Friday, April 07, 2006

Journey to Strasbourg

At Brussels Nord



plains Posted by Picasa

Iris, EC 97

Bruxelles Nord-Strasbourg

There’s something romantic about the landscape going past my window, almost fairy-tale like. Forests, valleys, castles perched atop of hills, church spires towering over pointed houses of cobblestone and limestone roofs…and a fast flowing creek rolling by. It’s Europe, at its most ideallic and peaceful. Seeing all this made me realize the significance of this trip. I’m here, in Europe again. I’m able to enjoy all this beauty and tranquility. How fortunate I am.

Wide open farmland, fluffy white cotton-bud clouds, a clear blue sky, wild flowers adorning fresh, green grass…the perfect setting for a childhood of play and adventures. I could sit here and gaze out the window, take in this abundant beauty, but each scene, each shot flashes by faster than on film. What kind of trees are those? What do you call them? Beauty has no name. Where am I exactly? What is this place? Travelers are not concerned with such details.

PS: Iris is a slick Swiss train with a destination far away.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Travelling again

OK, I just got back from a ten month leave, and it seems fate does not want me to get too comfortable at home, just yet. A friend of mine is in a bit of a situation, and needs help. She's close to giving birth, and lives completely alone by herself.

I was still in bed (though already lying calmly awake and listening to the news on the radio I might add), when I got the request for help. Straight away I agreed to get over there as soon as I could. Within hours my tickets were booked and travel plans arranged. Friday this time I should be in Strasbourg, after a 7hr journey through Belgium and Luxembourg. A little excited really, as I'll be travelling again, and even more so since it's by train.

I've never had any experience with pregnancy (chances are slim for me personally I guess), so this trip will, like so many things this past year, be a new experience. Been reading a bit what a pregnant woman can and cannot do or eat, just in case I do something terribly wrong. I've been forewarned about the moodswings and weepy monologues I'll have to endure. I'm not sure what it is I could do to help, but I guess sometimes just being there is enough.

So far what suprises me the most is the speed I made up decisions to go see this friend. I mean when it comes to making decisions for myself I'd wonder and doubt and delay and fear whether I'm making the right decision. But it was clear the moment I got the phone call what I wanted. I wanted to help, not out of a sense of wanting something in return, but just because I want to help. Someone described me as a "knight to the rescue", another an "angel"... but I don't think I deserve any of these compliments. I just doing what I guess anyone would do in a similiar situation, and that is to help a(nother) fellow human being (in this case, maybe two) in need.

Painting and my other things will just have to wait.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


So this is what I am now...a "Yeppie": Young Experimenting Perfection Seeker

Unsure what to do with my life, and the study I've had so far, I seek out alternatives to perfect myself. Even if the alternative is completely different from what I initially planned to do when I entered university, experimenting and exploring new opportunities drive me on. Whether I find what I am looking for, and whether I actually know what it is I am looking for, is probably not relevant. All I know is that there seems to be more than just work and study.

But then again, it's just a label. And the thing about yeppie-hood is you want to let go of anything that may constrain your development as a person, and as a new entrant into the real world.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Week II

The end of another week back in Holland. Outside the window the thin sliver of the moon looks ‘evil’, but then looking at it reminds me of the last time I saw a similar sight. And that was sometime in the past, somewhere else, somewhere far, far away.

Life is getting back to ‘normal’ here. I’ve more or less gotten into the hang of things again, though sometimes speaking Dutch again after almost a year of ‘no contact’ seems to dent the tongue and self-confidence. But I guess the more I read, and the nightly radio talk shows I fall asleep to, will perhaps soon make me comfortable again in the language.

Went to see my old colleagues where I used to work last year on Friday. Since it was a Friday, not many people were there. To be honest, I was a bit nervous about going, and been planning to contact them since I got back. Somehow, I had to muster the courage to even make the phone call to say I’m back. Strange, isn’t it? Well, I guess having been away so long, it felt a bit sorry for not keeping in touch frequently, and preoccupied me most was wondering what people at my old job would think about me and what I did the past year. A year is a long time to accomplish a lot. And certainly looking back now at all those grand plans I made before going on ‘sabbatical’ leave it seems like I’ve not really accomplished much of what I intended to do. Ashamed, why? I guess I care too much about what others would think…about my progress career-wise, in deepening my studies and my interests and my experiences in (as I recall) “grassroots organisations”. And really I shouldn’t.

