donderdag 21 november 2013

Interlude: Singapore in videos

Today, random video's on Singapore that I've discovered over the last two years and fallen in love with. Please add you favourites in the comments!

Here is Singapore in all its splendour. Yes, this is really what it looks like. Now go and be jealous.

This video still cracks me up every time I watch it. I discovered it through Singaporean blogs (hello bookjunkie!) but when I show it to expats they can't believe Singaporeans could possible think this is funny as it pokes so much fun at them. I suppose they never read Mr Brown either.

The first time I went into this bookshop I slunk out again, so intimidated by the sheer volume of high browness inside. Then I watched this documentary. Now I'm one of the financial pillars propping them up (and so will you be, if you let me take you to Tiong Bahru).\

This is an addiction that S. is quietly indulging: the Singapore-based sort of sixties detective show Serangoon Road on HBO. Handsome rogue, historical Singapore, sassy women, Chinese gambling gangsters.

And one for the home team: here's TU Eindhoven gold medal winning solar car driving around Singapore!

NaBloPoMo November 2013

dinsdag 19 november 2013

Picture Post & Plaatjespost: Singapore Highlights

A quick and completely inaccurate view of life in Singapore - which in all its wrongness actually achieves more truth than a carefully curated picture gallery would. Or so I tell myself.

zondag 17 november 2013

Plaatjespost & Picture Post: On the move

I apologize for the blurriness - but really, baby J. is just fast.

The day is dawning that he won't be baby J. anymore. I'm not exactly nostalgic (memories are too fresh) but still... A two toddler household! It's a whole new world.

NaBloPoMo November 2013

vrijdag 15 november 2013

Netherlands Books: on Dutchness

This is not a guide to Dutch literature. If anything, it is a guide to books on Dutchness, because, funnily enough, the Dutch love reading books about themselves and their own national psyche.*

There are things that all Dutch people know about our national character. Yes, we are direct (yes, even according to Americans). Yes, we do have a strange fondness for dairy and bicycles (and how I miss those!). Yes, Zwarte Piet is to foreigners a slightly bizarre cultural icon, so please look at our tulips and clogs and windmills and waterways instead. No, we don't do fashion (what you call "basic", we call "getting all dolled up". What you call "getting all dolled up" we only see on television during the Oscars). 

But still, every time I open a book on us, Dutchies, there are things that surprise me.

This friendly book poking fun at the Dutch and written by Brits living in Amsterdam is now in its seventh edition. I'm not sure when it was first published, but I do know it preceded the internet by a good few years and that in one of the subsequent edition the authors noted that the book was a fantastic hit - in the Netherlands.

The surprise: While washing the dishes, the Dutch will continue to use the same water even when it turns cold. The water will only be changed if it is deemed to dirty to actually clean anything. (This still strikes me as eminently sensible.)

This Canadian lady has lived in Amsterdam for eight years and is a digital native. No wonder she turned her list into a website!

The surprise: Dutch people have birthday calendars, on which they (and only they) write the names of their friends and family. Generally, this calendar will be in the bathroom. (Yes, we have such a calendar. It is next to the kitchen door - and please do put your name on it!)

For integration purposes: I once picked up an integration booklet, aimed at new Dutchies as the people from across the Mediterranean and the Caribbean are called. It mainly had a lot of politically correct yada-yada stuff (punctuality, appointments, the infamous one cookie policy, the never close the curtains thing).

Surprising points of view: The booklet warned that weird as it may sound to the readers, tight trousers are not appreciated by Dutch men unless the women wearing them have nothing to fill those trousers with, and that, if women want to be taken seriously, they should wear shapeless sacks. 
Also: when not working, the Dutch like to tire themselves out by organizing non-work events, instead of sensibly doing nothing. The booklet explained that it would greatly help integration if the new Dutchies would get themselves involved as well, and if they preferred to rest, to do so in the confines of their own home as sitting outside watching other people, is viewed as "gloating" and "lazy". 

The standard: Lonely Planet guide
This is one of those cases where the writers get nothing specifically wrong... But they don't really do anything justice either.

This is not actually a book, but a documentary on the light in the Netherlands. It is gorgeous. 

The surprise: The Netherlands actually still looks like those sixteenth and seventeenth century Golden Age paintings. It's the water that does it

NaBloPoMo November 2013

donderdag 14 november 2013

Off topic: PND Awareness Week

Ten to fifteen percent of women who give birth experience pre-natal depression.

Ten to fifteen percent of pregnant women experience post-partum depression. These are not necessarily the same women.

This depression is hormonal, it is situational, it is to do with the character and disposition of the woman involved, it has to do with prior history and the quality of the relationships in her life. There are even links to breast-feeding (though old, this information has not been disproven, and is backed up anecdotally).

This depression has nothing to do with the baby or how the mum feels about her baby or her ability to be a mother once past the pregnancy and newborn hurdle. 

