Chaoyang Park blanketed under a thick layer of fluffy snow

Beijing, Saturday the 8th of February 2020


We have been given a rare treat this winter in Beijing – two consecutive days of snow have covered the city under a fluffy white blanket. In Chaoyang Park, where we usually have our picnics during summer, the lawns are hidden below more than 10cm of snow. Taking a walk in the park is a welcome relief after days of quarantined home office to prevent the corona virus from spreading. While it isn’t airborne it is still recommended to wear face masks when mingling in larger groups of people. Fortunately, the park is still fairly deserted and it wasn’t necessary to keep your face covered. The cold air felt nice and clean and gave a much needed release after days indoors.

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Missing the island life on Gili Air

February 5, 2019

Incredible beaches of Gili Air.

It has been already a year since we visited Gili Air and spend a few incredibly relaxed days on the island. Again and again I am shocked how time flies and truly cannot imagine that our Indonesia vacation was precisely one year ago. After spending a day in Jakarta and two days exploring Bali’s hipster area Ubud, we decided on a whim to buy boat tickets to shuttle over to the Gilis, a group of three tiny islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. As the least developed of the group Gili Air is less of a party island and more an oasis of calm, which is why we chose it above the others.

Island swing on Gili Air

On the boat we booked a few nights in the Ocean’s Five diving resort, about the only larger place to stay. We would also take a two day introductory course into scuba diving here, as their diving operation is PADI certified. Ocean’s Five is located right next to Gili Air’s only “harbor” where boats drop off and take on visitors two to three times a day. Walking along the water many beachfront bars with bean bags and lounge corners invite you in to have a cocktail or a fresh coconut.

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Indonesia is famous for it’s sunrises and sunsets. We are not necessarily morning people but still prefer to rise early in order to enjoy more hours in the day. This has the added benefit that we get to experience the lonely sunrises at Gili Air and take morning swims in the shallow waters close to shore.

Sunset.

Sunrise.

Visiting legendary UNESCO world heritage temple Angkor Wat

As the world’s largest religious monument Angkor Wat is an architectural masterpiece from the Khmer period.

Disputed Preah Vihear Ruins on the Thai-Cambodian Border

Cambodia, the 27th of January 2020

Inside the Preah Vihear temple ruins.

A three hour long road trip with our local guide Oeum Rida through the Cambodian „outback“ brought us all the way to the northernmost part of the country to the Preah Vihear temple. Located at the natural border of Thailand and Cambodia atop the Dangrek mountain range, these Khmer ruins are still highly disputed by both Thai and Cambodian government. While it is only accessible from the Cambodian side as of 2015, the original entry into the temple used to be in Thailand. Despite an official ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague that the temple is located on Cambodian territory both parties continue to lay claim to the temple. After many years of refusal to accept the ruling, the Thai soldiers finally retreated, but the national flag of Thailand that had been flying over the temple was never taken down. Instead, Thai solders rather dug up the whole pole with the Thai flag still raised and relocated it to the nearby Pha Mor E Daeng cliff where it can still be seen today. In the background of the picture above you can see the tiny Thai flag flying over the neighboring mountain. Furthermore, until today the province of Preah Vihear is among the most most heavily mined areas in all of Cambodia and still bears legacy to the Khmer Rouge regime which fell as late as 1998.


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There appeared to be unusually many soldiers stationed at and around the Preah Vihear site compared to the other temples we have seen. We never felt threatened by them personally but it was clear that this area was still under some kind of armed conflict. We had to book a jeep escort to drive us up the hill, for one because the road that was build after the original entrance from the Thai side was closed was VERY steep and only a heavy duty four-wheel drive type of car could climb up the road. For another it seemed that the military also had a hand in limiting and controlling the number of visitors coming to the temple and thus provided the vehicle to go up the mountain.

Since 2008 the temple of Preah Vihear is listed as a world heritage site by the UNESCO. Among all the Khmer temples we visited during our four day tour of the Siem Riep area, Preah Vihear in the far north is still the most spectacular one. While all the ancient temple ruins are quite unique and showcase their own piece of history, the location of the Preah Vihear temple alone is a stand alone feature that makes it an unforgettable place to have visited.

One of the gopura courtyards blocking the view through the temple complex. There is no one place in this temple that allows visitors to see through the whole building.

The architecture of the 800m long Preah Vihear temple is modeled after the home of the gods, the Mount Meru and is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. Construction started at around the 9th or 10th century and continued throughout the reign of various Khmer kings. Five pavilions, called gopuras, each of them reached by a flight of stairs to increase their impact lead up to the final sanctuary at the southern most end of the temple complex. Different from temples we visited in Thailand, where windows have been strategically arranged to allow the sun to shine through the whole temple, the courtyards of the five gopuras have been build to obstruct the view of the next part of the Preah Vihear.

