Monthly Archives: December 2015

Christmas 2015


I’m different this year. A different cake (not the round cake I used to have at home on my round wooden table), a different hair colour, different styles of clothing, different wishes and definitely different feelings scurrying about in my heart.

A familiar post title- key “Christmas” into the search bar and you would find a post about it, every year without fail. Each year I blog about how grateful I am for my family and friends, who go to great lengths to carry out “birthday surprises” or even sharing the purchase of extremely expensive presents. Polaroids, watches, tablets, no matter how affluent and equipped I seem to be, my family would find something I lack and readily grant it to me without request. I am too lucky for my own good.

This year has been significantly different. I could not enjoy the company of my family or the friends who watched me grow through my teenage years. At best, I could only see them through a FaceTime screen, or through the tiny circle icons popping up on WhatsApp with long messages of how they missed the little bitch in me and how they would allow me to touch their boobs when I get back. They were no longer screaming my name at shopping malls shamelessly telling everyone that it was my birthday, or forcing me to do embarrassing things justified by the fact that it was my birthday as they did in the past few years. My family was no longer there to carry out the customary cake cutting every single birthday of any family member, no matter how busy we got or how ugly we looked that day. A cake, a birthday song, a simple celebration that in retrospect, I took for granted.

The irony is that I hoped for a celebration abroad so terribly much one year ago, when I sat down on a tree branch in Pangkor crafting my new year resolutions. I wanted to have a “white Christmas”, probably “white” with reference to the cold and Chrismassy idea. It was like a dream: who has never dreamt of themselves playing with snow and building a snowman, who has never envisioned themselves enjoying Turkey over a candle light dinner with Christmas wreaths all around the house? I often thought to myself how unlucky we were to be in a country which is hot as heck on Christmas, with barely a Christmassy atmosphere to talk of. It was even worse in my house when we gave up putting up Christmas decorations or playing Christmas music as we snapped out of the excitement of decorating the house. The significance of Christmas does not really matter to many, but it did to me for the sole fact that it coincided with my birthday. It would be so much cooler to be spending Christmas and birthdays in countries with seasonality. I mean, everyone who wished me happy birthday this year often dropped comments like “FML I want your life” “I also want to go” “Omg so cool I want to tour Europe too” “SO GOOD!!”. I would say the exact same thing too, to someone leading my life one year ago.

But I turned so terribly homesick midway through this trip, especially as it inched nearer towards my birthday.

I was literally shattered when I realised that I could not join Christmas outings with the 3 groups of people I was closest to: 4G ’12, Delta ’12 and 6/6 ’08. WhatsApped buzzed continuously, with how some guys were fortunately granted leave and hence could join for the outings, with my division literally yelling at one another through the division chat about their respective book-out timings for a Christmas eve lunch, with other friends texting that they have reached the meeting point, or that they will be running slightly late. My sister killed me further, when she listed out on a letter how I led my past birthdays: Christmas parties when I was younger, progressing to buffets at hotels and restaurants with my family, and then going out with my siblings to celebrate Christmas in recent years. She tagged these memories along with the fact that I would probably have a 2nd, 3rd and 4th birthday away from home too. My heart honestly aches pretty badly at that fact, and I am almost determined to return home for Christmas next year.

It took me studying alone abroad to realise that Christmas (or my birthday) was never about the venue, atmosphere, nice meals or jingles. On Christmas Eve as I walked through empty and deserted Berlin (literally nothing was open and I should be glad that the train actually still operated), I wished I could go home and blow out candles in the company of my family, before going for supper at night because you could almost be sure that most eateries back home would remain open anyway. I wished I could spend Christmas day with any group of my friends eating at cheap cafes or restaurants, or eating dim sum that I haven’t had in ages. Homesickness got so ridiculous that I even missed the crazily hot temperatures and how we could wear revealing dresses onto the streets instead of packing ourselves in layers of clothes, at best wearing a Christmas sweater on the outside to celebrate the festive occasion.

In a beautiful city like Prague, with Christmas markets (still) littered across and along the streets, I keep picking up signs of home. How Singapore has Madame Tussauds too, how the items on the McDonalds menu here are priced similarly to Singapore, how I heard someone saying “whatever shit” and “sibeh crowded” in the crowds of Prague and knowing they belong to where I do right away. An overseas education truly pushes you to appreciate home more and more. Home is where the heart is- and my heart has evidently never left home. I miss Singapore and many things that once used to make me frustrated (eg. hot weather which never allowed long sleeve clothing, perspiring in the crowds of Orchard Road, lack of seasonality). Most importantly I miss spending time with everyone I dearly love.

