Copenhagen, Home, Uncategorized

Design and Homeware stores in Copenhagen

One of the first things I noticed walking around Copenhagen was the lovely array of design/home/concept stores. Of course I had to make some purchases (or ten) for my new abode here in Copenhagen. I won’t include Flying Tiger (or just Tiger as it is known in the UK), which is the most obvious and well known (and super affordable compared to other stores in Denmark) homewares/decor/everyday items store dotted all over Copenhagen.

Here’s some other places I checked out:

Notre Dame (Nørregade 7, 1165 København)
This is a really cute little shop tucked away close to Strøget, the main “downtown” shopping street. Expect lots of earthy tones, ceramics, flower pots and hanging plant baskets. I didn’t take photos from this shop but the cute little clay flowerpots featured in my banner image for this post are from Notre Dame!

Stilleben No. 22 (Frederiksborggade 22, 1360 København)
This shop is a stone’s throw from Torvehallerne market and Nørreport Station – a very obvious place to drop in if you’re walking about town. I was attracted in particular by the colourful ceramics.

African Touch (Frederiksborggade 20, 1360 København)
A couple doors down from Stilleben you have another eye-catching store, full of bright colours and prints, decorative figurines, accessories, and so on.

Søstrene Grene (Amagertorv 24, 1160 København K)
This place is super cute – has a lot of baby/children’s items, stationery, home decor, and some “fancy” food items (ok actually just fancy looking jams, candies, etc.). I bought a fleecy rug from this place along with some cacti (yeah, I’m basic). Compared to the others, it seems pretty affordable too.

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Personal, Sunday Musings, Uncategorized

What are we worth?

I have to confess I struggled a bit – maybe a lot – with my body image when gyms closed and lockdown was implemented a few months ago. I don’t want to dwell on things too negatively in this blog space. Let’s just say disruption to routine, which for me would have included a fitness regimen, was upsetting, to say the least.

I’m all about the idea of being kind to myself. But I also felt pretty bad – at one point, I didn’t even want to go out for my daily quarantine walk, because I felt uncomfortable in my own skin and the idea of going out in public (even a deserted public environment) seemed like the worst thing I could do.

Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s fine because “everyone is beautiful”. Hear me out. Beauty is a standard, an ideal; so it’s impossible for everybody to be beautiful. If nobody deviated from the ideal beauty, beauty wouldn’t be of interest to anyone. It would certainly not be the subject of desire or envy. It is the fact that each of us have an awareness of the elusiveness, rarity, and transience of beauty, and its high aesthetic value, that we can talk about – and care about – beauty at all.

And I’m not going to tell you that “everyone is beautiful on the inside“, either, because that is also plainly false. It’s certainly possible for somebody to not meet the outward conventions of beauty and also be a bad person! It’s not like deviating from standards of visible beauty would suddenly make you a saint. So saying people are beautiful “on the inside” should not be used as some kind of replacement for “everyone is beautiful” either. It seems to me talking about beauty on the “inside” is a type of consolation, rather than a concept which captures and fully recognises the complexity and diversity of people’s inner qualities.

I think what we are really getting at when we try to reconcile the concept of beauty with universal possibility is something rather more serious. What these longings of beauty capture is, I think, some kind of inherent desire we have as human beings to value positively and be valued positively. It seems bad or cruel to not positively value someone for something, which is why we all seem to be in the habit of trying to find redeeming qualities in people that we can pick out as the thing which determines their positive value. And we could be valued positively for all kinds of things – the quality of our work, how kind we are to others, how well we play an instrument, and so on and so forth. For some reason, it seems being beautiful is one way of being valued that seems to matter quite a lot in our world (especially for women).

Now being valued positively may seem like a good thing in general, but there are negative aspects to it that are unavoidable. If I specially designate “productivity” as the ability I value positively in a person, then it already imposes on that person an expectation that they be productive in order to be valued positively by me. Doesn’t seem so bad if they are productive without exception, but if they are human like everybody else, chances are they will not always be productive. When they are not being productive, they obviously cannot be valued positively in terms of their productivity. If you know your boss values you positively for being productive, it’s probably hard to localise the feeling of failure you might get if you had an unproductive day. Suddenly you are in a bad mood and you feel like a failure, full stop. You think it’s a character flaw that you need to change about yourself to be worth something to the world again. To be able to “show your face” again. It becomes a big deal.

