Thursday, February 18, 2010

All Chinese people wear coolie hats.

I follow the Disgrasian blog on my google reader and today the blog posted this AP photo from a German Rose Monday parade. (Like many European countries, Germany celebrates the days leading up to Lent with parades, dressing up, and other festivities.)

It's supposed to satirize U.S.-China ties. But srsly? Can we PUH-lease ditch the coolie hats?

Apparently not because Danes think Chinese people wear coolie hats too, specifically, Danes WHO HAVE ADOPTED CHILDREN FROM CHINA! I wish I had a photo of these shirts to show you all. I was at a Chinese New Year celebration at the Århus concert hall last Sunday. One of the tables set up in the foyer of the music hall was an organization of Danish parents who have adopted children from China. In addition to displaying pamphlets, they were also selling t-shirts with their organization's name and a "cute" graphic of an Asian child WITH A COOLIE HAT! Srsly?? Presumably all these parents had been to China to pick up their kids. Hm? Was everyone there wearing coolie hats? I think not

Monday, February 15, 2010

Eating, alone and together

In my first post about food, I explored its associations with identity, culture, and my feelings about home. This is the second time in a couple weeks that I've written about food, this time focusing on it as a communal activity. 

When I have to cook for myself, my diet is like this: breakfast: fruit, yogurt and muesli or toast and jam.
lunch: sandwich and/or salad.
dinner: pasta with some variations of sauces/stirfry.

But I am very fortunate to not have to eat my own cooking everyday because the group of exchange students here organizes group dinner quite often.

This past weekend was a gastronomical delight. On Friday, I went to my first "bring your national dish" potluck. It's pretty difficult to come up with an original American dish seeing as this is a nation of immigrants and all the indigenous people were killed or marginalized... But I think I did pretty well by making PBJ and PBBH, that's PB, banana, and honey. Actually I couldn't find grape jelly so I used strawberry jam. And the peanut butter here is much less sweet than PB at home. It's actually noticeably salty. Nonetheless, I think I managed to convey something American. The PBBH sandwiches were more popular I think.

Polish cuisine was heavily represented given the makeup of my my dining companions. We dined on some kind of fried cheese I fail the remember the name, borscht, potato pancakes -- which Poles insist on eating with creme fraiche and sugar -- apple pie, and jello. Not Polish but still Slavic, we had some kind of Czech bun and again I can't remember the name but it was delicious.And we also had two lovely quiches made by the French. 

Saturday was the first time I went to a restaurant in Århus. It was an Italian restaurant in the city center. Along with about 15 other exchange students, I dined on a buffet of appetizers and pork chop. It cost us 166 kr. each, which included two glasses of wine. It's expensive compared to dining in the States but for Denmark, it's a bargain.

To round out the weekend, our friends at Skejbyparken, a group of student dorms, organized a pizza and sushi dinner fundraiser on Sunday night. More than 80 people attended, which was also a fundraiser for Haiti. We each paid 50 kr. for sushi and pizza and tprofits will be donated to a charity helping Haiti. The Italian team, made up of Italian international students and their non-Italian sous chefs, made a staggering number of pizzas. They had to prepare the dough the day before. The Japanese team, headed by Yuta and assisted by others, prepared fillings and assembled sushi rolls. The fish was purchased from the harbor-side fish market so it was the freshest available to this seaside city. All the food was delicious but it was the atmosphere that made it special. Many people came to help the teams make the sushi and pizza.

The encore was a delicious dinner tonight consisting of spaghetti, curry potato salad, lightly stirfried vegetables, and fastelavnsboller. This is a bun filled with custard and topped with chocolate sauce, rather like a custard donut. It is eaten during fastelavn, which is similar to Carnival celebrated in Roman Catholic countries. But since Denmark went Protestant, it's a more general celebration.(I think I'll write more about Fastelavn later).

I think I know what study abroad returnees mean when they say they gained weight during their time abroad!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Little Ice Age

I know right now it's Snowpocalypse in the U.S. The New York Times used the word "Epic" in its headline to describe the first storm that hit DC. I heard someone call this second round "snoverkill".

It's also the coldest winter in Europe is 20 or maybe 30 years. While we haven't had two feet of snow, for Danes, it's Snowpocalypse here too. The snow on the side of the roads in Århus reminds me of home: it's dirty because it hasn't gotten warm enough for the snow to melt. In Amsterdam too it was pretty cold -- it snowed several of the days I was there -- though not as cold as in Århus.

At the (much scaled down) Rijksmuseum I saw an exhibit of an earlier cool period: Hendrick Avercamp's The Little Ice Age in the 17th century. Avercamp specialized in showing people frolicking in the Dutch winter.

Winterlandschap met schaatsers. circa 1608. Rijksmuseum.


My American blog readers, this exhibit closes at the Rijksmuseum soon but it will then travel to National Gallery of Art in Washington DC starting March 31.

Near the Rijksmuseum is an ice skating rink which apparently isn't open, or at least it wasn't at 10am the morning I went. What I saw there evoked the same playfulness as Avercamp's paintings. The ice rink wasn't open but the fence did not close off the space. An old man walking his dog first walked around the perimeter of the ice rink. Then the man and the dog stepped onto the ice rink. The man threw snowballs across the ice and his little dog chased after them. It was delightful to watch man, dog, and ice.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Light in the Morning is Beautiful

The streets of the Red Light District are some of the most tourist-trafficked and photographed streets of Amsterdam because it is a very beautiful district. It is not easily recognizable as a Red Light District in the morning.

The reflection of the De Oude Kerk (The Old Church) on to the canal in the morning light is beautiful.

At night, the red lights and neon signs also make shimmery reflections in the water. (Too bad I have no pictures of that.)

Locals also consider these streets desirable real estate, especially the right side of this canal. The water laps the buildings on the right side of this canal, making it looks a bit like Venice. Premium canal-side apartments come at a premium price. The fact that a flat is in the Red Light District doesn't make it cheap.

But at night, these streets make no secret of what they sell. They screams SEX SEX SEX. There are literally windows with red lights, red curtains, and scantily-clad women. Men cruise the streets past the windows. If they linger, the woman will make eye contact with them, tap on the glass from inside. Then she will open the glass door a crack. If they make a deal, she'll let him in. 50 Euros for 15 minutes.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Auricular Amsterdam

I took my first trip outside Århus since I arrived. I went to Amsterdam.

The first museum I went to was the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of art and history of the Netherlands. Unfortunately much of the museum was closed due to renovations. The most well-known pieces of its extensive collection were on display in a few small galleries.

I saw pieces by the van Vianen family of silversmiths active in the 17th century. Brothers Paulus and Adam were known for the use of auricular ornamentation. Auricular refers to the earlobes so the ornamentation of scrolls and curved shapes resembling organic shapes and earlobes.

This design is seen in the shapes around the edge of the Diana plate by Paulus van Vianen.

Adam van Vianen made this jug as a three dimensional auricular shape. The whorls at the base and in the body of the jug are particularly ear-like. 

At one stop at the Heineken Brewery tour, visitors sat in futuristic-looking chairs. Their C-shape seemed to me very auricular.

On my last day in Amsterdam, I visited the Van Gogh Museum, just across the plaza from the Rijksmuseum. He had ... a difficult relationship with his earlobe.
 (Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear isn't actually at the Van Gogh museum but I definitely thought about it.)

After leaving Van Gogh, I bought a pre-made salad from a grocery store. It had lettuce, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and auricular pasta.

The next morning I left Amsterdam.