Living abroad is fun

Due to various reasons I ended up working and living in Belfast, Northern Ireland for a few years and it was a real adventure. I landed a job in a call center and experienced a whole new culture and made loads of new friends. If you can make this leap abroad I recommend it.

Of course it wasn’t all peaches and cream. Finding a suitable flat was a challenge, but when you already have a job lined up getting a NI number (National Insurance) and
setting up a bank account is quite easy.

I keep getting memories about my time over there on my Facebook timeline, which moved me to write about living abroad.

Belfast had quite a troubled past until the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ which made steps in the peace process to end the dreadful period ‘the Troubles’. When I mentioned I had found a job there, people would ask me if it was safe there. I shrugged it off with the notion that if it wasn’t they wouldn’t bring people in.

To be honest, I wasn’t aware on how it was during the Troubles. I’ve seen the news which mostly was about the IRA bomb attacks in mainland UK, but Belfast was just a name in a song for me. Just like everyone, I know the words to ‘Bloody Sunday’ but never read into what happened that day. I knew absolutely nothing about the Troubles.

Living in Belfast made me aware what the conflict entailed. People shared their experiences with me and I was quite horrified that nothing was mentioned during my history classes. I made it my business to educate myself. As an outsider you tend to look at it very much in a black and white vision, but there were definitely so many grey areas during ‘the Troubles’. One thing is certain, a lot of people suffered. But despite all the suffering, the Norn-Iron (Northern Ireland) people managed to keep a positive attitude. No matter how bad shit gets, they throw a good dose of humour against it.

These days I am losing my grip on the Norn-Iron philosophy of ‘Calm yer tits’. I’ve been away from Belfast too long and keep getting worked up again over nothing. But you really learn to wind down yourself living in Belfast. The Dutch are conditioned to be on the clock (well I am). But Norn-Iron take it a step slower and seem to enjoy themselves more in life, even if their government is a bigger heap of shite then mine. Dutch politics is quite mellow compared to Stormont drama. I might write about it one day. 😉

I was lucky to call Belfast my home for 3,5 years. To be able to visit the many great national parks and monuments. To meet and make many great friends and best of all the craic we had. It was my home away from home and if life had a different destiny for me I would have still lived there even with the hassle of Brexit.

Belfast wall art
Belfast wall art

Finding treasures while cleaning

I hadn’t touched the stuff behind the bulkheads for years, but I couldn’t ignore it any longer. It really needed a good clean out and I approached it with the philosophy: ‘If I didn’t miss it, I won’t keep it’.
It’s a good philosophy to have, because it helped me sort out a lot of old junk while I found some good treasures to keep.

I was hoping a lot of my old toys had survived the course of time, but sadly a lot of plastic had turned yellowish and sticky. Not something you want to give a second life at the charity shop. The pieces that I managed to salvage are going to make another child very happy.

Amid the stuff I am giving away, I found some treasures that I am going to keep.
I had been contemplating to buy a second hand Sindy on Ebay for a while now, not knowing I had one stashed away in the attic. I was overjoyed to find her on the bottom of a trash bag, but her state was very poor. Luckily the dirt wiped off easy and a good spa treatment of her hair gave back her shine and got rid of the stale smell. Scratch that one off my to-buy-list.

Sindy
Sindy

Through another bag I was reunited with my teddies once again. The squeaker of the golden one didn’t work any more but I managed to make their coats look like brand new again.
I received these teddies more than two decades ago and they will get a prominent spot in my display cabinet.

Teddies
Teddies

I’m not done with the attic yet, but you need to go with small steps, not giant leaps.

New arrival: my first Smart Doll

My Smart Doll Cherry was only held hostage for one day at the Dutch customs, which is a miracle. They can hold a parcel up to 4 weeks but she was processed quickly. So it took her little over a week to get from Japan to my house. My mother was so sweet to pick her up from the pick-up point and pay the ransom. The custom fees were €75 this time, which is not bad considering I paid almost €300 for my Dollfie Dream a couple of years ago. The penalty you have to pay for spending your money outside of the Netherlands. TAX IT!

