Tuesday, 17 November 2009

One-Week Stand In N.Y.C.


Hm, this is almost starting to look like a a pattern: In the autumn every eighth year Torgny goes to New York to meet pretty girls. About a month ago I visited Manhattan for a week, and I was very pleased with the stay.

The first day we walked through an autumnal Central Park amidst Americans dressed in suits and sneakers. Afterwards we visited the Guggenheim Museum, filled up with a disproportionate amount of Kandinsky paintings. The next day we took the ferry from Battery Park to Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty, and then went on to Ellis Island, the main gate for immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A fascinating document from days of yore.

On the third day it was about time to visit the Empire State Building. From the observatory on the 86th floor we had a great view of the whole city (and several of its neighbouring states). In the afternoon we visited Madame Tussauds, socializing with celebrities like Lou Reed, Albert Einstein and Barack Obama. Later in the evening we joined a sightseeing under New York's moon in an open double-decker bus. An interesting, but rather cold experience. It's quite windy on the Brooklyn Bridge at night.

After having done some of the main attractions, we took it easy the next days. We went in the park, strolled along 5th Avenue, experienced the crowd around Times Square, and went to free evening concerts in Bryant Park. (Interesting, but a bit cold, there too.) We also visited the TV & Radio Museum, which could offer re-encounters with half-forgotten tv serials from the 60s and 70s. And on our last night together, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at our newly discovered hang-out Tony's at 43rd St.

The stay in the stronghold of Western urban life exceeded all expectations, not least since I also experienced the mysteries of the East opening up to me...

XTC - Statue of Liberty

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Searching For A Dwelling


I've finally decided to try to get an apartment of my own. This week I've been to my first public view, and also had councelling appointment in my bank concerning (oh, horrors!) a prospective house loan...

I sort of dreaded them both a bit. Ringing the doorbell to the view, I felt a bit like going to a house party with people I didn't know that well. But the estate agent was a nice guy who let me look around without feling much too stupid and green.

And let me just say it right away: I liked the apartment a lot! There was virtually nothing I did NOT like about it, and that's pretty unique for someone like me. In most cases I think things are ok... BUT! And then I get caught up in some minor detail.

Something tells me I probably won't find an apartment I'll like more than this. But at the same time I ask myself if it's such agood idea jumping at the chance so soon, without checking out any alternatives. Besides, some acquaintances of mine have actually warned me against buying a flat in this area.

Susceptible as I am, this kind of things instantly makes me a bit uncertain and disheartened. But at the same time I almost feel a bit in love with this 50 square metre beauty. And as you know, love is blind - and deaf!

To be continued...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

In The Garden


Recently my class and I had another excursion, this time to the Botanical Garden at Tøyen. This is usually a popular trip. (I took my previous students to the same place both last year and two years ago).

The students seemed to enjoy it. They photographed each other like crazy in the autumnal garden. I have liked all my classes, but this one seems even livelier than the somewhat indolent ladies in shawls and sandals. (It also doesn't hurt that there are several fun Thai ladies in the class.)

After an hour's walk in the garden the students had got a bit frozen, but they soon got warm again in the tropical hothouse, filled with exotic plants. Afterwards we visited the Zoological Museum, exhibiting stuffed animals from both Norway and more distant skies, as well as the rock collection and the dinosaurs at the Geological Museum.

Afterwards the Thai girls invited me and the other students to a restaurant with delicious food from their home country (and also gave me some suggestions of which of Oslo's Thai restaurants you should/should not go to). A pleasurable and savoury conclusion of a nice excursion. I've realized that I'm never in a better mood than when I'm with my students! :-)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

I'm Only Sleeping


"I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray" (Prince)

Lately the days have passed without many exciting experiences to write about. In bed, at night, however... (HAR-HAR! wink, wink...)

Nope. If you think I'm going to share juicy details about nocturnal experiences, you'll have to think again. Or maybe not. Except these experiences have taken place while I've been asleep!

Ok, I guess most people think listening to other people's dreams is just as exciting as watching paint dry up. But this is MY blog, and here I'm the boss! You other guys will just have to look another way for a while. :-)

Digression: For many years The Beatles (despite their indecently long hair) were a nice and neat boy band who mostly sung about holding your hand. One of the first signs that something was about to happen, might have been John Lennon's far-out "I'm Only Sleeping" on the Revolver album (1966). In retrospect most people consider Lennon's sleep a metaphor for - hm - certain "psychedelic" experiences (the guys are known for having drunk rather strong tea at the time...). But reportedly, the song simply reflects the fact that John loved lying in bed! And who doesn't?

Sometimes I wonder where all the dreams come from. And not least where all the PEOPLE in our dreams come from. On various occasions I've got a crush on people I've met in my dreams. And then woken up, only to discover that their only excistence was in Slumberland! :-(

I recently had a very vivid dream. I seemed to be on some kind of pleasure trip to Denmark with my colleagues. There was sun, summer and long, white beaches. I have no idea where all this came from. I haven't been to a pleasure trip in ages. And never to Denmark. And certainly not with my colleagues. But there we were, all the same.

