All posts by ¡Bueno, HK!

FIVE-INGREDIENT BROWNIES

Preparation time: 15 minutes + 25 minutes
Makes: 16 brownies

Ingredients:

  • 225g sifted plain flour
  • 300g dark chocolate (with no added sugar)
  • 4 eggs
  • 200g sugar / ½ cup of honey
  • 200g unsalted butter

Optional ingredients:

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp coffee powder
  • Glace cherries
  • Nuts and seeds

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C / gas mark 4.
  2. Grease and line a 23cm by 32cm baking tray.
  3. Melt the butter and chocolate in a saucepan slowly by stirring constantly at a low heat. When the mixture is smooth and consistent, remove from heat and leave to cool.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and together until it is pale.
  5. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, then fold in the flour and any of the optional ingredients.
  6. Pour the mixture into the baking tray and bake for around 25 minutes or until the toothpick comes out almost clean from the very middle.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Top tip:

If you want to enjoy a gooey piece of brownie, it is best not to over-bake it. If the toothpick comes out clean, it means that your brownie has a cakey texture; otherwise, the middle part should seem not quite cooked, which is a good sign for obtaining gooeyness. Don’t worry about the mess you might make when cutting it into 16 squares for serving, the gooey part will become firmer if you allow enough time for it to cool or even to sit in the fridge for a while.

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A student guide – Preparation for a sojourn in Barcelona (Part 2 – NIE)

For foreign students staying in Spain for more than six months, they need to apply for an NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero), which is, in your case, a student residence authorisation card for identification purposes. One must hand in all application documents within the first month (appointment is obligatory) after one’s arrival in Barcelona / Schengen Area.

Here is a list of documents you need:

  • Application form EX-17 (original and copy)
  • Passport, with your student visa and EU entry stamp (original and copy)
  • Acceptance letter from your host university (in Spanish or Catalan)
  • Enrolment certificate of your academic exchange year
  • Certificate of Census Registration
  • Passport-size photos

Application form EX-17

Please note that in order to obtain the residence card, one must use the application form EX-17 titled “Solicitud de Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE)”, instead of the form EX-15 (“Solicitud de Número de Identidad de Extranjero (NIE) y Certificados”).

Most of the exchange students only need to fill in Section 1 (“Datos del extranjero/a”), Section 3 (“Domicilio a efectos de notificaciones”), and Section 4 (“Datos relativos a la tarjeta”).

If you are applying for the card the first time, select “Inicial” under Part 4.1. For exchange students, please select “Estancia por estudios, investigación-formación, intercambio, prácticas o voluntariado” under Part 4.2.

Certificate of Census Registration

This certificate is called “padró” or “empadronament”, which contains one’s personal particulars and one’s corresponding address. Each and every resident in Spain must be registered officially.

Before you visit the Oficina d’atenció ciutadana (OAC) of your district, you have to have already found a place to live in (click here to understand more). When you pay your visit to the OAC, you need to be accompanied by a person who is also registered at your address (e.g. your landlord or your flatmates). For those who are living in a student hall of residence, please contact your host university for more information.

Making an appointment

In order to make sure you are able to submit all relevant documents to the police station within a month after your arrival, I recommend that you should make an online appointment as soon as you settle in at your new home. Then, you can go to the OAC of your district any time you want prior to your appointment. Click here to make an appointment (in Spanish and Catalan only). Upon completion, the system will generate an “Expedición de tarjeta de identidad de extranjero”, where a “Nº de Justificante de cita” is included. It is necessary for you to mark down this appointment number.

After your appointment

On the day you bring all the documents (without any error) to the police station, you will be given this form by the administrative officer:

TASA:           Reconocimientos, autorizaciones y concursos
CÓDIGO:    012
MODELO:   790

You have to bring this form with you to any bank in the city so that the teller can stamp on it as the proof of payment of administration fees.

You will also be given a receipt titled “Resguado de solicitud o renovación de tarjeta de extranjero”. On this document, you can find all information regarding your student residence card.

Collection of student residence card

You will be able to collect your card in one-month’s time. Don’t forget to bring along with you your passport, the payment receipt, and the “Resguado de solicitud”!

Disclaimer:

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the policies of Ajuntament de Barcelona. This blog post has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current and is subject to change without notice. For the latest information and arrangement, please consult the Spanish Embassy and Consulates General in your area, your home/host university, or the government of Barcelona (or of other cities in Spain).

