Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bike to exercise and/or bike to commute

Accidentally I came across Chris Fox Payne's comics. He has been the illustrator for the Readers Digest magazine's back cover. He has been focusing on a slice of modern American life. I like his provocative comics that make you think. Please go to his gallery to have a complete view of his work in Readers Digest. It is worthwhile to look carefully, and ponder upon.

This piece was cut from August 2007 issue which was named as 'alternative fuel'. With a gas station as the background: a huge SUV was pumping the gas from the tank, at a price well above three dollars per gallon; a biking lady is also taking a break to get something to drink- regaining some energy to continue biking.

The interpretation of the comic becomes interesting. Positive readers would like to think this might be promoting the use of bike, as a contrast to automobiles which needs to consume increasingly costly gas. However, looking through his other comics, it doesn't seem to be so sophisticated. As the title is alternative fuel, I feel it actually is more around the drink in this lady's hand. The blue color drink reminds me of the energy drink Gatorade. It is supposed to be a special drink for people doing exercise, rather than plain water, it is scientifically designed and works better than water to your body than plain water.

This brings me to think about the use of bike in US. Just look at the design of bikes in US, it is mainly for exercising. Bikes in the Netherlands are much more sturdy for commute uses: higher handles for sitting straight so that you can look at the front; strong frames to take loads including bags and kids; chain guard to prevent your pants getting dirty; dynamo attaching the front wheel to generate lights, both front and back, for biking at night; etc., etc.

In US, bikes are far away from being used as vehicles to replace automobiles. Even in the most bike friendly city Boulder Colorado, the design of the bike paths are mostly for the purpose of recreation rather than encouraging used as a commute replacement. Bikes rarely have back seats for carrying some load. My experience of biking for groceries in US was always with a heavy backpack. Later a friend gave me her bike Rosy with a front basket on it, which was so unusual. However, the basket was not strong enough to balance a one-gallon milk bottle in it. We even shipped a lying idle bike from US and found it was a bad decision. Bikes here in the Netherlands are more like those in China. Truly, bikes for commute are quite different from bikes for exercising.

It is not easy to change a city as well as people's life style into a bike friendly place, since life is so different: you go shopping more frequent since your bike wouldn't carry that much for a whole week's need; your frig can be smaller since you shop more often; shops should stay close to where you live so that you can easily reach by bikes; the city is friendly for bikes so that people on bikes are safe... ... It is too hard to imagine any US cities could someday adopt the Dutch model of living.

Back to Payne's comic, readers are allowed to have multiple interpretations. To be more pessimistic, I would think it more relates to the energy drink as an alternative fuel to the exercising athletes, rather than promoting the use of the alternative fuel powered bikes to replace the SUV. However, it is a great contrast to put them together to make people think of something.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Experiencing Milan - the city-wide shopping mall

Visiting Italy had been a dream for long time. Western architecture courses in the college time deepened this dream, it finally came true. We spent five days in the city of Milan, a metropolitan city on the foothills of Alps. I thought I would be very excited. Not really. Maybe because I have seen the world for quite much, or I have done too much research before going there, nothing much turned out to be surprising. People are just like people anywhere in the world, other than it is a lot more crowded in Milan. I try to remember interesting things in my trip.

Italy in my mind, or in my collections are a mask, and a glass candy that a friend brought to me during her trip to Rome. My impression about Italy was also from friends who had been there. First is many thieves, and you need to take care of your bags. One Italian colleague went back home from US also got his laptop bag stolen in the airport. Second is, people there sell meat like what is done in China: they cut meat in the open market. The rest of my knowledge is all about their great history written in stone. With all these basic in mind, we arrived in Italy.

As what I have said, since there was not much that I really felt surprise over there, I will only write about things that more or less special over there in Milan. The biggest for this city is, how can this city support so many shopping spaces? Our hotel was close to Loreto, around two miles from the central DUOMO, one of the biggest Cathedral in the World. We could walk all the way to Duomo with all shops along the street named Bluenose Aires. When you reached Duomo, shopping malls are even more. You can easily see big named stores like PRADA, LV, ZARA, and many others I saw the first time. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the oldest shopping mall in the World are filled with big name fashion stores and elegant design. How can a metropolitan city of seven million people have so much purchasing power to support all these? This is the center of fashion and design. Many shops are nice looking even if you are only window shopping. I just can't help to question how can it be so many. According to my sense, they can only exist so many because some of them are there to be a showroom, rather than sales.

We once sat in a bar, watching people walking on the streets. Occasionally you see fashionable ladies walking by. Maybe also a fashion, you see people holding paper shopping bags, small or big with big brand names on them. Some hold a bunch of them, apparently did a lot shopping. Some in my eyes, it is a fashion to hold a bag with a big name. The picture was edited from a photo taken in a tram: an old lady with a Chanel bag in her hand.

We happened to be there on the San Ambrogio's day, a celebration of Milan's patron saint. It evolved into a beautiful Christmas market full of sweets and typical products. The "Oh Bej! Oh Bej!" fair. Many more stalls were set up on the street in many part of the city. During the weekend time, it was quite a scene: you have to walk with the crowd. Surprisingly, people are buying, not only window shopping like we two. We spotted some local snacks and tasted some. It turned out to be a big mistake: they were made with similar taste although different materials. One big discovery, Italians also sell roasted chestnuts on streets! They use a different way of roasting which didn't have the shinny sugary skin as in China. On the street, they set up some little stove to keep them warm. It is also sold measuring by three different size of cans. The smallest can might hold barely 10 chestnuts at a cost of three euros.

Coming from Netherlands, the tallest country, we suddenly found people there are mostly shorter. Do you know that in the Netherlands all building codes for height of doors, furnitures are higher than most of the world? We sometimes feel some chairs or toilet seats are not comfortable sitting on. We realized this point again when we were walking on the streets, seeing mostly short old couples walking. Maybe the younger generations will be taller.

Till the end, luckily we didn't experience any lost or meet any thieves. Only once in a corner of a stalk on the streets I saw several masks and a few glass candies were on display. I felt masks were such a pretty artifact from Italy and just found out it was famous in Venice. We didn't see meat were cut and sold on streets either. The Duomo cathedral is splendid and we even got on the rooftop to see its wonderful sculptures. What we experienced a few more times were worship mass in varied churches in this 90% catholic country. People all say that Milan is not a typical Italian city. So, I am expecting to go to Rome from now on.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How budget airline works - travelling at 0.01 euro

I couldn't believe it myself before my trip even after we bought the ticket online, round trip for two person at a total cost of 0.04 euro. I still can't make it how the airline can cover its running cost if not making money. Those who were traveling with us could not be paying the same as us. However, I searched again and found that the regular webfare for the trip of ours is 14.99 for one way. So a round trip ticket plus the taxes cost around 60 euro. All these low budget airlines are amazingly operating at a unbelievable low cost. When I told my Mom that we paid only four cents for this trip, her first concern was, is it safe? I thought we might fly with very small aircraft. It turned our to be around one third occupied Boeing-737.

