December 19, 2011

Reminiscing Asia (2): standing in the fog in Shenzhen

Foggy Shenzhen
Originally uploaded by macchi.

Last year I was in Beijing for a few days, and wanted to see at least a little bit of a new part of China. So, I flew to Guangzhou to tour Guangdong for a day with a colleague. Guangdong is a province which is part of the Pearl River Delta, the most important economic region in China. A LOT of the things in your home will have been produced here (or components of it are).

We took a whirlwind tour of the area, and my colleague had chosen the various stops to show me the extremes of Chinese development. Shenzhen, for example - which is where the above picture is taken. A town that was barely a fishing village in the late '70s and has grown to a city with over 10 million inhabitants in just over 30 years.

Starting out as a Special Economic Zone for a wide range of production facilities, it has now moved away from the very labour intensive production to high tech and innovative production. It is also home to some of the countries best known high tech companies, such as ZTE, BYD, Huawei to name only a few.

So, why this picture in my series of Asian moments? We were standing here with a group of people on an urban development tour, and an architect from OMA was explaining their current project, the Shenzhen Stock Exchange on the other side of where I was taking the picture. It was very foggy - or maybe part pollution? Many Chinese cities, including Beijing, are renowned for the levels or air pollution. But the speed at which everything is still being built and developing is enormous. Very impressive. And this isn't even the fastest growing region in China. You'd have to go much further inland and I'm sure the amount of construction cranes will be double there. That feeling of evercontinuing development, construction, etc is what has stuck with me though and why this picture is here.

Later on that day we visited the other part of Chinese development, the South China Mall. Which made the day all the more fascinating.

[it may seem as if I only know Asia through work, but much of the other stuff was in the pre-digital camera!]

December 04, 2011

Reminiscing Asia (1): late night Kuala Lumpur

late night supper with sweet milktea/KL
Originally uploaded by macchi.


Following my earlier post I've been looking at some of my Flickr series of trips to Asia. And I'm going to share some of my most memorable moments during those trips with you here.

First up: Kuala Lumpur, where I visited for work in June 2008.

It was my first time to this country, and I only spent a short week there mostly working. But I'd convinced my boss that I should really arrive on Saturday to be rid of my jetlag by Monday to be able to do that work well.

And that gave friends of mine the opportunity to drive up from their city in southern Malaysia to KL to come and meet me. I never cease to be amazed at how these friendships can stand years of irregular contact; and yet some people will drop everything to come and see you.

I had the best introduction to KL that I could've wanted: starting with amazing Chinese food, then being taken around the city to go up KL Tower and have an incredible view of the city, finishing off the evening with the above - a late night snack with milk tea. And of course, the whole night accompanied by my friend and his wife and 3-yr old daughter.

Sitting outside on a terrace at midnight, in warm balmy tropical weather, sipping milk tea and chatting to friends after a long day of travelling - bliss.

Some thoughts on work (1)

One of my colleagues asked me maybe a year ago "how I know so much about the countries I work on". At that time the question struck me as odd. Sure, I might know a fair bit about the geographical region I deal with in my job but isn't that supposed to be normal?

The question keeps coming back to me over the last few months, also because of comments other colleagues have made to me. Such as that I always read every document there is, know what it is about, and can comment intelligently about it. The first isn't true in my perception so these comments are always a bit mysterious to me.

But I think I know now why this is - why people see me in this way. What I do in my job links for a large part to something that is a part of my live and that I am immensely interested in and fascinated by: Asia, more specifically China right now and Japan in the past.

Just a few examples:
> I have travelled extensively in the Asian region, mostly in Japan. And would love to see more and more.
> A third of the books I've read for fun in my spare time this year were about China, with another third on that other topic which I find increasingly intriguing: sustainability. I don't read these books out of a sense of compulsory reading to keep up with my field. I read them because I enjoy them, I love reading about other people's experiences about these places, or about current developments etc.
> I follow several blogs about these countries and topics, because I'm genuinely interested.
> I happily go to debate evenings on any of these topics.

And to be honest, I don't think many of my colleagues do the same about their respective countries/regions.

