Monday, 24 December 2012

Current happiness and hope for future adventures

All is well. I am sitting in a sofa at my mother's place with a cat by my side. Outside are snow-covered fields and forests, and more snow has been falling ever since I got here. I have just handed in the last of my reports for the year. There is a take-home exam in January which I dread, but I try not to think of it, determined to enjoy at least a few days' peace. Tonight I was at the cinema with my best friend and saw The Hobbit, in 3D and all. Over-the-top and drawn-out battle-scenes or not, I got entirely blown away and enjoyed every second of it. It filled me with a fuzzy feeling of happiness to think that in a year I will go there. Well, maybe not to Middle Earth itself, but to New Zealand!

That's right. I got a place as an exchange student at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Well, formally I still have to be accepted to the university itself as well, but it is as good as settled. I will really go there! I'm so happy and excited I have a hard time not jumping up and down in joy every time I think about it. I have wanted to go there for so very long. It really is a dream come true! Adventures await next spring! I am hell of nervous, but ten times as reassured that the awesomeness of it all will be worth any and all panic attacks. 

Tomorrow is christmas' eve, and I think I will go skiing. Then we will go visit grandma, and I will enjoy some well-needed time off. Go out and play in the snow just for the sake of it, build a fire, celebrate the return of the undefeated sun, see my friends and such things. Oh how I love the winter. The snow is still whirling around, brightening up the blackness outside. I listen to a list of my favourite songs this year which I compiled. The future is a big, fluffy cloud of hope. I am in love with the whole world right now.

Happy midwinter, readers! Please feed off my happiness and positivism, I've got plenty to share at the moment. Have some love as well.

Winterdragon

Monday, 10 December 2012

Sunday, bloody Sunday

That feeling when you've been coding all day and your program is fucked up but you just can't see what you did wrong and then there turns out to be a friggin' minus sign missing in one of the equations which in some magical way solves everything when you put it there after trying a million other things and tearing your hair in frustration for about three hours...

*draws deep breath*

Yes, that exact feeling. What am I doing with my life?! Damn it. Damn it all to hell.

Oh well, at least there is snow. It is soft and white and silent and it has been falling and whirling around all day. I went out and created an angel. It makes me happy, the snow, and muffles the senseless wrath within me. Now I'm going to have a couple of cookies along with a glass of almond milk, then go to bed and try not to worry about anything in the whole world. There is a whole monday tomorrow for me to catch up on my worrying.

Love, frustration, and snow,
Winterdragon

Saturday, 1 December 2012

NaNoWriMo SUCCESS!

I DID IT! I fucking DID it! I wrote a freakin' novel in a month's time! 50016 words, take that, ya pansies! 


So I actually WON NaNoWriMo. I set out to write a novel, and I bloody well did it. Oh all right, this is draft number one (AKA draft of shittiness), and there are plot holes all the way to China. Not to mention crappy and repetitive formulations, loose threads and mysteries that I haven't even begun to tie together or unravel, shallow world concepts and storylines that wouldn't hold together with a ton of duct-tape. But you know what, that's okay! I still finished the damn story. I have created a piece of writing that is longer by far than anything else I have written before, ever. I set a story free that has been slumbering within my mind for years, and was it ever glad to finally find its way out! I let the characters run around creating absolute mayhem, and watched as my story took turns I would never have imagined it would do a month ago.

So if I've learned one thing from this whole ordeal it is that the best way to write a good story is to actually WRITE IT. No matter how you look at it, that is the way it has to begin, and it is also the biggest hurdle to get over, at least for me. I am fairly good at finishing things, but actually getting out there and starting doing something takes a hell of a lot determination and courage. Mind you, I still have a whole lot of work ahead of me if I ever want to see this story finished enough to let anybody else than my best friend read it, but I think I might just possibly have gathered enough writing momentum and self-confidence to do that now. I know that I have acquired inspiration and motivation in abundance, if nothing else. I write, ergo I am a writer now. Published or not, that is still rather awesome.

Now I am thoroughly exhausted and would like to sleep for a month. Wake me up by christmas, okay? Heh, I wish. Tomorrow I am going to retake control of the mundanities in my life, such as washing the mountain of dishes that has been piling up in the kitchen, cooking some proper dinner, catching up with neglected homework, answering emails, going for a long nice run, and possibly even take a well-needed shower. After sleeping in as long as I bloody well feel like it for the first time in over a month, mind you.

High fives from your very own creative genius,
Winterdragon

Friday, 9 November 2012

The madness begins

Oh my gods. What have I done? I have just killed two of my characters, characters I really liked. It was painful to write. This story is certainly starting to live its own life, and I am being sucked right into it. It is a wonderful and horrible feeling. Intense, in any case. Wow, to think that all of this was hidden somewhere within my head. This'll be some 22 interesting days for sure. I wonder what will happen next.

11901 words down, 38099 to go.
Winterdragon

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

NaNoWriMo

Well well, VeganMoFo didn't go too bad! I didn't reach the goal of 20 posts, but 15 is quite impressive considering my usual blogging frequency. Also taking into account that october was an insanely busy month study-wise it becomes rather fantastic. Yay, success! Hope you enjoyed it and maybe got a little bit inspired; I know I did. 

Now November is here, and with it (inter)National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo):

Check out NaNoWriMo!

This year I'm participating for the first time! An idea for a story that's been sleeping in my head for several years is finally going to find its way out. Not gonna share any details on what the story is about, though. Maybe afterwards, if things go reasonably well and I'm not all too embarrassed about it. I don't know how good my chances of success are, and it will indeed be a challenge to write 50000 words in 30 days. Not only is it longer than anything I've ever written before, it's also an insanely fast pace. This means I will have to send my inner editor on a trip to Hawaii while I write, otherwise I'll have no chance in hell of getting anywhere at all. For some reason I decided to try writing in English, which is not my mother tongue, so that might become a challenge in itself. I'll do my best, though, and I think it will be fun (so far it is!). This will be the cause of my lack of presence in the blogosphere this month, and for general reclusiveness in real life as well. Family, friends and strangers: thank you for bearing with me!

Anybody else participating in NaNoWriMo this year? If not, see you on the other side of 50000 words of story!

Love and writing,
Winterdragon

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Huskur mot förkylning

Well, strängt taget går inte virusinfektioner att bota, men det finns sätt att göra tillfriskningsprocessen mer uthärdlig. Själv har jag just legat däckad i höstens första förkylning. Underbar tajming i och med att jag dessutom har en hemtenta att skriva. Det går inget vidare bra att tänka genom feberdimmorna. Hur som helst så är jag nu på bättringsvägen, och följande brygd har potentiellt varit orsaken till att hostandet och snorandet har hållt sig på en miniminivå. Jag samlade ihop alla tips vänner och släktingar kastade över mig och kokade ihop allt i en stor kopp.

Huskur mot förkylning

  • 2 cm färsk ingefära (riven)
  • 1 tsk torkade kamomillblommor
  • Några nypor torkad eller färsk timjan
  • Några nypor torkad salvia
  • Juice från en halv citron
  • 1-2 msk maskroshonung (agavesirap eller lönnsirap funkar också)
Lägg ingefäran, kamomillblommorna, timjan och salvia i ett tefilter. Placera filtret i en stor kopp och häll över kokande vatten. Låt dra fem minuter. Ta ur tefiltret och blanda i citron och maskroshonung.

Denna brygd har jag alltså pimplat mer eller mindre konstant under de senaste dagarna. Tämligen vätskedrivande, men värmande och välgörande.

Prosit,
Winterdragon

Monday, 29 October 2012

Recipe: Green Monstrosity

Have I got a smoothie recipe for you! I made it up all by myself yesterday morning, and I am rather proud of it. It's green, wicked tasty, and probably so healthy you might start sprouting carrots out of your ears if you don't watch out. It's the kind of thing the Hulk would drink for breakfast. Here ya go:

Green Monstrosity

  • One avocado
  • Two kiwis
  • 3 dl oatmilk (or non-dairy milk of your choice)
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 2 cm piece of fresh ginger, shredded
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
Put everything in a blender and blend until smooth.

