December 29, 2006


So, the first few days of this week have passed.

As usual over the past couple of years, Christmas 2006 was extremely quiet. In a good way, I guess.

In my family we don't have a tradition of having big family feasts over Christmas (and to be honest, I don't think I want to spend it with my relatives), and up until a few years ago my Christmasses were spent working. And, who'd have thought, I actually thought those were great days.

So now the holidays are spent relaxing, spending a few days at my parents' place [and not having to race across the country to see all the parents in two days as many of my friends have to do - one of the advantages of being single!], putting everything that goes on at home out of my mind.

Nice. Quiet. But just a bit more excitement wouldn't be bad either, I guess.... (although I guess there was the excitement of opening the stack of presents).

Anyway, I hope you all have had some good days as well, and hopefully 2007 will be a great year for all!

December 28, 2006


Jules got me thinking about the countries I've visited so far: a terribly disappointing 9% of the world! And that despite the fact that in 2006 I visited five new countries - it's actually going to be pretty tough beating that any time soon...

And the map looks slightly lopsided:

create your own visited country map

December 19, 2006

And for some holiday cheer...

Check out the penguin (hover your cursor over it) at Yahoo!.


New year's resolutions are not my thing. I never really make resolutions at the beginning of the new year, mostly because I usually see no reason to wait until the new year while you can also start making those changes right at that moment.

But the end of the year is somehow a period that I look back at what this year has brought me. Or at least, this end of this year is. Where am I now, what is different now, compared to new year's eve twelve months ago?

I seem to have made a couple of resolutions to 'make changes' throughout the year.

The first was at the beginning of the year, February-ish, where I told my friends that from then on things were going to be different. I think the only thing that became different from then on was that I miraculously got a lot more male attention. Not what I had had in mind, but well, can't say it's a bad thing of course.

Then the second time was in August, where I vowed to make drastic changes and followed up on that in October after all my roaming about (Central) Asia. Well, so far that has resulted in a four-day-workweek, my very own 'crazy lady', oh and a new blog lay-out. Somehow this also wasn't quite what I had in mind.

I do wonder what the new year will bring. Things can only get better, right?


I love online shopping.

Coming home after a crappy day at the office (only one-and-a-half-day!) and finding the latest purchase is the best.

Now playing: Michael Franti

Have also been eyeing my Japanese Amazon-wishlists. Maybe I deserve a Christmas present from me. Hmm.

December 18, 2006

I cannot wait

Only three (well, two-and-a-half) more working days until the end of year break. Bliss.

Besides the obvious of spending Christmas at my parents I'm mostly looking forward to:

- catching up with long lost friends from Japan;
- doing some proper shopping;
- the almost-traditional barbeque on newyear's eve;
- oh, doing nothing!

and before that I've finally found an opportunity to go to one of the Dutch Pechakucha nights. Yay!

December 13, 2006

I *heart* the internets

Okay, saying that I adore the internet is maybe a bit over the top - but I realized the other day that somehow some of the things that I do online are actually connecting with my off-line life more and more lately (hmm, this sounds too nerdy huh?).

Over the last few years, I have of course successfully procrastinated online while writing my thesis, doing research and spending time at the office.

But not only that, I've used that time to:

# make some great (real-life) friends in the Netherlands, Tokyo and elsewhere (like China, for example!);
# wait excitedly for Christmas gifts from people I've never met (and send Christmas gifts to people I've never met');
# discover a fab book;
# swoon over postcards from exotic locations;
# and much more.

And, in February I will be seeing The Decemberists as a consequence of this addiction. I have no idea what music they play, but hey, live gigs are always good so I'm sure it'll be fun.

So, yay for the internet. There are some pretty amazing people out there, each behind their own little screen ;-)

December 12, 2006

Revelation of the day (week? month?)

Despite my rants on jobhunting and failing applications, I discoved yesterday that I haven't sent out nearly as many applications over the past year or so as I thought I had.


And what's more: I've actually gotten a better rate of interviews out of them than I thought (as in, my rate of success in obtaining an interview is actually not so bad).


I don't really know what to think about this, but it pretty much shook my world last night.

December 10, 2006


I don't know if it is the darkness outside, or just now finally 'feeling' home again or whatever, but there is too much going on in my head at the moment. Well, the previous post probably made that clear as well.

I have started thinking a lot about perceptions. How people perceive others and which consequences that could have on a further relationship (in whatever form) with those people.

For instance, I don't think this blog is a very accurate reflection of who I am. Maybe that also isn't what I want it to be but some people reading this - and who don't know me in real life - will have quite a different idea of what I'm like than the reality of me. Clearly, the on-line machiruda is only part of me and that is fine. (Come to think of it, Ianqui had an interesting post on this last week or so.)

But, it also applies to me in real life. Of course, you don't really get to know someone after only that first impression but it has struck me lately how far off people seem to be. Or rather, how little people think outside of the boxes in their head and have one set image with what I look like and what I do. And by extension, how I always seem to surprise people by what I do.

The most concrete example of this that I can think of is that most people who meet me in a work-environment (or sometimes even elsewhere) are usually shocked when I order a beer or glass of wine at a social work thing. It isn't as if they are surprised to see me drunk (which they don't see), they are surprised to see me drink one single glass of alcohol. Why is this? I thought it is more uncommon for people not to drink so why the surprise that I actually do? Imagine the surprise of (and ensuing stories by) my colleagues in Baikonur when they actually saw me outside of the office as well. I.e. having a life, dancing, drinking & flirting in the local disco.

On one hand, I don't mind, because hey, half of these people don't need to know me.

But on the other hand it can be frustrating too. Because what if this is part of the reason why I'm not able to get past the interviewing stage (or letter-stage even!) of jobhunting? Clearly they shouldn't select on if someone looks like they can hold their liquor or not. But what if I look too serious, too conservative? I don't particularly want to change the way I look, because that would probably make me look much too unnatural. But still.

One of my 'tasks' for this week was to find out from friends how they see me to find out how different (if at all) that is to how I see myself. And maybe it will give me a whole new idea of me and of what I want and can do. Well, I've seen a few friends over the weekend but this hasn't come up. I'll do better next time I see people :)

Of course, first impressions are important. This is what we all (subconsciously) base a lot of desicions and ideas on about the people we interact with. And that is fine, as long as this impression doesn't determine everything else that follows with that interaction. Sometimes it just feels that that crucial first impression that I seem to give off is just miles apart from whatever else I have to offer - and it negatively influences what comes next.

Do you feel you match the impression that you give to people? Or if we limit the question to online vs offline persona's, do you think they match in your case? I'd be interested to hear what others think.

December 09, 2006

How to spend a weekend trying not to panic:

* loud music; or well, good music played loudly; remembering the Zita Swoon concert in April (thanks M for forgetting your cd at my place!), and of course Linda, Linda! from the Blue Hearts :-D and much more.

* finally taking the time again after weeks to read the Saturday paper and assorted magazines scattered across my house.

* working on my domestic goddess skills by attempting a chocolate cake (first tipped by cookie) and only passing narrowly... Practice makes perfect, right? Well, then I still need a lot of practice.

* entertaining very good friends.

* coffee with cheruchan, philosophizing about life, as always.

* and looking forward to next weekend, to hopefully catch up with someone who always makes me feel better but who is usually too far away to do so.

And for the rest of the weekend, I might just drink myself silly at tonight's party while trying to avoid any serious questions, and get the chaos (and hangover) out of my head at the beach tomorrow....


When I travel, I try to get a book from that particular place (country/city) as I am usually so fascinated by what I see around me that I am desperate to know more about it. (Usually I also decide that I have to live there for some time to really grasp the place. So far that hasn't actually happened for many places!).

Back to the books.

When I was in Moscow in June I came across a book by Andrew Meier, Black Earth (weirdly enough, currently en route between Frankfurt and Washington DC) which describes his journey to the far extremes of the country. He travels to all directions - south to Chechnya, east to Sakhalin, north to Siberia (Norilsk), west to St. Petersburg and of course to his homebase Moscow. It's been a fascinating read as he combines a historical background with political developments, amongst others through descriptions of the Russians and others he meets on the road and of the places he visits.

