May 16, 2013

Train talk

I'm often amazed at the sense of privacy travelling by train affords some people. Especially because a train is such a public space.

We all know the examples of a telephone conversation about a dramatic and personal break-up at the end of the car - to be heard clearly all the way through. And today I found myself travelling next to - what appeared to be fairly senior management - people talking through proposed changes on some complex and politically sensitive topics.

Maybe they thought that the complexity of the topic meant that no one would get what they were talking about anyway?

November 04, 2012

Hofjes in Den Haag

Slowly but surely I'm getting to know my city better. The above are pictures of 'hofjes' in The Hague. Hofjes are courtyards with almshouses around them, which provided housing for, mostly, elderly women. Today, quite a few still exist but you rarely get a chance to peek into the courtyard as the hofjes are very closed off and private. Rightly so, I suppose, as that is one of the benefits these days of living there.

Every year many monumental buildings in the Netherlands open up on a specific weekend and I took advantage to have a look at some of these stunning courtyards and houses.

September 13, 2012

#WOT: Geluk

Ik volg al een tijdje het blog van, of eigenlijk volg ik haar op Twitter en lees ik zo af en toe een linkje dat interessant lijkt. En die zijn dan ook interessant.

#WOT is zo iets. 1 woord, op donderdag.


Geluk was dinsdagavond, zo rond half 12 ongeveer. Ik zat in de trein naar huis vanuit Amsterdam waar ik bij een bijeenkomst was geweest met interessante sprekers, over een volledig nieuw onderwerp waar ik eigenlijk maar weinig van af dacht te weten. Het bleek een erg goede avond wat net een beetje extra deed.

Want het goede gevoel was eigenlijk al een paar dagen daarvoor begonnen. In het weekend, met heerlijk weer, gewoon een beetje door de stad dwalen waar vanalles aan de gang was. En toen maandag, waar de werkdag begon met een overleg voor een nieuw spannend project en ik later op de dag een mailtje kreeg van een manager dat hij mijn naam bij iemand had gedropt voor een mogelijke klus. En dinsdag begon met yoga, daarna een ochtend stijladvies, lunchen in mijn vroegere knusse woonstad en naar huis met veel ideeën.

Toen ik op de trein stapte naar die bijeenkomst wist ik het niet zo goed. Ik kende er niemand, ik wist eigenlijk niet waar het over zou gaan, maar goed - ik wil nou eenmaal netwerken, dus kom op machi, dit hoort daar bij en moet je ook kunnen.

Maar gaandeweg de avond viel het allemaal een beetje op zijn plek. Ik wist eigenlijk wel waar dit over ging, en ik heb daar eigen ideeën over. En hey, ik kan daar slimme vragen over stellen. Maar dan de borrel... Waar ik ook ineens boeiende gesprekken had nadat ik was aangesloten bij het eerste de beste groepje. En plotseling was er ook een idee om een soortgelijk event te doen in Den Haag.

In de trein terug naar huis schreef ik een stukje voor een ander blog over de avond, staarde ik uit het raam en dronk ik langzaam mijn thee. Maar er borrelde wel wat. En dat werd steeds overweldigender. Een alleroverheersend gevoel dat ik zo ontzettend zeker weet dat er de komende maanden een hoop spannende en mooie dingen gaan gebeuren. Dat ik zeker weet dat ik op de een of andere manier professioneel goede stappen kan maken - en misschien wel in mijn eentje als ZP'er. Maar wat en wanneer en hoe: geen idee. Maar dat het gaat gebeuren dat weet ik zeker.

Geluk, dus. Dat ik de vrijheid heb om te ontdekken wat die ontzettend mooie dingen gaan zijn. En dat ik - eindelijk? - heel diep het vertrouwen voel dat ik me daar geen zorgen over hoef te maken. Ik loop deze week een beetje op wolken. Fijn.

July 21, 2012

Travel Dreams

As you might guess from this blog I like to travel: exploring new places, unknown places. Not necessarily very far away (I'm excited about a hiking trip in the Netherlands, for example, to a part of the country I don't know) - but I have to also admit that I'm drawn to isolated and off the beaten track places.

That's why my finger was drawn to Slovakia last summer when I was looking at the East European map trying to find a nice country to explore which wouldn't be swamped with tourists. And it's why a highlight of my last holiday to Japan was Osorezan, a holy mountain far away in the north of Japan's main island Honshu.

There are many many more places I want to go to (in fact, there aren't many places I do NOT want to go to), but there is one trip which is my ultimate trip: taking a few months to travel the old Silk Road. The Silk Road spans different routes, but following this ancient trade route from West (Turkey) to East (China) through the Central Asian region would be a dream come true. But strangely, I've never really thought about it more than that: a dream.

