Lost in Time

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Time has betrayed me once again, and I never got to round off my internship days in Kuala Lumpur with a blog post. Rather than giving a feeble account of my last weeks (let’s face it, I am getting old), I present to you a small batch of photos, giving you a quick glimpse into my last month of escapades in Malaysia.

Two amazing friends granted me the honor of their company as my days were numbered as an intern. Sharing memories with special people in your life is about as good as it gets:

Visit 1) You may remember my friend Mette, back from my trans-Mongolian-railway-days (take a peek here, if I tickled your curiosity), and it was fun to take her around KL whenever my working-hours permitted it. We also got to take a break from the CO2 of the city, and went to Penang by bus to hunt down some street art and that Penang food which the Malays talk so much about.

Visit 2) With a few vacation days left, Ine – who I met in New York (check out our Green-Wood Cemetery adventure here) – came to Malaysia for a short visit before embarking on a Southeast Asia trip. After some KL-highlights we quickly boarded a flight to Bali to get our yoga vibes on. It was nothing short of an amazing ending to a fantastic internship and no Volcanic ash or flight problems could disturb our zen.

A Bubbly Affair

With a few allowed vacation days during my internship, I planned for an extended weekend in Taipei! This was very much a solo-project and I had butterflies in my tummy from pure excitement as I flew across the waters. I studied my traveling guide meticulously on the plane, giving me wonderful flashbacks to my travels in China and my exchange in Hong Kong – if you are new to wildwonton you can read about those adventures here and here (and a heartily welcome to the rants). And though Taipei is nothing like my past experiences I was overjoyed to be back in Chinese-character-land. Boy, have I missed those perfectly timed transportation systems, those spring onion pancakes for breakfast and to genuinely feel the excitement of a different culture, wash over me as I explored those streets and lanes.

A small warning as we begin: My first impressions of Taipei, as relayed here, are void of any critical distance – I only just returned to KL as I am writing this, and the post is thus naturally filled with a insistent high from traveling and with leftover-excitement-butterflies in my tummy. But Taipei was definitely a city after my taste: it is no wonder foodies hail it as the ultimate food destination. It will therefore not surprise you either that I spent a majority of those 4 days hunting down food! If you don’t have long in Taipei I would definitely suggest that you hover around Yong Kang Street for a few hours as you will find many great samples in this area. I skipped the Din Tai Fung queue (if you have the time, get in that line!) and jumped around the corner for some dumplings at Kao Chi, serving all the Shanghainese classics. As I can’t compare, I will only say that my tummy had no objections. The crispy sides of their signature pan fried pork buns was a new experience to my taste buds and they genuinely enjoyed them (sorry, no documentation they went straight into my tummy). As they are fried in an iron cast pan they get a lovely crisp underside, while the top retain the soft delicacy, if you will, as you know it from your traditional dumplings. I also sampled spring onion pancake from a famous vendor further down from Kao Chi (on a corner) – just look for a long line! I of course also sampled the must above all musts: some beef noodle soup. As I was slurping away, I remember thinking to myself: I can’t believe how lucky I am to sit here in Taipei! Also, lets not forget about the bubble tea… I had at least 2 a day and particularly liked 50 Lan! After having perused Yong Kang to the fullest, I also ventured further out to Gongguan to try the infamous gua bao, a slow-braised pork hamburger, filled to the brim with crunchy coriander and some peanut butter-like goodness. My hunt also took me to a full-blown Hello Kitty experience and all the way out to Maokong (and up the mountain with the gondola) to sample some of that fine Taiwanese tea. If you want a more modern take on tea (and not in a traditional teahouse setting, though why would you not want to try that also?), I gave Smith&Hu a visit. Probably the best scones I ever had, and let’s not overlook that amazing tea selection. My visits to numerous night markets (I went to one every night, however I would never have found Raohe Market without Javis, a kind local who took me under his wing for the evening – Hi Javis, if you are reading this!) stuffed me up to the fullest. In general, rest assured – you are bound to have a great food experience in Taipei.

I of course also covered some of those non-food musts while visiting the island. I took a half-day trip up to Tamsui – a historic town, best known for Fort San Domingo which was established by the Spanish. Walking around the narrow lanes was thrilling and the beautiful riverside and numerous bike paths makes it an ideal setting for outdoor activities too. In Taipei, I managed to cover a fair amount of ground. Chiang Kai-shek and the 2-28 Peace Memorial Park served as a window into the darker history of Taiwan. Other musts on my path included, Bao’an Temple, Dihua Street (known for its Chinese medicine shops) and the National Palace Museum (home to the world’s largest collection of Chinese art). Two locations stood out to me, however. One was Huashan 1914 Creative Park, a location I almost decided to skip (but boy, am I glad I didn’t!) The Creative Park is a 20th-century wine factory which has been restored into the ultimate retro venue, where like-minded creative people gather, whether it be for sketching, playing music, dancing or any other art form you can possible think of. The venue hosts numerous cute cafes and boutiques, and I quickly lost all track of time. The day I was there the park was filled to the brim and made for an excellent people-watching spot. Also, a cool exhibition on Miffy was clearly drawing in Taiwanese families as their event of choice for the weekend and I could definitely see myself coming here often if I ever got to live here. Another outing which stood out to me was my short trek up Elephant Mountain to catch that classic shot of Taipei 101. I don’t regret a single drop of sweat that was spilled to reach that vantage point in the summer heat.

