Bangs in Berlin

What it takes for me to do a minor change in my hairstyle? Getting yelled at by a German hairstylist. Apparently.

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 Passport photo 2011. I mean, the cut was good. Just not on my face.

Passport photo 2011. I mean, the cut was good. Just not on my face.

Once upon a time, I would tell my hairdresser to do whatever she wanted. It usually worked fine, although I sometimes ended up looking like the picture to the right. 2011 was not a good look for me, let’s all agree on that.

When I started traveling, I decided to just let it grow, stop coloring it, and mostly stick with bangs. This has been my signature style for years now. Nothing spectacular, but it works, and besides cutting my bangs once a month, it’s low maintenance.

Last week I went my to my usual studio here in Berlin for trimming my bangs. So far I’ve been with different stylists every time, all of them great, but this time was the first with a man named Tomas. Tomas starts by asking when my last cut was, which I cannot remember. I mention, in a semi-joking way that it has been a while, and I considered growing them out, but as always, I started to miss them.

“You shouldn’t have told me that”, he said, dead serious. “What you just told me is that you’re lazy and I can’t work with that. That’s not what I do.”

Interesting turn of events. I came in expecting the usual routine of me telling them how short I wanted it, they don’t cut it enough, I ask them to cut it a little more, but still covering my eyebrows, done and pay, out in five minutes.

Instead, I was now being lectured by someone I didn’t know who was calling me lazy and refused to cut my hair. “What? I’m not lazy. Just miss my bangs”, I said, slightly offended, and oh so aware of how childish I sound. But honestly, how do you defend your choice of hairstyle without sounding like you just celebrated your seventh birthday?

He goes on a long monologue on how he can’t work with someone who changes her mind as soon as it gets uncomfortable, he works long-term, I’m too pretty to hide my face, I’m too young to know what hairstyle I want for the rest of my life, it was looking way too cutesy now, which was clearly not my personality, and on it went for quite a while.

I think there might have been a compliment in there somewhere. And possibly another insult. When I finally got a word in, I asked him, “alright, what would you do?”.

“A-line cut, like Brigitte Bardot”, he said and showed me a picture of her classic side swept bangs. “It will frame your face, without being too cute, and it will work if you want to grow it out.”

“Sure, let’s go with that.”

It took him two minutes to cut it (obviously not counting our ten minutes of arguing), and he refused to accept the five euros it cost, because “now he actually wants me to come back”.

Still not clear on where he stands on the genius/crazy scale, but if there’s one thing I appreciate, it is when people have integrity and speak their mind. We should all question each other more. That’s how we grow. Including hair.

And, I will definitely be back.

A story about pancakes

My great-grandmother made the best pancakes. She would explain to me and everyone else why they were the best; they were super thin but never fell apart, and the taste was of course perfect.

Few people master this art. They are either too thick or so thin they make a mess when you flip them. So there was really no doubt of the fact that hers were the best. If anyone would dare criticize said pancakes, she would hit them with the spatula and possible stomp on their foot.

Us kids would never complain. I mean, pancakes. I could eat them with just sugar. A layer of sugar, roll it, cut it into small slices. Swallow with a cup of coffee. Yes, I started drinking coffee when I was five years old*.

Another thing she repeated was that you always had to throw away the first pancake. The idea was that when you make pancakes, the first one is going to suck. Something about butter and frying pans and whatnot, I don’t know, cooking is boring to me, so I don’t pay much attention to the details.

For me, this was perfect. In the eyes of a seven-year-old, an ugly pancake is still a pancake, and thus must be consumed. Preferably by me. Sugar not needed. So when she made the first ugly pancake, I stood there, ready to sacrifice myself for the unwanted piece of heaven. 

I could try to make this into a clever metaphor about how you need to eat some crappy pancakes before you get it right and that's part of life. Or, I could settle for it's late, I'm hungry, and I just really wanted to talk about pancakes.


*It was two parts cream, two parts sugar and one part actual coffee. But still. Oh god, I just realized what an insane amount of sugar I consumed as a kid. 

This one time, at Vipassana camp

“Focus your entire attention on the area below your nostrils. Calm and peaceful mind.”

