Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: art

The Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies

The wee town of Falkirk in Scotland is known mainly for two things: the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies. Being a mere half-hour train ride from Glasgow, I’m surprised that Falkirk remained unvisited until last weekend. With the possibility of leaving Scotland by the end of the year, I decided that I had to see the Kelpies lit up during the night and that would have to happen before daylight savings time started, when it wouldn’t get dark till well past 8pm. That meant that a stop at the Falkirk Wheel was also anticipated, though it was raining ever so lightly on the day that I went. No matter – it was destination Falkirk, rain or shine!

The Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s only boat lift constructed as a part of the Millennium Link project (completed in 2002) to connect the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal. The two were originally connected by a series of locks, and the wheel was proposed as a replacement. I’m not an engineer so I’m not going to elaborate on the engineering aspects of the wheel, though I do remember the guide mentioning that it saves time and uses a significantly lower amount of power to move boats between the canals. Visitors get to experience the wheel in action by boarding a boat, which is lifted 25 metres from the Forth and Clyde to the Union Canal. The boat then travels a short distance on the Union Canal before returning to the starting point. To me the ride itself was nothing out of the ordinary, and it was more of a “been there, done that” thing for me, though perhaps true engineers would appreciate the wheel for what it is more than I do.

The Kelpies

I did look forward to the Kelpies a lot more than I did to the Falkirk Wheel simply because of my love for public art, especially murals and sculptures. The Kelpies are the largest sculptures of horse heads in the world, though I kind of wonder where else you’d find a sculpture of the head of a horse. Outside of high season (April to October, I think) the bus that usually takes you directly to the Kelpies doesn’t run, so I had to walk about 20 minutes from the nearest bus stop. It was a worthy walk, however, and I found the Kelpies to be rather impressive! I’ve seen other works by the artist who made the Kelpies, Andy Scott, including “Rise” in Glasgow and “Carmyle Heron” in Cambuslang, and I quite liked his style, so the Kelpies certainly didn’t disappoint! They were especially beautiful during the night, though I kind of wished that they’d be lit up in warm colours to have more contrast with the dark sky – but no complaints!

A stroll around Falkirk

Of course, I had a chance to walk around Falkirk a bit, so it wasn’t all just about the wheel and the horse heads. Top left: A beautiful house that I passed by near the train station. Top right: Spring time is coming? Bottom left: A row of trees reflected in water by a trail around the Kelpies. Bottom right: A lit path leading from the Kelpies to the town centre.

Though the weather wasn’t all that great when I visited Falkirk, I had a good time and especially enjoyed finally seeing the Kelpies after having told myself to go and see them for over two years! Better weather seems to be more promising in the upcoming weeks – bring it on, spring!

26 days in China, part 6.1 – Guangzhou

Guangzhou, home time!!

Previous trips back to the third largest city in China have always evoked complicated mixed feelings of nostalgia and unfamiliarity, giving me a strange sense of melancholy every time I stepped into this place I call my hometown. I wanted so much to still be able to call myself a local, a true Cantonese, but I’m never sure if I can anymore. Well, at least that’s what it was like several years ago

Then I realized that I had been overly sentimental and what I really should do was just enjoy this city, whether as a local or as a former resident or as a tourist or whatever! This was going to be the trip where I could spend precious time with family, be a host to some foreign friends of my own, and eat lots of good food! No existential crisis in Guangzhou for me this time – I’ve got all the fun and relaxation to look forward to during my first “winter” in Guangzhou since…1995. The average temperature in late December was 23 degrees Celsius, there was no smog (yay for being in the south), and I missed most of the infamous “frigid damp winter in southern China”. How perfect could this get!

First up: group photo with the extended family! Growing up, I’ve always been very close with my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mom’s side of the family. The opportunity to see them together is rare, and this time my mom and grandma were also around, making this a super long-awaited reunion (though missing several people)!

I decided to go down memory lane and revisit some places that were so familiar to me in my childhood, starting with the kindergarten that I attended for four years. It was after classes and the gate was closed, and I doubt I would have been able to enter even if it were open. Still, I could see the vivid pictures of my childhood passing by in front of me. Those annoying boys that destroyed the brick zoo that we made, dancing to classic karaoke songs, being the head of the lion for the Chinese new year lion dance, school lunches with pickled radish, English classes…things only I would remember!

Continue down the road and we reach the elementary school that I attended for a year and a half before moving to Canada. As my caretaker, my aunt used to take me to school on a bike, so I never really had to walk to school. Through the eyes of a child, however, the school felt so far away from where I lived. Now, the trip takes me merely around half an hour, a distance which is considered quite small for a city as large as Guangzhou. And to think that second-grade-me felt sooooooo grown up…if only I could be a child again!

