Monday, August 3, 2020

Coffee Museum: World wide ways to make coffee

Lily likes coffee. There are many ways to make coffee. Various countries and regions prefer various methods. Over the years we've seen a lot of them. Let's have a closer look at some of them.

In The Netherlands and surrounding countries filter coffee is very popular. Hand-poured filter-coffee probably is the most delicious coffee around. Especially if you like a soft, round taste. Filter coffee is more healthy because cholesterol raising substances are caught in the paper filter.

The second half of the 20th century saw th coffee machine as the most widely used way to make coffee in The Netherlands. Add water and coffee powder, and the machine does the work. Later one-serving-machines like Senseo and Nespresso and the likes became more popular.

Instant coffee is considered an easy and cheap way to make inferior coffee in The Netherlands. Elsewhere it is more popular. In England with water. In India with buffalo milk. In South America and Southeast Asia it is often sold pre-packed / pre-mixed with sugar and non-dairy creamer: "3-in-1".  The taste of coffee is hard to find but it makes a comforting "hot drink".
If you prefer black coffee, these regions are hard on you. In recent years Southeast Asia developed a more tasteful coffee culture based on espresso machines.

In South India the taste is extracted from the coffee with hot water ("decoction"). Various cities and states claim to be the origin (o.a. Kumbakonam, Mylapore, Kerala en Tamil Nadu). It produces a very strong coffee extract in the lower reservoir. Add hot water to make your cup of coffee.  It’s most commonly referred to as Madras Filter Coffee, even though no filter is used...
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In France the cafetière is popular. Put coarsely ground  coffee in the jar and poor hot water on top. After five minutes gently push the sludge down. This coffee can contain up to 30 times as much cafestol (cholesterol raising substance) as filter coffee.

Probably also from France, but we saw it in Belgium and Vietnam: this traditional method to make one cup of coffee. Put the holder on top of a cup; put a round filter at the bottum; put a spoonful of coffee; pour hot water. Put the lid on top and that is how you get it served in a restaurant.

The espresso cooker is very popular in Spain and Italy. Put water in the lower compartment and fine ground coffee in the middle compartment. Put on a low stove. The water will be forced through the coffee and end up in the upper reservoir. It's the same principle as a big professional espresso machine.
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More on the history of coffee and a good dash of Yemen: The Monk of Mokha

Friday, November 1, 2019

Nathaniel's Nutmeg - Giles Milton - book review

"Nathaniel's Nutmeg" is a vivid and gripping story about the search for the spice islands and about the struggle to get hold of the spice trade. Spices such as cloves, mace and especially nutmeg were just about the only means to keep food (or to suppress the spoiled taste) and to cure diseases (or to soothe them). Nutmeg was more expensive in Europe than gold, while in the Far East it could be picked up for a dime. If you survived the long and dangerous sea journey.

The highs and lows take place at the end of the 16th, beginning of the 17th century. From an English perspective we read about the distress on the ships and in the outposts and how the Dutch get the upper hand on the Moluccas / Banda islands. Notorious Dutchmen like Jan Pieterszoon Coen play a leading role. The book provides a staggering insight into a period of history of which you may have been vaguely aware, but probably know no details.

Two things stand out. 
(1) Being Dutch, I will be the last to play down how violent, ruthless and unjust the VOC has conquered Indonesia. The writer explicitly says so too. Remarkably, on the other hand he portrays the English as honest, reliable and loved by the local people. If they are ever betrayed, murdered, extradited or exploited by an Englishman, that was the incidental misconduct of an individual. The English people as a whole retain the moral upper hand. It takes little insight to see that the English were no better than the Dutch.

(2) The title and subtitle ("How one man's courage changed the course of history") do little justice to the content of the book. Nathaniel Courthope plays a minor role and his contribution is that he managed to defend a small island (Run, one of the Bandas) for a few years. That should have given the English a piece of the spice trade - but failed. 
Decades later, as part of a peace treaty that mutually consolidated conquered territories, Run island became Dutch and Manhattan became English. And the latter island is indeed of greater importance in today's world. The book omits what Dutch schoolbooks find more important: Surinam (Dutch Guyana) was part of that deal - they don't even mention Run. Of all the factors that led to that exchange and the rise of New York, the steadfastness of Courthope was only a futile one. By making New York so much more important than the Moluccas, the book unmeritly subverts its own importance to understanding history.


