Category Archives: travel stories

experiences worth sharing

a traditional galician celebration

While working in Galicia we stumbled upon the celebrations of one man Julio’s 60th birthday celebrations. There was an open fire inside which was the center of attention and the basis where the traditional foods were prepared. Everyone was bawling due to the heavy smoke indoors, which made for some hilarious moments.

Raw cheese resembling a mix of yoghurt and cream cheese, delicious beef patties in a thin, crisp bread resembling Indian Chapati, roasted chestnuts, grilled ham on Spanish bread, as well as a birthday loaf with surprisingly little flavor but good looks nonetheless.

The wine was flowing richly, as was the Galician cider and gin. The Galicians definitely live life in the best of ways. And how proud they are of Galicia! And in my opinion, within good reason.

Music was being played by many; traditional Galician songs and instruments, the bag-pipe, flute, accordion, tambourine, and eventually even a wooden cutting board with rolling pin – for the instrument-less such as yours truly. And every song was played with the utmost passion, and I mean: passion.

There was also dancing, in my case trying to dance, in the traditional Galician style.

All of this in a kitchen that is over 200 years.

It was quite dark inside, and I had consumed a bit of wine and cider, so apologies for less quality photos.

60th1

60th2

60th3

60th4

60th5

60th6

60th7

60th8

60th9

The man in the center celebrated his 90th year last month.
This man in the middle celebrated his 90th last month.

60th11

60th12

60th13

60th14

60th15

teaching english in suzhou city and living there as well

Suzhou city is located approximately 700 km from Shanghai. I am teaching here at Sucheng #1 Middle School for two weeks and I head back to Shanghai on the weekends to spend time with my beloved brother, sister in law and new friends in the city.

The school kindly put me up in a nice apartment building here in this ‘small’ city – with six million residents it’s small for China. It’s a new city with extreme construction going on everywhere, and they are even planning on moving the complete city-center to another location in the city. This city is growing majorly and everything around me looks the same.

When I asked the students what their favorite city in China is, they replied that Suzhou City is their favorite; a good sign indeed. I don’t particularly care for it much, besides the fact that it is extremely Chinese and Shanghai is ‘less Chinese’, but a lot more fun.

The students are amazing, they are very eager to learn and we discussed some interesting things together, such as that Panda’s eat meat when worst comes to worst, the kids don’t eat dessert, Ping Pong is boring to watch, American food is unhealthy, and when I asked one student what a gypsy is after describing the word to him, he replied: “you?”.

The market here is so cheap, I bought most of my fruits ans vegetables for the week for a total of 3 euros. I also had to buy a pan, which was also 3 euros. It seems that they eat quite healthy here, and most of the fruits and vegetables seem to be local – there is lots of agriculture around as well. Still too much oil on the dishes when you eat out.

The first day the principal and my colleagues took me out to dinner, we had some amazing foods that I hadn’t tried before, and we ate in a private room which is popular to do here in China. We even ate fried crickets! They didn’t realize that I could eat these since I’m a vegetarian, but it’s difficult to explain that I’m an insectarian to a group of people with whom you are already having difficulty speaking to.

Sucheng #1 Middle School is named this way because it’s the number one middle school in the Anhui province – aptly named indeed. My job is to teach the students to speak better English, as they are all planning on studying abroad in either the UK or the USA.

The school - every Monday the entire school attends the hoisting of the flag
The school – every Monday the entire school attends the hoisting of the flag

My neighborhood:

My neighbors.
My neighbors.
My neighbors.
My neighbors.
My apartment.
My apartment.
The neighborhood.
The neighborhood.

boyfriend & girlfriend

Ok, in Shanghai there’s a trend; boyfriend & girlfriend wearing a matching t-shirt. The shirts either have the exact same print, or they have a print that is complimentary to each other’s shirt.

Example:

boyfriend and girlfriend shirts

You actually see loads of couples wearing these.

Another ridiculous thing that is clearly a that is important to the status of the relationship here: the boyfriend carries the purse of the girlfriend.

If you are a fan of these Shanghainese relationship trends and I have offended you in any way, I’m sorry.

how the weekend at the buddhist temple was

As I shared before, last weekend I went to a Buddhist temple to engage in yoga and remain silent for the weekend.

