Holland will be great again… some day

I am Dutch. I will always feel Dutch despite me leaving the Netherlands 7 years ago. I am proud of my former home country; but not proud of the Holland of today. The Holland of today can’t stand in the shadow of the Holland it once was.

Holland is actually the name of only a small part of the Netherlands, but to be honest: it sounds so much better than using the official name of this part of the world that is at some levels lying almost 16 meters below sea level.

This morning I felt my Dutch origins tickling my imagination when I visited the 130-year-old firm Wiener-Duyvis in Koog aan de Zaan, hometown to many cacao processing companies. Up to this day, Holland is still the largest importer of cacao in the world, and Wiener-Duyvis is the biggest cacao processing machinery builder in the world. I took a train ride and walked the last 850 meters from the train station to the headquarters of Wiener Duyvis. And during this walk I felt thrown back in history to the last glory days of the Netherlands. Typical Dutch houses and fabulous windmills that were there already for centuries, now forced to witness the decay of the once most powerful country in the world.

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Holland started to feel and to act like Holland at the moment it freed itself from the suppression of the Habsburg empire reigning out from the castles in the almighty lands of Spain. We Dutch needed an eighty-year long war against our Spanish rulers. We were desperate sometimes, but we never gave up. And finally, we got our reward, becoming the first ever Republic in the world in 1648.

The whole feeling of liberation boosted the spirit of our newborn state. It already started at the beginning of the 17th century where parts of these Low-Lands already considered themselves separated from the Habsburgers. We built ships to sail out and discover the world. If we could defeat the biggest empire in the Western world, then for sure we could achieve much more; and like a rebelling youngster in his puberty, we Dutch went out. The world was our oyster. Our dreams were big. Nothing was impossible.

There was also a big difference with the sailing expeditions of the Spanish and the Portuguese. They were Catholic and they wanted to convert the world to their belief. We Dutch, however, embraced the learning of the -from origin humanist- Protestant John Calvin. We had no urge to impose our religious beliefs on others; we wanted to trade. And there we went; on tiny ‘Fluyts’ of no longer than 25 meters, crossing oceans for years before reaching the expected or unexpected destinies, fighting off storms, hunger, diseases, heat and cold.  If you were lucky, you made it.

One of the most impressive journeys was the third attempt to reach China by a northern route, through the Arctic. The city of Amsterdam set out a competition with a reward of 25,000 Dutch guilders. Jan Cornelisz Rijp, Jacob van Heemskerck and Willem Barendsz took up the challenge and sailed out on two vessels. They got trapped in the ice off the island of Nova Zembla, and they got stuck in the freezing hell for the entire Arctic winter. They were attacked by polar bears and arctic foxes, some men froze to death, and eventually only 12 of them made it back to Holland at the end of 1597.

But it didn’t break the spirit. In those days we, Dutch didn’t give up. On the contrary: the discovery of, and the trade in expensive spices created the ‘Golden Century’. For a few decades, the Netherlands became the most powerful nation in the world.

This morning I had a lengthy discussion with Ronald Wilmink, international account manager at Duyvis, about the differences between Vietnam and the Netherlands. He knows Vietnam better than I do. He has seen the developments for the past seven years. Only seven years ago the only cars on the street of Ho Chi Minh were taxis and the first McDonalds just opened his doors. If I compare this with the Vietnam of today, it is impossible to explain the difference to outsiders. It is not an economic growth; it is an economic explosion. For Vietnamese, the future looks exciting. Vietnamese love to trade. In that sense Dutch and Vietnamese are similar.

So where did it go wrong for my beloved Holland? Last year the government of Vietnam announced that foreigners are allowed to buy apartments, and Ronald assured me that foreigners now also can establish their own company in Vietnam without being forced into a joint venture with a Vietnamese company. It seems that the more the economy is growing, the more the government is canceling regulations.

In Holland and Europe, it is the other way around. Everything is getting regulated. And the more debt and the slower the economy is developing, the more rules are imposed by the Dutch government in failing attempts to push the economy. When I arrived in Holland last September for the Elfia event, I heard a female minister on the radio talking about a new law to force Dutch farmers to get their cows out on the field instead of leaving them in the stables. It is a fantastic example of a panicking government trying to regulate her way out of a recession while killing every business initiative.

