Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sick leave.

This post could probably win the dullest entry title of the blog, but that's one upside of being sick: one no longer gives a damn about what one writes. Also, one starts to refer to herself in the third person. About the only entertainment one gets, while yawning and feeling crap.

Another upside of being sick is that one has a lot of time on one's hand, so naturally one wonders what to do. First, one watches the second episode of Game of Thrones, which is an attempt to wear the fantasy hat and join the mass. This is the second time within a week that one tries this, and one gets much further into the episode (12 minutes) than the first time one tried (2 minutes), so one considers this as a victory. At this rate, one needs to try only four more times before one completes the damn episode. Surely no brotherly incest could be worth it. 

Then, one irons with Midnight on Paris running on the background (or, spatially speaking, the foreground). After the movie finishes, one thinks that looking at a collection of Paris photographs might have been a better time investment. The movie is very Woody Allen, which means that it has a diverse cast, Valium, intrapersonal communication, love affairs, and practically no plot. One is hard-pressed to find the purpose of the movie, besides showing that Woody Allen has more faith in Owen Wilson's acting than anyone ever should. 

(interrupted by a long Skype conversation) 

About two hours ago, I started writing this entry because I was bored, and because I was annoyed at the fact that I was bored. Contrary to what Bertrand Russell advocates, I don't think boredom is necessary. One can be bored for an hour or two, but when boredom goes on for six hours, it gets a little, well, boring. Whenever I think of Brussels---a single word that encompasses the cozy city, the exciting and independent life, the intercontinental wandering and the friends I love dearly---it makes my current life a little less colorful, and this is not a healthy view. Keep up being a nostalgic soul like this, and before I know it I will be 40, wondering how the fuck I let my late 20s and 30s pass by in nostalgic feelings for a time and a place I would never get back. 

So I thought I would reuse the old trick, which is to write down three moments I appreciate each day in life. This is not Brussels; I do not have a set date for leaving Adelaide so no need for counting down the moments. But, doesn't the very fact that there is no departure date mean I should even more learn to value what I have?

1. It's five o'clock in the afternoon. So far today I have neither cleaned my teeth nor washed my face once, and I have spent a considerably large amount of time in bed, especially when you consider that it is a work day. Nothing I did so far seemed terribly exciting. I complain to a friend that I was bored. "I am not really sad, I'm just bored, and unmotivated," I write on Skype. Then, I am told the news. There are moments that mark clearly the before and the after; the moments that, once happened, change a lot of things irreversibly. Dying, is one of them. Having a baby, is another. The unexpected news takes a little bit of time to digest, and I'm not sure whether I have fully understood its implication. One thing for sure, is that my friend's life will change forever. Time and again, like right now, I am reminded that I should be thankful for what I am blessed with. 

2. Sitting on the couch with Zebra, me singing loudly to Édith Piaf songs while he tries to concentrate on his study. 

3. Breakfast in the garden, with frozen grapes, frozen berries, fresh strawberries, yoghurt and my favorite cereals. "Are you cold?" asks LM, as the sun disappears behind the clouds. "No, I'm OK..." I say, slightly shilvering. "Are you sure you are not cold?" "I'm OK..." "Let me get you my jacket..."

Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 23. Adelaide.

Pierre's voice sounds instantly familiar. He has only spoken for a minute---I am still at the beginning of the video---but it feels like I've heard more of him now than I have in the last 23 days, what with the timezone difference, the inconvenience of always being at a place where either someone else is in the room with me (hi, sis!) or someone else is within earshot (hi, half of the postgraduates whose joint office is behind mine! and the two neighbors who share the paper-thin walls on either side of my office! It has been lovely to hear all your Skype conversations!).  On screen, Pierre is moving from place to place, from his familiar, long and narrow kitchen to the familiar supermarket, back to his kitchen and to... Zoe's kitchen! Who is speaking in German! 

A few minutes later, then comes the ever-endearing Gaston! His hair is longer now---after all, it has been 23 days---and he also spots a noticeable beard. It is so strange, yet so familiar at the same time, to see them all speaking in different languages (French, German, English, back to French, English, French...) and to see them banter with each other, the way they did. Back during the days when Brussels was home, when the daily grey sky was the norm, when I wore layers of clothes and still felt the cold at the tip of my nose, when Flagey didn't take 37.5 hours and three transit airports to reach, when conversations were easy and friends were nearby, some of them literally three steps away. 

It is hard to describe how much this 15-minute video has done for me. I am extremely grateful, for being able to see my dear friends moving on a 21.5-inch screen (live action! well, live at the time anyway!), for a Jamie Oliver's recipe being prepared from scratch with multilingual commentaries (and an almond cake as a bonus!), for the lovely reminder that somewhere on the other hemisphere there are still my friends who have taken the efforts to prepare this video for me, for the implication that while I am here trying to settle down in my (re)new(ed) life by myself, I am not alone. 

And, for the motivation to start writing down bright moments again, because moments like this is why life is beautiful.

Friday, February 3, 2012


#. Outside my office window, it is snowing beautifully.
(Interrupted by a Coke break, or rather, a I Already Have A Coke But I Am Going With You To The Machine Anyway break. Which was a good thing because I had not been sure how to continue after that initial sentence anyway. 

