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Musings

you know, when i was (notice the past tense) in rome and people asked of what I liked about rome, I often stuttered and seriously paused, not knowing what to say. the loneliness, the frustrations with transportation and the torrid weather made it tough for me to really discern what was really good about rome.

well, now that i’m back in singapore for a (well-deserved, may i say?) break, the inevitable comparisons start and I start realizing what exactly i miss about rome and what i love about singapore.

for singapore:

1 – fuss-free, smooth and efficient transportation system that’s fully air conditioned, runs pretty much on time and gets to most places.

2 –  weather/infrastructure – whilst humid, singapore rarely ever gets scorching what with considerable cloud cover. also with a much built up infrastructure, air conditioned passageways and the plethora of shopping malls, you can pretty much escape the heat

3 – english, be it the queen’s variant or the mangled singlish one. (thank you)

for rome:

1 – stunning outdoor attractions nearby – yes, im gushing about the beaches once again, but honestly, living in Singapore is kinda like being thirsty whilst stranded on a raft in the middle of an ocean – the irony isn’t lost considering that Singapore is a small island with quite a bit of sea around it, but there’s nary a nice beach or inviting, clean stretch of coast. =(

2 – fresh fruits, right from the market. oh man.. my mom bought cherries today and to my utter horror i noticed the price tag of 17.90sgd for them – something that would be cost barely 4euros in rome. one thing i really love about rome is how the different seasons and times bring about different fruits in season, all which are so juicy, sweet and delicious – be it apricots, peaches, prunes, figs, honey melons, watermelons, grapes, strawberries (the watermelons here look positively shriveled here) and so on. i don’t really get it actually – why is it that the fruits in rome look so vibrant in color, so engorged in size and so appealing, whereas fruits in singapore look kinda sad and shriveled.

3. fresh food, natural and thick with flavor – i think i now understand why italians like to eat so simply, without much thick  overpowering sauces and flavors as compared to alot of singaporean dishes. methinks its because the freshness of the local produce is really something on its own and needs no other enhancements. be it the olive oil, the tomatoes, the meat and vegetables, there is a certain richness and natural flavor that i feel like is missing when i am eating food here in singapore. and that, to me, being a foodie in singapore, is sad news.

so yeah, that’s how i see it currently. given a choice where to stay at, i’ll still pick Singapore though. its ultimately still where all my friends and family are, and that’s really what matters for me. (and here ends my national day plug =))

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geek post ahead.

chanced upon this blog which really warms my heart seeing such beautiful, simplistic and meaningful designs. part of my dream is really to become such a designer, with razor sharp design POV and the skills to match with it. i mean, to me design’s main purpose serves to communicate – and the less frills it takes to convey a message and meaning, the more visual ‘punch’ it has.

hence, the combination of x-men fan-boyism and like of design in me made it impossible for me not to post this. methinks the depiction of rogue (with gloves) and kitty pryde (though the wall) are incredibly smart.

some gripes though.. would people stop depicting emma frost as though her predominant power is this diamond shaped body crap? it’s not as though she was called white queen for that, she’s a omega-level, skillful psychic mutant that can easily outclass the likes of most x-men. and since when did dark phoenix sprout wings? haha guess im griping already.

talk about being focused! its been a week since i kick started my bucket list, and already two of the (supposedly more tricky) items are settled!

the vatican necropolis is a paticularly tricky one, owing to the fact that (i) not many people know of it, and (ii) even if you know of it, its quite tough to get tickets, owing to the limited number of tourists they allow in. but you know what, after the experience, methinks its so worth it. it speaks volumes despite being quite humble in appearance, and acts to connect your entire ‘vatican’ experience, tracing the soaring beauty of michelangelo’s dome and bernini’s bronzed sculptures right down to the tomb that started it all.

the place doesn’t allow for photography – but in all honesty, it’s not a place to just merely see – photo’s wouldn’t do it justice. it’s meant to be experienced and felt, as with alot of ancient rome sites. in fact, as a gentle advice to future tourists, do note that alot of ancient rome needs to be recreated in your mind — hence people with bad imaginations might actually find ancient rome stiflingly boring when they stare at piles and piles of rocks and crumbling edifices.