The weekend was a bit different than expected; we didn’t have to be silent, we just had to be quiet while the monks slept, and besides doing loads of yoga, we also socialized with the group and played group games. The games weren’t necessarily my cup of tea, but the others seemed to like it.

The schedule was very pleasant, we would wake up at 5AM and start chanting mantra’s of which I knew most of them, then we would perform yoga asana’s (poses) for 2.5 hours. After the asana’s it would be time for breakfast with the monks – the breakfast, of course, would consist of rice and you could add any of the assortment of pickles which were on every table. Pretty tasty, but mostly enjoyable. The lunch and dinner are basically the same as breakfast, although the rice is more watery in the morning and the assortment of pickled vegetables became grander the later in the day the meal with additional types of tofu (fermented, and also known as ‘stinky tofu’) & beans. Then off to do more yoga after a three hour (nap) break.

The atmosphere in the dining room is quite pleasant, the monks themselves aren’t quiet at all. Many elder women seem to work/help out there, these aren’t monks, but it seems like the ladies volunteer at the temple, whom I of course couldn’t engage with, but they would speak Chinese to me with a heavy accent (I’ve been told), and I would speak Dutch back to them. No need to speak English, we are lost in translation no matter the language.

At one point a bunny hopped right up to me, and I engaged a little bit with this bunny, but suddenly one of my favorite ladies at the temple mimicked that the the rabbit should be caught, and after a while our yoga teacher eventually caught the rabbit and the ruckus came to an end.

The yoga classes consisted of many different aspects of yoga; mantra’s, asana’s, pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, and bandha’s (locks in the body), which to me weren’t new, but for the people new to yoga it was a great introduction and guide to start practicing yoga at home.

Saturday before sun-down we took a stroll in the village and enjoyed being in nature. Many people had informed that the main reason they were on this trip was to get away from the city and have a little breath of fresh air – I must say, it was extremely pleasant to breathe free.

One of the elder ladies, whom had a rounded back due to old-age, was quite active and after the meal would come over to our tables and ask if we were full in coarse Chinese with heavy accent. I sincerely admire all of the hard-working, sweet women at the temple, they are busy most of the time, and are otherwise engaging in loud conversation amongst themselves.

Here are some photos I took, I didn’t get to take photos of the monks or the amazing female volunteers for which I’m sorry.

Cormorands on the boat. Dutch: Aalscholver.
Cormorands on the boat. Dutch: Aalscholver.

And Sunday the sky was blue.
And Sunday the sky was blue.

If you are interested in the retreat:
http://www.yejocircle.com/yoga-retreat–authentic-temple-life.html

to be lost in silence

“What if our religion was each other
If our practice was our life
If prayer, our words

What if the temple was the Earth
If forests were our church
If holy water-the rivers, lakes, and oceans

What if meditation was our relationships
If the teacher was life
If wisdom was self-knowledge
If love was the center of our being.”

-Ganga White 1998

This poem was sent to me by the people who organize the yoga & meditation retreat in which I am part-taking this weekend. The retreat will be in a Buddhist temple and most of the weekend we will be silent, although there will be chanting with the Buddhist monks.

I will of course let you all know how this experience in the Chinese Buddhist temple was.

tianshan tea market: everything you need for a ceremony of tea

This owner of the shop has worked in the tea plantations for a couple of years - the tea is reminiscent of the most expensive tea in the world.
This owner of the shop has worked in the tea plantations for a couple of years – the tea is reminiscent of the most expensive tea in the world.

This weekend Henjo, his friend Brian and I went to the large Tianshan tea market, it is basically a tea mall. Everything you imagine they would sell; they have it, and more.

There are brushes to brush the tea on your pot or your charms (peanuts, Buddha or frog miniatures) to cause the very much wanted discoloration of the charms due to the tea. They sell tongs to use to distribute the tea cups to the fellow drinkers as the cups should be too hot to hold. Wooden blocks with a tube which is meant to pour the tea on, and then you let the tea run out of the wooden block via this suction tube.

