December 30, 2013

I was 15 when it all started

I was 15 when it all started

Or "The London Adventure that never ends"

I was 15 years old when it all started, 15 years old the first time I travelled abroad without the parents and without any other grown-ups, and without going on an organised trip. Many would have said it was crazy, and many probably did, too, but never to my face. One can wonder how my parents could be OK, letting a 15 year old off on her own – I certainly doubt that I would have done it if it was my 15-year old – but times were different, and most of all, I was used to taking care of myself and I was used to taking on responsibilities – I was (and am) a big sister after all. And even if I went somewhere completely new to me, it was still to a place where I knew the language – that helped.

I went to London.

And while it wasn't an organised trip I had a friend with me and we booked the hotel as well as the transfer to and from the hotel before we went. We also promised to call once we had gotten there, and our parents had the number to the hotel.

Kew Gardens, London
Surely many 15-year olds would have taken the opportunity to act less responsible. Not us. I for myself knew very well that this was a very special opportunity; If I handled it well I would be able to go again as well as get to do other things, if I had misused the trust my parents gave me I would not be able to do anything on my own until after I had turned 18 or left the house, so I knew what I had to do. And besides London itself was so exciting and there was so much to see and do that I doubt we would have had the energy to misbehave; We didn't have the correct age so even finding a pub that would have served us would probably have been difficult – so we didn't bother trying. Instead we spent the week – because we were away for a whole week – taking the underground (or, as the Americans like to call it, Subway – and yes, we did make the mistake once, of thinking that subway was the same as underground, we had clearly watched too many American films. Both of us KNEW that subway wasn't what we were looking for and still we made the mistake...), going around various places in zone 1 (basically within the area that the yellow line, "Circle Line" covers), doing all the things we had read about.

We went to Hyde Park and strolled around, we went to Speakers Corner, the public speaker's area in Hyde Park, where everybody has a right to an opinion – I guess that's what some debate forums on Internet are used for nowadays. We went to British Museum (see link), one of the most impressive museums with (one of the) biggest collections in the world and made the mistake of thinking we should spend a whole day there, ending up in us being dead tired at the end of the day – take my advice, don't. Nowadays – at least last time I checked – entrance to the museum is free so go there, see a part, leave, and come back another day.

We took a tour around London, an organised tour that the travel agency had created. I still recommend that to all first-time visitors; London is so massive that you can't cover it on your own and it IS very interesting to hear a bit about the history and see some of the landmarks. I still remember 1665 as the year the plague hit London and 1666 as the year of the Great Fire, when a huge part of the city burnt down – a tragic event in itself but with the fire the plague died out (see the link to the History of London learning site). "The Monument" – the monument of the great fire of London – stands close to London Bridge as a reminder of the event.
We saw the beautiful Tower Bridge, the most famous bridge that many tourists still refer to as "London Bridge", but it is not correct – London Bridge is a plain bridge while Tower Bridge is the gorgeous old bridge that is the symbol of London that many of us recognises from one of the TV channels.
We walked around Bayswater – because of course, as many other first time London visitors we ended up in a shabby little tourist hotel in Bayswater – not to saw that there aren't perfectly decent hotels in Bayswater but as young traveller hotel standard is not what matters – and to be honest, it still isn't, at least not for me and at least not in a big city; Just like then I don't spend any of my time in the hotel room, except for when I sleep, so why would the hotel room be priority? Especially in a big city like London, a city that never really sleeps.

I also have vivid memories of taking the double deckers, the famous red buses, and sitting up, overlooking the city, I also remember the odd feeling of going downstairs, while the bus was driving through the city, getting ready to get off – and knowing that down those stairs there was nothing stopping you from falling off, no door. It wasn't the case on all buses, but the older ones really had no doors, and you could still get off where there was no stop, if you wanted. I remember doing just that, jumping off, and while I was safe on the ground and my friend jumped out the bus started to move and she almost fell. It made us giggle, probably partly with fear – what IF something would actually happen... Would we be able to sort it out? Luckily we never had to find out.

I remember being down by Trafalgar Square and staring up on the statue of Nelson, seeing the big lions surrounding the square. And Piccadilly Circus with the Eros statue made an ever lasting impression on me, not so much for the lights and the billboards and the familiarity of it all, having seen it in newspapers and on TV, but for the people, this was the first meeting with the rest of the world, it felt like. Nowadays I hurry past Piccadilly Circus and hardly remember to look up, but when I do I still remember that young girl that was me and how it felt, being there, listening to the sounds of the city, smelling it, experiencing it will all my senses.

I remember walking around, street up and street down in the evening, trying to find the right place to have dinner – it is not easy when you are 15 and you are in the tourist areas and you aren't familiar with all those exotic dishes that London, being a multicultural city, actually have to offer. I remember ending up more often than we liked in places that served pastas and salads, dishes we were familiar with and had confidence enough to order.

Chinatown, London
Now I know better. Since that first time I have returned to London again and again and again. Now I know to avoid the more touristy areas for my meals, I know to go to the backstreets, I know to look for the places where the locals go, and I know to try the local food, and the ethnic food. I enjoy having dim sum or maybe duck in Chinatown, I enjoy going to the little local Indian restaurants. Some of the best Indian food you can find in Europe you can find in UK – there is a big Indian population and if you go where the Indians go themselves you are certain to find excellent Indian food – but you can also find good cross-over food, Indian food that is adjusted for the European taste buds.

He or she who says that you can't eat well in London doesn't know what he is talking about – or have been unfortunate enough to find the wrong places. There IS a lot of excellent food to be had, but it does sometimes take a bit of knowledge or at least a bit of effort to find it. It is true that the food you would find in England and especially the English food once was terrible and uninteresting - overcooked potatoes and peas and meat that was hardly worth being called meat but before that there was another food culture, a culture very much based on what nature provided, and that knowledge isn't completely lost, just somewhat forgotten.  With the interest in good food increasing, so does the quality.  

DO stop if you see a farmer's market. Do try the local products.

Be adventurous

London has it all. It's got tourist traps, it got local joints. It's got fancy, it's got simple. It's got tasty, it's got tasteless, it's got good, it's got bad. 

London. A city that will always have s special place in my heart. A city I will never be finished with. Every time I come I feel I come home, I feel at ease and I feel that I recognise myself. And yet every time I come I discover something new, meet new interesting people and learn something new.

London. The adveture that goes on and on and on. 

December 07, 2013

Taiwanese cooking - soon lost knowledge?

Taiwanese and the food – a generation lost

Or We need to make an effort to keep the knowledge alive! 

It bothers me to no end.

