Archive for March, 2008

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Yesterday we finally got around to one of the things we never did do when we lived here: we finally visited the Hoge Veluwe park, about an hour north of Eindhoven. Once a private hunting preserve, it now houses a visitor’s center, the Museeonder which focuses on what happens underground in the park’s landscape, and the Kroller-Muller Museum.

Easter brought a break in the crappy weather we’ve been having; the day opened gloriously clear but very cold. The park has over a thousand white bicycles for free use of visitors, but it took use about five seconds to decide to drive in, instead of parking at the entrance and cycling in. We began at the Kroller-Muller Museum.

First there were a few rooms of newer modern art of the “pile of laundry on the floor” or “splotches of mud on canvas” variety, but soon enough we got to the gems of the collection; apparently this and the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam between them contain most of van Gogh’s oeuvre. There were also paintings by Picasso, Renoir, Seurat, Mondriaan, and so on. They had them organized by style: there would be a room or Pointillism, a room of Cubism, and so on. Around then I remembered I had the little camera with me and decided to see how well some photos would come out – I took a bunch so will leave them thumbnail-sized here. Click to see larger images (or go explore the Museum’s own website for better images). My favorites were probably some of the van Goghs, which you can tell by the matching light wood frames:

km9.JPGkm10.JPG km8.JPGkm7.JPGkm2.JPG

and the Pointillists and a few other landscapes:
km6.JPGkm3.JPGkm5.JPGkm4.JPGkm3.JPGkm11.JPG

After that we wandered through the enormous sculture garden, one of the biggest in Europeh was set off by the blue sky over it:

km1.JPGkm15.JPGkm13.JPGkm12.JPG

We came across one piece, a stairway into the sky, that’s exactly the art Ted would create, if Ted had been an artist. Unfortunately they ha dit blocked off, so he could only look at it, not climb up. Not the best photo, but I hoipe you can get an idea of it:
km14.JPG

We came out the other side of the sculpture garden, and visited the visitor’s center, where they had exhibits about the terrain, flora and fauna in the part. I can only presume this description was written by someone who either had a limited command of English idiom or who was giggling the whole time he wrote:
km16.JPG

After stopping for a snack, we mounted white bikes and rode a kilometer or so back to the museum, freezing our fingers thoroughly enough to be glad we hadn’t chosen to do a longer ride. It’s also possible to take a guided tour through the Kroller-Muller’s “hunting lodge” residence, but we had inquired too late to get ticketed for one, so we just drove up and had a look at the outside. By then the weather was changing and we actually got snowed on a bit as we walked around it.

Afterward, we drove back to Eindhoven and I caught up on email, then embarked on another quick museum (actually gallery) visit – see the next entry down for details on that one.

life in the 21st century at its finest

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Today we went to the Kroller-Muller Museum, finally (that gets its own entry later). After we got back, I was reading my email, at about 5:15PM. Someone in one of my knitting groups had linked to a article about a lamp in a design exhbition that knits itself. I clicked over to the article, posted yesterday by Cory Doctorow (well-known American science fiction writer) on BoingBoing (very high-traffic blog, though I don’t usually read it) and noticed the exhibit was in Eindhoven (which makes sense, since this city bills itself as a design center). So I did a spot of reasearch and realized a) the exhibit closes today, b) the gallery closed at 6PM, and c) it’s on the Staduisplein (City Hall Square), 5-10 minutes fast walk from my hotel. So I hurried on over to see it, along with the other stuff in the exhibit. And there it is below, much longer now than in the boingboing article.

knitting_lamp.JPG

Sometimes the design students here get too carried away with trying to make Art and forget about function, but there were a few other things I liked, like something that turns into a light or a sunshade and ha a sensor to determine which, or a table and chairs that come as a flat board with punch-out pieces and can be assembled without tools, or a standalone table/dish-drying rack. And for bonus fiber content, here’s some yarn made out of recycled newsprint.

newsprint_yarn.JPG

Oh, and just to add to the international flavor of the story, I think the woman who posted the link I saw is in Israel.

racewatching

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

It turns out that cycling along beside a canal in spring in Holland is fun, too. The weather was absolute crap, but I was waterproofed enough not to mind.