I try. I really do. All my attention on the area below my nostrils. I’m the definition of zen. Calm and observing. And by calm I mean trying not to hyperventilate, and by observing I mean trying not to think about that time I missed a deadline three years ago, what the fuck I’m doing with my life, where that adorable sailor dress I wore on my 25th birthday went, and OH MY GOD MIND PLEASE SHUT UP HOW WILL I SURVIVE NINE MORE DAYS OF THIS?

This is the story about the time I checked myself into a ten-day meditation retreat and asked myself if I had finally lost my mind.

It’s a valid question.

First: A bit of context

As a traveling freelancer, I don't have much to complain about. I'm ridiculously privileged. But as with everything else, no matter how privileged you are, it does not come with an "always happy" guarantee. Life is life, after all, and it is going to wholeheartedly suck at times. You might not even understand why.

We have so much fucking stuff and so many opportunities that we don’t even know what to give a fuck about anymore.
— Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Traveling throws you out of your regular routine, giving you new perspectives without being asked. When you travel, you grow. But the emotional baggage you carried back home will still be firmly attached to your back, oblivious to whatever exotic destination you happen to flip-flop your way into.

Not in the picture: Me, hyperventilating over deadlines, Excel files and stressful relationships.

For me, that bag was chock-full of anxiety. Knowing that I should by all standards be enjoying life, and feeling guilty when I wasn't, added to it. 

And even though I could sense part of the issue, I could never grasp the full picture. The lines were too blurry. I craved clarity and it was time to try something more radical.

Vipassa-what?

A friend of mine did a Vipassana retreat two years ago. And as it is when you get introduced to something intriguing, it suddenly pops up everywhere. Jodi at LegalNomads wrote an interesting piece about it, and if you ever spend time in Bali, you will meet more people who have done it than not. 

If the term Vipassana is new to you, it is a meditation technique said to be originated from Buddha. Dhamma.org holds retreats all over the world, all of which follow the same schedule and rules for ten days. You meditate ten hours per day, you don't talk or have eye contact with fellow meditators, and before the course start you check in all your devices, books and writing material. 

When people asked why I was doing this, I told them I was curious. What happens with my way of thinking if I remove all my usual distractions? No mindless scrolling on Instagram. No reading on my Kindle. No chatting with friends. For ten days I was about to get very intimate with my own mind. 

Turns out, I'm a complete basket case. (Who knew, right?)

Introducing: My own personal hell

“Go in with an open mind and prepare to be uncomfortable,” my friends told me. 

I did. Thinking I was prepared, I walked into the meditation hall with determined steps. And the moment I sat down on my pillows, I was overwhelmed with such intense anxiety, I almost threw up. That feeling, the physical manifestation of angst, would stay with me longer than I thought possible. Similar to being stuck in a spinning wheel for days. "What the fuck have I gotten myself into", I asked myself, over and over. 

What made the situation even more absurd was my surroundings. I was sitting in the most peaceful place you can imagine, in the middle of gorgeous Tuscany, to the soundtrack of a thousand birds and their daily orchestra. It could have been the setting of a Disney movie. 

And yet, my world consisted only of the raging madness of my own thoughts, spiraling down paths I could barely keep up with, much less control. One moment it was vivid scenes of painful situations I would rather forget, the next what could best be described as hallucinations with my eyes closed. Sometimes it was straight up terrifying, making It look like a cute children story. But the memories and attached thoughts were always the worst. The what if's, the what could have been's, the why the fuck not's. Stories on a constant loop. 

In the words of S. N. Goenka, the teacher of Vipassana, I created a whole lot of misery for myself. And at the same time, I became increasingly aware that the clarity I was craving would not be handed to me in a neat package. If I wanted to get anything out of these ten days, I would simply have do the work. 

There are no shortcuts in Vipassana. The only escape, if you can call it that, is to meditate. One minute of focus meant one less minute down the mental rabbit hole. 

