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Monthly Archives: May 2012

I have a talent for discovering nice cafes. Everywhere I go, I always need to find at least one place with the right feel to it, a haven of harmony where I can unwind doing something as mundane as drinking some tea or coffee. A place where I can imbibe the atmosphere and read, write, chat or just relax doing nothing.

The newest addition to my list is the only existing cafe in this godforsaken rural agglomeration of the Japanese south.  I discovered it by deciphering a sign during an evening stroll and talked about it to my hostess who took me there immediately, probably sensing the urgency.

I think it is genetic. This penchant for cafes. I must have inherited it from my grandmother who has always looked forward to treating me and my sister on a cup of coffee on our visits, happy over the fact that we shared her interest, unlike our grandfather.

My grandmother is a small-town girl you see, with a childhood impregnated by the smell of freshly baked bread and pastries. Not only was her mother an excellent cook, but her grandparents  and uncle used to own a bakery. Maybe that explains her sweetness.

I can imagine her spending time at the family bakery cum cafe after school on an early winter afternoon, eating a cinnamon roll and drinking hot milk stained with coffee, maybe in the company of her favorite cousin.

Local people coming and going, popular tunes on the radio and my grandmother, a little girl unaware of what the future had in store.

She would maybe be thinking about school work, a quarel with a friend, an interesting fact from a book or something that had tickled her fancy.

A little girl, in a family-run cafe, in a small town in the sleepy countryside. Back at a time when I was not even so much as a fragment of a thought…

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The Kanoya surroundings remind me of my childhood summers in the south of Sweden.

Fields and grenery all around. The smell of manure is in the air and when I go for my morning jog,  I have the mount Takakuma as a backdrop. Not very Scandinavian may be, but spectacular all the same.

New places require new routines. So every morning I get up, and after a short chat with Keiko-san, I put on my sports’ shoes and go out for some morning exercise.

When I get back, Keiko-san has already made coffee and I jump into the shower, in true athletic spirit. When I have freshened up, I withdraw to my headquarters for some moments of silent contemplation before I enter the kitchen to  take breakfast together with my host and chit-chat in Anglojapanese.

Keiko-san is curious enough to try my various cooking attempts. She finishes the  portion of porridge I serve her, but  later on, she politely informs me that she prefers rice.

One of the morning highlights so far, has been when Keiko-san to her big amazement discovered that the milk and culture mix that I had prepared the night before had actually become yoghurt by the morning.

“Yo-gu-ru-tto!” she exclaimed happily. It is indeed easy to entertain a person with a joyful disposition.

It does take a good breakfast to brace oneself with the necessary mental strength for fighting off the clouds of ambiguity that obscure everyday conversational efforts:

Miscommunication

Sofia: “In Europe, when you work for somebody, when you have a contract, you can take about 20 days off a year.”

Japanese person: “I?”

Sofia: “Not YOU personally. I mean generally.”

Japanese person: “Generally?”

Sofia to herself: “Who cares about European socialist bullshit anyway?”

Revelations

Well, When and Will are three different words. So are Or and All.

Beauty of details

L and R are two different phonemes – contrastive sound bites –  in English. So Lice and Rice are not the same thing. Same goes for Light, Write and Right. Same goes for…..

Metalinguistic flops

Sofia: “What does this word mean?”

Japanese person: “What does this word mean?”

Sofia: “No, I am asking YOU. It is a question.”

I admit to being a strict teacher – kibishii sensei. But there is steady progress.

I swear by my morning cereal.

I am in Japan and finally connected.

My maiden trip to the land of the rising sun… I am staying at  a Guest House located in a small town, somewhere in the district of Kagoshima – please remind me to check it out on the map one of these days.

In the mornings I clean guest rooms, rake leafs in the garden, do some weeding. The plan of the day is discussed over breakfast and coffee.

I have also made good friends with the smiley sponge, jumping for joy every time I am about to wash the dishes. I think it is just happy to see me.

My sweet hostess takes me out for lunch almost daily, making sure that I try all the Japanese delicacies that do not contain meat or gluten. So far, my dietary restrictions have not in any way been an obstacle to genuine culinary experiences.

Ah, I think I am going to take some time to stretch my aching lower back, and then go for a bike-ride in the  flatlands of Kanoya.

I reserved my last days in Malaysia for sight-seeing in the long-neglected Kuala Lumpur.

I thought I should start with the National Museum to try and figure out who was here first, who came later, who stayed on and how the intriguing mix of cultures and destinies that  today’s Malaysia stands for.

I hadn’t for one moment imagined that my way there would be a quite dangerous pursuit.

On my way out of KL Sentral, I took a wrong right turn. I confirmed directions with a local who did not warn me that I was about to walk along a highway, take a U turn and then cross 6 lanes of cars before arriving to my final destination.

