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.

28 October 2009


in my dreams i'm dying all the time
as i wake its kaleidoscopic mind
i never meant to hurt you
i never meant to lie
so this is goodbye
this is goodbye.
-porcelain, moby

3am at firenze's stazione di santa maria novella
[florence, italy]

15 July 2009


There is something about that time of night, that time when a peaceful calm hangs over a city, that time after everyone has finally drifted home from the bars and the clubs, that time before the early birds begin to stir and start another day.

That time when everything lies still.

Nothing can happen. Everything can happen.

And no matter how people always think it's crazy, I often find myself in these nocturnal wanderings. I always think that perhaps, when the world has come to a standstill, I finally may be able to grasp the mystery of life.

I never do.

Tomorrow will come another time, another stillness.

Perhaps then.


It started in Toronto: my habit of wandering around in the middle of the night, while the world sleeps.

Seeing this awoke a sense of nostalgia in me.

It's been three years, today, since that trip ended. I remember how shattered I was then, how I felt that everything good had ended and the world would come to an end. I thought then, with all my youthful dramatics, that I had lost Toronto forever, and I couldn't come back.

Yet, three years later, these streets look exactly how I left them.

Suddenly I realized, that I will never lose Toronto. Or Aix-en-Provence, or Turku, or any other place I have lived in for that matter. These places will always be there. I'm the one who has to move on. I have to grow up and become a different person.

I have to grow into the person I am supposed to be.


Three years ago, I asked myself why good things had to end, why I had to leave.

I understand now.

12 May 2009

be here now

don't let your soul get lonely, child
it's only time, it will go by
don't look for love in faces, places
it's in you, that's where you'll find kindness
-be here now, ray lamontagne

i turned 27 today.
[stockholm, sweden]

23 April 2009

how to eat in finland

When I first arrived in Finland, I found the food appalling.

Meals tasted like they had come from mass-production lines. Fruits and vegetables tasted like cardboard. Fresh meat was nowhere to be found in supermarkets -- everything was either cured, processed, marinated, or ground into mystery meat and resurrected as cold cuts and sausages.

My initial theory was that Finland, being on the edge of the earth, was so far away that fruits, vegetables, and meats aged and died before they could finish their journey to Finland. And, once they get here, they are cryogenically frozen by the Finnish weather.

The secret was to eat like a local.

Having come Aix-en-Provence and its lovely Mediterranean climate, I was expecting the fruits and vegetables I had in France to taste the same in Finland. That, of course, was a stupid assumption.

I have since learned to buy only produce in season at the kauppatori, and have grown fond of some local favorites, like Aura blue cheese (named after the River Aura in Turku), Fazer chocolates, and the wide array of Finnish breads. Finnish bread, in contrast to the crusty & airy ones sold in France, are hearty and grainy, perhaps to help keep you warm in the harsh Finnish climate. Hardly a day passes now that I don't have some bread -- whether its crumbly blue cheese on warm monivilja viipaleet (a soft, chewy multigrained bread) for breakfast; a generous layer of onions, peppers, lettuce, and roast pork on a ruispalat (a coarse, dark rye bread); or large chunks of sunflower seed bread slathered with butter from our bread station at the school cafeteria.

I still have to get used to salmiakki and lakritsi, though. :)

04 April 2009

encore provence

"Memory is a notoriously biased and sentimental editor, selecting what it wants to keep
and invariably making a few cosmetic changes to past events. With rose-coloured hindsight,
the good times become magical; the bad times fade and eventually disappear,
leaving only a seductive blur of sunlit days and the laughter of friends."

- Encore Provence, Peter Mayle

Was it real?

Sometimes I have to ask myself that, when I think of the time I spent in Provence.

I look at photographs I have, and I am hit by a staggering realization of how beautiful it was. I cannot believe that I lived there -- walked those weathered streets, laughed, loved, cried there.

Provence feeds the soul. It's like one of those melodies that haunt you -- even when you think you have forgotten about it, it creeps up on you and surprises you with a memory so vivid, so potent, that it feels like an oddly enchanting dream.

And the memory keeps playing again and again, forward, in reverse, in mometary pauses, until it overwhelms everything else and only the music remains.

27 February 2009

you don't bring me flowers

you don't say you need me
you don't sing me love songs
you don't bring me flowers anymore

[turku, finland]

15 February 2009

a break from studying

gingerbread cookies, anyone?

13 February 2009

the house that second-hand shops built

Today, I placed the finishing touch on my room - a 5-euro rug I bought from UFF.

It's hard decorating your room when you're on a student budget, especially when you know you'll be moving out in four months. Luckily, the Finnish -- never one to let anything go to waste -- have it all figured out. For roughly a hundred euros, I was able to deck out my room quite comfortably, with rentals from TYS and the Student Union (some furniture + a starting package of curtains, a duvet, a pillow, & some kitchenware), things scrounged from second-hand shops (a mattress, a rug & a drying line) and an assortment of items from the dirt-cheap IKEA. (A full-sized pillow for 95 cents? Outrageous!) Probably the most expensive thing I bought was a new heater, and that was only after I shivered in my room for a week and finally decided I couldn't wait until a heater turned up at the second-hand store. Hehe. Leave it to me to splurge on shoes but scrimp on things like that.