Everything wasn't pure bliss, though. One of my colleagues - a grumpy and stupid hag - noticed something I've written, and blatantly criticized "my poor handwriting" (she was particularly dissatisfied with my Norwegian Ø's). I was taken totally by surprise (and got pretty annoyed, too), but tried to explain that this was just something I'd scribbled down in a hurry.

A bit later I was down on the beach, and was approached by a rather impertinent, but at the same time dangerously alluring lolita with long, blond curls... (Un)fortunately I woke up before I got the chance to do anything I might have to do time for... Even though you naturally can't be held responsible for the contents of your dreams, I felt (as Sting says in his creepy, clumsy and pretentious way) "like the old man in that famous book by Nabokov". Or like Roman Polanski.

Ok, this may not have been the world's most exciting dream. (Don't tell me I didn't warn you!). But with its epic course it was very vivid. I still have both the beach, the thick colleague and the Danish maid under my skin. But none of them exist anywhere else than inside my own head. You might say this is the REAL Torgnyworld...

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Activity Day


Today our school had an activity day. I haven't participated in such arrangements for ages, and had actually mixed feelings about it. But when we got started, it turned out there was no need to worry. On the contrary. The committee had prepared various fun activities, such as football, volleyball, potato races, darts, barbecuing and lots more.


Me, I ended up playing frisbee with the students. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun. For the first time in a long time I was totally careless and happy. For anyone who thinks life seems dead boring and utterly pointless, I really recommend some rounds of frisbee. I promise it'll make them change their minds.


Still, the climax was probably the soccer match between the teachers and the students. Even here I was originally a bit reluctant to participate. After all, I haven't touched a football for twenty years, and traumatic memories of my gym classes reappeared. I was clumsy with the ball back then, and I'm hardly less clumsy now...


Since the teachers' team had problems recruiting players, however, I eventually decided to join in. The result was some rough rounds of good, old meadow football. Extremely exhausting. Extremely fun. And although we lost disastrously, I actually think we played rather well. Our tactics only failed on two points: Our ability to make goals. And our ability to save them.


All in all, I can't remember the last time I had so much fun. This day really was a refreshing change in an everyday life that often tends to be dominated by routine. A reminder of the fact that happiness can often be found in the little things.

(Photos courtesy of Peter at Skd VO)

Saturday, 19 September 2009

UK vs US

Norwegian popular culture has "always" been influenced by the Anglophone cultural sphere, especially the US and the UK. When pop music is concerned, my impression is that these two countries have been more or less equally dominating through the years.

Personally, however, I've always felt much more attached to the British music scene than its Trans-Atlantic counterpart. This may be an after-construction, but I would say that the music I mostly associate with my "musical awakening" (post punk, new wave, and various kinds of indie pop), in 9 out of 10 cases would be British. I wouldn't dream of dissing Devo or the B-52s, but the great majority of post punk bands to which I feel a relationship seem to come from the British Isles.

There may be various reasons for this. One of them might be that Norwegians (or at least I) were more exposed to British than American artists in the early 80s (at least when the genres discussed here are concerned). This may have made me feel more at home within the British cultural sphere later on as well. (The fact that I was a fan of the English indie label 4AD until well into the 90s probably didn't hurt, either...)

Another reason may be the fact that many American bands seem to be more "rockist", hanging on to "authentic" rock ideals (or clichés). And since my personal taste in music is more "anti-rockist", preferring music that's not necessarily a direct result of old skool r&b, I tend to prefer artists promoting a similar attitude. And most of these seem to be British.

Or maybe it's just as simple as the fact that the UK was the first country I ever visited outside Scandinavia, resulting in lots of memorable experiences, such as left-hand driving, double-decker buses and meat pies (not to mention the buxom receptionst Janet at Hotel George, unknowingly giving nine-year-old Torgny his first erotic experience...) The US, however, I first visited as a grown-up, no longer with such an impressionable mind. In any case, the conclusion is that I simply feel more at home in British culture, and not least in British music. Rule Britannia, Britannia rule New Wave!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Meetings and Re-encounters

O, happy days! Berlitz 2005

After a long, relaxing summer it was quite nice returning to my work, colleagues and not least students. I've had my new class for a few weeks now, and it turns out they're a great gang (as always). Some I knew from before, and it was great seeing them again. Others came from other classes, but getting to know new people is also nice.

Actually, it's a bit of a coincidence I ended up just here. Looking back, I've probably been more lucky than I deserve. It all started eight years ago, when I, acting on a sudden impulse, applied for an engagement as a freelance at the private language school Berlitz. The company offers pricey language courses to companies and private individuals (I would never be able to afford my own classes...). Consequently, most of the students are well off European and American business people (primarily Dutch who learn perfect Norwegian just by browsing the text book, and Anglophones who never learn anything no matter what...).

I enjoyed working with this clientele. And since the classes usually were on a one to one basis, I also got rather well versed in the noble art of conversation. In 2004, however, we experienced a rather dramatic change in our clientele, as the public adult education started outsorcing some of their courses in Norwegian for foreigners to private companies, such as Berlitz. As a consequence we suddenly got lots of "culturally distant" students (a horrible word, but great people!).