All about impermanence (and equanimity)

On the third day, I started to notice the world around me. It got easier to breathe. My thoughts were slowing down. I began to see my mental patterns, and with that, it got easier to detach myself from them. A thought is only a thought, a feeling is only a feeling, and they will come and go without me having to react to them. Which is one of the fundamental principals of Vipassana, Anicca - the law of impermanence

If it sounds easy, trust me, it wasn't. It took all my mental strength to stay, to focus, to do the work. Regardless of my wandering mind and the pain in my back from sitting. I sat there, trying to observe. Hour after hour. Working on not getting caught up in stories and reacting to them. 

Slowly, it started to pay off.

A story that would stir up panic for hours the first day, would on day five only create slight quiver on the surface. I could still feel it, but not as close. By day eight, my relationship to the same story had changed so much, I would just shake my head at my previous reactions.

 This view, seriously.

This view, seriously.

Around day six I found myself smiling a lot, both in and out of meditation. My favorite moment of the day was after lunch when you could spend time in the walking area. With my eyes on the gravel, careful to not meet the eyes of the others, I would first march around for an hour. Then sit down on my usual stub with a full view of the meadow. Sometimes with coffee in my hand. Watching bees and butterflies going about their business, finding it endlessly fascinating. Something I would rarely, if ever, take the time to notice in daily life. 

"You don't know what you have until it's gone." Usually used for describing the loss of something good that you never fully appreciated. But it works for negative experiences too. I had no idea how much my constant anxiety affected me until it was not hovering over me anymore.

Vipassana was one of the toughest things I've ever done, but also the most rewarding. After all, if you can sit completely still with your own thoughts for an hour, it feels like you can pretty much do anything. 


Curious about Vipassana? 

If you are interested in doing a Vipassana course, I would say the same thing my friends told me: Go in with an open mind and be prepared to be uncomfortable. Everyone's Vipassana experience is unique. I would add, though, that if you are not used to meditating sitting, practice that and figure out a good posture for you. It will help. 

Bali: The island of smiles, cafes & yoga

Every time I meet someone going to Bali, I go into tour guide mode and share every single recommendation I can come up with. I've been in Bali for almost three months, and have a few places I really like, so I might as well collect them in a post. I've divided it into the three areas where I spent most of my time (Canggu, Ubud, Seminyak/Kuta) first, then sections (stay, eat, do).

General tips

Accommodation

Since I'm a fan of hostels, Hostelworld is my go to-place. But once in a while, I like to enjoy some privacy as well, for hotels I recommend Agoda. Or Airbnb!

Local SIM card

I know, you might have vacation and be like "hey, I want to disconnect completely". I get that. But for me, the convenience of being connected outweighs the need to disconnect (which you can still do, just don't bring your phone with you when going out). This guide has some good information about how it works.

Uber

Maybe the strongest reason for getting a local SIM card. Especially if you're in the Kuta/Seminyak area, where Ubers are everywhere. A lot cheaper than the local taxis, and I love not having to spend time arguing about the price.

Scooter

You probably want to rent a scooter, especially if you are in Canggu or Uluwatu. A few tips: ask your hotel/hostel where to rent one (they probably have their own as well), take pictures or a video of the scooter when you rent it (to avoid discussions about damages) and always, always wear a helmet.


My Ubud

Stay

In Da Lodge (hostel)
In Da Lodge has two great qualities: atmosphere and a pool. I met some really fun people here, but this is also the only hostel where I've ever lost things. Keep all your belongings in your bag, and everything valuable in a locker.

Candra Asri (private rooms)
This location was, for me, unbeatable. Right across the road I had Kafe, it took five minutes to walk to Yoga barn and another five to get to Hubud. Not great for meeting new people, but for privacy and comfort for a good price it was perfect.

Eat

Kafe
Everyone knows Kafe. Healthy, yummy food and nice atmosphere, where you will find a lot of yoga people and expats hanging out. I spent so much time here that the staff were saying "see you tomorrow" when I left.

Soma Cafe
Soma Cafe

Soma
This is my personal favorite, especially for breakfast. They have a live porridge that I still dream of. Not as hyped as Kafe, so usually more quiet, and has good quality internet and nice staff.

Cafe Havana
I haven't been to Cuba, so I can't say how authentic the food is. But I can say it's really good. They also have live music and salsa dance nights.

Kebun Bistro
Next door to Kafe is this restaurant. Looks a bit fancier, but not too pricy. And their burgers were surprisingly "realy good" (internal joke, sorry).

