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Archive for the ‘Travel’ topic

Missing Socks and Washing Machines: Vessels of Inter-Dimensional Travel

I have long held the belief that washing machines can on occasion become accidental portals, which in turn allows travel to other dimensions. It would explain the missing sock phenomena which states that given enough time, you’ll end up with just one half of each pair.

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Short Film: On Time

A young man inspecting the contents of a suitcase in On Time

A young man sitting in a departure hall – hurting over broken dreams – is approached by a traveling salesman. With him, he carries a unique proposition: he sells the future. The young man, skeptical of what he is being offered, and puzzled how seeing the future could possibly repair events gone wrong in the past, takes a peak into our salesman’s attaché case. His face turns to amazement.

At this point, I was expecting a MacGuffin, a term coined by Alfred Hitchcock. It’s a plot device that has no other use than to further the story along. So I was expecting a Pulp Fiction moment, were the case is opened and starts emitting a golden glow as bystanders look at its content in amazement. But to us, the viewer, the contents is never revealed. It’s merely a prop that gives its characters a reason worth killing for. So in the end, it doesn’t matter if it is gold or a fresh batch of tasty Royale with cheese.

So great was my surprise that in this little short, we actually afforded a peek inside the case. And I have to admit that I too watched in amazement. He actually was selling the future. Our young man decides to seize the moment, but at what cost?

A Travel Map based on Time

A time travel map with cities relative to Brussels

I’ve always had this nagging feeling that certain places, even though they are physically quite close, always seemed to be so far away. Further even than distant places, simply because they are more time consuming to reach thanks to a lack of direct highways or too many traffic lights along the way.

So while the shortest route between two points may be a straight line, the quickest route on the other hand is determined by the fastest mode of transportation at your disposal. To illustrate this, I created a time travel map that positions cities relative to Brussels based on how long it takes to reach them using only public transportation.

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How to test your time machine actually works.

The problem with time travel is you never know where you'll end up

One might think that time travel is difficult at best and impossible at worst, but it’s not. It’s actually quite easy to accomplish. The most widely used method of time travel today is called growing old. We do it all the time.

The Dangers of Time Travel

If on the other hand, you want to travel back in time, that’s a whole different challenge. So let us assume we’re going to build a time machine that will let us do just that. How do we test it to make sure it works? Unless of course you want to be the guinea pig and risk ending up in a time or place that might not be so hospitable to your fragile existence. You wouldn’t be the first time traveler to end up frozen in the middle of space, due to the small oversight of earths moving trajectory around the sun, and the relative motion of the solar system within mind puzzling accelerated expansion of the larger universe. But let us not worry about that for now.

One theory states that even if a time machine were built, you would still not be able to time travel to an age prior to the existence of your workable machine. It was proposed as a reason why time travelers have not come back from the future so far, for lack of a vessel present in this day and age to do so. It also prevents you from going back in time and killing yourself before you were able to actually build your time machine, thus making it impossible to travel back in time to kill yourself in the first place, and creating a temporal rupture in the fabric of the space time continuum that could possibly destroy the entire universe. In other words, before we can bump into other time travelers or create utterly destructive paradoxes, we first have to build a time machine.

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A Place Where Ships Go to Die

Two vessels on the beach in a Chittagong ship breaking yard

Remembering Chittagong, Bangladesh

Some ships meet their fate at the bottom of the ocean. Others continue sailing, long exceeding their expiry date, or are docked as museum pieces for the generations to come. But for most ships, their demise is spelled on the beaches of the poorest nations. In particular: the shorelines of Chittagong, the southernmost province of Bangladesh.

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Traveling Around The World For Free

Backpacker relaxing and enjoying the view of the Torres Del Paine national park in Chili

While my travels are usually measured in days or weeks, most of the other travelers I’ve encountered during my journeys were usually on the trail for months on end, and sometimes even years. It requires a completely different pace of life. It’s a lifestyle in itself. For if you’re not pressed for time, the slower you travel, the cheaper you can live.