but anyways, part of what makes the necropolis scavi tour so special is that it offers and intimate, close up experience of the vatican and the heart of catholicism/christianity. because of the small size of the group, you don’t get annoyed by the throngs of tourists, camera flashes, inappropriate laughters and such. instead, you focus on what is in front of you and you re-imagine the scenes and the emotions of the past. our tour guide paints a compelling image, telling us of how the circus of augustus (i think), which was on top of vatican hill, used to be the scenes of much christian martyrdom, and where peter was eventually crucified upside-down and martyred.

i think the strongest point of the tour for me was when we were right underneath the papal altar, a position closest to peter’s grave and where we could look up from the grate in the ceiling to glimpse at the basilica built above and at the amazing dome that capped the basilica. it spoke to me in a certain way — that amidst all the grandeur and pomposity of the renaissance basilica, and the adornments of the constantine basilica below, lay a very simple, and humble grave. a grave of a man who was deeply flawed as well – having outright denied Christ three times.

such emotions drove home two points to me – christianity was never intended to be about grandeur and riches – and this is an uncomfortable truth, but one we ought to take heed especially in light of all the brouhaha that has emerged what with the city harvest mismanagement saga in singapore. christianity is a personal relationship with God, one who understood our flaws, never left us and uses each flawed individual to accomplish great things as long as we let Him.

so yeah, call it a pilgrimage of sorts, but this tour certainly was an emotional and special one for me. and to be honest, as we emerged from the lower levels and re-entered the main basilica, my mood instantly dipped when i got hit with throngs of tourists talking ridiculously loud in this special place and just obstructing and preventing any form of reverence and worship. and to be honest, i also didn’t feel as inspired in the renaissance basilica – if there was ever a time something could be too impossibly big, or too impossibly grand, then st peter’s basilica definitely could be considered as such. and what with the maddening sounds of the tourists who didn’t seem to have much understanding of the significance of the place and were chattering excitedly about their previous day’s prada purchase, there wasn’t a greater contrast to the experience i just had.

and that’s sad.

to access the vatican necropolis, you need to send a special email indicating the number of people and preferred dates well in advance to the vatican excavations office online. and hope that they have space for you. it costs 12.50 euro for entry and a guided tour of roughly an hour or so.

[photos are from my previous visits of the vatican compound, including the st peter’s square and the vatican museums]

we’re now heading toward the mid of summer in Rome, what with unbearably stuffy and smelly bus rides and days that feel like you’re being cooked in a furnace.

and on a quick reflection, I’ve suddenly realized that i’ve reached the half-way point of my stay in Rome. literally. 4 months have gone by, with less than 4 to go. and by all counts, that was a bittersweet reflection. to be honest, i wish alot of things happened – i wish i was more outgoing, i wish i could have connected with my italian colleagues better, i thought that i would have had more friends to spend the stuffy summer nights with and to head to isola tiberina for some summer aperitivo and snacks.

but yeah, none of it has really occurred. =( i think on hindsight, part of the reason lies in the fact that this isn’t student life, where you have a bunch of fellow sojourners of the same age and somewhat same interests as you, wading together in a foreign land. it isn’t going to be presented on a platter to you. welcome to the scary depths of adult work life, frank.

and yeah, i was kind of depressed the past week. lamenting that fact that i have spoken to like no one from my gym, have made really few friends and wonder if i am seriously just utterly introverted to begin with, or have some sort of social aspergers defect (lol).

but it can only go up right? in a fit of trying to make things right, i signed up for multiple expat events and i will grin and bare it and go out there and try my best to

(1) not think bad of myself as being the solo asian in the group of expats

(2) be disarmingly genuine and attempt to talk to others

and to be honest, the past events i have gone for have been surprisingly very pleasant, though initially tough. i mean, i realize that i really do get the kick out of meeting new people and learning about new experiences and new perspective, regardless of how tiring and daunting it might seem initially.

ah well. half-way point. let’s work hard to make things better.

