Goodbye Den Haag

Today we left the Netherlands after what seemed like an eternity and a heartbeat in The Hague. 

  The movers arrived on time, shoved everything down portable elavators Dutch-style and our whole life trundled away in a 53cubic metre truck. 

I think there will be things I’ll miss like roaming around bike paths. I’ve moved around lots in the past decade and always felt pangs of longing at each departure. I never love a place as much as when I leave it. 


Do Belgians adore stairs as much as the Dutch?

 This time is somewhat different as the hard landing in the Netherlands from Canada has yet to wear off completely. 

Anyway, I’m thrilled to be in Brussels. A magnificent gem smack in the centre of Europe that makes me want to forgive excessive charges for glasses of water and shops that don’t open on Sunday! (But I hear progress is being made on the former front :)) 


Almost didn’t make it to Paris…

We arrived in Paris last night safely with a hefty dose of providence. We had decided early to take the Thalys train but changed this to a driving trip just this week as we had to tack in a few other destinations. Turns out, the trains were cancelled all of yesterday due to arson on the tracks.

Next, while en route, we discovered that all the main arteries leading into the centre of Paris were blocked off for the day. Even major highways frozen off due to the arrival of Very Important People for the climate change conference. Fortunately our hotel sat just on the peripherique – no need to bust the inner ring. 

After a couple of extra hours of detours and jams (France has a makeshift border now where people are randomly pulled aside for inspections), we pulled up to the hotel to find guards everywhere. The first words we heard from in the city was, “Madam, we are at war.” And this elicited after asking why we could not drive up to the front doors of the hotel.

  Perhaps it’s due to our location at the Palais des Congres, but all doors are barricaded by burly guys (a frantic headhunt at the local gyms?) and wooden tables, it is nigh impossible to take a direct route anywhere, and all bags are inspected upon entering buildings. 

The second person we spoke to told us, “Paris is the safest place to be now”. 

It’s still certainly one of the loveliest cities in the world. 


The nicest bed I’ve ever slept in – gave me the worst night’s sleep ever 


Aspria Royal La Rasante .. room 11 – I’ll be back in 4 years!

This bed bore witness to the dynasties of magnificent forests. Its solid wooden posts made function-less spikes protruding out of a bed frame seem so relevant and necessary. The mattress was huge, firm, tangy, and the sheets the best silk cotton could be. Stepstools were even provided. 

Alas, I hadn’t realized that the sofa bed we initially planned for Petit-homme was located on the ground floor – 20 steps down an equally hardy wooden staircase….

A toddler sleeping in between his parents sounds awfully sweet but I can say, never again! How on earth do parents who share beds with their kids do it? (A very Asian thing as I’ve recently discovered – quite a few of my friends here sleep with their kids – plural!) 

Hyperactive bouncing, flailing arms, surprise thumps with teddy bears, emergency pees – were all part of the agenda for the night. Every time I drifted off, a stuffed animal landed on my face. It took 3 hours, two trips to the loo, a carton of milk, threats, whimpers, more threats till silence finally reigned for the night. 

Lessons learnt, no more split level hotel rooms, and little Thomas the Tank engine bed comes along next time. 

Two Rather Different London Foodie Hotspots: The Clove Club versus HuTong @ The Shard

When I was a lot younger, I used to think that the quality of food didn’t matter as much as the ambience of the joint. Inexperienced palates tend to think everything tastes good. However, I’ve realized lately that I have turned into my mother when it comes to the dissection of dinner. (NB: There is no one more savagely discerning than a middle-aged Chinese woman when it comes to food.)

Loads of moves, no real passion

Last Thursday, I checked out The Clove Club in London’s Shoreditch. Full of rave reviews (and one Michelin star), it is confident enough to present the nakedest website I’ve ever seen in my life, and insist that patrons pay in advance for their meals. It’s a new sort of system London restaurateurs are starting to adopt – making people buy tickets when their reserve their tables. (What’s next – extra for balcony seats?) At £65 base fare for 5 courses (before drinks, tip etc), I was expecting great things.

Raw, and I wasn't even asked ...

Raw, and I wasn’t even asked …

What can I say … everything was just OK. Clearly a lot of effort had been put into it. I won’t repeat the foodie blather that consists of stringing lots of verbs and nouns and geographic origins together … but it is unfortunately one of those places whose waiters have to swallow dictionaries before laying a single dish down. I was perplexed at how describing our chef’s Scottish roots would help my Japanese salmon tartare taste more “authentic”, but heck, I did capitulate by nodding vigorously and raising my eyebrows oh so high as one is rather required to do. Plus points? No need to dress up and the waiters are easy on the eye. Back home for a (big) bag of crisps and popcorn.