Now I am safe and sound back from Milan, Italy. The budget airline we flew was Ryanair, a UK company. Let me tell you how the cost is lowered in these flights. First, these airlines operates between smaller airport. The cost of airport landing is a big part of the ticket. Smaller airport charges lower for renting terminals. In the Netherlands, flying from Amsterdam airport is always more expensive than smaller airport like Rotterdam in terms of taxes, fees and charges you paid upon the ticket price. The ticket we bought was again another promotion for one day that all surcharges were waived. So the result was, we have to fly out from Weeze, Germany, a small airport close to the Netherlands border. This way, people who live close to this airport get the most travel benefit of these budget airlines. We took quite a cumbersome journey to get to the airport: two hours train plus one hour shuttle bus journey.

Second, there is no seat numbers. I feel this is a big invention that make the transition time of the flight efficient. You don't get a seat number in your boarding card, and you are told to sit where ever there is an empty seat. Imagining the complicated and sometimes confused boarding sequences I have experienced in US: Some let the back row board first, and some let the window sears board first; this is quite a relief of trouble. In this flight, there is no class difference. Since everyone are paying for the low price, and everyone are equal. There is no business class, all seats are the same. Actually, people do not care that much on where you sit in a few hours' flight. It is the airline companies that make the selection of seats such a big deal. We boarded in the middle of the queue, and we sat at row 8.

Third, is the minimum employees. There were three crews working in the flight serving. They also came down to the terminal to board the passengers. They work so efficiently that as soon as the passengers getting out of the plane, the next flight starts boarding. The staying time of the plane in the terminal is less than an hour. Since there are no seat number for passengers, the boarding process also takes much less time. Surely, there are little necessary equipment as we take for granted in other airport, including the bridge to the plane. You basically walk (or bus) to the plane, and walked up the stairs to board the plane.

Fourth, almost nothing is free in the flight. A tin of coke cost 1.4 pound. We managed to get a free cup of water on the way there. The staff didn't sound very happy to serve that. We also felt a little awkward to ask again later since we only paid 0.01. On the way back, we brought a bottle of water with us. It seems, some people are buying drinks. We were the miser ones. There was a round of lottery sale, in the name of airline. Two euro for one. The in-flight magazines were not kept in front of you, they were distributed and collected later. You can pay 2 euro to buy a copy if you want. This sounds a little weird to me. It only shows that you are allowed to take those magazines home in other flights if they are kept in front of you. I have never seen people doing that.

The flight is safe and efficient. All safety card were pasted in front on you, which made the interior a little crowded feeling. The demo of flight crew were also professional. I don't know whether it was originated from my own security concern due to its unbelievable low cost, I paid more attention in those security demos and learned things that I didn't know before: You should blow the inflated jacket when you are out of the airplane, otherwise it would prevent you from walking out fast.

Also, on the door of the luggage cabins, colorful advertisement were displayed. In our flight, it was the Ryanair's own Christmas sale advertisement. I would think that they might want to sell these spaces also to other companies later.

I feel I buy a lot of their lowering cost strategies. It makes sense to me. Traveling is only for you to get from point A to point B, rather than to achieve some comfort you can easily get while not traveling. I remember when I was little, I was always fascinated with the little gift my Dad brought back from his flying trip. I still keep one little airplane model. In some way, the meaning of flying were connected more to the in-flight gift, free drinks, and food, than the mobility itself. Before my first flying experience, I expected more of those concrete things, than the flying experience which was kind of untouchable. It is reasonable to expect that flying is like taking a bus or train. I would pay for the mobility it provides. People can pay more if they need some extra service, but do not include those services into a bundled price. Italian airline was suffered a lot from the competition from Ryanair which slowly takes part in a bigger share of domestic flight in Italy. I look good upon the future of these budget airlines.

PS: the picture was copied from the NY Times article on budget air travel. I do not agree with what it says about Ryanair very much. You can read it here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sinterklaas with his zwarte piet, a need of color change

Last Saturday at 2:30pm, it was the arrival of Sinterklaas, what Dutch also call Sint Nicholas. It is holiday mainly for kids. Finally I got to know that this Sinterklaas is the origin of Santa Claus in North America. It was celebrated by Dutch immigrants in the place which used to be 'New Amsterdam' in 17th century and is later called the New York City. Slowly, Sinterklaas in US merged together with the Christmas day. In its real hometown, it is still celebrated on Saint Nicholas' eve, Dec. 5th. He is a real person back in the 4th Century: a Bishop in Turkey named St. Nicholas became widely known for his good deed with poor children in Europe. He has been depicted as a tall, dignified man with big white beard, dressed in red vestments carrying a Bishop's golden crook, and riding on a white horse. He also carries a big book with all the children's names in it, which states whether they have been good or naughty in the past year.

Sintterklaas has his helpers, called 'zwarte piet' in dutch, which means 'black piet'. He was St. Nicholas' African servant. In the history, St. Nicholas carried a Birch switch used to punish children who were naughty and Zwarte Piet was said to put bad children in his sack or would leave them a lump of coal in their shoes instead of treats. Nowadays, they are more welcomed as expected gifts from Sinterklaas, and black piet is more like a joker.

Of course, the meaning of black always gives racial connotations. There are a substantive share of black population were from Dutch colonies in Suriname and Morocco. It should be a quite sensitive issue for them. We talked with our land ladies about this, and she totally agreed. When her kids were in school, she would not let them go to this kind of festivals, unless some more liberal schools would like to present some pink or blue piet.

Later it comes a more political correct explanation for the zwarte piet: Piet's face is said to be "black from soot" (as Pete has to climb down chimneys to deliver his gifts to kids). Nevertheless, the tradition has been accused of being racist, and attempts have been made to introduce Gekleurde Pieten (Coloured Piet), who are coloured blue, red, etc., instead of black. According to Wikipedia, this phenomenon of "Coloured Piet" was introduced nationally in 2006. The explanation given for this was that "Sinterklaas passed through a rainbow with his boat.

Now when I look through pictures I took that day, I really couldn't find any ethnically black kids in this event. We saw quiet a lot of kids trying to paint their faces black, wearing black stocks. Some even, were trying to cover their hair with black wig, very curly short hair styles. It is interesting to see how this festival will go as more and more immigrants are part of the society. How long can they tolerate the existence of black piet, and when will all piet become colorful?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

You get a job as long as you have a degree

For a person like me who is desperately looking for a job at the moment, I would feel so much grateful if employers can tell me that this is true: you will have job as long as you have a degree, no matter what subject. Unfortunately, this was not from any employer, but from a Romanian girl I recently got to know and had some chat with. She should be in her twenties, coming from Romania four years ago, in the name of love, and now lives with her boyfriend in the Netherlands.

The love story was quite romantic. One of her friends asked her for company to come to the Netherlands attending another friend's wedding. She met her current BF in their wedding. Since then she decided to live here although in the past four years she also spent around two years time back in Romania with her Mom. Her family used to live in Spain. Her father passed away because of an accident when she was 10 years old, then her Mom decided to go back to Romania, their home country. A foreign trip four years ago led her meet with her current BF, who was from Turkey. Her BF has a business of marble trading from Turkey, but not in good shape. He also drives a truck, and has been here for ten years.

