Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Efteling

Last Saturday I went to Efteling, a children's fairytale-themed park, on the suggestion of a friend to explore a 'winter wonderland' while the snow was still falling and white! A good thing too, since the snow only lasted a week, and it's been pretty much reduced to rain this week ): Who cares that we aren't children anymore, I've always had such a soft spot for fairytales.

We took a train to Tilburg, that's only about 1.5 hours away from Den Haag.
From Tilburg there's a city bus to Efteling! The great thing about the Netherlands is that the entire transport system is synchronised, so you can tap in and out of all public transport modes using an OV chipkaart, which is like our EZlink cards.

It happened to be the coldest day I've ever experienced since coming to Holland, but we pushed on doggedly to see all the life-size models created to bring fairytales to life. The Sprookjebos, or Fairytale Forest, was one of my favourites. Life-size moving models were made to illustrate fairytales like Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Being made a few decades ago, these models were put in dioramas - more for looking that interacting with. So it wasn't hard to imagine that you were actually in a forest, chancing upon the candy cottage of a witch! And thanks to the dominance of European literature, most of us all over the world have read stories written by Hans Christian Andersen.

There were also rides, and this is where racial and national stereotypes come to life. One ride called the "Carnaval Festival" showcased the 'typical' aspects of countries like France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, etc. Which is all okay, because they're stereotyped by things like chocolate, watches, or colours. And the same doll is used for all the characters in the diorama - two spheres for the head and body, big-eyed, cute feet.

But then! We reach Japan and suddenly the dolls all have slitty eyes and are fat (sumo wrestlers) and there's this ominous 'Asian' music filled with gong sounds. And of course there's more slitty-eyed geishas shuffling around.

The worst? Africa. The dolls have gone black, with wide cream lips and nose piercings! And all of them are shown hunting wild animals of various kinds.

You can watch a video of the whole ride here:


I know it's for kids, and it's stereotypes, but it borders on being racist and isn't it time to update the exhibits?

The Cannibal Ride, featuring an African doll with a bone nose piercing.

From African hair to babies.


I had an appointment to cut M's hair today, and I learn more about African hair everyday. This is the time of the year when lots of African girls start to wear caps, hats and wraps and I was wondering why until I found out that it's time to take off their false braids. Supposedly they can only wear them for about 6 to 8 weeks, and seeing that it's a few months into the school year, understandably they haven't had the time to go and get their hair braided again.

What is remarkable is how so few African girls (with the exception of Ethiopians/Eritreans) choose to wear their hair naturally. By natural I mean either in an afro, in cornrows, or dreadlocks. The reasons they give me are that their hair is too kinky and requires too much upkeep in terms of applying relaxer, using a straightening iron, and applying hair oil.

No, I meant, naturally, like in its kinky glory?

Without fail, the girl I'm talking to will laugh at me, as if it's an idea too ridiculous to consider! After some more attempts on my behalf to find out why, we usually end up on a half-agreement that their hair is too hard (the most common analogy is to steel wool) to comb and oil everyday. So those that wear their hair naturally often keep it very short, or hide it under beanies/wraps.

The exception? Ethiopians/Eritreans. Somehow they've got a genes for slightly less curly hair, which allows them to have large curls in their afros. They've also got genes for high cheekbones and good skin, but that's another story.

This actually leads to another point. M is expecting, and she found out about her pregnancy only a few weeks before this September. I didn't ask directly, but I realised she's not married but apparently it's not a problem because she's educated and has the means to raise her baby.

The social shame of having a daughter past 30, unmarried, and highly-educated is greater than the shame of having a baby out of wedlock. People start to ask if she is fertile, or if there is 'anything wrong' with her. If a girl doesn't want to get married, having a baby is one way to lift that shame from her family.

This only applies to educated girls, who are also called 'enlightened women', because especially if they have a good job and a home, they don't need a man to provide for them. There's still stigma to in having a baby out of wedlock for an uneducated girl, who will be a source of shame for her parents since they will be the ones providing for her. In this case, they will force her to marry the father of the baby.

This made me think of intersectionality. This is a concept in social science where you consider several factors or identities at once. Here we see that educated and uneducated girls have very different realities even though they are going through the same event i.e. having a baby. Intersectionality is the buzzword of ISS (:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I am a woman.