To be honest, I am glad I left Holland in 2009. In Asia, I feel the entrepreneurial spirit and my business initiatives are welcomed. But deep inside me, it hurts. My old home country is bleeding. And to my idea, it will take at least one decade or two before the Dutch, still living in the Low Lands discover that they took the wrong turn. It will be a very painful process, and it will be chaotic with a lot of social unrest, but I am sure Holland will become great again… some day.

 

 

Stop poisoning your body!

You want to eat healthily and honestly. But not everybody wants to give up on sweets. In the last fifty years, we tripled our consumption of sugar. Tripled! All Americans are weighing now 12 kilos more than they did 25 years ago. One of the main reasons was the anti-fat rage. And the food industry listened… and replaced fat for carbohydrates from sugar. So our sugar consumption spiked in the past 25 years. Consumption of heavily processed sugar. Poisonous sugar. Sugar that is bleached with sulphur dioxide and ‘enriched’ with phosphoric acid and carbon dioxide.

It is very difficult to take a step back in our consumption of the dangerous sweetener. Sugar is addictive. And it makes you desire for more. In general, people should at least try to reduce the amount of sugar intake. But maybe even more important: knowing how poisonous processed sugar is, people should replace their bleached sugar for a natural alternative. And that’s where our Kamkav Farm Palm Blossom Sugar steps in. It is one of the natural alternatives. And an amazing one: organic, unrefined, unblended and still containing all nutrients and minerals. Gained from the Borassus Flabellifer on the fertile soils of Cambodia, the kingdom of Wonder. Still treated in the most natural way by Cambodians for whom organic is not a trend but just a way how it always was.

Just to clarify the advances of our Cambodian palm blossom sugar:

🌎 it is pure nature, coming from the nectar of the unique Cambodian Palm Tree

🌎 it is only collected once the tree reaches the age of 20 years

🌎 it is organic

🌎 it is unblended

🌎 it is unrefined; only cooked, stirred and dried

🌎 we selected almost 50 selected ethnic families who collect the nectar twice a day and whom we pay a premium on top of the market price

🌎 we consistently guide the families to keep the quality at the highest levels possible

🌎 it has a low impact on blood glucose levels (Glycemic Index of 35; against 68 for table sugar)

🌎 it is more appropriate for diabetics

🌎 it still contains all nutrients and minerals

Don’t wait too long! Start today by reducing your intake of sugars,and replacing the sugars you are consuming by natural alternatives. Of course, we would like you to buy and eat our Kamkav farm palm blossom sugar. We are eating it now ourselves because it also tastes so good. But there are many other alternatives as well: coconut blossom sugar, maple syrup, agave syrup, Stevia, Lo Han. Enough choices. But most important is: get back your health! 

Kidnapped by an airline

I was kidnapped. Not by a confused man, not by ISIS but by a company, an airline company; and even worse: one of the highest rated airline businesses in the world, Qatar Airways.

To put nice things first: I always had excellent experiences with Qatar. It is a very convenient airline. The crew is very professional and friendly; business class is amazing, and even economy class is rather good compared to European airline companies with chairs with at least 10cm more leg space.

At the beginning of April, I booked a flight from Phnom Penh to Amsterdam. Let me explain about this flight: it stops in Ho Chi Minh and Doha. In the latter I have to change airplane to fly to Amsterdam. And early May I booked a flight back along the same route. However, I wanted to change my arrival city. Not a big deal, so I thought. Because of a business issue I needed to be first in Vietnam before going to Cambodia, so I decided to get out in Ho Chi Minh and not fulfill my flight till the end. I arranged a week before a visa with the Vietnamese authorities so I was allowed to enter Vietnam on May 5.

At Schiphol Amsterdam, I instructed the friendly ground crew about my change of schedule. She was more than happy to help me, but her system didn’t allow her to change my luggage destination from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh. She asked assistance and this -also friendly- staff member came with the solution: don’t change anything. Just inform the Qatar staff member who opens the plane door that I went off in Ho Chi Minh, and he would be forced to find my luggage (which they labeled priority) because according to Qatar policy luggage cannot travel without the passenger.

So far so good. I arrived in Ho Chi Minh and found the corresponding staff member. And here it went totally wrong. First, he accused me of lying because I didn’t note the name of the Qatar colleague in Amsterdam. And then he turned things upside down: I could not leave the airplane and enter Vietnam because my luggage had the final destination of Phnom Penh and I had to follow my luggage instead of the other way around.  I refused. I showed him the visa papers I got and asked him to let me talk to an immigration officer. I wanted to ask if I had permission to enter Vietnam today but the Qatar staff refused me five times to let me speak directly to Immigration.