I asked her when she planed to get married. She is not ready. They have a cat at home, and she takes care of most of the housework. Her BF thinks she doesn't need to work, but she is not happy about it. In the Netherlands, partnership is legally protected, and many people just chose to live together rather than having a marriage registration. Maybe it is still not too late for her to realize that she needs a degree. She is now taking a Dutch language course, and hope to take some college entrance exam next year. She was surprised to know that I already had a diploma, although she didn't know what is a Ph.D. I tried to explain that it was the highest degree you could get, anyway. She then looked at me, and said, 'then it should be very easy to find a job!'.
'But my major is not popular.'
'no, no matter what subject, as long as you have a diploma.'
I smiled, and didn't know what to follow. She was serious, and made plans to talk with her BF and her friends about me. I couldn't say too much to discourage her warm-hearted, but really ignorant according to me, HELP.

Romania, a country in my childhood was China's communist friend. More in memory, was its gymnastic athletes winning gold medal in Olympic games. I remember maybe it was 1992, that Chinese athletes did also well and the TV broadcast had quite a lot gymnastic programs. I met another student from Romania in US, but never had close contact. Now it comes to this young lady, it gave me a concrete connection with this country.

She smokes a lot. It was a torture for me to stay in an coffee with her for an hour. Well, she had already 10 years of smoking history. Then the time she started smoking must be in her teens. In my mind there formed a picture of a teenager girl smoking and working, going to some private school during the weekend at relatively cheap cost (500 euro per year), dropping off from school, running away from home with a guy met in her trip. Quite a story, life can be so colorful. She offered me her experience that make me thinking, things that I have never experienced. She is happy, optimistic, and enthusiastic about her future. She feels the Netherlands is a great country, would like to pay for people to go to study, and much better pay relative to the amount of work (according to one of her friends' experience). It is still much better than Romania, you can not expect studying for free over there.

I am wondering whether it is because I know too much of the world, comparing to her, it also takes away the kind of happiness she own, and I would term it as ignorant. I don't want to point her out. I would like to see her having an happy and optimistic attitude towards her future.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

PDF printing tips for PhD

It is my first try in making a video, and I try to make it useful to people. I am not very sure, but hope it can inform some.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

One day trip to Maastricht - a medieval town in the Netherlands

Fifty percent of the land in the Netherlands is claimed from the sea, there is no wonder you don't see much sudden land level changes in this country. However, in the most southern province Limburg, it locates the highest point in the Netherlands, 322.7 meters above the sea level. The Drielandenpunt, where the three country Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium meeting at one point, is also close to the oldest city in the Netherlands, Maastricht. Thanks to the rail system's promotion during the weekend, we made a visit to this famous oldest dutch small town.

We arrived at 10:30am and the train was rather packed on a Saturday morning. It was the end point. The whole crowd floated out of the train station and floated into the main street which was then an antique market. The city looked more lively because of the in-flow of tourists. You can see the streets on both sides were very deserted. The whole crowd were moving to the west, crossing the river maas via the
oldest Saint Servatius bridge, eventually spreading over into the maze of twisted medieval streets.

Most part of my life time I have lived close to mountains. I was so excited to see this little hill and realized that I have been missing the hills in my life in the past several months. This is a part of the old city wall, possibly man-made in the history. Well, when most of the landscape was man-made and similar, this is extraordinary even if it were man-made. We ran on top of the hill pretending this were the highest point in the Netherlands, which is actually kilometers away.

Before going, I have read some about this little town, and many said it was the most beautiful Dutch city. I can only agree that this is not a typical Dutch town. In fact, it is a typical medieval city that if comparing to other medieval cities in other parts of Europe, there was nothing much excellent. I couldn't agree more with the city guide in BBC:

The Dutch think of it as that foreign picturesque little city down south, cut in two by the river Maas. With its laid back ‘Burgundian’ [i.e. flamboyant] atmosphere they love to spend a weekend on its cosy cobble stoned streets, admiring the wonderfully un-Dutch like architecture and getting a fair bit of shopping done in between. Taking the hilly surroundings of the Southern Limburg region into account, it’s the closest the ‘Hollanders’(as all people coming from the North are referred to by the locals) can get to going abroad without actually leaving the country.

It is just different. Most Dutch towns are affected by canals and polders design, street networks are mostly crosscutting and straight. A medieval town is famous for its organic growing nature of the town development with curly and meandering streets. It is possible that Dutch people made this town the best tourist town just because of its uniqueness.

I still enjoyed walking slowly along the cobble stoned streets without looking at the map, and suddenly realized that we were back to the place we were before. There are a few things worth noting down. It is a nice city for window shopping, lots of brand shops in small scale but very fancy or humane interior design. There were stone dogs on leash in front of shops. I love the one with a little cute bull dog. The bike sign on the street made out of white color cobble stone was interesting. I love the Kinderboerderij here, but it was weird to see a fake zoo in the park along the city wall. They put animal sculptures in a fence, giraffe, penguin, wood-peckers, ... also with introduction plates outside the fence.

This town is also famous for the Maastricht treaty in 1992, which led the creation of EU and was the result of separate negotiations on monetary union and on political union. I heard also it had a place where Karl Marx lived for several years, which was actually his sister's home. A little surprise to us was a Li-Ning store. It always makes me feel embarrassed that there are so few Chinese famous brand in this world. For a 15 million population Netherlands, there are Philips, Shell, KLM, ... but for a 1.3 billion China, too few to be counted.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Women in Art

A friend send this via email. It is quite interesting, including 84 famous painting about women. Very nicely done.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy roses - a fashion that will last for how long

I have to say that I was amazed by these colorful roses at first sight. Some people call them rainbow roses, which easily let people connecting with something else also famous in this country. The company who developed this call it happy rose, because its unique cheerful color will immediately cheer you up. Has this picture cheered you up?

I came across this first from an online forum. And then I found there were quite a few blog have mentioned about it. There are people in US already successfully bought it (see here): The Roses are created in Amsterdam and then purchased on the flower auction…they are shipped via FedEX to Milwaukee and then Fedex to the Florist.

The Happy Roses are substantially more than a regular rose as the process used to create these magical roses is very labor intensive… however We all agree that the roses are worth every penny. The Average Retail Price of a Rainbow Rose is about $10 a stem.

These roses are truly not natural grown. First, the nicest and finest rose branches of selected rose varieties are purchased and used to make Happy Roses. They are placed in special water. Different substances are dissolved in this water. The rose branch absorbs this water as part of a natural process. This is what changes the color of the petals. What makes Happy Roses unique is that the inventor has managed to color a few petals, for example, yellow, whilst at the same time other petals color differently, for example, blue, orange or lilac.

I don't know why, these roses bring me the feeling of only surprise at the first sight, and nothing more like that. It looks like a bloody show-off fashion that might go away very soon. First I have to admit that i am not a trendy person and don't like to follow trends. We always joke on this that if the whole world population is like us, the world economy will never boom... However, for roses, I have another reason to like or dislike. If it is nature, I like the original nature. It is like a pretty young gilr covered with layers of make-up, not my taste. Roses have been used to express very sincere emotional feelings. People have given different color roses different meanings attaching to them. How can they mix up different feelings? I just can't connect this rainbow roses with happiness, a feeling that you don't find any categories to go with. Nothing more than surprise at the beginning, and slowly hatred.