This poem was written by a working class Chilean woman in 1973, shortly after Chile's socialist president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown. A U.S. missionary translated the work and brought it with her when she was forced to leave Chile. This is to be read by two people, one reading the bold-faced type and one reading the regular type.

I am a woman.
I am a woman.

I am a woman born of a woman whose man owned a factory.
I am a woman born of a woman whose man labored in a factory.

I am a woman whose man wore silk suits, who constantly watched his weight.
I am a woman whose man wore tattered clothing, whose heart was constantly strangled by hunger.

I am a woman who watched two babies grow into beautiful children.
I am a woman who watched two babies die because there was no milk.

I am a woman who watched twins grow into popular college students with summers abroad.
I am a woman who watched three children grow, but with bellies stretched from no food.

But then there was a man;
But then there was a man;

And he talked about the peasants getting richer by my family getting poorer.
And he told me of days that would be better and he made the days better.

We had to eat rice.
We had rice.

We had to eat beans!
We had beans.

My children were no longer given summer visas to Europe.
My children no longer cried themselves to sleep.

And I felt like a peasant.
And I felt like a woman.

A peasant with a dull, hard, unexciting life.
Like a woman with a life that sometimes allowed a song.

And I saw a man.
And I saw a man.

And together we began to plot with the hope of the return to freedom.
I saw his heart begin to beat with hope of freedom, at last.

Someday, the return to freedom.
Someday freedom.

And then,
But then,

One day,
One day,

There were plans overhead and guns firing close by.
There were planes overhead and guns firing in the distance.

I gathered my children and went home.
I gathered my children and ran.

And the guns moved farther and farther away.
But the guns moved closer and closer.

And then, they announced that freedom had been restored!
And then they came, young boys really.

They came into my home along with my man.
They came and found my man.

Those men whose money was almost gone.
They found all of the men whose lives were almost their own.

And we all had drinks to celebrate.
And they shot them all.

The most wonderful martinis.
They shot my man.

And then they asked us to dance.
And they came for me.

Me.
For me, the woman.

And my sisters.
For my sisters.

And then they took us.
Then they took us.

They took us to dinner at a small private club.
They stripped from us the dignity we had gained.

And they treated us to beef.
And then they raped us.

It was one course after another.
One after another they came after us.

We nearly burst we were so full.
Lunging, plunging—sisters bleeding, sisters dying.

It was magnificent to be free again!
It was hardly a relief to have survived.

The beans have almost disappeared now.
The beans have disappeared.

The rice—I've replaced it with chicken or steak.
The rice, I cannot find it.

And the parties continue night after night to make up for all the time wasted.
And my silent tears are joined once more by the midnight cries of my children.


The period of rice and beans for the poor woman in the poem occurs after the election of the socialist, Salvador Allende, as president of Chile. Allende was elected in 1970. He was overthrown in a military coup in September 1973 after a long period of destabilization launched by the wealthy classes and supported by the US government and US corporations such as International Telephone and Telegraph. Along with thousands of others, Allende was killed by the military.

The coup, under the leadership of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, launched a period of severe hardship for the working and peasant classes. Although Chile currently has a civilian government, the military is still the country's most powerful institution.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eid ul-Adha


Selamat Aidil-Adha to everyone! Here it was one day early than in Singapore (16 Nov). Also known as the Feast of Sacrifice and the Feast of Haj, this Eid is different from the other, post-fasting Eid. During this Eid we remember Prophet Abraham's spirit of sacrifice - he was willing to give up his younger son, Ismael upon the orders of God, and would not let Satan convince him otherwise. This day also marks the end of the Haj, which is the pilgrimage to Mecca.

I usually wake up to pray fajr prayer at 7.30 (sunrise is at about 8am), and my roommate told me that the Indonesian students are meeting at 8am to go to the Turkish mosque together. Clueless as I missed Eid ul-Fitr prayers at ISS earlier this year and I haven't been to any mosque yet, I rushed to get to ISS at 8am, cycling against the wind all the way.

I met Indri and Emmy at the entrance and we started walking to the Turkish mosque, behind Wah Nam Hong, a supermarket in Chinatown. We didn't know the exact address but then we met a Turk with his daughter and he said he was going to the mosque, so we followed them.

