Dank u wel!

My three months internship has came to an end. Taking off for home today and will be in Hangzhou till August 14 and then back in the States for grad school.

Feeling extremely grateful for how much I’ve seen and experienced over the past three months. I also finally feel fully recharged and get really pumped for grad school (although I have to say I love working way better than being in school). Gonna make some pretty buildings when I go back for my master’s, and hope it wouldn’t take too long for me to be back in this beautiful little country.

Stay tuned for some makeup blog entries when i get back.

See you all back in the States!

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North Sea Expedition

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The islands of Northern Netherlands has long been on my to go list before I come to this country. To me, the pristine and somewhat bleak landscape of the sand dunes, beaches and meadows by the North Sea is the polar opposite of the stereotypical ‘gezellig’ image of the Dutch row houses and tulips. This weekend I went to Texel, the biggest of the Friesian Islands.

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It was quite bit of a journey just to get there. We spent 5 hrs one way on train/bus/ferry/bus until we reached the part on Texel, De Slufter, that I wanted to go. It was a perfect weather on Saturday–funny that how while most Dutch fled to Scheveningen Beach in Den Haag, this primitive and sprawling landscape remained intact. It was a luxury to have this open landscape all to oneself, even though we only spent 2 hrs actually being there, and 10 hrs on the road.

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The meadow.

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I really like the effect when wind brushes over the meadow, the grass undulates rhythmically like waves in the ocean.

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Some of the landscape of the Friesian Island was even the remnant of the Ice Age, and because of the changing sea level, a lot of land used to be the basin of the ocean. Walking along the beach felt like an inviting lesson of underwater biology: algae  coral, and all kinds of water plants stuck out their heads curiously on the coast. It was actually kind of gross to step on them barefoot….altho I did. Quite interesting of a sensuous experience.

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The other side of the dunes–a more controlled landscape.

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Probably because of the frequent use of the train, I grew really fond of looking at the Dutch landscape. The flatness can be boring I guess, but at the same time there is a kind of tranquility that feels really fascinating. This is especially evident when the flat meadow meets the canals. For many times my landscape major housemate and I were wowed by the impeccability of the landscape every time we go jogging at our neighborhood forest, Haagse Bos. We joked how we think the trees, grass, water, and the animals here are perfect for future Photoshop renderings. My Dutch colleague said that gardeners would intentionally sprinkle  tree branches on lawns to make it look ‘untouched’. And also, the word ‘landscape’ came from the Middle age Dutch ‘Landscap’–“land” and “scap”, epitomize the love and hate relation this country has with its nature.

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A photo from my housemate. Look at these perfectly trimmed trees!

24Hofpoort-ed

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This weekend Team White House went on a group outing to Rotterdam, for a really cool architectural experimental event called 24Hofpoort. which is part of the activity for the National Architecture Day. The theme of the event is “24 hr architecture”. The former Shell office tower, a 24-story high typical 1970s brutalist building, was turned into a vertical city with all kinds of living programs. The event also only lasted for 24 hrs, from 5pm yesterday to 5pm today, echoing the 24 theme.

So follow me on a tour of the tower.

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upon entering the tower, you got to pick a sticker that says how long you will be staying in the building.

Following the elevator girls, we went straight up to 24th floor, which housed a restaurant and cafe bar.

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Even the menu was programmed by hours:

 

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The 23F had an overview of the city of Rotterdam. Look at those cute googlemap pins on the window view!

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Everyone is free to doodle their own imagination of Rotterdam on this hand-drawn Rotterdam Panorama.

 

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After getting some artistic inspirations at the architecture exhibition floor and “Museumpoort” floor, we headed down to the Sun Dial Yogi Tea Bar on 20F.

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The Yoga spot rotated according to the position of the sun. We had a nice yoga session there in the open floorplan. I’ve never done yoga in such an open floor, and being surrounded by the city skyline.

On 13F was supposed to be the most fun part of the building, a Skyline Rollerdisco Ballroom. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get into the building last night, so by this morning everything had all died down…sad!

10F, “reality shop ENTER”, housed several cool boutique shops and a massage salon.

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9F was an urban camping ground where there were a bunch of tents standing for visitors to rest.

My favorite floor is 8F, Super Lucky Mall. IMG_3907

All kinds of random snacks were hanging on the ceiling by fishing strings, and there were little blocks all around the windowsill where you can lower the snack by loosing up the tied string.

 

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5F, Playground was the cutest level of all building. There was an indoor soccer field and neon-pink running track.

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and yes they were real grass!

