Thursday, October 20, 2011

Amsterdam I.

605. Stepping off the Thalys and into the rain. Feeling like I have yet to leave Brussels.

Almost three years ago, Amsterdam was a mini winter vacation taken between a graph theory Brazil conference and a research visit to Twente, filled with first times. First time seeing the infamous Red Square and belatedly wondering what his parents, devoted Christians, must have felt when I -- mistaking it for yet another normal G-rated touristy place -- confessed that I was very looking forward to it. First time smelling marijuana and thinking to myself that this city had a strange aroma that I couldn't put my finger on. First time sitting on the narrow flight of stairs in a dingy, cheap hotel downtown, trying to get free wireless so that I could send off yet another job application even if it was another half a year before my PhD was officially ended, almost ruining the mini winter vacation. First time wandering up and down the historic Anne Frank house, the spacious Van Gogh Museum, the long canals with white swans leisurely swimming while tourists entering colorful sex shops alongside the canals. First time watching a live sex show, discovering all sorts of interesting details in the grand total of two minutes: how white the ceiling was, how tiny the doorknob looked, etc. First time wondering to myself how I had missed out all this Amsterdam culture, and what else I had yet to know. 

606. Realizing how eerily quiet a hotel room is, when you are not sharing with other people. Apart from the solo trips to Wroclaw, Warwick, and Paris, this year it has been: London 1, New York 1, Stockholm 1, Italy 2, Berlin 2. Now, Amsterdam 0. 
Also, realizing that you prefer it when you are sharing with other people.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dentist II.

595. Pre-op. 
"Isn't it ironic, that we are eating cupcakes at the dental waiting room?"

596. Pendant op.
Dentist: OK, you should feel some numbness in your mouth now...You shouldn't be able to say sausage.
Me, instinctively: Saaasaaage. 
Me, toes curled firmly inside my grown-up boots out of fear, forefinger pointing at eyelids, which close and open quickly: Eyes...
Dentist: You want to close your eyes? 
Me, nodding head.
Dentist: OK, you can close your eyes. I'm going to do the same thing. 
Dentist: Can I explain you how I take out your tooth?
Me, still cringing out of anticipation for excruciating pain, thinking to myself, can I hit you on the head, nodding.
Dentist: There are three steps, the first is (something something something blah blah something medical blah).
Me, continuing nodding. 
Dentist: Are you ready? 
Me, nodding once, tentatively. 
Dentist: One, two, three! *showing the already taken out, bloodied tooth, hitherto hidden behind his back* 
Me, giving him an anesthetically frozen, bloodied smile. 

597. Post-op.
Still unable to speak (the second gauze firmly in place to reduce bleeding), "what are you going to do?????????" I type, then hand over the Mac to him before visiting the sink again.
When I come back, there is a second line on the TextEdit file: "Taking care of you :)"

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Flashback V.

All about a Belgian sandwich. [B-B-B Benny and the Jets!]

As most of you already know, my awesome friends got me, among other cool presents, a ticket to go to the Red Piano concert by Elton John, in Antwerp -- just an hour train away from Brussels. I've been meaning to write up this entry for a while, but put it off because of, well, insert any excuse here :) Anyway, here it is.

Thank you, guys! Miss each and everyone of you a lot.

7:15 pm, Tuesday October 13, 2009.

I'm so excited! The concert is starting in just over an hour. With help from CS, I've arrived in Antwerp (or Antwerpen -- I can never tell) safe and sound. When I left the house this morning, I've gone through the list:

1. Ticket? Check.
2. Hotel booking? Check.
3. Leave the studio/apartment unlocked so that the cleaner can come in and clean it? Check check.

Okay, #3 was just so I could tell you that I had a cleaner who came weekly on Wednesday, but I did have to make sure that the door was unlocked. To tell the truth, I was slightly disappointed when I found out that I would still need to take the rubbish downstairs myself, because it is not in her job's description, but still!


10:17 am, Wednesday October 14, 2009.

Last night was awesome!! Where should I even begin?

I arrived at my four-star hotel with plenty of time before the concert. You know a hotel room is fancy when it has a shoe shining kit

and a trouser press!