Russia has been moving to the front of international politics more and more over the last few years - reclaiming its previous position of power - and amongst all the news coming from the Kremlin this book has made me quite fascinated by this huge country.

So, besides following the plot around Litvinenko (but also Scaramella, Loegovoj, Kovtoen, etc etc) I've also started reading the book of late Russian journalist Anna Politskovskaya, Putin's Russia, which should be quite interesting. I'm very curious to see how critical she really is of Putin and his policies.

Politkovskaya was shot in October 2006. The murder of Litvinenko happened after he allegedly started his own research into the Politkovskaya assassination. In Meier's book, the chapter on St. Petersburg is in large part dedicated to a description of events surrounding the death of journalist Galina Starovoitova. The Politkovskaya death seems to have a lot of similarities.

The more I read about the whole polonium-210 plot, the more Russia is starting to sound like a proper maffia state.... Freaky stuff, but all the more interesting because of it!


For the Dutchies, these are some of the sites with some interesting stuff on Litvinenko, Politkovskaya, Polonium-210 etc.:
NRC article - chronology of events
Moscow blog
and another Moscow blog
plus an hour-long Tegenlicht documentary on Putin's re-election in 2004

November 30, 2006

P-day #3*

* don't worry, I won't be counting all of them down for you.

My task for tomorrow: buying a Christmas present for someone I don't know, know (almost) nothing about and who lives on the other side of the world. Oh, and sending it. I think I need some more creativity for this though...

Uhm, right that didn't work out quite...

Not much job stuff planned. Good.

And, what will hopefully turn out to be a very good weekend following: drinks in town (more internet-related activities... teehee), attempting to explain Japan to a friend, seeing the state of the world at IDFA, and entertaining parents.

And am already dreading to go back to the office on Monday.... I so need out.

(PS: It's been an emotional rollercoaster this week, bear with me with these posts for a bit...)

November 20, 2006

Princess Day 1 -> 2 *

Unfortunately my Princess Days can't be spent with empty to do lists and with magazines on couches like MsCookie. I've set some tasks for myself on my weekly day off - as usual I'm probably aiming too high.


P-day #1 was spent calling a bunch of agencies and emailing some people. That has now partly resulted in what will hopefully turn out to be a productive P-day #2 at the end of the week, with a coffee meeting with Mr. Airplane plus another appointment with hopefully another one in between. So, if you have any do's and dont's for (in particular) meeting nr. 1, please put them in the comments!

For the Amsterdam-readers, any ideas on some entertainment for me in between appointments (as in, around lunch, and late afternoon until dinner time)?

But first I'm off to sleep. Something must be seriously wrong with me to get me into bed this early. *yawn*

Also, I'm annoyed that I still don't know what I want to vote on Wednesday. *sigh*

* The title refers to Princess Days as coined by dutchcookie. No relation at all to any Disney-type princesses. It only refers to my (easily-gained, and as it turns out unnecessary) four-day-workweek.

November 15, 2006

And again: piiiiictures!

A preview...:

And there's more to be found here

A whole new world

Wheee, the world looks beautiful again! (apart from the clouds, the greyness and the rain of course).

By special request, a (not very good) picture of my latest purchase. They're ultra-ultra-light and it feels really really weird wearing them. But yay for new glasses (*^-^*)

November 13, 2006

How to cook pierogi

Don't worry, this won't be a recipe for great Polish food: pierogi. But, I will be trying to reproduce those as soon as I have written this.

I am heading into a winter of no travel - for once there are no trips planned - but Krakow was definitely a good end to this very good travelling year.

Poland, and Krakow, has never really been a place I have been eager to go to but things change when you suddenly find yourself with friends from far away places. This weekend to Krakow had been in the books since a close friend moved from her home there to Amsterdam. So, after three or so years we finally made it.

Highlights were being amazed at the enormous amount of highly impressive churches (I think I've seen enough for a while...), trying out all kinds of yummy Polish food, bar hopping across town and bumping into friends of my friend, but also contemplating the Easyjet-syndrome which is now hitting Krakow.

Unexpectedly it was also a weekend of confrontation with everything that's going on in the world. On Saturday we visited the World Press Photo exhibition (amazing pictures, go see it if it's anywhere close to you!).
And on Sunday we spent the afternoon wandering around Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. I never realized that Auschwitz was actually a complex of camps. And, although this will sound harsh, after walking through Auschwitz-1 and then arriving at Auschwitz-2 (Birkenau) you got the impression that the Germans had thought 'Hey, this works! [after using Auschwitz-1]. Let's make it bigger and better!' The rows of barracks at Birkenau are endless.... It really is a must-see place for everyone.

Pictures will be up soon, am off to try out cooking original home-made pierogi!

November 06, 2006

Temptation (2)

"You should let your hair down more." (although the person who told me this probably had something very different in mind!)

"Female solidarity stops at the border." (partly tongue in cheek, I'm sure)

Just some random quotes that I've been told recently. And in between there's me thinking I think too much about consequences and more.

It's probably for the best.

On the other hand, being a good girl can be boring, no? I guess I have to find some other way to make life fun ;-)

The world re-considered

Through a recent discovery on the net, VPRO energie, I came across this pretty nifty world map.

It resizes the world proportional to their oil & gas reserves. Interesting stuff.

November 05, 2006

What I've missed:

* Friday nights in the pub catching up with friends, followed by a night of dancing and drinking.

* Saturday- and Sunday mornings, slowly waking up with coffee and the paper.

* Chatting away evenings with gossip and the latest news with more friends.

* Spending a day at the cinema, seeing weird and cool/cute Japanese movies, followed by a very natsukashii Japanese dinner (funnily enough, the cook actually recognized me eventhough it's been ages since I was there last).

In between all this there was more talk of making plans (Crossing Border, IDFA, Krakow plans!), trying out new restaurants, etc etc. Life is good. This is how I like things. And this is why being away for two months felt like way too long!

November 01, 2006


so, an update about my issues on networking and the seminar.

As I said, it was kind of weird opening a seminar to a group of students who are expecting success stories about how to get the job you want with your Japanese Studies degree. Clearly, I couldn't give them that, but luckily I didn't have to say much. That was why we got four other people to talk to them about what had happened to them in their career so far.

The keyphrase of the night: being at the right place at the right time.
It seems that none of the parrieakers (or at least the few I listened to) had a very clear strategy worked out but by making the most of the opportunities that came along, by getting to know people, they got to where they are now.

And mostly, you just need to DO things. Make things happen yourself. Create your own opportunities.

Needless to say, despite that the evening was intended for the current students it was very good to listen to everyone talk for me as well.

It has also made me re-consider some options that I had previously discarded. Which clearly makes it more difficult to decide what to do but also opens up some new doors.

Oh well, lots to think about. Lots of people to talk to.

I realized I didn't actually mention anything about the networking post.

- I spoke to the person-I-had-never-met-who-didn't-reply-to- my-email. He gave a very interesting talk, and I talked to him for a bit in the bar afterwards. He said he'd try to find my email again and reply. So, I re-sent that email today to him. Let's see what he says.

- I called up the man-on-the-plane. But got his voicemail. Still, he now has a message from me and I'll email. I'm assuming he is somewhere in Nigeria.

- And, I have found some more people who are willing to act as a sounding board (?)/sparring partners in how I conduct my eternal jobhunt.

So maybe I should conclude that I am not so bad at this thing as I thought...

October 29, 2006


Since my adventures in the Kazakh steppe over the last few months, Kazakhstan has suddenly become world famous through Borat.

The common reaction I got from quite a few people when saying I was going to Kazakhstan was "Kazawhat?". Since a few weeks, and most notably at my parents' party the reaction has shifted to "Oh, isn't that where what's-his-name is from?".

I was quite surprised to realize that quite a few people think Borat is for real - and not just the alter ego of Sacha Baron Cohen. No wonder Kazakhstan is up in arms and protesting, although it's probably counteractive and drawing much more attention to Borat than they had hoped. It's quite a compliment to the comedian - to play someone so convincingly that half of the world is falling for it...

From Japanologist to millionaire

One of the things on my to-do list for the weekend is preparing Tuesday night: I'm opening a seminar on job hunting. Don't laugh.