I am currently in Taiwan, a magical country with amazing history, and a country that takes great pride in their food – for a good reason. Taiwan is a tropical island, with warm and humid climate the bigger part of the year, it only really dries up and cools down in the winter, and mainly winter nights. On the other hand Taiwan have many high mountains, and up on the hills the climate is quite different from down on the plains. Furthermore Taiwan is in an earthquake area, and is volcanic, which means the soil is full of minerals. All things together makes Taiwan a very green island, an island where basically anything can grow – and does.

A crab I raced on the beach up north
Also, Taiwan is an island, surrounded by very deep sea – some say that Taiwan is a mountain in the sea, and it is. Unlike Thailand, a country that Taiwan often gets mixed up with, merely for the name, Taiwan doesn't have the long shallow waters ideal for families with children, around Taiwan the sea is deep – you don't have to very far out to find the deeper waters. There are beautiful beaches for families with children too, but not quite the same way as in some other countries known to the west as beach resorts.  The deep sea surrounding the island means there is plenty of seafood and exceptionally good fish.

Going to the morning market in Taiwan is food experience in itself, also if you are just a tourist and don't want to cook, and for  a foodie like myself pure pleasure; Exceptionally good quality, remarkably fresh – often coming in from the farmer the same morning - and, as long as you stick to what's in season, very inexpensive, you certainly get amazing quality for what you pay, there is no supermarket that could ever even get close to this, considering a supermarket will always, without exception, have longer transports, they store more food and hence have to think about shelf life. In the small local markets they sell what they have and when they run out: Well, then they ran out. 

November 28, 2013

Hong Kong Calling

Hong Kong calling

For years I have been travelling at least once a month, sometimes within Germany, where I used to live, but almost all the time outside the country.
Skyscrapers and mountains
When I moved to Asia, travelling and exploring more of Asia was one of the things I really wanted to do; There is so much to see here, so much to explore. It hasn't been easy to find the time to travel though, I have had a lot to do with my studies as well as other things; Not the least getting organised and setting up my home, getting to know my new city. For the first time in years I therefore had over two months (September, October, and almost the whole month of November) without any travelling which included crossing borders – hard on someone who is travel addicted like myself. Middle of November I couldn't cope anymore; I had to get flight tickets and go and see something else. The natural choice this time, even though there is a lot to see in the region was Hong Kong, as I have very good friends in Hong Kong, friends I hadn't seen in a long time, friends I was dying to meet.

Last time I was in Hong Kong I stayed in Mongkok, close to Prince Edward, an area in central Hong Kong, very densely populated, very Asian. Mongkok and Kowloon are areas that I really like; Sure, it is loud, busy, full of people, but there is something about it – but then again, it is easy to say that when you are just a visitor and don't live in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is after all one of the most densely populated cities in the world and living space is limited. Many people, especially westerners, will call me crazy, but I really to feel that Mong Kok is interesting. 

November 24, 2013

I am taking a little break

I am on a short break, visiting friends in Hong Kong. Having a marvelous time but it means less time for blogging.

I look at it as being out collecting new information that I will soon be able to write about.  I am out enjoying the sea, the green, the nature that Hong Kong actually has a lot of if you just move out of the city. And that is what I do - enjoy.

Talking about writing; I am currently looking for jobs in that area, that field, especially freelance jobs.

If you near anyting, please let me know.

November 20, 2013

You'll find me down by the water

Gone surfing

I love the sea; There is something special with smell of salt water, the sound of the wind, and the incredible power that the sea possesses, something scary about it, not knowing what's in there, under the surface, and yet there is something amazingly comforting about it. 

I love the way the sea cannot be tamed, and yet we are able to make use of it. I love how the sea allows us to travel places, reaches around the globe and and yet forms natural borders. 

November 11, 2013

Taiwanese Drummers - a majestetic performance in the park

Drummers in Taipei - a magical evening

A few weeks ago a friend of mine mentioned that she was going to volunteer at an event in Taipei, and asked me if I wanted to come along – not to volunteer but to see what was going on, and when i was told that there would be performances, I knew I had to go.

I am glad I did.

Stage, full of drummers
"Meeting with Boddisatwa" on stage
The performance was a drumming act, and it was one of the most amazing drumming acts, maybe the best, that I have ever seen. To imagine that I almost missed it... I will be forever grateful to my friend who brought me along to see this well coordinated event, so strong and so powerful, being played out right in front of my eyes, right in front of my ears there in Taipei. It is an unbelievable experience, seeing a big number of drummers on stage, perfectly coordinated, drumming and performing, as well coordinated as if it was a ballet, where every move is perfectly coordinated with the moves of the others.

I wouldn't have wanted to miss the performance, "Meeting with the Boddhisatwa" by U-theatre (see link for further information) for anything, it was a magical experience, very serene, yet incredibly powerful and full of energy.

November 10, 2013

Sometimes I wonder if Taiwan isn't most beautiful in the early morning

Early mornings in Taiwan

Trying the massage stones in the park
Sometimes I wonder if Taiwan isn't the most beautiful in the morning, at it is not because the light is golden and gives a special shimmer to everything, and shows so well how beautiful the island is with all the lush green that comes with the tropical climate,  or that the birds are waking up and greeting the day with their singing, although it contributes to the magic. It's also not the sound of the watering system starting outside my window, or the wind in the trees. 

It is rather the whole atmosphere, the serenity of it all, how peaceful and calm it is, and how the parks are full of old people out for their morning exercise, practising Tai Chi or Chi Gong, or even just being out dancing slowly, or making use of the playground tools to stretch and strengthening the body. Every little park and green spot is full of elderly people being out early in the morning.

There is something about it, and I love the atmosphere, I love getting up early in the morning and going out for my morning run. I don't run in the park, it feels like it would ruin the atmosphere, and I love to run on the streets where I can see the city waking up, but ending or beginning the run in the park is wonderful, and on the days I don't run I love to get up and go for a walk; Listening to the sounds of the city waking up, being part of the first peaceful moments of the day before the rest of the day begins. 

If you are in Taiwan, don't miss out on this, set the alarm if needed but do go out and enjoy the morning, even if you just go to the park to see it, to wander around for a bit. Breakfast you can eat later...   

November 07, 2013

The different sounds in Mandarin

About Chinese Characters and the sounds

All the different sounds

Sometimes the road feels a bit long...
The first thing to know about Chinese is that it is not a difficult language. It is rather easy. In theory... That said I am definitely struggling myself at the moment; I am so busy – and that is the irony of it all – to study Chinese that I don't have time to learn it. Because the real challenges in Chinese is the pronunciation and the ability to listen and hear – Chinese grammar is easy with very simple rules when you compare it to any of the European languages – more about that in a future post.

