Thursday, December 15, 2005

Physical Challenge

You want one of the most ultimate physical challenges ever? Get a classic bike and go to Holland. You will often encounter 20-30 mph winds coming from every direction on any given day. You may ride in that headwind for a good 5 minutes until you begin to think, and even KNOW, that you can walk faster than you are actually pedaling. But, oh, you approach a corner where you have to turn right. You think, "yay, I will FINALLY have some easy riding because the wind won't be coming from this direction!" Think again. The wind is coming from every which direction and at the same, if not at higher speeds, and with more powerful gusts than before! Complicate that with a bit of rain. Want more of a challenge? Add a torrential downpour where not only your clothes become damp, but completely saturated. Furthermore, do that within a 30-minute period of time. Expect that you will need to throw your clothes into a friend's dryer so that you don't freeze to death just so that you can brave the next ride to another destination yet again. More? Random hail. Yes, it's wonderful--Mother Earth at its best.

For the strong willed who crave even more of a challenge-- try doing this after a few will then have achieved what I have done only week after week, for months....and will continue to do for more than a year to come.

I CHALLENGE you! Do you think you're ready? I doubt it....

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Does he honestly think the Holocaust didn't happen? How utterly despicable and flabbergasting. Oh wait, the sky is purple too...

Monday, December 05, 2005


The Dutch celebrate Christmas on the 25th, but the giving and opening of gifts is celebrated on 5 December, which is also known as Sinterklaas. The story is that Sinterklaas lives in Spain and comes to the Netherlands by steamboat each year with his 'zwarte' (black) helpers to give gifts. For more information on the tradition, go to Food like pepernoten (small hard or chewy gingerbread type cookies), speculaas (a softer gingerbread cake-like food commonly with an almond paste in the middle), marzipan, and chocolate letters are popular holiday snacks.

*Above photo is the traditional way Sint goes through the towns--on his white horse with Zwarte Pieten surrounding him.

You also write poems, as if written by Sinterklaas, for each of the people receiving gifts from you. The poems tend to tease the recipient, as well as give hints about the gift. The wrapp
ing and giving of presents is a chore in itself since you don't usually just wrap each gift as is. It is common to incorporate some tricks in the packages, like putting the gift in multiple boxes, wrapping it several times, making the gift impossible to get into, making the box itself into some kind of object, writing clues on notes to where else the gift may be hidden, etc., etc. It's great fun and sure to make you chuckle. Most people in my MA program participated in a Sinterklaas event where we each drew a name (like Secret Santa) and bought a gift for that person. To our surprise, two of our classmates dressed up as Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet; Sinterklaas played by Herman, one of our Dutch classmates, and Zwarte Piet by Pieter who is Dutch-Canadian. I've included photos from this party below.

I also went to Marnix's family's home to celebrate Sinterklaas with them. They treated me as one of their own giving me an abundance of gifts including a nice 55-piece set of kitchenware, which I need for my new apartment that I will move into in January (pictures of that to come later). After opening each gift, you say "Danku Sinterklaasje," meaning Thank You Sint! You don't usually put who the present is from on the gift. We had a really fun time and honestly never stopped eating. Marnix has a great family and I am so happy they invited me! :o)

Opening my 55-piece kitchen set I got from Sinterklaas (wink, wink) at Marnix's parent's home. It was a great gift since I need it for my new apartment!

Pieter as Zwarte Piet tossing pepernoten upon entrance. He was my SecretSint.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet

Denis (one of my future roommates) with Piet

Reading my Sinterklaas poem from Ida with a smirk on my face. It was hilarious!!

Me and my Macedonian, Ida. :o)

Most of the MA group.

Front center is Denis(Slovakia); to his left in white sweater is Richard (Polish-Canadian); to right in green shirt is Shiska(Indonesia); Sinterklaas, or Herman we know him; right of Sinterklaas with pink shirt is Evelyn(Dutch, but is essentially from Switzerland); me; in front of me is Alexis; to right of me in green sweater is Alina(Romanian-American); above Alina is Kanako(Japan); to left of Kanako is Zwarte Piet also known as Pieter(Dutch-Canadian); to left of Pieter is Daniel(Brazilian and male version of myself); to his left in plaid sweater is Hans(Dutch); he has his arm around Bokhtar(Tajikistan); in front of him is Brian(American and my other future roommate); in orange is Ida(Macedonian as mentioned above); in purple sweater is Difang(China).