It feels very strange to be doing this...
Together with some others I am organizing a seminar on how to successfully find a job and make a career for yourself as a Japanese Studies graduate; and as part of my role within that group I have the task of opening the evening. I almost feel as if I should be hosting one of the workshops to warn the students on how not to jobhunt ;-)

Funny how I always end up doing things I don't expect.

October 28, 2006

Baikonur - in pictures

The above and more here

A next step?

I've been talking, thinking and blogging for some time now about doing things radically different, soon.

Mostly this refers to the fact that I will start making the things I want happen - instead of sitting around behind my computer waiting for them to pop along.

In keeping with that plan, I've been toying with the idea of a new blog lay-out. And... Tadaa!

What's the verdict? Yay? Nay?

October 24, 2006


I am kind of cheating as this is not a picture of our launch - but of a lucky farewell night on Monday when we got to see a second launch of another Soyuz. More pictures up soon.


One thing I am pretty bad at in this jobhunting thing - and that I need to get better at desperately - is networking: getting to know the right people and moving in the right circles.

I don't understand why I've been so clueless. Today's return flight home (yes, I'm home! Bliss!) was a case in point. Let me spell it out for you:

- I am interested in doing something in energy policy. However, I don't know how to get into this and everytime I try something I hit a brick wall.

- Between mid-May and today I have been on six flights to and from Moscow. At the moment, Moscow seems to be the place to be if you're in the oil biz. I fly business class, so I have vaguely assumed that at least half of my fellow passengers in business class are in this oil biz.

- I am not the kind of traveller who spontaneously has long conversations with the passenger beside me. Especially not if they're immersed in the work on their pc, as most of them are.

- Today I actually got talking to my neighbour on the plane, and hey, he's in oil & gas. So now I have his business card and he said I should get in touch if I wanted to know more or in case I was ever 'looking' for something new to do. How do I handle this? Obviously I need to email him. But I have no clue what to say. Gah.

I guess I had five other opportunities to get useful business cards. No wonder I can't get in anywhere if I don't make full use of these kind of occasions.

Next week will be another test in my networking skills - asking someone who I am meeting for the first time why he didn't reply to my email five months ago. Well, in slightly different words but that should be interesting...

October 21, 2006

Launch parties

I might just have a new favourite type of party: post-launch parties.

Those are very very good parties.

It was amazing to see all my colleagues and team members being ecstatically (sp?) happy on Thursday night after the sixth attempt to launch was successful. I think that for many of them they will never see a launch more beautiful that the one that night. I will probably have to agree.

The party was a long but very good night of bottle after bottle of champagne. I don't know what happened - it started off strange in a sterile room full of bright lights and no champagne waiting for us - but it turned into a very fun night. People were acting quite strangely though - but that was to be expected. What else, after being able to let go of all the frustration and the huge relief that this time finally the satellite is flying. And what's more - it's flying beautifully with hardly any problems so far.

October 18, 2006

Attempt #6

Now it's time for vodka.

Let's hope this thing goes up tomorrow.... zes keer is scheepsrecht? Does that work?

October 15, 2006

Hotels and families

Well, this afternoon was quite strange - mostly because I was kind of shocked that there were quite a few family members that I didn't even recognize. Admittedly, I saw some of these few people last when they were about 10 and that was probably four years ago or so, but still.

Nevertheless, a good party - my parents organized well with fabulous food (okay, out of professional habit I guess) and drinks.

A few moments struck me which made me realize that sometimes, just every now and then, I miss living in our old house (a hotel) and the habits and such that came with it.

- the morning of cutting up fresh fish, vegetables etc and decorating dishes reminded me mostly of so many Christmasses in the past: working non-stop for days in the kitchen and restaurant to make sure Christmas dinner for so many people in the restaurant would be as they expect it to - with gorgeous food and great atmosphere. The final night of those Christmas days (after at least three/four days of hard work) was always the best. The 26th of December would always finish with everyone dropping their work at about 11pm after the final guests had left, and then ordering any food they wanted and have a great meal. Those dinners are still the best Christmas dinners in my mind.

- cleaning up after everyone had left and seeing rows and rows of dirty glasses - another thing that was so much part of everyday life at the hotel. The amount of glasses I've washed and cleaned and dried is uncountable.

Yep, weird stuff, but life at the hotel was good. Oh, and of course the choice of about 10 different kinds of ice cream to chose from whenever I felt like it helped! ;-)

October 13, 2006


Well, this isn't very adventurous: I'm home. And loving it.

It's only for a few hours, and am off again tomorrow but can't wait to be properly home again after next week.

Tonight is unfortunately a lot of boring stuff - catching up on mail, re-packing but at least with good pizza from my favourite Italian place and finally good music in the background again.

But I think I should go to zzleep zzzoon....

October 10, 2006

Eating my cake?

UPDATE 3 (13/10)
One of my bosses emailed me to say that following the decisions on their side about my travel over the weekend all hell has broken loose at the office. The colleague I share an office with is apparently furious. Well, she has a week to cool down - this should be interesting when I get back there in 1,5 weeks.... I cannot believe that they did not see this coming.

I don't know what I've done over the past year at the office, but the second wish is granted too. I am one happy camper today.

Well, I have one reply back which rules out the worst case scenario. No need to resign, they've accepted that I start a four-day workweek. Yay! That's actually the most important thing for me. Although having to resign if they wouldn't have granted it might have been a blessing in disguise? Who knows...

Anxiously awaiting reply number two...

Hmm, I just sent out an email to my two current bosses to ask for yet another privilege at work. Two, actually. And put all my cards on the table in the process.

Ideal scenario: I go to my parents' wedding anniversary, I see a Soyuz launch, I go to Tokyo, I start working less.

Worst case scenario: I go home on Friday (to that same wedding anniversary) without a job to go to on Tuesday....

Watch this space!

[btw, for the native English speakers - please explain this expression: "you can't have your cake and eat it too". What use is a cake if you can't eat it?]

October 05, 2006

I just realized...

I am about to give up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a Soyuz launch to be at my parents' 30th wedding anniversary.

What does that make me? The perfect daughter or just incredibly stupid?

October 03, 2006

Desert fortresses

Jiayuguan Fortress
Originally uploaded by macchi.
Since my book discovery post I of course already have a long list of books that I can't wait to get to. Some of them are waiting for me in my hotel room and apartment. Others are in the shop. Such as a new translation of what is apparently an Italian classic: Il deserto dei Tartari by Dino Buzzati.

I'm not sure exactly why I want to read it but the review that I read yesterday (in an old issue of Vrij Nederland, for those of you who are curious) sounds great. It sounds like a story of isolation and desperation, and in a very surreal setting. Possibly that doesn't sound like the best descriptioni. Nevertheless, I've become curious. After looking the book up at my local bookseller, the text starts with the question: Is a person courageous enough to determine his own life? Hmm, it might just be the right book at the right time...

It was also made into a film, directed by Valerio Zurlini. That made me even more interested. One of his movies which I saw months ago was great. Beautifully shot in black and white, great sense of humour and a very nice change from the usual Hollywood-hits.

(The picture is added because the story is set at an army outpost in the desert - which made me think of the fortress in Jiayuguan)

In limbo

One of the things I dislike most about my current job is that I'm just providing minimal support to the project which means that I can't actually do anything when problems arise. Sure, I can get people out of here - but that's only after the problem is either resolved - or when it's clear that a resolution isn't going to be possible in the short term (the latter is unlikely btw).

And we're at neither of those two stages yet so the only thing I can do is sit around and wait; listen to my colleagues discussing the issues at stake; entertaining friends and colleagues. And trying to be patient for a decision, and not too frustrated. But clearly I can't be anywhere near as frustrated about the current situation as my colleagues are.

A book review: Not Before Sundown

I love discovering new books, and I try to read as much as I can. Unfortunately not fast enough to keep up with my ever increasing To Be Read-stack though. The second round in Baikonur is proving to be more productive when it comes to books than back in May at least.

My most recently read book is one of those new discoveries. Not before Sundown is an English translation of an award-winning Finnish novel, published in 2000 (translation in 2003) by Johanna Sinisalo. It was sent to me about half a year ago as part of an international book barter and I had finally gotten round to reading/finishing it yesterday.