More book reviews.

The last king of Burma and the last emperor of India (2/2) The Last Mughal - William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple - The Last Mughal

Dalrymple describes the events surrounding the great uprising in India from an original perspective, which differs considerably from British historiography.

Bahadur Shah Zafar was the emperor or mughal of India in name, but all the power was with the British occupiers. After the mutiny in 1857-1858 he was exiled (forever disturbing the balance between Hindus and Muslims in India along the way) to Rangoon in Burma - now Yangon in Myanmar. There he died in 1862. He was buried as quickly as possible by the British in a secret place, not to create a place of pilgrimage for anti-British. His grave was rediscovered in 1991.

The location of his grave had been a secret for a long time. But the book gave some clues as to where it was, so now we wanted to look for it. The first step was to find a hotel in the part of the city where the grave should be. Theatre road now had a Burmese name, but our guess was it must have been near the National Theatre.

The second step was to inquire about the Shah's grave at the hotel reception. Five people pieced the answer together, and they even sketched us a map. It was a half-hour walk. Through the embassy area, with many vacant ministries. The capital was recently moved to a newly built city in the interior. The Russian embassy was an unprecedented fortress with high walls, lots of barbed wire, heavy security and fenced off streets.

When we arrived at the destination, we had to ask for the exact location. Five different people gave four opposite directions. But after fifteen more minutes we had found the right place.

A modest compound with small minarets; some halls ("established in cooperation with the Government of India"); three "graves" that looked like a made-up bed, for the Shah, his wife and his daughter-in-law. A little further on, where his real grave was found in 1990, a basement with another tomb.

There were some visitors who worshiped the deceased as saints (in the religious sense). It was lively and serene at the same time. The whole thing was simple but made quite an impression.

 Yangon, January 2008

The last emperor of India had been exiled to Burma. The last king of Burma had been exiled to India. I had now visited the last place of residence / grave of both. This makes history tangible.

PS Nowadays both places are easy to find on Google Maps and attract quite some foreign visitors.


Continue reading about the last king of Burma.
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The last king of Burma and the last emperor of India (1/2) The Glass Palace - Amitav Ghosh

The British used to ban defeated and deposed rulers from their colonies to other countries. This way they prevented them from becoming a martyr who might inspire rebels.
The last king of Burma and the last emperor of India were exiled to each other's country, and I visited the last hometown / resting place of both. In both cases following instructions in a book in which they appear.

Amitav Ghosh - The Glass Palace

The Glass Palace is a beautiful novel against the historical background of Thebaw, the last king of Burma, and what became of his staff and acquaintances. The different storylines develop across India, Burma and Malaysia. I had already visited most of the places where the book is located: Mandalay, Rangoon, Calcutta, Penang and even the hidden archaeological excavations of Lembah Bujang.
Thebaw was deposed in 1885. He was exiled to Ratnagiri, a small town on the west coast of India, some 300 km south of Bombay - now Mumbai. A small palace was built for him. He died in 1916 and was buried in a walled part of the Christian cemetery.

So, the reason I visited Ratnagiri was to visit the king's palace. It was a lot more impressive than I expected: fairly large, three storeys, verandas and balcony, majestic, on a large compound. The outbuildings now house an archaeological or educational institute. The main building was empty. Grass grew through the cracks, roof tiles had snapped, windows were broken. The doors were locked. For a moment I considered breaking in, which would surely succeed with some force, but I rejected that.

I walked around the building a couple of times and found a staircase that took me to the rear balcony. One door there was not locked. That was a way inside. I wandered through the deserted halls and rooms, over the large wooden stairs and up to the front balcony, from where the king looked out over the mouth of the river and the bay. That was an important element in the book, and it was overwhelming I could enjoy the same view.

Opposite the palace, a stone staircase led down the hill. I walked down to a small settlement of shabby huts. I climbed back up and went looking for the Collector's Bungalow. The collector and his wife also played an important part in the book. This place was harder to find, everybody pointed me in a different direction. In the end it turned out to be a surprisingly simple retreat for what was at the time the district's most important British civil servant. At the bottom of the garden was indeed a place where you could sit and look over the river.

