An Expresso Bar & the Melbourne Vibe

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There’s this new place in the hood i.e. Redfern.

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My Blender & My New Creation

IMG_5054Growing up, I never really like paw paw (a.k.a. papaya as it’s known in my household), but I think I’ve sort of grown to like it because I know it’s good for you. My parents always used to say how much they miss how it taste like in the Philippines. It’s true. It taste a million times better when grown in tropical countries. In tropical countries, the flesh of paw paw is often in shades of pink or red. The Reds taste mellow, refreshing, and deliciously sweet. They have a distinctive taste compared to the Yellows, which have a stronger, musky, and slightly bitter taste. Tip #1: the bitterness of yellow paw paw can be neutralised to almost any palate using lemon juice and honey. I can picture myself right now eating fresh paw paw just picked from the tree, smiling and sitting on a meadow full of sunflowers, without a care in the world.

IMG_5052So anyway, I rummaged through my fridge in search for a few I-need-to-get-back-on-track-to-being-healthy-again ingredients to aid my paw paw creation, which I was about to whip up. I found celery sticks, half a Granny Smith apple and coconut water. I also chucked in some honey and chia seeds. And what do I get? The Ka-pow Paw Paw Crushie! Paw paw paw paw contains vitamins A, C and E, is rich in antioxidants, and is low in calories and sodium. In addition, it also contains small amounts of calcium, iron, riboflavin, thiamine and niacine (really good stuff). Another good thing to stock up on in your pantry is chia seeds. Chia seeds are one of nature’s ancient foods. It has the highest plant based source of Omega 3, fiber and protein. It even goes into over kills, as it is loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. You can get them in the health food aisle at your local Coles or Woolies. You can even choose to go for black or white chia seeds (though there are no major nutritional differences), just to be a bit classy. The tiny seeds can be made to taste like whatever you want, so they are pleasant as an addition to jams, dressings, crumb coatings, salsa, smoothies, and according to Pinterest, pudding pops!

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Shameless Selfies & Deep Fried Goodness

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One day, the 2 C’s and I planned a ‘fatty scheme’ to head over to the Gelato Messina pop-up stall in Hyde Park after work, where the Sydney Festival Village was being held. I would have liked to try everything, but I settled on a popular creation called The Messinawiener (aka The Pluto Pup aka The Dagwood Dog) ($9.00). It’s a baton of maple syrup gelato coated in pancake batter, on a stick, deep fried and crispy then dipped in plum sauce ‘ketchup’! We got too busy taking shameless selfies for Instagram, that mine ended up melting. I still ate the whole thing! I remember laughing with Cara because we found a table and two chairs, but the wooden table was extra wonky with 2 empty beer bottles. We thought it was meant to be.  To our surprise, we were caught taking selfies in the Gelato Messina @ Sydney Festival Village 2014 video (1.58 & 2.01). We looked really happy. We were really happy.

 

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Good Conversation & a Tea Studio

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There’s this guy at work named Byron, who’s always serving tea during his breaks. Because I’m a tea princess, we became instant friends. I don’t think many people can say they live below a tea studio, but he does along with his partner in crime/other half/soul mate/best friend, Katerina. They own it actually. It’s called Lotus Teas. It’s a small authentic tea shop tucked away in Sydney’s inner west, Sydenham. So I got an invite by Byron (totes feel special) to visit this tea  studio and spend an afternoon relishing and learning about the tea world. As soon as I walked into the Lotus Teas Studio Room, I felt transported to a zen-inspired oasis with relaxing music to accompany the background. Because I had been busy that morning (actually I’m busy all day, every day), I felt a change in energy. It was as if all of a sudden I was aware of my own energy. It was like a time conscious, stressed out I need a pick-me-up caffeine buzz, but I know coffee is bad for me, so don’t worry I’ve got my shit together vibe. But as they say, acceptance, is the first step to moving forward. It was a great afternoon full of listening to the stories, philosophical ideas and aspirations of those on the creative side in love with tea.