Lichen covered many of the walls and floor of the ancient temple ruins and while some parts of the structure remained in a fairly good condition, other areas where reduced to little more than a pile of rubble. Slowly strolling through the different areas of the temple I felt quite humbled by these Ancient remnants of Khmer culture. When we reached the central sanctuary and got an unobstructed view of Cambodia‘s northern plains it was already late in the afternoon. The sun had not yet set but the clouds were already illuminated by the low light and glowed above the barren land. If you have the chance and the time to come and visit this place I can only highly recommend it! Except to pay around 150-180 US dollars for a round trip by car with a local driver, plus 10 US dollar each for entrance fees and an additional 25 US dollars for the shuttle Jeep up the mountain. It is definitely worth it.

 

Ximen Rainbow Crosswalk in Taipei

Taipei, 05.10.2019


It’s been already a few month since we traveled to Taiwan but I still think back on this trip often. There were so many moments where we simply got lucky – like with this photo of the popular Ximen rainbow crosswalk which usually attracts way too many other tourists to get a good picture of. We accidentally walked past it on our way to another sight and found it almost deserted. The taxi that is turning right in the background parked on the crosswalk only moments before and drove off as we wanted to take a photo.

Shibuya Baby

One of the busiest intersections in the world is the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo. When you are right in the middle of it you don’t really feel it, but especially during rush hour – like during lunch break or after work – and you stand to the side and wait, thousands of people cross this intersections at once. It’s either cars or people, when one group moves the other has to wait. Pedestrians cross from all directions, you can walk the streets diagonally during your turn together with this crazy flood of people going their ways. It’s the perfect place to feel the power of sonder.

Chinese New Year escape to Indonesia

Indonesia, 29.01.2019 – 09.02.2019


Screenshot 2019-03-02 at 1.07.04 PM

2018 has passed in a rush and the lunar new year provided us with a whole week of (extra) holidays yet again. Every year we contemplate to just stay in Beijing and boycott the exorbitantly high prices airlines and hotels charge for travels on these Chinese holidays, and every year we remember that first year we did stay in the city and had virtually nothing to do. Close to no one is originally from Beijing and people living and working here return to their hometowns or provinces to spend time with their families. It’s the equivalent to “Western” Christmas. During this time, even in a city as huge as Beijing it becomes hard to find an open convenient store to shop for food, and restaurants and delivery shops all over China close their doors and kitchens to participate in the world’s largest human migration. Over the last three years, we got very used to the conveniences of ordering breakfast, lunch, and diner online, and when these services come to a halt we struggle to feed ourselves. So staying in Beijing wasn’t our first choice.

Much like Christmas, the imminent arrival of Chinese new year surprises us every year and we have to hurry to find the last affordable travel destinations. This year, that turned out to be Indonesia. Ultimately, the goal was to spend at least some days at a beach enjoying the sun so as to escape the dreadfully cold Beijing winter. Direct flights were out of budget with prices spiked to three to four times the normal costs. Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, offers domestic flights to their islands at acceptable rates, and since we have neither been to the big durian nor Bali, we mentally prepared ourselves for the long journey to our island escape.


Early into our research into Indonesia as a travel destination it became pretty clear that its capital is a buzzing melting pot of millions of people that promises almost everything except relaxation. Impossible numbers of scooters squeeze through its narrow one way streets, shopping malls dominate the surprisingly short list of sights and to do’s, and apart from some of the largest mosques in all of Indonesia, Jakarta seemed to have little cultural appeal.


Our preferred way to discover any new place is either by scooter or on foot, but neither seemed very feasible in Jakarta. Having bought an Indonesia SIM card we were able to install Grab instead, which is the Asian equivalent to ride-hailing services such as UBER in the US or DiDi in China. The difference with Grab is that you can also order a scooter to pick you up. I would guess that at least 25 percent of the scooters on Jakarta’s streets were available for hire in that way. You can identify them by their Grab branded jackets or helmets, which they offer their passengers to wear so everyone is constantly exposed to their advertisement. A scooter can only take one person at a time, though, and so we used the app to get a cab to the Northern districts of former Dutch occupation.


The side streets around our hotel were a little easier to navigate and we discovered a few very interesting food courts. On our second (and last) day there we came across a man selling Rambutan from a cart he pulled behind him, and when we took a coffee break later that morning we also had a sweet local snack to go with it.


