Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: adventure

Where in the world is Annie?

Ummm…I haven’t updated the blog in more than three months. But I have my reasons (excuses). A lot has happened within the past three months, the most important event being…I moved (back) to China. Yes, moving as in relocating, settling down, and looking for a job in China. All to be with the man that I love the most in the entire world, after looking for him for 30 years.

Yes it sounds cheesy I know. I’ve somehow always known that if I get myself into a new relationship (and this is a very serious relationship), I would let the entire world know, especially after I’ve been single for 9 years after my previous and only romantic involvement. So far I’ve received nothing but blessings and happy wishes, and I’m grateful for the support from my friends and family, who encourage me to pursue happiness, even if it meant moving halfway around the world. And oh, it’s been tough getting all the logistics straightened out, but I’ll spare you the details. At least I’m in China now – that’s the first step, although I’m temporarily unemployed.

Then again, in some sense it’s not that bad because it’s almost like going “home” – back to the country where I was born. It’s strange how it worked out. My parents immigrated from China to Canada 22 years ago and I’m now going all the way back to where it began. Though not permanent, I anticipate staying here for at least 5 to 10 years. My heart has always been attached to this familiar yet mysterious land, and now that I finally get to immerse myself fully and experience the REAL China, I’m beyond excited. It’ll a brand new stage of life and a challenge for me, but at least…I won’t be facing it alone!

The forest-like campus of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, where I am temporarily staying.

So where EXACTLY am I? I was born in Guangzhou in the southern part of China but that’s not where I came back to. The answer is…*DRUM ROLLS*…WUHAN in the province of Hubei in south-central China. Even 6 months ago I wouldn’t haven’t imagine myself moving here but alas, here I am now, calling Wuhan my new home. What adventures await Annie in her days to come? Only time will tell…

The hills are alive…on Arthur’s Seat!

Speaking of hills, a very easily reachable summit from Glasgow would be Arthur’s Seat, situated right in Edinburgh an hour away. To be precise, there is a group of hills in Holyrood Park in Edinburgh, and Arthur’s Seat is the most well-known peak among them. I had been looking for the perfect opportunity to go, mostly considering weather and my availability. The opportunity finally presented itself at the end of September, so I was only too happy to embark on the journey to conquer my next summit – Arthur’s Seat.

Holyrood Park is accessible from the centre of Edinburgh via a 20-minute walk from Waverley train station to the beginning of the hiking trails. From the base of the hills, there were many paths that led up to Arthur’s Seat, but instead of taking the common route up from the front, I made a small detour to the back of the park and decided to ascend a random trail that was not as crowded as the main path. Up ahead in the above picture is Arthur’s Seat – still quite a bit of walking to do!

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The hills are alive…at Loch Lomond!

This post is waaaaaaaaaaay overdue.

You see, I went for a hike on Conic Hill near Loch Lomond at the end of June, enjoyed it so much, and was so excited about writing a blog related to the experience. Alas, more than three months have gone by and still no blog post. I am a procrastinator!!

If Kinnoull Hill was my introduction to hill walking, then Conic Hill was what made me fall in love with this activity. I am aiming for the West Highland Way in the upcoming years and some real mountains eventually, possibly some Scottish Munros, but hill walking will get my training started nicely and slowly. Having searched the nearby Loch Lomond, I saw that many people have suggested trying Conic Hill before taking on the real beast of the Munro, especially for the inexperienced, which clearly referred to me. So one very sunny Saturday morning, I packed my backpack and my camera, hopped onto a very early train to Balloch (hills have the power to wake me up at 6:30 in the morning on a weekend, which is impressive), took a bus to Balmaha, and promptly started my solo ascent to Conic Hill at 9am.

At an elevation of approximately 350 m, Conic Hill is a gentle climb and rather straightforward. The hill could be done as part of the West Highland Way (the Way), but since I was climbing it without doing the Way, I think I can skip it when I actually take on the Way in its entirety (though the views on Conic Hill were so impressive, as you will see, that I may contemplate repeating the route). The ascent was slow and steady with some gradual changes in elevation at the beginning, but be not fooled! Past the well-shaded foresty patches, the slopes suddenly became very steep quite quickly, and never-ending steps seemingly appeared out of nowhere in front of me. Oh, I knew I was in for a very sweaty workout, alright!

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That time we decided to eat hákarl

It all started a few years ago when my friend Geoff told me about hákarl for the first time. I think it began with a conversation about surströmming and continued on to include hákarl and rakfisk and all kinds of foul stuff…it’s only fair. It wasn’t until I went to Iceland in January 2014 did I remember the word hákarl, or well, more like I was reminded of it by Geoff. “Bring some back home!” was his request…if possible, of course. And it was possible. And it happened.

“What is hákarl?” you ask. Well it turns out that our Nordic friends have some very…unique taste buds. While the Swedish have fermented herring in an explosive can (that would be your surströmming) and the Norwegian have their fermented trout (rakfisk), the Icelandic people have, you guessed it, fermented shark. Oh, you want to know more? You see, the hákarl is known for its putrefied odour and distinct, foul taste. We take a shark, cut off its head and remove its guts, and bury it underground for 6 weeks or more. Afterwards, the now fermented shark is cut and hung to dry for another several months before being cut into small sugar cube-like pieces, becoming the beauty that is hákarl. Ahh, sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?