At the gates, we started to push through a few Turkish men, and then a few more, some more and at one point I said "Eh, where are the women?" Thinking they might be round the back, we scooted around before an Indonesian brother informed us "Di sini ngga ada cewek, bu," (There are no women here, ma'am).

Another Eid prayer would start at Al-Hikmah (Indonesian language mosque) at 10am so we took Tram 16 and got off at Heeswijkplein. We met Ibu Arti at the tram stop, whom Indri met during Eid ul Fitr prayers a few months ago. I overheard a multilingual conversation between a Dutch man and an Indonesian woman:

- Salam alaikum. Alles goed?
- Alhamdulillah. Met u?

Ladies round the back!
There was one sweet little Dutch-Indonesian boy who didn't want to leave his mum, so he kept holding her hand under the separator (women behind men) and blowing kisses to her. There were also one or two little girls with their fathers in the men's section. It's heartwarming to see children with their parents at the mosque (:

May the pilgrims at Mecca fulfill a meaningful haj and that their pilgrimage is accepted by God, inshallah, so that they are mabrur Hajis and Hajjahs, including my aunt and uncle who are there right now. Ameen.

The Belgians were here

Last Friday, Tine, Thomas, Elke and Sien drove from Belgium to spend a weekend in The Hague. I had two classes so I could only meet them in the evening, but it seems they had fun exploring the little sights here despite the grey weather while I was in school.

It can feel so strange to meet someone you haven't met in 16 months, and trying to pick up where both of you left off. The time in between is too vast to summarise, so what usually happens is picking out certain memories from the time you spent together.

The other half of the Belgian company are such lovely girls, doing wonderful work (resident therapist/counsellor helper with teenagers, and working with refugees), and I'm glad to know such inspiring people.

We didn't really plan the weekend, but there was some hint about going to Cologne, Germany, though that didn't work out. Summarily, this is how we ended up spending the whole weekend in Den Haag:
Walking around the Centrum at night and discovering a party happening in a church. A church! How blasphemous! D: Needless to say, our shock did not let us stay long.
More walking in Clingendael Park. Me, Tine, Sien, Elke. Sien wants to catch rabbits in the forest. I am wearing my all-terrain Mary Janes, not the proper footwear for walking in damp leaves.

On Saturday we welcome Sinterklaas (alias Sint Niklaas or Sint Maarten, depending on which town in Europe) after he comes to Den Haag on a boat and makes his way to the Centrum for a big party. Long, strange story about it for those who haven't heard about him. Briefly, the story goes that he used to be a bishop in what is now known as Turkey and each November he comes to see the children, disembarking from a boat from Spain with a book to tell him which child has been good or bad, accompanied by 6-8 black men, called Piet.

Piet gives out candy, carries a broomstick to spank naughty children, and a sack to put them in and bring them back to Spain! Of course when Sinterklaas finishes his tour through the Centrum he announces that there have been no bad children this year! Hurray!

Then on Sunday we went to Delft! The town of blue and white porcelain. Did you know that painters actually paint in black (middle pot) and the cobalt oxide in the paint turns blue in the oven when baked?




All in all, lovely weekend. Looking forward to visiting new and old friends in Belgium!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Susu pekat manis.

This post is dedicated to a tin of sweetened condensed milk.

So I was giving my blog address to some more people, and they keep asking why it's named so. This is why:

I've seen this tin of condensed milk for as long as I remember. It's also the first image of the Netherlands I got in my head (: So it makes a nostalgic connections between my first conceptions of a foreign country and the country that I'm in now.

Just stop calling me a dutch lady.

Haircuts


I've started a little business here, cutting hair. I put up these flyers all around school, in the hostels and in pigeon holes. It's good fun, requires no capital and makes me feel like I'm paying less rent than I am now, haha.

I've had less than 10 customers so far, but it's great to be able to talk to different people. One of my customers were the daughters of an ISS student, and they could only speak Spanish, coming straight from Venezuela. His wife could also only speak Spanish, and she was incredibly delighted at the poquito Spanish that I can remember from those months in Valencia. The little girls had the thickest, curliest hair I've ever seen! Possibly only rivaled by Moroccan hair.