He even threatened me to fly me back to Doha and accused me of lying. I was not only victim of a bizarre situation; technically I was kidnapped. I wanted to get off and enter Vietnam (and therefore force Qatar Airways to unload my luggage because according to the explanation of the ground personnel in Amsterdam: the luggage has to follow the passenger), but I was held against my will. In the end, he called security to force me to go back to the airplane, twenty meters away. And I was compelled to stay on the plane until I landed in Phnom Penh. The same day I took a flight back to Ho Chi Minh… with Cambodia Angkor Air.

Despite being held hostage for a short time, I still consider Qatar airlines a rather good airline with usually good service. But maybe this is what they call the Stockholm Syndrom: feeling sympathy for your kidnapper.

My name is Kirk, James Kirk

It must have been in the early seventies. I was not older than 10 when I saw a rerun of the original Star Trek tv series on Dutch television. I was shocked. “Space, the final frontier.” Maybe it sounds too philosophical but to me, back then, it changed my perception of the world. It was as if there was suddenly no frontier. And if there was one, it seemed you just had to cross it, to discover there was another one behind this one. I was still a young boy, but Star Trek showed me that reality was just an expression in my time and my space; a reality that could change or simply be replaced by another reality. Star Trek was not just mere entertainment for me; it pushed me to think and contemplate. In that sense, it was maybe a better education than the hours I spent in the classrooms at my primary school, although I was privileged with a splendid teacher.

I remember an episode in which the Enterprise crew arrived on a planet where fantasies became reality. You just had to dream or fantasise, and it just turned into a real happening. I can’t recall it exactly, but it had some moral lesson connected to it. I think it had to do with addiction. You got stuck with your fantasies, and you couldn’t leave the planet because you could not let go of your dreams. Star Trek, especially the first seasons had some Christian moral teachings hidden within its marvellous setting, including the introduction of a black character on Western television (Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura). Some will probably argue that it had nothing to do with Christianity but to me, a character like Uhura was connected to the lessons I learned in my Catholic church which I visited until I declared myself an atheist when I was 16: “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself”.

For me, Star Trek also had a big parallel with the 17th-century journeys of Dutch ships to the Far East and the Indies. Unlike the Portuguese and the Spanish explorers, the Dutch didn’t bring priests or missionaries with them to convert other people to their belief. They were on discovery to find new races, new animal life, new continents. They were not on the way to colonise, especially not in the first decades of exploring new worlds. It was really like it happened in the Star Trek series: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

In the course of years, I actually lost track of Star Trek. I got other interests and to be honest: all the following series and movies never gave me the feeling that these original shows had given me: the sense of an unlimited space and unlimited imagination. But it changed with the Star Trek movie from 2009, simply called ‘Star Trek’. With the emotional opening sequence of the birth of James Kirk, it was for me a rebirth of the emotions I had when I was a little boy: once again I was hooked. 18 seconds before you die, the only thing you want to do, is to chat with your wife who just gave birth to your son, and who you forced to leave before your space ship rams into the ship of your enemy. To chat with the person, you love the most, about the creature you wanna give a personality, your baby: “What are we gonna call him?” What identity are we going to give him? Watching this scene once again, I am thinking to myself: Is this what Star Trek is all about: love? Is seeking the final frontier and trying to cross it, seeking the love that will absorb all boundaries, seeking the power that will unify us all, the ultimate message of the best sci-fi series of all time? It is a beautiful thought, and I will cherish it. But for now, I will be happy with the ordinary knowledge that I can enjoy a new Star Trek movie this year, a new series in 2017, and that I can imagine myself as the captain of the Enterprise in the command chair on the bridge during the Elfia event in Holland this April; and I will call myself Kirk, James Kirk.

 

 

 

 

Flying furries

Standing at the coffee machine with your co-workers and bragging about your cool outfit as a Star Wars stormtrooper; not many colleagues will question your weekend behaviour. Some might even be interested in trying it out themselves one day. Nobody will wonder why you so desperately want to hide your face behind a white mask – or in case you are the ultimate Star Wars geek with a Darth Vader costume – behind a black mask.

But I bet not many people will openly announce on the Monday morning at work that they crawled, jumped or only walked around on a costume event like Elfia as a fox, cat or bear in a furry outfit. It is maybe not so much that you hide yourself behind an animal mask; I think it is still the inheritance of the bad press a decade or two ago about furry geeks copulating with each other while wearing their suits.

