Things I have learned lately in Berlin

I’m currently sitting in our rented apartment here in Berlin, surrounded by some laundry, a cup of tea, my almost empty luggage, and a stack of papers. The weather outside is grey and it’s going to rain today I think.

We’ve been in Berlin for 11 days now. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster because some things have gone very well, but some things are a bit strange. That said, I feel very lucky to get to live in Berlin and I’m really looking forward to starting my new job next month.

So what have I learned lately?

  • German supermarkets don’t carry frozen gluten free bread. I think German people in general have high standards for bread and it seems like they don’t like frozen bread, so it’s not possible for me to get my favourite frozen gluten free bread in Berlin. But, it is possible to buy gluten free bread that is slightly more fresh in a resealable bag, but I find it weird to have fresh gluten free bread. I am getting used to it though.
  • German cafes don’t provide water for free. In Oslo, you can always get a cup of water for free at cafes. You only pay for your drinks. In contrast, here in Berlin, you have to order water when you order your drinks and pay for it. I think, over time, I will carry a small bottle of water in my large tote bag. That way I don’t have to buy water and a drink.
  • 30 minutes is considered ‘nearby’ in Berlin. I’ve been studying the routes of the trams and subway here lately. It’s quite interesting to learn that 30 minutes isn’t considered far because that’s how long it takes to get from Point A to B most of the time. In fact, many people commute in Berlin and our friends feel that 30 minutes is a typical commute. I think 20 minutes would be ‘nearby’ in my mind, but I’m learning to stretch that to 30 minutes. Since Berlin is huge, I find myself putting off all the cafes and restaurants I have on my list to visit because I don’t feel like commuting 30 minutes to get there. I need to change my mindset, stat.
  • I’ve been spoiled by Oslo. In Oslo, I have mostly lived in relatively new buildings, where the water pressure, water temperature, heating system – were all in sync. Everything just worked magically, and there was no need to tweak anything. Here in Berlin, in our current rental apartment, some things need to be fiddled with because it’s a renovated apartment in an old building. It’s not so easy to get the right temperature of water to shower in or to wash your face in. The water is either too cold, or too hot. It’s not a big problem, of course, because I am aware that some people in the world don’t even have clean water. So yeah, I’ve been spoiled, and it’s time to be a bit more accepting of these things.
  • How to learn to live with less. When the husband I were married and I moved into his apartment, he was very nice and gave me carte blanche on the second room. So I designed a huge, 4-sliding-door-wardrobe with IKEA’s cupboard designing software and we ordered it. The husband helped me to install it and I used it mostly for my stuff, but also for some of the household items like towels, blankets, spare pillow cases, etc. On top of that, we bought 2 shelves where I could put all my skincare, makeup and jewellery. Now that we no longer own an apartment, I have had to give up all this luxury. It’s a bit jarring to realise it, like waking up in another world. Many people have managed to pare down their belongings and live with less — so I’ve decided to try that by being more selective with what I have packed for my current stage in life, and only buying the bare minimum. It’s been a challenge, but I’m determined to try not to want too many things.
  • How to run outdoors in cold weather. We no longer have gym memberships. The closest gym we would like to join is about 15 minutes by subway. We think this will take about 25 minutes in reality, when you factor in the time it takes to get to the subway station, etc. In Oslo, our gym was 5 minutes away by tram. Since our current living arrangements is not for long term, we figured we will try to go for runs outdoors in one of the many beautiful parks Berlin has. So, the past two Sundays, the husband and I have been running in one of the parks nearby. It’s really fun, but also very cold. We both bought some outdoor running gear, but it takes me longer to warm up until I’m not too cold, compared to the husband. But running outdoors, crunching on the Autumn leaves, is so much fun! I’m so grateful that I get to do that; I just need to toughen up with the temperature.

That’s it for now. I hope to write more soon, and hopefully share some photographs.

And the race begins…

I don’t like to blog when things go wrong. I sit and simmer, stew, and then boil over internally — but I try not to blog about what is going on. This is because I’m a firm believer in the universe returning what I give. So I worry that if I give out angst, anger, frustration, or disappointment; that’s just what I’m going to get in return from the universe.