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2F is the hub of the building, where there was a lecture space, a NAI (Netherlands Architecture Institute) book market, a talkshow room.

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Here is a model of our 24h city…

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For some reason this cute event had made my day that I am still smiling while writing this post. I guess what makes it so interesting is the idea of sharing this collective experience with all the other visitors in the building (another similar interactive event I can think of is the reinterpretation of the Shakespeare play, Sleep No More, in NYC last year). Each participant of 24Hofpoort is also a participant of a huge collective experiment, an experiment of an imagined way of living. Isn’t architecture all about proposing/improving new ways of living? In 24Hofpoort, we were all temporarily transported to this architect’s fantasy.

 

36 Hours in Oslo

FRIDAY

10 p.m.

Northern Light

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Visiting Norway in the summer time is a treat, for the extra hours you get from the extended daylight. I arrived Oslo Torp airport at 10 p.m. when the day is still as bright as late afternoon. The 2 hr train ride into the city presents me a beautiful scroll of scenery with the sinking sun and the undulating landscape. From the Beatles song to the Murakami novel and then to the same name film, Norwegian Wood, all that I could think on the train ride was “Norwegian wood is indeed beautiful”.

The Nordic night is charming in an inexplicable way. First of all, the night never gets completely dark. With the refraction of the daylight, the sky always has a tint of glowing blue even it is as late as 1 am. Secondly, the hilly landscape, the scattering houses on the hill, the running river and the warm streetlights altogether add a mysterious shade to the night thats almost like an oil painting.

Met up my friend in Oslo Central, we headed to our hotel off for a good night’s sleep. Don’t forget to draw your curtain–the day only gets brighter as the night falls deeper.

SATURDAY

10 a.m.

Hip Theif

The harbor area in the newly developed Tjuvholmen Island (Thief Island) has some of the best collection of contemporary architecture in the city. This area used to be an industrial waterfront, but is now turned into the most hip art/gallery/residential/restaurant area. Renzo Piano’s Astrup Fearnley Museum perfectly docks in the harbor with its soaring canopy and crisp tensile structures. The building and public space smoothly interweave, which offers a nicely-paced seaside promenade.

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The new apartment buildings on the Island is just like a great library of the most hip residential building rendering, with nicely crafted public space scissor-crossing the whole neighborhood. Each building looks so bold and distinct, yet somehow all of the managed to merge coherently with the bigger picture of the area.

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1 p.m.

Ode to the Sculptor

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West in the city is the famous Frogner Park, home to the famous Gustav Vigeland Sculpture Park, where one can find hundreds of sculptures of people in different poses. The tension and expressiveness in Vigeland’s human sculptures is mind-blowing. It was a perfect sunny day; flocks of Oslonians were sun bathing on the sprawling green in the park.

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3 p.m.

Norwegian Woods

Hopped on the metro, we headed far north of the city to the forest Nordmarka.

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The train ride itself was actually more interesting than actually being in the forest–along the way you can get a splendid panorama of the fjord and the rolling fields.

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We took a picnic break on the hill top restaurant Frognersteren. The building that houses the restaurant is a charming chalet: the Viking style flying eaves, the red window frame, and the use of rustic stone and wood.

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6 p.m.

Evening Escape

Bidding goodbye to the Norwegian Woods, we came all the way down to the Oslo Fjord. The Fjord consists a bunch of really nice islands. It would be great to take a cruise along the Fjord, but all the trips are sold out by the time we got there.

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Instead, we followed the tip of NYT and went to this little off beat island Hovedoya.IMG_3700

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Far off from the tourist-trodden paths, I found this ancient monastery ruin that can be dated back to the 1100s.

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This evening serendipity is undoubtedly my favorite moment of the trip–the feeling of being amidst of an ancient ruin in the dusk was somewhat similar to my experience at the Palatine in Rome, but this one had a much more chill and low-key character that is unique to Oslo. The ruins still hint the original layout of the monastery; through the overgrown wild flowers, you can find locals having picnic in circles at each private “room”.  What a peaceful evening.

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SUNDAY

10 a.m.

Curious Stare

Sunday morning we had an art immersion at the Edvard Munch Museum. Munch’s use of color, stroke and composition was intensely evocative. Looking at his work, sometimes, is like staring introspectively into your own mental world. Emotion, drama, and tension were amplified infinitely in his work.

One common occurance in Munch’s painting is the placement of a close-up human face in the foreground. The face, oftentimes has a strange stare that looks directly into the viewer’s eye, creates a mystical feeling to Munch’s painting.

So here we go, trying to mimic a Munch-style snapshot.