So with butterflies in my stomach and hesitations I entered the office. And to my surprise everyone was so welcoming, so friendly, as if I never left. But leave I did, and many things happened in between the time I last entered those corridors and the time I again entered them.

As expected, the questions I dreaded came up.

What did you learn most?

What did you do?

What are your afterthoughts?

What are your plans now?

A couple of times I hesitated and my mind literally went blank trying to answer. How could I recount all the things I did and saw all this time? Other times I simply did not know how to answer. Again my poor memory span and being asked my opinion under social circumstances in which I don’t function properly made me feel all the more uncomfortable. What’s wrong with me? I’ve known these people for a year, and yet I acted and reacted as if they are strangers. Shudder.

But I managed. And I said what I really did, and what I really felt made the most impact on me. Sure, I did a bit of the things I planned to do with migrant workers in Indonesia and Taiwan, but most of the time I took time out for myself. I had/have issues to deal with, and I can’t recall anytime in my whole life in which I took time out to take care of myself. As someone told me more than a year ago, and again on Friday, I don’t take care of myself enough…or rather, I don’t take care of myself at all! It’s usually other people, other commitments, and work and study that keep me busy. I do this and that, and do it as best I can, to please others, to help others…but what I forget is that I am the one living my life, for me, and not for others.

So, in the past year I made little progress in my career, I made little progress in my study, I made little progress in thinking about and planning what I would like to do in the future. But I gained a lot in discovering who I am, and in processing many personal issues and problems which have for a long time dragged me down like heavy baggage I carry with me wherever I go and whatever I do. Childhood, family, low self-esteem… the process of recovering, surviving , living alone, my social dysfunctions, lack of confidence, uncertainty and doubts… I’ve not overcome them completely, but I’ve at least made the first steps to facing them and acknowledging the presence of them which troubles me.

As someone said to me, I should be proud that I did all that, and should be proud and glad that I had the chance and time to do what many are perhaps are unable or incapable of doing. Looking back, I guess I’ve come a long way, and I’ve travelled really far. And I made it back here, again, looking different, feeling different. So there was change, but I just didn’t (or can’t) notice it.

It was meaningful, and helpful, to back and meet those people. It helped clear my mind, organise my thoughts and my experiences of the past couple of months. And again, it showed me that whatever speculation, doubts and anxieties you may have about something, it always is different! Instead of being judgemental, people were friendly, welcoming, and some told of how they missed my presence. I must mean something, be someone to be missed, right? Another life affirming moment, another moment in which I learnt that I am somebody.

As planned, the renovation work around the house is about to start. So today we went to a DIY shop nearby to pick up materials. It came to almost two hundred Euros in total…but as we took another inspection of the house, we were confronted with more urgent needs (and costs) than just a bit of painting here and there. Our windows in the front of the house seriously need replacing, as they’re single glazed and very run-down. The previous tenants managed to somehow do something to turn them into windows to look at but not to be opened. Opening it would risk the frame falling off. And in the back of the house, the wooden frame around my room and the little room next to mine is partly rotten and peeling badly. Some bits practically have no protection against the elements, and a big downpour could drench and soak the wood frame and doors, and seep into the structure of the house, and all the way down to the first floor. If that’s not enough, the bathtub that was installed while we were away was so shoddily insulated around the edges against water that over time water has seeped into the floor and may have caused the wooden panels to start rotting.

How are we to fix all this? When are we to fix all this? Thinking about the costs (totalling probably tens of thousands of Euros!) just makes me sick. Thinking about the small things that need to be done inside the house, from small repairs to painting entire walls and ceilings, makes me tired already…

Spoke to mum on the phone in the afternoon. She soundly tired, as she had been cleaning and scrubbing the house all day, but she waited till late for our call. Things are alright at home, it seems, and I told her what we’ve been up to. At one point, while mum was talking about what she did, how dad is doing, and her plans to go for a health check-up, I started to shed a few tears.

What touched me so? Perhaps it was because of all the pressures and thoughts about the renovations and paperwork that still need to be arranged here…perhaps it was the fact that she is so far away, yet so, so close…perhaps it was hearing that things seem alright and peaceful at home after I left…or perhaps it was hearing that her health has been upset lately, or that she’s had to work hard to get used to her new job…

I closed and rubbed my eyes,

and tasted the salty water on my finger tips.


