Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm a Zero. Hank's a Hero

It seemed like a good idea at the time to turn up to a yoga class while running on 2.5hrs of sleep.

Yeah, after writing last night's jetlagged blog post, I was up ALL NIGHT and didn't go back to bed. By the time 6am rolled around, I figured "Well since I still ain't getting no sleep, I might as well go to yoga since Mysore starts in half an hour". Right?

Good thing I warned James I wasn't running on much sleep. And even though it's the coolest time of day to practice in a non-airconditioned studio in Singapore, I was dripping buckets already halfway into the FIRST sun salutation. I was purposely slowing everything down, being mindful of each breath and step I took since injuries tend to happen when you're tired, right?

By the time I got to Uttkatasana, James came round and asked "Are you OK?" I was DRIPPING like I've never, ever in my life on my yoga mat before. Y'know that scene from Airplane the movie where the dude's trying to land the plane and there's mad water gushing down his face? Like mad pouring down his face coz there were plastic tubes like a tap badly hidden in his hairline. That was me today (minus the plastic tubes of water, just real good old-fashioned sweat). But I honestly felt fine. Just a wee bit hot, and a little bit slow in my pace, but everything felt fine. Really.

By the time I got to Kukkutasana, James came round and said "OK, that's enough for you today. You're not the right colour anymore. Stop here and do only 3 backbends and stay longer in Karna Pidasana."

... ... ...

In my head I was like "What?! But NOOOOOOOOOOOO! I won't get to be in a shala for a while! Don't stop me NOW! I can do this!! I'm not tired!"

And it was a really HUGE, BIIIIIIIIIIIG effort to stop myself and joyfully surrender to the state that my practice is currently in at the moment.

Just surrender.

No attachment. No disappointment. No beating myself up. No wanting to get back to my Intermediate poses. No irritation. No annoyance.

I can't say I was very successful at achieving this. Look at the way I've even phrased that last sentence. There's nothing to "achieve" here... so what am I on about?!

I felt like I went from HERO to ZERO in the past couple of weeks where my practice is concerned. So again, I have to remind myself this is all part of the process. What Hero and what Zero am I so hung up about?

Just take a deep breath, Jaime. SIGH. I think the past few weeks are starting to sneak up on me now. Different timezones, different weather seasons, different living environments. ARRGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

In other news, I've got more Hank updates to share. Here's our little Hero who's growing (OMG! Those Gremlin ears are really coming through now!)

Apparently he went thrashing through the garden for about an hour, then came into the house with a completely yellow face, full of pollen. It took Kelly another hour of cleaning and wiping him down to get most of the yellow stuff off, and this is what still remains. Hank KO'd for quite a while after his garden romp. Too cute!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Where Am I Again?

It's about 3.40am and I've been up for an hour already. Must be a case of jetlag. Or moving stress. Or a general Where-the-heck-am-I-now syndrome. Insomniac. Insane in the membrane. I have KLF's song that goes "aaaaaall bound for moomoo land" playing in my head on repeat. Just that phrase of the song on repeat coz I dunno how the rest of the song goes. WTF?!?!

Hello from Singapore.

I was in town today, and it was a surreal experience. Like I had a case of dejavu. But wait. It wasn't dejavu. I had literally been in the same place in oh say about a week ago? I felt like I was in an episode of Twin Peaks or something.

I finally went to James' shala this morning. Oh wait, that's yesterday morning now, right? Yes, Wednesday morning.

And because I haven't had a full, regular practice in about a week and a half, I told him I was just gonna start with the Primary series and see how I feel. I've been on my mat almost everyday that I've been in Amsterdam, but I've just been doing short forms, 30 - 45mins worth of practice. Lots of forward bends and shoulderstands. It just felt like what I needed.

James said "Even if you feel like you can go on after the Primary series, don't. Just stop. You might feel OK now, but not tomorrow. Just do Intermediate from tomorrow instead." I take it as: Don't be a hero, just ground and restore. I really love this practice. It's so methodical. And it helps so much in a time of mad moving around.