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I like Munch a lot, same reason as I like Marc Chagall and Edward Hopper. All of them provoke feelings of an ulterior mental world. To me, Munch is the expressive one, Hopper is the contained one, and Chagall is the delirious one.

12 p.m.

Trekking on the Iceberg

The Oslo Opera House by the Norwegian firm Snøhetta (one of my dream firms) is  a must-see architectural feat. The detail of the building is not so great, but it still didn’t kill the greatness of the big picture.

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I wonder what would the Opera House look like in winter when it is all snow-covered–beacause right now in the middle of the summer it already looks like a giant iceberg!

1 p.m.

Luncheon in an Art Piece

The restaurant Grosch inside National Museum of Architecture serves really delicious organic eats, just like the Severre Fehn renovated building itself–simple, fresh, and pure.

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I had a Grosch signature burger. The sauce and sun-dried tomatoes are simply fantastic. Fehn’s building is also very subtle and intimate. The mastery of materials–stucco, wood, and glass–creates a homey atmosphere.

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2 p.m.

There’s always something….

Even the best experience would have some unexpected interlude. This time for me being wasting money in the worst way possible in this most expensive city in the world. I checked the wrong train schedule (weekday instead of Sunday) and ended up missing all the available public transportation to my airport. A cab ride there cost 2000 krone (260 euros, which is even more than how much i spent on the whole trip). In despair I called my friend’s AirBnB host Ellen, who I had never met and would never meet if I didn’t not miss this train. Luckily Ellen was free that afternoon and she offered me a ride with half the cab price. Interestingly, Ellen used to be a cab driver in Oslo and was actually a great crisis manager in terms of this kind of catching flight situation. She said she once drove an Italian guy to the airport in only 1 hr before the flight departure time (normally it takes 1:20 hr to the airport and check in stops 40 mins before departure, so figure–). Therefore my situation this time, which is 2:30 hrs before departure, is a piece of cake to Ellen. Despite the madly expensive cost I paid for my private ride, it was nice to catch a little bit of Oslo from a local’s point of view:

– Why is Oslo so expensive? Because Norwegians have the bad habit of not looking at price when shop, no matter what social rank you are from; it’s simply a national mentality (Just like how the Dutch are all shrewd businessmen I guess 😛 ).

– Winter is unbearable here. No kidding. Ellen is saving up for moving to Aliacante in Spain soon.

– Oslo actually witness the biggest urban renewal change in the past decade. A huge urban renewal project, Fjord City, is actually underway all around the Fjord. It is projected to be finished in 10 years.

I’m totally down for the idea of paying a visit back to Oslo in 10 years.

Flavors of the Locale

I have been terribly sick since I got back from Italy, so this weekend I decide to cancel my trip to visit my friend in Cologne and just relax in Den Haag. After all, for the past couple weekends I have always been wanting to get away, that I had barely explore Den Haag. It is the time to wind down a little bit and see what the local has to offer.

On Saturday I went to Den Haag’s big open market,  Haagse Markt. The dutch seem to have a strong market culture.  Every city has a big open market on certain days. Stuffs you can find there ranges from fresh produces to clothes, and kitchen utensils to electronic gadgets. This market opens three days a week and is supposed to be the biggest of the Netherlands (or even Europe?!)

I took the tram there and first went to the wrong market. Right next to Haagse Markt is the ethnic neighborhood where you can find all the authentic Turkish, Indian, Moroccan and Indonesian groceries and eateries. I fumbled into the Indian Saturday market and the it was absolutely lovely. Although none of the goods they sell actually interest me, it was fun simply to look at what a variety they had to offer: gaudy clothes, carpets, posters and statues of Hindu god, sarees, spices, banana chips, Indian desserts, Indian movies and music, etc. I used to live close to the Indian neighborhood in New York, but none of the markets there was as lively as this one.

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A block away was Haagse Market. It was SO BIG! What attracted me the most was obviously the food section. I literally went out of control buying vegetables and fruits because they had such a wide collection with extremely low price.

A lot of fresh produces were sold in little buckets, and cost only 1 Euro. What an easy and nice deal! I even got some stuffs that are not so easy to find outside China: loquats, persimmons and yums. I also had my first baklava in a year (not easy to find Lebanese restaurant in Hong Kong).

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One thing that should not be missed out for Haagse Markt is sea food. There, you can find all kinds of fresh sea foods from the North Sea. There were also a couple fried sea food stalls that sell extremely delicious fried fish. One of the very best I’ve ever had–yummy!

