30 juli 2008

Summer Carnaval Rotterdam

Last year around this time I was reading Theodore Dalrymple's "Our Culture, What's Left of It". Dalrymple's thoughts on the deplorable effects of the welfare state on (British) society and especially on the habits of the lower classes really got to me. After spending a day reading his essays in my parents' living room in their house in the quiet Dutch countryside I took the train to Rotterdam where I was to meet an old friend. I read two more essays in the train and then got out at Rotterdam Central station. There, I suddenly found myself among the crowds that had just visited Rotterdam's Summer Carnaval: Big black men without a shirt on, half-naked women with way too big bellies, trash everywhere, people making impolite remarks. Normally I would have been quite able to handle this, but as I was in the state Dalrymple got me in, I felt like having arrived in a modern version of Sodom and Gomorra. The contrast was just too big. When I finally found my friend, we hurried to a quiet cafe where we had a good discussion about these issues.

This year, I decided to give the event a second chance.

19 juli 2008

海上自衛隊 of "Japanse zeemannen in Amsterdam"

This year The Netherlands and Japan celebrate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Commerce and Amity treaty, and in 2009 it will be 400 years since the two countries first established official trade relations. To commemorate this, the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force dispatched three naval vessels to Amsterdam this week. It goes without saying that I had to go and have a look!

18 juli 2008

The Japanese emperor that once visited Leiden

When I first moved to my big girls' dorm on Leiden's famous Rapenburg, I noticed the newspaper clip on the Japanese emperor's visit to Leiden on the notice board of the house. It showed a picture of the emperor and the empress chatting with three female students of my dorm, something apparently seen as quite special by both the Japanese press and my Japanese friends who later visited me. They considered such an unscheduled, spontaneous step by the emperor very unusual.

And even though this occurred eight years ago, it is still remembered by many both in Japan and in the Netherlands. While in Japan last year I was even contacted by a journalist who was looking for the girls in the pictures because he wanted to interview them for an article about Akihito's rule. Also, Japanese tourists who had read about it in their guidebooks were often found touching the pole the emperor is touching in the picture.

When I came back from a trip to England last May, there suddenly was a gold-coloured plaque on the facade of my former house. It shows the famous newspaper picture of the emperor, his wife and the students. Although the story is kind of nice, I did not expect the plaque to become a tourist attraction for other people than Japanese visiting Leiden. But I was wrong, as apparently every guide that leads tourists along the Rapenburg stops in front of the house to tell the story. My former housemates are even considering selling t-shirts with the picture, and "I touched the pole"....

16 juli 2008

The point of it all

"... all this work and struggle on behalf of future generations should be undertaken in a spirit of joy. It's the human capacity to transcend circumstances, to love and laugh and be goofy together no matter how oppressive the context, no matter how irrational it may seem, that makes it all worth doing. And with that maudlin intro, I give you a video that makes the point much more effectively, featuring a doughy white guy doing something that makes no damn sense at all." (from Grist)

(Make sure to watch this clip on YouTube in High Quality, seeing all the beautiful colours just makes it more impressive!)

15 juli 2008

Luyendijk does it again

Just watched another wonderful interview by Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk with Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese writer that lives in France. They discuss the adverse effects of forcing immigrants to give up the nationality of their country of origin, as desired by several Dutch political parties. Attention is also given to the necessity for people of different backgrounds to make an effort to live together in harmony, just because in the end this will be better for everyone.

"We need a new attitude towards identity, it has become ok to have several identities. We now live in a world in which we force people to choose where they belong. But we have to allow people, migrants, to belong to both their new country and their country of origin. At this point in history mankind should organise itself in a different way. The old way of thinking about identity does not work anymore, there should be more reciprocity." (my translation of the quote on the Tegenlicht website)

Again, a must-see! It's in English, with Dutch subtitles.


13 juli 2008

This year's summer

Until now the 2008 summer weather here in the Netherlands has been somewhat disappointing, especially for those of us who have plenty of time on their hands to hang out in parks and on beaches.. Normally during summer when I call up a friend with the message that I will be spending the afternoon in Katwijk or Noordwijk, two beach towns near Leiden, this means that I will be lying on the beach working on my tan. Yesterday however, after a long and fun night out, I headed for Katwijk just to get some fresh air. I was actually hoping for it to rain. It didn't, but still, it was great.