Wednesday, May 30, 2012

HK at night

Night shots from Victoria Peak on Hong Kong island:

Deer & Dinosaurs

Hong Kong is a great place to find some really weird crap! Thanks in part to their traditional medicinal approach. Here are a few:
Dinosaur Teeth?

Deer Fetus, what the hell!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Phone Zombies

The cell phone usage in Hong Kong is out of control. Certainly kids here are growing up in an environment which is completely revolving around technology. There is wifi everywhere. Just take a stroll on the street, walk through a mall, or go on the subway, and at least half of the people will have their noses in their phone. Who know what they are doing. One the subway, whole families, with really young children completely wrapped up in their phones! Not too sure what the implications of this are, but I bet these people will relate completely different socially than the previous generation, already added to a Chinese culture which I see as being pretty passive.

This whole family was on their phones
All 6 on phones

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dim Sum

When my Hong Kong host said we were going for dim sum, I was pretty excited. Naively, I had the impression based on what I had previously tried in the bay area.... that it is essentially just delicious puffy buns filled with pork and a few other things.

We arrived at a packed 2nd floor restaurant after 2pm, as the dim sum is 30% off after the lunch rush from 1-2. We told Bonnie to order us whatever to give us a good idea of what dim sum in HK is really like. They first brought out a couple dishes. A plate of dumplings filled with bbq pork and another dumpling-ish thing (with a corn-bread like outside) filled with some veggies. Then a group of four more dishes came out. Chicken feet, a soy based square item, more dumplings, (this time sweet ones filled with egg yolk and sugar), and a pork/veggie roll. Then, four more came out. Fish balls, meat balls, duck feet, and rice. Then, two more. Baby pidgeon and dumplings with shrimp and some fish eggs on top. In total, probably about 10-12 dishes which we split between the three off us. I didn't really know that dim sum in fact is something akin to tapas. Small dishes encompassing a very wide variety of foods. My stomach struggled a bit to manage all the new tastes, but overall, everything was good. Not so sure I'll be a frequent consumer of chicken or duck feet, however. They taste okay, but I can't really get over the visual while I'm eating it. The pidgeon, on the other hand, was actually quite tasty. Bonnie got to sample the brain, I'll leave that for next time.

bbq pork dumplings

chicken feet, soy, dumplings, and pork/ham thingers.

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pidgeon is served

Bonnie goes for the pidgeon brain

Monday, May 21, 2012


Well, its pretty much a done deal! With exception to the formality of the decision notification by the defense evaluation committee, everyone who defended a thesis in Ghent seems to have done well! Its a huge relief to have the thesis and defense behind me. Now, to focus on more stress-free things, like what to eat in Hong Kong, which beach to lounge on in Thailand, or how to negotiate the swath of motorcycles in Vietnam. USA in T minus 7 weeks. Hooray for it all!
I thought we could all do a Nixon pose to celebrate our defense. Nobody got the joke.
The defenders (or is it defendees?)

Con fofita Rojas.

5 public defenders (2 others were private later)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

-394.6 meters

This is the elevation of the dead sea, below sea level.... the lowest point in the world! It is also nearly the saltiest body of water in the world. Please refrain from entering such saltiness with any cuts.

They say that you have a lower risk of a sunburn here, as there is more ozone for the sunlight to penetrate before it hits you. I still got a nice burn. Too gringo for a tan even at the dead sea.

Swimming in the dead sea is another challenge. For starters, don't try. Just let it take you away, relax, and float it out. Taking a nap in the sea is entirely feasible; I closed my eyes for 5 or 10 minutes while lying on my back, using my hands as a pillow, for a little afternoon shuteye, no problems. And super fun. It's recommended to avoid getting any water in your mouth.

So much salt certainly feels funny after leaving the water, like a thin residue all over your body. I had salt in my hair and behind my ears for at least 3 days after that. I opted for the mud bath as well. Apparently, there are some vitamins in this mud that are supposed to be therapeutic in some way. Or good for you skin. Not that I feel like a million bucks now or anything. But it was fun having all that mud get all dried out and crackly in the sun before taking another floater in the sea.

