Barrelled Thoughts #62 – Rainy City Sojourn

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The pattering of rain is a constant in Taipei, which in this time of year is plunged into a rare cool by intermittent cold fronts and northwesters. Raindrops striking the walls and windows of our small rental in Zhongshan District like a chorus of weather emit varying pitches as they fall from different heights, some echoing as they land on awnings before casually gliding off.

Treading carefully past quickly formed and near-invisible puddles on the busy streets, one instantly recognises the sights and smells of this rainy city, the Taiwanese capital, ruled by its made-up and dressed-up city folk.

Having not written anything for this blog in more than a year, I suppose I have our rowdy neighbours to thank for spurring me into action. Lying awake in bed at 4:40am, only imagining how we’re going to complain to the pair next door, the urge to write something suddenly hit me—not enough to make me get out of bed and start typing, mind.

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Barrelled Thoughts #61 – New Year, Old Musings

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Kings of Convenience – my life’s musical staple ever since I was introduced to them in 2011 – accompanied me through the Eurasian Steppe as I blazed once more between Hungary and Croatia, following the same route I took a little more than eight months ago. In winter, vast fields once home to sunflowers are now adorned with pure white sheaths of snow, above which thick smog also flows.

We’ve chosen Zagreb as a sojourn, just four weeks long, before our long-anticipating return to the tiny island nation of Taiwan. Croatia’s capital boasts what has been called one of Europe’s most enjoyable Christmas markets, but it’s the country’s national park, Plitvice, that lingers in the back of one’s mind.

Having seen the best of what the 16 lakes has to offer earlier this year in spring, we expect a very different view this time around – and a very different challenge. Temperatures will drop to below freezing and we’ll be expected, one imagines, to traverse the winding glacial park on foot, through snow, and in the face of chilly winds.

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Barrelled Thoughts #60 – Pastures New

Saturday, August 13, 2016

It’s been more than a year since I last heard the hypnotic calls of a million cicadas in the summertime; in fact, besides the years I spent in Taiwan, I hadn’t heard them anywhere else—not in South Africa, not in Russia, not in Hungary—until I arrived in Athens.

Despite the collective hum created by these noisy insects, a summer without them would be inconceivable and indeed would spell disaster for any resident of the island first dubbed Formosa by the Portuguese in 1542.

Camouflaged against the dark hues of trunks and shaded by leaves on branches, cicadas are nothing short of iconic for us, conjuring memories of scorching Julys when pupils gathered in stuffy classrooms across the nation to sit for their university entrance exams. A little over six years ago I was no different, shuffling into a classroom with about 30 others and pretending like the 35° Celsius morning temperature didn’t faze me, when in reality it did.

In the dead silence of the classroom, we were accompanied by the loud mechanical buzz of ceiling fans and by the occasional turning of pages—another pupil racing through the test paper just to make you that little bit more anxious and force you to check the watch on your wrist, which is just about the only personal item you’re allowed to carry besides your minimal stationery. And then there were the cicadas, blaring their short-lived mating calls like they’d done, and will continue to do, for millennia.

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Barrelled Thoughts #59 – Bye-Bye, Budapest

Thursday, April 14, 2016

I came to Budapest 10 months ago with few suppositions and even fewer ideas of what I was to expect from this mysterious, landlocked nation. If were honest with myself, I’d quickly admit that I wasn’t able to point out the former capital of Austria-Hungary on the map; if I could be any more truthful than that, I’d also say that, until June last year, I wasn’t able to tell Budapest and Bucharest apart.

When I leave this magical city a few days from now, I will have spent all four seasons in a country for the first time outside of South Africa and Taiwan. The only other time I have spent more than a handful of months in a country was between the years 2013 and 2014, while studied in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, for about seven months.

It’s an interesting thought, to call somewhere “home” for a year, while my status is neither a student nor a local citizen. A “nomad”, or more precisely a “digital nomad”, is what they call themselves. Do I fall under this category? Probably. Someone who works online and lives in a foreign country—it is, apparently, that simple.

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Barrelled Thoughts #58 – A Different Kind of Autumn

Friday, September 11, 2015

I am lucky enough to have experienced autumn on three continents (sort of), and I must say, Europe is by far the coldest.

Autumn in Johannesburg, which, by the way, is from March to May, I remember by its skin-cracking dryness, despite not being all that cold. That said, had the events of the Bible taken place in the Southern Hemisphere, we wouldn’t have had Easter, because Jesus would’ve just stayed in that cave to stay warm.

Taipei, on the other hand, pierced by the Tropic of Cancer and with its hot-headed island temperament, retrains its moderate temperatures and overwhelming humidity. And let’s not forget about the rain.

Budapest is between the two. And it’s cold. When I was in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, in the autumn of 2013, the season, like here in the Hungarian capital, suddenly pounced on us—there were no warning signs. It just happened. One minutes I was sitting in class, the next minute snow started falling outside the window.

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Barrelled Thoughts #57 – Sunday Someday

Sunday, August 2, 2014

I take part in a staring contest with a white and brown Maine Coon who might as well be the shopkeeper and face of the endearing Cat Cafe—one of two coffeehouses in Budapest dedicated to the feline companions loved by so many.

The cafe is home to four cats to whose breeds I am oblivious. As a dog person I get points just for knowing a Maine Coon, but I can see why people like cats—sort of. I mean, what’s not to like about a pet who (sometimes) responds to you with affection, while happily ignoring everyone else in the room?

The Cat Cafe reminds me of a cafe near where I lived in Taipei. It was also a modest establishment that looked like it would never fill up. But that’s the point of a ‘cafe city’—there are always enough coffeehouses to provide everyone with their own private corner.

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Barrelled Thoughts #56 – Buda By Day; Pest By Night

Saturday, July 11, 2015

It took me more than a month to experience for the first time Budapest nightlife. I mean not bars, clubs, and kebab joints—although those, too, are aplenty—but rather strolling the city after sundown, after the darkness descends upon the ever sunny Budapest.

Certainly I’d been out in the city after dinnertime? Why, of course. But with sunset closer to midnight than dinnertime, I often find myself heading home at around 9:00 p.m. to rest in order to begin the next day with the same zest.

To stroll a city late at night, I believe, is what weekends are for.

For the first time since my feet touched the sacred land of the Magyars, I was out and about bustling Pest—east of the river Danube—ignoring bar after bar as I arrowed towards the waterfront.

At a night-time glance, Buda and Pest are to one another a contrast of what defines city and suburb. On one side you have Buda, which at night is inky, still, and calm; its only illumination the impressive Buda Castle and the majestic Matthias Church beside it.

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