Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sunny and Strasbourg pictures online!

I've put up pictures of Sunny and other bits and pieces of the past few weeks online.
Please go back to these dates to view them! : )

A sign

Saw this wonderful sign on the German bank of the Rhine.

"See the world with other eyes
See the world with the eyes of others"

A sign, for us all. Posted by Picasa

I take care of you...

...and who takes care of me?

A friend in Strasbourg asked me of this question while we were talking one day. It was sort of like a joke, but it meant a lot. If I remember correctly, I answered that I take care of myself.

Or do I?

"What dreams may come"

It’s been a while since I last saw a moving movie. And I saw one last night which moved me to tears. Robbie Williams as the main character probably puts the A star in the acting, but then the shots, sceneries and plot are really well thought out, and beautifully done.

It touches so many issues, mainly dealing with life and death, and all the in betweens, and life after death, and all the attachments people. Which gets you thinking, about those moments in life you’ve had and are still going to encounter, moments which you should cherish because once they go, they won’t return.

Where did I cry? Mostly the scenes where you could see that which most connect people together, ie their humanity. Hugging between two lovers, between father and son, between a mother and her long lost child... the scenes where goodbye is a difficult thing to do, let alone say...scenes where the past come back to make you smile, or even shiver...

Really recommend you to watch it if you haven't already...or watch it again if you have!

Some memorable lines from the movie:

What's true in our minds is true, whether some people know it or not.

What some folks call impossible, is just stuff they haven't seen before.”

Albert: So what is the "me"?
Chris Nielsen: My brain I suppose.
Albert: Your brain ? Your brain is a body part. Like your fingernail or your heart. Why is that the part that's you?
Chris Nielsen: Because I have sort of a voice in my head, the part of me that thinks, that feels, that is aware that I exist at all.
Albert: So if you're aware you exist, then you do. That's why you're still here.

Thought is real. Physical is the illusion. Ironic, huh ?

Sometimes, when you lose, you win.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Accepted !

I've been officially accepted at Leiden University as a student of LLM Public International Law!
The course starts September 1st, which means that my year(s) of wondering what to do, and wandering around will have to stop (for now).

I'm still not sure if this is what I want to do, or how it will help me decide my future career path. But at least my parents will be happy, and I guess a degree wouldn't hurt. Besides, it's been almost two years since I last studied, so it's about time to go back again.

Leiden won't be a foreign place for me, since I've worked there for a year (2004-05), and know some people already.

It'll be serious study from then on, and if all goes well I should get my Masters within one year. Then I'll be just 23! : )
Still young!

 Posted by Picasa

Translations online!

Here are a series of articles I translated from Dutch to English for the Tegenlicht website.
It's a Dutch online writers' collective with a critical outlook on political and social issues here in the Netherlands and in the wider world.

The first articles I've done are about fundamentalism: a phenomenon many associate only with 'the Islam', but in fact is prevalent in 'the West' as well. More articles will be done shortly.

Take a look : )

a month of mess

The moment I walked in the door yesterday I smelt this terrible stench. It was un-missible, foul and nose-choking like ammonia. I was wondering what it was.

And I found out what it was. Kitty had apparently peed on the carpet at the front door. When you walk through the door you could see it, a big dark stain on the carpet. And if you couldn’t see it, then at least you could smell it easily. But nobody bothered to ask why, let alone clean it up.

So I asked how long it’s been there. Just a week, they replied. A week of foul stench at the front door and nobody bothered to do anything.

That’s not the only mess I’ve come back to. On the balcony were confetti from some wild party… glittering stars, hearts and ribbons lay on the ground and had been there so long that the colours had stained the tiles. The toilet bow was black with shit, and nobody bothered to give it a brush. Magazines and advertising papers were strewn on the toilet floor like a tornado tore through it recently. I found slices of salami that had been sitting in the fridge for almost as long as I had been gone. I dare not open it and smell it, fearing that I might faint. A pot of jam and carton of garlic butter had grown hairy moulds.

One month away, and all this mess... A big joke, n’est pas?

Home again

It's been a month since I arrived in Strasbourg, even though originally the trip was supposed to be just "two or three days". Well, the few clothes I packed have been worn again and again and are probably worn out already. Then again, when you travel you realise there's really only so much you need in life, and the rest are just wants.

The journey home was surprisingly smooth, unlike the 13 hours it took me to get to Strasbourg when I went. Even transfering at Brussels I didn't encounter any of those delays or craziness running between platforms that seemed to change every minute that Belgiums and their great art of organisation are infamous for.

Armed with a sandwich, two croissants, a bottle of jus de pomme, I boarded the train. The friend was even there to see me off, since he was travelling at around the same time, only in a different train and direction. That's the way it is with journeys: you meet people on the way, travel a bit together and enjoy each others company, but the time comes where you go separate ways, unsure when or whether you'd meet again. But those few, short moments together remain with you, stored in the lugguage you take with you as you go further in life.