This was a kind of students with whom I had little experience from before, and the education also became rather different (bigger and more diverse classes...). But it didn't take long before I realized I liked these courses (and students) just as much as clever Dutchmen. Naturally, the cultural differences were bigger than the ones I experienced with my traditional Berlitz students, but at the same time this made it all even more interesting.

This is what made me to go the whole way four years ago, applying for a job as a Norwegian teacher for foreign learners in the public adult education system. The students and colleagues are great, and in addition the administration are of a sound mind. Now that I've even got a permament position, I look forward to an inspiring and stimulating future at Skullerud Adult Education Centre. As I said, I think I've been really lucky.

When we started a new school year three weeks ago I got a pleasant surprise: At Berlitz in 2005 I had the pleasure of teaching a group of particularly clever Latin American beauties. We got really well along - and we've also stayed in touched afterwards. Now it turns out that one of them has decided to resume her Norwegian course. When I met the charming Ana Paula in the corridor last week, it definitely was a surprising and pleasant re-encounter! :-)

PS. I might add that it's not JUST because of the pretty girls that I enjoy my job so much. It also gives me a welcome opportunity to pass on the fascinating subtleties of Norwegian grammar... A language geek and a ladies' man - Torgny has many sides... ;-)


Wednesday, 9 September 2009

September


The sun shines high above
The sounds of laughter
The birds swoop down upon
The crosses of old grey churches
We say that they're in love
While secretly wishing for rain
Sipping coke and playing games
September's here again
September's here again

(David Sylvian)

Monday, 7 September 2009

Bye-bye, Summer!

We've entered September, the first month of autumn. I like marking occasions like this in a proper manner, so last weekend I decided to bid summer goodbye by taking this year's last dip! (To me, summer and swimming have always been synonymous.)

In the afternoon I was by the beach. Even though it was rather cloudy, the air was quite mild. But as I approached the sea and was no longer sheltered by the pines, the wind came on, and the greyish waves didn't look too inviting. When I eventually got into the water, however, it wasn't that bad. It was a refreshing and worthy farewell to a nice summer. We'll meet again next year!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Aschehoug's Garden Party


For Norwegian culture vultures Aschehoug's garden party has an almost mythical ring to it. An arena for the country's cultural elite to meet and chat, fight and fool around...

Consequently, I felt quite honoured when I in my capacity as a literary debutant was invited to this year's party in sir William's garden. The party happened on Thursday night, and it was quite a memorable experience. Among the guests you'd find several distinguished politicians and well-known authors, as well as various other artists, media workers and people in the trade. Plus me. (Wonder why the press photographers didn't shoot when I entered?)

The party was no doubt a nirvana for culture bearers on an ascending and free white wine intoxication. And by all means, it was interesting watching the posh people at display. Being "a writer of current interest" I may have been expected to mingle, network and promote my amazing publication. But unfortunately, that kind of stuff isn't in my genes. Sorry, marketing department. Still, it was an interesting experience! :-)

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Pump Up The Volume!


Smiley-Face.gif Smiley-Face. image by sylvi2909
At a Chinese hotel room I recently came across a J-pop-video on one of the local music channels: a song called "Positiv E Loop" [sic]. It occured to me that I probably havent't heard a song with an "E" in its title since 1992...

Lately I've been reading the book Generation Ecstasy by the British music journalist Simon Reynolds (Routledge, 1999). It gives a thorough account of the development of the house and techno culture in the late 80s and beyond. Personally, I've always been in the periphery of this movement. For instance, during the "Second Summer of Love" in 1988 - rave culture's real breakthrough - I spent what seemed to be the hottest summer of all times tidying up the welfare office's warehouse at my army camp. And while blissed-out ravers were popping smiley pills and dancing to acid house, I had to make do with flat beer at tacky discos with "Living Next Door To Alice" as the musical highlight...

But although I've never been to crazy raves, it still seems like I've got the gist of some of the music. True, as electronic dance music has gradually split into more and more specialized subgenres, it's all got rather complex for an outsider. (Until recently I had no idea of the difference between, say, bleep-and-bass, hardcore, darkcore and gabba...) In this respect, however, Reynolds' book gives a good introduction into the various varieties and their features. And although 90 percent of the artists that the book refers to are totally unknown to someone like me, it's easy to get a sample via the internet.

All the same, it turns out that the artists and genres I already knew, still are the ones I prefer. During most of the second half of the '90s, for instance, I particularly identified with the trip hop sound. Most of the time I've also been into genres like big beat, electronica and the more melodious varieties of drum'n'bass. And I already knew that the hardest nosebleed techno wasn't my cup of tea. With the "blackest" house and the "whitest" techno as the extremes, I guess I prefer the grey area somewhere in between (black + white = grey). But I still find gaining a better insight into rave culture's many subgenres quite interesting.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Friends - At All Costs?

As always, I'd planned to get slightly more sociable during the summer holiday than what everyday life usually allows. And as always these plans went down the drain. But typically: During the last few days of the holiday I suddenly had three different nice get-togethers with various good friends. :-)


Again and again I notice the importance of friendships. A brief chat with an acquaintance is often enough to save the day. And should it take too long between each social stimulus, I tend to end up feeling miserable. You can do without a house, a car or a lover. But without friends? I don't think so.

