Dream Weaver

Dream Weaver

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Something thoughtful about a bike trip.

As said last blog entry was the last one, but blogging about things around is still bugging me :) Instead of sharing what I've learnt or new experiences, I would share some more personal thoughts.

These days I have lots of thoughts going on in my mind, since I started reading a book about life changing stories of different people. It stirred up my hidden feeling. I am asking myself, after going through this study and working abroad, did I change? Am I still the same ME as the cheerful and reckless girl when I left Hong Kong for Germany two years ago?  

I think not. I hope not. After travelling and living this "seasonal life" in three different countries - Germany, Africa and Switzerland, I started to learn I cannot always just count on the thrill of making new friends, trying new things and being adventurous to be the reason to keep me going on my day-to-day life, or to fulfill my inner needs, the deeper meaning of "existing"and of my life

Life is not the same, and it's not easy to go back to the same point. 

Which route to take?

I recall today I made a bike trip to a town 20 km away from Frick. Along the way I saw stunning scenery of late Autumn, the ground was covered with yellowish orange leaves. I took my film camera with me and made pictures of the landscape, trees and picturesque things. It's quite hilly all the way leading to Aarau, and I stopped for many times to take rest and lost my way once when I made a turn in a small village. The route became steeper and steeper and I knew it's not right, but I'm glad I could pick some wild apples one the way (a little treat for making those extra effort:))   

Heading back to the right track, after two hours riding I reached a hiking spot Berkenjork.I recalled my flatmate once told me if you hike up a bit, there is a lookout where you see the panorama of Aarau. So I made a detour, parked my bike and searched for this place called"Wasserflueh" for the stunning view. I walked and felling fine, though I felt a bit awkward as it was the first time to hike alone. After walking passed a winding trail, the road leads to nowhere, except I saw a TV tower up the hill and I knew it's the place I should head to. But, the thing was, THERE IS NO OTHER WAY! So I followed my intuitive logic and decided to climb up to the seemingly small hill as I was already at the foothill seeing the TV tower was not far above me. Again, I lost track and tripped myself over. Without finding the lookout, I headed back. FINE. 

Then I continued my road trip to Aarau and it was downhill all the way. Thrilled by the speedy ride and the beautiful old town of Aarau. I was thinking, RIGHT, I HAVE TO RIDE BACK THE SAME ROUTE, which means doing this painful uphill for at least an hour. I was so exhausted that I couldn't feel my legs anymore. Stupid thoughts started running in my mind, I feel frustrated to ride next to the highway when seeing cars driving 60km/h  passed-by and way ahead of me. I came back to the same village Kuetingen, and I saw there is another leading back to Frick. MAYBE ITS GOOD TO TRY ON A DIFFERENT ROUTE? Maybe it's even harder than the previous once, but at least I will see something different or have a better view. Without taking a second thought I took the new route. I enjoyed the ride so much without making some real painful uphill workouts. And I saw a much better view. I even reached Frick before the supermarket closed and got my weekend shopping done.

A simple story, a normal journey, but I learned something out of it: It's good to take risk and go for something you have not tried before. To step out of the routine and to breakthrough your comfort zone. The risk you take may lead you to something nice like a surprise (as I followed the new route back home). But sometimes it might not be easier (like I searched for the TV tower without any success). It may cost you time, effort and sometimes could be painful. But at least you've tried, that means you give yourself a chance to have a change, because you would never know what will come out next. And it's already a little step for you to reach out something by taking courage! And most of all, you may have new perspectives on doing stuff and find a way out of the routines. 

It's a painful lesson for me (well, physically my butt's still hurting), but I am think it is worth :)

Friday, 18 October 2013

good bye

Friday night, here am I, sitting alone in the dining room eating overcooked spaghetti mixed with leftover salad from today's lunch with a week- overdue cheese . It's my dinner.