Even if Chinese isn't a very difficult language, theoretically, it is still not an easy language to learn, but there are a few things one need to be aware of, things that really makes a difference.

Every sound has a meaning
Yes, that is true, every sound has a meaning – but the problem is they don't just have one meaning, they have many. It is not until the sounds are put together with another sounds that they start to make sense and form words, or at least it is not until they are connected to the correct character that you can know what the sound you made actually means. To understand Chinese you need to either put many sounds together so they form sentences or you have to get the caracter that somes with the sound - or, if you are like me, you may need both, at least in the beginning.

You need to recognise characters
I can only underline the importance of learning to recognise the characters; Even if you aren't like me and very much connect language learning to something visual, even if you don't think you will ever write Chinese: You need to recognise characters. Most or at least many sounds have more than one character connected to them and unless you are able to recognise the character you can't be sure that you have the right meaning. There are at least 15 different "Xi" with the same pronunciation for example, one being "west" – 西, one being "news" 息, another being "dusk"夕 – and so on. Don't panic, you will hear them together with other sounds and it will start to become clear which xi that is meant, or at least that's what I am told, but still – if you are aware of it and if you can ask about the correct character half the battle is won, and if you find characters difficult, just think of them as identifiers in the beginning, just like you may meet many people in the world with the same name but different looks you will see many Chinese words that sound the same but look different.

November 06, 2013

A walk in the park - Three parks in one, in Taichung

A Day in the People's Park in Taichung

Pictures from a wonderful afternoon out in and around People's Park in Taichung. Unfortunately I missed the people I was hoping to meet in the park because I came late after a session to the hairdresser – I looked like a troll and HAD to get something done – but I never the less had a great time, just me and my camera. And a lot of people around me...

Practicing one last time before going on stage
When you come down Taichung Port road (台中港路 - Taizhong Gang Lu, where "Lu" means road), one of the central roads of Taichung you will see a big shopping mall; SOGO. It's written with big red letters and you can't really miss it; And also, it is one of the few things that are pronounced the same way in most languages, with a hard "G" in the middle, so it's easy to take the bus there; Just tell the driver SOGO and he will know it.

Anyhow, behind SOGO there is a wonderful little park that eventually leads towards the Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. This is the first park in a row of at least three parks somewhat connected, the last in the row of three being the Public Outdoor Sculpture Park, or 勤美綠園道 - Qín měi lǜ yuán dào (the word yuan by the way indicates that it is a park or a planted area, a very good character to recognise).

November 02, 2013

The Earthquake - and a big one...

As if the land was floating....

And so it happened.

Deep in thoughts over my books, working on a reports, I didn't notice the rattling sound to start with. It was special note, like a kind of humming, the way the bumble bees sound in the early spring when they have just woken up, a tone that is hard to describe but you can feel in your stomach.

I didn't notice until I feel the buzzing feeling in my legs, the feeling I identify with my blood sugar getting low – and it would have been about the right time for it, I had been focusing hard on the studies and it was well past the time for the next meal. I did also suspect that that was what it was. But when I raised my head up I noticed a new sound, a different rattling, almost.. Well, almost like the sound of a bed hitting against the wall as if someone was having incredible sex in the room next door, there is simply no other way to describe it, it was so rhythmic that it was the only thing I could think, it just got into my head and I almost blushed; And half a second later I realised that the sound came from my room, and the shaking was not me and my blood sugar getting low; It was the whole room vibrating.

And that's when I realised it.

October 31, 2013

A key to learn Chinese

Got to understand the context

To me a key to learn Chinese (Mandarin) is understanding the context, knowing the background, understand why we say/write this and that, understand where things come from. It's the way I have always been - I (thankfully) never grew out of the "WHY" questions that you ask as a kid; I continue to do it. 

It's not the learning style of everybody, but it is indeed the learning style for me, and this is part of the reason why I am so happy to be in Taiwan to learn mandarin: The written language is the traditional Chinese written language, which means more lines but on the other hand a stronger connection to the history, not the least the history behind each character. When I allow myself the time to analyse each character and break it down to smaller pieces I get to something that sticks rather than just doing repetitions. For me, this is a must - it is the only way I can learn properly. On the other hand, when I do get my "why:s" answered I am a very fast learner. 

Most people I met outside school are extremely helpful and happy to answer questions. Still you need to use other resources as well.

That's why I am happy that there are so many other resources out there. The written language is the key to my learning - I wrote about it here - so I am very grateful to the man I study with who gave the the link to  It is an excellent website that allows you to research the radicals that are common and helps forming the written language. Via I am able to track the meaning of the different words and when I know the meaning, they make sense, and when they make sense, I can learn.

(A radical is a building block and this is also where the characters are listed in a dictionary - there has to be some way of sorting even the chinese characters... Many characters can be broken down into radicals. Radicals are rarely used on their own but in the combination they mean something. )

A sign advertising peanut ice cream 

Peanut ice cream anyone? Peanut - huasheng - 花生. The first character, hua, which means flower. You can see the radical for grass - the top bit, the horisontal line with two cross lines. Grass. Most characters that have this little thing on the top has to do with something that is growing. Clever, isn't it?

When it comes to the ice, “bing" - 冰 is is the character for water (shue - 水 )but the two side lines, on the very left, shows that it is something frosen - and then you get bing. The radical for water is by the way the three lines you see on the character next to "bing" - water on it's own looks like "水" - three streems of water or a river coming together - shue. Water is however one of those things that can stand on its own but also is reflected in many other characters, especially characters that have something to do with some liquid - the three lines on the character after SHUI is the radical for water. When you see these three lines, two pointing up and one down, you can suspect it has to do with some sort of liquid.

See, once you start getting all these little keys it gets easier and easier.

October 30, 2013

The advantages with volcanoes...

The pros and cons with a volcanic area

or  There is a hot spring bath in the bathroom! 

Being on a volcanic island has its pros and cons, it's ups and downs, it's good sides and bad sides.

Of course there is a real risk of earthquakes, even big ones - like the one September 1999, that I learnt more about at the Taiwan Earthquake museum 921. It is a very real thing that one has to be aware of and prepared for. And there are earthquakes from time to time, and we have them every week, more or less, even if most of them can't be felt except for in the very area where they occur. That's obviously the downside of being in a volcanic area, where there are volcanoes one can expect earthquakes from time to time. 
Scallions, "green onion"
But there are plenty of not so bad things about volcanic areas. And I am not referring to plenty of brime stone, that can be used to get baby smooth feet. I am thinking about other things! The minerals in the water, for example; Who needs mineral water in a bottle when you can just get a water filter and use the mineral water from the tap. It's also easier to get home, no carrying of heavy bottles (not to mention your water isn't transported on a truck around the world first, win win for the nature as well... 