Rustic furniture - cute but my dinner dates moaned the whole night about how uncomfortable the chairs were.. Funny, I was fine (more padding I guess)

Rustic furniture – cute but my dinner dates moaned the whole night about how uncomfortable the chairs were.. Funny, I was fine (more padding I guess)

The next day, I trekked down to Hu Tong (which means “alley”) at The Shard, one of London’s few iconic towers. Quite unlike most of the classic Chinese restaurants about town. No swearing, no greasy crucified ducks, no vats of oil glazing the sidewalk. Everything about it was set out to intimidate. Don’t rock up in flip-flops thinking your beach-to-bokchoi look will cut it. Don’t stand in the way of the limos at the Shangri-la lobby. They courteously plaster signs around signalling the dress code, literally telling you to BE ELEGANT, and menacing SWAT team wannabes give you the top-to-toe body check. Once you swoosh up to the 33rd floor though, the view takes your breath away and the spectacular cocktails are a great start to the evening. I’m extremely skeptical about cocktails, but these ain’t no con job. They actually quench your thirst and the juicy decorations like lychees, chillies and cucumbers give you something to nibble on… (do it only when the etiquette police aren’t watching though.)

Soft shell crab ... ahhh

Soft shell crab … ahhh

Menu-wise, we didn’t have a lot to choose from. The kitchen had suffered a fire recently and it was the first day of reopening. Thus, nothing “roasted” or BBQd was available. Our selection turned out very heavily chilli laden. For a spice freak like me, nothing short of heaven. Otherwise, be careful of randomly ticking off everything that bears the “HuTong” ancient seal of approval, as most of those dishes are fiery! The dessert selection was wholly unimaginative. I have come to expect nothing of the Chinese when it comes to sweets, this was no different. Back home for a satisfying tub of ice cream, shorts, and flip-flops.

Getting Chicken Pox After Being Vaccinated

Sometime ago, I had brought Petit-Homme to be vaccinated against the dreaded chicken pox. I learnt last week that the vaccine is not a complete shield. In a zealous frenzy, the virus took down at least 11 kids (at last count) in Petit-Homme’s class at crèche (including PH).  None of them had been vaccinated to my knowledge, and a few adults I spoke to were not aware the option to do it existed in the Netherlands. The last kid standing was unaffected as she had contracted it at 9 months, at another daycare (hurray communal child care!). Fortunately, he breezed through it easily with fewer than 20 spots on his body (only one on his face) and only mild itchiness and fever for a few hours. Crèche allows chicken pox victims to attend so I can attest to some very interesting sights and stories this week – a number of kids were blanketed in spots and some were forced to stay in bed with high fevers. Given that, I suppose even if the vaccine wasn’t 100% effective, it was better than nothing. (I had gotten a shot too, and so far no illness to remark upon..)

Funny how a £1 thingy can turn into your most hallowed possession

Funny how a £1 thingy can turn into your most hallowed possession

As most would know, calamine lotion is the chicken pox sufferer’s best friend for its instant itch-relieving powers. So I went scurrying around for a bottle. Guess what, the first pharmacy I went to said they “no longer sold it” for unknown reasons, and the second drugstore said “What’s that? How about some aloe vera?”  No one there had even heard of it. Bottomline, it seems to be almost impossible to purchase calamine in The Hague (though admittedly I didn’t search beyond those two stores as my British supplies mule was arriving in DH that same day with a precious bottle.)

I’m still very much a fan of immunizing kids against chicken pox. True, it’s only “one week of agony” but when life is already so full of unavoidable diseases, why not try to eliminate those we can?

What is more valuable than gold in the Netherlands?

One can per customer per day

One can per customer per day

Holland is suffering under the weight of its own reputation as a paradise for lactose aficionados. Baby formula shortages have been causing screaming frenzies and fights in stores for several years now. While it is true that some people have been buying formula to “export” to China, it is totally confounding as to why producers have not been able to keep up with the demand. At supermarkets nationwide, Nutrilon-brand formulae are kept in tight security, next to the packs of cigarettes at customer service (!!). Nutrilon is now a rationed product – Asians pick them up under intense scrutiny.

Stores here have taken to discriminating against people of Oriental origin, deliberately targeting them as raiders of the lost ark. There have been discrimination suits leveled at retailers and yet the war goes on. At Kruidvat, you have employees refusing to sell milk to Chinese people, while across the street at De Bijenkorf, you have sharply suited employees hired for their Mandarin-speaking abilities. In short, they shun Chinese custom at the cheap and cheerful drugstore, while they pad the red carpet for Beijing busloads vis-a-vis haute couture.