As I am nearing the end of this post can we just take a minute to appreciate the brilliance of the Taiwanese? Any country that invents bubble tea and instant noodle is a favorite in my book.

My adventure in Taipei has definitely left me wanting more. I unfortunately did not get to visit Yangmingshan National Park – despite such beautiful nature being right at the doorstep of Taipei – and therefore feel like I need to come back! The island offers so many lovely spots, and could easily provide an excellent opportunity to take a tour around the entire island by train. I hope Gid is up for some mountain hiking and some train riding someday!?

/Krissy

Breaking the Silence

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The sound of the NYPD pulsating down the avenues. The Chrysler Building gleaming in the sunlight. Smoke seeping up from the mysterious steam system underground. The flashing yellow cabs, all too busy to be hailed. The line to Shake Shack twisting and turning out of Madison Square Park. The blasting music from a ghetto blaster being the center of attention of a roller skating dance-off in Central Park. Spending a day leisurely at the beach, with the excitement and adrenalin of Coney Island behind me. The hipster-feel in Williamsburg, making me almost forget that I left Copenhagen.

….And so begins the adventures of Krissy in New York City!

You might ask why it has taken me this long to break the silence and begin documenting my exchange experience in this big city!? To be honest, it took me a while to adjust to the American way. Having left my heart in Asia, there was a big part of me questioning the infatuation that the world has taken to this city. As I wandered the streets, I kept thinking, is this really it? Is this what they call the greatest city on earth?

But now, two months into the whole experience, I don’t want to leave. It is hard to put my finger on why I’ve completely switched side, but the streets are literally pulling me in and locking me in a firm grip. I don’t know if it is the endless amount of events occurring in all corners of the city every day, or the great diversity traversing the streets, giving rise to great opportunities for people watching. I have eaten everything from shady looking doughnuts to beautiful and experimental Malaysian cuisine. I have soaked up Hong Kong memories in China town and pretended I belong in SoHo and Greenwich Village. If you get bored with one area of the city, you just transport yourself a few blocks north, south, east or west and you will dive head first into new escapades and aesthetic experiences.

Living in Upper West side has been an adventure in and of itself, having Central Park as my backyard, which has served as the spot for Sunday leisure times and morning runs (But ‘Great Hill’, I dislike you when my calves are tired). Entering this greenery space of bridges, lawns, alleys, lakes and other secrecies, serves as a much-needed escape when the grey concrete surrounding you, gets too firm of a grip. Also, I have had several encounters with longtime UWS-residents, all giving me tips and stories about the neighborhood. For instance, did you know that one of the most uncomfortable benches can be found near the entrance to Central Park at 103 street, near the pool ‘lake’, and if you look hard enough, you can see a bird carved out in the left hand side of the bench? Why am I disclosing this? Well, it turns out that it is the small things, which really make up the magic in this city. It is not the Empire building, it is not the shoe sale at Macy’s nor the Statue of Liberty – no, it is things like cute little coffee shops, the lady at my grocery store calling me ‘my sweet honey’ every time, the reflection of city lights in that huge puddle you are afraid to plunge into in rush hour – and the hidden, wood-carved birds on benches.

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At Uni I am trying to figure out the conundrum that is American politics. Coming to the country with a baggage full of average knowledge, I am time and again confounded, surprised, enraged, enthralled, hopeful and excited about the topics of my classes. Also, I’ve quickly discovered that NYC isn’t America. The values, the attitudes and the visions differ from the rest of the country, and I am soaking in all of the diverse opinions. But folks, Uni is no joke! I thought I would be able to divide up my time more evenly between being adventurous and still hand in all the assignments on time. Doing my very best though, to shut it down when need be, and leave the library for the concrete streets.

To give a glimpse into a few of my highlights over the summer, I give a short account here:

  • Enjoying a mild summer night at MoMa PS1, turning wild when Skrillex played a tune or two
  • Brunch-ing at Tom’s in Brooklyn – I mean, blueberry pancakes, what’s not to love?
  • Watching a basket ball game at Barclay’s Center, always a highlight when the dinner conversations at home always have been centered around this sport (thanks, bro)
  • Fashion week giving me the opportunity to stalk all of my bloggers
  • Helping out at a charity event and meet some “real New Yorkers”
  • Walking over Brooklyn Bridge (several times) and taking the elevator to the Top of the Rock, literally made by heart jump from excitement – I become a little school girls who thought she saw Justin Bieber
  • The Highline – only the best urban, public space idea since the dawn of humanity. I do not think I can get enough of it, and as the season is now changing, so is every stretch of this old railroad track.
  • Jazz nights and modern ballet at Lincoln Center
  • Having already had 3 visitors – yes, this is what happens when you live in a popular destination. Everyone wants to come visit!
  • Having a gin and tonic at the Wythe hotel, overlooking Manhattan skyline
  • Meeting amazing people <3

I have basically saved most of the museum shenanigans for rainy and snowy days, and have instead tried to utilize the warm weather and blue skies as much as possible. Guggenheim, American Natural History Museum and Brooklyn Museum are, however, crossed off the list and I cannot wait to soak in the art and the culture that the city offers this autumn/winter.

I will go back into silence for now, but promise to be better at providing shorter, but more regular posts to try to give a glimpse into what this city has to offer.

Keep an eye out for my Halloween post, and who knows – maybe Gideon already visited me, and have the 101 info on this years Comic Con!