Ratnagiri, November 2004


Continue reading about the last emperor of India.
More book reviews.

The Monk Of Mokha - Dave Eggers - book review

A fascinating book for those who - just like Lily - love coffee and culture. It is a blend of the American dream, the history of coffee and a good dash of Yemen.

Having visited Yemen back in the day, I remain interested in this beautiful and tragical country.

Mokha, a port in Yemen, once was the center of the global coffee trade and has given its name to a top quality coffee bean.

Mokhtar is an aimless underprivileged youngster who becomes a successful businessman (while it lasts). He is described vividly enough to get annoyed over his stupid decisions. Along the way countless interesting facts about growing, harvesting and roasting coffee come along.

In order not to disturb the happy ending, the developments of the war in Yemen are not mentioned. The USA's very dubious role in this is conveniently left out.

Dave Eggers strength is content and storyline over his prose power and that's why it's okay to read the translated Dutch edition. Maybe it reads even better than the real thing.


More book reviews.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Cats and dogs

In general you can say that cities are feline territories, and the countryside is canine territory. That is why in Asia, when you take a walk out of town, you always need a stick. Cyclists tell me they go right for the calves. If you are going to cycle here, a rabies vaccination is recommended. Then you have 48 hours instead of 24 hours to find the life-saving serum, if you get bitten.

And there are towns that are in between - just. During the day, you see  cats walking around, or sleeping on the sidewalk in front of their house / shop. They push their head against your legs and let themselves be stroked under their chin and purr.

But after 8 o'clock at night, when it is dark and it gets quieter, the dogs take over the streets. Packs of dogs roam, and where you could easily pass a sleeping dog during the day, now they bark at you. The first gets the next started, and before you know it you have a whole bunch coming after you. They are not completely wild though: if they come too close, it is usually enough to raise a finger (literally) and then they back off.

The cats have withdrawn further, you can still see them sleeping here and there, but they keep still.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Travelogue 2019, Episode 4, Canapy walk and Khmer Temple

It took some effort to get up and start moving again. I had to return to Bangkok after all. The first stage was a short one: to Trang by bus. After that I would take some long, long train rides.

Trang & the Canapy walk 

Like the other relatively young cities Hat Yai and Phatthalung in the region (founded 100 years ago, with the construction of the railways), Trang has a large ethnic-Chinese population.
Trang is a transfer point for tourists on their way to the islands in the Andaman sea. They remain in town just one night and may miss some stunning sights.

Almost all of the original vegetation in Thailand has been cut down or burnt down. In the south for rubber plantations, in the center for rice paddies. The occasional plot has escaped. Outside Trang a 1x4km area of original jungle has been turned into a botanical garden. With a trail through it.

It felt as if I walked into the jungle instantly. Which was just what I did. Except for the trail and a few signs, in Thai, everything was original jungle. Most varied: denser and thinner, lighter and darker, higher and lower, drier and wetter. Palms, ferns, bamboo, tall trees, parasite plants, lianas, gigantic leaves - it was all there.

In the distance I could hear traffic noise, but closer by was the sound of birds, insects and the rustling of lizards through the leaves.

At one point, a red-colored construction rose up between the green: an iron watchtower. I  climbed it to about 9m. There was an iron suspension bridge to the next tower, about 40 meters further. There I could go up the stairs and on to the next, higher suspension bridge. Same again to the third and middle suspension bridge that rose to 18m. Then I really walked alongside the higher treetops, and looked down on the lower parts of forest. That was very special.

After the canapy walk the path continued through the wet part, the "swamp". Today it was not too wet, only the middle part was submerged.

From there the trail returned to the starting point. All in all, the walk had lasted an hour. Time for a break at the coffee shop. The ladies of the shop and the information boots had a kind of jungle camouflage blouse as a uniform. Most charming.

Kanchanaburi & the Khmer tempels

Kanchanaburi is best known for the "Bridge over the River Kwai" and the horrors of the Burma Railway. It is also a base for natural beauty further down the valley. One street in the town has become a mini tourist ghetto with a series of guesthouses, bars, restaurants and massage parlours.

