Monday, September 22, 2014

En, To, Tre, Fire, Fem, Seks, Sju, Åtte, Ni, Ti, Hurrah!


The girlfriend insists that Norwegian isn't difficult to acquire, master, do sarcasm and banter in. She thinks I'm a genius. She expects me to more or less understand conversational Norwegian by the time I return for a visit. I'm not so sure about conversational abilities. I'll settle for a modicum of reading competency.

I will learn to read it, try to build some vocabulary, then sit down with her sons for revision. I've told the boys that when I return, part of their chalk-up-brownie-points duties would involve one of them sitting down with me for 30 minutes a day to chat in Norwegian. The lesson plan is up to them. I haven't thought about remuneration. HAHAHA. It will probably be a few new gadgets, of which I'm only too enthusiastic to procure.

I can get an overview via Google-whatever. But I prefer an academic approach. Need to go beyond articulating "Jeg esker øl" and "Øl er fantastisk". Bought a recommended textbook at an Oslo bookshop. Flipping through it, I really really think that I won't be able to speak Norwegian fluently. My pronunciation is atrocious and that would not improve unless I speak it frequently. Not happening just yet. If I'm not wrong, the book title goes something like, 'Norwegian on 3, 2, 1'. Well. If only it's as quick as a snap of the fingers. This textbook is good for piecing together and understanding grammar and syntax. So yeah, the scribbling of notes in the margin began the moment the book was bought. There was a little window of time to finish three pages and commit that to memory. It was continued while waiting for my flight at the airport and during the 6.5-hour ride to Doha where I didn't need much sleep. It shall be continued in Singapore. Jeg vil lære å lese norsk. Let's do this.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Flying

Kept a watchful eye on Bárðarbunga and its surrounding seismic activities, in case its eruptions create this huge ash cloud repeating Eyjafjallajökull April 2010. Well, I wasn't worried at all. *shrug* The girlfriend and her family would just have to see my face for another week perhaps! Each time someone asks when I was going home, the answer has changed from "September" to "it depends on Bárðarbunga". Muahahaha.

Recent heart-stopping events left me a little nervous about flying. Especially when this was my first-ever long-haul non-SQ flight, selected for personal travel instead of work trips. That made me more nervous than anything else. Chose Qatar Airways. I had neither baggage privileges nor frequent flyer concessions, save for the usual fast-track options at Customs. Otherwise, zilch. There would be a three-hour transit at Doha both-ways. I was slightly curious about Doha's new Hamad International Airport- which is spacious and swanky. Except their ground staff couldn't differentiate between 'new boarding time' and the revised 'ETD' even if it was staring at them right on the screen. Luckily I'm not the lost or blur-blur type of passenger. If I had listened to the silly ground staff, I'd have missed my flight. Yes, I heard about Qatar Airways' dubious employment contracts. But I reserve all judgment for now. There're more worrying news and ensuing developments about Qatar and its foreign policies that are of greater concern, and this might very well mark the first and last time I fly Qatar Airways.

SIN-DOH-OSL, then OSL-DOH-SIN. On the way home at Oslo Gardemoen Airport, a very slow Customs officer and three consecutive idiotic expiring visas held up the queue for 25min, making me this near to missing the already-delayed-by-an-hour flight. Then the mad scramble at the boarding gate made me do a double-take and wondered if I was in an airport in uhh Asia instead. When the plane was finally cleared for passengers to board, nobody bothered about queuing, the order of seat numbers being called or whatever. Everybody just whooshed to the front. Well, I wasn't going to stupidly wait at the back. After remaining stunned for a minute taking in the scene, I jostled forward, thrust the passport at the flight attendant, and hurried to my seat where calm awaited. Asked for a glass of single malt instead of the usual sparkling water. Alcohol was necessary in this instance. A Glenfiddich 15y.o and a snooze fortified the temper and kept it in check for the next leg of delays in Doha.

The flights to and fro were comfortable. Single seat, flat bed, sufficient privacy. But narrow. If your butt is wayy bigger than mine, you'll be rather squashed. I slept loads till there wasn't any jet lag either way. Food was all right. In fact, the Arabic mezze platters were awesome. Service was adequate. But. It's not the same when I step into the plane and don't feel that comfortable familiarity, or when I land and don't hear the "Singaporeans and Residents, a warm welcome home." Let's just say that I kinda miss SQ a teeny bit. :P

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ha det bra, Oslo!


