14 April 2016

goodbye ayman

On the eve of the first birthday I spent in Paris, I met a guy. I was giddily excited and announcing to anyone who would listen that it was my birthday in a couple of hours, to which he quietly shared that it was his birthday, too.

I thought he was kidding, but an exchange of IDs later, and it was true. I was halfway around the world, and I had just met the first person I knew who shared my birthday, just as the clock was about to strike midnight.

Every year since that day, he would greet me. You're allowed to be self-centered on your birthday, but this was a guy who took the time out of his own birthday to greet me. "How is it possible that every year we celebrate our birthday together?" he would write.

Just last week, with May looming soon, I was thinking I should try to greet him first this year, because he was always so good at remembering.

Except I won't be able to. He died today.

Apart from the shock, there is an even greater grief knowing that up until now we had spent exactly the same number of days on earth. But here I am going on with so many future plans, expecting a bright future ahead of me. Yet, for him, it is over. How is it possible for life to be so short for some? Just a month short of his next birthday! Why wasn't he given more time?

I wept.

Because I realized that after all, we are not the masters of our fate. We can plot and plan all we want, but our end is still nothing we can control. If it was my time to go tomorrow, would I be ready?

Rest in peace, Ayman. Thank you for sharing my birthday, even if just for thirty-three years.

27 November 2014

land's end

And so, after almost seven years in Europe, I have reached the edge of the continent: Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe.

There is something poignant about setting foot here, something that tugs quietly at my heartstrings, and whispers that yes, perhaps, it is time to move on.

"Aqui, onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa... (Here, where the land ends and the sea begins...)" - Luís de Camões, Os Lusíadas

[Cabo Da Roca-Ponta Mais Ocidental Do Continente Europeu]

31 July 2014

it's a choice to be happy

Sometimes, I worry a lot.

I worry about life, or work, or my health, or whatever struggle it is that I think I'm facing that day.

But today, I received an email from an ex-colleague in Israel, after I had checked in on him and the team. Instead of me being worried for them, I ended up getting teary-eyed as I read the email. Speaking to someone who is there, caught in the crossfire, but still trying to make life as normal as possible, was sobering.

It really put things into perspective. When they ask me how I've been, how can I possibly respond with something as mundane as, "Well, things have been so-so, I've been a bit stressed because of recently."

So a note to myself, when I think I'm going through a rough patch: Everyone is going through their own struggles. You are safe, you are healthy, you have enough food and a roof over your head, you have family and friends you can rely on -- you already are much, much luckier than most people.

It's a choice to be happy.

27 July 2014

summer salsa

When I first arrived in Paris, I lived in a colocation with a French girl who had grown up in the Côte d'Ivoire. One Sunday, while I was still burrowing under my covers from the winter cold, she knocked on my door to invite me for lunch. So I padded over, still buried under a thick sweater, fleece pants, and socks, for a simple lunch of fried sardines and mango salsa she had thrown together from a trip to the weekend market.

My eyes widened as soon as I put the first spoonful in my mouth. It was the tropics in a single bite. I could feel the heat, the sun, the sea breeze -- heck, I even expected afrobeat music to start playing in the background.

This summer, the burgeoning heat in Paris has had me craving for fresh summery flavors: I've been feasting on tons of charentais melons and watermelons, sipping icy lemon juice, and fantasizing about filling my vegetable compartment with ripe juicy tomatoes still on the vine.

Then I found myself dreaming of that sardine & salsa dish again.

So here is my attempt at my own version: sardine fillets marinated in lemon and herbes de provence & pan-fried in olive oil, some couscous, and salsa. (Forgive the plating, it's really not one of my skills.)

I'd never made salsa before, and was surprised to find how quick and simple it was to make. As I didn't have any mangos, I made a version from ingredients I could easily find. Alter the quantities to your taste-- I love how coriander adds an extra zing of freshness to a dish, so added a ton of that!

Avocado Salsa
2 avocados, diced
1 onion, finely shopped
2-3 tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
1 tbsp. lemon juice
A sprinkle of salt, pepper, and garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, toss, and stir. Let stand for around 10 minutes to let the flavors settle, and serve.

Bon appetit!

16 May 2014

eat, pray, eat, love

eat. my favorite part of the day was eating at this local trattoria, where you squeeze yourself into one of the communal tables, jot down your choice from the menu (handwritten, since it apparently changes daily), and hand it over to the waiter. no one spoke english, so i just chose what i could understand -- and was treated to a delicious no-frills meal for only 8€!

pray. i almost passed this church, which looked nondescript from the outside. i'm glad i decided to peek in, because it turned out to be one of the most beautiful i've ever seen!

eat. again. snacking at this little kiosk that cells sfogliatella calda, a local pastry filled with ricotta, served steaming hot from the oven.

love. as i couldn't find an italian man to love, i present to you a sculpture unearthed from pompeii. look closely. no further comments.