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/Krissy

 

 

A taste of Ilocos

A taste of Ilocos

Finally getting some free time, I was able to finish up this post. In the spirit of the previous post, I’ll continue the story starting from December 31st. Enjoy!

While Krissy was getting ready to celebrate the oncoming new year, I was actually onboard a plane from Denmark to Philippines. The plane landed in the afternoon, and baggage claim was its usual time-consuming ordeal. However, it felt good to be back. It is that sense of nostalgia that rushes through your veins. It was a concoction of sensory awakening; feeling that heat on your skin as you set foot off the plane, getting a whiff of that familiar airport smell, seeing the hustle and bustle of balikbayans – it all comes together, giving me a deeply-rooted sense of belonging.

Balikbayan refers to a person of Filipino origin who lives outside of the Philippines.

It was a special night, not only because 2014 was right around the corner, but mainly because I could celebrate New Year’s Eve with my sisters—something we (sadly) haven’t done in many, many years. Needless to say, it was a memorable night; one that I will always cherish.

During my stay in the Philippines, I was also very fortunate to visit the beautiful province of Ilocos, located on the Northwest coast of the country. Although I was born in the Philippines, I have unfortunately not seen much of the country (there is just so much to see!) So I felt very excited that I would get to experience a new place, and of course try their cuisine. This post is dedicated to all that I saw and all that I ate.

Ilocos, Philippines
Ilocos collectively refers to Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.

Ilocos actually consists of four provinces: Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. I saw most of what both provinces has to offer in the form of tourist sites. In hindsight, it probably would not have been as effortless (nor as informative) without the help of our kind tour guide. After arriving in the city of Laoag  at night and having rested, the first stop early in the morning was the sand dunes of Paoay, Ilocos Norte. There, it is possible to explore the sand dunes on a 4×4 or even have a go at sand boarding. Being a man of extremely adventurous spirit </sarcasm> … I did not try either activities. So I cannot offer silly pictures of me with sand all over my face. Instead, I give you another photo (other than the cover photo) taken near the sand dunes.

Barbed wire, Paoay Sand Dunes

Following the sand dunes was a stopover at Malacañang of the North, the official residence of late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, and his wife, former First Lady Imelda Marcos (yes the Imelda Marcos, the Rose of Tacloban, the Steel Butterfly, the Lady of 3000 pairs of shoes). Casting aside whatever opinions people may have of these two individuals, their home was an undeniable display of grandeur: from the arching staircase carved in Narra hardwood, to the hanging pieces of art, the scenic view over Paoay Lake, and to all the other intricately carved furniture, their home is certainly fit for people with power. The Spanish colonial architecture definitely brought a sense of time travel. As I walked through the corridors of their home, paying close attention to all their interesting memorabilia, I listened to the tour guide talk about the former President with so much vigor and Ilocanian pride.

Next stop was the Church of Saint Augustine, or Paoay Church. I clearly remember its distinct architure, borrowing from Gothic and Baroque designs. According to UNESCO, its architecural style is a reinterpretation of European Baroque by Chinese and Philippine craftsmen. There is a certain beauty with the way light falls on its facade, accentuating its lines and curves. The spirals featured on the buttresses breaks all the linearity and adds a more organic, and nature-centric touch to the design.

Paoay Church Paoay Church

After seeing a number of museums dedicated to Marcos, the tour headed south, toward Ilocos Sur; specifically, the destination was the city of Vigan. Having spent many hours touring, we arrived in Vigan quite hungry. I was quite excited to finally try Ilocanian cuisine. Oh yes, the joy of food! The guide took us to a place where we could get Vigan-style empanada. Basically it is a crispy shell filled with vegetable and meat. The shell is made of rice flour with added atchuete (achiote) to obtain that bright orange colouring.

The filling is normally grated green papaya, mung been sprouts, egg and longganisa (a type of sausage). So how do I explain its taste? I can’t. You will simply have to try it for yourself. The finishing touch is the vinegar sauce that comes along with the empanada, which really brings the whole thing together. It does dirty (oily!) wrestling with the empanada in your hands, so make sure you have extra napkins. As such, it will receive (as this blog’s first) the wildwonton seal of approval (SoA)!

wildwonton Seal of Approval

The wildwonton seal of approval (SoA) is given to specific food or eateries that we feel perfectly captures the spirit of ww, in form of taste and presentation. Look out for the seal in future posts! Fun fact: The SoA was designed to look like Chinese art stamps! If you look carefully, you can spot all the letters that form ‘wildwonton’. 

For 35 pesos a piece, those little orange bundles of joy are quite filling. I…had three.  #satisfiedtummy #sealofapproval

Seal-of-approval

The next stop on the itinerary was pottery making. The people of Vigan are known for their pottery skills. They value and commit to preserving the tradition of making burnay (unglazed earthen jars), a skill passed down from immigrated Chinese artisans during pre-colonial times.

The tour continued to the Vigan Heritage Village, a residential complex of Spanish colonial houses. In the heart of the Heritage Village lies Calle Crisologo. As I look back at the memory, I close my eyes and I hear the the clippity-clop-clattering of hooves on the cobblestone street, as people experience the town through horse-drawn kalesas.

Calle Crisologo

Following Vigan was a trip back up north, across Ilocos Norte, driving along the northwestern coast that is bounded by the South China Sea, all the way up to the town Pagudpud. On the way there, we also passed by Burgos and Bangui. In Burgos, there is the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse , another cultural heritage from Spanish colonial times. It was first lit in 1892 and it marks the northwestern-most point in Luzon.