All too soon, it was time to leave. I didn't want to go. Too comfortable chilling out with the girlfriend. Too much fun and laughter in all those precious spontaneous moments that are now awesome memories. Two tight hugs on the train platform and I hurried into the Flytoget that would begin the journey home southeast.

There aren't enough words to express my appreciation for the warmth and hospitality of the friends. They welcomed me into their home and put up with me for the month, fed me, took me out everywhere, and instructed their children be courteous and helpful to this strange Aunty Imp whom they don't even know.

I'm already missing the girlfriend's music on the piano in the mornings and in the evenings. She conquers the classical pieces with such ease that it's an absolute pleasure to listen to her play. Each time she asked me to go practise the piano, I pretended not to hear, continue surfing on the phone or on the borrowed Macbook, or simply disappeared upstairs or downstairs where she couldn't see me. Hahahaha. Also miss the silly jibes and dancing of her boys. Now, I can't get Pharrell Williams' 'Happy' out of my head. Geez, thanks guys! Relieved that her husband didn't mind my constant presence in the house. The last thing I want is to have him think I invaded the privacy of the family. Am tickled by his thoughtfulness in always leaving me biggest portion of wine in the bottle. He wondered why I didn't have more bottles of beer in the fridge. He definitely thinks I'm an alcoholic. Tsk.

I guess by virtue of us not killing each other after a month, it pretty much means I get to brazenly assume that I can return and terrorize the girlfriend and the boys (and the stuffed toys). The question is always, when? Holiday planning starts now. We don't have to meet in Oslo. Hurhurhur. But wherever we go, preferably NOT IN WINTER THOUGH. It'll be bloody cold this far north. I don't believe it when they say "It's not cold in winter."

Tusen takk for den fantastisk tiden! xo


Immensely tickled by random toys that appeared at staircase landings in the nights.
They stay put till the next day when their owner comes back from school and moves them.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Those Gorgeous Walks


The food has been so fantastic and yet, by now, I've dropped 3kg! It's crazy. The belt loop literally has to be tightened by one notch. It's not a matter of how much I ate, but rather, what I ate and how awesome it is to breathe the incredibly unpolluted air. The girlfriend has been feeding me loads. But we also walked miles. Walks in the city, walks by the lake, walks in the woods and everywhere. Squeezed in early morning runs, and also did a zillion stretches and pretzel twists in the room. Not keen to enrol in a pilates studio this round when the two decent ones that I spied aren't located near a train station.

I live in a city. When on vacation, I prefer to see more than skyscrapers. On work trips, one doesn't have a choice; being able to get out of the boardroom once in a bit is considered lucky. The last round in a boardroom, I felt so stifled that I had to be firm and tell everyone I was gonna get out for a cup of coffee, 'don't even call me in that 45 minutes when I'm gone'. Haven't needed to do that these few weeks. On work trips, a pair of Vibrams is always packed in case I could get some fresh air during a quiet moment. In Norway, only a pair of DocMarts and walking shoes have been brought over. Whatever else needed have been shamelessly stolen from the girlfriend's wardrobe.

The weather's been alternating between sunshine and gloom, reminding us to treasure those summer days. But it doesn't really matter. The schedule's so packed that I can't be waiting for sunshine then plan a walk. I'm just going schedule the walk and get prepared for rain. Once I put on that windbreaker with a hood, no venue is impossible. The rain here isn't like a tropical thunderstorm where one gets soaking wet in three minutes. It's more of a steady light drizzle; it's easy to walk between access points and the trees provide a decent shelter. Most importantly, my backpack is water-resistant and the gadgets have been sealed inside weather-proof pouches. (Haizzz, don't remind me of my waterlogged Macbook. Sob.)

Along the 16-km long Storelva which goes into the Drammenselva (Drammen River), it's super scenic, at least to a city girl who doesn't get to see rivers and mountains often. Nearby is Haugfossen, or Haug Waterfall which generated electricity for the cobalt mines in the olden days. Being among nature makes me want to do cartwheels. Had fun walking along the pebbled rocky banks of the little river before the rain clouds rolled in.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Onda


A relaxing Saturday meant we simply wandered downtown without a firm plan except to pop into Astrup Fearnley Museet. Wanted to see the contemporary artists of the day curated by the museum and the acquired collection. That visit, we were enlightened about the painterly aspects of art criticism and artistic styles. It resulted in us utilizing the word 'painterly' and describing just about everything with it all weekend. Juvenile I know, but so fun.

