Archive for the ‘On the self’ Category


(Finally I found some time and (more importantly) will to write)

Today’s topic is going to be slightly tougher to dissect and digest, but I will try to do it justice.

First, some background stuff needs to happen. It is critical to familiarise ourselves with two concepts: self-esteem and self-growth.

Self-esteem is, to be very concise, the opinion you have of yourself. If you want the longer, more proper definition, here it is:

Self-esteem is a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of their own worth. It is a judgment of as well as an attitude toward oneself. Self-esteem includes beliefs about oneself as well as emotional states. Synonyms are self-worth, self-regard, self-respect, so on and so forth. – Adapted from John P Hewitt, Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, Oxford University Press (2009).

That’s a lot to unpack and I am quite sure you prefer the shorter definition. But anyways, self-esteem reflects confidence in one’s own worth or abilities. The concept occupies a central place in the discipline of psychology because it possesses arguably the most potent influence over a plethora of activities and outcome, be it academic success, professional behaviour or satisfaction in relationships.

A person who has high self-esteem is comfortable in their own skin. Simply put, the world can’t shake them because they know who they are and they are secure about it. They believe they are good and they need no one to affirm their belief. On the other hand, a person with low self-esteem constantly engages in self-doubt, insecurity and sometimes even shame. As such, they think lack the personal, unshakable belief that they are good in themselves.

The second key concept for today’s analysis is self-growth, which is relatively easier to grasp. Self-growth is the development of oneself in various aspects, ranging from positive life skills to ideas to creativity to knowledge. Basically, anything that enhances the quality of an individual and makes them a better person.

Alright, now that we have waded through the gritty itty part, let’s dive into the juicy bits.

Are self-esteem and self-growth contradictory?

I mean, one can argue that the two concepts oppose each other. If I am comfortable with who I am, why do I need to become better? And if I indeed strive to become better, it is my own insecurities that drive me?

To deal with this issue effectively, I shall introduce you to the following 2×2 matrix:


High self-esteem

Low self-esteem

Want self-growth

Confident in one’s own worth, but understands that it can be improved. Seeks to improve to earn external validation. Usually bitter.

Doesn’t want self-growth

Arrogant, refuses to grow. Usually toxic. Low opinion of oneself. Self-condemnation.

The table above outlines cases when these two concepts interact in one person, and the results.

Let’s begin by taking a look at the top-left quadrant, which is a really great outcome. A person who has a high sense of self-regard and works towards their personal development is doing very well for themselves. It is critical to note where their motivation to better themselves comes from, because this is the distinguishing feature. A person in this group understands that they are good (high self-worth). But more importantly, they understand that they have the potential to become better, and they will be doing a disservice to themselves not to do so. Nobody can tell him or her that they are not good enough, but they are also aware that they can develop into a better version of themselves. They owe it to themselves to maximise their potential. Their self-regard and desire for self-growth are not in conflict with each other, but rather complement each other. Really, these people are on the path of self-actualisation, because they have a strong self-belief and also the will to be better. A typical line that you will hear from this type of people: “I am already great at [insert aspect of life], but I still need to find ways to improve. What? It’d be a crime against myself not to want to grow!”


Moving to the top-right quadrant, this is a bit trickier to analyse. An individual with low self-esteem has, by definition, a low opinion of themselves. They often think and believe that they are not good enough. Since they themselves cannot provide assurance, they often seek validation from external sources. Essentially, they need someone else to them that they are good. And they do try to improve themselves, but they do so only to continue receiving that dose of affirmation of another person. Keep the goods comin’ in, you know. Their betterment is a means to the end that is the elevation of their self-esteem. These people are in a precarious position because they heavily depend on others, living in a constant state of insecurity and susceptible to manipulation. Their desire for self-development fuels their desire for praise from others, and that sure is neither healthy nor sustainable. Tend to be bitter and overly critical towards self. Typical line: “Hey, I have improved in [insert aspect of life], do you think that I am good enough now and if not, what must I do to make you say so?”


Going down to the lower row, let us dissect the folks on the left first. These people think highly of themselves and fall victim to their grand self-opinion. Because they believe they are good enough, they do not seek growth. This arrogance may or may not be unfounded, but it is damaging in the long run all the same, simply because refusing to grow means not being able to become what one can become. It is denying oneself the opportunity to become the best version of oneself. That is already an undesirable outcome, but what is more dangerous is that with an I-am-already-good-there-is-no-need-to-get-better mindset is that as the world progresses forward, the person will be left behind. When people are running and they ain’t, they lag behind. And when they realise that they need to change, their high self-regard acts as a barrier, preventing them from seeking to improve and turning them into toxic individuals. Conceit is perhaps among the deepest pitfalls of man. Typical line: “I am already good at [insert aspect of life]. I am not going to bother to improve.”