The article ‘How to travel the world for free‘, goes on to explains how one can explore our planet with just pennies in your pocket. Though I have some doubts if it can really be done completly for free; you can probably go a long way if your goal  is to immerse yourself in the different cultures and customs you may encounter during your travels, while skipping the hightlights and tourist hotspots.

The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello


We find ourselves in the city of Gothia, where Jasper Morello, the navigational aeronaut aboard an airship, is sent out on a mission to layout a new trading route. Half way through, the trip goes horribly wrong and they must abandon ship, making their way through uncharted territory. To add to his troubles, Jasper discovers his beloved wife, whom he has had to leave behind in Gothia, has become deadly sick. But can he still return home in time to save her, and if so, at what cost?

This is a beautifully animated short with a strong and engaging story line. The narration is simply well done. And while it makes extensive use of CGI, it has been fashioned in the old Indonesian style of silhouette theatre, giving it a very distinct and moody look. It was nominated for an Oscar in 2004. Though I still haven’t seen them, three other sequels have been made since then, detailing the explorations of Jasper Morello. This animation is almost half an hour long, but it’s defiantly worth the time.

The animation is just short of half an hour long, but it is definitely worth experiencing.

月光 – Moon Dance by Yang LiPing (Dynamic Yunnan)

Liping Yang performing the moon dance as a silhouette with the moon as a backdrop

Traveling through the Yunnan province in China left me with a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was a wonderful experience and I’m glad I did it. With most of the Chinese ethnic minorities living here, there is a very rich mix of cultures to be found here. It’s a place filled with centuries old traditions and ways of living, while at the same time, it is also in constant transformation as it clashes with the new, more modern and bolder China. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative.

On the other hand, the whole trip was also mentally and physically very straining. Many of the people here are very poor and live in crowded and filthy conditions. Despite having grown up in some of the least developed nations on this planet, even I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock I had to experience in the rural areas. And so after three weeks, I was glad to be going home to some peace, quiet and personal space.

But before we left, we went off to see one more show in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan. It was a dance performance by a group called Dynamic Yunnan and choreographed by Yang Liping (杨丽萍). She is known in China for her Peacock Dance which she performed as well. Inspired by the traditional music and dances from around the province, she had created about ten different dance acts, but each time with a modern twist to it. It was an impressive spectacle with at times over forty dancers on stage. It’s quite possible that the story line connecting all the different dances into something meaningful (the use of colors seemed to indicate as such), but even after three weeks, my Chinese wasn’t up to speed yet.

Country of Daughters (Dynamic Yunnan)There were guards present in the theater preventing anyone from filming anything. But I did manage to find a few fragments of the show online. The Moon Dance was the second act. Yang Liping herself is the silhouette in the  performance. Though the quality isn’t that great, here is another act I enjoyed: Country of Daughters. Strange, yes, but I particularly like the costumes and almost hypnotic music that went with it. And thanks to the internet, I also now what they were singing about. The lyrics:

The sun wants to rest, it can rest.
The moon wants to rest, it can rest.
Women want to rest, they can’t rest.*
If women rest, the fire will burn out.

Cold wind blows at the elderly, and women use their backs to block it.
Splinter in child’s feet, and women use their heart to pad it.
If there is a woman there, the old and the young will stay together.
If there is a woman there, the mountain may crumble and men will hold it up.

If there is no women under the heavens, the sky will not light.
If there is no women on the earth, the grass will not grow.
If a man does not have a woman, the man will be ill.
If there is no women under the heavens, there will be no men.

The performance in general was of a very high standard. It was nothing like the Yunnan I had seen in the past three weeks. It did however remind me of some of the Chinese films of recent, such as ‘Hero’ (mind fight) and ‘House of Flying Daggers’ (Beauty Dance & Echo Game). After having seen Dynamic Yunnan, I was at least able to leave China on a positive note. And with that, I leave you with the Two Tree dance.

