Tag Archives: belgium

Holidays in China, part II

Continues from part I.

Qutang Gorge
The middle of the 3 Gorges of the Yangtze River, Qutang Gorge.

Shennong Stream
Shennong Stream off Yangtze River. Before the construction of the 3 Gorges Dam, the river was so difficult to sail that to go upstream you needed to be pulled along by trackers. Clothing optional.

3 Gorges Dam Panorama
Behold the 3 Gorges Dam.
3 Gorges Dam Panorama
Another view of the 3 Gorges Dam

Yichang at night
The hotel in Yichang was nice. The city itself was not that interesting. They seemed to have ads for a local corn-based liquor everywhere.

Pudong Panorama
Pudong panorama from the Bund.

Pudong at Dusk
Pudong at dusk.

Shanghai at night from the Oriental Pearl TV Tower
Skyscrapers in the Shanghainese night

Trying to get out
Trying to get out of the vantage point of the previous picture at the Oriental Pearl TV tower. This is why we were surprised by the lack of courteousness in Chinese crowds: people would run, push and shove as much as possible in a situation that was potentially very dangerous.

Yuyuan Gardens
Tea House at the Yuyuan gardens. The bridge is built in zigzag as bad spirits can't turn corners.

Yuyuan Gardens
The area around the Yuyuan gardens is full of shops and built in traditional Chinese style.

Chinese Painting at Shanghai Museum
Chinese painting at Shanghai museum. Probably the best museum in China, the ceramic, jade, copper and painting collections are worth the visit.

Mexico at the World Expo
Mexican pavillion at the World Expo: Replica of the Bell of Independence from the church of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato.

Mexico at the World Expo
The Mexican pavillion had an introduction to Mexican art & history, but my favourites where these masks where you could see different parts of Mexico through the eyes of someone living there.

Finland at the World Expo
The Finnish pavillion had an overview of Finnish design, and while there was not a lot of food on offer there was a big space for Nokia 😉

Belgium at the World Expo
The Belgian pavillion focused more than anything on science and technology (and beer and chocolate, sure). They had a video that Frank de Winne, Belgian ESA astronaut, recorded from space for the Expo.

India and Saudi Arabia at the World Expo
Many pavillions remained unseen, even if we spent there the whole day.

French Concession / Xintiandi
The former French concession at Xintiandi was a nice stop. After two weeks, we were starting to miss certain European comforts like street cafés, sandwiches or good beer.

Even during the night it was very hot, up to 30°C.
Route from Beijing to Helsinki
Ready to fly back from Beijing. One of the decisive factors that convinced us to go to China was that it is only a 8 hour direct flight with Finnair.

Belgian Beer Review: Westvleteren

This is a post in the Belgian beer review series.

Chocolate caramel colour. Bouquet of blueberry toffee. Creamy but not mushy head. Intial taste of bitter trappist, later becomes softer, gitst of saaristoleipä initially, then notes of blueberry, cream and honey. Awesome experience, great beer. No wonder it is regarded as the best beer in Belgium and probably the world.

The power of the community: Case SimCity 4

I grew up playing SimCity, as I’m sure some of you did.  The appeal of simulating how a city would grow and try to create something that would reflect my own choices was definitely very strong.  The last version of the franchise SimCity 4 was released in 2004, and its publisher (EA) has pretty much discontinued support for the game and stopped any sequels.

Imagine my surprise when I found Simtropolis.com, an online community of SimCity players.  Not only do they have City blogs and chat, but a huge archive or user-generated content to improve your experience of the game.  Over the years, the users have created maps (so that you can build your city in the site of Helsinki, for example), landmarks (like the Angel of Independence from Mexico City or the Atomium from Brussels) that you can use in the city you build and other general improvements to the game that the designers hadn’t originally thought of, an example of which you can find below.

It is amazing how much people can do, when you give them means to do it.  A community of devoted fans is all you need.

Learn to give presentations

One situation I encounter time and again is people who have great insight but cannot communicate it forward as they haven’t learned to give a presentation.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m an expert nor that it is easy to do.  However, the ability to give presentations is an absolutely fundamental skill regardless of your profession, and is something that I feel is not stressed enough in Finnish education (I remember one of my teachers in Belgium used to complain about that after having seen many Finnish exchange students), to the detriment of business here (I am yet to count how many times I’ve heard that “We have great ideas but don’t know how to sell them“).

I haven’t tried them (most of what I know about speaking in public I learned in Models United Nations as a teenager), but I understand a good way to improve in this area is to try Toastmasters.  They even have a Helsinki chapter.

Against the World Music category

Anybody who knows me a little bit (or has seen my profile at Last.fm) has probably realised that my musical taste is quite varied.  On any given day I could be listening to raï, ranchera, punk, samba, rock, jazz, metal, classical music, ska, axé, or electronica from Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Algeria, France, Belgium, Israel, India, Canada, Argentina, Egypt, China, etc… which if they’re not your usual Anglo-Saxon pop-rock will usually be clumped together into World Music, with very awkward results.

For example, with the current version of iTunes you have a “Genius” feature that promises to make perfect playlists for you.  However, the database they use seems to have been made by the record companies instead of users, so when it does find the music I have (which is less often than I would expect), if I ask to create a Genius playlist out of e.g. one of my favourite Mexican rock bands it will put it together with Mexican & Argentine traditional music too since they’re “Latin”, something akin to lumping James Brown together with Enya because they come from the English-speaking world.  It gets even better when I try it with some of my favourite samba artists, as they will be lumped together  with salsa, raï, Bollywood and tango acts because they are “World Music”, even if I do have plenty of MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) to make a list with.

David Byrne said it best: he hates world music.

Strawberry fields forever

You may be aware that Mexico is not one of the most egalitarian societies on this planet, and socioeconomic differences are very much a part of the social fabric.  I was fortunate enough to grow up in a middle class family in the capital, with access to good schooling and domestic and international travel.

While growing up I think I tried to make the best possible use of these opportunities, but when I reached my teenage years I realised I truly disliked the pseudo-elitist environment I was brought up in, and got rather fed up with those social standards on what to wear, how to act, what kind of music to listen, what car to drive, when to gossip, etcetera.

Fast-forward 10 years.  I had been living in Finland for a few years and moved to Brussels to study my masters degree.  The school was not very big, so for extra-curricular activities and a couple of courses they tended to band together the undergraduate exchange students and the foreign graduate students for what one could call "economies of scale". 

Two of the exchange students were from Mexico, and one of them embodied pretty much everything I disliked of that environment I had left: the feigned (or real) ignorance and lack of curiosity, the social and religious conservatism, the gossiping and the materialism were all there, and I couldn't avoid this person for half a year.

Needless to say, the beginning was quite hard, but it definitely taught me to face my own prejudices and not only deal with it, but actually get along pretty nicely and (most importantly) sincerely.  While we didn't become best friends, I believe we were able to have a good working relationship, which is one of the most valuable lessons learned from my time there.

Belgian Beer Review: Gulden Draak

This is a post in the Belgian beer review series.

A slightly fruity dark ale with a strong flavour and a beautiful chocolate colour. However, I don’t like beers where the taste of alcohol is too obvious, so this was not one of my favourites.
I found it in a bar in Finland while doing a beer tasting.