The area surround the dead sea is simply gorgeous (not to mention being chock full of biblical sites). Huge mountains, rocks coming straight up at some points. The dead sea is shared with Israel, so when on the Jordanian side, you can give a neighborly wave.

This is what they call SPF 1000

This guy is really taking it in


.Dead sea chairs

Not the sandiest of beaches in the world

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Koninginnedag, or Queensday, is the Netherlands biggest national holiday. The day celebrates the birthday of the Queen. In fact, although the current Queen's birthday is actually January 31, April 30th is still observed as it was the birthday of her mother and predecessor.

Queensday is for everyone. In all cities. The streets become filled from very early on with flea markets. And not just a few stalls or a few streets, simply all over the place. It is the one day of the year sales can be made without any taxes. In many cities, people stake out their place on the street the night before with chalk or tape. In 2011 over 290 euros was exchanged! And everyone dresses in orange. Some dye their hair orange. Some wear orange hats. Orange socks. Orange leggings. Just one giant orange festival.

I went with Lautaro and two of his friends and we arrived the day before Queensday to Haarlem, a suburb of Amsterdam, where we had a couchsurfing host arranged. Anne was great. She took us to the nearby beach by bicycle that afternoon, a nice 30 minute ride. And cooked dinner for us with a fresh salad from her vegetable garden. We went out for a beer at a very very local brewery called Jopen, and then called in an early night so we could spend the full day in Amsterdam.

They don't recommend taking the trains in for Queensday due to the hundreds of thousands expected, but we did anyway. We left early so it was not too bad. After arriving in Amsterdam, we walked around a few of the neighborhoods, with people selling stuff everywhere! It must be what the flea market in heaven looks like. Amsterdam is FULL of canals, and the weather was perfect out, so we sat at the edge of one for a few hours with plenty to view.

An Amsterdam tradition is to go on a boat for Queensday. The canals were filled with all different types of boats, a good portion overloaded and full of dancing and inebriated people. Some intricately design boats as well. We even saw one boat sinking as they scooped water out! Later, we went to one of the central plazas, where there was a big carnival with lots of rides, so we took the ferris wheel up for an overview of the orange madness.

Our host was funny and she ended up getting quite drunk, so she managed to lose us for a few hours while she searched for a friend. Instead, we lounged in another neighborhood plaza, taking in the sun and people watching. This plaza was full of hippies, people dancing to the blasting techno in the street, people doing miscellaneous drugs, and other funnily dressed people, so it was pretty entertaining to watch all the bonanza, yet still be comfortably lounged in the sun at the same time. Later, we went to another neighborhood filled with restaurants, each which had a tent on the street, so we samples a bunch of different kinds of food.

All in all, a lot of Dutch pride was seen!

Lau hauling one of the girls backpacks.
Dutch beach. Host in green.
This is in Haarlem. Many streets were chalked out the night before for flea market stall locations
Bicycling to the station on queensday
Filled streets
Now this boat is a bit overloaded.
And this is only the main plaza of Amsterdam

Taking in the sun by the canal

Barney rubble and his frat guys on their boat, it appears. Maybe they are singing 'I'm on a boat'.
The canal is starting to fill
Someone handed me a guitar with 4 strings that they bought at the flea market for 6 euros. I tried to play for money, but it was an immense failure.
This boat is flooding.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

It's a Long Way

When I returned from South America, I recall on big thing I had learned: places don't define places, people define places. With only a few months left here, I find myself trying to relish this fact more and more. Already I find that I am trying to spend the majority of my time left with close friends rather than making new ones or even developing very new friendships. Come July, it won't be so practical to fly to Buenos Aires to share mate with Hernan & Bufi, to have dinner with Claudia in Bogota, or to have coffee with Netsanet in Ethiopia.

And while Gent has been my favorite city of the past few years, I won't find myself coming back so soon just to re-live times spent sitting by the canal. Rather, I will probably take that time to go to Argentina, Costa Rica, Colombia, etc. The location is simply a means to an end, as evidenced by my friendship with Lautaro, in which the location has changed for each meeting, 6 places and counting.

