Thursday, January 28, 2010

.... a year goes by ....

well. It's been an exceptionally busy year, too. We moved in February '09... so that was a mess. trying to live in the place while renovating. We're almost done now though, only the kitchen still remains to be finished... or started, depends on your point of view.

Work got crazy-busy, but also quite interesting.

I've been reading more. Even Dutch books.

mayhem with trying to insure our futures with investement funds. No big lasting damage though, but no progress either and Sander's definitely annoyed with our advisor guy so it looks like we won't be going back to him, for a while at least.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Culture post #2: Postcodeloterij

I've been wondering about this one for a loooong time so here goes.

The Sunday-evening extravaganza called Postcode Loterij Miljoenenjacht, where it is possible to win 5 million Euros. It consists of a series of mini-games and culminates on one person playing the mega-deal or no deal game for a maximum of 5 million Euros. That is a ginormous amount of money! And what is more, whatever the person wins on the live show, someone playing along at home also wins. Awesome, right? Right!

But now for the reason of this post: why is it that when they go to the person's home - the one playing at home - to surprise them with the amazing amount of money, that they're always home and (AND!) they always have family members visiting and (AND!!) they're never in an apartment building, 5 floors up? Well, the last one is easy, really, there aren't that many multi-storey apartment buildings proportionately - only in the bigger cities. And even in the bigger cities the rijhuizen are the respectable norm. But what about the other two? How come they are at home and have guests? How come they're never the guests at someone else's place and aren't home when the cameracrew arrive? or, how come they always (and I mean ALWAYS) have 7+ people in the living room and those usually from at least 3 different generations? they have to be family members, come to visit, right? And why are they still there at 11:30 on a Sunday evening? that's school/worknight....


Monday, December 8, 2008

Finished: "Well of Echoes"

Follow-up for Ian Irvine: maybe I was a bit premature to say that he doesn't torture his characters enough.

The mental and emotional growth still isn't as well done as Hobb does. Example of excellence: Malta in the Liveship trilogy. In the beginning you think she's just a spoiled teenager, then you hate her, then, gradually, you start liking her. And it's not like her general "agenda" has changed dramatically, she's still opinionated, vain and out for what SHE wants. But what she wants slowly starts to overlap with what is good rather than what is not so much.

Now, back to Diana Gabaldon, last one so far if I don't count the Lord John Grey novels. and she's almost* done with the next one.

*"almost" means that there's a name for the book and she has large chunks already being edited. She's still writing though.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The other Harry Potter

I haven't been paying much attention to Dutch politics, really. Overall it just kind of flows around, no major ups or downs, it just is. Or so I thought.

The current Dutch Prime Minister (or Minister-President, as they call him here) Jan-Peter Balkenende looks quite a lot like Harry Potter, only he's infinitely less cool. Since I got here 2 years ago, I kind of missed the elections and the bruhaha right before it and had better things to do (read: learn Dutch, not get lost in Amsterdam, find a job etc.) than get immersed in the fine print of Dutch politics.

Now though, it's becoming increasingly clear that Balkenende is doing something that in Dutch terms is radical conservative politics. Apparently, over the last 30-40 years the liberals have been in power, forming te Netherlands into the (lefty)liberal paradise it is, with as little as possible intervention from the government, lots of personal freedoms, legalised cannabis, prostitution, increased incentives for businesses, better integration for immigrants and so forth. But apparently two years ago it became apparent that people were becoming less and less happy with the results of some of these policies. Results such as second generation immigrants who don't really fit in and form gangs or results such as increased drug-related crime... So they voted for the Christian Democrats without actually thinking it through.

And now small changes are starting to seep into people's everyday lives. Yesterday, paddo's (magic mushrooms) were made illegal. Balkenende also wants to make abortions illegal and have more women stay home and have babies which in general is, of course, a commendable idea (the staying home, not the abortions) but... there are already much too many people living in the Netherlands. It's the 26th most crowded country in the world (see here: note here that China, for example, is 75th in that list. Also, as has been proven on counless occasions, banning abortions does NOT make them not happen. It only makes them take place illegally by inferior doctors with inferior materials and resulting in more serious and permanent damage.