No wonder he returned last Easter, no wonder she could not wait to return during Christmas, no wonder, no wonder, no wonder. Everything I ever asked last year about seniors who were studying abroad are now answered by my own experiences, because I can’t wait to return home, too.

Hotpot

School’s out. I had hotpot.

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These two lines are probably the best to speak of. I had to blog about yesterday night, a night I had always been earnestly looking forward to.

I spoke to someone recently, and he mentioned how people in university fight hard for constants because no one would want to be alone. I am lucky, very lucky, in this aspect, because I found people I’d excitedly call out for meals, and enjoy hotpot over music that we all find familiar.

I am lucky: to finally find people who can tolerate my intolerances, who would be little affected on the receiving end of my taunts (and this, really, is the most appreciable quality), who stay humble and good natured despite being brought up in privileged environments or despite any form of familial pressure that would definitely get to me if I were thrown into that similar position.

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3 years, 4 years, 5 years down the road, when it’s time to return back in Singapore, I’d get really upset because then I know I have formed friendships that I’ll never be able to bring home.

Day trips to Oxford and Birmingham

With RV people, because there’s no one else you can be equally comfortable with.

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Apparently when tourists get to Oxford this is the first building they get a shot with/of, and well, we are tourists. Just Googled (because I forgot the name- sorry Deqian) to find out that this is Radcliffe Camera, which you’d keep crossing as you walk along the entire city.

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“After an exam, if students do badly they will come here and sigh” which gave it its name: Bridge of Sighs. I’m not even kidding.

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Christchurch College, one of the colleges we managed to sneak into without paying the entrance fee because of these Oxford geniuses. We nearly got stopped until they shoved their student cards in the faces of the college security- and we just sheepishly followed behind.

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The beautiful libraries, with tons of books. A box of free books for you take home at that- many of the books were outdated and thus withdrawn from the college libraries. That is how updated the databases at these world renowned universities are. I wasn’t greedy enough so I took only two- of course I am regretting now.

There were many things I marvelled at throughout the day: how the lawn was so nicely mowed and trimmed such that there was a contrast in the gradient of green colour, how there were people (still) studying in the library past dinner time even though it was already the end of term, how roads were completely pedestrianised and riders stormed the city, how the park (where Deqian walks to for inspiration at night) had no street lights or lamp posts at all and it got really creepy past sunset, or simply how anyone entering and exiting the college at any time probably had a brain capacity as large as the thickest part of my thighs. Come on, they were already hosting two of the biggest brains from RV! The 100 percentile lads, who complained that they were “at most, at most, average” in their school because of their comparatively slow speeds at attempting problem sets and preparing for tutorials.

We were hosted with great hospitality throughout the day, with Deqian being able to voice that this building was “founded in the 16th century”, or how the founder of the college “died in 18xx”. We were brought to eateries they frequented as students, and Asian food together, laughing at inside jokes (for memory keepsake: 情书, morbid, corrupted mind, Deqian’s “he’s saying something very bad” to Xingchen). Even though it was a last-minute arrival because we didn’t clarify our arrival timings clearly, they arrived in good time to pick us up and bring us all around the city.

We weren’t the best of friends in RV, mostly working partners as we chaired 4G. But in UK, RV is really a big and welcoming family, and to find a piece of family in parts of UK was really heartwarming.

Birmingham with Weixuan, to check out the Christmas markets and to retrace our footsteps on our UK trip more than 2 years ago now. I still remember asking my Dad for the cheque that spelt $2960 because I really wanted to go on the trip with Edina- and feeling so bad afterwards because I was such an expensive child. I hope he feels that the trip has paid off now, because that trip probably started fanning the flames for me to work hard and pursue the dream of an overseas education.

Many times we set our steps to familiar places to recreate this “sense of place” that has stuck with us. I never thought much of it when I learnt about “sense of place” being the reason why Earthquake victims still find themselves going back to where disaster struck. But over in this familiar place, I find myself yearning and wanting to go back to where I’ve been before because these areas bring me a sense of familiarity and home in an unfamiliar place- and the pockets of nostalgia I have in between my darker nights merely serve to perpetuate this desire.

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The Cathedral at Bullring Shopping Centre, where I shot a video in the night 2 years ago featuring Jiawen and Edina, with my voice exclaiming how “The Starbucks here is so cool” and how it was too cold for comfort. 2 years on I am here with Weixuan again, to find that the cathedral looks really stunning in the day, too.