Enjoy!
Winterdragon

P.S. If you dare try out the monstrosity, please do give me some feedback! It is my very first recipe to share in public.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

How to wash your hair without shampoo, vegan style

How to wash your hair in a vegan way? Even better, how to do it without using shampoo? It has now been two years since I last washed my hair with shampoo, and I am not planning going back to it anytime soon. There are thousands of ways out there to wash your hair without shapmpoo, but now I'm just going to share the routine I have acquired so far. It works incredibly well for me, but I cannot guarantee it will work equally well for all hair types. The only way to find out what works for you is through experiment. Let the science begin!

Things you need:
  • Baking soda (for you Swedes reading this, note that this translates to bikarbonat, not bakpulver)
  • Maple syrup (optional)
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Camomile infusion (optional, mainly recommended for blonde hair)
  • Coconut oil (optional)
How to proceed:
  1. Prepare the shampoo substitute first. I do this by taking a small plastic bottle and filling it about halfway up with baking soda. Fill about half of the remaining space with maple syrup (if you like), and then fill up to the top with water. Give the bottle a good shake, until everything is mixed into a slushy consistency. The stuff will separate with time, so you will need to re-shake it before every use.
  2. Next, prepare the conditioner substitute. I usually take a plastic litre-bottle, pour in about half a deciliter of apple cider vinegar, and fill up the rest of it with cold water. Give it a good shake, to mix it up. If you like, you can use camomile decoction (like camomile herbal tea) instead of water. I do this when I remember to prepare it well in advance so that it has had time to cool. Supposedly the camomile should lighten the hair colour somewhat, but mainly it smells nice.
  3. Start out the washing by thoroughly wetten your hair in warm water (opens up the pores in the scalp, making washing more efficient). Pour a bit (about 1-3 tsp) of the baking soda mixture into your hands and smear it evenly across your scalp. Gently massage your scalp with your fingertips (not the lenghts, just the scalp!) for a few minutes.
  4. Thoroughly rinse your hair and scalp with warm water, making sure to remove every trace of baking soda. Take your time, it will need a bit longer than ordinary shampoo to wash out. When you're done, swiftly rinse with cold water. This will close the scales on the strands of hair, leaving them less prone to break.
  5. Pour the apple cider vinegar-mixture over the hair, making sure to incorporate it into the entire hair as well as the scalp. This is important in order to neutralise the base of the baking soda. Do not rinse afterwards!
  6. All done! If you want to treat your hair as gentle as possible, let it dry on its own accord, and do not comb or brush it until completely dry. If you like, you can apply a tiny bit of coconut oil on the hair ends as it dries, to protect them from splitting. I only do this once in a while.
Like I said, this is a process that works for my hair (which is, for the record, long, straight and blonde). I have acquired it through a bit of experimentation back and forth over the past two years. As of now, I wash my hair on average once every five days, and it has become stronger and better-looking than ever before. There are many reasons not to want to use shampoo, but I will blather about them another time. For now I shall simply say: good luck with the experimentation, if you feel inclined to give it a try. I'd be delighted if you shared any experience on the matter with me.

Oh say, can you see my eyes?
If you can, then my hair's too short!

Love and haaaaiiiir,
Winterdragon

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Vegan things I don't eat

I've gone on and on about vegan things to eat this month, so how about flipping the question upside down: what vegan things do I not eat? (Er, vegan things generally considered edible, that is.) I'm actually not all that picky. Well, some would say that being vegan in itself is being majorly picky, but I consider it merely re-defining the word "edible". I've even endeavoured to learn to eat (and even like) things I previously felt suspicious towards

Anyway, there are a couple of things I still just cannot stand, no matter how diplomatic and well-mannered I try to be.
  • Garlic. My reason for detesting garlic is not, contrary to popular belief, that I am a vampire, but that I am simply allergic to it. Well, I also find the taste and smell of it revolting, but getting massive stomach-pains after eating it doesn't really make it more appealing.
  • Grapefruit. Ugh, the bitterness. Fuck grapefruit.
  • Blue cheese. Yes, even the vegan variety. Mold doesn't belong in food, damnit!
Hm, now that I think about it, I cannot quite recall anything else that I've actually tasted and subsequently refused to eat. Sure, there are things I dislike, but not to the point of wanting to eliminate them from the Earth's surface so that nobody will try to feed me with them. If I were to include meat-, egg- and dairy products, the list would be several orders of magnitudes longer, but since such things no longer fall within my definition of food I will not bother mentioning them. Overall I really like vegan food.

What foods do you dislike to the point of refusing to eat them?

Winterdragon

For the love of pancakes

My favourite food hasn't changed since I went vegan. Or since I was a small kid, for that matter. I've always been ridiculously fond of pancakes. While it might not be the most wholesome food in the Universe, I still like it so much I gladly eat it several times a week if my flat-mate doesn't stop me. I've tried quite a few pancake recipes since I went vegan, but this one is my favourite. It holds together nicely if you've got a cast iron pan and a bit of pancake-flipping skills. (If you don't, go get a cast iron pan because they're bloody fantastic, and go practise your pancake-flipping skills. I assure you that you will level up in the process.) Plus, the ingredient list is simple and minimalistic, no fancy egg-replacers or such things needed.

The recipe in question is from Vegania (in Swedish), so I take no credit whatsoever for it, but for your delight I have here translated it into Enlish.

Pancakes

  • 3.5 dl flour
  • 6 dl non-dairy milk
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Mix everything together, making sure to eliminate all lumps. A tip is to start out with about half of the milk and whisk in the flour little by little, only adding the remaining ingredients once the batter is smooth. Pre-heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat for about ten minutes while letting the batter rest in the fridge. Coat the pan with a thin layer of rapeseed oil, then pour in a bit of batter and tilt the pan to spread it out evenly. Fry until the pancake is brown around the edges, making sure it holds together, then use a thin spatula to flip it and fry until the under-side as well is golden brown. Repeat until batter runs out. The recipe should make about ten thin pancakes, depending on how big your frying pan is.

Remember that practise makes perfect when it comes to flipping pancakes! I've only perfected my technique through years of experience, so do not despair if they turn out more scrambled than flat the first time. Just have patience and try again, and you as well will master the subtle art of pancake-making.

One reason I like pancakes so much is their versatility. You can stuff them with things, put (vegan) cheese on top, shove them into the oven and make crèpes. You can pile them on top of each other, coat them with (vegan) cream and make a pancake-cake (the concept is called pannkakstårta in Swedish, but in English it just sounds riddiculous. damn tasty, though). You can put jam or ice-cream or syrup or fruit or just about anything on top of them. You can roll them up and take them with you on excursions. You can eat them for breakfast or for lunch or for dinner or as a midnight snack. You can put interesting things in the batter and see how it turns out. Today I made pumpkin-pancakes, just because it seemed like a good idea (turns out it was). Gingerbread-spices was also a hit. So was mashed bananas and coconut. I could go on and on, but I'll leave the other possibilities to your imagination.

How do you like your pancakes? (I assume, of course, that you do like pancakes, otherwise you probably wouldn't have read this far.)

Love and pancakes,
Winterdragon

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Restaurant tip: Kao's

Argh, so much to do. Exam period approaching, and I'm swamped. Outlooks for completing VeganMoFo successfully look bleak. Well, I'll try and there is still time.

Time for another restaurant tip! If you happen to be passing by Malmö you should take the time to visit Kao's. Very nice restaurant which I visited today for both dinner and desserts. Their lunch menu includes "vegetable of the day" and "fake (meat) of the day", so there is something for every taste. Incredibly tasty stuff, and interesting beverages. Entirely vegan, and strongly recommended!

Monday, 15 October 2012

The hardest part of being vegan

Today is a very busy day for me. Furthermore, it's an unusually miserable Monday which I'd much rather spend curled up beneath the sheets than studying and meeting people and whatnot. I'll just do my best to make it through the day, and hope I manage without falling apart mentally or physically until I get home. Due to these worldly circumstances, I'm going to cheat a bit and do a reprise of an old post for VeganMoFo today. 

You remember I talked about overcoming reasons against eating vegan? Well, it turns out I wasn't as truthful as I could have been. The very hardest part of going vegan (for me) had nothing at all to do with stopping eating certain things. It is the social aspect of it all that I find hardest to deal with and that at times leaves me feeling utterly de-motivated. The never-ending questioning of my choice by people around me, friends and strangers alike.

If you have not already, I can recommend that you read this post that I wrote about a year ago: Take Me As I Am. It pretty much sums up my sentiment on the matter. A sentiment that is still relevant, especially on days like this, when I'm not at my best. 

