Travel is a pleasure, it is also a learning experience | Intensive Spanish Culture Discovery in 2 days

I’m fascinated by Spanish Culture | Flamenco Dance

BLOG opening credit: I will share a series of cultural inspirations,  impacts in my blog. At each start of my random stories, I want to make a quick introduction of what I am interested in life before my story begins.

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Flamenco started in the regions of Andalusia.  It is an art form which includes singing, guitar playing, dance, vocalisations, hand clapping and finger snapping. The dance originated in the music and dance styles of Andalusia. Since the Spanish government has been promoting it, Flamenco has become one of the symbols of Spain, a nation wide event within the country.

Flamenco music has 50 styles, each style has it’s own rhythm but without any fixed movements, they are completely depending on the interaction of the emotion and atmosphere created by the dancer, music performer, singer and the audience.

To see the most authentic Flamenco show, the best place is it’s birthplace – Andalusia region in Spain. Some bars also provide a Flamenco performance and it’s free to see if you consume some drinks (of course). Remember, during the performance we should try to behave like the locals, say: Olé!  Let’s blend ourselves into the atmosphere of flamenco dancing.

Hey, Madrid! Here I am, again!

At the end of 2013, I became fascinated about Spanish, a beautiful language with a vast vocabulary. Because of that, while I immersed myself in learning the language, I started slowly discovering it’s fascinating culture, people and history. I like Flamenco, the architecture of Antoni Gaudi, love Sangria and there is so much more to offer.

I visited Madrid in 2009 for work, didn’t have much time to explore the city but luckily I managed to spare an hour. I walked around the city centre without knowing much about the city. Yes, shame on me, I walked through it, passed through it, and I missed it completely: the charm of the city. My feedback of Madrid on my return at the time was: “Nah, just a city like everywhere else in Europe.”

Returning to Madrid | the background

September 2015, after spending 2 years faffing around with my Spanish speaking work colleagues, I randomly found my proper language partner through a social language exchange website.

Bea is one of my favourite language exchange partner, we have more things in common and dozens of stories to share. Every week, we would spend 1-2 hours on Skype to share our life stories. Bea would tell me about her interesting life in Spain in English and I would share my opinions about everything in the UK with a little comparisons to what it would be like in China.

Our friendship started from knowing nothing about each other to sharing absolutely everything. I absolutely enjoy discovering slowly about a normal family’s life in Madrid. That brought me to decide to visit Bea in April when I had to make a business trip to Lisbon.

Arriving Madrid | Discovery

On the third Friday Morning in the month of April, I woke up very early affected by all the excitement of visiting Madrid today. When learning a language, the biggest enticement is to be able to use what you’ve learn in real life, not just for practice. I dragged my little hand luggage weighed down with work stuff to the office to go through another working day. In the evening I stepped on to the plane that flew me to Madrid.

Guess what? Not very surprised that my flight was delayed (don’t you think this happens a lot?) I arrived just a little after the midnight, almost 2 hours behind the original scheduled time. (Damn, if it’s more than 2 hours, I can claim a good compensation for that delay! Since the delay is not caused by force majeure.)

Bea and I have never met each other but somehow we recognised each other straightaway the moment I saw her standing at the arrival gate with her daughter. We greeted each other in Spanish way:  a hug, 2 kisses on the cheek .

I felt guilty for arriving at such a time. Bea’s husband, son plus a dog was waiting for us when we got home. So here we are, 1am, we were eating delicious homemade Spanish omelette and healthy salad.

This is one of the best trip I have made in life – to stay with a local family, eat what they eat, watch what they watch, speak in their language. What a joy!

Bea’s house is large and very neat, I slept in the top floor of the house. The house has a very warm character, children’s existence would make a simple house more family-like.

Next day morning, Bea and I chilled at home, taking our time to have some breakfast and talk about our habits of a normal weekend morning. I knew that we meant to be going out to meet her friends in the afternoon, but I was not sure what time. Here I have discovered some local customs.

Intensive Spanish culture discovery 1: Not just in Spain, in almost all the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, the agreed appointment time for friend gathering is only an idea. I am so used to English punctuality, suddenly to understand the Mediterranean hour is a little shocking. Some other friends told me that making your appearance between 30 mins to 1 hour late is absolutely normal.