[napoli, italy]

15 May 2014


Capri, playground of the rich and famous: where Louis Vuitton does espadrilles and taxis are open-topped convertibles.

(Side story: The taxi driver caught me sneaking a picture of his taxi and joked "Signora, that will be 10€!" To which I promptly replied "No, I'll pay with a smile!" and flashed him my million dollar smile. *applause from the taxi drivers* Bow.)

12 May 2014

sometimes, when you randomly get off a bus

On a whim, I decided to get off the bus at Atrani, a small town just around the headland from its more famous neighbor, Amalfi. A whitewashed town nestled at the foot of the hills and a small beach, it was one not given over to tourism. The buildings were old and scarred by the elements, and held the romance of another era.

It was then that I noticed the cables running along the length of the street, the catering cars, and camera lights emblazoned with a Cinetecnica logo -- I had walked right into a movie shoot! (Notice the retro bus and people clad in 40s garb.)

It was the Italy of Cinema Paradiso.

And I was entranced.

[atrani, italy]

11 May 2014

the dream drive on the amalfi coast

I munch on a panini as the bus pulls out of Sorrento. I’m still only halfway to my destination, the transfer giving me just enough time to have a quick break at a cafeteria near the station.

The bus starts winding up the hills, on to the neighboring communes of Piano di Sorrento and Sant’Agnello. We pass monstrous blocks of resort hotels, which thankfully thin out to pastel colored houses, lemon groves, and glimpses of villages across the hill. We climb up, and up, and up, twisting and turning, until finally we are high in the clouds and there is nothing but fog and the road in front of us.

Then, because nature has a flair of drama, the curtain of clouds are drawn back. The Amalfi Coast lies sparkling before our eyes. Cliff after cliff of villages, tumbling down into the Mediterranean Sea.

It’s so beautiful I want to weep.

[costiera amalfitana, salerno, italy]

08 May 2014

from napoli to sorrento on the circumvesuviana

The train is a rickety metal contraption, perhaps from the 1970s. On it is a mixture of people: tourists with cameras slung around their neck, locals on their daily commute to the next town, workers lugging huge carts loaded with bags of produce. 

Italian is an emotional, expressive language, as proven by the loud chatter that fills the carriage. Across me, a gold-ringed aviator-shaded men sits, his shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest, showcasing his bountiful treasure of thick chest hair. It would be borderline humorous and creepy, if not for the gentle care he gave his son, who seemed to be suffering from a stomachache. He seemed a good father, and that was enough.

A five-year old boy alights at Pompeii, busking for coins with his little accordion. He can barely belt out a tune, but he is so adorable he earns a few coins from the passengers. Then it's a group of buskers that hop on the train, playing a jazzed-up version of the lambada. It incites the very gay group of Italian teeneagers next to me to start gyrating on the train's railings and dancing in the aisles. Their spirit is contagious, and pretty soon everyone is smiling and bopping their head to the beat of the drums.

And then the laundry-festooned buildings give way to the views of Mount Vesuvius, and finally to the sea.

We have reached Sorrento.

18 November 2011

in time of daffodils | goodbye, eindhoven

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)

in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me
-e.e. cummings

and so a year in eindhoven has passed.
bittersweet, but still,
i am thankful for the memories.
thank you, eindhoven. remember me.
[genneper parken, eindhoven, the netherlands]

15 April 2010

parlez-vous francais?

My colleagues complain that I hardly ever speak in French, apart from "Oui!" and "Non!" and "Je ne comprends pas!"  So today, in an effort to humor them, I walked to my desk and greeted Jean-Pierre in the most bibo voice I could muster:

"Salut! Ca va? Je m'appelle Sheila!" (Hello! How are you? I am Sheila!)

Jean-Pierre stops in his tracks, raises his eyebrows at me, and is already laughing when he replies: "Salut Sheila! D'ou viens tu?" (Hello Sheila! Where are you from?)

Encouraged, I try to crack a joke with my newfound French vocabulary. "Je viens de... how do you say 'heaven' in French?"


"Je viens de Paradis!" I exclaim proudly.  What I meant to say, of course, is that I had come down from heaven to grace him with my angelic presence.

Jean-Pierre cracks up. "You just said you died and came back from the dead. Or, it could also mean that you died and went to heaven, but heaven sent you back because they didn't want you."


31 March 2010

the banana phone

One of my fears, before I began my internship here in France, was that: a) I would be stuck with a bunch of middle-aged employees who talked about their houses, children, and mortgages; or b) be the only girl amidst male nuclear scientists and engineers who liked to discuss theoretical physics in their spare time.