* While it is true that in many places around the world — especially where poverty prevails — society would come to a complete standstill if it were not for the hard work of women; It was a strange discovery to bicycle into one of the villages just outside of old town Dali where we found the gender roles had been switched. Within this Naxi ethnic minority, it’s the women who are in charge. While they hang out on the streets gossiping and enjoying the care free life, it is up to the men to do the house keeping and take care of the children.

En Tus Brazos (In Your Arms)

A scene from the animation film: En Tus Brazos

I came across this touching animation of a couple reliving their glory days as tango performers. A time before the ‘accidente tragico’. En Tus Brazos is a French production, but with Spannish spoken.

Though I never did enjoye any glory days as a tango dansers myself (let alone that I can actually dance the tango), it did bring back some memories of my trip to Argentina two years ago.

A Tango Show in Buenos Aires

It was never my intention to spend more than two nights in Buenos Aires. But somehow, the weather gods seemed to favor me, letting me complete my travels through southern Patagonia in just two weeks instead of three. With days to spare, I decided to return to Buenos Aires early. At first, I regretted my choice. I felt alienated by the beautiful facades of this old city, but also by the cold welcome I had received from the others back at the hostel. It was as if the life had been sucked out of them and as a result preferred to keep to themselves. Traveling on your own, can sometimes be lonely.

The next day, I learnt that most of them had left, traveling to numerous other destinations far far away. They were replaced by a new crop of backpackers; a much more livelier bunch this time around. Things were starting to look up. By the end of the second day, I had made a lot of new friends. And with them, I started to discover Buenos Aires beyond its facades. A city that had a lot more to offer than met the eye. The stories I could tell…

But lets not get carried away. This post is about tango.

Another scene from: En Tu BrazosBA is known for its long tango tradition. It’s where it was born. During my visit, there were plenty of opportunities to see the locals dancing it. Even in the main shopping street, one could regularly run into street artists tangoing away. I just had the unlucky misfortune of bumping into them every time as they were about to commence with their last dance act: a guy doing the tango with a doll. While funny to watch, it wasn’t exactly what I had imagined the dance to be. I could not leave this city without having seen the most passionate dance invented by man in its propper form. And judging from all the lovers I witnessed openly kissing in the streets and parks of BA, I could only conclude that the Argentineans are very passionate people. They’ve made it into an art form.

On my fourth day there, I decided to go to a tango show with Annabelle, a wonderful and remarkable person I had met at our hostel. She was an Irish/German girl studying in London and living in Ibiza with aspirations of becoming a fashion designer. One couldn’t dream of better company.

We had made some last minute reservations earlier that day after hearing it would be the last show of the season. And after taking a short taxi ride, we arrived at the venue just in the nick of time. As a hostess escorted us to our place, we quickly realized that this was no ordinary theatre. Instead of just rows and rows of chairs like everywhere else, we found ourselves seated in front of a table for two with a small lamp shade on it. Placed there just to give us that extra touch of atmosphere in an otherwise darkened venue. All very cozy. Moments later, our exotic cocktails were served. It was like being invited to an exclusive ballroom party. You felt special, just by sitting here. Soon afterwards, our lampshades dimmed. All eyes turned towards the stage. The show was about to begin.

It was a dance musical, an Argentinean West Side Story as it were. In fact, there was a time when Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world, with emigrants arriving from all over. They came with their hopes and dreams for a better future. Some would make it big. Most probably didn’t. It was amongst the poor of lower class Buenos Aires that tango would see the light of day. It was a dance that somehow unified the emigrants of different nationalities; a dance  that took on many styles and variations, but also took years and dedication to learn and master. For men at the time, it was a way of meeting women. And with women in the minority in this new found world, they danced only with those whom they felt mastered it well enough.