There was a following comments in J's blog that some people asking how much it would cost if using these roses to decorate a wedding... I really don't want to imagine how the wedding will look like. The world is so different, and I am so different.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Studio Laurens van Wieringen capet design

The Carpet is constructed from many little 'foam-bars' in different colours and heights.
Together these 'foam-bars' show an image of a landscape in color and a relief in height.

Studio Laurens van Wieringen has presented this carpet that used polyurethane foam, using different color and height of cubes to present a landscape. Since it was meant for a carpet, the unevenness of the surface has nothing to do with the color or the real landscape altitude. For me, it might make more sense to treat it as a wall painting, rather than stepping underneath your feet.

What amazed me the most is the designer's thank note to his friends: "Special thanks to all 29 friends for helping with realizing this crazy production." This is totally a design work that out of someone's passion, with his friends' help. It is the worthless friendship.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Why Dutch Design is so Good

Dutch are famous for its achievement in the design field. It's hard to say that the Dutch are modest about their design sensibilities with a book title like "Why Dutch Design Is So Good" but Aaron Betsky and Adam Eeuwens.

Before coming to this place, many people have shown me their appreciation of the dutch design. It is also true that Dutch is quite often connected with: creative, artistic, innovative... After coming here, there was another big finding, Designers in Amsterdam are the best. A little funny? A colleague's husband is an architect, and she has to take an hour train ride to the office every morning. The reason that her husband won't want to move here is because, only architects in Amsterdam are respected as good ones. ho ho...

Thus I am going to start a new theme about Dutch design, things I find, heard, or see in my orange journey. Here comes the first one: a carpet with feeling of falling leaves.

Tord Boontje is an industrial designer who was commissioned by Nani Marquina to create his Little Field of Flowers Rug (2006). Similar to Marquina's Roses Rug, this design uses die-cutting to create the shapes of flowers and leaves. There are six distinct shapes of flower combinations, in three different tonalities, which creates an intriguing composition that's all about movement, texture and color.

A witty approach to a floor covering, Boontje brings the experience of walking through a meadow into an interior space. The rug is hand-loomed using a manually actuated loom, and features both looped and cut pile. Boontje's many awards include 2005 Dutch Designer of the Year, and the 2006 IF Product Design Award. Together with the nonprofit Care & Fair, Nani Marquina is fighting against illegal child labor in the manufacturing of carpets.

6000 dollars for this piece, do you want to order one? I have been wondering the cleaning of this carpet, will vacuum cleaner suck some of the leaves away?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Durga Puja in Kolkata

In Bengali there is a saying that there are thirteen festivals in twelve months. Durga puja is definitely the star one of them. We consider Goddess Durga comes down from the heavenly abode to our dear earth at this time of the year as if a daughter visits her parent's house for four days. Perhaps our city Kolkata displays more frenzy at her approach.

Plans for the puja start months ahead of the event. Family pujas are observed in the traditional way where as collective pujas ,we call it 'baro-jary' Pujas. It is derived from baro (twelve), and jary (friends). Actually such venture was first kicked off on the decision of twelve friends who thought such pujas may be organized. With the passage of time such pujas have gained more strength. To provide competitive atmosphere some business houses are offering prizes for best idol, best decoration, best theme of pandal etc. etc.

On the other side , this is the most important time for the business groups. They keep their shops open for all the seven days of the week for about a month ahead of the event. Starting from dresses, jeweleries to food grains to sweetmeat dealers make most during this time. Discounts of special nature are offered for different household items. This gives a great boost to other sectors also. The idol makers,the pandal decorators, the lighting experts are all having a busy business time.

No festival is complete without special foods. Hotels & Restaurants prepare special dishes for the festive periods. Many people do enjoy foods outside their houses when they are busy in pandal hopping. The city does not sleep during these days. The puja has gradually become an international event. With more & more Bengali migrating to different countries of the worlds, it is observed as a point of get-together or reunion.

This is the biggest Bengali festival in a year that I have been wanting to be present once later. Every year around this time, we were asked to buy some good clothes for ourselves for this festival. We should also greet family members 'shubho bijoya'. If we are there, we should also touch the elders' feet to show respect. Senior Awaara wrote another piece for this, and I still feel that there were more interesting part. You might want to read some more from this New York Times article: A 10-Armed Goddess Charms a Frenetic Megalopolis .

What I was fascinated the most is that, during this festival for three days, the place where Mr. and Mrs. Senior Awaara live, hired cooks to cook for the whole community, both breakfast and lunch. Of course everyone donate some money to make this happen. Moreover, it is also a great community participation with their passion and effort. Mrs. Senior Awaara couldn't find time to talk with us, since she was running busy all the time from early morning till evening for the work involved in this celebration. She and some other ladies in the neighborhood, once got up in the morning at 3:00am, to make prassad, a kind of sweet, to be given to the God and Goddess.

PS. The photo was taken by Mr. Awaara's sister in a Bombay.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why do Dutch fear?

This is a question we can't understand very well. In such an affluent country with very low crime rate, why do people fear?

Proofs of fear:

1. When we were about to buy a bike, we first thought about buying a good one, maybe around 600 euro. Everyone we talked to said no. Your bike will get stolen if it is so good. Never buy a good bike. Mr. Awaara's colleague spends one euro per night for bike parking in a secured garage, that is more than 300 euro per year, can buy a pretty good bike.

2. Our land lady couple went to Suriname for three weeks' vacation and asked a friend to come to check her apartment once in a while. Once we saw the light downstairs were on, so we went to turned it off. Later we found out, that was what that friend did. She turned the light on, and later came back to turned them off. It created the feeling that there were people living and they were at home.

3. We once lost one set of our home key, and we called the police in the meantime asking for suggestions on possible reasons. The police suggested that we should get our lock changed, since you never know whether some person were trying to be evil. This made us extremely cautious in the following week, fearing someone would follow us home and find out where we live. The end of that week when there was not much hope of getting the lost key back, we finally changed the lock.

4. Maybe because of all these fears rendered, I also got frustrated sometimes. Mr. Awaara had an office trip and told me that would end after dinner around 8:00pm. I started getting panic around 10:30pm after I couldn't connect to his cellphone. The call just ended after several rings, and a sentence of unknown dutch. (He was very wrong in not trying to call me, he agreed.) For the first time in my life, I called the police number 112. The police told me that I could go to the police station to file a missing person report if I like... ... Thank God, he came back after the midnight.

Counter proof:

1. The first day here when I was lost with the taxi driver in the town and Mr. Awaara was looking for me around the train station, he met a policeman on bike. He comforted him, if the driver couldn't find the place, he should come back here. It is a small town.

2. When we forgot our key and knocked our neighbor's door, asking whether they would let us get in from their balcony, they were very helpful.

Little evidence:

Most people have lost bikes experiences. Our housing rental agent said he lost five during the time he was here. He is around late 20s. I asked how. He explained that he sometimes forgot where he parked his bike, and when he remembered and went to look for, it was gone. ... well, not very much convincing evidence that worth fearing if you are a little more careful.

Maybe my proof were not that valid, but I really don't like people behave like that. Or maybe we should say, that was not fear, that was just pre-cautious. That makes me feel better.