If you want to have a drink in the evening, there are countless possibilities. There are bars with groups of beer-drinking men. There are large sports cafes with large TV screens. There are cocktail bars with a/c and fluorescent lighting. There are bars with musical instruments set up on stage (but no musicians yet). There are bars where ladies with deep necklines help you finish your beer fast and order another one. And then there is the bench in front of the supermarket, where a man drinks the can of beer he just bought inside. It was not so much the setting, but the blank expression in his face that gave it such a sad look.

There is a lesser-known sight. On my travels I visited many temples, often Khmer temples, satellite cities of the famous Angor Wat. Prasat Muang Singh is the westernmost Khmer site and far from the others in Cambodia and Isan. Also relatively far from Kanchanaburi, 40km, and the only public transport is the train. It only runs a few times a day and there is actually only one combination of return trains that can be done. If the trains are on time.

According to a sign in the station, the train would arrive 10 minutes late. That should leave me just enough time. Whole school groups were waiting. And already three special wagons for foreigners at tourist price (100b), because this ride also did the passage of The Bridge. When the train arrived from Thonburi, the locomotive was disconnected, it picked up our wagons, drove a lot forward, then backed up again to connect to the wagons from Thonburi. So we became an extra long train.

We drove over The Bridge very slowly. Funny to see that from the other side, just like the market of Samut Songkhram, which we have also seen from two sides - once from inside the train, once from outside the train. 

After The Bridge, the tracks followed the valley of the Kwae Noi. Lots of agriculture, rice fields, corn, bananas, crops that I did not know. Occasionally unexplored tracts of land with the bamboo bush that was so characteristic of the Hellfire Pass. Villages, Buddhist monasteries, schools, children and farm workers waved to the train. Sometimes we had a view of the river, which was quite wide despite its name.

With a fifteen minute delay we arrived at the Tha Kilen station. A few tourists got out, who were met by a waiting van. Most people continued to the end of the line. I was the only one who walked the 500m long road from the station to the village, between the fields. It was about noon, a scorching heat had stopped everything. It was beautiful!

The village was a T-junction with 8 shed-like buildings. One was a kind of shop with a very old lady. I was unable to communicate properly, she did not understand that I was asking for a cola. Fortunately I was able to get it myself. But when I forgot my walking stick, she came calling after me - and her gestures showed that she understood why I had it with me - and that I needed it to scare away the dogs.

The entrance to the historic site was another 500m away, just before the ancient city walls. The site was 9 centuries old and excavated from the jungle over 40 years ago and beautifully maintained. The areas between wall, moat and buildings were neatly raked. In historical monuments, these are often lawns, here it was an open forest.

A path through the trees led to the central part, the remains of a temple. Outer walls, a passage that was still partly covered, a middle building with a statue and a second, higher building whose roof was still intact, with a statue. The stones were weathered and mossy and hot in the sun. It radiated power and strength.

I was the only one here. I sat in the courtyard of the main building. Then I walked to the parking lot where there were toilets. And a stall with fried noodles. A real lunch was tempting.

When I finished it, I had only 45 minutes left until the train would leave. But I still wanted to see how the walled city touched the river, so I walked along the south wall. That was further than I thought and time was running out. I was about fifteen minutes short.

The strip between the city wall and the river was beautified, a kind of park with covered seating areas and something that might have been a restaurant and guest rooms. Here you could really have enjoyed the view. 
But I had to hurry to catch the train. And at 37 degrees, that's not what you want. Back through the gate, the access road, through the village, the station road. I did not suffer from overheating, but my legs hurt. With 5 minutes spare I arrived at the station. Time enough to buy a cup of coffee before the train arrived.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Travelogue 2019, Episode 3, Destination reached: Satun

Our final train ride southbound was to Hat Yai, the biggest Thai city south of Bangkok and an important transport hub. For Malaysia Hat Yai is what Amsterdam is for England: you go there for the weekend for everything that god and your own country have forbidden.
This time we only stayed for lunch. With a mini-van we crossed over to the west side of Thailand, the Andaman coast, where it is warmer and sunnier.
In Satun we received a warm welcome in our guesthouse / resort. 

