Monday, August 29, 2011

Who says learning is fun?

or: struggling to manage myself (part 3)

As you may remember, I am currently self-employed. Since May, I have taken a few months to reflect on my professional journey so far and work on my project - NGO toolkit, a website helping NGO's (non-governmental organizations) in developing countries to more easily access information on how to manage their organization and measure their successes. There is already lots of information about this topic, but it mostly comes in the shape of thick handbooks. As I've seen from up close, most people working at NGO's don't take the time to read these. So, instead, I will offer videos and summaries.

Talkative Amis at age two

As I had no idea how to build a website, let alone how to make a video, I started completely from scratch. There I sat in an apartment in Hanoi, all set up to record my first video. And then the talkative Amis, that enjoyed giving trainings in Jakarta, had left the building. Completely gone! I hadn't realized that in order for me to be spontaneous, I needed an audience or more practise. At first, I got very frustrated and wanted to quit. Then I became aware of a shocking fact: I do not like to learn new things as I say do. It's not fun to suck at something! I wanted it to be perfect at the first try. But of course we all know it's about daring to fail. That, my friends, is not easy...

The footage from the first rounds of recording was too funny to be wasted though. So I made a little compilation. Here I am, making a fool of myself. Enjoy!

Oh, and the music continues for a while as I didn't know at the time how to cut the audio file :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Somewhere between love and hate

How wonderful it is to wander and wonder...

 At a construction site on Javastraat, Amsterdam

Last year, I described the phases we go through when we live in another country for a while: the honeymoon and the hostility phases. Well, they also appear when you come back to your own country. While I am happy to have family gatherings, eat cheese & licorice, bike through Amsterdam and meet friends for coffees, I also look at my own city through different eyes. Yes, there is such a thing as a reversed cultureshock! Despite the fact that I've spent most of my life in the Netherlands, living abroad makes me see my country in a completely different light. And I figured I should take advantage of this sense of wonder by taking many pictures and blogging about it.

Healthy people eating out

Amongst other things, I've noticed: Girls were wearing bikinis in the park with the first rays of sunshine (my battery died as I tried to take a picture. Sorry, guys). Everybody here looks healthy and carefree. It's all so expensive! A single tram ticket costs 2,60 euro, that's the amount I paid for an 8 hour busride in Vietnam. There is so much going on in Amsterdam. There are tourists everywhere and festivals on every street corner. Then there are the funny interactions between people: A woman on the tram says to the driver "Sorry, I can not see very well, I'm only wearing one contactlens". Waiting for the ferry, I see a man in a wheelchair asking someone for a sigarette. The smoker bluntly said "No", nothing more. It's interesting, this city of mine...

Royal palace on Dam square

Spreading the word of the Lord

Human statues still do it for tourists

A man at the city hall pays with coins he keeps in a winebox

Very Amsterdam style bar called 'The traffic light'

"Stop suffering" (across the street from the bar)

Drinking water available for free!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Presenting: me singing a Vietnamese song

For a long time now, I have had the idea to do a 'musical trip around the world' visiting all the places where the music I love is born (Portugal, Spain, Cape Verde, Cuba, Brasil, The USA -New Orleans- and more). It's on my bucket list. However, in the meantime I travel a lot to countries with other great music to explore. Since I love to sing, I figured singing a 'local' song would be a good way to get to know a culture. I already know several Indonesian songs, but will work on something less popular later this year (Indonesian friends, do feel free to send suggestions).

As I found myself in Vietnam in June, I posted an add offering English conversation classes in exchange for being taught a Vietnamese song. Before I knew it, I was practising 'Vao Chua' with my lovely tutor Trinh. She was very patient, explaining the difference between 'tuh' and 'thuh' - a difference I could vaguely hear but certainly not reproduce... It costed quite some blood, sweat and tears, but here it is, my version of Vao Chua, about the joys of going to the pagoda. Enjoy! :)


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Please feel free to rip me off

The joys of being a tourist

I love to travel. That much has been established. What I don't like is to be the tourist. Tourists are easy targets and (often rightfully so) played for fools by the locals. Since we look like wallets with shoes on, you can't blame those working in the tourist industry, I guess. I just really do not like the feeling of getting an unfair deal. In Indonesia, I often played my 'I'm almost local' card and sometimes that would help in negotiating the price.

In every country or region the sellers would have different tactics for getting you to buy their goods. Somehow the phrase 'Kijken, kijken, niet kopen" (meaning "You look and look, but you don't buy anything" in Dutch) made its way all over the Indonesian Archipelago. This actually leads to me not wanting to buy anything at all. All over Asia, I have found that repetition seems to be a much used strategy. A guy would yell "transport?" from across the street, you walk passed and another guy yells the same thing. This can go on for a while like that. Do they really think we'll pick guy number six?

A woman of an ethnic minority in Laos tries to sell bracelets 
and ends up Skyping with people in France

In Vietnam they are really quite sneaky. I'd already been warned by several people, so I was ready to fight so I wouldn't be ripped off. Several times the menu would not have prices and the bill would be remarkably high. Or the waiters would put stuff on your table that you'd have to pay for without telling you (such as fried things to eat with your noodle soup or wet napkins).

A few times were actually quite memorable. The first was on a cruise in Halong bay, Unesco world heritage site. While admiring nature in silence, I noticed a little boat approaching us. The woman saw me looking and yelled "Hello?! You buy something?". Goodbye peace and quiet.

Some salespeople seemed to have read books on marketing. On the street in Hoi An, a woman tried the reciprocity approach. I could take a picture for free (she basically attacked me with her gear), and buy a banana in exchange (which I didn't do): "You photo? No money! I am 74, very poor. You buy banana?"

Creative banana selller

Just speaking to a sense of guilt and social proof can also do the trick. At a salon after getting a massage, the masseuse told me: "Please write how you like massage. You give me tip? No salary. My salary your tip." She'd been smart enough to write down in her little booklet that previous customers had paid the amount of five dollar, leading me to pay, yes, five dollars too. Even though I don't like getting an unfair deal, I'm also always the softie that ends up giving high tips. But hey, let's see things in perspective; how much is five dollars in Amsterdam?