In 2001 the Vanity Fair published an article about bestiality and plushophilia. I seriously think that the majority of the furry fans never even had heard of this term. Plushophilia refers to a sexual attraction to plush and stuffed animals. To my opinion, it is always possible to find someone with an aberrant sexual behaviour. There even might be someone out there who loves to stick his manly hood in a keyhole (if the law of physics would allow him to perform his desires). But anyway, from that Vanity Fair publication on, western media were only interested in one thing: how did you do it as a furry! I remember the Belgian reality show of Paul Jambers who managed to find two bear furries demonstrating how to have intercourse while wearing a furry suit. The fact that 99% of the furry geeks prefer sex without a sweaty and unhandy suit was not fitting the sensationalism of the media. The 1% got as much airtime as possible. The rest of the furries took shelter in their foxholes and on small conventions, trying to ignore any media attention.

In the course of years, this media hype has slowly extinguished. And the attention is now more focused on the escapism and the development of the furry suits. These suits and especially the face masks display almost a sort of art nowadays. The details are getting better and better.

I am personally always fascinated by the drive of someone who wants to identify him or her with an animal. With all respect but I consider an animal a creature with a lower intelligence than a human being. So why should you identify yourself with a less smart being? Or is it about the pure instincts of the animals and the capacity of living in the present without being bothered by thinking about past and future? The possibility of enjoying the moment without fearing time to come? There is a certain irony in this escapism from intelligence (If my thoughts are pointing in the right direction): you need quite some intelligence and also, empathy to be capable of replacing yourself in the mindset and behaviour of another living being.

I realise as well that wearing an animal suit is a very old tradition in many cultures. The furry movement is just a modern version of these traditional and sometimes trance performances of Indians and Africans wearing animal masks. The religious and magical part of these acts might not be as important anymore but the fascination for the animal kingdom is still alive. Furries will never disappear. The suits might develop. The preference for certain animals might change, but I bet that a century from now, you still will find people loving to shapeshift into an animal. And who knows: maybe you will have to look up twice to discover if this creature in the sky is really a bird or your neighbour flying around in an eagle wingsuit.

 

 

 

 

Vietnam: sipping and gossiping

Last week I went on a Saturday morning in district 7 of Ho Chi Minh City to a coffee shop that was opened only three weeks before. It was 9 o’clock in the morning, and the place was packed. If this were the only coffee shop in the neighborhood, I wouldn’t have been surprised, but this place was maybe number 11 within two or three hundred meters. Vietnamese do love coffee. That might be clear by now. And a lot of Vietnamese now can afford to spend 40,000 till 60,000 Dong ($1.80 – $2.60) on a cup of the addictive brew. Twenty years ago, however, this was would have been an entirely different story.

Did you know that 60% of the population was living under the poverty line in 1994? And that today, 20 years later, this number has dropped to below 10%? China is a powerhouse when it comes to creating better living standards but Vietnam for sure is an economic miracle as well.

Vietnam, the country that defeated the biggest army in the world in 1975, and therefore was punished for twenty years by the USA and the UN, who tried to keep the borders of Vietnam destabilized by supporting the destructive Khmer Rouge until the elections in Cambodia in 1993. Yes, the USA played a dirty role, sacrificing the beautiful Kingdom of Wonder and its people just to frustrate the Vietnamese. During the Vietnam war, America also destroyed more than half of the Vietnamese forests and jungles by bombing, burning or spraying chemicals in a sick attempt to remove the cover of the Vietcong. Some 3.1 million Vietnamese citizens and soldiers died during the Vietnamese war. Ok, not all of them were directly the result of the American intervention. There were of course also South-Vietnamese fighting against North-Vietnamese but looking at all these devastating results it wouldn’t surprise me if the Americans were hated big time. But nothing is further from the truth. In the Land of the Ascending Dragon, they have better things to do than to get stuck with negative emotions. They rather look forward and see what they can do to improve their lives. And Vietnamese are very pragmatic too. So, when Bill Clinton announced in 1995 to finally normalize the diplomatic relations between the two countries, Vietnam embraced this opportunity and used it to increase their exports. Almost a quarter of all export nowadays goes to the USA (and only 12% to China). And one of the biggest export products is coffee.