Naturally there are many shops in this mall that sell actual tea, many of them specialize in one particular tea. We had a ceremony in Brian’s favorite shop, the owner sells tea from a region which is similar to the most prestigious and famous Da Hong Pao tea of the Wuji region in China where there are six 350 year old trees that when harvested produce 100 grams of tea each year.

Brian shared a story with us about this particular tea, in 1972 Richard Nixon was invited to visit General Mao, which was already noteworthy as is, and after the meeting Mao gave Nixon a tin of tea which was 50 grams. Richard Nixon found it kind, but did not realize the gift he had just received – he received a half of the tea from these six trees – was worth about $20,000 dollars.

Eventually I plan on buying a tea-set for myself, small enough to travel with, but I used the day on Saturday to scour around, compare the prices and styles so that I will become acquainted with the products and figure out what I like and need.

Some photos of the market, sorry for the bad quality – my ‘camera’ (telephone) has been letting me down:

The Tianshan market on the outside.
The Tianshan market on the outside.
Tea ceremony - the little charms will change color over time as you pour tea over them during the ceremony
Tea ceremony – the charms such as this smiling Buddha will change color over time as you pour tea over them during the ceremony

Tea accessories

Tea variations
Tea variations
Many owners asleep
Many owners asleep

the air quality this day

The sky in Shanghai taken a couple of weeks ago.
The sky in Shanghai taken a couple of weeks ago.

It’s a good day for Shanghai. Don’t look at these numbers as a general consensus for these cities, I just looked at the air quality for today. Shanghai can be much, much worse, or better, and so can the other cities.

Air quality today:
Shanghai: 70 – moderate
Beijing: 238 – very bad
New York City: 105 – bad
Amsterdam: 23 – good

Since being in Shanghai I have been concerned about the quality of the air here. When I was sick, for example, my cough would get much worse if I were to be outdoors. Oftentimes the sun won’t be able to penetrate through the layers of smog, although it might just seem that way to me.

When the air quality is very bad, as it is in Beijing today, they advise you to wear a piece to cover your mouth and nose. I haven’t part-taken in this mainly Asian custom.

The first time I ever became worried about the air quality was when I was living in New York City and I would ride my bicycle across the Williamsburg bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. This ‘healthy’ bike-ride didn’t seem as healthy while crossing the bridge due to all of the fumes I would be inhaling on the bridge. I would generally cover my face with my scarf, unless it was some time in the summer when it would be too hot to cover basically any part of the body due to the humidity in the city.

When you’re living in a city and you want a breath of fresher air; just head to a park and soak up whatever the trees are breathing out into the air.

tea ceremony con

It’s no secret that I have been very much liking the tea ceremonies here in Shanghai. One Saturday afternoon I was walking with my brother near the Bund, checking out the sights and enjoying the great weather. Soon two girls approached us, one of them was out of town and the other was living here and they were just about to head attend a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. The girls tell us that they don’t have much money, and it would be great to go to the ceremony together to keep funds low. The girls seemed very sweet and genuine, great actors, but we didn’t trust the situation. We decided to just check the ceremony out, just to peek at the space, and then we left much to their dislike. If we would have stayed there and had a ceremony with our new ‘friends’ we would have had to pay a lot after completion of the ceremony.

eating insects

Honey Bee
Honey Bee

Eating insects is good for the environment. As a vegetarian, I have made the decision to eat insects. I guess now I’m a insectarian. Or something. We were at a restaurant called the Southern Barbarian recently and we ordered a plate full of Mealworms, Grasshoppers and Honeybees. Delicious! They are obviously fried to make them taste good and crunchy. The Mealworms are my favorite, but the Grasshoppers are nice and crunchy as well. The bees are a little bland.

Insects contain protein. This is good.

Why is eating insects good for the environment?
– Less feed is needed. For one kg of cow meat we need 10 kg of feed. For 10 kg of feed we can produce 9 kg of insects.
– Food inputs from waste. The waste from animals can be used to produce insects.
– Less greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are bad for our oxygen amongst other things, mkay.
– Saving water. Much water is needed to raise animals.
– Animal welfare. For the love of animals.
– Less risk of disease. Swine flu, bird flu, mad cow disease.

Eat insects, not meat.
While we’re at it: make love, not war.