A New Year Away From Home

Along with all the Firsts I’d had for the past few months, this year is also the first year I spent Chinese New Year away from home and my family.

The past weekend was a pretty busy one because I had two seminars to prepare for the next week but I’d somehow managed to hype myself up enough for CNY celebrations with my friends so I didn’t have the capacity to think about anything else, like the fact that I wasn’t at home to celebrate CNY with my parents, for instance.

On Saturday night, about 30 of us Malaysians had a reunion dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown complete with 11 meal courses and full-on karaoke-ing throughout the whole night. We also had the entire floor to ourselves and our waitress was so friendly and sporting that we (and by we it was mostly a firsthand effort by Faris himself) even got her to karaoke a few songs for us. The food was really good too, exceptionally so after months of depriving myself of luxurious food for the sake of the £££. I wasn’t as sociable as I would’ve liked to be that night (then again, when have I ever lived up to my expectations of extroversion) but the night ended on a high note (literally, we were asked to stop singing because the restaurant was closing) and despite my internal grief of being away from home during the biggest festive season of the year, it was a pretty good reunion dinner to compensate for my absence from home.

And then after, a few of us came to Weston and we stayed up till 4AM playing games in my hall’s common room.

Sa Chap Meh (30th night) (and day as well) was spent lazing around my room the whole day watching anime despite my impending assignments glaring at me from a side the entire time because I was adamant about my excuse of “It’s Chinese New Year! Live a little!” even though the only living I was doing was staring at my laptop screen for prolonged periods of time. And then on the first day of Chinese New Year, I celebrated by going to classes and finally relenting into starting on my assignments.

Some of my friends came over the next day for a steamboat dinner though, so that was also very nice.

Last year’s CNY was filled with exclamations from my relatives that “It’s your last CNY in Malaysia, Michelle!” and my stomach fell with each repetition that it was a wonder my gut was still intact by the end of the day. But I never did, never could experience nor understand the full implication of that realisation until I actually came here and was forced to contend with that reified fact, with the absence of CNY songs blasting from any and all available speakers indoors and outdoors, with the missing feeling of waking up all excited as I greeted my parents before changing into new clothes to visit my relatives, with the lack of angpaos from family members and endless good food from morning until night that there was no point trying to discern which meals were for breakfast, lunch or dinner because you could just carry on eating the entire time, with being unable to catch up with my cousins and gamble into the night accompanied by peals of laughter everytime someone (usually my dad) loses; even the awkwardness of having to make small talk and listen to my aunties and uncles talk over one another (like the Teohs do best) — I miss all of it. And this year, the only homely CNY experience I could get was through the pixels of photos sent in the family Whatsapp group and of an hour-long Skype session when my parents were over at Si Pek’s house on Cheh Sa.

But in spite of all of that, I count myself fortunate for the things I do have, and that is the friends I’ve made here and being able to celebrate Chinese New Year with them. My immense gratitude, to be able to feel warm during the coldest Chinese New Year I’ve ever experienced, both inside and out.

anigif2

calm, the anxious knots in your chest and the entangled thoughts in your mind

in the night, when tinny worries burst forth into turbulent vexations

when it is no less difficult to trick yourself into believing in your permanent solitude and 

being gradually unconvinced by the second of your usefulness upon being existent in this world

calm, the paranoia and fear and endless looping of conversations and actions gone wrong when it’s too late to do anything, literally and metaphorically

calm, the storm wreaking havoc within myself

calm, please

York (The Old, English One)

At the end of the week after official exam period for the university was over, the Weston Hall RA organised another trip to York, this time only for the price of £1. Having heard a lot of great things about the old town (one of them being that Phil Lester used to study in University of York lmao), it being the end of exam week and also being immediately attracted to the ridiculously cheap ticket fare, I signed up for the trip, along with Rumin, KY and CC.

The night before the trip, I told myself that I would sleep early because we had to leave early the next morning but like all my grand schemes in life, that failed spectacularly so I ended up sleeping for three hours that night and then passing out during the entire two-hour coach journey to York. Which was a blessing, because I didn’t have to ask Puru for motion sickness pills or find something to kill the travelling time with.

When we reached York, the first observation I had was that it was really, really pretty, with colourful flowers along the city walls and being surrounded by large ancient architecture. The second observation I had was that it was also really, really cold. Suddenly, all the flowers and buildings in the world could no longer appeal to me because not only was I starting to shiver but I had barely eaten anything and needed to pee really badly. So we walked (with much difficulty against the direction of the wind) towards our first destination: York Minster.

I had somehow ended up as designated tour guide for the day for the four of us and I was really nervous because I don’t trust myself with a Responsibility ™ as big as this but the trip (spoiler) didn’t end disastrously! so maybe I did a pretty OK job.


