Travel: Day Trip to Basel, Switzerland


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It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.

– Erasmus

Basel is definitely, in my humble opinion, one of the most underrated cities in Europe. People don’t generally rave about Basel, but most know that it’s located in northwestern Switzerland on the river Rhine. It’s really a city bursting with an incredible amount of life, beautiful cathedrals and fine museums. It’s also famed as the city where humanist thinker Erasmus left his legacy.

Before we get into the highlights of the city centre itself, I’d like to recommed taking a little tour off the beaten path to hunt down a little historical gem tucked away in a small town just 20 minutes’ train ride away from Basel’s main railway station, Bahnhof Basel SSB.

Augusta Raurica

The ancient ruins of the oldest Roman amphitheatre on the Rhine makes for a spectacular picnic spot and a wonderful morning stroll.

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I was lucky enough to visit at a time with blue skies and plenty of sunshine, and it was so obscure that there were only a group of three other visitors there.

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When they left, I had the whole place to myself, soaking up the peaceful sound of birds chirping, the gorgeous view and half imagining i’d returned to 44BC (yes, it’s that old)  to the time of Julius Caesar when a Roman colony thrived there.

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Recipe: Tibetan Buffalo Momos & Tomato Chutney with Yangchen


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One of the highlights of my trip to Nepal has got to be spending an afternoon with Yangchen in her home in Pokhara. We chatted about everything under the sun while making traditional Tibetan Momos or dumplings together. There was just something about her presence that was so calm and peaceful that made the experience truly unforgettable.

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Yangchen comes from Tibet and lives with her husband and 5-year-old son in Tashi Ling Refugee Camp. After the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950,  there was an influx of over 60,000 Tibetan refugees into Nepal. There are officially 12 settlement camps in the country, 4 of which can be found in Pokhara.

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It was a windy day and the sky was somewhat downcast. But the merry prayer flags dancing in the breeze and the sight of the colourful painted homes brought cheer into my heart. Especially so, when Yang Chen welcomed me in her apron with a generous, warm smile. She’d already prepared for our little cooking session!

Here’s what you’ll need to make delicious Momos:

Ingredients

3 Onions
2 Potatoes
1 Carrot
1 Cucumber (grated)
handful Cherry Tomatoes (sliced)
Flour and Water (mix to form dough)
3 long beans (chopped)
1/2 radish (grated)

We began by mixing flour and water to form a firm, sticky dough.

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Knives at the ready, it was time to get chopping! The tomatoes will go into the chutney, while the rest of the veggies will end up as filling for our vegetable Momos.

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After that, it was time to mince the buffalo meat. These are a Nepali staple and can be easily found in the local markets. It tastes a lot like beef, but is slightly tougher and a little more game-y. Do be sure to try it when in Nepal! They’re often served with noodles as well.

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Then came the fun part. Learning how to stuff and fold the Momos.

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Musings: North Korea – The Method to its Madness


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claps with military officers at the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in an unknown location in North Korea

The media is often portrays North Korea as a mind-boggling rogue state, led by a maniacal trigger-happy dictator who acts on complete whim and fancy. But don’t be fooled. Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions are not the pursuit of a madman. In fact, if we dig deeper into the tensions on the Korean peninsula and the motivations of all the parties involved, it will all start to make sense.

Let’s start with North Korea. Former US Defense Secretary William Perry says the North’s priorities can be distilled into three simple goals:

1) To maintain the stability of its regime
2) To gain international recognition
3) To improve its economy

Now take a look at its current situation. One, it’s an isolated authoritarian state shunned by the international community for various reasons, including crimes against humanity. Two, it faces ongoing tensions with its neighbour in the South and military threats from the US. Three, it’s claimed to have successfully tested a miniature hydrogen bomb that can be loaded onto its newly developed ICBMs.

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Given the progress it’s made so far with its nuclear technology, why would it stop? It’s effectively the only deterrent it has against external threats.

Not surprisingly, Kim has taken nuclear weapons off the negotiating table. He knows his ability to wreak nuclear havoc at the push of a button is what is keeping the international community on its toes. Deplorable, no doubt. But fair game given the country’s current situation. It’s the extreme means with which he’s hoping to achieve his goals for the nation.

Then, let’s explore the motivations behind the other parties involved. Obviously, the US is feeling the heat, with the ICBMs pointed in their direction. North Korea now poses more than just an ideological threat. But talking tough and stepping up military drills with South Korea just isn’t going to solve the problem. It’s still hell-bent on getting the North to denuclearise. But it has to accept that it makes no sense for Pyongyang to back down on its nuclear plans now, given how much it’s invested in it (on top of the lives of millions of citizens).

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Instead, it has to re-examine North Korea’s goals for itself. Nuclear weapons are a means to an end. Not the end itself. Negotiations thus have to take into serious consideration the ability to help North Korea grow its economy, allowing it (however grudgingly) to maintain its toxic regime and ultimately giving it some recognition on the world stage. This would take time, and many concessions on the part of the US, but it may produce more effective results than a zero sum stockpiling of weapons.

How about China? Why does it have its finger in the pie?

Here’s a reality check. To the rising economic giant, a nuclearised North is better than a collapsed one. Apart from the disaster of having millions of North Korean refugees cross its border, there are also other strategic considerations.

Namely, North Korea serves as an effective buffer against the heightened US military presence in the South. It has underlying interests in keeping it afloat. Hence its reluctance to place too much pressure on its irreverent neighbour.

It may take a lot of time, and the world may yet experience many moments of cold panic, but the key to success might lie somewhere between China coaxing the North into terms of non-escalation of its existing nuclear capabilities and the US and South Korea paying closer attention to what it is the North really wants.

After all, even madmen are capable of reason.

Travel: Finding Peace in Pokhara – The Himalayas, Nepal


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The triumphant sun emerged, beaming over the valley still rousing from slumber. The mountains shrugged off its shroud of cold mist that dissolved into the warm, comforting glow of the rising orb. It kissed the mountaintops, and caressed the pointed roofs of the vibrant painted houses. There is a profound silence in the first moments of the day that reaches deep inside you. The morning was filled with an incredible, calming peace. But as with all beautiful moments, it’s short-lived. Soon, the roosters crowed, the dogs barked and people came out of their houses to wash, water their plants and rev up their scooters for a day of work. The city came alive almost suddenly against the backdrop of the breathtaking Himalayas.

Welcome to Pokhara, the gateway to the Annapurna mountain ranges.

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There are few places with more natural, untouched beauty than Nepal. I made a trip there alone a few weeks ago to do some work with a local orphanage (more on that soon!), and was reminded of why I fell in love with the place when I was backpacking there some years ago.

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Political strikes marked my last stay in Pokhara. This was in 2011 before the earthquake of 2015, and the time when the Maoists were taking over. It was exciting, but much of the city was stopped in its tracks. People gathered in large crowds on the streets, shouting, chanting and raising banners with political slogans. Some lit large fires, shopkeepers closed their businesses and buses stopped running. I remember cycling through the streets and marvelling at all the overwhelming emotion, anger and activity. It was a fascinating time to be there as a foreigner, but it didn’t showcase the city at its best.

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This time though, I experienced the true warmth of the community. What I thought was amazing hospitality the last time, was only amplified without chaos in the streets.

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Some of the simplest but most sublime pleasures is just to sip Nepalese Chai in the Himalayan gardens. Instead of just pouring boiling water onto a teabag and adding milk and sugar as a haphazard afterthought, so much love and individed attention goes into each delicious cup.

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Finely-ground tea leaves are placed into a saucepan before milk and sugar are added.

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