There are stories told of ghosts watching over the tower. The distressed look of its exterior definitely adds to the image of a lighthouse that is often shrouded with mystery. To me, the structure stands magnificent and resolute; like a lonely sentinel of the sea, withstanding the tests of time to keep watch over the expansive waters.

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

The word is derived from puraw, which means pure or white.

Only a few minutes further away,  the Kapurpurawan Rock Formations are located in the rocky coast of Burgos. The beauty found here is in stark contrast to man’s architectural prowess exhibited in the cities; these limestone rock formations shows the beauty of nature’s canvas. A thousand years in the making, these creamy white and streamlined formations were sculpted by the forces of nature.

The wind turbines are from a Danish manufacturer called Vestas Wind Systems. Go Denmark!

Still en route to Pagudpud, we took a quick stop at the Bangui Windmills. Facing the South China Sea, these towering windmills arc along the shore and provide 40% of the energy for Ilocos Norte. It was quite exhilarating standing right underneath one of these 70-metre wind giants. It was, shall I say, FANtastic…………………………………. (   ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Bangui Windmill

It was a long drive from Laoag to Pagudpud, and so upon arrival, we made a pit stop at Evangeline’s beach resort for some refueling. The menu was surprisingly varied, but my eyes were set on thing and one thing only: pancit (noodles)!

Pancit bihon
Pancit bihon & kalamansi!

After enjoying three days of resort-life at Hannah’s Beach Resort in Pagudpud, the trip came to and end in Laoag with dinner at the Saramsam Ylocano restaurant. The place was very cosy and the dishes were not only delicious, but also creative, accentuating traditional Ilocanian cuisine with modern-day twists. Absolutely worthy of the wildwonton SoA!

From man-made structures to nature-sculpted landscapes; from Chinese ceramic artistry to Spanish architectural mastery, and from century-old kalesas to modern-day wind turbines, Ilocos definitely has much to offer. I only hope that I was able to give you a taste of its splendor.

-Gideon

A Merry Hua Hin Christmas

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I have been fortunate enough to end my amazing exchange experience by celebrating Christmas with my family in Sam Roi Yod, Hua Hin – Thailand: and what a Christmas! It might not entail snow and your usual runny noses, but Hua Hin did offer 30 degrees Celsius, pool and shade under the palm trees. It was great to see my family again, especially my clown of a brother <3 Danish tradition is to celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December, with a massive dinner table carrying roasted duck, pork, white and brown potatoes, red cabbage, gravy and ris a la mande. A tradition is a tradition. Thus, my tummy contained all such wonders on the 24th, mixed with a good deal of red wine. Our Christmas tree was somewhat untraditional this year, yet the Christmas spirit was as high as ever.

It is not my first time in Thailand, and it is great to be back once again. If you know what touristy places to avoid, this country is simply wonderful. The Thai people are the most smiling and warm-hearted I’ve ever met, with a good dose of humor, always making fun of you, themselves or whatever comes to their mind. Thailand to me means laughter. Obviously Thai food contribute to the wonder of this country, and this Christmas season has offered many plates of pad thai, king prawns and spicy curry.

The 25th of December was spent on a scooter cruising through Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, scouting for monkeys (for your information: not difficult to spot). There is nothing like experiencing the country-side from the back of a scooter, feeling the wind and the sun on your face, whilst the landscape opens up to you. The park contains dozens of mountainous limestone hills, which stand before you wherever you turn. As you cruise along you will find freshwater marshes and shrimp farms, with beautiful temples scattered around the park. My brother and I also worked off the duck-calories by climbing up to the Phraya Nakhon Cave. A sweaty journey, yet worth while every out-of-shape-breath that you will take. But beware of snakes! My brother nearly stepped on one and had a near-death-experience (read: not at all, but two Danish youngsters definitely got spooked, trying to remember what we have learned on Animal Planet).

On a less-serious note, most of the time has been spend by the poolside, or on our rooftop soaking up some dangerous sunrays. A fair amount of Leo beers have also been consumed in the Jacuzzi overlooking the mountaintops as the sun was setting. It is peculiar how fast the days go by when you do absolutely nothing.

The most memorable moments, this time around, have undoubtedly been the many scooter cruising’s, with my brother as the driver, covering much of Thailand’s countryside. As must by now be known world-wide the Moeller-family is somewhat out of the ordinary, and my brother and I undoubtedly scared a Thai family or two, having covered all possible Christmas songs, “singing” at the top of our lungs in the heat as we drove around. Also late-night cruising at the coast of Sam Roi Yod beach, with only the moon as light will not be forgotten.

Our housing is located in the true Thai country-side, approximately 30 min. outside of Hua Hin, surrounded by beach + cows. Thus, there is always some excitement about “going to the city”. In Hua Hin, the necessary shopping is always done, finding some great bargains, and the city spree is always concluded at the night-market, eating burritos and sipping frozen margaritas at an excellent Mexican joint. Most importantly, the mandatory mango-and-sticky-rice dessert is brought with us home.

Our concluding days here will undoubtedly resemble the others, and I simply do not want them to end.

With the best wishes of a Merry Christmas and a fun and safe New Years Eve, I complete the ranting’s from Hua Hin.

/Krissy

Unfinished Business.