We now jump all the way from my own childhood to my DAD’s childhood, to a place where he spent a majority of his time when he was a young boy – Shamian Island in the Xiguan area of Guangzhou, a territory formerly leased to France and the UK. My dad always likes to ramble on and on about how he used to play with his siblings on Shamian and laments how much the place has changed over the years. However, since I haven’t experienced the evolution of Shamian through time, Shamian to me is just a tranquil place to spend a day away from the crowded metropolis. To be fair, I had been to Shamian several times, but never alone with the opportunity to walk around to my heart’s desire. Perhaps to some, the European architecture and remnants of colonial times make this place an attractive gem in Guangzhou, but I guess I only wanted to visit it again to try to imagine what it was like for my dad to grow up here, no matter how much it has changed beyond recognition (true words from my dad).

What I loved about Shamian were the bronze statues that are scattered all around the island depicting life on Shamian in the past. There must have been at least 20, but some of my favourites are shown here. Top left: an old man taking his caged pet bird for a walk, something that elderly people seemed to enjoy doing a lot in the past. Top right: a kid in clothing worn in the Qing dynasty, dropping a letter in the postbox. Middle right: an old man playing the fiddle. Bottom left: children catching fish in the river. Bottom right: elegant ladies singing and dancing to Cantonese opera wearing qipao.

Meow. I spotted this shy white cat hiding behind some potted plants near a church on Shamian and just wanted to say…hi! It kept running away from me though, and I could only observe it from a distance and try not to scare it. What a beauty you are!

Back in the city, it was time to meet up with my Malaysian guests! I had already traveled to Hangzhou with MC and YX but here in Guangzhou we were joined by MC’s husband, Mr. Blue. Of course I had to take them out to lunch and what better way to do it than the most traditional Cantonese way – “yum cha”, which literally means “drink tea”! To most people this only means dim sum, but tea is such an important aspect of the Cantonese lifestyle. Good tea and good dim sum complement each other, and good company makes it all the better!

I never used the word “beautiful” to describe Guangzhou until I took this photo from a pedestrian bridge. Friends who saw it commented that Guangzhou is such a beautiful city, and you know…I think they’re right. Like many of the places that I’ve called home and taken for granted, I hadn’t noticed its charm until I don’t live there anymore and returned to see it again with fresh eyes. Five years ago it would be an unfathomable to say that I’d even consider going back to China and living/working there long-term, but that possibility doesn’t seem so farfetched anymore. Who knows…I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow, but a stroke of luck, I end up back where I started…

I’ll end this post with a mission that I set out to complete in Guangzhou: the search of two famous local eateries in the Xiguan area. Needless to say, wonton noodles are one of the most popular street foods in Guangzhou, and Wucaiji (left) is one of those hole-in-the-wall places that locals know and love. I had heard about Wucaiji a while back and decided to finally look for it, and it took me a bit of time because it was literally located in a secluded alley and easily missed unless you looked closely. At Wucaiji I got their classic wonton noodle (top right) with wontons made the traditional way with pork only and without shrimp (according to my dad). It was a warm day (24+ degrees) and the soup was hot but so flavourful. I was sweating as I was eatiing – luckily I also ordered a bottle of cold soy milk – but I enjoyed it so much even with sweat dripping down my face. The simplest things are the best! After the noodles, I headed for a dessert shop 15 minutes away called “Nanxin”, which specializes in double skin milk pudding (bottom right). It may look plain and ordinary but it was spoonful after spoonful of sweet goodness with a custard-like texture. Delicious or as we say in Cantonese, “Ho sik!”

This is only the first of three posts in the Guangzhou mini-series in the grand “26 days in China” series – yes yes I’m showing obvious favouritism to my hometown, heh πŸ˜› Part 2 is coming up and of course there is going to be a post dedicated to more amazing food!

Northern Ireland part 2: Spending time in Belfast

During my long weekend trip to Northern Ireland with my girlfriends, we stayed in Belfast as the base of our explorations. I did no research what-so-ever before I went and we were pretty much going around the city spontaneously, visiting whatever we could find. As a result, I didn’t actually get to see a lot of the main “attractions” or landmarks of Belfast (though my friends did as they arrived several hours before I did), but we did have a blast doing exactly what we intended – spontaneous exploration πŸ˜‰

On Saturday morning we headed to St. George’s Market, and it was there that I encountered the almighty CAVE HILL BELFAST BAP. Yup – take your entire breakfast and stuff it between two buns and you’ve got a beast of a sandwich. It’s got an egg, bacon, sausages, and a hashbrown – it was supposed to come with black pudding too, but we opted to leave it out. It was quite appropriately named as Cave Hill is a large hill near Belfast, and just look at that monster! Aside from trying a variety of food from the booths, the ladies and I wandered around and admired the handicraft of the many vendors in the market. I was so in love with the clay critters that were on display that I bought an entire set of eight of them – an elephant, a ladybug, a penguin, a pig, a sheep, a cow, a large snake, and a small snake – and now they sit in my living room ^_^

Public art was also aplenty in Belfast. Among the ones we saw was “Eco” by French artist Marc Didou, which stood in Queen’s University. According to a source, “The piece is made in response to the artist’s investigation of digital imaging techniques and represents the reflection of a head refracted in water and the sonic echo used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)”. Other interesting ones include a huge political mural (a lady actually stopped to explain its history to us…but sadly I don’t remember what she said) and a Charizard on a heater in our hostel, which isn’t exactly “public” art, I suppose. It certainly seems fitting to have a fiery Pokemon on a heater during the cold winter days – at least it keeps the guests warm!