In other words, that I would be bored shitless.

That was until I met my officemates. The conversations we have are so stupid it's hilarious.

Today, Jean-Pierre, the guy who sits across my desk in the office, walked into our room complaining that he had left his mobile phone at home.

ME: Oh? (hands the banana on my desk to him) You can use this instead! (I demonstrate and put the banana to my ear like a phone.)
JEAN-PIERRE: You think that's a phone?!?
ME: Yes, haven't you seen on the internet? (goes to Google and comes back with this picture) See?

JEAN-PIERRE (giving me a strange look): You're crazy.
ME (still searching on Google): Oh, this is even better! See? It's so famous on Google.

JEAN-PIERRE: You know, in France, when we see a banana we don't think of a telephone.
ME (pausing for a moment to register what he's saying): Oh.
JEAN-PIERRE (cracking up now): Yes, you will see! Google "banane" and see what comes up! Come on, try it!
ME: No, I don't want!

At this point Jean-Pierre starts laughing like a madman.

Suddenly we hear a muffled voice coming through the walls. It's Samuel, the guy from the room next door, yelling, JEAAAAN-PIEEEEERRRE! What are you doing to She-la?

JEAN-PIERRE (stops laughing and puts a deadpan face on): He's jealous.

Hahaha. I'm gonna miss these guys when my internship ends.

PS. If you are one of the losers who have never heard of a banana phone, watch this. It's from the pre-YouTube era, one of the most annoyingly LSS-inducing songs ever. ;) Ring ring ring ring banana phoooooone....

01 January 2010


the blue moon shining on new year's eve
[tilburg, the netherlands]

They say that things just cannot grow
Beneath the winter snow
Or so I have been told.

They say it's bad to start the new year on a sad note.

They say the new year brings with it another chance to start over.

They say you should welcome change, because with it comes growth.

They say many things. You think that perhaps, with all this imparted wisdom, you would be all the wiser when life happens to you. You think you will be smarter. You think you will be stronger. But when it finally happens, none of the things you've heard matter.

It's still difficult.

It hurts just as bad.

I still believe in summer days
The seasons always change
And life will find a way.
- Winter Song, Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson

25 December 2009

happy holidays from tilburg

This time of year the church bells ring
And carolers on corners, sing
Of gifts of love and peace and cheer
And a happy, prosperous New Year.

As Christmas Day ends, I wanted to send you my warmest wishes from Tilburg -- I wish that the feeling of love, peace, and joy that envelops this season remain with you throughout the new year.

As for me, I spent the past two days visiting the Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany, where I stuffed myself silly trying all the local dishes: wurst grilled over charcoal, reibekuchen (potato cakes) served with applesauce, dampfnudels topped with vanilla sauce and berries, mugs of glühwein (mulled red wine), leberkäse served a fried egg and potatoes, schweinshaxe (pork knuckles) with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, glasses of Kölsch (a local beer brewed in Cologne), and a lot of other dishes whose names I can't even recall. I think I gained ten pounds in two days! :) On Christmas Eve, I had a lovely dinner with friends in a little restaurant on the banks of the Rhine and capped it with a midnight mass at the Kölner Dom.

Now, I'm having myself a merry little white Christmas here in Tilburg, The Netherlands, where I'm doing a semester of my masters programme. (The picture above is one I took of Heuvelstraat, Tilburg’s main shopping street.) It's my first Christmas away from family, but I have discovered it is possible to be miles away from home and yet still feel the warmth of home. I feel truly thankful that I am blessed and loved. :)

Thanks for being a part of my 2009, and all the best in 2010!

28 November 2009

in the wee small hours of the morning

It's two in the morning, and here I am writing in a small room in the south of the Netherlands.

It feels strange to write that. I live in the Netherlands. Sometimes I feel like I have to pinch myself just to make sure that this -- the past one and a half year -- is not a dream.

My third semester here in Europe has almost come and gone. In a month, I will be packing up my things again for my next destination -- time to wrap up everything I've learned, do an internship, write a thesis, and get that Masters degree under my belt. Where do I go next? I don't know. I guess I should worry, but right now, none of that matters.

I just know I am thankful.

My journey across Europe -- fifteen months, three countries -- has been a whirlwind of new faces, places, and discoveries. I am thankful that throughout this journey, I have had my friends and family by my side, and a multitude of strength from God to surpass any difficulties. I am thankful to have been given the abundance of blessings to have lived the life I have lived until now.

I am truly lucky and blessed.

There is much more to come, but I already know my life has been a complete and utter success.

No regrets.