these here are the tales of...

Belarus (2) Canada (7) China (2) creative (4) Czech (5) dance (4) design (1) Egypt (3) Estonia (3) family (10) festivals (2) health (6) Indonesia (1) inspiration (14) Japan (2) Korea (1) language (11) Lithuania (1) London (2) nature (24) philosophy (6) photos (8) politics (5) roadtrip (4) studies (8) sustainability (8) Taiwan (38) teaching (5) Thailand (9) Turkey (2) video (3) wisdom (3) workie (2) yummm (6)

HOME - an amazingly beautiful wake up wall to what our planet is facing

HOME - an amazingly beautiful wake up wall to what our planet is facing

Friday, October 17, 2014

More of Ana's imagination in print

I've been putting it off, but just before the new, November issue of my magazine comes out, I finally scanned the very fist article I wrote for biz Interactive English, published in October. It's about family values in different cultures, as seen in movies.

The graphics really bring the story to life.

Speaking of graphics completing a story, I also scanned The Pretty Please Princess, which is one of the 10 readers I wrote for William Language School earlier this year. It's simply AMAZING to see something you started from scratch come through all the steps into a bonafide fully-finished book. I am so grateful for this experience! I don't get my name credited on the published version, but I'll just chalk that up to humility training. ;)

click on the image to see the whole book

I've always thoroughly enjoyed writing, so it's quite a dream come true for me to be doing it now, day in and day out. I hope you enjoy a few of the words I put together. More to come!  : )

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The View from the Sixth Floor

I now both live and work on the 6th floor (of different buildings, of course). 

Continuing with the number six trend, I'm in my sixth week at this new vocation as a writer and editor of Biz Interactive English Magazine. I’m quite delighted by this position, as I get to research all sorts of topics (even economics and finance, which I knew embarrassingly little about.) More importantly, day in and day out, I craft words into new and original pieces of writing. Once the October issue comes out, I'll be able to scan a few pages of what I've done so far, but November will be the first volume where nearly all the English content is "penned" by yours truly. I feel that this past month and a half has really let me dust off my writing cap and some measure of whimsy and ingenuity has been creeping back into my written word.

In some way, nothing’s made me feel more like I’ve stepped into the ranks of 上班族 or “office workers,” than acquiring a few accoutrements of the trade. I've got my gel wrist pad, tea stash, cutting board and fruit knife (with a built-in peeler!) and -- drum roll, please -- a metal lunch tin. I expect you are re-reading that last sentence with a "je ne comprends pas" feeling. Ha! Gotcha. Unless you're from this part of the world, it would be a mystery. In fact, on my first day here I opened what I thought was a small refrigerator and stared at its insides, trying to compute what I was looking at. 
this is not my photo, but the feeling is the same
It is, in fact, a “steam box” for your metal containers full of food that you place in upon arrival at work and retrieve again, all warm and ready to go, at lunch. As I write this, I've realized the "steam" part in the name must be from the old-fashioned models. Ours just seems to use electricity, so in fact is more like a low-temperature oven. Anyway, here is my very first lunch, cooked by Rich in a barbecue bonanza for Mid-Autumn Festival.
Happy workdays to the rest of you, wherever you may be! J

Friday, June 27, 2014


When I bought my flight from Tallinn to Prague, the cheapest deal I found was with Air Lituanica, Lithuania’s airline, which I would later find out was in fact celebrating its big one year (oooh aaah ) anniversary during the very month I flew with them. They keep luxuries to a minimum, with teenie 30-passenger aircrafts (at least mine was) and the only freebie being hard candies in the colors of the Lithuanian flag. You even had to pay if you wanted a glass of water.

It was additionally the cheapest option because I had a 6:15am flight to Vilnius followed by a six-hour layover before continuing on to Prague (the layover being longer than both flight times put together). Being on an adventure, I thought – why not, save money and see one more Eastern European city. For some reason it’s taken me all these years of traveling to realize that sometimes saving money on a flight in fact ends up costing same or more, in taxi fare to/from the airport late/early when no public transport is available and in this case, having a romp through Vilnius’ Old Town, buying some food and souvenirs. So, there we have it, a lesson learned.

After I booked the flight, my Dad also reminded me that I am in fact one quarter Lithuanian by blood, although I never had a chance to meet my Lithuanian grandfather and remembered next to nothing of our trip to Vilnius, Riga and Kiev when I must’ve been eight or nine years old. Intrigued all the more, I looked forward to my brief rendezvous with this country.

