A Few Days in Berlin

My brother-in-law lives in Berlin with his family, so we headed north for a long weekend. It was Hugo’s first time to meet his cousins in person and to say he was thrilled to have another child to play with would be an understatement. He would disappear into his cousin’s room for hours at a time, the two of them playing with Lego or dinosaurs or Star Wars ships or whatever it is little boys do, while we adults happily sipped our coffee in peace. This is why people have more than one child, right? They play happily together all the time, right??

We did a little sightseeing, too.

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We wandered through the Brandenburg Gate

And in and out of the concrete monoliths of the Holocaust Memorial.

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There were a lot of other visitors on such a bright, sunny weekend

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It doesn’t take long before you are alone in the narrow canyons

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Known formally as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, it consists of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern. They are designed “to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.”

Not everything in Berlin was a somber reminder of turbulent history. We had a chance to visit the farmer’s market at Kolwitzplatz and eat food from food trucks.

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I think Hugo will eat pretty much any kind of food from a truck

But mostly the weekend was a chance to reconnect with family we don’t get to see in person very often.

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Plus lots of shoulder rides, Lego space ships, and trips to the playground.

 

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A Morning at the Market

One of our favorite things to do at home on Saturdays is to go to the farmer’s market. Here, we can do the same thing, except the setting is a little more dramatic.

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Dom St. Stephen

Although there are other outdoor markets throughout the week, the one in the plaza in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the closest to our apartment. It’s the usual fruits and vegetables you’d expect from a farmer’s market, plus some bread, meats, and cheeses, and several vendors selling potted plants.

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Produce stands in the plaza

What’s for sale these days? Well, it’s strawberry and asparagus season!

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These strawberries were so good that I may never eat an American strawberry again.

A local regional specialty is the white asparagus you can see in the top part of the above photo. It has a thicker stalk than the green asparagus, has a milder flavor, and a softer texture. It is grown the same as green asparagus, but as the shoots come up they are covered with soil. Without being exposed to sunlight, no photosynthesis occurs, and they remain white. I had some the other night for dinner, slathered in a butter sauce. Delicious!

There was also a stand selling wooden toys and kitchen utensils.

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Hugo keeps insisting that there is a zoo in Passau, but I’m pretty sure these little wooden creatures are as close as he’s going to get

After a lunch of bread, cheese, and strawberries, the cathedral bells started ringing and the crowds of tourists from the Danube cruise boats started pouring in to the square.

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Time to head home.

Getting To Know The Neighborhood: Taichung Edition

I’ve really been looking forward to coming to Taiwan. I lived in mainland China for four years, but never had a chance to visit the Renegade Province. I’ve already eaten my weight in mapo dofu and conveyor belt sushi, so you could say the month is off to a good start!

Although my Chinese is rusty. Really, really rusty. I hear the words in my head, but when I go to say them they come out a big mess. Note to self: practice Chinese more before the next trip.

Plus, because they use traditional characters here, I’m practically illiterate. So much for all of those hours and years, toiling away into the night to memorize all those characters. Please, no one tell Yue Laoshi at UW; I’m sure she would just shake her head and say it was my own fault for learning simplified characters at all in the first place.

Beyond being able to use [what’s left of my] language skills, it’s very nice to be in a big city again (not that there’s anything wrong with small towns, I just find there is a lot more to do in a city with a toddler) and in a place that doesn’t have the uncomfortable power dynamic of the more heavily touristed parts of Southeast Asia.

We’re in a very central location, and in huge contrast to where we’ve been traveling thus far, there are parks and playgrounds everywhere.

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For the next four weeks Hugo will mostly be a motion blur of giddy, happy toddlerhood

He does stop every now and then.

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Drawing sea creatures and trucks in the dirt. He’s getting pretty good at it! His fish have actual, distinguishable body parts now.

We’re unpacked and settled into our new apartment, and I’m looking forward to sharing all the places we discover in the next few weeks!

Beach Life

Spring Break is coming to an end, so it’s time to say good-bye to beach life. We’ve been tucked away in a little beach house on Bali’s north coast in a village called Tejakula.

Every morning we were greeted by a bright tangerine sunrise.