Song playing: Can you feel the love tonight, Elton John

Sunday, April 02, 2006

First attempt at making a cheese cake! (part1)

Receipe (in Dutch)

Step 1: make the foundation using cinnamon and cornflake shreds (or anything you like)

Step 2: make the 'filling' with cream cheese (roomkaas), sugar, lemon juice
(we added whipped cream as well, as we didn't have 1kg of cream cheese as in the receipe!)

Step 3: mix the 'cheese' topping with blender to make the mixture semi-solid

Step 4: pour the batter ontop the foundation Posted by Picasa

Cheesecake (Part2)

Step 5: allow to refrigerate for 1 hour for mixture to harden and settle

Step 6: put cake in oven for around 45minutes, 180C

(Optional: cut and prepare fruits to decorate)

VOILA! A cheesecake, pleasing to the eye and stomach!

Though it was a first attempt, it was REALLLLLLLLLLY delish~! Posted by Picasa

Week 13

Weekly Roundup

Introducing a new feature of my blog!
A sum up of the most memorable (and intellignt) articles/quotes I've read online this week.


'Fortunately, history is not made up of daily headlines, blogs on Web sites, or the latest sensational attack. History is a bigger picture, and it takes some time and perspective to measure accurately Donald Rumsfeld


Herrings are dangerous! (as dangerous a bombs and firearms)

Airlines ban 'foul' Swedish fish, Lars Bevanger

On religion

At a time when religion is becoming increasingly important elsewhere, we Europeans have largely forgotten our religious past, and we have difficulty understanding the role that religion can play in other peoples' daily lives. In some ways, "they" are our own buried past and -- with a combination of ignorance, prejudice and, above all, fear -- "we" are afraid that "they" could define our future.

Emotion at the root of clashing 'civilizations', Dominique Moisi

On globalization

Globalization may not have created these layers of conflict, but it has accelerated them by making the differences more visible and palpable. In our globalized age, we have lost the privilege -- and, paradoxically, the virtue -- of ignorance. We all see how others feel and react, but without the minimal historical and cultural tools necessary to decipher those reactions. Globalization has paved the way to a world dominated by the dictatorship of emotions -- and of ignorance.
Emotion at the root of clashing 'civilizations', Dominique Moisi

On the EU

EU texts also have a grab-bag nature with each member state seeking to insert pet projects or ideologies. The intentions may be good, but this means a summit communique often contains clauses which appear contradictory. And most EU declarations are far too long.

The classic case of doing the EU splits pits pro-market economy Anglo-Saxon and northern European member states against countries like France which favors a bigger government role in the economy and is often accused of being protectionist.
Acquis communautaire? Subsidiarity? It's all Euro-babble to me, DPA

On French protests

Behind the current political crisis seems nothing less than the essential question confronting Europe today: whether the soft safety net can survive in a more competitive world.

But on another level, France is not seized by ambitious dreams or a desire to sacrifice. So this is a protest that uses the revolutionary methods of the streets - which proved so potent in riots last autumn in the disadvantaged city suburbs - in defense of thoroughly conservative principles.

It has become a cross-generational revolt. Baby-boomers embraced by the generous French social welfare system want to protect treasured benefits long into retirement. Their children do not believe they should pay to keep the system in place - unless they too benefit from it.

Shaking France, a revolt both angry and mellow, Elaine Sciolino

…there is something in the argument that in this most conservative and reform-resistant of nations, where citizens can feel both oppressed by an omnipresent state and reliant on it for their sense of security (or even identity), strikes and marches act as a kind of national therapy.

Strikes: French national therapy, John Henley

On language learning and Chinese
language study is like mountaineering: you reach one crest, only to discover you are still in the foothills; you scale the next big peak only to find another, far higher one further ahead. But for exactly the same reason, it can be very satisfying to look back at all the ground you have covered.

Two big differences between learning Chinese and any other language are the tones and the characters. Mandarin has a far wider range of characters than English (more than 4,000 ideograms are commonly used, compared with the 26 letters of the alphabet) but a far narrower range of syllables.