And while I am not looking forward to leaving everyone and everything here, I am really excited, though a bit nervous, in my move back. It is not unlike when I left UL & Chicago; I was excited and nervous about a big change, leaving friends, leaving a nice job, and stepping out into the unknown and moving away from something familiar and comfortable. The unknown was pretty big, not having much of a plan, not knowing what each day would bring. But that was half of the point, and everything worked out fine. Now, I have bit of a grasp of the unknown. I can, however, foresee a hangover of leaving something so comfortable and great here. I simply will not get the environment I have here, surrounded in a residence with close international friends and a student schedule. I won't be able to do the small things, like knock on Nadya's door every day to see if she want's to eat dinner, for example. I'll have to adjust to living in an apartment and coordinating everything. Not having the ability to travel, we'll see how that goes. I have already started to begin to submit to the simple fact that we work like dogs in the US and vacation time is nil, so energies can be focused elsewhere to produce a nice balance.

We always want what we can't have. I am very happy with the last two and a half years of traveling and studying, which has wildly surpassed any of my prior expectations. I feel lucky to have had such experiences and opportunities. But frankly, I have actually become a bit tired of it, and feeling a bit worn out (it will be 42 countries in 2.5 years!). Which is also why I am excited again for a new change. A change back to steady-state, in engineering terms. The student schedule and life is not conducive to many things of any sort of regularity. I am very happy to start working again for the fixed-ness it gives me in everything outside of work. Taking up new hobbies, learning new skills, visiting old friends, and maintaining permanent friendships in one location, all things that have been pretty impossible the last 2+ years.

And to go home is a topper. 10 years man! Long time. It will be simply great not to have to jam everything into a one-two week visit per the usual. This time, things can wait, and be planned. On the other hand, spontaneity is actually possible. A hike in the bay area with dad or a dinner out with mom and dad at a new restaurant. Crab fishing or some other random event with Aunt Jean. Random restauranting and cooking with K & P. Actually being able to be part of the group with Justin or visit Natalie on a weekend. And looking forward to meeting new people, through Rotaract, couchsurfing, or whatever other means. Simple things in a familiar place, but exciting nonetheless.

Life can probably be boiled down to a few major events for most people. Moving, marriages, kids, graduations, etc. I can recall the dates of a few. January 2008, when I stopped dating Rachel (boy, that was a phenomenal decision). February 7 2010 when I boarded the plane to Peru. And shortly after on February 27, the earthquake in Chile  It's bittersweet to write this, but July 12, 2012 might need to be in that set!

I leave with my two favorite quotes and the song which is the title of my post, by Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso.

"We are never anywhere else but here. Every moment is new, despite our tendency to forget just that"-Matthias

"Life is what happens while your busy making other plans" -Lennon

Saturday, May 5, 2012


This is a popular two layer puff pastry in the Netherlands. Typically, the icing is pink or white. However, for Queens day (Koninginnendag in Dutch... the Netherlands biggest national holiday, April 30th), they change the frosting to orange, the national color. In keeping with this tradition and festiveness, our couchsurfing host served us up some nice tompouce for a proper queens day experience. Yum.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Just another quaint Flemish town, about an hour by train from Gent.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Delirium Tremens Brewery

Delirium recently had an open visit day to celebrate a renovated brewery. Located in the village of Melle, it is only about 10 km from Gent, and easy bicycle ride. I went with Feng, Hernan, and three couchsurfers, only one of which (our guide) was Belgian.

The tour surpassed my expectations. Compared to a tour of the Guinness factory, where you don't see even an inch of the brewing floor and the highlight is the view on the top of the brewery, here we were walked throughout all of the facilities, both new and old, while still learning about the breweries history. Now that's what I expect from a brewing tour in a beer loving country. At the end of the tour they had a giant festival hall where everyone got a complimentary beer of choice, accompanied by music. And they never forgot to barrage you with pink elephants the entire way.

Many varieties of Delrium

Parts of the old brewery

This is a filter for the mash

Tanks for storing and aging the beer.

The bottling line

Our walk down the pink carpet to the festival hall

With Feng + Lithuanian couchsurfer.
The old bar at the brwery. I guess they have xpanded a bit.

My banana beer 'mongozo' was disgusting. The tried and true regular delirium is where it is at.

Nice bicycle ride back