Saturday, April 30, 2011


88. Scenes from a professional poker game. 
Zoe fills up her Brita. Sound of water trickling down. 
"That's funny," says Charlie, looking at the Brita. 
"That's funny?"
"Actually, that sound often makes me want to pee," says Miss I-Am-Sorry.
Bored with his cards, Charlie looks around. 
"Dry garlic! That's funny." 
"I'm having a feeling that you find everything funny." 
"You are not funny." 
Hugo takes a walk on a wild side and mixes his glass of water with 5ml of Coke Light. He tries to tempt Charlie into doing the same thing. 
"Want a Coke-tail?"
"That's not funny." 

89. Catherine comes home. "So, I was watching the wedding again today..."

90. Near midnight. On the way to a party. Things we share with every fellow tram passenger:
& Catherine is now relaxed, after having risked her life running across Boulevard Général Jacques to pee. 
& Catherine's colourful descriptions of USA-Anthem-Singer's relatives. 
& At the Longchamp stop, there is a dead bird. And a stone next to it. This is how we know the bird is dead. 
& Some onions apparently did not get caramelized. 
& We care more about USA-Anthem-Singer's relatives and his brother's hot girlfriend than about onions.
& USA-Anthem-Singer does not have with him a picture of his brother's hot girlfriend. 
& We are very disappointed. 

Friday, April 29, 2011


85. Being given a ride on a bike; equivalently, being closer to Hugo's rear end than I had ever imagined I would be. 

They are athletic, they ride bikes. I am girly, I wear skirts. These are facts that don't go quite well together, when we want to get to the same place. So here I am, sitting sideways on the back of Hugo's bike, my right hand clutching his waist for dear life, praying fervently as cars zoom pass us on both sides. Zoe has bravely volunteered to bike and protect us from behind, but that is only one out of four possible directions. I don't dare to look to the left, where my legs are dangling, because my look might somehow be like the last drop of water, overfilling the glass, or in this case, tipping me off the bike. Neither can I bring myself to look to the right, because it doesn't seem appropriate to be looking at the opposite direction of where my legs are risking their lives. So I am looking directly ahead, alternating between the view of Hugo's backpack and that of Hugo's rear end, trying to pick up clues about my surroundings from the vroooooom sounds and Zoe's commentary. At one point, the bike goes considerably faster.

"Brake!" says Zoe, ever helpful. 
"The brake doesn't react as it used to..."

86. "Oh yeah, I had it on so I could listen through my headphones. It was difficult because I tried to work at the same time, but yeah, I watched the whole preacher's sermon," French-Canadian tells us. Zoe and I smile. He's the first guy we've met today who openly admits to watching and loving the royal wedding. I am not a fan, but having watched it for twenty minutes, even if in a foreign language, I might as well have a discussion out of it to make the whole experience worthwhile. "Did you see the kiss?" French-Canadian asks. "Yes, apparently there were two," I say. "Wait, what did my girlfriend write...," he checks his iPhone. "This is the only time they are allowed to kiss in public." "Why were there two?" "Because after the first one, the crowd went Kiss! Kiss! and then they kissed the second time," Zoe explains, being the only one who actually watched the balcony scene. 

We went on exchanging notes. Didn't Prince Charles look uncomfortable? Weren't the trees out of place? My God those trees. The Danish wedding was more emotional, of course. The Danish guy cried twice. Yes but my dad said that guy cried all the time. "The Australian girl's dress looked better," I chime in, having watched that wedding for a grand total of about five minutes. "You think?" questions Zoe. "Yes, because, well, because her dress was more puffy, more weddingy, you know..." French-Canadian looks at us. "This is crossing the line for me..."

87. Kitchen. Side by side, we are leaning against the radiator. I'm staring at my feet, she's looking at what I don't know because I'm busy staring at my feet. Outside in the living room, people are continuing the nice party, where she's been a perfect host, preparing lovely seafood salad, creamy tuna eggs, prosciutto-wrapped melon and plenty of other delicious food enough to serve an entire army. We've been in the kitchen for a while. It's hard to say exactly how long, but long enough, I know, for me to have missed that last tram. I could have left earlier, I suppose, but I would rather walk for an hour after midnight than missing this moment, the moment when I talk to her freely, like I always used to. It was usually without the whole feet-staring thing, though. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011


82. In his free time, Waldo volunteers for an organization that helps raise awareness about the situation in Palestine. 

"So, what do you actually do at your meetings?" I ask him. 
"We learn how to make bombs."
"That's all?"
"And how to throw stones." 
"Does it work?"
"The bombs?"
"No, throwing stones. But yes, do the bombs work?" 
"Didn't you see 9/11? That was our work."
"There was no bomb involved."
"So you think."

83. [28/04/11 21:38:18] shellaplank: Greetings dear!

Do you know that the most attractive ladies in the world live in my country? That's true!
I invite you to a very good international dating site where hundreds of lone I am searching forly hearts are looking for their future lovers.
I dream about meeting a charming one I am searching for for longterm relations or even marriage.