Watching the beautiful scenery flash by I felt sleep overcome me a number of times, to be interrupted by the occasional stops and ticket controls. It's been a long trip, and it felt good to sit, relax and not have to worry about being awakened by the cry of the baby... or that of my mother friend.

For the first time in years I saw customs officers search the train at the border between France and Belgium. Though they left me alone, and even smiled at me, this other passenger was not so lucky. He was, or at least looked,'Arab', and they woke him up, and even conducted a body search. I wonder if a 'random security search' in this day and age has become synomonous with "search-anyone-with-a-beard-and-anyone-who-looked-like-a-potential-Arab-aka-terrorist".

The train was surprisingly empty. Which made it really ridiculous when this old couple were thrown off the train at Luxembourg because their bicycles were 'in the way'. I think they were Dutch, and the old lady started to beg and sounded like she was about to cry when the conductor insisted that they remove their bikes. Rules are rules...but really how could you do that to old people who spent like ten minutes getting the bike and lugguage on board the train, only to have it thrown out again?
(the Lowlands!)

As the train sped into the Netherlands, I felt this strange feeling that I was 'home'. The feeling began as a cheery condcutor announced that we had crossed into the no less than 4 languages (three of which I understood). That's a welcome change from being in a country where most people don't (or don't want to) speak anything other than French. There was this provinsial friendliness in his voice, together with this warmth that was welcoming. And I looked outside the window, at the flat fields, the polders, the sleepy cows, the yellow number plates...yes, this was undoubteldy home. And it's been a while since I felt that feeling.
(River Maas)

The moment I opened my front door, I heard Kitty's bell rinkle...and like each time I stepped throught the door in the past, she popped her head over the stairwell, and took a long look at me. Another warm welcome party.

I went upstairs, and went into the living room. As usuall, the place was...filthy and dark. Curtains drawn in broad daylight, papers and things cluttered all over the seats, and the stench of cigarrettes in the air.

Yes, this is undoubtedly home.

Music and lights: Strasbourg illumiere!

Throughtout the summer, a number of attractions in Strasbourg put on spectacular light and music shows. The Cathedral this year celebrates the 250th anniversary of Mozart, and is illuminated at night with the great composer's symphonies playing in the background. Simply stunning.

Further there are shows on the River Ill, along famous landmarks like the Pont, and Palais Rohan. This year's theme revolves around Gargoyles!

I've put more pictures of how miraculous it is on my travelog
for this week.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 10, 2006

Baby being

When I first saw you, your eyes were closed.

Curiously I looked at this strange little being,

In soft white linen, warm and sweetly clothed.

Then your eyes opened, and my mind went teeming,

With such joy and excitement, I felt I was dreaming.

Not long ago you were nowhere to be seen,

And now you are with us, bringing joy to our midst,

Touching the world with a mind so pure and clean,

In return we touch you, realizing what we to date have missed,

An innocent little angle, the joy in our midst.

Little long fingers, wrapped in soft cotton mittens.

A soft little cry, echoing the songs of colourful larks.

A button nose, rosy lips and a smile that sweetens,

Your pudgy little face, enough to brighten up the dark,

Blessed our lives are, adorned with an adorable little spark.

Your weak little body, so defenseless and fragile

No way can you yet express what you want to say,

For now we only guess your feelings, revealed with a frown or a smile.

With a heart of goodness and kindness, we hope that some day,

You will shine onto others, with the brialliance of the sun’s rays.

When I first saw you, your eyes were closed,

Yet the world stands before you,

From now and hereafter

Fully opened.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Merci, Strasbourg

It really doesn't take much effort to help someone. It really doesn't.

I never thought so many would be involved in something to surprise me. Just as I thought the final night would be 'another dinner party' while we all sat down together to watch France's final performance (later defeat) in the finals, it had another twist.

As I entered the room a wall was decorated with placards with 'thank you' in a dozen languages. Thank who? Thank "David, qui n'est pas le pere" (David, who isn't the father)

I was touched, though that perhaps didn't show.

To be honest I was more embarassed that so many went through so many trouble just for me. I hoped the others understood that, though the best I could do to show my appreciation was through shy smiles and many repeated thank you's in return.

I didn't feel like I really deserved it. I mean I just did what I could, and that was help a friend in need. I'm sure people would do the same in similiar situations.

I don't and didn't expect to be rewarded, or to be called a 'hero' or an 'angle'. Because I was just being me, and I'm happiest when I'm just me.

But really, thanks to so many friends, new and old, who have made me past month in Strasbourg a memorable experience, from start to finish. Again you have shown me many sides of life that make it all worth while.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday drive

On the last day in Strasbourg a friend took me on an excursion around the area. Most of the time I was there I stayed in the city, shuttling between supermarkets and shopping malls, between hospitals and pharmarcies on all kinds of errand rounds. So it was pleasant for a change to get out into the countryside.