Even more, what has been my pet peeve ever since I got here - the fact that nothing is ever open. General clothes-boots-books stores even on Kalverstraat close promptly at 6 o'clock, food stores generally stay open until 8, in very rare cases until 10 and I know only one store within 20 min walking distance from our place (and that is in central Amsterdam) that stays open 24/7. If you happen to work then when on Earth will you ever buy anything? On the weekend? yes, that would explain the ginormous masses thronging the tiny streets of Amsterdam on Saturday (because, of course, on Sunday most places are closed again). Now, the inteligent people in the government though that they would alleviate the situation and created "Koopzondags" - literally translated as "Buying Sundays", which are not always Sundays. These are days, in every town different days - in Amsterdam for example, Thursdays - when the stores stay open until 8 o'clock. *gasp* so that once a week the working person can delay on dinner to have a "beat the clock and other frantic working people looking for stuff marathon" in order to buy a pair of pants or whatever.

Apparently though Balkenende finds this too lenient and wants to reduce -yes, you read that right REDUCE - the amount of Koopzondags. Er... because the economy is doing much too well right now and needs to be brought down a notch or five? And besides, all god-fearing people should stay home at all times when not working.

I know, I know, most of these things will probably never go through, the society here is much too used to the liberal freedoms they have. But... nevertheless, it's a bit scary to find out what the guy on top really wants to do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New author: Ian Irvine

So I've been reading very much of female writers recently - Robin Hobb and Diana Gabaldon, to be exact - and even though they are both truly truly excellent writers, one can get a certain emotional overload... I'll elaborate later :P Anyway, I felt like a change of perspective. That was why I went to the ABC and picked up the gloomiest-looking male-author book I could find. That happened to be Geomancer by Ian Irvine.

As far as fantasy goes, this is very good. In some ways comparable to Tad Williams' Otherland in that sometimes you're not quite sure whether your're reading Fantasy or Sci-Fi (for clarification: I generally don't like pure sci-fi, I tend to find it much too far-fetched, whereas the whole point of fantasy is to be far-fetched). Irvine's world is gloomy, dark, cold and exciting. The pace of the story is good and I actually kind of like that he doesn't delve into the intricacies of HOW the magic actually works. That's why it's magic ;)

He also has none of the childish Edding-style copy-paste of Tolkien. You know: hero starts in a small village, different... ehm... races of people/creatures in different habitats (e.g. horse-people on the plains), through a very convoluted and unfeasible string of events (and/or genealogy) hero ends up as king of the world and all is well.

Now, that is not to say that the plot of Irvine's Well of Echoes series is straightforward. Especially not where the main characters are concerned. And I could wish for the heroine to be a BIT more prudent every now and then, but whatever. Her impulsive recklessness propels the plot and the plot is good so :)

The thing is though, that Irvine's work is rather gory - there's maiming, boiling, blood, rolling heads all over the place. But at the same time it's all a little numb. Which, I guess is a good thing, because if every scene with a little blood was like the the one where the boy cuts off his finger in the Liveship trilogy or like the one by Gabaldon where Claire and Jamie discover the murdered slave girl with the blood still dripping onto the floor then I don't think people like me would not be able to read Irvine's stuff at all. (And I should know, I almost fainted in the tram reading that murdered slave girl scene).

Thing is, I like tempo but at the same time I like to feel some empathy towards the characters and in most cases male writers are not as good as female writers to convey that empathy. Irvine does try, he has some love-interest plotlines in there but... I don't know... they don't "feel real". Then again, since almost all the characters are in pretty much mortal peril almost all of the time, you can't really have all those shades of emotion in there. It just wouldn't make sense.

However, when it comes to main characters, some emotional heartwrenching gutchurning torment wouldn't be amiss. In that sense, I think Irvine quite neglected the possibilities of *SPOILER* when Tiaan broke her back or even deepening the sense of betrayal and hurt when the Aachim turn up with their fleet of constructs. *SPOILER* Those are horrible-horrible things to happen to the main character but they are treated kind of in-stride "ah, yes, and that happened, and she was a bit upset about that" or very one-dimensionally... with endless references to her sense of betrayal-anger-revenge without actually exploring the depth of the feeling. Kind of makes the main character feel rather "teenage" and flat.

Ok, enough about that now. I just thought it was funny how I wanted some rest from the emotional rollercoaster and immediately started missing it.

The Well of Echoes series is very haunting, it gets stuck in your head and doesn't let go. Just like Ender's Game, A Song of Ice and Fire, all of the Robin Hobb series, the prehistoric world of J.M. Auel, Siddharta by Hermann Hesse, Silk by Alessandro Barricco, almost anything by Umberto Eco... listed in no particular order ;)

I feel a bit silly for not getting the first tetralogy by Irvine first but I most definitely will read it after I finish with this one.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


So I had a very hard day yesterday. It didn't help my Monday work-self that i'd gone to sleep at around 12:30 on Sunday. Well, actually Monday. And of course, Mondays are hard in their own right.... But, anyway, work, whatever - you kind of expect to be exhausted (at least mentally) on the way home.