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A house with an art studio and a tea house, overlooking a lake. That is Katerina’s dream home. Now, this girl is more than just a dreamer, for she puts her ideas into action. Her love for tea has allowed her to use her creative edge to make a business out of it. One of her tea blends has such an awesome name, I told her that she should trade mark the name and T2 would probably buy it. It’s called Liquid Sunshine (how cool, right?). It is an uplifting tea, the one you come home to when you just had a long day and need a little burst of joy and radiance. It is made with mandarin peels, resulting in citrus top notes; layered under peppermint and chamomile base notes, which creates a soothing and relaxing effect. For Katerina, “Tea culture is about bringing in the principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility into your everyday life. You become more aware of how you can better yourself through those principles”. Living in Sydney for 22 years, I know that tea culture has never been a big thing here, compared to other countries such as Japan, China and India . However, its popularity through commercialisation is gradually creating a change in our culture. The power and pleasure of drinking tea is becoming more appreciated within the community.

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If you don’t already know, Memoirs of a Geisha (1997) by Arthur Golden is my 2nd favourite book, coming 2nd to One Day (2009) by David Nicholls, which is sitting on my bookshelf all tattered, dog-eared and unlaminated (to retain its history of spilt coffee marks and chocolate-licked fingers). I don’t know why, but I just never get sick of the book. I guess I have a connection to it? Sometimes I read particular chapters depending on my mood and whatever 20-something dilemma I’m going through at the time. Twenty years. Two people…there’s just something entrancing about the whole thing and how witty and beautifully written it is. Escapism. Anyway, getting side-tracked here. So my point was meant to be what’s funny is that Katerina was first exposed to tea culture through Memoirs of a Geisha. I particularly love the part when Chiyo first meets Mr. Tanaka Ichiro one afternoon and she recalls, “He seemed so fascinating to me, even the fish smell on his hands was a kind of perfume. If I had never known him, I’m sure I would not have become a geisha.”

New stills of film "Memoirs of a Geisha"

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I think like Chiyo, as we age, different things gain new symbolic insights and meanings to us. For Chiyo the smell of fish reminds her of her childhood days, living in a poverty-stricken Japanese fishing village and her fisherman father who sold her to a geisha house in Kyoto’s famous Gion district at the age of 9 (I clearly know too much about this book). On the other hand, tea reminds Katerina of her spiritual being (a.k.a. inner Goddess). For her, a little morning tea ritual quietens the mind. Instead of dreading how much you wish you were still in bed, but your 9 to 5 job allows you to get by and pay the bills, imagine completely changing your ‘default-setting’ perspective and thoughts. Picture yourself walking over to the tea pot, choosing to listen to the bubbling of the water,carefully selecting your leaves, appreciating where they came from, and imagining the tea farmer away in a foreign country plucking your tea leaves. Tea has a way of connecting us as humans to the Earth. It gives us a basic sense of self. It was a realisation I had that day because I like drinking tea, but I had never thought of tea in that sense. Earl Grey, English Breakfast or Chamomile…In Second Year, I used to think of tea as nothing but a rip-off. Hot water and a tea bag for $4 at the cafes at uni, “Are you serious? Oww hell no!” [insert finger snap ghetto style].

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One day Katerina was walking down New South Head Rd in Double Bay, when she walked into the Taka Tea Garden. “The minute I was in that tea house, it was like I had come home or something. I felt so drawn to that space of meditation, of calm and tranquility. I was so fascinated by the spirit of tea, by the concepts behind it, the philosophy.” From there, she was given the contact details of a tea teacher named Rosalyn in Epping. I’ve never spoken on the phone for an hour to a complete stranger, unless it’s about my internet not working (no internet = life is miserable) or my bad reception on my phone, to a customer service rep. But Katerina spoke on the phone to Rosalyn for over an hour, despite having never met her before. They must have made a strong connection, for they soon became friends, and later on Rosalyn would become Katerina’s tea mentor. Even the dress Katerina was wearing the day I visited was something Rosalyn once owned and passed onto Katerina.

