Nordic Summer Pt 1: The Arrival

I’d really be lying to myself if I said I looked forward to coming home. With everything I was accustomed to in Malaysia– the schedules, the disillusioned state of our politics and some parts of society, the heat, some curfews– it felt like in these past 18 days, Al and I were suspended in our little planet where nothing at all could permeate, even if they tried.

Last year, I wrote about new beginnings after a trip to Spain and Portugal– a kind of optimism-infused self-fulfilling prophecy to get my shit together. This time around, I feel like I’m celebrating this interpellative success, for having most things fall into place in the best way possible.

The shift is this: Nordic Summer 2015 isn’t about seeing new places and discovering the self ala Thought Catalog or some millennial teen movie. Rather, the joy comes from sharing the experience with someone you love (dare I say wholeheartedly), for the first time, and that I would say, is one of the most beautiful feelings in the world.

After a gut-knotting anticipation of all sorts, we arrived in London.

I’ve seen this landscape many times and I was afraid it might bore me again. But I am reminded that a place is only as important as the person you share it with. And what a beautiful landscape it was.

Every slab of concrete has its rhyme and reason as we walked tunefully amid the long forgotten manifesto of Barbican Centre. It was drizzling and a little chilly; accentuating this sombre, grey, and awkward monster as it mingles unapologetically with our tableau and its surrounding greenery. Sometimes, the ugliest buildings can also be very charming. It’s an unlikely occurrence to have us five at the same coffee table in Shoreditch. Nicole has been a dear friend of mine since high school who has graciously offered us a place to stay at her minimal but very classy studio apartment (which always leaves me slightly envious of her life). Sheryll is Al’s younger sister who coincidentally flew into London for work (she’s a very gorgeous SIA cabin crew and a wonderful human being), and Rory, a friend Al met on the Instagram who kindly took the role as our tour guide for the day. Over meals and strolls along painted alleyways, we seem to fit like different characters from a teenage TV show. While locals ate without much grease and stray meat on their hands, Al and I dug in like the very Malaysians we were. Though Burger & Lobster inevitably ends up in every tourist’s bucket list, I did not leave with regret; in fact we plan to make another visit here for their steamed lobster next year.

But that’s not all about the food. Our trip to Norway was a surprisingly tasty one- I didn’t expect much from this country but we both agreed that our best (and most expensive) meals came from Bergen and Oslo.

Our most memorable one would possibly be Solsiden, a seafood restaurant in Oslo where we ate overlooking yachts and boats slither by. A seafood platter for two costs about RM 350 per person, and because we were not made of krona krona bills, we decided to go for the slightly cheaper 3 course meal and a side of steamed mussels and seared scallops (with a lot of food jargons and emulsions and reductions of sorts) to share. Pity I can’t share a picture with you since all I take are snapshots of buildings. Just think: really complex flavours in perfect harmony complimenting extremely fresh seafood. In Bergen, we went for a 25km cycling escapade along the fjords. That’s the distance between my house in USJ 9 and my office at Mutiara Damansara. This day needs a separate post on its own so keep a lookout for updates.

Our days in Oslo were spent a little more indoors, watching Masterchef and the news on BBC. Our host Terese is a wonderful, progressive 57 year old who spoke to us about politics, empathy and independence.

I remember talking to her about church and her family and she seemed to carry a lot of weight from past hurts, like most mothers. Despite those things, she stands in front of Al and I, as a strong, warm hearted woman who grabs life by its neck and live it to its fullest.

She walked with us one day to see an exhibition on the Massacre in Utoya and asked us many questions about what’s it like in Malaysia. One part of our conversation went something like this:

Terese: You look forward to going home?
Lilly: Err. I’m not sure. Things aren’t doing too well.
[Terese waits for more]
Lilly: There’s a lot going on, corruption, and a possible suspension of my company’s printing license.
Terese: Corruption and censorship? Oh no, that’s very bad. In Norway we don’t have such thing.

The next day, I received the news: we got suspended. I didn’t tell Terese.

I’m not exactly sure where the problem lies: in Copenhagen or in me. I expected this city to be amazing. Mind blowing. Awe inspiring. Ultra modern facades at every corner that constantly nudges for a photo to be taken. Instead, I left slightly disappointed. Though, I am convinced this is a result of a two-way and multifaceted fault at hand. (I shall also reserve another post just for this).

The saving grace of Copenhagen is this museum, which from the outside looked just like a suburban house that however, opened up to a larger, maze-like structure of different storeys, overlooking the straits (and Sweden) at one part and a lake at another. We weren’t too keen on the paintings and exhibitions but the space itself was an art piece one can take hours just examining.

I admit: I sobbed four times the moment our trip ended. Twice on the plane, once while on FaceTime with Al, and one last go at it before I slept.

But who am I to kid: During a holiday, we see countries as what they are in relation to what we are not. We exist then, in forgetting– in a quick dismissal of mishaps and atrocities because they are either too far from us, or too unfamiliar. Immersed in a holiday, we are mere observers because we are constantly suspended in narratives of escape, that you and I know has an incredibly brief shelf life.

I would be lying to myself if I said I love being back home, but there are some truths in it. Even in a city of sadness, lies an invisible thread that unravels and stretches as it draws new and rapid patterns so that every second, the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence. Lucky for me, the thread is glaringly conspicuous for I know where and who exactly my home is.

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