That said, I’m not perfect; self-improvement is a lifelong task.

For a very long time, I was stuck in a rut with a special type of problem. No matter what I did, the outcome was always the same. I couldn’t solve this problem. I would spend hours thinking about my options, mentally running through them to see which one I could choose and what type of outcome I might get. I replayed these different scenarios every day.

The strange thing about this type of problem is that it consume you. You cannot do anything else. It takes all of your energy. You spend a long time running on the wheel like the proverbial hamster, trying to find a way to get out of this rut.

The wedding last year was a wonderful distraction away from this problem. It was reaffirming to know that there’s so much more to this life than the problem I was stuck with. A good reminder that life goes on; but I was also hell bent on bringing my best self into our marriage, so I added on the healthy eating to cure my eczema and acne to my plate.

But after the wedding and honeymoon, like a bad penny, this problem reared its head again. It was a problem I couldn’t solve. However, being a type A, productivity obsessed, solution oriented person – this truth was something I couldn’t handle. I mean, why would the universe give me a problem I couldn’t solve? It can’t be that hard, right?

Eventually I came to terms with this. But it was a long, uphill battle that left me so tired and drained. The husband and I realized that the best solution here is to move countries and start afresh, to move me away from this problem because it was never mine to solve in the first place. This new opportunity is a blessing that I’m very grateful for.

So now the race begins, to pack everything that we want to keep, get rid of everything that we don’t want; clear our minds, open our hearts, and move to a new country and city to rediscover our zest for life. Learn how to live in a different way.

We sold our apartment earlier this month and it was bittersweet. As much as I love our apartment, I knew that I had to let it go to move on to better things. Next month we are moving to Berlin. I’m still in the process of packing up my stuff (the husband is lucky that he has less belongings than me). We are very lucky that the furniture that we have listed up for sale or to be given away seem to get some interest so we have managed to find new homes for some of these pieces. It’s a nice feeling to see the new owners of these pieces be so happy that they got something they really wanted at a good price (hopefully).

I guess the next time I write here, I might be in Berlin. But let’s see, if inspiration strikes.

On to the next chapter: Berlin

Kufurstendamm in Berlin

Kufurstendamm in Berlin

I’ve been itching for a new challenge for a long time. A few months ago I applied for a job in Berlin. It was purely out of curiosity and I didn’t think the company would come back to me. However, luck was in my favour and I did a few rounds of interviews with them. Last week I was offered the job. It’s a wonderful opportunity in Berlin. A chance to start afresh and try to live in a different country with a completely different language, history, everything. The husband will be transferring to his employer’s Berlin office.

I’ve always liked Berlin – after I survived my first encounter with the city where I thought I was living in a haunted apartment. (Really!) Many years ago, I was sent there for work for 3 weeks. While it was fun to be in the city, the apartment I was staying at was just plain creepy. But, it turned out first impressions don’t always count because our subsequent trips were always fun. Of course subsequent trips were made with the husband (then boyfriend) and he is German so it was easy to explore Berlin with him.

We have friends who live and work there. These days when we go to Berlin, we are rarely alone because we end up scheduling different coffee or dinner appointments with different sets of friends. I’ve also run out of excuses to not learn German so it is time for me to hit the books and start learning the language. The nice part is that my new employer will cover some of these classes so hopefully that’s the kick in the behind that I need :)

We have started the relocation process to move from Oslo to Berlin. We have to start by selling our beautiful apartment. Honestly, this is quite sad for us because both of us have never owned an apartment before the husband bought this place. But, sometimes you have to let go of what you have to move on to better things. We hope to buy a place in Berlin eventually, but for the mean time we will be renting a furnished apartment and likely keep our furniture in storage – until we get used to the city and figure out where we would like to live. Berlin is huge and each part of the city has a different vibe; a different feel. You can hate one part but love another part – we hope to find one part that we will like enough to want to live there for a long time.

So, here’s to new challenges and even better opportunities :) I plan to write more as things fall into place.