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I also tried proper/legit matcha (you know the way its meant to be made, not the processed chalky light green fluff you find in a packet in the aisle of a dodgy Asian grocery store. Apparently, the Matcha Green Tea Frappuccino that I regularly order at Starbucks or the heavenly, frothy, sweet green tea latte that I had in Melbourne this winter does not count as ‘real’ matcha. The origins of Japanese matcha is noted to have emerged in history when it was first introduced to ancient Chinese society and adopted by Chan Buddhists in 960AD. Blends of matcha are given poetic names called chamei (meaning “tea names”) either by the producing plantation, shop or creator of the blend, or by the grand tea master of a particular tea tradition. When a blend is named by the grand master of some tea ceremony lineage, it becomes known as the master’s konomi, or favoured blend. Matcha is made from shade-grown green tea. Protecting the tea leaves from direct sunlight allows the leaves to become rich in chorophyll and amino acids. Only the finest tea buds are hand-picked during harvesting. After harvesting, the tea leaves are then dried and ground into fine bright green matcha powder. Matcha is prepared as a powder and whisked into hot water, a method which releases the caffeine into the body gradually over 6-8 hours. Swapping coffee for matcha will result in sustained energy and increased alertness and focus, aided with a cleaning effect on your body, without giving you the jitters, shakes or a caffeine crash later in the day from drinking coffee. Real matcha is actually quite strong (tip #1: don’t ask to add sugar. You will be death-stared). Once you’ve got used to drinking it, the health benefits you gain fair outweigh the benefits of drinking coffee (umm…who wants stained teeth and bad acidic breath?)

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So if you want to find an escape from the busyness of your day-to-day life, find solace as you step into a meditative space of cultural appreciation where you can try a whole new world of full leaf teas at Lotus Teas in Sydenham. It’s by appointment only, but you can go online and purchase their teas also.

Yours truly, from a 22-year-old who says, “de-stress, drink tea & live a little. Life’s too short.”

Splendid Parks & Gelato

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Sometimes you have moments; moments when no matter how much you force it to happen, the tip of your pen just does not reach the paper. When what you write seems to have no meaning. When how you feel is not articulated just the way you want it to. Other times, you are struck with a sudden burst of inspiration, and that’s when you know your words will flow freely with ease. Like a waterfall. This little story of mine, I just don’t know where to begin. So I’m going to type up some freestyle nonsense and call it a work of art.

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Once upon a 32 degrees Celsius summer day, I found myself walking through the streets of Surry Hills, learning about how there is no real difference between gelato and ice-cream, and that I have completely lost it when it comes to directions. I work close to Hyde Park, but I rarely visit, probably because I’m running from one place to another. Located in the centre of the Sydney CBD, Hyde Park is Australia’s oldest public park, with over 16 hectares of lush spring green grass to roll around in (my next mission). As I had the day off, I had nothing but the goal of taking in some fresh air, clearing my insane mind, bringing in tranquil energy in a mediation kind of way, and taking a few snaps with my borrowed SLR (it’s set on automatic because I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing). I got more than I bargained for, for I learnt a little history about ancient mythology with my Italian company, L, while at the Archibald Fountain. Apparently, the statue on the left of me in the photo below, is of Diana (“divine”), who was a Roman Goddess of Hunting. She was apparently super popular with the locals for she possessed supernatural powers that enabled her to talk to and command animals of the wild. Hence, the bow and arrow. I tried to pitch in to this little history lesson by trying to recall what the name of the bronze Apollo standing tall in the centre of the fountain, surrounded by horses’ heads on either side, dolphins and cute little turtles/tortoises/whatever they are called. “What’s Brad Pitt’s character called in Troy?” The name just did not come to me. Of course now I remember it! Achilles. Some good-looking chap with abs of steel (that he does not have to work hard for), with the agility of Usain Bolt. All in all, I think Hyde Park is perfect for an impromptu picnic, one with a red and white checkered mat neatly laid out and a selection of various tropical fruits in a picnic basket. Or maybe it could be an alternative option to retail therapy for City slickers, who spend their lunch breaks busily checking out the latest collections at Michael Kors or Zimmerman in Westfield Pitt Street Mall. It’s an ideal oasis for putting your feet up on one of the park benches, listening to songs for sunset on Spotify, and just forgetting about the world for a little while.

