Sunday, October 30, 2016

a most unplanned Birthday

My days are spent working very long hours, planning way too many work-related things, and organizing way too much. So, when my birthday approached, I had but one wish – not to have to foresee, organize, plan, think in advance, get anybody together anywhere for anything... I wanted just to let things flow and enjoy a day of absolute unplannedness. And my habib complied. My superhero.

At midnight he sang the mañanitas to me, and when I said I wanted to go dancing to a club called Puerca, he simply said "Ok, let's go!". So my birthday started with music and dance! Yeah! 

The morning of my birthday, at some point after getting up, I simply said "I want to go for ramen. At Rokai". That was for a sort of early lunch or brunch, at the best place in the city for ramen. The funniest thing is that people oftentimes don't ask for noodles there, but sushi! Which is also great quality, but the ramen? Out of this world. Plus we sat at the bar – another thing people here don't seem to quite like – and enjoyed watching the staff cook and prepare the food. Love that! We ordered tantanmen (担々麺, or タンタンメン), which is actually the Japanese version of Sichuan (Chinese) dandanmian or Dandan noodles (擔擔麵), which I loved back when we lived in China! Oh, and gyoza! We had delicious, fried gyoza (ギョーザ)! Another Japanese take on Chinese dumplings (jiaozi, 餃子), by the way.

After that great beginning, I bought tickets for an animation with Seth Rogen, James Franco and many others, called Sausage Party. But since we still had time, we headed to one of the better French bakeries around, Maison Kayser. To have what? Well, me, a café Viennois and a macaron! Nice!

The film was hilarious! I laughed so hard! I did expect some risqué humour by James Franco and Seth Rogen, but this was over the top! Awesome!

The rest of the day was spent like that. I thought of one of my favourite beer places (Hop), he took me there. At home, I practically demanded some adult fun. I got it. 

The perfect birthday, at least under my current state of mind – having simple desires, and fulfilling them. That and a few messages on Facebook from close friends. :-)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Yamim Noraim – the days of awe

I know, I know, I've been publishing non-stop. But I have like four trips ahead before the year ends, so I really need to finish all my pending posts before I start having too much stuff to write about! Be warned, though, this is one of those posts with lots and lots of text and not enough pretty pictures!

Anyhow. So, this year, like the last two, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah at home. And, for the second time, we had guests! I like how it's becoming a tradition of ours, though I always think what a shame it is my mom's not around anymore to see this revival of her ancestor's traditions...

Rosh Hashanah

The period between the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah (by the way, happy super belated 5777!), and the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is called the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim). Hence the name of this post.

Rosh Hashanah was, frankly, super nice! There was a talk at a historic synagogue in the centre of the city, and we went there out of curiosity. The lecture was a bit boring, I'm afraid, but that's beside the point, because we got our hands on a typical bread for Rosh Hashanah – round challah! Woohoo! With that, we headed back home to prepare everything for dinner: we had the challah (round, to remind us of the cycle of things), nice Chilean red wine, rye bread, apples and agave syrup (to wish for a sweet year), cholent (yeah, I know, not famous for being a special meal, but ours is pretty good!), a beet and pomegranate salad (more sweetness, with just a hint of tartness and bitterness to make the sweet more noticeable), and a chocolate and chia mousse with meringues and raspberries...

Also, this year we did some explaining of what Rosh Hashanah meant (since everybody but me at the table identified as non-Jewish), and I even went as far as incorporating more rituals, such as lighting candles, saying some brakhot (blessings) over the candles, the bread and the wine, all men wore yarmulkes... You know, the works! Being able to pull that off and be surrounded by good, loving friends made for a very special celebration. I am a really really lucky person.

Yom Kippur

Obviously, being a staunch atheist, all my Jewish celebrations draw on humanistic interpretations of meaning. By Yom Kippur, your fate is supposed to be sealed or inscribed in the book of life, for the coming year. And you are supposed to be able to tone down the harshness of the judgement through charity (tzedaka), repentance (teshuva) and prayer (tefilla). Of course, being pretty much out of touch with the local Jewish community, and with no religious intention at all, I was not going to find myself at a temple praying and repenting, right?