As my erudite predecessor the classical scholar John Gittings put it: "Chinese is rich in vocabulary but phonetically impoverished." To distinguish between identical phonemes, Mandarin uses tones - four of them. And as a foreigner who struggles to hit the right note even in karaoke, it is the tones that get me every time.
Empire of signs, Jonathan Watt

On US imperial overreach

In becoming so catastrophically engaged in the Middle East, making the region its overwhelming global priority, it downgraded the importance of everywhere else, taking its eye off the ball in a crucial region such as east Asia, which in the long run will be far more important to the US's strategic interests than the Middle East.

The overwhelming preoccupation of the Bush administration (and Blair for that matter) with Iraq, the Middle East and Islam, speaks of a failure to understand the deeper forces that are reshaping the world and an overriding obsession with realising and exploiting the US's temporary status as the sole global superpower. Such a myopic view can only hasten the decline of the US as a global power, a process that has already started.

Iraq was supposed to signal the US's new global might: in fact, it may well prove to be a harbinger of its decline.

Imperial overreach is accelerating the global decline of America, Martin Jacques

On the rise of the East

If you want to understand the future, [East Asia is] where to be. It may now be a cliche, but it is no less true for that. East Asia - driven by China - is in the process of remaking the world. For two centuries, Europe was the epicentre of the world - no more; now it is here, or will be very soon.

Always beware your moment of triumphalism: such emotions are a poor steer on the future.
How the west is lost, Martin Jacques

On Europe and cultural clash

…it is no longer possible for Europe to ignore the sensibilities of peoples with very different values, cultures and religions. First, western Europe now has sizeable minorities whose origins are very different from the host population and who are connected with their former homelands in diverse ways. If European societies want to live in some kind of domestic peace and harmony - rather than in a state of Balkanisation and repression - then they must find ways of integrating these minorities on rather more equal terms than, for the most part, they have so far achieved. That must mean, among other things, respect for their values. Second, it is patently clear that, globally speaking, Europe matters far less than it used to - and in the future will count for less and less. We must not only learn to share our homelands with people from very different roots, we must also learn to share the world with diverse peoples in a very different kind of way from what has been the European practice.

Old attitudes of superiority and disdain - dressed up in terms of free speech, progress or whatever - are still very powerful. Nor - as many liberals like to think - are they necessarily in decline. On the contrary, racial bigotry is on the rise, even in countries that have previously been regarded as tolerant.

Europe's contempt for other cultures can't be sustained, Martin Jacques

On Al-Jazeera

All this makes me so sad. In 1996, the birth of al-Jazeera was a breath of free speech in a region of censorious governments, and Bush should back them rather than bomb them. I made the mistake of making a masochistic appearance on Fox TV once to justify my representation of "terrorists" in Guantanamo. "Fair and balanced" is the Fox motto, but I was labelled a traitor for trying to defend American constitutional values. If the US wants to criticize bias in the press, perhaps it should look a little closer to home.
Embedded in Gitmo, Clive Stafford Smith

On grammar
Why grammar is something we care about, Michael McCarthy

On the end of superpower-ism

The lessons for today are clear. While military power remains important, it is a mistake for any country to discount the role of economic power and soft power. But it is also a mistake to discount the importance of leaders with humanitarian values.

Gorbachev and the end of the Cold War, Joseph Nye

On democracy’s hypocrisy

When is an election not considered free and fair by the West? Answer: when it delivers victory to a government that rejects neoliberal orthodoxy and refuses to orientate its foreign policy toward Washington or Brussels.

The West's hypocrisy on Belarus, Neil Clark

On civilian targets

Defenders of the area-bombing campaigns point out that losing the war against such wicked, dangerous enemies would have been the biggest immorality of all. They are right. But stooping to tactics as barbarous as those of the axis powers could only have been justified if there were no other arguably better ways of using the bombing weapon.

Bombing civilians is not only immoral, it's ineffective, AC Grayling


Kleine Kat (Little Cat) is not so little any more.
It's been around 10 months since I last saw her,
and she's grown much bigger,
not to mention...fatter.

She's an elegant creature,
playful, but with style.
She walks around silently,
making her mark,
as if she everywhere is her territory.

She sleeps mostly during the day,
in freshly washed clothesand woolen jackets and jumpers.
Nothing can escape the infection of her hair.
The sofa often is where she likes to snuggle.

She pounces around like a little kitty,
once she's had her share of food and water.
She leaps, scratches, rolls and butts her head
Everywhere and anywhere.
Nothing is safe from her playful paws. Posted by Picasa
she's onto something...
Kitty looking up