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We took this shot specially to re-enact a scene from 2 years ago under the Pizza Express sign holding a cup of hot chocolate and a lemon tart. This year though, it’s not worth buying the food because they probably cost more than our return train tickets- so it’s just us 🙂

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Weixuan purchased a 0.5m hotdog, which I ate too, 2 years ago. I complained about this hotdog costing £5.50, but unsurprisingly it is now £6. Nevertheless I would think it was pretty worth the price because it was so long and filling- although clearly a long piece of meat full of unwanted or junk meat.

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Soaking in the Christmas atmosphere offered by the Frankfurt Christmas markets. It stretched endlessly, with arrows and huge banners pointing to more food stalls, craft stalls as we walked through more streets. I was unaware of this 2 years ago- we limited ourselves to where the carousel was and we stopped going ahead from there. Probably because then it was night time and it was really dangerous. We also ate quite a bit of street food this time- chewing on garlic mushrooms with (probably) ranch sauce, really oily potatoes, and treated ourselves to churros and chocolate marshmallows. We walked through the library where we found really good books available- books that you’d find on the Top 10 Bestsellers shelves in Popular, that you’ll never find easily available in any public library in Singapore. We walked, walked and walked through the entire day.

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Where we ate handmade burgers 2 years ago, I would have forgotten if not for Weixuan’s reminder. I remember being amazed by the picturesque landscape, and taking countless photos for one another. I think it’s wistful how I no longer am amazed by the architecture of many buildings around me, because what I once thought of to be a beautiful view is becoming nothing more than an everyday sight.

I enjoyed Birmingham with Weixuan as a travel partner, because we hop into similar shops (eg. Poundland, really) or probably because she eats less vegetables with me around. Thank you for initiating the day trips thus far.

It’s really apt how 手掌心 by 叮当 is now playing in the background as I’m typing this because I remember the 18 episodes I enjoyed on the long plane ride, crying and realising that no one around me had tissue paper to offer. I love watching dramas for their plot development and how they hit me emotionally at many points, but honestly I love them most because they belong to various parts of my life that I constantly leave behind. I remember this song and this drama as what it was when I went to UK 2 years ago, and as of late I remember Master’s Sun as the drama I watched when my sister stayed with me in my dorm because I knew I wouldn’t dare to watch it alone in my quiet and dark room. And soon in the future, Master’s Sun will be the drama I watched a few years ago, when I first moved into Schafer House. Honestly, I am not sure if I yearn for that day to arrive, or dread the reality of having truly grown up by then.

As usual

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I miss the bouts of laughter I get early in the morning upon hearing the first stupid comment out of my brother’s wits, and weirdly the frustration when he flips over my blanket and pulls out my pillow in the morning just to annoy me awake. Or how I would end up at JEM JCube Westgate late at night for movies or guilty dessert trips as and when I wanted to.

Occasionally I close my eyes and imagine myself on my Dad’s car. And I hope to wake up at Swee Choon where we had nightly suppers on my rare Friday bookouts. Or waking up at Tim Ho Wan before ending up somewhere else all the time because the queues are always too long. Sometimes nostalgia consumes me so bad I wish I could just reach home.

Oslo, Norway

It won’t be my last trip. Because I want to go back to Bergen, where the fjords and beautiful villages are.

Surprisingly I didn’t freeze my toes off in temperatures of 1 degrees because I was so well wrapped up. I wore a long sleeve shirt, a really warm sweater (inner lining completely fleeced), a light down and my crazily thick winter coat. Not to mention my fleece lined boots. I was armed for the Arctic man.

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Streets of Norway beautifully decorated with lights, lights and lots and lots of Christmas lights. The holiday atmosphere here was much stronger than what Oxford Street could possibly present- and I loved it in its entirety. The second image is a terribly blurred one, and I’m sorry for not doing justice to the camera quality. We ran into a group of little children who were decked in Santa Claus costumes, who stopped every 100 metres to conduct a small performance, joined by many little kids who looked upon them in envy LOL. Afterwards they hopped on this little reindeer carriage thing and I swear the entire city followed them- including me. They were in constant motion and there were thousands of people around so… this is the best picture I could manage.

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Appeared at the Parliament Building too late at night (and in the week)- no more free guided tours. I would easily classify Norway as dead during the weekends, like d-e-a-d. Shops close at 4pm, Christmas markets sell out mostly everything by 7pm, and no one’s left on the streets after that. No cars, no humans. City centre in the capital of Norway, really…?

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The only good meal we had in Oslo… for 209 NOK ($34). Norway’s Big Mac index is the 2nd most expensive in the world, which explains the price of two little cute pork chops 😥 Furthermore we picked this restaurant because it appeared on visitoslo.com as a restaurant recommendation for people travelling Oslo on a budget. LOL.

