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The Wedding

The city Bandung is called Kota Kembang [The City of Flowers]. After the smog and durian smell of Jakarta, I was thrilled to see it. Unfortunately, Bandung was not much better than Jakarta. Traffic jam is a national  problem and so does Bandung too, suffers from the ongoing – or not going – stream of cars. Its nickname did not apply at all to the city, rather you could call it Jakarta 2.0.

For me, Bandung was bizarre. I couldn’t find a city center, the way, a structure or anything worth visiting or anything at all. And still, I spent almost a full week there. My host Dewi told me straight away when I arrived, that I couldn’t go out on my own and if I wanted to go somewhere, she would come with me. It was standard that you would be home before 11 PM. The evening clock, starting at 12, prevented youngsters and teenagers to go out to clubs and bars. Also, it should lower the high criminality rate. Murder and raping were extremely common.  I was shocked. Was it that bad here? Dewi nodded. Yes, last week her bag was stolen from her dads car. The window was ruined but that didn’t matter, as long her dad was still alive. I asked what she meant and Dewi explained: Robbers don’t want any eyewitnesses so if you, by accident, see something, they would probably stab you. I didn’t want to believe it.  On the other hand, it did explain all the gates in front of the houses here.

One of the reasons why I stayed in Bandang, was because I got invited for an Indonesian wedding. This changed my travel plans a bit but that was alright: I only had a rough idea where I wanted to go so I was very flexible.
I would attend the wedding with two other German girls, Lea and Sarah. We were a bit afraid of the need of wearing a nice dress and high heels. As backpackers we only had our harem trousers and loose H&M t-shirts.

Non of this is relevant to a simple Indonesian wedding, according to Dudung, Dewi’s farther. And no, nobody will throw with rice! Although there’s more than enough amounts of rice in this country, it’s not something they would do. They rather eat it after the ceremony. I had already noticed how utterly creative Indonesians were with their national dish, nasi. There was red, white, brown, black, (non-)sticky, yellow rice. Cooked in banana leaves, 20 different sorts of oil, spices, (coconut)milk. Sweet or savoury, whatever you wish. One day I helped with the rice harvest and upon today I still find some grains in my backpack. But that is another story.

Dudung kept on stressing that it would be a simple Indonesian wedding. Me who never attended a wedding in her life, still expected a RTL scene. On the contrary, this was everything execpt what I thought it would be. Dewi’s uncle got married for the second time  – up to four times is accepted – and this time it would take place at the house of the bride. When we arrived, we had to take our shoes of and sit on the ground of the living room. Many people around us were playing with their smartphones and seemed barely interested in what the imam had to say. Not that we could understand anything about what he was saying, but playing with your phone? Some family members weren’t troubled turning the noise down.

Another thing which I never got used to during my stay on Java, was the incredible amount of attention we got from family members. Their focus was not on the newlyweds, but on us. We had to pose, smile, shake hands. When the wedding treasure was handed over to the family we had to be in the picture. They stopped the ceremony so there could be pictures taken of us with the couple. Guests asked us if we were single and if we would like to meet their sons. Left-overs of the buffet went to us and  in the end they thanked us more than a gazillion times.

And all this within 2 hours.

The drive to and from the wedding took even longer. Because of the traffic jam.

White Legs.

It was a pleasant half an hour rock-jumping to get to the waterfalls. They were called “Kedung Malem ” which means something in the context of “The heart of an [fallen] angel.” The green canyon wherein the waterfalls were situated blocked most of the daylight which lowered the temperature to 20 degrees. A relief, if you compare it to the 35 degrees in the sun. To get to the waterfalls from Madiun, East Java, you need to have a damn good car which can deal with all the ups and downs. Or you need to be in the lucky possession of a motorbike. In both cases you need to have good GPS System. In my case, my host’s friends Patmo and Bernardi new the way and cruised me around on their motorbikes. It was an hour drive through the mountains and I enjoyed every single second of that ride. The air was cool, the landscape was changing: from city to sawa’s, from dried out forests to woodland  giants so high, you couldn’t see the top anymore.

Patmo and Bernadi went for a swim. Being in the country now for 2,5 weeks, I learned that swimming did not happen in bikini’s or trunks. People kept their clothes on (jeans, headscarves, shirts…) if they went for a dip. As a local explained before, Javanese find it “too naked”and “rude” to walk around in swimming gear. “It’s like walking in shorts; you just don’t do it.”
So instead of taking a refreshing dip, I installed myself on a big and comfortable rock. It was truly a pleasure looking at the guys, seeing them having fun.

Patmo came up to me. His English was broken but understandable. “Marie, you know how clean yourself with stone?”, he asked me. I shacked my head. He grabbed a flat stone out of the stream and started to scrub is legs, while continuing poring water on them. I repeated it him and soon little black and brownish streams flowed down my shins and calves. Patmo pointed to my legs: “So white!” he said surprised. I smiled and putted my leg next to his to compare. You couldn’t imagine a bigger contrasts. We started laughing. I was so white compared to his leg that I was almost glowing. “You’re as white as an angel”, Bernardi said when he saw my legs. “You’re the falling angel of the waterfall!”

Thinking back of it, it was actually an unique experience. I’ve never felt white and I don’t care what kind of skin colour others have. But I remember a phone call of my American friend in Christchurch, just before I left. He said: “Oh man, Marie, you’re going to be fine. You’re going to see the advantage of being a white, European girl.” I remembered I laughed about that and replied: “Oh well, we’ll see.”

My friend was right. Being a white girl had its advantages. First of all, everyone wanted to help you and looked at you with some kind of admiration I cannot describe. Second, people were extremely friendly, invited you over for dinner, lunch, to meet their family, school classes, friends. Everywhere you visited, water was given, food was served even though you hadn’t asked for it. But this also had a huge downside. It meant I couldn’t set one single step alone. Soon I understood why celebrities have bodyguards, disguises or rent complete restaurants so they can have a quiet lunch. Your freedom is completely gone. In Bandung, my and another Dutch couchsurfer, weren’t allowed to go out on the street on our own. There had to be someone with us, at all times. In Jakarta, it took me and two other German backpackers, half an hour to leave the Kota Square because people kept on coming up to us, asking for pictures and video’s. In Madiun, the Peacock Center I visited, uses now a car pick up guests because they had find it “unappropriated” that I came by motorbike. On our way to the waterfalls, a pregnant woman asked me to touch her belly, in the hope her child would turn out to be white as well.

With many other travelers and hosts I talked about these events because most of them hadn’t expect that much of attention. We came to two conclusions. First, you’ve a celebrity status because most people see white people on TV, making the link White = Famous. Second, Java is not that touristic as Bali. As Javanese don’t see that many white people in real life, it makes you more special.
Looking back on everything, I can laugh about it, while being in the situation, I remember I got very annoyed. In the end I was sick of being a showpiece for someone’s family. On the other hand, place yourself in their position, wouldn’t you have done the same?
At the waterfalls of Kedung Malem it was like everything washed away. Patmo and Bernardi were just Patmo and Bernardi, not two Javanese. And I was just Marie, a couchsurfer from Holland, with very white legs.

Ambassador Lecture Series: Robotics UMeet

© Brian Megens

© Brian Megens


The second of this year’s Ambassador Lecture Series titled Robots: The Future of Human Evolution was surprisingly interesting. Except for a few robotic jargons, it was engaging, inquisitive and easy to follow. It certainly helped that my evening started off with a lot of pizza courtesy of the ALS team! Structured around the speeches of the four renowned professors from the different departments of Maastricht University, the group of experts introduced the latest developments in artificial intelligence and the ethical questions concerning the development of robots and its influences in human life most notably health care. It also featured presentations from three of the brightest Maastricht students on their idea on possible future human-robot relations. The lucky winner received a gift from the UM gift shop along with the exclusive chance to dine with the four experts.

The ALS team organising the Robotics lecture © Brian Megens

The ALS team organising the Robotics lecture © Brian Megens

Pizza! © Brian Megens

Pizza! © Brian Megens

Live registration of the lecture © Brian Megens

Live registration of the lecture © Brian Megens

all contestants © Brian Megens

all contestants © Brian Megens

The first lecture Success: Luck or Design? was a tremendous success. Having attracted over 400 students, the seats were filled quickly and even students were sent home. This time around was fairly different but not negatively with still 200 students attending the lecture. The target base for this lecture was more selective unlike Robin Sieger’s first lecture which attracted students with very broad interests. This lecture narrowed down the interest group to students specifically interested in ethics and robotics. But as people started pouring in and filling the Mindersbroedersberg Aula, the team breathed a sigh of relief. There wasn’t the long queue that distinguished the first lecture but there was a certain buzz in the air. The seats filled up and the team was ready to go.

 

A warm welcome by our hostesses © Brian Megens

A warm welcome by our hostesses © Brian Megens

The people came well prepared, bringing their laptops © Brian Megens

The people came well prepared, bringing their laptops © Brian Megens

The host for the night was Prof. Dr. Gerhard Weiss. The Chair of the Department of Knowledge Engineering discussed the historical evolution of robotics. Prof. Weiss showed robotics in its infancy stage in the form of mechanical machines to sensor-motoric capabilities leading to cognitive aptitudes and robots eventually reaching autonomy. Prof. Weiss also touched upon the most intriguing questions of all. Will robots eventually take over? Are they our friend or our enemies? He concluded that robots are already everywhere in all facets of human life. The application of robotics is growing as robots’ cognitive abilities and autonomy increases.

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Weiss © Brian Megens

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Weiss © Brian Megens

 

© Brian Megens

© Brian Megens

As Prof. Dr. Luc de Witte took over, we met Paro and the cuddly harp seal quickly stole our attention with its big black eyes, long black whiskers and furry white body. This companion robot is changing the culture of care for elderly people suffering with dementia. The expert from the Department of Health Services Research of Maastricht University states that in his field of work they start with a problem in care and then identify a solution in order to help. He asserted that robotics must solve real life problems in health care not evolve for the sake of evolving.