So it's no surprise that I do actually know a lot. And that I can comment on a certain topic or development without having read the full 80-page report on it. That actually has nothing to do with how hard I work, but everything to do with having found a job which engages me fulltime with those issues that I find personally fascinating and worldchanging. It also doesn't mean that I've made my hobby into my work - because what I do for a living I wouldn't want to do for free. But it does feel like a pretty close ideal situation.

No wonder I'm having trouble letting go of this particular job. Though I also know that whatever comes next will ideally include the same topics and issues - and that shouldn't be too hard considering the growing importance of the region worldwide!

November 13, 2011

Experimenting with food: scrubs!

Following another No Impact Week where I've followed online discussions more than participating myself again, I suddenly find myself trying something new: making my own cosmetics.

While I know that there is loads of bad stuff in conventional cosmetics (see, for example, The Story of Cosmetics), I also find it hard to find products that seem better. But making my own also seems like a lot of work, and for which you need a lot of time.

Until someone posted some recipes for making your own scrubs. And that seemed doable, with just sugar, some spices, salt and olive oil. What could go wrong?

So I now have a jar of sweet 'n spicy brown sugar scrub ready to be used. Very very curious what it will be like!

November 10, 2011

Itchy feet

gansu mountains
Originally uploaded by macchi.

I just finished reading a book on urban development in China (this one) in which a Dutch journalist and architect explore the inland second tier cities in China. All cities that most of us have never heard of.

I have visited two of them (Xi'an & Lanzhou) and my work has offices in another two. But the rest..... more than any other book this one makes me want to travel again!

But also, it's made me realise again that China is so diverse - and I tend to forget that when I travel for work as I'm always stuck in the same cities, and in the same Central Business Districts. And apart from the cities (where, admittedly, so many Chinese people now live) the countryside is stunning.

This picture is taking in the mountains in Gansu province, pretty much in the middle of the country. I was on my way to a Tibetan settlement, Xiahe, which was one of the highlights of my trip exploring (a small part of) China. After Xiahe, I continued west to Jiayuguan and Dunhuang, where the oldest Buddhist caves in China are located. Stunning.

But it's further West still that I want to go. Xinjiang, Urumqi, Kashgar, the Taklaman desert and more. I don't know why this part of the country fascinates me so much - maybe the emptiness, isolation, but also (the decreasing) sense of non-Chineseness that I expect the find there. I need to be quick though. What I'm reading about Kashgar isn't good.... So hopefully, a next non-work trip to China will include that part of this immense country.

But first, my Flickr collection will next year finally start to include some pictures of Japan. Cannot wait to show you all my favourite places there - and my new discoveries!

November 05, 2011

One of those weekends

I love weekends which just seem to fall together perfectly.

After a tiring Friday I was happy to hang out on my couch with cancelled plans for drinks. The rest of the weekend consisted of mostly vague plans also.

In a way anything could happen.

[apologies for the smug post from here on!]

So far, it feels like one of those weekends that make me just really happy with life. I love my house and love that every now and then, while chopping onions in my kitchen, I'm hit with this realisation. I love where I live, and that I can be outside in a crowded pub when a friend unexpectedly calls at 10:30pm to go out for some beers. I keep realising that this city offers so much, but is also a great place to just chill with coffee, good food and a good friend in the sun on November 5 [admittedly, that is exceptional in this country!].

One of those weekends where I keep changing plans, filled with friends, good food, good beer & wine (and chocolate cake!). But also feeling at home, in my house with a book on my couch and an interesting recipe cooking away on the stove.

So really, this all makes the current work situation seem pretty unimportant, as long as the really good (and simple) things in life are there on weekends like this.

October 30, 2011


Landgoed de Haar/inside the chapel
Originally uploaded by macchi.

Last week was another weekend of perfect autumn weather. Bright blue sky & sunny - great for wandering around a bit of the Dutch countryside, where we visited Landgoed de Haar. I had been before, I realised when I got there, but it was stunning with the first trees changing colour, the bright light, and the beautiful castle.

The Netherlands really can be amazingly beautiful. A discovery made so often, but it still surprises each time.

October 27, 2011

Pete Philly

Last week a friend and I decided to go see Pete Philly play at a local club tonight. I had heard his album online and always enjoy live music, so was expecting a good night.

