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!