June 27, 2008


The theme of this week: cheese.

French cheese to be exact, and a little bit of Swiss. Cow's, goat's, soft, creamy, smelly, blue - you name it, we had it all.

One of the friends who was here this [s]weekend[/s] week is from France, and she brought half (!) a suitcase full of cheese (and wine, and foie gras, and saucisson - but mostly cheese). Great stuff. *sigh*

Everyone's gone now - the last person left for Japan today. It was amazing being together with all these people again. And after six years, no one has changed. At all. Definitely a special week.

I have a few leftovers in my fridge, so I might just have to invite some friends over for wine this weekend.

June 21, 2008

Sunday madness

After a couple of hectic weeks (break-ups, work travel, double jobs, and so on) I now have a week away from the office to do NOTHING. Well, nothing related to work at least - the next couple of days will be quite packed.

Such as tomorrow - Sunday.
A friend and I will be be spending the whole day picking up various other friends from airports and trainstations. By the end of the day there will be eight of us - flying and train-ing in from all over Europe - for a long overdue reunion. This group of people are the people that I spent most of my time in Osaka, 6/7 years ago, with. Although I've seen most of them within that time at least once, and usually more often, this is the first time that we are all together. Although I suppose to make it a real reunion some others should be added too.

I can't wait. The time that I spent in Osaka was amazing, and in large part due to these people. We have no plans, so I'm hoping for great weather *fingers crossed* to just be able to hang out along the canals and have fun. Woohoo!

June 14, 2008

Malaysia pictures

Am making use of my first day at home to unpack and get some of my photos that I took online. Here are a couple to see, the rest with a few explanations are on flickr, as always.

View from KL Tower

Late night supper with friends on Saturday night - a great welcome to KL!

Palm trees all over the place, and now I finally know and understand where palmoil comes from.

June 13, 2008

Dear highly distinguished guests

One of the things that has most amazed me during this week has been the reception I and my colleagues have received at the various and many meetings.

While we would only be with two people of low to medium status, we would be welcomed by at least three - but more often many more - people, one of which would be a high-ranking official who did all the talking during the meeting. The others don't speak at all at these meetings, except for a particular daring employee who would pipe up to add something every now and then. It always made me wonder why these people were even at the meeting in the first place.

This morning my last meeting topped all of the others of this week: we were met by no less than seventeen (17!) people. The programme included breakfast, a 15-minute group photo shoot and of course lunch (there's always food included in whatever meeting you are at). Luckily the food was indeed good and the actual programme which was the reason we were there was very very interesting.

The lavish reception at so many (government) organisations has made me wonder why that happens. Of course there could be different reasons:
1) We really are incredibly important. We just don't know it ourselves;
2) Government receives disproportional respect in comparison to the value of our work;
3) There is a lot of hidden unemployment in Malaysia; or
4) People will use any excuse to get away from their mindnumbingly boring tasks.

Any other suggestions?

June 12, 2008


Sitting in Chinatown, on Jalan Petaling, KL finally feels like Asia. Hot and sweaty, a monk wandering the street in the midst of hawkers selling almost-real LV, Gucci, Adidas. Chaos, too many people, too much noise and light.

This is my final night in KL. Pretty much as I expected and feared it has been a week mostly without sightseeing. Many early nights caused by long and exhausting days, leaving little energy or time to venture out into the unknown. Today wasn't much different except for the urge to see one other part of town before I head out tomorrow night.

Not being able to sightsee doesn't mean that I haven't seen anything of the country though. If anything, this has probably been a much better week to learn about Malaysia than if I would have been backpacking. Maybe by talking and talking and more talking to many different people you find out more about a country than by seeing temples and palm trees.

Talking with NGO-workers, for example, who are explaining the complexities of Malaysian politics and the need for more transparency. And then, at lunch, the Indian woman of this group starts going off on Muslims and how we have to stop them from taking over the world. Right...

Or the couple, Chinese Malaysians, of which the woman speaks and writes Cantonese and English fluently but no Bahasa Malaysia at all. And the man speak and writes English and Malay perfectly but only speaks (and doesn't write) Cantonese. They commute into Singapore daily from Johor, on the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia.

Or Malaysian politics - which seems like a complicated maze as well. Current Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is under heavy criticism after his party lost heavily in the general elections in last March (though they still have a majority in parliament). He's apparently sometimes compared to a Malaysian version of Gorbatsjev - opening up the country but currently risking his own position as a result of that. He's inherited many big issues from previous PM Mahathir Mohamed (also known as Dr. M). Although he built up the country so it now has 6%-plus annual economic growth things such as corruption and non-freedom of press became normal throughout the country. He also left the country with a heavy car-dependence. Obsessed with creating a domestic automotive industry, he heavily protected this industry and promoted individual car ownership. Now, in a time of record-high oil prices, Malaysia is also suffering. With the country dependent on cars, fuel subsidies were finally mostly removed last week causeing fuel prices to rise with 41%. Combined with the worldwide increase of food prices and an expected big hike in electricity prices next month, Malaysians are not a happy people right now.

This moment is an interesting time to be in Malaysia - not only for the ecnomic and political situation but also societal. The Indian and Chinese part of the population (making up almost 40% of the total population) is seeing the country transformed into a more Muslim-state, and the local Malay population (also called bumiputra's) gets advantages on all kinds of things: from favourable interest rates on mortgages to entry into government jobs and so on. At the same time, all population groups in Malaysia claim that the beauty of the country is that different ethnicities can live together peacefully. Yes, but only to a certain extent it seems. There's a lot of frustration hidden underneath that surface and it will be interesting to see how that will change in the coming years.

June 09, 2008


After having spent 1,5 days in Kuala Lumpur so far, I've decided that this isn't Asia. There isn't any of the chaos, the weird looks, the tons and tons of people, the big differences in old & new, the lights and sounds that I am used to in random other Asian cities (Bangkok, Shanghai, Tokyo - to name a few).

Of course, it's also not Europe. Something in between, though I'm not sure what.

Or I've just been looking in the wrong places so far, I hope to discover that during the rest of the week.

June 08, 2008

Palm trees, palm trees, palm trees

That was pretty much all I saw while getting closer to the airport at Kuala Lumpur, and on the drive from the airport to my hotel. I'll be getting a closer look on Friday - when I'm visiting an oil palm plantation - which is what almost all of these palms are used for.

And also: my room is on the 20th floor and looks out straight to KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers! Pretty amazing view, pictures to follow of course.

Work starts tomorrow - last night was spent catching up with a Malaysian friend and his family who I met 13/4 years ago in Australia. Great way to get introduced to KL and Malaysian food, and of course to see an old friend again after 10 years. Today, more good food with a colleague and her family at lunch. A few work things that didn't go so great, which is why I'm now at a computer, but will be off to do more sightseeing soon.

June 03, 2008

'The unvoiced question'

A hundred reasons clamour for your going. You go to touch on human identities, to people an empty map. You have a notion that this is the world's heart. You go to encounter the protean shapes of faith. You go because you are still young and crave excitement, the crunch of your boots in the dust; you go because you are old and need to understand something before it's too late. You go to see what will happen.

The above is from the introduction of Colin Thubron's Shadow of the Silk Road. Possibly pretentious but I do recognize a lot in it - why do I travel?

The book started off in Xian, and the first 80 pages detailed the 2,5 weeks that I travelled two years ago to Dunhuang in Gansu province in China. But he continues on, and at the moment he has just arrived in Kyrgyzstan....

I wonder when I will be able to continue that journey out of Dunhuang. I would love to know what is beyond those dunes.