Instead, the humanistic approach is to go to the roots of the words themselves, and so tzedaka becomes embodying the ideals of the Jewish people (and, therefore, putting your ethics into action), teshuva becomes to return (to your ideals and values, to recommit), and tefilla becomes self-reflection. And so I spent Yom Kippur reflecting on behaviours I had been having that led me away from my ideals and on thinking on how to remain faithful to who I wanted to be myself. I also spent plenty of time thinking on the meaning of teshuva and tefilla to "tone down the harshness of the judgement", which from a non-theistic point of view – and from an Aristotelian point of view too, it seems, as the Greeks also influenced Jewish thought – by also re-committing to my values and actively exercising what kind of mentsh I want to be, I can better face the harshness life will most definitely throw at me at some point. Or, using a pop-culture reference, I'll be better able to make lemonade with the lemons given to me. Anyhow, last year was a clear example of how I let life's nasty surprises get the better of me, so this was the perfect moment to relect and commit. Oh, and on top of that, I also fasted. Fasting does put you in a different mood and sets the day as a special time fit for meditating, eh?

By the end of Yom Kippur I felt more confident, freer, and calmer. Who says atheists can't benefit from some rituals now and then? And I was also feeling very hungry! So I poured myself some good wine, served myself some cholent (new one, not from Rosh Hashanah! LOL), and proceeded to break fast with a renewed commitment and sense of direction. 

Now, like I said, I simply don't go to temple. I might some day, if I find a humanist Jewish community or if I find someone who's willing to take me into a religious one. And, after all, not ever having set foot in a synagogue during services makes me rather similar to 60% of secular Israelis, who according to the latest surveys never go to a synagogue. But still, I need a photo, there's too much text here. So here's one from a friend who does go to temple, with his family. And, to be honest, all those candles do look pretty. So maybe yeah, one day I might attend a Yom Kippur service...

original by @haalpert on Instagram,
edited by @zangtai_taizo

Friday, October 28, 2016

Seoul again – odds and ends

Finally, the post where everything else goes! The odds & ends post! LOL. No particular order, no particular theme, just the last batch of memories I wanted to keep here and share.

1. Korea is also called the land of the morning calm. My arrival to Incheon Airport was not in the morning, but at sunset. Still, the sun, the sea, the clouds, some islands... gorgeous and really soothing.

2. What every washroom everywhere should have: controls for water and air, for temperature, angle and whatnot, to leave you squeaky clean and perfectly dry after you go do your business.

3. Just some urban bridge scenes from when I took the subway to the National Museum of Korea. I had few opportunities to catch glimpses of the landscape during daylight, and I liked the views from this bridge across the river.

4. Some cool architecture, like a building called Urban Hive, a lit up bridge (which I crossed a couple of times to get to a subway station), three floating artificial islands called Some Sevit (took the picture after one really long nocturnal walk).

5. Tradition is very strong, despite all the modernity of the city. So why not some traditional Korean fashion? Taken near my hotel.

6. Party! There's this area called Itaewon. It gets incredibly busy with thousands of people going to hundreds of clubs, bars, restaurants... Given the hilly nature of the city, you come across a few alleys with interesting things, like one full of mini-establkishments with trans people, one full of Muslim restaurants and services from every corner of the broad Muslim world, and a gay alley with a bar whose owner is extremely friendly and effusive and literally drags people from the street into the bar with the most charming of ways.

And that's it! A really short 3 day work trip, but you can't say I didn't enjoy my little free time fully! 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Seoul again – museums

My very last day in Seoul I had one free full morning before I had to leave for the airport. Despite having gone out the night before, I made an effort, got up really early, and headed to the Yongshan Family Park (용산가족공원) to visit, first and foremost, the National Hangeul Museum (국립한글박물관) and, if time allowed, the National Museum of Korea (국립중앙박물관).