Just came back from the wine cellar after spending half a day to harvest grapes, it's almost the second last week of harvesting, and winter is already ringing the bell at the door. Oh no..I hate snow and winter, no bike trips, no mountain trips, no....

sunshine and the country road scene from my office

Good bye? it comes nearly the end of my stay at FiBL. Talking about to stay or leave, it's something really on my mind these days and nights. The chance to stay is no clear yet, I would say 50/50. Another internship at Frick, in Ethiopia or in Kenya or in Ghana? Today I informed my boss before applying for a new internship at FiBL, which runs from next year in January for a year. Surprisingly, my boss told me that she's about to approach me and saying I should give it a try, and they might need me for their Asia projects. I didn't expect she would say such thing. She might want to keep me, but there's no new project for me at the mean time. I also talked with several colleagues, the feedback is - 'you don't lose nothing, just try'. 

Learn to commit, to a job, to a place, to a person, to relationships. To get grounded instead of having adventures all the time.

It's always easy to start with something just because of our curiosity and sense of excitement at the beginning. But to stick with it and work it out till the end is not so easy.

It's absolutely great if I can stay in Switzerland. I truly love being in a familiar surrounding,now, and not necessarily need to meet new friends and make new experiences all the time. I'm content with what I have now. Learning bee-keeping and wine brewery is another thing* It's a gift to know Salvador and Andi, they are the few people here to have real sharing with me and they are like my mate to take me as the way I am. Getting to know Cornelia and Beda the lovely couple was also a gift, though they are leaving for Argentina to start something new soon. Also, some other people who came across my life or for only short encounters - which are enough to make an impact in the rest of my life.

While I'm making plans for my next move, maybe God has already planed something for me? Out of my expectation? 

To pick yourself, not waiting to be picked. To make the first move, and take the chance. 

These are the things that I'am still getting on the way to learn. From day to day, from task to task. 

It's my last blog entry. I am going to blog for http://in.reset.org/ for sustainability topics in the coming time. Simply can't keep pace with writing thesis and 2 blogs at the same time.

where will I leave my foot print?

I really enjoy do this my own blog, to share my own thing. Truly free :)

To be continued...

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Blogging and more blogging

The last two weeks I was in Stuttgart and Bonn for two conferences - the Tropentag in Hohenheim University and the Science Forum in Bonn. With other 11 students, this time I was "hired" as a student reporter to attend the conferences and blog about presentations and to report on what's going on in there.

we are the student reporters - at conference dinner in Bonn Natural Museum

The three-day conference The Tropentag is a more student-oriented event for agriculture researchers to gather once a year in Europe to present their latest findings in different areas such as crop production in different farm systems (e.g. agroforestry), livestock, value chain, climate change, natural resources, pest and diseases and so on. There are parallel activities such as film fest about urban gardening, exhibition and award ceremony during evening.As we blogged almost everyday, the participants and the general public can read about discussions in different sessions without attending the talks. And we also tried to digest the scientific output from the speakers to a simpler language - KISS (Keep It Simple and Stupid!), so that everyone without particular knowledge background can also understand.

Each year the Tropentag has a theme - and this year was Urban-Rural Continuum and rural development. Many case studies focus in regions like East and West Africa and South Asia, which are the most popular research bases for the agricultural academia. Many masters and PhD students presented their work via poster and oral presentations, and I think it's a good chance for young scientists to get advice from the experienced scientists and exchange ideas with people who work in the same topic with you.

While for the Science Forum is quite different, this year's theme is to link agricultural research to health and nutrition outcomes - which is more for experts from the two streams. It was the first time to bring two groups of scientists together, and we see that further communication is needed to bridge these two research areas.

To follow our blog, check the below links:

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

ToT - Tag der Offenen Tür

Last Sunday was the Open Day of FiBL. I am not going to report on the activities of the day or give official figures like how many guests visited, for details you can check here http://www.fibl.org/de/medien/medienarchiv/medienarchiv13/medienmitteilung13/article/tag-der-offenen-tuer-am-fibl-1.html