Anyone else who's made a supposedly radical lifestyle decision and can relate? Or am I just being whiny?

Winterdragon


Sunday, 14 October 2012

Den perfekta kryddhyllan

Kryddor är kul! Jag gillar kryddstark mat och tycker om att experimentera med olika kryddkombinationer. Kryddor kan få vilka alldagliga ingredienser som helst att smaka fantastiskt, så även för den som inte är rik nog att ha en stor matbudget kan det vara väl värt att investera i en välfylld kryddhylla för att levla upp sin mat från tråkig till intressant.*

Jag har ett antal kryddor som jag alltid försöker se till att ha hemma. I princip alla använder jag regelbundet, dock vissa mer än andra. De understrukna här nedan använder jag så gott som dagligen, och jag skulle inte betrakta ett kök där dessa saknades som komplett. Här följer min kryddhylla:

  • Basilika
  • Dragon
  • Cayenne
  • Chili
  • Curry (färdigköpt kryddblandning)
  • Dill
  • Garam masala (färdigköpt kryddblanding)
  • Gräslök
  • Gurkmeja
  • Ingefära
  • Kanel
  • Kardemumma
  • Koriander (både frön och blad)
  • Kryddnejlika
  • Kryddpeppar
  • Kummin
  • Lagerblad
  • Mejram
  • Muskot
  • Mynta
  • Oregano
  • Paprika
  • Persilja
  • Rosmarin
  • Rökextrakt ("Liquid Smoke", men röksalt funkar också)
  • Salt
  • Salvia
  • Senapsfrö
  • Spiskummin
  • Svartpeppar
  • Tacokrydda (hemmagjord kryddblandning)
  • Tandoori masala (hemmagjord kryddblandning)
  • Timjan
  • Vanilj
  • Vitpeppar

Naturligtvis föredrar jag färska kryddor i de fall det är applicerbart, men det är sällan jag tycker mig ha råd att kosta på mig det, och då är det inte så dumt att ha en massa burkar med väldoftande pulver i.

Sen kommer ju den svåra frågan om hur kryddhyllan skall organiseras. Tio poäng till den som kan lista ut mönstret i hur jag har sorterat kryddorna här nedan:



Vilka kryddor finns på din kryddhylla, och vilka skulle du inte klara dig utan?

Kärlek och kryddor,
Winterdragon

*I min värld är intressant det bästa möjliga omdöme en maträtt (eller böcker eller människor eller vad som helst för den delen) kan få. Det är inte på något sätt ett nedvärderande adjektiv i mina öron.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The sound of cooking goes "minnnng!"

I've mentioned before that when going vegan I decided to learn to cook properly. As I've said, I've practically detested cooking before, and hardly had skills to make anything more advanced than pancakes. Really, I could barely make microwave popcorn without setting off the smoke alarm. I guess I simply found cooking exceptionally boring, which is never any help if one wants to learn something. 

Now, however, I'm making process in my quest towards learning to cook, and am slowly turning to like cooking. I have a little motivational trick that makes the prospect of spending hours in the kitchen not only tolerable, but even appealing. Even doing the dishes becomes a joy. The secret is audiobooks. I was sceptical towards the concept at first, but when my flat-mate started listening through the Harry Potter series while doing domestic chores I joined in on the listening and actually enjoyed it a great deal. If the person doing the reading is good enough at it, it actually becomes almost as good (sometimes even better) as reading the book yourself, with the additional bonus of making it easier to find time for it.

Right now I am listening my way through the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, books I can strongly recommend in any form to anyone unfamiliar with them. Especially if you like fantasy and enjoy a good laugh (who doesn't?). But even apart from the witty humour, they are lovely in so many ways.

“And why is it called Ming?”, said the arch-chancellor, on cue. The bursar tapped the pot. It went “minnnng!”
- Terry Pratchett (The wizards of Unseen University discussing etymology, Moving Pictures)

Do you like to listen to audiobooks as a means of motivation to do boring chores? Or in other circumstances? What do you listen to?

Love and audiobooks,
Winterdragon

Thursday, 11 October 2012

C is for cookies (that's good enough for me)!


Anybody who knows me could probably confirm that I am a real cookie-monster. I love cookies and sweets of almost all (vegan) varieties. And while cooking food is something I do more out of need than for enjoyment, I think baking cookies is quite fun. Maybe not as fun as eating them, but still.

For those of you who thought going vegan means giving up on cookies and baked goods forever—think again! Were that the case, I would have a very much harder time indeed sustaining this diet. It might not be the healthiest obsession, I am undoubtedly at least slightly addicted to sugar, but for now it brings me joy and do not cause others any harm, so what the hell. We all have our vices.

So how to bake these vegan cookies, then? What is the magic behind making cookies taste absolutely delicious without eggs and butter? Well, for a thorough course in the art of vegan cookie-making I can warmly recommend the following book: 


Vegan cookies invade your cookie jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Full of cookies of the most diverse kinds, even ones you can supposedly eat for breakfast (without the sugar crash an hour later that would normally follow, heh). I have owned the book for about a year, and have by now baked my way through about a third of the recipes. My skill level in cookie-baking is nowhere near high enough for me to be able to invent my own recipes, but at least I can follow instructions by now without screwing things up too bad. It helps that most recipes in this book are also ridiculously simple. You learn a few tricks, know what ingredients to keep on hand if the desire for cookies should arise, and you get the hang of it. Lots and lots of practise shouldn't hurt either, which is an excellent excuse to always have home-baked cookies in the pantry. I know at least that for me, my home doesn't feel complete without a well-filled cookie jar.

Do you have a favourite cookie? Myself I find the combination of peanut-butter and chocolate in a cookie nigh-on irresistible.

Love and cookies,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Running up that hill

Today I'm taking a break from VeganMoFo in order to write about something completely different: running. I have, since about half a year, taken up running. I really rather detest running. So why am I doing this, then? Well, let me tell you my story.

Last winter I was getting sick of not having trained anything at all for circa one and a half year. I was feeling tired and restless, and was fed up with getting sick all the time, so I figured it was time to do something about it. Ideally, I would have liked to take up longswordfighting again (I used to practise european medieval martial arts). I did miss it so terribly much. Unfortunately though, I was running low on both money and spare time, so in order to keep from going insane by stress and to be able to still pay the rent, I figured I needed something simpler. Something I could do alone, at any time, and for free. A bonus if it also got me out in the open air. Running seemed to fit the bill quite perfectly. The issue was just that I really hate running.

I don't want to hate running. I really like the concept in theory, and furthermore it would be very practical to be able to run more than a hundred meters without fainting if the need would arise. It's just that I've never been very good at it. Even back in the days when I was in great overall shape, training six days a week, I still couldn't run more than a kilometer or two without becoming thoroughly exhausted. I could never keep up with the others in school and at training, and it always felt so heavy. I went to doctors who checked whether I had asthma or leg injuries or anything else that might have affected my running, but they never found anything wrong. No matter how hard I tried, I just never seemed to be able to get the hang of running. I followed my trainers' advice on how to run with the "right" technique, but still it never got any easier. No wonder I found it terribly dull, and that's how I came to hate it.

Now, years later, taking up training again after an all too long hiatus, I just have two goals. I want to learn how to run, and more importantly, I want to learn to like running. My first attempt was quite pathetic, but now, having tried my best to keep up training three times a week for the past half a year, I'll have to say I'm getting better. I haven't bothered with keeping track of kilometers, times, speeds, steps and whatnot since I'm pretty certain doing so would only feed my obsessive tendencies and stress me out. Rather I try to focus on how I feel and how my body seems to react. I can now run more than six times as long as I could at first, and thanks to additional strengthening exercises, I feel stronger by the week. I don't get sick all the time anymore, and my physical and mental shape is starting to resemble that of a healthy human being. And as for motivation, I'm even starting to look forward to the next run, even though I still sometimes feel half-dead after completing my round. I'm still just at the beginning of this quest, but it might be interesting to reflect upon what got me this far.

First of all, music. I've noticed that I don't manage to push myself even half as far without some good music in my headphones. Preferably metal of some sort, but other upbeat or hypnotising music might work as well. Current favourites are Dream Theater, Epica, Florence + the Machine, Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Sonata Arctica and Emilie Autumn. Also running alone helps; having to compete with someone or having people running past me or behind me is just stressful and demotivating. I know many would probably disagree with me on this, but everyone is different and this is how I function. I prefer to be able to vanish into myself, the music and my surroundings in peace, without the performance anxiety that comes with having other people present.

