When you can't live without bananas

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Friday, March 31, 2006

On 31st March, I will be travelling in turn to Paris, Vienna, Munich and Nuremberg with Jiekai, returning to Utrecht on 10th April. Updates will be sporadic or non-existent during this period (which explains the avalanche of backlog I just put out).

Meanwhile, if you know anyone who could aid in the transmission/fulfilment of the following request I got via email, please pass it on:

From: Florence Lee
Subject: RJC student librarians 96.97

Hi Gabriel,

I am the new librarian at RJC, now located at Bishan. We are now known as the Shaw Foundation Library (SFL), a spanking 3 storey over 20 000sq m a with good collection of resources.

SFL will be officially open this July. I am trying to contact the student librarians from the past 25yrs for the celebration. Are you in touch with any of them?

Hoping for a favourable response.
Take care and God bless,
mrs lee

Student librarians from the past 25 years should contact me.

Jiekai discovers Eurotrash
Oh, you touch my...
He dances much better when he's not parodying bad dance moves

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The Potato Eaters, Vincent van Gogh
Jiekai says that the Dutch look like this. I'm inclined to agree.

The library here uses *yet another* system of filing. Why can't people just standardise on one library cataloguing system?!

The temprature was supposed to be 13 degrees one day, but it felt like 23 to me. Maybe I've become too acclimatised to winter.

I saw a mannikin of a little girl. With nipple buds. I am disturbed by the accuracy (which reminds me, why do mannikins have nipples? I can't remember if I've seen male mannikins with nipples, but I've definitely seen female ones with them).

I had an olieballen - a large deep fried ball of dough with very fine sugar dusted on top. It'd have been better if it'd had some jam inside, like a big John F. Kennedy.

26 seems to be the magic number in Europe - if you're under that age, you get youth discounts. One initiative undertaken to promote youth discounts is the CJP (Cultureel Jongeren Paspoort, or equivalent in other countries) which when flashed allows youths to enjoy discounts at various places all over Europe. Unfortunately, it also costs €12.50 to get, which is curious since the card is nothing fancy and can be created within 3 minutes. Together with the Museum card and Rail discount card, this is a clear example of a two-part tariff.

I'm lucky I brought many photos along. Making the CJP took up yet another photo. Bureacracy is annoying.

Ideally, all of us in Dutch class would go out and practise Dutch by speaking to the Dutch in their mother tongue. However, there're 2 main complications. One is that when most of us try to speak in Dutch, the other party catches on and replies in English. The other is that even in the event that we *are* understood, the other party typically says something we don't understand in Dutch, and we have to switch to English (this happens for a guy who did one module of Dutch in his home University before coming here).

I'm wondering if I should pay €40 to watch Nabucco in Amsterdam (not including transport). There's no point if I fall asleep again, like I did during La Boheme. Maybe I'll check if there're still tickets when I come back from Nuremberg. The Magic Flute will also be on on 1/4 and 2/4, but unfortunately I'll be in Paris.

Everytime someone says that "The Netherlands is a small country", I smile.

Jiekai observes that the Brits get homesick easily, and run home quickly everytime there's a holiday. I suggested that this was to save on food and housing costs. He also observes, from his limited sample, that the only people at Oxford not really affected by homesickness are ex-slaves - even the disruptees are affected.

Biologisch (organic) food is flooding Albert Heijn. They even have biologisch stroopwafels. Wth. I expect to see biologisch dog food soon.

A paper bag like an airline barf bag I found in the first floor male toilet in UCU building U - "BAGS for hygienic Bandages etc. Please deposit into Sanitary bucket or cotaniner. Don't throw in the watercloset, as this might clog the wastepipes." Maybe too many people were flushing condoms down the toilet (the snacks and chocolate dispenser at the dining hall dispenses tampons and condoms as well as snacks and chocolate. How interesting).

A lot of people don't turn up for their exams here. It's no wonder makeup exams seem institutionalised. This is what happens when you both subsidise University education greatly and make it too easy to qualify for a retest.

I couldn't figure out the online train reservation system to book my overnight couchette from Paris to Vienna. In the end I had to book it at a ticket counter in Amsterdam (I could've done it in Utrecht too, but when I tried the system was down and my next opportunity was in Amsterdam) and pay the stupid €3.50 booking fee. It's a conspiracy, I tell you. The best part was that I got lectured by the man at the counter about how by right he could only help me reserve trains travelling from the Netherlands, and that I should go to Paris to reserve trains travelling from Paris, and to tell all my friends that he made an exception for me and they shouldn't do the same (wth).

I hypothesise that pickpocketing will be least common in Winter and most in Summer, since cold weather clothing blocks access to pockets.

One of my groupmates wears a blue ring on the fourth finger of her left hand. The design looked quite special (and unlike a usual ring representing declarations of love/commitment) so I enquired and it turned out that it had her family crest on it - a bow (presumably they used to make bows). I want to get a family crest too.

Sign seen at a lost and found corner: "You don't know what you've got till it's gone".

