Thursday, August 30, 2007

Shipment finally arriving

In a week, the total time we came to the Netherlands will be three months. Three months ago yesterday, a sunny morning in Providence, Rhode Island, we saw our home belongings leaving in this big truck, on its way to the Netherlands, a so far away place that we couldn't imagine at that time.

Now, three months later, today, finally we got a message saying that our things will be delivered either on September 5th, or 10th. What a long wait. We brought with us the basic things that we thought will accompany us for at most eight weeks. I have been missing so much about my cozy quilt, juicer, those comfi cushion we recently bought, many many things... Surprising we survived till today, and the Netherlands summer was generous enough to support us wearing with what we have. The experience was so bad, that we have to find some place to release our anger towards this shipping company "NY International Shipping". I will try to post it also in some business website to warn others how things can turn wrong.

The start of the experience was OK. The sales agent was very professional and kept contacting Mr. Awaara regarding the quote and arrangement. That was the main reason we stayed on this company. We have kept following up and asking him how things are going, and he informed us that things are fine, and they would directly contact your institution for the payment.Everything went well until 20 days after we were in the Netherlands. We were noticed that the payment was not arrived yet, and they couldn't let go our shipment. We soon contacted the institution here and made the payment. Again, a few days later, "your shipment has been staying in our storage for more than a month, and you have to pay for the storage fee before we can release it. "

We later traced back why the payment was delayed. It was because the invoice they sent to the institution was a wrong email address!!! However, nobody informed us that the email was bounced back. They waited so long delaying our shipment, and asking us to pay for the storage. Mr. Awaara was determined to fight. Then they compromised a little. The manager said, "Let's not wasting time on this problem, and I give you 40% on the storage fee and the case is closed".

So the storage fee will be around 300 dollars. I was hesitating to accept the offer. My Mom volunteer to pay for it. She was the most worried since I told her that the Netherlands was quite cold in the summer and I have been wearing most of my clothes. Mr. Awaara said no. Why do we have to pay for other people's mistakes? So that weeks, he kept calling the manager, talking, talking, talking... and finally the manager gave up. That was the middle of July, our stuff finally left NYC, stayed in US for almost two months.

I think a cargo from US to UK might only take a week's time. I doubt our previous experience might also affect the later part of its journey. It arrived in UK, and we were told that it is selected for custom checking. Another two weeks passed for that. Then customs was cleared, but not arriving the storage for the delivering company yet. Finally it will arrive this Friday...

Mr. Awaara has a colleague who also came from Boston, in the middle of July. Their shipment arrived this past Monday. It just doesn't take a lot of time, but things can go wrong, and nobody can predict. It is like Shaoqing's recent car rental experience in Los Angeles. He reserved it online, showing checking out in LA and return at San Diego. But when they were there, the company said they don't provide the service of returning in another location. My Mom made the right comment , you guys trust too much in the internet. It is true, we are more and more relying on the internet and many things go wrong because we trust the network. If the agent made a phone call to the institution asking for the payment, or Shaoqing called again to confirm his order, all these trouble should be avoided.

Since most of the time the internet works fine, we are just spoiled, and less cautious. We might still trust it as we did before.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Raksha Bandhan

Today is the Rakhi day in India, the full moon day of July (Shraavana), the day to celebrate the bond between brothers and sisters. Didi called early in the morning to wish Mr. Awaara. Every year before this day, we will receive a Rakhi in a card from her. Rakhi, is a holy thread with nice decorations to tie on the brother's wrist. Mr. Awaara must have had at least seven with him, during all these years he has been away.

The festival is marked by the tying of a rakhi, or holy thread by the sister on the wrist of her brother. The brother in return offers a gift to his sister and vows to look after her. It is not necessary that the rakhi can be given only to a brother by birth; any male can be "adopted" as a brother by tying a rakhi on the person, that is "blood brothers or sisters", whether they are cousins or a good friend.

