N4 Finsbury Park

 
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After the a few weeks of temporary housing, I moved to an area called Finsbury Park. It’s located north of central London, about 15 minutes tube ride from King’s Cross Station. I chose there because it’s easy to get to by tube or train, and the rent is cheaper than other hot areas in London. I found a nice and small flat on the high street in the area. My flatmate, Nick, is a lawyer in the city, who kept the flat extremely clean and neat. The style is modern and simple, and could be a show room for John Lewis, a British department store known for its quality goods.

 
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I consider myself a very neat and organised person, but my flatmate Nick is in another level in terms of cleanness. The surfaces are always empty and clean. Even the cabinets are organised and clean. I love the neatness of the house, but later I realised it’s not the best setup for my creativity. I was always hesitant to use the shared dining table to draw or paint, because I don’t want him to see that I’m making a mess in the shared space.

Helsinki Sauna

 
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Helsinki is the third Scandinavian city I visited, after Copenhagen and Stockholm. They have a very similar feeling with grey skies and the sea, but I had a different experience in Helsinki because I took a sauna bath there.

The last time I had sauna was in elementary school, there was a small sauna room at the swimming pool we used to go to. I didn’t expect I will go to sauna in Finland, but Sauna is actually a very important part of the Finnish culture. It’s a tradition to take hot sauna and jump into the snow to finish, as I learned it in the National Museum of Finland in Helsinki.

I booked a cool-looking sauna place called Löyly. It is a very modern architecture designed with clear lines and is made of wooden slates. It’s just off the city centre and facing the Baltic Sea, so you can have a dip there after the steamy sauna.

One of the two sauna rooms here is made of dark smoky wood. As soon as you walk in, you can smell the smoky air. The Finnish people are all pros and were constantly adding water to make it hotter and more steamy, but I had to close my eyes to protect my eyeballs from the heat.

After a few rounds of sauna bath, I was ready to soak in the Baltic Sea. Although it was only end of August, the water felt very icy and I only ended up dipping my feet.

Copenhagen and Nordic food

 
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Copenhagen is one of my first destinations since I moved to Europe. I tried to squeeze as many as possible in my 3-day work trip there. On the night I arrived, I had dinner at a Nordic restaurant called Höst. The restaurant was famous for the “surprise dishes”, so they will offer a couple of dishes that’s not on the menu.

I’ve never had Nordic food before and had zero expectation. I ordered a 3 course meal with juice pairing. It was mind-blowing. Because I had never have Scandinavian food before, I found the presentation and ingredients to be very exotic. The amuse-bouche was three potato chips on a tree on a “stone beach”. I took many photos before realising the edible part is just the three chips on the tree. Everything else is decoration. The presentation of the food is themed around rustic Danish life. For example, the bread was presented in a bowl full of hays, and the stony beach was a consistent element. I also noticed lingonberry, which I’ve never heard before, appeared in many dishes. The lingonberry juice was paired for the cucumber and shrimp starter.

Everything in Copenhagen seems tall to me, from the ceiling and windows, to clothes and bikes. In fact, I felt I was a dwarf there. I heard Copenhagen is famous for its bicycle culture, so I rented an electric bike, thinking that I would be able to go to more places. It turned out to be quite a nightmare. The bike was so tall that my feet were not able to touch the ground, even with the lowest seat level. And because it is an electric bike, it is heavier and harder to control. So I returned the bike after just thirty minutes with it.

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Höst

Address: Nørre Farimagsgade 41, 1364 København, Denmark

 

Diversity

People think that America is a hodgepodge with many different ethnicities and culture. It’s true. With large numbers of immigrants from all over the world, the States has all different kinds of people and culture. But I realised what makes America American is that they all share one value—if you work hard, you will get rewards. It’s the definition of an “American dream”.

On the other hand, when you look at Europe, it’s a much more diverse land. People might look more similar, but everyone has a stronger national and cultural identity. The Italians are passionate and proud of their food. The Brits love their self deprecating jokes. The Poles brag about how much Whisky they can drink. And the Spaniards knows how to enjoy life with their own pace.

There are so many things to see and to learn, I thought.

Culture Shock

 
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In the first few weeks in London, I realised I knew so little about this country. I knew that the British Empire had its glory in the 19th century, that it is where Harry Potter is from, that the queen has a series of rainbow-coloured dress. But other than these either outdated or trivial facts, I knew almost nothing about Britain’s culture, geography or history. I didn’t know that “apartment” is called “flat” here, that Northern Ireland and Ireland belong to two different countries, or that Scotland has its own bank notes different from England’s.