I rode to Amsterdam with two of the rowers I’d come to cheer on, heding into heavier and heavier rain and colder temperatures the further north we went. It’s halfway across the Netherlands, an hour and a half when traffic cooperates – the rowers at our club here think our stories of driving 6 or 12 hours to a regatta sounds just awful. The kind woman who drove brought along a pair of rainpants and boots for me, and one of ther other women in the boat let me use her folding bike. The nice thing about those is that the seat height is much more adjustable than on a normal bike so it fit me just fine.

The rowing club was completely packed, much more so than last year, because it was too cold and wet to stand outside (even for the Dutch). Walking through the locker room and the lounge upstairs was an exercise in fitting n+1 cubic meters of people into n cubic meters of space. (I’ve never seen so many naked women in one small space – the locker rom, not the lounge, of course.) I didn’t mention it to the crew I came with, but all of the junior girls getting off the water were shivering and wet. Eventually all the women in “my” crew met up, and got ready to launch. I helped carry the oars, then took off on the bike.

With waterproof covering on all but my face and hands, I was fairly comfortable. It was maybe about 8 degrees C (around 45 F), not bad if you’re dry and active but I was glad not to be rowing. You wear what you’ll want to have on during the race, with maybe a light jacket for before and after – there’s no room in the boat for anything more. And of course between the rain and the splashing endemic to rowing they were all wet through by the end of the race. They turned the course around this year, so the race started in the city and went out from it. This meant that crews had only about 1km to warm up in, and then had to row 7 km back after the end of the race. I had to leave my hood off most of the time for visibility, but cycling kept me plenty warm. On the way there I stayed with the boat, along with a few other partisans on wheels. It’s hard to cheer for a crew in another language! For one thing, they don’t shout the same things we do (like “Timing” or “Concentrate” or “Keep it strong”) so I couldn’t do straight translations even when I knew the words. For another, we don’t usually ride alongside a race, so I’m not used to having to yell for that long except when I’m coxing and then I have more specifics to talk about. I copied the rest of the cheering section, yelling things like “Allez Beatrix!” and “Kom op, Dames!” (“Come on ladies!”). On the way back, I’d ride ahead of the boat and then stop to take pictures, of them or daffodils or cattails or combinations of those.

Here is my series of “Rowing in Spring” photos. I include the one with the swan because I like the annoyance on its face, at all these rowers invading *his* river!
daff_boat.JPGcattail.JPGswan.JPG
There seems to be a rule that every regatta here has to go past a windmill at some point in the race:oblig_windmill.JPG

By the time we got back, they were frozen, so most of the crew went to shower and change while their (well-bundled) coxswain, other club members and I derigged the boat. They appreciated having the support during and after the race, and I had a much better time than spending Sunday in a hotel room. Afterward was the post-race banquet; by the time I got dropped off at the club, it was late enough that it seemed silly to go back to the hotel room and then back again, so I stayed and lent a hand with the setup (my day to be helpful, I guess), switched my hair from its two pigtail braids to something more decorous, and just hoped most other people wouldn’t be too dressed up. They weren’t, since those in the later events had come straight there. The food was wgood, and very welcome after a long day, but by then my contact lenses were fogging over so I left fairly early.

And today Ted is here! Only not here, precisely: he got stuck in a late meeting and is still not back from work yet (it’s after 8PM), despite having arrived at o’dark thirty this morning. I think he’s running on coffee fumes. I also think having separate cars this trip was a very wise move.

Yup, I must be in the Netherlands…

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

…because tomorrow’s plans incude that time-honored Dutch pastime, riding a bike in really crappy weather.

(I would not be at all upset if I’m wrong about the crappy weather part.) I’ll be riding alonside the Head of the River regatta, to cheer on the crew I used to row with.

And Monday Ted gets here! I’m planning on doing my best imitation of a limpet Monday evening (the clinging part, not th eliving under water or adhering to rocks).

Road trip to Tainan

Friday, March 14th, 2008

This trip started with the local Taipei rowing coach asking if I would like to join a rowing training session in Tainan during the next weekend. Without thinking I said of course, and this innocent statement set the stage for this adventure. I figured this would be great way to spend a weekend while Paula was in the Netherlands so I started to plan. Unfortunately I really could not plan because I had no idea where we were rowing, where I would spend the night, or what I would be doing. With some communication difficulty I figured out the coach would pick me up at the High Speed Train station in Tainan and take care of me from there. So with only blind faith I started on this journey.

