#2017| The Anyhow guide to JB

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Johor Bahru, Malaysia

In the spirit of spontaneity and youth, a group of us made a trip down to Johor Bahru earlier in the week. Somehow or other, I have survived twenty three years a Singaporean without ever having made it to JB, because I have no idea why. Anyway. As a first timer in JB, all I did, really, was follow my more experienced friends around. But so many of you have requested details on the trip that I decided that in the spirit of Christmas, which is of course nowhere near, I’d cobble together a post on JB. If none of that made sense to you, good! Know that it is the same for me.

Getting to JB

You can now take a bus to JB, which is what I did, from Yishun MRT. It’s a bus service called AC7, all the way at the end of the bus interchange. It costs $2.50 per ride, and you can use your ez-link card but not a paywave ezlink. The reader doesn’t register it. So if youre using a bank card as your ezlink, just pay cash for this trip.

The bus takes about twenty minutes to cross the causeway, and you pass customs, and tada! You’re in JB. The minute you get off the bus, you’re at Citysquare Mall, which is where you can do some shopping, or a massage, or whatever, if youre on a daytrip.

You can find other ways to get to JB here.

Staying in JB

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There are a bunch of hotels near the customs, but the one we stayed at is called Holiday Villa. It pretty much feels like a four or five star hotel. Ok, maybe a four star hotel, because they dont have bathrobes and the wifi is awful from the hotel bed – the nearer you are to the hotel corridor the better your signal is. But it’s only SGD50/night per person for a 2 people room, so honestly, no complaints.

Plus it comes with breakfast and a sick infinity pool!!

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If youre going with friends and getting more than one room, which is what we did, request side by side rooms and you can get the hotel to open up a connecting door between them so you basically have one big room where you all can yell at each other to get ready, quick, all day!

You can get to the hotel via cab, its about ten minutes from City Square mall. A cab should cost you about 12-14ringgit. But if you take an uber, it works out cheaper. I cant remember by how much exactly, but it’s rather significant.

Holiday Villa Johor Bahru City Centre
Taman Century, Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
http://www.holidayvillajb.com.my

Things to do in JB in the day

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Probably go cafe hopping.

JB has a growing cafe scene, spawning a whole generation of youths who cross the border just to cafe hop. Crazy obsession or not, the fact remains that JB does have a ton of cafes, most of which seem to pander more to the instagrammable side of things than to your taste buds. Don’t get me wrong – they dont serve bad food. But the things I’ve eaten in JB cafes are undeniably average.

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Salted egg yolk churros

This is from a cafe called The Replacement. What are they replacing? Don’t ask me. But with the artistically strewn kinfolk back issues around the cafe, little cacti growing out of teacups, and the copious amount of natural light, it’s obvious what kind of vibe they’re going for. This is the kind of place you would come if you were the type of person to say: these salted egg yolk charcoal churros are lit af.

A little way down from this cafe sits a stall that proclaims BEST CHICKEN CHOP IN JB. I dont know if it’s the best, per se, but it definitely beat cafe food. All of us ordered the grilled chicken chop with mushroom sauce because we are boring. But boring or not, it was pretty damned good.

Get a massage

We went to this place called Thai Odyssey in City Square mall, which is apparently one of the best massage parlours in JB. It’s even got certifications turned into wallpaper and plastered everywhere so youre sure to know it’s the best. It certainly has a very nice, classy vibe. Full body massages start at 100ringgit per hour, which given our current exchange rate, is about thirty plus SGD. Would recommend.

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Thai Odyssey
MF-20, Innercity, JB City Square Shopping Centre,
Jalan Wong Ah Fook, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia

Things to do in JB in the night

Walk the street markets and randomly eat things.

There are pasar malam style markets that start about midday to late at night. They sell all sorts of things, like trinkets and basically food. You should reconcile yourself to the fact that most of what you will be doing in JB consists of you putting food into your mouth. Don’t fight it. Just let it happen.