 

Prof. Dr. Luc de Witte © Brian Megens

Prof. Dr. Luc de Witte © Brian Megens

 

© Brian Megens

© Brian Megens

Paro the robot-seal © Brian Megens

Paro the robot-seal © Brian Megens

Prof. Dr. Tsjalling Swierstra followed this by predicting that we will not be able to predict the future. Why? Because he believes that the future depends on the choices we make. The chair of the Department of Philosophy then presented us a number of scenarios. A robot presented as a child, would this child pornography be considered acceptable as there is technically no harm done? A robot used as a partner in sexual intercourse, would this constitute as rape? If the robot’s memory can be reset and wiped off, is there no harm done? The Chair of the Department of Philosophy & Director for the Ethics and Politics of Emerging Technologies asked some very intriguing and sensitive ethical and moral questions. How should we treat robots? Is there such a thing as mistreating robots? We want them to look like us, be similar to us but different enough so we can order them around to do our biding without feeling guilty. We design them to be “just like real people but not really people.”

 

Prof. Dr. Tsjalling Swierstra  © Brian Megens

Prof. Dr. Tsjalling Swierstra © Brian Megens

© Brian Megens

© Brian Megens

Prof. Dr.Rico Möckel of SwarmLab meanwhile stresses the need for the artificial evolution of robots. He compares the natural evolution in nature, how changes is not planned and yet nature still out performs robots. He states that artificial evolution is needed as it allows the creation of robotic systems allowing the autonomous creation of robust systems behind the imagination of engineers. He gives an example of evolving swarm robots for disaster management or for assistive living. Will robots feature in our future? Prof. Möckel ultimately answers that our present life would be impossible without the already existing robots.

 

Prof. Dr.Rico Möckel © Brian Megens

Prof. Dr.Rico Möckel © Brian Megens

After the four speeches by the University’s expert panel, we move on to the student competition. We started with a presentation from Mark Fingerhuth, a 20 year old Science Programme student. He states that there is an exponential growth in technology further predicting that one day robots will take over our job. He notes this as a positive change. He believes that by passing on all the work to the robots we would not have to work anymore and this will lead to the obsolescence of Monday thus, resulting to the downfall of capitalism. What would he have us do instead? Nothing. From his perspective, we would not have do anything in the future. All of our time will be devoted to entertainment. We would read books and spend our idle time doing whatever we please. One of the four professors quips, the how would we relate to the people in the books? If we don’t have jobs and responsibilities, how can we sympathise with the people we’re reading? We then move on to David Natarajan, a Malaysian second year Department of Knowledge Engineering student. David also predicts that in the future robots will take over our jobs and that we are near this point. By taking over our jobs, society would be better off. He took for example the jury. By replacing human jury members, we take away the emotions on the trials leaving only known facts. He declares that this will lead to a real fair trial. He further predicts that in the future robots will look, act and communicate like humans. But the difference is that they will not have medical problems. The future of robots will not only lie in helping us humans but also our society. The last contestant, Elgianni Boersma, is a Filipino-Dutch second year DKE student as well. Elgianni states that robotics is like toddlers at this point in time. We need to teach them and take control as they are only autonomous in so far. They are good at straightforward task but for the more difficult tasks like driving in Mars, robots still need human direct commands. He asks what do we do when they are fully intelligible? Do we treated them as slaves or do we accept them as one of us? As the population is increasing exponentially, by the time we reach full artificial capacity who can afford them he asked. It would create an even bigger disparity. It was a tough call for the panel of experts but ultimately Mark Fingerhuth won the chance to dine with the four experts on the field.

 

Mark Fingerhuth © Brian Megens

Mark Fingerhuth © Brian Megens

David Natarajan © Brian Megens

David Natarajan © Brian Megens

Elgianni Boersma © Brian Megens

Elgianni Boersma © Brian Megens

It is not whether the future of human evolution features robots but how and in what capacity. They already present in all facets of human life. The question is how much robots are going to be involved in our daily human life. Will they really eventually take over our jobs? I guess that’s to debate for another lecture.

Guest reporter:
Karissa May Atienza

Karissa May Atienza, our guest reporter © Brian Megens

Karissa May Atienza, our guest reporter © Brian Megens

Meet our Student Police Officer: Paul Vermin

For all you new and recurring students we organised a little interview with our very own police officer, Paul Vermin. He was happy to answer any of our questions regarding student safety. You may have met him during the INKOM, or during an inauguration of an association, with which mr. Vermin has good contact.
Being the general contact point for all students, this means that in case a students goes to the police to report something stolen, for instance, he will be notified of it, even if another officer helps the student. Having worked for the police in Maastricht for 21 years already, Paul has seen his fair share of stuff happening. Safe to say, bad things also happen to students. That’s why three years ago Paul Vermin went to the police department of Groningen, as the police there already had a special task force that dealt with student-related problems. He looked at how they went about things and asked for advice to be able to do the same in Maastricht. Of course, to start up something like that is pretty hard, however, Paul is well on his way!

by Brian Megens

Ashika and Paul Vermin during the interview.  © Brian Megens

What the police wants is to accommodate students. In order to do that, Paul tells us that you have to create awareness among students, it helps remove part of the problem. Part of this problem is to show (international) students that the police takes them seriously. Among criminality that is student-related, Vermin says that theft, robbery and drugs are among the biggest. To further discuss the latter, Paul names the biggest problem with it. A lot of international students have the idea that doing drugs is allowed in the Netherlands. However, the term “gedoogwet” is not easily translate-able, but it basically means that even though using soft drugs is illegal in the Netherlands, the law in question isn’t enforced. This means that it’s possible to buy soft drugs and to have a certain amount, but it doesn’t mean that all drugs are allowed.
After a lot of coffeeshops closing in Maastricht by the municipality, there has been a rise of street dealers. These dealers often sell drugs that are full of junk, sometimes even containing stuff like rat poison or chlorine. This is something that the new students in Maastricht have no idea of, making it even more dangerous.

by Brian Megens

Paul next to his on-duty vehicle. © Brian Megens

One of the biggest barriers for the police that prevents them from helping students is when a student doesn’t report a crime. After a night out you might discover that someone took your phone in one of the clubs in Maastricht, yet not report it to the police. However, when you don’t report your phone stolen, the police has nothing to go with, and are therefore helpless at helping you, the student! While talking about this, I, Ashika (reporter for Maastricht Students) realise that in my first year, this occurred and while turning red, I explain that I didn’t think the police would be able to do anything.. “As long as you don’t do it again!” Paul tells me. All I have to say now: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Mr. Vermin also said that it’s so easy for people to break into a house, something that can even be done with a bank card. That’s why when he walks through a neighbourhood and sees that a student has left their window open with a laptop in front of it, Paul walks in, sees if anyone is there and tells them to shut their window or close their door or gate properly.

by Brian Megens

Paul Vermin in the courtyard of the police station. © Brian Megens

One of the things that makes this job worth it for Paul Vermin, is of course to be able to prevent criminality, but also to receive positive reactions from the neighbourhood or being able to accompany a victim to the court room, being mental support, and getting thanked afterwards. It’s not about just processing complaints and having to react to emergency calls.

Being very active on Twitter already (follow @POL_Vermin), Paul says that the next step in order to be more present for students is to have a Facebook page. This will come in the future, so keep your eyes peeled! After asking for some tips he might have for students, he sums up a few pointers. (Some of these are self-evident and well-known, however, still need to be done)

  • Don’t walk home alone late at night
  • If your friend is drunk or under the influence, don’t let them walk home alone
  • Don’t let yourself be offended easily, people do it to get a rise out of you. Don’t give it to them 😉

To take a look at the nation-wide campaign against theft, click here for our blogpost about it.

Paul Vermin the student agent socialising and informing students © Brian Megens

Paul Vermin with some students during the INKOM © Brian Megens

 

If you have a problem, that you want to communicate to Paul Vermin, you can contact him at paul.vermin@limburg-zuid.politie.nl or call the general police number 0900-8844. In case of emergency call: 1-1-2!

Here is a video of Breaking Maas about student safety that was made in cooperation with the police and the fire department.

 

“A different night out.” A movie made in co-operations with the police and fire dep. of Maastricht to raise awareness. from BreakingMaas on Vimeo.

So, to all you Maastricht Students, stay safe!

Blogpost by Ashika Baan, photography by Brian Megens

Security campaign ‘Mijn Straatwaarde’ addresses mugging in Maastricht.

You’ve probably seen the billboards with young people standing with their phones in hand and the item’s value next to it. In case you wondered what the message of the posters are, it’s a campaign called ‘Mijn Straatwaarde’ (My street value) to address the epidemic of petty street crimes. The campaign is an initiative from the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice together with the Hospitality Industry (KHN) and aims at creating awareness to young people for mugging and pickpocketing. Most possess expensive smartphones but are not aware of the street value, neither of the ways to secure these valuables from the hands of thieves. A lot of times people just put them in their back pocket or leave them on the table when dining out, completely unaware that they are basically putting  500,-+ on the table for everyone to see. You wouldn’t do that with your cash would you? As thieves are always looking for easy ways to make money, it’s hardly a surprise that smartphones became quite popular among their desired loot. This campaign therefore tries to increase people’s awareness of the fact that many young people posses an expensive and desirable smartphone that demands some precautions to reduce the risk of being mugged or pickpocketed. Besides awareness, the government has also promised to improve streetlights and increase police patrols. The campaign also gives some useful facts & tips. KHN_busposter_420x297mm_CMYK

Facts and Figures

  • Many people think that during winter crime is higher due to the longer period of darkness. However, there is almost no difference between crime in summer or winter.
  • 50% of all muggings is committed during the weekend and most if it during nighttime. Therefore, be aware when you decide to have a good night out!
  • The big cities are most vulnerable to robbery. 54% of victims are under 25 as well as most perpetrators (80%).
  • Many muggings happen on the main roads to schools and bars & restaurants.
  • In almost 50% of the muggings smartphones are part of the loot.

KHN_toiletposter_297x420mm_CMYK_aanlever-1

Tips to stay safe!

  • Keep your smartphone somewhere where it’s not visible.
  • If you call, do it in the coatroom!
  • When going home after a great night, go by bike or taxi and preferably with a group.
  • Don’t take shortcuts through bad lighted streets and areas.
  • Wear your bag on your body which makes it harder to take it off from you!
  • Make sure that the opening of your bag is always facing your body so it’s harder for other people to get into your bag.

Poster-5 Poster-2 More info? We in Maastricht have a special police agent for students, Paul Vermin, contact him if you any questions for the police.