The most profound contribution to my success thus far is, I think, that I have changed my way of running. A couple of months ago I started trying out so-called barefoot running technique (though still keeping my sneakers on): putting down the front of the foot first and springing back instead of the heel-first-and-roll-forwards technique that I struggled so (but failing) to master as a teenager. I read some information about barefoot running and watched a couple of videos, then I simply decided to try it out on my next run. I haven't gone back to running in any other way since! Somehow, running like this was kind of fun. Sure, tiring to a group of muscles I wasn't used to exercising, but I figured since I was so out of shape in any case I might as well build up those as any others from scratch. The second time I could run further than I had managed thus far the old way. What a feeling! It felt lighter, easier. Simply put, it felt right, and I began wondering if this was the way running was supposed to feel. I still struggle with getting my condition back, heartache and dizziness coming over me towards the end of almost every run, but at least the running itself doesn't feel like having to push my feet through a river of molasses anymore. It feels like I can finally use my legs for running, not just pure willpower. Yay!

Last week, I bought new running shoes. Such ones without any padding and with a separate socket for each toe. They look funny, but in my book that's a plus rather than a minus. More importantly, they're wicked comfortable. Having worn toe-socks for many years and loved it I'd looked at these shoes, wanting to try them out, long before I took up running. I wanted to be as close to barefoot as possible, without having to cut my feet on glass shards and sharp rocks (which is practically unavoidable when living in Lund). So now I finally got the salary from my summer work and could afford them. It feels absolutely fantastic to run in them. It's very much easier to get the technique right in them than in my old, padded sneakers. Also the muscles on my calves and around my ancles got to work more than they were used to, as I noticed by the severe muscle soreness I woke up with the following day. Putting much more time into stretching took care of that during future runs, though. I don't know really what way of running is ideal for the body, maybe it differs between different persons. I just know that this way seems to work incredibly well for me, compared with my old way of running. My evil knee, weakened by an injury some years ago which comes back to haunt me occasionally, hasn't bothered me at all since I started running barefoot style.

To round off this monster of a blog post, I shall commence to tell you about my run this morning. It was fantastic in a very unexpected way. I set out with my new shoes on and was pleased to find there was a brisk wind blowing, making leaves fly all around me. I just love wind in my hair, especially when running. After only about a minute raindrops started falling, but I didn't think much of it and ran on, since it was just a light drizzle. By the time I had done my stretching, however, it was positively pouring down! But stubborn as I am I figured I might as well run on; keeping moving should keep me warm I thought. Shortly thereafter my usual running path took me out of town and in between the fields. The wind was blowing like crazy out there, and the rain was hammering down like needles on my face. It was a struggle just to keep moving forwards and not be blown into the ditch. But I ran, soaked through and screaming from the rain-induced pain, all the way I had set out to run. Towards the end I decided to push it a little and attempt a short sprint. So I gave it all I had, and... what a feeling! It felt like my body just floated forwards, although my feet were pounding the ground. I could only keep it up for a few short moments before I had to slow down due to dizziness and heartache, but those glorious moments left a smile on my face that lasted all the way back home. I just couldn't help laughing like a madman. The whole run left me completely exhausted, but I really can't wait to get back out again. There might be hope for me growing to love running one day, after all!

Love and running,
Winterdragon

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Watching things grow

I've mentioned earlier that since I moved to this great big new apartment this spring, I've started experimenting with cultivating vegetables. Thought I might sum up the result of it all. 

In April the seeds were sown. Radishes, dill, salad, basil and parsley. Small plants were also bought and re-planted in larger pots. Tomatoes, physalis, red bell peppers, red hot chili peppers (no, not the band), thyme, chives and strawberries. Conscientiously, we watered the plants every day (even when we were away we had a friend taking care of them), giving them nourishment every Sunday, and trying not to drown them. It was a cold summer, but towards mid-june some of the radishes became large enough to eat, along with a little dill. The tomato plants grew over a meter tall, but no tomatoes were yet to be seen. Towards july our strawberry plant yielded a handful of tiny strawberries, and the salad ripened. Only towards the end of August, the tomatoes started becoming red, along with a few chilies. By then the basil and the parsley had also sprouted (though barely).

Now it is October, and most of the tomatoes are still hanging green outside the window. The bell peppers are starting to show hints of red, the physalis are turning yellow, and the chilies are ripening more every day. The leftovers of the salad plants has grown tall beyond recognition, and the last of the dill is struggling to stay alive. Most of the other herbs are doing fine, though. The nights are getting colder, and I do hope the vegetables manage to ripe before the frost takes them. But the days are getting shorter, and the sun doesn't warm as much anymore. We'll see. All I can do now is hope, otherwise I'll have to think up something to cook out of green tomatoes.

So, while our harvest has been in no way abundant, at least we've had a little yield of food from all the work we put into it. And it has sure been fun — it is indeed a luxury to be able to go out the back door to the terrace and pick a ripe tomato or a strawberry in the morning. Now we know the basics, and have hopefully learned from any mistakes we made, so the plan is to try again next spring. It is kind of exciting to watch things grow, if you have enough patience. I can have a lot, if in the right mindset. Also, it's a certain feeling to cultivating your own food. A skill that might come in handy one day.


Love and gardening,
Winterdragon

Friday, 5 October 2012

It's an acquired taste

Vegan topic of today is acquired tastes; things you used to dislike but have learned to eat or even like. Here's a list of a few of mine.
  • Oatmeal. Nowadays I can hardly imagine life without it, but as a kid I refused to eat it.
  • Mushrooms. Their spongy and sometimes slimy consistency has always had me viewing them with suspicion. Except chanterelles. I've always loved chanterelles. Now I can eat most (non-poisonous) mushrooms without grumbling.
  • Squash. I've learned to eat them despite their suspicious consistency, and sometimes even buy them myself. It's a very handy vegetable to like since everyone seems to assume that vegetarians adore them and eat them all the time.
  • Eggplant. Another one of those vegetables people usually assume all vegetarians love. I'm still struggling with its sliminess, but at least I can make myself eat it now, albeit reluctantly.
  • Tea. Not many kids like to drink tea I guess, and I certainly wasn't one of them. Now, though, I gladly drink tea of all varieties, usually about four cups a day.
  • Olives. I realised not so long ago that it had been more than ten years since I last tried olives, and decided to give them a chance. Admittedly, they tasted a bit peculiar, although not as revolting as I remembered.
  • Hot food in general. Maybe it's one of those things you grow to like as an adult. When I was little I wouldn't go anywhere near it, but nowadays I absolutely love intense spices and sweat-and-tear-inducing hotness.
What about you, dear readers? Do you have any acquired tastes?

Winterdragon

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Restaurant tip: Govindas

I really have a million things to do today, so this post will have to be a quick one. It could always be useful to know where to find restaurants serving vegan food. So, here is a tip relevant mainly for residents of Lund: Govindas, at Bredgatan 28. Being a hindu restaurant, they only serve vegetarian food, and always have a vegan option. They are only open around lunch, and the place has been tremendously crowded every time I've been there, including today. The atmosphere is nice, if a bit loud during the rush, and the food is always delicious and affordable. A major plus from my point of view is that garlic is considered unholy (for some reason) by hindus, so there is never any garlic in their food. Yay for me, being allergic and also detesting the taste of it. I can strongly recommend a visit! Students get a discount.

Love and food,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Recept: Nattgröt

Efter gårdagens vägg av text på engelska tänkte jag skriva ett kort och koncist inlägg på svenska idag, för omväxlings skull. Ett recept, hör och häpna! Starkt inspirerad av Angela Liddons recept vegan overnight oats, har jag skapat en försvenskad version av denna frukosträtt.

Nattgröt

  • 1 dl havregryn
  • En mosad banan
  • 2 msk krossade linfrön
  • 1 krm vaniljpulver
  • 2,5 dl havremjölk
Blanda alla ingredienser i en skål. Låt stå i kylskåp över natten. Äts kall med valfria tillbehör.

