Barass Sports Centre

I’m a big believer in social enterprise when done well. I believe that small, local businesses are the most sustainable way to go deeper into the 21st century. I believe in this because I want to talk about a dear friend of mine today, Jamal.

I met him in autumn 2015 in Denmark. We were both attending International People’s College at the time. He was a volunteer worker at the school, having just completed two semesters of classes himself. We had a great instant connection, recognising that there was so much to learn from each other. We spoke at length about different world issues, especially ones that affected us directly. Jamal is from Tanzania, and he really opened my eyes to a lot of new concepts and ideas. What’s more, his dedication to the betterment of his community was inspiring to say the least. During his time at IPC, he had managed to use one of the classes to actually start an NGO, and started moving his community to work towards a better future. Amazing, because he was still coming back to Denmark to learn. He has a love for football, and he even secured a volunteer role to help train a local football team to secure certification for training. Unfortunately, due to visa complications, he had to leave Denmark halfway through our term.

I’m never going to forget the day he left. It was a dark day. Winter hadn’t quite yet fallen but Jamal, if you’re reading this, IPC wasn’t the same without you. He was only given a few weeks notice to leave, and in those weeks, we started working together more fervently than we did before. We talked at length about his dream of opening a Sports Centre in his region, where he would be able to inspire boys to take positive actions towards their future when they felt like they didn’t have one. We wrote emails, we made Excel documents, we did as much as we could to make things happen when he got back.

When Jamal, our friend Rani, and I got all dressed up!

I’ve kept in touch with him a few times over the past year, and recently we had a big catch-up. I have to say, I’m absolutely blown away. Thinking about us sitting in the common room, writing up a Mission Statement and Goals, and now seeing them realised, I swell with pride knowing that my friend has worked so hard to make this happen. Changing lives is what happens when you give it your all, and Jamal is a living example of that. In the last year he has not only started a centre, he has inspired change.

Since opening this time last year, their achievements are as follows:

  • 6 students have gone back to school (the Sports Centre has a rule that you need to be in school if you want to participate)
  • Increased school attendance (a lot of students would skip school and now they have to sign in and out!)
  • Won two championships: 1 regional, and one playing against four countries in Arusha (The Chipukizi Cup for those in the know).
  • 70 kids are now joining the Sports Centre on a weekly basis to train
  • 3 kids have already gone on to play for the national team
  • Received press conference on Tanzanian national television as well as newspapers local, regional, and national.
  • Follow their Facebook Page here.

For those that are naysayers to the entrepreneurial people around the world, I’m sorry but you have got it wrong. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the money right now, or if you have a big dream. You will make it if you believe you will. Believe in yourself, and keep moving forward. Step by step, take the highs with the lows, and don’t stop moving. Don’t give up. And if you can have a year like Jamal has had, well then you are in for great things!


Top 3 Things To Do in Amsterdam

From one expat Dutchie to you, here are my 3 must-do’s in Amsterdam.

I’m not only an expat Dutchie, I’m like a full-time expat Dutchie. If you don’t already know, I grew up in Asia. My Dutch life consists of summers in Holland, odd weekend trips here and there while living in Europe, and a weekly phone call with my grandma. Yes, it’s a wonder I speak Dutch, albeit a bit broken at times.

This is exactly why you should ask me for top tips for Amsterdam because I see it through a tourist’s eyes and I’ve been enough times to also have a more seasoned, perhaps less hazy, view of it too ūüėČ ¬†First and foremost, I’m going to tell you loud and clear, I do not know anything about coffee shops in Amsterdam. While I’m not against it, I just don’t have much interest in it, and never bothered with it. What I do know, weed is still the main attraction it seems, especially for younger folk from across the Sea, so it’s very easy to find. Just walking around Dam you will get propositioned if you fit in that young tourist demographic.