Home sweet home

This was our fourth time in Satun in five years. And we still find it delightful. How come? It’s a combination of many things.
The resort where we stay is beautiful. The cottages are designed tastefully and maintained well. Comfortable bed and plenty of space. A private veranda overlooking the well-tended garden. The pool is great to cool down in the afternoon. 
Usually It’s not crowded. On weekdays but a few houses are occupied, during the weekend more. The visitors are a mix of Westerners living on Langkawi and Malaysian and Thai families. Almost always quiet people. The staff is always nice and helpful.
The resort is located on the outskirts of town, between cow pastures and tall palm and tamarind trees. When the sun rises, there's an incredible noise of birds and insects, accompanied by the call for prayer in the distance.

It’s a 15 minute walk down town. Satun is a small town, with several restaurants that we like. Rich, creamy Thai curry in one, spicy Malay noodles in another, English pizza at Bobby's, one of the few expats living here.
Almost every walk in town we experience something new or unexpected. We discover a new street of a new store, we have coffee in a new coffee shop, we see cats sleeping in the strangest places, we see a snake zigzagging across the road, we see a new construction project of a dilapidated corner.

Outside the city you can make the most beautiful walks. Alongside rubber plantations and fish ponds, or through the mangrove forests. In a rubber plantation we saw trees with the cups filled with fresh rubber. Normally they are emptied early in the morning, or you see old neglected trees.
Walking through the mangrove forest we came as close as 8½km to the Malaysian border. As the crow flies. With impenetrable mangrove, swamp, delta and jungle in between. It would be 80km by road.

We made two trips out of town. The young lady who made us an ice coffee 5 years ago, and who made an impression because of the mindfulness and love she applied to that, had moved a few times and now had a coffee stall 30km away. It was lovely to see her again.

Our receptionist invited us for a trip to a fishing village that until recently was only accessible by boat. Now you drive 10km through mangrove forests on a wide and winding road. The hamlet is a different side of Thailand: simple wooden houses on stilts, life here is hard and shabby.
We spoke two volunteers who worked for a year in a similar village. That’s tough: nobody speaks decent English, never eating good food, completely depending on yourself.

Meanwhile it got hotter every day. Especially the sun became increasingly fierceful.

Red Bull

The only thing that can give you a boost in this oppressive heat is an iced coffee. Specifically one with condensed milk ánd coffee milk ánd milk powder. It is refreshing and energizing at the same time. The combination of caffeine, sugar and milk fats apparently has this special effect - for hours you are wide awake.
The recipe for Red Bull is derived from this.
You may think that Red Bull comes from Austria. No, it is a Thai thing, but the inventor had an Austrian partner for the global marketing. That has proved successful, one might say. The Yoovidhya family is one of the richest in Thailand.
I’ll take the "original version" - sometimes with milk and sometimes black - but always with less sugar than the Thai do.

Chinese New Year

Some Thai cities, like Ayutthaya and Trang, have a prominent Chinese population and CNY eclipses public life for weeks. There are markets, fairs, stages with music and shows, parades with dragons and drums, everyone wears new red clothes, and meals are put on a table for their ancestors.
Much less so in Satun. Still, a lot of red lanterns dangle throughout the city. Many businesses are closed for a few days or a week, so the already quiet city seems almost extinct.
People are broad minded here, which is prooved by Muslima’s wearing red CNY dresses.

Cats and dogs

In general you can say that cities are feline territories, and the countryside is canine territory. That is why in Asia, when you take a walk out of town, you always need a stick. Cyclists tell me they go right for the calves. If you are going to cycle here, a rabies vaccination is recommended. Then you have 48 hours instead of 24 hours to find the life-saving serum, if you get bitten.

According to this classification Satun is a town - just. During the day, you see  cats walking around, or sleeping on the sidewalk in front of their house / shop. They push their head against your legs and let themselves be stroked under their chin and purr.

But after 8 o'clock at night, when it is dark and it gets quieter, the dogs take over the streets. Packs of dogs roam, and where you could easily pass a sleeping dog during the day, now they bark at you. The first gets the next started, and before you know it you have a whole bunch coming after you. They are not completely wild though: if they come too close, it is usually enough to raise a finger (literally) and then they back off.
The cats have withdrawn further, you can still see them sleeping here and there, but they keep still.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Travelogue 2019, Episode 2, Beaches and Lakes in South Thailand

We went further down south. We visted two beaches and two large lakes. We seldom go to beach destinations, now twice, on the northern part of the Gulf of Thailand.
In the central part of the long stretch that forms Southern Thailand, we visited a large reservoir in the mountains and a large natural lake near the sea.