The very fertile soil is another big pro - although it is not just the soil that makes it possible to grow almost anything in Taiwan, the tropical climate also helps.

Green and hilly Yilan county, North-East Taiwan
The amazing vegetables – not the least the spring onion (also called "green onion") that grow so well in the very fertile soil. It seems almost anything grows here, and is very full of flavour - even if you can only find some vegetables and fruits certain times of year, when they are in season. Thankfully as that ensures vegetables and fruits very rich in flavour, I might add.  

The fascinating landscape, to a great degree formed by the volcanoes and the earthquakes, another plus. It's also incredibly green here in Taiwan, I blame the tropical climate with lots of water and sun to some degree, but the hills and valleys would not be half as interesting if nature didn't keep changing due to the activities under the surface. 

Why not have a foot bath while waiting for the train... 
And then there are the hot springs. Natural hot springs spread out over the island but especially common on the East coast. Which, I know, is rather far from where I live from a Taiwanese perspective but next door for a Swede who is used to long distances. There are no buses - as far as I know - that crosses the island West to East, the high mountains are in the way for that, and all the trains are going north-south or south-north.  It doesn't really matter though, it is very easy to take a couch, the train or even the high speed train to Taipei and from there take the bus down to for example Ilan (Yilan) county (see link for the official county website). It's what I did last weekend; Because how can you resist a place that have so many hot springs that many of the flats have hot spring water directly in to their flat? In this area there are also said to be something as unusual as saltwater hot springs in this area. I have yet to try them, but it sounds fascinating. And I WILL come back, again and again, to this area; The food, the nature, the hot springs and the wonderful people, there is no doubt it is worth it. 

Because of course you would want to return to a place where even the waiting area outside the train station has a hot spring that you can bathe your feet in while waiting... The fact that there are flats with water from the hot springs directly into the bathroom makes it tempting to even move here, eventually.

Why not check it out?

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October 25, 2013

Exploring Taiwan, fruit by fruit - first challenge

Exploring Taiwan, fruit by fruit, vegetable by vegetable

Part one – the sour little ones called – yes, called what?

One of the great pleasures with travelling and with living in new places is discovering the fruits and vegetables as well as other foods. For a foodie like myself Taiwan is the perfect country, there is so much fruits and vegetables here. Some I have seen before, some I have eaten before – but not all. And even the ones I HAVE eaten taste different here, where they were allowed to ripen in the sun. 

This little one is one, see the picture, is unknown to me. No no, not the pineapple  cut in pieces in the background, that was part of my night time snack as well, but the one in the centre, the It reminds me of a little fruit we had on some trees when I was growing up, but we wouldn't eat them (except for the occasional bite now and then) because they were very sour and would just make your face crinkle up in a strange way, and make your tongue feel weird for a while, instead we would throw them at each other, and have them as "pretend-food" when we were playing, the way children do. 

The to me unknown fruit. 
Here the fruit that looks similar to the one we had in Sweden are sold at the night market with other fruits. They are rather expensive compared to many of the other fruits so I imagine there must be something special about them. I bought some last night, because I had to try. They are indeed sour, with a consistency that reminds me about apples, they feel like little apples when you bite into them. except as I said, they are far more sour. It's not unripe apples, they just look like they could be. 

The seeds are different, they are almost like the seeds from figs, but gathered in the middle of the fruit, unlike figs that have seeds in the whole fruit. I was thinking that maybe it could be a variant of quince (quitten in German and Swedish) but when I look at quince online they look different, and the quince I used to have in my garden was indeed VERY different. 

I believe this specific type may have been pickled somehow because they felt more sour than I would otherwise expect. It's hard to describe – and I don't know if I like them or not. They are not unpleasant to eat, but also not very exiting, to be completely honest. I think I could get used to them though.  What is very strange to someone like me who is never lost for food references; I don't even get a feel for what I could use them with? Maybe it is because how they are pickled but I don't get any associations when I taste it, no inspiration; The way they taste and feel I can't think of anything else to do with them but to eat them as they are? Not in salad, no to make jam, not in a side dish, not sweet, not sour. I am just confused. 

I probably have to try a few times, because as I normally say; You should try everything at least twice. The first time you have to get over the surprise and the second you may start to figure it out. Very true at least with food.. Never give up on food after just one trial.

And in the meantime, if anyone know the English name of this fruit I'd be happy to learn it. I will return to the night market and try and find the Chinese one myself. 

October 24, 2013

Expecting that quake...

Shaken, not stirred – any time soon? 

or: 921, the museum - and the date Taiwan won't forget

A friend of mine who lived in Taiwan in the middle of the 1990:ies once said to me, after he learnt that I was moving to Taiwan: "Ann-Katrin, never live in a high-rise in a high-rise there." I didn't understand what he meant, but thought maybe he was talking about potential power cuts, that would disable the lifts, another friend who was working in Ghana for a special project a few years ago had exactly that problem, the frequent power cuts in the afternoon made taking the lift a not so clever idea. When the power was cut the lift would stop, and you don't want to get stuck in a lift (elevator) without air condition on a hot summer day in Africa - so my friend and his colleagues would take the stairs.  But potential power cuts was not at all what my friend who used to live here had in mind...

What my dear friend was referring to was instead the risk of a major earthquake. Taiwan IS after all on the edge of the so called Ring of Fire - there is a lot of movement going on here. Earthquakes happen, they happen all the time, even if they most of the time are very small. I came here September 1 and I have lost count of the number of earthquakes we have had, even if I only know them through the Earthquake Report website (see link). I haven't felt a single shake myself, not yet, but at a recent event in town someone said to me "After you have been here for one year, you will have experienced an earthquake". 

October 22, 2013

The mysterious Chinese language

Chinese language - it IS definitely a challenge... 

Or "The mystery - the Chinese Language" 

I should be completely honest. Had studying Chinese been a side activity, I would have given up already. However it isn't. Chinese studies is my main activity, this is what I gave up working for. This is what I do. So I go on. I want to learn. I want to be able to speak Chinese. Chinese is a mysterious and fascinating language and Taiwan has an amazing story to be told, and yet my interest almost died. Why?
The doors to Chinese seemed locked
I felt stupid. After two weeks I still couldn't say anything. Nor could I make out the few words we got in school except for when someone other than some foreigners said them. Not very useful. It wasn't really better three weeks into my course. 