I've taken to walking home from Leidseplein instead of taking the tram. It's a good way to unwind (that is, a way to unwind that is not vegging out in front of the tv) and it's healthy. I could use some extra health, so what if my muscles don't know it yet.

Anyways, so there I was, almost home, at the crossing of Marnixstraat and Rozengracht, waiting for the light to go green for me. I think I've mentioned the Dutch manners of crossing the road and how I'm all used to Estonian kamikaze-nuclear-bomber-style traffic so I always actually wait for the green. But then when the green light is on, it's MY f'ing TURN to cross the road. That's what the green light means. Right?


The traffic light is going (red)tick--tock--tick--tock--tick--tock (green)tick-tick-tick-tick-tick and as always I'm looking first for bikers, 'cause they go whenever. all of a sudden though, a cab veers in from the left (doing a right turn from his POV) !!! fine, fine, it's my turn now, yes? NO! another taxi! and another! and another! a pause, I make a step onto the pavement... and another! I'm getting angry and indignant. I'ts blazing green for me and the green onthe other side of the road is blinking already meaning that I'll be stuck on the traffic island if I don't hurry.... and another cab.... and another, but this last one stops so I can cross the damn road.

*sigh* how is it that after a mind-numbing day when I'm mentally in a point where I don't really care about anything except alleviating my hurting muscles by sitting down the cab drivers of Amsterdam manage to piss me off so wonderfully fast? it was a matter of seconds! See: apathy:swish-swish-swish->blazing mad.

The worst of it was though that you kind of expect people to behave stupidly in traffic. You expect bikers to never pay attention, you know that some jerk-offs never signal when they want to turn etc. etc... But driving (safely) is the taxidriver's bread and butter, it's their goddamn JOB! The fact that taxidrivers all over the world are like this is absolutely no excuse either. It just isn't!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I want to cry

EU is as limp as a washed-ashore squid.

I wish countries would just make up their damned minds and stop all that yammering about "neutrality". Unless they're Switzerland or willing to go ALL the way into neutrality (like Switzerland) and give up all international interests, they should just pick a side.

I don't mind countries like Germany or the Netherlands who want to get along with Russia. I don't agree with them, but I get where they're coming from and I can respect them for their views and the consequential (world) politics. But countries like Ireland (or, actually, the Irish people I have come across lately) ought to be honest with themselves and everyone else. Look at the situation, look at what they want and stop with the goddamned hypocrisy of "neutrality". There is no such thing within the EU and they should just pucker up and smell the steaming pile of shit that it is.

But they're not gonna. Because they're safely far enough away that it doesn't concern them... or so they think.

and that's why I want to cry...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Robin Hobb

Am now almost halfway through Renegade's Magic by Robin Hobb. Oh the bliss and agony because this means I've read everything by her so far and there's nothing new coming out any time soon.

I like reading (especially fantasy) in English, it just seems the proper language for it. Usually I swallow books: a day or three and I'm done. But with Hobb... Reading Hobb is like reading Dostoyevski: it's heavy and dispiriting but you just CAN'T put it away and keep it away. The characters get so much crap heaped on them that you think: surely, this kind of injustice cannot keep up? And it then it gets worse.

There's nothing better for the soul than wallowing (in other people's) misery. I suppose this is also why I like Battlestar Galactica so much. The ideas that reflect reality so precisely that were it not SF, there would be a serious chance for it to be banned from air. Suicide bombers among the Good Guys, moral and ethical bogmires around Monotheism and religious zeal, seriously flawed characters that you ju can't help but cheer on (Starbuck!) and characters that start out as good but keep sliding and spiralling down the sippery slope of Good Intentions (Roslin) versus characters that start out thoroughly evil but little by little become... almost good (the Sixes). And somewhere along the way you realize that it's the suffering that defines humanity. Without feeling you are not really human. Even if you are. Which is why I'm always puzzled at people with little empathy: don't they realize how much they hurt other people by not feeling? But that is another story and I was writing about Hobb.