Among our group of girls were two who were flower enthusiasts, so we knew that a visit to the Botanic Gardens was in store. Again the rose garden reminded me of when the Little Prince saw the garden of 5000 roses, each one beautiful but untamed. We ended up spending quite a lot of time in the gardens!

Special attention goes to this beautiful feline, who was in no rush to enjoy the sun in Belfast that day. Badass cats will cause my demise one day. One sharp stare and this beauty has already stolen my heart.

On the final night of our stay at the hostel, four of us decided to play Monopoly, which ended up in all sorts of hilarity. Highlights included one girl who kept ending up in jail and me owning the Botanic Gardens so that the two flower enthusiasts kept landing on them and paying me a massive amount of rent (how convenient!) Still in the end, one of them won mercilessly, and even my Botanic Gardens weren’t able to save our “merged corporate” (consisting of the three losers). What fun!

 
And I will end with some group photos taken with the girls, many of whom have already left. How I loved to see each one of their beautiful smiles! Our memories definitely extend beyond this Belfast trip, and maybe someday in some corner of the world we will reunite as a group again! Next entry: Giant’s Causeway tour!

London in a weekend

When I was living in Bordeaux, Paris was easily within reach. 3 hours by high-speed train and you’re there – and it would cost as low as 20€ one way! Even if I wasn’t able to get a hold of the cheap ticket, being a student and under 27, I was still entitled to reduced rates, so visiting Paris was like taking a stroll in the backyard. In the UK, the equivalent to Paris is obviously London. However, visiting London from Glasgow isn’t as straightforward. The most direct way – by train – isn’t necessarily the fastest, as it takes at least 4.5 hours to get to London. If I choose to fly, the flight itself is a little over an hour, but fussing with airports here and there would easily add another 2 or 3 hours to the trip. The biggest issue is cost. A one-way flight would set me back around 10Β£ (if I’m super lucky) to 25Β£ (approximately 13-33€), whereas the train…anywhere from 40-100Β£, as I don’t qualify for student discounts anymore.

So what I’m trying to say is (1) take advantage of being young and travel with your discounts and (2) it is not so easy getting to London 😦 As a result, London hasn’t really been “a stroll in the backyard”, and I didn’t get as many chances as I wanted to visit the British capital ever since settling down in Glasgow. The first “real” chance came two weeks ago, when I decided to spend a weekend in London and explore the city casually. I had done all the major tourist attractions 5 years ago and so this time around, all I wanted to do was wander, take the red double-deck buses to random places, people-watch, and hopefully like this metropolis more than I liked Paris πŸ˜›

The weekend was quite rainy but I had a stroke of good luck as the morning of my arrival was still relatively rain-free. My first destination was Hyde Park, which had a beautiful rose garden where I could sit down and enjoy the presence of flower, the sun (gasp), and people.

Summer? While the weather wasn’t very convincing, the flowers in the rose garden certain did scream, “Summer!” It happened to be the day where the celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday was taking place at the nearby Buckingham Palace, and while I did pass by the huge crowds, I opted to spend my time more tranquilly rather than join in the festivities. I’m sorry, Queen. I respect you, but I think seeing your bright neon green hat for one split second was good enough for me. Please excuse me while I enjoy Hyde Park instead of going to your party πŸ™‚

Located at Hyde Park Corner is the New Zealand War memorial, which was established to commemorate the loss of New Zealand’s lives during the two world wars.

The one place I really wanted to visit was what was known to me as “an area around Hyde Park”. I remember passing by on a bus and seeing some very interesting sculptures along one large avenue, and thinking…I must go and see them up close! I didn’t end up going to the actual avenue – and I WILL get there next time! – but I did see cool sculptures here and there. Sculptures, along with murals, are my favourite types of city-wide public art. I’m sure there are so many more to discover around London!

As I was supposed to pick up some friends from Euston station in the afternoon, I stopped by King’s Cross, which was right next to Euston. This is where Harry took the train to Hogwarts! Quite an impressive structure, inside and out.

While wandering around the King’s Cross area, I passed by this very colourful corner, which is located at Belgrove Street and Euston Road, and I liked it! It seems like London is full of surprises and awaits more exploration!