I think this is how adherence to beauty works too. There’s beauty, the thing that is valued positively, which seems fine to the extent that it’s just one of many ways to be valued at all. But, like the other things, it can suddenly become a big deal because we want to maintain that positive valuation, yet, like many other qualities we possess, it’s not the type of quality everybody can have all of the time without exception. And so beauty becomes this thing you want to fix in yourself all of the time because you want to keep the way you are valued positively stable, even though your embodied existence is by nature unstable.

And beauty is a loaded concept. Innocuous comments like “That person is in good shape” or “They look like they take care of themselves” are all compliments of someone’s beauty, but it has implications to do with not only how they look in terms of their physical fitness, but also their fitness in terms of their character and spirit. When we appraise someone’s beauty, we are often combining the image we appreciate visually about them with some assumption about an excellence of their character – that they work hard, they aren’t lazy, they groom themselves well, they have the ability to follow conventions of society, they care about making a good impression, etc. This is probably also part of why it can feel devastating to fall short – not only do I not look the part of society’s standards, the fact that I don’t is like a mistake I made – or so it seems.

Now being valued in any direction, positive or negative, is inevitable and unavoidable. And it’s clear that while being valued positively seems desirable, falling short means that we can fall into heavy doubt about our value. But if the claim that “everybody” is beautiful is false, how do we make it feel ok to not be perfect? How do we accept the human fact that we are all prone to fall short of some impossible ideal like Beauty?

There are a couple of things I can think of, and feel free to let me know if you have any other ideas.

The first thing is to remember is that there aren’t many things which we can or should actually aspire to attain all of the time without exception. You feel bad about having a “bad hair day” – but why? Maybe you had to attend to more important things. It’s not like everyone else is having a perfect hair day! You feel bad about not exercising for an entire week, but it really isn’t the end of the world, either. You feel bad for eating “junk food”; but again, eating itself is supposed to be good for you, it’s just that you feel guilty that you didn’t have the most nutritionally complete meal. The good news is that none of us are “special” in not being perfect. It is a perfectly common fact that human beings are fallible – none of us are alone in that.

To give you a more personal example: I have been having issues with dermatitis for a while, which has largely just been a cosmetic bother for me. When I’m around others, particularly those I perceive to have “better” skin than me, I notice that I’ll literally apologise to people for “having terrible skin”. How bad is that? We seem to each care about lots and lots of “flaws” like these. It’s understandable to an extent – as I’ve mentioned, we are after all striving for a ‘positive value’ (and often we enforce and police our own standards!). We want to try and improve and become better in whatever way.

Striving to improve is not necessarily problematic. It’s the attitude we take on when we fall short of improvement which is often the detrimental thing to us. The big deal about falling short of some ideal is not about falling short, but rather the accompanying perception that we are each irrevocably and uniquely flawed. It’s the getting down on ourselves in a way that is disproportionate to the “flaw” we’ve committed – me apologising to other people for an involuntary skin condition being a case in point.

We may not be in control of whatever we think our flaws to be, but we can certainly have better attitudes towards ourselves about those flaws.

The next thing to remember, I think, is to treat our value and worth as not being contingent on any one standard or quality – including things like beauty. Instead of claiming everyone is beautiful, which already perpetuates an overemphasis on the importance of beauty, we need to remember that the qualities the world appears to value us for, such as beauty, is simply not all that we are worth. So it’s not that we should pretend everyone is beautiful – it’s that we need to recognise that everyone has a value besides the value that is conferred on them based on their success in fulfilling some socially inherited ideal.

Our general value and worth is also independent of any one valuer. This means my worth is not fully determined by either you, nor me, nor anything or anyone else. We all have a worth and a value just by being the kinds of creatures that we are. Sure, there are differences between people – like how some people are bigots, and others are not. This is fine – all this means is that we have practical norms and conventions of value against which we may, for whatever purpose, subject people to different judgments and evaluations. So I’m not saying everyone should be judged in the same way, or that we don’t have legitimate reasons to differentially judge people sometimes. And we should certainly be permitted to hold one another accountable for a great many things. But this is a slightly different point. All I am trying to say is this: the fact that we just are the kinds of beings that have worth and value means that our worth on the whole cannot just get outright subtracted or erased in accordance with how much we screw up or fall short of some ideal.

So what exactly is that worth and value? Well, I don’t think it’s the kind of thing anyone can even begin to describe in simple terms.