Stay safe!

Brian

Print ministerie-veiligheid-justitie_logo

Homeless

Originally, I wanted to write about being homesick and how fortunate Dutch students are with having their “home” – whatever you want to call it – nearby. Yes, on Friday afternoon, the NS has to deal with the thousands of students who are making their way home – meaning; their home city or parent’s place. Although it is maybe a 3 hour journey, other (international) students don’t even have the ability to go home or need to travel maybe double the time. That makes the lazy days at your parent’s place not worth going and staying “home” in Maastricht might be the only other option.

Either way, everyone has something what you can call “home”, either your student flat or your parent’s place.

And then there are the people who don’t have a “home”. In with “home”, I mean a roof above your head or a warm shelter with at least 4 walls and a front door. When you think of homeless people, you might think of beggars in India or Brazil.However, in the current Western society, homeless people do exist. Some of them try to collect some money by selling newspapers; others can’t be bothered and just lay on the street, hoping for some spare change. Each and one of them has his/her own story about how they became homeless. Quite recently, I spoke to a guy in Auckland who went bankrupt and got divorced at the same time. His (ex)wife and the bank came knocking on his door for money and that is how he lost everything. Even more striking was that his family didn’t want to help him which is why he ended up on the streets.

In the donut city of Christchurch, I spoke to Richard. Richard is 39 years old, born and grown up in the city. Since the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, he lives in his car since he has no home left. According to him, the council is too slow with providing and renovating houses. And if they provide them, they are often without hot water or electricity – these are his words. So when the rebuilding started, he stored al his possessions in a safe garage – furniture, his MTB collection – and moved to his van. He drove to the suburb called New Brighton, pulled over at the parking lot and didn’t leave that spot ever since. In fact, he is too afraid that his car won’t be able to drive. I’ve talked to Richard for hours – and hours – and he basically is homeless. He has no address, no work, no family, only a van and government support in the form of money. On his roof, there are solar panels to run his laptop. I’m pretty sure he won’t move his car for the rest of his life.

At the moment, I feel quite similar like Richard. Although Auckland CBD is not like Christchurch and we do have a job, we are still living in a car with no fixed postal address. Surviving on the streets changes your way of thinking. Instead of just buying whatever you like, you have to consider the amount of space you got left. Or the fridge, which we aren’t able to run due to the low capacity of the battery. Furthermore, you have to walk 200 m to the toilet and back; but also to brush your teeth, to clean yourself, to do dishes or to fill up your water tank. Showers are a 10 minute walk and paid ($2,5). The first proper WiFi connection is available at the library, half an hour walk. Laundry is only doable at launderettes, which are coin operating and don’t always supply a dryer. However, I’m not complaining because we have the best free camping spot, with great view on the Skytower.

In other words, not having a roof above your head is a challenge. Knowing that we HAVE a home, an the other side of the world sets our mind at rest. If everything may fail, we can always go home.

What a shock!

For some reason, we always arrive in cities during rush hour. Now, Kiwi rush hours are not the same as the Dutch ones, but still. It is a shock when you have been in the outback and backroads for a few weeks and suddenly there´s a car next to you. Or two. What do you mean with; three lane highways?

The worst experience, we thought, would be Wellington. The most windiest city in New Zealand – and it sure was – and probably the most windiest capital in the world. We arrived there around 5 pm, just when whole working-Wellington though “Let’s go home!”, where ever that may be. After spending 3 hours looking for a free parking spot and some food, we gave up and drove 30 minutes along the coast, out of the city center, to find the most beautiful, out-of-the-wind-spot along the coast. How grateful we were.

We thought that if our Nissan Homy survived the Wellington roads, it could survive any road. Unfortunately it wasn’t prepared for the Christchurch roads.

If you’re in Christchurch, you’ll be surprised of the rural road conditions of the area. How? If you had been following the news, you might remember the news item on an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. There have been two major ones.

 In my two weeks time there, I experienced three shocks, which I didn’t realize because they were too deep underground and too weak. Maybe I should be glad for that, considering the damage the earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011 have done. The former had a magnitude of 7.1 second and lasted just 40 seconds. The latter only took 24 seconds, but with a magnitude 6.3 and just 10km southeast of the city center, this quake caused much more damage than you could imagine. Roads were split, buildings collapsed, many people became homeless and in total, 185 people died.

Today, you know when you’re in Christchurch. You don’t need an iconic church to recognize this city -also because there is non. Walking through the city center makes you feel you entered a war zone; buildings are broken down, most houses are empty. The Starbucks has not changed at all – part from the dust and broken lamps on the floor. Still, you can find the coffee cups and newspapers of that day lying on the ground. The Levi store next door has its jeans in the shopping window, while the convenience store is packed with dated energy drinks because that was in discount back then.

The roads are still a mess. One way or not, humps and bumps are everywhere. For instance, the bridge to the suburb New Brighton gave our car a completely new interior and reorganization. And where on earth would you get a flat tire? Exactly, down town Christchurch, where a drugsdealer comes out of his house, in the pouring rain, to help you out and offers you free weed – “You’re alright there, buddy?”

You know you’re in Christchurch when there are locals living in their car for more than 6 months on the same parking lot where you are staying – the council doesn’t provide them with a house, with electricity. You know you’re in Christchurch when there are more parking lots than cars and where you can park your car for $1 per hour. You know you’re in Christchurch when art and graffiti paintings are on every building. And you know you’re in Christchurch when the navigation system leads you to a laundromat which doesn’t exist any more.

Last Christmas

“Is this your first warm Christmas?” a Guild member asked me. “Yes, it is”, I answered and thought of last year, when I was freezing to death in Vienna. What a contrast with my current situation where even jandals are unnecessary – barefooted is the way to roll. For one moment I thought I was back in Tonga but no, good old Auckland it is. You can feel your skin getting sunburned: putting your hand outside is enough. But that doesn’t mean it will be a bad Christmas. Despite the lack of Christmas songs I hear on the radio – mainly because I don’t have one – or the effort the 5 meter tall Santa tries to create which flaunts on the corner of Victoria and Queen Street: I cannot grasp this year’s jolly Christmas feeling. I pass this Santa everyday – and sometimes in the night. He looks down on the people in the streets, accompanied with his reindeer and presents. All this doesn’t work. Neither does the singing show window -really?- of a luxurious warehouse bring me in the right mood.

I’ve never been much of a Christmas person but that doesn’t mean I completely banish the feast. The evenings we spent as a family around the fireplace, reading books. The delicious bread my dad and I used to make around this time. It does bring up some warm feelings. Even the memory of our – REAL- Christmas tree of which the lights turn on/off whenever you make too much noise: it does make me feel a bit sentimental. We always tended to fight about how you are supposed to decorate it: lights-streamers-baubles vs. lights-baubles-streamers? I’m a proponent of the former one, since it decreases the change of breaking the baubles when you hang up the streamers. Unfortunately, my dad thinks differently.
What else are we usually doing for Christmas? Did I mention the annual fights during the Catan and the Top2000 in the background? That was so much fun – especially because I won most of time. Secretly I enjoyed the Christmas song we sang on the market square in Elburg on Christmas eve – although it was freezing cold.

But this year is different. Not in the sense that I’m not in Holland -again- but that I’ve a warm and humid Christmas, wearing a summer dress and jandels instead of winterboots and a scarf. I won’t be bothered with blue toes/noses/fingers. I won’t fall of my bike because of the icy roads. However, in return, I won’t experience the real Christmas feeling. I can’t go ice skating in the polder. Santa Claus wearing a woollen Santa hat and big black boots doesn’t make much sense when it is 25 degrees. On the other hand, I’m treated with sunshine, a light breeze and a gin-tonic. I missed out on Sinterklaas but this year’s Christmas is here to make it up. Well if you could excuse me, I’m off to decorate my palm tree.

 

 

The Great Racism Experiment

”Blue eyed people are stupid, dumb, slow and lazy. They are unreliable, they blame others for their own faults and do not cooperate.’’ This stereotyping was part of a Dutch television show called the Great Racism Experiment by BNN. A social experiment where people were separated based on the color of their eyes.  The leader of the experiment was setting the brown-eyed up against the blue-eyed.

At first, the blue-eyed people laughed about the absurdity of the basis for their separation. The brown-eyed looked astonished when they were told that they were much wiser and stronger than the blue-eyed. The stereotypical description was repeated time and again and the possibility for the brown-eyed to stand up against the leader’s judgmental behavior was hardly taken up.

Then the blue-eyed were accused of doing things the wrong way. They didn’t listen, didn’t answer questions, they were using the wrong words or had a wrong facial expression. Thereby they failed to give correct answers and didn’t know a thing about social customs and norms. This negative approach initiated revolt by one or two blue-eyed, but eventually most of them assimilated to the rules. They knew they were overpowered and had no say in the way they were treated.

The gap widened. One brown-eyed girl decided to become a part of the inferior group, for she didn’t agree with the way they were treated and wanted to show her sympathy to the blue-eyed. But no other brown-eyed raised a question or argument to confront the leader. Their position was quite comfortable, even though they didn’t approve the unequal treatment. A blue-eyed boy broke down in tears. He said he knew what this experiment was about. Being judged on superficial features was something he had to deal with every day. Then the experiment came to an end.

When they were asked to put their emotions to paper the superior blue-eyed characterized themselves as angry, small, excluded,  humiliated, powerless and helpless. Then the brown-eyed were asked to  write down what the blue-eyed looked like during the experiment. Alone, attacked, void, frustrated, sad and uncomfortable were words that came up. But then the leader of the group told them that they were brave, strong, courageous and self-conscious in her eyes. The way they felt during the patronizing wasn’t what she noticed. The blue-eyed helped each other and stood up for their rights, they took a position and were not afraid to speak up for themselves.

The power is in the hands of the superior. Corresponding with the survival of the fittest theory, some are just not adapting as well as others do so the winners may rule. It’s not just an idea that comes along with social theory, it’s actually implemented in our minds. Thinking from our point of reference we project our own cultural norms and values upon others, without any consideration for the uniqueness and equality of otherness in general. Therefore we qualify people on their superficial features and depersonalize them by putting them in a certain social or cultural background.