I live in a student housing complex in Halinen called Haliskylä, where I share a three-bedroom apartment with Johanna, a Swedish-speaking Finn, and Katri from Estonia. Student housing in Finland is excellent, a far cry from the French nightmare called Residence de Cuques. Everything is convenient and well-planned -- the Halinen landscape is almost rural with a forest and Halistenkoski rapids nearby, yet there is a commercial complex across the street and school is a 10-minute bus ride away.

glugging some glögi

It's Valentine's Day tomorrow, and here I am sipping a giant cup of warm glögi.

Glögi (also called glögg or gløgg in other Nordic languages) is a mulled wine that's normally served during the holiday season here in Scandinavia. It's made from spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, sugar or molasses, and mixed with red wine, vodka or brandy. It's then heated and served warm with raisins, almond slivers, and gingerbread cookies. Now, imagine yourself sipping that cup in front of a fireplace in the winter wonderland called Finland...

I know Christmas is two months gone, but Valentines is a holiday too, no? It's red, so glögi still counts as part of my Valentines Day celebrations. Besides, being a poor student like me, now is the perfect time to get addicted to glögi because supermarkets are selling off their remaining stocks for one euro! (Thanks to my "official" Finnish friend, Annika, for the tip!)

Happy Valentines Day to you all, wherever in the world you may be!

09 February 2009


It's not every day that something reminds me of home. So when something, no matter how small, comes to me, I grasp at it.

I am thankful that even here, halfway around the world, I know there is still a place called home.

the old manilla factory,
which is now a center for arts and culture
[turku, finland]

did you know...

...that there's a walk of fame somewhere in turku?

it's buried under the snow most of the time, but it's there, somewhere along linnankatu.
(thanks to ansku for pointing them out to me!)

08 February 2009


could it be the world's gone colder?
maybe, i'm a losing soul
the more i try it just gets harder
and my pain is getting old
- The Rain Don't Last, Hope

another snowy night on aurakatu
[turku, finland]

06 February 2009

how do you dress for -40 degree weather?

I've just signed up for a student tour to Lappi, or the Finnish Lapland. For the uninitiated, it's the vast wilderness in northern Finland above the Arctic Circle.

I get to cross the Arctic Circle -- how cool is that? Or rather, how cold is that?

-40 degrees Celsius, apparently.

Freezing to death and roughing it up in a cabin in the woods with ten strangers is not exactly my idea of fun, but then again, the trip promises a chance to visit a snow castle, go ice fishing, build an igloo, go reindeer sledding, and maybe even see the Northern Lights. It's an opportunity I just couldn't miss.

But somehow this still feels a bit too Survivor-ish for me.

I'll tell you all about it when I come back a popsicle. :/

*Winter dressing instructions taken from www.visitfinland.com

05 February 2009

runeberg tortes

February 5 marks Runeberg Day in Finland, the birthday of their national poet J.L. Runeberg. This also means runeberg tortes season -- named after the poet, of course, and his favorite pastry.

Here's some runeberg tortes from Aschan, a bakery here in Turku.

02 February 2009


That's Finnish for 25.

And here are 25 random things about me, cross-posted from my Facebook account -- because I am one of those self-involved types who absolutely loved doing this. Enjoy!

25 Random Things About Sheila
  1. For most of my life, I had short hair in an afro, just because I couldnt be bothered to comb my hair.
  2. I need 12 hours of sleep. Anything less than that and I am a zombie.
  3. I am the quietest person girl in my family. (Changed that since my sister says my dad is the quietest one.)
  4. I was once asked out by a waiter.
  5. I was once asked out by a grocer.
  6. I was once stalked by a bellboy.
  7. I was once mistaken for a hooker.
  8. Which leads me to conclude... I am very attractive to men in the service industry.
  9. I do not watch/listen/read the news. I didn't even know about the US elections until someone told me. I recently installed the CNN ticker in the hopes of being more informed, but so far I only know about stupid things like this goat being held in a jail in Nigeria for trying to steal a car, and that cows can produce more milk if you give them a name. Teehee.
  10. I am always mistaken for a Latina. Case in point: In Paris, a street vendor chased after me shouting: "Mexican lady! Mexican laaaaddddyyyy!!!!"
  11. I cannot go more than one hour without peeing.
  12. I have a built-in hot girl sensor. I always check out hot girls.
  13. I have swum in a pool filled with old naked women....
  14. ... and got scolded for having my clothes on.
  15. I cannot sleep without taking a shower first.
  16. I saw Enchanted being shot in Central Park, and thought "Which idiots would want to watch a B-movie like this?!!?" I watched the movie. McDreamy is hot.
  17. I can go for days without leaving my room. I am very good at keeping myself entertained, even when I actually have nothing to do.
  18. Someone once told me that I can be very funny, except I was sad most of the time. That made me sad. Hahaha.
  19. I cannot dance. I dread dancing more than going to the dentist.
  20. I have a hole in my heart.
  21. I used to be so shy, I was scared to order from waiters.
  22. I believe I was haunted by an evil spirit that followed me home from Montreal. I had nightmares for a week.
  23. I absolutely despise waking up early. When I was younger, my parents, our maids, our driver, our dog, etc., etc. had to drag me out of bed and shove me in the shower to make me go to school.
  24. I hate it when other people sit on my bed. My bed is my sacred place!
  25. I am looking for an internship this summer. If you can give me one or know anywhere I can do one, please let me know!