A student guide – Preparation for a sojourn in Barcelona (Part 1 – Accommodation)

 

“¡Vamos a jugar en el sol! ¡Todos los días son días de fiesta! (Let’s play in the sun! Every day is a party day!)” – “Vamos a jugar en el sol” by Miranda.

For those who are/fancy going to Barcelona for an academic exchange programme, this is perhaps what you are going to do (almost everyday)! ;-)

Anyway, prior to your Barcelona bound, I’m sure there are a fair number of items on your pre-departure to-do list. In this “A student guide” series, I’m going to talk briefly about some of them, and to provide you with examples from my experience, as well as with selected tips from official student guides.

1. I’m looking for accommodation

Not all universities in Barcelona offer their own private halls of residence. What they usually do is to allocate students to various interuniversity halls, of which the majority is operated by Resa Housing. Resa’s properties are located very close to campuses of different universities, where en-suite studios and catered rooms (single & double) are available.

Alternatively, you might want to consider rooms run by Melon District and Residencia Onix. Walkable distance from their residence buildings to universities is guaranteed. Apart from them, you can check the following sites out for a wider range of types of rooms and for comparison:

Reserving a room from these private providers might save you a bit of faff time and make your life easier. However, one might want to find somewhere that is more affordable to live in. In this case, I recommend that you should pick the option of shared flats.

When I arrived in Barcelona, I stayed at a hostel for around two weeks so that I could take my time and pick the best place after days of flat hunting. The websites I visited for ads browsing were Craigslist Barcelona (in Spanish/Catalan/English) and Loquo (mainly in Spanish). All you have to do is to send the landlord/representative an email (quoting the ad number) or phone them directly (you might need to talk to them in Spanish!), in order to arrange an appointment for a site visit. Don’t forget to send them a thank you note afterwards, and reply to them as soon as possible your decision! :-)

Here are some important questions to ask/info to mention prior to an appointment:

  1. Any heater available? (Winter in Barcelona is fairly chilly!)
  2. Any washing machine at home? (Otherwise, you’ll have to go to a launderette somewhere in your neighbourhood… Faff-alert!)
  3. Exterior/Interior room? (Exterior rooms are usually brighter and with better ventilation, as they are either facing the streets or a very spacious patio; meanwhile, interior ones are usually damper and darker with no/small windows. Very often, there’s no view at all!)
  4. (If utility bills are not included) Expected monthly bills? (Try to look for somewhere with water, electricity, gas, and Wi-Fi included!)
  5. Provide with them a short description of yourself. For instance, your nationality, your school, your major studies, your habits (e.g. Do you smoke? Do you party a lot? Are you a nighter?), etc.

Barcelona is a multilingual metropolis. However, you might need to talk with your potential landlord/flatmate(s) in Spanish (or in Catalan, if you know the language), as not everyone in the city masters considerable English proficiency. Let’s give love. Respect the people, the culture, and, of course, the place you’re going to live in!

Next time, I’ll talk about the identification number for foreigners – NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero). Stay tuned!

Getaways: Girona & Figueres (Part 2)

 

Part 1: Attractions in Figueres

Last time, I talked about Teatre-Museu Dalí and Castell de Sant Ferran in Figueres. You can easily spend one whole day there and “tomar algo” in the sun. After that, why not ride the Rodalies de Catalunya line R11 back to Girona in the evening and stay at a hostel there for a night?

Here is a quick recap of the suggested itinerary:

  • Day 1: FIGUERES
    • (Morning) Barcelona – Figueres
    • (Day) Figueres
    • (Night) Figueres – Girona
  • Day 2: GIRONA
    • (Day) Girona
    • (Night) Girona – Barcelona

Attractions in Girona

  1. Catedral de Santa Maria de Girona (Girona Cathedral)

Girona Cathedral is the one of the iconic buildings in town. Sitting high up on the hill of the old town on the east side of River Onyar, it displays the widest and the most spacious Gothic nave in the world. One may feel the breeze there in the nave even when it’s forty-something degrees Celsius in the street! When you are there, don’t forget to get an audio guide (for free) at the entrance, so that you may have a more thorough understanding about how it has transformed over time.