The markets sell all sorts of food, like fried food, bread, fruit, and basically any other local eats that Malaysia is known for. A thing to look out for is the laksa van. Malaysia’s laksa is of the sour, sardine-y variety, which is very different from the coconut milk one we have in Singapore. It’s different, but I like it. Definitely worth a try.

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If you like it, there’s a famous asam laksa place in the basement of the mall opposite the Holiday Villa hotel as well. It’s known to be a laksa factory, or something like that.

Go to hipster town to basically eat some more

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Remember what I said about making peace with eating in JB? This place called Kilang Bateri is basically a converted old container warehouse full of shops, restaurants, and bars. I didn’t shop much, but I did get my phone screen protected with a tempered glass screen protector for 10ringgit. I believe it’s 10SGD in Singapore. Steal!

The bars there are all quite cool, in the old fairy light, live music style. Very grungy, and it’s the kind of place you say has ‘character’, I suppose. The best thing I would recommend trying when there is this restaurant called i-Shell Out, which is basically a seafood restaurant that is ridiculously affordable for what it is.

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They basically cook and pour out everything on the table in front of you, and you eat off it. Don’t worry, it’s clean – they put a plastic sheet on top of the table before starting. Above, you see bamboo clams, lobsters, veggies, clams, prawns, and some kind of otah. It came up to approximately 6SGD per person, and we even had a jug of lime juice to go around. In Singapore this would easily cost five times the price. So yes, this is also very, very recommended.

Kilang Bateri

Jalan Tampoi · +60 7-232 5121
Opens 12:00 noon to 12 midnight.

Getting around in JB

I briefly mentioned this earlier, but you will find it a lot cheaper to take an Uber around over cabbing, which is already very affordable. If you have a big group like us, get an Uber XL, which can hold six people, as opposed to splitting into two cabs. This means that you might want to get a SIM card – the data cards are about 30Ringgit for 1GB, from what I saw, and only one person in the group needs to get it. That person can be in charge of calling all the ubers, etcetera.

Other Misc Things

There is a Left Luggage right when you exit the checkpoints at the border, before you enter CitySquare mall. It’s 20Ringgit for a huge locker, which all six of us shared. This is useful to know if you want somewhere to store your bags after checkout while going shopping.

Right opposite the Left Luggage there’s a great Rotiboy outlet. You’ll smell it a mile away. Rotiboy is a love it or hate it thing, and I’m on the LOVE IT side. It’s basically this bun that is crispy, warm, salty, and which smells and tastes amazing.

Shopping in JB is very popular, mainly because of the exchange rate. Because I didn’t really do much shopping (lazy, etcetera), I cant vouch for this personally. But from what I hear, uniqlo and nike/adidas shoes are cheaper there.

Costings

Lastly! The total amount of money I spent on this trip was 150SGD, inclusive of the hotel stay, which we paid in cash upon arrival. We changed money at the Yishun money changer before crossing the border, and the rate we got was about 2.88. If you change it in JB it’s 2.8. So not much difference there. For a two day trip inclusive of a great hotel, nonstop snacking and eating, and a massage, I’d say this is a pretty good price.

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But with all trips, it’s the company that truly makes it great. So go with your friends, have a ton of fun, and come back with stories to tell. And there you have it: my anyhow guide to JB.

x
Jem

#2016 | distractions

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Dress: Klarra

What am I doing here again? If you’ve followed me through the years then you will know, of course, that I have an impending deadline, the kind that makes me turn my head this way and that in an effort to avoid looking at precisely the one thing that I should be looking at. We’d like to think that we grow as people, but maybe we dont change that much after all, or at all.

This time round it is a five thousand word paper on contemporary writing, liminal spaces, and again, what is realism? What? Why are we so preoccupied with what the real is? Does it matter? Of course it doesn’t – but that does nothing to change the fact that I have to write this paper, like it or not.

