ridiculously, exhilarating, haha … it feels like a different life when I was 25 and would spend ever so many Saturday nights partying at Oslo with my East London flatmates. I feel so young again — in that slightly guilty way, where a sensible voice creeps in to remind me that I still am young. More walks, all across London. Finding a new delicious laksa place in Islington, with Sanoop. More walks, at sunrise and at sunset.

Reflections

In 2019, I didn’t journal sufficiently regularly, coherently, and deeply to publish a cohesive post every Sunday. To be honest, I’ve been quite overwhelmed, happy, but overwhelmed, settling into London, as part of a couple, settling into a new job with all of its lessons and demands, social as well as information-based, travelling extensively, battling guilt on top of all of the gratitude I expressed at the top of this post (for leaving Sanoop and London behind when those are 2 of my top 3 priorities; for leaving behind a giant flight-induced carbon footprint, even if I try to justify it to myself — I mainly fly because of work and to see family, and I do so many other environmentally considerate things, what with eating mainly organic, locally sourced, plant-based foods, wearing mainly sustainably sourced clothes, never littering, always ‘offsetting’ my travel carbon footprint, etc), feeling tired, or restless, choosing the ‘easy way out’ for my creative need to document and reflect on and digest experiences and impressions: Instagram stories and posts. Reading through a few of the previous posts on here, though, I realise that I very much want to continue this Sunday Reflections project, some way or other. I like the idea. I want to make a refreshed effort for 2020. Reserving a bit of Sunday afternoons for settling down with a cup of tea or coffee and my laptop, capturing some of my key experiences and emotions of the week that went by. I have faith. I’ve got all of these journal draft for the most content-filled year of my life, 2019, which had me fly around the globe 5.2 times according to my year in review email from Google Timeline. For a long time, I’ve been beating myself up about not having edited any of them out yet. All previous attempts have been half-hearted. Now I feel ready to power through. I do enjoy it, after all. I’ve been journalling since I was 7 years of age. It’s what I — enjoy to — do. Sometimes I just manage to carve out more time for it than at other times. It’s one of those magical activities where time just flies when I sit down to do it. So, now, I’m going to spend some time tidying up those drafts. I have a feeling it’s gonna feel like a huge relief to initiate that fresh start — Singagon Sunday Snaps anno 2020.

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