Let me first started with Saturday the day before the open day, we had another big event for the FiBL colleagues and trainees - the MitarbeiterFest! But the day began with rains, and we were called to help setting up 20 pavilions for stalls in different locations. After working for the morning being soaked and tired, my stomach was compensated with lots of good cheese and bread. In the afternoon we did some shopping for the food stall and got back to the bee house doing some final preparation. The party started sharply at 5pm when the Cuban live music started slowly. Can't imagine the institute all of a sudden turned into a party place. A banquet hall with nicely set up tables and chairs with fine wine glasses on top. Colleagues got crowded around some finger food, FiBL wine and drinks. After some time of chit chat and getting together, we were ready for the food - organic and fresh full course first started with salad, the main course, dessert and unlimited supply of organic wine and beer. Of course, the best part is the dance floor of Cuban music, most of us moved along the music started dancing slowly, and I learned some new steps and moves too.

On the Open day I was running between the international group stall "the world of organic agriculture" and the bee house. At the bee house of course I would have loved to spend most of my time there. We had quite a lot activities such as honey tasting of 3 kinds of organic honey - mountain, flower and forest, the sound of bee - which is a local artist tries to harmonize bee sounds with human vocal. Salvador was giving explanations on organic and bio-dynamic bee keeping  to the visitors. He plans to do an international bee keeping course next year Spring, this course will run for 3-4 months during honey producing season. It would be cool to involve in his projects in FiBL.
Me- searching for my own camera

Salvador was explaining to the visitors - from Asia and Europe

kids looking at a small demonstrated bee frame

the sound of bees
For the international group, they showcased different projects in Africa - the African Organic Agriculture Manuel with some visual exhibition like how to make your own insect trap with recycled materials, a small cinema shows short films about market development projects in Africa and so on. I like the way they decorated the farm house - with African fabric and bundles of dried straws. Outdoor there were stalls for the cocoa projects in Malaysia, Bolivia and Ghana, cotton projects in India and so on. Pictures worth more than words, I will stop here and do more readings before midnight.
small African world in FiBL
Beate was giving out 100% chocolate powder as tasting

Irene our colleague from Kenya was explaining how African farmers practice diversified cropping

Nora and Monika the cocoa and cotton expert
Next month I will be in Germany for a month to attend workshops and conferences... Probably I will update the blog after a month or hopefully earlier!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

~~Viva Con Aqau! - in Freiburg~~

 After 2 days in Bern to meet my thesis mentor and doing some data stuff, I'm glad that I had a "get-away" weekend to Germany -  Freiburg to see my friend Benni and his girl friend Sabrina. It's just 1.5 hours by train from Bern, and I reached already the green city of Freiburg, the student- uni town well-known for its alternative out-spoken activists campaigns and movements. It actually has a nice "Altstadt" the old city and small streams that flow through the streets. It's been almost a year since my last visit to this beautiful town. I made plans to come over Freiburg quite spontaneously, was thinking to just do a bit of sight-seeing and go to the Black Forest. It turned out I did something not that touristic at all and got the chance to learn about a really cool organisation - Viva Con Aqua.

They started in Hamburg, Germany. A "non-traditional NGO", founded by a German soccer player in 2008 and it's like a young people movement in Germany from cities to cities. What they do is to go to events, concerts, sport events like soccer games and parties, to collect "Pfand" (beer-bottles ransom) from the audience and raise money for water projects in Uganda and other developing countries, to help people access to clean-drinking water. My friend Benni was one of the core campaigners in Freiburg. They contact event organisers, clubs and bars, go to the events and collect "Pfand". Sometimes in good events they can raise up to 4000-8000 euros per night, which is pretty cool. People from different background can engage in their activities, they also give educational events and school talks about water conservation projects and global environmental issues. With their large social networking, it's easy to get people involved, like many artists, musicians, and cross-cultural activities. More to check on their website http://www.vivaconagua.co.uk/

Yesterday I was with Benni, Sabrina and a few Viva Con Aqua volunteers in a reggae concert in a suburb cultural club Smitz Katze. We started setting up around 2pm, it was totally hot and maybe the weather was too fine and people preferred to stick around in cafes in the city or do bike trips somewhere else. At the end of the day, we collected around 30 Pfand and raised 30 euros..We broke the record I think, of raising the lowest money?! But it was great to get to know about the NGO, talk to the volunteers and most of all, free entrance to the mid-night reggae concert. After some mid-night dancing moves to the relaxing reggae music and Jamica night, we were already pretty tired and rode the bike back home.
Find out more : http://www.schmitz-katze.com/