Tainan is on the southwest coast of Taiwan and is about 350 km south of Taipei, and is famous for its good food. The train schedule showed that the trip as 1 hour and 45 minutes long, which is really fast when you consider there are 5 stops along the way. I got off work early, rushed home, and took a cab to the station, and found my way with only minor confusion during the boarding process. The train was a comfortable ride but it was dark and so I could not see anything outside the train. Upon arrival the coach was waiting for me exactly where he said he would be. He was a very welcome sight, because without him I would have been stuck in a remote train station with no idea where to go and with no real way to ask for help.

The coach and his rugby buddy drove me to the boathouse where we met with the 2 Tainan coaches and a few of the athletes. The evening started to get more interesting as coaches transformed from sedate rowing coaches to rowdy rugby buddies. I am not sure what all the animated Chinese conversation was about, but it looked like I was missing some good stories. It then came time where they grabbed a bottle of clear spirits they called “Fire Wine” and shuffled me off into a car to go to a famous Tainan seafood restaurant. It was an animated dinner with one of the coaches entertaining the waitresses and being a general flirt. At one point I was asked what I wanted to drink, I made the mistake of showing 1 index finger to indicate I wanted 1 beer, but here 1 index finger means 6. After lots of Chinese fun at what I assume was my expense, the matter was cleared up. After dinner they took me to a hotel near the boathouse which was just like a standard US hotel except that no one could speak English.

On any rowing road trip food is the 2nd most important activity after the rowing. This trip was no exception. It seemed like the coaches were always waiting for the next meal to take me to another place in Tainan with a famous dish. As usual in Taiwan each meal had an assortment of dishes to try with most of them being unrecognizable. The flavors and items are so different that I can not even begin to describe them. They included fish soups, beef noodles, and rice mixed with beef and pork that was wrapped in a special package of leaves and boiled. Some things were difficult to eat, most dishes were good, but the fish stomachs were actually really tasty.

The next day I got up earlier than I wanted (as usual for rowing) and walked to the boathouse. It was a lively place with around 100 people ranging in age from what looked like 10 to the oldest, around 20. Being Caucasian, at least 6-12 inches taller, dressed in a bright AZ Outlaw unisuit, and being at least twice their age I definitely looked out of place. This was clear in their facial reactions when they saw me. I guess I cannot really blame them, a 40+ year old guy in a spandex unisuit can be a very scary sight. After interacting with the coaches and the potential Olympic rower that I had met in Taipei the reactions became a little more muted.

In the light of day I could see that the boathouse is a small cement stadium, with every nook and cranny filled with something. Under the stadium was the coaches’ office, athletes’ room, bathrooms, erg storage, and the rowable boats. In the stadium are old boats needing repair, buoys, buoy lines, clothing, gym equipment, and other miscellaneous stuff. By US standards it would be considered very rundown and junky, but by local standards this is a thriving functional facility that is very comfortable.

rowing_stadium.jpg

During idle times the coaches made and shared a strong green tea that I really liked. I was absolutely fascinated by the complicate tea brewing process and serving process. I never did learn all the steps but here is a brief overview of what I could figure out. The tea preparation was all conducted on a decorative stone with recessed center area that had a very well hidden drain to a bucket under the table. The process started by removing old tea from the teapot and pouring boiling water in all the cups. Everything was then filled with boiling water again and using well-worn chopsticks the cups where sterilized in the boiling water. A batch of tea was then made and poured into the storage pot and poured over the cups and then they were all emptied on the stone. Now the drinking tea was made. A small handful of green tea was poured out of a container and placed into the small teapot (100ml). The teapot was filled until it overflowed, the cap was placed on it and boiling water was poured over the pot, and over the serving pot. After a short wait the tea was poured out and the process was repeated. This second batch was poured through a strainer that was placed in the top of the slightly bigger serving teapot where the tea was stored for dispensing. The individual small stainless steel cups were then filled. I then learned that when first served tea you must savor the smell prior to drinking. The tea-making process became a continuous process because the tea pot is very small. After a few batches the tea would be removed with the chopsticks and the tea cleansing process would start prior to brewing any more tea for drinking.