Are you the one I am searching for?

Probably not.

84. 11ish pm. Seen on Chaussée de Wavre.

Explanation A: Lab scientist got mugged; thief discarded one glove because it's contaminated. 
Explanation B: Late-night murderer tried to get rid of evidence. Unsuccessfully, it seems. 
Explanation C: Contemporary art. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


79. Someone has picked up the mail for our apartment. A relatively thick envelope is waiting for me, with my name and address neatly handwritten. For a second, I wonder what it is, before running fingers across the surface of the envelope and realizing that the thickness is concentrated in the middle, lengthwise. I open the envelope, not to find out what is inside, but to see what type of Galler I'm receiving. Noisettes. 

80. How to get a US visa: 
Step 1. Make a good friend, preferably someone who is also going to the States. 
Step 2. Do whatever she says.

81. Realizing that it's hard to find a "third" moment of the day, when you sleep for most of it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


76. 3ish pm. 

"Gazpacho-y, did you get up?" 
"Yeah *party*"

77. Number of consecutive hours being awake: 24 and counting. 
Number of times accidentally typing a four-letter word to a wrong Skype window, which happens to belong to a boss: 1.
Number of browsers that allow a certain submission system to work properly outside Australia: 1. Firefox. 
Number of times I've used Firefox on this Mac before today: 0. 
Number of ways Gaston comes up with to benefit from my 1-in-10-chance application: countless. 
Number of ways he comes up with that includes my mysterious death: 3.

78. Countless races we have run together. The trial ones, which, if taken place in the States, would have gotten us certificates for participation. We ran them because everyone did, and no one blinked when we crossed the finishing line. The 10kms, where medals were actually awarded. We were always supportive of each other, regardless of which one of us got to be on stage. Every now and then, I would act like a baby on the heels of a loss to him, but his pride in me, regardless of whether I won or lost, would always be unadulterated. The half-marathon, which I completed first, but only because he had spent most of the race holding my water bottle. After getting to the finishing line, I helped with his running. While it is tempting to think that my assistance made a huge difference, it was his grace and single focus that pushed him over the line in style.

Then comes this marathon, where not only medals but prizes of more than a third of a million dollars each are waiting for a very small number of runners who first complete the 42nd mile. After all the practices and all the smaller races, this time we are not running together, or even running for the same team. Or so it seemed. The initial interaction had been minimal: we waved and smiled, but each went on his own. Thanks to a terrible combination of trying to perfect every running step and being distracted by things off the race, a quarter through the marathon I was miles behind. Noticing my struggle, he started to help. Moral support, the extra water bottle, running techniques, jokes. Somehow, I got past the midpoint, in a more or less equal position with him, thus, even if ever marginally, reducing his chances of being one of the eventual winners. Knowing him, this doesn't bother him in the slightest. It never did. There is half of the marathon left; if we are lucky, both of us will emerge victorious. If not, at least I would still feel lucky to have him as a fellow runner, all this time. 

Monday, April 25, 2011


74. Guests of our apartment, when standing next to the window of the living room, often comment on the fantastic view we have. "Is that Parc du Cinquantenaire?" they would ask, or, "It seems so peaceful from here." Not Pierre. After a few minutes of observation from the window: "She has a negative-angle leg."

In someone else's living room, a girl in a summer dress is bouncing around, one of her legs, from below the knee, bearing the shape of a question mark. As I try to follow the bouncing motion to determine whether the question mark is an optical illusion, more of the leg is being revealed. It takes me a several seconds to realize that the summer dress has disappeared all together.

"Maybe we should stop looking." "Yeah," he pauses for a few seconds, while continuing to look. "How old do you think she is?"

75. "Ouch, my knee!" In the middle of the wide Avenue d'Auderghem, he's bending over, hands clutching one knee, face distorted in agony, seemingly unable to move. We've just come out of La Porte du Bengale; I've already completed the crossing when he suddenly looks glued to the ground. The pedestrian light is still green, no car around. After checking these facts, I laugh, vaguely aware that he actually had recent problems with the knee.

The pedestrian light turns red. As cars start approaching, he's limping over to complete the crossing. "Why didn't you help?" "You were pretending!" "What if it was true?" "Well, was it?" "No." 

It's hard to say which one of us should get a new friend, the one whose friend pretends to be hurt in the middle of the road or the one whose friend doesn't help. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011


70. A hot, bright afternoon. Lost in the sea of papers and to the melancholy notes of Chopin's Nocturnes, I am trying to find my way to Melbourne, when, appropriately, the seductive aroma of a barbeque weaves through the open window. 

