Tag Archives: travel

Friluftsliv: Norway’s search for true nature

There’s an interesting psychological quirk that makes us yearn for a benevolent, caring Mother Nature that can cure our ailments without any side effects. Academics call it the “naturalness preference” or “biophilia”, and the Norwegians call it “friluftsliv” (literally: free-air-life).

Friluftsliv began in 18th century Scandanavia as part of a romantic “back-to-nature” movement for the upper classes. Urbanisation and industrialisation in the 19th century disconnected Norwegians from a natural landscape to which they’d been so interconnected for over five thousand years.

Norway’s sparse population, vast landscapes and midnight sun (in the summer months, at least) make it an excellent place for hunting and exploration. These ideal conditoins produced some of the greatest trekkers and hikers the world has ever seen. I’ll show you two heart-warming examples.

The first is Norway’s infamous explorer Fritjof Nansen, who (very nearly) reached the north pole in 1896 as part of a three-year expedition by ship, dog-sled and foot. When world war one broke out, Nansen put his trekking knowledge into practice by helping European civilians escape the perils of war and move to safer places. He facilitated several logistical operations in the early 20th century that saw the movements of millions of civilians across Europe. When famine broke out in Russia in 1921, he arranged the transportation of enough food to save 22 million people from starvation in Russia’s remotest regions. Deservedly, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his efforts.

The second example is Norway’s Roald Amundsen, who was the first person to reach the south pole in 1911. Nansen lent his ship, Fram, to Amundsen for a north pole expedition in 1909. Before Amundsen set sail, however, he learned that two rival American explorers – each accompanied by groups of native Inuit men – had already reached the north pole and were disputing the title of “first discoverer” among themselves. When Amundsen finally did set sail, he took Nansen’s Fram vessel to Antarctica instead, where he and his team disembarked and trekked a successful round-trip to the south pole. While Amundsen admits he was inspired by Nansen’s successful polar expeditions, I’m sure that Norway’s vast landscapes, summer sun and long-standing tradition of “Allemansrätten” (the right to traverse other people’s private land) also contributed to Amundsen’s yearning for friluftsliv: the obsessive search for a truly untouched wilderness. (Amundsen 1927)

The world’s first tourist organisations were founded in Norway (1868), Sweden (1885) with the goal of helping Scandinavian elites in their search for true nature. When the Industrial Revolution brought many indoor, sedentary factory jobs to Scandinavia, workers craved the outdoors that their culture had been in harmony with for thousands of years. Elites in the late 19th century signed up to go on expeditions to escape encroaching urbanisation. Later, in 1892, a group of Swedish soldiers founded the non-profit organisation Friluftsfrämjandet, which provided outdoor recreational activities to the labouring classes with a particular emphasis on giving free skiing lessons to children. Thanks to Friluftsfrämjandet, and the working-time legislations that came into play in the early 20th century, the middle and lower classes were finally able to pursue their obsession with finding nature, or friluftsliv.

“…[W]e arrange activities to win great experiences, together. We hike, bike, walk, climb, paddle, ski and skate together. We train the best outdoor guides and instructors in Sweden. And we have fun together!” (Friluftsfrämjandet 2017)

Hans Gelter, Associate Professor at Luleå University of Technology, writes that even friluftsliv has become commodified in the age of consumerism. He claims that the high prices commanded for outdoor equipment and transportation to remote places act as a barrier between hikers and the nature they claim to be seeking. (Gelter 2000) In Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered (1985), Timothy Luke argues that outdoor pursuits are now more about testing fancy equipment than finding a deep connection with Mother Nature. Snowboarding is now more about testing the latest boards and wearing eye-catching outfits than it is about enjoying pristine mountain vistas. Golf is now as much about donning luxury clothing brands and using expensive golf clubs as it is about enjoying the outdoors. Even many shower gels and body washes now contain a drop of lemon essence or avocado oil – for which you pay an extra dollar – that adds nothing to the utility of the product. We do this because we crave nature in an industrialised world.

My book Fighting Chemophobia (coming at the end of 2017) is approaching 60,000 words in length. Copious reading and lively discussions with many colleagues and academics is helping to shape the stories in the book.

Follow me on twitter to stay up-to-date with the book’s progress.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Coming to Australia!

An Evening with Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson in Melbourne August 7th 2015

Think Inc as officially announced Neil deGrasse Tyson’s 2015 Australian tour.

Buy tickets to see Neil deGrasse Tyson at the Melbourne MCEC here.

You might remember when I put Neil deGrasse Tyson’s viral video The Most Astounding Fact up on this website. I love that video because it communicates the importance of Science at a level deeper than any other. It’s a video I try to play to all my classes just once at an appropriate time in the year because it teaches what Tyson calls the Cosmic Perspective.