Ps. The painting on the top right is by Norwegian expressionist painter Edvard Munch 'the screaming', a famous painting about fear.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Bikers in the Netherlands II

Bikers vary sometimes because of the bikes they use. Look at this unique wooden box in front of the bike. Dutch people are good engineers. They are good at making things for their own needs.

You understand what is their own needs? This big basket is for their daughter. There is even a seat inside. However, graffiti didn't miss this tiny surface.

This is a much more bigger and comfortable one. It is lower and looks safer. Two kids can stay inside. They even have a transparent plastic rain shelter.

A family of four in their weekend trip.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Bikes in the Netherlands II

The bike are mostly with higher handles, which make the biking more comfortable. This one is quite strong. Mr. Awaara's office has bought this kind of bikes for office use, which they can sometimes check out. You might find out, there is no hand break for this bike, it is pedal break, the only inconvenience that you might take a while to get used to.

This is a foldable bike which you can fold it and take it to your train journey. For other kind of bikes if you want to take on the train, you have to buy a ticket for the traveling. It is 6 euro a day's unlimited travel.

These two are from a bike rental company. They most of the time make their bikes in brightest color, and strong.

Bikes can be personalized in many ways.

This is also a flower decorated bike, but with two seats for kids at the back!

Here is an inbuilt front seat for a kid in the front.

A much comfortable seat for kids, sometimes can hold as many as four kids in the front.

This is a newer model of the previous one. Shelter for the kids' seats is always necessary when parking since the rain comes any time.

These are a family of three, on adult with two kids. The kid sitting behind must always dream someday he/she would own his/her own bike.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

October 2 - Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday

October second is Gandhi's birthday, a day in India that has been celebrated as a national holiday. Every year on this day, Mr. Awaara remembers that the film Gandhi which has won nine Oscar award in 1982, is shown on TV.

Around a month ago a statue of former South African President Nelson Mandela has been unveiled in the Parliament Square in London. After that, London Mayor Ken Livingstone has said he would like to see a statue of Gandhi in the Square. In his words, "You get millions of people from all over the world who come to see Big Ben and see the statue of Churchill and so on, and here's someone they would understand. In a thousand years they'll still know who Mahatma Gandhi was, whereas if you wander round Trafalgar Square, the two generals there, you have to go and check the history books.

Mr. Awaara Senior was asked to write a little about Gandhi, and here is what he wrote:

I was born in the year 1946, India got independence in 1947 and Gandhi was assassinated in 1948.
So, I could not feel the presence of this great man during his lifetime. What I have experienced in the subsequent years is his sacrifice & influence of the power of non-violence that was practiced & preached by him throughout his life. Gandhiji* was great as a politician,as a leader of men ,as a reformer. He was greater than all these as a man.
Gandhiji is an icon to all classes of people in India. He is remembered ,referred & quoted for all purposes.
His B`days come & go every year ,celebrated with much fanfare & new statues of all shapes & sizes are unveiled by eminent peoples at different corners of the country as well as abroad. Still his principle of non-violence is being practiced whether in South Africa or Myanmer. His life has been a lesson for all ages to come.

* Gandhiji is a respected way of calling Gandhi. Adding ji after any name is showing your respect in Indian language.

Gandhi has his talisman to share with people. Talisman is
something that produce apparently magical or miraculous effects. I think it is also meaningful to share with everyone here who happen to read this post. If you understand it and practice it, it is magic.

I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Bikers in the Netherlands

Bikes are part of daily life, so you see all sorts of ideas about bikes, some you might not have imagined.

This is a normal one, biking with a backpack.

Let the bike take the load of bikes - this is the typical way of carrying load. We also use this as our grocery shopping car. Some bikes have it hanging on one side, some on both sides. I always wonder the one sided bag might distort the balance of biking.

Even the front wheel can hold something. Of course these front baskets are much lighter, and more for decorating purpose. Imaging going to the Saturday market and come back with flowers in your front. Sounds like a happy ride?

Have you seen kids' bike seat on bikes? It has so many varieties, and I will try to show them all to you.

Taking kid home from school.

I always wonder at what age here kids start biking. All the time I got amazed. Look at this little girl going to the book store with her daddy. She is locking her bike before entering. There are no supporting small wheels for this bike!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Bikes in the Netherlands

Bikes are the major commuting vehicle here in this country who are famous for its innovative designers. Let's start from two fascinating bikes. I took these pictures from a shop window on a street in Rotterdam on a Sunday. Since the store was closed, the picture had some window reflections. You get the idea?

Choose the seat that fits you the best!

Choose the handle that fits your height!
(People do not like the mountain bikes when bikes become a daily commute tool. We have one mountain bike and it really needs something like this one to attach to. The handles are low so you have to bend a lot to bike. We are not exercising on designated trails, sitting straight and watch the street signs are more important. )

Friday, September 28, 2007

Van Gogh and colors

The last post reminded me of Vincent van Gogh, the post-impressionist painter the whole world know. I remember several years ago I have read his biography translated in Chinese. Before that, I knew him only about his famous paintings. It was so sad to know that his life was full of poverty and sickness. His paintings were sold at the most expensive prices after his death, while in his life time once around 1881 he had only six hot meals within eight months since he could not afford.

During the time he painted this, he lived in lodgings, supported by his devoted brother Theo, who regularly sent him money from his own small salary. In keeping with his humanitarian outlook he painted peasants and workers. Of this Potato eaters, he wrote to Theo: `I have tried to emphasize that those people, eating their potatoes in the lamp-light have dug the earth with those very hands they put in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labor, and how they have honestly earned their food'. Around this time his painting was full of moralistic flavor of social realism, a reproduction of what was seen. It is very different from his later work in Paris where he was obsessed by the symbolic and expressive values of colors. Paintings were dark and heavy around this time, and few people would like to pay for them.

Most memories about van Gogh's painting are about his boldness in using colors. The van Gogh museum in Amsterdam made his name in big size characters in the bright orange color, the color of his country. I somehow always feel the connection between the bright colors and European culture has its root in van Gogh's painting. You might feel a little bit of this in the Swedish furniture store IKEA. When you are in this piece of land, you will be amazed by the color, the most bright yellow, orange, blue or green, can suddenly jump into your eyes. People told me it might be because of the gloomy weather. The bright colors can bring some excitement when they feel depressed because of the weather. Our internet router is in orange color, with a red color cable line. I had a little while to adjust all these color changes in life. Now I am very happy to wear my orange color fleece jacket which we all felt it was too bright when in US.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dutch people's daily three meals

Many places I traveled to, I have been very much interested in tasting their local food. It is part of their culture and add some spices to my travel memories. Being in the Netherlands, of course I am also interested a lot in adopting some of their food culture. What do Dutch people eat?

I asked this question to a friend of mine last time when we traveled together to Amsterdam in 2003 summer. Her parents emigrated from the Netherlands to the US. It seemed to be a quite tough question. Heineken or Grolsch? They are beers... then maybe potato, or kroket?

I couldn't complained to her since she only traveled to the Netherlands rather than living here long enough. So I have to explore myself, plus the observation of Mr. Awaara from their daily lunch gathering in the office. The major comment of his is, very simple and cold lunch, some people just eat cheese and bread, some drink milk for lunch... sounds terrible to Chinese and Indians. The picture exactly says our differences: we need all meals warm.