Credit: CC

Credit: CC

Credit: CC / View from the top of York Minster (allegedly the tallest viewpoint in York) as part of the Tower Tours which I didn’t go for because of my fear of heights

It was in York Minster when I suddenly saw a really familiar face that looked like my law coursemate, Kar Ling, at a distance but didn’t dare call out because it might just be my short-sightedness tricking me and also it would be too much of a coincidence to bump into someone I know in York of all places. But then the familiar face latched onto mine and inched nearer and I realised — it was indeed Kar Ling! And it turned out that she and her friend had taken a train to York for a one-day trip as well. On the same day. And at York Minster at the same time. The world is so small and strange.

Kar Ling and yours truly

My stomach was quite literally digesting itself from hunger by the time we came out so we headed for Betty’s Tearoom at The Shambles upon Yi Jing’s stellar recommendation but the queue was one that stretched out of the shop and into the streets so Rumin searched for two other alternative places to eat. One was Mannion & Co, which was also packed and cramped with so many people so KY and CC lined up there while me and Rumin joined the queue at another café a block away called Brew and Brownie to see who got called to an empty table first.

It wasn’t a competition obviously, but Rumin and I won at Brew and Brownie. And then we had meals of sandwiches, pancakes and pork pies and it was a really, really good meal with a nice quaint ambience too.

The Shambles — narrow streets of shops that someone on TripAdvisor dubbed “the Diagon Alley of York”

Smoked Bacon & Brie Sourdough Toastie (a name longer than the queue itself)

The cold didn’t seem to be letting up even though it was well into the afternoon, so we only spent less than half an hour at the Yorkshire Museum Gardens before heading for York’s next best landmark (next to York Minster, that is): Clifford’s Tower.

It was an approximately 20-minute walk down south and it was probably the coldest and windiest I’d ever experienced in the UK, even more so than in Manchester. I was wearing gloves in my pockets and my fingertips still stung from the cold. So when we finally reached Clifford’s Tower and I saw that it was pretty high up, I climbed up the stairs anyway thinking that I might seek shelter from the premises. Plus, the view wasn’t too bad either.

 

Credit: CC

KY, yours truly, CC and Rumin

View from the top: York Castle (or what remains of it, anyway)

We still had an hour left to kill so as usual, we went shopping.

I never actually managed to find Narnia :(

KY and CC got very excited with Star Wars merchandise

York’s city centre surprised me because while it is a town that boasts of its historical buildings and architecture, simultaneously its city centre has as large, if not larger, an array of shops than Manchester’s ranging from small local toffee shops not unlike Whitby’s (but that’s where the similarities end) to brands that they don’t even have in Manchester’s city centre like Jack Wills. I also really loved the small intersectional alleys that went in every direction, an old town’s existence running parallel with the developments of urbanisation, a pleasant sight in comparison to Manchester’s busy metropolis. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve grown rather fond of Manchester, but I wouldn’t mind staying and studying in York if I ever have the chance, purely because I love the atmosphere and surroundings of the town, a meshed combination of the elements of what I like about Whitby’s picturesque suburbs, and what I like about Manchester’s diversity and variety.

I fell asleep almost immediately after getting on the coach at 5PM, fatigue from the previous night and walking around in the cold for the whole day catching up to me, which was good because by the time I woke up, I was already back in Manchester. I made a quick dinner and went to sleep rather early that night, heart full and satisfied from having a great time during the trip with good company for the day.

A Reunion in Eight Years

It all started when Yee Lin texted me one night saying that Ming Qiu was in Manchester and did I want to join them for lunch the next day? It came as a shock because I hadn’t put a face to that name in years, my best friend in nursery and later, kindergarten, whom the last time I saw was when we were both 13 years old in SP, eight years ago.

And so I said yes, of course.

The moment I first saw her was as climactic as I’d expected, a flurry of hugs and “how are you”s in high-pitched incredulous tones because it truly had been so long since I’d seen Ming Qiu, and likewise, judging by the way she said that no one pronounced her name the way I used to anymore — “Meeng-kiew”.

We had brunch at a quaint café called The Pen and Pencil at Northern Quarter, where there was a lot of pulling up ancient photos of kindergarten days from Facebook and reminiscing toddler antics that felt like light years away, and then spending the whole day in city centre together with Yee Lin and Evelyn shopping and then having milkshakes on the way home.

It felt magical and no less wonderful, to be able to meet an old friend after so many years (in Manchester of all places!) and still pick up where we’d left off, like there hadn’t been a glitch in the timeline of our friendship in the first place. Here’s to many more years, and many more reunions in the future.

Guess Who

Did Michelle even make it to 2016? is a question of valid perusal considering how this is the first time I’m writing a blogpost this year. Meaning this blog has been stuck in the year 2015 for almost a month and not only are the metaphorical surfaces of this blog covered with thick dust, so is my writing too.

