trekking in Tibetan Sichuan

One of the things we did this summer was join our friends Connie, Ignas and their daughter Josien, whom we know from our shared days in Cambodia, on guided treks around mount Zhakra and across the Laghang grasslands. Our base was the still unfinished ecolodge  of Angela and her husband Djarga (near Tagong). They organized the treks for us and made us part of their household for the days we spent with them. Josien’s very distinctive visual perspective on this utterly fascinating region is worth sharing.

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some pedestrian thoughts instead of a 2015 trail running review

For two years in a row I reviewed my armchair trail running impressions (see here and here). Haven’t got much to add. Most trends have deepened (more business, more attention to FKTs and its variations, more extreme events, many more races) rather than much new emerging. So I didn’t bother for 2015.

Also the visuals are also mostly more of the same, so let’s go with this German band the name of which celebrates the subject of one of the trends that haven’t caught on, maybe never were, who is to say, all this trend watching business is as much goat entrails/rorschach blots/coffee grounds/man-in-the-moon illusion as anything else, anyways (if you can find three examples of something you can call it a trend– quote about journalists from a stand-up comedian I really like, Steward Lee).

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booming Shanghai

The China blog of the Asia Society just published a piece on the Dramatic Urbanization in China Over Decades. This is a partial reblog.

Twenty-six years ago, only 26 percent of the Chinese population lived in urban areas. Since then, China’s urbanization rate has risen to almost 56 percent, meaning hundreds of millions of people have packed themselves into the country’s 662 cities. As Jamil Anderlini at the Financial Times notes, this is actually thelargest migration of any kind of mammal in history. While these huge numbers convey the scope of China’s transformation, it’s hard to actually imagine what the movement of millions of people looks like. Struck by this idea, Dheera Venkatraman recently traveled across China, putting together a photo series called “Time Traveling in China.”

Most will have seen pictures showing the changing skyline of Pudong:

26972586975_79053b1cc9_z

Pudong, Shanghai, approximately 1920 source: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7266/26972586975_79053b1cc9_z.jpg

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the best democracy money can buy

a disturbing (but strangely niche) read for anyone interested in what we settle for when accepting that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Haven’t come across much that added anything to this eye-opener that entered my smorgasboard of influences maybe a decade ago. This documentary does.

Its Stanford prison experiment feel makes it painful to watch. What it tells you about democracy even more so. Haven’t seen many stories with so many layers of meaning.

By way of introduction it deserves either a long and thorough analytic expose or silence. Silence seems better, because something visual that leaves me so  speechless can not be embellished by, should not be tarnished with, whatever my petty mind may come up with if I would make the effort.

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visualizing inequality

One of my resources to keep in touch with development debates is Oxfam GB Duncan Green’s From Poverty to Power blog. Apart from his own interesting posts and guest contributions he regularly publishes a Links I Liked post that always contains click-worthy stuff. His latest contained three visualizations that  really did it for me, but at the same time brought a discussion about Wild Ass Guesses (“unreliable guesstimates  and made-up statistics in the public debates on corruption”) on the Global Anticorruption Blog to mind. Visualization is certainly a fancy of mine so here we go.

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street art with a great story

As long back as I can remember, reading about art has been a slightly upsetting experience, one that I therefore not seek out much. Especially explanations of visual art. Their usually arcane character leave me with a sense of inadequacy and stupidity. I’m sure education would help overcome some of this but why bother? It doesn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying art. I love to wander through museums and galleries and let the work do the talking. Sometimes all is quiet, sometimes one or more pieces totally engross me.

Occasionally I come across an explanation that captures my mind. An explanation that makes me look at its subject with close attention. Even if the work itself doesn’t do it for me, I can still appreciate what the artist or the curator, whoever formulated the blurb, intends to share.

Only very occasionally text and visual are so enmeshed that they enhance each other.

I quote the website of the (street) artist, French-Tunisian eL Seed, on this project:

In my new project ‘Perception’ I am questioning the level of judgment and misconception society can unconsciously have upon a community based on their differences.

In the neighborhood of Manshiyat Nasr in Cairo, the Coptic community of Zaraeeb collects the trash of the city for decades and developed the most efficient and highly profitable recycling system on a global level. Still, the place is perceived as dirty, marginalized and segregated.

To bring light on this community, with my team and the help of the local community, I created an anamorphic piece that covers almost 50 buildings only visible from a certain point of the Moqattam Mountain.

The piece of art uses the words of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, a Coptic Bishop from the 3rd century, that said: ‘Anyone who wants to see the sunlight clearly needs to wipe his eye first.’

The utterly simple and adequate explanation from Anne Quito’s article on Quartz about this incredible 50-building-wide street art honors Cairo’s trash pickers, really hit home and enhanced my appreciation of the art: The design illustrates the project’s message about shifting points of view.