I found part of the answer from a blog writing about Dultch culture Hollandring:
The Dutch generally eat three meals a day. Dinner (around 6 pm) is the main meal for most people, but some rural families and older people retain the tradition of eating the main meal at midday. For them, the evening meal is light and often consists of bread, cold cuts, cheese and salad. It is clearly that urban working class doesn't have enough time to cook and have a warm lunch, so their habit is basically like what is showing in the picture.

My friends' potato statement also turns to be true. Also from the hollandring: As indicated in the famous painting by Vincent van Gogh (the aardappeleters, meaning "potato eaters"), the main ingredient in old-fashioned Dutch dinners is potatoes, usually accompanied by meat and boiled vegetables. The Dutch traditionally don't use very sharp spices and are very fond of pouring gravy onto everything. In the market, you can see all kinds of potato. Peeled potato confused me the first time I saw it. It also has peeled potato in cans.

Our program director in US was a Dutch. I remember every time he stop by the lunch room during the lunch time, he would say 'Bon Appétit'. Next time if I invited him for dinner, I should say 'eet smakelijk'. Here is some more eating manner I learned from the same source. This doesn't seem to be consistent with their talking habit. They are very straightforward in conversation.

Washing hands before eating, being on time to the table, and starting to eat at the same moment is important. It is impolite to begin eating before others. A parent or host often indicates when to eat, usually by saying 'eet smakelijk' (pronounces ATE smahk-A-lick), which literally means 'Eat deliciously' but is used in the same as Bon Appétit (enjoy the meal.) It is proper to keep hands above the table (rather than in the lap) but not to rest elbows on the table. The Dutch use the continental style of eating, with the fork on the left and the knife remaining on the right. Forks are not used to eat dessert; small spoons are provided. One does not leave the table until all have finished eating.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Kinderboerderij and Community gardens

Most kids grown up in urban areas have seen cows, sheep, hens and the alike only in a book or on TV. Yet in most Dutch towns you can find the so called Kinderboerderij where children will be able to see, pat and even feed animals, and it is free.

We heard about this from the couple from US with a two year old girl. We then roamed around the city, and found some animals in a fenced area in a weekend several weeks before. There were no other visitors other than two of us. It was located inside a mental hospital, so we thought that was a place for people with mental problems to relax. Over there, we even saw three kangaroos. That was not the
Kinderboerderij. It shows that a pet really makes psychological benefits to human beings.

Finally last weekend, we found out the place. It was close to the Delft hout, which literally means Delt Wood, a big park around an artificial lake, surrounding by three rings of trails: one for pedestrians, one for horse riders, and one for bikes. The lake is quite big with trees surrounding all around. There was a piece of land covered with sand sand forming a small area of beach. I spotted a couple sun-bathing, and later found out there was a small nudist area around the lake. I have to admit that Dutch people are full of imaginations. They can make everything possible close to their home. That might be the reason why Dutch designers are so popular in the world.

There are also many community gardens close by. It is a little similar to the community gardens in US, but the piece of land you lease is much bigger. Many people built a little one room cabin in their land. However, there was no water electricity or drainage in the land. Only a drinkable water tap shared by many pieces of land. When people come to enjoy their outdoor farming, they can at least have some clean water for their thirsty.

The rest of the place are full of flowers or vegetables. Some are well maintained, and some you could see the owner hasn't come for a while. We have formed the habit to ask, otherwise we couldn't even figure out what it is. One retired couple told us, they owned this at a cost of around 350 euro for a year. They would spend at least one hour every day over there in the garden. In their small green house, they grow some tomatoes and some orange color fruits I have never seen before. We tasted and it might be belong to the same kind as pomegranate but much softer. The guy was consultant now working in helping Indonesia government in water management in the city. We were offered with some apples from their garden. It was for baking and we later made apple juice from it. I can still remember the sourness when I am writing about it now. It is bio-natur (organic)!

I have been wondering why people in the Netherlands rarely grow vegetables in their garden but mostly flowers. I got a not very satisfied answer, touching the point but still not convincing. Half of the land in the Netherlands are mostly claimed from the sea water, and not fertile for vegetations. So farming becomes the most reasonable agriculture when grass is well grown with the help of plenty of rain water. Today
approximately 60% of agricultural land in the Netherlands is used by dairy farmers, and there are around 1.4 million diary cows.

The fun of
Kinderboerderij is all in the pictures. It is interesting for us to find out, goats like to stay close to people, being touched. Sheep were all the time silently eating the grass, mostly staying away from people. Young sheep are very alert and wouldn't let people get close. Mr. Awaarar successfully touched an adult sheep the first time in his life time, and its fur was very thick. We also saw a huge white pig, with a tiny little curly tail at its back.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Weather forcast in the Netherlands

Weather in the Netherlands is temperate; marine; cool summers and mild winters. This past summer since we first came in early June, I don't remember any day that the temperature is over 30 Centigrade. Most of the time I have been trying to wrap myself with almost all available thick clothes I brought before our shipment arrived. Being close to the sea, wind is quite common, and the cold wind, sometimes with rain clouds, can come from any direction. My knowledge of cold air always comes from the northwest, based on experiences living in China and US, is apparently old.

Water is the soul of the Netherlands. The Netherlands history is the history of fighting with the sea water. It is well known that around 50% of the land is below the sea level. The land was maintained through a well established system of 'polders, dikes, and windmills'. There is this expression:
"God created the world with the exception of Holland. This was done by the Dutch themselves".

In the every day life, rain water became also part of the life. In other places, we most of the time just need to check out the weather forecast in the morning and get ready with proper clothes. Here, it is rather by hours. We were soon informed a website , a place you can have a watch on the movement of rain clouds. You can foresee around two hours time whether there is rain clouds coming, or it is totally left this region. Morning and afternoon clouds can be totally different. You'd better check out whenever you need to have a short trip somewhere else. Otherwise, keep an umbrella with you all the time. If you bikes, you might have a rain jacket with you all the time. Mr. Awaara has a rain proof pant in his bag all the time. Rain protection for shoes is also in the store.

People have thought about all kinds of ways to deal with the unpredictable rain falls. Check out the picture in this post. It was in the Oranje street corner, the place we first lived in. The clothes need to get dry, and rain might come. It might be still faster to dry up than staying inside the house even there is the risk of getting wet outside.

However, the rain water is also useful. We saw people set up some container in the garden to collect rain water. I don't think here the garden needs regular watering at all, since the rain is very often. When we moved here, there was a carpet in the living room which was dirty. The landlady spread it in the balcony railing and gave me some liquid detergent to spray on it once in a while. She told me, the rest of the work, the sun and the rain will take care of it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Study abroad in the Netherlands

One of my nephew living in Vlissingen came to visit during the weekend. He has been in the Netherlands for almost four years. We had contacted on phone after we came here. But we have been hesitating in having guests at home since our shipment was kept delaying and we don't even have an extra quilt for the guest. He wanted to come since he was living with a friend without paying now and didn't want to show up in the weekend when the landlord might come. He offered to bring his sleeping bag. Then there is no problem. We have enough space.