I’m thrilled to say that Think Inc has announced this week that the legendary Neil deGrasse Tyson, passionate science communicator and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, is doing a four-stop tour of Australia including Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra from August 7th-23rd 2015.

See the organisers’ official announcement here.

Book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Life-changing classic about pursuing dreams.
174 pages, ★★★★★

I loved this book but many online critics have given it just one star. Critics say it’s too simple, too cliché, and the moral of the story is either too individualistic or only concerns men. Personally, I give it five stars for all the same reasons. Commercially, The Alchemist has been a huge success (65 million copies have been sold). Fans of this book include Bill Clinton and Will Smith.

Rather than show you my opinion on this book, check out the following video instead. Watch Will Smith talk about The Alchemist at 01:25.

★★★★★

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Green tea: Longjing

Long Jing

Grassy, nutty everyday tea (with surprising hints of cream and chocolate!)
Green tea » Chinese » Pan-Fired » Tender leaf » West Lake Dragon Well, ★★★★★
Also known as: 西湖龙井, Lung Ching, Dragon Well.

I love Longjing tea. During the Olympic Games in 2008, I visited Longjing village, which spans several valleys just a short bus ride to the west of Hangzhou. Tea-farmers let me wander through the hillside plantations, even eat a few leaves, then come back to their veranda for a tea-tasting session. Perfect!

The showed me three grades of Longjing tea, priced at 10, 30 and 50 RMB per 50 grams (about $3, $9 and $15 per 100g, respectively). Each one was brewed in a separate glass, and they showed me the differences between the rougher, more astringent grades and the tender, finer grades with intact, uniform leaves. The cheaper grades, they said, were suitable for everyday personal consumption, and the finer grades should be chosen if you’re buying it as a gift.

I conversed, deliberated and walked away with about half a kilo of tea, which lasted me for an entire year of undergraduate study!

Today’s Longjing tea-tasting session was much less remarkable. There was only one grade available at my local tea vendor, T2. (Unfortunately, they don’t brew tea in-store; nor do they have a veranda overlooking the tea plantation. Never mind.) I noted the classic grassy, nuttiness that I love about Longjing, but also found hints of a creamy, chocolatey finish in T2’s variety. The nuttiness was also more accentuated than usual. Maybe the taste difference can be attributed to differences in the water (Melbourne tap water vs. Nongfu Spring).

Longjing is an everyday green tea. In fact, it’s the #1 most popular tea in China. Millions of factory workers, taxi drivers, builders and students carry large flasks of Longjing tea with them, which they can re-brew with hot water all day. I’ll likely be taking this tea to university next year, too. Half a kilo should do. ★★★★★

Black tea: Second Flush Darjeeling

Darjeeling

Like slooooooowly eating a purple grape.
Black tea » Indian » Darjeeling, ★★★★

Look at my Tea Taxonomy diagram and you’ll see that Darjeeling tea is a special colour. I’ve coloured it cyan (representing Oolong tea) despite placing it in the red (Indian Black tea) subcategory. Why did I do that?

Darjeeling is no ordinary black tea. First, unlike most black teas, it’s only partially oxidised, making it technically an oolong tea and not a black tea at all. Second, unlike most other black teas, Darjeeling tea estates cultivate the small-leaved Chinese tea bush (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis or 茶树), rather than the large-leaved Assam tea tree (Carmellia sinensis var. assamica or 古茶树). The result is a unique “muscatel” flavour and an intriguing wet-leaf aroma that earns Darjeeling the title of “the Champagne of all teas”.

What is “muscatel”? If you don’t wash the leaves (as I didn’t), the first brew will taste slightly of grape skin (that’s “muscatel”). This slightly astringent flavour (which I don’t particularly like) is replaced by a grapey sweetness in subsequent brews (which I do like). The second brew is the best (that’s the first brew if you wash the leaf), where notes of grape, rose and peach come out to play.

Second pluck Darjeeling is quite tannin-rich, but tannic muscatel yields to a sweet, lingering grapiness after you’ve finished drinking. Drinking this tea is like slooooooowly eating a purple, seeded grape, where the astringency of the skin disappears but the sweetness inside lingers on the tongue. Wet Darjeeling leaves release an overwhelming aroma of crushed grapes.

This special tea deserves special treatment. My tips for brewing Second Flush Darjeeling: (1) wash the leaves (i.e. discard the first brew); (2) don’t brew it too hot (remember it’s an Oolong tea!) and (3) take breaks between brews to allow the sweet grape flavour to emerge. ★★★★

Learn more about Darjeeling teas from this video:

http://twinings.co.uk/about-our-tea/first-flush-teas/compare-4-darjeeling-teas