1. Canal Boat Tour

Right so first things first: the Canal Boat Tour. There are several different companies, and I’m sure there’s not much difference between them. I went with City Sightseeing twice and both times I wasn’t let down; especially if you’ve only got a couple days to make the most of it. ¬†It can feel a bit steep when you’re paying up for the 24h pass, but your legs will thank me for it. I’ve done Amsterdam by foot as well and that was just tiresome. A Canal Boat Tour will give you an audio-tour as you go along, and there are several stops you can stop off at, walk around, and catch the next boat. You know, the typical hop-on-hop-off. Cos if you’re like me, and you like hearing about history, but don’t want to get caught up in it, this is really ideal. You hear a few good stories about the important bits, and you get to hop off the boat and explore! And also, on a rainy day, this is literally a saviour. You get to sit in the (relative) warmth of the boat, with a clear roof over your head, while still taking in city sights. Oh, and City Sightseeing let you have a free tour of one of the most established¬†diamond workshops/museums in Amsterdam. Ladies, feast your eyes. Gentlemen, hold your breath and pray she doesn’t find ‘the one’.


2. Get lost in the Red Light District

The first few times I went to Amsterdam, the prude in me was very reluctant to go to the Red Light District at all. I was like, ‘yeah, great, so prostitution is legal here and women are safeguarded, good for them’, and I never really bothered to properly walk around. Last time I went, I not only walked around, but got lost, did circles, had a few drinks, and stayed later into the night. After dinner, the whole area kind of comes to life. Bars start filling up, fairy lights along the canals give you a cheery mood lighting, and the sheer amount of people is amazing. Walking around, you find yourself not just watching all the entertainment there is available to you (apparently there’s a liquid you can drink to get rid of your hangover? Yeah, right), the other tourists are also great entertainment! When I look back on that night, I just remember being very entertained by everything around me. It was like carnival except¬†with drugs, sex and everything in between on display! There were so many cute (and scary) little sex shops everywhere. The way people reacted (and probably the way I reacted) was also comical. Everything was accepted here in this heathen’s paradise, just smile and be good to everyone around you.

Yes it’s an Instagram filter. No, I’m not ashamed.

3. Heineken Experience 

Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap. But Amsterdam is all about the tourist traps and making it your own, so go with it! Book online and get a couple of euros off the ticket price (and avoid the long queue to buy tickets once there). The museum starts off mostly self-guided in the beginning. See a bit of its history (ugh yay…?), and then you go through to the brewing process, which is done really well! Heineken have definitely made the best of modern technologies and worked with different sorts of videos, touch-screen stuff, img_7796sensors, etc to make it interactive and genuinely quite interesting. After you go through that bit, you get to see some horses that work for Heineken (promo horse drawn carriages is still a thing), whose grandparents also worked for Heineken! Very cool. Then you start getting corralled.If I’m honest, it’s a pure genius move from Heineken. A bit of crowd control about halfway through the museum is a great way to make sure that things are running smoothly and avoids clog-ups at the free drinks rooftop bar. And in return for being corralled, you also get a very fun¬†surprise (I’m not going to ruin it here) as well as a super crisp, fresh Heineken drink at the demo of how to actually drink beer (seriously, I never knew so much science went into it).

After that, you get to go through the sponsored stuff. There’s a chill out room playing all the latest hits because Heineken sponsors lots of concerts and festivals. And of course, sports!! There are lots of fun interactive sports stuff to do. Kick an invisible rugby ball, play foosball, and a lot of stuff I don’t remember,¬†etc. Among other things, you can get your picture taken with a green screen, pick a Heineken museum background, and see the result! If you don’t want to pay for the printed version, you can ask for it to be sent to your email (again, SO SMOOTH!). Then, after a few rounds of losing¬†miserably at pulling a pint with a ‘virtual’ pint glass thing, we¬†finally get to the lift to head up to the rooftop bar for our two free Heineken beers! The day was gorgeous so I could say we were lucky. A great, leafy view of Amsterdam with a cold Heineken in hand. Ahh. I do have to say, Heineken never tasted as good, and never will taste as good as it did there. Definitely go!img_7809

One More Thing…

Before I sign off, I wanted to recommend one more thing. My dates and times unfortunately didn’t match with their tour times, so I didn’t get to try it myself. But I heard about it on Al Jazeera I think, and I was just so impressed by the efforts and the programme that I want to take a moment to shout about it. Rederij Lampedusa, the canal boat tour is called. It’s an initiative to bring attention to refugees living in the Netherlands and the plight of refugees trying to come to Europe right now. The boat is actually a boat that crossed the Mediterranean, and refugees volunteer as tour guides. Definitely worth looking into and asking about! Check them out here.