The Great Racism Experiment uncovers not only the absurdity of stereotyping. Moreover it reveals shocking reality: we all take part in this game of winners and losers.

The Friendly Island

One of the most fun parts of travelling is the growing collection of stamps in your passport. Unfortunately you don’t get that many in Europe due to the Schengen Agreement, but outside Europe… oh la la! The more stamps you have, the higher you are in the ranking of ‘world travellers’. In my old passport I had scraped a bunch of stamps from Canada, America, England and a few European countries. We simply asked the custom service. When my passport expired I had to go  to the municipality to renew it and I had to hand it in: bye souvenirs!

My current passport will expire in four years but I’ll definitely keep it. Why? Because I can show off with one of the most exotic stamps which put me in a higher position on the ‘world-travellers’- ranking: The Kingdom of Tonga. The smallest kingdom on earth and the first country to see the sun rise.

As you might know, I’m doing an internship at the New Zealand Writer’s Guild till February. New Zealand is not so far away from pacific islands such as Samoa and Fiji. That is why we (a group of 8) decided to take the one-in-a-lifetime-opportunity and go on a five day trip to Tonga. If you are already on the other side of the world anyway…

The island Tonga lies north east from New Zealand and south from Samoa. “It points to the ocean”, said one of my friends when she had looked it up on Google Maps. True story: Tonga is really small. It has multiple islands (52, to be precise) but the main and biggest island is Tongatapu, which is about 260 km2: that is about 10 times smaller than Limburg. So when I say small, I really mean small and it also means that you have seen everything –  really everything – in less than a day: The stonehenge, dating back to 1200 AD: the underground swimming pool in a cave: the capital Nuku’alofa: the Royal palace and its tomb… don’t miss the unique palm tree with three branches – the only one in the world! I can die in peace now. Or lie on the beach first. Or crack a coconut. Or pick some bananas.

You probably won’t spend all your savings for an exotic stamp and a 48 hour flight to see this. Especially if you can’t survive without your hair spray, internet, warm water or smooth rides we were transported in a van with plastic folding chairs in the trunk; zigzagging between the coconuts which were scattered all over the road. Neither if you want to improve your English because people just don’t speak it: They speak Tongan which has some unpronounceable phrases such as Fakamolemole toe tala mai” Please say that again.

When I asked one of my travel friends what his favourite bit of the trip was, he said: “The culture, definitely the culture.” I have to agree with him: I can’t really compare it to other cultures I’ve seen. The island has never been colonized by any other country and that might be the reason why everything is so ‘real’. Sometimes it looked like time stood still in Tonga: clocks were almost nowhere to be found and if so, the time was incorrect or they were out of battery. The island created its own time and space and lived by the rising of the sun: I’ve never seen a moon shining so bright as in Tonga.

Can changing our culture change us?

TED always provides a great forum to discuss the future of our planet and how we, as humans, need to change the world. Two weeks ago the TEDx Maastricht event continued the tradition of spreading great ideas to help us find solutions to issues that we humans face. In this Blog post I would like to look at a couple of the speakers from September 4th‘s event in Maastricht and examine how our culture and society effects how we interact with the world. Many of the speakers argued that we need simple changes in our society to start to heal the world and this Blog will focus on these arguments.

The first speaking to fall into the category of pushing societal change came in the morning. Bart Knols talked about the growing social isolation that is plaguing western society.  Bart’s observations came from experiencing the differences on a train ride he experienced in Tanzania versus one in the Netherlands. The train in Tanzania was a social event where he met people, discussed the world and even sang and danced with total strangers but in the Netherlands he saw how people go into a bubble where they are isolated even though they are surrounded by people. This is the isolation that Bart wants to change, even though we are surrounded by people we don’t interact with them. However, there are solutions to the growing isolation that had been coming into our society and Bart Knols believes the solutions are very simple. On some trains in the Netherlands there have been experiments where you designate a train to be a social zone. This is all Bart believes it takes to make a change and it has been shown effective. By simply designating this environment as one to talk and socialize people did and it shows that humans are a product of our surroundings and by changing our surrounding you change human behavior.

On a completely different topic, Shyama Ramani gave a talk on bringing toilettes to the coastal towns of India. After the 2004 tsunami, many of the forests where women would relieve themselves were destroyed and a real need for toilettes arose when women lost the privacy that the forest provided.  When Shyama institute put toilettes in these towns the women used them but the men would still walk down to the beach and just go into the ocean. The issue that Shyama faced was how to change the patterns of the men that had been built into there culture since their ancestors settled on the shores of India. There were several ideas but one that showed success was a toilettes beauty contest where different villages battled to have the nicest water closet with cleanest and most beautiful hut that surrounds the toilet. The one condition for the contest was that the men had to use it for 6 months. This seems to be a form of social training and conditioning. Shyama Ramani was working hard to make toilet use a societal norm and to do this she must make permanent changes to the male Indians behavior to keep the men using toilettes. This would not only provide privacy for the women but it has been shown to raise hygiene levels throughout the towns.  Like Bart, Shyama is trying to make simple changes in people by changing their environment and it seems effective. It’s a pretty simple concept. Change the environment and it changes the people.

As the TED talks progressed throughout the day there were two talks that focused on the food we eat and changing the way we see food. Marian Peters tried to convince us that we should eat insects as a way to help create a more sustainable food industry and Mark Post talked about the hamburger he grew in a lab here at the University of Maastricht. A problem that both faced is how to make this food culturally accepted. Marian Peters has a more difficult job because bugs are not on the menu of our western culture. However, she makes the point that many societies around the world have no issues with eating bugs and are very integrated in many cuisines-such as in Laos. Marian Peters was at the TED talk to not only discuss why we should eat bugs but she was there to start to change our societies view on bugs. She made sure that there were enough chicken/bug nuggets (80% chicken 20% bugs) for everybody to try at lunch and the majority of the TED attendees actually tried the food that was 20% ground up insects. I did not try the bugs and I don’t want to… Marian Peters has a lot of work to change my dislike of bugs that has been ingrained in me my whole life. But that’s her goal. Marian Peters is trying to make insects a social accepted food source. I think she has a long way to go but it’s possible. If the children of western culture were to eat products with bugs in them since birth their generation would probably have no issues eating food with insect in them. Other cultures don’t have any issues eating bugs so what’s to say that we can’t change western culture to make insects a social accepted food source. Marian Peters has not convinced me yet but she made some very good points one day we might see insects on the list of ingredients in our favorite foods.

Mark Post has similar issues but not nearly as drastic as Marian Peters because eating beef that was grown in a lab often seems unnatural to real beef but doesn’t have a social stigma to work against. This makes it easier for Mark and he believes one day there will be meat incubators sitting in everybody’s kitchen next to the oven. One of the points Mark Post made about the beef is that he often has to tread lightly when talking about culture beef because some people have a hard time accepting it as an alternative. However, many people are willing to try the beef and so the hurdles are a lot smaller for Mark. But it still goes to show that even with cultured beef, there is a need to change our cultures attitude towards how we feed ourselves. These two talks and ideas are based in science and biology but both need a cultural change before they become accepted into our society.

While there were a lot of speakers that I could have discussed in the blog I chose these speakers because they specifically talked about changing societies and cultures to have positive effects on the world. They showed the power that social change can have on changing human behavior and this is an important message that many TED talks have been spreading.

We are social animals and our environment, culture and society have a huge influence on how we perceive the world and act in it. These speakers raise the point that if we change our environment we change humans. I think this is correct, but to what extent. Being a social species our surroundings have a very large influence and many of our issues can be solved by a change in culture. I wanted to write this blog post on social constructionism because I do believe humans are products of the surroundings. But, I think we are still heavily influenced by our monkey ancestry and I think our human biology still plays a huge part of human actions and interactions. The thirst for money, power, fame, and acceptance is part of human nature and while it may be a crucial in our make up I believe it can be overcome through societal changes. I thought one of the most inspiring talks of the day was by a 17 year old student, Rebecca Vos, who talked about changing the education system and one of the issues she talked about was reducing the hierarchy and power structure of education. She is making the push to not separate ourselves from each other and have everybody work together as one collective unit to better the world. This is a great idea because if we change the way our society interacts with each other it might prove powerful enough to overcome our human nature. Rebecca Vos’ talk made me very optimistic about the future because she is still in high school and if she can convince all her class mates to think like this then their generation with have built a culture of working together as one to overcome our human instincts and push our species forward towards a better and harmonious future.

——-

Whether I am right or wrong with my views of human behavior, the future is coming and it was nice to spend a day listening to some bright minds present solutions to issues that face our species. Our planet is resilient and will survive until it is swallowed up by the sun in 5 billion years, but as humans we will not necessarily survive. Because of this we need TED and we need these brilliant people to present their solutions so we can ensure a world that is habitable for the future generations.

 

Adam

About the author

I am Adam Daddino and I am a graduate student from University of San Francisco. This summer I was an intern at the Center for European Studies at Maastricht University which is what led me to TEDx. I studied history and religions and have done so with a sociological focus on human interactions with one another. Specifically how we balance the influence of our our biological nature with our social environment.

Auckland

Hello stranger!

“I’m sorry, are you from here?” A guy with curly brown hair, holding an acoustic guitar, looked at me. “Are you from Auckland?” he asked again. It was raining. It was my second day in Auckland, New Zealand. Technically speaking because I had woken up at 4 PM, thinking it was 12 o’clock (thank you iPod) but after a quick look at my watch and a knock on the door of my Chinese room mate, I found out I’ve slept more than 19 hours. That jetlag really got me. Even my 2 day stop-over in Hong Kong hadn’t helped. “No I’m not”, I replied, “are you?” “Well, kinda, I’m from Hamilton”. “Where’s that?”, not knowing any other city in New Zealand, apart from Christchurch and Wellington (well done Marie, well prepared). “Bit south. And you’re… English? You sound British.” I smiled “Thanks, I guess”. Well hello stranger, thought. Here you are, in the middle of Auckland, standing at a bus stop, talking to a complete random person. Why does this happen to me? Maybe God has a plan. “No, I’m from Holland, next to Germany, Belgium, you know.” And that was it. That was the start of a 3 hour long conversation about languages, music, passion, films, books, New Zealand and Europe. We ended up in a small French café (in Auckland, yeah). The owner was a French woman, Françoise, half Parisienne, half Marseillaise. Live music playing in the background, nice company and it was pouring and raining outside. 2 hot chocolates please !