But I suspect that worth and value is the thing that makes us talk about universal human rights (like access to clean water, shelter, and so on) like it should apply to everyone. It’s the thing that makes it difficult for people to defend the idea criminals deserve to be sentenced to imprisonment (or even death…) without a due process and fair trial. It’s the thing that makes our heart ache when we see other people – including strangers – suffering. It’s the thing that makes deaths a tragedy. It’s the thing that gives us an interest in the welfare of people with whom we have no contact or relation whatsoever. It’s the thing that makes our caring emotions and empathetic faculties make any sense.

This means we can have bad days or make mistakes and still be worth something; everything.

This means others can bully us or put us down and we’d still be worth something; everything.

This means others can treat us as invisible and we’d still be worth something; everything.

And this means, most of all, that no matter how much I decide to hate myself, I’d still be worth something; everything.

Our value and worth is not something anyone – not even yourself – can change. You can’t help but be the kind of being that has this value. So perhaps part of changing our attitude about our flaws is to positively acknowledge that we all have value in a way that isn’t up to us, and in a way that is independent of any one of our individual qualities or characteristics.

Being dissatisfied with how we fulfil particular domains of social expectation and abstract ideals is one way to respond to our personal anxieties about our value. But let the value you have, which persists regardless (though thick and thin, for better or worse), become a source of awe, strength, and humility.

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Bristol, Bristol, Culture, Home, Uncategorized

Bristol (Bedminster)

Bristol has this reputation of being the next best thing after London when it comes to desirable places to live in the UK. I’m pretty skeptical about that reputation. The supposedly “cool” features I read about Bristol are way overblown, like the fact that Banksy is from Bristol (most of his works in Bristol have been destroyed, by the way), that Massive Attack is from Bristol, that it’s “cheaper than London”, or that it’s a “diverse” and “multicultural” place (diverse or multicultural in terms of what?). Truth is it has its fair share of flaws like any other major city: it’s difficult to find housing, it has a homelessness problem, there are stark inequalities between neighbourhoods.

Having lived in the city for a number of years of course gives me a different perspective compared with that of a non-resident or tourist. But I’m also surprised at how unsentimental I feel about Bristol now, despite having left the city under such exceptional and bittersweet circumstances. I mean Bristol really is the place I’ve lived the longest since legally turning into an adult. I had many Big Life Moments in Bristol, like getting my PhD there. And so many people I care about and have extremely close and meaningful relationships with still live in Bristol. In the past year especially I was really “finding my way” and gaining important experiences in terms of my career and relationships – despite many mishaps.

In the end, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had to deport myself out of the UK with no chance for proper goodbyes thanks to the ongoing lockdown. You’d think it would feel like leaving part of my heart behind. You’d think I’d agonise about the “what ifs” I never got to live out on account of everything. But no. I only cried tears of joy because I felt like I finally arrived when I made it to Denmark, having spent the last couple of months in Bristol feeling like I had somewhere else to be, yet nowhere to go and no chance of going. When I finally got out, it was as if I was released from some kind of purgatory. I’d been futilely waiting for answers to questions people still stuck in the UK have to ask themselves constantly – “What is my immigration status? Will I or won’t I get in trouble with the Home Office?” Still, my ambivalence about Bristol is not merely down to this hassle. I think I had my moment of “I’m ready to leave Bristol” for a pretty long time now, like way before this new chapter in Denmark materialised. But how did that feeling come about? I’m not sure.

It makes me think a person’s relationship to – and experience of – a place has more to do with the meanings a person happens to attach to that place, rather than about any ‘objective’ feature about it. You won’t love a place just because it ticks a bunch of boxes. You won’t hate a place just because it doesn’t. And while it’s certainly true that we can measure the “good” of certain places with lots of factors, I think a person’s physical placement in the world really is like an intimate relationship. It’s a type of relationship that is not only characterised by lofty ideals (like when people buy a one-way-ticket out to big cities to make their dreams come true), but also by one’s being embedded somewhere physically, spiritually, and in Time (like if I were to say, “I am a true Bristolian now”). Of course, there’s lots of reasons and explanations for why a person may come to be in a particular place. Yet how a person makes do with that place, how a person fits in with that place, and the veering back and forth between love, hate, and everything in between for that place – that seems to me as inexplicable as the constancy between pairings of significant others through thick and thin. There’s always an X factor when it comes to how we end up seeing, being, and treating ourselves in different parts of the world. Any thoughts?