When I entered the lift to go out of the hotel, I ran into a middle-aged couple and we started talking. Upon realizing that I was heading to Elton John the Red Piano concert, the guy told me that he's gone to the Red Piano concert in Dublin, and "The man is pure genius!" I took this to be a good sign! So, on the train heading towards the Sports Palace, the concert venue, when a couple asked me if I was going to the concert, I gave a very enthusiastic yes. Then, without saying any word, the lady burst out laughing. It was hard to imagine that she was that excited about me seeing Elton John, and they didn't bother explaining to me what was so hilarious, so here were my guesses: (a) she thought that going to see an old, gay English performer in Antwerp was a stupid thing to do, or (b) she was just drunk. Judging by the way she maniacally laughed at everything else that her, seemingly also drunk, boyfriend said later on, I am going with (b).


The venue looked about the same as the Entertainment Center in Adelaide -- lots of people and lots of food and drinks stalls (although these ones had chocolate, waffles and hot dogs instead!). I was so happy that I just kept walking around and around, stepping on people's feet several times while I was at it. Really, there were just a lot of people. Then I realized that the music was playing inside so I thought, why am I outside?

Some singer was doing his warm-up act while I was blindly finding my seat, inside the by this time half-packed stadium. My seat was number J8, and the usherette led me to the J row, and told me to count from outside in to find the 8th one. I was seated next to a British lady who came with her husband. The guy was singing in Flemish, I think, as Antwerp is a Flemish-speaking area, so I started to try to find something else to do besides listening to mumble jumble. I decided that checking if I had the correct seat was a good thing, because, as I explained to the British lady, the last thing I wanted was some person coming in and telling me that I got his or her seat. The British lady told me that her seat was 7, and her husband, sitting on the other side, was 6, so I was good. 

We started telling each other about our life stories, and the warm-up act started to sing an English song. By the time I realized that it was in English, he already moved on to another song, which was a toss-up between either French or Flemish. I asked the British lady. "No, sweetie," she replied. "It's English. He's sung English songs the whole time." When I raised my eyebrows, in order to (hopefully) conceal my embarrassment, she said, "He's a Londoner," by way of explanation for his accent, with a tone that made me realize, wherever in Britain she's from, it's definitely not London.

The concert was to start around 8:30 pm, but for some reason, EJ was late and the warm-up act took longer to finish. Around 8:40 pm, the usherette who helped me out before came in to tell my British neighbor that she was very sorry but the British was sitting in the wrong seat. So, I said goodbye to the couple and smugly contemplated the irony of the situation: me worrying that I was sitting in the wrong seat while it was them that got the wrong seats all along. I wasn't being smug for long. Ten seconds later, the usherette also told me that I got the wrong seat. Of course I did. If the lady wasn't in what she thought was seat number 7, sitting next to her, I most definitely wasn't sitting in number 8, either. I got very embarrassed and quickly got out of the row to find my real seat. The concert was getting darker by now, signalling that the warm-up act was about to finish and I got slightly panic, because I wasn't sure where to begin finding my real seat. About a minute later, the British lady waved her hand and told me to sit down next to her new seat. Things are always obvious when you are told the solution: of course my real seat would be next to her real seat. It wasn't my feeling-smart day, I tell you.

I sat down as the Londoner was saying his last words, before singing the last song. He graciously thanked the audience for the time, and EJ for the chance to perform. He was doing so well, until he said, "And, remember. Eat something. Drink something. Buy something. That's my motto." Well, I still remember it alright, but I don't think it has the same effect that he intended.

EJ took the stage with Benny and the Jets, and the stage had all massive letters lit up, making out his first name. The acoustics was amazing, and I was sooo close to EJ!! Okay, not close enough that he could hear what I would say, but I could hear everything he said.


As you can see, EJ was playing on a red piano, which probably explains the concert name, and he was sitting on top of a star-shape, well-lit red platform, wearing a glittered, embroiled black coat and a red top underneath, completed with red sunglasses. Towards the end of the show, he changed the red top into a blue top, paired up with blue sunglasses, just for a change. After the first song, which was definitely better than the cover version by a drunken Katherine Hegel in 27 Dresses that K., K., J. and I went to see, EJ greeted the audience and told us to "enjoy the show, because there's plenty of thing to look at tonight."

