Wednesday, November 29, 2017

morning calm - rising sun

I got to travel back to Korea! Yes, another one of those lightning-quick work trips! But this time it wasn't to Seoul, but to Busan! Nice to get a chance to see another side of the country of the morning calm!

I flew via Narita, which meant a horribly long direct flight from Mexico City. Fortunately, the flight attendants were incredibly welcoming and attentive. They even left a paper cup with a message and paper flowers in the washroom, as well as a hand-written note mentioning snacks in the gallery! Wow!  

Once in Narita, I wasn't gonna miss the chance to have a Japanese style breakfast, right?

The flight from Narita to Gimhae (Busan's airport) was fortunately short, and it offered nice views of the coast as we approached. 

Like the other times I've been to Korea for work, I just spent short of three days. But I made the mos of them, you'll see!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Need a fix of home-style Israeli food? Sure, the photos on the wall depict mostly famous Jews from the United States who are in the show biz and could benefit from some variety (I mean, where's Marx? Chagall? Freud?), but the diversity lacking in the photos is way more than made up for with the buffet!

Worth paying this place (Moshe's) in the Colonia Juárez a visit.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Day of the Dead, part II

November 2nd, or All Hallows' Day, we kept enjoying the Day of the Dead celebrations of this city. We had seen some pictures of a beautiful ofrenda (see my previous post for some definitions) in the Santa María la Ribera neighbourhood, so we headed there. But, before reaching the metrobús station, there was this going on by the Alameda Central! A pop-up town with Day of the Dead crafts, a band, and a group of dancing skeletons and a Catrina? This couldn't get any better!

From there, we headed to the Kiosco Morisco in the Santa María la Ribera neighbourhood (read more on that beautiful kiosk and the neighbourhood here). Well, the photos we had seen didn't lie – it was amazing and so elaborate! There was a path of ofrendas and cempasúchil flowers leading all the way to the kiosk. There, you were greeted by a tzompantli (of Aztec origin, a wall of skulls signalling the entrance to the underworld, the Mictlán). And once inside, many more ofrendas and an incredible mix of Christian and pre-Hispanic imagery and motifs. Stunning.

Finally, we had to go back to the Zócalo, because I was dying to see it at night! And it was totally worth it. There was a stage with different groups playing music, and the papel picado was interspersed with small candle-like lamps. The same ofrendas we had seen were now lit, and looked so much more special...

But then there was some stuff that wasn't there the day before, like a big glittery multi-coloured skull, a devil skeleton, and a few monumental skeletons in blue, yellow and red. Wow.

We decided to go back via the smaller streets leading away from the Zócalo and, when turning around the cathedral, we came across this small ofrenda by one of the cathedral's walls. So simple – just two veladoras (votive candles), a bowl with a clementine, cempasúchil flowers, right under a niche with a Purgatory-like sculpture. Like, just by walking around the area, you know? This part of town is simply magical.

And that was it. This time I forgot to take photos of all the pan de muerto (you can read more on this kind of bread typical to Día de Muertos on this other post of mine), though. But this must have been one of the more interesting Día de Muertos that I've experienced in the city. Pretty awesome. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Day of the Dead, part I

It's official – my favourite Mexican celebration is the Day of the Dead, by far! It lasts three days (though decorations and activities start even before that), and it's just so colourful and unique. Which is why I need to write two posts about it, I couldn't stop taking photos of all we saw! I should add, though, that this is about Day of the Dead in Mexico City, as different cities, towns and regions of Mexico have their own specific traditions as well, ok?

November 1st – All Souls' Day

So, November 1st we did a whole tour. First around the Alameda Central, where we saw some nice Catrinas (elegantly dressed female representations of Death) courtesy of the National Lottery and, ironically, from one of the bigger funeral homes! LOL

Then we arrived by the Templo de San Hipólito, where there was a huge Saint Jude Thaddaeus celebration going on as well. Some people were performing pre-Hispanic-inspired dances. I usually don't pay much attention to these when done as a tourist attraction, but this was so different – this was connected to the Day of the Dead, to native ancestry, to Catholic saints... It was mesmerizing to watch and hear. Wow.

The church had a massive crowd all around and getting inside. Saint Jude Thaddaeus is the saint for difficult situations and, as it happens, people who are in trouble with the law (from petty stuff to more gruesome crimes) often come here to ask help from the saint. Since we were more into looking at Day of the Dead celebrations, we didn't go in, though it would've been fascinating!

Then we headed along Paseo de la Reforma to the Ángel de la Independencia. It looked fantastic with the base covered in beautiful yellow cempasúchil (Marigold). I prefer the Nahuatl-derived name. It comes from cempōhualxōchitl, or flower of twenty (twenty having a symbolic meaning, so more like "flower of many flowers"). In fact, part of the meridian of the avenue was also covered in cempasúchil.

Later on, we decided to go have a look at the Zócalo, the centre and main square of the city. Whoa! It looked amazing! Papel picado (perforated paper with motifs of the Day of the Dead), monumental ofrendas (offerings to the departed, which usually include the food they used to like), skeleton-inspired sculptures of xoloitzcuintles (a breed of Mexican hairless dog)...

Skeletons representing both the victims and the relief teams of the September earthquakes, street organ players with skull-like make-up, a tree of life with skulls...

Our last stop that day? On the way back from the Zócalo we passed by the Atrio de San Francisco (Saint Francis' Atrium), with more Day of the Dead decorations and activities. Gorgeous.