Another thing that irks me as I am talking about this is how incredibly trivial it seems, to be annoyed by something like this, in a time where life is more or less good. I spent all of yesterday on set for Laneige, my favourite korean beauty brand, and the day before filming for a new episode of Hype Hunt. The work is hard and the hours are long but I enjoy it. I write this down in my planner at the end of every day: what I’ve done that day that I’m happy with, or proud of, and things that are pending and need to be done, and I’m generally satisfied or happy with the way things are shaping up. So why the everlasting need to poke holes in it? Happiness is not a paper balloon. Maybe it’s human nature. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe we all need a bit of dissatisfaction, or frustration, to propel us forward. This is an opinion that I have tried very hard to unsubscribe from over the years, and I am generally successful, but sometimes – a day, an hour, a minute in a year – I find myself looking at it in the face and thinking: maybe, just maybe.

x
Jem

#2015 | The Hive: Co-working in Singapore

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The Hive, Singapore

It’s so funny how things happen. Sometime last week, I was filming a new campaign for PayPal along Clarke Quay when I ran into an old friend from school. She invited me to come up and have a look at her office – and the next thing I knew, I fell in love and was moving in.

It was all so random and spontaneous that a part of me still cant believe that it’s happened. But it has, and it’s been one of the best things to happen to me this year! To be fair, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time – but it’s always fallen more under the realm of ~ daydreams ~ rather than being an actual concrete plan.

So – what’s actually happening is that I’m renting a coworking space in The Hive. I had my first brush with coworking spaces when I hit New York last year end, mainly because most of my NYC based friends are all entrepreneur-types, working at or founding startups like bunnies. Office spaces are expensive, and so coworking spaces thrive in places like New York City. I remember visiting one in NYC and thinking that I’d jump on it if it ever came to Singapore. And now look where we are.


What’s a Co-Working space?

It’s like Uber for working spaces. You basically rent a hotdesk, a fixed desk, or a private office within a coworking building by the month. A hotdesk is when you come in and sit wherever you want and get work done, a fixed desk (which is what I have) is when you rent a designated space, and a private office is exactly what it sounds like – an private office room within the building!


What does it include?

Depending on your plan, you get a fixed or movable workspace, and all the office benefits. So for The Hive (which is the place I’m renting from), we have unlimited tea and coffee (from Sarnies hurray!!), a rooftop garden where you can do work outdoors if you want and where they sometimes hold yoga classes and TED talks, and a reception desk. Some plans give you meeting room access for if you need to schedule meetings, and some give you printer access as well.

The Hive is basically a 24 hour workspace, so if need be I can work through the night. Though I hope I never have to! They’re also installing lockers at the end of the month, so people who are on the hotdesking scheme can store their stuff there overnight.

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Rooftop & Coffee Corner


Why Rent?

I’ve been thinking about renting for a long time for several reasons.

1. As most of you know, a lot of my work is writing based. Besides what I do online, I’m also working on my Masters thesis, and doing a lot of writing. Basically if I’m not on shoot, I’m somewhere on my computer working, so needed a place to sit and work is a huge part of my life.

2. At home, besides being consistently distracted by my cat and bed, I actually share a room with my two sisters and a study with my two sisters and occasionally my dad. Which means that if I want to get work done at home, I either have to wait till the study is free, or work on the dining table and clear it away everytime someone wants to have a meal. It means I have zero workspace set up, and I’m always having to shuffle my stuff around or come home to find that my documents have been moved away and sometimes lost by someone else.

3. I think for freelancers like myself, structure is very helpful. I’ve always found myself to be more productive when I schedule my work day around fixed structures: when I was in school, I would make sure I get at least two hours of writing or work done after the day’s classes end before getting dinner. When I was working in advertising, I had to start the day by going for a run before heading to the office. And when I was working from home, I scheduled either driving or boxing lessons in the early morning so that it signalled to my brain that it was the start of the work day. Now that I’m renting a space, I wake up at 630am, take a bus to work, and then stay there till the end of the work day unless I have meetings or shoots. Just the act of getting up in the morning, getting dressed, and going to work is incredibly helpful when it comes to giving your life some discipline, especially if you dont normally have a fixed timetable to work around!