'For some reason, people tend to view me as arrogant, despite my superior virtues and academic aptitude...'

Last but not least, those who find themselves in the bottom-right quadrant are in serious trouble. They do not believe in themselves and they don’t try to become better. Essentially, that’s a very deep pit to crawl up from, especially when the ladder is shaking. The trapped individual has little confidence in their own worth and abilities, yet lacks the will to enhance who he or she is as a person. The two concepts tag team to drive that person to the ground. They wallow in self-pity. Typical line: “I suck at [insert aspect of life]. I see no point in trying to improve because I will always suck at it.”

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself. . .feel sorry for those who have to work with you!

I have condensed the analysis above into the second 2×2 matrix below:


High self-esteem

Low self-esteem

Want self-growth

You are doing fine. Keep it up. Aim for growth, but not to hear praise from others.

Doesn’t want self-growth

You are not as good as you think you are. You are fucked. Try to unfuck the situation.


Note: the table and this piece deal rather in extremes, only to highlight the general possibilities. It’s probably more like a spectrum in real life. But this topic requires simplification and as a consequence, generalisation.

All in all, self-esteem and the desire for self-growth are very important to being a functioning adult. The ways they interact produce different outcomes that can determine a person’s approach to life. I have not discussed ways to improve self-esteem and personal development because that would make this piece too long. But I hope that I have provided you with a brief overview of how these qualities play with and against each other.

What to do with that knowledge, I shall leave to you.


A very popular question I got asked a lot these days is “How are you celebrating Lunar New Year?” I always tried to give a generically vague answer, because the truth is that I don’t. I have never been big on Lunar New Year. Sure, it’s nice to celebrate the occasion with family, friends and loved ones, but I have never truly felt a strong urge to do so.

Granted, perhaps it was due to the fact that I only spent one out of the last eight Lunar New Year’s Eves at home, and so I have become indifferent to celebrating the holiday. But a reflection upon my own answer prompts me to think and I believe it goes deeper than that. As much as I try (which is not very much), I can’t pinpoint my exact cultural identity. I am certainly Vietnamese, but that’s a legal definition, which is shown by the particulars page of my passport. Outside the legal realm, I’m not quite sure I can be classified as a Vietnamese, especially on the culture front. To go further, I’d have to break down culture since it’s a big mess that is very often debated upon and does not quite have a unified definition. There are three aspects that constitute culture, or at least the expression of it, namely language, cuisine and customs. I shall proceed and discuss one by one.

  1. Language: I think a culture is greatly conveyed through the language spoken by the people. The vocabulary, the expressions, even the sentence structures, they reflect the cultural norms. And my deal with language is this: my Vietnamese isn’t good, as in it it isn’t up to normal standards. I have known for a while that my Vietnamese is slowly slipping away, but right now I think it’s gotten really worse. Mainly due to a lack of practice, I suppose. Apart from some daily conversations with friends, I have very limited exposure of the language. I am very certain that my English is better than my Vietnamese, and the fact that I’m writing this post in English and not Vietnamese is a very strong testimony. 
  2. Food: Say what you want, but I believe food is an integral part of culture, as it is almost always the first thing that pops up in our mind when we think of a particular culture. If language is the voice, food is arguably the face of a culture. And I don’t think I identify that strongly with Vietnamese food. Like, I am not crazy about it like many people are. I don’t need to have it every day or every week. The truth is, I like all kinds of food and I don’t have a definite favourite. Maybe except very spicy food and eggplants. There is just something about eggplants that I can’t like. But apart from those, I love food in general. Steak, pasta, crepes, sushi, noodles, you name it, I love it. My answer to “What kind of food do you like?” would be “The edible kind.” And to be honest, if I had to pick a dish to be my most favourite, I’d probably go for steak. And if I am forbidden to touch Vietnamese food for the rest of my life except for my Mom’s cooking, I think I’d be okay with that.
  3. Custom: This is quite a tricky part since custom is also very hard to concretely define, but I will go with “a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.” And I think it’s safe to say that I don’t really observe Vietnamese customs. I am not even sure what these are. Common social norms and traditions in the Vietnamese society are largely similar to cultures that adopt Confucianism, or at least some elements of the ideology. So strictly they aren’t only applicable to the Vietnamese culture. Perhaps I am not exposed to customs that are particularly pertinent to the Vietnamese culture, like marriage for example. But then again, I hate how wedding ceremonies are organised the Vietnamese way. The grandeur, the extensive guest list and the very loud music seriously put me off. And I also feel the need to clarify that I am not very keen on a church marriage either. Don’t know why, just never fancied myself getting married in a church. 