I think I took a sunrise picture every day

I think I took a sunrise picture every day

In addition to the dolphin trip, there has been a lot of beach combing.

This rocky volcanic beach is just outside our door

This rocky volcanic beach is just outside our door

Time spent beach combing means even more time curating a collection of beach discoveries.

We have room for all of these in the suitcase, right?

We have room for all of these in the suitcase, right?

Then, there was even more time spent working on our beach architecture.

Coral pieces here, red rocks over there

Coral pieces here, red rocks over there

Unfortunately, Gareth had to spend a fair share of time working.

Grading final exams in a beach house is better than grading final exams in your office, right?

Grading final exams in a beach house is better than grading final exams in your office, right?

Although I’m not sure I could get any work done with a view like this.

Blue skies and shining seas

Blue skies and shining seas

This guy seemed to always know when to turn up to ask for food.

Bali dogs are a constant friendly presence

Bali dogs are a constant friendly presence

So with a final sunrise…

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And some last minute shenanigans…

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We’re brushing the sand off this grubby boy…

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And heading inland to meet the students and continue our Pac Rim journey.

Malls Are For More Than Shopping

In the US, malls are on their way out. People would rather shop online, and visiting a mall, even at the holiday season, is kind of a depressing experience.

Here, however, malls are glittering, exciting, bustling centers of commerce. We came to the mall to look for some new English books at the book store, stock up on groceries at Carrefour, and, most importantly, check out the indoor playground.

Everyone remembers their first time in a ball pit, right?

Everyone remembers their first time in a ball pit, right?

I’ve mentioned a few times that there really aren’t public parks with playgrounds here. In fact, the only place I’ve actually seen a playground was at the zoo, although I’ve read that some of the fancier hotels have playground areas for guests’ children.

The playground in the Amplaz mall is 35,000 rupiah ($2.69), and boasts slides, climbing structures, trampolines, and a ball pit.

There was a lot crammed into a small space

There was a lot crammed into a small space

There was a train shaped like a lion that kids can ride for an extra fee. Hugo hates rides of any sort so we skipped it.

Seriously, I forced him to ride on a carousel once thinking he’d like it once it started: worst idea ever. I guess this ride-o-phobia will save us having to endure a Disney vacation in the future.

Well that was a bit of a tangent. Back to the topic at hand.

There was this waterbed trampoline thingy that would slosh around when the kids jump on it

There was this waterbed trampoline thingy that would slosh around when the kids jump on it

There were also different kinds of blocks for stacking and building, and an art area (the art area was closed when we were there).

This was the best part by far:


I’m pretty sure those are the squeals of a child who had forgotten how much fun it is to go down a slide.

There were just two other kids there, so I encourage you to go on a weekday to avoid any crowds. The place seemed a bit run down, but was safe and clean. I think we’ll be stopping by again before we leave town!

Touche, Tokay

Gek-o, gek-o, tok tok tok tok

“Quick, go get it!”

I throw open the balcony door as loudly as possible and start banging on the ceiling with a broom handle.

“It’s not…”

Gek-o, gek-o, tok tok tok 

“It’s not working!”

Our days and nights are plagued by a horrible and unseen beast.

At first I thought it might be a bird because there’s a nest in the potted tree on the balcony, but the sound is coming from above.

A frog or toad of some sort? Maybe.

Then the maid said she saw it, blue-gray with red spots, hiding in a corner of the roof of our balcony.

She told me it was called a tokex, which Google translate helpfully told me is Indonesian for tokex.

A little more digging and we figured it out: a tokay gecko, one of the largest geckos in the world.

LOOK AT ITS MENACING FACE!

Photo from Wikipedia

Photo from Wikipedia

Here are some disturbing facts about our unwanted roommate:

  • It can grow to up to 20 disgusting inches long
  • They have a creepy semi-prehensile tail
  • They have a beastly “third eye” on top of their head that can sense light
  • If you look into their ear you can see directly through their abominable head (I did not make this up)
  • They have a monstrous fold of skin which prevents them from casting a shadow (also not made up)
  • They have a vicious and  painful bite
  • American soldiers in Vietnam nicknamed it the “fuck you lizard”  for obvious reasons

And of course there is its famously loud call.