Wow. SO much better than expected. What a good artist, and great band. Definitely a good choice to go! I now also have a signed CD, woohoo!

The album is still available for a listen at Radio 6, an online soul/funk/jazz radiostation: One

(Oh, and seeing him live is really a lot better than just listening to these tracks online)

October 24, 2011

Identity = work?

Over the last few months I've been struck by how automatically your personal identity translates into "What do you do for a job?".

I know that I am partly guilty of this as well and that I often run the risk of finding my work more important than a lot of other things. But it's clearly not just me.

Why is the first thing people ask "What do you do?". In my drama class, people would introduce themselves by talking in lots of detail about their job.

Is this just something that certain groups of people do? That this starts once you start earning a certain amount of money?

I surely hope that the toilet lady at McDonald's doesn't feel the same way. She takes pride in her work - that was clear to see AND good to see. But that is something completely different than personal identification.

Well, food for amateur (or pro?) pshychologists I guess.

September 23, 2011

In an ideal world...

... all my close friends would be living close to each other in distance as well.

I currently have two friends visiting who I have known for 10 years, and in that time we've caught up several times across the world - because we do live on opposite sides of the world.

It is so good having them here. Laughing, talking, discussing each others' lives, drinking, dancing, eating. I already miss them again and they haven't even left yet!


September 14, 2011


Somehow it feels as if it's the start of something, anything new.

My attitude to my current job has changed dramatically over the last few months, I've come out of the summer with some new insights and lessons learned, and I've started two new things this week which I hope to continue with regularly.

Yay. Happy. Hopefully this will give me back some of that energy which seems to have become lost along the way.

Exploding China

Eigenlijk is het gewoon een debatavond. Maar met een beetje extra.

En dat is te zien. Een uitverkochte Rabozaal van de Stadsschouwburg. Een overwegend jong publiek, met hippe brillen en kapsels. En dat voor een avond gewijd aan de nieuwe megasteden in China, waar wij nog nooit van gehoord hebben.

Daan Roggeveen & Michiel Hulshof begeleiden ons door de avond, we zijn hier tenslotte vanwege hen: het is de boeklancering van hun boek How the city moved to Mr. Sun, het resultaat van een driejarig project. Het boek beschrijft 16 Chinese steden. Van het enorme Chongqing tot het onuitspreekbare Shijiazhuang en het verre, mysterieuze Kashgar. Allen miljoenensteden waar alles hard groeit: de economie, de bevolking en alles wat daar bij hoort. Hun boek beschrijft en toont deze steden en de mensen die er wonen.

De avond is een leuke mix van humor (leer 1000 mensen 'Ik hou van je' in het Chinees zeggen), informatie (historische ontwikkeling van Chongqing), exotisme ('gekke' Chinezen die Franse paleizen nabouwen), muziek en discussie over hedendaags China in een clubsfeer. Tussendoor maken we door korte intro's op de verschillende onderdelen kennis met de steden en families uit het boek.

Conclusie van de avond is dat zich een enorme verandering voltrekt in de binnenlanden van China. Is Chongqing over 20 jaar net zo bekend als Chicago?

De paneldiscussie over deze en andere vragen wordt wat te tendentieus geleid naar mijn smaak (door oud-China-correspondente Joan Veldkamp) maar de twee panelleden (beiden van de Universiteit Leiden) weten goed de nuance in hun verhaal te leggen.

En de toekomst? Ook de Chinese panelleden kunnen (willen?) daar geen goed antwoord op geven. Maar duidelijk is dat China voor grote uitdagingen staat: sociaal, economisch, politiek - waar ook wij nog genoeg van zullen merken.

Leuke avond, slim gebruik gemaakt van de verschillende elementen en ik heb nooit geweten dat je dus op deze manier een debat over China hip kan maken.

Ik kijk uit naar het boek.

September 11, 2011

10 years - 6 months (2/2)

More cranes
Originally uploaded by macchi.

It felt strange including the second event which I am thinking about today in the previous post as it is so different from 9/11: the natural disaster which hit Japan on 11 March 2011.

This is one that became very personal as Japan and its people and society is so close to my heart.