I saw a person propelling a three-wheeled wheelchair by rotating a handlebar in front of him (or was it her?).

The Cock Files

A sampling of the cock things Jiekai has done (I gave up recording after a while):
- he went to the bar and said he'd be coming up in 1/2 hr. He only came up after 1 hr 20 mins. I was tempted to give away his dinner
- he turned off the stove when I was still using it
- he didn't tie up my cookies after eating
- more entries in the cock files:
- he was supposed to meet his german friend on 15th march. he remembered it as 10th march. so now he has 5 days to fill in Berlin/Prague
- he was supposed to tell me after he finished using the computer since I needed to do a project. Of course he forgot and just went to sleep
more entries in the cock files:
- he didn't turn off the stove after cooking
- he went to the rijksmuseum after I expressly told him not to since I wanted to go with him
- he put so much stuff into a plastic bag that the handle gave way and stuff fell on the floor
- he was fumbling with a packet of string beans in the supermarket and it opened and spilled
- he removed the Eurail pass from the cover and then later gave the cover to the woman at the counter without the pass inside

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Pork chops in cream sauce
Pork chops seasoned with salt and pepper, laid on large slices of onions and baked for 1 hr 20 mins at 180 degrees with concentrated chicken stock and cream poured over them. This was good - the pork was extremely tender, and very flavourful considering it wasn't pre-marinated or cooked with anything other than what was specified above. The only problems were that it was too salty (next time I use chicken stock I won't add salt) and that the sauce was a little watery enough (I should stir the stock granules into the cream instead of stirring it into water and adding cream as well. Or maybe I just needed more cream, shock, horror). I should also brown my chops first next time.

I was complaining about the lousy cuts of pork I bought the other time at €4/kg. They were somewhat tough and sometimes hard to cut. Jiekai said they were the best cuts of pork he'd had in a long time. But then he pays almost nothing for his hall food, so you get what you pay for.

Euroshopper dog food is €0.70 for 1.25kg at Albert Heijn. Surely there're people poor/desperate/bored/hungry enough to eat it.

One of my housemates let me try a German Pancake - the batter is the same as a Dutch pancake, but inside you put salad and dressing. I ate it as a wrap and it was most interesting.


[On a sleepover] Do you have your stuff? Toothpaste... Oh, you don't need it. You're a guy.
Jiekai went to Amsterdam everyday from Sunday-Tuesday. On the last day, I accompanied him. On arrival, he went off to make full use of his paid-for canal rides like a dutiful Singaporean while I went to locate Begijnhof.

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The Begijnhof is an old, quiet courtyard in Amsterdam. The proverbial island of calm in the busy city. One of the houses dates from 1420. Other than that there isn't much there.

I then proceeded to the Rijksmuseum, which I was supposed to visit with Jiekai (of course, the cock went ahead on his own on a prior day). It's been under renovation since 2003, but you won't hear of the real reason (an asbestos leak) from the Rijks itself - no, they're always striving to serve their customers better! I bet they didn't even lower their ticket prices despite their only showing selected highlights during the renovation. During the renovation, many of its pieces are dispersed throughout the country. Some are housed in Schiphol, but you can only see them if you fly! Luckily they'll still be there when I fly back.

The Netherlands must be the only country in the world to transition from a republic to a kingdom.

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Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne, Fishing for souls, 1614
This depicts the Catholic/Protestant rivalry

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Paulus van Vianen - Adoration of the Shepherds
The silverwork is exquisite

I found out why Delft ceramics remind me so much of China - they were made in imitation of it when a civil war disrupted its supply.

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Earthenware violin. Wth.

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Melchior d'Hondecoeter - The floating feather

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Gerard de Lairesse - Allegory of the Sciences
This is another of those paintings that looks like a sculpture. This was one of 4 paintings. Maybe he did the one in the Centraal Museum also.

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Falconet - Menacing Love
There was a €14.95 book about this sculpture at the gift shop. I don't see what's so special.

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Gerard van Honthorst - The Merry Fiddler

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Pieter Claesz - Still life with turkey pie
I like the dead turkey on top of the turkey pie. Don't you?

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Interior of the St Bavo Church in Haarlem

Willem Heda painted only still life for 40 years. Wth.

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Pieter Lastman - Orestes & Pylades disputing at the altar

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Bartholomeus van der Helst - Bickers - Father & Son
What a contrast!

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Aert van der Neer - River view by moonlight
Night views are so rare.

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Rembrandt - Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

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Bakhuysen - Ships in distress in heavy storm

Gerard Don was very evil. He painted a painting with a realistic-looking curtain in it, because paintings were covered with curtains to protect them from the light. Maybe he wanted people to touch the painting and ruin it.

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Ver Meer - The Kitchen Maid

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Hals/Codde - The Meagre Company

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Rembrandt - Nightwatch
I didn't know it was quite so big.

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Exterior of the Rijksmuseum

Meeting up with Jiekai as I exited the exhibition, I bought a ticket to a concert that night.