It's a no-frills cut, for those prices. Since most of my customers are from ISS and live in student housing, I just do it in their rooms, and they wash, dry and sweep up after I'm done.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Modern Singapore.

One of our seniors told us that the things we learn will become much clearer towards the end of the course. Of course, being impatient, I want to understand everything now, but I already start to see what she means. The professor for critical social theory, let's call him R, told us that what we're not learning in ISS, but unlearning. We start to unlearn everything we have taken to be the truth by being critical.

It felt like we are reaching an epiphany, but we're not quite there yet. This feeling started started when we were revising for Social Theory - there were about 5 of us from 4 different countries and we snuck into this classroom in the corner of the building to write notes and mindmaps on the whiteboard. What we realised as we were discussing, was that we had histories in common. We all grew up thinking that the version of history we were fed in school as definitive history, when in fact objective history (As it Happened) can never be known. The history that we learn is a product of the bias of historians. History can also be used to create nations.

There is a notion of a 'homogenous, empty time' which Benjamin Walter talks about. (He's a funny guy by the way, he got funded by the Frankfurt School of critical theory but he's still very into religion and myths, so his writings contain many allusions to the Antichrist and angels, all while he's talking about being wary of modernity.) This concept refers to the idea that history is filled up with memories of the present, in order to explain or justify the present.

So let's take the 'founding' of Singapore, for example. Of course Singapore as the physical island and its inhabitants (not just Orang Laut, but probably other people doing other economic activities as well) existed before 1819. But our history books have taken the arrival of the British, specifically that handsome English gentleman, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (I've nothing against him, since he is handsome and I went to his schools, haha.) as the moment where modern Singapore is 'found'. Modernity and presence in the global system is only possible by the presence of the coloniser, the British.

And what did modernity entail? Cutting down our forests and replacing them with rubber plantations, bringing in labour from other countries to work at low wages and terrible conditions, signing a pact with the British in order to become a 'Sultan', and letting our island be the site of political and economic competition with the Dutch.

Sultan Hussein Shah, you were deceived by worldly fame and wealth.

The effects of colonialism can still be felt. At the risk of distilling this too much, I'll just say that the marginalised position of the Malays today is in part due to the favoritist policies of the British during their occupation of Singapore. Granted, this is nowhere near the horrific experience of Africa being depopulated and used as slaves during its colonisation (and my African classmates did get quite emotional during the last tutorial on colonialism).

There is a dark side to modernity and its trappings, and the article I just read by Michael Mann, 'The Dark Side of Democracy', provides loads of really nice examples. We had been talking about a lot of abstract concepts in Social Theory, like how power invested in the state, along with science and technology, are used as 'instruments of domination' to justify racism, social segregation and genocide, even; and I didn't really understand it until I read Mann's article.

I'm not saying that modernity is a bad thing. Clean houses and streets, and good quality education and healthcare comes with modernity and are things everybody wants. But it is important to keep in mind that this modernity did not come naturally, but through the process of colonialism. So the underside of modernity, is coloniality.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Exams

Sorry for the lack of posts. It's the end of term and I've 2 more exams to go, today and tomorrow. Had the sociology exam last Friday and while I think I wrote decently, I just realised that I forgot to write any real-life examples. Hopefully the next two exams (Economics and Global Politics) go better, inshallah!

Meanwhile, the weather's changing. The tree outside my window is shedding yellow leaves, and while it's not as cold as last week, the air is damp and there's a beautiful morning mist today.

Back to studying, and I'll post something decent when exams are over (:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cycling





The Hague (and the whole of the Netherlands) is flat, which makes cycling so easy and fast. That it's a free form of transportation is also pretty attractive. I got my bike by the end of the first week I arrived, from a lovely Moroccan man, Mr Hassam, who speaks French, Dutch and Moroccan Arabic. He sells bikes much cheaper (30-50 euros) than the market price (75-100 euros), and I think he's been getting many clients from ISS!

The generous provision of bicycle lanes is incredible! On almost all tar roads there's a small red lane on the right-most lane for bicycles, and cars respect cyclists here. Well, the first priority is pedestrians (I have yet to experience a driver swearing at a pedestrian, because it's always the pedestrian's right of way!), then cyclists, and then cars. I remember reading an article that somewhere that described cars as 'a source of amusement in The Hague', haha.