This is what is written in Wikipedia. It is interesting festival and I couldn't find anything similar in Chinese culture. Chinese have festivals to celebrate the solidarity and kinship, but nothing specifically between brothers and sisters. Although Mr. Awaara received Rakhi every year from Didi, but I haven't seen a real Raksha Bandhan myself. I remember I once asked him whether I could tie the rakhi on his wrist, he refused since that was between brothers and sisters. I finally know that brothers should also send gifts back to their sisters. It seems that Mr. Awaara was not doing that at all. I don't know whether he has vowed to protect didi in their phone conversations.

There is another brother-sister festival that happened during the time I was there, 'Bhai Dooj'. It is interesting to see the bond between brothers and sisters were so much celebrated in the Indian culture. We heard from Didi this morning that Urmi was expecting a brother now, because then her kids will have a Mamu later. I am thinking of aother reason, she will have great festivals to celebrate every year.

Later today, there is a BBC news item, saying the Indian festival market is full of products coming from China. A lady who used to make Rahkri to support her family, can't compete with things from China any more. On the TV screen, she is very sad. Customers are split two sided. One said Chinese product might have used dangerous material and not safe, so she would buy indian made Rahkri. The other said made in China Rahkri is cheaper, and more to choose from.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Volunteer at Netherlands

Volunteer was a new idea to me, after coming to this orange country for two months, I can't tolerate the life of staying at home with only online contact with people. I thought I would enjoy the time staying home, not actually. A Ph.D degree is wasting at home. There should be lots of things that I am capable of doing. For the purpose of knowing more people, or just get to know more about this country, I decided to try finding volunteer opportunities before I can locate a permanent job.

Volunteering, a possible increasing working form in more developed world, means working for free. I wouldn't have thought of this when I have a job. I admire people who would work with his or her full passion, rather for living.It reminds me Maslow's hierarchy of needs, when people satisfy their basic need of living, their higher level needs starts to rise. The need for self-esteem, is the origin of wanting to be of use. I guess for me, although I feel the need for money, but that need is not significant enough to make me to do any work for money. I am just being lazy to pretend that I am hungry about my self-esteem.

Anyway, I approached several places of volunteering work. The first is in Delft. The city of Delft and Mamelodi in South Africa are building the tie of twin cities. Dutch people are helping the local Mamalodi people in music courses, housing development project, and community center design. It is quite related to my background. 40% of the people in Mamalodi speak the language Afrikaan, which is originated from Dutch language due to being the Dutch colony in the history. You just can't believe such a tiny little country with 16 million population at the moment, could have created such large impact in the world history. People from Mamelodi were excited when they are here to visit, since they found they could understand most of the language here.

The other place is ACCESS, an NGO that provide support to the international community in the Netherlands. They would like me to get involved in the Public relations section in their organization. It is amazing how it develops from a family help desk to a NGO with such a wide influence in the international community. I had a pleasant visit yesterday there, and met a lady called Ada. She was from Nigeria, coming with her husband who works in SHELL. They are here for four months, and she has volunteered for around three months. We had a good chat, and I taught her how to use google map. She didn't know it before, and she was happy that she learned something.

However, it is the holiday season still, and my real participation might start after the September. Let's see what will happen after that.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ride free until u get caught

Before coming to the Netherlands, we have heard about the public transportation slogan: Ride free until you get caught. It is said in such a sarcastic way. We never dare to test it. Long time back i read a news about a Chinese got caught in trains three times for not having tickets in France. I remember the results was, he could never find a job in the European countries since this history has been recorded, and this shows extremely bad reputation.

We slowly learned about this train system, of course, with some tuition paid.
Buy your ticket from automatic machine, rather than the ticket counter. You need to pay 50 euro cents more if you buy it from a person. We were not knowing for quite a while about this. At that time before we have our bank card, the only way to buy tickets from machine is to have coins. We have the cash and waited in line to buy the ticket. Every time we got a ticket, and also another receipt, not knowing why. There were signs showing something about what is the 50 cents about. We don't know since it was in dutch. We don't buy from the counter any more since we had our Chipnik chips on our bank card. Another better thing is, the ticket machine touch screen has English choice.

I hate this feeling of being deaf and blind living in this country. You can always ask and most of the people here speaks English, but it is never convenient to keep asking. We feel quite urgent need to learn the language.