But you know what they say, inactivity online can be indicative of one of two things: inherent laziness or actually getting caught up in the events transpiring offline, in real life. And while I can never win in a case trying to dispute the former possibility, 2016 started off with me being slightly more participative in real life (unsurprisingly, also a new year’s resolution of mine) which is something that’s making uni life here more appealing compared to the past four months of 2015 when I usually lamented the days away.

New Year’s Eve seems so far away now when it was barely a month ago. The ushering of the new year was fun; there was a dinner gathering at my flat after which we played games and then after which we chased after the new year fireworks they were setting off at Albert Square. We didn’t make it there but we stopped at Gay Village to spectate this tradition of releasing gunpowder into the air to mark the passing of a day, a change in calendars.

Janice came from London a week after new years, and it was such a great week filled with baking, six-hour karaoke-ing (though we only stayed for four), learning how to play chor dai di until 3AM, visiting Afflecks again (where Janice got attracted immediately to the movie posters) and my personal favourite, watching strange Japanese videos on Youtube late into the night.

Unfortunately, the start of a new year also meant that exams were coming up so every other day since the first day of 2016 up until now was spent either in the Learning Commons or in my room absorbing criminal and property law and that explains my absence most accurately out of all the excuses I can give. I fell sick twice during the weeks leading up to my papers, which is something I would never recommend, and I literally only just finished my last paper yesterday after which I caught up on the new Haikyuu and Osomatsu-san episodes as well as finish the first Evangelion movie.

Second term resumes next week and that means weekly seminar work is looming ahead but I’m glad and appreciative for this brief breather period for a week, which is something you don’t hear about very often, the usage of “glad” and “appreciative” in my vocabulary since starting university. But ultimately it’s a new year and in the event of having to choose between being grateful and being regretful, I want to learn to always choose the former.

Page 365

So far, the last day of 2015 has seen me reverting to my habit of waking up at 12 noon again for the first time since Christmas and then watching One Punch Man OVAs in the dark before I fell asleep again. Not exactly the most exciting and productive New Years Eve out there, but if I had to summarise the whole of 2015 in one day, today would be as accurate a representation I could ask for.

It’s still approximately seven hours to 2016 in my current timezone, the first time I am experiencing a new year transition in a timezone different from my parents, but I thought I’d just write this annual traditional year round-up blogpost now since we’ll probably be watching fireworks while counting down later and it’s already the new year in the timezone back home anyway.

Before that, a lot of things happened between my previous post and this one, all in just a mere span of a week. I was at Wiltshire spending Christmas with Sa Pek and Auntie Sue and – Ellie! whom the last time I met was back in Malaysia, and despite being away from home, this year’s Christmas spent in the company of family and friends was really nice and warm and I was extremely reluctant to leave to go back to Manchester. And then a day after I got back, a fire broke out in Weston Hall, rendering an entire block void of electricity (mine included) so me and a bunch of other residents were offered temporary places to stay in hotel rooms in Pendulum Hotel next door. I stayed there for two nights and even celebrated Yee Lin’s birthday there before the electricity came back on and I moved back in yesterday.

Everything happened one after another and before I knew it, all events pushed towards the end of the year and now we are teetering at the edge of 2015, about to fall into crevices of 2016 at any moment (I’m kidding, it’s fixed in seven hours).

2015 was honestly a confusing year of change. Many changes. Too many, in fact; one of them undoubtedly being me going to university in the UK. I didn’t a like a lot of these changes, still don’t, to be honest, but stagnancy is never good for the soul, no matter how much I can convince myself of that. So ultimately, what I wish for in 2016 is more acceptance, less negativity, more bravery, less cynicism and gratitude, gratitude to be able to realise that I am not in as bad a place as I keep on thinking I am, and also the ability to see the worth within myself no matter how small or how trivial, because I’ve lost all of what I’ve gained during the past year in just a mere few months. I hope, in 2016, I grow up and learn to be better, and keep on learning because everyday, there are always limitless opportunities for me to improve and do better and think better as a student, a friend, a daughter, a person. I wish for confidence and self-developed security, for being able to believe in myself so much that other people will too, and not the other way round.

And I wish everyone finds themselves a step closer to the person they want to be, doing the things they want to be doing and being in the places they want to be in the new year of 2016. Happy new year, everyone.

Visiting Afflecks

I went clubbing for the first time last Friday night because winter break had started and I had nothing to do anyway so what the hell, I’m finally granted the opportunity to be reasonably reckless by my standards and agreed to it under Ernie’s invitation despite not knowing what to expect and having a strong dislike for crowds of strangers and physical contact with unfamiliar people.