Remember the time when we talked on phone, he was so surprised to know that our apartment rent was double the amount that he could have guessed. He himself once lived in a 8 square meter room with around 100 euro rent per month. When he came and see it, it is the size like which four of them share. It is an understandable price then. We rent only an one bedroom one living room apartment. Some part of my heart feels sour when comparing with this young boy. When I first told him that we won't have proper setting for him to sleep on if he came to visit now, he told me that he had never slept on a proper bed in the previous four years in the Netherlands.

He is not from a rich family who can easily support his study here. His parents, my cousin sister and her husband were ordinary working class living in the coastal city of Qingdao. They used up all their savings for their only son after his high school education. They were not confident that he could enter a good college in China. They thought other ordinary colleges were a waste of time. I was totally against the idea of sending an 18 years old abroad to study, a boy never left his parents. His parents were determined as well as he himself. He only went back once one year after he came to the Netherlands. He said that trip he was treated with so much good food and gained more than 30 jin.

I learned quite a lot of things from him, during his visit here. Almost four years experiences in the Netherlands is still a lot more than my three months' experiences. He told me which TV channel has interesting programs. Which grocery store has cheaper groceries and which has better meat. Which place is famous and worth visiting. What is the most amazing part, is I learned a lot of cooking tips from him. He has been working in restaurants to make some money to lower his parents burden. This past summer he went to work in a Chinese restaurant in a northern city and made 1300 euro for one and a half month.

If staying with his parents, I would never imagine he could have worked in a restaurant, washing dishes, and later helping in cooking. I somehow feel Chinese is such a group of people that perform the best in harsh and difficult situations. It reminds me of another nephew of mine, half year older than this nephew. He just found a job in China working as a manager in a restaurant. He will never think of working in the kitchen. Being a college graduate in China, there is still some kind of proud, either from your parents or yourself, will stop you from certain kind of jobs. But here in another country, Chinese restaurants seem to have become the life boats of many Chinese students who would work to make some money. Exploitation is thus common. His first job only paid two euro per hour. True, if you don't want, they can always find someone who would do.

Parents might feel sorry that their kid has to clean dishes in restaurants. It is less embarrassing maybe because many of them are doing the same thing. What my cousin sister feels the most comforting is, their son now knows what he wants in the future. He also told me that from the third year here, he started enjoying so much of his classes. He would like to spend as much as possible time in the school, and found many things interesting. He has learned how to live individually, and more important, think individually. He has made his plan to go on a master program after graduating from here. I am really happy for him, and his parents. Luckily, their investment in their son pays them back not only a degree, but also a grown-up son that they might not expect at the beginning. He told me, some of his friends there do not need to worry about money and do not study hard either. It is again proved to be true, a harsher life at younger age might be better for growing up.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Netherland's customer service experiences

We have briefly experienced the business culture in the Netherlands in the past three months we have lived here. It is a mixed feeling. Part of the story is good: Most of the time they are polite, and most of them can speak English enough. But another part of the story is, you have to chase, chase, and chase behind. Most of our experiences told us, you have to be persistent and then you can get what you want. I am not sure whether it is because of our lack of skills in the dutch language, and thus there were too much miscommunication upfront; or it is because of the limit number of service staff and higher labor cost due to the requirement of dutch speaking in working in these sectors. We might have been spoiled by the good customer service in US using the cheap outsourcing labor in India. Here we have sometimes feel the frustration.

First, most of the services are not free. I have complained in a previous post that the public library here needs a membership fee. This is the same in banks. We set up a bank account in the ABN-Amro, the dutch bank which recently was attempted to be merged by UK's Barclays. The program we are in needs a annual fee of 32 euro. People are far fewer using credit cards than the debit cards. Similarly, if you have a credit card, there is also an annual fee attaching to it. Since credit card companies make money mainly from the higher interest rate applied to the debt, or any mistakes made by the card holders such as late fee. It is possible that dutch people are more cautious about living in debts, and they are less likely to make credit card companies profitable even with an annual fee. As a result, comparing to the fact that average person in US receiving 14 letters from credit card companies offering a pre-approved credit card, in the Netherlands, we have received none.

Phone services was a little messy. There was a phone line connected in our apartment before we moved in. We were thinking of transferring that number to our account, although we have to register as a new user and there is no savings for us in monetary terms. Surprisingly, no one could find that registered number in the system. Until there is a KPN staff member came to our place to do trouble shooting, he was not sure what was the problem. However, that number was receiving bills every month just one month before. At the end, I don't know what happened in the system, but we have to adopt a new number.

Mr. Awaara's colleague has another vivid experience with KPN customer service person in their office.
'What kind of plan do you have?'

"We have this plan of 27.99 euro per month."
'Do you have other plans?'
"No, we just have this 27.99 plan with X free minutes, and .... "
'Isn't there a plan of 10 euro per month?'
"O, yes, we also have this basic plan of ..."

Utilities was a nightmare for us not because of the utility company but with our landlords. (This can be an even long story but I chose not to disclose it here.) Anyway, since I have always lived in apartments with utilities costs covered, I don't have much to compare. Here the utilities are managed in one company ENECO, water, electricity, and gas. The company will estimate the amount you would spend every month and deduct the amount of money from your bank account. When you moved in, you report all the meter readings to them. When you move out, you again need to report the meter readings and they will calculate the total amount you are supposed to pay. You might have to pay more, or they will return the extra charge they made. It is totally based on trust and they charge whatever you report. The meters are all inside the house.

However, this might be the place problems might come up. We moved in with the intention of covering the utility cost ourselves. Later something happened and the landlady took over that cost and we pay her a higher rent. So we provided all the information to ENECO and again later cancel and transfer to the landlady after a month. Surprisingly, we later were charged for more than 1000 euro for the month we stayed! Of course, this cost will be covered by the landlady and we didn't use that much in one month. Then why? The previous tenant must have cheated in the meter reporting. I would say our landlady might also just realized this fact, and the previous tenant also has his reason to cheat in his situation. Here I just want to say there are some loopholes in this service system that our landlady was not very cautious before.

Here, the supermarket doesn't provide shopping bags. I am totally for this because of the environmental concerns. I found it interesting to see how people come up with different ideas when there is no bag available. (Of course you can buy a proper plastic bag at 20 cents.) The packing boxes in the store are widely used. It is like Cotsco in US.

We haven't made any returns in the supermarket. But once I bought a stove lighter in a small shop. It makes sparkles from some kind of stone to light the gas stove. I tried to use it and it was so painful. It succeeded after many many clicks so I decided to return. The shop owner tried to teach me how to use it until he himself failed in lighting up another cigarette lighter. You know what, it is not simple full refund. I was given a handwritten voucher of the amount I spent, and it is valid for one year. I keep reminding myself that I need to go to that store sometime to find something I need over there.

I came across a dutch living in China now writing about Chinese in the Netherlands:

A last striking point about the Chinese in Holland is that I continuously hear them complain about the service at Dutch banks, stores, and government agencies. One Taiwanese friend of mine even told me that an employee at her bank had literally said, "I don't care whether you come back or not. Bye." I smiled when I heard this, because it sounded all too familiar.

And I recall another Chinese friend who wanted to buy a 1000 Euro laptop. When she asked the salesperson if he could show her some special features, whether he could plug it in and switch it on, he bluntly made clear that he'd rather not be bothered by her.