The story is about a young man who finds a troll cub abandoned on the street and he decides to take it home. This clearly affects his life in all aspects but I won't give away too much about the plot (there's more information on the Amazon-link I'm sure). Besides the originality of the story what mostly struck me was the creativitiy of the story format. Not settling on just one narrator, the author has chosen five different ones. Although this might seem confusing she only gives each narrator one or two pages. Sometimes even only two lines. In between are excerpts from 'sources' on trolls and folklore, giving some distance and context to the story. As the plot moves chronologically, you view some events almost simultaneously through different eyes making it very dynamic.

Needless to say, this was a very good read and a surprising discovery - the ones that I like best of course. Looking forward to the next one!

September 30, 2006


A view across the river, alongside a Proton model.

Panorama across the steppe - this is the view from everywhere.

The Soyuz monument in the town - also a favourite spot for wedding pictures!

The ultimate sadness

One place in Baikonur is for me almost symbolic of this town. And one of the most depressing and sad. I come across this place occasionally when I wander through the streets on a day off work, like today.

Alongside the Syr Darya river is a small attraction park. Well, 'attraction park' is a pretty big word for it. It has a ferris wheel, a mini-mini-roller coaster and a few more of such things. What's more, it's deserted. Completely. The first time I passed it, on my first day back in May, there was music playing from croaky loudspeakers - making the image of a ghost town even stronger.

Baikonur portrays this image in a lot of places. Apart from the main street, the arbat, and the local market, the streets are pretty empty and many buildings are vacated. The fact that I'm writing about it again is also a sign that this impression of a town nearing its end is quite strong.

The stories I hear about the town and the locals reinforce this. It used to have over 100.000 inhabitants. Only a third of that remains. The Russians are getting ready to pull out, the Russian civilians are looking at ways to go back to the 'homeland'. I really do wonder what will be left after that process completes...

{update @ 3/10: just as I thought that my discovery would certainly be the saddest amusement park ever, Gridskipper Tokyo comes up with a competitor}

September 29, 2006


Now that I'm finally using my Flickr-account - one that I've had for ages, but without a digital camera I didn't do much with - I fear yet another on-line addiction.

This thing looks like fun. And it'll give me a good enough reason to experiment with my camera.

Or maybe I should get a life - instead of playing on here? No wait, I need a job that won't give me enough time to play on the 'net, that sounds like a much better plan!

September 28, 2006


Yay, they're here. Don't know why I was getting so impatient, but finally - a modest selection of China pics is now at my new flickr-picture-spot.

Mostly buildings and landscapes though, and as was rightly pointed out - China doesn't look the crowded country that it is. But well, enjoy.

September 27, 2006

Blatantly bragging

As if I haven't seen enough planes from the inside this year, I just received an email from a close friend telling me that our tickets to Krakow in November have been booked. Finally.

This trip has been in the making for years, so very excited.

Life is good.

Can you people remind me of that when it's time for my next jobhunting rant? Ta!

September 26, 2006


Being inside this team, in this location, is turning out to be quite the social experiment. I sometimes feel like an anthropologist in the middle of his participative (sp?) research in the African jungle. Well, something like that in any case.

For me it is only the second time out here, and as I have no commitments at home (think: partner & kids) I'm pretty flexible to be here. For many other people this is very different. Most people seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that it is part of the job (to come out here on and off for weeks) and as such they're making the most of being here. For some, this town seems to have turned into paradise - an escape away from their family, with plenty of entertainment around.

For the schedule in the town there seems to be an unwritten system that no-one stays out here for more than 3-4 weeks in one go. After that one has to go back to Europe. It seems that the town just messes with your head too much and you need to be brought back to 'civilization'.

Some time ago I was having dinner with some male colleagues. This topic came up and I tried to find out what makes this base so different from the other one in Russia - Plesetsk. As far as I know, that town is much more restricted, all of your movements are controlled, much less things to do and so on. But there the crew easily stays for up to three months.

The answer: temptation. Apparently this town offers an unhealthy amount of temptation for the men.

It is quite interesting to observe. And I don't think I quite understand it. But maybe that's because I'm one of the very few girls inside an almost male team. Probably it's a combination of (some of) the local girls seeing the Europeans as a ticket out of here (and doing their best to get their hands on that ticket), and of boredom for the men. Still, it makes me wonder how the guys here explain at home what they do here.

Hmm, I'm trying to write this post without being too judgmental. Because well, you can't really understand other people's relationships and I shouldn't even try to. It's definitely giving me a different view of things though.

Like I said, interesting to observe. 'Tis a different world being out here - both the physical surroundings as well as the social setting. And definitely good stuff for a psychologist!

September 23, 2006

Baikonur - part 2

It is almost scary how this place hasn't changed one bit over the last three months.

- I'm still fighting with my work computer (can't access half the sites I need to entertain me, such as this blog)
- same people, same food, same desert (except for one or two new faces)
- ....

Ah well, as good a time as any to lock myself in my hotel room, stay out of trouble, reflect on life and come up with a strategy for those drastic changes on October 11. Or something like that.

September 19, 2006


Teehee, this week is kind of weird.

Haven't properly unpacked yet, but just got home to complete chaos in the midst of which is an empty suitcase with a stack of clothes next to it.

The two days of work in between were hectic with colleagues alternating between talking me into a guilt trip, and others talking about how I deserved my holiday, and complaining about those same guilt-inducing-people.

Anyway, I have a suitcase to pack, a house to clean, a job application to perfect so I'd better get started.

The next few weeks (or at least the next three days...) will be surreal, should be interesting - but not blog material ;)

But I like this decadent travel thing. See ya from the desert!

September 17, 2006

For the foodies

One thing China is famous for is its food of course. And I've had loads of different good and not-so-good things (although the latter remarkably little luckily).

The highlights:
- 3 types of noodles with lamb at the night market in Dunhuang

- experimenting with Xi'an-ese streetfood

- breakfast in Lanzhou: handmade hot'n'spicy noodles

- seafood-stew in Shanghai, followed by espresso and red wine at a waterfront cafe

China pre-views: Dongyue temple, Beijing

Pudong - as seen from the Bund in Shanghai

View from Sun Yat-sen mausoleum in Nanjing


Gobi desert

Forbidden City

September 15, 2006


Now this is what I call a city.

I was expecting a mix between Tokyo and Hong Kong with a bit of Osaka thrown in and I think that's kind of what it is (although you'd need to spend more time here and know Chinese to discover the Osaka part of it).

After Beijing and the roughness of Gansu it's hard to imagine that I am still in the same country. I'm quite enjoying it, mostly because I love wandering through such vast and huge cities. And with the Bund, the French Concession-area and the old town there're some fascinating places to do so here.

I find myself wondering what it'd be like to live here. In some ways it seems similar to Tokyo, but also very different. More fascinating/exhilirating because it's changing so quickly and you're in the midst of it. More stressful because it seems so much more aimed at making the most money the quickest. For foreigners that might be relatively easy to achieve but I'm not so sure about the rest...

And for me, it might combine two things: offering the excitement of a new city (and a booming one, at that), a new language, a new culture while offering something familiar: the touches of a Tokyo-style city that I recognize and can fall back on.

September 14, 2006

The end of a holiday...

The last few days of this trip seem to be taking me back to the Netherlands much too quickly for my own comfort.

While trying to take in Shanghai I find myself spending a lot of time drinking coffee and trying to sort out what I need to do between Saturday night and Wednesday early morning. The list includes writing a perfect job application; organisational alumni stuff; unpacking, washing, re-packing; catching up with friends and family and oh, work!

Well, suffice it to say that the chaos in my head is back (I had naively hoped it would magically disappear during these few weeks). And it's interfering with enjoying Shanghai. *sigh*

September 11, 2006


I just arrived in a new city (Nanjing, and the computer room is right next to my room, good thing I'm moving somewhere else tomorrow!) and I guess being out in the wild West has made me a bit spoiled.

At the airport today they asked 25Y (a very normal E2,50) for a coffee. Yikes! That's more than what I have spent on a night's accomodation the last few nights. And now I'm paying a full 140Y for the night. Pff, guess the east coast really is a lot more expensive.