I finished the full Primary series and was surprised how quickly one's stamina can go. Just like that. I mean, it took a bigger amount of effort to get through the series than usual. And it's not like I've even stopped doing a full practice for THAT long!! I could still "do" everything and get the binds and stuff, but my dropbacks and standing up from dropping back were absolute shocking. I haven't done these in oh say, about one week? (That's IT?! Such a difference in one week?!)

Standing up from the backbends was a MAJOR effort. I ended up hauling myself up by pretty much throwing myself forward to the point where I was running away from my mat when I stood up. Completely WRONG. Either that, or I ended up on my knees.

OH WELL. Tomorrow is another practice. I'm starting to ache in all the weird places now. And I have to be up for practice in... 2 hours. HAHAHA.

He pretty much left me to my own devices except after my 3 horrible attempts at dropbacks, he came to me and told me to dropback again, but this time keeping my hands in prayer in front of chest, then extend them in prayer as I'm going down, and just dropback with extended arms in prayer hands till the fingertips touch the floor. Then immediately come back up again, and make sure I don't put any weight at all in the hands or fingertips when I touch the floor (with prayer hands all the way). He was of course holding my legs firm and grounding the whole time.


The first one was awkward - I was figuring out what the heck was going on and what I was "supposed" to be doing. Plus, there's also trusting that he'd hang onto me the whole time. The second time my rotated pelvis really felt majorly off, but James said "So what? Just extend through the chest, don't think about your pelvis." And the 3rd one felt like a beautiful opening. And my THIGHS. Them burning thighs.

I asked him what the point of that exercise was, where was I supposed to feel it? He replied "Well where did you feel it?" I said "My thighs". Then he replied "Then that's where you're supposed to be working."

Oh. So logical. Haha. I'm just concerned with the "right" way of doing it, but the point is the "right" way is different for different bodies. Depending on where you need to work harder. Er... I think?

There is something to be said about practising in a space with other people, though. Group energy is really helpful in getting you through a practice... I'm dreading the thought of returning back to Amsterdam and facing the living room (with shag carpet) on my own. So I'm just lapping up the time I've got here in a shala, with a teacher and with the group energy.

For now, the kitty-cat at home's keeping me company. It's nice to be in the company of a cat again too.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Yet Another Apartment

If you haven't been on this site in a while, you'll need to check the last few posts for the whirlwind... no, more like tornado... that has hit my life in the last week.

So... presenting yet another apartment that I have moved into. HR has confirmed that this is the place I will be in for the rest of my stay here. The place opened up sooner than they thought and if they had known earlier, they would've sent me straight here from the hotel instead of making me take the detour to the corporate apartment first.

When I first walked in, I almost burst out laughing... the decor is... er... '80s BEIGE HEAVEN! All I need are a few gold statues (and throw on a shoulder-padded jacket) and I'll feel like I'm on the set of Dynasty. Or the Bold & the Beautiful. Or a very plebian version of those 2 shows.

The very nice landlord was there to show me around, and he was very pleased with himself, proudly explaining that the apartment had recently been renovated - new carpet, new kitchen, new toilet!

Er... OK, dude... I just couldn't get over why anyone would install brand new KHAKI shag carpet. But well... different strokes for different folks I suppose.

All I can say is... Thanks to Ikea and its global domination, you can pretty much walk into any fully-furnished rented apartment anywhere in the world and be guaranteed you're at least familiar with most of the decor in there.

It's an old-fashioned European apartment, where each room is in a separate room. Y'know, none of this "no walls", "open plan" thing us Modern Kids are into.

So you walk into the front door and into a hallway with 4 different doors around you. One of the doors leads to the bedroom.

And another door leads to the study (Hey, at least there's a half-room for a study!)

(I remember having this desk in a previously rented flat too, just in a different colour. Hehe.)

Another door leads to the kitchen.

(Even the microwave is a matching beige colour. Oh wait. I think it's just discoloured from age.)

And the living/ dining room.

(I have decided my practice space will be where the coffee table is. Will just push it aside in the mornings for yoga.)

