Materialism

It is slightly awkward and entirely satirical that I find myself writing about this topic. Over the years, I’ve read many articles that talk about over indulged developed countries juxtaposed with developing countries that struggle to feed their population. At some point in time, I have come to peace with myself that as long as I’m not spending beyond my means then it would be okay.

Last week, I battled with my own materialism, in a very real physical way. I was tasked with packing our condo for a temporary move back to my parents. We lived in a 570 sq. ft. condo, and I was of the belief that we did not own that much “stuff”. But when I began packing, I realized that “not that much” was a lot!

Here is a photo for those that want to see the progress. (Not even at the half way point yet) Untitled The realization was much more epic as I packed boxes after boxes, and somewhere along the way, I threw out my back. When we finished packing and we had approximately 35 boxes. The complete breakdown is as follows:

    • 3 boxes of shoes;
    • 3 boxes of alcohol;
    • 15 boxes of clothes;
    • 6 boxes of books; and
    • 8 boxes of kitchen/ pantry items

I’m not sure when and how all this accumulated, but the visualization of this was a bit of a shock for me. Half the boxes were food related and the other half clothes, which I think is quite befitting of our life style. And this is the after photo of me being lost in all our stuff. Untitled After packing everything away, I packed a backpack of items that I treasure which includes:

  • My Gohonzon
  • 3 irreplaceable collectors items that I will save for another time to disclose
  • Laptop & Cell phone
  • Wallet

As I looked at the empty condo, with my backpack on, I felt light. I felt like all I ever need is in this backpack so why do I have so much stuff to begin with? There was an urge at that point in time to head to the airport, see what flights were leaving YYZ, and just take off. Resisting that urge was a test of will and you would not believe how hard it was.

I remember a quote from Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, The Doctrines of Three Thousand Realms:

We see that this fleshly form received in birth from our parents, this body bound by earthly desires, is none other than the Thus Come One who has existed always and is ever-abiding. This is what is called the attainment of Buddhahood in one’s present form, the realization that earthly desires are none other than enlightenment and that the sufferings of birth and death are none other than nirvana.

At this time when we gaze at the phenomenal world, we see that all things conform to the single principle of the Middle Way, and that the Buddha and living beings are one.

This passage reminds us that we are all humans, and because we are humans we have earthly desires.  But, at the same time, it is these desires that propel us forward in life and make us continue to strive for the next best thing. What is important is to not allow these desires to engulf and blind us, while on the other hand to not deprive ourselves of the pleasures of life.

It goes on to explain that, the realization that these earthly desires, as well as birth, aging, sickness and death are all cycles of life. True happiness comes from the principle of Middle Way where we are not swayed by the ups and downs in life, and that we develop strong inner strength and character.

So after 35 boxes, 1 crazy day of moving, and a sprained back I’ve learned to come to peace with my materialism again. I’ve forgiven myself a little, learned that if I were to lose it all one day I should always remember that I already have what I need.

Advertisements

Onward to Beograd

I’ve been intending to continue documenting my travels to the Balkans and Turkey, but life has been busy. In my last post we were at Sofia, Bulgaria, and we were heading to Beograd (Belgrade), Serbia. We took an overnight train that was very old. We managed to get a private coach so that we could catch some shut eyes during the night. There were a few things that I had to prepare myself for the ride. I didn’t drink any water, to avoid having to use the bathroom. Bring food, because food is not offered on the train even though it’s a good 7 hour ride. If you are considering taking the train from Sofia to Beograd, you also have to be aware that at the boarders between Bulgaria and Serbia, the train operators change from Bulgarian to Serbians. At which point, they will come knocking on your door to verify your passport. I was very nervous when the Serbian boarder police took my passport and left with it. I wasn’t sure who he was, and why he needed to walk away with my passport. As I began to panic he returned with my passport.

Arriving at Beograd, we found ourselves on an old train platform. It was half past six, and we were exhausted. There was a weak wifi signal at the station (thankfully), and I was able to map out our airbnb location.

SC0_6117.jpg

I didn’t realize the walk was going to be very long with our heavy backpacks. We walked well over 45 mins on empty stomachs (because we didn’t eat the night before), barely any liquid, and lack of sleep.