On my way back to KL Sentral from the museum, I thought I should better get my facts straight. I was convinced that there was a better way. And there was. Better alright, but not good. While I was crossing another big street to reach a bridge to take a short-cut through a parking building to finally get to the station, I was intensely swearing in Greek, in my head, of course.

The National Museum is modern and stylish, don’t get me wrong,but why should getting there be a life-threatening mission for people with an interest in culture and a subconscious death-wish?

And if I may ask: why do museum experts organise exhibits in unintelligible rows leaving you totally confused as to which direction you should move in to cover everything on display, preferable in a chronological, or at least coherent order?

The moral of the story is that sometimes it makes sense to skip the museum part and go for the Newseum.

You know, feel the smell of the river/sewer/ liquid conveyor belt of trash while you navigate the city on metro and foot.

Have breakfast at  a popular market and watch how the pancake-lady sprinkles her sinful dough with crushed peanuts, sugar and lumps of butter, while you munch on your veggie steamed rolls.

Stop by a fruit stand and pick up a healthy snack.

Go to the Central Market for window shopping or the real thing.

Have a look at the Petronas towers and walk around in huge malls.

Check out all the wannabe branded items at Chinatown.

Walk, stop, smell, taste, sit down, breath out, get up again…

No order, no entrance fee, no plan. It is up to you babe.

It could be that you started your day watching the sun rise on  tiny Pulau Sibu, an island just off the East coast of Malaysia.

Partly because your wooden cabin faced the East.

It could be that you worked in Malaysia several months a year as an outdoor activities instructor for teenage students, teaching them basic survival skills, taking them kayaking and camping.

It could be that your  weekends were long with nothing much to do but to hang out with fellow instructors, surf on the net, drink Tiger beer, roll cigarettes, or watch a mega-storm light up the dark skies.

It could be that you shared your life and your time between different parts of the world.

It could be.

 

If you are in a place like Singapore only for a weekend, you’d better get out on the streets asap. That’s what I did. I dumped my luggage at ‘The little red dot‘, went for lunch at the Lavender food court and took the MRT to reach the starting point of the Singapore footprints walking tour, conducted for free by a trio of young enthusiastic tourism students.

I like it. The cityscape of Singapore. It’s a nice mix of futurism and colonial past, awash with cultural diversity. A good example is the Armenian church that was built at a time when the Armenian community of the city counted 12 persons. A very small community, but important one, as our guide pointed out. Never in the history of the city has it exceeded a hundred.

Going on a comprehensive tour as first thing when arriving at a new place is quite perfect; it gives you a good picture of what there is to see and an idea of what you would like to see more of.

In my case, the bonus was that I hooked up with two nice people staying at the same hostel and we went to the Marina Bay to watch the water and light show at night. A jazz band was playing live music, and the skyscrapers where glowing in the dark.

I have totally lost any interest I might have had in alcohol, but I couldn’t help thinking that I was in the perfect location to enjoy a Singapore Sling, one of my favourite cocktails. Instead, I drank buckets of fruit-juice to compensate.

The Singapore weekend was an energy-kick. I walked a lot and visited many places in the one day and a half; quite Sofia-like I must say.  I walked and paused for a juicy refreshment or a coffee, and bite of local food. I went for a museum visit, escaped the heat in malls, and visited temples.

During my visit to a local beauty parlour I asked the young lady who had the honour of waxing my legs if she was Indian. ‘I am Hindu, not Indian. I am Singaporean’ , she pointed out.

After some further discussions during hair removal, she explained that she spoke Tamil and English at home, and that all Singaporeans must learn their mother-tongue in addition to English. The migration of her family dates back to her great-grandfathers and the traces of their itinerary have been erased by time, so she knew that she was South Indian, but not much more.

And maybe there is nothing more to know than that. Why dwell on the uncertainties of the  distant past when you can focus your energy and your thoughts on the present and the future, because in the end, the past should not define you.

Here’s to the future. With a glass of Singapore Sling. Or fresh papaya-juice.

 

The title of this post is self-imposed. It just couldn’t be anything else.

You want to know what  you can do in Malacca , apart from crying the name of the place out loud, like a spiteful child?

Well, you can:

Take a three hour bike tour through the palm-oil and rubber tree plantations surrounding the city and take a break  half-way through to drink some sweet ice lime-tea

Bite into a ripe and oily palm fruit

Eat ‘asam pedas’ – sweat and sour fish casserole for lunch

Walk until you sweat like never before

Take refuge in one of the huge A/C malls

Be surrounded by a colourful and proud mix of cultures

Rediscover the charm of staying at a backpackers hostel

Or simply  just enjoy being. In Malacca…

sofiawise

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

The Chick on a Pea

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

Buttercupgoeswest

Buttercup is a newborn and we are taking her on a 5000 KM journey from Ahmedabad to Kanyakumari

Sadness Theory

Music with passion for the environment

zee pause café

taking a moment, having a coffee, writing down some thoughts