This week is PND Awareness Week at KK Hospital. KK Women and Children's Hospital in Singapore has a unit specialized in peri-natal depression, and is working hard in making sure they find and help all the mothers in Singapore who need them. Of course, there are more places to turn to, such as the Mother and Child Centre in Tanglin Mall and on East Coast for the expat crowd.

The great majority, eighty to ninety percent, of mothers will never have to deal with any of this. But for those who do, follow the links. Get help. You may not believe you deserve it, but you owe it to your baby. 

NaBloPoMo November 2013

woensdag 13 november 2013

The Netherlands by water

Water: it is the age-old frenemy of the Dutch. More than half of the country lies below sea-level, and the fight for survival has cost lives well into the twentieth century. But every summer and winter the Dutch will flock to beaches, lakes and canals for all sorts of water-related activity.

The Netherlands is is in its own language affectionately known as “kouwe kikkerlandje” - “dear cold frog country”. “Frogs” in this case refers not to the food, but to the fact that the whole country exists by virtue of canalizing water, not just in cities, but everywhere. Flying in, you know you’ve crossed over to the Netherlands when the land is divided into neat green, brown and yellow parcels by sparkling grid lines: the ditches which allow excess water to flow into rivers meandering into the sea, leaving green pastures for cows, slowly flowing liquid highways for trade and sprawling cities for humans.

This is where the Dutch go for recreation – not the pastures. The ditches and rivers and lakes.

Trade and defense
In the cities such as Amsterdam, Delft, Leiden, Utrecht en The Hague, the ditches are known as canals and young, reckless people sometimes swim in them. The canals were built for the triple purposes of transport (barges loaded with goodies could easily enter and leave towns), water management (both drinking and disposal water) and defense (dig a ditch around a city, pull up the bridge and an army has a hard time getting in).

The lovely view of the old city walls across the low-lying fields along the river a traveler gets when approaching the medieval city of ‘s Hertogenbosch (an hour and a half outside of Amsterdam) was also an old water defense trick. When, during the Spanish Wars, an army marched on the city, the citizens would dig holes in the dykes along the river, flooding the grasslands around the city, making it impossible to get anywhere near ‘s Hertogenbosch – or any other Dutch city. Historically inclined tourists might travel along the old “waterlinie” or “water line” as it’s called, and see how the walled cities in riverine areas turned themselves into “vesting Holland”: “Fortress Holland”.

The trade highway in the meantime stretched form the North sea all the way through Germany up to the Baltics. For a while during the seventeenth century, Dutch was the international language of choice for merchants along the Hanze route. The sleepy towns in eastern Holland (one to two hours outside of Amsterdam) still carry faint echoes of their former grandeur.

Sports and festivals
The canals also carry current grandeur: after the national soccer squad played the World Championship finals the parade was on water. The Dutch Gay Pride Parade also takes the form of a boating expedition, and even King Willem-Alexander went on a boat tour to celebrate his coronation, until he and his family decided to get off the boat to join dj Armin van Buuren and the symphony orchestra on their waterside stage.

This is what the locals do: on a balmy evening they grab food and drink, hop on a boat and tour the canals. On a hot day, they grab towels, bikini’s, swimmers and water bottles and head out to the nearest lake for a swim and lie on the grassy shore. On a windy day, the Dutch head out to the beach for a brisk walk and a “frisse neus”, a “fresh” or “chilly nose”, which they understand to be a good thing. In summer, the Friesian lakes (about two hours outside of Amsterdam via the Afsluitdijk) are filled with small sailing boats. In winter, all canals, ditches and shallow puddles are filled with ice skaters of different abilities.

And on the first of January, water is the theatre of choice for a display of sheer madness: hundreds of people take a dive into the sea wearing nothing but a pair of swimmers or a bikini with an orange beanie on top.

ps. I am cheating here, as I wrote this article for the Singapore American Newspaper.  But I figure, if you're Dutch reading this, then whatever I have to say is boring, and if you're non-Dutch this works as well as anything else. 

psII. Right, do's and don'ts for babies and toddlers then:
- do check on the weather and pack for all eventualities. Don't assume anything.
- don't bring formula milk, even the Chinese come and pay top dollar (yes, euro) in The Netherlands. But don't try to export it, there are quota's.
- go to a petting zoo, there's millions all over the country. Do also expect to get dirty there and be sniffled and spat at by the animals.
- don't think you can feed your child everywhere, there are Designated Places To Go Out With A Toddler, and they are McDonalds and any pancake restaurant. Do go to such a pancake restaurant, as pancakes are actually rather good. 
- do try and get your hands on a bakfiets and go for a spin (it's a good way to keep warm as well). 
- don't worry about traffic, if anybody hits you, it'll be on them. Those bakfietsen are built like tanks. 
- do travel light. Wherever you are in whatever city, walk two blocks and there will be a playground. On the way to the playground you will have walked past two Albert Heijns for emergency supplies. 
- don't worry about the sheer amount of water surrounding you. Remember, this is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. That wouldn't be the case if there were large amounts of small children drowning. Trust me, not even a toddler wants to get wet during a Dutch summer. 

NaBloPoMo November 2013