tea_stone.jpg

After dinner I was told that the 4 of the athletes were going to take me to the night market. I had been to the Shih Lin Night Market but that did not even come close to the Tainan Night Market in size. The place was a huge open bazaar that was very crowded. Later I was told that it is the biggest night market in Taiwan. Getting into the market was nearly impossible because of all the scooters buzzing around trying to find parking that surrounded the market. All day the athletes were hesitant to try to speak English, but as the night progressed they became more bold and started using their English to my great relief. Now I need to get better at Chinese and return the favor (or bring Paula along). In general the market was about 1/3 food, 1/3 games, and 1/3 shops. For the most part we played a lot of different games including quick shot, shooting balloons with BBs, throwing baseballs at targets, trying to catch fish with paper nets before they break, mahjongg. Unfortunately I got really lucky at mahjongg and won a big stuffed doll. All the rowers refused to take the prize so I ended up with a large stuffed doll that I really did not want to carry back to Taipei. Let’s just say I ended up carrying my big-eyed, blue, fuzzy creature home on the train.

tainan1.jpgtainan2.jpg

weekend update

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

I’ve finally gotten confirmation that I will be here in the Netherlands until April 26. Ted will arrive a week from tomorrow, and he’ll be here for 2-3 weeks, so at least we don’t have too much time apart. I’ve decided that I need to sort of live my life wherever I happen to be and not wait until I get home to take care of things, so this week I went ahead and got new glasses. I’m not entirely thrilled with them; they’re less comfortable than my old ones and the color is not quite as versatile. I do like the way they look but may go see if lenses with the new prescription can be put in my old frames, even though they are a little beat-up.

glasses11.jpgglasses21.jpg

My second weekend here is also my birthday weekend, and it’s been pretty good so far. On Friday, one of the managers took me and the other people visiting from Taiwan out for Thai food. After that, a few of us went to a piano bar, where someone from our department plays piano most Friday nights. Apparently he volunteers, because the piano is better than anything he normally has access to, so he has a lot more freedom to play what he wants and to take breaks when he wants. He was excellent – and since we sat at a table near him and he knew my colleagues, he was catering to us, looking over to see if we recognized what he was playing and asking if there was anything we wanted to hear. I was pleasing him by recognizing most of his tunes and singing along (softly). No one seemed to mind. I might stand up and sing by the piano another time, if I ever go back when the place is fairly empty; he was telling us of times when people have done that. My voice isn’t really good enough to justify it, but I do enjoy singing and if no one else minds then why not. I also took the opportunity to finally sample real Dutch jenever (jonge, not oude – it’s gin, basically) and to try some Islay as one of my occasional forays into single-malt. I liked it – I do seem to like the peatier ones.

Yesterday I went to Amsterdam to meet Rowena. There’s always a bit of worry when you meet someone in person whom you’ve known online for a long time, about how it will turn out. I haven’t been disappointed yet, though, and this was no exception. The meetng began at a disadvantage – let’s just say I probably should have stopped with the jenever on Friday night, and not had the Scotch. Or stayed up until 1AM. Also, the new galsses were giving me a headache. However, Rowena’s company was sufficiently interesting to distract me from these woes, and as an Amsterdam native she was able to find places a bit quieter and less overwhelming. (Every time I go to Amsterdam I realize I’ve forgotten how obnoxiously crowded and cheap-touristy the walk down the Damrak from the train station is. Maybe it will be somewhat better when there’s water there again instead of construction, but I doubt it.)

We met in the American Book Center, where I was disappointed not to find anything I wanted enough to deal with taking it home to Taiwan, then went to the Begijnhof, which is a miracle of serene quiet right off the crowded shopping stret Kalverstraat. It was built to house Beguines (a lay order of religious women) and remains home to lower-income women today. This picture isn’t very good (I only have the small camera with me and much of the area was closed to the public, in respect to the residents) but it may give some idea:
begijnhof.JPG

Next we went to the Amsterdam Historical Museum, which is currently showing a good exhibit on the history of the relationship between Amsterdam and the ruling monarchs, the House of Orange. By then we were hungry, so in true piffler style we spent the rest of the afternoon sitting, eating and talking at the Cafe de Schutter, a nice old dark pub sort of place, where I had a very good goat-cheese and honey broodje. On the way back to the train, we stopped to check out a “crime scene” with a shot-up car with a “body” in the trunk that turned out to be an ad for an upcoming TV show. I took a couple of pictures.