The complete stranger turned out to have an Irish name and Venezuelan roots. His study, Spanish and French, didn’t stop him from making music. His dream, to become a world famous musician, was still far away, but his motivation wasn’t. “May I have a look at your iPod? I’m sorry, it might be a weird question, I know.” “Would you just stop staying ‘sorry’ then? You just sound like a Canadian!” (Step on a foot of a Canadian and he will say sorry). He smiled. Although it didn’t help much because after that he kept on saying sorry. This stranger was really an awesome Kiwi.

On the third day, I had to move to another room. This time, I would have 2 roomies. I guessed at least one of them would be Asian, since they’re everywhere (which is good, if you want to find cheap sushi. However, if you don’t like them, it’s a different story). The Vietnamese girl tried to explain what she was doing and who the other girl was. Unfortunately, I was too distracted because of the HUGE fish, she was preparing (including the head and tail. At one point, the eyes popped out. She ate it). The other girl was French, and the next day, we took off to Takapuna, which was just 20 minutes by bus. After a lovely hike, up to Mount Victoria, we enjoyed the view and Willy Wonka Chocolate (too bad; no golden ticket). The ferry took is back to downtown Auckland in just 10 minutes.
I start to like strangers.

End of an era

It has come to an end. I’ve been strolling through this town for about 6 years now. I’ve met a lot of people here that I will never forget. The number of which significantly increased after joining ESN. Hanging around with people from all over the world made me realize how retarded it is to stick with purely your own customs and values. On top of this, the exchangers live life to the fullest and although i don’t really like the reasoning behind their extravagant lifestyle (What happens in Maastricht Stays in Maastricht; let’s do everything god forbid, never speak about it again and return to the charade you call life back home), I do prefer it over the normal student life. It shows you who people really are and this is always better than play pretend.

Besides all the Sunday Funday’s, cozy nights at the Preuverij, Kiwi and Falstaff, drunken nights at Alla and awesome house-parties, still some studying needed to be done. The bachelor of Psychology wasn’t really what I expected it to be. I only started to like it in year 3 when we got a bit more biological and we could select our own electives. Surprisingly (I would never have thought of doing this a couple of years ago) I decided to do the master Health and Social Psychology, which again wasn’t what I expected it to be (it might be my lack of detective skills?), but I liked it in the end. I loved that I could give my own twist to the research part and could do something I liked myself but was completely health unrelated (the main focus of the master). I owe Karlijn Massar and Gerjo Kok immensely for supervising my research from start to finish.

And now it is off to the real world of working, being serious and all. If I can get a job that is. Ah well something will pop up I guess. For now I want to say arrivederci and peace out. Until we meet again.

Lakes, design and coffee

In April I visited my friend in Copenhagen. The next time I arrived at Københavns Lufthavne, I was on my way to Helsinki, Finland. During your Erasmus time you get to know a lot of new people. In May, I decided to book my trip to my Finnish, Riina. So it happened; waking up at 5:30 AM, catching my train at 8, up in the air at 9:30. Suomi, here I come!

Finland is, for the people who don’t know, locked up between Russia and Sweden. It has only 5.4 million inhabitants, which is not that much since the country is around 8 times bigger than the Netherlands (with approximately a population of 16.7 million). The country is famous for its lakes and islands. Just look at the map and you will see what I mean. Moreover, maybe some people know Suomi better for winning the Eurovision Songfestival (2006). Or the high prices. It might not be the ideal place for folks whose wallet is just as empty as their fridge (like me). Except, if you know where to go. With my guide Riina-Malla, aka Riina or Riini, it couldn’t go wrong. Well… it became a similar experience as with our guide in Brno: “I just feel like her”, she said when we arrived in Suomenlinna, the only and oldest fort Finland has. “I don’t what or why all these buildings are here”, referring to our splendid visit to Hrad Veveří (“We don’t know what it means, it might be English, but it might be French as well. We lack funding to do research on the origin of this cupboard” blablabla).

Suomenlinna, by the way, is worth visiting. Just stroll around the island, which is basically one big museum. The only difference is that there are still people living there. The landscape will reminds you of the Teletubbies or the Shire, part from the huge canons and other military stuff which can be found all over the island.
Helsinki has more to give than just one fort and high prices. Take a look in the white Helsingin tuomiokirkko (aka Helsinki Cathedral). Don’t go here on Saturday because every hour, there will be a wedding. Great if you love Say Yes to the Dress or Four Weddings, but not so great if you want to see the inside of the protestant cathedral. The other red brick stoned church, a bit further down the road, is called Uspenskin katedraali (great word for hangman or Wordfeud). From up there, the view is marvellous. But not as marvellous as you can get from the Torni Hotel. Why go there? Because you can have the best shit ever; a toilet with a panoramic view over Helsinki plus its area.

I’ve met Riina during my Erasmus in Vienna. Vienna likes alcohol and so do Finnish people. Unfortunately, alcohol is very, very expensive in Suomi. So what to do? As much Austrian people drink wine, beer and other stuff, Finnish people tend to have more coffee (kahvi)  in their veins than regular blood cells. Don’t expect your favourite cappuccino or sugar sweet lattes; Finnish don’t rape their coffees; they drink it pure and black. Or with a lot of (cold) milk; luckily Starbucks hasn’t opened a branch in Helsinki, yet.  Riina took me to a place called café Regatta (note; when someone says ‘cafeteria’, they mean a café, not a snackbar). The little red house was situated by the shore; a crackling fire, little sparrows twittering around and… good coffee with free refill. For hipster hunters, Helsinki would be an utopia. Finnish design (e.g. iittala) is to be found not only in the Design District, but also in the clothing of the inhabitants. Some creations could go straight to the catwalk and Armani or Chanel couldn’t hardly better them.

Helsinki has surprised me, in many ways. The views, the culture, the people, the nature… Helsinki is beautiful and doable in a few days. But really; make sure you have a local guide. Riina showed me all the secret and hidden places in the city; places where no tourists were there to be found. I ate the biggest soft ice cream of the city; had sushi behind a rock club (Kuudes Linja; lots of metal heads past us), together with 6 other native, blond, Finnish people (iittala cutlery and Ikea table). Of course, you communicate in English because sometimes you need 5 words to translate the Finnish word to English, because the Finnish language doesn’t use prepositions and make endlessly long words which are almost unpronounceable. For example
Kiitos vieraanvaraisuudesta: Suomi on kaunis ja vierailun arvoinen maa.

which means: Thank you for the hospitality: Finland is a beautiful country and worth visiting.

 

Huub

The last month I have been visiting Huub on a weekly basis. Before the summer started, I didn’t know him and probably would never have. Huub lives in one of the small villages around Maastricht. My visits have been a ‘delightful moment’ because, part that I clean his house, we drink coffee and have a little chat. He finally has someone to talk to. Huub lives alone, since his wife died, 24 years ago. Huub has never lived anywhere else then in this village. Born, raised and planning to die here. For 4 decades he has worked in the paper factory in Maastricht. “Everyday, yes? Everyday, I cycled to work. Everyday!” aiming on his fixed cleaning lady, who drives a car. “Put your bike at the back!” he said, when I arrived on my metal stead. “The people from the camp could easily steal it.” To be honest, I’ve never been afraid of that, because my bike is quite colourful and makes the noise of 100 dying hamsters. “If you don’t do it, I will”, he grumbled at me. “Coffee?”. At the kitchen table, he made clear how much he despised the people from the camp. They were loud, rude and asocial. I could better stay away from them; if I ever had to clean there, I could better not go. “You’re not from here, are you?” He looked stern at me. “No”. This is something which always happens to me. As soon you’re not from ‘here’, elderly people become more detached and make you feel like you’re an outsider. “Oh but your family lives here in the area? No, no, than you’re OK!” What a relief.

“They (pointing to the other side of the village) are the intruders! They are not from here!” First I thought he meant Limburg, but he actually meant the village itself because most people from there, as he proceeded, came from Maastricht. But since his village is the suburb of Maastricht, it supposed to be better and higher valued. I was surprised by this, because the village does not even owns an exit at the highway. Even more surprising was the fact that there were ‘sides’ within the village. The population is less then 1000 inhabitants and by far, the biggest part is older than 50. Huub explained the important role of the 10 meters wide grassland. It divides the village in the ‘true’ and ‘fake’ parts. The true part is where all his sisters (4) and brothers (5) are living. Well, 3 of them have already past away (“they were old; 68 and 72”) and 1 of them is dying (cancer). His neighbour is his sister. She drops by every single day; to cook. Because he can’t. He never could; his wife made him his meals. But since Huub’s children are living far away (2 villages further; you can see the church tower), he is depending on his sister.
The meadow divides the village. The ‘bad’ part never comes to the ‘good’ part. “They don’t dare to”, Huub explained. “They cannot understand us. They talk different. They walk different. They are different.”nI wonder what would happen when Huub and siblings die. Maybe the new generation decides to move back? I did not dare to ask. Huub grumbles.

Luckily my bike wasn’t stolen. I had to cycle through the 10 meters of grassland, and on my way back Maastricht, I suddenly became very happy of thinking of my brother, who can cook.

Up, up and away

I’m writing this from Vienna Airport. (Bless you, free WiFi, for not letting me die of boredom on long connections.) I’ve just come off my 50th flight ever and, since I’m ridiculously attracted to significant numbers, I’ve been reviewing my flying history.

It was magical at first and I was terrible at it. The very first time I flew, I needed help with the seat belt – and I was fifteen. I was constantly stripped of liquids and fluids just above the volume limit and I forgot jewelry on as I went through security. I was always the one staring helplessly at announcement panels and airport maps and, after running through Schiphol to make my connection, I handed the flight attendant the book I was reading instead of the boarding card. But I was fascinated with the flight itself, to the point of trading places with strangers just to stare out of the window.