Bali Buda
Good food, right across the street from Radiantly Alive.

Do

Yoga barn
My favorite yoga studio, of all times. Yes, it's crowded, but you don't really need more space than your mat anyway. The energy created by the area, participants and teachers blew my mind every class.

Radiantly Alive
Another yoga studio I enjoyed, where I mainly went for the Fly High Yoga and classes focused on arm balances. Great teachers.

Jungle Fish
Jungle Fish

Jungle Fish
This is part restaurant, but it belongs in the DO section because of the magical infinity pool. You pay 150 000 RP and to enjoy the pool, and you can eat and drink for the full amount.

Hubud
If you are working while you are here, or just need some quality internet, Hubud is the place to be.

Monkey Forest
Monkey Forest

Monkey Forest
It kind of has to be on the list. Monkeys! Also, the forest is really beautiful.

 Sunrise Ridge Walk Ubud.

Sunrise Ridge Walk Ubud.

Campuhan Ridge Walk
I recommend a walk here around sunrise. It's quite the view.

My Canggu

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Stay

Serenity Eco Guesthouse
This place is the cutest little oasis in Canggu. They have backpacker single rooms for a really good price, so you can get your privacy without blowing your budget. The location is close to the beach, with a nice pool and a cafe with good food. Also - as repeated below, they have two yoga studios.

Farmer's Yard Hostel
Not the most comfortable beds, but it has a great vibe and the evenings are spent jamming in the garden. The staff is the sweetest. If my back wasn't killing me when I was here, I would have stayed longer.

Kima Surfcamp
Good value for money, but you need to book far in advance to get a bed or room. Nice people, good food and great surf in the area. German run, most people staying here are either from Germany or Switzerland.

Eat

Avocado Cafe
If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be avocados. This place has my dream menu. And the food is great. Eat all them avocados!

Betelnut Cafe
One of the places where everyone goes. Good for both breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Ithaka Warung
Indonesian food with a European twist.

Lacalita Bar y Cocina
Delicious mexican food. And the sangria was not bad at all.

Warung Dandelion
Great Indonesian food, and the garden is just beautiful.

Do

Serenity Yoga
Nice studio, with a lot of different classes. Loved the core focused Vinyasa one.

Deus
Good food, but you probably want to go here for some of their special events. Like the big party every Sunday, their movie nights or why not Tacos and Tattoos Tuesday.

Old Man's
Wednesdays and Fridays are the big party nights at Old Man's. I've managed to miss all of them, but I've heard the beer pong tournament is lots of fun.

Pretty Poison
Where the cool kids (and their groupies) hang out. Good drinks and music.


My Seminyak/Kuta

Stay

The Island Hotel Bali Hostel
One of my favorite hostels, I've stayed here multiple times. The location is good (quiet, but close to both great restaurants in Seminyak and party life in Kuta, and close to the beach), the staff are the sweetest and they have the most comfortable beds I've slept in during all my travels. The dorm is spacious with an atmosphere that makes it impossible to not make friends here.

Eat

Shelter Cafe
I'm here, like, A LOT. Actually writing this while sitting in my favorite spot, having my third coffee, making small talk with the staff. They know me by name.

Come for the breakfasts, stay for the vibe and music.

Grain Espresso
Grain Espresso

Grain Espresso
Another favorite where the staff kind of laughs when they see me (I may have gone there twice on certain days). They have the best coffee I've had in Bali, great food, and the drinks aren't bad either. The AC is a nice bonus, which is not too common and sometimes you do need a break from the 99% humidity.

Ginger Moon
The food is great, but what makes me come back is the drinks. Their Ginger Martini (yes, I love everything with ginger in it) is liquid gold and they know how to do the perfect Espresso Martini. A bit on the pricy side, but a great place to start your night.

Layali Arabiya Lebanese Restaurant and Lounge
Went here several times, just for the shish tawook, that was simply amazing. The do great hummus as well.

Do

Yoga 108
There are not too many yoga places in Seminyak, but this one I can recommend. The studio gets really hot, so I prefer the morning classes. Look closely at the map on the website.

