Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Category Archives: Others

Reading “1Q84” by Haruki Murakami

SPOILER ALERT!!! 1Q84 had me going “huh?” half the time and “HUH???” the other half. In the end, I failed to understand the implications behind the story and realized that perhaps it wasn’t meant to be “understood” in the conventional sense. I haven’t read enough Murakami to comment objectively, but I do applaud the remarkable character development in the few books of his that I’ve read, something I also noted in Norwegian Wood. I read a review of 1Q84 comparing the book itself to a dream – while you’re in it, even the most bizarre happenings seem completely normal but when you pause and reflect, it defies every law of physics and logic. And that’s exactly it – you jump into a world that at the same time makes perfect and zero sense. The setting and progression of 1Q84 captivated my mind with an irresistible grasp, and I found myself looking forward to my 30+30-minute subway commute every morning and evening, just so that I could immerse in 1Q84 – like falling back into lucid dreaming. I was triggered by so many questions and eager to continue so that the answers would be revealed (none were revealed, by the way). Air Chrysalis? Little People? Tsubasa? Tamaru? The married mistress? With more and more questions building up in each chapter, it gradually became less important to find the answers (though it’d be nice to have some…) and I instead anticipated the final convergence of 1Q84 and Cat Town. Even with their “reunion”, I think neither Aomame nor Tengo fully understood what happened to themselves, just as the reader can never fully understand the world of 1Q84. And like XXJ hinted, that is the point – not to “understand” but to “experience” 1Q84, as if you are Aomame or Tengo yourself. With that said, 1Q84 was a thoroughly enjoyable read, though not without frustrations and an inevitable sense of helplessness in not finding the answers. After all, “If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.” (Side note: To say that 1Q84 is related to 1984 is like declaring that there are 60 minutes in an hour, so I gotta re-visit Orwell’s 1984, which I read I think 17 or 18 years ago. I don’t recollect many details of 1984, and re-reading it might help me dive further into the mysterious 1Q84, which I intend to re-read…eventually 😉 )

The three volumes of “1Q84” by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, Chinese translation.

My stories 07: My first Greek word

Φλογερες, my first Greek word.

I went to a Greek restaurant (probably the only one in Wuhan) for dinner last night. There weren’t many diners, even on a Friday night. The lady behind the bar (I later found out that she was the co-owner) looked at my order and asked me if I had been to Greece, perhaps because most of what I ordered were the more traditional Greek dishes. I told her that I had been to Athens for an academic conference a few years ago, and I went to Santorini as a side trip.

This opened up a series of interesting conversations. It turns out that the lady is a Wuhan local, but her husband (co-owner and chef) is from Thessaloniki in Greece. In 2016, the couple opened this Greek restaurant in Wuhan, trying their best to restore the authentic taste of the chef’s hometown using local ingredients (with some necessary compromises and substitutes). The lady has lived in Greece for a few years and regretted hearing that I’ve only been to the two most touristy and commercialized places in Greece. Yeah, I agreed, but I had no time to visit other Greek cities, but I will go back to Greece in the future, with Mr. J! We then continued to chat about other random topics. I said, it’s so rare to find “non-mainstream” cuisine, like Greek food, in Wuhan. The lady said that many Greek dishes don’t cater to the local taste, and people are like this – no matter how much you try to convince them that a dish is authentic, if they are not accustomed to that particular taste, they will be unable to appreciate it. Therefore, there is no point forcing someone to like a type of food – people who like it will come naturally. She then told me that there are only maybe two or three Greeks in Wuhan (TWO OR THREE!) but in fact, I thought that one is already quite rare. You’ve gotta have a lot of luck to meet another Greek!

While paying the bill, I asked the chef to tell me the name of the dish that looked like spring rolls. He explained that the stuffing in these rolls contained smoked turkey ham, a Bechamel-based sauce, and feta cheese, all wrapped in thin filo pastry, and the baked product is crispy and flavorful (and heavenly)! This reminded me of the spinach pie that I ate with TK in Greece – spanakopita, oh my goodness. Although it was just a snack, it was an unforgettable delicacy that lingered in my heart. According to the lady, they don’t sell the spinach pie at the restaurant because locals don’t like the taste, and to that I can only say…y’all are missing out, people. The chef later taught me how to make spinach pie, and the procedure is actually rather complicated but…maybe one day I will try it 😉