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The next pit stop was at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). AGNSW was opened in 1871, with various art collections, programs and exhibits, ranging from 19th Century Asian art pieces of ceramics and bronzes that embrace the cultures of South, Southeast and East Asia, to contemporary art that encompasses abstract painting, Post-modernism, Expressionism, screen culture and pretty funny pop art. L seemed to know a lot about European histories since he is originally from Rome, and he was more than happy to share the meaning and origins of various Italian words, you know the ones on the little description board next to each art work. The awesome thing about AGNSW, is that admission is free, and you can take as many photos as you want. So put it onto your To-Do list because it’s kind of fascinating, even if your a not-so-artsy person. It also has a beautiful panoramic view of the City. “That Milk Beach place you mentioned is on the left somewhere over there, Darlinghurst over there, Surry Hills somewhere there”. L knew more about where places were located in Sydney than me, and I was born and raised here! I just kept nodding. Apparently in some places in Italy, height restriction laws apply on multi-storey buildings  to preserve and enhance the historic character of the traditional community. All I could think about was some kind of Italian holiday villa made from Tuscan red sandstone, with violet and terracotta red flowers overhanging from its balcony. I clearly have never been to Europe, and have watched Under the Tuscan Sun far too many times.

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When I get hungry, my brain stops working and my stomach starts talking to me, “Feed me, feed me”. There is an outdoor tuckshop called missChu on Bourke St in Darlinghurst. I’ve walked past it twice before, and have been enthralled by its upbeat, yet simple design aesthetic. The founder and creative director of missChu, Nahji Chu, who likes to call herself, the Queen of Rice Paper Rolls (I wish to one day have various awesome titles like she does), has thought of a very imaginative, unconventional, and neat-o foodie concept. What I like about her is that her food empire screams her. That is, it is a fusion of her personality mixed with her academic background and colourful life experiences, growing up in of of the first Vietnamese/Laotian refugees to settle in Australia. For example, the menus are reminiscent of the canteen ordering forms in her early school days, when she was adjusting to learn a new language and way of living. They say that your journey through life is what shapes you as a person. That everything you go through happens for a reason. That no experience in life is ever bad, for you always learn something from it. If that’s true, then when I turn 50 (random number), I want to look back (wearing Louise Vuitton cat eye sunglasses in a red Ferrari), and tell myself, “You did well”. I want to take everything I’ve learnt – through people, books, and travel, mash  it all up in a mortar and pestle, and mould the resultant into a creative ball that is in line with what I do.

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I ordered the traditional Vietnamese pork roll (bahn mi), along with a lychee and cucumber, young coconut frozen crush ($16 altogether). The pork roll tasted simple, but delicious. You could tell the ingredients used were fresh. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with a Vietnamese pork roll, they always just taste so good that I have to remind myself not to eat so fast. On the other hand, the beverage felt like the best icy concoction for that hot summer day. Each sip was like a burst of happiness, for it was just so refreshing. Get it!IMG_4608

IMG_4612The day ended with eating gelato in a park in Surry Hills. If you’ve never been to Gelato Messina, you are missing out! I ‘liked’ their Facebook page, and seeing their new unique creations on my News Feed makes me want to run there. Gelato Messina is the real deal – they don’t use colourings, flavourings, preservatives and pastes.  It’s the way gelato should taste, with its bold textures and natural flavours. For instance, if they want to make a gingerbread gelato,  they’ll make the gingerbread cake themselves and crumble it to smash into the gelato. Their other ingredients are noteworthy, including oreo custard, raspberry coulis and lemongrass jam. They’ve even gone to the extreme and added exotic, out-of-the-box ingredients such as duck fat, corn chips and tomato salsa. The funny thing is that it works! It still tastes amazing. It’s like they cast some kind of spell on you, that makes you want to come back for more. I vividly remember the first time I went, it was after a work function in Darling Harbour and my co-workers all wanted to go to Messina in The Star. I can’t believe I walked 20 minutes in heals just for gelato, but they promised it would be worth it. Gelato Messina did not disappoint.