All the same: Here (as always) I tend to prefer quality to quantity. I'd much rather have a few, good friends than lots of crappy ones! And to be honest, there are certain people in my circle of acquaintances I guess I could do without. People I actually don't really care that much about - and who probably don't care that much about me, either.

Is there any point in spending time with people with whom you hardly have anything in common? People you basically find more annoying than stimulating? Such relationships may not hurt, but they probably don't do much good, either. As my friend the gardener says: To make the flowers blossom, you need to get rid of the weed!

PS. To those of my (sligtly paranoid) friends who might be reading this post and start wondering if I might be referring to
them: Take it easy. The people I'm thinking of are so full of themselves they wouldn't read their friends' blogs anyway. :-)

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Crescendo of the Elements

Ok, so maybe I'm slightly bonkers. When it starts raining, I tend to get this uncontrollable urge to get out and splash in the pools.

Last week I was in downtown Oslo, enjoying an ice cream with three balls and chocolate sauce. Gradually the sky got ominously grey, and soon huge, heavy raindrops were falling down on the street. Most people hurried home, but I suddenly decided that I wanted to experience sea spray and green-glistening foliage. So, I took the bus to the coast and started pottering along a forest path towards the beach.

I had imagined this could be quite cosy, but soon the rain was trickling down my back in a really unpleasant manner, and soon after I was soaking wet. Then it wasn't that nice at all any more. During the next, stormy hours one ship was to go down with all hands, and another to run aground and pollute the south coast with its oil.

Still I walked towards the sea. The madman within me got an urge to swim in the grey, cresty waves. I hadn't brought any trunks with me, so I sought out the nudist area. Not that it really mattered. There was no sign of life anywhere (except some seagulls that had gone ashore because of the heavy sea. Sissies!).

I was soaking wet in any case, and throwing away the clothes and diving into the salty waves was just wonderfully refreshing. The waves were foaming, the wind was whining, and in the distance you could hear threatening thunderclaps. It was truly an amazing late summer afternoon, when heaven, earth, sea and thunderbolts all met in a crescendo of the elements. The happiest moment of a madman.

Friday, 31 July 2009

China & Tibet, Part II: On The Roof Of The World

The retrospective travelogue continues. After having experienced China's refined traditions, with its silk dresses and jasmin tea, now was the time to visit Tibet, a much more hardbitten culture, 3700 meters above sea level, consisting of proud mountain people in garments made of yak wool.

18.07: Plane from Chengdu to Lhasa

Norbulingka

The first day in Lhasa we visited Norbulingka, the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas. In the evening we had dinner in downtown Lhasa and walked in the old city, Barkhor, watching pilgrims waving their characteristic prayer wheels. Finally, we admired the magnificent Potalá Palace at dusk (one of Tibet's very few traditional buildings that weren't destroyed by rabid red guards during the cultural revolution).

Potala by night

19.07: The Jokhang Temple

View towards the Drepung Monastery

In the morning we made a little pilgrimage (Kora) around the monastery Drepung, situated in the mountainside outside Lhasa. After lunch we visited Jokhang, Lhasa's and Tibet's holiest temple, followed by a short Kora around the temple, in the old town Barkhor.

On the roof of the Jokhang temple



20.07: Bus from Lhasa to Shigatse

Riding a yak bull by the Yamdrok Lake

This day we had a looong bus ride through glorious sceneries from Lhasa to Tibet's second largest city, Shigatse, passing the Kambala pass and the holy Yamdrok lake about 4000 meters above sea level. Afterwards we crossed the Karola pass (5045 meters above sea level - and with a view to snowclad mountains at more than 7000 meters!). We made a stop in the little, dusty town of Gyantse, with a pagoda and a market, before we checked in at our hotel in Shigatse.

Wading at 4000 meters above sea level

Shigatse is the traditional place of residence of Tibet's second highest ranking cleric after the Dalai Lama: the Panchen Lama. When the previous Panchen Lama died from a "heart attack" in 1989, Dalai Lama appointed his reincarnation and successor, but of course the Chinese occupation authorities couldn't have that. They kidnapped the 6-year-old boy (making him the world's youngest political prisoner...), and picked out another Panchen Lama instead.

When we got to Shigatse, we disovered that the governmentally approved (and fake) Panchen Lama was visiting the city just then. He was even having dinner at our hotel the same evening, and we could virtually sense his (fake) presence...


21.07: The Tashilhunpo Monastery

The Tashilhunpo complex in Shigatse

In the morning we visited the Tashilhunpo Monastery, the headquarters of the Panchen Lamas. Then we went by bus back to Lhasa. Along the way we visited a Tibetan family, serving yak butter tea (yuk!) and the Tibetan daily fare tsampa (not that bad...).

22.07: The Potala Palace

Back in Lhasa we visited the Potalá Palace, the traditional residence of the Dalai Lamas, which the Chinese now have turned into a museum.



In the afternoon we visited the Sera Monastery, watchingh monks debating lively and chanting their mantras. After having visited so many temples and monasteries during our stay in Tibet, it was interesting finally to gain insight into the practical life of the monks as well.