And yes, we still haven’t gotten to the name of the spring rolls. The chef continued and said that the rolls are shaped like small, long flutes, so they are called Φλογερες – flogeres, little cheese flutes, and he taught me how to pronounce it in Greek (the “g” is pronounced like “ye”). When I pointed out some Greek letters that I recognized, the chef was quite surprised, but I replied that I studied science and in math and physics, we often use Greek letters as variables, so I was no stranger to them. (Side note: while chatting with the chef, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t spoken English for a long time…)

Continuing on, the chef said that he likes to visit small and medium-sized cities in China because in these places, he can truly experience the daily life of the local people. For example, he particularly enjoyed his visit to Changde in Hunan, as the city was unpretentious and the people were sincere. There are a lot of other details in our chat during this serendipitous encounter, too many to note here. But wow, it’s so rare (saying this for the third time) meeting such lovely people, and I felt that I could have kept on chatting with them for hours, sharing fun travel stories, joys of life, and our love for food! One day in the future, let’s organize a group trip to Greece and see Corinth, Marathon, and of course Thessaloniki, hehe~

Φλογερες, or flogeres – cheese flutes stuffed with smoked turkey ham, Bechamel-based white sauce, and feta cheese, at Aegean Blue Greek Restaurant, Wuhan, China.

My stories 06: The old green trains

I remember when I was little, I used to take the old green trains with “the adults” from Guangzhou back to my mom’s hometown in Gansu province of China. Then we’d take the train back again, and each way took two days and one night. That route still exists now and I guess the duration is the same even today. When I was very young, we went in the hard sleeper coaches. We even travelled with hard seats once and that was quite a terrible experience…yep. Along the way, there were three stops that left the deepest impression in my memory. The first stop was Wuchang (one of the three major districts that make up the city of Wuhan now), which I can’t be more familiar with in present day. On the return trip to Guangzhou, the train must cross the Yangtze River Bridge before arriving at Wuchang station. Every time we were crossing the bridge, my third grandpa would remark with excitement, “We’re at Wuchang, we’re at Wuchang!” And that was the earliest that “Wuchang” entered my vocabulary as a place in China. The second stop was Zhengzhou. I didn’t know where Zhengzhou was back then (now I know that it’s the capital of Henan province) and I only knew that it was a major station, as the train stopped there for nearly half an hour. The adults would get off the train to stretch and walk around, but I’d always worry that the train would leave before they returned, so I’d keep urging them to get back onto the train. The third stop was Xi’an, also a major station. During those years, there’d be vendors selling food and snacks on the platforms. You didn’t even have to get off the train – you could open the window and buy whatever you wanted. I remember there was someone selling roasted chicken at Xi’an station and oh man, that chicken looked extra mouthwatering and irresistible. But then, the adults never bought anything from the train stations. As a small child, I could only watch as that delicious-looking roasted chicken, which I never got the chance to taste, disappeared in front of my eyes. Today, I can most certainly afford to buy a roasted chicken myself, but no one sells them on the platforms anymore…

Slow green trains on the platform. Nowadays, many people in China choose to travel with the high-speed trains for speed and convenience, but many of the slow train routes, including the one from Guangzhou to Gansu, still exist.

(This short essay was written on August 26, 2019.)

One year of marriage

Today is my one-year wedding anniversary with J and I am glad to say we didn’t rip each other apart during the past 366 days, yay! We spent the day in my hometown Guangzhou, where it all began – it was here two and a half years ago that J told me he loved me and we entered a relationship, which naturally led to marriage. Our wedding last October took place in France (where we met) and since then it had been heck of a year, what with COVID-19 and J developing anxiety (not related to COVID). Throughout our marriage, I am learning more and more about this man each and every day, and even though he has habits that annoy me to no end and make me want to kick his sorry ass, I am also completely aware of my own shortcomings, which are perhaps 1000 times more difficult to bear than his. Yet this man has managed to put up with me with his insurmountable patience and not get a mental breakdown from me being unreasonable most of the time, which impresses me and can only be explained by the magnitude of love that he displays on a daily basis. Every moment, I am grateful that God has allowed our paths to cross and I recognize how blessed I am to have J as my husband. The marriage is still young and growing, and both of us have unknown challenges that must be faced together and lessons that must be learned, I am sure. Most importantly, I am constantly trying to remind myself to learn how to love, not in a way that benefits myself only, but with the aim of supporting my husband and fortifying our relationship as a team. This won’t be easy and there will be hardship, but with you beside me and God above us, no fear can hinder us. All in all, every ordinary day has been an indispensable page in the journey of our marriage, and as long as I am with you, I can welcome each new page with joy and anticipation. Here we go, year 2!