Coffee, these beans were playing a marginal role in Indochina until the 80’s. Vietnamese preferred to drink tea, so there was also no stimulans by the domestic market. After 1975, the Communist Party tried to copy the idea of the Soviet Union of collective farms. A decade with embarrassing results and a soaring inflation of 700% followed until the country leaders ordered economic reforms (Doi Moi). Privately owned enterprises became possible again. And coffee could start her successful march. Many small-scale farmers grabbed the opportunity to start with coffee. The margins were very attractive. Farmers suddenly got a chance to earn much more money than they were used to. But also, new companies stood up. Companies like Trung Nguyên and Highlands Coffee, who nowadays dominate the Vietnamese coffee export but also the coffee shop market with numerous outlets.

Coffee became so successful in Vietnam that this dragon country is now the second largest producer of coffee with 1.3 million tons after Brazil with 2.7 million tons. Together they produce almost half of the world’s coffee. Vietnam mainly provides the Robusta coffee beans which sometimes contain twice as much caffeine than the Arabica beans but also make the taste a bit more bitter.

The communist party tried to pull off the same trick at the beginning of the 21st century with cacao by pushing farmers with incentives such as free seedlings to start with cacao as well. However when cacao prices suddenly dropped for almost a year between 2012 and 2013 a lot of farmers cut the trees and changed it again for coffee or pepper. At this moment, Vietnam produces less than one ‰ of the world’s cacao production. And it doesn’t seem to change unless the price of cacao will rise considerably.

One thing that will seriously threaten Vietnam’s coffee production has nothing to do with the economy but all with climate change: water shortages. This year we all experience the effect of El Nino, which disrupts the whole environment in South East Asia resulting in exceptional droughts. But some experts predict that the ground water levels will drop further in the next two decades forcing coffee plantations to stop. There is a report from a Belgian professor which suggest that 50% of the coffee farms in Vietnam must change their crop in the next ten years for a less water-intensive agricultural product like cashew nut.

In the meantime new coffee shops are still opened in Saigon, the old name of Ho Chi Minh and still with reasonable success. Because the middle class in Vietnam is quadrupling between 2010 and 2020, and all those people like to gather in coffee houses, sipping and gossiping.

 

 

 

C’est la vie? No way!

Yesterday I flew back to Phnom Penh from a one day trip to Singapore. Next to me sat Abhinav, an Indian finance manager of Mondelez. Mondelez is at the moment the largest company in the confectionery industry. Kraft and Cadbury joined forces in 2012, and this giant rose up. Apparently with a lot of internal struggles if I understood it well from Abhinav.

But why did I happen to sit next to someone who gave me a lot of inside information about the biscuit and chocolate industry? The industry that I am following so closely at the moment because of the important fact that cacao is one of my two main businesses. Why didn’t I end up with someone with a far lesser impact on my thoughts, like a partying student or a soccer fan?

In the morning, I met up with Niko, an even more challenging guy – in this case with a French-Cambodian background – who found me online a few days before because the world of cacao also drives him. He works in Singapore, and he approached me exactly around the time that I had to be in this city state. We immediately decided to plan a coffee break in both our busy schedules. The coffee break became two hours because both of us couldn’t stop talking, interrupting and motivating each other. We were completely on the same wavelength. Our ideas about politics, business and humanity, were matching perfectly. We were in a harmonious flow. He wants to change Cambodia, my new home country and wants to use cacao as the tool. Do I need to say more? I love it when I have the privilege to meet people like him and Abhinav; people who are more intelligent than me; people who can see things from different angles and who are capable of constantly switching between those perspectives. But why does a person like Niko finds me, at a moment that we have one morning and one morning only to meet up physically?

I don’t believe in coincidences and Niko either. He told me how his mother -fled from the Khmer Rouge regime in the seventies- taught him not to accept life as it is. She hates the line “C’est la vie”. Life is not prefab. Life is made by yourself. You are the designer of your destiny. I fully agree. When I meet persons like Abhinav and Niko, it is not meant to be, it has us who create the right circumstances. I genuinely believe in magnetism. We are always radiating our energies around us. And these energies are picked up by others. With some people you click. Then you are definitely vibrating your energies in harmony. With others, it doesn’t match, and your energies are conflicting or simply not connecting. But there are always persons that are very strongly attracted to you and vice versa. I am now not only talking about physical attraction but more about mental and emotional attraction.