Afterwards we went to the Oslo Opera House to catch a ballet concert (LOL). I fell asleep though because I was so tired from walking around the entire day hahahaha. I caught most of the dancing, but not much of the dialogue. I mean until now, it still takes quite a bit of effort to pay attention and understand accents even in lectures. It’s just me though, and my inability to understand movies LOL. I won’t consider it a waste of money though, because I remember the little details that I caught- how they started the performance with familiar Christmas carols. It felt really festive and I was totally soaking in the Christmas atmosphere here.

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And Norway people are really friendly! I asked a stranger to take a photo for us outside the Opera House (where you overlooked the entire city centre) and his friend wanted to pop in hahahaha too cute! Everyone was so over-enthusiastic in getting a shot for us and helping us whenever we have questions compared to many other countries hehe. Got a really good vibe from the place 🙂

Night at the hostel was bleh but I guess you can’t fault the place much, the price was honestly rather reasonable for its accessibility to the city centre.

Started the rainy day late because I had a pig in tow. Worst experience in Norway: I had an upset tummy and I was urgently needing the toilet, but the one and only toilet at McDonalds was occupied for 15 to 20 minutes. I didn’t understand why. After about 62 years, the automatic door finally opened and I was finally able to ~everything out~. To tragically realise that there was no toilet paper, a total #fml on a day when I shat liquid and not solid. I had napkins/tissues in my bag! But I didn’t bring my bag into the toilet wtf. What’s worse was that I couldn’t ask for assistance, because the automatic door would swing open with my pants down, and the toilet was literally adjacent to where customers ordered food. So no toilet paper for liquid shit. It’s okay. Here’s another win: THE TOILET COULDN’T FLUSH.

I felt disgusting for the rest of the day; I visited the toilet in every museum we went to tons of times and still felt unclean 😥 What a horrible memory of Norway.

Moving on, we went to take the bus after scribbling the date and time on our Oslo day pass haha.

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Was enroute to the Norwegian Maritime Museum when we sort of got lost and ended up here! I guess Oslo’s full of such areas with shitloads of seaview because they’re situated so far to the South. I swear the entire route was picture-worthy, or maybe I just get too thrilled by blue skies because I’m so deprived of that over here in London LOL.

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Incidentally caught the sunset on our way out from the museum! It’s not like I’m amazing at photography so it was either catching the sunset properly, or getting a clear photo of myself, or a balance between the two so meh HAHAHA

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and me at the Norwegian Christmas markets! It was crazily crowded, maybe because the Christmas market was honestly rather small ~compared to Birmingham~. Queues for churros and waffles were crazily hell long and honestly I wouldn’t have had the patience to queue for it even if I had time HAHA.

2 days was honestly enough for Oslo because while the SAS flight was pretty cheap, the city was too expensive for me. Things in London cost nearly twice of Singapore’s prices, and I would say Norway was probably three or four times as much! However, I guess there’s a reason for all that pricing- they have to, because the city sleeps so early. I can’t wait to go back to the Scandinavian countries though, I want to witness snowfall, watch the Northern Lights and go dog sledding. I thought I’d get sick of travelling soon, but my short trips are merely making me yearn to travel more! Once again, I’m so thankful for the endless opportunities to travel on top of my proximity to so many beautiful cities 🙂 True enough, “dream big, you’ll make it.”

Barcelona (lies)

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I remember this email came right before MSTD. I filled it up almost instantly, and the reply came almost instantly too. First impression: the UCL Geography office is really efficient.

“Barcelona” sounded so exotic. I heard it a lot when I was young, as it was one of the only countries with football that my mother could pronounce in her thick Chinese/Singaporean accent (context: my parents aren’t exactly fluent in conversational English). As I type this I am still in disbelief that one day I would step foot in so many new places halfway across the globe, and I will eternally be grateful for the opportunities I have been presented with.

That being said, although we took a flight to and fro the Barcelona airport, we spent 80% of our time in Sitges, an hour’s drive away from Barcelona. Or maybe 90%. It honestly does not sound as fun as it should be, because we had lots of worksheets everyday. 8am to 6pm every single day, and you had to give a shit because those worksheets were graded.

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First day at river fieldwork: where we kicked rocks, caught bugs, measured pH of the water, paid attention to cobbles pebbles and boulders every 10 metres, and shook test tubes to measure nitrate and phosphate content. Let’s be honest: I have done river fieldwork in Kuantan 2 years ago, but this was a lot more enjoyable, because the water was freezing cold.


Here’s Kuantan from 2 years ago. I think I recall wiping perspiration off my sleeve, and being frustrated with the extreme afternoon sun during the double ring infiltrometer demonstration by Mr Ng.