And then I realised one of the issues. There was nothing that I felt challenged me, nothing I could work with. Sure, in our "conversation class" we practised "Wo Shi" (我 是 - I am)(followed by country and by name), and we practised things like "Ta xing Wang" (他 姓 王 - "He is (his family name is)  Wang"), but not much more. And what we practised isn't enough to even go do some of the first step you need to do in a new country. A conversation that can't go beyond "My name is Ann-Katrin, what is your name" is kind of dead. Besides, one of the first things you need to do in a new country is to eat, it will take a while until you introduce yourself to someone "in real life" - most of the time the interactions start with people you won't ever meet again: The bus driver, the ticket office, the waiter in the restaurant, the tourist office. Rarely do you tell them your name. And yet we didn't get past that. I found it difficult - and yet I know this is a common place to start when you study languages, not just Chinese, and not just here.
Furthermore the first weeks, or even the first month, all we did in our normal class, our 101, was really  to practise sounds and BPMF, the "simplified" written language that is supposed to help you with pronunciation. It didn't really do it for me (I first mentioned BPMF here, a week into my studies). 

October 10, 2013

What's in season in Taiwan?

We have so much to learn from the Taiwanese

Or "How to eat well"

Taiwan – 臺灣 (or 台灣) – the island in the middle of the Chinese sea – East Chinese Sea above us, South Chinese sea below. Many people in Europe told me that they didn't realise Taiwan is a whole country, not just a city when I told them I was moving here.   Many of them were also surprised when they looked up my new location on the map and realised that Taiwan is bigger than they thought. It still isn't big the way you would think of Germany, France, Spain, Sweden and other countries with huge landmass, but there are a lot of people living on the island, this mountain in the sea. Still, you can get from the north to the south very fast if you just take the high speed train that cuts through the country - or even with the normal train, but Taiwan is definitely not just a city, it is so much more than just the capital, Taipei ( 臺北 or 台北 depending on what character you use for "Tai").

Hiking in the hills in the norht of Taiwan
Taiwan as so much to offer, not the least when it comes to nature! It is a beautiful country with beaches as well as high mountains, with natural hot springs (it is after all a volcanic area, the whole of South East Asia is full of them – something I became aware of not at least when I was in Indonesia a few years back and Mount Merapi, a volcano in the middle of Java erupted when I was in town...), with fantastic hiking areas and with beautiful little (and big) parks. Almost everything grows in Taiwan; The island may be small, and it is a tropical island, but with the higher altitudes the temperatures goes down and it is possible to grow also things that aren't normally found in tropical climate. Furthermore there are definitely different seasons here, as well as differences between north and south of Taiwan; Taipei, the capital, gets twice as much rain as Taichung City, if the numbers I saw somewhere a while back are correct, and still it's only two hours apart (less than one with the high speed train).

September 30, 2013

Language confusion - I said I wanted a challenge and I got one...

The confusing thing that is the Chinese language

Two, no, three weeks into the course, where three days were connected to the Mid Autumn (moon festival) and we didn't have any school, and I am finally starting to crack the code.

It's not easy. And it is not just because the four tones, plus the one that is neutral, but in my ears changes e to a. I can't always say what the difference is but I can normally identify that there is a difference and that is a start – because the tones really do change meaning, unlike in most European languages where the meaning remains the same, it may just change whether it is a question or not – in Chinese language you work a lot with tones. Still, that's not the most tricky part for me, I know I'll get there as long as I continue to work on it – it sure isn't easy, when I am tired I can not tell them apart and otherwise I am only able to really tell them apart if I hear both next to each other – and it is rare that you do...

And it is not because all the characters, once I started to get how the characters were built up it's not too bad; At least not getting the connection "these characters together means this" – the characters for certain foods, for bathroom, for fire exit, for mountains and so forth – not too difficult Well, if it wasn't for the fact that you have to connect it to as sound as well, as soon as you need to do that it gets a bit tricky. But no, it's not that that is the biggest challenge either.

Instead, for me it turns out to be the texts that are the most difficult and causes conflicts in my head. I keep losing track of where I am and I keep mixing sentences up. But why?

There are probably several reasons of course, but the biggest issue I have is that the texts we are working with are very chopped up and unstructured. Each text is written in pinyin, with the Chinese characters above, of underneath. To make it easy, the words are broken up in smaller building blocks. Here the pinyin is broken up so that each Chinese character is matched with the sound. It is not so strange – in theory.

Except when you talk you don't talk the way the texts are written... Certain sounds belong together and together helps forming the meaning – and when you try and just learn the sounds separately they don't make any sense. No, for them to make sense you need to connect them to something else – xihuan (like) needs to be xihuan – not xi huan. To make it extra confusing the verb is also supposed to be said with the noun – drink tea is he cha – but you say it heCha; And yet, in our texts it is separated, even if one of our teachers has been kind enough to put a separate colour in the background to at least indicate what belongs together. Doesn't really help for me though, every time I look up from the text I find myself struggling to find where we were again.

But then again we haven't started using the book yet. I have a feeling it will get better once we do.

And until then you will find me in the library every day, recreating all the texts we went through – because not having studied Chinese before, I sometimes feel really lost when I am sitting in class with all the others, who either know other Asian languages before, and/or studied Chinese, alternatively lived in China or Taiwan for a number of years. Stubborn as I am I am determined to crack the code though – and step by step, little by little, I do.

And when I feel too lost, I have a tongue twister in Swedish that I say to myself in my head, knowing that no one else in class could manage it even if they tried. At least some comfort...  

(Sex Laxar i en laxask. Beat that if you can... (Six salmons in a salmon tin).)

September 27, 2013

In Food Heaven there is unlimited supply of Soy Milk... And Luobogao - 蘿蔔糕

Food heaven is full of soy milk

Or: How I found my favourite breakfast

The wonderful staff making the food
And there, right around the corner, on the road that I was just strolling down, it is. Food heaven. It's a random day, and school hasn't really kicked off, so I am out exploring my new area, trying to get used to the sounds and the smells of the city, trying to get used to the humidity and more than anything, to explore and get to know my new home town.

I have no idea where I am going - I am just out and about, wandering aimlessly, like I often do in a new location, if I have time. And here in Taiwan that's something I have plenty of - time...  So I walk, up and down various street. Getting a little lost is always good, that's how I discover new places. A friend of mine always laughs at me for walking too fast, when I don't know where I am going – but he doesn't understand the charm of it, doesn't understand that I both like walking fast and getting lost (and for those who wonder, I DO have enough money on me to take a taxi home and I also have a little card with the address – in the local language. So no, I won't get completely lost. I am adventurous but not stupid...)