In the beginning we didn't really have a destination or objective we could decide on. Like me , this friend sort of lives on the spur of the moment, and we agreed from sharing many of our travel stories and experiences that sometimes "The way is the objective" (Der Weg ist das Ziel).

Chateau Koenigsbourg

So we just drove, not sure where we would eventually end up, only knowing that it would be somewhere away, to somewhere peaceful and quiet. Soon green open fields flashed by, as mountains came closer and closer into sight. Perched on top of some mountain tops were castles and monasteries, overlooking sprinklings of houses and church towers in a scene remniscent of tales of Medieval Europe.


old Alsatian style houses

Houses in Bergheim

Just driving around, sometimes aimlessly, at times lost, and once being stuck in the middle of a corn field, I discovered that sense of freedom again that travellers enjoy. Go wherever, be wherever, at your own pace.

We drove through wine country, along part of the 'Route des Vins', which stretches hundreds of kilometers through valleys and mountains dotted with neatly cultivated vineyards and picturesque romantic villages. Alsace at its best, as far I know it. Posted by Picasa

Jardin des deux Rives

Went for a picknick with some friends at the "Garden on two banks" today. It's a really special place, straddling two banks of the river Rhine, which effectively also separates the two countries of Germany and France. A pedestrian causeway (Passerelle) connects the two sides, symbolically bridging the two countries that have for too long been rivalries, and had to pay the price for it, together.

It was nice to be out and about in the open, to get away from the stuffiness at home. Between much food and drink were chatted about this and that, and since our party of 7 were of different nationalities, we had to communicate in no less than 4 languages in order for all of us to understand what one person is saying (or at least trying to understand, and trying to say). Shows if your willing, language barriers are not barriers at all.

At one point I suggested going to Germany. Armed with my camera and sense of travel spirit, some others were mobilised to join in the little covert adeventure over-river (as opposed to over-seas).

People are not much different on the 'other' side.


Though signs maybe in a different language altogether, the trees look the same, the birds sing the same songs, and the grass is just as green. So much for "the grass is greener on the other side" thus.

The one difference I did notice was the rubbish bin: in Germany the bin is clearly divided into recyclable, non-recyclable and others. It was
made of cold steel, efficient, slick and well-designed, reflecting the very characteristics
the Germans are known for. In France a bin is just a bin, made of rubber, some burnt by vandals beyond recognition. The laissez-faire attitude means 'anything goes, however, whenever', and the same applies for the rubbish. But a friend reassured me that things are changing, for the best. But I'll take a bet it'll take a few years, if ever.

We came to this quaint little play ground, where children ran around a 'boat' moored in the sand. It was perfect: open sails, a hammack, shelter to keep out the rain, steering wheel. Everything I could hope for should French train drivers go on strike when I want to go home. The Netherlands is just a few hundred kilometers up river, and we were sure if the winds cooperated I could be home in no time.

Further on in our adventure we came to this huge towering watchtower. It must have been around 10 floors high. When I saw it I thought: oh, oh, perhaps Germany is planning something again. But no worries, we climbed the tower and were rewarded with a panoramic view of the surroundings....from the cathedral marking the position of Strasbourg, to the mountains of the Black Forest in the background, to the depths in the horizon where the river flowed in both directions, to the little ducks that swam leisurely in the pond beneath. All could be seen from that height. Perhaps it wasn't built with bad intentions after all.

Then it was time to go back, back to the land of the French, or should I say Alsatians.

Which brought the number of countries I visited in the past twelve months to 10.

(Rhine at sunset)


Tale of two states

I stood on the river bank of Jardin des deux Rives (Garden of two banks) and watched the water flow past smoothly beneath my feet. The river changed and was different from moment to moment.

(Looking at Germany)

As they say, you can't step in the same river twice. Indeed this is Rhine, and was called the Rhine before, but under different circumstances the river before me took on different meanings. At that moment I was there it was tranquil, smooth and glistened in the setting sun. But my mind went back to the times when this was the 'no-man's water' between two rival states; to the time when armies confronted each other under the tensions of war(s); to the time when the first small steps were made on the pedestrian walkway (Passerelle) linking the two countries, which had perhaps marked a giant leap for this continent.
(across to France)

Again I realise how crazy it is that people just carve up the world and decide that this is mine or theirs. I mean it's just land, just water, just trees and grass on the same earth.

It's a little surreal to think that you could walk from one country to the next without being stopped and searched. It would have been unthinkable perhaps a decade or so ago. But as today I walked across to the German front, and went back to France again. That simple.

But it must have been difficult to make it that simple today.

(Two men embrace, symbolising two countries that have found each other)