In the musical, we were introduced to an immigrant family arriving in BA: Girl meets boy. Boy falls in love. Is poor, but tries to win her heart. Meanwhile, rich underworld figure falls for the same girl. Jealousy ensues. Knives are drawn. Things get out of hand. People die. All in the name of love. But the dancing was superb. I always had this cliché image of Tango being danced between two lovers, slow and passionate one moment, swift and almost cold the next. What I saw here was something completely different. The leg work alone was amazing to watch. Two dancers: their legs locking, clicking, kicking and unlocking again, all at the blink of an eye. As they danced, we were treated to extremely fast, yet graceful movements. These were pros and tango was much more then what I had imagined it to be. I was impressed.

But it wouldn’t be the last time I’d see tango in Buenos Aires…

Tango in La Boca

La Boca, while charming with its colorful buildings, is not the sort of place you want to visit alone. Located in one of the poorer parts of Buenos Aires, it is best described as an oasis surrounded by criminality. Any tourist attempting to leave its confines is surely asking to be robbed. It literary is a tourist trap. But despite the warnings, it’s still a must see destination and so I went together with Ben and Catherine, two Americans students on a short leave in Argentina. Even though it only was a walking distance away from San Telmo, where our hostel was located, we were advised to take the taxi instead. And so we did.

Me in La Boca posing with the Tango Dancers that entertained us during lunchIt was a hot and sunny day with the pace of life slow. We strolled around the streets for a while, admiring the colorful architecture and peeping into the little tourist shops. But with La Boca being so small, It didn’t take long before we had seen everything there was to see. At least without venturing off into dangerous territory. So we decided to have lunch instead. La Boca has quite a lot of restaurants to choose from, and each one offers a tango dance display while you enjoy your meal.

We ate outside on the pavement. Between the tables, a couple in full dress played their part and danced the Tango. One could easily believe that this was all part of the ‘couleur locale’, if it were not for the woman dancer who looked strikingly Japanese.

And just like the life around us, the pace of their movements were much slower, but more casual then what I had seen at the theatre a few days earlier. Here were just two people dancing the afternoon away, and not so much to impress, but simply because it was something they just loved to do.

Looking back, I wish I had brought my camera along with me. But by the time I had arrived in Buenos Aires, I was already suffering from photo-fatique. I just wanted to experience things without having to photograph it all. Catherine did bring hers along and we were even given the honour of posing with the dancers that had entertained us thru lunch. (If you’re tourist in a tourist trap, you might aswell act the part). We then returned to San Telmo.

My week soon came to an end, and I left with mostly fond memories. But if I ever return, it might well be worth learning a step or two of tango. How hard could it possibly be?

The First Zero Emission Polar Station Opened in Antarctica

The Princess Elisabeth Antarctic Station

Belgium has just opened the Princess Elisabeth Station in Antarctica. It’s the first ever zero-emission base on the continent. Not only is it powered by wind and solar energy, but it also recycles its waste products.
But how did the Belgians end up in Antarctica in the first place? Apparently, I don’t have to look much further then my own hometown, Hasselt.

It’s quite possible that there are more statues present in the inner city of Hasselt then people actually living here. The most famous statue known here is that of Hendrik and Katrien. They spend most of their time sitting together in the main square. Though there are many more worth mentioning, it’s something for a later post. But I mention this, because many years ago, I was asked to create a design for the website for the city of Hasselt. At one point, the tourist cell gave me photo’s of some of these statues I could use in my designs. I knew all of them except for one. At first I thought it was an homage to some prominent military figure. But when I dared to ask who he was, I got surprised looks. How could I not know who he was? It was Adrien De Gerlache of course! He was one of the most famous inhabitants of our town. I was still clueless.

A statue of Adrien de Gerlache looking south from the Green Boulevard in Hasselt.

It turned out that he organized the first purely scientific expedition to Antarctica in 1898 while commanding the ship the Belgica. What was known of Antarctica up until then, had only been explored by mostly whale and seal hunters who were only interested in the region for economic gain. De Gerlache on the other hand managed to gather together a remarkable team of international experts and scientists; the most notable crewmember being the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. He would eventually become the most famous polar explorer of all time. After his adventures in the Belgica and the experience he gained there, he would later return to Antarctica to become the first man to ever reach the actual South Pole.