For more of this guy, visit his website, go to this older piece by Anne Quito, or check out youtube, quite some short videos about him and his projects. Click! It is really worth it!

 

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everest and ego

Nepal 1978, was my first ever time in real mountainscape, other then crossing an occasional pass in the Alps with my parents on our yearly summer pilgrimage to Italian beaches. Saw Everest from Gokyo peak, and very nearly got myself disappeared when crossing the Cho La.  No experience, no gear, no clue. Humbled and deeply affected, returning to Namche, I passed Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler,  sunburned and blistered, descending from their historic first Everest-without-oxygen. I don’t remember how I knew it was them, or how I knew about their climb. But the celebrity-effect of that encounter has been undeniable, ever since. Mention Everest and this absurd sense of entitlement pops up. Entitlement to what is very unclear. Entitlement to it being part of my personal narrative? My previous post was about similar tendencies to claim credit for what is not yours. We’re all posers, imposters, and fabulists.

This film was shot by Leo Dickinson and only very recently uploaded to youtube. It’s the traditional heroic tale of those out to conquer. But for anyone following Himalayan climbing, and especially the Everest dramas, it is instructive to see how very different the scene was three decades ago.

I mention Dickinson because he is another strand in my vacuous claim to this mountain. In 1991, during my stint as trekking agency manager, my company did the logistics for Leo’s second attempt to balloon over Everest. That movie also made it to youtube recently and for me is an icon of another era of heroic adventure. 1978 was a final chapter of more traditional mountaineering, the ballooning was part of a scene of sponsored adventures to be the first to do whatever wild undertaking (the current mainstream is commercial expeditions guiding paying clients up summits – but that may already be morphing into some new form, I’m out of touch).

Obviously the mainstream is not all, and plenty of very different exploits are happening. My intention is not to  armchair criticize mountain tourism. It is to share my embarrassment at these silly attachments, an embarrassment which in itself is silly, because the ego at the centre of it all cannot help it. The attachment needs indeed to be seen for what it is. And not legitimate any foolish behaviour out there. But embarassment about it changes nothing. It just blocks enjoyment of the show. And the show is all there is, however fictious it may be.

I left Nepal with the feeling that these heroic tales were only very partial stories of what was actually going on. My previous post tells you a bit about that. But that doesn’t preclude in any way a sense of entitlement to both of these archetypical tellings, the mountain at their centre, and anything else in there that my mind-body remembers. The popular uprising in 1990 toppling autocratic Nepalese monarchy? Yes, mine.

Which brings me to a contemporaneous example: Lloyd Belcher‘s documentary about Mira Rai has just been released. Check it out!

To wipe away the embarrassment, I have to close with something that I really have no claim to at all, may you enjoy it too:

 

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memes or bodies?

Some will not even get to this first sentence because they think memes are a crock of shit.  I disagree but would argue that one needs both to make something happen. An either or question is the wrong perspective. But that doesn’t imply lack of preference, such indeed is the cognitive make-up of us all, other than the Phineas Gage‘s and Ramana Maharshi‘s. And memes hold most of the floor space in my room of understanding. We individual specimens of the wise species are but conduits for the vast majority of what clouds our consciousness. Active ones, certainly, playing with the marbles, we make plenty connections, mostly silly,  sometimes amazing, some tinkering here,  some bricolage there, an endless chatterbox of horror, discovery, fun, and nonsense. But foremost conduits, not wells of creation. Given that predilection, our need for personal attribution is weird. That’s the portent of the title. I am the first to admit that seeing bodies feels much better than seeing memes. But truth is much more at the memes side. Sure, you still don’t know what I’m talking about, now how’s that for ignoring any writing advice ever given? But you made it this far, so have probably nothing better to do.

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reblogging kinky coffee

Renato Bialetti, the Italian businessman who turned an aluminum coffee pot into a classic global design, died last week at the age of 93. In accordance with his and his family’s wishes, his ashes were interred in an urn shaped like a large version of a Moka pot, the stovetop coffee maker he introduced to the world…

Bialetti didn’t invent the Moka. He just made it famous. A man namedLuigi di Ponti designed the appliance in 1933 and sold the patent to Renato’s father Alfonso Bialetti, an aluminum vendor. It works like this (via Alborzagros):

Moka_Animation

Sales lagged under the elder Bialetti, but Renato had bigger, coffee-scented dreams when he took over the business in the 1940s. He spearheaded a massive marketing campaign across Italy for the pots, which were branded with a charmingly mustachioed caricature—based either on himself or his father, depending on the legend you read.L’omino con i baffi, the little man with a mustache, remains a widely-recognized symbol in Italy today.
 

An estimated 330 million Moka pots have since been sold around the world. Bialetti’s Moka-shaped urn now lies in the family plot in Omegna, Italy.