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Concertgebouw building

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Me on turfed roof
Below me is a carpark and a supermarket (Albert Heijn). Quite unique for such facilities to have a turfed roof.

After that, we went to the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum (appropriately enough, some time before I entered, I was offered Ecstasy by a Turkish-looking guy). It was most informative, if pricey (€5.70 for an exhibition on only one level, in an area the size of a shop). For example they cited the Crancer Report which found that cannabis use had no effect on driving skills (while alcohol use affected it greatly).

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"Consumption causes a slight, temporary elevation (increase) in rate of heartbeat while intoxicated. Caution: Thinking about this effect increases the heart rate even more, and this can cause anxiety."

The insanity of the US war on drugs was also repeatedly stressed. Presidents Washingotn and Jefferson were hemp farmers, for exmaple, which would've gotten them the death penalty today (which falls on those who grow >1/4 acre of hemp, even the drug-free variety). I'm surprised Singapore was not mentioned at all, though. A sign at the entrance of the museum appealed for visitors to send in relevant memorabilia or artefacts. Maybe someone can send them a poster of the "Local bands remember Sam" concert.

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The Devil's Plant

Some of the information was rather dubious, though. They claimed cannabis could be used to treat AIDs, and the sheer list of alleged references in ancient writings to cannabis was suspect (The Atharva, Exodus 30:23, Isaish 18:4-5, Revelations 22:1-2, Genesis 1:29-31, Shen Nung from the Han Dynasty (3727BC) (sic), the Vedas [they claimed Shiva gave India Cannabis] and lots of Asian texts I'd never heard of). And some of the arguments were stretched to the limit - there were numerous references to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, for example. As Lonely Planet remarks, it is "zealous", and their credibility is not enhanced by such items as a book reading: "Hemp: Lifeline to the future. The unexpected answer for environmental and economic recovery". It didn't help that the book looked like those "use your brain power to change reality" or "What did Nostradamus say?" types from the 80s. As Jiekai remarked: "it's a bit like falling into Chee Soon Juan Syndrome", and I added that the worthwhile part of the message is lost in the garbage.

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Consume this and die

There were also some truly strange items, like cannabis perfume (why would anyone want to smell of pot?! Then again, when my housemates do it it smells a LOT less obnoxious than when they smoke tobacco) and an apple used to smoke pot from (this is damn sad - almost as pathetic as sniffing glue).

The pride of their collection must've been the 2 17th century paintings showing people smoking. They had some T-shirts in the gift shop, which I suggested Jiekai buy, but he didn't want to be arrested on stepping into Changi Airport. Too bad.

The museum's general aim was to expose the religious-like insanity of the war on marijuana, but in turn it adopted somewhat of a mystical air in spreading its message. Not the best way to change minds, but then again the sort of people who need the FUD cleared would never visit the place. Essentially, like in anti-drug campaigns, the museum is preaching to the choir.

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Worldwide incarceration rates
I knew we lead the world in executions, but didn't know about incarceration. Singapore must be Number 1 in everything, so we still have some way to go.

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Hemp Prayer Rug, Ching Dynasty, 1912

Apparently Harry Anslinger 'engineered pot prohibition' when his job enforcing alcohol prohibition ended.

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Me in a shoe
I forced Jiekai into a shoe for a Kodak moment, so I was obliged to repay him in kind.

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In Dam square there was a woman wearing a black masquerade mask, a black tank top, a fluffy white tutu and red shoes (with white stockings). She was standing among pigeons and someone was snapping pictures. This is a wacky country.

We met a group of 7 NUS exchange students (and 1 other) at Leeds and Nottingham who were travelling. The group looked very big and unwieldy - I wonder how they manage to make travel decisions.

While I waited for my concert, Jiekai kindly stayed back to talk to me for almost an hour. I then went to browse in the bookstore of Amsterdam Centraal, which was very well stocked. I got a "Let's Go - Europe 2006" for €17.50 (it was marked on the cover as being a cheap edition, which was what caught my interest). The place also had Amy Tan novels in Dutch ("Vissen op het droge helpen" and "De dochter van de heelmeester"), and a Japanese porn magazine.

I then went for my concert.

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Turfed roof again

Nederlands Kamerorkest presenteert:
Yakov Kreizberg, dirigent
Julia Fischer, viool
Gordan Nikolic, altviool
Nederlands Kamerorkest

Prokofjev - Eerste symfonie in D, op. 25 'Klassieke'
W.A. Mozart - Vioolconcert in A, KV 219
Nyman - Trysting Fields
W.A. Mozart - Sinfonia concertante in Es, KV 364

I was at least somewhat familiar with 3/4 of the pieces, and this really made a difference in appreciation (as well as attention span).

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Interior of Concertgebouw Grote Zaal

The hall was decorated with the names of (presumably) famous composers. However, there were many people I'd never heard of - Spohr, Lutto, Rontgen, Pigper, Reger, Verhulst, Nielsgade, Rubinstein and Wanning. The audience was very old - I saw a lot of shiny heads. Their age might've made them cough a lot (more than is usual during concerts), but then again that might've been due to their speaking too little Dutch (or, alternatively, too much).