So yeah, as you can see, I have limited ties to the Vietnamese culture. Although I often identify myself as a Vietnamese, it’s because that’s my legal nationality. I can’t really think of something I do or speak that’s particularly Vietnamese. Or maybe I just don’t recognise it. Anyhow, as far as I know, my cultural identity is really weak and not very easily identifiable. And it’s not an easy task, to produce a coherent cultural identity that pertains to a single society, as the world becomes increasingly fluid and globalised. But anyways, a cultural identity is not something I desperately need right now, so perhaps I’d take care of it later. 

Anyhoo, peace out. Gotta finish that bottle of wine and get to bed. Still have a lot to do tomorrow. Happy Lunar New Year people! 



Photo credit: Saigoneer





The other day, I had the chance to contemplate on the topic of courage. If I were to be completely honest, I am not really sure what courage is. I think the concept just encompasses a whole range of qualities and can’t be compressed into anything of insignificant size like this piece. To put it very simplistically, I believe that courage is facing your fears. The thing about fear is, it can’t be quantified into “big” or “small” ones, because it’s deeply personal. As long as you face what dreads you, you are courageous. The nature of the aversion is relevant, be it singing in front of a crowd or travelling to another country. Or even ducks. Courage is knowing that you will be paralysed with fear as if your heart was tightened with a thousand strings and your cells shook like water being boiled, and choosing to face it anyway. In very few sentences, that’s what courage is to me.

Moving on, somebody that day also raised the question of ethics and courage, advancing that the former should always be present in the latter. And it is this specific aspect that I’ll consider here. 

I think most of the times it’s true. Courage is choosing to do the right thing instead of the easy thing. And it is certainly not a simple feat to achieve. More often than not, the easy way appears much more palatable and appealing, precisely because it’s easy. I am no neurologist or psychologist, but I believe that we are hardwired for that. The human brain is intrinsically lazy: it goes for whatever route that takes the least amount of effort. That would explain why I tend to choose the bar of chocolate over exercising, even though I know the latter is good for my health and the former isn’t. Exercising is the right thing, but eating that delicious chocolate bar is the easy thing because it takes no effort. And we have a natural tendency to choose the latter. Because it’s easy. Those who are courageous can actually see past that barrier and break free of their inclination.

I am not using this “human nature” to justify or excuse my own lack of determination. I am simply saying that courage is having the ability to resist temptation and think of and for the bigger picture, especially when our decision causes harm to people other than ourselves. A moral compass is often required in these cases. A strong sense of ethics and concern for the welfare of others is necessary for decision-making, because the effect of your decision can be extremely far-reaching. Moral rightness needs to be a part of any due consideration. This is particularly relevant when the decision may deliver personal benefits at the expense of the wider community. It seems the easier (and certainly more appealing) thing to do, when you stand the beneficiary. A person with good ethical conduct will choose to ignore his natural, maybe even primordial disposition, to do the right thing. The higher and more powerful your position is, the bigger the chocolate bar becomes. Courage is being able to recognise and choose the right thing over the easy thing, and it has been absent on several occasions. Instances of mismanagement and misappropriate of public funds for private use serve as illustrious examples. Courage, after all, seems to be taking into account morality in determining how to act.

But I believe the connection between courage and morality is not one-dimensional as discussed above. Paradoxically, I believe that sometimes, courage is having the nerves to remove morality from the decision-making process. That’s shocking, as many would be quick to point out. How can one throw away his ethics and ever hope to find redemption? Well, sometimes, you are presented with the seemingly right choice and the hard choice, and you need the courage to surpass the former to choose the latter. Morality stops being what informs your decision and gets replaced by a higher sense of purpose, which often takes the form of necessity. Courage is having the guts to do what is necessary, no matter how difficult. The decision can be dreadful because it goes against one’s moral instinct. But circumstances may dictate that one must violate their own code of ethics to do what benefits the greater good, then accept the personal burden of any ethical qualms there might be. So yes, I think that every so often, particularly in the realm of politics, it is utterly important to divorce ethics from decision making. Men of history who achieved enduring glory are those who had the courage to disregard their moral compass and did what was required of them. They are indeed brave, for they willingly incurred the burden of having acted immorally so that the public’s interests can be realised.

Also, nobody becomes great just by doing the honourable thing, as sometimes cruelty is needed. A military general must be brutally severe towards the army he commands, so as to prevent defeat and further brutality inflicted upon the people. A wise commander would not be merciful toward infraction, and without the threat of violence, discipline is seldom achieved. He must be prepared to be violent to his own subordinate, so as to keep his army functional. But it should be made clear that I don’t condone pointless violence. I think it’s distasteful and disgraceful to be cruel just for cruelty’s sake. Same with morality: you can choose to act immorally, but you’d better be damn sure that there is the point to your chosen course of action. To me, the end excuses the means, but there is also an element of proportionality: the inhumane course of action must be justified with an objective corresponding in merits. Like my homie Leon Trotsky used to say: “The end justifies the means, as long as there is something that justifies the end.”