Then it became routine. I learned to pack a week’s worth of clothing in a miraculously expanding backpack and leave all “dangerous” items on top, for easy access. I got to know a few airports like the back of my hand and got a general feeling of how others were organized, trying to always beat my own record on how fast I can spot the bus stop signs. I even got stuck with rituals and little games. I took to sneaking duty-free perfume on my wrists in spite of shop attendants and started going for the same overpriced Tea Latte in the Brussels Airport. I even tried to identify the flight home just by looking at people in the line, headphones still on for no linguistic aid. It usually works – there’s something about Romanians queuing in airports that never fails to remind me of documentaries on the feeding habits of hyenas.

And now I’m somewhere in between. I’ve kept my operative efficiency and almost arrogantly casual attitude towards various airport procedures. I’m weeding down my routines, especially since that overpriced Tea Whatever is really overpriced and I’ve been flying more often. I no longer care if my seat is window or aisle, but I will stare out at clouds if they’re there and giggle nervously at every air “bump” in the road. And I just need one more new airport for the next level of the Foursquare “Jetsetter” badge. So if anyone feels like RyanAir-ing somewhere, gimme a call.

Home

Maastricht is about the least Dutch city you can find in our small country. It’s a city that has a unique character and this makes me feel like coming home everything I’ve been away.

Walking around the small curvy cobblestone streets, while passing little old houses that couldn’t be more different from the typical Dutch town houses as found in Amsterdam,easily causes you to wonder off into your own private world. It’s the compactness of the city that causes you to run into people everywhere, never making you feel alone. When you first arrive you will feel like you are walking one big maze, losing your bearings almost immediately. But it’s just a matter of days until you get used to the organized chaos, so you can finally start exploring the little things that make this city so nice. Even after 5 years you still find things that you never have seen when you take the bus home after work or when you make an effort walking home when you visited one of the may bars.

People here take life a bit more on the downside than people more up north in the Netherlands. Being pünktlich with a chill pill.Rules are rules, but there’s a certain degree to which you can bend them. Life should be enjoyed to the fullest; at least as far as the Dutch mentality lets us go there. And this city takes every chance it gets to prove it. The many restaurants with quality food and small bars with excellent service are the best testimony to it. Too bad I can’t afford these restaurants a lot, so I got nothing else than to cherish the times I can (read: when someone who has mucho dinero pays for me).

Sure this city lacks the energy and liveliness of a real big city, which sometimes drives you crazy,  but I guess that’s also part of its charm. I give the city a lot of grief for its stubbornness to stick to the past and the lack of focus on young people. If this would change than for me this could be the ideal place to stick around.

But for now it just feels like home and nothing more; a place where you can only go so far before you step on the breaks to avoid doing something really crazy. And is this going to change any time soon? Do we get a more diverse night-life not solely focused on top-40, without overpriced beers at the main bars and with a bit more of a diverse crowd in the weekends? I don’t think so. But then again, I’m no Nostradamus. 

‘Coffee shop’ or ‘coffeeshop’

Jack Daniels. Jack Sparrow. Jack the Ripper. Jack and Jones. Jack Wolfskin. Jack Johnson. Jack Nicholson. Yes, Jack received a lot of nicknames during our time in Vienna. Especially Jack Daniels became quite popular because well… we liked the combination. Jack is from Australia, Sydney, to be precise. However, he studies in Vienna and speaks a bit German. Last week, he was in Amsterdam for a summer course on digital methods. And well, if one of your ‘mates’ is around, what would you do? Exactly; catch-up!

Apparently, Jack and his room mate Noel (New York) had crashed somewhere else last night, so I kind of found the Jack I was expecting. Hang-over. Luckily, Aussies have a great amount of energy and are inexhaustible (at least, the ones I have met). The only thing they need is a shower and a coffee. But the difference between ‘coffee shop’ and a ‘coffeeshop’ is more than just a space…

“Hey Marie, do you think I sound too Aussie?” asked Jack, after a ‘coffee’. Well bloke, at that point, I thought everything was ace. Especially his accent caused quite some amusement. Later that night we ended up at a house party, with a bunch of PHD students. Suddenly your situation “I just finished my study Arts and Culture” didn’t sound that impressing any more. Particularly when some dude from England tells you he just started his second PHD at the university of Utrecht. His first one was at Oxford.

Back to the accents. It appeared I was the only Dutch person in the room and for some reason, it was automatically assumed I knew the way in Amsterdam like the back of my hand. On our way to Leidseplein, it became clear I did not. However, when we finally reached an Irish pub and were all settled down with something to drink, the conversation of ‘where are you from’ continued. During my Erasmus, I have met many people from every corner of the world (South Korea to Finland). It was quite fun to hear all the different pronunciations. Most of the time you can tell where people are from. “Listen very carefully, I shall only say this once” is obviously a Frenchman, (or in this case, Michelle frrom thee rezistenz). Also Hercule Poirot does not hide his roots “No-no-no-no, I am not some French gent. I am some Belgian gent.” ( No-no. Ai em not som Frrenz zjent. Ai em som Belzjan zjent). I love it.

The English language has its own characteristics as well. The British English is often more ‘posh’ “top hole, old chap”. Except during Geordie Shore; then I’m very happy with the subtitles. Jacks’ accent (Australian) has its own characteristics. Coldies really influenced his choice of words and his strine. At one point (and I have to admit; I had drunk some plonk too), I had problems understanding him. But in the end, we had a rip snorter of a night. During our ‘breakfast’ (chips with mayonnaise at 5 AM), Jack noted that the inhabitants of Amsterdam sounded ‘weird’ and ‘funny’. It is true that Amsterdam has its own dialect. Just like Rotterdam and Maastricht. It is one of my favourite aspects of Holland; the accents. But ‘pure’ Dutch? I’m not sure where to find or to look for it. But I do know that ‘coffeeshop’ has the same meaning throughout the whole country.

Luckily, Jack liked both.

Adulthood and its manifestations

I’ve not been blogging a lot for the past half a year (neither here nor on personal blogs), due to the fact that it was time for me to step up the graduation game. I’ve came to realize that you can’t be a student forever (or can you?) and that the grown-up life was awaiting. Not the inevitable is coming nearer, my brain keeps on wondering what it will be like.

Read more

Maastricht’s Famous Musician: Andre Rieu at Vrijthof

Do you know André Rieu? If you were anywhere near the city-center this weekend you couldn’t miss the crowded streets and the fenced off Vrijthof. All because of the famous Maastricht violinist who is performing his ninth Maastricht’s concert series this year. During three weekends Rieu directs the Johan Strauss Orchestra, that was established in 1987 by Rieu himself. The concerts provide a mixture of classical music and particular Dutch songs such as ”Aan de Amsterdamse grachten” and more importantly, the anthem of Maastricht. The public comes generally down to 1. international 2. admirers and 3. elderly people. From all around the world they come to see Rieu, buses packed with people from England, Denmark and Austria came to Maastricht to obtain the André Rieu Live Experience. Hardly any hotel was affordable or available this weekend.

All these people, who totally occupied Maastricht last weekend and probably will continue occupying our lovely city the next two weekends, probably had a hard time understanding the great maestro who welcomed the public, introduced his guests and made his jokes in Mestreech’s dialect. However, despite its lack of local cultural knowledge, the public enjoyed Maastricht’s musician. Couples started dancing through the rows as if they had fallen in love once again. The Friday night showers weren’t a drawback looking at the amount of people dancing at the end of the first Rieu concert of the year. His popularity all around the world has been confirmed to me, although I don’t consider myself one of his admirers, but certainly for once one of his red clothed piccolo’s.

 

Inspiration

Writers need their inspiration. And there it was. In the form of a naked Australian. And I’m sure it has been done before.”

I completely agree with this statement, done by Mike Ruffino in the documentary 777 (Rihanna). Ruffino might not be a very known or important person (Google can’t give me any more information, expect he’s ‘a writer’ for Playboy). But despite that, I think he’s right. Right in the sense of “inspiration” and “form”. Of course writers need a theme to write about and I’m sure the naked Australian was very inspiring for many journalist on the plane (you can Google this too). But it is not the magic trick to tackle your ‘writers block’, of which some of you, at the moment, might suffer from. However, you can turn the negative aspects of writers blocks around, and make it positive. Or in other words; it is a source of inspiration. Take for example Just Jack, who made a terrific song about this.

Others find a bottle green liquid a way to do the trick. Especially in the older days.

Lately I read an article about the art-industry which needs alcohol (and especially the six sense stuff) to stay alive. The drink would provide an artists with such visual and creative input, that it has to be brilliant.
My memories of the green drink are not that brilliant. Only the morning after (read; afternoon) is indelibly printed on my mind; my roomie Lukas woke me up (3PM), by 
calling me, with the question “where are you” and found me in my bed, wearing the same clothes as the night before. Only then they were clean.

Despite my erhm.. not so positive experiences, others find it “the best thing  they’ve ever drank. My friend saw unicorns everywhere, while my other friend thought she was sliding down a rainbow. In fact, the unicorns appeared to be empty coffee cups (we had no plastic ones) and the “rainbow” was the staircase of our hostel. Not really the staircase to heaven. I guess Oscar Wilde was right when he said:

After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not.”

But I still wonder what will happen with the streaking Australian. Would it turn into a giant kangaroo?
And what about script writers of horror films, such as SAW and Hostel. Was absinthe their medicine against a writers block as well? How do they get inspired? Is it something unexpected or something ‘normal’? For example; imagine; a script writer sitting in the park, watching his daughter play and then… Eureka!
Lets make a scene where the victim is first tortured by cutting of his tongue with a fish line and than hanged, up side down, on a climbing frame. Brilliant idea. Genius. Better than zombies walking out of a forest, killing people and smashing them in to tiny little pieces so they can eat them. I don’t think they just drank a coffee on that or watched the documentary 777.

Serious games

Are you guys on Foursquare? ‘Cause these two books think you should be. Gamification is the new buzzword of choice in the business world, with companies rushing to add points and badges to their websites and arguing that future commerce will be one big integrated game. But will it?

For the Win

Well, if you ask Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter, self-proclaimed gamification enthusiasts and WOW addicts, it might just be. In their book, “For the Win“, they argue that gamified systems, when used properly, can motivate employees and captivate customers. However, they are quick to point out, “used properly” has nothing to do with slapping a leaderboard on an existing system. Instead, they propose that firms should first evaluate whether gamification is a good idea for their business. Is there a particular behavior that you can profit from and influence with a game-like structure? If there is, you’re in luck: the book goes on to present a 6-step approach to gamifying your business, from defining what you’re doing all the way to deploying it.