Eyes closed, the combination of the unusual heat and the sausage smell temporarily transports me back to Down Under, where, true to the Australian cliché, I have spent endless occasions around a barbeque: birthdays, Australian Day, ANZAC Day, Sundays, footy weekends (which take up one half of the year) and cricket weekends (which take up the other half). Upon finding out that I am Aussie-ish, people here often ask whether it's true that I usually "slap a prawn on a barbie", and now that I really think about it, we rarely did. More often than not, it would be sizzling sausages, marinated lamb, chicken legs, caramelized onions, potato salads, and a million other things that we would individually bring for the barbeque host, and then spend the next five meals finishing. 

And, now that I really think about it, all these barbeques have been in Adelaide...

71. A life's ironic imitation of a scene from the TV series Friends

"So you really work with her boyfriend?" he asks me, slightly tilting his head toward her direction.
"Is it weird, that now you know, and she knows you know but he doesn't know you know, and, she knows that he doesn't know you know?" 

72. Nightlife near Avenue Louise.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


67. One of the advantages of having flatmates: You are constantly reminded that you are not the only silly person. 

Last December, when I told Gaston about the lake incident, by way of explanation for the heavily-soaked jacket with a faint cigarette odor, he asked if I had spoken to Tintin, who in the previous week had fallen into the very same lake. This morning, a few days after the sad departure of my butterfly bottle, Gaston pulled out from the same freezer a bottle of rosé, left forgotten and frozen for the last few days. However, unlike my unique butterfly, his highly-replaceable rosé is still completely intact. The alcohol content in his bottle must have slowed down the expanding process, consequently saving its life.

Alcohol helps, every time.

68. More advantages of having flatmates: Beautifully baked fish, and thoughtful comments on So you think you can dance, a BBC production with a quest of finding Britain's best dancer. "He has to go. He's ugly."

69. Midnight at a bar near Place Flagey.

Friday, April 22, 2011


64. A windowsill on Chaussée de Wavre.
Welcome. We've been expecting you.
65. View from a window. 
66. Rainbow's office. We have just finished lunch. I am lying on the couch, cuddling Fred, the fish. (Unlike all other instances in this blog, Fred is actually his real name.) They are discussing hotel options for their upcoming NY trip. I am slightly tuning out, partly because it's hard to concentrate on anything when you are lying on a couch, partly because something on the floor-to-ceiling blackboard is catching my attention. I am squinting to get a better examination of a simplistic drawing, repeated at a few different places, seemingly out of place on a blackboard full of conference details and work-related scribbles. I think the drawings are what I think they are, but you can never be sure. 
"Rainbow, are those... boobs?"
"Yes, they are. Each pair is for an accepted paper, for the conference listed on the same line." 
"So, boobs are equated to... happiness?"
"Yes, and the last drawing next to those three pairs of boobs? It's for a rejected paper."
"I can't actually make out what it is."
"That's a limp penis."

Thursday, April 21, 2011


61. 4 am. One of the very few reasons why I'm thankful for timezone differences: Victoria is awake in the other half of the world. 

62. On why 30th birthdays are more important than 26th. 

"26 is an even number," I point out. 
"30 is a more even number," says Turning-30-Number-1.
"26 is divisible by 13, and 13 is a cool number."
"30 is divisble by way more numbers. 3, 10, 15, 5, 6," counts Turning-30-Number-2, on one hand, then switching to the other hand, "30, 1, what else..."

63. Central Station. Unlike the previous times being here, today I'm actually taking a train, to the airport. Like many Europeans living in Brussels, Lily is going home for the Easter break. Seeing someone off or picking someone up always reminds me of a scene from When Harry met Sally, on whether you should take your significant other to the airport. 

Harry: You take someone to the airport, it's clearly the beginning of the relationship. That's why I have never taken anyone to the airport at the beginning of a relationship.
Sally: Why?
Harry: Because eventually things move on and you don't take someone to the airport and I never wanted anyone to say to me, How come you never take me to the airport anymore?

Lily is not my significant other, and chances are she never will be. 
I'm not Harry, and I hope that I never will be.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


58. From Australia. On whether I should refer to myself as "we" in a one-person grant proposal.

The "we" in a paper is grammatically a royal plural but I think the best way to think of it is as [...] once described to me - it's like the author and the reader working through the argument together: "we solve this differential equation to get ..."

This doesn't sound so good if you are talking about your achievements: "we obtained our PhD from the University of [...] in 2009". In this circumstance, I'd suggest using "I".

59. "Swing it over the left shoulder. That's the right shoulder. Come on I can see you! Swing it over the left shoulder. One, two, three, four, five. Good. Do it again. The left shoulder. Left. One, two, three..."