Om det faktum att gröten skall ätas kall gör dig skeptisk så kan jag ändå rekommendera att du ger det en chans. Själv tycker jag att den är fantastiskt god. Dessutom innebär det ju att jag inte ens behöver spendera en minut på att laga frukost på morgonen, vilket är en klar fördel eftersom mitt mentala tillstånd mest kan liknas vid en zombies fram till omkring lunch.

Förslag på variationer: stoppa i några bär eller lite frukt. Hacka några nötter och strö över. Blanda i kokosflingor. Jordnötssmör, sirap, sylt, äppelmos, choklad, kanel, andra kryddor. Möjligheterna är närmast oändliga...

God nattgröt, och på återseende!
Winterdragon

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Why go vegan?

Starting off Vegan Month of Food with some musings around the standard question: so why are you a vegan?

I've been vegan for one year and three months, to date. It started as a one-year pledge, to see if I could do it. Apparently I could! I might have failed on a couple of occasions, by mistake or not, but overall I think I managed really well. It was not so hard as I had imagined it would be, and I have started to learn how to cook properly, too, in the process.

So why keep it up, you ask? Why not put an end to this silliness, and start eating "proper" food again? Well, the only reasonable reasons for not eating vegan that I've encountered are taste, habit, and convenience. Habit, broke that one down with a minimum of confusion and turmoil as a result. Sure it takes some determination to break an addiction (which eating meat and cheese and stuff certainly is), but it can be done for sure. 

Convenience, there I had to acquire some knowledge to succeed. Although more and more vegan fast food options pop up every day in the supermarkets, the fact remains that if you want affordable food you'll have to learn how to cook it yourself. As for me, who is widely known as a kitchen-loathing domestic disaster, this was probably the biggest challenge. Luckily, though, I do love learning things, and I was dead set on not just learning how to cook, but also learning to like cooking. And believe it or not, I'm slowly succeeding! Things no longer blow up on a regular basis as soon as I attempt to make something more complicated than pancakes. I also have studied nutritional lore over and over, so don't you worry about me not getting enough proteins or vitamins or whatever.

As for taste, sure I still think that milk and cheese and fish and such things seems bloody delicious. Luckily, though, there exists an amazing variety of plant-foods that taste so good that I hardly miss them at all.

Right. So how about my reasons for actually eating vegan, then? 

The limited resources of the Earth. It so happens that meat, milk and eggs use up vastly larger amounts of resources (e.g. water, energy...) in their production than corresponding amounts of plant-based protein. Even plant-based food grown far away and transported across half the world emits less carbon dioxide than meat produced nearby (of course you could find exceptions to this, but generally it holds true). Furthermore, it seems rather idiotic to use 50 percent of the produced food in the world as animal food and then eat the animals, when most of the energy is lost on the way. Ineffective, not to mention unfair, when people starve in other parts of the world. The single most environmentally-friendly thing a person can do is to convert to veganism.

Ethics. I don't want to be held responsible for the horrible treatment of the animals within our "meat factories". It's weird how the general moral can justify treating animals that we eat, like cows, as slaves while it would be totally unacceptable to treat a dog or a horse in the same way. Also, it doesn't feel so great to consent to the destruction of entire ecological systems through my choice of food.

Health benefits. Nope, you don't need meat to survive. Case closed. Furthermore, you don't need animal protein to be healthy and build muscles and all that. Sure, you have to think a little more about what you eat in the beginning, but once you've learned some tricks to obtain all the vitamins you need it really is a piece of cake. Everything is there, if you just have the sense to put something else there instead of the meat, not just eating pasta with ketchup. But the big deal isn't all the fantastic stuff that's in vegetables; you could eat as much vegan food as you want as an omnivore. It's what your body don't have to deal with anymore that is the great thing. For example, saturated fats and cholesterol (the ones that could cause cardiovascular diseases) are found almost exclusively in animal products. Furthermore, when animal protein is being digested, acids are produced. To prevent the blood from becoming acidic, calcium is released from the insides of the bones to neutralise the acids. The protein in milk actually erodes the bones more than its containing calcium supposedly re-builds them. I could go on about this, but to summarise: humans are herbivores by evolution, not omnivores (as is a popular myth among meat-eaters).

There you go. Three reasons against three. After some consideration (this took years, mind you, I didn't go vegan overnight!) I found that the reasons for veganism were overwhelmingly much more important than the reasons against. And now that I've found that those reasons holding me back can be overcome without it needing to mean even a moderately large sacrifice there just isn't any other way. I might appear a self-righteous bastard, but then so be it. I've come to love this way of living, having chosen to believe that it can actually make a difference. Delusional or not, it still feels fantastic.

End of sermon. Love and veganism,
Winterdragon

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Vegan Month of Food coming up!

October is lurking around the corner, and together with it the blogging event Vegan Month of Food!

Check out Vegan Month of Food!
This year, I intend to participate. The idea is quite simple; everyone who participates should aim to write at least 20 blog posts related to vegan food during October. Things to write about could be recipes, inspiration, restaurant tips, favourite products, ideological discussions, or just about anything related to veganism and vegan food. You don't have to be a vegan to participate, but all food you mention/post pictures of during this month should be vegan. Why not see it as a challenge to go vegan for a month? Or if that sounds too radical, just eat vegan food a few times a week and blog about how it feels?

Anybody in? It'll be awesome!

Love and veganism,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Interesting times: a summer recap

Back on track, and the wheels are spinning as fast as ever. Autumn is here, and as usual for me there is so much to do. Not that I'm complaining, it helps keep my mind off the disturbingly deep thoughts. Thought a quick recap of my summer could be in order.

As always, it flew past so very fast. It began with me heading to China on tour with the orchestra (I already wrote an extensive travel blog on that, starting here). When I got back I had a quick breather around midsummer, which I mostly spent recovering from my two-week cold and general travel exhaustion. After that, I went to a one-week course in planetarium-programming. Learning how to operate the new digital planetarium and scripting new shows, basically. The new projector sure is really cool, but also radically (sometimes annoyingly much so when the system crashes) different from the old, mechanical one. Oh well, no use in being sentimental; the times they are a-changing.

Having barely finished the course, I re-settled into my office at the observatory to finish working on my bachelor's thesis. I had passed all my courses before I left for China (with honors even, unbelievably enough!), so this was all I needed to finish in order to finally obtain my degree. I had gotten about halfway through the project during the spring, so I worked for about four weeks on my project. Excitement, frustration, understanding, struggling, relief. So many feelings packed into those circa forty pages that at last became my thesis. Age determination of stellar populations. Quite a fancy title, considering how few and uncertain my results actually were. Oh well, I had fun and learned a hell of a lot (including Python programming!), in any case.

When I after having hardly left my office (neglecting the relatively nice weather outside) for half the summer handed in my report I went off on three weeks well-deserved and well-needed vacation. Up to visit my folks and my friends, and half of that time even further up north mountain hiking! Me and six friends, hiking along in northern Lapland, walking all the way to the top of Kebnekaise (Sweden's highest mountain at 2.1 km!), was a truly lovely experience. If I don't get to go mountain hiking next summer as well I'll probably start climbing the walls.

So yeah, I had a really intense vacation what with hiking and condensed socialising; I got home way more tired than when I set out. At least in the body. My mind at least got the break it needed. Then I headed back home for two weeks of summer-work. At the observatory! How awesome is that? (Very awesome indeed, I'll tell you.) My task was to temperature-calibrate a radio telescope. What with me never even having had a single lecture on radio astronomy, I spent most of the time trying to understand what I was doing and why radio astronomers use so strange units. Finally, me and my supervisor managed to do some measurements and even making some sense of the results. A confusing but fun experience! And I even got paid. 

In the midst of all the confusion I also managed to submit the final version of my thesis and defend it in front of a small committee. Passed with honors! Who would've thought I was capable of such a thing? I surely had my doubts, but now I have a bachelor's degree in astronomy and astrophysics, and my self-confidence level is higher than ever. Life is awesome, things are going my way, and now I'm a master student. I have a feeling I'm gonna need that hard-earned self-confidence before long, but gods know I'm prepared. I absolutely love what I do, so it's gonna take a lot to stop me now.

In conclusion: my summer was really intense and not so very summer-like, still it was bloody awesome. Next year I'm hoping for more free time, though. It feels good that autumn is here, so that I can get a chance to breathe again. Hah, as if! 