Public transportation is not that cheap. I remember the Boulder express bus going from Boulder to Denver downtown 40 minutes at speed of 70 miles per hour, cost around $3.5 . First time we took the tram to Scheveningen, was also around this price in euros, similar duration, but at the tram speed with many stops.

Tram tickets was called stripped card. Same rule, if you buy it from the person on the tram, it costs more. You can buy it from the grocery stores. There were two types, one with 15 strips and the other with 45 strips. Their price, one is 6.8, and the other is 20.1. It was funny that the first time we bought it, we thought the price should be much cheaper if you buy more. And later when we calculated, the price per strip is only one cent cheaper if you buy 45 strips at one time rather than the 15 one.

So what is the possibility of free ride? From our experiences, if you take a short ride, highly possible. Like we went to Den Haag, or Rotterdam, 15 minutes ride, only two times our tickets were checked. For longer trip, trips to Amsterdam, every time tickets were checked.

My uncle and aunt live in Qingdao. For a while, my aunt tried to save money and reused her bus ticket. My uncle always told her, the money you saved for a trip can't even compensate for the dead brain cells because of anxiety in your ride. I don't remember how she stopped doing that. Now they are both in their 80s, and they can ride free because they are senior citizens. It is true, free ride might have side effect.

BTW, in the Netherlands, school kids can ride public transport free.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Milk is for calf

Today on BBC news there is an article about milk products demand increase in China's consumer market: a fear in the west that the milk product price will increase because of the high demand, environmental problems generated by the change of pastries to cow farming, and the increasing risk of breast cancer for Chinese women.

I still remember that when I was little, my parents forced us to drink milk every breakfast. I couldn't understand that time why they didn't drink, and we had to. I couldn't enjoy the milk and complained, and every time I would take off the layer on top of the cooled milk and gave it to my parents to eat (I don't like it even now, but I found out that my mother-in-law loves it. People are so different in their taste buds). I also couldn't tolerate the yogurt at the beginning, and my sister liked it a lot.

Later after going to the college, there was no milk for breakfast. I begun to love the Yogurt in Beijing suddenly. A glass bottle of yogurt, 35 cents after returning the bottle, was quite a luxury desert when I was in College. After working, I slowly miss the taste of milk and sometimes bought it for breakfast. And also I started realizing that I was lucky to be brought up in a city where milk was not too much a luxury. Most of my colleagues didn't have milk in their childhood times. We even tasted sour cheese my cousin sister brought back from her trip to South Xinjiang, and I remember nobody liked it.

My hometown is in a province with some milk farms, and we used to be able to drink the milk with cow's body temperature. A person with milk containers on his bike sold milk in the neighborhood in the morning. Later we got a wooden box with a lock downstairs where we should keep two empty plastic bottles there the previous night, and the next morning we would get two full bottles of milk over there. There were people came to deliver in the early morning. Later, the bottles were stopped and milk is just in sealed plastic bags. I remember we would always boil the milk before drinking, all the time we would add a little water at the end to rinse the bottle or the plastic bags.

Do Chinese have the right of taking milk? Of course yes. Although I have no proof to show that my sister and I are stronger than our colleagues who didn't drink milk in their childhood, there is enough evidence showing that milk will help the growth of kids. Chinese is the most health conscious nation in the world. Mr. Awaara always jokes that anything if you make the connection with health, you are able to sell it to Chinese. That is partially true. I would believe if Chinese know that there is a higher breast cancer risk connecting with the consumption of milk products, they will be more cautious in their consumption.

When I was in Providence RI, I came to know my colleague Sokhee and also her eating philosophy. She is originally from South Korea, and now she just becomes an Assistant Professor in Kansas city in US. She first time told me, milk is for the little calf, and I was so much convinced right away. Yes, we are brought up by our mothers' milk, and little calf also need their Mom's milk to grow up. Human beings are the only animal who can think of making cows the machine to produce milk for their own need. It doesn't sound to be right.