To sum it up, I think the question of courage depends very much on the nebulous concept of ethics, more specifically one’s notion of what is right. This whole discussion does not sound very concise, precisely because morality is fluid and non-universal. The right thing to me may very well not be the right thing to you. In my very humble opinion, courage is often being able to choose the right thing over the easy thing, but courage can also mean having the capacity to choose the hard thing over the right thing. What makes up the easy, the hard and the right, ultimately, is the true question. 


Why I drink

Posted: August 30, 2015 in On the self

As per the title, I drink because:

1. I don’t want to think about the future. Like, what I am supposed to do after graduation, who I am gonna marry and have kids with, where my life will be heading towards. Like what the fuck right? I’m 22, without a bachelor degree. I have no job (no prospects of one), no car, no house. And society expects me to “figure it out” in the next couple of years. Like that’s gonna happen. Sorry Ma but I will disappoint you. I know that, and I think part of you knows that too. So I wish you and Pa would just lower your expectations down a little bit. Just a little bit and it will be much easier to breathe. I know all you want for me is a good life. It’s just your idea of a good life doesn’t coincide with mine. So I gotta drink Ma, to temporarily wipe the worries away and forget your concerns for a moment. Because I know I got a very very tough road ahead of me, and I don’t really need you to remind me of reality, since I already have myself for that. Every glass of wine I gulp down is one mile away from the constant tension that’s starting to wreak havoc on my nerves.

2. I don’t want to think about the past. About you, mostly. And about us. I don’t know. I try not to think about you (and us) during the day, but it’s a different story when the night comes. And I don’t want that. I mean, I have tried really really hard to let it slip away untouched. But I can’t ignore the fact that one way or another, you have been on my mind (or the back of it). And believe me when I say that I have known a lot of pains, but none exceeds this. The pain is excruciating to the bones. To the point that it no longer hurts. It burns, like the camp fire in wild wind. So although I use pain as a source of energy and motivation, sometimes it’s just too much you know. Like a machine is running on too much steam or coal. So I gotta lose it, even for a little while, to make sure I don’t implode. You have no idea it could be this bad right? Neither did I. I never thought that there will be a day when I dread both going to sleep and waking up. But well, here it is, and here I am. so I gotta find a way to cope with it. You fade away with every sip of wine I take; although I know it’s all gonna come back on me later, but I don’t need it (nor do I want it) to be here now. 

3. I don’t want to think. That’s all, really. I just don’t want to think. Because thinking is what I do most often and what I do best. And it’s thinking that got me here today, be it good or bad. So once a month, I buy a cheap bottle and drink it alone. Because fuck thoughts. Fuck ’em.

Yeah, that’s the end of the bottle and about all I want to say. I’m not an alcoholic or anything. I just need to not think for a while. Peace out. 

Part 2 (Prato) can be found here

First and foremost, I’d like to write a little bit about Florence. I actually went to visit Florence, but it was a very short visit which last for about 4 hours. And it was rather a gloomy day and my camera was fucked up. So I think that my portrayal of Florence is not going to be accurate at all. Thus I will not write about Florence and shall reserve it for another time.

I spent the weekend of in Rome with a friend. It was actually quite unplanned since I didn’t really expect us to meet up. She was going to Greece to do some volunteering and happened to stayed at Rome for a few days. So I dragged my ass down to the Eternal City. Because it was like, top priority on my list and there was no way I could have passed up this opportunity to visit Rome with somebody who had previously been there. I “delegated” this friend with planning the visit, mainly because I had faith in her, and also I was caught up with schoolwork and didn’t have time. So I arrived at around 11, checked in at the hostel and then we had pizza. IMG_3355 IMG_3356 IMG_3358 IMG_3359 According to my friend this pizzeria is quite famous, and I’d say it did quite live up to its fame. The crust was thin and the topping was just right, quite savory. Overall 8/10 would eat again. It was the second or third time I had pizza in Italy. It’s just not my thing. We walked the city’s streets for quite some time, because I wanted to see the city as much as I possibly could. You could tell that Rome is indeed ancient from the statues and monuments which seemed to be pervasive throughout the entire city. Old, dilapidated buildings and ruins were also not hard to find.

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The weather was nice, cold but sunny, making walking a lot more pleasant. After wandering around for a while, we made our way to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, which were close to each other. Normally people would visit those 2 attractions in that order, but somehow we ended up going to the Roman Forum first.


