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....