On its way to sacred status in NL

On its way to sacred status in NL

Yesterday night, there was another burglary at Petit-Homme’s crèche, targeting the formula stock. The baddies made off with a heap of baby formula and other knick knacks like iPads and cash. It is almost as though we were living in a communist regime where the shortage of basic necessities leads to anarchy.

This is quite the problem for Dutch retailers yet it is a huge opportunity for producers and everyone else on the distribution chain to capitalize on torrential demand. It is hard to understand why people in this day and age are still fighting tooth and nail over milk.

Wearing Shorts in The Hague

It’s finally summer in The Hague! Last week was a scorcher and I found myself digging through old piles of long-forgotten shorts, wondering if being buried for years made them shrink. Works for cadavers…


Bien Bleu shorts on sale ..

Everything was pretty sad looking. From the cheap-and-unfortunately-good quality denims I so proudly worked to death in Ottawa, to the surfer posers I got in Bodrum (courtesy of travel insurance when my luggage ended up in Costa Rica en route to Turkey). So I went shopping.

From bedroom to .. well... kitchen.. (Melting Stockholm - too comfy for words!)

From bedroom to .. well… kitchen.. (Melting Stockholm – too comfy for words!)

How complicated can shorts-hunting get? Actually, next to string bikinis from Eres, it would probably rank right up there as an object of despair, par excellence. Plus, on most of the continent, no self-respecting lady wanders out onto the piazza for drinks in shorts. I know because I tried this in Milan once. Not only did I get thrown out of several churches, I felt the need to just wrap up everywhere I went, like a burrito searching for its shell. And in Paris, don’t, just don’t. (particularly if you’ve just asked for ketchup.)  Bottomline, speakers of romance languages don’t wear shorts. Like a good love affair, something is always hidden.

marilyn-monroe-2Not so for Netherlands. This country is shorts-buying and shorts-wearing mecca. (not suggesting you really wear shorts in mecca.. ) I hit up The Sting and ended up spending an hour there trying out all sorts of concoctions (see purchases above). The high street havens (Zara, Mango, etc) are parading out tons of incarnations too and the “good” thing about NL is that they seem to recycle past years’ fashions on the sale rack, so if you’re still in the mood for a high-waist, high leg, Marilyn number (Marilyn Monroe wore a UK16 so most people can rock this come-on-sailor look), go dig around.

The only thing difficult about shorts here – NL is not truncated-trouser heaven for no reason. Dutch ladies here have legs that go on FOREVER.  They got it and they flaunt it. The bike lane has turned into YSL’s catwalk on wheels and Scheveningen beach is clustered with minimalistic-androgynous 6-foot volleyball champs. Someone bring me a busload of tourists from Houston to hang with please…

What Happens When You Lock a Heap of Lawyers Together in Quarantine

Lawyers milling around awaiting voluntary imprisonment

Milling around waiting for voluntary imprisonment

Several times a year, lawyers from around the globe huddle in anxious little bunches to sit the QLTS exam in London. The “Qualifed Lawyer Transfer Scheme” (you know you wanna do it) allows lawyers admitted to the bar in foreign jurisdictions to qualify as a solicitor in England (and Wales, but not Scotland). It is divided into two parts: the first is a 6 hour multiple choice exam (MCT), and the second (OSCE), is a 6 day carousel of presentations, meeting thugs (aka clients) and faffing around on Lexis Nexis to prove your research-savvy.

Last week, I was churned through and spat out the second-round OSCE mill and here’s what I remember…

The Quarantine

Not that they were trying to preserve the legal profession from an outbreak of disease – we all know how lawyers would fare (and perhaps reproduce) in an epidemic – but rather, my batch consisted of last-minuters who had to be quarantined in order to protect us from accidentally learning about the exams from the morning batch.

For three days straight (three hours per day), we stared at each other’s faces, shoes, and sandwich lunches. Eventually, we morphed into our natural states. If driving reveals our true personalities, exams are even more piercing of the suited veil.

The Scary Asian (Far East)

Though no real math is involved (apart from a bit of tax law), certain stereotypes still persist. These super well-organized Chinese attorneys had spreadsheets, diagrams, flowcharts, and stacks full of notes in cramped, tiny handwriting (wood famine in the Orient?). The level of preparation was Very Intimidating.

The Bulldozing Asian (Indian subcontinent)

As part of our “tests” we had to interview clients (e.g. grieving widows, thugs who beat up their girlfriends) and present defences in front of judges. It’s a tough spot to be in when you have no clue about the law on (let’s say, restrictive covenants) and you are expected to blather on for 25 minutes, “winning your client’s trust and confidence”. Lawyers in this category reported a rather aggressive tactic – i.e. charging in and juggernauting over any questions the client attempted to ask. 