Majestic as fuck

So I stood on ancient grounds, upon which the Romans built their democracy nearly 2000 years ago. It’s also the site where emperors like Caesar and Augustus exercised their rule. This is personal but I think of the Roman Forum as an imperial place, not the centre of Roman public life. It was the pride of Caesar and Augustus, with its monuments commemorating great men. It is fair to say that I am an avid fan of Augustus and to a lesser extent, Caesar (if Caesar hadn’t fucked up on his reform and pissed off the essential backers and got stabbed by his “friends” I’d really have held him in higher regard).

Basically we spent some time walking around the area, observing ancient ruins.

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I wouldn’t use “beautiful” to describe them. I’d say they are magnificently historical. It was like, standing on sacred grounds. Maybe it’s just because i am a history nerd and have a particular obsession with the Roman Empire (not the Roman Republic, mind you).

Then we moved on to the Colosseum. Oh man it was imposing, glittering in the sun. Along with the Eiffel Tower and the Egyptian Pyramids, the Colosseum was one of the world wonders I knew since I was little. And needless to say, visiting it was a dream come true. It’s just a childhood wish.


And today, I fulfilled it. 

The Colosseum was architecturally impressive. What do you mean, of course it is impressive. It is the largest amphitheatre in the freaking world! It is capable of holding between 50000 and 80000 spectators (I trust Wikipedia on this one). It is huge! As I stood from above, I imagined the public spectacles that were once held in this gigantic arena. I have a thing for gladiators (too much Spartacus I think LOL). All the sand, the blood and the crowd. It must have really been something.

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Being here, it’s something. 

We headed next to St. Clemente. Apparently it was a normal ordinary basilica (a rather minor one), and apparently it also has an underground Mithraeum. To me it was more like a catacomb lol. The basilica on the ground was actually amazing, with impressive pillars and dome. It was forbidden to take photos and since I am a law-abiding citizen, I didn’t. Then we went down (not quite deep down) to visit the mithraeum. The structure was intricate and very detailed, featuring a number of antique paintings. I learned that the deepest level was actually the home of some Roman nobleman. Which seemed pretty strange to me. Who wants to live down there? It’s so dark and confined. I am not even claustrophobic and I didn’t feel comfortable at all. 

After this, we just kinda walked around, heading to the Navona Square. I swear, it looked so beautiful at night in pictures (Google for yourself), with all the lights and stuff. It is indeed a very popular social hub of Rome and I kinda placed high hopes on it. And boys, was I disappointed. It was kinda dark and, well, unlit.



But no matter. We had a nice dinner anyway, somewhere near the Square. We had veal wrapped in pork cheek and Milanese ox tails (we’re in Rome, I know). I didn’t take any pictures because it was a nice dinner and I was in the present of good company. Also, I didn’t want to be frowned upon by the very polite waiter (who by the way advised that I should eat the ox tails with my hands, which I did, and it was great!). Yeah so no photos. Sorry not sorry. Here, have some gelato instead:

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Berry and pistachio were fine, but I messed up on that caramel cream 😦

Yeah, it’s pretty much the first day.

We woke up early the next day to make the most out of it, since I was to board the train back to Prato at 3PM. We made our way to Aventine Hill, because according to my friend there is apparently a hole (yeah you read it right, a hole) through which you can see St. Peter’s dome between two lines of trees. But before we get to that, here are some pictures of a nearby church whose name I totally didn’t care enough to learn:

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 Actually it was nice to walk around this early in the morning. Everything’s quiet and still, and I suppose it’s as close to peace as it gets.

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And after a while, we found it, the famed “hole of Rome.” It was a rather small keyhole on a pair of big wooden doors very close to the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. 


Yep, that’s it.

Turns out that you can actually see St. Peter’s dome through that small little hole. It was quite a sight, as the dome is framed by the tops of trees in the foreground. I couldn’t take a picture through it, some I’m gonna use some from the Internet instead. 

Only then I conceded that my friend was right. I just didn’t think it was possible (if you don’t believe, try googling the distance from Aventine Hill to St. Peter). Anyways, we headed downhill to the Trastevere neighbourhood, a “charming medieval neighbourhood with a fiery temperament” (source: Internet). We crossed the Tiber river when it was slightly windy and sunny, so very nice all in all. 

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And we arrived at Trastevere. 

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My favourite is this one: 


It was a nice and lovely neighbourhood with very few tourists (I don’t think we saw any). A lot of narrow streets and beautiful houses. The only problem we had was that since we came quite early, very few restaurants were open. We couldn’t find any that we liked 😦 So we kept walking toward the Pantheon. We walked past the Torre Argentina. It literally is Argentina Tower, but it’s actually a sanctuary for cats. Yep, cats. It is the remains of multi-level temples that are lower than ground level. And Rome’s feral cats began converging and made this ancient temple-complex their home. Again, according to the Internet, there are currently 250 cats living in there. 

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Then we arrived at the Pantheon. I recognize this place from Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons lul. 