We finished our tour of the city with a beer at a local brewery. They had put cempasúchil flowers in a beer bottle. So very appropriate.

But this was just November 1st. November 2nd was incredible as well! But that's my next post.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Shabbos Project 2017

The Shabbos Project – a once-a-year worldwide trans-denominational inclusive  celebration of Shobbes (Shabbes, Shabbos, Shabbat, whatever – שבת!). That is, to take a break from work (including obsessively checking in on your social media, or compulsively over-sharing), to invite your neighbours and friends for dinner, and rest from sundown Friday until "the stars come out" Sunday.

After all my work-related travel, I was more than ready to join in the project and disconnect the last weekend of October (actually, the very day I flew in from Dhaka!). We had friends over, we welcomed Shobbes with candles and brokhes (blessings, ברכות) and sharing bread and wine... We had a nice, relaxed, simple dinner. We talked. And we all turned our smartphones off during the whole evening. So good. 

I maintained that rest and relaxation and online disconnection in exchange for offline connection the whole weekend. Should do this more often! But at the very least we're doing it again next year, October 19 and 20 – mark your calendars!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

18 hours in Guangzhou

Yeah, I know, 45 hours to get to Dhaka (time at airport and layovers included), spend 48 hours there, travel 65 hours back home. But those 65 hours included an 18 hour layover in Guangzhou (Canton), the capital of Guangdong Province, China! This must have been the craziest work trip of my entire life. But hey, I got to take a tour of Guangzhou courtesy of China Southern (I mean, they made me spend 18 hours  as a layover, it's the least they could do, right?).

This was my second time in the city. The first one was 11 years ago, but that one time was about as rushed as this one and we didn't see much. Lucky for me, this tour happened to take me to stuff we didn't get to see in 2011!

But before I could hop on the tour I had to wait for about an hour (I landed so, so, so early...), so what did I do with that one hour? Have my favourite Chinese breakfast, a definitely acquired taste – congee (粥) with pickled veggies (鹹菜). So basic. I love it! A good way to start my short day in Guangzhou!

After that, the bus arrived and us eight foreigners on various long layovers hopped on. First stop? The Chen Clan Ancestral Hall (陳家祠), basically the best example of Lingnan architecture, an architecture typical to this part of the country. Having lived in the northern parts of China for so long, I was completely amazed by how different Lingnan architecture looked to me! The colours, shapes, motifs... everything seemed so new! Decorations were just so bright, and so dense, done in porcelain and wood...

Then, the roof itself was an intricate work of interlocking wooden pieces. Again, something I felt was aesthetically different from what I was used to seeing further up north.

The hall for the ancestors themselves had these beautiful lions on striking blue stands. We were told there's a hall in China for every Chinese surname, hence why this is called the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, because it's for the ancestors of people that bear the Chen surname.

Of course, this is a tourist attraction, and there are shops selling traditional crafts. But there was this one person that did catch my eye: an artist that made paintings by using just his hand, no brush. He'd use his palm, fingers, nails, wrist... and he'd create forests, waterfalls, rocks...

If that were all I had seen, it would have been enough (plus, all my travels and flights and jet lags were making my body beg for a long nap!), but we then went on to stop number two: Lychee Bay (荔枝灣). In old times, Guangzhou had areas with creeks and canals, which were then filled with earth or built over as often happens when some cities modernize. In 2009 the city decided to bring this area back to its former look and in 2010 there was water flowing again.

Of course this looks new, rather than preserved. But that's how it's done in most of China (just take a walk around the alleys around the Forbidden City, in Beijing). But still, I'd rather have this than a "more authentic" dusty street, right? I liked it. 

And the area around it was nice too, by the way. This part of Guangzhou reminds me more of certain parts of Shanghai rather than Beijing. Smaller streets, lots of trees, old houses... Oh, and something new for me in this part of the world – bikes for public use! In the photo below you can just see a few, but there were places with dozens upon dozens of them! From no less than five different companies! What!?!?

Hopped on the bus. On to stop number three: Yuexiu Park (越秀公園), to see the Five Rams Sculpture. Guangzhou is also known as the City of the Five Rams, and there are a few myths about the city and five immortals riding five rams, hence the nickname. The statue is rather new, some 50 years old. It sits atop a hill, and it may be new but it's nice nevertheless. Plus, it looked like the park itself could make for a really nice walk. Unfortunately, this tour stop was exclusively to see the emblem of the city, right?

Last stop? A restaurant! The tour included a traditional Chinese lunch! Oh, I was so grateful for this part! Our tour guide ordered plenty of food for us eight foreigners. Like, plenty. As you can see, some of the food didn't make it to the photo! LOL. I knew most of the things we ordered (I mean, I've lived a total of 7 years in China on three separate occasions, right?), but there were a couple that were very Cantonese and very unknown to me. Oh, and yummy. Cool.

That was the end of the tour. We were taken back to the airport, and then I took the bus to my hotel (also courtesy of the airline). It was a rather basic hotel. But it offered the one thing I really needed – an uninterrupted and calm six hours of sleep! That was one extremely long nap! But it was just what my body deserved and claimed.

Then off to the airport, buy some snacks for home, buy myself a green bean popsicle (another acquired taste of something you don't see outside China very often), almost miss my flight because my wristwatch was on Dhaka time... 

Last year I had the chance to visit Beijing again, after a good many years. I consider myself extremely fortunate for this opportunity, however brief, to see Guangzhou again.