Of course you run into persons all the time with whom you have nothing in common or who are obstructing your goals and your lifepath. Life is not destined. Life is chaos and in this chaos people can cross your path who are not in your benefit or you not in theirs. But when you truly feel attracted to someone, because this person has something to offer to you, or you yourself can have a tremendous positive influence on somebody’s ideas or circumstances, life can work like a magnet to my believe. And it might work like the biggest magnet on earth, like a giant force of nature when both parties have equally something valuable to share. Then distance, age, culture doesn’t count. Well, at least they play such a minor role that they can’t prevent you from meeting these people.

With Niko I have a lot in common and we both could end up as business partners. From Abhinav I learned a lot about the mind boggling changes that take place in India and will put this ernormous country on the map as the number one economy one or two decades from now. I also got a lot of inside information about the problems of cacao delivery in Ghana which could have a shock effect on the prices of the brown gold.

With Niko I shook hands and afterwards exchanged Line messages. We just paved the first part of our path. With Abhinav I shook hands knowing I would probably not see him again. His energy is on the way to the next impact. Life might be a chaos. But boy, how I appreciate and enjoy the patterns and connections in this chaos.

(picture from crystal-life.com )

 

 

Sorry, it is cacao, not cocoa

Until 1755 British people spoke of cacao, just like the rest of the world. So, why did they change their pronunciation of this magical food?

How popular was chocolate actually in 1755? Probably more widespread than you would have expected. Nobody had ever seen a chocolate bar yet. That would still take another hundred years. But chocolate as a hot drink was a well-known and exquisite delicacy in the higher societies in the West.

It all started when Spanish traders brought the first official shipment of cacao beans from Veracruz to Sevilla in 1585. The beans had already been introduced to the Spanish court before. Dominican priests visited Prince Philip in Spain with a delegation of Mayan nobles from Alta Verapaz in Guatemala. Among the items that they brought along was also cacao. But it was as from 1585 that cacao became a trade and a treat in Spain steadily.

The Spanish just copied the recipe from the Mayas. They roasted and ground the beans and then mixed it with chiles, some other spices and hot water. The first hot chocolate drinks in Europe. But the Spanish, known for their sweet tooth, added one new ingredient: sugar. It is also shown in the very first recipe for a chocolate drink ever published. In 1644, Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma made the recipe accessible to a broader audience in his book A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate. Besides the sugar and the beans, the chocolate drink contained chiles, anise, vanilla, cinnamon, almonds or hazelnuts, annatto seeds and something called ‘ear flower’ (Orejuela).

All the time the Spanish also directly copied the words for chocolate and cacao from the Aztecs and the Mayas. According to many, chocolate finds its origin in the Aztec word xocoatl. In the Nahuatl language (Nahuatl is a group of languages from the Uto-Aztec language family) xocoatl was formerly spoken as cacahuatl, a combination of cacahua (cacao) and atl (water).  There is, however, a theory that the origin of chocolate is chikolatl (for this read the highly entertaining blog of Magnus Pharao Hansen).

Before I finally go to 1755 when suddenly the British decided to become stubborn and write cocoa stead of cacao, let me describe the world of 1755 and even more the world of cacao back then. Maybe the publication of Colmenero de Ledesma was responsible for this but in the following hundred years drinking hot chocolate became very popular amongst the higher societies across Europe. Chocolate houses came up, like coffee shops nowadays. The chiles in the recipes however disappareared. They were still mentioned in a pubblished recipe in 1692 by the French M. St. Disdier who listed hot water, cacao, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and a tiny bit of powdered cloves and chiles. But in the mid-1700’s chiles were banned.

So, what happened in 1755? The word cacao was widespread across the whole European continent as the fitting description of an essential ingredient of the immensely popular hot chocolate drink. As I mentioned previously, the word cacao was also more or less copied from the Mayan and Olmec languages in Meso-America. Many languages in that area have more or less the same pronunciation for cacao: kakawa (Mazahua, proto-Zoquean, Nahuatl); kakaw (proto-Mixean, Sayula, Tseltal, K’iche, classic Mayan). So, in their chocolate houses and coffee houses, the whole of Europe pronounced cacao as cacao, not as cocoa.

Until that day that Samuel Johnson published his dictionary of the English language in 1755. In his notes, he maintained the distinction between the words cacao and coco, and between the cacao tree and the coco palm. But by some editorial or printing error, the two words were combined and printed in the same dictionary as cocoa. And from that moment on the British took the dictionary as the holy bible of the English language and based their pronunciation of the ‘food of gods’ (as the Meso-Americans described the beans) on a mistake. Poor British.