As it happens, I planned to be there right at opening time, but got there earlier! So, I had a walk around the grounds, enjoying the views of the modern museum and the lake and pagoda across, as well as the small woods in the area, where I came across a peaceful clearing with  a beautiful carp pond. Nice pre-museum time!

I finally walked to the National Hangeul Museum, which is a museum on the Korean script, called hangeul. Of course, being such a fan of languages and linguistics, I had to see this, right? You see, the Koreans, like the Japanese and other Asian peoples, used the complex Chinese script for quite some time (in the case of Japan, even until today, in a reduced way). The problem being that a) it is indeed a daunting script that requires years of education to learn and master, and b) the morphology and grammar of Chinese often diverged completely from that of the languages adopting the script, which made for a very forced marriage. 

In 1443 King Sejong the Great, from the Joseon Dynasty, created hangeul, an alphabetic script (one letter, one sound), following the reasoning that writing using Chinese characters was exceedingly difficult without privileged access to education. And so he in a way democratized literacy through hangeul. It took centuries before hangeul was uniformly used. By the beginning of the 20th century its use was very similar to Japan's today, with roots of words written in Chinese and the grammatical endings and particles in hangeul. The final and current modern orthography was published in 1946. 

A very long way, but an impressive one, also making it almost impossible for me to decipher things, since I can't use Chinese characters – like I do in Japanese – to decode packaging and signs! 

There were plenty of fascinating items, including a book from 1568 commemorating the history of Sakyamuni, as well as ancient manuals for learning Japanese and Mongolian through hangeul. This was awesome! As well, there was another exhibition, on the use of hangeul in advertising in contemporary South Korea. This was fascinating too, as it went to the other extreme – a full fledged use of the alphabet, with typographic and colour play. Well done, Korea, well done.

I still had some time, so I headed to the National Museum. But, before I entered, I noticed a stage was being set for some festival. Now, this wouldn't be special, except for the fact that there seemed to be some ceremony going on, with singing, dancing, some ritual-like motions about planting seeds, and some agricultural scenes as background. Maybe for good luck? Anyhow, this was interesting to look at, whatever it may have been.

With limited time, I chose the special exhibition at the National Museum: The city in art, art in the city. What about? Well, of course, art about Seoul and Seoul's art! The first part was a number of beautiful centuries-old artistic maps of Seoul, followed by scrolls depicting life in important Chinese and Japanese cities, as the Koreans would send diplomats and establish missions in those places, partly in order to learn from those civilizations. No photos were allowed of that first section, but the scrolls and paintings were beyond beautiful. Really exquisite works of art bringing you back to ancient Kyoto, Beijing, Tokyo...

The second part was a collection of objects from different times of Seoul's history, many of them reflecting a period where the middle class became obsessed with amassing refined and delicateobjects as an intellectual and social endeavour. I really enjoyed this, and I was even overwhelmed by a nostalgia for living in Asia again... It's so strange how familiar many of these things felt, and how they made me long for life in this part of the world...

After this, I ran back to the Hangeul Museum, I was dying for one last cup of good coffee! That's the iced espresso and macaroon photo in my previous post. And when I emerged from the museum, oh so content after my coffee and macaroon, the weather was so gorgeous, sunny yet cool, and at a nearby small hill kids were hanging some cards on trees with blossoms. The flowers were so delicate, the skies so blue, the sun so comforting, the atmosphere so alive...

This was the perfect farewell. And then I rushed back to the hotel, to head for the airport.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Seoul again – food

So, a couple of weeks ago I had another work trip to Korea! It's crazy how I never visited while living in Beijing for almost 5 years, and now I've been there – always for work – a total of three times in just over two years! I have made it a point to visit one day, on holidays, with the habib (who's never set foot in the land of the morning calm).

Of course, being there for work means I had very little time to do anything. But what time I had, I used! This will be just a series of three simple posts, starting with one of my favourite things – food!