The book itself is well and simply written, going from some basics of psychology and game thinking to game elements and guidelines for companies. It’s also filled with examples of both successes and epic fails, both of which are, of course, easier to recognize after they’ve happened. That being said, it does take a clear view on gamification as a managerial tool.

Reality is Broken

Which is not at all what Jane McGonigal does in “Reality is Broken“. Considered one of the first books on gamification, it mentions the term itself a grand total of zero times. The premise of McGonigal’s book is that we often choose to retreat into games because they motivate, challenge and engage us much more than real life. She explains, for example, that there are four main types of intrinsic rewards: we all like satisfying work, with the promise of success, social connection and an overarching meaning to our tasks. And good games blend these types of rewards, keeping us glued to computer screens for one more round.

But she goes way beyond computer games and makes a case for games’ potential of changing the world. She speaks of distant family members being brought together by online scrabble, of houses kept tidy through ChoreWars and overweight youths pushed to run and diet by Nike+. She also relates her own battle with a temporary illness, which she overcame by making a team game out of it. And she writes about all of it with a lovely blend of scientific research, practical examples and humor: “If you’ve never pwned your mom, you’re clearly missing out,” she thinks.

So, what’s the deal with gamification? Only time will tell. If you’re practical minded and short on time, look over “For the Win” or take Werbach’s Coursera class. If you’re fascinated by the workings of the human mind and a sucker for optimist stories, go for “Reality is Broken”. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some levels of Cut the Rope to finish. It apparently makes me a better person.

ERO / BHV training

After having one of those deep-thought-blank-stares-into-a-bus-window moments i realized that I am not nearly as Bear Grylss as I would like to think I am. I buy new stuff when something gets broken, instead of fixing it andI wouldn’t be able to survive for 2 days in the case of an apocolypse (although my knowledge tv-series such as of Doomsday Preppers and Man vs. Wild should at least give me the idle confidence that I can). As from that moment I decided to change my life completely, in very little steps & most probably less radically than those epiphanies generally make you believe you will. But at least I will try.

I started of good by enrolling into the Emergency Response Officer (ERO) training (BHV in Dutch). Surprisingly tt made me feel even more useless than I felt before: Today I had the wonderful pleasure of commencing part 1: fire & evacuation. Yes that was today; the first (and most probably one of the last) day that it was over 30 degrees Celsius. You gotta love the timing.

In this training we learned how to check for fires, how to extinguish them and how to handle an evacuation. Although I read through the theory before (and all seemed super logical), as the day progressed I started to feel more and more baffled by how little I (we) know about fire & safety in our own work-space (and life in general). Here are some Youtube videos that are similar to the ones that they showed us today and were 50 times more eye-opening than reading through a book.

1. Putting half a can of water on deep fryer to extinguish a oil-fire (Ok I knew you never should do this, but the immensity of the freaking flare I didn’t expect)

2. What happens when you forget to moist your Christmas tree ( note to self: never buy Christmas tree)

Yes you are correct: it takes 30 second for good old jolly Santa to let you meet the great creator.

3. And this is why you keep the hell down in case you get trapped. Although you are kinda screwed when this is the situation you are in, the video couldn’t make the notion of keeping your head down more clear.

So I’m kinda glad that I got this training today and feel ashamed that I didn’t have this before, nor that I was aware of the dangers and all.  I can’t count the number of times I heard a fire alarm go off while shrugging my shoulder thinking ‘Meh, what can go wrong’. But mostly I am ashamed that this basic knowledge is not being taught in high school or uni. Why doesn’t every single child get trained how to prepare for fire, how to safely evacuate the building you will spend a number of years in, who to listen to or how to perform basic first aid. The more I think about it, the more ridiculous I think this actually is. I wonder what reason you can possibly think of to tell me that I am completely wrong on this one and we shouldn’t have been taught these basic skills that would ensure some more people to be spared from receiving a Darwin Award.

Before you go and wonder off into the dark corners of ze interweb, I have a little assignment for you (something I immediately did when I got home): How would you escape when you would encounter a fire in your house and how would you put it out?! You got a fire-blanket? you know how & where to shut of the gas & electricity in your house? Any fire-hoses and or portable extinguishers? You’ll thank me later.

Full bottles, empty brains

This is it. It was only a matter of time. I am prepared for the fact that nobody will agree with me, that the majority of my (overwhelmingly large) readership will find me arrogant, conservative, judgmental, and a lot of other not-so-nice things. I know that this will happen because I am dealing with it on a regular basis. But this blog post was inevitable from the start. This is the post in which I shamelessly express my repulsion towards alcohol and a society that glorifies it. A.k.a. the society we live in.

If you’re a person that goes out almost every single night just for the sake of getting trashed, feel like there is nothing wrong with it, and you’re even proud of it, then there is a good chance that I hate you.

I have friends overseas and they drink specifically to deal with their nervousness and anxiety and to forget about their problems for a while. Because they didn’t get a loan for college, their parents hate and disowned them, they struggle to pay for two meals a day, and if they have a car it is so shabby it breaks down every morning on the way to work. I would now assume almost everyone that lives in Maastricht can afford to pay tuition fees, with or without study finance, and thanks to Aldi and the market none of us will have to worry about the possibility of starvation. Of course everyone has their own individual battles to fight, without a doubt, and admittedly not everyone is happy. But I would hardly call the general circumstances in this town as provoking to want to start binge drinking.

I always get asked this question, why don’t you drink? But there isn’t one good reason. There are a million. If I wanna keep the convo short I just give it the oh-so witty “Why should I?”. (In my opinion, the question should not be “Why don’t you drink?” but “Why do you drink?” anyway.) If the person insists on details I’ll tell them I don’t like the taste. This alone should be a good enough reason. But for many people it’s not, because drinking is just part of going out, and being young- what else is left for you to do if you don’t drink? But it is exactly this logic that makes me mad and goes against everything we are supposed to be- critical towards attitudes and things that remain unquestioned by the majority of people. And this is where for me, in addition to the taste, (and the poor, drunk creatures in the club or at house parties who don’t notice they reek of cigarettes and a mixture of alcoholic drinks) the issue becomes one of principle. This is also why I am way past that phase of being easily influenced by other people, through peer pressure or other means, even if every single person I meet still takes it as their mission to get me drunk at some point when they find out I don’t drink. (Joke’s on you, by the way!)

Just to clarify, I understand the reason people get together over a beer, have a glass of wine, or go out for cocktails. Heck, if you get out of your mind drunk once or twice a year to compensate for the pressure you’re under, I even have understanding for that. My problem lies with the general approval that students and other young people like us participate in the consumption of mind-altering substances for fun. I think it is shameful that we live in a society where it is normal, and even expected that you drink, that that makes you one of the “cool kids”, and that you’re stuck-up, antisocial and weird if you don’t. I refuse to take part in a lifestyle where drinking large amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication is celebrated as “the time of your life”. I reject a culture that unconditionally accepts that the drunkest person in the room is praised and cheered on, and that being in an inebriated state is the goal, the definition of having fun and “living life to the fullest”. I repudiate the norms of a society that encourages senseless, heavy drinking. There is no glory in getting trashed.

Drinking provides everyone with an excuse. They did something embarrassing, they blame it on the alcohol. They made out with someone unattractive or cheated on their boy or -girlfriend, they weren’t able to make sound decisions. They are rude, insulting and yell terrible things at you, they didn’t know what they were doing… I want to be conscious of my decisions. I’m okay with it if that makes me boring. I might still not make the right ones but at least I was aware I was making them. No matter with what you might want to argue against this, alcohol changes your behavior. It either turns you into an obnoxious adult version of a 5-year old and your friends have to take care of you, or you become aggressively desperate to seduce someone with your new gained confidence and it is beyond you how anyone wouldn’t find you irresistible. I’m pretty okay with myself and if I want to be embarrassing, I’ll be it sober, and if I wanted to be a lying, cheating girlfriend, I’d also do that sober.

If you don’t drink, going to parties sucks. I think it is scandalous that, in order to have fun, kids are forced into drinking activities to endure the night and to have at least a bearable time. So many friends of mine admit that going out without drinking is terrible. When I say that that’s the reason I don’t really go out, a lot of people suggest me to go out anyway and if I don’t drink myself, just watch all the drunk people around me do stupid things, but it gets really old really quickly. Because after all, you’re still in an often enclosed darkened room with blasting music with nowhere to sit, surrounded by sweaty, touchy-feely people hunting for a victim for their reproductive purposes, spilling their drinks on you as you are squeezing your way past them. Welcome to my life.

This is how it is- either you get over yourself and join in on the “fun”, or you stick to what you actually want to do and flee. It is actually kind of like carnival. You can be one of the singing people in costumes or you can stay true to your grumpy self and avoid the wild hordes of crazy.

I have the conviction that it’s all psychological too. It’s about being part of something. You don’t want to be like me, standing around at parties with nothing but occasionally a plastic bottle of water in your hands. I would like to throw a party, and fill up bottles with fake alcohol. Then wait. And see what happens… I think this would make for a fabulous graduation party! In my opinion, we can do much better without it. The myth of “You can have fun without drinking” has, in my experience, proven to be true way too many times. I know there will never be a time in our culture where people like me will be in the majority. But I’m just saying, we can do better.

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Disclaimer: I have never been drunk in my life. I tried beer, wine, and champagne when I was younger, but the maximum amount of alcohol I have drunk would amount to maybe a regular sized beer bottle. People then give me the How-do-you-know-you-don’t-like-it-if-you-never-tried-it/never-been-drunk? -treatment. And to that I say, I don’t have to try to jump off a cliff to find out if I like it or not when I see dead people lying at the bottom of the mountain. I don’t have to try anything that is bad for me or alters my brain, especially if I am not tempted by it in the first place, and I shouldn’t have to justify myself for it. I never say to anyone that they have to go to a punk or hardcore show to be able to judge whether they like it or not (which they would never do anyway), and you can always leave a show if you want out. If you’re drunk you have to wait until it’s over. I know you don’t necessarily get drunk when you “go out to drink”, but that is often the objective. A major reason why I am extremely turned off by the idea of drinking or being drunk is seeing what it does to other people when I’m out.