23.07: Plane from Lhasa back to Beijing

Then it was time to leave Tibet and go back to the real China. I had a long flight and an early night
.

During great parts of my stay in Tibet I'd had some trouble with altitude sickness (headache, nausea and fever). Suddenly reaching 4000 meters above sea level obviously takes its toll! It was all rounded off with a delicious dose of diarrhoea the last couple of days...

24.07: Last day in Beijing

The flight from Lhasa to Beijing had been rather exhausting, so I took it easy during most of the day (but treated myself to a McDonald burger - after two weeks I felt an urge for "normal" food again). In the evening we had a common dinner - with Peking duck! - and a nice goodbye party with the other travellers.

All in all it was a great travel. All travellers got well along (although I did feel that one shouldn't get too involved in political discussions with all of them...). And I had more exciting experiences in these two weeks than I usually have in two months (or two years...). Although it was nice coming back home again, I already miss all the experiences and impressions of this amazing travel
. China - and particularly Tibet - 4Ever!


Sunday, 26 July 2009

China & Tibet, Part I: In The Middle Kingdom

As I now have returned from two amazing weeks in China and Tibet, here's a retrospective travelogue. I was originally hoping to publish updates along the way, but it turned out to be impossible. The rumours are true: The Chinese authorities efficiently block access to websites like Facebook, YouTube and Blogger. I guess it's only natural to prevent everything that might be a "threat to the nation". Such as freedom of speech...

11.07: The Summer Palace

The summer palace Yiheyuan: The Empress' residence

Anyway. In the morning of 11 July I landed at Beijing International Airport ( with its 1 million square meters, one of the world's largest buildings). After a long flight I felt most like getting to a hotel room and brushing up, but the tour operator had prepared a crammed program from Day One: After being introduced to our courier and the other 20 Scandinavians I was going to travel with for the next two weeks, we were immediately transported to our first adventure: A visit to the Emperor's summer palace. After crossing the Kunming Lake in a "dragon boat", we were able to admire Empress Cixi's residence and have a 700 meter long "romantic promenade" along the lake. Afterwards we had a common dinner with many small dishes on a rotating table. There'd be quite a few of those during our stay...

12.07: The Great Wall

The Great Wall by Badaling

In the morning we visited a pearl factory/shop. Then we went to Sisanling ("The Thirteen Tombs"), where thirteen of the sixteen emperors from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) are buried. In the afternoon it was time for one of the travel's many highlights: An excursion to The Great Wall! We walked up a strikingly steep stretch for about an hour before turning around. It's said that walking on the Wall makes you a whole person. Don't know about that. Me, I just felt like a worn person. On the way home we visited a cloisonné shop (vases decorated with copper threads filled with mineral colours) before being brought back to our hotel.



13.07: The Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square

Early in the morning we went to the Heaven's Temple, surrounded by a park that was popular for activities like couple dances, taiqi, qigong, ball games etc.



Then we visited the monumental and almost agoraphobic Tiananmen Square, filled with uniformed and plain clothes police everywhere. We also entered The Forbidden City, with lots of impressive imperial buildings.



14.07: Flight Beijing - Xi'an


The Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an

This day was mainly a transport lap, going by plane from Beijing to the old capital Xi'an a bit further west. Personally I didn't find Beijing a particularly charming city per se. Due to his discontent for anything old, Mao, that sod, decided that the old city wall should be torn down. Instead the city was to be modernized with Los Angeles, of all ugly places in the world, as a model. The result is several separate districts, connected by diffuse traffic machines. - Fortunately, Xi'an, on the other hand, has kept its old city wall and a lot of its distinctive features.

15.07: The Terracotta Army

The terracotta army in Xi'an

After visiting a jade factory it was time for yet another of the highlights of the travel: Visiting the excavation area of the many thousands of life size terracotta soldiers from Emperor Qin's era (210 BC).

In the evening we had a common dinner and enjoyed a spectacular show with singing, music and dancing from the days of the Tang dynasty (618 - 907).



16.07: Flight Xi'an - Chengdu


Xi'ans city wall

After a walk on Xi'an's city wall, we had a flight further westwards to Chengdu in the Sichuan province.

The Sichuan population seemed much more friendly and extrovert than their compatriots in the east. The food was rather different, too. At that time I was getting a bit fed up with the tasty, but slightly colourless dishes we'd been served in Beijing and Xi'an (but I was really getting the hang of using chopsticks!). The Sichuan food was much hotter, but that suited me just fine right now. It was about time for some slightly more explosive culinary experiences.

17.07: The Panda Reservation in Chengdu

This day we visited a panda reservation, where we met many cute and cool giant pandas. Afterwards we paid a visit to the house of the famous poet Du Fu. We also dropped by at a factory/shop with silk embroidery/brocade. Dinner consisted of a Sichuan "hot pot", at which we made our own sauce and boiled the ingredients ourselves in a pot on the table. A hot experience!



In the evening we went to a Sichuan opera, with singing, dancing and playing, plus a "finger shadow show", a puppet show, and a fascinating "mask theatre". I still don't understand how they manage to change their masks so quickly!