Maybe something about Cassandra waving strangely in my peripheral view, her voice muted by my massive WESC earphones, then me removing them to catch what she has been trying to say, an act proven pointless as midway through I am already noticing the direction of her pointing fingers, and then, the falling, breathtaking snow.

Maybe something about an afternoon a little over two years ago, me trying to decipher what she meant when Zoe wrote on her Skype status a solitary word, "Schnee," and then, without having ever consciously learnt this German word, I automatically understood its implication and looked out from the very same window, seeing my first Brussels snowflakes. 

And, maybe, something about my last.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Flashback VI.

November 10, 2009.

All about a Belgian sandwich. [Fire drills.]

When I came to work yesterday and turned on the laptop, it logged itself onto Skype, as usual. Here, most junior researchers (PhDs, postdocs and the likes) and even some senior academics use Skype as an unofficial internal communication system. Lunch at 12:30, who's in? Coffee in five minutes? Meet near the lift to go to Latin aerobics in 20? That sort of things. Yesterday morning, it was, "Don't come into uni this morning - there's a fire drill."

My immediate decision, probably motivated by laziness, was to hide in my office. When the fire alarm started to screech, I grabbed my coat. Painful as it was to evacuate by stairs from the eighth floor, I wasn't going to listen to that ear-blasting noise for ten minutes straight. Geluck cheered me up a little by telling me that we could go to down the fire escape instead. Of course, I should have realized that a fire escape was just like a flight of stairs, but outdoor. He was surprised by the fact that my Australian math department didn't have a fire escape. It took me some good ten seconds before the answer occurred to me: we only had one floor. [...]

The moment the very last person walked out of the building, we were told to get back inside again. The fire drill was over. Except for the lifts, which were still turned off, as either a residual effect of the fire drill, or just a bad joke. If I didn't look forward to climbing down from the eight floor, climbing up to the eighth floor was not one of my favourite things, either. [Ed: How things have changed. These days I take the stairs to work! Actually, come to think about it, that still does not make climbing stairs one of my favourite things. It just means that I take stairs to work.] These stairs were designed as if we were running out of space, which was a kinda ironic thought as our building was situated inside some sort of mini-forest with plenty of towering trees and mini hills. If you put two skinniest persons (like, J. and J.) side by side in the stairs, with their arms pressed down against their bodies, they would just fit and there would no wiggling room whatsoever. So, we all got back to our respective offices about five hours after the fire drill.

As I was sitting down at my desk, S. walked past my office. It appeared that he just got into uni then, completely bypassing the fire drill. S. is a postdoc, whose office is literally next to mine. Despite going in and out of office at least four times a day (at least three times to the coffee machine and once for lunch) I had never met S. in my first four weeks being at my new workplace, until last week, when we went out twice in one weekend. One was going to a hilarious stand-up show with a few other people*, and another was a home-dinner together with three postgraduates. 

*[Ed: Again, how things have changed. Back then, in my sixth week in Brussels, those people were "a few other people"; now one of them is a very good friend of mine, after almost two years of Maastrichting, Parising, BBQ-ing, Berlining, etc. Also, it says something about Brussels, or, more accurately, about our clique being so small and incestuous, that over less than one and a half years, in four of those "a few other people" there have been three couples, almost the maximum number of pairings considering that all said participants, as far as I know, are straight.]

Having socialized outside, we are now at the saying-hi-to-each-other stage at uni. So, S. stopped at my office, and said hi.

"You missed the fire drill!!" I cheerfully pointed out.
"Uhm, okay...When was it?"
"About five minutes ago." I estimated. "It was very exciting!"
"Did you all... go downstairs?" S. asked, in a hesitating way that should have given me a signal, but I didn't see it.
"Yeah. And, then we all went upstairs," I added. "Like I said, it was very exciting." I concluded convincingly.
"Oh, er, uhm, okay. Maybe next year?" Then he left.

For four weeks, my office-neighbor didn't know I existed. For the next 23 months, he's going to think I'm the girl who likes fire drills.

Today, out of the corner of my eye, I could see S. walk past, on the way to his office. After the split second when I was imagining what he was thinking ("Don't make eye contact. Don't say hi to the fire drill lover."), S. doubled back and said hi. ("Fire drill loving or not, she's seen me.") I was all determined and consumed in my will to erase any bad impression yesterday and to act like a normal person, that his next sentence didn't immediately register in my head. "It's a lot hotter here than outside!"

A normal person, at this point, would have realized that my room was set at around 26 degrees and the outdoor weather was hovering at seven degrees, complete with fog everywhere, so yes, it was a lot hotter in my office than it was outside. I, on the other hand, was thinking Me no like fire drills me no like fire drills and by the time I snapped out of it and understood what he said, S. has decided to continue the conversation himself. "No? Okay, then." Then he left.

I was wrong yesterday. For the next 23 months, my office-neighbor is going to think I'm the girl who likes fire drills and can't feel the weather.

Good thing it is a public holiday tomorrow. The fact that I am not coming into uni tomorrow means my image cannot possibly get worse. Five bucks say he's not stopping to say hi the day after, though.