Mohan Zhang

The places that made me are the places I love

Kungsholmen

Stockholm, Sweden

This lagom-sized island on the western side of Stockholm’s city center is my childhood home. I think it’s the best place on Earth.

This panoramic view is taken from a lookout next to the apartment building we lived in in the 90s.

Whispers, echoes

Paul Graham has this essay about the messages a city sends. Nowhere do I hear a clearer message telegraphed straight to my mind than when I wake up in Kungsholmen. It says,

“Du är trygg här. Ta lite chanser. Ha lite kul. Det kommer att gå bra, grabben.”

“You’re safe here. Take some chances. Have some fun. It’s gonna be okay, kid.‍”

I don’t know if anyone else hears that message, but for me, it’s one I can’t get enough of.

Childhood

Much of my childhood outside of daycare and school was basically food, friends, public transit, and parks. Not surprisingly, these are the exact things I enjoy the most about my little island. As an adult, I’ve since discovered that Kungsholmen basically has everything: the best views, the best food, the best gym, random little shops I care about, and pretty much everything else I use on a regular basis. In fact, there’s some solid stretches of time where I never leave the island. That’s pretty impressive given that one can walk around the whole thing in about 2.5 hours.

Stuff I like doing around Stockholm

Generally speaking, everything is more exciting in Stockholm because of the language layer and cultural unknowns (yes I’ve bought shoes, but have I bought them in Swedish before? 80% of the time there is no difference, but the 20% curveballs really keep me on my toes).

Public transit

I also love riding around on public transit here. A lot of that is from childhood, but even as an adult, the T is just so iconic to me. Random stuff I like:

  • The scramble at T-Centralen where you walk from the blue line to the red/green lines. Most people think I’m crazy for liking this, but I feel such a rush when everyone’s cutting left and right.
  • Rådhuset is my favorite stop. It’s always empty and quiet even though it’s so central.
  • The T signs in Boston were inspired by the ones in Stockholm. The architect who did those in Boston visited Stockholm and liked how iconic they were.

Long summer days

My friends, is there anything better in life than Midsummer in Sweden? The days never really get dark in Stockholm during this time. I mean, there’s a deep dark blue between the hours of like 1:30 and 2:30, but I wouldn’t call it perfectly dark.

These are manic days where you can get up early (because it’s so bright you can’t sleep) and do like 3 things in a day all while it’s light out.

Other mundane stuff I like doing:

  • Going to the gym. There’s a ridiculous number of gyms per capita here, and they’re always full, too—no matter the hour. Swedes take their physical culture seriously and so do I (when I’m there).
  • Going to the grocery store. The food quality in Europe is so much better than in the US. I’ve pretty much exhausted revisiting my childhood favorites by this point, but I love discovering new things to try.
  • Playing basketball at Rålis or on Lilla Essingen.
  • Walking by apartments on Norr Mälarstrand that I tell myself I’m going to live in someday.