18.07: Flight Chengdu - Lhasa
After a week in the "real" China it was now time to visit Tibet. In many ways these two weeks were two travels in one. Tibet turned out to belong to an entirely different world, when culture, nature, history and religion were concerned. A travelogue from this amazing country follows soon...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Sun, Sea and Skerries

The first sixteen years of my life, summer was synonymous with our holidays at the cottage. A carefree time. And I still associate this season with ice cream, Disney magazines, the fragrance of wet flagstones after a nocturnal shower, cinnamon buns in the sun wall, excursions to Storesand (the world's best beach), fishing trips in the boat, and card fames in the evening, while we were watching the flashing lighthouses in the skrerries.

These memories instantly return during my excursions to the islands of the Oslo fjord. The other day I was told about the renovated "sea spa" at Bygdøy, and I decided to go there. I went off the 60 bus at the Royal Estate, and discovered a footpath trough the woods. After a while I got to a road totally without any pavement or shoulder, and consequently mortally dangerous for us pedestrians. (This too brought back memories from my childhood's summers...) Soon I was surrounded by tall, slender pine trees - a clear indication that I was approching the sea.

It turned out that Bygdøy sea spa had become quite inviting, with a nice sandy beach that reminded me of the legendary Storesand. And the water was salty and refreshing, with a pleasant temperature for these latitudes. Lovely days like these, with swimming and sun bathing, make you as carefree as the summers of your childhood.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Happy Summer, Skullerud!

Better late than never: Almost three weeks have passed since my class had their end-of-term celebration. As always, the students brought with them lots of tasty food (an Indian woman had been cooking for 5 hours!), and we had a great time together the last day before the summer holiday. It's always a bit sad, but hopefully I'll get a chance to teach at least some of my students in the autumn as well.

Afterwards there was a joint ceremony for all the classes. The program included a video documentary from our hike around the Østensjø lake, a touching Burmese birthday song for Aung San Suu, and a cool rap and dance performance from one of the classes. Creative teachers. Clever students.

Right now I'm happy to have my holiday, but soon I'll probably start missing my students. I haven't been as happy at a working place for many years. And now that I've got a permanent position, I have an even stronger feeling of belonging. In the difficult question concerning what's best: a despotic tyranny or an administration with human features, my conclusion is that the latter is preferable. Have a great summer, Skullerud! I'll see you in the autumn!
:-)
I
SKULLERUD


Monday, 22 June 2009

Sweet Students, Bitter Rain

Every year about this time I enter a state of bitter sweetness. The summer holiday is at hand, and naturally you're starting to look forward to several months of relaxation. But at the same time one year of company with your nice students is drawing towards its end, and you never quite know whether you'll see them again in the autumn.

Since life at school often gets a bit more relaxed the last couple of weeks before the holiday, it's possible to take the students to slightly more excursions. About a week ago my class went out to the isle of Hovedøya, admiring cloister ruins, lush flora and white sails on the fjord. Unfortunately, the weather was rather cloudy and heavy with rain, but after having found shelter under a tree we were still able to enjoy tasty dishes from Pakistan, Morocco and Vietnam.

As you'll see in the subject title, my inclinations to antithetical opposites made me put "the sweet students" against "the bitter rain". After a similar excursion last year I wrote about sweet students and rotten apples, and it's no secret what "the rotten apples" was referring to. Well, the students are still as sweet, but as you see, the most negative thing I can think of this year is a bit of rain. Things change - and, in this respect, in a good way! :-)

Monday, 15 June 2009

From Bohemia to Bourgeoisie

Last year about this time I was extremely frustrated about the conditions at work, and ended up saying no thanks to yet another short-term contract. But at the same time it was a sad decision, as most of the colleagues are actually good people.

I don't know if it was due to good karma, the favour of the gods or just the devil's own luck, but at the end of my summer holiday I fortunately was offered a new job at an adult education competitor. Here I've been working and enjoying myself all this school year. So, when they recently published new vacancies, I handed in an application. Some weeks ago I was called in to a job interview, and afterwards I've been hoping to be able to continue my job also in the next school year.

Consequently, I was very relieved when my boss some weeks ago congratulated me on having my job prolonged into the next school year. In fact, I was so happy and relieved that I first didn't quite apprehend the fact that she was actually offering me a permanent position! I'm still not sure if I've fully realized it. During most of my career I've been a bit of a bohemian. Working as a freelance gives you a lot of freedom and independence, but it's hard to live that way in the long run.

With my newly acquired standing as permanently employed it might be about time to say good time to my life as a bohemian. No more absinth with artists and courtisans on the left bank. No more visits to opium dens in the harbour of Shanghai. About time to get a terrace house, a car, a pretty wife, tots (one boy and two twin girls) and a dog named Rufus.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Sanguine Season

Damn you, modern science! The earth is no longer the centre of the universe. The world wasn't created in seven days after all. And now it even turns out that our ancestor is a fossil called Ida. Th worst thing, however, is the fact that the four elements gradually have been extended to more than a hundred!