Artur, back from his graduation 

By sheer good fortune, our Lithuanian friend Marina who hasn’t even lived there herself for twelve years, nevertheless lined up Artur, a friend of hers to meet me in the brisk cold of 7:20am and take me to the Old Town. I was profoundly grateful because I’d read countless accounts of shameless overcharging by taxi drivers and had such a short time there. Furthermore, through miscommunication this friend had shown up at the airport the previous Friday, when I was just on my way to Tallinn, at the same ungodly hour of 7am and was a bit frantic, wondering if I’d gotten lost or what. Nevertheless, he came back a week later, with a fountain of facts about the city that he related while driving here, there and everywhere, in a condensed tour of where I could go on my own while he attended his graduation ceremony, insisting he would pick me up again in two hours and drop me back at the airport. That is some incredible chivalry.

By the time I was left to my own devices, my head was spinning a bit from lack of sleep and dehydration and an overabundance of facts and chill temperatures – it was 8C. I made a beeline for the first coffee shop that was open (Inn Coffee We Trust…. hehehe…) and got my morning caffeine and some food. Then I bundled up again and struck out for a touch of sight seeing and souvenir shopping.

@Inn Coffee We Trust... I know I do!
This church - called St. Anne's - immediately grabbed my attention. Wikipedia says that the original was built for Anna, Grand Duchess of Lithuania, but destroyed by fire in 1419 and then rebuilt at the start of the 16th century, now serving as "a prominent example of both Flamboyant Gothic and Brick Gothic styles." How could I not love it?
A monument to Grand Duke Gediminas in Cathedral Square, apparently showing the moment he dismounted his horse and declared the land would become his new capital.
Vilnius is not a big city and its Old Town is also quite small, though lovely and a UNESCO Heritage Site as of 1994. As time wore on, the sun came out and I no longer felt like I had to be in survival mode on the streets. The main souvenirs available are linen, amber, a mishmash of Slavic knick-knacks that probably had been made in China and were being sold by Russians, yet there were some original paintings and handmade clothing and art pieces. I especially loved this little design gallery called elementai, located at Stiklių gatve (street) 14 - goods cost more, but were clearly made by locals and the woman who ran it just had the nicest air about her.

Literatų gatvė (Street Of Writers)

For some reason I'd been craving crepes and had a delicious spinach creation smothered in aged-cheddar sauce at the Senoji Užupio picerija pizzeria/Italian restaurant just across the river from Old Town in a section of the city called Užupis, which is in fact an independent republic as of 1997 and its name means "over the river."

Up next, another tiny airplane ride to the capital of Czech Republic. Whoop whoop!

Even more photos of my half day in Vilnius

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A day in Estonia's capital

After a week of wholesome family time in Tartu, I was off to Estonia’s capital Tallinn. Coming from Taiwan, the landscape was decidedly very western-hemisphere-ish, at times reminding me of Ontario (eg. fields of blooming yellow canola) and at times of Belarus, with stands of white birches. Either way, I was feeling like I was getting closer to my roots.

 At the Tartu Botanical Gardens the day before, I’d spent a good half hour wandering and smelling the flowers – many simple and understated in their appearance, but giving off outright enchanting, subtly layered aromas. I thought it was a good metaphor for the Norse Europeans: fair-haired and often dressed with simple elegance, yet full of color and creativity that comes out in their folk art.

On the bus ride, I saw a deer and its calf paused at the edge of the forest and many storks, stretching their gangly legs in nests atop power line posts, on a break from delivering babies, I guess. Two hours later I was at the Tallinn airport, where I left my luggage in a locker (awesome value at €3, which gave me 15 hours to explore the city with just a small pack on my back) and got into the city center with a half hour to spare before the daily two-hour free tour that took us through the Old Town’s cobblestone streets and condensed history.

window of music shop
Looking down on the Lower City. Pfft... peasants, the lot of them!
The Town Pharmacy of Tallinn, one of the oldest working apothecaries in the world (1422 or earlier)
The tour gave me a great overview of Estonia’s beginnings all the way to its independence through the peaceful Singing Revolution, which culminated in its break from the USSR after two million people across the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania formed the Baltic Way, a long chain of people holding hands. 