There are rules of course, like having to attach white lights to the front of the bicycle and a red light at the back. There are battery-powered lights that you switch on only at night, and also lights that run on the kinetic energy of the front wheel (that's the one I have, and it makes such a fun revving sound when I'm cycling, but when it rains the connection isn't so good and it starts to blink.). If both lights fail you, or you prefer to decorate yourself, you can also wear the lights instead (clips onto your shirt or bag). Lights are important, because you could be fined 3o or 40 euros if you're caught cycling at night without lights!

The most common type of brakes here are the reverse brakes, which means you cycle backwards in order to brake! Of course, there's also handbrakes (but probably not authentically Dutch, haha) but the footbrake isn't so difficult to get used to once you try! It's also convenient if you're carrying a shopping bag full of groceries with one hand and steering with the other (common, common sight).

Another amazing thing I found out is that Dutch towns are pretty much all connected by small roads that you can cycle on. So even though Leiden is 10min away by train (which seems quite far), I see signs that it's only 20km away, which is totally bike-able! In an hour or maybe less. Although you'd have to budget a lot of time for reaching the town then. Heh.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Teaching

Our lecturer for Introduction to Economics is back! She had a back injury and was out of action for two weeks, during which we had several substitutes, all worse than each other. It almost made me want to switch over to Modern Economic Thought, but there's only 3 weeks left before the exams, and I can just read the textbook - there isn't anything new in the lectures.

Having to bear with questions during lectures are also getting frustrating. Firstly, I don't know if it's an European thing, but there's this complete lack of respect for the professor as a teacher. Sometimes people don't even let him/her finish speaking before jumping in with their questions. Worse, many questions are also irrelevant. At least for the introductory courses, which is what most of us are doing in this foundation term. They want to criticise the orthodox view, but there really isn't time to debate on how the accuracy of the textbook and how there are other kinds of 'nation-state' before the Treaty of Westphalia 1648. If you want to criticise orthodoxy, you have to know it in the first place.

In the 1.5 hours of lecture, the professor is already trying to explain the common (or hegemonic, if you like) concept of a nation-state. Also, it would be nice to not monopolise Q&A time by arguing with the professor on the abovementioned issues.

Respect, y'all.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Amsterdam

On Sunday my specialisation class (Women, Gender, Development) went to Amsterdam, but we didn't get to see much of the town. The plan was to meet at 2, walk around Amsterdam and then have a potluck dinner at our classmate's apartment. Yes, she lives in Amsterdam and takes the train to The Hague everyday!

But by the time we reached Amsterdam it was 4pm so we decided to have dinner first. Bad move - we only started moving at 6, and with 1.5 hours of daylight left we only made it past her neighbourhood full of wolf-whistling young men and to the river. Amsterdam really is a much prettier city, but for now I still like the cosiness of The Hague. (:


What was fantastic though, was the immense gastronomic spread for dinner. We each planned to bring a small amount of something from our countries (I contributed fried rice), which added up to a lot! Also, when you get a bunch of feminists around, all talked about was how certain men from certain countries behave in ways that are a big culture shock to other women in ISS.

We watched this film for Global Politics today, 'We'. It takes a speech from Arundhati Roy (the sweetest-looking person with the most piercing message!) analysing US hegemony and mashes it up with videos taken from global news channels. The parts on Palestine occupation were terrible, but it was also maybe worse to see our fellow classmate from Palestine cry during the film.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Economics for Everyone

I don't have a lot of time to blog today (busy making reading notes for Social Theory!) so I thought I'd give an example of the anti-orthodoxy that is ISS. Here's a funny excerpt from 'Economics for Everyone' by Jim Stanford, a required reading for my Introduction to Economics course.