SC0_6134.jpg

We made our way as quickly as we could to pick up the keys, and headed over to our apartment. We went through the front gate only to realize that I don’t know which apartment and which floor we are on! I walked up and down the building to no avail. The next best thing to do was try to call the landlady. I didn’t know how to use the pay phones in Serbia, so I walked into a convenient store to borrow a phone. The store owner wanted to charge us $5 USD for the phone call. I shocked that she would take advantage of lost travelers like that, but decided that we should pay her anyways because we were exhausted and there was no other way. The phone number didn’t go through. We were officially homeless.

We sat outside on the streets in front of a hotel, hoping that we could get a wifi connection so we can email the lady and hope that she would email back. We sat there and waited. The city was starting to stir and people were out walking their dogs. For a few people, I’m pretty sure we were their amusement for the day. Two foreign girls looking completely lost, sitting on the street with their backpacks. There were a few moments where I was convinced that we would be homeless for the next few days. Just as I started to panic, she emailed us back. We headed back to the building and finally found our apartment.

The place was a studio room with just a bed, a small kitchenette, a small bathroom with a shower. It was simple, well decorated and clean. We were pleased. At last, a hot shower and some food would be nice. R jumped into the shower and low and behold, the water was freezing. She was soaked in freezing water from head to toe. I emailed the landlady and she said that we had to turn on the heat in the apartment and wait half hour before the water warms up. Unfortunately, it was too late for R. We napped for what seemed like just a little while, and when we woke up it was 1pm already. I was starving. We set out to look for food. Having not eaten for at least 36 hours we were determined to feast. We walked around and realized that we were staying in a very quiet neighborhood, a bit away from city centre. Some nice bakeries and restaurants lined the street.

We decided on a retro looking restaurant called “Ime Restorana”. The decor felt like we were stepping back into an old Serbian home. There was little debate as to what we wanted to have, because we were so hungry we wanted to have everything.

We started with fresh corn bread. It was warm and tasty. The bread was a little dense and a little savoury. Very different from the typical french bread that we get in Toronto.

SC0_6182.jpg

We then had a mushroom with stuffed cheese and some sort of pork ham. It’s almost like bacon, but not as fatty. When we ordered this, we thought that the portions were going to be a lot smaller, and we didn’t realize that it would be served with rice. the mushrooms were essentially baked with the Serbian cheese (which resembles feta cheese in taste and texture). The mushroom was very juicy and the juice was absorbed into the rice. I’m assuming that the mushroom was made on the bed of rice so that the rice would pick up the flavour. The rice was like a balsamic rice. It’s a little harder than what I’m use to which is more along the lines of soft chewy Japanese rice.
SC0_6185.jpg

Next we had a Serbian pie. It was layers of pastry cheese. The pastry layers were crispy on the outside and soft and chewy with the cheese on the inside. Could you tell by now that we’ve over ordered?

SC0_6196.jpg

Next we had a simple tomato sauce pasta. There was a generous splash of olive oil. The tomato sauce was very light, and as you can see there were no bits of tomatoes in the pasta. It was just the tomato juice and olive oil. Very tasty and comforting after a long day.

SC0_6202.jpg

The protein came next. Chicken breast with herbs in a cream sauce. I personally wasn’t a fan of the cream sauce. I though that there was too much sauce on the chicken and the sauce was better served on the side. The cream sauce was savoury with generous amounts of herbs to balance off the creaminess.

SC0_6206.jpg

And did you know that Serbia actually grew it’s own grapes? I was delighted to find out that Serbia made it’s own wine. This wine had a dry finish to it. It had a grapefruit and citrus bouquet. It was pale straw in color with a slight green tinge. What you would expect from the cold climates of Serbia. After I got home, I read a bit more about Serbian wine, and learned that Serbia used to produce a lot more grapes. But during the war, people abandoned the vineyards and went to war. (War is bad, wine is good!) Before the war, in the 1970s Serbia had named 7 main wine regions with further sub region classifications. But now the industry is picking up again. You don’t get Serbian wine in Canada because it’s too expensive to ship. But if you ever get a chance to go to Serbia make sure you try out their wine.

