On Giving and Balance: The Story of the Hottarakashi Onsen

avatar Mark Fonseca Rendeiro Moderator Amazon Wishlist Icon
avatar Mieko Guest

High above the Kofu and within view of the all mighty Mt. Fuji, my friend Mieko joins me to tell the story of her family and this magical place they created. What starts as a conversation about a natural spring, quickly becomes the story of a family that believes very strongly in giving to those who are in need. As day turns to night and the sun goes behind the mountain, Mieko also reflects on her happy years living in the Netherlands and how she see’s her home country of Japan changing. (special thanks to Mieko and her family for one of the greatest weekends of my life)

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The 17 Year Anniversary

It is not a particularly round number nor is it a sacred number in any culture I’ve ever learned about in my travels, but this week begins my 17th year as a resident of the Netherlands. 16 years ago this month, I arrived with 50 kilos of luggage from Portugal with a simple idea, be a graduate student in this country that I knew very little about. I’d love to say I remember it as if it were yesterday, but you try remembering stuff from 16 years ago, especially in a city that is constantly renovating, repurposing, and changing things. The buildings might look the same, the people might even do many of the same things, but you can bet life has changed and I’ve been a witness to those changes.

Meanwhile my own life has gone through phases, the ups and downs that make up many a life. If you had asked me what my life would look like at the start of my 17th year way back when I first arrived, I would not have been able to answer. Incidentally, some things never change, I still can’t tell you what my life will look like in 17 years. Sometimes not knowing gets to me, but thankfully, most of the time, I’m thrilled to still not know what is around the corner. I mean other than old age.

This website started just before the big move, back in a little apartment in Lisbon, as I packed my things and said goodbye to a city I thought I could not be without. In the end it is this city, Amsterdam, which has been my constant over the course of almost two decades. At the time the idea was to let people read my observations, and in some form, that is what we still do here. After two years of writing,  I started doing it in audio form, not yet fully understanding what this odd hobby that myself and a few dozen people around the world were doing (podcasting) was going to become; a mass audience phenomenon. In between I kept writing. Kept taking the pictures and posting them. Even threw in some videos for fun. Sites like Facebook and twitter, for better or for worse, would all come along much later. Back in 2002 this was a personal space to share with you the public, and if you were there you know how special it was. It wasn’t just about moving your life to a new city and telling others about it, it was about sharing life experiences and discussing what was going on around us — be it in the place where we live or on the other side of the world. No issue too big and absolutely no issue too small.

The European Communication crew, ISHSS U of Amsterdam, Fall of 2002.

Of course, like Amsterdam, the internet has changed. Writing, recording, on the internet, has become so commonplace that it goes mostly unnoticed and will be buried behind other content within seconds. In some ways so too do some moments in this city. I watched today, in honour of this anniversary, as new students arrived at the U of Amsterdam, ready to do their study abroad or their first year as grad students. The conversations were so familiar, yet I felt invisible. I imagined school as a VHS tape, and these students’ arrival as someone taping over something. Over and over this happens with every new group. The tape doesn’t get grainy or lose quality for them, but perhaps it does for me… as many names, places, and moments, have faded over time.

Regardless, I’m still here, and life is still interesting. Just as it was back in late August 2002. Happy anniversary to me in Amsterdam, and happy anniversary to this crazy website. Long may we all carry on!

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A Passion For Building Bikes in India

avatar Mark Fonseca Rendeiro
In Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
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avatar Somy Sridas Guest
avatar Sachin Kishore Guest
avatar Mathew Dominic Guest
avatar Varun Moorthy Guest
avatar Deepak Prajapati Guest

What do you get when you combine a group a friends who studied engineering, a passion for bicycles, and a city known for manufacturing? My answer: a sweet bike, a unique approach to working, and a really good time. Today on the podcast, as part of the South of Mumbai series on the road in India, we hear from the talented team at Scolarian bikes in Coimbatore about what they do and why they do it. And how it all ties back into life and changes in India.

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The Fog of Rural Virginia

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Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM via Flickr

I didn’t see the sign that would have said “Welcome to Virginia” accompanied by what I assume is still the “Virginia is for lovers” tag line. All I saw along busy Interstate 77, through the pouring rain and looming fog, were some impressive hills that caused our fragile little compact car to wince as its engine revved in search of some non-existent muscle.  I was hoping to see the sign as an indicator of progress, as we passed hour number 7 on what should have been an 8 hour drive, but the large dark figures that began to line the road were sign enough: we’ve arrived in Appalachia, sacred region of culture, lore, and some crazy beautiful nature. Of course as far as the highway is concerned, it’s just more asphalt with slightly better scenery for the next 6 hours.

And so it was, that the day before Christmas eve a little car with New Jersey plates struggled its way to a beautiful town called Luray, Virginia. To visit friends, rest, but also to get a quick glimpse of what life is like there; another world that seems cut off from most everything, at least in my head.

Arriving in late evening in a rural American town in the mountains of Virginia, what you get is an extremely silent and still atmosphere. The craziest thing one can see are the winding roads and the tasteful Christmas lights decorating main street. Shops seemed to have closed hours ago, while the windows of closed restaurants still reveal some condensation from customers who were very recently enjoying a meal. Luray is sleepy at night, but there are plenty of signs that when the world wakes up tomorrow, this place will be busy.

photo by Rory Finneren via Flickr
photo by Rory Finneren via Flickr

There is nothing quite like waking up in a perfectly silent farm house made of stone and wood surrounded by nature and little else. Not too surprisingly, next to the bed of this fantastic bnb, there is one of those artificial noise machines so you can listen to the wind or some soothing white noise, if silence is too off-putting to fall asleep to.  Looking outside I see the vast green of forrest and fields that last night were nothing but shadows around my headlights. Scanning the horizon I see a house or two and wonder if those far away neighbors wake up the same way every day. Or maybe they just curse life and get on with it.

Sadly there is only time for oatmeal, tea, a quick walk around the building to listen to the rustling of leaves in the wind, water from a nearby stream, a cow or two somewhere nearby. We take it all in as quickly as possible, as the highway is a-callin’ and Christmas in New Jersey waits for no man (or woman). Driving past the farm houses, some in excellent condition, many abandoned, I can’t help wonder what happened to those people. Did they move away in search of more profitable work? Did they die in their now dilapidated homes, no one to take over and fix things up. How many family lines ended here?  – This was not surprisingly  followed by another typical line of thinking: what would it be like to take up residence here? Would a fool like me feel at home making a life next to Shenandoah National Park? Would every day be interesting and rewarding in some way? Wait, what am I talking about.. isn’t the grass always greener somewhere else? Don’t we typically trade good and bad aspects in one particular place for a set of mixed circumstances elsewhere? Is this part of being human, in the end? Few of these questions will ever get an answer. They are mostly just sparks in an over active imagination. But when you spend even only a few hours surrounded by such peace and beauty… sparks sure do fly.

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