Maybe I'm also spoiled this year in another way: am already thinking about future destinations. Of course, the next three are already pretty much set (Krakow, St. Petersburg & *somewhere* in Africa) so this is semi-long-term planning.

I just got back from a Korean restaurant around the corner and it'd been very long since I had good Korean food. Yummm! And now I really really want to go back to see more of Korea once. The couple of days that I spent in Seoul still rank in the top-3 of best solo trips ever.

And the Silk Road... I've now travelled the (beginning of the) Eastern end of it, and have met a lot of people who are travelling it via various routes. It's definitely replaced the Trans Siberiand as the first leg of my dream trip.

Also just got a text message from Minsk, which is also supposed to be cool. And then there's the rest of the world.

But wait, let's focus on Nanjing and Shanghai first...

September 09, 2006

Uhoh... it's here

Okay, time for serious stuff - I need to start jobapplicationletterwriting again :(

I knew I made a mistake not getting this letter ready before leaving... guess I'll be thinking about that the next week instead of about future blogposts!

Please, cross your fingers that this time I'll actually get a bit further than last...

September 07, 2006

How to blog

During this trip I've been writing much more blog posts than I had intended/expected. And more than I write at home even, I think!

I'm not much of a diary writer. I've tried a few times but always find that my pen can't keep up with the thoughts in my head.

Somehow knowing that I have a blog to post to is now making it work for me to use it as an online travellog. When I'm at home and sit in front of my computer nothing much useful comes up and usually the result is a bunch of random-bullets-of crap-posts.

Now I write two (small) pages in my notepad when I think of something, and post it on here (with appropriate time & date) when I find a few spare internet minutes. And I think it's working rather well.

So, apologies to my readers if you were hoping for just the summary of what sights I've seen on what day. You'll have to wait for the pictures for that!

Maybe I should continue this habit of first writing something on paper and then posting. At least I feel as if I make more sense now! Although it does seem to be a bit contrary to the whole computer-thing...


One thing that has come up a few times when talking to people here is the one-child-policy in China. In my naiveity (sp?) I thought that this was something from the Mao Zedong-era & immediate post-Mao time but to my surprise this is still official policy and it is enforced as such.

However, the horror stories of the second/third/etc child being killed definitely seems to be a thing of the past. Instead, the parents get fined for every additional child. Sometimes pretty hefty amounts, although I get the impression that there isn't really a set regulation for it. As with everything here, the further away from Beijing, the less strict and controlled life is (that's my impression so far at least). Including the height of fines.

Actually, even with this policy China definitely has an abundance of kids! They seem to be everywhere. The future world leaders/consumers?

While waiting for the train, one thing struck me though: what happens when you have twins? Or worse: triplets or quadruplets?

The urban myth

Okay, for a few sentences we're back in Beijing, the Forbidden City to be exact.

Although in the Netherlands Starbucks luckily hasn't surfaced yet, it has in Asia in a big way. A few years ago I was told that it had gotten so bad that there was actually a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City. Almost unimaginable, but knowing Starbucks and having heard all the stories about China's uber-capitalism not completely unlikely either. I had always assumed the story to be true, although no-one had ever confirmed it either.

Walking around the Forbidden Citty this story came to mind again and I was expecting the Starbucks to pop out around any corner now. After a few hours of wandering through the Forbidden City and not having noticed a Starbucks, I happily concluded that this must be another urban myth and that none of it is true.

Leaving the Forbidden City, with my sense of how the world should be newly restored, an announcement came on.

A Korean man had been lost, and if he could please make his way to Starbucks to meet his wife...

September 05, 2006


Apparently, arro is 'hello' in Tibetan street talk.
At first I thought the monk was pulling my leg, until I realized that I do hear Tibetans greeting each other this way. I almost feel bad, here in Xiahe, that I can't even manage a few words of Chinese (ni hao & xie xie is still about the limit), let alone Tibetan! 'Cause that's what they speak here. Quite amazing and pretty unexpected as well. This place definitely doesn't feel like China anymore.
Did I mention before that this trip wasn't relaxing? Well, maybe not all of China, but Xiahe is definitely relaxing. I love it here. In a mountain valley, next to a river, the town consists pretty much of one street to one side of which is a huge Tibetan monastery. It's an amazing place.
I don't know much about Tibetan Buddhism but it's fabulously abundant and colourful compared to Chinese and especially Japanese Buddhism.
It also means that the main inhabitants in town are Buddhist monks, like the one who taught me two words of Tibetan after he had invited me to his house for tea. Actually, the monks have it much better than Chinese students it seems. The few students I met in Xi'an were telling me that they live in dorms with 8 girls or guys to a room, and with only electricity between 5 and 12pm. Although, besides one lonely lightbulb, I didn't see anything that needs electricity either in the monk's room. But at least he gets a private room!

I have one-and-a-half more days here, in which I hope to make it out to some grasslands nearby and just chill with the local monks. After that it's further northwest again: into the Gobi desert for the Western end of the Great Wall, sand dunes and caves.
P.S. This country *almost* beats Japan in the weird-brand-names-contest: currently I'm drinking WAHAHA purified water!
P.S.2. After seeing Xiahe, a visit to Lhasa - and especially Lhasa's surroundings - is now hight on the wish list. If only to find out what the eight treasures are in Tibetan tea, very yummy!

September 03, 2006

More train thoughts

Sunday night, and I'm at the end of my first week. I've started thinking about why exactly I'm doing this (yes, I'm overanalyzing). Why am I travelling through a country that I don't understand, where they don't understand me, while holidays are supposed to be relaxing?

Is this trip relaxing?

I'm writing again from a train. This seems to give me the best opportunity for actually chilling and sort of reflecting on what I'm doing. And that while I'm stuck in a hard seater carriage and have at least eight more hours through the night ahead of me (heading towards Lanzhou).

Before I got on, I was determined to fix an upgrade to a sleeper compartment. Hard seat seemed too much to comfortably handle. I haven't even bothered. This carriage is total chaos, and just for one night I think I can stick it out and just take in whatever's happening around me.

It's already had one good side-effect: I've gotten help figuring out the next train on Wednesday night. But still, is this trip relaxing?

It's an escape, it's overwhelming, it's forcing me to step out of my comfort zone, it's intense, but am not sure if it's relaxing.

Then again, I don't really think I was looking for that. If anything I needed to get out - even if only temporarily - and the more I think about it, maybe I needed some reassurance or a self-esteem boost. And if I pull off this trip (and really, three weeks is nothing!) I might just have that confidence back again to make all those long-awaited changes happen when I get back.

Xi'an impressions

The city needs a new station and a subway system. If those two things could be fixed a lot of the traffic problems would disappear and that would make the city very livable.

Because besides the crappy traffic it seems to have much of everything else: big city facilities, culture, history, good shopping (not in my European size, obviously), diverse population, a not-too-weird approach to tall blonde foreigners and an interesting countryside.

Supposedly the city is hot and dry in summer. The three days that I was there it was wet and sticky. Unfortunate, because the grey skies are kind of starting to get to me.

Besides the world famous terra cotta warriors, I was positively surprised to find that there's much more to see in the town. The city has restored its city walls, so I rode a bicycle across them. The drum tower in the middle of the city center has lots and lots of drums on display, so again I was pretty happy. The touts at the warriors aren't half as agressive as in Beijing, although the Muslim quarter makes up for that. But! The Muslim quarter has great streetfood. And in hindsight, I would have liked to do another trip out of the city to see some of the other tombs as well.

All in all, good weekend. Much nicer city than Beijing in my opinion.

Getting away from work

Even for me (in a dead-end job) that doesn't seem to be possible.

When I took up the plan of coming here for my holiday, reactions varied from 'wow, great!' to 'omg, how could you even consider going there by yourself?! You're crazy!'. The first one is the right one of course.

However, I got the second one much much more than I expected. Especially at the office. Everyone there was shocked and couldn't believe I was actually really going to go off holidaying by myself. Surprising, I thought, because my colleagues are all foreigners who've left their own country in pursuit of a career somewhere else. Admittedly, moving to the Netherlands doesn't score very high on the adventure-ranking.