Needed to eat and decided on Onda. Didn't make a reservation but the restaurant was practically empty when we walked in at 1.30pm. More people came in later when we were leaving. Service was adequate, but nothing that blew my mind away. So far at all the restaurants, service has been lukewarm, something not unfamiliar to Singaporeans. :P I love those chairs at Onda- the Varier Invite by Norwegian designer Olav Eldøy. The restaurant's version comes in wool and polyamide, and an untreated solid oak base. I love how it moves and tilts. It's so comfortable for the back and my butt fits nicely onto it.

The restaurants in Oslo seem to focus more on shellfish than fish, unless they're specifically a seafood restaurant and offers no other meat. I'm almost disappointed with the offerings of fish here. Very few choices, oddly. I'd go as far to say that the salmon in Norway isn't as beautifully cooked or as exciting as what Seattle or Portland offers.  Haven't found the flavors I'm looking for in lightly pan-seared salmon. I'd stick to gravlaks here (we spell it as 'gravlax'). Those are great as forretter. On many days, I like it as a hovedrett.

Couldn't eat that much at lunch. Shared everything. Loved the lobster salad with sugar snaps, parmesan and creamy mussel dressing. They didn't overdo the cream in the dressing. The entire salad felt light. Perfect. The fillet of black cod was beautifully done, lightly seared brown on the outside and peeled away moist. Had a salmon tartare too. Just because.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Steamed Fish Asian Style


If I live in Oslo, one of my favorite food markets must be Maschmanns Matmarked. It's kinda tiny, but it's got most of the ingredients I'd need to cook the kind of food I like. One morning, we spotted only two whole sea breams at Maschmanns. Pounced on them. Small ones, about 400 grams each. It's dorade, or gilt-head bream, one of the loveliest around. It was NOK64.55 each. Bought both. One to be kept in the freezer, and the other to be steamed for dinner. Now, the boys have no interest in fish. So this nice fish is going to be eaten up by the girls. The fish had been nicely gutted, but it needed to be descaled. The girlfriend rolled her eyes and took on that task. I was set to chopping strips of ginger and scallion.

The girlfriend is determined to work the grill on the patio and get as much use out of it this year before it gets too cold to sit outdoors. Great weather today, so dinner was to be taken on the patio. Seafood night! Lots of things went on the skewers and trays. Potatoes, scallops, prawns and zucchini. That was easy. We cooked up pasta aglio olio with anchovies. MY FAVORITE. I miss pasta SO MUCH. Doubt it's the carbs, because I certainly don't care about rice. It's just the idea and texture of pasta, especially the dry salty savory sort. I also miss Asian-style steamed fish quite a bit. Awesome to have it tonight. Once the dorade was prepped, oil and soy sauce were poured over. Then it went into the steamer for ten minutes and came out beautifully tender. YAYYY.

The grill was lit and humming happily. Trays of seafood went onto it to be lightly grilled. Dinner was at 7pm. We started first and the boys joined us slightly later after their sports training. The sun was still blazing bright although much of the day's heat had dissipated. By Oslo standards, it had been a hot day. I was walking around without a jacket and perspiring in tee and jeans. As the sun set, it dropped to 15°C. Refreshing to be dining outdoors in the summer evening sunshine, kicking back with a glass of rhubarb juice then a bottle of brown ale. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Velkommen til Oslo Pandanus Amaryllifolius!


I wasn't sure what the girlfriend meant when she said her boys are jam-monsters and in the one Singaporean trait in their distinctly non-Singaporean habits, put away a ton of kaya in a week. As I watched the giant tub of homemade kaya rapidly diminish and demolished within seven days, I realized she wasn't kidding.

Each time she visits family in Singapore, she goes home with at least two giant tubs of homemade kaya, among other things. The tubs disappear so fast. Store-bought bottled kaya is great as emergency supplies, but it isn't really an option if you want to control sugar portions. She makes kaya at home in Oslo, but making it with dried-out pandan leaves or extract isn't satisfying either. Fresh leaves are best. Apparently nurseries in the city don't sell pandan plants. When we flew to Oslo, two stalks of pandan plants came along. :P

(If you're transporting plants overseas, let your pandan plants sit in water for two days, rinse a couple of times, then take the actual plants to AVA for inspection and pay for certs for soiless export.)