The funny thing with receiving parcels, my cat’s curiosity is activated and he stuck his big fat nose in my unboxing. I had to stop him from attacking the items I received with the doll. Anything that has threads attached = cat attack.

unboxing Smart Doll Cherry
unboxing Smart Doll Cherry
unboxing Smart Doll Cherry
unboxing Smart Doll Cherry

My girl was carefully bubble-wrapped in the iconic ‘Keep calm and carry a Smartdoll’ bag together with a box of apparel. The extra things I ordered (because I didn’t want to go overboard with spending) were a telescope stand and some leggings to protect her from staining her legs. To my surprise I received a second free telescope stand as a gift. A little card refers you to a ‘welcome’ website where you learn everything about your doll and how to handle her. I had a general idea on what apparel she would receive, but the set is quite lovely. Greenish jeans with a white v-neck and brown ankle boots.

unboxing Smart Doll Cherry
unboxing Smart Doll Cherry

Cherry is nicer in person than on photos. I didn’t even notice that she had light lipstick/gloss and it really suits her. The hardest part left is finding her a name. I kinda hoped I had thought of one during her transit, but life caught up with me and kept me busy.

unboxing Smart Doll Cherry
unboxing Smart Doll Cherry
unboxing Smart Doll Cherry
unboxing Smart Doll Cherry

I am surprised how light she is, I think she weighs less than my Dollfie which is also a vinyl doll. Can’t wait to have photo shoots with her, but first she needs a name and a story.

Reika, the Shrine Maiden

In January I saw a shrine maiden outfit pop up on AmiAmi and thought this was perfect for Reika. Compared to Fuyumi, Reika doesn’t have a different outfit besides her default clothing she was shipped with. So it was time for me to get her the outfit.

Azone Shrine Maiden uniform
Azone Shrine Maiden uniform

The quality of outfits made by Azone always blows me away. Very delicate stitching and high-quality fabric. The dolly hobby is an expensive hobby because all manufacturers hold up high quality standards. You always get your money’s worth.

Buying this outfit also helps me develop her background story a bit. She is following in her mother’s footsteps as a miko and is highly skilled in sacred cleansing.

Reika as a miko
Reika as a miko

There are still a few accessories I need to make for her including socks, sandals and a gohei (a wooden wand with two zigzagging paper streamers). But she is looking really adorable already.

Planning a new doll

In the past I just bought dolls (ball jointed) on a whim. Which resulted on having several on the way and at the same time selling dolls I’ve lost interest in.
I bought dolls which had fantasy parts like dragon wings or bird feet which ended up being very impractical for me. I like taking the dolls out on walks and take photos of them. Dolls with huge parts just didn’t work out as a carry on.

My wishes have grown smaller in the past. I don’t feel the need to buy when browsing through the vendors’ websites. But there are a few dolls that are on my list that I will get one day: a Lillycat girl, a Fairyland Minifee and a Smart Doll.

Since November I’ve been debating with myself which one of the girls I would want to have. It’s tough to make a decision when you like a lot but can’t have all of them.
After three months I’ve narrowed it down to two molds and at the moment I am leaning towards Cherry, she is a seasonal limited. When I saw that one after the other was vanishing from the list, I feared I wasn’t able to nab her up if I waited too long. So I placed my order on Tuesday the 5th. I was surprised to wake up to a shipping notice the next day.

I know they have several dolls in stock but I didn’t expect her to ship the very next day.
Now the waiting game started. Shipping from Japan is not bad, usually takes a few days to get to the Netherlands. Dutch Customs is usually the killer. In busy periods they can take up to a month to process your parcel. OUCH!

At the moment I am keeping her wig and eyes like this. Her cherry coloured eyes look quite lovely in photos and I want to see them in real life before I make a decision. I have a box with glass eyes for my other bjd’s and after ending up with over 30 pairs of eyes I don’t want to go crazy on the anime eyes this time.

When buying a doll from Smart Doll you get the option to add a set of clothes for only 10.000 Yen extra which is a steal. Buying these items separately you will pay double the price.
Because Cherry is made from vinyl, she is prone to staining which is a nightmare. I had a lot of issues with staining on my Dollfie Dream Saber Alter. I was prepared this time so I also purchased anti-stain leggings for under her jeans and have a pattern for a bodysuit if I get darker clothing for her.

I’ve preordered an Azone outfit from AmiAmi which is more of a classical girl style but I am still searching for her look and of course a name.

Photo property of Azone

Shopping for vinyl – week 05

I’m blessed with three vinyl shops in my hometown but the one I visit pretty often is Maestro’s Records. With a nice selection of vinyls, new and second hand, together with a coffee corner it is a great place to waste your time on a dreary wet day. And if you are in the mood to hear some live music, they often have DJ’s spinning some tunes there.