SC0_6179.jpg

So now your probably wondering what the total damage is? Well it cost $3,240 Serbian dinar which is approximately $40 canadian! Isn’t that amazing? For such a delicious meal. The staff members spoke a bit of English and was extremely friendly. A lot of smiles, and came to check on the food. They did their best to explain what each dish was. Overall, a fabulous dining experience!

Rain or shine!

I was a little grumpy about the rain earlier this week. Then I thought about it, and I feel like an ungrateful child. I get to go on this fantastic vacation, I’m getting time off and I let a little rain bother me. I realized that I was just making my own holiday miserable and the rain had nothing to do with it.

So I rain proofed myself and went to face off with the rain. I was determined to learn to enjoy this rainy weather and not let it get to me. I was hopped on my bike and peddled through the rain. As it started to pour, I took cover in front of a bakery.

I stood there watch and watched as the rain fell. I had no where to go, no places to be. Then I began to notice…

The rain washed colours off buildings, and onto the cobblestone.

SC0_2143.jpg

Mom and Dad alike sheltering their children and getting soaked themselves. Couples holding each other closer to stay warm. Everyone rushing to where they need to be.

SC0_2139.jpg

Except for her. She’s learned to laugh and dance in the rain.

SC0_2138.jpg

Good food, great company!

I always feel so lucky when I go somewhere, and I get to meet up with friends. Lucky for me, Heidi lives in CPH! Her and her boyfriend (TB) are so sweet for showing me around. Here is the super fun couple!

SC0_1857.jpg

We went to Dyrehaven for lunch. It’s a cozy restaurant frequented by locals. The place use to be a bar and then it was purchased by someone else and now they serve smorrebrod as their specialty. The place is easy going, relaxing -very Danish.

SC0_1803.jpg

SC0_1801.jpg

SC0_1804.jpg

It was a smorrebrod feast. My first was a fried fish smorrebrod with dill, this creamy mayo-like sauce, and some pickles. The second one was a potato with this creamy sauce and fried onions. Both extremely tasty and very filling.

SC0_1809.jpg

TB ordered a roast beef and a bacon one.

SC0_1808.jpg

Heidi went with a goat cheese salad.

SC0_1806.jpg

They also had a very good selection of beer on tap. Being extremely satisfied, we went for coffee and sat outside to enjoy the nice weather.

photo

Thank you Heidi and TB for being such wonderful hosts.

SC0_1854.jpg

I have a confession to make.

So I have a confession to make. I went to Nyhavn for the shot that every tourist takes when they visit CPH. (Can you blame me? It’s so pretty)  Nyhavn is a 17th century harbor.  It’s the image that every foreigner thinks of when someone mentions CPH.  I went an hour before sunset.  The clouds were beautiful, the sky was a rich blue, and the sun was out.  Nyhavn was lively with locals and tourists alike enjoying the weather.

It was picture perfect.

SC0_1913-2

With a photo like that in the bag, I felt like my trip is complete.  But.. I have a confession to make.  When I got there and started my shoot, I was a little shocked.  Houses were beautiful, people were happy, sun was shining.. the water was dirty.  Actually, the water was SO DIRTY, there were cans, plastic bags, flags…etc floating.  It was gross.

Mind you CPH is a fairly clean city.  No where in CPH have I seen a neighourhood this dirty. (Maybe I didn’t look hard enough)  I consider Nyhavn a city landmark.  It breaks my heart.  I know what it is.  It’s the number of tourists that come here every year, and don’t respect the place.  Leaving trash and junk behind.  But, let’s not blame it all on the tourists.  Locals spend time there as well.

So, I confess that I Photoshopped all the garbage out (above noted photo).  I’m a perfectionist and I just can’t have so much garbage floating around in my photo.

So here you go, for those that love spoilers.  The unedited photo.

SC0_1913

Helsingor

One of the most visited town for tourists visiting CPH because it’s only a 45min train ride away. A return ticket cost around 90DKK x 2 = 180 DKK. However, if you are just making a day trip, Helsingor is within the 5 zones and you can buy a unlimited ride day pass which only cost 130 DKK. (Saves you about $20 CAD)

Train travel in Denmark is very comfortable and convenient. The lovely thing is that the train stations all look very unique. This is the Helsingor Train Station. Looks like a chateau!