So then I went to Iceland and had the time of my life. Just as I was about to walk to the gate at the airport where I would board a plane that’d take me safely back to Toronto, I remembered that request. I didn’t want to have to face it. I had avoided hákarl all the while in Reykjavik but at that very moment I thought…what if, just what if they sell it here at the airport and what if…I could actually bring some back to Canada? That would probably please my friend Geoff, but there is no doubt that I would be coerced into trying it, an experience that I wasn’t too keen on having. What to do? What to do?

It wouldn’t hurt to ask, I thought, and so I asked a lady working at the airport whether any of the stores sold “ha-KARL”. That was how I pronounced it, which explains why the lady looked confused and took a while to understand what I meant. Apparently the word was pronounced “HOW-kerk” in Icelandic, hah! As I was getting ready for her to reply “no” and sigh a sigh of relief, lo and behold she said, “Yes, in the Icelandic specialty shop!” She promptly pointed me in the direction of the store and told me that I’d be able to find all sorts of traditional Icelandic foods there, including hákarl. Oops.

NOW I’VE DONE IT. Now that I’ve found out that they indeed did sell hákarl at the store (and I found it quite easily), there was no way I was leaving without getting a frozen container. I think there were moments of hesitation and contemplation, but then I remembered Geoff’s famous motto of “do now, regret later”, and with the attitude and the spirit of “why the heck not?” (thanks Waterloo), checked it out at the cash register. Deed done. There was no turning back.

I expressed to the cashier that I was worried about the smell leaking in the plane cabin as I would be on a 7-hour flight, and the frozen hákarl will definitely thaw during that time. I didn’t want the smell of ammonia to fill the plane causing a crisis, so I had to take every precaution I could to prevent the possibility of it happening. The cashier seemed to understand my paranoia and happily proceeded to wrap my container of frozen hákarl in five layers of plastic bags, finishing off with a very tight knot and placing it in a final bag. That would have been alright, I hoped. I asked how long the hákarl would last in the freezer and she replied in the tone of a joke, “Quite a while, but it’s rotten anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.” WELL PLAYED. Not sure if I should be worried or not.

With the shiny bag in front of me in the airport waiting area, I had a very intense inner monologue. A bit distressed with a twisted feeling of anticipation, I thought, “This thing is a ticking time bomb, probably a very smelly one. I’m hoping it doesn’t cause any trouble during my 7-hour flight. There is a garbage bin nearby. I could still do it. And I realize all of this nonsense monologue is very strange, but this is probably the only time in my life that a white plastic bag would stress me out this much. Will this even get through customs? I’ll try, or get arrested. Worst case they confiscate it. Man if I go to jail because of this…lawl.”

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Two years and a bit – so what?

I was contemplating whether I should write the 2-year reflection post first or the Toronto vacation post, and decided to go with the former. There was so much circling in my mind as I was preparing to write this, all these mixed thoughts and feelings flying in from every direction. Yet…it’s harder and taking longer to write than I had expected. How do you organize two years worth of experience into one post?

Two years of being away from any family. Two years of wanderlust. Two years of getting lost over and over again and waking up in epiphanies in the midst of my academic journey that’s supposedly going to lead me somewhere. Two years of calling a land once foreign to me, “home”.

Well, let’s take a look at some quick figures.

Total number of months since starting PhD (as of end of September, 2012): 24
Number of months in Bordeaux: 11.5 (48%)
Number of months in Louvain-la-Neuve: 10 (42%)
Number of months in Canada: 2 (8%)
Number of months in China: 0.5 (2%)

At two years, I am more than halfway through with this PhD program, which was the reason why I stepped onto European soil in the first place. France and Belgium – I’ve grown to love both of my host countries day by day. Doing science in such exotic lands has never even crossed my mind say, five years ago. Of course, this European adventure brought me so much more than just academic advancement. After all, what would I have gained if I stayed only in Bordeaux and Louvain-la-Neuve – odd combination, now that I think about it – without expanding my reach beyond the horizon of possibilities?

School and work

Being in a co-tutelle, I am involved in a collaboration between two labs in two cities, meaning I hop between the labs fairly often. In terms of time spent, the Bordeaux-LLN ratio is much closer to 50-50 than originally planned, which surprises me even today. At the beginning, I was anticipating something like spending 80% of my time in Bordeaux and 20% in Louvain-la-Neuve, but in reality, I’ve spent almost an equal amount of time so far in my labs in both cities. People ask me if I ever get tired of switching cities every few months, running around, packing and unpacking and repacking over and over again. To be quite honest, yes, I get tired, but strangely, I enjoy this mobility, even if it means having to look for housing in Louvain-la-Neuve in advance every single time (so far, 5 different places).

I’ve seen some of the best sunsets in Louvain-la-Neuve, one along Rue Charlemagne as I was walking home from work. Yes, even a little place like LLN has its charm.

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