The blueprint of the current building can be traced back in the 11th century, where the construction project started off in Romanesque style. As the project proceeded, Gothic style was employed instead in the 13th century. If you look at the main façade of the Cathedral from outside, you may notice that it is built in Baroque style (in the 17th century). In terms of the various architectural style, Girona Cathedral definitely aced it :-)

PS – An entrance ticket to the Cathedral grants you free access to Basílica de Sant Feliu (Collegiate Church of St. Felix) as well. It’s another spot for learning more about architectural styles. Moreover, Sant Pere de Galligants is just a minute away from the Cathedral. You may wonder why the premise was built with a defensive shape. Well (spoiler alert!) – it’s all about its historical location and that of the city wall ;-)

  1. Les muralles (Roman walls)

The old fortifications played an essential role over hundred of years’ time, protecting the town from invasion. At the end of 19th century, the walls were demolished for the sake of urban development. Take a pleasant walk along Passeig de la Muralla/Passeig Arqueològic (Archaeological passage; Roman walls remains) and enjoy the spectacular panorama views at Força Vella (Old fortress)!

  1. Barri Vell (Jewish Quarter)

Girona’s Jewish Quarter is absolutely gorgeous – high stonewalls, narrow pebble-stone passages, and small, narrow windows… You’ll find yourself walking back in time. To learn more about Girona’s rich Jewish history, go to Museu d’Història dels Jueus (Museum of Jewish History).

  1. Riu Onyar (River Onyar)

Take a stroll around the river area and enjoy the magnificent view of Onyar decorated with colourful houses. The best spots for taking photos are on the different bridges (built in various styles). Moreover, you may see lots of snacks shops selling crêpes topped with Nutella in those streets nearby. It’s nibbles time ;-)

IMG_6691
Colourful buildings along River Onyar (with the Catheral and Sant Feliu at the back)

Hmm… :-/

Banys Àrabs (Arab Baths)

This museum is located in the old town. You can easily reach there especially when you are on the way from the Cathedral to one of the Roman wall walks. Though the baths are very well preserved, it was a wee bit disappointing to see the excess number of luminaires, metal boards, and pins that ruined the entire atmosphere of ancientness. Anyway, entrance was very cheap so if you are a big fan of ancient baths or if you have never seen any of them before, this place is still worth visiting.

Useful links

Getaways: Girona & Figueres (Part 1)

Part 2: Attractions in Girona

Happy New Year! I trust you all had a relaxing holiday with lots of good food :) Still in holiday mood? Let’s go for a weekend getaway in these two culturally rich gems in Catalonia, shall we?

Itinerary:

  • Day 1: FIGUERES
    • (Morning) Barcelona – Figueres
    • (Day) Figueres
    • (Night) Figueres – Girona
  • Day 2: GIRONA
    • (Day) Girona
    • (Night) Girona – Barcelona

Girona is located 99km (62 miles) northeast of Barcelona while Figueres is located 40km (25 miles) north of Girona. They are both within the Province of Girona (one of the four Catalan provinces).

When I went to Figueres from Barcelona, I rode line R11 of the Rodalies de Catalunya, which terminates at Portbou/Cerbère. Same route for Figueres-Girona and Girona-Barcelona so you don’t need to worry about transportation at all :)

termo-R11

Attractions in Figueres

  1. Teatre-Museu Dalí (Dalí Theatre and Museum)

Salvador Dalí from Figueres was the most prominent Catalan representative of surrealism. He was a talented painter, sculptor, director, writer, scenographer (,and more), whose work is absolutely mind-blowing and is still influential to art creation nowadays. This Dalí Theatre and Museum holds the largest and some of the most important collection of his works among all other Dalí museums in Europe and in the States.

The facade of the museum is already an attraction itself: an enormous crimson wall decorated with golden bread, huge white eggs standing on the roof parapet, gold Dionysian figurines posing freely on the roof, and frontiers of cypress being the guardian of the museum. How impressive!

IMG_6439
Exterior of the museum

As he once saidQuiero que las personas que visiten este museo tengan la sensación de que están viviendo un sueño (I want visitors to leave with the sensation of living a dream)”. The museum is just like a labyrinth, leading you to the heart of the museum – the theatre.

After passing through the entrance, which is opposite Església parroquial de Sant Pere (St. Peter’s Church; somewhere around Plaça Gala i Salvador Dalí), you will first be led to the courtyard, where Cadillac plujós and la barca de Gala are installed. From there, you can see the signature glass geodesic dome above the stage of the old town’s theatre, which is the heart of the museum where Dalí is buried underneath.