I read a book recently which included a section on setting goals in your life (something that I've never really done before) and how to go about achieving them. And I realized: why should this trip stay a dream? So, it has become one of three big goals that I'm planning to make happen.

I'm very excited. I now have some books on the region from the library, have set up a twitter-list with people to follow so that I can get a feel for what is going on in the region, and am contemplating what language would be most useful to learn (leaning towards Russian....).

Wheeee! :-D

The bad side of this? Reading and thinking about this is much much more fun than jobhunting or finishing my paper to finalize my university course. *Sigh*

July 15, 2012

Full circle

Over seven and a half years ago I started this blog when I was about to spend six months in Tokyo for an internship. That internship was the final part of my university degree (actually, technically it wasn't - but it felt like the last thing to do as a a student).

Of course, living in Tokyo for a while was fantastic. I had been there several times, but was always just visiting for a few days - or at the most a few weeks and always staying with friends. But this time it was actually 'home' for a while.

Apart from that working for six months within the Dutch foreign service was a very unique experience. I learned a lot from being in that particular professional environment and that half year helped me a lot when I was back in the Netherlands to start the search for a proper job.

That turned out to be a lot harder than expected, but looking back it has been good to go through that time. I really do believe I came out stronger because of it and it has made me more determined in what I want to do.

Last week I met my previous boss from Tokyo. Coincidentally, we will be working together again, in a way. Different countries, different roles from then. And it felt so good to be able to show where I am now - 7,5 years later.

It feels like I've come full circle. Which is funny, kind of, because this is no where near the end. Yet. Which is good.

July 10, 2012

Creative Den Haag

An afternoon of walking around some interesting-looking backstreets in my neighbourhood

June 12, 2012

Looking for change

How do you discover change in a society? Or, how fast does a society change anyway?

I hadn't been in Japan for 7 years, after being in Japan regularly for the 7 years before that. And somehow I came to Japan expecting to see a lot of differences with before. But this trip has made me realize that change is hard to spot and it takes a lot of time to show itself.

Of course, cities like Osaka or Tokyo are a little changed. Osaka station, for example, has undergone a huge renovation so it's hard to find my way around. One of the clubs I used to go to has moved locations, and clubs are now ID'ing guests. In Tokyo, Tokyo Sky Tree is the newest attraction and the city has several new musuems. But all if this is superficial. Buildings, which can be built quickly but don't way anything about the society that they are part of.

In any society change will be gradual and, initially at least, underneath the surface. Attitudes towards marriage, child rearing, sustainability, education - all of these are essential to a society but also invisible until talk to enough people. Change in these attitudes is even more difficult to see clearly.

There are slow changes. A friend told me that he occasionally sees couples holding hands, more than before. And a Japanese friend was telling me that, despite an earlier promise to her mother-in-law to not go back to work, she went back to work already this spring when her son was only two. For traditional Japan this is a little unusual and it was good to hear. But I guess I was hoping for more. Everything else in the country is the same, feels the same - and this despite a major trauma last year which could have been a catalyst for many things.

Why am I looking so hard? I love being in Japan, it's a very comfortable and familiar place to be. But I also think it has some major issues to work through. And I would love to see those changes happening to make it an even better place to live, though I suppose it is also arrogant to say so as a non-Japanese, occasional visitor to the country. Nevertheless, some of these issues are why I wouldn't want to live in Japan long-term. And maybe more importantly, they are why several of my Japanese friends are leaving the country and are now living in New York, London and Paris - to name just a few places. So hopefully a lot more is happening underneath the surface than I could spot in my travels and my discussions with people.

June 01, 2012

Japan's edge

Waves gently breaking against the shore, leaves rustling in the wind, birds singing and an occassional fisher's boat cruising past (and a very very occasional Self-Defence Force jet going past): all the sounds that are around me on a day spent along the Wakinosawa coast of the Shimokita Peninsula. After four days of travelling and spending lots of time on buses and trains (yesterday I counted a record 7 hours), I'm taking it easy today. And what better way to spend a holiday then by sitting in the sun, reading a book, walking along the coast to take in the views and exploring tiny little fishing vilages. It also feels like I'm on the edge of Japan. Far away from the big cities, in areas which feel quite far off the grid. Life here seems pretty simple. You fish, you clean your nets, you put your shell fish to dry. But the area also seems to be emptying. At most settlements half of the houses stand closed up and empty. I haven't seen anyone under the age of 50 today. On the bus here yesterday we did pass a few schools so there are kids and families in the general area but I think Wakinosawa and beyond is pretty much the end of the peninsula and families live closer to larger areas such as Kawauchi, Ominato or Mutsu. For the past four days I've had the sea in sight. First, it was the Pacific Ocean starting from Miyako and now I'm staring out at the Mutsu Bay. So in a way I really have been travelling Japan's edge. It has also made me rethink my travel plans and instead of heading into the mountains inland - where I probably won't be able to do the intended hiking trail anyway - I'm moving on to the other coast, the Japan Sea. Heading South on some local trains should be good with plenty of new discoveries.