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The inevitable has happened. My exchange semester is officially coming to an end. I know my life back in Denmark is waiting patiently for me, and I am looking forward to see all my loved ones. Nonetheless, I am left with a bittersweet feeling. Leaving Hong Kong is not something I want to do. This city has spoiled me. The haze, the daily CO2 doses, the overrun MTR stations, taxi drivers refusing to go to New Territories, stinky tofu on the street, expensive milk, slow-walking pedestrians with a severe phone obsession. I will, from the bottom of my heart, and with the utmost, genuine sincerity miss every ‘not-so-perfect’ experience here in Hong Kong. This city has just proven amazing, and I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to enmesh myself in HKs urbanity. It is one of the most vibrant cities I’ve been too, with amazing treats on every corner. I am going to miss my 14hkdollar noodle soup, the pulsating streets on a Sunday/Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday [insert any day], and my Sheung Wan dumplings. Heck, I am even going to miss all the signs, which I cannot read. Before this post turns into a sentimental memoir, I will relay some of my concluding adventures.

I have been fortunate enough to have two friends come visit me. Firstly, my old, fellow high-schooler came to visit me, as she was going to South of China anyways. Thus, there was no excuse for not coming to HK. I got to stay with her for a few days in Sheung Wan, one of my favorite areas in the city. We of course overtook The Peak, and this time I got to the amazing view via the old tram, which was a vertical experience to say the least. We also paid a visit to the famous Ocean Park, where the inner child was freed. Ocean Park has it all: big aquarium with mysterious sea creatures, cutest pandas doing absolutely nothing apart from sleeping, and fun roller coasters. We topped it all off with a dolphin show, where we also saw some amazing head accessorizing. Other fun shenanigans of course included shopping, some LKFing and eating dim sum at the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world (Tim Ho Wan). I went to Macau for the second time, and enjoyed a fancy evening inside of the largest casino in the world – The Venetian, Macao. A friend back from primary school also popped by on her way to the Philippines, and we of course also stuffed ourselves at Tim Ho Wan concluding the evening with buying funky iphone cover.

I also found my inner hostel patriotism during my last weeks in HK. The past few months I have lived in an all-girls dormitory, better known as Wen Chi Tang. We are three exchange students living in this bloc, so together we have explored hostel life, with the help from some sweet-hearted local Wen Chi Tang’ers. Hong Kong dormitory life is nothing like my previous experiences of gloomy dormitory existence. In HK there are so many activities going on within your own home that you do not even need to join the activities offered at the University level. It has also been very difficult to say goodbye to my home-girls-exchange-crew :(( Lately we have been spending most of our time together, whether it be in the library or at an amazing Vietnamese restaurant or in a basement for an underground party.  My roommate also had to leave me prematurely on her own adventures, and a tearful parting was unavoidable. It is always so hard to say goodbye!

Exam period was stressful as I had five of them, with various hand-ins as a side-activity. But I don’t even want to dwell on it or waste blog-space on such a boring subject. Pretend the last two lines never happened.

If there is one thing you got to know about me, it is the fact that I am a sucker for Christmas. The whole charade. Glitter, decorations, lights, snowmen, Santa, Christmas bakeries, movies, carols, jingle bells – I eat the whole season up. Though Christmas may not be on the top of the list in seasonal celebrations in China, I was still surprised at the many decorations to be found around the city. It really warmed my Christmas heart. I also have two considerate friends back home, who as a surprise send me a humongous package, containing all what a Christmas heart can desire. From the content of such mentioned package, along with a loving mommy who also contributed to the festivities, some friends and I were able to put together a JULE-HYGGE DAY (I apologize, but in this SINGULAR, one-off case, the English language is void of words with same inherent meaning as HYGGE). My Finish sister had outdone herself on this occasion making ginger bread and glög. Christmas therefore came early to Hong Kong.

Shenzhen was also visited which essentially makes a good campfire story. My friend and I effectively got deported from China. Yes. Deported. You would think having travelled around Asia for so many months would have made me into a pro, but sadly not. Turns out I forgot to check my double-entry visa expiration date, and voila: Chinese border-control-man asks me to step aside in a not so friendly tone. However, after being escorted back across the border, several sweaty moments on the Hong Kong side with no passport, and a big fat stamp saying CANCELED on a fresh passport page, I finally got to purchase a one-day visa and commence my shopping spree.

Conclusively, I’d like to think that the 17th of December is a magical day, as this is the day I was born. Despite exam stress and empty wallets as the exchange experience is coming to an abrupt end, I was celebrated by some beautiful people who made my day very special. Especially because a special lady plastered up posters all over 2nd floor in my hostel, making sure everybody knew this was my day.

On such a happy note, I will end my blogging from Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong and I have unfinished business, and I will without a doubt be back, so who knows – maybe a new Hong Kong post awaits in the near future.

Monkey Business

Before I let my new Hong Kong rants unravel, I must make an announcement. As for those who follow my blog, you may well remember that in my previous post on Hong Kong I promised to search for the monkey, which is rumored to be on campus. I must disappoint in saying that my wilderness skills are non-existent, and I have therefore not been able to gain up on the creature yet. However, my dear, dear friend from Finland clearly knows a thing or two on how to search for this climbing beast. On her way to class a cat-like noise caught her attention (ironically the same class I go to, had I not been in the Philippines). Only, the noise came from a big, fat monkey indulging in human trash. By courtesy of Karoliina, I hereby give you proof of her encounter, which also satisfy my need for settling the “rumor”.