The instruction for giving an academic talk is often as follows: Divide your talk into three parts. The first part is for the general audience: short, sweet and simple. The second part is for the general mathematicians: a little more complicated, assume that they know logs and exponentials, but nothing else. The last part is for the experts in the field: show off your muscles, go for it. This, was what came to my mind as I was listening to EJ's concert, because I felt that it was the way he constructed the concert. Three parts: for the kids, for the teenagers, and then for the grown-ups. Let me explain. (Oh, and did I tell you, the central theme of the concert was Love, which explains all the red?)

The first part: for the kids.

As EJ was going through the famous songs, like Nikita, That's why they call it the blue, etc, the decoration of the stage was continuously changing. There were gigantic blown-up flowers, with a bright L-shaped light, all in red:

From the photo, you can see how tiny EJ was, compared to all the flowers. On the right side of the photo, you can see a part of the widescreen, where he later showed lots and lots of footage and pictures. What were they? Cue the second part.

The second part: for the teenagers.

The show had somber moments, when EJ was dedicating the song Daniel to Daniel Pearl, an American journalist who was murdered in Pakistan in 2002 while on his job, and when EJ sang the song Don't let the sun go down on me, as a remembrance to Stephen Gately, a friend of EJ and a Boyzone member, who passed away in the previous week. During these songs, on the widescreen there were images of a boy lying on some sort of bed, and the boy kept getting older until mid-30s and then the boy disappeared, with lots of commotion as a backdrop for the poignantly empty bed.

 I know it was a kinda inappropriate thought -- the kid was supposed to illustrate the loss of Daniel Pearl -- but I couldn't help thinking how good his body was!

Then, it was party time.

 I could try to explain the footage, but frankly I don't have an explanation and I don't think EJ did, either. I could upload more photos demonstrate what was also on the widescreen during the second part of the concert, but I think you have a fair idea. Except, perhaps, maybe you didn't expect that EJ also put in footage of his earlier days, which I wouldn't have recognized, had it not been for my British neighbour.

The third part: for the adults.

EJ started with the song Someone saved me tonight. It was the first time I heard the song, so I wasn't very familiar with the lyrics, and watching the widescreen didn't help me understand the song, either. I was not entirely sure why the clip was chosen for the song, seeing as there was no saving in it. The guy laid down two pillows, one on the floor to rest his knees on, one in the oven to rest his head on, then turned on the gas knob and committed suicide. We know he died because his soul, half-naked in skin-tight silver pants, was seen leaving his body, adorned with white angelic wings. So maybe the idea was that he died and someone would save him in heaven?

The room (on the widescreen) turned red, so did the walls, the chair, etc. We saw a bride walk in. We could tell that she was a bride because she was wearing a see-through floor-length veil, and it was about the only thing she wore, in addition to a white belt that covered nothing across her waist.

 I know it's hard to tell from this photo, but that is a belt, not a G-string. Just trust me. Well, okay, I know this because at one point she was sitting down to watch the soul dancing around, and it was like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct all over again, but at least Sharon Stone was wearing clothes, if not the most important garment. By the way, whatever this bride did, it did not look like saving to me, but then again, I'm not a guy. Maybe guys feel saved when they dance around with wings while naked chicks pretend to be brides and watch under sheer veils.

Then, we saw him in heaven. All the dancing must have worked. Maybe he was auditioning for a heaven ticket, and she was the heaven gatekeeper. (They must have strange uniforms for guards up there.) However, if she was indeed a gatekeeper, she wasn't seen on heaven, which was illustrated by the blue clouds. There was a cottage, and he was inside, begging a talking teddy bear to let him have some honey. He was probably exhausted from the dancing.

Down on earth in the red room, we saw her getting a little too bored and too energetic - which is never a good combination. She danced around, then she sat down (that Sharon Stone-style again), and then she stood up to dance some more. The male soul couldn't care less. He's now seen roller blading. On clouds. With the teddy bear.

You can certainly understand why guys would choose a talking bear over an angel, however naked she was.

This has all become too much for the bride. She threw a red-piano miniature onto the floor, and that was the end of the red-piano.