SC0_1533.jpg

SC0_1785.jpg

SC0_1763.jpg

Helsingborg is a small city near the port. On clear sunny days, you can see Sweden from Helsingborg. The main attraction here is Krongborg Slot.

SC0_1555.jpg

But the town itself is very old and shouldn’t be missed. You can expect one of those tiny cozy towns with colorful houses dotting narrow cobblestone streets.

SC0_1549.jpg

SC0_1712.jpg

SC0_1701.jpg

SC0_1756.jpg

SC0_1744.jpg

Among the historical buildings, this cathedral stood out. The brick work is very interesting, the patterns are bold. The garden is well kept.

SC0_1682.jpg

SC0_1670.jpg

The jewel of this cathedral is the courtyard. There’s something so captivating about a perfectly squared courtyard with a single tree in the middle. For whatever reason, it felt nostalgic like I’ve seen this before. But among my travels, I don’t recall ever seeing this.

SC0_1688.jpg

I wandered out to the docks. The weather was fantastic before, but the clouds moved in quickly.  Created the perfect sky backdrop for this shot.

SC0_1657.jpg

Selfie: No pole climbing here.

SC0_1647.jpg

Close to the docks you will see an interesting building. It’s a community centre/ public library. You can’t miss it when you go because it is one of the more modern looking structures. I love how Danes really focus on getting light into buildings. It’s dark most of the time in Denmark, so they use larger windows and a lot of glass to maxim light from the sun.

SC0_1548.jpg

Hi, would you mind taking a photo for me please?

One of the woes of traveling alone, is getting a photo for yourself. Normally it’s fine, I prefer to be behind the camera. But, there are moments where I wish someone would hold the camera for me. Today was one of those days. I visited Kronborg Slot today. Having studied Hamlet so intensely in school, it was one of those moments where I really wanted a GOOD photo of me with the castle.

So, I had to pull a touristy: “Hi, would you mind taking a photo for me please?”

I normally don’t like to give my camera to someone else. Handing over my most valued possession to a complete stranger just doesn’t sit well with me. But if I have to, there are 2 broad groups of people I target.

1. Couples
I normally target couples because there would be 2 of them. If they are tourists themselves, than the likelihood of them running away with my camera is lowered.

2. Fellow Camera User (Nikon users preferred)
Then there are those fellow camera users. I usually check what camera they are using. If they are using a half frame, then I normally set it to AP for them. If they are using a full frame, I normally set it on Manual mode with all the settings I already had -assuming that most full frame user uses manual mode. I assume that because they own their own camera and probably wouldn’t need to steal mine.

I also never hand my camera to someone that looks flimsy, high maintenance people who look like they can’t lift and hold steady my 10lb gear.

Anyways, I side tracked a bit, but for a good reason. Today I wanted a photo with Kornborg Slot. The first time, I asked these 2 nice looking middle aged ladies to help me take a photo. She doesn’t look like she’s ever held a DSLR before, but that’s fine. I switched it on live view, and changed all the settings to automatic for her. So I get into the shot, and she’s fiddling with the camera. Then she looked up from the camera and asked me how to adjust the zoom. I had my wide on for her, so she should be able to get the whole castle and me in it. But she wanted to adjust the zoom, so I showed her. And this was the result:

SC0_1565.jpg

This is the picture I took of the castle standing at the same spot as her. I set EVERYTHING up for her, so she can get the WHOLE CASTLE, and not just half of it. Argh. Thanks anyways nice lady.

SC0_1570.jpg

So, disappointed, but not defeated, I walked into the castle and it looked really cool. I was standing around, trying to take selfies. Then I saw target #2. Fellow DSLR user (NIKON = BONUS). He was using at D300s, super high end pro full frame. His wife was there too. I had high hopes. I set the settings properly into manual. I got into the shot. He came forward to frame, got down onto 1 knee for a better shot. All I could think of was: “Wow, fantastic!”. He’s framing, he’s getting it from a lower angle, the towers are going to be in frame too!

And here’s the shot:

SC0_1577.jpg

He framed it, but heck! WHY IS THE TOILET SIGN THERE! IT COVERED THE TOWER!! I was so upset. I didn’t want to ask him to do it again because I felt bad. And this was the shot he could have taken…

SC0_1579.jpg

Anyways, I gave up and did a selfie.

SC0_1618.jpg