The conductor made a dramatic entrance, coming in through the doorway and down the stairs seen in the top right hand corner of the picture, as a spotlight seemed to shine on him.

I know I've heard Prokofiev's Classical Symphony performed live at least once before. It's quite a popular piece which you often find on programs. I wonder how Prokofiev would've felt about that.

The sound in the hall was excellent. Maybe it had something to do with my seat in row 13 from the front and at the extreme left part of the centre block (or the qualities of the wood used in the organ), but I could hear the cellos and double basses as well as if they'd been playing from where the first violins were.

Nyman's Trysting Fields (from Drowning by Numbers) was interesting. When I saw it on the program I figured it didn't sound like a nightmare scene and so was safe. Evidently the conductor didn't think very much of it (difficulty-wise, aesthetically or otherwise), for he didn't even show up to conduct the piece, even though there was both a violin and viola soloist. The orchestra gave a good demonstration of the fadeout effect - playing the ending bars of the song more and more softly till the music ceased. Before that concert, I thought such a graceful and seamless fadeout was only possible with the aid of electronic equipment.

The playing of the chamber orchestra was good, and my only complaint was that they lacked grace in cresting their crescendos during the Classical Symphony. The violin soloist kept tugging her dress straps up. That wasn't so bad, but what was really annoying was that she wiped her hands on her dress from time to time and kept leaning way over backwards at the end of her parts.

There was one violin player who was in an oufit that covered herself from neck to wrist to toe. Maybe she got it in Dutch Country.

I was wondering why so many people gave the orchestra and soloists standing ovations after the Nyman piece. Then I realised that it was because it was time for the interval. My theory was confirmed by the fact that no one gave standing ovations for the first and third pieces, and that no one sat down after standing up, but immediately zipped off to smoke, drink, pee or what not.

The viola is not a good instrument for a soloist or to write a concerto for (or worst: a concerto for a violin as well). Most of the time it gets drowned out by the violin soloist or the orchestra (though this might be by design). At least they have it better than the double bassists - I can't think of any solo parts for double bass.

On the tram back from the Concertgebouw I sat next to this guy who was reading a magazine interview. Normally I wouldn't look any further, but I saw that it was an interview with "Schoolse super slut Annabel Chong". Naturally I was curious, especially since she was supposed to have retired. Glancing on, I saw that the magazine was called "Asian Girls" and one question asked what she liked. There was a short list, and I'm quite sure double penetration was in there.

Almost everyone who wears head-warming equipment at this time of the year in Amsterdam is American. And someone who wears the sort with dangly sides and/or the designs you can find in the stores is 99.999999% likely to be American.

I saw 2 places offering 1 hour of as much as you can eat Tim Sum for €7.50. One of them had a takeaway option - 750g for €7.50.

The creamy ice cream shop has variable opening hours on Monday and variable closing hours on one other day. The Europeans really know how to enjoy life.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I was wondering why students studying in Singapore don't travel, when their counterparts in the US and UK are going on Grand Tours of Europe and/or South America. Jiekai suggested that it's for the same reason why they study in Singapore in the first place - they have no money.

I realised why my rent costs so much - rent control. Or lack thereof. This is why there's such a long waiting list for local students.

Jiekai says the Brits suck at making savoury food, but excel at sweet dishes like mince pies and biscuits, so he found my Aldi chocolate chip cookies nothing to write home about.

EU residents (or those who've resided in the EU for 6 months) get to use Inter-rail passes, while the rest of us have to use Eurail passes, which are almost always more expensive. Gah.

In the supermarket in the Muslim quarter of Utrecht, I found Coke and Sprite/7-Up cans with Arabic words on them. This is ridiculous (unless they were cheaper because they were parallel imported on a camel train).

A guy I saw in Aldi was wearing a partially-buttoned jacket, and he had a tabby cat inside, which kept peeking out. I also saw cooking wine in tetrapaks.

On a Saturday afternoon, when the streets in the city centre were really crowded, I saw one of those guys lying stomach-first on and tied to a motorised stretcher crusing through the crowd. These people are really hardcore.

For one reason or another, I keep missing the free Saturday afternoon concerts at the Dom. I either forget, am busy, am not in Utrecht or am coming back from the market with food. So last Saturday I finally made my way down at 3:30pm (the usual concert time, and 1/2 hr before the place's Saturday closing time at this time of year), only to find nothing and no one outside the Cathedral and the main door to the building shut, with no visible and accessible side doors. I asked a local woman and she was also surprised.

My eggs and soft drink cans keep disappearing, so I've brought the latter to my room in a vain hope of cutting my rate of loss. The former I can't do anything about. What was really ridiculous was that my ginger disappeared - no one else uses ginger.