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Anyway, so I don’t know if it was because he was Italian, but L wanted to try every flavour. Maybe he wanted to make an informed decision and eat only the best (but they are all good). I went for the Chocolate Fondant and the Salted Caramel with White Chocolate. L told me that in Italian fondant meant “dark chocolate”, but I was thinking of fondant icing like the type they put on wedding cakes. It did make sense. I’m not even a fan of dark chocolate, but I found it to be bliss. I’d rate both flavours highly.  If the mix of sweet and salty in salted caramel gelato is not balanced, it’s either overpoweringly salty or sweet. But the texture of the salted caramel at Gelato Messina was soft and creamy, and then you get these little bursts of happiness with the little white chocolate pieces in it. What is even more exciting is that the Specials, which have really cool names are uniquely based on celebratory occasions such as Christmas (I wonder if they do Hanukkah). They have more than 40 various flavours at any one time and also beautifully crafted gelato cakes that look almost too good to eat. There are a couple of Gelato Messina ice-cream parlors in Sydney such as Darlinghurst, Bondi, The Star, but my personal favourite is the one in Surry Hills of the beautiful park opposite it called Shannon Reserve (Crown St), where you can enjoy your treat. The park is a popular hangout for hipsters, young parents, yoga enthusiasts, university students, roomies, and old friends.

Yours truly,

from a 22-year-old girl who loves art, taking photos and eating lots and lots of gelato.

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Mystery & a dungeon bar

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So last Friday, I found myself sitting in an old, upholstered wooden resting chair in a dimly lit small bar, a subterranean mezzanine enclave hidden in the heart of Sydney CBD. It felt like a dungeon. Actually, it felt like I was sitting in what seemed like the Gryffindor common room with the type of crowd you see walking down King St in Newtown on a Friday night, and also a bunch of strangers dressed as Pokemon characters. Oddly enough, I felt comfortable. The place has a pretty awesome name, Spooning Goats. As I sat there, I don’t know why, but I got the feeling  that more than 20 couples must have made out in the chair I was sitting in. Either that or the ‘hot topic’ of the night, L-O-V-E, must have taken over and affected my train of thought. Let’s just call them A1 and A2. I used to work with A1 back in the day, and strangely enough we took a ballroom dancing class once upon a time to try to conquer our unco-ness. That’s umm well…still in progress. On the other hand, A2 was a friend of A1’s who tagged along after work. They once got mistaken for being a gay couple at T2, but in actual fact A2 is married. He seems to be madly in love with the love of his life, a girl who’s eye colour changes from one to another in different lighting conditions. Apparently, it’s a rare genetic or acquired disorder called Heterochromia (and yes, I did look it up on Wikipedia). Pretty cool I think.

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They introduced me to ‘Nuts and Bolts’, which is a house made signature beer snack seasoned with what seemed like garlic, rosemary, sea salt and spices. Totally going with my senses on that one. Nuts and Bolts is the love child of Nutri Grain and Bhuja mix. As we munched on those and told some tales, I remember thinking this is like having  two big brothers who seem overtly keen to give me their guy perspectives on the whole love thing. “Confidence is sexy”, “boys are stupid and insecure”, “you just have to go for it”. It was honest, and left my cheeks hurting from laughter. I was quite happy to listen. What have I got to say, love moves in mysterious ways, or so they say. No matter how old, no matter how weird, everyone has a their own opinion about love. We’ve all loved and lost at one stage or another.