The tour also gave me enough of Old Town magic that I felt quite good about striking out into the more boring architecture outside of it to explore what else Tallinn had to offer. For one, it was a sprinkling of hipster cafes that I couldn’t possibly cover in one day, but I did my best and visited three:
1) Must Puudel in the Old Town, full nooks with Soviet era decor, such as photo books of the Olympics Games from the 70’s and 80’s and Russian reggae playing on the stereo. Teehee.

2) F-Hoone, which means F-Building, in the industrial-cum-artsy zone of cafes and local designer shops now called Telliskivi Creative City. I practically stumbled into that place chilled to the bone and thoroughly enjoyed my hot spinach soup and chai soy latte, in this space big enough to be a small train station.

3) Boheem, on the edge of somewhat shabby but interesting Kalamaja area with plenty of old decorated wooden buildings that seem like backdrop scenery in a fairytale.

It seems all Tallinn cafes love to use colorful napkins, no white in sight. That’s hipster for you.

I also walked to the Seaplane Harbor Museum, although it was closing, so I just took a few quick photos of propellers and skeletons of Viking ships, all bathed in an eerie underwater-like blue light. It seems like it’s well worth exploring, with interactive exhibits and a cool interior all around.

You're telling me I can just walk up to this thing?

Just a bit down the coast is the old Battery Prison, which was famously closed in 2005 by the UN for entirely unsuitable conditions, including a rare strain of tuberculosis, which was mysteriously killing off the inmates until its discovery. I got as far as the front gates and to be honest, I really didn’t feel compelled to walk much further in, even though this is a popular place with the locals.

After dinner, I slowly made my way back to the hostel, contemplating how the shabby Soviet-era box apartments may have been the landscape of my life had I not been whisked out of Belarus for a new life in Canada by my brave parents, shortly before the fall of USSR in 1991.  

By 9pm the sun was juuuust starting to think of setting and it would be light again when I woke up at 3:30am to catch a 6:15am flight to Vilnius - I was so far north! No wonder it was so cold, with the temperature ranging between 10-16C.
At the hostel, I enjoyed a throwback to my old backpacking days, sitting around and chatting with other travelers and then I tried to get some shut-eye, which was soon interrupted by a loud buzz-saw snoring competition by the two younger guys in the room. Ha!

Although I got to practice my Russian with the older generation while in this little country, knowledge of it did not help me much with the Estonian language, which is close to Finnish and somewhat to Hungarian and remained a fair mystery to me, though I learned my standard introduction to a foreign tongue: Hello - Tere! and Thank You - Aitäh!

Back at the Tallinn airport with lots of time on my hands, I took ample photos of the cute single terminal, which really seems like a collection of some people’s living rooms.

This is my gate, I kid you not
And just like that, I was leaving Estonia, mere days and weeks before such musical shows as The Offspring (ha), Steven Seagull Blues Band (ha ha) and the Song Festival, which would be quite cool I imagine – a once in five years festive celebration of Estonians’ love for choral music, which even earned the country their independence.

Next stop: Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, on a five hour layover and then – Prague!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Estonia: Tartu: Kids, Architecture and AHHAA! moments

Some years ago I remember reading that Estonia had really come into its own since gaining its independence from the former USSR in 1991. A visitor to the country had written how impressed he was that this underpopulated (1.3 million) little country had proven itself on the mobile technology stage and long before the smart phones generation, it was already common practice to park and pay with a simple cellphone text. Another fact I discovered during my stay is that the ubiquitous cyberspace phone application Skype, is in fact an Estonian invention. Cool!

I spent nearly a week with my brother's family in Tartu, Estonia's second biggest city. Summer vacation had just started, so all was pretty quiet, since it's largely known as a university town. It was perfect for wandering the streets admiring old architecture and soaking in some family time with my two little nieces whom I finally met for the first time. We went to AHHAA (could there be a better name for a science center?), the Tartu branch of Estonian National Museum (small, so-so), second-hand clothing shops (frequent and a life-saver since it was freezing at 10C), the Old Town, Botanical Gardens and my sister-in-law Mari-Liis' parents' home outside of the city, where they live year-round, grow lots of vegetables and even hosted us for a barbecue on my last night in town.

