MonthApril 2011

The Beer Post

Day 105

Just a collage of pictures that I took of beer.  I didn’t know I took so many.  I tried to take a picture of a different new and exciting beer each time, but I realize there’s two pictures of the same beer.

Muenchen Bier Guinness Saint Omer
Amstel Reissdorf Koelsch Wulle Biere
Gaffel Koelsch Hefeweizen Helles
Pils Pils Hefeweizen (back) & Wulle (front)

From left to right:

A maβ of Helles from Munich, Germany;Guinness from Ireland; Saint Omer from Saint-Omer, France; Amstel from France, but originally from The Netherlands; Reissdorf Koelsch from Cologne, Germany; Wulle from Stuttgart, Germany; Gaffel Koelsch from Cologne, Germany; Hefeweizen from Germany; and a maβ of Helles from Munich; Pilsner from the Stuttgart Hofbraeu, but originally from Czech Republic; Pilsner again; Hefeweizen (back) & Wulle (front)

Greece (Ελλάδα)

Day 103

For Easter weekend, the interns and I went to Greece. Instead of only going to the famous tourist areas like Athens, we also went to a city called Volos to check out the beaches they had there.

Getting to Greece

Typically, we leave early in the morning for trips, but this time we left during the night in order to make our morning flight to Volos, Greece at Frankfurt-Hahn Airport. Originally, we all thought the airport was in Frankfurt, but apparently, it was a 2 hour bus ride. Apparently, Ryanair likes to use airports named after big cities, but the airport itself isn’t located in that city.

We started our journey by taking the U-Bahn to the Stuttgart main train station to catch the a train to Frankfurt am Main. From there we would take a bus to Frankfurt-Hahn Airport. We arrived in Frankfurt at about 3 AM and during this time, we ran around the streets looking for our bus. Because of all these transfers, we barely had time to sleep. I think I only slept for about 4 hours intermittently. It was a good thing that not a lot of people took the train at night because this let us lie down on two seats and put our legs on the seats in front to sleep better.

After 2 train transfers, and a bus transfer, we boarded the plane. By now it was already morning. We were all still really tired. All we did was sleep. I’m surprised I still managed to fall asleep really well even with little kids and babies crying around me. I didn’t really get a chance to look out the window very much though. Although for the brief moments that I was awake, I managed to see the Swiss/Austrian Alps (I don’t know what our flight path was).

I left the house at around 11:30 PM, and arrived in Volos 10 hours later. If only we knew about the Frankfurt-Hahn thing, we would have tried to fly out of Stuttgart International Airport.

Volos

We checked out the town for a bit and stayed there for a night. This place isn’t very known among tourists going to Greece, so there weren’t a lot of tourists anywhere. We pretty much went to this place to check out the beaches.



We rented a car here so we could drive from Volos to Athens the next day. When we first got into the car we realized it was almost out of gas. We thought that it was normal to get the car with a full tank and return it with a full tank. While driving around Volos, we saw how the Greek drove. I’ve got to say that the drivers in Volos are some of the worst I’ve ever seen. I don’t know why, but nobody cares about driving on their own lane (lanes aren’t even painted most of the time). Nobody yields for pedestrians unless there’s a light. And while we were driving, people rode mopeds without wearing helmets and all they did was squeeze through spaces that cars couldn’t and cut off the cars. On the highway, they even drove on the shoulder.

After looking at the beaches, we drove up to the top of the mountain overlooking Volos, a site for archaeological excavation. It was supposed to be the ruins of a city from 5th century BC, but we didn’t really see any ruins except for some stones buried solidly in the grass. But what we did see was the most spectacular view.

In the evening, we tried Greek hard liquor called Tsipouro. The ones we got had 42% alcohol by volume. The taste of it was repulsive. I’ve drank hard liquor with a similar percentage of alcohol before, but those didn’t taste bad. The food they served with it was quite good though. I particularly enjoyed eating the octopus. Later on, we ate some more Greek seafood. We got to try other foods like ray-fish, squid, and cuttlefish. I’m craving some of that right about now.


On the Road to Athens

We all knew of the high oil prices nowadays so we thought it might have been more economical to take public transit from Volos to Athens. We asked about a car rental and after doing the math, we found that the two options were about the same, so we opted to rent a car. We drove the Opel Corsa for about 330 km from Volos to Athens. Little did we know, we had to pay tolls on the highway. The Greek also like to put up these mini-churches on the side of the road. On the highway, we could see these and they represent the people who died there.