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So if you’re looking for an oasis, a place that feels a million miles away from the rat race and the chaotic rush of being in the City, then this is the place to go. Almost everything you’ll lay your eyes on there (except for the people of course), is recycled with care such as the furniture, the glassware and the retro pre-loved wall hangings. You can kick back, relax, and enjoy some good ‘ol hand-crafted tap brews, Australian wines, and creative cocktail mixes, and hearty warm pies served in bowls. Yes, bowls! Spooning Goats also brings in all the boys with their milkshakes. Just kidding, they bring in all the cool kids by hosting live music performances by local and emerging artists, from those who didn’t make it into Australian Idol to upbeat ukulele solos and DJ’s spinning old 45’s. To add the finishing touch, you can relive your 90s I’m-obsessed-with-video-game days by immersing yourself and your mates in a game of Donkey Kong, Pac Man or Space Invaders on the Atari. Whatever floats your boat.

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Prior to this little underground bar adventure, the three of us checked out The Village Bizarre, a Friday night playground of markets and mystery held in The Rocks. It operates every Friday 6.30pm – 10.00pm between 1 November to 20 December. As a First Year university student, I was too shy to jump into the silent disco that was happening on campus one time. So this time, I didn’t miss the opportunity. I grabbed A1, we put on wireless headphones playing upbeat pop tunes, and we marched to the beat of our own drum in the silent disco happening there. So for 30 seconds of my life, I bopped my head and bounced my knees and called it dancing. What can I say, it was quite liberating. As the wise folks say, there’s always a right time for everything.

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To be even more adventurous, we also surprised the world with other amazing singing in karaoke. So here’s the story, I was meant to do a solo to ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing’ by Aerosmith. Piece of advice: never, I repeat, never choose that song for public karaoke. Actually, it wasn’t really a solo because this little girl, wearing an aquamarine fairy costume held the other mic. I used my charm to force her into being my back up singer. However, she left before the song started, and so did half the crowd [tearing up just a little]. I sang a few lines, then got embarrassed, so I desperately did a save-me-now hand gesture to A1. In the end A1 and A2 got together in a little bromance duet. There was just so much passion and raw emotion as A2 belted out to “Yeah, yeah, yeah”! You know the line that Steven Tyler is  famous for, the one that goes after “And just stay here in this moment for the rest of time”. It was epic. You could just feel the chemistry between the two. The crowd roared.

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One of my favourite finds from the markets that night was this neck piece ($20) from the AWH Studio stall. It’s a deconstructed wristwatch dial from a 1950’s women’s watch, so I guess whenever I wear this, I am wearing a bit of vintage wherever I go. It’s as if I’m carrying the soul of the one who owned this watch. It’s like her legacy lives on or something. Oh my…I also learnt a thing or two from that stall, that back in the days  watchmakers would carefully position stones and rubies into the mechanical compartment of watches to reduce friction. My little treasure once had 17 jewels back in its hay days. What I also liked about this stall was that they customised the length of the chain to your liking. I chose the brass link chain to go with mine, but they also do black-gold, silver-plated and copper chains, which is kind of cool.

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IMG_4423IMG_4435IMG_4477Other highlights of the night included, relishing in delicious pan-fried pork dumplings, discovering there is such a thing called a Gift Guru (mind you, it’s actually an employable career, where you pretty much act like a spiritual being, hand out flowers and recommend gifts to a certain someone you’ve never met, but you’ve been informed of their likes and dislikes), getting rejected when wanting to take photos of nicely decorated gingerbread cookies (their loss, they could have been mentioned on my awesome blog), and rooming the paved brick pathways in The Rocks while talking life with an old friend and his buddy, who I managed to instantly click with. Our unique quirks and random antics managed to mesh well together, leaving me with a delightful fuzzy wuzzy feeling at the end of a great night.

Yours truly,

from a 22-year-old girl who loves finding small, but priceless treasures at markets.