One of my missions during this stay was to take a trip to Lanka, a cake shop run by Japanese pastry chefs. This little place was recommended by a friend, and while it took a bit of travelling to reach as it wasn’t centrally located, it was definitely worth the trip! With my companion, we ordered a green tea panna cotta and a yuzu mousse. I think the panna cotta had the strongest green tea flavour I’ve ever tasted out of any green tea flavoured food – good stuff! The cakes were rich in texture but not overwhelmingly heavy, and the best thing was that they were not too sweet. Truly a perfect balance of taste, texture, and aesthetics! If we weren’t already full from having lots of snacks and street food before hand, we would have certainly ordered other ones :O

That was the end of the first day and the rest of the time was spent with some of my buddies catching up and wandering. As a result I didn’t take many photos on the second day. I will say, though, that while London is crowded, has terrible traffic, and is super expensive, I don’t dislike it nearly as much as I dislike Paris. In fact, I might even go as far as to say I quite like London, just like I did 5 years ago. For some reason London intrigues me more so than other huge cities, and I will gladly go back for a truly solo trip where I could get to know more of the city and its secrets. I’ll have to have another long weekend though, and hopefully score some plane/train tickets that won’t empty my wallet. Oh, and a train trip back to Glasgow that doesn’t experience a 5-hour delay (longer than the actual trip, which was only supposed to be 4.5 hours) would be nice, but that’s another tale for another day…

Life at the MiMe research lab

I’ve been part of the Microenvironments for Medicine Research Group (MiMe for short) for 20 months, so it’s really about time I write a post about my awesome lab, the place I spend a majority of my time nowadays. Research, science, experiments, papers, seminars – these comprise my professional life, but work can be fun too, especially when you’re around a group of people who know how to enjoy the fun bits of everyday life πŸ˜‰

To begin, here’s a pictorial description of what we do in the lab. Obviously cells also need to exercise, party (drink a martini or two), eat their veggies, and dwell in a comfortable environment in order to become strong, healthy tissue! (By the way, that is a bone cell, not a snowman πŸ™‚ )

Sometimes the lab could be a dangerous place to work, and that is why everyone needs to put on their thinking caps (90% common sense and 10% consideration for others) before entering. Let’s all be safe and happy when we do science!

Living and working in Glasgow means that we endure lots of rain, as you probably know. Someone very considerate came up with a remedy that would be helpful in cases of emergency…if only you use a bit of your imagination!

Here at MiMe, not only do we investigate some of life’s most profound questions, but we also hide Scotland’s national treasure…Nessie. Shh…don’t tell anyone that Nessie prefers hanging out with us. Maybe that’s why no one’s been able to find her at Loch Ness all these years, because she’s with us! (Whoever drew this spelt “Nessie” incorrectly…but it was a nice attempt πŸ˜‰ )

Someone wanted to say hi…and gently remind everyone in the lab to work hard πŸ™‚

I think the most amusing and amazing thing that I’ve found around the lab so far was the home/hand-made Christmas “tree” that was standing at the corner of the lab entrance. How creative! I had no idea who was involved in the construction of the tree and when the tree was constructed, but all I could say was, GOOD JOB GUYS. I was thoroughly impressed by the amount of talent in the group!

But of course the tree had to die after a few weeks and we were forced to say goodbye to it 😦 This also signified the end of the holiday season – back to work we go!

Spin-coating could be a monotonous procedure, especially when you have to go through hundreds of samples. That’s why the spin-coating hood has truly become a creativity outlet for many people. One of my favourite creations is this crossword puzzle of the names of the members of MiMe (though some new people have joined since this was made). Of course the author of this remains a mystery…unless someone bravely accepts credit?!

And here is a group photo of a lab event, finally! We love science but we love food even more, so we had our very own potluck a couple of months ago. Most of the group was here but unfortunately the boss wasn’t – I promise I didn’t pick this photo on purpose because he wasn’t in it! What a bunch of lovely people πŸ˜€

Around last Easter, we were visited by the mysterious lab Easter Bunny who showered us each with a Kinder Surprise! I actually got a roll of mini measuring tape, which should be quite practical, but I never found a good use for it. Still many thanks, Easter Bunny!

We also have some very thought-provoking discussions in the lab during downtime, including a very informative session on the discovery of gravitational waves. I didn’t understand it very well…so a colleague drew a diagram, albeit a VERY simplified one. I’m not sure if I could explain gravitational waves now by looking at this drawing, but at some point several months ago, this made perfect sense, believe me!

There is an appropriately labelled container in one of the labs – approach this area carefully! I would not trust anything that comes out of this container…

And finally, if anyone wants to support MiMe Research financially, here is our order list. On it are several items that we currently don’t have…such as a lab technician 😦 We will be more than grateful! Oh, more whisky is also very welcome anytime…

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