Clearly, it has become too much for the widescreen too, because it went off for the next three songs. As fascinated as I was about the video clip, I really enjoyed the three songs that EJ sang without any visual effects on stage. The band also disappeared, leaving only EJ with his piano, doing what he does best - singing and playing piano. When the widescreen was back, there was a couple dancing around, with the girl practically, you guessed it, naked. It's a bit like, with the song Someone saved me tonight, the widescreen has passed the point of no return.

There is no way I can to do the rest of the concert justice, so I'm just going to mostly upload the photos, and let you see them for yourselves.

When singing Candle in the wind, EJ showed the footage of the epitome of sexiness:

And, I can't remember what he was singing at this stage, but it was not important, because here's the other epitome of sexiness:

Judging by the size of the drummer, whom you can see at the bottom middle of the photo, you can imagine how big the pair of legs were. By the way, the pole dancer was Pamela Anderson, in case you can't recognize her boobs. While I don't remember what the song was, I distinctively remember it going for some good five minutes.

In those five minutes, the stage has transformed a little, into this:

At one point, EJ stood up and patted on the cherries below the banana, near his star-shaped platform. He also encouraged people to come up the stage and gather around his piano while he was singing... something. It's a little hard to pay attention to what exactly he was singing, because at this point the breasts where shooting out... confetti? or strings of papers? and red balloons were floating down from the ceiling, around the whole stadium. In addition to the pair of female legs, the banana and cherries and the upright, peeled banana, there were also a lipstick, a cigarette, an upside-down ice-cream cone and a hotdog. Don't ask.

In a few minutes later, all the highly artistic decorations were gone, and the over-enthusiastic concert goers were off the stage and back to their seats, EJ was back.

He hoped that we enjoyed ourselves throughout the concert, and that he wanted to sing one last song for the night, Your song, dedicated to everyone. It was a perfect ending for the night.

Before the last song started, EJ said, "Wish you a lot of of Love. Health. Happiness. And Sex." The Londoner could learn a thing or two from EJ about choosing the last words.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


#. Waking up to the delicious smell of freshly baked bread (and the hopeful thought of being able to eat it soon!) It makes the Brussels-ly relentless rain beating down the skylight window a hundred times more bearable. 

For future flatmate's ad: Criteria #1. Being able to bake bread *and* willing to do it at one am Saturday.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Flashback I.

(In order) to consolidate two inactive Brussels blogs together...

All about a Belgian sandwich. [Never say never.]

5.58 am, Wednesday October 7, 2009.

"There would be letters, emails and phone calls, but there would never be a blog."

During my last week in Australia, things were extremely chaotic and it seemed like I was uncertain of everything. One of the things that I was certain of, was that I would never write a blog when I got to Belgium. There were many reasons, one arose recently that some of you could guess and another reason came from my personal experience: I never really cared enough to read anyone’s blog for long. Once, I went through a phase where I stayed up late looking up anything related to food. Naturally, among other things I found a lot of blogs about making, tasting, photographing, buying and critiquing food, and I chose to follow a girl’s blog about her cooking adventures for a while. About a month later, I sadly realized that reading about food at midnight invariably led to me rummaging through my fridge and consuming whatever that was remotely edible. So I stopped and that was the end of that blog (to me).

When I arrived in Brussels, there was no (accessible) internet at the place that I was, and still am, staying. It was irrelevant anyway because my laptop’s battery was absolutely flat. The multi-continental adapter that I had used in Europe, US, Brazil and Australia was, of course, broken, and this in turn means I couldn’t charge my international-roaming Australian phone either. There were a lot of things that I wanted to tell people about (none of which was particularly interesting or intriguing) but all I had as means of communication was paper and pens. I wrote down pages and pages (never, ever mistake me for a quiet girl, something CS realized ages ago and still made a judgment error of choosing me ^_-) with the intention of typing them up again in emails to people.

And that’s where I went wrong. 

Number 1: Do I really want to read pages and pages of my own thoughts again? (The answer is actually yes, but there needs to be months lapsed between the writing and the reading.)

Number 2: Do I really want to type those pages up? 

Number 3: The people bit. 