To try to get over the sadness that I just left my seemingly perfect life in California, I started watching Netflix in the hotel. If I’m going to stay here for at least a year, I’d better learn a bit about this country, I thought. Netflix has a recommended section called “British TV shows”, and I just picked the first one in the section. The series is called “The Crown”. It’s about the life of Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family. I have to admit, a fictional TV show is probably not the best way to learn about a country, but it definitely sparked my interest of Britain, a place that’s so foreign and new to me.

Life of the royal family is distant from day-to-day life after all, but little by little, I started to pick up some culture differences. I didn’t think seriously about how different California and England were before I moved here. (Again, this probably shows how narrow-minded I was, having lived for just a few years in Bay Area’s tech bubbles.) I was really impressed by the abundance of art and culture here. The packages and signs are much more beautifully designed. The restaurant’s decor are more thoughtful. The presentation is more important than sheer volume. Even the checkout page on Amazon says “shopping basket” here, rather than “cart” in the US. And it never feels strange to be the only person who seems to think about what to wear in the morning before going out of the door. It reminds me of what it’s like to be in China sometimes, always in buzz and hurry, completely different from the quiet and breezy Californian lifestyle. It was a bit of a reverse culture shock to me, but it didn’t look too long for me to get used to it.

Moving

 
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When I moved here last summer, I had no idea how London would change me. I never thought one day, I’ll be here, in my studio in Central London, writing about how this year and a half has changed so much of myself, of how I think about the life and the world.

Moving

I am no stranger to moving. I had be moving since I was a kid, first with my dad, then to Seattle for college, then Southern and Northern California. I was either too young to have an opinion about it, or just excited about the new adventure. But moving to London was something different, I didn’t plan it and was not looking forward to it.

Before moving to London, I had be in the west coast in the States for 6 years. I had a great job, amazing coworkers, and a boyfriend. This whole “working abroad for a year” was not only unexpected, but also disruptive, at least that’s how it looked like back then. It means I would have to leave behind the life that I was content with, and start in a new country I knew so little about.

I have been to London twice before, both time for work. I liked the city as an outsider. It was everything I imagine about Harry Potter, my favorite book series as a kid. It was cold and wet like Seattle, where I spent 3 years in college, so I’m not too worried about the weather. But I had no idea what it’s like to live there. I was working till the last day while my US visa was still valid, because I didn’t even want to think about leaving.

On the day I left, I carried two big suitcases and two small ones. I waved in tears to my boyfriend at the time, reluctantly walked to the gate, and spent 10 hours in tears on the plane, flying over America and the Atlantic, and finally, landed on a small island full of unknowns. In a way, it was just like 7 years ago when I jumped on a plane from Shanghai to Seattle for college. But it felt so different. I was 18 at the time, and was so excited to leave home and just go on an adventure to pursue my American dream. This time, I had no idea what’s waiting for me ahead.

Pairs!

 

Bonjour! This week I'm in Paris. It's our first time in Paris. The city is beautiful and the Japanese food here is amazing!

Paris Free Walking Tour

 
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I love doing the "free" walking tour when I go to a new city. It's a tip based tour so you pay what you think the tour is worth of. I've never been disappointed by the tour, and recommend anyone to try it. It's the best way to learn about the history of the city, and see lots of the tourist attractions in a short amount of time (about 2.5 hours).

Cruise on River Seine by Bateaux Parisiens

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It was recommended by our guide form the walking tour, and it's great way to hit all the touristy spot in an hour. We got on the boat about 30 minutes before the sunset (4:15pm in December), so on the way out you can see the view in daylight, and on the way back, you can see the city is lit up.

Kunitoraya 国虎屋

Japanese chain Udon bistro. We ordered a tempura udon, curry udon, and a oyakodon. In total, it was about €50, so a little expensive for udon. But the ambience is nice.

Dosanko Ramen どさんこラーメン

I think it's the Sapporo style ramen, which is known for the thick, creamy miso soup base. We ordered the white miso and red miso royal. The portion is very generous and the price was cheap. It was about €30 for two bowls of ramen.

Nodaïwa 野田岩

Our first meal in Paris. It's a Japanese unagi restaurant. €70 for two sets of unagi rice. Somehow it feels not very satisfying for me...

 Nodaïwa Unagi Don

Nodaïwa Unagi Don

Sweetalk

We got sick and this place's Chinese beef noodle soup and wonton soup are perfect. I didn't try the desserts but they look legit.