Category Archives: Europe

Berlin love: bite-sized edition

25 bits & pieces I love about Berlin, in no particular order:

1. The prevalence of mineral water. Bubbly trumps still H₂0, every time!

2. Transportation is always on time. Planning is possible!

A bus stop in Lichtenberg, Berlin.

Accurate to the minute! A shock coming from Thailand where the answer to “what time is it?” is usually “mango sticky rice.”

3. … And astoundingly cohesive! The underground, trams, and buses all work together to get you basically anywhere.

People walk along Berlin's busy streets.

Places to go, people to see. You know the deal.

4. Kino culture. The cinemas are unique, historical, and oh-so-cool. Come warm weather, open-air cinemas spring up, screening classics like To Catch a Thief and Bonnie and Clyde.

5. Green spaces everywhere. Parks, rivers, places to jog, or chill with the family — natural spots scattered throughout the city dedicated to hanging out, drinking beer, and barbequing with friends.

The river by Maybachufer, Neukölln, Berlin

Sitting by the river drinking a beer or mineral water = lazy summer days in Neukölln.

6. The city is extremely bike-able (from spring to fall, at least). Cruising along bike paths from one end to other is delicious.

A woman in red bikes in Berlin.

Two wheels are better than none.

7. Drink to relax, not to get drunk. Having a few beers throughout the day is totally kosher. For the most part, people handle their alcohol maturely while out and about.

8. Konzerts. You wanna see [name your favorite band] play? Chances are they’ll be coming through at some point.

A band plays in the courtyard of an exhibition opening.

Some awesome British band rocking the gallery.

9. Startups. Have a business idea? Try it out here. Still cheaper than NYC, Silicon Valley, or Singapore, Berlin’s attracted a slew of successful startups in recent years (SoundCloud, etc.) with its try-anything-once vibe and creative energy.

10. Infamous clubs. For unparalleled atmosphere, nightclubs like Berghain reek of decades of debauchery.

A disco ball is lit from aside.

Dance, dance, dance to the radio…

11. Art galleries. Duh!  The old and new national galleries; museums ranging from cult to classic; clean, contemporary art spaces; avant-garde hole-in-the-walls; collectives and co-ops; and on and on. Take your pick; pick your take.

Two people look at art at an exhibition opening in Berlin.

“Is that art?” “I have no idea.”

12. Feeling kinky? Up for some sexual exploration? There’s probably a workshop, club, or meet-up for it, with a supportive, open-minded community waiting to welcome you.

13. Understated day-to-day life. Aside from a few obvious social scenes, people generally keep to themselves — they don’t scream and shout about what they’re doing. Life happens; let’s move on.

A street-side scene, downtown Berlin.

Keep moving; nothing to see here.

14. Accepting. No one’s going to give you shit for being yourself.

15. Summer snow! Seriously: pure magic.

A dusty dandelion in grass.

Soft dandelion dust ends up drifting everywhere in the air.

16. High quality food. Bread, cheese, meats, produce, etc., have to meet high standards to be sold. The difference is taste-able.

17. Endless days. Starting near end of May, the sun stays up forever. I’m writing this at 9:45 pm — and it’s still light out. (June 08)

Sunset and highrise, Berlin.

Sun-setting sky at almost 10pm, Mitte, May.

16. Female tech scene. With Berlin Geekettes headquartered, there’s an uber supportive environment for women wanting to delve deeper into coding and the like.

18. Culture. In addition to Berlin’s rich history, the distinctly international mish-mash of artists makes for a limitless global fusion of creative expression.

A butoh dancer performs.

An impromptu butoh performance with live DJ.

19. It’s okay to walk around with earbuds in. While this feels socially impolite in Asia (my personal feeling), everyone has their music on here.

20. Despite its size (over 3.5 million people), it’s a quiet city. Possible to hear yourself think on streets and even buses.

A woman goes down the U-bahn stairs in Berlin.

Wandering the city is peaceful, even when the mind is combating clutter.

21. German is a sexy language. Yum. Fantastisch.

22. Fashion inspiration. There’s a crazy high percentage of stylish people, often incredibly beautiful to boot! Soak it up.

Some fashionable folks at the K-W Berlin Biennale opening.

Pulling off a leopard-print hat is not the easiest thing to do. Berliners can.

23. “I’m sorry” is virtually non-existant in casual conversation. Being a Canadian woman, I’ve a habit of saying those two words approx. 100 times/day. So, sigh of relief: no saving face, no placating, no people-pleasing. One of the reasons shit gets done so efficiently here.

24. Environmentally friendly. Different bins for paper, plastic, organic, and other — recycling in Germany is not for the faint of heart, and a win for mother earth.

Sun shines in Berlin.

Clean city streets, waste bins on every corner, organized recycling… all that’s missing is a system for shoveling snow from walkways in winter.