Just as in my last post, my taste buds have once again been catered to. One experience worth reporting on – which I am admittedly late at trying out – was a visit at Mr. Wong’s. From the outside, this restaurant looks like your average Chinese restaurant found on any side street of this city. Yet, the personality of the owner differentiates this joint from all the other eateries. For 50hkd, Mr. Wong will provide you with enough food and drinks to last you a week, whilst telling you life stories and other fun anecdotes. I cannot guarantee that all of these stories will be understood; as I am yet to uncover what language he is truly speaking. However, the English that I do understand brings a huge smile to my face, and a night here guarantees you a lot of fun – well worth your money. Also, dim sum is slowly becoming the center of my universe. It is without a doubt the best Sunday pastime I can think of, and luckily I have an obliging roomie who willingly takes me to the local hotspot near campus so I can get my dim sum fix. It is no joke that Hong Kong is famous for its food. If you know where to go, you will not be disappointed. Even if you don’t know where to go (like me), behind my veil of ignorance, I have still not been disappointed.

I also started attending regular dance classes at a dance studio near Tsim Sha Tsui (Infinity Dance Studio). I have danced for some time now, without ever claiming to be good at it, but having always loved it. However, for some time back in little Denmark, I’ve felt like I lost the joy in dance, lost the fun in it all. Luckily, the classes in Hong Kong have proven amazing. The level is better than at home, with teachers and students who all move with such breathtaking accuracy that my eyes hurt a little. My lack of skills becomes even more apparent – BUT: I have rediscovered the fun – and it feels great. One Sunday the studio even had a workshop with one of my favorite female choreographers from the US, which was an amazing opportunity. I always leave that place with a smile.

More sights have also been uncovered. Along with a good friend, I managed to explore more of Central, in particular the trendy area of SoHo (South of Hollywood Road). Here you can find the Central-Mid-Levels escalator, which according to the ‘oh so’ reliable source of Wikipedia is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. In this area you will find bars upon bars, offering happy hours and tapas deals and the offerings keep on meeting you as you move up the escalator. Nearby I also stumbled upon Man Mo Temple, a small delight of Chinese worship. The mix of darkness and incent and the noise from the city outside is a strange but amusing mixture. It really exemplifies the contrasts, which you will find in Hong Kong, the modernity with a touch of longing for the ancient. Hong Kong Park also proved a highlight for me. It is somewhat of a strange mixture of your usual park-like elements such as trees and flowers, but also contains a museum of tea ware and experimental playgrounds. Nonetheless, the fact that skyscrapers are surrounding this spot truly makes it seem like a little oasis where one can escape. I will definitely come back here before immigration kicks me out.

Classes at the university are still interesting and “entertaining”, in particular my literature class. It is greatly amusing to have a Chinese professor teaching you 20th Century, English literature. Not that that is not perfectly doable, but it does add a whole other dimension to the learning and the way a text is approached. Clear culture differences become apparent in this class. Generally it has proven hard to sufficiently balance exchange amusing’s and serious learning. I never quite seem to find the right balance, some days amusement is winning, and on others the inner nerd.

My exchange semester is fleeing me and I desperately try to make the fleeting and momentary experiences last. I wish I could hit pause on the remote so as to prolong some wonderful moments here in Hong Kong. The city never ceases to amaze me, and I wish I could put my finger on why. Partly, I think, my fascination manifests itself in the eternal vibrancy and vitality. There is always something to do, somewhere to be, something to see.  This constant opportunity of uncovering new adventures is so stimulating and makes you feel like you are in the center of the happenings.

I will hopefully be able to post once more from this center, before departing for ……… Thailand.

Nasi Goreng vs. Mooncakes

Only a few weeks into the semester, and the first mini-holiday presented itself. The Mid-Autumn Festival / Mooncake Festival / Chinese Lantern Festival provided me with an extended weekend, and I of course had to use that opportunity to see more of Asia.

I thus left behind Hong Kong and all the mooncakes, and instead headed off to Jakarta – Indonesia – with my travel companion, Mette.

Travelling by plane was the oddest thing! After so many weeks of travelling by train with Mette through China, it was strange to once again feel the comforts of a plane seat. Flying with Garouda Air, and having the dilemma of choosing what movies to indulge in on the 5 hour journey from Hong Kong was a luxury.

Now, what made this five-day holiday great was undoubtedly the open arms we were met with. Family friends of my parents opened their door to us, and not only provided us with the best accommodation one could wish for, but enlightened us with insider-information and secrets of this wild capital, catered to our taste buds, provided excellent company and late-night talks. It is also because of them that I finally got to watch “The Painted Veil. It is not the first time I have drawn on their hospitality, and I do hope it will not be the last time, either. Experiencing Jakarta would not have been the same without the Hejl-family.

Jakarta served as an interesting contrast to the rest of our journey through Russia, Mongolia and China. The vibe and the dynamics that prevail here differed immensely, and I loved every contrast.

This capital is the most populous city in Southeast Asia, which clearly shows once you try to get trapped in the infamous traffic jams. These macro-jams won’t get any better any time soon. According to the Economist, traffic gridlock will occur by 2014, unless the government makes drastic changes to the infrastructure. Because of urban migration, more and more vehicles are added to the existing roads, putting pressure on the whole setup. Hopefully the future will provide a solution, so as to facilitate and ignite the country and its economy.