This time I am not too lost, I have wandered of on purpose and I am on Xitun road - but I just don't know what to expect. Xitun road is a good road to be on though, it's a street that goes all through central Taichung - a great place to get back to if I'd get completely confused among the Chinese roadsigns.

September 20, 2013

Happy Moon Festival - Zhongqiu jie kuaile - 中秋節快樂

Zhongqiu jie kuaile  - Happy Moon Festival

How to celebrate the local festivities

This week has been a short week at university, and elsewhere as well. This week we are celebrating what in English is called the “Moon Festival” - but translated from Chinese actually is Mid Autumn festival - Zhongqui jié kuàilè (in pinyin, Chinese characters written with the western alphabet.) 

Moon Festival is celebrated across the Chinese speaking world, and it is a very important event. I have not been in Asia long enough to pick up all the history but regardless, it is a great opportunity to catch up with friends and family (you can read more about the Moon Festival in mainland China if you follow this link).

In Taiwan the Moon Festival traditionally means two things, at least (and I don't mean the obvious thing, the moon cake – that is a common treat for this time of year all over the Chinese speaking world):  

Pomelos, WenDan (or YouZi) in the market
First of all it means pomelos ( - youzi (柚子) - although in the shop you will also see "wendan"- 文旦. Pomelo is the big green citrus fruit that resembles grapefruit, just milder, sweeter. Fact is that the word youzi seems to be used for both grapefruit and pomelo in Mandarin, but it is indeed different fruits. The pomelo is less common though, at least in Europe, and I suspect that's why it's not always clear which name to use.  Pomelo season starts just about now and since the Taiwanese people are all about what's in season for the moment, it is a big celebration; You will see pomelos everywhere, and at university we even had a pomelo eating competition as well as a pomelo decoration event.

Hiking the Lake District, UK - the tour of Europe

What I did this summer - the European Tour

green fields and hills
Summer 2013 I returned to UK again. I've been coming to UK on a relatively regular basis since I was a teenager, and it always feels good to come back "home", as much as I love exploring it's nice to, from time to time, be in a region where everyone understands what you are saying and where you don't have to translate and can read the signs and participate in every discussion. 

No matter how many times I go to UK, I always feel that there is so much more to see; So much more to discover. To those who think UK is just London, or big busy cities, I have just got one thing to say. Think again!

For years I have been curious about the Lake District, after seeing pictures that friends took, and after hearing stories. I have been to York (but not spent enough time), I have been to Matlock, I have seen many sites, but I had not been to the Lake District in the north-west corner of England. Until now.

September 16, 2013

Taking the bus

Exploring Taichung, Taiwan - little by little

Taxis can be found everywhere - but I prefer other transport 

“Taxis are dirt cheap here in Taichung” someone said.

Although I am not so sure I agree...

It didn't take me very long until I started to compare prices in Taiwan to what you pay for other things - not the least for food - and then the taxis are definitely not dirt cheap anymore. Food is very inexpensive which means a taxi ride is worth several meals; When that's how you count it it is not as cheap anymore, is it?

September 13, 2013

One week into my studies

Learning Chinese

One week into my studies today. I arrived a week and a half ago, registered the second day, had introduction the same week but focused on getting to know the city, getting sorted where I am living, and so forth - and then this week Monday the studies started. And what can I say about them so far.


There seems to be a club for everything - no lack of activities!
Not the least that I am back on campus, and that I have a fixed schedule. I am not used to that. Going to a Swedish university you don't have a fixed schedule, instead you have a lot more freedom and can chose which lectures you go to, as only a few are mandatory. All will help you gain knowledge so you still go to as many as you can - but there is not a fixed schedule for a whole semester, like here. Being in Taiwan feels a bit like being in a college film from US except it is much warmer (I wonder how long it will take to get used to the heat by the way, or rather the humidity... More about that in a later post).

But Chinese; Well, there is no mercy here, we were thrown straight in the water on the deep side, and now we better learn how to swim! I said I wanted a challenge though, and I got one - I am very happy I came. It is rather odd though: I am an absolute beginner, and in my classes there are plenty of people who studied Chinese before, some that lived in Taiwan for a long time, others grew up with Chinese speaking families - but they are still in the beginner classes. Some needs to improve their pronunciation, some need to work on the writing. Others just - well, I am not sure what the others are doing there. And then there is me, who is completely clueless and doesn't speak any chinese. Yes, there are a lot of Chinese words that I recognise in written, but that is because I have a head for pictures. I know what they mean. How to say them is beyond me though. 

September 06, 2013

雞排 -Ji Pan fan (chicken rice bowl? Or, to be correct. Fried Chicken over rice in a bowl)

Chicken Rice Bowl

Ji pan fan. Something like that, that's how they told me you say it in Chinese. Ji Pan Fan - the special fried chicken over rice, served in a bowl, the way I had it today, from a place just around the corner from where I live right now.

It's beautiful, especially with the cabbage and green beans that comes with it. I don't know how the Taiwanese do it, preparing veggies in a way that is perfect: Not overcooked, not raw, but just perfect and still with a bit of crunch - and the chicken breasts are perfect too, none of the dry and boring ones you sometimes find in Europe. I know there will be certain European style food (Hello cheese!) I'll begin to miss eventually but at the moment I am embracing being in Asia and trying to learn the names and exploring the different flavours and the different places that cook them. I adore Taiwanese food!

Many of the little places along the roads only have one type of food - on the other hand, what they do they do really well. Look and see where the locals go; If the locals go it is going to be good. 

September 05, 2013

刨冰- Bao Bing (if I'm getting my Chinese right, that is)

Cool down with a great dessert

This may not look much for the world - but it may be one of the best food inventions in Asia.  I don't know if it was Taiwan that came up with originally, but this is the only place where I have eaten it, for for me it is a Taiwanese treat. Bao bing (if I get my Chinese right - there could be another name for it as well) - 刨冰 -  is shaved ice. As close to heaven you can get on a warm and sweaty day (the humidity here is high so don't try and compare 30 degrees c in Europe with 30 degrees c in South East Asia.)

Basically it's crushed ice with various toppings. Sweet toppings. It's like ice cream only better on a hot day. Had it the first time in Taipei in December and now found a local place serving it, and what can I say? It's the perfect way to cool down on a hot day so I will definitely be having more of this. 

Try the red beans on top! It may not sound fancy, but red beans have a nice sweet flavour and work well in desserts. On mine I had five different toppings and a sauce, don't be afraid to point and try different combinations. If it wasn't tasty it wouldn't be there - the Taiwanese are picky about their food and only want good quality.