For a while, we didn’t really know where we were going once we got into Athens. Once we arrived, we tried to find a suitable parking place for the car that was near a metro station. We decided not to drive around Athens since it would be very hard to find a parking spot. The car simply got us around Volos and to Athens. We stopped the car and asked people for directions multiple times. Out in the suburbs, not many people spoke English so communication was quite difficult. Although, on one occasion, one of the locals spoke Hindi, which one of us happen to know.

The first place we tried to park at turned out to be partially blocking a driveway so we had to move. While parking the car though, I opened the door slightly to look outside to check the spacing of the car to help the driver. At this moment, my phone slipped out of the car seat and onto the street. Luckily I realized my phone was missing as the car started driving away. I quickly got out and ran after some people on the street who picked up my phone. Luckily they were just walking away thinking about whether to keep it or not. I literally ran out of the car and called out to them saying, “Thats mine!” despite the fact that they might only know Greek and not English. If I had been even a minute slower, my phone would have been lost. Good thing the people who found it were nice enough to give it back. I was prepared to run after them.

After a huge sigh of relief, we found a new parking spot. We left the car near an apartment about 20 minutes by train from our hostel for two nights. Every now and then we’d think of the car and hoped that it was still there. Even if the lady who lived at the apartment said we could park there, we still weren’t sure if it would get towed or ticketed.

The Acropolis

Once we checked into the hostel, we walked up to the Acropolis, the location of the most famous landmark in Athens. Unfortunately, due to a restoration project, there was a huge metal crane in front of the Parthenon. I don’t know why, but landmarks I visit always seem to be under maintenance whenever I go there. But the good thing was that going up to the Acropolis was free because of Easter.

At the top of the Acropolis, there were a lot of remains of ancient Greek architecture. Among these was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, The Erechtheum, and the Parthenon.


I don’t really know a lot about Greek history, but it seemed like these places attracted a lot of tourists simply because they’re famous. I doubt a lot of people have an in depth knowledge about the Greek culture. I’m sure a lot of people just looked at these ruins and thought they were just some old stones.

Greek Architecture around the City

Apart from the Acropolis, I also saw many other ancient Greek buildings. A lot of the Greek architecture was very similar because of their use of the columns, but it was still very interesting to look at.

It seemed like because it was Easter, a lot of the attractions that otherwise would have cost money were free. We would have had to pay to go see the Temple of Zeus.

Around the City

One of the things that was very peculiar about Athens is the amount of stray dogs on the street. I thought it might just be owners letting their dogs run around freely without a leash, but these dogs had no leash.

While we were walking around, a lady was walking her dog on a leash when the leash caught onto my friend’s leg. My friend, seeing this dog, decided to pet it. Unfortunately, that dog’s attitude isn’t same as what he’s used to in America. The dog tried to take a bite at his hand. Luckily, he moved his hand away fast enough before he got bit. The dog’s mouth was so close that its slobber got on his hands. The lady didn’t even apologize for it. It made us think that the Greeks weren’t very nice people.

Everywhere we went in the city, we saw tourists. In fact, there were so many tourists that I sometimes heard more people speak English than Greek. And as tourists, they were everywhere in the city center. There were tourists from all sorts of countries, but when it comes to interacting with the locals, it was either English or Greek.

Like in Paris, people tried to sell me things on the street. Instead of selling mini Eiffel Towers, they sold this toy tomato. When you throw it on the ground, it’ll splatter, but slowly go back to it’s original form. It looked so cool, but it seemed like something that would only be cool for about 5 minutes if I had one. A lot of people also tried to sell fake brand name sunglasses and purses. I’d laugh really hard if they tried to sell fake LV bags on the street in front of the LV store.

Apart from the old Greek buildings, we also hiked up to the top of a hill to check out the view from the top. There was also a church there.


I don’t really know why we went up to the top the hill in all the trips we take. It’s something that we always do. Try to get as high up as we can just to look at the bottom.

Christian Culture

Prior to visiting, I never knew the people in Greece were so Christian. Seeing that it was Easter weekend, I saw a bit of their Easter traditions.

At night, people held candles and all walked to a church. I don’t know what they did when they got there, but the walk attracted large tourist crowds wondering what they were up to.