On Sunday we hiked to the Black Forest to the Schauinsland forest, where you can take a cable car to the mountain top and see an overview of the Freiburg area and a bit of the Alps. We took a cool Weizen beer in a mountain hut after walking for an hour and I was disparately looking for schwarzwälder kirschtorte (Black forest cake), but ridiculously I couldn't find any in the Black forest, but a nice cafe shop in a nearby valley village Günsterstal.

This weekend was really absolutely a "perfekt" get-away :)

 African Kiss Festival in Freiburg 22-24 November 2013
the 7th year!

Friday, 9 August 2013

So Far, so close…

Where am I situated right now? Friends may wonder where I have been the last 2 months. At the moment when I am writing this passage, I am still in Ningxia China, sitting along lakeside with lots of lotus leaves and a bright sun overhead. So far away from Switzerland, so close to my home – Hong Kong, only with 3 hours flight. In a week time I will be back to the land of mountains and cheese. And most of all, I will say good-bye to Mandarin Chinese and switch back to German mode again.

It is stupid that in China people can’t use Facebook or Google because of censorship and there’s always limitation of information you can get from the national news. It’s definitely true to say China is like a black box, there is always a mysterious side of things. Government officials, companies, communities, a person, people just like to keep things on their own. Unlike Western culture, Chinese don’t work directly and straight forward. We have a saying goes as “A man takes you wandering in a garden” means things don’t work out right away, but take lots of turns.

Let me first briefly say why I am in China. Here is North West China in Ningxia province. You can hardly find people from southern provinces, like Guangdong, or even from Hong Kong. I’m staying in a town called Qingtongxia, 40 km from Gangchengzi village, where I carried out my field work to interview apple growers. I visit their orchards for farm assessments. Until now, I have visited around 20 orchards to find out what had changed in their farm practices after converting to organic farming. Also, to see what are the social, economic and ecological benefits of growing organic apples, and what do they plan for the future. Another thing is to carry out RISE (Response Induced Sustainability Evaluation) for 10 orchards and at the end, to hold a farmer workshop to feedback the results to those farmers.

I am glad that things turned out quite well at the end, although there were some tough times and frustrated moments. Because of the early April hailstorm, apple blossoms were hit and apple trees can bear only little fruits, 60-80% less than the normal yield. Therefore, many farmers were not at home and out of town for side-jobs, as construction workers or work for some nearby vineyards. So it was hard for me to contact farmers for interview or to visit their orchards. Only their wives or grandsons- or daughters stay at home. For a few times I slept over at their homes because it’s already late when I finished the interview at late night. But most of them are very warm welcoming; getting known I am from afar and generally they are helpful all the time. It’s funny to see one farmer has a big mansion with a rose garden next to his apple orchard. I nearly got lost when I was looking for a toilet. Most farmers have a big pasma or LCD TV at home and quite well living standard. I wonder if they earn more than what we earn in Hong Kong, as most of them own beautiful houses.

The highlight of my stay was to hold a farmer workshop to present the topic what is farm sustainability and findings from my RISE assessments. Talking about time keeping, Chinese farmers ain’t like Swiss. We planned the workshop at 7 pm and there were only a few came. I was so worried back then, but people started showing up one by one, slowly, and finally the workshop started at 9:15am. I tried my best to finish it on time. It was the first time for me to present in Chinese. To be frank I speak English better than Chinese, but I am happy that they told me my mandarin Chinese had improved a lot in a month time. My parents also came for visit and support, I’m glad to let them know what my work is actually about and everything in a Chinese farm village was new for them – people from the big city.

The sun is heating really hard right how overhead me, I guess I have to go and hide inside a library. Last few days in Ningxia, I plan to visit a few closer apple growers and farewell with them, travel to south of Ningxia to the “no-man’s land” and gather myself again. My dad mocked me, saying I live like a Gypsy, a nomadic girl, moving from place to place. I also wonder where and when will I find a place to settle down, where I feel like home.  