And here's the loo. I found it funny how the landlord at least TRIED to beautify the tiny toilet. Notice the hanging fake green plant on the top corner.

...did you notice anything about this toilet/ shower?

Look again... what did you see? (Or not see?)

I mean, it's as tiny as a loo on a boat, it's hard not to spot that there's... er... NO SINK IN THE TOILET?!

I asked the landlord "Erm... where's the sink?"

He replied "Oh. Haha. It's a very Dutch thing. The only sink in the apartment is in the kitchen."


HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! ...I'm still trying to figure out the best way to brush my teeth and put on my contact lenses in the morning. It feels weird to do it in the kitchen sink, but even weirder to brush my teeth in the shower (Hey Liz, I'll be just like Mike, but with a good reason why now), and put on my contacts over the loo.

I can't really complain. It's a sweet little place. It's newly renovated in an old-fashioned style (Oh, I didn't take photos of the porcelain squirrel and cat statues ON TOP OF THE WARDROBE. It's locco, man. Real locco.)

I haven't practiced here yet. I had to vacuum the entire carpet first, coz I have a thing with carpets (They're gross.) (Can you tell I am OCD. Plus, I have many sinus allergies too, so carpet is the No.1 enemy, so says my ENT Specialist).

Needless to say, I spent this weekend unpacking (then repacking for Singapore. I leave tonight). And also CLEANING. Most of the place was OK. The only gross thing I found was in the washing machine.

Are you ready for this?


I don't understand how anyone before me could've washed their clothes with this much MOULD growing in the dispenser. I yanked it out (with gloves. Thanks, Liz!) and you would NOT believe how much BLACK BLACK BLACK filth and mould was inside the dispenser and in the machine. It STANK too!!!!

It was so mucky, I forgot to take a picture before scrubbing the stuff out.

Thanks to Google, I ran out and bought white vinegar and ran a 90 degree hot wash with vinegar in it, then again with regular soap and I'm pleased to say all nasty smells are gone, and all black stuff is gone too. I even used Q-tips to get to the hard-to-reach corners (in the machine too).

I am still a little bit icked out by the carpet, I can't walk around barefoot on it. Did I forget to mention us Chinese walk around barefoot in the house? It's just cleaner and easier to maintain. But this shag carpet really gives me the heeby-jeebies.

So I ran out again and bought me the funniest house slippers. They're nice and soft and toasty too! Presenting my new fuzzy Dutch clogs! It says "Amsterdam Holland", with the country's crest on it. I figured I might as well go with the whole '80s apartment vibe so I picked slippers with a GOLD CREST on them.

(I look like Big Bird with those stripey socks. Haha!)

So... with the new-new place now kinda sorta set up, I can take off tonight with a little bit more peace of mind that when I return, it'll be kinda-sorta "home" when I get back.

See you in Singapore.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Joyful Surrender vs. FML

You are NOT going to believe what's happened now.

Apparently the Immigration & Naturalization Dept. here told my HR department the wrong info about my visa. The short story is that basically, I will need to RETURN TO SINGAPORE in order to get a particular stamp in my passport first before I can return back here to start work (like SERIOUSLY?! In this day and age, I can't even fly to the next nearest country and get it done there? I have to fly all the way back to Singapore?!)

... ... ...

AND! This particular stamp can take up to 3 weeks to get processed in Singapore (although since it was THEIR stuff-up, immigration are now trying to expedite this processing time). But who the heck knows when it'll come through?!

... ... ...

... ... ...

... ... ...

At this point, I could choose to say FML! FML! FML! FML! FML! FML!
(It's an internet geek term. There's a whole website dedicated to FML's so Google it, don't ask stupid questions!)

But instead, I have chosen to remember my mantra for this year: Joyful Surrender. (Again, THANK YOU SAM!)

The poor HR Manager was super apologetic although this wasn't her fault. Before arriving, I had asked a few times "are you SURE I don't need to go the consulate at all?" and was told every time "No need". Because immigration had told them "No need".