Well, maybe I’ll save that topic for another day. I can’t believe I’ve just become one of those people who feels compelled to share some banal life story just to share a couple of pictures, ha ha. But I do still want to mention some things about Bristol that really did grow on me. I can’t complain about the food scene (if you ever visit – do ask me for recommendations for places to eat), the lovely aerial views you get in different neighbourhoods thanks to all the hills (though I hated the actual hills), the Harbourside on a sunny day, the circus artists you see juggling or slacklining in basically every green space, the fact that people play psytrance of all things on the boombox in family-friendly parks, the general celebration of creativity and artists around the city, and the cool/weird/wild music scene and night life enjoyed by most age groups without shame (inexplicable 4am bonfire raves in the middle of the street and all – if you live in certain areas).

Now, one place I do think brings together some of the likeable elements of Bristol quite nicely is North Street in Bedminster. Bedminster is a neighbourhood fairly close to the Harbour. It houses plenty of pubs, restaurants, and cafes – on a “normal”, nice day, the place would be teeming with people (I guess in the UK a nice day is just one that doesn’t rain and isn’t impossibly chilly). I even used to work at the Tobacco Factory Market, which hosts some of the best food stands in Bristol and is one of the liveliest place you can be on a Sunday afternoon in the city.

Even during a lockdown, the length of North Street is a great place to explore because there’s so much street art to look at. Normally every year in summertime it plays host to Upfest, the largest street art festival in Europe, which explains the particular abundance of murals in the area. Last year a Greta Thunberg piece was commissioned by the Tobacco Factory which went on to get approval from Greta herself and garner worldwide attention. I’ll share below a couple more pieces that I spotted on North Street. I’ve identified all the artists responsible for these wonderful murals, so do check them out as well.

Beautiful work by Bristol-based artist Nick Harvey (Kin Dose).
Fantastic psychedelic piece by Bristol-based artist Andy Council
Another one by Andy Council.
Photo of me walking past a collaboration piece between L7 Matrix, a Brazilian artist, and Paul Monsters.
Zoë Power‘s mural above Zara’s chocolates. This has got to be one of my favourite pieces.
Recognise any robots? This piece is by Angus, another Bristol local who utilises ceramic and mosaic! Unfortunately my fixed-lens camera didn’t capture the entire piece, but above the mosaic it is written “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge!” 🙂

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Copenhagen, Denmark, Expat life, Personal, Travel, Uncategorized

My (very emotional) experience flying from the UK and into Denmark during Covid-19 restrictions

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been trying to fly to Copenhagen both because of my new job offer there and because my visa in the UK is about to expire. After several canceled flights with British Airways, I managed to book a route with Lufthansa which would take me from LHR (Heathrow) to FRA (Frankfurt) and finally to CPH (Copenhagen). I got up real early the morning of the 20th May – around 4.00 am – to catch my flight at London Heathrow.

As I was getting ready and gathering all my luggage I had a moment of dizziness – like of an existential kind. It suddenly hit me that I’m doing this all alone and that nobody was about to hold my hand and tell me everything will be ok. I’m about to self deport from a country I’ve lived in for almost 10 years and fly straight into a country I’ve never lived in before (and one with ongoing border closures no less). I’m leaving all my friends in the UK behind, and they wouldn’t even be able to visit me (for a good while anyway). My family are on the other side of the world and it will be a while until we reunite too. All this in the middle of a global pandemic. What if something goes wrong? What if I get stranded? It’s a lot of uncertainty. Obviously these were thoughts I had all along, but I guess in the lockdown state coronavirus has a way of making everything seem as if its on hold indefinitely, suspended in time, and really far away somehow. So I hadn’t quite grasped that what I was about to do, and had been meticulously planning for months to do (that is, to leave the UK and open a completely new chapter in life in Denmark), would actually happen. Like right now.

I’ve probably had two comparable moments of existential dizziness in my life – the first time was when I moved to Vienna as a child, with absolutely no knowledge of German or English. I was enrolled in an international school, and on the first day of school I begged my mom not to leave me in that strange environment – full of people speaking a strange language I didn’t understand (English, haha). I felt completely vulnerable, completely helpless, completely alone, and unable to communicate with either my peers or my teachers. Of course, after the terror of being dropped off on my first day of school in Vienna I never looked back. I made friends from every corner of the planet. I also didn’t just get good at English. I practically became a native English speaker within the same year. The person I became as a result of all those experiences led then to the second dizziness – the day I moved to the UK to study by myself at the age of 18 with nothing but a suitcase and a head full of dreams. I wasn’t sure what would actually come out of it in the end – only that I was going ahead with with the move regardless.