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Congratulatory flower delivery from Abetterflorist on my first day in the office!


Aaaand… do I love it?

The answer is yes. Yes I do.

There are so many great things about having your own space. Firstly – actually paying an amount to rent a place gives you a sense of ownership and makes you want to get up and go to work in the morning. Well, at least thats what its like for me.

Secondly – this is the perfect millennial working environment. Everyone here is buzzing with drive. Everyone who’s rented a space in The Hive is working on some start up, or some creative field, or are freelancers. Lara – the friend I mentioned at the start of the post – is a graphic designer herself. They’re all hungry to succeed, and the overall effect is that the working space becomes very conducive and intense.

Thirdly – you get to meet the most interesting people! And by virtue of that, you get new work opportunities. We have a rooftop garden here where they hold events, and every Thursday you get free beer. Haha. And basically youre encouraged to hang out and chat with other people within the Hive community, which is an interesting way to meet new friends, and potential working partners.

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Thursday Social at the Hive

Fourthly – the location is great. I work opposite Clarke Quay Central, which means that I’m opposite my darling Starbucks and can pop over for quick meetings, coffee runs, or even just to grab my breakfast on the way to work. The space is in the centre of nearly everything – it’s got a yoga studio down the street, so you can go before/after/during work, you can eat either in Central or at one of the many coffeeshops along the road, and you can go get drinks by Riverside after work. I mean…

Fifth – it’s flexible and relatively affordable. Given my schedule, if I travel abroad for over a week, I can freeze my membership so I dont keep paying, and for people who run on even more fluid schedules than I do, you can even rent a hotdesk by the day. The cheapest regular schemes start from $120 a month, which is honestly great for freelancers who are always on the move. And it’s way cheaper than if you rent a whole office space to yourself, which you may not need. It even works out cheaper per month than if you keep going to different cafes around Singapore to try and get work done, because of how expensive cafe food can get, and also how some cafes start to get pissy if you stay there with your laptop and one drink all day. I also did my research and it’s currently one of, if not the cheapest, coworking spaces in Singapore.

Lastly.. and it sounds like quite a silly reason, but it’s a big deal to me – ever since I’ve had my own desk, I’ve been so hydrated. I often find that I forget to drink water when I’m on the move for work, or that I’m embarrassed to keep asking a cafe for water, but now that I have a permanent desk I bought a 1.5l water jug from IKEA ($12.90!) and I make sure I finish at least two jugs a day. Thats 3,000ml of water a day, you guys. It’s right next to me as I work, so I always just reach for it and have a drink of water without even thinking about it. And now I am VERY HYDRATED. It’s great.

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My desk space with my IKEA water jug haha

I’ve only been in the new space for a week or so, and already I’m in love. Productivity is up, my life is once again structured, and I find myself actually saving money when renting an office space. It’s fantastic. I would definitely recommend it for any freelancer, or really, any working millennial who’s looking for an inspired space to call her/his own. In any case, The Hive does Try out Tuesdays, where people can come in and try their hand at hotdesking all day for free, so you can see if it’s for you before committing.

Meanwhile, I’ll just be here – settling into my new workspace..

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The Hive
59 New Bridge Road
http://thehive.sg

x
♥jem

#2014 | Pre-trip Planning: A guide to Skyscanner Travel Hacks

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Skyscanner and I, we have a history. I first flirted with it two years back, when I got bitten by the travel bug. My relationship with it got intense when I was on exchange – seven months in Europe, compulsively stalking the site and exploring its every nook and cranny to really make the most of it (Is a weekend in Zurich feasible? Is it?). And now we’ve settled into a comfortable relationship, with me checking in on it every couple of weeks or so, relying heavily on the site for much of what makes up my Broke Student’s Guide series. The e-equivalent of a long term relationship, I suppose. And there you have it – the map of my affair with a website, summed up in a paragraph.

