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 😉

Dynamite and water

Water, the essence of life. Without water no development is possible. When I lived in Europe, in the delta of the huge European rivers the Rijn and the Maas, I never thought of water shortages. In fact, it was more the opposite. Floods threaten the Netherlands once in a while. In 1953, thousands of Dutch died when dikes broke during a western storm and a quarter of Holland was flooded. In 1995, the river Maas rose many meters above her average level and weeks-long the country was on a mission to save many villages and cities along the river.

A shortage of water in South East Asia, it’s hard to imagine when you think about the torrential rains that are battering countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore during the rainy season. In Mondulkiri, the biggest province of Cambodia and home to our Kamkav plantations, water was never a problem. Until ten years ago, Mondulkiri had a dry season of two, maximum three months. Now, a decade later, we are tortured by a drought that starts at the end of October, early November and continues till April. At this very moment, all farms are struggling with their water supply. Owners of excavators are experiencing golden times. Everybody wants to make their ponds deeper and wider. We bought extra land in the lowest part of the valley and dug a huge pond there. Unfortunately, big rocks are blocking us from going any deeper than 2.30 meters. Groundwater slowly finds its way but not quick enough to supply for our total irrigation demand.

The horrible drought in California is well-known thanks to the supremacy of the US media. But in South East Asia water shortages will become a media and political issue as well. There are Belgian reports about coffee in Vietnam that predict that 50% of the coffee farmers might need to change their coffee to another -less water depending – crop as early as 2020.

We in the meantime see no other solution than to look for dynamite to blow up the rocky formation in our pond so we can continue to dig deeper. Our cacao trees suffer already heavily, and 30% died this season. We can’t afford ourselves to loose more.

Geeks are the new cool

Ok, it is not as much fun as making it yourself, but for roughly €100 you can feel awesome with this Hasbro/Marvel Iron Man helmet. It even comes with light-up features and sound effects, and you can take the front plate off.  The only thing you still have to bring along is imagination. And that goes for every cosplay outfit, made with or without prefab parts.
Still it can not compete with all these self-made armor outfits I always see during the Elfia events in the Netherlands, but not everybody is gifted with two right hands.
What is actually quite funny is that it is clearly a bunch of men at Hasbro and Marvel, steering the wheel of this new initiative. They totally overlooked the fact that almost two-third of the cosplay and costume communities are female. In the next release, they should consider female costume parts.
Anywise, I personally appreciate this commercial step of these entertainment giants. It is definitely a sign that they finally see a huge potential in the cosplay and costume market. It also means that these groups are coming in growing numbers. It is no longer a hobby of a small bunch of freaky nerds. Just forget a minute about the commercial aspect of this Hasbro/Marvel initiative. The signal that they are giving is quite clear. They are taking nerds and costume geeks seriously. Geeks and nerds are the new cool. And the more adult they are, the cooler they are. Because older geeks normally have the money to spend and are willing to spend. So, step aside lover-boy, step aside mister fancy pants, here comes Tony Stark.
Oooh, and just for the record in case your imagination is taking you a bit too far out: the Captain America shield is not really made of a vibranium-steel alloy. Don’t even think of saving that girl out of the hands of bloodthirsty IS fanatics while trying to catch their bullets with it. Just saying.

Perpetuum Mobile

With my work as an event organizer, I actually continued doing what I used to do as a child: creating stories; from the stories of a king against Robin Hood in our backyard with my brother and sister, to WOII invasion stories in the attic, sitting on my knees with my trousers rolled up, putting tanks and soldiers on a pile of sand that was supposed to be an island waiting to be invaded by bloodthirsty American soldiers.

That’s why my work at the Elfia event is still so much fun: creating royalty, dirty politics with strange races like orcs and vampires. And I am not the only one. Everybody loves stories. And our event creates a platform for thousands of stories. More than 2/3 of the visitors arrive, dressed up in some creative outburst, and a part of that group built a story around his or her character.

The only thing I have to be careful with is that the story always develops. Boredom is the father of all degeneration and downfall. But in some way visitors, entertainers and organizers energize each other. We charge each others battery. It’s a continuous process. It’s a Perpetuum Mobile.