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And then there’s beach fieldwork, running the lengths of the beach to measure the beach widths. After an entire afternoon of seemingly pointless measurements, I was pleasantly surprised when beach profiles measured across all the groups correlated and showed evidence of coastal erosion. “Putting theory into practice”, that was it. It was rewarding to know how coastal erosion patterns matched with wind patterns we had always been learning about, how coastal defences are built in response to destructive waves, and how recent storms can be so telling of an area’s maintenance.

That’s me without shoes by the way, which was probably one of the smartest thing I did all day that day.

Although work was quite substantial, we had lots of fun at night. My definition of fun, at least. Many people were out partying, drinking and clubbing, and while I couldn’t relate to that idea of fun, I had my fair share walking through the beaches in the dark, eyeing masthead lights and sidelights, secretly hoping to burn away all my dinner. At the same time, learning more about my intolerable self and what I cannot tolerate, too.

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Pictures of us during our late night exploration in Sitges, which stretched till 12am or even 1am. I don’t know what came over me at this point in my life, but I enjoy long walks so much now. In comfortable weather of course, not the Singapore 2pm afternoon sun. All these photos were taken with self-timer: I’m still amazed by my ability to find really strange surfaces to take photos on.

Away from Sitges: The 3rd full day of our field work was at Barcelona, where we witnessed the urban regeneration of places. The Raval, mainly, which was supposedly one of the poorest areas in Barcelona, where the underground economy operated really actively.

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Before then, they brought us to one of the highest points in Barcelona, to have a clear look at Barcelona and pay attention to some details. How the structure or functions of old industrial estates still perpetuated in current infrastructure, and the development on brownfield sites. Oops, is this blog post turning too geographical?

Next, something I could not stop showing off: we visited the origins of llao llao! One thing I really missed in Singapore was llao llao, it is truly an irony how we moved so much nearer to the source of llao llao (Spain) but ended up so much further away from it. There isn’t a single outlet of llao llao in the UK! One day I had such a massive craving I was even telling Weixuan I would pay up to 7 pounds for a sanum.

So when we were given free and easy time in the city centre, my first instinct was to Google for llao llao. When I arrived in Sitges I was quite disappointed because there was supposed to be a store 5 minutes away from our hotel, which happened to close down last year. If not, I would probably be eating llao llao every single day.

And when Google Maps said that llao llao was 7 minutes away, I got so excited. I did not even bother to verify whether the store still existed- I started brisk walking there. On our way, we caught sight of people holding familiar cups of yogurt in their hands. We were literally squealing- THIS IS REAL! I started running towards the destination. It felt like I was meeting my boyfriend again after 2 months, except more exciting because I don’t have a boyfriend.

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AND WE SAW IT.

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So satisfied with my yogurt, I almost wanted to get another cup if not for the fact that I was going to have dinner. The crunches, sauces and fruits that I used to choose back in Singapore were all available, and apart from a slightly less sour aftertaste, it tasted exactly the same. To top it off, it was 3.5 Euros, which would be about S$5.30. That’s way cheaper than the current price of $6.95, which can still maintain snaking long queues in places like Westgate.

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And then I entered Zara (origins from Spain, too) and bombed 100 Euros on a new winter coat. No pain no gain, although not in the literal sense.

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After walking around Disney shops, clothing shops, waiting for the lovebirds to finish chewing on their Spanish ham (ha ha), walking through dark alleys and churches, exclaiming how cheap Sangria was compared to normal soft drinks, we ended up in a Sports Bar to have tapas. Apparently it was a must to eat tapas when you are in Spain.

We had quite a hearty meal, and were about to leave when we were handed a piece of paper to partake in a bar quiz. We came up with a group name of “Team Singapore” and felt so smug about it, until we continually came out last among all the other participants in the bar that night. Obviously I had no clue about the Game of Thrones, or soccer, or embarrassingly, the various states in Australia. In the end, we left early, without any shame because we had an excuse: we needed to catch the last train back to Sitges. In retrospect, it seems really amusing, and undeniably a really great way to end off my experience in Barcelona.

Will I go back? Sitges, maybe not. I think I walked through the city too many times, I can still remember being amazed by the private playground, I can still remember that there were 8 sections of the beach and the direction of the incoming wind (and waves), the after effects of the recent storm, the hilly terrain all the way to the pharmacy… But Barcelona? Definitely. I loved how we were brought to areas that would easily classify Barcelona as “underdeveloped”, but at the same time given the opportunity to explore the city by ourselves and discover the vibrant mix of cultures, the bustling city centre with street buskers and graffiti everywhere, and the really nice service staff who spared no effort to strike up conversations with us.

And of course, to eat llao llao.