The people of Jakarta proved to be absolutely wonderful. Everywhere we turned we were met with the biggest smiles and by joyful laughter. I often feel quite uncomfortable taking pictures of locals, as I feel I am invading a space where I am genuinely not allowed. However, several times we experienced how the Indonesians were the ones contacting us, asking if they could pose for a picture. They found it so amusing. Also, several encounters with children gave us another great insight into Indonesian culture: there is an all-prevailing curiosity, which helped to eliminate all barriers of contact. It was great to have these direct-encounters, even though we could only visit the city for such a short period.

Taman Mini was visited, which is a recreational park displaying the Indonesian culture. I was astonished by the beautiful and detailed architecture you could find here, as local pavilions and houses had been set up to demonstrate just how different such are in the various provinces of Indonesia. We also enjoyed a few hours at the Indonesian Museum, and visited the bird park here – activities which all exceeded my expectations. However, watching Indonesian traditional dances performed by local children hit home run with me. The hand movements are so intricate, and you easily lose all sense of time and space if you keep watching these mesmerizing moves.

Sunday unfolded itself at Thousand Island in the waters of Jakarta Bay. I would not mind spending every Sunday like this. Turquoise waters, sandy beaches and snorkeling opportunities. What more could one ask for?

Experiencing the beautiful Jakarta Cathedral and Istiqlal Mosque also gave me a great insight into this capital. What resonates with me very deeply is when several religions can unfold themselves within the same borders, and I find Indonesia – and also Malaysia – as great examples of such. These two great, religious buildings are not only equally respected, but are also built right next to each other. You only have to cross the main street to move from one sacred building to the other. Mutual respect and understanding is something the rest of the world should take a note of.

Bogor Botanical Gardens also proved worth a visit. Situated some 60 km outside of Jakarta, the park consists of more than 15,000 plants and trees. It is said to be Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who initiated the building of the gardens, so a thick history of colonialism hangs over the place. The trees were gigantic, and it was a great feeling walking around so much greenery after having spent a few days in in a city choked with poverty and pollution.

Yummy in my tummy!

Whilst Jakarta features on many black lists, such as the ugliest city, the most hated city, etc., I certainly found a charm here. Perhaps the Indonesian language gave me positive connotations to my travels in Malaysia, which then may have fogged my judgment. Perhaps, the comforts of staying with family friends blurred reality. However, I came to really enjoy my stay. I ate a lot of Nasi Goreng, was overjoyed by the friendly people I met, and found a beauty in the rough streets. Clouded judgment or not, I wish and hope to come back one day, to explore the rest of Indonesia.

/Krissy

Concrete Jungle

Shanghai is real China, but perhaps just not the real China you had in mind.

Such begins the chapter in the ever faithful ‘Lonely Planet’, the backpackers Bible.

When I reminisce and think back to the very beginning of my journey, the contrasts are undeniable. There are no similarities between the Mongolian steppes and this concrete jungle I finally reached: Shanghai. Walking the famous Shanghai pedestrian street of Nanjing Road and strolling along the pier at The Bund, I almost feel like I entered a different country. Modernity screams at you wherever you wander, and you quickly come to realise that this is the future of this region – not the dusty imperial palaces I left behind in Beijing.

Architectural wonders
Architectural wonders

Also, the obsessive picture-requests and the obligatory peace-signs whilst taking such are no longer part of my everyday life. The city is veiled in annoying Western civility. That said, Shanghai has an addictive charm. The city is vibrant and vivacious. The skyscrapers are architectural wonders, and your neck is bent to its limits as you try to take snap-shots of the reflections of the clouds in these wondrous buildings. And lets face it, the glamorous life will always draw humanity in. A year or two in this city would not conjure up much protest from me; nor will my closet object, as it will be replenished by the many shopping opportunities.

An example of the beautifully intricate Chinese Calligraphy. via China the Beautiful.

Shanghai has a really cool art scene, with a few, free delights. We managed to find Shanghai Art Gallery down by The Bund, which had a really fascinating display of modern photography (and other funky installations). The space had a rustic downtown NYC-apartment-feel to it, with a world-class view over Shanghai skyline. However, a thin brown linen was rightfully covering the windows so as not to detract from the art. Shanghai Museum (a museum of ancient Chinese art) was also visited, but because we have seen more potteries, snuff-bottles and bronze figures than my heart can possibly contain (apologies to my archeology roomie back in Denmark!), we skipped most of it and just enjoyed the calligraphy exhibition.

Have a click or 8 on the Google map. Each placemark includes a little info of the site it represents. :)

The Chinese charm can also be found in Old Town, built in the 11th century, where we sloped around in the humid weather. Generally, Shanghai is full of lovely neighborhoods and small quarters, if the skyscrapers and modernity get too much for you.

Shanghai Old Town

Due to the French Concession until 1946, a lot of typical European architectural styles can be easily detected. In fact, many of the streets in this city bring forth many childhood memories, as I spent five or six summers straight in France. Most Shanghai side streets have a row of trees on each side, and this leafy effect, along with the little light that seeps through the canopy makes me feel like I am back in Aix en Provence.

France or China

The Urban Planning Exhibition is also highly recommendable. If you are just the slightest interested in architecture, this is the place for you; one can easily use an entire day here. It will also appeal to the kid inside of you, with a panorama-3D visual video, which takes you through the city. Also, the many after-and-before pictures of Shanghai will evidently shock you. The city sure did not look the same in the 1980s.

