Archive for January, 2006

an unexpected form of therapy

January 26th, 2006

I moved into this student building on Monday. I share the house with 4 other people, all of them international students. It's a big house, all the bedrooms are big, kitchen is huge, but the whole place is very run down, it's actually classified as a monument. Yeah, go figure.

Well anyway, I don't have a lot of experience living outside my family house, I basically lived there for 24 years with one exception of 4 months. When I moved in here, I was a little uneasy about how well I would get along with the others and thinking maybe I would feel awkward and uncomfortable. Well, I haven't really had that. But there are times when I am alone for a long time, like half a day. I may be out shopping or walking around, it doesn't matter, the point is I'm not talking to anyone. In moments like that, I feel a bit bored and locked in in my room. I find that I don't know what I really would like to do in times like that, but it's certainly not whatever I'm currently doing it, I need some change of perspective.

What I realized today is that for moments like that, talking to people is wonderful therapy. It's not because something or other is being discussed, it doesn't matter what the conversation is about, so long as it keeps you engaged and you don't tune out to study the curtains because it's so boring. (Obviously, at this point it requires you to participate actively enough so that the conversation doesn't derail in such a way.) Then, after I chat for a while, half an hour, an hour, the longer the better in fact, and the more people involved the better also, I go back to my room and I feel better suddenly. Like I got what I needed somehow, even though I never knew what that was. I used to have this living at home as well from time to time, but back home you know the people so well that they become a bit neutral in how they affect you, you simply know them inside out. If you move in with people you don't know, it's a lot more dynamic.

isn't that getting a little loose with the language?

January 26th, 2006

Oh I hear you saying it "it took you 4 days to comment on the language?". Good things come to those who wait (or do they, that's a really abitrary expression, it makes no sense). Anywho, time to dive in.

Dutch is like an abused form of Danish. Especially so in speech, but I've noticed that if I can make out a sentence, imagine what it sounds like in speech, then it sounds a little Danish. So to Norwegian it relates as a friend of a friend. In fact, in as much as I can make it out, it makes me want to fix the spelling. One thing that is a serious violation [of what? common sense, clearly] is forgetting to use the verb in a sentence and remembering your mistake right at the end. So some sentences end up like this looking. Ridiculous, isn't it.

One thing that can be amusing is street names and city names. When you hear them spoken, they actually sound kinda cool, like 'Duivendrecht'. But it does make you wonder if they were conceived under the influence of something or other, or if the founders were just very creative.

The phonetics are funny. If you wanna pick up a pack of "Rema boller", they call that 'bol' (I don't even know if that's singular or plural). Only, it's pronounced 'bolh', almost as if you were gagging at the final letter. In fact, while the the words are not terribly different conceptually, they are incredibly obfuscated. 'utydelig' ['unclear'] becomes 'onduidelijk'. It's like they made a point of adding more letters [French, anyone?] and changing the ending. Lingual camouflage?

Get uit.

Utrecht vs bikes

January 25th, 2006

Today is Day 3 of my time in Utrecht and it hasn't taken quite that long to notice some oddities and recognize certain patterns in how people here ride their bikes. Everyone says there are probably as many bikes as there are people in this country and in Utrecht that seems to be true indeed. The first rule of biking is: everyone shall have the same bike. For whatever reason,there just is no variety, the same exact kind of bike is sold in every store and every bike on the street is one of those. Ok, I have seen the odd mountain bike in a store, but none of those are on the streets anyway. The second rule of biking is that everyone rides a black grandma bike. If your grandma (or any other grandma) rides a bike, what kind of bike do you think it is? Have you seen grandmas on bikes, what kind of bikes were they? The World War 2 models, right? So we agree. Sometimes people paint their bike, but that's rare. What never changes is the class of bike, it's always the slow moving grandma bike. Which brings me to rule three: we all ride at the same pace. It's no wonder really, it would be really inconvenient to do anything else on those bikes, they have no gears, they're heavy, they're old, they're barely fit to roll. And accordingly, everyone rides at the same speed, you will see people speeding occasionally (which is nothing like actually going fast), but a lot of the time people bike in line (because there are lots of bikes here). So whether you're a grandma or Jaap Stam, no cutsies. The advantage is that you will probably never be hit by a bike cause you can see it coming half a mile ahead. Rule four is one I couldn't have known about: bikers own their own lanes in traffic, and they act like they own them. See if you own something and you don't know about it, people will gladly use it knowing you own it and you won't mind either cause you don't know. Over here bikers have their own lanes in between the sidewalk and the road. This effectively reduces pedestrians to 3rd category citizens. Some places have lanes for traffic and for bikes, no sidewalk. Of course the bike lanes look like a normal sidewalk, people walk there but bikers will ring their grandma bells at you for that. Right, why don't pedestrians move to the road instead. While there are more points to discuss and explain about biking in Utrecht, you've heard enough for a day, so let this sink in for now. Here ends our lesson.

new shower

January 24th, 2006

Whenever you venture into a new shower, there are some basic criteria that need to be examined. For your convenience, I give them to you in a fancy bullet point list.

  • Is the water temperature reliable? Can you set the temperature and then lather up knowing it will be the same when you rinse? Or will you have to re-calibrate with soapy hands?
  • What is the ratio on the dial? Is "a 16th of an inch a tousand degrees", or does it allow human steering? My shower is the former, I always know that in a case like this, I might as well give up. If I spent a day in there, maybe I could get the dial just right, or I would have buy some finely tuned mechanical tools from the hardware store. The kind that Swiss watch makers use.
  • Is there a place to position your clothes outside the shower? If not, are they out of range of the water or will you splash all over them when you shower? I got some shelves pretty high up in my shower, those do the job fairly well.

Finally, whoever came up with the shampoo&conditioner in one combo deserves a most sincere pat on the shoulder. I hate waiting for the conditioner to kick in ("that's a tough minute"), so if I condition with shampoo everyday, I can forget all about using the conditioner seperately and my day starts out better.

not gonna play ball, eh

January 22nd, 2006

That's right, I'm not doing it. Tomorrow I'm literally moving to the Netherlands, I've been preparing myself for this for quite some time, fantasized of it even longer. Okay, not necessarily Utrecht, but fantasized about going to college abroad. I thought by know I would have something grand to say, some kind of mini speech to myself. Well, as it happens, my thoughts and my schedule don't correlate very well, so I don't really have anything to say, I'm just ready to go. Furthermore, making announcements [and plans, at least big plans] is a bad omen for me, it tends to go to hell (well maybe not to hell but let's say plans change). So even better, no big words, they'll come at some other time when things are probably more quiet.