September 04, 2013

September 2013 - Hello Taiwan, I have arrived!

Taiwan, I am here

And so I have finally arrived. There is still a lot more to be written about the adventures during the summer but I will get to that later – now I want to take a moment to summarise my first days in Taiwan.  

I returned to Düsseldorf a few days before heading out to Taiwan, flew in from Birmingham International Airport, after having spent the last part of the summer in UK. I saw no reason to drag all my things to UK as I anyhow was going to move on to Asia, and it gave me an opportunity to come back and say goodbye to the friends who have become my extended family.

I left Düsseldorf in a daze on Saturday, having been up late the evening before, and not being able to stay asleep – I guess I was more stressed about the move than I would let on, even to myself. I was staying with very dear friends but I did sneak out early in the morning, went for a walk, had a coffee, and when I returned to their place it wasn't much time left - I just showered, repacked a few things and then I got a lift to the airport. 

The flight went from Düsseldorf, over to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Shanghai and from Shanghai to Taipei. Once in Taipei I caught the bus from Taipei Airport to Taichung, in the middle of the country, where I will have my base. Normally it's about two hours bus ride from the airport to Taichung don't go into town first, you can go to most places in Taiwan straight from the airport, it seems), but because of the time there was very little traffic and the whole trip took about 1.5 hours. 

Already Monday afternoon I was at the university where I will be studying, to register, get the first introduction and start to orient myself. I believe that's when I first got that yes, I am ACTUALLY really here, I am actually going to start learning Chinese – and I am going to start it now. And started I have! I haven't had any classes, but to my joy I realise I have already picked up more of the written language than I thought. It's not enough to even put sentences together, but I have to start somewhere, and at least I can feel that no, you know what, it is not that difficult, I'll be able to do this, if I just put some effort into it - at least the reading. Pronunciation is what will be tricky. Chinese has four tones, and yes, I can hear the differences,  but getting the tongue to do what I ask it? I don't know, it will take some practise...  I am happy that I can hear the differences, many non-Chinese speakers can apparently not even do that. 

August 25, 2013

A Week on the Water - windsurfing in Bombannes

A week on the Water

Windsurfing on Lac d'Hourtin Carcans (in the Bordeaux area, France)

Joining my good friend on her trip from Düsseldorf to Brittany brought me back to France, and after a wonderful weekend in the area it was time for me to say goodbye and head down south again - to Bordeaux and towards the coast.

It is an area I have been to before, I was here in the end of June, when I went surfing (in Lacanau, very close to Carcans), and I was also in the area 2012, for windsurfing.

Surfing you do on the sea, the ocean outside Bordeaux is always in motion, with amazing waves for surfers - although not always easy for beginners (and watch out, the currents are strong at times, I would not go in the water without proper instructions and without someone keeping an eye on me, missing me if I don't get up) - windsurfing is great on Lake Carcans-Hourtin (Lac d'Hourtin-Carcans), the biggest fresh water lake in France, as my teacher told me. 

Both windsurfing and surfing is a lot of fun. I am not very good at either of them – not yet anyhow – but I really enjoy it. Both sports require good balance as well as some strenght (and even more stubbornness), and yet they are both different from each other. Surfing is easier in the sense that you need less equipment, and you only go in one direction, with the waves, towards  the beach (with some turning for those who are good, but still, you end up back on the beach). Windsurfing can take you away from the shore if you don't know what you are doing. When it comes to windsurfing you can take time to figure things out (unless it is very windy), but with surfing you have limited time; You have to catch that wave, and you have to get up fast, or you will be on the beach before you get up.  Windsurfing you can transport yourself to places (once you have learnt enough that is), and you can do what we did and go for picnic - very nice. Surfing is more "just" a sport. Windsurfing you have to be less IN the water - you are ON the water and the good windsurfers hardly gets wet.

August 23, 2013

Natural food

Now THIS is natural food - peppers straight from the farm
What is natural food? Lately I have gotten myself into several discussions about natural food - food is something I am very passionate about so it happens quite easily.  One of the things that I am the most sensitive about is yogurt. It does make me slightly upset when the producers of yogurt as well as many consumers talk about all natural products, especially when it comes to yogurt, and then it turns out that the yogurt is fat free.

In my world natural food is food without unnecessary additives. When you remove fat from dairy you remove the vitamins which then have to be added again later, artificially. Seems rather unnatural to me. Also, if you remove the fat you have to add some other stabiliser. Most of the time it is sugar or some artificial sweetener - read more on this food related website. I know that stabilisers are sometimes necessary, to keep the consistency of the food, but I do question that we remove something that already works as a stabiliser (fat) and replace it with something else. 

Personally I don't get it - and I also feel that the yogurt that has the natural fat still in it is tastier and fills me up better - which in turn makes me eat less junk. I'd rather skip yogurt than eat the low fat. Besides yogurt where no fat was removed is about 96.5% fat free already; Natural milk contains around 3-3.5% fat, which makes it pretty low fat as it is... 

What do you think? Am I silly when I get a bit upset and frustrated when yogurt with 0% fat is advertised as "natural"?

August 22, 2013

A stopover in Bretagne (Brittany)

Bretagne - a little piece of my heart is there

Brittany Coastline - sea and beach
The beautiful coastline of Britanny
A short stop-over in Bretagne (link to Brittany Tourism) on the way to new adventures...

France has been close to my heart for a long time. I don't know if it is the attitude towards food that does it, the beautiful landscape, the language or the charming French people, who just like me talk with their hands – or if it a combination of all of these factors.

Regardless I find France an interesting part of the world to visit; Not the least because I want to improve my French – and it is step by step getting better, just don't ask me about the grammar...

Me and my good friend F
Fact is that once I am ready to take a break from Asia and return to Europe I am very strongly leaning towards spending some time in France;

To become fluent in French yes, but more than that -  very much to learn more about the French food culture; I learn some every time I visit, but there is so much more to discover.

There is so much to see and do, so much to explore in France, the biggest country in Europe, at least when it comes to landmass - beautiful coastline, high mountains, big open fields, forests, little towns and villages, big cities. France has it all - and if you top that up with local food specialities in every corner of France, I am sold. For a foodie like myself, there isn't much more to add - France is hard to resist.

August 19, 2013

Cooking on the road - how to survive without a kitchen

What? There is no kitchen?

Cooking outside - one hotplate was all it took
Food is my passion - sometimes to a level that it's ridiculous; Start me talking about food and I can go on for hours. Travelling the way I do right now, saying goodbye to Europe for a while, the one thing I really miss is a kitchen - to cook relaxes me and makes me happy. I love being inspired by the local food and by people around me. 