Food in Athens

Since Athens is one big tourist trap, one can expect to see lots of restaurants selling overpriced food for tourists. But regardless of that, we got to try some really delicious, but probably stereotypical, Greek food. One of the things that confused me though is why they called their salad “Greek Salad” when just “salad” would have sufficed. Maybe that’s their way of getting tourists to try it.


People around the city were all grilling lambs for Easter, but unfortunately, I never got the chance to try some. I’m not missing it though, because I was never a fan of lamb meat anyway.

National Archaeology Museum

On our second day in Athens, we visited the National Archaeology Museum to look at the history of Greece. Luckily for us, we didn’t have to pay to get in because of Easter.


Unfortunately, a lot of the exhibits weren’t open so we didn’t spend a long time here.

More Beaches

Because we didn’t get enough of the beaches in Volos, we decided to visit a beach in Athens too. What surprised me here is the girl that decided to go sunbathing with her top off even though it wasn’t a nude beach.

At one point, we all sat down by the beach enjoying some beer. That the one of last opportunities for relaxation in Greece before we had go to leave the next day.

Going Home

In order to avoid traffic at the tolls, we woke up so early that we had to miss the free breakfast at 7 at the hostel. We all got up at 5 in the morning and by 6:30, we were on the road back to the airport in Volos. Despite getting a full night’s sleep, I somehow still slept for 3/4 of the car ride back.

On the drive home, we could see smoke coming from some of the houses. At first we thought someone’s house was burning down, but later we figured that it might have been people grilling lamb for Easter.

Later, we realized that we left way too early. We aimed to arrive at 11 am, but we arrived at around 9 am for a flight that departed at 2:15 pm. The airport in Volos was also in the middle of nowhere. We spent the next two hours doing next to nothing. During this time, I finally finished reading that book I started a while back.

When we returned the rental car, the amount of gas in the tank was in the red zone. We wondered if the car still had enough gas to go to the nearest gas station. It didn’t seem likely that there was a gas station anywhere near the airport. It was in the middle of nowhere.

We tried accounting for all the things that could make us late like looking for the right way to go, traffic jams, etc., and none of those things happened. For the whole trip one of my friends kept making fun of my other friend for making us all wake up early. In fact, he was so worried about being late that he thought we should skip coffee in addition breakfast. Skipping breakfast and not eating for 5 hours wasn’t very fun.

On the plane, I was bored out of my mind. My phone and iPod had all run out of battery and I was forced to sit there staring out the window. Even doing that was hard because I didn’t get a window seat. Because of my boredom, I took some random pictures.


We arrived at Frankfurt-Hahn Airport at around 4 in the afternoon, and from there we took the bus back. We all spent so much money in Athens that we all had just enough to get home. We didn’t think we’d make the 4 o clock bus in our original planning, so we arrived at the Frankfurt Hbf a lot earlier than expected. Getting to places early seemed like the trend of the day. We got there at about 6 in the evening, and had to wait until 9 PM for our train. By now I had been on the road for almost 12 hours. We ended up browsing through a bookstore and walking around town until our train arrived. After 17 hours, I finally got home.

Malcolm X (1992)

After learning about this film from a Wikipedia article about Malcolm X, I decided to watch it.  This movie is an adaptation of Malcolm X’s autobiography.  It talks about his childhood, his time in prison and how he rose up to become such a prominent figure in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.  Anybody who is interested in history or just likes documentary-dramas should really watch this film.  It features many of Malcolm X’s inspiring speeches that he did in the past.  Although his methods were seen by many as extremely radical, he is still one of the most influential people during his time.

Munich

Day 89

For last weekend’s excursion, I went to Munich. Munich is one of Germany’s largest cities and has culture that totally differs from the rest of the country. Although everyone here still speaks German, I felt like I was in another country.

The City Center

We began our journey in the city center. There we saw much of the historical buildings like the Rathaus and the Frauenkirche. While walking around the city, I saw many people wearing the traditional Bavarian clothing with those really old style German mustaches, like the ones that the Prussian Kaisers used to have.