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I have no comment on the Pantheon. My only question is, what if it rains so hard? Will the floor get wet? Because the hole (or whatever that is) in the ceiling looked pretty big. 

We passed through Trevi Fountain, but it was close for renovation (that’s one huge disadvantage of travelling in winter, everything is closed for renovation). Basically we had lunch 


Seven in one

and made our way back, because I am a paranoid prick and was afraid I’d somehow miss my train

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And that’s pretty much my very short stay in Rome (it was like, 2 half-days lol). I definitely didn’t visit a lot of places, the Vatican City being the prime example. Well, I guess I’ll just save it for next time, whenever next time is. I think I like Rome. Yeah, I like its history, its cobblestone streets, its monuments. The weather was surprisingly good the entire time I was here as well, so that’s a plus. And since it was January, I didn’t encounter many tourists and hence got a more “local” feel. And people seemed quite friendly as well. Rome is neither as modern and industrial as Milan nor as homey and relaxed as Prato. Will visit again for sure, because “tutte le strade portano a Roma” – all the roads lead to Rome 🙂 

Part 1 (Milan) can be found here

Alright, so I have spent a few days in Milan, the centre of Northern Italy. Now I’ve got to move my ass down to Prato, a city 30 minutes away from Florence by train to start my International Study Program (such a fancy name). The trip took 3 hours, and it was dark by the time I arrived. And because I am a retard, I got off the wrong bus stop. So I had to drag my suitcase through a busy part of town. And since the roads are paved with cobblestones, I was making noise (a lot of noise) the entire time. And it was just my luck that people were pouring out to have dinner. A lot of glares and stares there were. But I didn’t really care, I just wanted to get to the residence. So I kept walking, and thanks to my legendary navigating skills, I managed to arrive at the place.

The next morning I went over to the Monash University Prato Centre and began the Italian language course. Well yeah, I was frightened as fuck, because I knew that my Italian was shit (it still is, but back then it was more shit). I was prepared to start from behind everyone, but the truth was, I started miles behind. The first day we didn’t do a lot of new stuff, mainly just revision. Nightmare started on Tuesday. It is safe to say that there are very few times when I have been more frightened. Seriously, I was scared ,like, shitless. I think it was because I realized that my Italian was actually far worse than I had thought. And also I didn’t exactly spend the last month catching up. Basically I was fucked, because the syllabus, which was meant to be taught in a semester, was going to be taught in 3 weeks. One day corresponded to one week’s worth of contact hours and workload. And that’s why they named the unit Intensive. Shit shit shit. So when others were out having drinks and dinner, I locked myself inside and tried to do as much work as I could have. It was the only way.

About Prato: I think it’s a lovely town. I stayed right in the historic centre (I am quite sure the correct word is “historical”). It was definitely different from Milan (duh!). I’d say it has a cosy, warm atmosphere since it’s quite small. The basic structural foundations of the city were built a couple hundred years ago, giving it a touch of antiquity. If I have to be honest, the main Duomo looked a bit (just a bit) battered.

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 Or maybe it’s just my crappy camera, I don’t know.

I don’t know what the cathedral looks like inside, because for some weird reason I never managed to visit it. But no matter, I felt like I have had my share of cathedral from my stay in Milan, that I’m okay for a while. I like the piazza surrounding the Duomo as well. It’s quite spacious yet strangely comfy. I like hanging around here (Probably because my favourite gelateria is like 2 minutes away). But anyhow, more pictures: 

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My life in Prato was pretty routine. Every day I woke up, got ready for class (which lasted from 11 to 1 and 2 to 4, which sucks, because it’d already be getting dark by 4PM, curse you European winter). We had the rest of the day off, and classes only ran from Monday to Thursday. Which doesn’t seem like a lot, which was actually a lot. Besides the (literally) daily homework, we had to deal with assignments. Just imagine that in a normal semester you have one assignment every 4 weeks. Yup, we had one assignment every four day. Fuck us. More like, fuck me. But yeah. On the first assessment task we had to interview the local people (in Italian, duh!) about the school system, past and present. LEL. It was one of those rare times when I was actually glad that it was a group task. I’d have been so screwed if it was solo. But anyhow, my group did good on collecting the data. I just needed to enter god mode and produced an excellently drafted report with a full-on bibliography in 7 hours. It was a short report, but it sure took a toll on me. But I am glad I did it, my paranoia would have prevented me from handing the work to anybody else. The second assessment was a language test. I thought I messed it up quite badly, but it turned out to be alright (thank God). The third assignment was an oral role play which got me seriously worried. Because I couldn’t speak Italian. Like, speaking is actually my second-worst skill (only my listening is worse). I can write and read decently, but speaking? Hell no. So yeah, I was really nervous and stressed out. So I did everything I could, memorizing the script down to every word. No, really, I memorize every single word that I was gonna say. My partner wasn’t as nervous, because he could swing it, he’s much much more natural than me. Anyways, we did great, thanks to ample preparation and a bit of luck. The exam – the final hurdle – went pretty OK. I fucked up here and there but hopefully I’ll still get at least 80 for it. Would really be disappointed if I don’t. Looking back, those were some pretty stressful days, but if I get to travel to Europe, it’s the price that I will always be willing to pay. 


