Observing Europe – Part I (Belgium)
February 12, 2012 § 7 Comments
I forgot what it’s like being in a place where I have difficulty reading the menus
Giving long blank stares to anyone that attempts to speak to me
And that feeling of hearing something but not being able to process it at all
That almost sums up my whole trip to Europe.
Confused, lost, bewildered but also unbelievably giddy, happy and being in constant awe.
Taking advantage of the 9-day Chinese New Year break, I took this rare opportunity to finally pay a visit to my parents. My parents moved to Brussels about half a year ago and I’ve been dying to go explore and frolick around the old world. The fast-paced and stressful lifestyle of Asia made me crave for the laid-back European lifestyle. It sounded like heaven; a place where people take the time to taste their food and enjoy the company of others. When getting off at five and having dinner with family is the norm and not a rare occasion. Well dressed and groomed gentlemen.
And don’t even get me started on the food.
It always amazes me that the time it takes me to watch four movies, gobble up two meals and take a short nap is enough time to be magically be transplanted into another world.
And it’s amazing how different that world is!
As I got off the plane, I took a deep breathe and was immediately shocked by the sharp daggers of cold air punctuating my lungs. It wasn’t the coldest day in Brussels but it felt like Antarctica to me. It took a few breaths before I got the hang of breathing again.
Brussels is beautiful in a subtle and low-key way, unlike flashy Paris. I loved walking through the streets, where the air was often permeated with the scent of chocolate and waffles.
Any city that is famous for chocolates, waffles, beer, fries and mussels can do no one any wrong.
The Grande Place was voted the most beautiful square in Europe and it was easy to see why. The plaza isn’t as big as I imagined but once you step foot in the space, you were surrounded by these magnificent gold-gilded buildings; it felt like you stepped back in time, where people gathered to share news and gossip, and merchants selling their prized produce. It’s amazing to see how well everything was restored and preserved.
Tintin, one of the most beloved fictional comic character was illustrated by Belgian artist Herge. If you didn’t know that The adventures of Tintin had Belgium roots, you would have been able to pick it up by walking around Brussels for 5 mins. The shear amount of Tintin merchandise and street art was mind boggling. But in a good way.
Street art was especially prevalent not only in Brussels but throughout most of the European cities I traveled to, something I didn’t really anticipate. When I thought about Europe, my mind is immediately filled with old buildings and cathedrals but I came across some fantastic street art as well. The juxtaposition between the old and new art forms were quite interesting.
One of the place that stood out the most during my Belgium leg of my European adventures was simply the food market. My mom makes this trip every week with her friend to pick out the freshest fruits, vegetables and meats, which she magically whips into an amazing feast every day. The touristy sights are grand but visiting places like a market or a grocery store is where you get the real glimpse of that culture. Everyone loves eating and food is such an important part of our lives!
I was impressed with the variety of fruits and vegetables I saw at the market that day.
In fact, there was so much variety of everything! I saw a fantastic mix of people, old and young, of different races and backgrounds. I couldn’t identify most of the languages that were being spoken but it was fascinating watching people interacting and communicating without speaking a common tongue. My mom is the perfect example of this phenomenon. She doesn’t speak any French/Dutch and her English isn’t her primary language but it didn’t even matter because most of the sellers don’t speak English. Yet, somehow everyone finds a way of understanding each other, through gestures or body language. Mostly lots of pointing, which is a rather simple and effective way of getting your point across.
It’s comforting that most gestures (ex. pointing, giving the middle finger) and facial expressions (ex. smiling, frowning) are universal. Can you imagine how confusing and difficult it would be if smiling was actually offensive in other cultures?