To top this all off (as if this wasn't enough drama at the moment)... I am supposed to be in the corporate apartment for a while until they find me a permanent space to live for the rest of my stay here (my company deals with many, many international folk so the corporate apartment is really for temporary stays when people come to & fro only).

And it seems like a more permanent spot for me has opened up sooner than they thought.

So since I will be out of the country for at least a week or two because of this visa stuff-up, they've asked if I would like to move into my (yet another) new place AGAIN this weekend before I fly out!!


You know what, when this whole thing came up yesterday morning, the only thing I could do was LAUGH. I mean... what else is one supposed to do, right?

And quite frankly, I would rather move into the place that will be "mine" than stay in the transient apartment (maintained by the dirty-cleaning-person).


Everything I unpacked the day before will now have to be packed up all over again.

Up-shot No. 1: I can get back to the shala in Singapore again (YIPPEE!) I am also here over the weekend so I can get a bit more sight-seeing in before I have to fly out again.

Up-shot No. 2: Instead of thinking of the huge carbon footprint I have left behind in the past month of travelling, I should rather focus on the number of Frequent Flyer Miles I am collecting (and I'm not paying for any of this either). HAHA!

...So I guess it's not so FML after all. ...Right?

(Picture credit here)

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Amsterdam Apartment

OK, as promised, here are my apartment photos.

Of course I'm on the 2nd floor (in European terms, the ground level is the... er... "ground floor"... and the next level up is the "first floor". So what the Americans usually term the "second floor" is actually the "first floor" here. Confused yet?)

All you need to know is I'm on the highest floor and there's no elevator.

Apparently every single old Dutch house has skinny, tiny stairs like these. And the entire staircase is awfully steep (I feel like throwing up each time I attempt to go down the stairs). The width of each step is probably about half the length of my foot. So yeah - you can't take a full step with your whole foot on each step. You literally have to face sideways in order to walk down the stairs safely (like a crab). Or even face the stairs and walk down backwards, kinda like how you would go down a ladder.

Good luck to people on those drunken nights out on these stairs. Now... imagine hauling a 25kilo Samsonite up these stairs. All I can say is: I'm glad I bumped into the caretaker on the way in and that chivalry still exists in these parts. Heh.

This is the interior. (What glorious space, compared to the tiny room I was in before!)

And here's the notorious throne which had me thinking "Yeah, I'm livin' the dream, baby" as I was scrubbing it yesterday. (It also kinda feels like compared to the rest of the apartment, this loo is due for a refurbishment!)

(FYI - I've got such heebyjeebies with the dirty-cleaning-person that I've since found more towels in the wardrobe to lay over those awful toilet/ bath mats. I mean - who knows when the last time those were washed and WHAT is lurking in them?! ...incidentally, the towels smell of cigarette smoke. ICK!)

The kicker about this apartment though must be the view. Mind you, I lugged my bags across the canals in the middle of the night, so there was nothing to see in the dark when I arrived.

So imagine what a lovely surprise it was in the morning when I drew the curtains to salute the sun. Check out what a MUCH BETTER practice space this is now. Yes, I took away the coffee table to put my yoga mat there. And the bonus is: right underneath the windows there are radiators (between the window and the floor), so I'm practising right in front of a toasty heater. :)

There is either under-floor heating too, or maybe parts of the living room floor are near the downstairs neighbour's heater/ lights or something. Coz there's a patch on the floor next to my mat that's nice and warm too. So I can't really complain since I'm practising in my regular yoga tank tops (no need for more layers!)

This is the view as I'm practising (yes, it's so cold that the water in the canal has iced up in chunks).

It's nice to finally unpack ALL my clothes and hang them up in a wardrobe. The last time they were hanging in a wardrobe was in Sydney (and I've since been in Singapore and Cape Town). Wow. I have been living out of a suitcase for a while now!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Moved (Again!)

I'm still alive. Looked up for a quick breath and suddenly... it's THURSDAY ALREADY?!?