Love and interesting times,
Winterdragon

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

China tour with Akademiska Kapellet, part 6

Friday morning was spent quietly in two buddhist temples. Interesting, and a calm and refreshing break from the insanity-inducing shopping. Might have found some kind of inner peace there among the incense, statues, monks, and praying people. In any case we found a wonderful vegetarian restaurant. A-hah! I knew there existed a vegetarian food-culture in China, it just seemed so well-hidden. Where better to look for it than among buddhists? Seems kinda obvious, in retrospect.

In the afternoon we headed off to Jiao Tong University to play together with their orchestra. Apparently they are the best university orchestra in China. Only a little performance anxiety involved in playing together with them! We got to play a piece that their conductor had composed; a rather simple piece inspired by Chinese folk music. Fun but a little difficult and scary to play à vista. The people in the orchestra were very nice and friendly as well, the little time we got to spend with them. Unfortunately they were in the middle of their exam period, so they had no time to party with us. But I've heard that they will come visit us in Lund next year; yay!

The concert, where we played half the set each, went well, and then we headed back to the hotel. The evening me and some friends spent at a smoky jazz club. The music was live and good. I mostly stood sipping my juice and watched people dance. Not dancing myself, though, I didn't want anyone to end up hurt. Dancing is one of those things that look very fun, but that I've just never gotten the hang of. Add to that my social anxiety, and my awkwardness at nightclubs is explained.

Anyways. The following morning I spent in a garden, just walking around and sitting down to write postcards. Almost managing to forget the noise and furious pace of the city, but not quite, having the skyscrapers looming high above. Also went into a tea house to taste and buy some tea for what was left of my travelling money. Black tea, apparently, gets better the longer it is stored, so it was not unusual to find decades-old pieces of tea for ridiculous sums of money. Like vintage wines, I guess. It was an interesting experience to learn a little bit of the art of tea-making as well. There is a whole science to it, and I doubt I will ever get to the point where I make small ceremonies out of my daily cups of tea, but still it was fascinating to watch and learn.

In the evening we played at another humongous concert hall, a much appreciated performance this time as well. Our friend from the train came and listened to us play, and afterwards we had a party together with him at the hotel. The neverending cold was however beginning to take its toll on me, so I didn't manage to party all night through like some people did.

On Sunday morning we went by bus to Suzhou, a city of four million people. Almost straight to the concert hall we went, which was overwhelmingly big and fancy! It was the last concert, and possibly the best. It was a delight to play every time, but still it was comforting that the tour was drawing to an end. It was the very last day of the journey; on the Monday only the long travel home remained.

It rained in the evening, but me and a couple of friends went out anyway to get to see at least something of this supposedly so beautiful city. “The Venice of China.” Indeed. We walked along a canal, and through the light drizzle we saw pretty gardens, bridges, pavilions, boats, bats, toads and nightly markets. A very nice little sight-seeing, it felt like the perfect way to end the journey.

And then the following morning we flew back home. In total over twelve hours of travel. I was so exhausted from being sick all the way through such an intense two-weeks-long tour that I couldn't wait to get home. All in all, the tour was tremendously fun, interesting and fantastic, but one of the best things was to get back home again. With some perspective on my existence and hopefully a little bit wiser. Certainly with a new appreciation for my privileged life in Sweden.

Thus ends my all-too-lengthy travel blog. Hope you've enjoyed reading about my adventures. With some luck there will be an epilogue containing some pictures, but I will not promise anything since I do not own a camera and would have to borrow any pictures from friends in the orchestra. We'll see about that. In any case, now I can finally get back to regular blogging. I've got so much to tell, so stay tuned, dear readers!

There's no place like home,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

China tour with Akademiska Kapellet, part 5

At long last, the travel blog continues! Soon regular (or at least as regular as they get with me) updates will commence again.

From Hangzhou we hurried on to Shanghai, a couple of hours by bus away. Or at least that was the distance between our hotel in Hangzhou and our hotel in Shanghai. Sometimes it was difficult to tell where one city ended and the other one began. 

Seriously. Shanghai. One of the world's largest cities. By some standards the largest, but apparently there are many ways to measure the size of a city. Apparently in top ten no matter how you look at it, though. Unbelievably, overwhelmingly big. Two and a half times the population of Sweden, crammed into one city. And I used to think Stockholm was a big and scary place. At one million people and no skyscrapers at all. Did I mention I grew up in the country? Every house with more than two storeys is a high-rise building to me. (Yes, I live in a high-rise apartment building. Three stories high. Yikes, I know.) In Shanghai 24-storey apartment buildings were commonplace. In a way that muffled the feeling of the city being really big somewhat, since you could seldom see more than one block away. Couldn't see the city for all the houses, so to speak.

Anyway. When we had settled in at the hotel I ran off to have a foot-massage before lunch. So nice. If I could afford it, I would have massage every day here at home. After lunch and walking and subway and walking again we went out to have dinner on a fancy restaurant. There all vegetarians got seated at a separate table, and all kinds of dishes were brought in for us to share on a rotating slab. Tofu, beans, seitan, noodles, mushrooms and vegetables; all in abundance. Hooray, finally proper vegan food! Surprisingly non-spicy though, I had expected the food in China to have at least a tang of ginger or something. My expectations were probably just built on prejudices out of nowhere, though, and since China is quite a big place it probably varies from place to place.

After dinner we went out to explore a bit of the city a bit further. Supposedly the French quarters, but I'm still not sure whether that was actually the place we ended up in. Anyway, it was a beautiful little quarter, where I and three friends found a tea-house where we spent a delightful evening in conversation and drinking tea. Before we went back to the hotel I made the perhaps strangest impulse buying of my life: a china tea set with a pot and six small cups. There were dragons on it! They practically called out and begged me to take them home with me. I even managed to take it home on the plane, bulky though it was. Luckily I didn't bring much hand luggage on the way there, so I had a bit of space to spare.

The thursday was spent on more sightseeing (mostly the subways; gosh darn it the city is big!), including buildings from the world exhibition two years ago. We also got to go up into one of the very tallest skyscrapers in Shanghai (apparently called the Jin Mao Tower, but I didn't know that at the time). 88 floors and about 400 meters high, and still not the tallest building in the neighbourhood anymore. Crazy. And right next to it another skyscraper, which is going to be the tallest one in the world when it's finished, was under construction. We got to hang out in the skybar. It was right before sunset, so we got to see the city turn into Shanghai By Night. An interesting sight indeed. It hardly occurred to me to sit down and drink and talk, I just walked around and around and looked at the view. Despite being so high up, you still weren't able to get an overview of the entire city. I have no idea how large portion of it was visible from up there, but it just seemed to go on and on until it vanished into the mist at the horizon. I could feel the house swaying beneath me. Quite disconcerting, but I guess it would have been more reason for worry if the building didn't yield at all to the wind.

That evening I walked around and pondered all the impressions of this big, big city. As we walked along the river and looked at the famous skyline I saw the lights flashing and glowing everywhere, and all I could think of was light pollution; the arch-enemy of astronomy today. I also thought about all those posh skyscrapers and wondered how long they will stand. How long are they intended to stand? Will they last for a hundred years? Five hundred? A thousand? (Assuming humanity is still around by then.) Until the governments in question run out of money to maintain them (even after putting them prior to feeding the hungry in the state budget)? How long until such a building collapses by itself? I don't know. I also don't know, and I'm not sure I want to know, how the leaders of a country can justify building such luxurious buildings when there are so many poor people living in the country. Not that we ever got to see them. I guess the government is not too keen on giving western tourists the "wrong" impression. There were probably all kinds of regulations and restrictions and supervisions behind the management of this tour that I was largely unaware of. Is it morally justified to visit a dictatorship of a country in this manner? I don't know, but I think I'll keep telling myself that it could be, for an educative purpose. Also to make friends with Chinese people.

The evening ended on a thoughtful note for me. I felt sick of shopping and hurrying around sightseeing, so I and a friend agreed to go and find a Buddhist temple the following morning, in pursuit of inner peace or outer dragons. I also managed to produce the most horrendously bad pun of the day (quite the achievement among the people present!), but I'll spare you it, for now.

Whew, I think this travel-blog has dragged out long enough by now. Next time I'll wrap it up, I promise!