Today I obtained Arcade Fire – The Suburbs and Ghost in the Shell – OST.

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs.
I haven’t heard a song yet from the 3rd studio album of Arcade Fire. Win Butler (frontman) intended it to be listened to in one sitting, an ode to life and looking back to the past. After reading a review about it in OOR magazine I believe I can relate to this album as I am also in my thirties and often tend to look back on my youth with a hint of melancholy. You can say that this album was bought on a whim.
I fell in love with Arcade Fire when I heard their song ‘Everything Now’ during my delivery rounds. I would just sit in my van for a couple of minutes with the song blasting from the shitty speakers.

Ghost in the Shell OST
Ghost in the Shell OST

Ghost in the Shell OST
Ghost in the Shell was one of the first anime’s I’ve seen in my life. The BBC would broadcast them on an ungodly hour because they had themes of violence and angst.
The story blew me away with subjects like cyber-terrorism, what is left of the human self when placed in a machine and does an AI have the right to live free when it becomes self-aware.
‘Making of Cyborg’ is the iconic opening of Ghost in the Shell and I have it on vinyl now. My neighbours are going to enjoy this, not!

Music was my first love

Music has always been a part of my life. It relaxes me, picks me up when I am down. But it will also enhance the negative feelings when listening to the wrong type at the wrong time.

Scientists say that you develop your music taste from when you are 14 until you are 24. During your puberty everything you experience is extremely important to you and you form an attachment to it.

I call this half true because if you follow this rule to the letter it means that you cannot love new types of music when you are beyond your puberty. Till this very day I keep accumulating new sounds onto my playlist. But then again they might be a new song following an old formula.

When I was young my dad would watch ‘Tour of Duty’, a heavily romanticized series about the Vietnam war. I know for sure the real war was a 1000 times more horrifying than depicted on TV. Songs like ‘I heard it through the grapevine’, ‘Paint it black’ and ‘Reach out I’ll be there’ bring me back to when I was watching the series with my dad. These songs also were added to my playlist for life.

Around the same time I discovered MTV. I was in awe with the cool music videos made by bands and artists. A few videos stuck with me like ‘Radio Gaga’ by Queen and ‘Jeanny’ by Falco. I discovered then that my taste in music was quite broad. And because I was glued to the TV during the 80’s and 90’s I still amaze my boyfriend when we play ‘Guess the song’ with my large mind catalog of songs. He also claims that I only love cheesy music.

When you go to high school you fall into the trap of boy bands. Even I wasn’t immune for it. My choice of poison at that time was Take That. My poor aunt and mother were dragged to a concert with me. Too bad you could barely hear them over the screaming girls. It was a phase that didn’t stick with me. I can’t enjoy Take That songs anymore while I do enjoy the current repertoire of Robbie Williams. He matured as did I.

Around 1995-1997 I discovered two completely different directions in music that are still with me now. Daft Punk and Rammstein. Electronic versus progressive metal. ‘Around the World’ had a pretty rhythmic video with a robotic voice. Enter my love for robots here. While Rammstein had this awesome video for ‘Du riechst so gut’ with wolves and gothic ballroom dancers. And that one for my love for the occult and supernatural.
I had the honor to see Daft Punk perform live in 2007, while I still need to see Rammstein one day. Let’s hope they don’t split up any time soon.

From that time, way beyond 24, I kept discovering old and new gems that fall in a lot of categories like Röyksopp (electronic music), Electric Six (rock, punk, new wave, garage), Bloody Beetroots (electronic dance music), 5 Seconds of Summer (pop rock), Macklemore (rap), Arcade Fire (indie rock), Nephew (rock), Stromae (hip hop, electronic music), Kraftwerk (electronic music), Major Lazer (electronic dance music), Mumford & Sons (folk rock), Simon and Garfunkel (folk rock), Four Tops (soul, r&b), Hot Chocolate (funk, soul) and many more.

Now that I look at this list I see a lot of the same categories pop up. So while I think it’s different and a broad taste in music, it often is the same genre with a new jacket. Who knew, the scientists did have a point.

My obsession with ramen

One of my lifetime dreams was going to Japan and it finally became a reality in 2006 when I spent two weeks in a ryokan (family hotel or inn) in Tokyo. And there I tasted the best Japanese fast food ever, ramen.
I call it fast food, because it is not very expensive and served fast. While some toppings can be fried, in my opinion is healthier than a meal at McDonald’s or Burger King. With that said, I am not a dietician and I know noodles have a high calorie value but anyway.