And here I am now, three degrees later and a lifetime’s worth of ups and downs to remember the years by. Needless to say, a lot really has happened in my life in the UK. Hell, I was set on getting permanent residency in the UK for the longest time, a ‘dream’ that I only recently gave up. The decision to go to Denmark only entered the picture, well, around the time I got the job in Copenhagen – right as coronavirus started rapidly spreading around Europe. It’s surreal to be uprooted and thrust back into the nebulosity of potentials.

Anyway – I sat quietly for a few minutes to compose my thoughts and emotions. Then I was off to the airport. A generous friend of mine drove me there, which was a lovely send off. I can’t imagine how people who need to do essential international travel actually get around these days without help – coach services to the airport are still not running and trains are a nightmare, not to mention expensive!

[The most beautiful sunrise ever keeps me awake for the journey.]

When I arrive at Heathrow airport, it’s very quiet. Everything seems a bit muffled. Facemasks are handed out at the entrance and there are signs everywhere reminding people to keep a minimum 2m distance from each other. Check-in was easy. I got asked if I live in Copenhagen. I said I “will” live there. I mean, my will to live there after all has been the one the thing that has dominated my life for the past couple of months.

[Quiet morning at Heathrow airport.]

I’m somehow surprised that my flight is still running and on time. Like, I’m so shocked about it that I feel like I’m in a dream or movie. Could it really all be going ahead this smoothly?

[Um…]

I can’t say I felt particularly comfortable on the flight leg from LHR to FRA. It was a fully booked flight and we were packed in like sardines. No social distancing measures whatsoever. I was surrounded by passengers on all sides. It felt more or less like a “normal” flight, except for the requirement that everybody wear a facemask for the duration of the journey.

We land in FRA even earlier than anticipated. I pass German border control (again dealing with the awkward “So do you or do you not live in Denmark?” questions) and even manage to do an hour or so of work.

[Waiting in Frankfurt – limited seating due to social distancing protocols.]

Then, finally, boarding for the FRA to CPH leg of the trip is announced. I still can’t quite believe it’s not cancelled or delayed.

[Pretty sure that’s the bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö.]

The pilot announces our imminent arrival in CPH. I look out the window. Sunny and blue. I think I start crying uncontrollably at this point – actual tears of joy. I didn’t dare to look at the passenger sat next to me and their reaction to my apparently random burst of tears.

I really bent over backwards to make this happen, after many sleepless nights wondering if my job offer was at risk due to Covid-19, what would happen to me if I overstayed my UK visa, ad infinitum. And in the end, I made it!

[It was a particularly sunny day :)]

The rest of my journey went really smoothly – no delays picking up my luggage. I had a folder full of official documents to show the immigration officers, but passing border control barely took a minute. They asked me why I’m entering Denmark. They then quickly checked over my work permit, work contract, and housing contract before waving me through. All in all, everything went as well as it possibly could!

[Copenhagen Central Station]

The train from the airport to the central station barely took 20 minutes and there was plenty of space in the carriages. When I arrived at the station I was greeted by fresh air, sunlight, and happy vibes all around – it was only a couple of days ago that Denmark opened up shops and started coming out of lockdown. Of course I had to try my best to avoid people and hurry straight to my new apartment, but even that short walk to my place was lovely!

And so begins my life in Copenhagen 🙂

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Denmark, Personal, Uncategorized

Hej.

Welcome to my blog. You can call me Jiji. I am a professional philosopher (which is to say…I have a PhD in Philosophy and am somehow forging a career out of it).

I’m Korean, but I’ve lived in Europe for close to 20 years cumulatively.

For the past 9.5 years, I’ve been in the UK. I am imminently due to move to Copenhagen, Denmark, for work, which will be a huge life change for me.

I’ve always wanted a blog, and I figure now is as good a time as any to start one. It will probably be a space taken up by posts on my personal experiences regarding the whole process of moving and adjusting to my new life in Copenhagen. I’m also keen to share some travel-related posts and maybe even PhD or career-related stuff (if anyone is interested in that kind of thing), though probably nothing too formal! Do get in touch if you have any ideas for things I could share with you.

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