Now we are living in a country where milk products are so plenty! We don't totally refuse milk yet. We sometimes buy yogurt, or some kind of cheese we can't even tell what it is. It is more like a curiosity of trying what others are eating. For Chinese, I feel the most important part is that we shouldn't mystify the milk. Any kind of thing if it is excessive, there might be unpredicted side effect. Chinese who are so much caring about their health, will soon realize this.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Biking to Scheveningen

It is the summer time, and it was the best season for going to the beach. The famous beach around is called Scheveningen, a place north of Den Haag and facing the North sea. Tram 1 passing Delft will end close to the Beach. We have taken the tram and went there once. That was a windy and later cloudy day. The wind blows the sand up and it is hard to walk along the beach. It was a nice Sunday yesterday and there was not even a single cloud in the sky. Around four o'clock in the afternoon when the sun was not that burning, we decided to take a bike ride.

We started without any destination in mind. It is the first weekend that we had two bikes with us. It is for sure that we can take a further trip. We came across the flower boat parade along a big canal on our way and stopped watching. It is a parade of boats decorated with all kinds of flowers, with loud music or band, several beauties dancing or in costumes of some fairy stories. The main themes are around the harvesting celebration of the season. On both sides of the bank, hundreds of people are sitting and watching. We felt sorry that we didn't take the camera with us.

The sun was still quite high in the sky and we decided to head north to Scheveningen. The name Scheveningen had been used as a shibboleth (a language usage indicative of one's social or regional origin, or more broadly, any practice that identifies members of a group.) during WWII to identify German spies: they would pronounce the initial "Sch" differently from Dutch native speakers. Many dutch people mention about this to us whenever we discuss about the pronunciation of the language. It doesn't sound to be a fair practice to me.

The tram line was not easy to follow, since the biking paths sometimes divert from it. We know the general direction is towards the north and asked people for directions if we felt lost. We stopped even more times on the way back for directions. People were all surprised that we were biking such a long way. We later figure out that if we follow the shortest trail, it might be a 15km journey. Since we made quite some detours, we biked at least 40 km yesterday. The good part of the biking is that there is always designated biking paths, and you can most of the time see walking people even it was in a most deserted Sunday afternoon. We will find people to ask. Lessons are, ask younger generation, they mostly speak fluent English. Older people sometimes do not.

The beach was much more crowded yesterday than last time we went. It was a great day there, plenty of sunshine and not much wind. Many many people were there, different color people, families and friends. Some people started leaving, and some other like us just arrived. We first went to take some snacks: Kimbling, a kind of fried fish. We started liking this fish. Neither of us feel easy to eat the famous haring. People eat it raw with some minced onion. They were cleaned first removing the head and stomach of the fish. You just need to hold the tail, dip some onion, lift your mouth to the sky, and put the fish in. We bought it once from the supermarket and tried at home. The taste was not bad. Of course, we cut it into small pieces.

We found a shadow of the pier and sit on the sand. The sun was still strong. I was very scared of sunburn. A pier was built stretching into the sea water. At the end, it was a Casino, and also people playing Bunji jumping. We were sitting quietly observing people around us. A new couple on our right were kissing almost all the time we were sitting there. An indian family with a little boy wearing a swimming underwear outside of diaper, his Mom was trying to take off his gold necklace out of his neck before his Dad taking him to the water. For the first time, we saw two sunny young guys were touching and kissing each other... ... too many things in the world you can only believe it when you experience it yourself.

After a little research today, I found out there is nudist beach just 1 km north. Maybe next time we can explore that :-)

Friday, August 3, 2007

Delftians coffee night

We found out an online group of English speaking foreigners at Delft, organized by a warm-hearted lady. She organizes a coffee gathering every other Thursday at a bar in Delft. The group is just a little over one year old, and has been growing bigger and bigger. We are both excited about this group, and hope to develop our social network while we live here. Especially for me, I feel I am extremely lacking 'adult interaction' since I came here. So last night it was the first time we went to the gathering.

There is nothing special about the gathering. When we entered, there were already more than 10 people. They have started chatting in small groups and each seems to be drinking beer. It is a small bar, and this big group is very apparent, crowded with loud conversations in English. From the statistics shown in the website, this group is composed of mainly people from the EU countries. I got to talk mainly with three people, and they were from Ireland, Germany, and Scotland, respectively. Among them, we are the mostly traveled. There is no doubt that people like us are rare, very rare.