Good news is I'm finally out of the little hotel and into an apartment. It's really pretty and facing one of the canals (photos to come in the next few days). And this made a big difference to my yoga practice this morning. (I could dropback and stand back up with no problems and no worries of whacking into stuff around me!)

The apartment was "cleaned" before I moved in, but er... I'm super anal and think I would've done a better job than whoever cleaned it.

I mean... seriously, there was a skid mark in the loo. SERIOUSLY BIG SKID MARK. And it took me like... 5 minutes of scrubbing with the toilet brush to GET SOMEONE ELSE'S SKID MARKS OFF THE TOILET!!!


I was simultaneously grossed out and laughing at the situation at the same time the whole time I was scrubbing the loo. YUUUUUUUCKS!! (Thank goodness I found the toilet brush, I suppose? It would've been completely disgusting-overload if there hadn't been a brush).

Oh, not to mention I saw a clipped toenail in front of me on the floor when I got to the seated poses in today's practice. EEK! OK OK, I'll stop grossing you out now, I've just got a bit of the heeby-jeebies with this (not very clean) cleaning person.

I've not even been here a week, so I'm still trying to find my routine (which includes updating this site). And in between packing up and moving and the whirlwind of new things happening everyday... I'm glad I've got this practice to ground me. Only had time for Half-Primary today up til Navasana.

But it's definitely helping me to keep my head together.

Will post more pictures of the apartment and new practice space in the next few days. Hope you have/ had a good Thursday!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No Shala? Still Got The Practice! (If I Can Find It)

I have found the silver lining in this cloud of NO MORNING MYSORE CLASSES AT ALL in Amsterdam (OK, maybe it's not "no morning mysore AT ALL". There's only one 7am class on Wednesdays. And another at a different place on Sundays at 9am. That's IT. That's pretty dismal. And pointless, really.) (Oh, there are also more evening Mysore classes, but that's not my vibe as I wouldn't be able to make those timings.)

But where was I, I was going in a positive direction here.

I think I would much prefer to crank the radiator to full blast in my little hotel room, stumble out of bed into the shower, and then start a warm, toasty practice all within a 1-metre radius... Rather than having to wrap myself up in multiple layers and trudge through the snow and ice in -6 degrees Celsius weather in the dark just to get to a shala.

TAH - DAHHHHHH! ***Silver Lining Shines Through the Clouds***

I actually much prefer this self-practice vibe in this super-cold winter (especially since you pretty much have to walk to get to anywhere here). BRRRRRR.

My Sydney teacher said that Guruji once said something along the lines of "If you start your practice in the winter, you will have it for life." ...Alluding to how much harder it is to haul ass onto your mat when it's cold.

Dammit, just when I thought I'd got through the Sydney winter (a piss in the park to get outta bed in comparison to here!) SIGH.

I've only managed to get the full primary practice in on Sunday in my little room. Yesterday was 3 Sun A's. And today, I snoozed for TWO HOURS, so it's game over. Another 3 Sun A's before heading out. What's going on?!?

I can do this. GRRRR.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Amsterdam Tourist

Yesterday was snowing most of the day. But it was a light snow, which made it seem romantic and fairytale-like to this foreigner. It was COLD. I wrapped myself up and cam-whored before stepping out (with weather like this, I'm glad I grew my hair out. They're like ear-muffs. Heh.)

It was so cold that parts of the canals were freezing up.

I was skyping Kelly and showing him all these pictures and he said the same thing I thought all day today too: WOW. This place is so FOREIGN.

I mean... Sydney didn't really feel too different from Cape Town and Singapore from the architecture to the way things were laid out and just its general vibe.

Amsterdam though... everything from the language to the buildings to the weather... and the general vibe... is just quite different from anywhere I've ever lived before. The last time I was here was about 11 or 12 years ago as a student, so I can't really remember much (NO! It's not that I was smoking up, I just can't remember that much from so long ago).