Fuck you lizard, indeed.

Making Friends

Hugo has made a friend. Her mother works at the guesthouse where the students live.

They laugh together.

They were jumping up and down the stairs and counting

They were jumping up and down the stairs and counting

They read together.

Cosmo Girl Indonesia!

Cosmo Girl Indonesia!

They share an umbrella.

Checking out the fish pond

Checking out the fish pond

I think he’s pretty tired of having just me as a playmate.

Plus, she waged a long battle to win his affections, including but not limited to bribery with crackers and juice boxes.

What’s For Breakfast?

A friend of mine on Facebook posted this video the other day:

I’ve often felt that breakfast was the most difficult meal for “going local.” There’s just something about eating strange foods early in the mornings that’s harder than at other times of day.

Here, every morning at 6am, our breakfast arrives in tidy boxes.

It's like Christmas every morning! What surprises await?

It’s like Christmas every morning! What surprises await?

Let’s take a look inside.

Everything is neatly wrapped, even the little green spoon.

Everything is neatly wrapped, even the little green spoon.

Today it was rice, a piece of chicken, garlic vegetables, some krupuk, and a tiny banana.

It's never too early for roasted chicken! It's usually some variation of this. Sometimes fish or tempeh, sometimes a different fruit or vegetable, but all in all not bad!

It’s never too early for roasted chicken! It’s usually some variation of this. Sometimes fish or tempeh, sometimes a different fruit or vegetable, but all in all not bad!

What did you have for breakfast today?

Getting To Know The Neighborhood

Selamat pagi! After a couple of weeks of touring around we’re finally getting settled into our new home in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

As I was preparing for the whole Pac-Rim trip, I always thought that this particular part of the trip would be the most challenging: we will be here the longest, I have almost no communication skills in the local language, and Gareth will have the most work to do. I’m sure I’ll muddle through with a few miscommunications and wrong turns in taxis, and in the end maybe my Indonesian will actually improve! It’s just that making those kinds of mistakes seem a bit more stressful with Hugo
in tow.

We spent the first day here unpacking and getting to know our neighborhood. We’re in a house a bit back off the main road on a small lane.

Our small lane. It feels semi-rural, with chickens running around, small rice paddies, and banana trees everywhere, but we are not far from the main part of town.

Our small lane. It feels semi-rural, with chickens running around, small rice paddies, and banana trees everywhere, but we are not far from the main part of town.

We found a rambutan tree.

If you're never had one, they are a lot like lychee

If you’re never had one, they are a lot like lychee

Hugo was amused by the blue eggs.

Fun fact: blue chicken eggs usually come from just certain breeds of chicken found in China and Chile that have a high incidence of a particular retrovirus that changes the chemistry of the eggshell. A dose of science with your breakfast!

Fun fact: blue chicken eggs usually come from just certain breeds of chicken found in China and Chile that have a high incidence of a particular retrovirus that changes the chemistry of the eggshell. A dose of science with your breakfast!

We interacted with the not-so-wild life.

Birds are a popular pet

Birds are a popular pet

We bought some ripe rambutans to take home.

You shouldn't eat them until they turn red

You shouldn’t eat them until they turn red

We ate them later while waiting for the rain to stop.

When he was scared of the thunder, I sang him "My Favorite Things." It worked. Thanks, Fraulein Maria!

When he was scared of the thunder, I sang him “My Favorite Things.” It worked. Thanks, Fraulein Maria!

Rainy Day Project

What do you do when it’s raining like crazy in Singapore, forcing you to cancel your fun outdoor plans?

You build a ridiculously complicated LEGO knock-off Millennium Falcon!

This hunk of junk has more than 100 pieces! But it can do the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.

This hunk of junk has more than 100 pieces! But it can do the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.

But there is a key problem with knock-off LEGO:

7 leftover pieces, including a little hand. Maybe it's Luke's. [or insert other appropriate Star Wars reference]

7 leftover pieces, including a little hand. Maybe it’s Luke’s. [or insert other appropriate Star Wars reference]