Hofbraeuhaus

For lunch, we decided to eat at Munich’s famous Hofbraeuhaus. Founded in 1589, it was once the royal brewery, but now it serves as a restaurant and tourist attraction. There, I ate their Surhax’n (salted pork knuckle), a Bavarian specialty. It tasted so delicious, but it was so incredibly fatty. Layers of fat were sandwiched in between the skin and the thinner meat. We also ate a brezel that was almost one and a half feet wide. The ones I eat in Stuttgart are only around 8 inches wide. For our drinks, we each ordered a “Mass” (usually the “ss” is replaced by the beta sign), which was one liter of beer. I think the only people that didn’t drink that were the kids. It also seemed customary for people to write something on the table since every table had graffiti from previous customers all over it. I did the same and wrote Newton’s Second Law, representing mechanical engineers and physicists everywhere. While we ate, there’d be a band playing traditional Bavarian music.




Englischer Garten and the Hofgarten

After lunch, we went to the Englischer Garten and the Hofgarten. The whole place was just a huge park where people just suntanned.


Olympic Park

Afterward, we went to the Olympic Park of the 1972 Summer Olympic Games. I saw a memorial there for the Munich Massacre, in which a Palestinian gunman murdered 11 Israeli athletes. We visited the football field and its size was rather deceiving. It looked so small, but the bikers took a really long time getting from one side to the other, so it had to be huge.


BMW Museum

We only looked around the rather large lobby of the museum, but since we already saw the Benz and Porsche Museums in Stuttgart, we didn’t bother spending that much time there. The cool thing about this museum was that we actually got to sit in the cars and motorcycles, unlike the Benz and Porsche Museums.


Starkbierfest

The Starkbierfest is a beer festival that lasts for a month, because of this, there were tons of people at all the local beer gardens. Everyone went there in the evening and as usual, people ordered their beer by the liter.

Dachau Concentration Camp

At the front gate, one could immediately see the camp’s motto that the Third Reich once displayed, “Arbeit macht frei”, which literally translates to “work makes free”. Each incoming prisoner would see this sign without realizing the horrors they would be face. We visited the interrogation rooms, now devoid of anything from the Nazi regime except for the slowly decaying wallpaper.

The museum on the site outlined the history of the camp and the stories of some prisoners and staff that were once there. Also at the camp, one could see the “houses” that the prisoners stayed in. It was hard to believe that the building once contained as many as 2000 prisoners. Outside was also the Ashes of the Unknown Concentration Camp Prisoner. On the wall, the words read, “Never Again”. I went up to the tomb and paid my respects.

Inside the house, we saw the beds that the prisoners slept on. In one room, I counted 72 beds, but obviously back then, more than 72 people slept there.

We also visited the crematorium which contained the ovens once used to cremate the dead. There was also a gas chamber. Although Dachau was only a concentration camp and not an extermination camp, it still made use of it. Each of the gas nozzles was disguised as a shower and room even had drains on the ground so that the prisoners wouldn’t refuse going into the room. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought it was a shower too.

On the exterior, one can still see the measures that the Nazi’s took in preventing escapes such as the use of watchtowers, electric fences, and a moat.

The Isar River

For lunch, we went to the a beer garden close to the Isar River. I wanted to eat the Bavarian Weisswuerst (white bratwurst), but they only served it in the morning. After lunch, we briefly stayed at the Isar before it was time to go.

Physics Experiment on the Way Home

While on the back, my friend put his water bottle on the table and every time the train accelerated, the bottle would move due to the inertia. Like the nerd I am, I got the idea of measuring the train’s acceleration. But to do that we also had to know the train’s speed after acceleration. We’d do this with basic vector kinematics. We measured the time it took for the train to travel 200 m, by looking at when the train passed the markers on the side of the track (at least I hope it’s 200 m). We then timed how long the train took to accelerate. Our results: the train travelled at 120 km/h and accelerated at 0.85 m/s^2. It was really nerdy of us to do that, but since we’re all mostly engineers, we found it quite hilarious.

Four Semesters of Learning Mandarin Finally Paid Off

Four Semesters of Learning Mandarin Finally Paid Off, April 2, 2011

Day 81

Ever since I got to Stuttgart I looked for a few Asian things that I always took for granted back in Vancouver. Today, I fulfilled two of these things, which was finding an Asian hairstylist to cut my hair (since I doubted that the local hairstylists in Gerlingen could do Asian haircuts) and finding authentic Chinese food.