Anyway, a lot of people have been suitably impressed but have also urged me to give some sign of life while on the road to let them know I'm doing okay.

So, me being the good girl that I am, I just sent out a long email to a group of people there telling them what I've been up to (because giving them my blog-url is taking things a step too far!).

August 31, 2006


(travel notes from the train - don't know what I have with 'vibes' at the moment, but like the word)

Finally, the travel vibe has set in. I'm writing from the Tibet -train - oxygen outlet next to my pillow - and waiting to depart for my next stop: Xi'an.

I've been looking forward to this trip for weeks, but somehow arriving in Beijing didn't feel half as exciting as it usually is to arrive in a new city. Maybe it was anxiety that didn't properly disappear or something when I realized that Beijing was less scary? No idea, but the vibe (travel, in this case) wasn't there.

Somehow this has changed. Strange, as today was a day full of unexpectedness. Or maybe that's exactly why it's changed.

Now it's all good. Meeting new people, packing up things for a new trip, and walking into a huge station not knowing where to go but being sure you'll be in a new place the next day. The kind of stuff that travel is about.

Waiting in the station in Beijing was confusing but loads of fun. Random people who start talking to you, masses of people waiting for the train etc. And this train that I'm on is pretty cool. Too bad I won't be taking it to its destination: Lhasa.

Anyway, I'm expecting this vibe to stick around. Which means I'm heading out to Gansu. More news from there, hopefully?

(postscript, clearly my last question was too early)

Beijing impressions

So, it's 6:30 in the morning and I'm stuck at my hostel. Great start of the day. There's been a mistake in the booking of my tour to the Great Wall so while I'm online trying to figure out how else I can get there before I leave for Xi'an tonight, I might as well update you.

Out of all the Asian cities I've been to, Beijing so far is least appealing to me. It's muggy, chaotic (and although usually I quite like chaos here it doesn't seem to work the same way) and doesn't really seem to have a 'vibe'. Or in any case, I'm not feeling it.

Not to say that I'm not enjoying it here - it is amazing how everything is geared towards 2008... Half of the town is under construction, half of the temples/palaces etc. are up in scaffolding. The sights are still pretty impressive. And I have to admit that I actually like the non-renovated parts of eg. the Forbidden City much better than the gaudy red and gold newly redone buildings.

Yesterday I spent the day with an American friend who has been living her since about three months. I know him from Tokyo, and it was very interesting to hear him about how he is now enjoying life here. In some respects it can be so the same (total inefficiency comes to mind), but it's also clear that even though Tokyo doesn't strike me as a environment-conscious city maybe it is after all. He also showed me around his campus, and I got to talk to a couple of his friends walking around one of the local markets (new toy to make friends on the trains here: mahjong in travel format!) and having a huge meal of Beijing Duck. Yumm.

My hostel is at the beginning of a big hutong, one of the old-city-parts of Beijing. Many people still live here but (in preparation of 2008, of course) apparently they're quite rapidly being torn down and replaced with modern concrete. The morning that I arrived - and couldn't find the hostel - a rikshaw (sp?) ended up taking me here: through proper hutong-early morning life. Quite an introduction to Beijing and China.

Somehow I had vaguely imagined Beijing to be similar to other big Asian cities; maybe not Tokyo but at least Seoul. Every new corner I turn, I'm reminded that it is still a long way off from that. If this city is planning to be ready for the huge event that is the Olympics, or if this city wants to actually physically resemble the number 2 world economy it has a lot of work ahead! One example is the subway system. There used to be only two lines and only recently a third line was finished. On the first two you get a paper ticket which old ladies at the gate tear for you (like museum entrance tickets). When you transfer from one of these to the new line, you hand in your paper ticket for a magnetic ticket (handed to you by an old Chinese lady). And then you proceed to the automatic gates which have magnetic card readers to enter... Within two years there should be 15 lines, should be quite a difference!

Well, I'm off to see how else I can get to the wall. Am leaving for a new city tonight - Xi'an which I'm really looking forward to. Everyone is raving about it, and I'm staying with another friend so it should be a good weekend. More from there!

August 28, 2006


Okay, just quickly as there's a queue but yay, I'm here!

It's hot, dusty, humid, but very cool!

Am surprising myself by being adventurous and walking into food places by myself without understand what in the world I'm eating. And that with jetlag. It should get even better when I've caught up on sleep.

August 26, 2006

Will I ever learn...?

Departing in 18 hours.... and my couch is covered in lots of stuff (books, clothes, miscellaneous) and my backpack is empty.

On the other hand, the meeting that I had been stressing about all week (and just came home from) went really well and no one even noticed that I had been slacking off on stuff. Ha! Unfortunately I do need to finish a few things for that tonight (or at least before take-off).

Oh, and I'm slightly worried about the failure notices that I'm getting from my Beijing hostel... My booking better still exist!

Okay, back to my couch and backpack. Then back to my pc to re-write stuff. Then off to bed!

Winding down

Perfect evening to relax and chill after a very frustrating week:

- coming home exhausted after a long and stressful day to start looking through cooking books and making lists of shopping with a friend;
- back from the market with bags full of food and more friends;
- cooking all evening, while drinking wine and chatting to catch up on each other's lives;
- eating a huge meal of spring rolls, gyoza and more... hmmm, yummm!

Hmm, good night. Now I need to start packing...

August 23, 2006

A relationship post?

Well, it isn't really, for obvious reasons.

But I'm just reflecting about how contradictory people can be (or well, it feels that way to me).

Yes, attention is very nice.
But there is a point when too much attention just becomes totally unsexy and unappealing.

That is all.

August 21, 2006

My favourite hobby (well, one of)

Spending money definitely feels good.

And in preparation of this holiday I've gotten several things which had been on my wish list for quite some time:

- good hiking shoes
- new backpack
and, of course,
- the digital camera

Furthermore, I started listening to some Chinese lessons yesterday - can someone remind me that I'll be okay over there? Man, I knew there was a reason why Chinese has always seemed impossible to me! I guess I'll just take a notepad and pencil and write everything, that should get me around. I hope.

As an example...

Cheruchan wrote a post recently about a political debate that we attended last week.

Very interesting actually, but she describes it much better than I could in my current chaotic state of mind.

However, besides reflecting on the issues that were discussed, it did make me think again about another possibility for putting some more direction back into my life: joining a political party.

I've thought about it before, and after having been talked to enthusiastically by some people of the local Labour party the idea is back in my head.

I'm still in doubt though - on the one hand it seems like a good opportunity to get to know this type of organization, build up a network, be involved in something in the community etc. And all of those are things I am looking for. On the other hand, it seems too opportunist to only join because of the networking opportunities and I'm not sure if there is any party that I can agree with for almost all of their arguments which is something that I do think is necessary.

At least it's giving me something to think about. Especially with elections coming up at the end of November this would be a good time to join if I want to actually do something. Unfortunately - as a friend pointed out - this will mostly involve being one of those annoying people handing out unwanted flyers when you're out shopping. Hmm.

August 20, 2006


Restless - that's how I would describe the state that my life has been in for the past year.

By now it's starting to become a drag. Yes, I'm travelling and doing fun stuff but there's always this thing around making me unable to focus on anything. And it comes down to the fact that I still don't have a proper job.

It's a no-win situation though: when I try to concentrate on jobhunting things I get obsessed and it's on my mind too much. When I try to cut down, relax and take my mind of it, I start feeling guilty about relaxing.


I've decided over the last week or so that things need to change. I can't be doing this much longer so I either need to give up and be happy with the job I have (not an option) or try to work out a different strategy which will get me inspired again to also be putting in some effort in other things than jobhunting, like some sort of volunteer work maybe. And slowly work towards something different. Anything different.

Then again, saying that things need to change is probably creating a problem in itself...

Coincidentally, the pages of my agenda run out on Sunday. Excellent timing, as it looks like I won't need it until mid-October again (holiday and work travel straight afterwards). Hopefully by that time I'll have a bit more clarity in my head again as well.

Why do I need to make these things into such huge problems? Why can't I just be happy with the relative luxury of having a good life as it is?