Then we cruised through Waterstone’s bookstore where I had better luck than in the ABC (I guess I will be shipping home a box of books), and we we took the obligatory pifflefest photo, and looked at the tulips for sale outside.

crime_scene.JPGwith_rowena.JPG
tulips_for_sale.JPG

On the way back to the station, I noticed how much less annoying the bustle on the main streets is when you’re with someone else, and concentrating on talking to them.

I got home in time to rest a bit before heading out again to a birthday party for a former coworker. I was a bit nervous about getting there, since the place is out in the middle of a small woods which wasn’t helped at all when I asked the hotel people to help translate a few words in the directions and they were unable to explain what a “vluchtheuvel” is (sort of a small divider mound in the middle of a street) and assured me that a street was open that I was sure was under construction. It turned out I was right. Nonetheless, I got there without much trouble and enjoying talking to people from the department I worked in while we were here. I ended up leaving fairly early though; I was still tired from being up late the night before, and the place was crowded, smoky and very loud. They had the music turned up high enough to make conversation difficult, especially with the majority of people being a foot taller than I am.

This afternoon I will go out rowing with my old crew, since one of the women is coxing in a race today and they needed a sub. I’m looking forward to that, and enjoying this quiet leisurely morning. Tomorrow I will go out to idnner with some colleagues, so I will have company to celebrate my birthday.

Meanwhile, Ted’s been on an adventure of his own, with the rowers to Tainan. He got to row with Taiwan’s only (he thinks) Olympian hopeful, and also with her coach. He’s not all that impressed with Taiwan’s chances in the rowing events, I gather, but there’s a possibility she’ll end up competing in his boat, which would be sort of cool. (He’s still wondering if it’s possible to bargain to go along as a junior coach!) He said the etting the train ticket was a bit complicated, hotel was OK, the food was “interesting”, and everyone was very nice but communication, as always, was a bit of a challenge. (With luck, mabe he’ll write a full account here.)

If it’s Tuesday this must be the Netherlands

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

I was expecting one international trip in February, but not two! I’m now ensconced in the Netherlands for a period unknown but could be
as little as three weeks or as much as two months. (Some training got postponed because the tool we’re being trained on wasn’t ready. It looks like I will wait for it and help validate the tool meanwhile.)

Because the latter option looks more likely and because, having only
brought l/s T-shirts and a couple of twin sets in the one suitcase I
was allowed, I’ve been freezing here, today I used distance from home
as a poor excuse and bought a buttery leather jacket in a blazer style
and another pair of jeans. So now I’m all Euro-styled.

Ted will get here on his own business trip in mid-March, so what I
really do *not* want to do is to go home just as he gets here! Unfortunately, he’ll be a week late for my birthday (the other excuse
for the leather jacket) but we went out for it before I left Taiwan.
Amazingly, the server at the fancy steak place (Ruth’s Chris, for those
familiar with it) remembered us from when we were there for Ted’s
birthday in December. Of course, we do stand out a bit in Taipei, but
I’m sure that restaurant gets a *lot* of expats and business
travelers.

In other news, I’ve been having a reasonably good time here, connecting
with friends and former coworkers. Wednesday I went to the local
Stitch’n’Bitch (knitting) group, which had the added bonus on getting
an update on my cat from the woman who took him in. Yesterday I went
to the Dutch National Ergo Marathon Championships (42295 meters on a
rowing machine) to cheer on my former rowing partner and also got to
see a Dutch record set by one of the guys. Today I was supposed to
row, but it was too windy for a single so I erged at the boathouse
instead; couldn’t face slacking off after seeing those impressive
performances yesterday so I did a real workout for a change. I plan to
do more of them just on the off chance someone might need a partner
for a race at the end of March. (I don’t think that’s likely, but a
goal to train harder is useful even when it’s slightly fictional. ) Ted didn’t get to row in Taiwan for similar reasons yesterday, but went back today. He also got to help coach a Taiwan Olympic hopeful, who may end up borring his boat for the Olympics. In other news, I’ve ordered a boat of my own. It’s too hard for us to connect with the local rowers, since they go out at varying times, and the boat they let me borrow didn’t fit very well. Since no one needs more than one racing single and I’m very happy with my old Hudson, I bought an open water shell that will allow me eventually to do more open-water races like the one in Tahoe that I won in 2006. Hopefully I’ll get home before it’s ready for delivery!!