I don't know why people like drinking Orange Juice so much. The normal sort you find in cartons all tastes like airline juice - if you can't drink Florida's Natural or something similar, you might as well drink water. The same goes for milk (and there're strange people who readily drink airline-quality juice, yet who refuse to drink UHT milk and go only for fresh).


[On midterm] For each exam, we stated the time it was handed in... We regressed the scores on the time [each was] handed in. We couldn't find any significant results. (script)

[On capital mobility] Domestic savings is strongly correlated with domestic investment. It's one of the major puzzles of macro-economics. So if you're looking for a topic for your thesis you can try to solve it.

What they usually do, or what I usually do when I read papers is I read the start, I skip the middle and I go to the end.

What do you like better - the calculation stuff or the talking stuff?... [Student: It depends on who's doing the talking] It's better if you do the talking. I don't like to talk.
I saw a woman walking her dog by piloting a small motorised vehicle (I'd describe it as a buggy but that isn't the word - it was basically a chair placed on top of 4 wheels and a motor).

I bought a goat sandwich from a Vietnamese hawker. He said he was housed in a refugee camp in Sembawang for 4 months in 1980, and gave me a discount on my purchase. I was always under the impression that the 1980s was the time when we caned and sent boat people back, so I was wondering why he had such favourable memories of Singapore.

I was very pissed off. I bought a handful of what looked like deep fried prawns at the market, only to find out that they were actually cunningly shaped and coloured pieces of surimi (what's in crabstick).

I came across a budget CD shop, selling CDs for as low as €2 a piece. The selection was limited, but they had Melvyn Tan, Roger Norringotn and Swingle Singers "Around The World" CDs for €5 each. The most expensive CDs were, I think, €7.50 each. There were also 40 CD composer-themed boxsets retailing for €30 - "Handel/Beethoven - The Complete Masterworks".

I wanted to go to a Piotr Anderszewski concert last Wednesday with 2 Mozart works, 1 Bach suite and 1 Szymanowski piece. Unfortunately, even though CJP (youth card) tickets were available for half the usual price (€14 instead of €28 or so), Piotr Anderszewski was sick and someone else was filling him for in. I'm not very big for brand names, so this wasn't a problem. What was a problem was what that person was playing - 2 Rachmaninov pieces and 1 Shostakovich. There were also 2 Schumann pieces, but that wasn't enough to make it worth my money, so I passed on the concert.

The weather is amazing. On 20th March we were still having winter-like temperatures, but when I woke up on 21st March it was as warm as Spring (or as warm as I expect Spring to be) - the temperature jumped at least 10 degrees in one day; within a week, Amsterdam went from -2 degrees to 12.

Jiekai was bored and messing around with the universal convertor which I brought from Singapore, and somehow managed to get it to work - I'd slotted something the wrong way in, which was why something else couldn't be combined with it. So now I can use my laptop and Palm charger at the same time. He (sometimes) deserves more credit than I give him.

For some reason there're a lot of Argentinian restaurants in Amsterdam.

I asked what the apostrophe s in some words means (eg "half 10 's ochtends" [9:30am]). It turns out that "'s" is "des", the equivalent of "Der", "Die" and "Das" in German, but in Dutch this has been mostly done away with, so I don't need to remember what the gender of the table is. Well, actually there's "de" and "het", but there're only 2 choices here, and the language is somewhat more consistent in which nouns get which article.

"Friday" in Dutch is "Vrijdag", which roughly translates as "Free day". This probably explains why so many places either don't open or close early on Friday.

They have funky chairs in some of the computer rooms at my University. Most wheeled-chairs have a lever letting you adjust their height, and some have a lever letting you adjust the angle/tilt of the back of the chair. But these were the first chairs I remembered allowing you to slide the seat forwards and backwards.

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Fried spaghetti
This was fried with onions, mushrooms, courgettes, egg, soy sauce, vinegar, ham and the magic ingredient - (Jong Belegen) cheese. Yes, the cheese complements the sourness of the vinegar very nicely, and the onions lend it sweetness.


[Teacher on rejecting a request: How do you say because [of some reason]?] 'I don't speak Dutch'.

Here are some figures for 2004 and 2005 which I stole from the World Development Report.

This link is completely severe'd (severed)

If there's a puzzle, ten economists jump out of the woodwork and start working on it.

International Economics gives us silly examples about bread, and wine, and shoes. So here's another one.

In the 70s you drove a car from Detroit... If you drove anything else people would laugh at you.

Here's my favourite example - the 1980 Ford Pinto... 8 out of 10 cars had to be sent back to the garage within 1 week because there was something wrong with it... A unique quality: if someone hit you in the back, the gas tank would explode, and everyone in the car would die (them)

[On technology transfer] Once McDonalds invested in the Netherlands, other Dutch restaurants improved. Not necessarily for the better.
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This is the really ugly building I talked about some weeks ago. Besides its ugliness, it also has a UFO perched on it. Wth. It's the "Prorail Hoofdkantor Hoofdkantoor" building. Babelfish translates the latter word as "head being possible bug", but somehow I doubt it "head office".