Over dinner the other day, a friend was complaining about how much she paid for a flight to Hongkong.

How do you do it? She asked. I couldnt find anything cheaper than 600 return.

That doesn’t sound right, I said. I just went, and it was only 350 per person. Is that the cheapest you got on Skyscanner?

She stared at me. What’s Skyscanner?

I’ve been using Skyscanner so fluidly for so long that it’s always a shock to me when I hear of people who don’t know about the site. I stared back.

How can you not know what Skyscanner is? It’s a price search engine for flights!

You mean like a travel agency?

No, a literal search engine. For flights. How have you never heard of it?!

And suddenly things clicked into place. The number of emails I get each month loaded with questions asking me for advice on flight fares, trip planning, and how to budget for travel all seemed insanely obvious to me previously, but now it made sense. If no one knew what trip-planning tools were available on the web, then how were they planning for travel? Tour agencies? Travel fairs? We live in a DIY age, where a new emphasis on independence is growing. People want to have a hand in the interior decor of their homes. They want to customize every coffee order they make at Starbucks. They want to design the itinerary of each trip themselves. And thats why a whole host of new services are being made increasingly available to enable us to do what we want to do.

Not that Skyscanner is particularly new. It’s been around since 2003, and is currently the number one flight search engine in Europe, operating out of offices worldwide. I’ve been to the Singapore one, and it is divine.

I use the website all the time, both as a travel planning tool and as a catalogue of dreams, going on the site to browse possible travel options whenever I have time to spare. And it’s about time I penned a post explaining how.

So, what exactly is Skyscanner?

This is one of those times when you just have to take something at face value. Skyscanner is a website that literally scans the skies. It’s a search engine that lists all available flights to a destination for a certain time period, the flight timings, and their prices from low to high. Since you dont make any transactions on the site itself (clicking on a fare redirects you to the airline’s page for free), the fares aren’t prioritised according to any preferred airline or partner – it’s just a list of prices for your perusal.


My top five tips for travel planning/ Skyscanner Hacks

1. Use Skyscanner to run searches for your flights.

I’m not just saying this because I’ve worked with the brand previously. I’ve used the site way before becoming acquainted with the local Skyscanner team, and it’s one of my key tools in my travel planning arsenal.

I use the site because it’s clean, user friendly, and efficient. The price you see is pretty much the final price upfront, so you save yourself the trouble of opening multiple tabs to compare prices. Before discovering Skyscanner, I tried a series of other fare comparison sites, but a lot of them still open up separate windows for each airline (which lags up my computer) or adds weird hidden charges to the final price. Worse – some sites have disturbingly cheap prices, but require onsite purchases – and when I google the site, people report money deducted from their cards without tickets being booked, missing customer service officers, etc etc.. Some risks aren’t worth taking. Skyscanner redirects you to the airline/partner’s site, so after determining what the cheapest flight for your needs are, whatever purchases you make, you make on that site directly.

2. Got flexible dates? Use the secret Whole Month feature.

I dont know why more people dont know about this secret feature! Right, okay, because it’s secret. Anyway. If you already know where you want to go and dont mind going anytime within, say, a month, there’s a way to search for all fares to that destination within that month.

wholemonth-travelhacks

Just input your selected destination, and then click “Whole Month” under the travel calendar. The lowest available fare for each day will pop up and then you can just select accordingly. This is the best feature in the world and I use it all the time. It’s incredibly easy to just toggle the dates around to get the combination of dates for the cheapest flight. This is why I always spend so little on my airfare, as detailed in most of my Broke Student Guides.

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Here you see me searching for the cheapest dates in March 2016 to visit Tokyo – and March, as you’d know if you’ve been following me for awhile, is when all the legendary cherry blossom trees come out in full bloom.

3. Got fixed dates? Use the Search Everywhere feature.

This is useful for people who are on a fixed timetable, like school kids or office workers. If you know you’ve got a long weekend coming up and you just want to go somewhere, anywhere that’s cheap, just input your dates and click “Search Everywhere”.