The Dutch all speak English too, and they're not huffy about it like the French can get sometimes. You know what I mean... I've found a lot of times in France, you need to first ask "Parlez-vous Anglais?" before you can ask the French something in English (otherwise they'll just shrug and play dumb like they don't understand). Here though, I've just launched into conversations in English and the Dutch respond like it's second nature to them. Or even if they tell me the price in Dutch in stores and I ask what it is in English, they'll immediately switch to speaking English with no problems at all. How great it is to be bilingual and fully fluent in 2 languages! (My Mandarin, as you may recall, is CRAP. Even after learning it for 12 years in school).

The few Dutch people I stopped to ask directions from were all also very friendly and helpful. I was looking for the Yogamandala shala (thinking that maybe I might make a visit next Sunday. Haha, yogadork to the max.) ...but the street the shala is on was outside of the city centre tourist map. I Google-mapped it too, so knew it was just 1 or 2 streets outside what was printed on my map. But I just for the life of me couldn't find it when I got to the area. This one dude got off his bike, whipped out his mobile phone and used his GPS tracking coordinates to find the street. It was taking a while to load and he looked a bit like he was in a hurry, so I said "It's OK, I'll just keep walking I'm sure I'll find it". But he said "No, it's too cold for you to wander around aimlessly. We'll find it." And we did. Wasn't that nice?

Talking about bikes. There are bikes EVERYWHERE (apparently there is also a lot of bike theft. Haha.) When I first arrived, I asked the concierge how people get around... y'know... "Do you take the bus or is there an underground system?" And the guy looked at me like I was crazy and said "You WALK." HAHAHA. If you're Singaporean, you'll understand that the average Singaporean does NOT like to walk (hey, maybe I'll buy a bike too). Well, there are also trams here, but the stops they make are not really within the city area. Hence, there are a gazilion bicycles. There are even bike paths. So right next to the road (for vehicles), there's a red path (for bikes) and then there's a regular pedestrian sidewalk next to the bike path (and bikes have the same rights as cars).

I found the Begijnhof - basically a commune or village where only women are allowed to stay. This has been around since the 1300s where pious Catholic women who weren't nuns but didn't want to stay with general society communed and lived in "beguinages". It's amazing that it still exists today, for the same purpose (GASP!) And this compound has oldskool medieval-looking gates that are closed off to the public every night from 7 or 8pm.

I thought I'd get a little culture in and go visit the Rijksmuseum (it's undergoing major renovation but parts of it are still open).

But would you believe how long the queue was? The people on camera-right closest to me are at the end of the queue. It goes around the block to the people inside on camera-left, behind the gates.

Stand in the freezing cold for an hour to see Vermeer and Rembrandt? NO THANKS!

I can come back another day. HA.

It was the same story for the Van Gogh Museum too, just behind the Rijks. I REALLY, REALLY want to see my beloved Van Gogh's works. But I'll have to do it another day too. Don't people have better things to do on Valentine's Day than go to art museums? (Sorry, that's pretty unromantic if you ask me). I did enjoy the starkness of the back annexe of the Van Gogh Museum building though. Especially set against this bleakness.

What was cool was the Museum Square. I have never been to Russia, but I imagine it to look like this.

(Cold, bleak, dreary with huge expansive squares. Oh dear. Have I stereotyped this now?)

New York has "I Heart NY". Amsterdam has "I Amsterdam" with the play on words and font colour.

And unfortunately, you can't escape globalization. You bloody Americans! JUST JOKING. (His banner just made me wonder what a "fake American hotdog" is.)

And then I came across some house-boats on the canal. If you can't already tell, I still have a very romanticized view of Amsterdam (looking at it through tourist eyes). And living in a house-boat just seems so quaint and charming! My friend here just rolled his eyes at me when I told him this. He would never want to live in one coz they're too cold. Well, I suppose if your entire floor is sitting on icy cold water... it would make heating a problem, innit? I saw an enterprising house-boat owner with a sign that said "House Boat Museum. Take a tour of a real House Boat and see what living here is like! Fridays to Sundays only."

HAHAHA. Sounds like my kinda person. I have to go back and take a tour of this person's house(boat) next weekend.

Yesterday was a good day. :)

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