I wonder if there's a law against drunken biking here.

Over here, those with Masters degrees but not PhDs get the salutation "Drs". Nice consolation, especially for those not intending to go doctorates.

I tried to buy student tickets for some concerts at Vredenburg, but was told that student tickets would only be sold on the day itself, and after 7pm at that (most concerts are at 8:15pm). !@#$

I don't know why 24 hour time is so popular here.

The lousy pack of washing powder I bought from Kruidvat leaks, so there was powder at the bottom of the plastic bag I use to keep the pack. I tilted the bag to pour the powder into the machine, then a lot of it went onto the floor, into the air and thus into my respiratory system.

I saw a couple taking bridal pictures (on 17/3). The woman must've been damn cold because she was not wearing a jacket or bolero.

Transferring money between my normal and savings account takes 7 days. I think I should just withdraw money from one account using the ATM and go in and deposit the money into the other.

I want to try riding on the back of a bicycle like a Dutch girl (it looks fun), but I'll probably destabilize it and the rider and I will crash into a tree.

I pity those who come here from Third World countries. They must find it even more expensive than I do, like the Indonesian guy I briefly exchanged words with one day.

Some choice phrases from the ESN booklet (which I didn't fully read until recently, and so was unaware that the train discount card could be used for up to 3 people travelling with me. Argh!):

Twee bier, alsjeblief - Two beers, please
Ik trakteer - Drinks are on me.
Ik heb al een vriend/vriendin - I already have a boyfriend/girlfriend.
Mag ik je telefoonnummer? - Can I have your phonenumber (sic)?
Ik bel je nog wel. - I'll call you.
Bij jou of bij mij? - Your place or mine?
Ik ben onwijs zat/dronken - I am really drunk.
Ik heb een kater (literally a male cat) - I have a hangover

"We have a lot of strange expressions too. A lot of them show an overall obsession with the three W's (windmills, wooden shoes and water). Try these phrases on a Dutchie and note their reaction and facial expressions as you do.

een klap van de molen hebben (lit. get hit by the windmill) - To be crazy
Nou breekt mijn klomp! (lit. Now my clog (wooden shoe) breaks) - Good Lord! What next!
Ouwe koeien uit het sloot halen (lit. get old cows from the ditch) - To talk of things past

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Baked peppers stuffed with minced chicken, onions, mushrooms and courgette, and seasoned with garlic powder, olive oil and butter
I baked these for a shorter time than I was supposed to, and in a hotter oven (someone wanted to bake fries, ended up eating a sausage to tide himself over and in the end was too full to eat the fries). I was annoyed that I had to stir fry the stuffing before baking - I thought I could just leave it in the oven, but it was late and I was hungry. I put the butter in only after removing the peppers from the oven because I forgot to put it on (it was placed on the stuffing in the peppers, but then I remembered I had to fry the stuffing). It still turned out alright though.

I think I prefer to fry spaghetti rather than make the sauce and pour it on top. Not only does it sear a little more taste into the noodles, it makes the sauce go a longer way.

It's nice leaving stuff out without it getting lao hong-ed. It's nice leaving stuff out without ants (or other pests, bedbugs in one room notwithstanding) getting at it. It's not so nice getting zapped left, right and centre.
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(image courtesy of Fred)

Rotterdam is such a modern city - this old man found a more efficient way of propelling his bicycle than pedalling. I'm inspired by him - I think I also know now how to ride a bicycle.

(Ah, the power of new cameras!)
Someone: so you're going to athens to see a bronze mask

Me: thanks ah

Someone: hahaha... i'm not the history guy as you can tell

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On Human Valuations and Human Action

"Once we abandon human valuations as the sole reference system for human action, we have to ask whose valuations are to replace them: maybe the polar bear's (sic) for whom humans are food? Humans have no way of entering into communication with other species. All that happens is that some human agent argues on behalf of another species on the pretext that she or he knows what serves that species. When we abandon human valuations and logical discourse about them, the 'interests of Nature' therefore become an excuse for some self-appointed elite to overrule human valuations. The protagonists will claim superior knowledge about what is good for nature conservation and then enforce their decisions against the wishes of the majority of people." (K&S, pp. 89)

Addendum: --- Institutional economics: social order and public policy / Wolfgang Kasper, Manfred E. Streit

Keywords: polar bears
"Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war." - Winston Churchill


the cool hunter - DICKLESS - "If you're a man and you have a penis, then you have done this before."

Rewriting The Science - "Hansen is arguably the world's leading researcher on global warming. He's the head of NASA's top institute studying the climate. But this imminent (sic) scientist tells correspondent Scott Pelley that the Bush administration is restricting who he can talk to and editing what he can say. Politicians, he says, are rewriting the science."

Capitan Chile - "When the children of Pancho City become addicted to violent and erotic Japanese comics and cartoons, Capitan Chile travelled to the origin of this threat, the evil Otakuland, and soundly thrashed the source of the problem."