FYI, minus the sausage, that’s what I ate daily. Because groceries here are cheap as fuck and the same thing would have cost no less than 15 euros in a restaurant. So fuck it, I’ll just cook.

On normal days, after class I’d just take a walk around the town and enjoy the air. 

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Obligatory photos to show people that I really did go to uni during my stay.

Now for the best part: Gelato. I asked around and received 2 recommendations, and tried them out both. The first one was close to a train station. It served quite limited choices, mainly sweet flavours. But it was cheap as fuck. 

3 euros for 1 large cup. It’d be a great disappointment if I said no. 

I liked the pistachio, the tiramisu and the chocolate rum. Especially when it was a bit colder than usual and the piazza was particularly windy. Yummy! And this place gave a tad too much, because every time I finished the gelato, I felt a bit unwell and the left of my chest actually ached a little. But it also felt soooooooooooo good. The only thing I didn’t really like was the fact that they didn’t have any kind of non-sweet flavour, like fruits (the yogurt tasted weird), so it became a bit too sweet, even for me. Well, I could have had just 2 flavours, but I didn’t. Because I couldn’t resist (who could?)

My other favourite place is this gelateria, which I found on TripAdvisor. 


They served a varied range of flavours. I, in particular, quite liked the salted pistachio (pistachio might have become the new salted caramel).


This is how I’d typically order my gelato: 3 flavours, 1 sweet, 1 sour and 1 bitter/sweet. It balances the taste and has worked so far. Chocolate fondue, salted pistachio and lime (the second photo) went very well together. The orange gelato was quite nice as well. It tasted just like orange, with the skin on. I am serious, I could taste the slightly bitter orange skin, which speaks volumes about the quality of this gelateria. All in all, every euro I spent on gelato in Prato was certainly worth it. 

That’s pretty much my stay in Prato. I know the review is a little bit short for 3 weeks, but I believe that it’s alright. I’ve got pretty much everything I wanted to say in there. Of course there is stuff that I didn’t mention, mainly either because I think it is not worthy of mentioning or because I would rather keep it to myself. Anyways, Prato was a nice town with lovely people and excellent gelato. I’m glad the unit was taught here, so that I’d have an easier time adapting. And I’d love to take a vacation here any time. But to live here? Nah, too small, too peaceful. too quiet. I need more noise, more chaos. Prato is a great place to visit, but not one to stay.

Part 3 (Rome) can be found here

Part 0 (Pre-departure) can be found here

There will be photos that I took, along with my version of things. Because my photography and narrating skills are only exceeded by my humour, please indulge me. Also, if you feel the urge to make the remark that I should have visited ABC or done XYZ, you’re right, I probably should have. But I didn’t. So zip it.

Alright, so I landed in Milan after a kinda long flight and set to move my fat tired ass to the place of accommodation. First impression of Milan: cold as fuck. Sorry but there is no other way that better describes it. The fact that I landed at late night didn’t help. I think it was like, 0 degree or something. My hands were freezing. Well, many parts of my body were freezing.

I boarded the express bus to the city, It was all dark and all, I couldn’t see much. I took the metro from the central station to the station near my host’s place. Blah blah blah. Then I went to sleep in an 8-bed room, alone. It was alright, except that it was still fucking cold, despite my best effort to get warm. But again, it was alright. Time to some proper rest, tomorrow’s gonna be a long day.

Alright, I woke up, feeling refreshed. Packing some snacks, I headed to the central area by metro. The first place of interest I visited was Il Duomo, the main cathedral of the city. I had seen photos of it before, but when I come up from the underground station and saw it with my eyes, my exact words were: “What the fuck!?!”


Seriously, what the fuck?

Don’t get me wrong. I was simply overwhelmed by the magnificence of Il Duomo. It was nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was nothing I’ve ever fathomed before. I was, like, stupefied you know. I think I stood there for a good 5 minutes, just to soak in the majestic structure in front of me. Holy shit (pun definitely intended). It’s just so grand, so lavish, so sublime. And the level of detail is just incredible. For example,


IMG_2989I was, needless to say, wholly, utterly and completely impressed. I spent quite some time examining the outer surface of the cathedral, awed by the fact that people managed to construct this glittering structure hundred of years ago. Simply put, I was dazzled.


How could I not?