I figured after growing my hair for 3 and a half months, the time to get a haircut came. Some time ago, someone recommended a Chinese hairstylist for me. Now I don’t speak German and I doubted that the hairstylist knew English. This meant I would probably need to speak Mandarin, although I hoped that she knew Cantonese. I grew up learning Cantonese in Canada, which means that my I lack proficiency in the language (similar to learning a language that one doesn’t receive a lot of chances to practice). If I lacked proficiency in Cantonese, surely my knowledge in Mandarin suffered even more. The only practice in Mandarin I ever got was practicing it in four classes for it almost four years ago. Everybody knows practicing a language in class is drastically different than using it in a real life setting.

On Thursday, I gave the hairstylist a call to book my appointment, and as I expected, she spoke Mandarin. Luckily I prepared myself for this. I looked up certain words that I knew I’d need to know like ‘haircut’. I drew upon what I learned almost four years ago and said that I wanted to book an appointment for a haircut. She said something back and I had no clue what she said. The only thing I could say back was, ‘sorry, my Mandarin isn’t so good’. Then she figured I knew German and started speaking that, in which case I replied ‘my German is worse’. She knew neither English nor Cantonese either.

Luckily, she started speaking slower and so I managed understand her words a lot better. I didn’t understand every single word in the sentence, but I understood enough to say something back. Less than a minute later, I successfully booked the appointment. After hanging up the phone, I realized that my heart rate rose to point that it felt like I ran a marathon. I guess I felt real nervous for my first real conversation in Mandarin.

On Saturday, I showed up at where I needed to be to get my haircut. I didn’t feel nervous speaking in Mandarin this time. In fact, I barely had to think about what I wanted to say. When people don’t have a lot of experience in a particular language, they end up thinking about how to say something. Although some questions did stump me though. I didn’t really know how to describe the haircut I wanted. I couldn’t even do that in English. So in the end, I just said to keep the hair the same style, but shorter. That’s what I wanted, and I didn’t have to describe the style.

While she cut my hair, we made random conversation and the topic of professions came up and I tried to tell her what people in my family did for a living, but I had no idea how to say that. Luckily, Google Translate helped me out with that.

I found it super ironic that my Mandarin would get better in a place like Germany, but I guess that is the difference between the Chinese community in Vancouver and Stuttgart. Most Chinese people in Stuttgart come from Mainland China, while in Vancouver, there are people from every part of China. As I left after getting my haircut, thoughts in Mandarin kept buzzing through my mind for a little while. I guess all those classes in Mandarin really paid off!

After the haircut, I went to meet up with my friend for some authentic Chinese Dim Sum. Yet again, another situation requiring me to speak Mandarin revealed itself. However, this time, the lady at the restaurant could understand Cantonese although she didn’t know how to speak it. She spoke so fast, that at the end of her sentence, I stared at her with a blank face and I had no idea what just happened. After that, she spoke a little slower and then everything became clear.

Maybe I’m overgeneralizing, but despite the fact that this definitely was an authentic Chinese Dim Sum restaurant, I felt that the quality of Dim Sum in Vancouver greatly surpassed that of this restaurant, if not Germany as a whole. It wasn’t bad, but Dim Sum in Vancouver is just better.

After lunch, we went to the Japanese Festival organized by the German-Japanese Society in Stuttgart. Here, I saw the Japanese people prepare rice cakes (Mochi). They put a large clump of rice into a wooden barrel and beat it with giant wooden mallets until the rice turned into the paste that they use for the rice cakes. They let visitors hammer the rice too, and afterward we all got to enjoy it.

Later in the evening, I went to another friend’s flat for his welcome party that was two months overdue. There I met up with the rest of my friends as well and everybody got their drink on, except for me because I only drink in moderation. The others there had a really unique way of drinking Vodka shots. They’d use these packages of powder intended for mixing with water to make juice, and they poured it in their mouth and took the Vodka shot. With the Vodka and the powder mixed together, they slosh it around before swallowing it. I tried one with the orange flavored powder, and it tasted so good, but I knew not to drink too much otherwise I’d end up puking on the floor or something.

They also introduced us to one of their drinking games. It involved pouring water into a cup floating in a bigger container of water. Each person took their turn to pour any amount of water into the cup, so long as the cup didn’t sink. The player that causes the cup to sink, must take the shot.

As the night went on, everyone got more and more intoxicated, except for me though. I just felt like going home. Unfortunately, I missed the last train back so I had to take the night bus. It took me about two hours to get home, when it would have taken me 40 minutes by train.

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