Useless and Destructive Activities that Also Happen to be Profitable

Activities performed by Profit-Seeking Companies that are Socially Useless:
- Advertising
- Spending to develop copycat products (such as imitation pharmaceuticals) that have no real additional value
- Excess packaging added by producers to attract buyer interest
- Maintaining more capacity than required, in order to "catch" new sales or supplies before a competitor does
- Producing things designed to break down or become obsolescent, forcing customers to buy new ones

Activities performed by Profit-Seeking Companies that are Socially Destructive:
- Selling products that are harmful, unsafe or dangerous
- Tricking customers into thinking they are buying something they're not
- Spending to directly undermine competitors (by spying or sabotage)
- Spending to prevent others from duplicating your work (such as patents or anti-copying protections)
- Limiting production of a useful product in order to boost profits
- Shifting costs (including hidden costs like pollution) to consumers, suppliers, or the public at large
- Advertising that makes people feel inferior or inadequate if they don't purchase a product


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hollandse Nieuwe

Last weekend I got to see the open market, which sells everything from clothes to food, from a selection of countries worthy of a UN summit - Suriname, Morocco, Laos, Turkey...

I also had my first experience with 'authentic' Dutch food - raw herring! This is called Hollandse Nieuw (or Dutch New), and it's herring caught around the end of spring through the start of summer, preserved in some soup of enzymes. It's usually eaten with raw onion. It doesn't taste so bad if I psych myself into thinking it's sashimi.
So what's so special about this herring? Apparently, a lot, according to Wikipedia:
- Fat content must be at least 16%.
- It should be caught between mid May and late June.
- It is salted and matured.
- It is properly filleted i.e. all the bones are removed, leaving the tail.
- It should be sold at maximum 7 degrees to prevent any possible parasites!

Education funding in SSA

My lecture in development theories criticised the neoliberal agenda of the World Bank and IMF by giving an example from Africa in passing, while he was lecturing about industrialisation and statecraft. Basically, this week questions if industrialisation is the only way for countries to eradicate poverty. (This is where Singapore and other Asian Tigers get mentioned a lot, because us 'late industrialising countries' had strong state intervention, with policies like import-substitution industrialisation.) For a state to implement an industrial policy, it also needs to have a social policy in health and education to develop a skilled labour force, which is also exactly what happened here in these Asian Tigers.

I didn't know this, but in many sub-Saharan African states, funding to universities were slashed as part of structural adjustment policies about 2o years ago, because the neoliberal agenda of the WB and IMF considered this sort of education spending to be "pro-elite" and unfriendly to the poor. Instead, they want the spending to be redistributed to poor for basic education. As a result, the university sectors have collapsed and it's ridiculously expensive to go to universities in Ghana, Kenya, Zambia, etc. and not to mention that this invites corruption when parents try to earn extra money to send their children to university. As Ellen puts it, so everyone has basic education, but where do they go now?

Friday, September 24, 2010

TGIF

I get excited about a lot of things everyday that I want to keep posting statuses on Facebook, until I realise that this is why I have a blog. Haha.

Lectures for Global Politics in the Developing World have started, and two professors are sharing the 6 lectures. First we assume that the developing world is a separate entity and that its politics are different, and there are different ways of approaching these issues.

I met Ellen from Ghana during lunch and we went for a lecture on some new indices of social development developed in Harvard, which turned out to be hopelessly boring, so she invited me to her room for lunch. There are two hostels which are just behind the main building, and living in one of them ensures that you develop enough inertia to not see anything more than the main street in front of ISS!

So I had Ghana cuisine for lunch thanks to her - fried plantain, egg stew and bean stew. Interesting flavours!

I also met up with the one and only other Singaporean here - he's doing some research for ISS. He did his MA here about ten years ago, and we had some very interesting conversations with his colleague from China. However, when the conversation veered towards the productivity of women being naturally low, I made my hasty exit, haha.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Weekend

My first weekend was smooth and also recreational! Saturday morning I went over to the new house to sign the rental contract. I thought I'd take five minutes and then I could go cycling, but W the landlord had many stories about Indonesia ('My favourite country in the world!') because he was born there, and his colleague is from Suriname, but also lived in Jakarta for a while. Landlord W got us a special rent for the remainder of this month after asking the foundation that owns this apartment building.

In the streets near my CS host's house there was a market (just like a pasar malam, except from 10h - 15h) so we had to go see that first! This was nothing typically Dutch though - no windmills or milkmaids or whatever else my blog name conjures up of Holland :) In fact, what I gather from observing the streets in the past week is that Dutch culture consists of a lot of cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to cuisines! More on that later, with pictures to boot. So when I saw a stall selling 'soeto', I had to check, and in this case it was correct.