Winterdragon

Friday, 3 August 2012

Intermission of busyness

Ye gods. So many things are happening this summer that there is hardly any time to blog at all. I still have the last part of the China tour to describe, and then there is my work towards actually taking that bachelor's degree in astrophysics. Now, however, it's off towards the mountains. Till fjälls! as we say in Swedish. I will return to the blogosphere when I have the time to sit down and reflect on all that's happening. Most probably within the next fifty years, but you never know.

Au revoir,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

China tour with Akademiska Kapellet, part 4

On Monday we went up absurdly early to catch a high-speed train to Hangzhou. Naturally there were traffic jams all the way there so we got there too late, but apparently the tour manager managed to make the train wait for us. Crazy, but nice. Despite general tiredness and nothing but snacks all day in the way of food, it was a very pleasant journey. About a thousand kilometers in eight hours, that doesn't happen in Sweden even if the trains are on time. We were five orchestra people who shared a compartment with a friendly Chinese guy. He turned out to speak very good english, living in New York, so we ended up talking all through the journey. Playing poker, him teaching us a bit of Chinese, we teaching him a bit of Swedish, discussing cultural differences. At the end of the journey we had made a new friend, and he promised to come to one of our concerts in Shanghai. That train ride was probably one of my favourite parts of the tour, and definitely one of the best train journeys I've experienced. I like travelling by train.

The day ended on a rather miserable note for me, though. Not having found anymore vegan food to eat on the train other than nuts, dried fruit and small bits of tofu, I was too tired and head-ache stricken when we at last got to Hangzhou to even be hungry anymore. Dizzy and in misery, I went to bed instead of joining the others for dinner out on town.

The following day I woke up feeling better. After a wonderful breakfast at the hotel me and my roommate headed out for a walk through the city. For once we actually were close enough to where we wanted to go that we didn't have to take a taxi. I really prefer strolling to taxi or subway, but you don't get to see much of a 20-million-people city that way. The things I'd heard of Hangzhou before we got there were 1) that it is a very beautiful city (possibly the most beautiful in China), 2) that there is a lake called West Lake in the city that supposedly is so beautiful you just had to see it if you got the chance of visiting the city and 3) that it is famous for its tea. So, we headed out to the lake in the hope of seeing some of the city's beauty, and possibly purchasing some tea. Regrettably the fog lay thick over the city all the time we spent there, but the little of the lake's surroundings that was visible through the haze was quite nice. Not mindblowingly beautiful, but I could imagine it would be on a clear day, being able to see the lake in its entirety, as well as its surroundings. Alas, we had to hasten on, otherwise I gladly would have stayed for a few more days and waited for better weather. At least tea was found, bought and packaged within five minutes of roasting. Green tea is better the fresher it is, apparently. Not so for black tea I learned, but more on that later.

The afternoon was spent rehearsing, and in the evening we played a concert. This time as well in a great big concert hall that felt a bit overwhelming for me who'd never played in such large venues before. Apparently there were over a thousand seats, and most of them were filled. How come so many Chinese people want to see a student orchestra from Sweden? Apparently we had been quite well-promoted, but it's still surprising. I mean, we're not even professional. Anyway, the concert was a huge success judging by the audience this time as well. 

This we celebrated in the Hotel's rotating skybar later on in the evening. Some with beer, others with wine or fancy drinks. Me with watermelon juice, since I had made it a small quest of mine to try as many strange juices (vegan juices, mind you, before anyone makes any gross associations) as possible during the journey. Let's see if I remember the ones I tried... Apple, orange (not so strange, but included for completeness), corn, watermelon, tomato, coconut, kiwi, and carrot. Most of them freshly made while I waited. All of them good but oh my gods kiwi juice really is a stroke of genius. Seriously, you  just have to try it. Unless you're allergic to kiwi. Then it sucks to be you, I guess.

That's all for now. In the next episode of this immensely entertaining travel blog: we're off to Shanghai! Stay tuned.

Winterdragon

Sunday, 15 July 2012

China tour with Akademiska Kapellet, part 3

The following day we waved good-bye to Beijing, and went by bus to Tianjin. Since we were free this day as well, we headed out on town to explore (at least a tiny part of) the city. Nobody seemed to speak any English at all, so we showed the adresses of the places we wanted to go to written down on a piece of paper to the taxi drivers, and hoped they drove us to the right place. Most of the time it worked, at least I never got lost or robbed or dumped at a murky backstreet. Travelling by taxi in China certainly is an experience in itself. I suppose there must be traffic rules, but either they are significantly fewer or not as well reinforced as in Sweden. Driving at great speeds down six-filed roads, taking every hint of an opening as an excuse to make suicidal manoeuvres seemed to be custom for taxidrivers. Not to mention honking all the time. And apparently they also took it as a personal insult if you wanted to use the seatbelt. It was all you could do to hope you survived and got where you wanted. At least it was cheap; about a tenth of the taxi-prices in Sweden.

Walking around shopping in what might have been the "cultural quarters", being caught in a surprise rain-and-thunder storm (they have proper storms in china!), ordering food without a word of english (thank goodness for body-language and translating smartphones). A nice thing about Chinese meal-customs is the communion of the mealtimes. We were a group of about twelve people who got seated around a big, round table, with a rotating glass slab upon it. All the dishes we ordered were brought in (including a whole duck, head and feet and all!) and placed upon the slab so that everyone could grab a piece of everything. According to our experience, the rice comes afterwards, and there are no drinks until after the meal, except for sometimes a glass of hot tea. Strange and interesting customs.
Going back to the hotel, we tried to wave down a taxi, but after having failed for twenty minutes, a moped-taxi stopped and offered to take us to the hotel. After consulting a map and reading the adress-card through a magnifying glass we hoped he was going to take us in the right direction. It was a bumpy and cramped ride; there were doubts about whether the vehicle would manage the uphill parts, but we made it home at last.

Might have seen a moon for a short moment during the evening, the rain having cleared the air (somewhat) of smog for a short while. Not even a hint of a star, though. 

The following day we played at a large concert hall, with several hundred people in the audience. The concert was fun and went well, at least the audience seemed to like us! Feels like I should write more about the actual performances since we were there on a tour, after all, but nothing out of the ordinary happened, really. I cannot quite account for the overall sound either, sitting in the orchestra.

We also had time for a back massage. Chinese massage is another interesting, somewhat painful, but at least afterwards relaxing experience. A little scary to order massage using only your body language. A bit awkward lying there hoping the masseurs didn't break anything in your body, wondering what they were giggling about all the time. We will probably never know.

There is another curious observation about Chines culture: the chinese humour. It's apparently quite different from Swedish humour. Chinese people seem to laugh about nearly everything. A man gets sick at the subway (on my shoes, for the record); people don't help him, instead they laugh at him. (Not that I was any better, I quickly shuffled away in terror...) Bad news from our tour manager were always accompanied by a row of laughter from himself. While I guess it's a good approach in life to be able to laugh about anything, it's still mildly disconcerting not knowing whether they laugh at you or with you.

Right, that's about halfway through the travel blog, I think! To be continued...

Winterdragon

Saturday, 14 July 2012

China tour with Akademiska Kapellet, part 2

Time marches on. Ye gods, four weeks have already passed since I got home. I never got very far with the travel blog, but I made a promise, so here comes at last the continuation!

The friday was dedicated solely to tourism. We started out visiting the great wall, or at least a tiny fraction of it located some miles north of Beijing. Another mind-blowing monstrosity of a monument. Crazy big: more than three friggin' times as long as Sweden. And Sweden is a pretty damn elongated country! Crazy old: they started constructing the thing at about 200 B.C., and then it took 1800 years to finish it. How did they come up with such an idea? Some build a wall around their city, sure, that's reasonable, but who cracked the idea "I know, let's build a wall around our entire country!"? And how many times did they get invaded by the mongols while it was constructed? I am thoroughly baffled. Apart from these musings, or perhaps including them, the visit was a pleasant experience. Escaping the smog for a while, observing sunspots from atop the wall, hiking around in an over-priced silly hat. One day I might even show you a picture.

Back from the wall we had a decent lunch ("udon noodles is the shit!" as they say in... wherever they say that) and then visited Heaven Peace Square. Huge, flat place, occupied by a Mao-soleum (nope, that was not the worst pun of the trip), a flag with a guard, and horrible memories more or less successfully swept under the political rug (student massacre, anyone?). Much to reflect upon, even if my reflection-abilities were somewhat diminished due to a combination of reflecting so much sunlight and still having a fever. That might have been a contributing cause to me managing to get lost on said square. I'm almost proud of it. Not everyone would manage to lose their way in such a tremendously flat and empty place.