Not long after settling down in the coffee shop we received an e-mail notifying us that our domestic flight to Bali will be delayed. We called the airline and they suggested that we might want to come to the airport earlier and try our chances to board an earlier flight. We weren’t convinced that would work, but lacking better alternatives we found a pastry store en route to the airport, packed our stuff, ordered a cab, and made our way through Jakarta’s stuffed streets. Why a pastry store? Apparently Indonesia has some of Asia’s best deserts, and after our coffee and Rambutan snack a perfect ending to this day would have been a Martabak Manis. Now get this: cars with certain license plates are only allowed to drive on designated streets and districts. Our cab had one that led him to take the most unlikely side-streets and detours forcing us to abandon our desert plans and get to the airport directly instead. The evening before we also took a car home and we were convinced that the driver has never navigated through the streets of Jakarta before. Both drivers completely ignored their navigation system and instead took any street that they were allowed to take. You wouldn’t believe the detours we made. A distance of four kilometers took us more than two hours (no kidding!). Every once in a while a person would stand in the middle of a random intersection and act as a sort of traffic police man, accepting small amounts of cash money from drivers he granted preferential crossing. That didn’t help to speed up our journey to the airport. We did arrive eventually and even managed to change flights to one that would depart earlier. Or so we thought. The new flight was already delayed an hour and initially we couldn’t believe our luck in having reached the gate in time to go to Bali earlier. Until we realized that all the passengers there were told that the plane will depart in the next thirty minutes – over and over again. Although we rushed to the boarding zone we spend the next three hours waiting until we eventually were able to depart. My guess is that this domestic budget line “collected” passengers from all the flights scheduled on that afternoon in order to save gasoline on four under-booked planes to fill just one.


All in all, it was still a good idea to go to Jakarta first and experience this quite unique metropolis for ourselves. As the second largest conurbation worldwide, visitors are acutely aware of the close to 30 million people who live in the area, which makes Beijing appear surprisingly structured. It’s an interesting stopover for one or maximum two days, but I wouldn’t make Jakarta my main destination of travel. With images of soft white sand beaches and spectacular sunsets already filling our minds, we were now on our way to Bali anyways!

Homebrewing Kombucha – Tea fermentation in the Jing

Beijing, 09th of September 2018 (Today is also my third anniversary on WordPress)


I recently discovered tea fermentation and became fascinated with the idea of brewing Kombucha at home. Since we moved to Beijing almost three years ago, the fast pace of the big city life and the constant exposure to the noise, grime, and the general sensorial overload of this megacity had me craving a more balanced life style. Apart from physical exercise and mental fitness I wanted to also improve our diet. From a health perspective there are a variety of reasons why drinking fermented tea is good for you, especially to improve your digestive systems due to its naturally high concentration in enzymes and probiotics. It has cleansing and detoxifying properties that improve immunity and boost energy, since it is made with either black or green tea and contains beneficial amounts of caffeine. Kombucha is also a great source of natural antioxidants and contains medicinal amounts of alcohol occurring during the fermentation process. Besides, what intrigued me is the myth that the process of tea fermentation actually originated in China and dates back thousands of years. Some say a man called Kombu discovered how to make “cha”, which is the Chinese word for tea, into this health elixir, hence the name Kombucha. But no matter where it came from or who discovered it, today its widely accepted if not scientifically proven that fermented tea is good for you.



So when a local start up recently offered a kombucha workshop at the Tech Temple fleamarket and advertised that each participant would get to take their scoby home I was in. The scoby is what makes sweetened tea into fermented tea, translating into “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”. It looks like a sort of sponge, is firm to the touch, and smells somewhat like vinegar. The cultures feed on the substantial amounts of sugar that need to be stirred into the black or green tea and provide the energy necessary for the scoby to ferment the tea. This natural process produces small amounts of alcohol and carbonizes the drink, giving it a nice fizz, making it the perfect drink to substitute for fruit juices or sugary sodas. Any kind of sparkling beverages are a rarity in China, due to the fact that Chinese people are not particularly fond of drinking liquids with bubbles. Sparkling mineral water for example is quite expensive, and if you don’t fancy drinking coca cola every day you have a hard time finding a naturally sparkling drink. This made the prospect of brewing Kombucha at home even more alluring, since the second fermentation in the bottle like in the picture above infuses the ferment with quite a lot of fizz. I open the bottles daily to let out some of the pressure and to prevent the burst of the glass. Unfortunately, even that does not always guarantee the stability of the bottle, and last week I had my very first bottle of second fermentation Kombucha explode while I was at work. It was a nasty surprise coming home after a day in the office and finding the kitchen submerged in over a liter of sugary tea.



Lesson learned, I went online and purchased round bottles instead of squares one in the hope that this would give the glass a higher degree of stability to withstand the carbonation pressure. I also scaled up my fermentation vessel, going from two liters to four liters, and added a scoby hotel to store excess scobys in the future.

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Currently our third batch of Kombucha is brewing in the dark cupboard under our oven and this morning we have opened all three second fermentation bottles to release the pressure. As seen in the top picture we added three different kinds of flavours, one with blueberry puree, one with mashed kaki, and a third one featuring sliced ginger. I expected the one with the ginger pieces to ferment slowest, but opening the bottles this morning we discovered that this one had already build up an astonishing amount of bubbles. During breakfast, we tasted the ginger version and were again surprised that although the kombucha  sparkled a lot in the bottle, most of this fizz was lost when poured into glasses. We will let the remaining two bottles sit at room temperature for at least another day, opening them daily to prevent them from bursting, and will see soon enough if longer fermentation will increase the stability of the bubbles.


To good health – Cheers!