What (not) to wear?

I have to be honest; I was slightly surprised when my friend Luc (my help and stay; tourist office) invited me for FashionClash 2013. Why? Well first of all, it was Luc, who isn’t into fashion. Secondly, neither am I. Going to a fashion show, which includes creepy models, hipsters and other fashionista’s would not be my cup of tea. And then there is still the age-old dilemma: What (not) to wear? Especially for women, this could make or break your day. A fashion show is the place to look and be looked at. This creates an even bigger pressure. Even Luc struggled with this problem. He wore his only (clean) pair of jeans: “I’ve to keep my legs together because I have a tear in my crotch.”

Maybe the show would give us some inspiration to prevent these kind of fashion mistakes.

 FashionClash is an interdisciplinary fashion event which was held for the 5th time. The last few years I hadn’t visit the shows because of the lack of money. Furthermore TLC provides me with more than enough fashion-input and I’m a bit wary of the skinny models and arrogant designers. No. All the drama around those shows is not my thing. But sitting in the front row at FashionClash could be a fresh start of a new mind-set about fashion. The one thing we’ve learned; fashion is like art. Or better, like beer and/or wine. You need to learn how to appreciate it.

 The creations which were shown on the catwalk differed from dead Pino’s and tissues coming out the models’ noses and ears (Tate Christiane), to dancing gents with white socks and dressing gowns (Nawie Kuiper). Right Said Fred would have loved it I’m a model, you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the catwalk. On the catwalk yeah, I shake my little touche on the catwalk.”

 As I said, you need to learn how to look at fashion. The line between art and fashion is very thin. Maybe the most easiest way to distinguish the two, is by looking if it is wearable in day-to-day-life. And most of the time it is not. Nobody walks in deadly stiletto’s or ridiculously big platform-soles. Nobody wants to look like he just failed his audition for the role of a tampon in the new Libresse commercial.

But that is not what it is all about.

Some designer want to use their designs to make a statement or to express themselves. Clothes are surely the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to do this.

 In the 3 hours where we were surrounded with the fashionista’s and know-it-alls of art, clothes and design, we still had no clue what to wear the next day. But we know at least 1 thing: “I know what is in next season”, Luc said “No bras. No breasts.”
Oke, we might not managed to understand fashion but this is of course, mission impossible. Even the book “Learning to look at paintings” has been in my bookcase for over 3 years. Untouched.

Rambling

As usual I am writing past midnight, while alone in my room and, judging by the silence, alone in the universe. Before I started writing for this blog I had so many thoughts waiting to explode out through that little orifice called mouth or to spill on a piece of paper. Lately though I have had problems writing down anything. Writers call it ‘writer’s block’, I call it constipation.

My life significantly improved and my frustrations reduced in number. I was living in some kind of bliss. I was getting along with everyone. I was going to the library and spending more time there than in my room. I was even running regularly. My smile was the size of Joker’s. Life was perfect. But as always, the wake up call came. And now here I am, sleepless as ever with a long day ahead of me because I have so much to study for tomorrow.

Maybe I should say more, but I have to stop complaining. Life sucks, everybody knows, everybody feels it, especially now during exam period. Everybody is miserable. What I have to do is pick myself up and go on. More so I find it terribly hard to spill your guts writing online. I know, I know, then what’s the purpose of it all? Why write at all? Well, I don’t know what it’s like for others, but I, I can only share as much. It’s like being naked; you can’t be naked in front of the whole world, not fully. You can drop your blouse, keep your brassiere, but that’s about it if you want to keep some mystery. I only realized this last week, when in my attempt to be witty I criticized a guy in my Spanish class and he, in return and maybe clueless to my remark, told me that he liked one of my posts. I was speechless and the whole in my stomach did not help.

I noticed that most of my posts are negative, I haven’t managed to write down one happy thought. Amazing how we all stay in queue to file complaints to the university, to our friends, to mom and dad, to our house mate, to God or to the Universe, but nobody takes the time to share a happy thought. We are infinitely unsatisfied creatures.

I’m going for a last smoke. Good night and I promise to share a happy thought next time. And yes, right before the exams. Till next time!

Idyllic phrasing of a city

When people back home ask me what it’s like to live in Maastricht I start smiling. There’s enough to tell about the city, its culture, its parks, faculties, diversity in students and activities. It mostly comes down to me telling them it’s like living abroad, and to the real foreigners in Maastricht: it really comes down to that for people ‘from the north’. It’s not at all uncommon to think of Limburg as a holiday destination pur sang. Read more

Graduating from an American top university while based in the Netherlands

This article was published at the Observant website on the 24th of May.

The Georgia Institute of Technology is going to offer an inexpensive online master’s programme for students worldwide. Dutch, Italian, German, Spanish, and any other students can now get a master’s degree from a prestigious American university without having to move.

The American university is planning on accepting ten thousand new students for an online master’s in computer science over the next three years. They will pay a little less than 5,500 euro for lecture fees, against more than thirty thousand euro for a study on campus. The online students will receive exactly the same certificate.

Only eight new lecturers will need to be appointed for this programme, Inside Higher Edreports. This is possible because it is carried out in co-operation with Udacity, a major American provider of digital education, which will take on some of the supervision of the new students.

The online programme will be partly financed by telecom giant AT&T, who wants to help reduce the shortage of scientific and technical personnel.

The course can be taken through Udacity, but in order for students to receive a certificate they must be accepted by the Georgia Institute of Technology. Students can also get credits for individual modules for a lesser amount.

In the Times Higher Education ranking of 380 American universities, the Georgia Institute of Technology is in 25th place. The university hopes that with the new, inexpensive online programme it will attract more students who cannot afford to pay for the regular programme.

The course, scheduled to start in September 2014, could be an interesting alternative for Dutch students who want to do computer science as a second master’s. In the Netherlands, such a course could cost up to almost eighteen thousand euro.

Nothing left to say

The everyday life can be a pain in the ass. This can be taken literally; for example when you are cycling and suddenly realize your saddle is missing.

Auwtjs.

Maybe a bit less literally is when you are having a hard time during your study; your inspiration is at such low point that you can’t produce any good work. Or can write something at all. Some people take all this very heavily, like your study is THE burden of life. Recently I had a conversion with a friend about this. We both had the feeling that there always has to be something wrong. It seemed to us that a day filled with “nothing” just doesn’t exist. There is always something to worry about. This conversation below illustrates a few thoughts:

 A: What is wrong? You seem a bit down.
B: Nothing is wrong, I’m fine.
A: No, that cannot be. Something must be wrong.
B: Really, nothing is wrong!
A: Like nothing is wrong or nothing is wrong.
B [obviously annoyed]: there hasn’t always to be something wrong
A: Ah I see, so nothing is wrong.
B: Well kind of. ‘Nothing is wrong implies` nothing is wrong in the sense there is nothing problematic going on in your life. But nothing is wrong suggests that the fact that ‘nothing’ is wrong. But there isn’t. Nothing isn’t necessarily wrong.
A: Dude stop this, you are giving me a headache.
B: Well that is at least something, since you had nothing on your mind. Now you have something to think about and to full up that nothingness in your head.
A: Yeah, thanks.
B: You are welcome, it was nothing.

 How does this conversation illustrates ‘the burden of life’? Quite simple; it seems to me there has always to be something wrong with something. It cannot be that everything is OK, no. There are always some problems or issues that have to be noted. And if you can’t see them at first sight, take a second look; you will see something. People are perfectionists in themselves and there lies the problem; we are never satisfied. We continuously want to improve things.

 Being satisfied with your life might be another topic to discuss. In the conversation above it is asked if person B is OK, because he seems a bit down. So there has to be something wrong. But there are different ways to ask this question. Personally I have a few problems with the English version of “Enne”, namely: “what’s up!?”

How in Gods name can I answer this question?
A: Yo dude, what’s up!?
B: Da roof man, da freakin’ roof! Or tha sky dude! Yo, with God ‘nd all that stuff, you know what I mean?
A: Aight that’s my man yo right there!

No further comments.

The Limburgian “enne” caused me in my first week here some confusion. Now I use it myself and have to explain it to “ the people from above the rivers” . “Enne” can mean various things, for example: Enne [ennúh]….?

  • What is going on?
  • How are you doing?
  • What have you done (lately)?
  • Oh what/when/how (did it) happen?
  • How was it?
  • What do you mean? (Explanation needed please!)
  • So why is this important? (And you’re telling me this because….?)

 I think we all know a few situations where you had this awkward moment (including the blinking eyes and vague smile) when you couldn’t think of an intelligent answer. And that is OK, because sometimes you can just nod and reply: “Enne, what’s up!?”

Maybe the only mistake you can make is saying nothing.

Start of the festival season

Although I think Maastricht doesn’t offer enough for young people to have fun nor does it provide good music according to my taste, it has been improving ever since I started studying. One good improvement concerns the gradual increase of outdoor festivals (some bigger than others) that revolves around music other than classical music or whatever it is that André Rieu says he is doing.

A grasp of what is to come in and around Maasje concerning especially electronic music.

Friday 24th of May: Summer Deejays. This festival that originates from 2009 is a known fact in the electronic music lovers scene in our university. This festival brings national and international top dj’s to ‘De Griend’ in a way you don’t see a lot in Maastricht (as this is not an event for everyone age 50+). This edition will include Pony, Bob caro, Secret Cinema, Kesler & Kesler & Colors Amped. More info can be found here.

Sunday 26th of May: Dance Tour Maastricht. A free one day festival on the market square with major names out of the international house scene. Names include Dannic, La Fuente, Lucien Foort, Showtek & Sidney Samson. A must go-to if you ask me. Website? click here.

Saturday 8th of June: Piquenique Électronique: La Réunion. After a couple of months of intense hibernation, a well-rested Piquenique Électronique returns to Maastricht for a long and loving summer. They couldn’t have said it better on their event description: “The immense success of this no-budget, non-profit electrifying get-together last year has strengthened our believe that generating support for a high-quality nightlife in Maastricht can be obtained by literally introducing that nightlife into the daylight”. Line up includes Jonas San & Nesh Francis, Dreieck & Volt.Mar, Toby Paul & Cinema Royale. More information on their facebook event.

More festivals will follow on the events page ASAP.