60. Dinner conversation. 

"I'd love to be FBI", I tell him. "I get to have a badge, and then hold it up to show to people: I'm FBI."
"But you can't be FBI."
"Why not?"
"Because you are not in America." 
"I can fly to America."
"But what can you do?"
"I have.... a mathematical ability," I say, slightly unconvincingly. 
"Can you shoot?"
"Have never touched a gun." 
"Then you can't be FBI. Me, I'd prefer to be NSA or CIA." 
"Why? In no movie you'd see people go, I'm NSA."
"OK, then I'd prefer to be CIA."
"Still, CIA doesn't show a badge and say, I'm CIA."
"CIA doesn't need to show a badge. CIA just kills people."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


55. We are working in complete silence. Our entire exchange over the few hours of this morning so far has been the bare minimum greetings, and me asking whether it was all right with her if I had a brief Skype meeting. It's my first day back to work, after the UK trip, but we don't do the usual "How was your trip?" and "How was Brussels when I was away?" thingy. I am normally a little more conversational with my officemates. Admittedly, the first one did abruptly move out of the office because I apparently had been as emotional as a brick; but I got along well with the other two. It is not my intention to come across as a brick again, but what with the writing of the grant proposal, I haven't talked much to Cassandra. 

As I am trying to figure out how to make my work sound tremendously important, she says, "Did you see? I ate all the oranges." For a few seconds, I stare at her. Five days of not being around me, and this is the first thing she wants to tell me? I want my imaginary friend back. The one that had to go to make space for Cassandra, that one. (The others are still around.) Reading my thoughts, she adds, "Because you told me to." Suddenly, I remember. On my last day at work, before leaving for badminton, I had specifically told Cassandra to eat my two oranges, the intended replacement for chocolate snacks. As chocolate trumps orange every time, the oranges had remained uneaten; hence my instruction for her. "Good," I tell Cassandra, "I like officemates who do what I tell them to." What I think but don't say is, "I like you more than my imaginary friend already."

56. Reason #72 why we are friends: Lily completely understands what I mean when, out of the blue, I say, "I have good news for you. Alexander's brother's kids are twins."

57. Potatoes, cream cheese, pineapples, mushrooms, bacon, onions. I am missing something that I can't quite put my finger on. I am at GB, getting ingredients for my flat's Tuesday dinner. What else did they always have for their baked-potatoes meals? I haven't seen them since leaving for Belgium, but their weekly dinners are not something I forget. Yummy food, good wine, the complete ease of being around them, and being insisted, after dessert, that I would have a glass of port, my favorite drink. "She's going to be driving," the weak protest would come, and then their reply would invariably be, "It's just one glass. We'll finish watching this in an hour, and then she could drive." Beetroots. Beetroots are what I am missing. And that glass of port. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

London IIb.

52. Early morning. On the way home. In a car that has collected a few tickets overnight, due to the impromptu extension of our trip.

"What was the best part of the trip?" I ask the driver.
"Sunday night..."
"What was the second?"
"Monday morning..."
"OK, what was the third?"
"Hard to say. I don't remember anything else..."

53. The glass bottle is standing inside the little plastic bucket, or perhaps I should write, both halves of the glass bottle are standing inside the little plastic bucket. The two smiling butterflies on the glass bottle are now separated, almost cleanly, each butterfly on each half. Water is partially filling up the bucket, surrounding the glass bottle. (Is it still called a glass bottle if it no longer acts as one? An ex-glass bottle?)

It is not one of the first sights I expected to see, upon returning after my UK trip. The bottle was my favourite purchase here. Having never really lived alone, it was a rather new experience when, after arriving in Brussels, I had an apartment all for myself. The apartment was furnished and fully-equipped, including, among other things, different types of beer glasses and a crazy cleaner. The bottle was just about the only addition that I made for the apartment, so in a sense, it was a little piece of mine, and there was something comforting about drinking a glass of cold water from the bottle, while looking at the colourful, friendly butterflies. When Arielle and I were briefly considering abandoning Coke Light for a better life and consequently getting a water bottle or filter for our office, I came back to Casa to get another butterfly bottle but there were only frogs and cows. We stuck to Coke Light. The butterfly bottle remained unique, to me. 

Now, I suppose, both halves are unique, and not just even to me. As Gaston was with me over the weekend, it is not hard to guess who the culprit might have been. What puzzles me, however, is why the ex-bottle is where it is, inside a water-filled bucket. Was it broken before being placed inside the bucket, which was then filled with water? Or, was it being placed inside the bucket, then broken, and how? 

Gaston just comes home. I ask him for possible explanations. What has Tintin done? Gaston does not know. He has seen the bottle there some time after my departure and before his. There was some ice around it at the time, he says. 

Then I remember. It had nothing to do with Tintin, and everything to do with a bad combination of a hot afternoon last week, the desire to have immediate cold water, a freezer, and my ever absent-mindedness. 

RIP, my butterflies.

54. A day off work, but still plenty of math.

A 25 euro racquet = A 15 euro racquet + a (post-birthday pre-birthday-party) dinner at Mamma Roma => buy the 15 euro racquet.

"Declined, did you say? Strange, it's barely halfway through April. Could you please put 10 euros on the card, and here's a fiver..."