The highlight of my stay in Shanghai was definitely the very lovely dinner Mette and I got to enjoy at couch-surfer-Nicole’s beautiful apartment, along with her boyfriend Daniel. I must once again praise this concept. As I entered the apartment, I met two strangers, and after 5 lovely hours, I left the building socially enriched (and also with a stomach full of mouth-watering food). We got around important life-topics, everything from schooling systems, politics and Chinese history and hope I can one day show them around Copenhagen.

And here’s delightful footage of the Bund, taken from The Guardian:


//Krissy

Nihao China

Crossing the border from Mongolia to China was neither fun nor a speedy experience. First you stop for hours on the Mongolian side whilst passports are collected and forms are filled out. After hours of just standing still, not being allowed out, you roll over the border only to repeat the procedure with the Chinese officials. Only in China, the wheels of the train also had to be switched so as to fit the Chinese railway system — so you can add a few hours of lifting and sinking the entire train.

Coming from one of the least populated countries (yes, Mongolia) to a city like Beijing was simply just absurd. The contradictions were undeniable. No holes in the roads, gargantuan billboard signs, modernity and masses of human flesh everywhere. And it was GREAT! We stayed at Peking Youth Hostel, somewhat pricier than others, but definitely worth the extra dimes you throw in. It is not only impeccably clean, but you live in the middle of a gorgeous hutong (Chinese old-school alleys), and you only need to step out to one of the first side-roads to find your 5 yuan-dumplings for a hearty breakfast.

The Great Mao, cute like a Teletubby. :D

The Forbidden City is a vast tourist trap – but nonetheless a trap you want to be caught in. The impressive Mao painting greets you as you enter the No. 1 sight in Beijing, where emperors have done their living (with their many concubines), 500 years ago. I expected to see a lot of tourists at this historic site. Only, 99% of them are Chinese tourists, and it just feels like you are enmeshed in China. The highlight of our Forbidden City visit was, however, the lining up of Chinese kids and young fellas who all wanted their pictures taken with us (in particular the beautiful, blonde Mette was an instant hit). Here we are, standing in front of a UNESCO World Heritage site and people are throwing peace signs around, yelling if they can just have one more picture, plastering babies up on our laps and giggling fervently as they move on.

Forbidden City

Of course we also did the mandatory trip to The Great Wall. It might be somewhat of a cliché, but this site easily makes one of my highlights of this trip so far. The oldest sections of the wall were built 2000 years ago, and it is difficult to grasp how humans constructed this protective installment, high up in the Chinese mountains.

The way the wall almost meanders and rolls from mountain peak to mountain peak was breathtaking. We went to the Jinshanling section of the wall, which I can recommend. Stories from other backpackers have been horrendous, especially at the Badaling section, where it seems like you cannot HIKE the wall, you can only STAND STILL – simply due to masses and masses of the species we tend to call tourists. Our hike was in total around 8 km and though I wish it could have gone on longer, I enjoyed every minute and every mountain peak of it.

Great Wall of China (Jinshanling)
The Great Wall expedition was particularly memorable because of the ending to the day: Peking duck for dinner. Mette and I managed to randomly pick a restaurant, which happened to be the very same one recommended by the Peking Youth Hostel. Whilst duck is always good, you simply cannot go to Beijing without trying out this specialty.

The Summer Palace was also given a visit, and once again the size of the site took me aback. Bring good shoes and spend most of your day here. You can enjoy beautiful views from the Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion, overlooking Kunming Lake, which makes up most of the palace grounds. We ended the day by going past the Bird’s Nest-or the 2008 Olympics stadium-which despite much architectural protest, Mette and I still find quite mesmerizing.

Peking opera is the most absurd entertainment form, I’ve ever witnessed. Part singing, part dancing, part martial arts and part acting – you certainly get value for money. The costumes and make-up are fascinating, but the music and the “opera” takes some getting used to. However, I really love, that we have taken our time to watch a cultural performance at each location, which we have been fortunate enough to visit. Watching, and trying to understand the beauty of each art form, has given me an almost intimate insight into the country’s culture and heritage.

Peking opera

You will find the true Beijing spirit in their many parks. You can always find elderly doing some workout, dance sequences with swords, and best of all: couples dancing in the evening. It seems like the parks serve as a platform for social interaction and some outdoors exercising, and it has been really moving to observe. I hope when I grow old that I will go dancing in the park on a summer evening with my boo.

Usually, when you relay your memories from your Asian travels, you often dedicate at least one paragraph to describe the insane driving done in such parts of the world. And whilst I’ll go ahead and make the same kind of dedication, I must disappoint and praise the infrastructure in Beijing instead. Sure we had a little traffic jam in the morning and in the evening going to and back from The Great Wall, but nothing that came close to Mongolia (or Vietnam or Malaysia or any other place I’ve travelled through). And the metro system simply works, especially if you push and shove just like the Chinese to ensure a spot on the new-tuned vehicles.

I will admit that all my praise may not have been as rightfully fitting prior to 2008. The Olympics certainly ensured a sprucing up of the city. Nonetheless, Beijing proved wonderful, and I leave it with a full stomach and happy memories.

Food stall in Beijing
Uhm….I’ll have the third from the left, please!
The photos are taken by me using my trusty point-and-shoot camera, and edited in Lightroom 4 by my boyfriend back at home. :)

/Krissy