I had an interesting talk with the German lady. She is recently laid off and will work for another 2 or 3 weeks. She complained her boss who is only 26 years old very bad in managing the work. She had a MBA degree so I feel it will be easy for her to find a job quickly. But she said that most of the job are too low level jobs and she has too much experiences and it is hard also. She came to the Netherlands less than one year, but she could speak dutch fluently. She had a dutch boyfriend when she was 19 years old. They met in Germany and he was learning German. She decided to talk with him and started to learn dutch. You never know, now it is an asset for her to live in the Netherlands. Oh, she also recently found out that in her ancestor's tree, there were dutch people. That might explain her dream of living in the Netherlands.

Also, a German can speak Dutch, really has some special meanings. Because in the WWII, Germany occupied the Netherlands for 2 or 3 years. There was a general hatred towards the Germans in this society. So I asked how does the German schools teach about this part of the history? It is quite critical. The general conception people have is our ancestor made some mistakes in the history and we need to know and avoid making similar mistakes. The movie Shindler's List is a must-seen for school kids around 14 years old. However, she still has experienced awkward feelings and embarrassment when she lives here. Once she saw a picture of central Rotterdam after the WWII, she said she was hoping there were a hole somewhere she could hide. She can still come across people's expression of their hatred towards Germans. Her husband had experience of being called Nazi when discussing a totally technical problem.

Maybe it is not fair for me to compare this with Japanese-Chinese relationship at this moment. But being countries that made similar massacre during the war, the attitudes of the current generation are so much different. How do you face the history of your ancestors? I don't feel it is right that the people now should take the blame of the mistakes their ancestors made. In another word, Chinese should not simply curse all Japanese since they are not those people who misbehaved in the war. However, the government's attitude toward its history is the origin of the anger among Chinese. There are a lot that Japan should learn from Germany.

After going back from the coffee, Mr. Awaara read a news that Uniliver was going to cut 20,000 jobs in Europe. Actually this German lady's husband works in Uniliver, and also we met another lady works there last night. I just wish them both good luck.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

PSTN number for VoIP phone

In order to enable people to call you from the PSTN, you must have a PSTN number. For VoIP calls, it is voice in between IP addresses connecting two accounts in a VoIP client. When both parties are online in front of the computer, it is easily conducted using some software clients. What we want to achieve is to not using software, which means, we don't need to be using the computer.

Therefore, your account needs to be online all the time using a hardware connection. In this case I am talking, it is the ATA we mentioned before. What your online client needs to do, is to forward all phone calls terminating at the certain PSTN number to your account within the client. For example, we are using the service from Voxalot, and the account number is 111222. We also got a free PSTN number that is 360.333-4444. Through the service of Voxalot, it will forward all calls to 360.333-4444 to the voxalot account 111222. The signal will be picked up by the ATA and my phone will ring. For outgoing calls, upon an rate agreed, i have put a certain amount of money in my Voxalot account. It will charge me for every minute I call out to a PSTN number. If I am calling within the Voxalot network, it is free.

To get a free PSTN number, there are a few possibilities. We got it through Recently Google bought the company Grand Central, in which you can also get free numbers (for only users in US). I have been wondering why would someone would like to give out numbers for free use if there is cost involved. It is originated from the loopholes in the phone subsidy policy in the US. The government pay subsidy to some remote area phone numbers according to the number of calls made. This gives the incentive of giving away these numbers for free for more frequent use by others because the local will get more subsidies for the use of these numbers. I am not sure whether this applies to all free phone numbers. The group of 360 number given by SIPphone was because of this.

Since the account number of your VoIP client is mobile, it is with you where ever you log in. As a result, the PSTN number also appears to be mobile. It is also possible to have multiple PSTN number connecting to one VoIP account, as long as you set up all of them forwarding to the same account. On the other hand, it is possible to direct your VoIP phone through different VoIP clients. You can easily manage voice service providers based on call quality and cost. This is what Voxalot wins in the VoIP calling market. It allows you to manually set up the outgoing calls' selecting carrier client. All these different VoIP clients have different rates for calling to different places. For example, calling to US from anywhere, Voipdiscount is free, and Gizmoproject charges one cent per minute. So you can set up in a way that calling a US certain number, the outgoing call will go though Voipdiscount, for free.