In this latest trilogy by Hobb, her focus is different - it is a whole new world, after all. The obsession with body image and what it can do to a person's mind is a very intresting point for me. As well as the confrontation of "progress" and "tradition"... Although, maybe it should be Civilization very similar to the Western world about a hundred years ago and a culture much older and closer to nature. Not primitive, although that is how it is shown from the "Civilized" point of view, much the same as native cultures were a hundred years ago here. We only realized our error when it was all inescapably ruined or corrupted. So this is a study on what it might have been like if one of the native cultures had had real magic. Strong, throbbing and alive.

I don't know yet how the story ends. Is "progress" really inevitable? Change is, undoubtedly. But change is not always for the better. And change in one area always triggers change in another area. This is something that Hobb understands so well.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

National particularities

When I first got here, it was easy to see and feel the uniqueness of the Dutch as a people. Now that I've lived here a while, I don't really notice it any more, people have become individuals instead of representatives of a particular nation.

I've noticed this happening before as well, for example with Americans. From afar they seem a very distinct people (yes they do, go put your melting pot where the Sun doesn't shine) but whe you get to know the individuals, you lose sight ofthe bigger picture. Plus, when you get to know lots of individuals, they start seeming normal and then it's YOU that's weird.

So, what is so particular about the Dutch? Well, usually you can tell they're Dutch just by looking at them. There's two main types: one is medium to tall height and has that rosy-cheeked buttery glow that some people have (never mind that they're actually skinny, they just look so... well... chubby). The second is extra-tall and usually thin often with curly hair.

The Dutch are usually considered very forward and frank but at the moment I can't think of a good example except the fact that (this particularly for the Dutch males) they come off extremely rude in any kinds of (business) conversations. Personally, I prefer this lack of "soft talk" to the American version of business lingo. The Americans keep talking but they have absolutely no idea what about, everything is fine as long as they use all the right big words. So when a Dutchman says something along the lines of: "no, we cannot do it the way you want because you don't understand what I've been explaining to you for the past 2 days at all" then, obviously, the poor American gets a culture shock and stops functioning.

I've noticed this not only with Americans but with pretty much all westerners. Now, coming from the neck of the woods that's considered impolite by most standards, I have to say that even I have a problem with this sometimes. But then I'll just tell myself that this or that person is being like my brother and I should ignore any kinds of perceived insults on my intelligence and concentrate on the actual information instead. This has proved useful in that after a few weeks everyone seems to think me very smart indeed. Or maybe I am very smart indeed. Don't know.

What I really like about the Dutch people is their relationship to religion. There are pretty much all kinds of religions represented here but at the same time the Netherlands is probably one of the most secular countries in the World. Personal religious beliefs are considered pesonal and people don't generally talk about their religion. Belief is considered to be within the person, not around him/her and therfore it is considered unecessary and a little rude to profess it vey loudly. I suppose this has a lot to do with the latent effecs of the protestant branch of Chrstianity. In fact, that is the only reason why I might, if pressed, say that I am Lutheran (as opposed to a thorough agnostic, which most people take to mean "undecided", whereas for me it means "error, impossible to compute", the same answer you get when dividing anything by zero).

I'm sure there are more... and I'll post those cultural peculiarities at some later point.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Football, politics etc

So it's now time of the European Championships. Since Estonian football officially sucks so much that even geese could probably beat us, I'm rooting for Holland. Obviously :P

I have a feeling that the Dutch have a "sour grapes" relationship with football. They tend to do well enough but haven't won anything major since 1988. This has been enhanced even more in the past 2 years when the new Dutch national team's coach has been heavily critisized (or so I hear, I really haven't been paying much attention up until the day before yesterday) for picking very young inexperienced players instead of already famous players. He is now vindicated - the young and by now experienced - Dutch team beat the World Champions the Italians in their first game of the turnament 3-0. Now, admittedly, the Italians were probably taken a bit by surprise and then lost morale... but still.

What I found really wonderful about that match was how NICE everyone was, especially compared to the Spain-Russia and Sweden-Greece games yesterday where you could cut animosity with a knife, so to speak.

another EC, this time the European Commission has accepted yet another directive (still needs to pass in the European Parliament) which caused quite a buzz in the office yesterday because it allows people to work 60 hours a week.

Now, people hear that and go "no way, I'm NOT doing that". But in fact the law, after reading the original one from 2003 and the agreed amendments, is actually very reasonable. It says that a standard working week is a maximum 48 hours INCLUDING overtime. In some cases it is possible to opt out - for example if the nature of the job requires constant presence, such as on drilling platforms or when on call - and in THAT case, and only with the written consent of the employee is it allowed to work at a maximum of 60 hours a week. It also betters the condition of temp workers *raises hand* where now the temps are eligible for full contracts after 3 months instead of 6 as before.