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Sunday we had the perfect weather here in a while. I went to have brunch in Chinatown with my dad’s friend and his family. It felt very nice to practice my Cantonese with the people in the restaurant even though it was just the basics of ordering food–made me really miss Hong Kong.

On my way back the weather was way too lovely so I decided to take a detour and find the bike path in the woods. Inbetween where I live and the city center is a forest called Haagse Bos. The Dutch royal family’s residential palace, Huis ten Bosch (literally means “House in the woods”) is also in the forest. In the Netherlands there are designated lanes for bikes everywhere, even in the woods. Figuring out my way to downtown through the woods is such an important find to me, because that means next time I go to downtown, I dont have to deal with the busy traffic on the main street.

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After I got home, I tried some recipes with the stuffs I got from the market yesterday. One was baked eggs in avocado, which didn’t turn out to be very successful because I think I got the wrong type of avocado. The other one was some miso glazed eggplants, which was very tasty (and easy to make!).

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For the rest of the day I just sat outside in the sun, had some tea and Cantonese pastry, talked to my friends in HK and the U.S. on the phone, and did some reading. It has been a while since I was able to reach such relaxing and content mood. Life is not too bad after all.

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Solo Travel

This Monday, I just got back from my 10-day trip in Paris and Italy. Places I visited are Paris, Venice, Verona, Florence and Rome. I did most of the trip solo, but was also lucky enough to meet up with some of my favorite people along the way. Traveling solo can be monotonous, high-cost, and surprise-ridden, but it is such a pure and primitive way of seeing the world: without the aid of a travel companion, you have to put down the ambition of multi-tasking or experiencing different things in batch; instead, do one thing at a time, and learn to savor the joy of it.

I really like this T magazine article that my friend Echo sent me before I went on this trip, which really borrowed me a different lens to view my solo experience that, in many occasions, would otherwise seemed annoying. Having to bother strangers to take a photo for me every now and then, mislead by cavalier bus driver in Mestre and having to switch 4 buses to make my way home, eating alone without the joy of sharing and sampling different dishes, feeling insecure in a hostel dorm and having to learn to confront when other people challenge my comfort zone, and let alone multiple getting lost experience and lost in translation situation. Upsetting as these experience could be, I think solo travel has actually put me closer to the unpredictable nature of life, which is why I believe solo travel is the purest way of experiencing life.

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My time with my friends during this trip is short but memorable. Their presence reassured me the rule of thumb of traveling is to go with someone you love. My favorite moment with people in this trip is the evening when Echo and I finished our not-so-impressive Rome food tour. We  were leaning on the windowsill of the hotel room, overlooking the city in the gentle dusk and talking about how we would, unlike the perfunctory food tour lady we had that day, put our greatest passion and care if we ever open our own leisure business. At that moment we felt that countless possibilities are unfolding in front of us, our dream can actually be really close , and felt so blessed to have each other since our personalities complement each other so well.

Friends brought me my favorite moments of people along the trip, while solo travel brought me countless favorite moments of places throughout this trip. Perhaps it is because there is no distraction between me and the place while I am traveling alone, almost everyday I would be able to have a moment that I was deeply wowed and moved by a place–First day in Venice was the far east shore of the calm and leafy Giardini right next to the Biennale garden; in Verona was the towering Castelvecchio in which hides the elegantly crafted corner by Carlo Scarpa; in Florence was the empty plaza in front of Duomo at night when flocks of tourists left; in Rome–way too many this kind of great moments–my favorite was the Palatine and Roman Forum at sunset. I was terribly sick when I visited the Palatine and the Forum, but the setting sun and the sprawling wild poppies made the ancient ruins couldn’t look more breath-taking. The beautiful contrast of life and decay had an almost dazzling effect to my eyes, which made it hard to tell if my eyes were wet because of my allergy, the sun, or the beauty.

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Imagine these ancient monuments never fell apart; they are just standing in whole as any other grand, palatial building of today–would they still be able to be as touching as the scene I saw that afternoon? hmm probably not. Welcome to the world of the defective beauty.

A perfect day in Paris

For me, Paris has been associated with way too many different images before I was able to see it in person. The French classes I took in college, accounts from my uncle who is a French historian and my best friend who did her junior year abroad in France, my favorite movie The Dreamers, milestone buildings of modern architecture history, and sleek street shots of fashionable Parisians on the Satorialist.com with the Tuileries in background. Because of all this, my brain is congested with an enormous amount of random knowledge when it comes to Paris. Therefore it is not surprising that I already had a quite elaborated list of things I want to do before I go.