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tourism as an indicator of tragedy

The Kathmandu post recently published a short article on the dramatic downfall of tourism arrivals in Nepal.

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the science business

It may very well be confirmation bias, which would be telling, a strange loop or bootstrapping kinda phenomenon rather than some real change out there, but the science business hanky panky finally seems to be getting more attention in mainstream media. It’s been a fancy of mine for quite a while. Until recently my impression was that this particular example of my general meta-obsession was largely ignored by science popularizers and journalists. But retractions, replicability, p-hacking, open data and other, what always felt like arcane, subjects, make it into the broader public domain.  Until recently I used to file it all under publication bias, but that is a synecdochic label. The trouble is widespread, way beyond publication bias.

This post serves to document my intention to spend some more time on this fancy and try to bring its various strands together into one picture.

By way of intro, I share a short video with one of the researchers who managed to get broad coverage for her particular strand:

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running movies

One of the trends in the trailrunning scene (to keep up a tradition I should do a 2015 piece but have too much on my plate at the moment) is the abundance of (short) videos being released. Even just a couple of years ago, it wasn’t difficult to keep track of what became available, but that has dramatically changed.

As with much in life, quantity comes with repetition of a couple of standard formats. But even an aficionado like myself can only stomach so many beautiful landscapes, listen to so many similar narratives, and the tendency to watch declines rapidly.

So let me share a couple that did get to me. You may notice that many would not label them ‘running movies’ but for me they are. Very much so. Enjoy.

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razor sharp

The day he turns 87 is as good as any other to share some recent words of a sharp mind. I think his views are sometimes too certain about shit being intentional  and planned, or at least predictable. The world’s too messy, too big, too intricate an orchestra for any planner, be it crook or saint, to conduct. Because we all tend toward conspiracy thinking, our mental machinery is hardwired to do so,  those of us, like him, who actively investigate the dark sides of power, cannot but go overboard sometimes. So I don’t blame him. And that tendency to grant power too much, well, power, doesn’t diminish the awe I feel when listening to this granddaddy of the critical intellectual class.

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running the blocks of my neighborhood

The scale of Shanghai is both immense and very manageable. It is very hip to these days to explore one’s immediate neighborhood, walking the block, as Alexandra Horowitz does so eloquently in On Looking.


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biggest Shanghai redevelopment zone I’ve come across so far

When I went out yesterday for an exploratory walk (air quality to bad for a long run) I had expected the last bit of it, on the Pudong side, to be the most boring. I was curious about the ferry – as crossing the Huangpu, wherever one does it , makes for an interesting experience, so that was the reason to cross, but from there…

click on image to go to everytrail where you can zoom in/ot. Make sure to use satellite view without labels for the correct placement of the track on the imagery. Chinese government censorship ensures tracks are approx 250 meters off-mark when using google maps

click on image to go to everytrail where you can zoom in/ot. Make sure to use satellite view without labels for the correct placement of the track on the imagery. Chinese government censorship ensures tracks are approx 250 meters off-mark when using google maps

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cityscape esthetics

I’ve rambled quite a lot about urban environments as natural habitats, ecosystems, cityscapes, and on it goes, but high-fly verbiage is a poor tool for helping anyone see. Australian photographer Ben Thomas, of Tiny Tokyo fame, has much better tools:

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city of art

Looking for a destination for my recovery run on the only day this week that is predicted to be dry I decided upon the Power Station of Art. Had seen the building several times already and ran past it during last Sunday’s marathon, but never entered.

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coloured cities, city colours, and the wonders of rain

One of the biggest joys of having time on my hand is the opportunity to wander through cyberspace as if it were a book store or a library, on the look out for finds. When work is calling I (have to) downsize time spend on this, but so far, the way I have organized access to the cyberspace seems to work for me.  Time: I scan all, no time, I have no trouble picking out the essentials. Here I want to share some art finds,  all about colour, as different as they come, and still to me intimately connected through their cityscape focus.

The first shows what a bit a colour can do to a Mexican slum:

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the rock star of data nerds

Didn’t know Hans Rosling, whom I greatly admire, had acquired rock star status but according to the data nerds organizing this ODI event he has. Although I do not share all of his opinions, I find it very difficult to watch his performances critically, they’re just such shows of wit, unexpected but very down-to-earth perspectives, and persuasive skill.

No one but a Rosling fan, or a too-much-time-to-kill loafer like me would ever watch a 1.5 hour lecture video, so I know it’s ridiculous to post it, but just in case anyone out there is silly enough, that alone will make it worthwhile. Don’t skip the introduction because the ODI staff remarks about data quality are important, crucially important, to imbibe. And if you’re at it anyway, follow it up with the Q&A follow up to the lecture, which has interesting views on the aging of world population and on inequality.