On another note, the Irish are voting on the Lisbon treaty soon. crap crappidy crap crap. If they say no, then the EU will be floundering about for another 3-5 years while Russia and US pick it apart state by state, playing one against the other. What the EU as an entity really needs is a unified foreign policy and that just isn't happening until the union is more, well, unified. I understand that a lot of the "old" EU countries are afraid of being outshouted by the "eastern bloc". Ok, fine, but why did they accept us in the first place then? did they really expect us to sit tight ans shut up while they auction our freedoms off to Russia yet again? what a load of hypocricy!


Point is, I wish some of the oldies (you know which ones I mean) could get over their latent 19th-century-imperialistic thinking and settle themselves into the 21st century. If we are to be a union,we should be a strong one. One that upholds the uniqueness of each member state but shows a unified front to the rest of the world.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More Eurovision

I have an idea: Every country is banned from voting for themselves. Obviously. Now we should also ban voting for a country if there are more than say 15% of native people from that country in the country that is voting. For example, if there are more than 15% native Poles in Ireland, then Ireland cannot vote for Poland as well as for Ireland. That would automatically mean that the rabid native Russians in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania cannot vote for Russia...

The only issue I see here is what to base the percentage on, obviously it can't be citizenship... Therefore maybe the latest census/ immigration data or something...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Queens of The Netherlands

So I was reading up (on Wikipedia) on the Dutch queens. I knew about the whole Wilhemina-Juliana-Beatrix succession before and have felt some affection towards the royal family ever since my own attempts of speaking Dutch were met with "you have Princes Maxima's accent". Weird since she's from Argentina. I've never heard any of her speeches so I don't know how true that statement is.

Anyway, I was talking about the Queens. The current one is rather awesome, I think. And the Dutch seem to love her very much, even thugh they make fun of all her hats.

She was on state visit to Estonia... last week, I think. On which occasion there was this whole documentary on the national tv on the visit, complete with interviws with some of the less than 100 Dutchmen and -women living in Estonia.

I particularly like the tradition of abdication (it can be called that if it's been the only way of transferring the title in the past century, from Wilhemina to Juliana and then from Juliana to Beatrix, right? Is twice in a century enough to be considered a tradition?), whith Beatrix seems to want to continue, but not before "Willem-Alexander is out of diapers". Of his children. Which is a completely new way of looking at monarchy for me... can you imagine ruling a country and at the same time trying to take good parental care of your infants/toddlers/pre-schoolers? Especially considering that the royalty of the Netherlands has a much more active hand in actually ruling the country (particularly the foreign politics) than, say, the British royalty do.

hip hip hip hoera!

Friday, May 23, 2008


Estonia and The Netherlands both out. meh. I didn't see the semifinals and haven't been paying attention to what the songs were like but from what I gather of Estonia's song, it deserved to be left for carrion.

Everyone seems to be complaining of a bloc-voting, which... well, in some ways is true. I think it also has to do with certain types of songs being more popular in certain areas (nordic people not understanding the beauty of the ululation of one of the Balkan entries and the balkans not getting the Nordc guttural growls... and everyone being mystified by the German polka-entry... or whatever).

My theory is that this bloc-voting only comes to play when there aren't any truly original songs.. like the Ukrainian one a few years ago (yes, gimmicky and a bit Xena-ish with drums, fire and lots of leather) which had this very primal feel to it. And then the Finnish horror-metal entry that actually had very sweet lyrics and a catchy tune. For the Finnish one you should take into account that in my memory they have only once finished higher than 5th from the back and that was when they won.

Usually the 0-countries, or OK very low point countries, are Britain (I don't even wonder with their teenpop entries of late), Finland (the year before they won they entered with a middle-aged Finn performing a tango... in Finnish... *shudder*) and very often Germany.

There are of course songs for which I don't get why they don't get any votes. Like the Netherlands song last year. I tought it was quite strong, if a bit overblown. But still, good. And it didn't place high enough to be straight in the finals this year... and there are songs for which I don't understand why they do get votes. Like any Turkish or Israeli song (ok, so I do know why, there are millions of Turkish immigrants all dispersed in Europe, and the Jewish have a strong community feeling as well) or like the song that won last year. Personally I thought it was very bland. There was no originality to it and the singer wasn't good and overall I didn't like it. But EVERYONE voted for it, and then those countries who didn't give any points were later accused of being unfair. Noooo, really? they should have voted for it even if they thought it was horrible? it's called a matter of taste :) Or lack of it, whatever.

meh... I'll try to catch the finals though, it'll at least be a little entertaining.