Boss sued over 'breast attention' - "A woman who had breast enlargement surgery to transform her B-cup to a DD-cup is taking her boss to court for looking at her breasts too often."


Yahoo: if you use our ads, you have to block non-US visitors - "A couple of days ago Yahoo sent me a notice stating they'd revised their Publisher Policy. Item '11.l' stated that I will not "display all or part of the Ad Unit to any user located outside the US". In other words, I can't allow users outside of the United States to view my pages if there is a Yahoo ad on the page!"

The English-to-American Dictionary - "As a Scot who has spent some time in the USA on holiday lately, I have discovered a bewildering array of words which are in common use on our side of the pond and invariably mean nothing at all or something exceedingly rude on the other side. I once noted down about fifteen of them and that afternoon formulated them into this dictionary. Since then the dictionary has thrived (well, lived) on contributions from readers and is steadily growing into a decent reference."

Hume, illustrated - "Here's a short video of a girl in Bradford who kicked a copy of the Koran and was turned into a fish... 'If the story ain't true then where does the video come from and why will people make a fake video! i do know the truth! Lemme' tell you! This happens in uk Birmingham! The girl who turns into a fish when her mom ask her to read quran and she rejects it and kick the quran and throws it away and then she turns into a fish which clearly states that she insulted her own religion and is now suffering from it! Believe it and choose the right path or you'll suffer peeples!'"

Monday, March 27, 2006

My parents came over 2 weekends ago. My mother was wearing 7 layers on top and 3 below, but was still cold. On that weekend, I was swearing that it was not getting warmer; when they landed in Paris on the 12th, it was -3 degrees. If anything, it might even have been getting colder.

They didn't stay long in Utrecht, but then as Jiekai notes, there's about as much to see as in Oxford.

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Dom from streets

Graffiti seen in Amsterdam: "No freedom of speech in Police State Holland". Some people have no sense of perspective.

For some reason, there were lots of Americans in Amsterdam over that weekend; I swear every third voice I heard was American (at least till late on Sunday afternoon - maybe it was a weekend trip for most of them). It might've been partly due to Spring Break, but there were also many post-College age Americans around. And of course, where there were Americans there were Americans trying to corrupt souls. Some were chanting slogans and holding placards made of corrugated cardboard (ie Old cartons) - they probably busted the budget flying down. One offered me a "Free IQ Test", which made me suspect at first that she was a Scientologist, until she reminded us that "Jesus loves you" when we declined.

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Homomonument. At first I thought this was the "Homo Monument" (monument to mankind), but have since found out that it's a monument to lesbians and gays. The evangelists were running their show near this, so maybe that's why they chose the spot they did.

For dinner on Saturday we went in one big round because my father took a wrong turn. We still ended up at the desired location in the end though - "Golden Chopsticks"restaurant. The food was good, with the exception of the over-salty and lacklustre roast combination, and we had an almost 1kg lobster for €31. And because my father spoke Cantonese to the waiter we got complimentary soup and dessert.

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I was musing that the evangelists were trying to be too smart in trying to corrupt souls in the City of Sin, and as I was entering the Red Light District with my parents I was musing that they should try hawking their wares in there. Lo and behold, a large group of them were standing on a bridge in the Red Light District singing "Yes Lord"(or "Oh Lord" - this song is just *two* words long).

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Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace). The tram power lines are very irritating since they keep getting in my shots.

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St Nicolaas Kerk, 1887

In the Red Light District there was a "Heart of Amsterdam" hotel. Hurr hurr. And in the district too there was a bar sited just above a coffeeshop (where alcohol is forbidden). For the complete Amsterdam experience they just needed a euthanasia parlor.

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Me and St Nicolaas Kerk

Besides the real Red Light District there's also a small fake one north of it, located around the Prostitute Information Centre. Over there, there were some prostitutes in windows but they were old, fat and ugly. Those in the real one were young, attractive and nubile. In the fake one most of the retail space consisted of restaurants, bars and non-sex shops (even this shop with lots of sex videos in the windows was a bookshop with a big sex collection rather than just a sex shop), but in the real one most of the retail locations sold sex (in one form or another - live spectacles, hands-on action, literature or accessories). Most tellingly, curtains were drawn in maybe 1 in 5 windows in the Real district, while none were drawn in the Fake one. Maybe the fact that I was walking through there in the mid-afternoon had something to do with it, and the windows are rented by less successful prostitutes in the day, but I doubt restaurants and normal shops can be replaced by sex-windows and sex shops within a few hours. Maybe it's the potemkin Red Light District which foreign dignitaries get brought to when they visit Amsterdam - salacious enough to make them feel they've seen something, yet not outrageous enough to offend their sensibilities. Either that or a retirement village for old prostitutes. My housemate, when he went to Amsterdam with ESN, complained about the women being old enough to be his mother, so I guess his tour brought him to the fake one. This vindicates my theory! Incidentally, almost every voice I heard in the Red Light District was American. Desker Road is nothing compared to this - Sex-polis and Sex-hub are the way to go the next time we need to boost the economy!