piazza del popolo during italy’s eurocup match against germany

the atmosphere was electric. fans were cheering and hooting at every italy offense and gasping in concert at every german counterattack. bottles were strewn all across the piazza and ubiquitous red/white/green flags were fluttering sky high. then, at the last few tense seconds, you could hear everyone count down, quattro, tre, due, uno

and then it was a mess.

vuvuzuelas were sounded throughout the piazza, along with smoke-spewing sparklers thrown in for the good measure. people close to the fountain started frolicking in the fountain and there were hugs galore. ignorant bystanders might have thought this was some massive riot of some sorts. and indeed it looked it one.

but it was truly a night to remember eh? feels nice to be in the winning country watching a winning watch.

that night, the cheers of “viva italia!” never seemed louder or more resonant in my mind.

sorry for the dearth of updates, but the past long weekend was well spent with a bunch of my university mates, just hanging out, visiting sites in rome and florence, complaining about the incredibly h0t and sapping weather and just having helluva’ fun. and i’m really starting to understand that the most important factor of travelling really isn’t the sites and sounds of a place, but who you are making the travel with – a mundane 3-hour train ride can be really pleasant what with multiple bouts of monopoly deal and long conversations to catch up on the missed months.

more on that with later posts, but thanks once again guys for come over to rome – life can get pretty lonely and tough at times so it’s a huge comfort to have close friends whom you do not have to put on any form of pretense, and whom you can talk shit about easily to accompany you for a few days. =)

anyways, the picture above shows a picturesque alley within the quartiere coppede, a quaint, architecturally interesting district that was largely designed by Florentian architect gino coppede. its not well known at all, considering that its not found in any guide books, and that i got to know about this only through a local colleague who casually mentioned that if i was interested in art deco-style architecture, i might want to walk toward this quartiere, which is barely 15 minutes away from my house.

gino coppede’s style is one of exuberant decorations – filling the facades of condominiums with playful putti, moorish arches, tuscan turrets and a whole mish mash of architectural adornments. the end result is a quaint, beautiful and playful piazza (piazza mincio) that is surrounded by these unique condominiums that is one of its kind.

fontana delle rane (fountain of the frogs) within piazza mincio

romans lament that the cultural progression in rome died off after the renaissance, effectively rendering rome as a city frozen culturally in time

well, methinks it’s not exactly the case, what with the occasional bursts of design and creativity in different pockets of the city. there’s still hope. =)

bella vista, as the italians call it

the past weekend was a blast for me on many levels – got to experience the weekend lake getaway at nearby lake bracciano, got to pretty much homestay with a really cool italian family and see how things really run on so many fronts, got exposed to so much italian, got time to just relax by the hammock and get all absorbed in the hunger games (book) which honestly is one. good. book. imo.

it’s hard to capture the sensation of tranquil relaxation, of sun-baked freshness on the body and of a callous and carefree disregard for any important in pictures. i mean, it’s really a unique experience – just to relax by the beach, head into the crystal clear waters and swim out as far as you can, go for a canoeing expedition with some adorable kids and see how the respond to everything. its highlights just how different the asian upbringing in singapore has been for me – somewhat of a neutered, conservative and protective approach that still resonates deeply within me.

not that i’m saying that my upbringing was a miserable experience. but it was different and it has made me who I am. and this weekend’s experience made me appreciate how different life could be.

and i learnt alot about myself by the comparisons. of how i do have a fear of exploring the unknown – being genuinely a little fearful of swimming too far out, or just a little squeamish to have seaweeds tangle at my feet. i learnt how i don’t exactly respond well out in the open – what with a sensitive nose that reacts everytime i emerge from the waters and allow the sun to dry me off. i learnt that i really really like kids, enjoy playing with them and i do want to be a dad that plays with my kids, teaching them important lifeskills and to love life and sports. i even learnt that whilst i do like little kittens, my nose doesn’t exactly agree with that at times. =)

and i also learnt how a normal italian family prepares for their meals, interacts and cares for one another.

so honestly, what a great experience. the spectacular view, and the knowledge that I could completely partake in the beauty, instead of just staring at pictures off some photographers lens conjures an incredible feeling.

[shots taken of lake bracciano, in the town of trevignano. much much thanks to enrico and his family for such a great, warm welcome. i can only wish to reciprocate in kind somehow.]