The Fans of Earplugs

I can’t get earplugs into my ear canals so whenever I see people sporting this look, I can’t help but to stare in admiration for a long while. First, at their focus, and second from jealousy at the size of their ear holes, and the attendant flourescent foam bits I can only ever dream of fitting into.

The American

One can hear and see these from a mile away. They usually look awesome in their suits (a requirement for the first 3 days), but a drastic difference is noticeable at the Research & Writing exams (the last 3 days). Sneakers and loose shirts 3 days running is a favourite uniform. They tend to sound extremely well-prepared and ready for a stint on LA Law. Hanging around them is extremely useful if you are woefully underprepared, thus just vacuum up everything they are saying. However, if you are somewhat prepared but could have done more instead of catching up on Game of Thrones, steer clear if you don’t want to feel overwhelmed and underprepared (as you obviously are!), as they joyfully debate the minutiae of everything, ranging from sentencing limits to inheritance tax percentages.

48 hours in Dublin

Trinity College

Trinity College

If you can look past the pouring rain that seems to nip at your heels everywhere you go, Dublin is incredibly fun. It’s the sort of place that has something for everyone. Museums galore, great restaurants, intense shopping, and opportunities to drink yourself silly on every street.

Seasalt and vanilla at Murphy's

Seasalt and vanilla at Murphy’s

The things I liked the most:

1. Trinity College – truly the heart and soul of this city. It has the majesty of Oxbridge grounds, yet none of the stuffiness.

2. Shopping – Loads of department stores and high street boutiques. A good mix of Irish, Continental European and British influences.

3. Food – Bountiful, generally inexpensive and most importantly, a decent supply of Asian restaurants.

4. Literature – You can’t fail to appreciate the monumental pride of the Irish in their famous authors. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before a blockbuster movie on Oscar Wilde’s trials and tribulation sweeps the screens.

5. Cosmopolitanism – tons of Continental Europeans have set up in this city. If the UK votes to leave the EU, those wanting to experience an Anglophone lifestyle in Europe will likely flock to Dublin.

Things other people like but I skipped:

1. Guinness Storehouse – We walked for ages to get here and were confronted with a massive crowd in a stifling atmosphere. If you’re certain you want to visit this place, definitely buy your tickets online. It’s even cheaper that way. (The demographic of fans is by and large Caucasian males between 18-35.)

2. Museums – probably a smart thing to do on rainy days (i.e. all the time), but with only 48 hours, do like the Dubliners and get on with life!


They say Guinness tastes better in Dublin…

3. Temple Bar – this is an area chockfull with live music bars and restaurants. Its lively around the clock which makes for a brilliant change from European joints which open only at rigid set hours around mealtimes. You’ll inevitably meander back and forth this jolly site when tramping round the city, but my feet hurt too much by the end of the day to trek back here for dinner. Next time!

A bit of Canadiana ..

A bit of Canadiana ..

Overnighting at the Kids Hospital

The Accidents and Emergencies Waiting Room for Kids

The Accidents and Emergencies Waiting Room for Kids

Despite what I’ve heard about the Dutch medical system, my own experience has been somewhat contrary to my expectations. When Petit-Homme was born, I was mentally prepared to be ushered back home three hours after delivery as is the norm here, but we ended up staying overnight in the hospital with round-the-clock attention.

Sofa converts into a bed

Sofa converts into a bed

Recently, Petit-Homme was admitted into Juliana’s Kids Hospital. When we checked in, the Kids Annex was only 5 days old and staff were still meandering around trying to orient themselves. Everything was brand spanking new, from the play structures, to automatic glass doors that smashed you in the face if you failed to decipher the instructions in Dutch on where exactly to stand. Free wi-fi, tv channels, and a shiny bathroom in a spacious private room. The ward was far from full, which I found unusual but welcome (maybe because it was a public holiday?). No disinfectant smell and no anxious relatives milling around.

Very Asian-street food looking cart

Very Asian-street food looking cart

The food cart comes round for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You pick what you want from an assortment of bread, hams, cheeses, spreads or warm food. And depending on which staff member you encounter at 3.a.m you may be allowed to pillage the pantry, and excellent coffee/hot chocolate is at your disposal.

I found our stay generally positive. I was surprised however not to receive any documents regarding treatment, nor even a copy of the invoice. In the Netherlands, these things get sorted a lot later, probably because of the compulsory insurance system. You may or may not eventually be informed of the charges. When we checked out (I suppose I should say “got discharged”), the hospital looked alarmingly full. Are humans conditioned at an early age to fall sick on work days?