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Church of Scientology!

I saw a guy peeing in an alley. Not far away there was a free urinal, of the same design that I'd seen in Maastricht, so it's not just for Carnival. As a public service they should finance the placement of more of these around major cities.

On Sunday we had lunch in Sarang Mas, an Indonesian restaurant. It was a bit pricey, but the food was excellent, and it was doubly haram too, stocking babi as well as frogs' legs.

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The law is not mocked (Verboden Fietsen te Plaatsen)

We then took a canal cruise which was narrated in many languages. The first language in the sequence was Dutch and the last English, which was surprising - since English is the language most of those taking the cruise would understand, it should have been the first, since that would give the tourists more time to get ready.

There was graffiti under a bridge over a canal. That means someone actually travelled there on a boat just to decorate the place. I admire their tenacity.

During the cruise we passed by a cafe established in 1641 along Prinsengracht. Unfortunately it was on the other side of the boat, and I couldn't stand up and take a shot since the boat's roof was non-retractable.

Apparently the reason there're houseboats in Amsterdam is because there used to be a housing shortage. Meanwhile the reason there're low fences dating from the 60s lining the canals is to prevent cars from driving into the water. This still doesn't stop a car a week from driving in though. Wth.

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Westermark - "The most famous tower in Amsterdam"

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Pulitzer hotel, built out of an old warehouses, but only the gables remain.

I saw a swan looking into someone's houseboat. The person was serving lunch.

When moving house in Amsterdam, people move their furniture in and out of the windows, since the staircases and passageways are quite narrow. This is why so many of the houses have hooks hanging from beams sticking out of their tops. How convenient.

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Canal near Leidsegracht-Herengracht

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Patrician's house. The door in the stoop was for the staff.

502 Herengracht, the official residence of the Mayor of Amsterdam, doesn't look very special.

The 7 bridges of Amsterdam are nice, but unfortunately I only had a bad angle, so I didn't bother to snap away. Shots I find online are good, though.

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Along the Amstel river (the river after which Amsterdam is named), and the Mint Tower - old defence tower built in the 15th (?) century

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Zuiderkerk, 1614. First Protestant Church in Amsterdam.

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Stadswaterkantoor - another defence tower. The bottom dates from the 14th century and the top from the 15th. The clock is called 'crazy jack' because it kept crazy time.

On Sunday afternoon, I saw another group of evangelists (probably the same as the one I'd seen on Saturday) walking through the streets carrying placards and singing. Good riddance. Too bad their actions are not prejudicial to public health.

I saw a very cheap clothes shop. They had pullovers and sweaters (including zip-up ones) from €5, and even long sleeved shirts from €7.50. I was contemplating buying one or two extra pieces of clothing to keep warm. A month ago, I'd also contemplated that but I told myself it could only get warmer, so there was no point. A month later, I then told myself it really really couldn't *not* get warmer, so in the end I bought nothing. The "Fuhua New Fashion Resist Static Electricity 80% Cotton 20% Polyester" zip-up sweater looked promising, though (Finally! Fashion designers Sweatshop labourers who understand my needs!).

Late on Sunday afternoon, some kurds were holding a concert and displaying pictures of injured children and adults, with the sign "Stop Kurdish Genocide".

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The Crowne Plaza hotel tries to sucker its guests into visiting the restaurant. Note the typische Nederlandse bewoording.
"Amsterdam is also a city with various types of fine restaurants. One of these fine restaurants is located in your own hotel. May we present to you: Restaurant Dorrius... Of course you can go to a grill restaurant to eat steak and yes... you can eat sushi in a Japanese restuarant. But is that why you came to Amsterdam???? Why don't you try something the Dutch normally eat"

I saw a huge queue outside 'Van der linde ijs (sinds 1937)', and lots of people walking down the street were eating ice cream from there. The day wasn't *that* cold, and the long alley meant most of the windchill was blocked, so I decided to try it (the BJ fix I had maybe a month ago made me freeze even more, so my massage theory doesn't hold water). I got a Kinderijsje for €0.40 just to be safe from freezing, and it was really tiny; usually kids' portions are decent, but this was just a tasting portion. It was plain, flavourless, slightly melted (the joys of mass production!) ice cream but it was really good and full of richness: sort of like whipped, sweetened heavy cream in ice cream form. I think the closest I've tasted to it is clotted cream hand scoop ice cream, though this was more like clotted cream soft serve. The only downside (beyond the miserly portion) was the (very light brown) sugar cone (which tasted like sawdust and/or tracing paper - basically the one used for S$0.50 McDonalds ice cream cones) it was given to me in. Why can't they use the real dark brown sugar cones (with body, taste and crunch) like normal people?!

The souvenir shop in the hotel was surprisingly cheap. This was because it was run by an outside shop, with another branch down the street from the hotel.

Oddly enough, I felt more homesick in the week after they left than in the weeks before, arrival-melancholy notwithstanding, and anyway that was more of general discomfort.
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