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Shanghai marathon, age-grading and minimal shoes

Ran the Shanghai marathon today.

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Shanghai Dutch town

As a Dutch expat in Shanghai I can be expected to write about Dutch town, part of the one city, nine towns project. However, although I had read about the project and intended to visit a couple of them,  I wasn’t aware of a Dutch town among them and happened across it purely by chance.

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Running Shanghai: a great route through old industrial neighborhoods, upper middle class residential areas and the financial district

By now, I have logged quite a few Shanghai routes on my everytrail page. So its time to start sharing a couple more ( for others: check out this category tag) on my blog. Specifically routes that substantiate in various ways my claim that this city is eminently runnable, and great to explore running.

This half marathon length route, starting in ‘green city’ (Pudong, Jinqiao), the upmarket residential area that I live, takes a faster and more diverse route to the great Huangpu river than the big Pudong circuit that I posted earlier, and more of the fascinating old industrial neighborhoods at the Puxi side (Yangpu).

click on the image to link to the everytrail site where this track is posted for zoom in/out possibilities. Make sure to use satellite view without labels (see upper right hand corner ). Chinese government censorship displaces GPS tracks approx. 250 meters when projected onto maps.

click on the image to link to the everytrail site where this track is posted for zoom in/out possibilities. Make sure to use satellite view without labels (see upper right hand corner ). Chinese government censorship displaces GPS tracks approx. 250 meters when projected onto maps.

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Going for green and off-pavement running in Shanghai’s Pudong district

Finding green spaces and non-paved surfaces in Shanghai is a challenge. I live across the river (Pudong, East of the Pu river) from the old city (Puxi ,West…) and even there, in what was fields among villages only a bit more than two decades ago, one needs to explore to find optimal routes.

click on the image to link to the everytrail site where this track is posted for zoom in/out possibilities. Make sure to use satellite view without labels (see upper right hand corner ). Chinese government censorship displaces GPS tracks approx. 250 meters when projected onto maps.

click on the image to link to the everytrail site where this track is posted for zoom in/out possibilities. Make sure to use satellite view without labels (see upper right hand corner ). Chinese government censorship displaces GPS tracks approx. 250 meters when projected onto maps.

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biggest Shanghai circuit so far

Went out to see how long a long city run/walk can be. Left the house at 9AM and returned by 6PM. I think I got the distance just about right, but have to conclude that an even earlier start would help because it would make for more time to walk, more time for short stops for pics or to have a quick look at something special. It is amazing to see how small the slice of the city is that this approx. 64k route takes in. There are many worthwhile things not included. But this circuit does have enough of everything to give you a good feel for what Shanghai has to offer. It includes as many parks on the way as possible (if one counts the Huangpu river quai as parks, 17 in total and I didn’t even enter Century park), lots and lots of residential compounds and Shikumen neighborhoods, street markets, the main shopping streets of central Puxi and the skyscrapers of Lujiazhui financial district, Platane-lined French Concession streets, and narrow alleys of (old) Chinese Shanghai, several ferry crossings, plenty of iconic architectural highlights and many other delights .

Click on the image to go to the everytrail site to which I uploaded the GPS track. There one can zoom in at liberty and see much more detail. But use the satellite view and disable labels (map) because Chinese authorities misplace the track on the map by about 250m.

Click on the image to go to the everytrail site to which I uploaded the GPS track. There one can zoom in at liberty and see much more detail. But use the satellite view and disable labels (map) because Chinese authorities misplace the track on the map by about 250m.

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ever heard of Saad Lamjarred?

I hadn’t. And I probably never would have were it not for staying somewhat in touch with MENA news since leaving Cairo. It’s a weird ambition, trying to ‘stay in touch’. But I find that scanning newspaper headlines, staying subscribed to some newsletters from organizations that struck me as interesting when I came across them living somewhere, and/or staying in touch with friends still in situ, is a great and easy way to remain aware of the very small slice of reality that dominates the media landscape of any particular locale. Not that I have illusions that reading Dutch, Chinese, Nepalese newspapers and otherwise staying in touch with Egypt/MENA, Cambodia and India is a real antidote. It’s just a constant reminder of how little I know about what goes on anywhere, and how distorted impressions must be that I have. If I have any at all that is because large parts of the globe are just an impenetrable blur to me. All that I know and pursue is purely driven by my personal history, and the urge to keep the joy I experienced in these places alive by exposing myself to sounds, images, and remember smells and tastes. Pretensions to knowledge on that basis would be absurd.

Anyways, this morning Your Middle East‘s newsletter introduced Moroccan popstar Saad Lamjarred.  He managed 31 million youtube views in one month, tops the regional charts and is reported to have an impressive social media following. Enjoy:

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