Five Things #11

In The Fish of Lijiang by Chen Qiufan a workaholic office worker is diagnosed with a stress-induced illness and sent to the rehabilitation center in Lijiang. The city isn’t as he remembers it, though, and then the story takes the sort of left turn that you would expect from someone like Philip K. Dick.

Dr Beth Singler discusses Blade Runner, Zhora, her snake, and the ethics of sexbots and slavery.

Simon Brew argues that obsessing over box office receipts puts us in danger here of giving movie studios even more excuses to avoid risks in favour of staying within the boundaries of mainstream fare.

Nnedi Okorafor defines Africanfuturism.

Denzil at Discovering Belgium visits the Menin Gate for the Last Post.

Blankenberge and Bruges

Today is a public holiday and, because none of the boys had any activities planned for Sunday, we decided to go out for the day. So the normal Sunday morning lie-in was cancelled and we made the two hour drive to Blankenberge.

This is a nice little seaside town and one that we may well return to when the weather is a bit less wintry. Going to the beach in November isn’t clever, which is why we went to visit the Serpentarium. Handily, we have ZOO memberships which (for an annual price) gives us free entry to Antwerp Zoo, Planckendael and the Serpentarium.

The Serpentarium isn’t large — it took us less than an hour to see everything — but there is a lot to see. They also bring a snake out every hour, which provides an opportunity to interact with the animal, although I was a bit disappointed to discover that we weren’t able to actually handle the snake.

And then we were done and, after a spot of lunch, we headed into Bruges.

Bruges_Zot

Bruges is a lovely old town and, by parking just outside the city we were able to park for free. So after a twenty minute walk, we came face to face with the fact that, for a family of five, every activity will set us bach about €50. This will only get worse when the twins are a little older and start paying higher prices. So while there were plenty of places we would have liked to see — most notably the Historium — we gave most of these a miss and, instead, too a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city.

We need to look into what sorts of deals or tourist memberships we can find, but we will certainly be going back.

Beer-Museum

Big Art, Small Country

Belgium is set to become the home of the largest public artwork in Europe. Bernar Venet’s Arc Majeur was originally set to be installed in France way back in 1984 but was abandoned due to local opposition.

Now, the French artist will finally be able to realize his original vision for the gigantic piece of art, which has been placed across a busy highway in Belgium. Once unveiled in October, the 250-tonne steel sculpture will be the largest public artwork in Europe.

We shall have to keep an eye out for it when we next find ourselves on the E411 between Namur and Luxembourg.

Apenheul

With Thursday being a public holiday, we took a trip to the Netherlands to visit Apenheul, a zoo of free roaming primates. It’s exactly what it says it is and is really rather good.

What you have is essentially a large forest, through which you follow a path allowing you to see the animals close up and in a pretty-much natural state. This is particularly true of the smaller monkeys which can, and do, come very close to visitors. Larger apes, such as gorillas and orangutans are a little more separate, being housed on islands that put them a bit more out of reach.

We turned up at about 11:30 intending to eat first and then explore. It didn’t quite work like that because as soon as the boys saw the monkeys, and realised just how close they would come, all lunchtime thoughts were forgotten. It took us two hours to make it to the restaurant and, by the time the zoo closed at 5:00, we still hadn’t seen everything.

It took us two hours to get there, which isn’t too bad, and the boys are all keen to go back. If (when) we do, however, will will probably leave a little earlier and try to find some food on the way as the food in the zoo is not that substantial — it’s all chips and sandwiches which is fine for a snack but not much of a meal.

That said, there is a restaurant — De Boschvijver — close to the car park, and it turned out to be very nice indeed. The outside terrace, especially, provides a great opportunity to enjoy dinner while looking out over a lake.

Apenheul is also involved in several nature conservation projects around the world through their Apenheul Primate Conservation Trust (APCT). Being a big coffee drinker, the Yellow-tailed woolly monkey project is the one that appealed to me most.

By providing local people with a sustainable way of producing coffee, we get their support for our conservation goals. Farmers who previously had to cut down hectares of the forest for their livestock, now only need a one hectare coffee plantation to generate enough income. We buy this coffee at a fair price and then serve it to our visitors!

The coffee is called Lazy Monkey, and it’s pretty good.

3D Zebras

This is incredible. The Icelandic fishing town of Ísafjörður has painted a new zebra crossing so that it appears to be 3D.