Beach town Hua Hin

In Hue Hin we had a nice hotel in a rather Thai neighborhood. Thai people lived and worked in the alleys around us, and the local market was nearby. But other parts of the city were completely taken over by mainly Scandinavian tourists. Many families with children, many elderly couples, and older men with their Thai wife. Mostly people come to stay over for the winter or come for the beach. There must be literally tens of thousands of Scandinavians living here. And there were quite some Asian tourists around too.

This time of year it is normal for the water to be high in the Gulf of Thailand, but these days it was extra high. There was hardly any beach for much of the day. One morning none at all. We stood at a beach entrance watching people carrying their mats and towels, looking a bit alarmed, and turning away again. But in between we could swim and paddle in the surf and enjoy the sun.

Hat Thung Wua Lean (Chumphon)

With an express train and a songthaew (a pick-up truck with benches in the hold) we moved 260km further south. There is a small beach, one kilometer long, with one road alongside, where it is busy with Thai during the weekend. During the week it is very quiet, the few hotels and restaurants that are open hardly have any guests. Here too the beach is narrow because of the high tide, but you share it with just a handful of others. We had two quiet days.

Single track trains

We did all our longer transfers by train. Often there were just one or two trains a day that were useful to us (there are also many night trains). These are old tracks and diesel trains, with antique signaling systems that work with hoops, tokens and flags.

To prevent two trains running into each other on a single track, each track section has one token (a metal disc) that a driver múst have to be able to drive on that section. At stations where opposite trains pass each other, the token is given to a station employee. To make the transfer easier from a moving train, the token is clamped in a large hoop. The station employee brings the hoop with token to the other train. Sometimes the employee pulls a long sprint for that, once we saw him driving down the platform with a moped!

The express trains reached up to 120 km / h. And even the wooden (!) local train that we had, reached almost 90 km / h. After 4½ hours, wooden benches are very hard indeed…

Ratchaprapha Dam / Khao Sok NP

From the town of Phun Phin (Surat Thani) we made a day trip to the Ratchaprapha Dam, the largest reservoir in South Thailand. It is a popular destination for boat trips, both by backpackers and in the weekend also by Thai. Almost everyone comes with an organized tour, so it took some time to find our bearings in the chaos. But in the end we sailed on our own little boat inbetween the rock formations, mountain peaks and jungle. Magnificent!

(Find the details how to organise a day trip from Surat Thani to Khao Sok National Park here.)

Phatthalung & Thale Noi NP

We stayed in the small provincial capital of Phatthalung for a few days. It is situated pretty much in the middle of nowhere and there are hardly any tourists. Yet there are some beautiful limestone mountains with caves and it is located near the largest lake in Thailand: Lake Songkhla.

A remote corner of the lake, still 5x5km, is a bird sanctuary, Thale Noi. We could make a boat trip. We got in with a somewhat older man who turned out to be a fine boatman. The trip was fantastic. We passed a variety of "land" scapes, vegetation and animals. Large parts of the lake were covered with water plants, but the water was crystal clear.

The first part was the water lily zone. Up close there was plenty of space between the flowers, but if you looked into the distance, there was a purple-pink glow over the water. We saw moorhens, gulls, herons, storks, cormorants and many more birds, of which I do not know the name. Part of the trip went through reeds, and we saw a large herd of water buffalo. The shepherds sailed in two small boats to keep them together. A baby buffalo stayed behind. Every now and then we cut through pieces of water plants, which separated underneath us. But once in a while, our boatman had to turn around. 
Next we passed large moving fishing nets (Kochi type) that were strung along a kind of canal in the middle of the lake... 
Hidden in the reeds we saw three more water buffalo. We saw the huge animals swimming and clambering lazily. Finally we sailed along a long row of trees, where each tree root formed its own small island.

Further south, the Thai seem even more friendly. There is not only the proverbial “Thai smile”, but also radiant faces, happy eyes, helpful interventions, greetings and an overall feeling of being welcome. Unfortunately, hardly anyone speaks English, so we had no deep and meaningful conversations.