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