So next time when you hear somebody saying cocoa stead of cacao, and you have the guts, please point them out – but be gentle – that their whole cocoa life has been based on a mistake.

Will chocolate become illegal?

What is the definition of a drug? Medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body. Well, there you go. Then chocolate clearly is a drug by those standards. It not only makes you feel better, but it also improves your memory and stimulates your abstract thinking. But you have to inject it at least once a week. In your mouth that is.

Psychologist Merrill Elias, one of the leaders of a recent study published in the journal Appetite told the Washington Post about the remarkable conclusion that chocolate consumption indeed can make you smarter. The study was done during a lifespan of 40 years, starting in the mid-1970’s. Elias and Georgina Crichton, a nutrition researcher at the University of South Australia, said that there is a significant difference between people who eat chocolate at least once a week, and those who do this less than once a week and that it strongly affects cognitive ability. The effect is especially recognizable when it comes to daily tasks “such as remembering a phone number, or your shopping list, or being able to do two things at once, like talking and driving at the same time”.

So why does chocolate makes you smarter? Elias doesn’t have the ultimate answer, but he has some ideas about this. He knows that the natural flavanols in cacao can reduce cognitive dysfunction due to aging, and that the flavanols might increase the blood flow to the brain which can result in a positive influence on psychological processes.

Chocolate also contains theobromine, an important alkaloid in cacao. Theobromine increases urine production; it can treat high blood pressure; it shows promise for tooth decay prevention. But the best of all: it makes you feel good (as long as you consume chocolate in small portions).

Feel good right? That brings us back to the drugs subject. Governments show double standards when it comes to drugs. They have no objection when whole tribes become addicted to valium or other anti-depressants. They have no problems with the hard drugs that are by far out the biggest killers of all drugs: alcohol and cigarettes. But when people are becoming too relaxed with stuff like ecstasy and marijuana they declare war on these stimulants. So what will happen with chocolate?

Holland is the world’s biggest producer of ecstasy.  The Dutch government does everything in their power to battle the production of this drug, but ecstasy is far tougher than you might expect from a love drug. Now back to chocolate and cacao, the base material of the brown gold. Who is still the world’s biggest importer and processor of cacao? You guessed it: Holland. So how long will it take before chocolate consumption and production becomes illegal? How long before the news will be dominated by reports about raids on chocolate stores and small bean-to-bar producers? And addicted mothers have to pay dodgy dealers in dark porches? Until that time: enjoy your chocolate while you still can. Enjoy the abundance of taste and variety. Bon appetit or better: bon bite!

Did I just create a border conflict?

Never knew I would be responsible for starting a border conflict where both borders would refuse each car and motorbike to cross.
Last Monday we needed to go to Vietnam to collect cacao pods for our new cacao nursery. Although I had the right forms to cross, the Cambodian officers advised me to add more immigration paperwork to my documents because I was probably the first white person to cross this local border. Dak Dam is not a so-called international border.
Crossing a border between countries in South East Asia is always a bit strange and sometimes difficult, but this case was really exceptional.
Once we reached the Vietnamese side, they couldn’t say anything about my papers, but instead, one of the grumpy officers noted that the paperwork of our car was out of date. There were new forms, and we should use these. Note that my staff crossed this border two months ago with the same car.
It was already 4 PM and sent back to Cambodia we decided that my two staff members would go alone the next day. The Cambodian custom officers confirmed our suspicion that not the car but my presence was actually the whole trigger.
The next morning my staff crossed again but was sent back again as well, still based on lacking of a new form of which no Cambodian official had any clue.
The Cambodian custom officers were furious. This was it! They were already irritated by the unpredictable behavior of the Vietnamese side but now they decided to take action: no Vietnamese truck or motorbike was allowed to cross anymore.
The chief of immigration of our province had by chance an official meeting that afternoon in Buon Ma Thuot in Vietnam, and he had to go with an official delegation in six cars. He offered my staff to add our car to their convoy. And so it happened. My staff crossed the border in the afternoon without any problem and was also able to return the next day with the same convoy, and with the desired cacao pods.
As far as I know right now, there is now a one on one policy at the Dak Dam border: for every Cambodian car that is allowed to enter Vietnam, a Vietnamese car or truck might enter Cambodia. I wonder how long this ‘stand-off’ will last.
Live in this remote area of Cambodia is never boring 😉