Then I proceeded to visit the inside of Il Duomo, which was equally impressive. I am no architect, so excuse my very inadequate attempt at describing. The mosaics were remarkably intricate, for instance,



“Damn man, this is beautiful!” was more or less my thought the entire time I was inside the largest cathedral in Italy and the fifth largest in the world.



It really is.

I went outside and found kind of a market or a fair surrounding the other sides of the Duomo. They had all kinds of things, from pastry


to cheeseeeeeeeeee


or salami


In general, it was very festive (it’s the second of January after all). A lot of beautiful girls and guys were walking around (most of the times hand in hand *sobs*). I, on the other hand, was feeling a bit hungry, so I grabbed this bad boy.


Behold, the Panzerotto

It was a simple puff with mozzarella and ham filling. But it was hot and savoury, and it was good to eat in this kind of weather. Then I spent some time wandering around the piazza (square) and took some more pictures of the Duomo.



The park behind the cathedral was not quite interesting, so I’m gonna skip it. I had read about this, so I decided to climb to the roof (not rooftop, ROOF!) of the cathedral. Because apparently you can do that. I was able to get closer to the structure on my way up.

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And then, I finally get to the roof. It was, well, worth every step of the climb. I believe “breathtaking” is the appropriate word (you should get used to this word since you’ll be seeing a lot of it). The spires were absolutely amazing.



After the Duomo, I wandered off to the Brera district, which is famous for its vibrant nightlife. Along my way, I was able to view some of Milan’s architecture.

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Then, of course, like what I will do a lot of times in this trip, I got lost. Not loooooooost lost, just lost. Somehow I found myself at the Sforza Castle, some 15th-century castle.

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It was nice and all, but the truth is, i didn’t really care. So I just kept walking until I found the Brera district.


However, it seems that I’d miscalculated. Or rather, I didn’t take the New Year season into account, because a lot, like, a hell lot of shops were closed, including the restaurants that I intended to check out. Plus, it was cold and getting dark real quick, so I doubled back to the Duomo (because I can) and took some more photos.

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And that marks the end of my first full day in Europe. 

Fast forward 12 hours or so.

On my second day in Milan, I decided to do a walking tour. I literally just walked, not really caring about popular destinations or things like that. I started the day with some Amsterdam chips. IMG-20150103-00011

They were nice and warm. A good way to stay energized when it’s cold as fuck (sorry but I still haven’t adapted to the European winter). And I walked through many streets and neighbourhoods which to this day I am still not quite sure what they were called. The general atmosphere was pretty relaxed and serene, with little noise and some sunlight. Quite ideal, actually.

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Then I came across this massive yellow building. IMG-20150103-00054

Oh there’s nothing special about it. It’s just an old barrack turned into a police station. But the area was so quiet, so peaceful. There was nobody around. I found a bench facing the police station and just sat there for some time, enjoying the quietness and the lovely sunlight. It was like, nothing was moving, nothing was happening. I was left with myself, there was no inflow of information interfering with my thoughts. 10/10 would come again.


My little sanctuary

I got up and kept walking, coming across more interesting-looking houses and buildings. 

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Then I had some gelato, my first time in Europe. I meant to check this store out on the first day but I got lost (big surprise there). I had tiramisu, special cream and pear flavours. Man that was good. Especially pear. It was like, pear. There is no other way to describe it. It was like pear the fruit turned into gelato with the same colour and taste. Exactly the same. It was quite something. 


Gelato in winter, another thing off my to-do list

It was kinda getting late (around 4PM or so, I know), so I made my way to the Navigli, the famed canals designed by Da Vinci himself. Took me a while to get there since it wasn’t really close to where I had my gelato. But when I arrived, man, I laughed my ass off. The canals were DRIED UP! Like, they were really dried up, there was almost no water. 


I walked 2 hours straight for this

I probably missed a line somewhere in the travel guide that says the canals look different in winter. 


That’s what it was SUPPOSED to look like!

But I didn’t feel cheated though. I just thought it was funny. Hilarious, even.


At least there is water here.

At this point, I was quite hungry and not to mention, tired. So I stopped and grabbed a kebab. 


It kinda looks disgusting, but it tasted quite good actually.

Then I doubled back to the Duomo.


Ain’t that majestic?

Yep, that’s pretty much my stay in Milan. It was brief, but it was really eye-opening. I saw things I never saw before. It did exceed my imagination by a fair margin. Overall, Milan seemed to me a city well-mixed between history and modernity, which is displayed through the architecture, the attire and the food. I mean, I am really impressed, and I liked it. Milan has that touch of centuries-old antiquity, yet it possesses characteristics of an industrially advanced city. Magnificent cathedrals, fashionably-dressed guys and gals and yummy gelato – I am totally sold.

Part 2 (Prato) can be found here