Dalí created some stunning exhibited works tailored for the museum, for example, la sala Mae West and la sala Palau del Vent. A selection of his most renowned works is also kept inside this gigantic art palace.

There are lot more for you to explore at the museum. Tickets sold probably include entrance of Dalí·Joies (Dalí·Jewels) next door. Have a brilliant time appreciating the glamorous pieces of collection, and don’t forget to take some photos (without flash)!

  1. Castell de Sant Ferran (St. Ferdinand Castle)

The gigantic fortress was built with stone and brick in the 18th century (1753), which is now the biggest monument in Catalonia. In Spanish, it was named after King Fernando VI as the first stone was placed during his reign (1746-1759). The castle was constructed because of the loss of Castell de Bellaguarda on a territory passed to France due to Tractat dels Pirineus (Treaty of the Pyrenees; King Felipe IV, 1621-1665). During the Spanish Civil War, Francisco Franco took over the castle.

IMG_6447.JPG
On my way to the castle

Castell de Sant Ferran is renowned for its size and its engineering back then. 32 hectares of land within the exterior perimeter of 3,125 metres is bounded by walls of 2,100 metres, with eight main water tanks built under the main courtyard, which can hold up to 9 million litres of water in total. Guided tours for visitors older than 10 years old are available upon reservation.

IMG_6451.JPG
A close-up

Visit to the castle is free of charge and without reservation for individual travellers. Situated at the end of Pujada del Castell, where Teatre-Museu Dalí is right around the corner on the other end, the castle is easily assessable. It was a December when I visited there so it was very windy yet the weather was gorgeous. From the top of the hill, you may enjoy the spectacular panoramic view of the east end of the Pyrenees mountain range.

  1. Other museums/shops

There are other smaller museums in the town, such as Museu del Joguet de Catalunya (Toy Museum of Catalonia) and Museu Empordà (an archaeology museum). You may eve visit Església parroquial de Sant Pere (St. Peter’s Church), which is opposite the entrance of Teatre-Museu Dalí. Shops of all kinds can be found easily in streets around Plaça Ajuntament (the main square). Immerse in tranquility of the town and people-watch when you fancy sitting in the sun at a café terrace.

Useful links

*Words in italic are in Catalan (except: Fernando VI and Felipe IV (Spanish))

photo: “Labyrinth” in sunlight at the stage area of the museum (Dalí’s creation for Léonide Massine’s ballet as backdrop in 1941; Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, New York; 8.8x13m; more info regarding conservation and maintenance work for this masterpiece can be viewed here)

No-bake blueberry cheesecake in 15 minutes

Hope you all had a magical Christmas Day! Still want to have some sweet treats for New Year celebration? Why not try out this super fácil (‘easy’ in Spanish) recipe for preparing a luxurious no-bake cheesecake? :)

printable recipe

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 (~125g) digestive biscuits
  • 75g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 300g cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 250mL double/thickened cream (chill)
  • 60g (icing) sugar [optional]
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbs blueberry preserve (or any preserve you fancy)
  • Fresh blueberries/fruits [optional]

Preparation:

For the crust

  1. Crush the digestive biscuits to crumbs in a resealable bag using your hand or a rolling pin (I prefer the former option… Always fun :-D)
    2015-12-26 14.05.58
  2. Pour the crumbs into a food processor (if you have one) and mix it with the butter
  3. Mix the two thoroughly until the crumbs are completely coated
  4. Tip the processed crumbs into a mould and press firmly down into the base
    2015-12-26 14.26.29
  5. Chill in the fridge for an hour

For the cheesecake

  1. Mix the cream cheese with sugar [optional], lemon juice, and vanilla extract in a bowl/food processor
  2. Add the preserve you want and mix the content

    2015-12-26 14.45.59
    Adjust the texture by mixing the content thoroughly to create a smooth one, or make one with little cheesy bits (like this one)
  3. In another bowl/blender/food processor, whip the cold double/thickened cream until medium peaks
  4. Fold the two creamy white mixture in together (doesn’t matter which way round you do it)

A final touch

  1. Dollop the filling on top of the base
  2. Chill in the fridge for three hours

Some tips:

  1. You may use bare hands to mix the crumbs and butter together if you don’t have a food processor. It’s just like building a sand castle ;-)
  2. You don’t really need to melt the butter. Set the butter at room temperature will do
  3. Always chill double/thickened/whipping cream before beating
  4. Some may want to reserve the preserve until the decorating process and this is absolutely OK! I chose mixing the blueberry preserve with the cream cheese as I didn’t want to add too much sugar into the content. Whichever way you do it, you are guaranteed to enjoy a heavenly good treat! :-P
  5. You may serve your cake with an extra spoonful of preserve and decorate your cake with fresh fruits and whipped cream (from the beaten double/thickened cream) if you want :)

History in the streets

Recently, in Hong Kong, there has been much heated debate over “decolonisation” as one of the former Chinese central government officials commented on Hong Kong’s failure to implement a process of decolonisation, which was believed to have caused severe problems in the society and in constructing a healthy national identity. A few weeks later, Hongkong Post announced that they would start covering up the colonial era insignias on the remaining 59 historic post-boxes, which feature the British royal crowns (King George V, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth II), to “avoid confusion” (read more from the Guardian and Hong Kong Free Press).

After such controversial announcement made by Hongkong Post, journalists and activists have started listing out what colonial symbols might be the next “victims”. In fact, there still exist countless colonial traces in Hong Kong. For example, the statue of Queen Victoria in Victoria Park, names of numerous streets and hiking trails (e.g. Nathan Road, Pottinger Street, MacLehose Trail), names of schools (e.g. Queen’s College, King George V School), names of hospitals (e.g. Queen Mary Hospital, Prince of Wales Hospital), and coins featuring Queen Elizabeth’s head1, etc.

Could decolonisation really make Hongkongers loyal to the Beijing government or to the mainland China? Is removing these tangible and historical assets really worth it?

This reminded me of Madrid’s latest historical movement – removal of all 167 street names related to the former dictator Francisco Franco regime, for example, Avenida Comandante Franco and Calle del General Yagüe. Mayor Manuela Carmena (left-wing Ahora Madrid Party) pledged to remove all remaining public symbols (e.g. names of schools, public squares, etc.) of the former dictatorship in the capital city in order to compile with the Historical Memory Law (La Ley por la que se reconocen y amplían derechos y se establecen medidas en favor de quienes padecieron persecución o violencia durante la Guerra Civil y la Dictadura) passed by the then-Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2007.

The Historical Memory Law recognises the victims on both sides of the Spanish Civil War, gives rights to the victims and the descendants of victims of the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, and formally condemns the Franco Regime. However, the Rodríguez Zapatero government was accused of weakening the political consensus of the transition to democracy and using the Spanish Civil War as an argument for political propaganda.

“We are still evaluating how to apply the Historical Memory Law, which we believe is not being used 100 percent,” Rita Maestre, city council spokeswoman, said, adding that city officials would welcome suggestions from the public for new names to replace those on the streets and squares affected.

“In any case, we will change the names that are not in line with the state law on Historical Memory. We want a coordinated effort between neighbourhoods and social entities,” she added.

(Translated by Martin Delfin, El País)

The Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica), an organisation that collects oral and written testimonies about the victims of the regime of Francisco Franco, and excavates and identifies their bodies that were often dumped in mass graves, welcomed such act but requested that the government should not do it secretly, as they once removed a statue of Franco from Nuevos Ministerios area without prior notice in 2005, and that they should provide concrete reasons for changing certain street names.

It seems obvious that the change was initiated to erase the distressing memories related to the Franco regime though there are still monuments honouring it. However, is this yet another propaganda in nature, as commented by the Popular Party (Partido Popular)? Is this of similar nature in Hong Kong as well?

History is an intangible communal possession, however, we can now alter historical events by technology, hide historical truth away from books, or destroy historical assets with violence or laws. We might not be able to find history in the streets anymore because we fear. Perhaps it is time for us to ask ourselves: What are we scared of? Who do we fear for?

Note:

  1. The Monetary Authority has already taken thousands of such coins out of circulation since Queen Elizabeth’s head was replaced with a bauhinia flower in 1993. However, such “colonial” coins are still legal tender.