Just one of the many days where I want to punch this man’s face… 🤔

Ten years of blogging

The first entry of this blog was posted exactly ten years ago, on September 27, 2010. That’s a whole decade. Let me take a moment to let that sink in…

If you’ve read my “About” page, you’d have had some idea of how this blog ever came into existence at all. I remember when I made the decision in 2010 to go to Europe for my PhD, I was telling my friends and the reaction of one of them, Albert, was, “Oh cool, you’ll be blogging, right”? I don’t think he said it in a sense of “I’ll be reading it when you post” (he probably never did), but with more of a “everyone’s blogging (back then), so I’m assuming you will too” tone.

So I said, “Uh, yeah!” without really having the intention of blogging to begin with, but having kept an online journal for 8 years already at that point I thought…well why not. And thus, “Annie Bananie en Europe” came to life. Where do I start…let me summarize these ten years briefly, year by year.

  • Year 1: the beginning of my PhD
  • Year 2: still struggling through the PhD
  • Year 3: finally getting the PhD!
  • Year 4: unemployment and pause
  • Year 5: back in Europe again?!!
  • Year 6: Glaswegian post-doc days
  • Year 7: final year in Europe…for now
  • Year 8: meeting J and moving to Wuhan
  • Year 9: surviving Wuhan
  • Year 10: making Wuhan my home amidst COVID-19

Looking back, the blog started out as a venue for me to document my travels in Europe and my experiences as a PhD student in France and Belgium. (The order in which I mentioned travelling and the PhD really does tell you my priorities, huh… 😛 ) That was the “en Europe” part. Then I finished my PhD and went back to Canada for a year of unemployment and what’d you know…I ended up BACK in Europe, in Glasgow, of all places. And dare I say that Glasgow was where I had my most memorable European days – sorry Bordeaux! Then the real unfathomable happened when I moved back to China for work – or for LOVE, truthfully. That ends the “en Europe” phase (for now) but Europe will always have an irreplaceable part of my heart, so the name of the blog will not change for as long as it exists.

The site has also transformed from a blog that was exclusively about travel adventures to one that included musings about other aspects of my life, including but not limited to lab life, cooking experiments, short reflections, and random stories. Having said this, I also want to take a closer look at the major changes that have happened throughout the decade, aside from the changes in location:

  • Snobby 20-something that didn’t know any better in 2010 — a-little-less-snobby 30-something that still doesn’t know any better in 2020
  • Single and making stupid relationship mistakes in 2010 — married and still learning to love every day in 2020
  • Intensive, don’t-waste-any-moment travel style in 2010 — relaxed and spontaneous travel style in 2020
  • Photographing everything I see with my DSLR from 2010 to 2015 — taking a lot fewer photos in 2020, still the same DSLR but a lot more with smartphone for convenience
  • Writing almost weekly about almost every trip taken from 2010 to 2013 — writing a lot less now but on a variety of topics in 2020
  • Freshly stepping into the global society in 2010 — gaining a broader and more comprehensive worldview in 2020, ESPECIALLY after living and working in China for two years
  • Happy and thankful in 2010 — still happy and thankful in 2020 despite the crappy year it had been!

In this list, I’ve mentioned three of my five greatest joys in life: travel, photography, and writing (food and music being the other two). I’m glad that after ten years, I still haven’t given up on any of these joys (I don’t want to use the word “passion” lightly), although the time spent on these joys have dwindled for various reasons. Still, if life were a school project where I am presenting what it is to be “me”, then these five joys will encompass much of what I am, and I think I’ve built up quite a decent portfolio. I also want to mention that my “career” isn’t really linked to any of these (except for maybe writing), and I hesitate to define any part of myself using my current “career” situation. I strongly dislike my job and that’s all I will say about this for now.

To avoid being too verbose, I will end this post with the following reflection on travelling (since this is still primarily a travel blog). Amidst the pandemic I am gaining a whole new appreciation of the luxury of travelling. Luxury not as in staying at five-star hotels or drinking expensive wine, but as in having had the opportunity and privilege to freely travel and see the world in the first place. I still maintain that travelling is a privilege, not a right as others believe. Being in China, I am currently allowed to travel domestically, though as a foreign passport holder there are more than just a few restrictions and inconveniences. But I won’t complain because being able to travel in these times is already more than what I could or should ask for. That is one thing. Second, although the blog isn’t as active as it used to be and there probably aren’t many regular readers, I won’t let it die so easily 😉 It holds so much of the memories that I dearly treasure – the words, the photos, the feelings embedded within each composition and each thought. A pat on the back to myself, one for each year. On to the next decade!

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