There are quite a few people that I would like to write to, and let them know how the place I had booked for my first few nights in Brussels never materialized, and that I was walking up and down the street of the supposed B&B with luggage in hand, facing two straight rows of intimidating houses with no sign or banner, and that this morning for breakfast I had a "Belgian sandwich" with a slice of cake on top of butter on top of bread, under the suggestion of my Belgian hosts. The last bit, I have to admit, was a much better welcome than the Vegemite bread that Australians offer (Sorry K. and whoever else that is a Vegemite eater). In any case, I wasn’t sure whether I could tell the same stories again and again. By the time I wrote to the fifth person, the "Belgian sandwich" would probably become a combination of jelly, custard, black forest cake, chocolate, butter, sugar and bread.

So now I have a blog. Just so that the Belgian sandwich story can reach its audience without morphing into the Frankenstein of cooking. When next week comes and there’s no more Belgian sandwich, I probably will run out of stories to tell. Until then…

Sunday, October 4. After 25+ hours of flying (not including transit time), I arrived in one piece and Geluck kindly picked me up and took me to a bakery [Ed: Le Pain Quotidien]. I had always known that he would make an excellent supervisor. Afterwards, we went to check out a place whose owner had been in correspondence with me briefly before I left. When we got to the place, the guy was standing in front of the apartment, staring at us. This was never a good sign.

His odd behavior was in sync with the house. Geluck and I went up three flights of narrow, carpeted, stairs along the dark red walls that eventually led us to a floor that would be potential new home. In the small kitchen that would make the OC-building kitchen look positively gigantic, the tap was dripping and dishes by my two future housemates were piled up in the sink. In the bedroom, to my delight the window overlooked a beautiful green garden (possibly belonged to someone else’s) but that was the about only positive thing I could say about the place. I turned on the lights. Out of eight, four were broken. A passing rate, I suppose. There were supposedly three white drawers on top of each other, but one drawer was missing. It reminded me of when A., my nephew, was missing a tooth. At this point, Geluck and I were looking at each other wordlessly. What really sealed the deal was when the owner showed me toilet. Or rather, when he explained it. 

Have you ever been to a prospective rental place where the owner felt the need to explain the toilet? 

He said, in a beautiful mixture of French and English, that "whatever comes from you can go into the toilet, but if it doesn’t come from you, it can’t go to the toilet." Guy thanked the owner and we left.

Of course, I had a B&B booking for three nights, in case my potential rental place turned out exactly the way it did. Foresight and all, even though the booking was done at two am on Saturday morning, making it late Friday Belgian time. I had written down the address, and noticed, at the time, that there was no street number. However, my reasoning was that it’s probably a short street, there’d be a big, big sign saying WE ARE WELCOMING YOU AUSSIE PEOPLE (or B&B), and I would be happily staying at an overpriced but comfortable place, sleeping my way through jetlag and homesick.

The street was short but, as Geluck pointed out even before we got there, had probably 40+ houses along the side. We jokingly agreed that he would take the odd numbers, and I would take the even. And, surely every motel/hotel would have a sign? Of course it would, but my B&B wasn’t a motel/hotel. It was a B&B, which didn’t stand for the usual Bed And Breakfast. I should have realized that B&B was short for Beds In Brussels, and the people who rented out these rooms were actually normal families who happened to have spare rooms. Guy explained all of this to me on the deserted street with two of us being the only walkers and 15+ kg of luggage on my shoulders. The joke about odd and even numbers wasn’t so funny anymore (not that, I suppose, it was very funny to start with).

Luckily, there was a couple leaving their house right opposite where we were standing, and Guy approached them to ask. No, they weren’t the B&B and no, they didn’t know where it was, either. The wife crossed the road and asked her neighbors. Chantal the neighbor, I later learnt her name, wasn’t running a B&B place either, although she did have two students staying with her at the moment. Then another couple walked by, Chantal called out, and we quickly became a big group of happy, French-speaking, people on the street. For all I knew, they were probably saying that there was this Vietnamese idiot who came from Australia with an imaginary B&B reservation. But if it was the case, no one was translating it back in English to me.

(I should get ready to go to school, it’s 6:55 am now and class starts at 8:00. I’m auditing Geluck’s class today, learning both French and his m.a. methods at the same time!)