I was able to stop by Paris for a weekend before my Italy trip. So I sent my list to my dad’s college friend, Uncle Hu, who lives in Paris, and my Parisian friend Florent.

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Arriving at Paris 6am in the morning, Uncle Hu picked me up from the bus station and gave me a quick overall of Paris on the car. The first thing I spotted on the way is the Bastille Opera. The iconic monument on the street center and the unique site location immediately reminded me with that wood model sitting in the corner of the meeting room of the office I worked in Hong Kong. The boss of my HK office, Rocco Yim, won the first prize in the competition of the Bastille Opera in 1982 but unfortunately didn’t get to build his design.

Uncle Hu invited me for breakfast at Cafe de Flore. The authentic French croissant there was absolutely amazing, but what can add more flavor to it is your imagination of this Cafe back in the 1930s, when Jean Paul Sartre could possibly just sit right next to you, writing, thinking.

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After breakfast, I met up with my friend Florent at Tocadero (perfect viewing point for Tour Effiel). Then started my crazy yet fun and spontaneous one day trip of Paris. Starting with Monmartre, we got a nice view of the entire city at Sacre Coeur.

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Then we stop by the artist’s square, the grocery shop and coffee shop in the movie Amelie. We saw the famous Moulin Rouge, and then took the subway to Centre Pompidou, wandering in the industrial organs of this architecture landmark.  Then we proceed to Ile de la Cite, the oldest part of Paris, where the Notre Dame de Paris situated.

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Crossed the bridge we found ourselves in the independent bookstore Shakespeare and Company. We slowed down our pace in this old bookstore and each found a book that fits our current reading mood–On the Road by Jack Kerouac for Florent, and A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway for me. When you check out at the counter, don’t forget to get a stamp of the famous Shakespeare and Co!

Lunch time, we found a cute Creperie near St.Michel. Florent insisted that I should try a savory crepe–it turned out amazingly delicious compared to the omelette-like savory crepe I used to have on Penn’s campus. We then passed by Ecole des beaux art, from where the history of world’s architecture education has been so deeply influenced. Dessert is saved for Laduree. We got ten different flavors and sampled them all while sitting on the bank of the Seine.

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My favorite macaron flavors are Marie-Antoinette and Rose petal.

Seine turned to be really different from what I thought–it is much wider, more sandy and less intimate. Not really that pleasant to walk along as those books and movies portrayed. In comparison, I like the scale of the Amsterdam canals better.

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Passing by the Pont des Arts–I wonder if they ever clean the locks, because we spotted a lock that was dated as early as 1982  o.O

Next stop is the Louvre and Jardin de Tuileries. One day is too short for this massive palace for art so I simply just admired I.M.Pei’s glass pyramid at the entrance and then bid my au revoir.

Time to get a little bit luxury shopping done on Rue de la Paix (yes, that most expensive street in Monopoly game does exist in reality!). I finally got my long past-due birthday present, a pair of Repetto ballerina.

A couple of minutes’ subway ride away, we found ourselves sauntering in Jardin du Luxembourg. This park is where a lot of the greeting conversations in my entry level French textbooks took place–guess that explains enough about its relaxing, accessible character and its proximity to the student populated Quartier Latin.

The academic buildings in Quartier Latin gave me an austere and forbidden feeling. Maybe that’s because it was not a school day? Even though, I still like the typical Haussmannian buildings in Paris a lot, mainly because its light beige and blue color palette. Imagine give a color to each great city in this world–what other city could so easily find its own color than Paris?

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In the evening we met up with my friend Chennan for a drink at Saint Germain des Pres. I love that area a lot, for the liveliness and vibrancy that countless restaurants bring. Chennan is doing his master in Law Sciences Po now. It has been five years from the last time we saw each other. It was actually a little bit shameful to see how I just let my French get rusty while he excels in the total Francophone environment in one of the country’s finest institutions–we actually started France together the summer after high school, but here I am–having to scratch my head for a minute before I can come up with a “Je voudrais un cafe, s’il vous plaît.”

One day in Paris is by no means enough. I think Paris is a city that should be felt instead of being seen, just like New York. I still remember my first time in New York I had almost a repellent feeling to this everyone-else-says-oh-so-great city, but I irrevocably fell for its charm after I returned and lived there for a while.  Seeing Paris in such a rapid procession is fun, exciting, and visually-stimulating, but they are just the surfaces. To some extent this wildly fast-paced one day tour was so perfect that I do not want to come back here until I’m sure I have a lot of time to truly immerse myself in the city. I’m curious to see what would be the context of my next visit here, and I guess I’ll work hard on it 🙂