August 18, 2006

Lift-off (well, almost)

Woohoo! After being patient for a few months it looks like I'll get to see a proper rocket/satellite launch in a few weeks.

Unfortunately I'll arrive just a few days after a planned launch of a manned mission which would have been even more exciting but for now I'm on the schedule to see a live launch in the steppe of Kazakhstan.


August 16, 2006

Dutch hills

When I started out this blog, I was quite intent on making it a blog with something more than just recounting Tokyo-adventures and the quirks of Japan and in general my life. Over the past 1,5 years I think I've pretty much given up on that!

I might make a new attempt but for now I'll stick to travel for a while. This year is turning out to be a pretty good year as far as travel is concerned so I should be able to add some more things.

My latest travel adventure: three days hiking in the eastern part of the Netherlands!

I sometimes forget how pretty my own country is. My mum and I went to the area of Nijmegen and - surprisingly - it's really hilly and not flat at all! Included in the weekend was a rivercrossing by ferry, lovely pancakes at an outdoor cafe, great food in a small village and some historical education: the National Liberation Museum and the following day a visit to a Canadian cemetery. These last two were actually very impressive.

Unfortunately no real pictures as I've been lazy and haven't got a camera yet (but am looking!).

August 07, 2006


The sites where I'm spending my office time at (while everyone else's on holiday):

Man in seat 61
Lonely Planet
More Chinese trains
Chinese flights
More Chinese flights

Did I mention yet that I'm very excited?

August 04, 2006

Decision Time

After much contemplating, considering, re-considering, talking, thinking, reading I finally made up my mind about the upcoming China trip.

I'm leaving in three weeks, for a short three weeks in the country. Woohoo! I am ridiculously excited about it. In a way, it really is a first proper travelling trip, in a country that I have never been to before and that I do not speak the language of. Am very much looking forward to it, although it's also pretty scary...

By pulling the trip forward it means that my friend won't be able to come along. Unfortunate, but in the end I didn't see a way of going later in the year.

It also means that I have more flexibility in deciding the routing. The first few days of this week were spent frantically trying to find out how I could enter Kazachstan from China, what trains I could take, what visas I would need, if it would be better going to KZ via Kyrgyzstan, etc etc.

My employer - or rather, the Russian authorities - vetoed this plan. Apparently there is no way for me to enter my work location for late September via an alternative route so there is no use in me going all the way there by myself. Bummer. I guess I'll have to be content with another decadent trip to Moscow later in September.

Although, to be honest, I was having quite a bit of trouble trying to convince myself that this would really be a trip I am capable off. I am sure that once you hit the road you discover unexpected sides of yourself. But maybe I should discover those in a different place than the 'stans - it does sound pretty sketchy...

It did trigger a definite interest to travel the Silk Route at one point in the next few years though. It sounds like an amazing and fascinating journey...

So for now, I might be incorporating the beginning of this trip (if you would travel the Route westward). A vague first itinerary would take me past the following cities:

Beijing -> Pingyao -> Xi'an -> Lanzhou -> Xiahe -> Jiayuguan -> Dunhuang and fly back (from Jiayuguan) to Nanjing -> Shanghai.

Hmm, putting it down like this makes it look like a bit much for 19 days... I will probably decide in Xi'an which way to go (south towards Shanghai or west towards Gansu) so I do still have time to improve on this.

For now, I'm on my way out for a night of sushi and Johnny Depp. What more could a girl ask for?

P.S. I am considering going onwards from Dunhuang to Turpan, Urumqi and possibly Kashgar. But I think this time frame really is too short for that, and that I would need some more travelling experience to tackle Xinjiang - no matter how amazing it sounds?

July 27, 2006

Catch-up time!

Remember the lack of pictures from my few weeks in Kazakhstan and Moscow? Well, you're in luck. It looks like there'll be some pictures uploaded in about 2 months or so. Taken by me, with a brand new digital camera.

Now, does anyone have suggestions for the kind of camera I should go for? (uhm, budget style, that is)
And suggestions on how I should travel from Kazakhstan into China? I seem to suffer from instant-travel-daydreaming though, so can't say yet if this'll happen!

Maybe things weren't so bad

Remember my post about the failing launches?
Of course, it all could have been much worse - like this for example....


I think people feel slightly better now that MetOp is only facing a delay - and hasn't turned into ten thousand pieces.

July 24, 2006

To continue on from many other blogs...

A) Four jobs I've had in my life
- management assistant
- interpreter
- waitress/receptionist/kitchenhand (i.e. anything you might need in a hotel)
- administrative assistant

B) Four movies I would watch over and over
- Mononoke hime
- Afterlife
- more of Valerio Zurlini & Akira Kurosawa
- *whispers* Grease (hey, it's an ultimate feelgood movie!)

C) Four places I have lived
- Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
- Haenosaki, Nagasaki, Japan
- Leiden, Netherlands
- Tokyo, Japan

D) Four TV shows I love to watch
- 24
- RTL Travel
- Secret Life of Us
- not really entertainment but: Buitenhof

E) Four places I have been on vacation
- Seoul, South Korea
- Isle of Skye, Scotland
- Moscow
- Izumo, Japan

F) Four websites I visit daily
- BBC News
- Volkskrant
- my bloglines account and a lot of blogs
- the office's intra/internet

G) Four of my favourite foods
- okonomiyaki
- rucola and tomato salad
- my dad's cooking
- seasonal foods: asparagus, mussels, summerfruits(yumm!)

H) Four places I would rather be right now
- Copenhagen
- on the Trans Mongolian Express
- on a sailing boat in the Mediteranean
- behind a brandnew iBook *sigh*

I) Four people I think will respond
- Haha! If any, they'll do it in the same way as I responded to Jo/Jules/Jules/Cookie/Chimera etc.

July 23, 2006

Sunday mornings

... one way how not to start a Sunday morning is by waking up too early, and then browsing through a big stack of career magazines.

I think I need to get out something fun to make up for the depression that sets in when seeing article after article euphorically claiming how wonderfully the job market is recovering and how there's a lack of all kinds of people (read: IT/finance/technical people).

The good things though:
- coffee
- sun
- newspapers
- breakfast (well, grapes)


July 20, 2006

Three times lucky? Not this week...

My space adventures seem to be unlucky.

After the failure of the CryoSat mission October last year, I was recently at another launch event for a new satellite: MetOp. Unfortunately (or, in retrospect, fortunately?) I wasn't at the launch site itself but was invited at a European site to attend the event.

Fun, except for the fact that about 1,5 hours before the launch the countdown was aborted... Luckily this isn't as serious as losing the satellite, as happened with CryoSat, and everyone was still fairly optimistic that it would be successful 24 hours later. That confidence proved to be unfounded, when again a few hours in advance the launch was called off.
Take three = lucky? Uhm, nope. After being very very close, the countdown clock stopped at 2min19s before take-off....


MetOp is now looking at a delay until well after the summer. So frustrating, after being so close.
The good thing is of course that the satellite is still on the ground, and is ready for launch. We just have to be slightly more patient.


On a sidenote, Frankfurt is a very nice city! Very different than expected with a very modern, sky-scraper part and an older part of town, lovely riverside etc. Perfect for hanging out for an afternoon, sipping coffee, soaking up the sun and reading my book. Hmmm. These worktrips aren't bad at all!


And on a very very different sidenote, due to all of the above, I have already made huge adjustments to my China route in all my daydreaming. Anyone know anything about crossing the border between KZ and China?

July 13, 2006

Of parents and their inconsistencies

The latest saga in the non-logic of my parents:

My parents have had two small Japanese soy sauce jars as part of their very small collection of family antiques for as long as I can remember. They never meant anything to me until I was in my second year of Japanese at university and we were forced to translate a text on the production and export of soy sauce from Japan to Europe in the 18/19th century. When I got back to the Netherlands after that year, it clicked: the jars at my parents' are exactly identical to the descriptions which I had had to translate so frustratingly a year earlier.

Since then I've always said that I want those two jars – at an unspecified time in the future at which my parents will actually allow me to take them. In my mind that wouldn't be for a few more decades. Fine. Eventually I'm sure they would end up in my house.