As my Taiwanese friend put it, "Where I am from you would get fired for behavior like this." And I couldn't agree more. This kind of customer "service" is not supposed to be normal.

He said all these sounded "all too familiar". I am glad to know that it was not because of my color, or not speaking Dutch. It is just so common. So the lesson is you just need to be prepared to fight all the time, for your rights. At least, your rights are guarded safely here in this country.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Indian idol - Meiyang Chang

I have been interested in the connections between India and China, because of the special knot tied with Mr. Awaara. This handsome ethnic Chinese boy, Meiyang Chang, in Indian news came into our attention because of his Chinese ethnic origin. He got into the fifth position in the Indian Idol!

His name has become a term in Wikipedia, the third generation Chinese living in India, originated from Hubei, China. He is 24 years old, a dentist. His name clearly shows his Chinese ethnic identity, the same as well as his look. There is a Chinatown in Kolkata, the only one in India. It started forming the community since late 1700s. Their main industry is in restaurants, shoemaking, beauty salon. Mr. Awaara's family dentist is a Chinese origin. The dental clinics are becoming dominated by Chinese in Kolkata. Chinese community has made most of the restaurant in Kolkata has both Indian and Chinese menus.

China in the history has experienced too much turmoils, so its population has continued emigrating to all over the world. I was surprised to find out that
it was not until 1998 that ethnic Chinese were allowed naturalized Indian citizenship. I would imagine that in such a diverse and highly mixed country, living as a foreigner might not be as difficult as living as a minority. Meiyang is definitely a Chinese. There is no traits of India blood in his gene. However, he speaks the perfect Hindi, better than Mr. Awaara (he admitted to me). His soft voice singing Hindi songs, has won him lots of support. However, his not brown color has been highly stressed throughout the competition. And some have made it the reason why he could not go up further.

India Times says:
That fact shows how well the Chang family have assimilated themselves into the fabric of this nation they now call their very own. It is also a great tribute to the neighbors, the community, and the towns and cities that surrounded generations of Chang family without making them feel isolated and left out, and showered them with Indian hospitality. ... Meiyang Chang, an Chinese-Indian citizen, represents the modern India, the global version of Bharat, the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-racial, multiply-talented generation of Indians who, it seems, are out to create a community that one day will make the world a better place.

However, some argue for his winning for other reasons:
... (his) achingly innocent voice and humble demeanor make him sound like a young Kumar Sanu I’m rooting for him to win Indian Idol, and not only because of his voice. Chang winning would throw a fag on the pyre of the idea of India as a nation state. He would throw in the BJP’s face the idea that the cow belt has a monopoly on who’s a true Indian. He would do it in the most patriotic way possible, singing the songs all of northern India knows.

It becomes an interesting debate within Indian communities about the way the media is placing on him, constant reminders on his ethnic Chinese identity (although he doesn't speak Chinese) rather than a brown Indian people. (See this.)

For me, watching his performance on Youtube, the attachment built because of commonly being Chinese crashed slowly. He speaks the language that I have no ideal of! I can't tell how well he was singing, since I don't know who Kumar Sanu is. He is totally an Indian for me.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Jumbo romance

There is an interesting news in India recently, about a huge tusker, a wild elephant, straight out of the jungle, raided a circus, freed a female elephant and eloped with her to make a cozy home by a pond in Raniganj, West Bengal.

It is such a familiar name of the city that many of
Mr. Awaara's relatives living there. When he was little, circus always came to their town. He was once picked up by an elephant using its trunk, and then put him back on the ground. I somehow can picture the scene of a small boy was taken in elephant's big trunk. I still remember when we told this story to Jing and Liang, they were so surprised.

For me, circus was always the scene in the TV. That was changed in our last year's visit to Fort Worth, Texas. We saw many people were waiting in line to entering a stadium for a circus show, and I was very interested.
Mr. Awaara was surprised that I had never been to one, so we bought the ticket. Yiling said maybe that was affordable (12 dollars each) because it was in Texas. Similar show in Boston cost a lot more. So I now know most of the circus programs are similar, and elephant are there important programs. At the end, all elephants, six of them, came to the center, and younger kids could go to the center and take an elephant ride.

Back to the romance story, there was a twist later. There were four female elephants were following the bull to run away, although it seems that he was only interested in the one called
Savitri. Then the circus people managed to bring back three of them. Later, one of the female who were brought back started fasting, showing her grieve for leaving of her friend. The story sounds totally like a bollywood masala script, as the Times of Indian says.

It is the mating season for this male elephant, and he might desperately be looking for a mate.
Savitri determined to leave with him. This might be called the love at first sight. This reminds me of Qiong. She told me once after she went for a matchmaking meeting. "I haven't experienced 'love at first sight', but I really know what is 'no love at first sight'".

An interesting study on fast dating revealed that
men look for beauty, while women go for wealth when it comes to assessing future partners. This study of course doesn't apply to most of the couples in real life. Because the rising of the match making business, when "speed dating" becomes a way to look for a life long partner, it is possible to find out what is the factors people taking into account when they choose their partners. The news says women are more 'choosier' than men.

What do elephants look for when they are looking for partners? Are they sharing some human being's desire for beauty? There is no money in their society, then they should mutually looking for beauty?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Pearl earring and Andy Warhol

We were shopping for gifts to Mr. Awaara's friends in London, and finally bought cups with Jahannes Vermeer's painting in the market, "Girl with a pearl earring". Many might knew about the movie based on the story evolved from this famous painting. Jahannes Vermeer, the painter, was born and lived in Delft for his whole life time. This painting uses a pearl earring as a focal point, and is referred to as "the Mona Lisa of the North" or "the Dutch Mona Lisa". However, it is unclear whether or not this work was commissioned, and if so by whom. It is thought to be painted in 1665.

In the painting, a young woman, adorned in an unusual head wrap and wearing a prominent pearl-drop earring, turns to face the painter over her left shoulder—eyes sympathetic and slightly lowered, mouth demurely parted. The moment captured by the painting is captivating—sexually charged yet undeniably innocent.
(I copied this part of description from here. )

This painting inspired Tracy Chevalier's novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring. The novel both recognizes the painting's historic and artistic intensity and monopolizes on that intensity to create a fascinating story of a young girl in a small city during a unique period of time. Then it came the movie in 2003 directed by Peter Webber based on this novel. The movie has won quite a few awards for its cinematography. I watched the movie long time back, and never expected I could be one day come to live in the place where Vermeer lived before.

Another artist came into my attention is Andy Warhol, due to a program in BBC called 'Visionaries'. There was this debate on "which artist is more visionary, Andy Warhol or Leonardo da Vinci?" Visionary by definition,
means a clear, distinctive and specific (in some details) vision of the future. I would thus vote for Leonardo for his extraordinary visions 500 years ago. He is a man well beyond his time. On the other hand, Andy Warhol also brought my interest in exploring his photo silkscreen: transferring an image to film, then the film was burned onto a screen using a strong light. He is thought to be the leader of American pop art movement. I believe everyone have seen his famous painting of Marilyn Monroe, like the one I made using the painting of Vermeer's girl with a pearl earring. It took quite a while for me to get used to the Linux photo editing program, GIMP. I am glad it works, and I still have a lot more to explore.