Finding some calm and peace in this frantic world

I’ve been working with a psycho-motor physiotherapist for the past few months. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking:

“Fieran, what in the world is up with you? First you give up gluten and stop writing about real food, then give us strange photos of weird food that probably doesn’t even taste half as good as a croissant or pizza; now you’re talking about physiotherapy.”

Well, what happened was that I started seeing a doctor and a nutritionist. Then I started to heal. It started with my eczema clearing up. I had eczema for 10 years, off and on it would show up, then disappear. But the last round was difficult because it refused to go away. I had managed to cure one leg, but on the other leg, it remained there: a large patch of dry, itchy skin that just wouldn’t heal. It looked quite scary. And then it started to heal! Today, I no longer have eczema. No more itchy, flaky skin and I can actually wear a pair of pegged boyfriend jeans without having to feel embarrassed about my skin. I have a slight discolouration left from what used to be a scar – but I’m convinced Rosehip oil will heal it. Then the acne started to heal. My skin is nowhere near clear. I have a lot of scars and still get pimples from time to time but they are not so bad. Gone are the large cystic pimples that took weeks to heal. The texture of my skin has improved and I’m lucky enough to not have much pitted scars so I’m confident that in a year or two, I will have much better skin. I don’t plan to do any laser resurfacing because I would like for my body to heal on its own. Time is something I definitely have.

Food-wise I’m completely gluten free for more than a year and eat varied but nutrient dense meals. I try to keep a close eye on what I eat; the whole carb:protein:fat ratio. I can’t have more than 1/4 of my plate with carbs, the rest have to be fat and proteins. I’m pretty okay with that, but I do have my slip ups. I also try to avoid sugar, but that’s a bit of a challenge some days. The next step is to change how I think and learn to be less stress, harried, pressured – but more calm, cool, and centered. This is why I’ve been seeing a physiotherapist who can identify what my body’s stress signals are and teach me how to handle them. A few months ago I started meditating with Headspace. Sounds very commercial, I know. But it actually works. I feel so much calmer and relaxed. I can see the pitfall that I sometimes fall into and then think “this whole day is rubbish” and I am slowly learning how to avoid falling into that dark hole. Last month I started yoga. Honestly I don’t want to be that new-age type of person walking around in tie dye clothing. I know that’s the stereotype. But I really, really need to find a way to survive this crazy world.

You know that feeling, when you wake up in the morning in a nice, happy mood. And then it dawns on you that you’re stuck with a particular problem that you just can’t fix? But you would do anything to fix it – though the solution eludes you. From then on the day just feels bad. You find yourself constantly thinking about the bad things, but not the good things – despite having some good things to be grateful for. So I started yoga and it’s been going okay. I’m neither flexible nor nimble. I look really silly at class, but since it’s a class where I know nobody — and more importantly nobody knows me, I figured it’s okay to look silly.

Remember my Bell’s palsy? Technically  I healed, but I still see some asymmetry in my features which bothers me. I know it sounds vain, but I never really appreciated the symmetry in my features. I took it for granted but when it was gone, I felt so sad that I didn’t look nice any more. I’m actually somebody who obsesses about symmetry.  I like lighting fixtures to be exactly straight; I love a well organized bookshelf. So losing my facial symmetry was hard to deal with. Lately, I see some improvement in my facial symmetry. So that’s a good thing :) Ultimately, I’m the same person; but also different. Why be the same, if you can progress and be better, right?

The person behind the scenes

When you live far away from your group of family and friends, you often end up being the person behind the scenes. You know about some of the things that are going on and as much as you would like to be more actively involved, it’s not exactly possible. I remember when I first moved to Norway, there was this wonderful cake delivery service in Malaysia where I could order a cake and deliver it to my parents’ doorstep. I used that service quite a few times. Then they stopped offering that service and I was dumbfounded what else I could do to show that I cared and would have liked to take part in some special people’s celebrations.