So a few months ago some acquaintances visited my parents' house, saw the jars, and were all excited because they have two as well – "and oh, machiruda would like some? No problem, we'll take them for her next time we're here!". Great, that went faster than expected.

The problem?
My mum at that moment decided that actually it wasn't a problem if I took her two jars as well because she wasn't really doing anything with them anyway. *SIGH*
So now I have four almost identical 'antique' soy sauce jars. And in the tiny home that is my apartment I still haven't found a proper place to showcase them.

P.S. apologies for the bad picture, but I figured I should at least show what this story is about. The jars are really nothing special, but just fun to have because of the history part of it. And hey, now I own some antiques!

Anyone else with confusing parents like these?

July 12, 2006

Moscow - better late than never

Oops, I realized I hadn't written a long-promised report on my weekend in Moscow last month. So here goes.

I think I mentioned before that the city feels megalomanic (is that English?). When I tell people how overwhelming the city felt, how HUGE it is, the standard reaction is: “But you lived in Tokyo – how can anything be bigger than that?”. Well, Moscow is one of the places that does. It is big in a very different way though. It's a city built for giants. Especially in the city center (where I spent most of my time) you can feel the power and money – and you can fully imagine the roads full of tanks and military parades as we've all seen on old pictures of the Soviet Union.

The overwhelmingness of it all took me a bit by surprise. The first night I spent in the city I spent walking around the Red Square and the river and it gave me a very good impression, despite all the hecticness.

However, coming back after three weeks for the weekend was quite different. Despite (or because of?) having a very good guidebook I felt I couldn't really make up my mind and I ended up wandering around the city a lot. Also good and interesting – and it made me end up at interesting places – but in a sense it also felt a bit like a weekend of lost opportunities.

The highlights of the trip:
* a guided tour around the Kremlin – me and a colleague were shown around privately for three hours by a non-stop talking guide. The Kremlin is huge! Despite my expectations of it being a lot of buildings for government, it is almost a walled-in town. The main attractions are the palaces (which we didn't enter unfortunately) and the cathedrals. It's very park-like because of all the green. Did I say it is huge? Some knowledge of tsarist history is quite necessary though! I can't remember how many different stories we heard about Peter the Great, the great-grandmother of Catherine the Great, the long lost cousin of someone else, etc. etc.

* the Metro – it wasn't so much the stories about all the marvelous stations and such. Yes, they are big and wondrous with marble halls and so on. It was more the shock when I realized that everything was written in Cyrillic! No English, not anywhere. I'm quite used to travelling by subway but it gets a bit more adventurous when you realize that you do really need to stare at the (small) signs to work out what line you need to take to get to what station. And if that wasn't enough: they need to re-do the colouring. Distinguishing the orange line from the red line from the brown line was quite a challenge at times.

The metro is fun though. Riding back into the center on Saturday night was especially fun! After having spent the evening at a horrendous tourist trap dance show (caused by the lack of proper classical ballet performances that evening in the city) I was treated to another performance underground when some passengers spontaneously started playing music and dancing in the traincar. I love that, just watching people do their own thing.

What I should do differently next time:
* go to the New Tretyakov Gallery instead of the old one. The old Gallery has indeed an interesting building and all of the Russian classic artists up until about the mid-19th century. Unfortunately, most art that I find interesting is after that time! After my Russian colleague had convincingly persuaded me to go to the old one (“No, it's not seperated in time, that's not true, it's all together in the old Gallery, the New one is for temporary exhibitions.” – hey, I can't exactly argue with a local if the guidebook says otherwise, right?) I did have a good afternoon. But I still desperately want to go to the New Gallery!

* skip the Arbat. The guidebook said it was one of the most pleasant areas of Moscow to walk around in. Uhm, yes. If you like aggressive souvenir sellers, souvenir shops and tourist haunts. I don't know where the Russian shops are in this area but the Arbat is not the place to be.

All in all, it's a fascinating place. So much power, history, money. Although Moscow is not immediately on the top of my list of places to go back to I think there is still much much more to see. For now, next up in Russia is St. Petersburg. Preferably in winter!

July 10, 2006

Monday morning

I so don't feel like working today so instead I'm keeping myself busy with lots of other stuff:

- trying to find out if Frankfurt is fun enough to spend an afternoon there early next week;
- getting excited about the following weekend (most of which to be spent in Amsterdam):
  • 2 Many Dj's/Soulwax Niteversions and more on Friday!
  • LTJ Bukem & MC Conrad (and more) on Saturday!
  • recovering from a massive hangover at Werfpop!
- flirting with fun colleague;
- worrying about relationship-stuff (resolved);
- researching a good location for a hiking-weekend next month with my mum;
- etc.

Gah, I hate Mondays in the office.

July 09, 2006

Hmm, travel....

I don't have much news to tell, but needed to share my latest book purchase:

- a China guidebook!

Woohoo! Looks like I'm definitely going!

Not a definite travel plan so far - hopefully a friend and I can make a plan to travel together for part of the way. Tentative itinerary is to fly into Beijing and fly out of Shanghai (although I'm considering to change this to Hongkong instead) and travel from one city to the next in about three weeks time (in September/October-ish).

I know there are some China-travellers and such reading, if you have any suggestions for what we definitely should see in those weeks, please leave a comment!

P.S. Our current planned travel period would have us be in China during the October holiday week. How bad is it really to travel in the country in this period? Avoid at all costs, or is it doable without planning ahead too much?

July 05, 2006


Keira Knightley and her outfit are apparently circulating the internet everywhere....
This does look kind of scary...

Oooh, a football post!

France just made it to the finals of the World Cup. Can't say I care much in particular but it does make me think back to the final of the World Cup in 1998 in Paris:

France vs. Brazil
me in Paris
visiting a Brazilian friend
watching the game in a Brazilian bar

Brazil lost ...


A great night though. Leaving the bar, and trying to get home across the Place de la Bastille was amazing, soooo many people outside partying. I can fully imagine that Paris (and the whole of France, for that matter) is going absolutely crazy again. And is in full anticipation of this weekend's game!

Growing up

Obviously everyone has their moments of realizing that you're getting older. By looking at friends who are having babies or buying houses, or by starting to pay off your student loans.

Recently I came across two more things that made me wonder where time has gone - in a good way too, because pretty much everyone around me is doing really well. Although in an adult way ;-)

In any case, these two things. When I was at university, I would always turn first to the back page of the weekly university paper to read the column and laugh at the comic.
And - in my mind - almost at the same time both those columnists (two universities, two university papers so two columnists!) are making it 'big'. I've always really enjoyed their writing, but to me it seemed a relatively small thing and very much part of the university period. It is quite funny to see how they are also moving away from that period - and moving on to better things!

For one, Christiaan Weijts has just published his first novel: Art. 285b. And it's getting unbelievable reviews almost everywhere, such as here at the Volkskrant for example. This is definitely going on my book buying list!

The second columnist is now writing for what I consider to be the best Dutch newspaper and it's recent spin-off paper. A recent column for caught my attention as Aaf describes the dance event that I went to on the weekend. Judging by this though it seems as if her columns have become even more airy, as she is describing it quite stereotypically.

It was an interesting read as she touches on a discussion that I and my friend had on Saturday as well. We went to Sensation White ; a night where about 30.000 people are dancing inside the Amsterdam Arena (the Amsterdam football stadium), all dressed in - you guessed it - white. And almost all of them had paid lots of money to be there.

And that's exactly what amazed us, and what amazed Aaf: paying a lot of money to be forced to wear only one particular colour (we had to go shopping as white is pretty much non-existent in my wardrobe) and to be lining up for ages everywhere. The press conference of the event put it down to 'the ultimate experience'. Right, ultimate, with 30.000 instant friends. Also, 'feeling safe'. Hmm, maybe. I suppose people feel safe when they feel as if they belong to a group?

In any case that was also sort of the conclusion of our discussion - people like to belong. To a group, to a subculture and they don't mind paying for it, even if it does take away a bit of freedom (in dress, in movement, etc.).

Anyway, I had a good night. Pretty cool to see the whole stadium full of white people, music was okay-ish although had hoped for better. But, I hope to be making up for very good music in two weeks during a much smaller and much more comfortable event: 5DaysOff. Can't wait!