I was woken up that day, which I had taken off from work, by a text message from a friend asking if everything was ok and if my friends were alright. There was no mention about Japan and I had no idea what he was talking about. But clearly something wasn't right, and my mind did go to Japan as it seemed the only thing that he would text me about. A quick look at Twitter from my phone immediately confirmed that feeling.

I spent the rest of the day glued to the tv and internet - I couldn't believe what had happened, what I was seeing and the continuous worsening of the situation. Not just an earthquake, but then the tsunami and to top it off the disaster at the nuclear plant at Fukushima. I couldn't stop watching the news all weekend as the news became worse and worse.

My friends are all okay, though I read worrying messages from friends who live slightly north of Tokyo. It must be such a scary situation, even now 6 months on to live so close to an invisible danger that you cannot judge at all. But you have nowhere to go.

My thoughts go out to all the victims in Japan, everyone who has lost family, friends, their house and livelihoods.

I hope to visit Japan after a long time again next year. Hopefully somehow I can fit in something during that trip that might help.

10 years - 6 months (1/2)

NYC/ view from the Empire State Building across Lower Manhattan
Originally uploaded by macchi.

Today remembers two major events, and I would almost say that they both have changed the world.

For both I still clearly remember where I was and what I was doing.

11 September 2001 - I was at home, on the phone with a friend talking about a newsletter we were publishing for our studentclub. At one point he told me out of the blue to turn on my tv - which was then showing images of a smoking WTC. In shock, we didn't talk much more about the newsletter. I had seen the movie Swordfish only a few days ago, it could've been that.

I was working part time at the local airport at that time, covering shifts at various restaurants in the area beyond the security checks. Only a few days after 9/11 I was working a shift at a steak restaurants - and serving steaks with plastic cutlery as anything different (which would actually be able to cut a steak) was prohibited at the airport.

I was also due to fly to Japan two weeks after. I remember people being scared about the prospect to get on a plane again.

The picture above is from my visit to NYC in September 2008 - I was there in the week of the 9/11 remembrance, which is why my set shows no picture of Ground Zero. It was inaccessible to tourists all week.

Since then, so many things have happened in the world - partly as a direct consequence of this day. And not usually for the better. I would like to think that such an event has made us think more about the type of society that we would like to be: one that is inclusive of others. However, I do not see that happening, at least at home. Maybe that is also because so many other crises have happened since then which has made people even more introverted and only thinking of themselves.

September 05, 2011

Slow change

Why is change so slow? Why does it take so much time?

I'm not talking about collective change - it kind of makes sense that that takes a lot of time: convincing a lot of individuals to do something they've always done differently and then actually doing that. But personal change - even for things you believe in and are committed to.

Almost two years ago I took on the challenge of No Impact Week (you can also read my experiences again here). And I started making small changes, mostly focused on food: eating less meat and fish (although that really only kicked in this year) and using almost only organic vegetables. That also changed the way I cook - and am happy to say that I am still continuing with that.

Since then, I've read a lot of books on issues around sustainability. The books that have made the most impact have been:
> Collapse by Jared Diamond (actually, this is probably way ahead of the others in terms of the impact it had on my outlook on the world and its future)
> No Impact Man by Colin Beavan (from the above No Impact Project, yes)
> The Necessary Revolution by Peter Senge and others
> The ecology of commerce by Paul Hawken.

But why then, do I absentmindedly order meat ('because it's what the Slovaks eat')? Or still chose to fly even if, in hindsight, going by train would have worked equally well?

And then do it again? And again?

[Another Slovakian train of thought]

September 03, 2011

World famous

I am not a particular Jason Mraz fan, but sitting in the sun this afternoon and enjoying one of the final summer days this year, this song jumped to mind. And mostly, because of a Slovakia memory.

You must really be famous - or at least have a really really likable song - if your song comes on the radio in a small mountain cottage in the High Tatras in Slovakia and everyone (really, everyone and various nationalities) in the cottage restaurant starts humming and moving along to the tune....

August 27, 2011


Amazing what some sun (after a long day of rain), a phone call with a close friend, a glass of wine and the prospect of yummy food can do on a lazy Saturday.