Friday, 24 May 2013

Fricktal Bees :-)

Still a week to go before I leave Frick for my field work in China – Ningxia – a dry region in south of Inner Mongolia. Work-wise, I am quite prepared for the 30 interviews with the apple growers out there. These days I am sort of on my way to finalize the questionnaires for the farmer survey, some translation works have got done too. But what also takes time is to coordinate with the trading companies and my mentors and supervisor, they spread all over the world! Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, China… Internet and skype really make communication easier in this era of globalization. At the moment, what I worry the most is the language barrier. In Ningxia, Hui is the local dialect that most farmers speak. I can speak Chinese Mandarin, but not even fluent (Cantonese is my mother tongue...). I can imagine works would be more tough, when I don't speak the farmers' language at all. That also means it will take double time to finish an interview, which took me an hour in my trial interview. Can't even imagine a 5 hours RISE assessment (a sustainability assessment tool at farm level) will turn out to be 10 hours. I think both me and the interviewed farmer will gonna be K.O!!


Speaking about bee-keeping, there are quite many colleagues somehow either are bee-keeper (Der Imker), or find it appealing and plan to learn on their own. My colleague Sal keeps 40 honey bee hives on the Swiss mountain nearby Luzern. He’s a very experienced “Imker” and produces organic honey back in his home. I was lucky enough to be his “office-mate” for a week time, and got to know about ‘how honey is made from’. Before I didn’t really know how honey is produced, which I feel a bit shame of. This amazing insect or you can describe them as an “animal”, means so much to us the human being in terms of food production. More than 1/3 of our food depend on the pollination through bees. Bees are highly hierarchically organized in terms of their roles (job functions of worker bees, drones, and the Queen) within a colony or a bee hive. By collecting nectar and pollen from flowers to flowers - within different species and varieties of crops, plants or trees- they help to transfer pollen and facilitate reproduction of plant, which is known as the process pollination.

hope the bees will soon adapt to their new home

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
― Albert Einstein

Worker bees are really hard-working little guys. They start life as a nurse bee nurturing brood (unborn bees, drones and queens). Other tasks include guarding the entrance of the colony, building honeycomb, ripening nectar to honey, packing pollen, cleaning the hive and carrying out the dead. The last and the most important task too, to fly out and look for nectar, pollen, water and propolis. During this time they would be eaten by birds or insects. And in industrialized conventional farms like almond, corn, wheat and soy plantations in California, bee colonies are disappearing without any traces because of several reasons. The most frightening is that chemical sprays are absorbed by the plant vascular system and contaminate the pollen and nectar that the bees collect and encounter. The chemicals disorient the bees and damage the homing ability of bees, that is why many bees lose their way back to their hives, and bee colonies slowly die out.   

Bee swarming

Back to Frick, this spring is apparently too cold and a bit windy for the Fricktal honey bees. We had only less than one week really sunny nice warm weather. When you feel that spring has finally come, she is gone the next day. It’s also not so easy for the bee keepers to control or predict bee swarming. During spring as the weather gets warmer, food become abundant and bee population grows fast in the colony. New queens are produced and finally only a single young new queen is raised by other bees. The old queen then is replaced, then she leads half of the colony includes the drones and worker bees to leave the hive and searches for a new home. Next time when you see bees cluster somewhere underneath a roof or within bushes of trees, don’t be panic, they are natural but could be quite aggressive sometimes. On sunny days, I followed Sal to the Bienen Stand (the bee house) nearby our office to control the bees. To check the number of queen cells and to see if there is a sign of swarming.
bee swarm

I really am grateful for having the chance to share the joy of keeping bees with Sal. But one big obstacle that I still have to overcome is…to avoid being stung!!

More about honey:

More than Honey - A "Swiss made" documentary about contemporary bee-keeping industry 

Der Imker - the bee keeper, a touching story about a Turkish bee-keeper who tells how his life and family had been changed by Turkish-Kurdish war that caused a turmoil in the country.