Then we rented a bike and went cycling near Scheveningen Bos ('forest'), which is about 2 or 3km northeast of where ISS is. We went further than that, since we hit the sand dunes! Seeing hills of sand amidst temperate forest is something special. Silvery poplars are abundant too, since they grow best in sandy soil (artefact information from a course on silviculture I took in Spain 2008).

We made it back to the bike rental shop with 7 minutes to spare, and got a quick dinner at Ming Kee chinese restaurant (they must make a lot of money if they're selling rice + 2 meat + 2 veg for 5 euros!) before heading to Korzo5hoog near the Centraal Station.

The performance was ''Readymade Dance/Part of the Deal" by Andre Gingras, for the fabulous student price of 6 euros. The first piece used boxing and its related shuffling, skipping and punches to create a dance. One dancer even got a bloody nose at the end, but the blood was a bit too bright red to be real (I hope, anyways.). The second piece spent some time deconstructing steps from hiphop and breakdance, before breaking out into a frantic dance involving live singing/sounds coming from a wo/man (I really couldn't tell.).

Today is back to school and I also have to start settling into a normal life i.e. laundry, cooking, cleaning.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Apartment

I finally found a place to live! It's in a neighbourhood that my CS host calls 'expat country', since it looks very posh. 350euros a month, all bills included, and I'm sharing with an Indonesian girl, Febri. I heard from another coursemate that she was looking for a flat too, so yesterday morning I found her, went looking for bikes with her, showed her the flat I was looking at and by 5pm we had decided to rent this apartment together.

Moved in most of my things today, but since F won't be moving in till she cancels her hostel contract, I'll have a huuuuge apartment all to myself for a few days.

I'm looking forward to the mad rush of anti-mainstream readings that is ISS :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

School

My timetable is still a bit of a surprise each day, since I can't be sure I've checked where I'm supposed to go properly. I do know though that this term I am taking 4 or 5 courses.

Development Histories, Theories and Practices - This is an overview of the major thinkers and themes in development. The professor talked about and critiqued Alan Thomas and Amartya Sen today. Sen speaks of development as freedom; his five basic freedoms are both a cause and a result of development. A memorable moment is when a (Filipino?) student asked,

"But what about Singapore? Some of the freedoms are not present, but it still developed so fast."

I also met girls from Kenya and Ghana. Apparently these two countries had higher GDPs than Singapore about 50 years ago, so their home institutions constantly use Malaysia and Singapore as case studies in trying to find what went wrong in their countries. Did you know Ghana also grows a lot of oil palm? They just haven't been able to industrialise and that commodity the way that Malaysia did.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Arriving

Sometimes flying can be really crappy (see picture!!), but Emirates is generally a really good airline. My neighbour couldn't get sound on his inflight entertainment system, and 4 different stewards periodically popped by to try new headphones or reset the system.
After arrival, no complaints really! Although I was sneezing the whole flight and probably at risk to many of my fellow passengers, I didn't catch anything. The cool air and these sights made me feel much better. I left my luggage in the lockers at the train station. First, I lugged it halfway up a flight of stairs before a guy offered to help - "You must ask! You're a lady, this is unacceptable!" and then when I didn't have a Dutch ATM card to pay for the locker I did ask a man who was taking out shoes from a smaller locker and changing into them.


Some administrative things are done, but there's still a lot more! Classes started today and it was a full 6hours, with readings to do by tomorrow. Happily, it all feels familiar (to the nerd in me), brainstorming and discussing definitions. The general lecture is like a United Nations assembly, but better, because more countries of the Third World/Global South/developing world (pick the one who feel is most politically correct) are represented.

My potential dorm mate (if I choose to live in one) is from Rwanda. Where would I ever meet anyone from Rwanda otherwise!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bye!

As Nad put it, APEX is one of the greatest things that happened in my life, no? Didn't expect so many APEX members to send me off at the airport :) Thanks to everyone else who did, I appreciate it so. Especially after a brief kental* incident of telling people I was supposed to check in at Terminal 3, haha. Love you guys!

*kental: Malay term referring to a thick texture, but also means silly.

On my last day in Singapore, I packed and I spent time with Mum at AMK Hospital. The afternoon turned out to be quite a party, because her sisters came to visit and we ate mee soto twice. (Actually I've been eating mee soto non-stop since Ramadan ended, but you all don't have to know that.)