But that’s the burning question:

How do you show that you care despite being so damn far away?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. I used to think it was by showing appreciation in the form of special treats like those cakes that I used to send, small gifts, trinkets, etc. These days, I think it is time. When I’m back home I try to make time for all the things that I’m normally not around for. When I’m away, I try to have time to chat with the special people via messaging apps so that they know that I am there. Though I don’t think it’s enough, sometimes because by time you find out about stuff it’s too late to step in and help. Honestly, it sucks to be the person behind the scenes. It would be so much better to be the person who is part of the scene. Then again, we can’t have everything, can we? Can’t have the successful career (starting to believe this doesn’t really exist), the four seasons, the slightly better work/life balance, and the elusive “expatriate luxurious lifestyle” (doesn’t exist, I swear) — and still be the person who is part of the scene. This is just one more thing I didn’t consider when I moved from home – being the person behind the scenes.

Current Favourites

Recently, my skin has improved. It’s a bit of a miracle and I’m hoping that writing about it here won’t jinx it. *shudder*

Here are my current favourite products that have been really helping my skin and giving me that extra bounce in my step.

  1. Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Miracle Cleanser  – You know how when you use a cleanser and your skin says “Ahhh” the moment the cleanser touches your skin? This is one of those cleansers. It’s a nice cream texture (I’ve completely sworn off foaming cleansers because a certain Mrs Hirons has convinced me.) and melts into the skin beautifully. I try to find some patience to massage it into my skin slowly. This cleanser is too precious to use as a makeup remover. I use it as a second cleanser, after I’ve removed my makeup. My skin feels all soft and looks glowy once I’ve washed the cleanser off.
  2. Neal’s Yard Wild Rose Beauty Balm – I started off using this beauty balm as a cleanser and while it worked, my friend K told me that I should try it as a mask or a moisturizer. I heeded her advice and gave it a try. All I can say is – Wow. Picture this: your skin is a little bit parched and you want to moisturize it quickly with one product. This is the one to use. As you massage it into your skin – I use a teeny tiny bit – your face just starts to glow. It’s a rich, solid texture that melts in contact with your hand. I use this at night before I sleep as a serum + moisturizer combo and I (usually) wake up with calm, quite clear looking skin.
  3. Aesop Oil Free Facial Hydrating Serum – This serum is quite interesting. My skin, now that it’s no longer oily but more dry/combination drinks it up. I was advised by the sales assistant at the Aesop store here to combine this with their Fabulous Face Oil and then apply it to my skin. The result is soft, hydrated skin. (Are we sensing a trend here?) I use this combination every morning and it keeps my skin hydrated for most of the day.
  4. Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel – In the mornings, I like a light cleanser that is easy to use and wash off. This cleansing gel is really good for that purpose. I’m a bit naughty as I use two pumps, not one, for my face. I find that the cleanser calms my skin a bit, if I have some red spots or clogged pores.
  5. Ole Henriksen Blue/Black Berry Enzyme Mask – If you’re looking for a mask with a slight zing that also moisturizes the skin a bit, this is a good one. I use it once a week when my skin is looking a bit dull and I have clogged pores (the bane of my life). It reduces any swelling and leaves my skin feeling soft and clean.



The Birthday Post

Ah birthdays. That nice feeling of becoming older. *Grumble*

That said, I was very lucky this birthday. The husband took me to London – my favourite city! Previously, when we went to London in 2013, the trips were very wedding-focused. We bought my wedding sarees, wedding rings, etc. in London. This time we had almost no plans; just a list of what we wanted to do, see, eat, buy, and that’s it. We knew we had some friends we wanted to meet up with, but that was depending on whether they were available or not. Strangely I didn’t really feel like shopping much this time. We spent more time sightseeing and trying out restaurants that had amazing gluten free food.

I have three wishes this birthday:

  1. I would like to have a wee bit more peace of mind, to stop feeling so out of control of everything around me.
  2. I would also like to be a successful person. Success is so fleeting; sometimes just when you think you have it, you realize you actually don’t have it.
  3. Lastly, I would like to be healthy. For once it would be nice to have proper nutrient levels and not have to eat so much supplements. That’s something I’ve been working on, but it seems hugely dependent on how I view myself as a person and handle difficult situtations.

For some reason, I seem to be constantly chasing after peace of mind or success…and then I let health slip away. So yeah, would be nice to achieve them this year. They say “Ask and you shall receive”. So, I’m asking.


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