The Belgica at Mt. Williams The Belgica spending a winter in AntarcticaThe Belgica stuck in ice

Although it’s not known if it was De Gerlaches intention all along (some suspect it was), but the Belgica did manage to get itself stranded in the Antarctic ice. As a result, it would become the first expedition ever to spend a whole winter in the Antarctic south. And despite the pressures and harsh conditions they were subjected too, they meticulously continued doing scientific studies during all these dark months. Isolated from the rest of the world and cramped in closed quarters, it was thanks to the efforts of Frederick Cook, the onboard doctor, that many of the crew survived and kept their sanity.

The last time the MS Explorer sailed along the coasts of Antarctica

The area of Antarctica that they surveyed back in the day is the same area where much of the growing Antarctic tourism industry is concentrated today. These mostly consist of cruises along the islands and coasts of the Antarctic peninsula. Trips usually last about ten days. The passangers sleep onboard the ships, but they do get to make landings up to twice a day on the islands, and where possible, on the continent itself. Of course, it is not without danger. Turns out we would be the last to ever sail to Antarctica with the expedition ship: the MS Explorer. On it’s return journey to Antarctica a few months later, it hit an iceberg and sank. Everyone was resqued but cruise ships do regularly get in trouble in this area.

Anyway. Belgium would later return to Antarctica in 1957 with their own polar station: The King Boudewijn Base. The mission was led by one of De Gerlache’s sons: Gaston De Gerlache. Unfortunately, the station had to be abandoned just after a few years of use. Because it was built on ice, that not only was slowly drifting out to sea, the heat produced by the base made the ice underneath it melt. As a result, it sank deeper and deeper away. Add to that the layers of new snow that was piling up on top of the base, and it was in real danger of eventually being crushed. It was however thanks to this mission that Belgium became one of the twelve founding members of the Antarctic Treaty. In simple terms, the treaty states that Antarctica belongs to no nation and must be used for peaceful purposes and for the good of mankind. And that any scientific knowledge gained here must freely be exchanged with its member states.

How did the Antarctic Treaty come to be? The members at the time couldn’t come to a settlement as to how to divide the southernmost continent amongst themselves. But because no nation actually had the technology to mine any of the possible resources under the immensely thick layers of ice, they decided to resolve this prickly problem at a later date. And so a fifty year moratorium was initiated and the Antarctic Treaty was born. The moratorium however ends in 2011 at which point the treaty may be changed. With the recent race to clame underwater regions in the North Pole area, it remains to be seen how this will all unfold. But with a bit of luck, Antarctica will remain a protected region.

Belgian polar stationIn the mean time and with the lessons learnt from their previous adventure, the Belgians have returned half a century later with a new base: The Princess Elisabeth polar station. This time, it was built on solid rock much deeper inland in Uststeinen. Because Antarctica is plagued by regular snowstorms, the new station has been aerodynamically designed to prevent snow from heaping up against or over it. In other words, it shouldn’t drift out to sea, sink in the ice or get covered by snow like did the last one. In doing so, it should last at least 25 years after which it will be broken down to be brought back to Belgium.

But they have also gone a step further then just protecting the base from its environment. One of the main goals was to keep the impact on its surroundings as low as possible. It’s basically a passive house that is so well insulated, it remains at a constant temperature of 18 to 20 degrees Celsius. And although there is a backup diesel generator, the station relies on solar panels and wind turbines for energy. This has the added advantage that transporting fuel like anything else to Antarctica is massively expensive. Waste is recycled as much as possible. While this wasn’t always the case, nowdays, its frowned upon to use Antarctica as a waste dump.

The station itself will of course be used for scientific studies and most likely to further measure the effects of global warming on our planet.

If I had the chance, I would return to Antarctica in heart beat. So just in case they should have a spare bed left open, I’m more than willing to fill it. Maybe even as a concierge keeping an eye on the place during the Antarctic winter months perhaps?

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