25. The air is fresh. So fly high…

A projected image of a woman swinging with shadow overtop.

Swing ’til you fly off. Berlin will catch you.


Sound, sweetheart

Tried seeing delectable Ben Frost at Berghain. Realized two songs in still can’t cope with concert volume. Frustration gnaws. Keep trying — never know if/when it’ll get easier. 5 years later, a constant reminder. Berlin’s a quiet city, lovely in that way; suits me. But at konzerts, the sound, in all its glorious vibration, eats me, my insides, expands ’til it feels like I’ll burst if I don’t hear nothing soon. On the whole I guess it’s gotten better, but sometimes it’s like it’s in reverse, getting worse. A low-fi problem, I know. Barely a problem. More that it takes me back, disorients my sense of self, being here, now. Cried a little on the way home. Slept it off, sound still inside, reverberations of past.

Jogging the globe

Jogging is a go-to escape for me whenever I feel down or stressed. Feeling the power of my body, the forward momentum, the fresh – or polluted – outside air… it all adds up to an increase in perspective and personal power.

I almost always make a point to bring my sneakers with me (Asics loyalty forever!) wherever I am. If I feel anxious or out of place, a good jog around my new temporary home immediately gives me a greater sense of connection with my surroundings. These are some of the special places where I’ve pounded the pavement, dirt, cobblestone, and grass over the past year. Smiles n’s sweat…

This is not Huay Tung Tao but another beautiful area outside Chiang Mai. There are really so many lovely spots here...

This is not Huay Tung Tao but another beautiful area outside Chiang Mai. There are really so many lovely spots here…

Chiang Mai. The route around the moat is straightforward enough (hello, I am a square) that it is literally impossible to lose your way. Quite opposite to the twisty sois that lie inside the old city. The city is polluted, hot, sticky. I drive out to Huay Tung Tao lake for car-less, noise-less jogging. Fresh air fills my lungs, natural beauty all around the long ring. Paradise.

Surreal scenery + sunshine = happy times

Surreal scenery + sunshine = happy times

Hampi, southern India. Surreal scenery with giant boulders and expansive fluorescent-green rice paddies surrounding from all angles. Quadrophenia soundtrack in headphones, high heeled sneakers not so much. I’m One, love reign o’er me… Fantastical, yes please. Where am I?

Along the Arabian Sea side

Along the Arabian Sea side, Dahab

I run along the edge of the Arabian Sea in Dahab, Egypt – one of the ways I gain space from the shopkeepers constantly hounding me to buy things, and the general sexual harassment. Turning left out of my guesthouse, the hard paved strip, lined with restaurants, hurts my knees. Finally hit the beach with soft sand beneath my soles. I frequently forget to leave before 5pm at high tide. Dash through the water, soak my socks and shoes, grinning with glee. A quick glance out across the water shows small, precise patches of bright turquoise green standing out among the navy liquid canvas. Further on, the orange desert cliffs become the backdrop, as the odd camel or two trudges along with dog and herder in tow.

Don't run on the cobblestone!

Don’t run on the cobblestone!

Prague is a city I cannot live in long-term for several reasons. A simple one is because it’s sidewalks are covered in cobble-stone. A runner’s nightmare, if they have bad joints and bones. I manage a few spurts along the riverside, entirely idyllic what with the swans floating by, sun setting against the old bridges, lovers strolling along holding hands. Europe, you are too much! A week of this and my knees are shot to the point where I physically can’t walk for a day. My shoes are also gobbled by the cobble.

In Kampala, they say if you drive straight, you're drunk (because there are so many potholes scattered along the roads)...

In Kampala, they say if you drive straight, you’re drunk (because there are so many potholes scattered along the roads)…

Crazy Kampala, Uganda. Cars here, motorcycles there, goats to this side and that, men shouting “muzungu! how are you!”, dogs lying, furniture selling, bananas on heads, lorries whizzing, bicycles rolling, food carts cooking. I wonder if I am the only silly white person to run along these city streets in the heat, in the pollution, the yells, the traffic dodging. Seeing another muzungu jogging by – much faster than I – proves that at least I am not alone. I love the feeling, sun on skin, pounding pavement, headphones in ears. Fuck yes.  Sweat drips, lungs constrict, nostrils flare at the gasoline exhaled by the always passing boda bodas.

And I think… I love to run.

Poor but sexy

On Friedrichstrasse in Mitte, Berlin

On Friedrichstrasse in Mitte, Berlin

After the first few days of being in Berlin, I thought I can be myself here. Whatever you want to try or experiment with, you can do it here. You can find a group of people who are into whatever you’re into, no matter how strange/odd/crazy it might seem. If you want something, you can find it – just ask. On the flipside, if you don’t want to find something, you won’t. People don’t shout about their activities or wave them around in everyone else’s faces. They just do their thing and you do yours.

Spring in Berlin is the next best thing to summer.