Unsurprisingly, our lunch appointment which was supposed to be at 1pm ended up being 2pm and there were others who turned up even later than us. Well, the main reason of making our appearance so late was because we got lost in the metro. (How so? Well, I was replying on Bea’s Madridistness but we missed the interchange twice.)

Anyway, here we are, having great Spanish wine and Paella.

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“Do you want some paella, love? “

Intensive Spanish culture discovery 2: Spanish have 5 meals a day.
Desayuno: 7-8 am
Bocadillo: 10-11 am
Almuerzo: 2-3 pm
Merienda: 5-6 pm
Cena: 9-10 pm (Most people would have dinner 11pm-ish)

Don’t you think having 5 meals a day isn’t a bit too much? In fact, I see more slender Spanish than anywhere in Europe, I don’t see many overweight people at all. People in Spain seemed to be eating very healthily. Yes, they have 5 meals but each meal is only a small portion.

Intensive Spanish culture discovery 3: I was told in Spain, lunch with friends or family on a weekend, 4 hours of lunch is very common. On this occasion, lunch with 5 Spanish girls for 4 hours has become the record in my life.

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Intensive Spanish culture discovery 4: People always say almost all Women can multitask and most men can’t. When you are surrounded by a group of Spanish, I realise everyone is multitasking! It’s really hard for a non-native speaker like me to follow the conversation speed. One lady seemed to really focus on talking with me only, but all of sudden, she could turn around and drop an opinion to another conversation that was discussed among other people. What a skill! I wish I could do that.

Intensive Spanish culture discovery 5: The speed. Do you feel Spanish speak overly fast sometimes it could make you to feel that they don’t have much patience? This is just the way they speak. Especially when they just met you want to know you better, they often don’t wait until you finish your sentence before the next question is fired.

After 4 hours lunching and intensive Spanish class with 5 Spanish girls. I haven’t digested anything yet. Here we are, we are about to dinner. (Using dinner as a verb instead of having dinner)

In central Madrid, Chinese can be seen almost every corner. Some live in Spain, some study in Spain and some are tourists. Chinese in Spain have their own community, they don’t seem to integrate themselves very well into Spanish society.

When I returned to Bea’s home again, being the only Chinese, I felt I am so blessed. The arrival of the family of Bea’s sister in law, everyone welcomed my presence, they were very interested in my background and my original culture. I enjoyed sharing my Chinese experience and opinions of life in London.

Here I have to say: I seriously had a fun day by talking to so many Spanish, learning their expressions and those little cultural discoveries.

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A day trip out to Toledo

Toledo is located approximately 70 km south west of Madrid, 1 hour away by car and it’s the capital of the province of Toledo and the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. The whole town is well preserved, all the buildings have remained for centuries more or less intact. It was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1986 for it’s extensive cultural and monumental heritage and historical co-existence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures.

Before we set off for Toledo, Bea took us to a restaurant near her home. There, I had Spanish churros for the first time. The flavour of churros is very similar to one of the typical Chinese breakfasts (You Tiao), a deep fried bread stick. The Chinese way is to dip it in soy sauce, and the Spanish way is a less healthy but hey ho, it’s super delicious. You dip churros in thick hot chocolate and it melts in your mouth instantly. Mmmmm…

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Here we arrived in Toledo. I am going to shut up so you can enjoy the wonderful scenery of Toledo!

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We are siting on the hop on hop off open roof double decker bus.

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Slightly filtered Toledo picture is like a castle in those fairy tales. I wish I could just remain there be a princess. (This time I won’t be a Queen)

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Here I have to say all of Bea’s friends are a joy to hang out with, we had so many laughs and a lot of fun. I enjoyed every single conversation with everyone.

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I really liked this kind of street – narrow, stone walls, Spanish balconies.

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To finish:

2 days of visiting is very short, but it’s really fun. I feel I was so blessed by Bea’s friends and her family. When I was dropped at the airport to take the flight from Madrid to Lisbon, I become very emotional.

A big but, every end of trip is the beginning of the new trip, so I will be back soon! Spain! España!

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