La Favela
La Favela is a club worth going to just for the decor. Like an inside quirky jungle.

Potato Head Beach Club
Nice place to chill in the pool, have drinks and enjoy the sunset views. Pricy, but worth it.

Sky Garden
Sky Garden is a big club with several dance floors. It's a bit on the trashy side, but if you take it for what it is and enjoy dancing, there's a good chance you will have fun here.

White Water Rafting
Not as action filled as I would have thought, but fun and the scenery is beautiful.

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Abandoned amusement park (Taman Festival)
I was beyond excited about this one. Abandoned places is a guilty pleasure of mine, which many of my friends can verify. There is a famous abandoned amusement park in Berlin, which I tried going in to, but at the time we were there, the whole area was crowded with guards and dogs. So an amusement park you could just walk right into sounded good to me.

It had its moments and I recommend a visit if you are into slightly spooky places, reclaimed by nature. But it was mainly buildings, no old rollercoasters or other rides that could help you picture what it could have been.

Abandoned planes

 We got two photos before the guard kicked us out from this one.

We got two photos before the guard kicked us out from this one.

People are apparently really bad at keeping track of their Boeings in Bali. I visited two.

The first one was hidden behind a big fence, and I only got a few snaps from a distance before we got chased out by the security guard. Paying a fee for going closer was not an option. You get photos from above without breaking in.

The other plane was tucked away in the middle of several buildings. This one was easier to get into, we just walked around the fence and couldn't find any security. Not possible to climb it, but still fun.

So, this was some of my favorites. I hope it might be useful for someone!

My Remote Working Setup

The days just fly by, don't they? Especially when you spend them in the little bubble of 30 degrees weather, yoga classes and raw food that is Ubud. Life here is simple. I usually fill my days with reading and writing at different coffee shops, practicing yoga and occasionally hang out with people at the hostel. I have also joined in on the exhausting sport that is "Walking around the whole town trying to find an ATM that will give me money", with limited success for days. (But this morning I actually found one that worked! BII Maybank on Jl. Raya Ubud, I love you. I might have clapped my hands and done a little dance in the ATM booth.)

I've also been working for two whole weeks now. So far it's going well, better than I expected, and I wanted to share the basic setup we have. In case anyone is curious.  


1. Meeting o'clock

Every Monday at 9.30 Swedish time (which is 15.30 for me), I log on to Skype for a sit-down with my manager or a colleague. The agenda holds only one item: What is Sanna doing this week? Part touching base, part making sure I have a balanced workload.

On Fridays I also join in on our weekly Comprend meetings via a private Periscope stream, which make me feel like I’m right there. Except for the fact that I might be wearing a bikini. (Casual Friday, Bali style.)

2. You know where to find me

In Swedish time, I’m generally working from 08.00 to 12.00. My colleagues knows I'm available for meetings, calls or email during these hours, even though I might work slightly different times when I need to focus.

3. Hey, don't forget me

One challenge when not sitting at the office is that you miss the small talk. People can’t swing by your desk and you can’t catch up on the latest by the coffee machine.

To make up for this I try to be as active as possible in our channels. I keep an eye on incoming tasks in our planning tool and hang out on Yammer everyday. Posting and commenting whenever relevant.

4. Creating my own office

As most of us who has ever freelanced or worked from home knows, after a while you probably need a dedicated space to work from. Sitting in the couch in your pyjamas will get old pretty quick.

For me, that currently means a café or Hubud. I’m a regular at Kafe and sometimes, I have to admit, I also hang out at Starbucks. Their aircon and Iced Lemon Tea is what keeps me sane certain humid days.

5. Flexibility is key

After all, I am on the other side of the world, still being part of an office where most people are actually on site. Sometimes I need to change my hours to join in on a late call. And sometimes my colleagues need to deal with me being on a really crappy internet connection. Flexibility is needed from both sides for it to work.

I have a local SIM card to not be depended on random wi-fi connections, but even though it mostly works really well, it's simply not like in Sweden. (But hey, I get to wear shorts in October, so not complaining here.)


If you have any tips on working remotely, feel free to share them. I also recommend this post on Asana with some good advice on the same theme if you are curious to read more.