In fact, even arriving and departing from Korea I got to enjoy traditional Korean fare! On the way there, the menu included bibimbap (비빔밥), which is basically white rice, sauteed and seasoned vegetables, soy sauce, fermented soybean paste, and gojuchang (a thick red spicy sauce). All this was presented separately for you to mix! With a little card with instructions! Cute, cool, and yummy! And on the departure flight, when I thought I was going to enjoy another bowl of bibimbap, surprise! I got ssambap (쌈밥)! Ssambap is green leaves of many kinds for wrapping meat or some other filling together with a thick nut-based sauce, white rice, green peppers, and kimchi (I guess ingredients vary a lot). Delicious!

During my stay, I had as many bowls of happiness as I could. I had bibimbap at a cute place in Seorae Village, accompanied as usual by soup and a number of side dishes (banchan). Then at another nearby place I had my favourite among favourites – dolsot (돌솥) bibimbap, which is served in a very hot stone bowl which cooks the ingredients right at your table! I can't have enough of that! And on my last day, at the airport, I had jajangmyeon (자장면), which is actually a Korean dish of Chinese origin (zhajiangmian, 炸醬麵) made of noodles and a thick, black, bean-based sauce. I hadn't had that in ages, since it does exist in China, but it isn't that common there. Lucky to have found it at the airport!

Of course, banchan (반찬), or side dishes, is de rigueur at most meals. there's always something green, something pickled, something spicy, maybe a soup... you could probably even have a whole meal just on banchan. It's probably one of the best features of Korean cuisine!

Since this is the only Asian place I've been to since we left China in 2009, I decided I was going to have Asian food all the time, including for breakfast! So, in the morning, I paid close attention to what other Koreans were getting at the buffet, and I followed suit. One day I had a bowl of mixed rice, some seasoned veggies and seaweed, and tofu. Another day I had a bowl of noodles with some shichimi and greens. Another day I had dim sum... I enjoyed that greatly! The food at the buffet looked delicious, all of it, I bet I missed on some really nice "western" items. But my Asian breakfasts were the best!

Finally, coffee... I don't know why, but Koreans like their coffee exactly like I do: strong, not acidic in the least. Seoul must be one of the very few places where I've consistently had coffee I loved! Perfect taste, perfect size, perfect presentation... This one here is an inced espresso at the National Hangeul Museum (more on that in another post). Accompanied by a delicious raspberry macaron. Oh, so good. So good. 

Yep, with food, you can never go wrong in Seoul!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

que se abra esa puerta


There´s this exhibition at the Museo del Estanquillo, in the historic centre of Mexico City, called "Que se abra esa puerta - Sexualidad, Sensualidad y Erotismo" (Let that door open - Sexuality, Sensuality and Eroticism) with a sort of sexuality history of Mexico from its colonization by the Spanish until our days. It's an interesting exhibition, though nobody should be surprised at the role the catholic church played in creating a double morality, as well as a misogynist and homophobic society. 

What I found most valuable, though, were a few little treasures... like this drawing by none other than Sergei Eisenstein, who spent some time in Mexico (Guanajuato) and had a romance with a local prominent figure. This is as explicitly homoerotic as it gets, eh?

But also, and even more shocking – if you found the drawing shocking, that is – there were photos of the first couple of Pride Marches in Mexico City, along with newspaper clippings and fliers and zines from the time. For one, the language in some of the less reputable newspapers was incredibly demeaning and violent. It was terrifying to read that and to imagine there was a time when LGBTQ people had to read and hear this on a constant basis. 

But also, it was amazing to realize how far we've come in this city – how diverse our marches have become, and how big. How much language has evolved. How being openly LGBTQ is much less of an issue now. Sure, there are still a number of problems, but the amount of progress is astonishing.

An exhibition you should visit. It closes on January 23rd 2017, so you've still got time if you're around. Let the door to freedom of gender expression, to sexual freedom, to individual freedom, keep opening wider and wider!