Advertising in Amsterdam. Classic.

Kaohsiung Fo Guang Shan Review

Doing cultural things is really normal in Taiwan, even with the locals. Maybe it was in England, but I was too poor and too car-less to be able to go far and wide at my leisure. Here in Taiwan, a day off is really rather precious so people take full advantage of it and try and so as much stuff as possible.

One such touristy spot is Fo Guang Shan. As my friend exclaimed when he checked it out on Tripadvisor, “That’s one big-ass Buddha!” It’s not actually very far from where I live out in the Kaohsiung countryside, so it wasn’t a total trek to get there. If you’re an old-timer in Taiwan and remember going years ago, it might be worth revisiting again now. But make sure you give yourself a few good hours to do so, and also time to do both old Fo Guang Shan and the new one.

This is the old FGS, with the Big Gold Buddha.

We started at the old one, and I would recommend others to do the same. It’s relative peace and calm is really nice (especially if you come from the city). You’ll have a bit more time to peruse and read all the different plaques and signs. Make sure you take into account the “this is a place of worship not for sightseeing”. Be respectful of that while you walk around. With no ill will meant, but old FGS¬†feels a bit like a Disney Park for Buddhism. There are shrines tucked in corners and on top¬†of hills. A tea shop is hidden behind the Main Shrine. There’s the super well-kept Lumbini Garden with happy little Buddha statues lining the path as you walk along. There’s plenty to see and take in. Don’t forget to go to the Pure Land Cave, either. There’s also the cafeteria you can go to for lunch, made by the monks. We didn’t go this time (we just weren’t hungry), but be sure to ask around. Monks walking around are usually more than happy to help and offer directions.

Main Shrine

Once you’re done here, you can go get back in your car and drive 200m down to the next parking lot (your legs will thank you later I promise). Now, the new FGS. If you want to better understand the history of the place, then I suggest that once you reach the plaza with all the pagodas, go into the ‘8th’ one and ask to watch a short, 10 minute introductory video about it (in English). In short, the new FGS was built because one of the three teeth left from the original Buddha was given to the monastery to protect. You’ll hear all about its journey and how the new FGS was built. ¬†It really does give you more appreciation of the scale, size and just how well-finished it is.

View from the Main Hall second floor, looking down the Eight Pagodas down to Front Hall, and some mountains beyond.

When you get to the Main Hall, make sure you run up the stairs to see the big Buddha. But there’s quite a shrine or two downstairs, too, so make sure you take a look at that. If you want to see Buddha’s tooth, you will have to pay for a guided tour that takes half an hour (it’s usually in Chinese, they didn’t tell us about any English options unfortunately). It’s called the Jade Shrine Tour, I believe.

The new FGS can feel a bit… I don’t know… huge? A bit over the top if you ask me. And the Front Hall is stuffed with shops and trinkets it doesn’t feel like people come here to worship or even admire anymore at all, but rather come here for the shopping. There’s even a Starbucks! There can also be hordes of people if you come in tourist season or at the weekend, which isn’t ideal for a peaceful feel. For that you’ll need to go to the old FGS, the ones tourists usually skip out on.

The Big Buddha with a Four Noble Truths Pagoda/Tower.

All in all, I would say one can’t really go without the other to get a full picture of what FGS means and to understand its past and present. Buddhism is clearly making its way into the 21st century with their head held high, and I have to say, for that, I applaud FGS.

Here’s to… Bible Studies as a Kid¬†

It’s already January. I did not expect this so soon. As every year comes, and then inevitably goes, I find myself grasping more and more at one thing: time.

When I think about time I always have to think about the one Bible verse that I could stand back from my MAK days…. (See below). It’s weird that it’s religious, but I guess that’s why people also like religion. It gives them a chance to reflect and use a ‘higher power’ to confirm how they feel. I just like it because it’s simple, straightforward, and not preachy.

Every year I go through strange cycles and experiences, and every year I’m grateful I made it through, battle-worn. I know that this year is going to be my year because finally, FINALLY, I put my own power into my own hands, and I’m grasping life with vigour and positive vibes and energy. Here’s to 2017 and all the promises that it brings!

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

A Time for Everything

1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.