Cover photo: Green pillar post-box (Source: SCMP)

Swimming in Barcelona

Barcelona has nine beaches in total. However, have you ever struggled where to go when you really want to do proper lanes while almost all the beaches are full of sunbathers and swimmers? Or, have you ever got a little bit frustrated that you have to rub yourself with an incredible amount of sunscreen before allowing yourself to swim in the baking sun? Here are two amazing sites with convenient access where you can do what you want and perhaps something more…

Saint George Swimming Pool (Piscina Sant Jordi)

Address:         Carrer de París, 114, 08029 Barcelona
M5 (blue):     Hospital Clínic

Located in Eixample district, Piscina Sant Jordi is a complex consists of an Olympic-size swimming pool, a sunbathing area, and various fitness and wellness zones.

The entrance fee was very reasonable when I visited there. It cost me 5€ only while I could easily spend an hour there doing lanes and chilling in the water. Usually, it is not very crowded even though three or four lanes might be occupied by numerous swimming schools or fitness teams sometimes.

Before you go, don’t forget to take a swimming cap with you for the sake of maintaining good hygiene. Besides, I strongly recommend that you should check out their official webpage to get to know the opening and entrance times.

Useful links:
> (Spanish) http://www.piscinasantjordi.cat/es/principal/inici
> (Spanish) http://www.facebook.com/piscinasantjordi

> (Catalan) http://www.piscinasantjordi.cat/es/archivo/ver/745

  • On this page, look for a PDF file named (e.g.)“Abonados y entradas puntuales 2015”. There, look for the corresponding page entitled “Piscina Olímpica”.
  • There are a few tables. The first one – ABONATS PISCINA – shows the opening hours of the pool;
  • The second one – ENTRADES: Puntuals (14+), Familiars (3-13 accompanied by an adult), and Reduït (65+) – lists out the entrance time to the pool.
Piscina Sant Jordi
Main entrance of Piscina Sant Jordi (Source: Yelp.com)

Fòrum bathing área (Zona de banys del Fòrum)

Address:          Plaça del Fòrum, 1, 08019 Barcelona
M4 (yellow):  El Maresme/Fòrum
Tram:               Maresme i Fòrum

This is a precious natural pool, as in the pool itself is in the Mediterranean. The Barcelona government has invested a lot to create green space and a seawater pool (El Parc del Fòrum) in Sant Martí district, which is as well suitable for the disabled.

It is a very spacious and enclosed area where there is no sand but a paved ground where you can sunbathe. You can therefore experience the Mediterranean in a different and safe way – the swimming areas are all very shallow, which is around the lower-waist of an average man.

The most interesting feature of this place is that there are two sets of electric cable ski towers. They allow amateur skiers to “do lanes” as well, i.e. skiing hither and thither while one of them is responsible for using the remote control panel.

It might be a faff smearing sunscreen all over your body yet this place is open daily, free of charge! :)

Useful link:
http://w110.bcn.cat/portal/site/MediAmbient/menuitem.37ea1e76b6660e13e9c5e9c5a2ef8a0c/?vgnextoid=77bac1eb49f7a210VgnVCM10000074fea8c0RCRD&vgnextchannel=77bac1eb49f7a210VgnVCM10000074fea8c0RCRD&lang=en_GB

Cover photo: Zona de banys del Fòrum

“Boom, boom, boom, poom!”- Boxing in the Philippines

There are various ways to go from Manila to Boracay, the gorgeous Filipino beach island. I visited Boracay in early 2014 and I chose the quite popular route going via Batangas, where I took an overnight ferry to Caticlan, a seashore town five minutes by boat to Boracay.

As I remember quite clearly, it was incredibly busy at the pier in Caticlan- queues of motorbikes and cars, countless signs and boards indicating the names of numerous hotels and resorts, and visitors and local residence who were smiling, sweating, or enjoying the occasional sea breeze.

Not far from the pier, there settled a delicate bamboo box, which stood out from a few properties along the unpaved promenade because of its humble construction materials and its sophisticated structure.

Wild Punch Boxing Gym
Beautifully built by the sea. (Source: Wild Punch Boxing Gym Facebook page)

When I first arrived at the gym (after spending a few magnificent nights partying, enjoying happy hour discounts (I’d rather call it happy day!), and strolling in Boracay :-P), I was warmly welcomed by the Wild Punch team: Cha Cha, a local artist, is the admirably generous boxing tutor who founded the gym in 2003; Miguela, Cha Cha’s wife, is a very friendly lady who runs a stall on White Beach in Boracay; and Ads, the gym cook and security, is a down-to-earth bloke who cooks you mouth-watering and hearty-healthy dishes.