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Skyscanner will list the different countries and their return fares in order of lowest to highest price for the dates you’re looking at. I used this a lot when I was searching for weekend trips out of Germany during my exchange semester.

4. Got a destination in mind, but dont care when you fly? Use the cheapest date feature.

The cheapest month feature just pulls up the month in which it’s the cheapest to fly in and out of your destination. Here you see me searching for the cheapest time to fly to Hong Kong:

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This is really useful for if you’ve already got a fixed destination in mind, and a certain number of days of leave per year, for example. With this feature, you can decide where you want to go, figure out the best time to go, and then plan towards your trip.

5. A visual person? Need ideas? Use the price map.

This is a literal price map. If all of the above, simple as they are to use, still aren’t easy enough for you to use, if you’re the kind that gets tired looking at a map, or if you just need ideas on where to go, use the price map.

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All you do is input your starting point, select “map”, and then click on where you want to go on the map. The starting price for the destination appears as a pop up bubble, and you can also get a visual gauge on how far the destination is from you. And of course, you literally lay out the world map in front of you, so you can zoom in and out and discover new destinations you may not have thought of previously!

A final word..

I hope your wanderlusting mind is blown. For those of you who didn’t know about the wonder that is Skyscanner before this, now you know: travel planning doesn’t have to be complicated or tedious! And for those of you who’ve just been using Skyscanner to search for upfront, specific flights.. I hope these ‘secret’ features within the site have collectively shown you that Skyscanner is so much more than just a search engine – it’s a search engine to suit every need. I personally love using Skyscanner even on a normal basis, to randomly browse the map feature and toy with the idea of flying to somewhere near but off the beaten track. Plus of course, I use it faithfully in the planning process for all my personal trips. And now, in the style of the Weasley twins bestowing the secret Marauders Map on young Harry, if you solemnly swear that you are up to no good… then here is the greatest travel secret ever told. Go forth and travel. X

X
Jem

This post originally appeared on Skyscanner.com

#2013 | Mocha Mondays: Starbucks Fullerton Waterboat House (noch ein mal)

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Mocha Mondays is a new and semi-regular feature on cafes and how workable they are, for freelancers or students looking for a place to park themselves at while getting work done. It may or may not actually feature mocha.

The fun fact of the day is that noch in mal means one more time in German, drips and drops of the residual German I’ve retained from seven months living there a couple of years ago. And there you have the enrichment portion of today’s post – checked.

I’ve actually featured the Starbucks Fullerton Waterboat House in my Mocha Monday series before, so for those of you who havent seen that, here’s the TL;DR:


TL;DR
Starbucks on Fullerton Waterboat House
Famous for: BEING STARBUCKS
Seats: Plenty
Wifi: YES
Power points: YES!!

I went back recently to try out the new Starbucks lunch menu, which is basically a $9.90 set comprising one of their gourmet sandwiches with a tall-sized iced freshly brewed coffee or tea, running from 11am-3pm. The rest of the new items are available through the day, and what I’m really excited about is the additional food options for those of us who work through the night at one of the many 24hr Starbucks outlets – finally, something else substantial to munch on at 3am!

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My favourites from the set include the tuna sandwich, the country chicken pie, and the triple turkey pie, all of which are unreasonably good for a place that is mainly known for coffee and convenience. No complaints, though. Since trying the set I’ve been back several times to get the tuna sandwich, although opinions differ: most people prefer the meatball sandwich which I’m honestly quite half-half on. Team Tuna, you guys!

I also wanted to take the chance to sneakily introduce a new book recommendation: an extraordinary short story collection. Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon. The man makes the short story form look like an art. The ten stories are loosely connected, self aware, and sharp in their humour. For those of you who’d like a preview, here’s one of his short stories from the collection – the titular Love and Obstacles: read here.
(Also, if being featured on the New Yorker isnt a stamp of approval, what is?)

Till next time.

x
♥jem