The remaining 10 euro note = birthday card + a (smaller) dinner at Mamma Roma

(getting lost on the way from Port de Namur to home)

The remaining 10 euro note = a secondhand second-edition of An Autobiography by Gandhi + a(n even smaller) dinner at Mamma Roma

I hope my ability for making birthday cards is as good as my mental arithmetic. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

London II.

49. At the British Museum.
Greek Mythology 101 
English 101
"Oh look, a bathtub!"
"No, Gazpacho, it's a sarcophagus." 
"Is that, like, a fancy word for bathtubs?"

How To Make Chess Sound Less Nerdy 101
Good Life 101
50. At the Blackfriars Millennium Pier. The dangerously-named Virgin London Marathon was on. Spectators were gathering alongside the run, shouting out names of, I had imagined, their friends and loved ones. None of mine was participating, but that did not stop me from feeling and acting supportive. "Come on, PEOPLE!". Gaston pointed out that I needed to call out actual names, which, now that he mentioned it, could easily be read on the chests of the runners. Being lazy, I took the easy road and repeated whatever the little girl next to me said. 
"Come on, Pauline!" the girl yelled. 
"Come on, Pauline!" I yelled. 
"Come on, Mike!"
"Come on, Mike!" 
"Come on, lady bug!"
"Come on, lad- what?"
There was, indeed, a human-sized lady bug, running and smiling. Just as there were a Chicken Little, a cake, a pumpkin, and other colorful outfits, worn by those who must have thought running the marathon itself wasn't challenging enough, so they went ahead and added a few extra kgs of a Halloween costume. Accurate as my head cheerleader might have been, there probably is an age limit for shouting out "Come on, Chicken Little!" in public. I left the cheer squad and joined Gaston on the grass to discuss age-appropriate things like five-year plans ("So, you are 32..." "No, I'm 27." "Imagine you were 32..." "Then I would like to be King...") and intellectual masturbation. These two topics might or might not have been related.

51. Maya Angelou once said, that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights. I would like to add, that you can also tell a lot about a person by the way he handles a missed train, especially when he missed it because of someone else. While the real reason for the missed train is still not funny to write about (yet), I am glad that I got to see a new side of Gaston's, the side that, after being escorted out of Eurostar check-in area by security, calmly walked along Euston Road and said, "Look, full moon! How many times do we get to see a full moon in London..."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

London I.

46. St James's Park. We are standing on the bridge across a lake, imaginatively named the St James's Park Lake, facing the Buckingham Palace. "Do you want me to take a picture of you with the palace?" Gaston asks me, his camera poised ready. Next to his camera, my standard-sized Nikon looks like a kid's toy. Throughout the day, while he has been busy adjusting lenses and climbing over fences to capture the essence of London, I have been taking pictures that look like this:
A compelling reason for not jaywalking.
"No, thanks," I tell him, explaining that I generally prefer pictures without me. Leaving Gaston to take care of the Buckingham Palace, I turn around and take a photo of the lake surface. "Oh, you prefer pictures of ducks. Actually, you just took a picture of a duck's arse. You prefer pictures of duck arses. That's OK. That's cool. Everyone has his own preferences. I am not here to judge..."

47. We are passing by the 32nd one of the day. After the first 31 times, Gaston has learnt a thing or two about me. 

"Don't say it. Look at the other side of the road. See? Beautiful buildings." 
"But it's a Sta-"
"Don't say it." 

48. Being captivated by the photography exhibition An English man in New York, on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Pretending to be visiting our friends Liz (who kindly took the time out of organizing the wedding to invite us over for dinner) and Dave (even if he's too conservative for our taste). Walking through the nightlife at Piccadilly Circus and its eccentrically-dressed crowds. Being mesmerized by the performances of Matthew Fox (TV series Lost) and Olivia Williams (The Ghost Writer) in In A Forest, Dark and Deep, and deciding, on the spot, to move to London.

The National Portrait Gallery had not been Gaston's first choice. I know this because when I asked him, "Do you want to go to the National Portrait Gallery?", he said, "No." And, despite being into theatre, we had not specifically planned to see a play. Truth be told, we had not specifically planned anything. By Friday night, he did not know when I would be arriving, I did not know where we would be staying. My last-minute attempt to solve both problems by an email was rather unsuccessful: the email was not read until we were both in the world's largest Apple store. (Because that's what people do at the world's largest Apple store, checking emails.) Still, the day couldn't have gone better, had we planned. As an added bonus, the National Portrait Gallery admission was free. The theatre tickets, however, meant that I am surviving on bread and water until the next paycheck. I suppose if I am to move to London, I might as well start practising. 

Friday, April 15, 2011


43. Winner for Originality in (mis)pronouncing my name: "Nice meeting you, Zoo." 

Nice meeting you too...

44. Winner for Originality in introducing me: "She is the office neighbour of my PhD supervisor's former PhD student."

45. The Roots Bar. Some time before all the mathematicians-in-training take it to the dance floor and... blow balloons to kick around, to the dance music, in the disco lights. 