Spring in Berlin is the next best thing to summer.

Berlin’s technically big, but it’s broken up into separate little sections like Kreuzberg, Mitte, Neukolln, Prenzlauerberg, Wedding, and some others that don’t rank in my memory. Each part has it’s own sense of character, it’s own distinct look and feel. This makes Berlin as a whole feel much smaller than it actually is.

The city’s not doing great economically. It’s tough to find work. There’s such a high percentage of creatives there that most end up working for free just to get their name out and about. It’s awesome for making connections with other like-minded people but not so fabulous for actually getting paid.

Poor but sexy is Berlin’s tagline… for a reason.

In Mitte, Berlin

In Mitte, Berlin


Seeing my sister for the first time in several years, after so much had happened. We Skype enough that she knows who I am now. She’s actually bared long-distance witness to the process. I can’t say that about too many other people in my life. Maybe one. I’m lucky.

Cheapest bus is on Orangeways, leaving at either midnight (how convenient?) or 7:30am. Set out at the un-Godly hour of 5:30am – it’s ok, I’m Atheist – in order to ensure a good hour’s worth of Getting Lost Time on the U-bahn. Being directionally-challenged has it’s disadvantages in saving time. (Advantages lie in constant unintentional ‘lost-in-wonderland’ outings.)

I sit at the Florenc bus station, tired as shit.

Headache, of course. The wait in this seat is five hours. Too tired to move, nervous. Surrounded by my backpacks and shoulder-bags, freshly acquired Czech kronas in my change-purse, munching on some sort of sugary Czech granola bar thing, I try not to burst into tears. The effort fails mildly as a few stray from weak eyes.

Time wanders, aimlessly. Each blonde-mopped small lady (at 26, can I call her girl?) that walks in the doors from either side is met with my searching gaze. A Russian couple sits/stands beside me for the better part of two hours, yammering on loudly. I make small talk with a nice Czech guy who tells me about his fashion-designer girlfriend. He watches my stuff during my bathroom breaks.

While traveling solo it is always necessary to find a Bathroom Watcher. Contrary to its confusing name, a bathroom-watcher is not a pervert in a stall, but rather an apparently trustworthy individual you appoint to watch your stuff while you go to the bathroom. One of the skills necessary for the enlisting of a BW is the quick assess. In any given situation, Within a matter of seconds, you must be able to make a snap-judgment about a stranger to file them into one of two categories: 1. Somewhat trustworthy or 2. Not on my life would I let you guard even my pet rock.

Blonde, small.. nope. Blonde, small.. not even remotely close Kim how tired are you? At some point through my ached-head haze a bright pink jacket and blonde, long, blow-dried n’ straightened hair darts quickly towards me. Check and mate, that’s my blood-related kin (says the brown-haired/eyed girl). Leaky faucet tears reflexively creep down my cheeks instead of the water-avalanche I’d been bracing myself for.

Time for some sparkle motion. Jump up. Hug her. Happy, grateful, watery sockets. Surprisingly grounded, somehow.

She knows me officially now, In person. The dried-out, wiry hair, S.E.Asian attire. (Loose, light and low-quality is not how they roll in the EU… I stick out like a person who’s pretending she’s still in the sun and fun part of the world – or is too broke and lacking in care to create any false fashion pretenses.) Plastic bags, backpacks, the coins from many countries mixed in an old broken-zippered wallet. Dirty everyday leggings, holes-in-the-souls high top sneakers. Tired, teared eyes. Open heart and nervousness.

The gratitude for seeing family in the flesh, being welcomed in with open arms.

(Journey reference unintended.)

Mary Jane in Praha

Bear meets dog at the Million Marijuana March in Prague

Bear meets dog at the Million Marijuana March in Prague

The Million Marijuana March. Praha.  The name immediately strikes me as an oxymoron – shouldn’t it be something like the Million Marijuana Lay Down? Stoners are generally not ones to engage in a march of any kind. I’m quickly wronged, as my sister and I get swept up in the enthusiasm of hundreds (thousands?) of weed-enthusiasts marching from downtown Prague to the green festival area miles away. There were people of all types marching along to the sound of blaring beats (reminding me of Thailand’s obsession with loudspeakers), wielding 3-meter-long blunts carefully constructed from cardboard and paint. It’s apparent that a lot of commitment, effort, and forethought has gone in to this moment.

Shisha in the sun.

Shisha in the sun.

The festival itself entails food, beer, blunts, shisha, cigarettes, sound. And families. Plenty of kids frolic in the field as their parents wander the grounds high, sober, doesn’t matter. Balloons adorn both dogs and people. Full-on making out between couples (strangers?) on the green grass. Czech bands throw sky-punk-metal cacophony into crowds. Fried foods are munched in abundance. The affair is yummy and delightful.

Hold my hand.

Hold my hand.

..And pretty Prague proves to be potentially potent.