For those who don't know, my maternal side makes legendary mee soto. The story goes like this: my grandfather, Haji Yasin @ Eskom/Escomb came from Bekare village in Ponorogo, Indonesia to Singapore. To make a living, he sold mee soto and it was awesome. A short story, but a bowl of mee soto says a thousand words!

Oh boy, here goes at least ten months without mee soto D:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Gratitude.

I'm grateful for things good and bad that have led me here, and I am constantly moved by the warm, generous gestures of those around me.Today I got an unexpected donation from someone (you know who you are!). It is only because I took his class that I was able to articulate my interests and aggressively cultivate them. I hope he knows how much he's changed my life and also that of countless other students :)

Last Saturday was my last session at APEX (a group of adults both young and young at heart who mentor and tutor P6 madrasah students), and I got the most wonderful farewell speech, flowers, and gifts. All orchestrated by some of the committee members, and I was trying to not cry (too much) from being cluelessly overwhelmed.

And the nicest part of that Saturday was that my students didn't want to leave at all! We had worked on one act of a skit based on 'The Man Who Sold Words' because I just wanted them to relax since they've been studying so hard. After presenting it twice, they kept sitting around me even though I told them they could leave early, because they knew it was my last day with them. I pray they all do well in their exams and turn out to be bright, well-adjusted, and confident teenagers.

One of them reminds me of myself. He has the potential to go so far, but he doesn't see the need to study so hard. In the words of a professor to me in my freshman year, he's "bright but lazy". Those words stuck, and I am always thinking of them when exams come around. Even now I'm not likely to forget it anytime soon - the weakest have to work the hardest.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Housing

I'm still looking for a place to stay. As of today I've sold enough cookies for 4 months of rent (86 jars!) so at least I'm settled for a term. Student housing is expensive at 405 euros a month, plus extra costs for cleaning (I can clean it myself for free thankyouverymuch). I've found some nice places online for 300 - 360 euros, and the landlords say I can come view the rooms when I arrive there on 13 Sep, so I hope the rooms will still be available. Both are about 2.5km away from my university, but I can get a bicycle and it'll be 15 minutes of cycling, tops.

Doing exchange in Valencia was good preparation. My friend and I stayed in a backpacker's hostel for 3 days and walked around for 10 hours a day viewing apartment, but it was sheer chance that we found the apartment we eventually ended up living in. We wanted to stay in the centre of town, even though school was about 2km away. And it turned out great because most of the town's cultural activities e.g. Fallas were happening right in our neighbourhood! We hardly slept during Fallas for the constant fireworks and when we did, we woke up to street processions.

Also, cycling to school on a bicycle bought on a (dodgy!) black market was exciting as long as we keep to the cycling paths. But the thrill of being able to reach school in 10 minutes! A total change from the hours on buses and the MRT here.

The Hague is flat and Holland is a country of cyclists! I can see loads of cycling paths on Google Street View, hurray.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Taking stock

You're reading this because you've either:

1. Bought cookies
2. Bought books
3. Bought envelopes
4. Donated to my Grad School Fund!

Mille mercis to all of you, I can't thank you enough.

A short update on the state of things is in order (in other words, an order from Dad). I've been baking everyday without fail since 1 Aug 2010, bringing the total of cookie jars made to... 79! Productivity has risen since I got out the industrial strength Kenwood mixer of Mum's, cranked the oven up to 180 degrees (from 150), and hired an army of elves. Okay, so the last part isn't true. But I can roll cookie dough in my sleep now, I'm pretty sure of that.

I've sold 33 books and get this... 1059 envelopes. Even I had no idea it was that many.

It isn't easy to earn money in this way at all, and I had no idea. In the first few days, when I had no stamina for baking, I was exhausted after making 3 batches, but now I can breeze through 6. And making envelopes seemed like an awful lot of effort for a little bit of cash, but help from friends (Agent 1 of Operation Envelope, you know who you are!), I've got hundreds easily made.

Humility is something I need, and I will always need more of it. I've new-found respect for the man I met in Marrakech, peddling clocks to tourists sitting in cafes under the fierce Moroccan sun; and for the lady who sells karipap in the underground passage from Novena MRT to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

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