"So, you guys don't kiss each other on the cheeks in the UK?"
"I can kiss you on the cheeks." 
"Well, it's only for hellos and goodbyes." 

Thursday, April 14, 2011


40. London St Pancras Int. Station. At the queue for restrooms. 

In January, I stayed in Poland for two weeks. Whoever has been to Chopin's birthplace, no doubt, remembers many wonderful things from there. Me, I remember the toilets. The Poles, out of either minimalism or laziness, simply draw a circle or a triangle on each public toilet door, depending on the gender. Which symbol represents which gender, I never actually figured out. When I first saw these signs, I spent several minutes pondering. ("Is, mmm, it supposed to be of a triangular shape? That would fit, but what about the circle? I am somewhat familiar with this particular branch of biology, but a circle would not be how I draw certain things. Maybe from that angle?") In the end, I just gave up and used the parents-kid restroom. Here in London, the British would not do this to me. 

There she stands, one hand resting on the end of a mop, the other free to serve as a visual aid. Meet - I shall call her - the Toilet Director. 

"You, move forward just a little bit, juuuust a little bit, thaaat's it. Wait. Ok, that door is open. Now you go. Yes, over there. You, move forward. No, not too much. See the line? You stand right there. Oh, that one is open. Now go. Darling, darling, are you coming inside? Are you? Good. No, you, don't rush. It's too early in the morning and everyone's rushing. That would make things chaotic. You wait. Oh, two doors. Two, can we get two people to go? Gooood. Darling…" 

Poland, take notes.

41. Seen on a conference bag (which looks like a BORDERS canvas tote bag):

"After the conference, please feel free to use this versatile bag for any of the following alternative uses: 

BOARD WIPER - FANCY DRESS [w. picture of the bag on someone's head, with two holes cut out] - PILLOW 

And many more, like... shopping bag, gym bag, flag, dust cover, gift wrapping, oversized mitten, tea towel, frost cover for a very small windscreen, handkerchief, transportation of highly classified government documents, a really cheap present, ineffective water container, a solution to the economic crisis."

42. Where the wild things are. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


37. There's nothing like waking up to 93 emails.

"Brussels rains, rains, rains and rains," I had written to my Aussie friends before going to sleep. When I woke up, I did not get to know whether Australia, too, was raining. Instead, over the 93 (and even more later) emails, I learnt about transgenders, homosexuals, and how "Sexuality is a state of mind."

I'm going to fit back to my Aussie life just fine.

38. "No, I will not blog about badminton. Yes, it is possible to lose by that much. No, I will not play it again."

39. "I have a question for you," I tell her. "Et J'ai une question pour toi!", she says. 

This is how my conversations with Cécile, the department's secretary, usually go: I speak English, she replies in French. More often than not, we understand each other. I would ask if I could have some stationery, and, respecting my French knowledge, she would stick to the short and sweet "Oui!", only occasionally venturing to the higher level of "Bien sûr!" Today, I have a more complicated problem than a lack of stationery. 

There appears to be a certain tax on accommodation (or something) that the Regional Ministry (or someone) requires me to pay, because I had a roof over my head in 2010. I am a little vague on this, because all the information sent to me was in French. I have emailed to tell them that I do not earn a taxable income, so homeless or not, I am not paying this tax on accommodation (or something). After sending my email, written in English, I received a letter. The official-looking letter was of course in French, though, the pink-highlighted parts on the letter have made it look slightly less official. These pink-highlighted parts seem to indicate that I either pay or prove that I don't have a taxable income. Now, were he here, my Philosophy-majored ex would tell me to inform the Regional Ministry (or someone), that it is a lot easier to prove something exists than to prove it doesn't. But, he is not here, and, for most of our relationship I never did what he told me to anyway, so I am in Cécile's office asking for her advice. 

Which comes in French.

So, I do what I do when people speak to me in a different language: I fill out the blank. "Tu vois..." Cécile is pointing at the first pink bit. In my head, what she says is translated to, "You see, I was aiming at the deer, and then, out of nowhere, *bang*, my husband shot it." "Je crois que..." Cécile is pointing at the second pink bit. "I believe that it is not legal for one's husband to shoot one's deer..." There are quite a few pink bits, so I have the almost complete story about her hunting trip by the time she looks at me suspiciously, as if I were off to somewhere else. With an air of resignation, she says, "Je vais le faire pour toi." 

That's all the French I need to understand.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


34. For most of last year, I had lunch with my research group everyday. It had started out with seven girls and my supervisor, the opposite version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Slowly, for one reason or another, the group got smaller; by the end of the year, more often than not it was just Geluck, my supervisor, and me. When he went on vacation sabbatical January this year, I started having lunch more frequently with the Super Mario group. After his return, I would invite Geluck to join us every now and then, but I always wondered whether he felt comfortable, as Geluck was often uncharacteristically quiet around us. It is not that he doesn't know them. Despite being a probabilist and not working with Super Marios, the optimizers, Geluck is familiar with them thanks to his various administrative duties. Today, he sees a new face. 