Luckily I have met people in every corner of Europe, people who were happy to lend me their kitchens and let me experiment. I have visited the kitchens of professionals - my friend Joy in Warzaw who is a professional pastry chef being one of them (check her equally professional blog here) - and I have been using very limited kitchens and cooked there too, and it is equally fun. The smallest kitchen was probably the kitchen outside, with only a hot plate (and a piece of wood to be used as a carving board) - but the owner of the kitchen had excellent kitchen knives, and I could get great ingredients, and that's all that matters. 

July 31, 2013

The horrors of war - study trip in Poland - shaken, sad, upset, but I needed to see this

As long as I can remember – and I have a very good memory for things like that – I have been reading whatever I could get over about the second world war and especially what happened with the people of Jewish decent in the the occupied countries. At an early age I read Anne Frank's diary (follow the link to get to the official website) about the life of a child, later a young woman, in hiding in central Amsterdam during the World War II. I would try and imagine what it would be, being in her situation; She was at the same age, approximately, when she started to write her diary, never meant to be published, as I was when I started to read it. I read my mothers old copy of the book, and I read it again, and again, and again. I read everything I could find about Anne Frank, and I read similar stories. I visited Anne Frank's hiding place in Amsterdam, heard the bells of the church in the square outside, and I would, as I imagine many would, try and imagine myself in that situation.

View over the electical fence and a guard tower
At an early stage I felt the need to try and understand what the people of Europe had to go through during WWII - not just the people who died in the holocaust, but what happened and how it could happen - it has formed who we are, in so many ways, and it is something still so close in time. No-one was unaffected, definitely not in Europe, not even in the few countries that weren't directly dragged in to the war - Sweden was one of the few that remained neutral, but our neighbours were invaded and there was a constant fear we would be too, my grandparents and others have told me.

I have read the stories, met survivors and their children and grandchildren. Met the people that were tattooed and became a number rather than a name, met the ordinary citizens that weren't able to get food for their children, seen the traces of war, the bombed-out churches, the ruins. I have seen the bomb shelters, seen the money that lost value over night. Heard about having to seek shelter in the middle of the night.  The stories I have shocked me, I have cried, I have had nightmares. And yet I couldn't stop reading, because as horrible as it is, I believe it is important to never forget, to remember what happened, and to do our best to make sure it doesn't happen again. 

Due to especially Anne Frank and her diary the holocaust is probably what I read the most about, it is so horrendous, and was done on such a large scale that it's difficult to imagine - it is hard to understand how people can be so cruel, and on such a scale. For as long as I can remember I have felt a need to go see the concentration camps, to see with my own eyes, to try and grasp it. Millions of people sounds like a lot - but how can one visualise such big numbers? I needed to see if for myself. I especially wanted to see the one that I read/learnt the most about, the most horrible of them all. The one who got the name from the little town Oswiecim, in Poland, close to Krakow. Krakow is one of the most beautiful little cities I have seen, right in the middle of Europe, three hours by train from Warsaw, a city I recently visited.

The Auschwitz camp entrance
And here, in the middle of the beautiful green landscape, is Oswiecim. Or, as the Nazis called it - Auschwitz. Here the biggest concentration camp - death camp - is located. Auschwitz, or rather Auschwitz-Birkenau was the biggest camp, focused on extermination, on
murdering thousands time  thousands of people. It consisted of several smaller camps, the biggest and most well known being Auschwitz and Birkenau, which is why the camp is called what it is called - Auschwitz-Birkenau (follow the link to get to the official memorial/museum site).

The Auschwitz part was originally built for Polish soldiers while Birkenau, the largest part, was built up during the war, with one focus and one focus only; To commit the biggest crime ever committed, murdering innocent people; women, children, men. Birkenau is built on marshy land, in an area absolutely flat, with no protection from wind, sun, snow, heavy rain - and Poland definitely has the extremes of all of it - nor from the insects, the mosquitoes, nowhere to get away from the prying eyes of the guards, or the desperate eyes of the other prisoners who were starving, tortured, and more often than not ill with various deceases - without clean water and enough food you have no chance of staying healthy, staying alive. If you weren't sent to the gas chambers you would most likely be dead within months just from what you had to go through.

I could write page after page about all the emotions that welled through my head and heart seeing the thousands and thousands pairs of shoes, the shaved-off hair that was meant for the textile industry, all the empty suitcases that would never again be packed with things, suitcases that showed that no matter how desperate things were, the people who packed them must have had some sort of hope, some sort of wish that there would still be a chance that they could come home again. Most never did. More people than there are inhabitants in the biggest city of Sweden, my native country, died or were murdered in the camps and to and from them.

The train tracks that lead into the Birkenau camp
The train tracks that took the people straight up to the Birkenau camp, where selection was made - if you were lucky; Sometimes there was not even any selection but everybody was sent straight to the gas chamber.

Row after row with simple bunk beds that had to be shared with many people, the “toilets” in Birkenau that you were only allowed to use for a few minutes and only twice per day, the torture chambers in one of the blocks in Auschwitz, where the windows were blocked so you could hear the screams of the others, and listen to the sound of the people being murdered, but you couldn’t see what was actually going on – that's even worse than seeing it, I'd imagine, as you you know you are probably next and you don't know what to expect...

The empty tins having contained the deadly Zyclon B, the crystallised gas used to murder so many - 12 cans were enough to kill 2000 people, that's how deadly it was - the double rows of electrical fence, designed to keep the prisoners from escaping but equally efficient when you had lost your will to live; people committed suicide by throwing themselves onto the fence. Standing there I imagined the ticking sound that must have indicated if the power was on or not. The ash pits where some of the ash from the crematories was spread out, and the area around where you can still see tiny bone fragments, glittering in the sun, white and shiny. I saw them but thought it was just little stones in the gravel. And then our guide told us what it really was - the bone fragments that wouldn't completely burn into ashes, the remainings that had to be crushed - by other prisoners, prisoners that knew that they would most likely suffer the very same destiny.  

Map showing where the people came from
I am not going to say anything more, not now, because no matter what words I use, they will not be enough. I will let the pictures speak for themselves and let you go through the slide show. There is however no picture in the world that can fully describe what happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and what happened in other camps. Everybody need to see this, and everybody need to remember it, remember how cruel we humans are capable of being. We have a shared responsibility to educate each other and our children, so that we remember to respect and care for each other, so that we remember that this must not be allowed to happen again.

We are all humans, we all share similar hopes, dreams, fears and fantasies. Let's remember to always speak up when someone is treated badly - because that's where it all starts; Losing respect for each other one step at a time.