Not only does the innovative design give foot-travelers the feeling of walking on air, it also gets the attention of drivers, who will be sure to slow down their speed once they spot the seemingly floating ‘zebra stripes.’ Icelandic environmental commissioner Ralf Trylla called for its placement in Ísafjörður after seeing a similar project being carried out in New Delhi, India. With the help of street painting company Vegmálun GÍH, his vision became a reality.

Now I want to go to Iceland, just to cross the road.

Kruidtuin van Brussel

From where I work it is a five minute walk to Brussel Centraal station, I am trying to incorporate a little more activity into my life. So instead of spending half an hour loitering by the warm baked goods (Mmmm… waffles), I take the 25 minute walk to Brussel Noord instead.

My route includes a walk through the Botanical Garden (Kruidtuin in Dutch, or Jardin Botanique in French).

The Botanical Garden is now an urban park sandwiched by the roads of Brussels’ northern quarter. Thanks to its previous life as a working botanical garden it has kept a mixture of styles (French, Italian and English) and a large variety of trees and plants.

The original garden building is now a cultural centre, which I have not had the time or inclination to investigate. But I do like the statues.

img_20190117_161945

img_20190117_161959

img_20190117_162028

The future of food

It's not a bug, it's a feature.
It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.
Last year I mentioned that the Olmense Zoo (which is handily close to us) now has insectburgers on the menu. And on Saturday we were in the zoo at lunchtime, so I gave one a try.

It’s really rather good.

The texture is very meaty. So much so that, if it wasn’t for all the signs promoting the fact that the burger is made of mealworms, I probably wouldn’t have realised there was anything out of the ordinary about it at all.

The taste of the burger is not particularly strong, and pretty much overwhelmed by the barbecue sauce that was included with the burger. It’s certainly not unpleasant, it’s just not much of anything.

Of course, the crucial question with something like this is: would I eat it again. The answer is a resounding yes.

Insects are high in protein and a lot less fatty than beef and pork, they can also provide an equivalent protein yield for far fewer resources. The only downside is cultural – we, in the west are not used to eating insects and tend to have a ‘yuck’ response when faced with the idea. Serving them as a burger gets around this very neatly indeed.

Now all the world needs is a for someone to invent the chili con mealworm.

International Steamdays

Internationale Stoomdagen Turnhout 2014 St00mgroep Turnhout is an association, run by amateurs, devoted to the construction, maintenance, care, expansion, improvement and operation of a miniature railway for passengers, especially for 5″ and 7″ gauge. The association promotes interest in and construction of technical models of vehicles with any means of propulsion, and with a special emphasis on railway vehicles.

The weekend of May 23rd to 25th saw their 34th International Steam Meeting, and much fun it was, too.

Obviously, we went as non-participants (or regular members of the public), which meant that we could ride the trains and take in the sights of the event. I shall admit now that the photo at the top of this post was lifted from the event’s 2014 gallery. It isn’t easy to take a photo of a miniature railway when you are sitting on a miniature train.

But here are a few pictures I did take while wondering around the event.

The miniature trains run from the first Sunday of April until the last weekend of September, every Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 1:00pm to 6:00pm. I suspect we will return to the City Park before the summer is over.

Insect Burgers

Yesterday, we took a trip to the zoo. It’s handily close and we were able to go by bike and, after much wondering, we stopped for ice cream. While there, I noticed a large sight in the zoo’s restaurant advertising Insect Burgers as a tasty alternative to meat and fish. This struck me as quite a good idea.

Much has been said about insects being a much more efficient source of protein than raising large animals, but many people react to this with a “Yuck”. Grinding the bugs up and turning them into burgers gets around this quite nicely – a burger is a burger and there isn’t much in a protein patty for most people to object to.

I mentioned this on the Fediverse and that triggered a discussion that was both lengthy and interesting and managed to derail it self into total tripe.

Wanting to know a bit more, I took an online look around this morning and found this (in Dutch).

The Olmense Zoo started serving insect burgers in March of this year and, from the article, it looks like the people behind the burgers were thinking what I thought when I saw them. According to Robby Van der Velden, a biologist at the zoo, insects are high in protein and a lot less fatty than meats such as pork and beef. Although eating insects is not obvious in western society, it can certainly catch on if the meat is processed.

Van der Velden also makes the point about insects requiring much less environmental resources and provides some numbers: To produce a kilo of beef, you need 14 kilos of grass, while a kilo of insect meat only needs about two kilos of grass to produce.

It was too late in the day, yesterday, for me to give this a try. But when we go again, and if we are there at lunchtime (which is highly likely) I will certainly order an insect burger, just to see what it’s like.