Pandan plants are happiest in water when they're young and without woody roots yet. They're also easy to propagate. But they don't like the cold. So here, it's an indoor plant. So far, these two stems seem to be growing rather well. They've been placed in a warm spot that's flushed with non-direct sunlight for two hours a day. Perfect. They'll soon be able to provide the essential ingredient to make kaya and more.

I don't fancy kaya toast. I can eat it once in a while, but it doesn't do anything for me. Although I prefer Killiney Kopitiam's to Ya Kun's toasted-to-a-crisp cracker version. Still, I gamely tried this homemade kaya. The girlfriend simply piled it on and passed the slice to me, smirking. *gulp* Gotta say it's good. Rich and made with surprisingly little sugar. It wasn't cloying. I quite like this version of kaya with awesome smør on this type of toasted bread.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Norske Folkeeventyr


Found a reasonably decent translation of 'Norwegian Folk Tales' by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. The 36 stories in this collection were translated by Pat Shaw Iversen and Carl Norman, illustrated in black and white by Erik Werenskiold and Theodor Kittelsen. The edition I hold was published by Pantheon Books like, two decades ago. The English is still awkward, but it will do.

The problem is, I don't like reading about helpless princesses and brave but unwarrior-like witty and clever underdogs typically portrayed by an Askeladden (The Ash Lad) who is usually the youngest of three brothers. I prefer reading about Trolls. After about the ten-thousandth time of reading about Kings offering their daughters and half their lands to worthy suitors for whatever reason (i.e, kill the Troll, make the princess laugh or out-talk her and have the last word), I almost nodded off. This was an exceedingly difficult book to plough through in one sitting.

Luckily the second half of the book involves more animals. I'm sure there're worthy mores in these tales. But I'm not about to dissect them. I just want to read them as folktales and keep it at that. It certainly offers an insight to the habits of Norwegian society back then, but it's of no way indicative of modern day values. I like them when they're a tad dark, like how fairy tales should all be. Yes, NOT DISNEY. If you ever ask me to read fairy tales to a child, I'm probably going to twist them so darkly that no child will go to sleep comforted. :P

Since there're so many private jokes about ducks and the girlfriend is highly tickled by all things fowl-foul that I've been stalking- the ducks, and those that have been stalking me- the pigeons, I shall extract a paragraph from the last tale in this book where our hero is the long-suffering Princess. It's titled 'The Twelve Wild Ducks' (De tolv villender) by Asbjørnsen. You must have heard this one- of a Princess who set out to save her 12 older brothers who were transformed into wild ducks upon her birth, blessed and cursed by a Troll-hag. She had to weave and sew 12 shirts of nettles, neither smile nor weep and stay silent for three years. Of course it ended in happiness with a loving husband and three alive children, 12 freed human brothers and a dead evil Old Queen.

The king took them back to his stepmother, and asked her what punishment she thought fit for one who could have he heart to betray an innocent queen and three such lovely children? 
Dem tok kongen med seg og bar dem bort til stemor sin og spurte henne, hva straff hun syntes den burde få som kunne ha hjerte til å forråde en uskyldig dronning og tre så velsignede barn. 
"Anyone who did that should be tied to twelve wild horses and torn to bits," said the old queen.  
"Den burde spennes mellom tolv utemte hester, så de hver tok sitt stykke," sa den gamle dronningen. 
"You have declared your own punishment," said the young king, "and such shall be your fate." 
And so the wicked old queen was tied to twelve wild horses, and torn to bits. 
"Du har selv sagt dommen, og selv skal du få lide den med," sa kongen, og så ble den gamle slemme dronningen spent mellom tolv utemte hester, som hver tok sitt stykke av henne.  
But Snow-White-Rose-Red, the king, and their children, and the twelve princes, all rode back to her parents and told them what had happened. So there was great rejoicing throughout the whole kingdom, because the princess was freed and had freed her twelve brothers too. 
Men Snehvit og Rosenrød tok kongen og barna sine og de tolv prinsene, og så reiste de hjem til foreldrene og fortalte det som hadde hendt dem, og nå ble det stor fryd og glede over hele kongeriket, for det prinsessen var frelst og hadde frelst de tolv brødrene sine også.