"So, what do you work on?"
"Graph theory. So, no probability," answers The New Face. 
"Not everyone is perfect," replies my supervisor.

I guess he is comfortable being around us after all.

35. We are leaving the cafeteria, hoping to beat the imminent rain. So, of course the minute we step out of the door, it starts hailing. Looking at FL's head, concerned, Zoe asks, "Does it hurt?"

FL no longer speaks to Zoe. 

36. Early evening. The sun is still shining brightly. Groups of people are sitting on grass, shooting the breeze and enjoying the beautiful weather. As we walk past them, I ask her, "Will you miss Brussels?" "Yes," Julia says, "but when you start to collect so many homes, you don't know which one to miss." 

Having moved around as many times as each other, we start to talk about the pros and cons of such a life. The good thing about being able to live in various countries, is that you are given the opportunities to grow and change, in ways that you never would, were you to stay at the same place for all your life. You get to accumulate very different, many wonderful, life experiences. "The bad thing is," I say, "that you don't get to accumulate people." To be sure, the number of people whose faces and (half of the time) names that you recognize, increases as you travel. But, the number of people whose couch you can crash on after a bad week, whom you can call at 11 pm just to talk, and to whom you can't wait to tell a joke you just heard because you know they will appreciate it, this number usually restarts at zero with each new place. 

Julia agrees with me, but what she says next catches me by surprise. "And, because you know that you are leaving, subconsciously, you try not to get attached to people." I wonder if it is true, the fact that a traveller's mind does this even on a subconscious level; and if it is, which is worse, conscious detachment or subconscious detachment? 

Monday, April 11, 2011


31. 8ish. In the kitchen, dicing apples for the second layer of breakfast. My breakfast is the same for about three hundred days of a year, so I can practically do the whole routine in my sleep: waking up, snoozing the alarm clock about five times, rolling out of bed, opening the fridge, dicing apples, etc. This routine does not include changing out of sleeping clothes, which means that this morning, I was still in - what I'd like to think - a cute, flowing, free-spirit nightdress, paired with a pink light jacket. 

"Are you going to wear that to work?" asked Tintin. 
"Well, that's one way to turn Cutie McPretty off." 

Meet Tintin, my personal stylist. 

I briefly thought about telling Tintin that there was no "Cutie McPretty", and even if there was, I did not care whether he would be on or off. But, my personal stylist is also my bathroom-cleaner, pancake-maker, whisky-provider and general-life-advice-dispenser, so I just gave him the finger and went back to dicing apples. 

I did not come to work in my cute, flowing, free-spirit nightdress.

32. "Good morning," I say, as I walk into the office, for the first time this year not having to unlock the door myself. My new officemate is at her desk, taking up the space of my imaginary friend since the beginning of the year. The timing is perfect. Shortly after being on vacation for the first half of January, my former officemate abruptly left academia, allowing me three months of listening to loud music, dancing around half-naked, torturing children and generally whatever else that people do in the privacy of a one-person office. Now that there is officially no child left to torture, enters the new officemate. As I wonder if we would get along well, I make a mental note not to tell her about the tortured children.

33. "You could write about the tiramisu," suggested Zoe. Earlier today, Isabelle had kindly prepared two delicious, creamy tiramisus for us: one chocolate and one liquor-soaked strawberry. It is a testimony to our friendship that I resisted the temptation to take the plastic box away from her for myself, as I watched Zoe lick off the remainder of the chocolate tiramisu. 
"You could write about the tiramisu," said I. 
"You know how I describe things. 'It was very good.' Blog entry done. You see." 
"Oh no, you wouldn't even use 'It was very'." 
"For the blog, I'd make an exception." 

Sunday, April 10, 2011


28. After twenty minutes of playing Set, in which we stare at cards of different colors and patterns to pick out specific combinations. 

The physicist: “I’m gonna fucking dream about this tonight.”
The computer scientist: “Yeah, I get that. Sometimes I dream about Tetris, rearranging all the blocks…”
The economist: “Me, I have these dreams after I play Mario. In my dream, I press all these buttons, and then I jump around, you know. And the music is playing in the background…”

29. The yummy but rather unfortunate-looking flan.

"It looks like brain," said Zoe. "Really? I hope this is not what my brain looks like," said Catherine. As she slightly pushed the plate around, the flan wavered back and forth. "So this is why I don't get any work done!" 

30. A rare sunny afternoon on a grassy lake bank at Place Flagey. We are testing out Zoe’s theory of sunglasses being categorized into three types: the ones that bring out the red element, the ones that bring out the green element, and the neutrals. Zoe’s oversized green-rimmed sunglasses apparently belong to the first.