Just another family outing...
All in all, Tartu was a fab relaxing start to my five week tour of family in various countries on two continents. Thanks for being such awesome hosts: Mari, Des, Nik and Olivia! ^_^

Estonian National Museum: no reason to drink out of wee mugs when there's beer to be had
Just love this house!
More cool old buildings around Tartu: I really loved Jaani Church, seen here on bottom left and top right corners
At the Science Center AHHAA: fun with mirrors and a vertical drop
Nothing gets past Detective Desiree
Breakfast at Werner's, probably the oldest cafe in town, founded in 1895
Old Town Square: art installation
Old Town Square: I'm on the cover of my own issue of National Geographic!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

New Summer Adventure - first stop, Estonia

On Thursday, June 19th, 2014, I woke up to write my very last exam in the Chinese Language and Culture program at Shida University (NTNU) in Taipei. Four years, finished! Congrats to all my graduating classmates - we worked hard and have now wrapped up this chapter of our lives. : )

A few last minute preparations (like a shower! oh man, Taipei is getting hot and humid!) and I was off to Taoyuan International Airport, with three flights ahead of me before arriving at the first summer destination: Estonia! which my big brother's been calling his home for the last two years.

My flights looked like this:
1) Taipei-Beijing with Air China, 3h 30min - surprisingly good veggie meal, a bit of time to relax and wrap my head around one end and another beginning. Then a half hour before landing my neighbor started a conversation over the Chinese story I pulled out to read. It turned out he was a Taiwanese who's working in Beijing and we had a nice chat entirely in Mandarin about why we both happened to be on that flight. I guess I've learned something and earned my degree after all!

The Beijing airport was kinda shutting down for the night, as it was already 10pm. I had to go through security again and basically just walked through, but noticed that just about every man was getting scanned with the beepy thing. I guess us girls are just innocence incarnate. :P

2) Beijing-Frankfurt with Air China, 10h 20min  - went by surprisingly fast, all things considered. I had a window seat and an empty one between me and the man in the aisle seat, who just kept to himself. We flew over a good chunk of Mother Russia which would have been very cool to see from above, but it was night time and we were probably above the clouds anyway. I gave a half-hearted attempt to find something in the on-demand video selection, but then gave in to what I really wanted to watch - Hobbit 2: Desolation of Smaug. Hehehe... Of course I'd seen it already, but ah, Peter Jackson's magic, even on a wee tiny screen with washed out colors... so good! I think we're only half a year away from Hobbit 3... but who's counting... ;)

The Frankfurt airport is a behemoth... Luckily I didn't have to transfer terminals either there or in Beijing, so it was just another waiting game until my last flight. I treated myself to a seat at a nice airy cafe and a European breakfast - coffee and a croissant. Just trying to fit in, hahaha... Actually, it was the waitress' suggestion after I'd asked for a muffin, which they didn't have. ;)

I noticed each place and culture definitely carry a sense of their unique identity, easily noticeable in the food and souvenirs for sale, the design elements and people's style. Tea, rice and pagoda-roofed booths in Beijing with clusters of Russians waiting for flights and reeking of booze, smoke and perfume; pretzel-laden cafes and well-heeled, slightly more serious Europeans in Frankfurt, although the younger generation is definitely sporting piercings and wildly cut or colored hair.

Yep, this is in Germany
This is the way the Frankfurt Airport staff get around!
3) Frankfurt-Tallinn with Lufthansa, 2h 20min - I've definitely come to the land of dairy and artisan baking. Breakfast was a cheesed-up sandwich on dark seedy toast.

The airport in Tallinn is a cute little newly fixed up building that looks like a whole bunch of living rooms put together.

My brother and his wife came to pick me up - finally got to meet this lovely lady! We had a couple of hours drive to their home in Tartu, Estonia's second biggest city, a university town of a 100,000. Architecture here definitely oozes Europe, from every brick and door.

Nik and Mari's (and Olivia and Des') home is a lovely sunny apartment, with lots of color and space - another inspiration to cut down on the clutter when I get home. My niece is a super happy active little 1.5 year old who has a language all her own and always has something to say. Here's the whole fam, hanging out in their pad.

I slept for an epic 11 hours my first night here! Awesome. Then we got out for a grocery shop and even a walk later on.

All in all, a pretty full Saturday! Especially including all the good eating we've done. I'm being spoilt by home cooking already.

Mushroom quiche and raspberry cheesecake. Whohohoa!