Feeling a lot better right now. Time to head into the kitchen for that lasagne.

August 22, 2011


High Tatras
Originally uploaded by macchi.

I was talking about mountains yesterday, right? Some of these is what I had spent the day around.

Pictures aren't great. But that day convinced me of my holiday plans for next year: a mountain hiking trip to see a bit more of this. The trail I was following basically headed straight into this picture.... but I didn't think it was a very good idea to do that by myself even if there was a mountain cottage at the end of it.

But next year.....

So, if anyone has some suggestions on organizations to look at who offer these type of holidays, I'd love to hear! (I'm not sure if I will be able to find friends to do this with, so then I will resort to joining a group).

August 21, 2011

Travelling for one

[uploading some short thoughts from Slovakia]

Sitting on a terrace on a mountain of the High Tatras, looking out over the flat land stretching out at the foot of this mountain range, I feel really happy.

I'm enjoying a beer with a great view after a day of hiking in some of the best mountain scenery I've seen. And, it didn't even rain.

These moments, or rather days, are what make me go travelling by myself. I don't mean that this is something I could only do by myself - quite the opposite: I would probably have seen even better mountains. What I mean is that finding a travel partners - with the same style of travelling, same interests, same flexibility etc - is actually quite hard. And I don't want to miss days like today and views like those in the Tatra mountains.

That is why I do travel by myself and am quite happy doing so. There are so many places in the world which I want to see, and just the lack of a travel partner is not going to stop me from seeing those places.

Quite selfish really...

August 06, 2011


I spent the day on the Kagerplassen with some good friends on a sailing boat. They did pretty much all of the sailing. I provided some food, and company :-)

And can you see the touch of blue in the left hand corner. Yes, we actually managed to get some sun today.

Good day.

August 04, 2011

Slow travel

I am just home from four days of very slow travel - walking along the Dutch coast. A trip that took two hours on Monday by train, has added up to nine days of walking.

We've speeded up life so much - because this was a regular train. Two hours by highspeed train will get you much further. Two hours by plane will take you further still, which I'll find out soon as well.

But I have come to really enjoy going slowly. Going at the pace of your own legs, how quickly they will go and how far they will take you. Taking in your surroundings as they slowly move past. Enjoying the view while relaxing on a hill top or at a beach cafe.


It was a good week. To see the result of those nine days, and a little more, go here

July 31, 2011

Ready, set....

Bag packed? Check
Bikini recovered? Check
Great weather forecasts? Check

Off for a few days of gorgeous Dutch seaside, yay.

... Go!

July 30, 2011

Head versus Heart

Are you someone who makes more decisions based on the Head, or on the Heart?

I'm more of a Head kind of person. And I'm trying to live more by the Heart. Trying. Because sometimes this is pretty difficult.

Or maybe the Head is better in some situations anyway?


July 29, 2011

Simple pleasures

Today was my last day at work for the next two weeks, which always means a long list of stuff to finish and leaving as little work as possible for the colleague who will cover for me. When I walked in to the office it turned out that all our systems were down. When this happened the last time (only last month, grrr) it took all morning for them to bring everything back online.

Cue short panic to think of how I was able to finish all that work - not a good start of the day.

The whole day has gone differently than expected. By the end of the working day my plans for tomorrow had disappeared and later my dinner company had to leave unexpectedly.

The good part? More dessert for me! I'm never a huge fan of desserts, but for tonight I made marinated strawberries (in a French liquor which has been in my cupboard mostly unused for much too long) with lime-flavoured mascarpone. Leave both in the fridge for an hour or so.

Yumm. Really really nice.

July 28, 2011

Practically Perfect

Tonight I read this article: how do you find your passion? And keep it alive?

Apart from some of the other things in there, I'm taking on his last challenge: to blog. Because, why am I not writing here anymore? More than 6 years of at least monthly writing has changed to ..... silence.

So, I am going to use this place as a type of online memobook - writing about things I see happening; things that I want to know more about; things that make me think; things that inspire and challenge.

I don't know what you will get to read (if anyone is still reading). I don't know what the result will be (if any).

That's not the point. I think I need to start putting down ideas and get them out of my head.

To be continued.