The remainder of the day also offered a visit to the once-forbidden city. Once again, much to ponder and marvel at. Just a hundred years ago the emperor lived there, ruled there, was served and worshipped ad absurdum there. An entire palace dedicated to the emperor's changing of clothes before giving an audience (in a separate palace)? Totally! Though the forbidden city itself is ancient, all the buildings were burned down by some European douchebags in the 1600's, so they weren't all that old (which apparently was the reason our guide didn't think the forbidden city wasn't all that much to see for us). Still, I'm glad to have seen a place I've heard such a lot about. History feels more real, somehow.

Continuing in the way of the tourist, we also went souvenir shopping in a quarter that gave the impression of being a movie set. More Chinese than China itself, in a burlesque kind of way. Anyway, I quickly became aware of that I have no skills when it comes to haggling, whatsoever. A scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian springs to mind.


No no no, it's not worth ten, you're supposed to argue! "Ten for that, you must be mad!" 

I'm sure I paid at least ten times the worth of most things I bought, before I started to get the hang of it. Even then I most certainly got fooled as good as every time. I'm far too easily-persuaded and well-mannered to be good at bargaining. Not to mention neurotic: the situation itself puts me ill at ease. I'm sure it's an integral and social part of the culture and all that, but not one I appreciate. I prefer the Swedish way of being fooled by large companies or the government without a choice when shopping to being fooled loudly and stressfully on the street. Hah. Am I brain-washed, or what?

There's another absurdity about China right there. Supposedly a communist country, I think I've never experienced such flourishing capitalism.

With that reflection, I leave this travel-blog for now. To be continued...

Winterdragon

Saturday, 23 June 2012

China tour with Akademiska Kapellet, part 1

Urghh, midsummer coma... Slept ridiculously long today, even by my standards. Think I must have needed it, though, both after a fun party yesterday and not having fully recuperated from the tour to China yet. Since I failed to write a travel summary a couple of days ago like I promised, I will do it now instead. Right. It was certainly two intense weeks...

It all began with a flight from Copenhagen to Beijing. Nine hours on an aeroplane. All the celli had their own tickets, so I got a quiet but pleasant flight-mate. When we learned the date of the flight me and a fellow astronomy enthusiast in the orchestra were rather bummed out because we were flying exactly when the Venus transit was about to occur. Since it won't happen again until 2117 it would certainly have been a shame to miss it. But then we realised that, hey, we were going to spend those two hours above the clouds, actually giving us the best possible opportunity to view the event despite any weather. So we actually managed to observe the planet Venus against the disc of the sun through a pair of binoculars equipped with solar filters, through a window on the airplane. A memorable experience indeed!

One not-so-great thing was that I had managed to catch a cold a day or so before we flew, and continuous sleep-deprivation, change of climate and food combined with a rather intense schedule saw to it that I never really got well from it. Sneezing and coughing my way through China wasn't all that fun, but at least I didn't catch anything worse. Another thing I had worried about beforehand was whether or not I would find vegan stuff to eat (preferably more than rice and vegetables). This was essentially the last two weeks of my one-year vegan pledge, so surviving this journey on a vegan diet I guess could be seen as a final test of my devotion to this idea. To the best of my knowledge I succeeded, although it was a bit tricky at times (more on that below).

Anyway, back to the story! We arrived at Beijing on the Swedish national day, so as soon as we had been checked in at the hotel we went to the Swedish embassy to celebrate. I should hope I'm not much of a patriot, but for some reason I always feel a little proud of my country when abroad. All things Swedish feel at the same time a little more familiar-at-the-verge-of-nostalgia, and a lot more absurd when taken to the extreme by a large group of Chinese Swedes, or Swedish Chinese people, at a bastard offspring of a national-day and midsummer party. Not unexpectedly, but still regrettably, traditional Swedish food seems to consist of meat, meat, meat, fish, meat, cheese, meat and meat. (compare: spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam and spam) Vegetarianism seems to have become socially acceptable to some extent, but veganism is apparently still too radical and alien. I ate about thirty miniature spring rolls and approximately a ton of fresh fruit and got the feeling that the food part of this journey was about to become a challenge indeed.

The subsequent day offered in the way of tourism a visit to the Summer Palace, the place where the emperor (plus about a hundred thousand servants, including eunuchs) used to spend his summers. Like so many places in China: mind-blowing to see. The "palace" was the size of a small town, and consisted of an enormous park with trees and hills and gardens and buildings and temples, and even a lake. According to what I heard it had been dug by hand (most probably through slave labour), and the dug-away soil had subsequently been put in a pile to form the surrounding hills. And let me tell you, it was a big lake, and pretty darn high hills. To think that people were forced to accomplish this, with nothing but their muscles and shovels, that's just plain crazy. It was an absurd experience, to walk around and marvel at the beauty, while contemplating what ludicrous things were done in the emperor's name.

The latter part of the day offered a campus tour on Peking University, apparently one of China's top universities, and playing a concert in the auditorium of said university. Apparently we had been advertised as Sweden's third best student orchestra. I strongly suspect that there was some kind of mistranslation there; I wasn't even aware that there existed a ranking system of student orchestras in Sweden. We are the third oldest orchestra of Sweden, though! The concert was a success despite jet-lagged and tired musicians; the cello section even got groupies in the form of a couple of over-excited chinese girls who wanted to have pictures taken of them together with us. Oh, the life of a rock-star...

A long, essentially nice day, which ended with me going to bed munching on some emergency crackers and nuts I brought from Sweden, grumbling about headache and lack of food. The breakfast was amazing; the chinese cuisine seems to make no distinction between breakfast and other food like we Swedes do. There were vegetables like corn, sweet potatoes and pak choy in abundance, along with rice, noodles, dumplings with mysterious fillings, fruit, seitan, pickles (and, well, meat in countless constellations). Lots of obviously vegan stuff for me to eat! I quite quickly ceased asking about the contents of dishes I was uncertain of, since it was very difficult to get a useful answer (and not offend anyone: some people apparently take it as an insult when you ask whether the food contains eggs) when not speaking a word chinese. Thankfully dairy products are almost non-existant in China, but eggs and meat-bouillon could be lurking in the strangest places. I resorted to eating only what was obviously vegan when I was unsure, and as far as I know I didn't eat any meat or even egg accidentally. I probably would have noticed, since eating meat makes me sick (I got served and ate meat by accident about a year ago, and it was not a pleasant experience). After breakfast, though, it went downhill food-wise. Since we got most of our food catered (not that I'm complaining about that, it was a wonderful luxury, really) it was pretty much take it or leave it. Lunch consisted of four different kinds of sauteed salad with rice, and for dinner only some broccoli since even the rice was out of bounds due to having eggs and pork mixed in with it.

My mood is strongly affected by how well I eat, so that night I went to bed grumbling and in misery, hoping for a better tomorrow food-wise. I was not disappointed, but more on that another time. This travel-blog is already turning into a wall of text, and I'm not even done with talking about the first week. Bear with me if you're interested, and you shall receive a full, detailed, story of my adventures on tour in China.

To be continued,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Hem ljuva hem

Hemma i Sverige. Tröttare än en död hamster, men lycklig. Kina var intressant och överväldigande på alla sätt, men jag älskar att vara hemma igen. Det är så jävla fint att bo i Sverige, vi priviligerade skitstövlar borde ta oss tid att konstatera det lite oftare. Vattnet går att dricka utan att bli förgiftad, luften går att andas utan att föroreningar sätter sig fast på insidan av lungorna. Dofterna, svalkan, ljuset. Gott om plats, sociala skyddsnät, i princip inga giftiga djur. Nog för att jag brukar gnälla på hur mycket som kunde göras bättre när det kommer till politiska beslut i det här landet, men nu tänker jag ta mig tusan bara vara glad och njuta av att vara hemma igen.

Det finns så mycket att vara glad för just nu. I morgon är det sommarsolstånd, och jag har min första alldeles lediga dag på så länge att jag inte kan dra mig till minnes när det hände senast. Då skall jag sova precis så länge jag vill, sen tänkte jag skriva en riktig resesammanfattning och lägga upp här.

Stay tuned.
Winterdragon