In the end it wasn’t really my thing, but it was definitely An Experience ™, and I spent more time spectating than actually, I don’t know, dancing and gyrating with random people. All I could deduce at the end of the night was there was a lot of hair in my face, spit in my face, I’d lost count of how many times I’d stepped on shoes and had mine stepped on and all the jumping was such a workout for a leisure activity. The dancefloor was so crowded (obviously) that entering the room felt like I was stepping into a furnace. But still, I didn’t regret going because honestly I only went for the EXP points and that I did get.

The next night, a bunch of us gathered at Evelyn’s house to have dinner and handmade tang yuan for winter solstice, and after having a really warm and filling meal (with black sesame tang yuan of different shapes and sizes [mostly thanks to CC and Faris] as dessert), we sat around in a circle and played games that had eating lemons and drinking a whole cup of water in one go as punishments. I was already so full from the good food and the laughter made my stomach hurt even more. It was a really, really good night.

On Monday, after spending the whole of Sunday shut in my room in the dark watching the entire first season of Love Live, I decided to go to Northern Quarter for Christmas shopping. Forbidden Planet was the first place I headed to, and then after that I was struck by a sudden impulse to find Afflecks, a quirky shopping district Dan and Phil went to in their Day in the Life in Manchester video, despite my initial plan being just going to Arndale and then going home.

Google maps wasn’t being very helpful that day, and from Forbidden Planet, I somehow ended up at a deserted street and had to walk up and down different streets multiple times, although that in itself was a blessing in disguise because I chanced upon a shop called Travelling Man, its tagline on the signboard saying “comics, games, DVDs, manga, anime” and I was already sold. I will probably never be able to afford the luxury of a physical copy manga but I was still very excited when I saw One Punch Man and Shokugeki no Souma mangas on display.

Seeing animanga always makes me really happy because it’s just so familiar (and also I’m a nerd, I know)

After getting lost a few more times trying to locate where Afflecks actually was, I almost gave up until the blue dot on Google maps was finally on the Afflecks dot. I looked up and realised…I’d actually been here before. I’d actually been in Afflecks before. The anime shop I found when I was here with Rumin a week ago was in Afflecks. There were stairs leading upstairs that we noticed during our previous visit but it looked a bit shady so we didn’t go up. Armed with brand new information and realisation, I went upstairs and it was like a whole new world opened up right in front of me.

This place was like Sungei Wang, but even better. I’d never seen the likes of anything like it before in Manchester. The first floor sold mostly band T-shirts and posters and art prints and there was also a small shop that did tattoos and at first I thought this was it, oh, Afflecks is just these two floors but then I realised there were more stairs and got giddy with excitement.

Ghibli prints!!!!! They were so expensive though

At the second floor, I was greeted by a small café called Black Milk and after further observation, I got the idea that it was a café that served, uh, cereal.

The floor branched off into left and right and the entrance to the left premises was boasting accessories and clothing with really loud colours so that was my natural selection. It took me quite a while to figure out how the entire floor plan worked. There were no distinctive borders between shops and they were all connected so it was very easy to wander from shop to shop without even realising it. There were also doors where you wouldn’t have predicted them to be, and also narrow corridors filled with graffitied walls that led from one end of the floor to the other. So as you can see, I got lost way too many times for such a building of such miniature size.

There were a lot of shops which, after I set my foot in, realised I was entirely out of place and should probably leave but what the hell, I was a tourist that day and the place was so intriguing I had to explore every nook and cranny. It felt like I was in a maze of sorts.

There was quite a number of animanga shops inside as well and there was even a Ghibli shop and the shopkeeper was so friendly, too friendly in fact but surprisingly, I didn’t get intimidated like I normally would. Probably running on high fumes of excitement from this discovery of this place.

Alright heads up all my photos will be at really bad angles and poor quality because I didn’t want to look like a tourist taking photos of shops (even though I technically was)

As if it wasn’t already confusing enough, there were two stairwells in the freaking building

I stepped in here and immediately went “ah….time to leave”

me too

it’s my turf

There were also a bunch of cafés in Afflecks

A real, functioning 8-bit arcade machine!!!!!!!!!!

I literally got chased out (more specifically, asked to leave the building) by a guard when all the shops started closing at 6PM, but I still felt like I hadn’t visited everything Afflecks had to offer yet (how could I feel otherwise when the entire floor plan was a mess). I left the place feeling triumphant though, happy that I found somewhere so interesting and appealing. Interesting and appealing enough that I immediately started to formulate writing a blogpost in my mind on the way back.

I still went to Arndale after that to finish my Christmas shopping and the entire place was so packed with people whom I assumed were there for the same purpose as I was.

I didn’t even realise I’d spent four hours alone in the city until my limbs started aching and my stomach started growling. It was a great day spent with good company of myself.