There are two main ingredients for ramen: noodles and broth. A good broth complemented with the right toppings makes a heavenly dish. So I was devastated upon returning home that I couldn’t get my need for feed anymore. So sad.
I did have my Indonesian equivalent in Soto Ayam (Indonesian chicken soup) which is also delish, but I kept longing for a good bowl of Ramen.

In 2013 I moved to Belfast for work and close to my office in the city center there was Wagamama, a place I could indulge myself with ramen again. Wagamama ramen was my favorite at that place but I still missed the broth I tasted in Japan. So my search for great European ramen places started.

When I moved back to the Netherlands in 2016 the ramen popularity had hit my country. Of course Amsterdam was a forerunner when it comes to foreign food but I don’t often go there.
Sadly my home town’s idea to foreign food is morphed Chinese to suit the Dutch taste. I loathe it.

Slowly and surely small ramen shops are popping up here and there, even not that far away from me in Eindhoven. Broth made with care and recipes handed down in the family. I even drove my boyfriend nuts with the stories of the yummiest of dishes I had in my life.

In my quest on finding great ramen close by I’ve had the joy to find some true gems in the Netherlands.

Hinoki Noodle Soup, Rotterdam. They change their menu to the seasons and I had the Black Special Tonkotsu. The smell and taste of garlic overloaded the senses and it was a really kicker broth. I kept tasting it later on the day whenever I burped. My advise when eating ramen, get a light drink like green tea or iced tea without sugar so the flavour of the broth stays with you longer.

Black Special Tonkotsu
Black Special Tonkotsu

When me and my boyfriend visited the Cool Japan expo in Amsterdam it was only fitting to eat ramen for lunch. When in Amsterdam I am always worried when trying to find little gems like Fou Fow Ramen that it will be packed. Lucky for us this shop was not smack in the city centre so it was moderately busy.
We had the classic Tonkotsu which has a rich pork flavour and some Karage (fried chicken) with wasabi-mayo and I think my boyfriend also fell in love with ramen at that point. I did take him to Wagamama before but he enjoyed this broth a lot

Tonkotsu
Tonkotsu

My last trip to delicious heaven was last week in Eindhoven. I had passed Xu Noodle Bar a couple of times but hadn’t walked in yet. I’ve been studying to get my degree as Financial Assistant and had my final exams that day. After passing with a whopping 9.0 I treated myself to some victory ramen. Again I went for the classic Tonkotsu and the broth was soft and sweet. The pork was really tender and melted like butter in your mouth. In the Netherlands we have the saying: “It was like an angel pissing on your tongue”. Them Dutch and their weird sayings. I was one happy bunny after this fantastic lunch. And I need hthat “Send Noods” hoodie.

Classic Pork Soup
Classic Pork Soup

Great news for my vegan friends. All the above shops I’ve visited have vegan options for ramen so everyone can enjoy.

Pip: new member of the family.

I’ve been collecting dolls for quite some years now, it might be 10 or more. I started with Pullips, moved on to my first ball-jointed doll. Then Blythes came into the picture and my collection grew with 5 different types of dolls. I’m not picky when it comes to what I like, kinda like Pokemon (gotta catch them all).

So I am on type 6 now, Pipita, designed by Jenny Yi. I’ve seen her other doll, Holala, popping up on my Instagram for a while. Holala is cute but when I saw pictures of Pipita I was sold. I think its the little puckering lip that attracts me the most.

Obtaining a doll from Jenny is always a challenge. They are hand painted so you can’t count this doll as a mass production one like Barbie. Jenny herself was at the previous Blythecon EU last year and they went like hot cakes. I try to refrain buying from the second hand market when the dolls are scarce, sometimes people drive up the price to ridiculous heights just because there is a demand.

I was overjoyed when a pre-order for Pipita opened in November. Jenny’s assistant sorted out insured shipping for me and the waiting game started.
When the first arrivals started popping up on Instagram, I couldn’t wait for mine to arrive. Lucky for me no custom fees and she arrived on the 19th of January 2019. Today I unboxed her and named her Pip.

The quality of Pip is amazing, she is prettier in person and you can see that a lot of care went into her assembly. The last few weeks I lurked on Etsy and bought two outfits for her, which are also on their way to me.
Let’s hope the weather will clear up so I can take some outdoor photos of Pip.

Pip and Ted
Pip and Ted