May 30, 2012

Along the coast

[apologies for the messy lay-out, not sure what is going on with Blogger] Kesennuma, Kamaishi, Rikuzentakata, Miyako - it feels strange travelling in a region in Japan where I know the names of places only because of one thing: the tsunami that happened on 11 March 2011. I'm only travelling part of this coast though, starting from Miyako in Iwate prefecture and heading north along a coast that is the northern half of the Rikuchu Kaigan National Park: 180 kilometers of stunning and spectacular cliffs, rocks and other natural scenery. I have a feeling this part may be one of the more accessible regions though I don't know for sure. One reason is that here trains are mostly back up - with a short exception - while I have heard that further south there is much more work still to be done. I guess it's more remote and some towns there suffered incredible damage. Miyako is a town which feels good. Yes, there was a lot of damage but in the city centre this is mostly visible when you start noticing how much buildings look very new, or at least the ground floor does. Dinner last night was in a very friendly izakaya where the owners renovated for two months before re-opening as the building had been flooded with water 2 meters high. They had been inside during the earthquake and only barely managed to keep themselves standing - and then got the hell out of there to get away as quickly as possible for the expected tsunami. Most of the 'visible' damage in Miyako - the rubble, the collapsed buildings, etc - are gone, with a collapsed Shell gas station as the clear exception. Instead, the city is rebuilding. And you can tell it is: there's lots of traffic, a lot of people about town, hotels are fully booked, and buildings are being rebuilt where ever you look. The town's people are positive that when summer is here, so will the tourists. There's good reason for the tourists to come to see the dramatic cliffs of the coastal national park. These rocks and cliffs are also again a reminder of the force of nature. They have been here for centuries and still look the same as always: strong, imposing, powerful. Just like the tsunami was. I'm continuing my journey north by train and for the moment also by bus for a short stretch of railroad which hasn't been restored yet (the other parts were put back to use only earlier this spring). But like a taxi driver told me "We won't be beat", which is even all the more admirable considering that people living here are confronted with what happened every day again - but that only seems to make their conviction to build up their towns and villages even stronger. A very very impressive start of my 10 days across Tohoku.

April 01, 2012

Counting down....

It's April, which means that I can now start saying that next month I will be in Japan!

Small things make me easily happy :)

But, seriously, I am ridiculously excited about going back to Japan in May after almost 7 full years of not being there. The trip is part seeing friends and just being in Japan again visiting the places I lived in and basically picking up memories along the way. But it's also a trip to see the changes, to see the new and to discover unknown parts of Japan.

Seven years is a long time and a lot has happened which I am anxious to discover. I am especially looking forward to travelling around the Tohoku region, the northern part of the main island Honshu. I've always wanted to go there, have heard it's beautiful but also a little unknown.

And then just over a year ago the coast of Tohoku was hit by an earthquake, then a tsunami and then a nuclear disaster in one particular place. It has made me even more determined to visit. The region deserves more attention, and I have no doubt that tourism can be part of rebuilding the economy. And I hope to contribute to that at least a little.

Despite that, my regular choice of travel guides Lonely Planet doesn't seem to believe so. It's latest Japan publication dates from August 2011, so only a few months after the disaster. However, the prefectures that were hit by the earthquake and tsunami are deliberately NOT included in the book. I'm disappointed and shocked.

Leaving out three prefectures means leaving out valuable information about areas and towns in those prefectures that were not harmed by the earthquake/tsunami as that damage was mostly on the coast. But even if the choice would have been made to leave out the coastal areas this would be unfair to those areas: yes, it is impossible to be accurate on transport etc in these towns in a printed publication but using good referrals should make it much easier for travellers to find up to date information. The railcompany JR is working hard on getting their railways up and running again and the coast is becoming more and more accessible as this blogpost of a friend in Tokyo shows as well.

Hopefully Lonely Planet will improve the information on their website at least, so that other tourists will find their way to this region as well.

And in any case, I will surely be sharing my stories and pictures online.