23 January 2009

the winter checklist

Contrary to popular misconception, winters in Turku aren't as cold as winters in other parts of Finland. The average temperature in January ranges from -10°C to 3°C, which, with the dry climate, often feels much warmer.

There is, however, a perennial mountain of snow. So, when in Finland, I do as anyone from a tropical country would do -- indulge myself shamelessly in the list of winter-y things to do!

perspective: 23 tammikuu 2009

the gregorius IX:n tie bus stop, where I catch the bus from my house
[halinen, turku, finland]

20 January 2009

great balls of fire!

I bought the entire IKEA Swedish meatball making kit.

Yes, I mean everything -- from the meatballs to the gravy to mashed potato to the jar of lingonberry jam that's probably enough for fifty meatball meals. I'm easily victimized by marketing like that. I went there to buy some things for my room, and ended up with a bag full of IKEA food. 

I can almost hear Florian's reaction in my head now: "Holy!" Florian says I do not cook anything except instant food. It's not that I don't have a choice -- I actually like cooking and am always willing to whip up a home-cooked meal. It's just that I am also one of those weird people who actually like instant food.

Anyway, back to the Swedish meatballs -- it's awesome.  I can't tell the difference between a köttbullar and regular meatballs from around the world, but traditionally, the Swedish serve their meatballs with gravy, boiled (or mashed) potatoes, and lingonberry jam. Meatballs and jam -- sounds weird, right? Absolutely delicious!

I'm a convert.

I will never look at meatballs the same way again.

19 January 2009

perspective: 19 tammikuu 2009

the view from my bedroom window
[halinen, turku, finland]

14 January 2009

why i always get lost in finland

Because everything has such obscenely long names.

tuomiokirkkosilta bridge
[turku, finland]

underneath the snow

The snow melts away after several days of above-zero temperature.
[turku, finland]

13 January 2009

what does turku look like?

Turku, having existed since 1229, holds the title of oldest city in Finland. When I say I'm from Turku, most people react with ooohs and aaahs, expecting to see medieval streets and buildings and castles.

So what does Turku look like? Surprisingly, it's quite modern. Turku burned down several times in the past, so there are hardly any remnants of its medieval past. Most of the buildings in Turku are actually quite new. There are the occasional brick buildings which were built in the late 1800s or early 1900s, but the rest are modern concrete blocks that were probably built from the 1950s onwards.

Come take a walk with me down one of the streets in downtown Turku:

turun kauppahalli

Turku has a kauppatori (market square) and a kauppahalli (market hall) where you can buy meat, fish, fresh produce, and other local specialties. Having had a thing for markets since falling in love with Toronto's Kensington Market a couple of years ago, I found myself searching for the Turun Kauppahalli as soon as I could.

The Turun Kauppahalli (Turku Market Hall) is housed in a red brick building that dates back to 1896. According to Turku Tourism, there is only one shop (that used to sell seal fat) remaining that has operated throughout the lifetime of the kauppahalli. Nowadays, there is a wide assortment of businesses: bakeries, butchers, ethnic food stalls, souvenir shops, and restaurants. My favorites are the kauppamuseo which shows a typical shop from the old days, and the Aschan cafe housed in a converted train carriage.

*Turun Kauppahalli is located on Eerikinkatu 16, Turku, Finland.

09 January 2009


I totally love this short film from the Schweppes Short Film Festival...

I'm terrified, though, that my life is going to be like this once I start working here in Europe...

05 January 2009

perspective: 5 tammikuu 2009

There are so many pictures I have taken, so many things I want to write about.

But I don't have time.

A chat with Christian provided the answer: "Why don't you do a photoblog? Spend 10 minutes a day. Post a picture. Write one line. Done."

Brilliant idea.

And so, here goes the first of a series.

*Tammikuu is Finnish for January.

my first finnish word: kiitos (thank you)
[taken in a hesburger in halinen, turku, finland]

thoughts over a hamburger

A realization: living in France finally rid me of my fast-food addiction. For someone who used to eat burgers almost daily, I went four months straight in France without craving for a burger. I guess its because there are hardly any fastfood chains in France (or in Aix-en-Provence, at least) -- which proves I'm a visual eater? Out of sight, out of mind!

Anyway, Hesburger is the largest hamburger chain in Finland, and it's based in here in Turku. It's quite rare to see McDonalds here, but there's a Hesburger in almost every corner.

Good thing I don't have the unbearable cravings for burgers I used to have!

04 January 2009


That's welcome in Finnish.

Welcome to the land of a thousand lakes, reindeers, and the real Santa Claus -- Finland. Everything is covered in snow, it's surreal...

a snowy mist rises over halinen
[turku, finland]