Wild Punch Boxing Gym is actually an initiative that targets at adolescents and kids from poor families, aiming at bringing discipline, strength, and protection to their lives for good cause. Cha Cha has been helping a significant number of boys and girls as well as their families by teaching them boxing, providing shelter, and taking care of them. In my opinion, this project has brought so much light and positivity to those youngsters in need that it has changed their lives in a favourable manner. When you get a chance to talk to Cha Cha, I have no doubt believing that you could feel his passion, his generosity, and his belief in bringing up the good.

Cha Cha posing
Cha Cha posing in front of one of the Wild Punch banners, celebrating the pride of the gym – Bryan Ascaño – for winning the first professional boxing fight of Manila. (Lucky me! I was “trained” for around an hour with Bryan, a very bright young man:-P) (Source: Wild Punch Boxing Gym Facebook page)

There is also one man whom I ought to introduce to you all. Andy from Nîmes, France, is the mastermind of this initiative. He has been putting his utmost effort in non-profit making financial support of the gym. He has already designed a couple of fancy t-shirts which he usually sells at a hostel in Nîmes for the sake of charitable funding purposes. Andy is very passionate about the project that he goes back to Caticlan every year to check out the bits and bobs and to help out with the operation.

Andy in t-shirt
Andy (middle) and his mates in their Wild Punch t-shirts (latest design)! (Source: Andy’s Facebook)

While we are all ready to spend a good five-day holiday on the charming Boracay island, why don’t we drop by this modest gym to say a wee hi and a big thank you to Cha Cha and the team? I’m sure you will enjoy the inspiring atmosphere at the gym, and let’s see how you get on with the wild punch… Boom, boom, boom, poom!

P.S. To show your support, please “like” the Wild Punch Boxing Gym Facebook page here.

Cover photo: From the gym, watching the ferries come and go.

Spain? Catalonia?

Sorry, peeps! I have been too busy engaging myself in my course work and in a bit of Spanish writing and translation as well so here comes the very belated blog post. During this “down time”, a lot of my mates asked me what exactly Catalonia and Catalan are. Hmm… Interesting!

Let’s start with textbook knowledge. First of all, we need to know there are 17 autonomous communities and 2 autonomous cities in Spain. For example, Andalusia and Balearic Islands. Secondly, each autonomous communities is subdivided into provinces. There are 50 provinces in Spain. Barcelona is one of the provinces of Catalonia, similarly, Granada is one of the Andalusian provinces. It might worth mentioning that there are 7 autonomous communities formed by a single province, for instance, Madrid.

Secondly, some regional identities were strengthened after being granted a autonomous government. These members are Catalonia, Basque Country, and Galicia. Interestingly, historical nationalities are designated to these three autonomous communities by the Statute of Autonomy under the Spanish Constitution of 1978. Moreover, you might have noticed that these three regions have their own language – Catalan, Basque, and Galician – which are three of the four official languages in Spain.

Here, we start focusing on Catalonia. Catalonia is an autonomous community consisting of 4 provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. The capital of Catalonia is Barcelona and the people from this region are regarded as Catalans. Almost every Catalan would prefer being called as Catalan instead of Spanish, because of their strong Catalan nationalist mindset where they emphasise that Catalonia is a nation and they are keen on claiming independence. Similar situation can be observed in Hong Kong where most of the people there would regard themselves as Hongkongers or Hong Kong Chinese rather than Chinese.

Let’s move on to some of the most common flags you may see in the street:

Flag of Spain
Flag of Spain
Senyera, flag of Catalonia
Senyera, flag of Catalonia
Blue estelada, Catalan Independentist
Blue estelada, Catalan Independentist
Red estelada, Catalan Socialist Independentist
Red estelada, Catalan Socialist Independentist
Flag of Barcelona
Flag of Barcelona

For the flag of Barcelona, we can tell it is a combination of two senyeras in vertical and two St George’s crosses, which are exactly the same as the flag of England. The appearance of St George’s cross on the flag is due to the fact that Saint George (Sant Jordi in Catalan) is the patron saint of the city. (El día de Sant Jordi is one of the major festivals in Catalonia, read more in Spanish)

Cover photo: Barcelona City Hall