The roamticist within me still haven't given up the idea of the four elements, though. I sort of like the way they've traditionally been linked to the seasons, the body fluids and the humours (and basically everything there's four of...). Earlier in this blog, I've mentioned autumn's affinity to the earth element and the melancholy mood, and how winter reflects the phlegmatic qualities of the water. Don't we all experience a touch of melancholy when the trees shed their leaves? And don't most of us turn slightly indolent during the coldest months of the year?

But now it's spring, and other forces have taken over. Earth and water have had to yield to the air element, and neither slime nor black bile govern the humour any more. Now it's the blood that's rushing through our veins; this is the sanguine season! The girls let their garments drop, the air is filled with the fragrance of lilacs, and the heart flutters in the gentle breeze. Welcome back, o long-awaited spring!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

We Are Stardust

The other day I came across an outdoor exhibition of amazing photos of planets, stars, galaxies and stellar nebulae. It's all arranged by the The International Year of Astronomy 2009, marking the fact that Galileo had his first look in his telescope 400 years ago. If you're in Oslo and still haven't seen it, I strongly recommend it!

When I got home, I was inspired by this exhibition, and sought out my abundant (ah well...) book collection. Although I didn't find that much literature about astronomy, I did come across the book based on Carl Sagan's tv series about the Cosmos, which made a strong impression on me in the early 80s. It provided an informative introduction to the history of science, accompanied by fascinating dramatizations and a grand (and, I seem to recall, pretty Vangelis heavy) soundtrack.

I never came to be an astrophysicist. But one can still be fascinated by the mysteries of the universe.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

The Lilac Time

On Thursday was Ascension Day, and one advantage (and disadvantage) about holidays like that is your having to fill them with content yourself. Me, I went for a little stroll in the neighbourhood. The weather was mild and sunny, the air was filled with an exhilarating fragrance of bird cherries and lilacs, and before I knew it, I was walking by the city river.

Some summers ago I made the river area from my part of town down to the city centre my favourite promenade. A green, peaceful and forgotten oasis in the middle of the city. On Thursday, however, I realized that the area northwards has also a lot to offer. First I reached an area known for its postmodern mix (anyone who still remembers postmodernism?) of old mills and ultramodern buildings. Originally, I wasn't planning to walk any further, but my curiosity made me explore what there was to find in the upper course of the river...

The surroundings got less and less urban, and more and more forest-like. Gravel road took over for tarmac, and the sweet spring fragrance of bird cherries and lilacs was replaced by the slightly rammer odour of thickets, nettles and dandelions. I saw an angler wading in the river. I saw a woman walking her pig. And the stupefying scent of bird cherries was everywhere.

After a while it started to cloud over, and even to drizzle, but I don't mind a little spring shower. On the contrary, I often find this more refreshing than the clearest sky. In the end, however, it started pouring, thundering and even hailing! Then it wasn't that fun anymore. At that time, however, I had reached a bus terminus and could easily get a ride back to my house. Cold and soaking wet, but in very high spirits. And after having returned home, torn off my clothes, had a hot shower and enjoyed Supaporn's fantastic foot massage, I agreed that it had been a great walk.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Moscow Process (EuroSong 2009)

Ok, now it's just about to start. I'm of course talking about this year's EuroSong final. Being a straight postpunker I guess neither my tendency nor my taste ought to indicate an interest in this circus. But it is kind of fun. According to tradition I'll try to comment on the various acts during the night. So, open the champagne and bring forth the caviar! Here we go!

1. Lithuania: Sasha Son: Love
Soulful ballad performed by a man with a hat. Not my favourite genre, but this does the trick for me.

2. Israel:
Noa & Mira Awad: There Must Be Another Way
A duet between an Israeli and a Palestinian, performed in both Hebrew and Arabic. This could easily get sickeningly PC, but this actually moves me. A beautiful song in nice harmony between the two singers. Hopefully, their message get through, rather than the politics of the pricks in power in their home country.

3. France: Patricia Kaas: Et S'il Fallait Le Faire
Very French, and no doubt fantastic for those with a fetish for French chanteuses in general and la Piaf in particular. I'm not among these, but I realize that this is considered to be good.

4. Sweden: Malena Ernman: La Voix
Carmen goes night clubbing. Coloratura and plastic disco in imperfect union.

5. Croatia: Igor Cukrov feat. Andrea: Lijepa Tena
Heavy Balkan ballad of the kind that many EuroSong enthusiasts love. Me, I'm hiding a yawn.

6.
Portugal: Flor-de-lis: Todas As Ruas Do Amor
Poor Portugal have participated in the ESC almost from the start and never won. There's a reason for that. But this year's song is one of their best ones ever. A simple little gem with swaying rhythms, performed with accordeon, ukulele and congas, that goes straight to my heart. Obrigado, Portugal!

7. Iceland: Johanna: Is It True?
The beautiful ice princess Johanna sings a languorous ballad. Once again: It usually takes a lot for this genre to catch my interest. But when the melody is catchy, I'm not at all unreceptive. And cello accompaniment always touches a cord within my melancholy heart.

8. Greece
: Sakis Rouvas: This Is Our Night
An ageing, self-absorbed beach bum doing various "sexy" moves. Oh dear, I can feel my supper coming up again!