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bruges and Brussels

Don't be fooled, this last trip was actually for educational purposes. We attended a lecture at the College of Europe in Bruges and then headed to Brussels for a small walking tour and nice dinner. The next day we heard from a person working in agricultural policy at the European Commission, and then had a talk at the European Parliament. Of course, we had our fun on top of this as well ;) Here are some photos from Bruges and Brussels! By the way, if you ever have a chance to visit Bruges, go, because it is a wonderfully charming town...


Two shots of the town hall in Brussels. The place (main square) was gorgeous.

Mmm...Belgian waffles...

The famous Manneken Pis - if you can't see it well, it is a boy peeing. Below is our group! If I can get a better group shot, I will post it.

Half of the group at dinner. Am I fake-smiling or what?

Beginning at front left:
Kanako(Japanese), me, Richard(Polish Canadian), Daniel(Brazilian), Julian(German); Back right: Denis (Slovakian), Anna Little(Canadian, not in our program), Alina(Romanian American), Chiara(Italian), Brian(American).

Some European Commission buildings and the European Parliament Plenary (the main plenary is in Strasbourg where I was a month or so ago with Marnix).

Monday, November 14, 2005

Random posting...

My two favorite men - Brian on the left, and my cute boyfriend on the right, Marnix :0)

What's new with me? I will be in the NL until leaving for the states on the 17th, and will be home until the 30th. Look forward to catching up with people!! Until then, I am busy with a course on international organizations/conflict resolution and a methodology course, which is basically statistics.
Our program faculty has organized a trip on Nov. 23rd-24th to go to Bruges and Brussels to meet some people, as well as visit the European Parliament and Commission. Should be an educational and exciting trip! Grades in the program are good so far too. In other news, I am looking for a place to live starting in the New Year with my friend above, Brian. Well, that's the general update. Signing off...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Some group photos in Shanghai

Left photo > L-R: Emily, Shirley, me, and Matt

Below > Eating at a restaurant overlooking the river and buildings

Below > me and Emily eating in the expat area of Xin Tian Di.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Shanghai, China, 23-31 October 2005

After writing a 15 page paper in about 4 days time, and finishing my first block of classes, I traveled to Shanghai. The city was very intriguing. There is the rich and the glitz on one hand, and poverty and dirtiness on the other. Overall, a spectacular place to visit with the neverending skyscrapers and awesome skyline, not to mention the excellent food and, oh, just 20 million inhabitants. The city is very much "western" in the sense that it's technology is very modern, if not ahead of most of the world right now, capitalistic (despite the Communist government in place), and full of the many other western characterisitics and comforts you can imagine. There was even a Papa John's pizza place there, which you know I had to try!

The traffic was one of the craziest things I've ever witnessed--say your prayers as you walk across the
street. Somehow it works out that most people get across safely the majority of the time. The other startingly new experience (which I was aware of in advance) was using the squatting toilets located on the floor. The first time was a challenge, but then I grew accustomed to it...of course, not every place has these kind of toilets. Matt had hired a Chinese college student, Shirley, who showed me and Emily around each day. She was so sweet and great, showing us the sights and local places to eat some great food. The prices in Shanghai were unbelievably cheap as well, which is always a nice bonus :o) Anyhow, for more photos, check the following website:

This is Nanjing Road, filled with restaurants, hotels, and shops. So colorful!

gorgeous skyline of Shanghai. No photo can really capture the spectacular lights.

The Pearl Tower is a really
fancy-looking telecom tower.

Me and Emily out for a little

This is the view from the Bund (a walkway along the Hangpu river) opposite the skyline which consists of some older buildings of Shanghai. The Peace Hotel and some government offices are there.

The contrast
- not-so-great apartment buildings lacking sufficient indoor lighting and perhaps even hot-water, stand next to skyscrapers; and a man pulls a cart of wood in the street next to motor-operated vehicles.

Strasbourg 14-17 October 2005

Despite having driven through 5 countries, Marnix and I never came close to making it to Rome, Italy where we were supposed to be meeting my friends. So, what do we do? Head to Strasbourg, France, of course! It ended up being a lovely, relaxing weekend in a really quaint and beautiful city.

cathedral was really beautiful. The detail of the sculpture below was very nice.

My favorite building in Strasbourg!

Me and Marnix

View from a distance

Some youths playing with fire in front of the cathedral. Using the night settings on the camera makes for a cool effect.

Heading back to the NL. Photo to left is in northern France, near Ger

The new and improved windmills outside
of Leiden. Home by nightfall!