As he passes me the sunglasses, FL: “Look at that guy in the red jacket.”
Turning around to see, me: “Which guy?”
Zoe: “I think it’s a woman.”
FL:  “I know he’s wearing a skirt, but…”
Me: “Is it a skirt?”
Zoe: “Yes, it is a skirt, and she is a woman.”
You be the judge.
While the gender of its owner might not be immediately clear, there’s no denying that the jacket is perfectly red, and so is my shoulder bag lying nearby. But, what is the best red item to test the sunglasses? 

FL’s head. 

(And not because of his flaming red hair.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011


25. Two little boys, around six or seven years old, are wedged tightly in a 1.5 seat, the kind that seems to be on every bus here in Brussels and that never fails to puzzle me every time I see. (Why 1.5? Is it for lovey-dovey couples who can neither bear the thought of being separated into two seats, nor physically squeeze into one? For the Hulk? Or, perhaps, for the Iron Man and his chunky suit, when he is in town and needs to travel by bus?)

"Comment tu t'appelles?" sings one boy, an arm draped over his friend's shoulders, the other waving in the air, loosely to the music. "Je sais pas ton nom." continues the friend, giggling while drumming fingers on the other boy's leg. "Comment tu t'appelles?", the invisible microphone is passed back to the first boy, who, too, is now drumming, but on his friend's head. "Je sais pas ton nom.", sings the second boy, switching to tapping. "Comment tu t'appelles?"... Completely oblivious about the creepy Asian girl who watches them from afar, the boys merrily perform their little musical, two-line double act for the rest of the bus ride. 

26. The English Literature section at FNAC. Seen on a little green circle sticker on a book's cover (presumably to increase readership): an arrow piercing through a heart, and below that, 

I need to get one of these stickers for my papers. It might work. 

27. "It is purple, see?" said Mario to Luigi, while tilting his head towards a tram passenger, who was, indeed, wearing purple. "No, I am still not going to wear purple," replied Luigi. "What if Princess Peach is going to wear a pink dress?", I generously offered a bargaining chip. "I am never going to wear a pink dress," Princess Peach spoilt my deal. On the tram at almost midnight, the four of us, scientists by training, were trying to convince each other to dress up as our Super Mario Bros characters; to which end, Luigi would need to wear a green and purple suit, Princess Peach a pink dress, and Mario something red and blue. We did not, in the end, succeed in making each other look ridiculous, but we did have a very pleasant evening together.

Some four hours earlier, nine boys and girls had met up to have a leisurely dinner at the cozy Pizzeria La Bottega Della, where starter plates were mismatched and individual menus were unavailable, but the antipasti, the pizzas and the tiramisu, oh the tiramisu, were delicious. To quote Hugo, "Tonight, we are in Italy..." As we traded slices of pizzas and passed around the bottles of wine, conversations flowed easily, switching from one language to another. Between us, there were at least six nationalities, and even more languages. At one point, having graduated from the How-to-read-one-line-on-the-chalkboard-menu and the How-to-count-from-one-to-ten classes, I asked Mario for his mother tounge's version of "Whassup, maaan!"; the question later went around the table. The Italian version was, by far, the best ("Come butta, amico!"); the Portuguese version was probably as so-so as the French one (respectively, something like "Yeah-ee!" and "Zee-va!", the latter apparently supposed to be the reverse of "Vas-y!"); and the German version was... well, whatever it was, it was by unanimity the lamest. 

The good Italian wine at dinner and the Belgian beer outside a corner bar afterwards probably contributed to making the evening enjoyable, but whatever the factors were, the evening couldn't have been anything but enjoyable, after its lovely start. When Mario and I arrived at the restaurant, Gisele, Hugo and his former flatmate have already been there. After the typically European hello kisses, Mario and I took our seats, mine between Gisele's and Mario's. Wordlessly, Gisele slightly leaned over across me and showed Mario her right hand. Looking at the sparkling diamond ring on her middle finger, I wanted to say congratulations but no word immediately came. The last time I had congratulated Mario for his "engagement", it had turned out that engagement in his country did not mean the same thing as engagement in, well, the rest of the world. So now, I thought, maybe diamond rings in Belgium did not mean the same thing as diamond rings elsewhere. Maybe Gisele had bought herself an expensive ring and wanted to show Mario her great taste in jewelry. But, I knew that Hugo had planned to propose, and there was no mistaking the joyous expressions on the faces of Gisele's and Hugo's, so I congratulated the engaged couple. Later in the evening, Gisele would make fun of Hugo for his choice of vacations ("Why would you want to go on holiday to suffer, camping out in the cold and sleeping with guys?"), and Hugo would joke about to whom he wanted Gisele to pass on the engagement ring (his sister, not her mother), in the unlikely case that he would not survive the upcoming hiking trip. Listening to them bantering through the evening, I felt a sense of happiness and hope. May they have enough love, patience and kindness to be with each other for the rest of their lives.

Maybe we should campaign to get them have a Super Mario Bros-themed wedding, where Luigi will actually wear a green and purple suit.