9. Armenia:
Inga & Anush: Jan Jan
Oriental rhythms and tones from the world's oldest country. Catchy and different for a Norseman. One of my favourites.

10. Russia
: Anastasia Prikhodko: Mamo
A rather eccentric and hoarse woman singing dramatically and empathatically about "mama". A bold and fascinating contribution, although the primal screams may get a bit out of hand towards the end.

11. Azerbaijan:
AySel & Arash: Always
More Caucasian soda with a hint of ethnic tones. Disco pop with bouzouki-esque sounds. I particularly like the instrumental bridge midway through the song.

12. Bosnia & Herzegovina:
Regina: Bistra Voda
Evocative tune characterized by subdued military drums and artists dressed in uniforms from the 19th Century. Not a bad song, this either. (What's going on? Where are all those pathetic contributions you could slaughter with sarcasms?)

13. Moldova:
Nelly Ciobanu: Hora Din Moldova
Definitely this year's most folkloric act. Balkan trumpets and lively dance acrobatics. I'm sorry, but I actually think this song and maybe especially the dancing are just really cool! Yet another favourite.

14. Malta:
Chiara: What If We
The fat lady sings. Does anyone remember those electronic home organs that could mimic the sound of real instruments, like "pan flute (with air)". This woman sounds like what you would hear if you pressed the "human voice" button. Wiseacres may praise the song and the voice as much as they want. Me, I don't like this at all!

15. Estonia:
Urban Symphony: Rändajad
A mystic wood nymph with a Magica de Spell wig singing a suggestive song with a taste of the Ugrian woods. This is good, too.

16. Denmark: Brinck: Believe Again
Static and tardy Ronan Keating pop.

17. Germany:
Alex Swings Oscar Sings!: Miss Kiss Kiss Bang
This year Germany focuses on swing, Heidis with legs up to their chin, and their national speciality: pervy outfits.

18. Turkey:
Hadise: Düm Tek Tek
Feverish harem fantasies, as usual.

19. Albania:
Kejsi Tola: Carry Me In Your Dreams
Young Kejsi has a good and strong voice. The song isn't too bad, either. But the stage show freaks me out: a creepy creature in an emerald suit and two pantomime dwarfs.

20. Norway:
Alexander Rybak: Fairytale
A big grin, never failing eye contact and abrupt moves. Maybe I'm a cynic, but I'm not sure if his "natural charisma" is all that natural. On the other hand, in EuroSong, what is? Anyway, it's a nice tune and an even better stage show. Something tells me we won't end up with nil points this time.

21. Ukraine: Svetlana Loboda: Be my Valentine! (Anti-crisis Girl)
Hey, look! There's porn on the telly! Expensive and "sexy" show. It's this sort of stuff that tends to win the EuroSong. Sadly.

22. Romania: Elena: The Balkan Girls
The fact that this song survived the semifinals must be due to some mistake. A "party song" with no party factor and not much of a song, either. Besides, I don't like the look of the "sexy" dancing girls.

23. UK: Jade Ewen: It's My Time
For years the EuroSong free passengers UK have contributed with pointless crap. Quite disrespectful, really. This year, however, they've finally come up with a decent song. It would probably have worked well 3/4 into any musical - the great turning point: NOW I'LL SHOW THEM! But in the EuroSong context it all gets rather high-strung and pretentious.

24. Finland: Waldo's People: Lose Control
90s Euro-techno. Time for a revival already? I don't think so.

25. Spain: Soraya: La Noche Es Para Mí (The Night Is For Me)
There are those eastern tones again. This time from one of Europe's westernmost countries. Fortunately, the Spaniards dropped the Macarena this time. But this still isn't quite my kettle of fish.

12.13 AM: It's all settled. Norway has won! How nice. A good way to start our National Day. And it's also nice to see that favourites like Iceland and Estonia also did well.


Thursday, 14 May 2009

Happy Campers

The other day my school arranged an all-day walk for all the Norwegian classes. I was in all modesty one of the responsible in the "walk committee", and we'd concluded that a walk around the local Østensjø lake might be an interesting solution. The area is known for its fertile bird and animal life, and it's within walking distance from our school.

It seems our arrangement was rather successful. The students got the chance to see ducks, swans, geese and coots as well as coltsfoot, marigold and wood anemones. Hopefully this encounter with the flora and fauna of the locality made our students more aware of what the surrounding area has to offer.

Afterwards it was nice to get home and get some foot massage from my dear Supaporn (i.e. my electronic footbath, in case anyone wonders...).

Friday, 1 May 2009

Walking On May Day

Comrades! Congratulations on Workers' Day!
(or "the working day", as my students tend to call it...)

I must admit I've neither participated in any May Day parade nor listened to fiery speeches on the Workers' Square. But I haven't been demonstratively raking leaves in the garden, either. I don't have a garden, anyway.

Instead I've spent the day on a long, relaxing walk through the city's charming residential areas. For the first time this year I got the chance to air my sandals and shorts. Spring really came to Oslo today. A proof of God's being a socialist?

During my stroll I could also sense a half-forgotten scent I've hardly felt since gran's garden circa 1975. A "green" and "try" fragrance of flagstones warmed by the sun... (Synesthesia is a lovely thing!)