I do know what's even sillier than Eurovision and it took place some tme ago. It's called - are you ready for it - Eurodancing. Or something like that. That was hilarious, it was like Dancing with the Stars but with country representatives and then two dances for everyone (first a "classical" and second a "national" dance). ah, the polkas and riverdance-like tries... painful

edit: russia won. oh the pain. I think now is a good time for Estonians to take a break from the Eurotivoli for a year... It'll mean one less douze points for Russia, and that's always good.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

mmm... books *drool*

This past weekend (May 18th, to be exact) Amsterdam held the biggest bookmarket in the world. I only managed to walk through about a fifth of it (if that), making a circle around the Waterlooplein, not even noticing I was headed back to the tram stop I started from - that's how distracted I was by all the streets full of books...

The market covered most of the old centre and I just chose the part that was easiest to access with public transport. So, armed with a sturdy Body Shop bag (linen, less likely to break than plastic) I headed to the market. There were a few things I was specifically looking for, although not for me. A friend had asked some history-literature, and another friend had also made a wishlist...

As I wandered along the streets I felt a little hurried: so many books so little time to look at all of them! despite the vast majority of the books being in Dutch, there was also a rather respectable selection in English, French and German. Maybe it's my mania grandiosa again, but recently I've had this urge to try and read The Three Musketeers in French... But even if the book was on sale on the market, I didn't see it. Ah, well.

Three hours later, a hundred euros poorer and 12 books richer, with my migraine throbbing again and the effects of my last painkiller waning, I headed back home. The best part of my loot was the chronicle of Antwerpen, based on a manuscript from the 17th century (in turn copied from a manuscript from the 16th century) printed in 1843 and WITH the transcription of the manuscript. In Dutch, of course, or rather in mid-19th century Dutch. But that's ok, I already peeked inside and it's rather understandable. If I make it through that one, I might even pick the tome of Dutch economical history (in Dutch) that I bought when I first got here, up again.

The second-best book was Keisri Hull (De Gek van de Tzaar, I think - sorry, I don't have it at hand right now) by Jaan Kross in Dutch. I knew it had been translated at some point but had never seen an example so when I saw it on the market I promptly bought it. I'll make all my aquaintances read it now. I just wish I could get them hooked to Estonian culture with a bit of Kivir2hk's "Rehepapp", which is much more fun to read and in a way just as deep. But yay! I now have the book that would usually be among the first 3-4 books mentioned when discssing the best of Estonian literature (after/among Tammsaare's "T6de ja 6igus", Luts' "Kevade" and the aforementioned "Rehepapp").

I'm also thrilled that I found two books on the psychology of music, or rather... on how music affects the brain. Now those were nice gifts for Sander. Even if he doesn't find anything useful in there for his thesis, they'll still be interesting for him to read. And me too, of course. Thing is though, that I already have a pile of books (literally, a pile) awaiting to be read...

Ah, life is good!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Whisperers

I've just started a book called "The Whisperers" by Orlando Figes. Figes is a brilliant writer and a good historian. Those two do not always go hand in hand, sadly, so it is always a pleasure to read something that is 1) well researched 2)thoroughly analysed and coherently organised and 3) interestingly written.

From a historiograhpical point of view, it is a microhistory but then over a relatively long period of time (30 years) and collected from a very large amount of sources. So perhaps a "microhistoire totale", a history of the ordinary people on a large scale.

The topic itself is of course also very intriguing and very little researched in Western history-writing. There is plenty of work already completed on the topic of the life and mentality of ordinary people under a long-lasting totalitarian regime, but most of that has been done in the ex-soviet states. There are two issues with that: 1)Language 2)credibility/point of reference. These researches usually only consider the rather small scope of specific (nationality) groups and usually concentrate on a shorter period of time.

I'll write something longer once I've read it. Just thought to share some initial thoughts based on the first few chapters...

Friday, March 28, 2008


The islamic community is livid (again... or perhaps still) over a 16-minute movie made by the Dutch politician (pictured) Geert Wilders. The movie is aimed at the radical Islamic movements and shows footage of different terrorist attacks, sermons, newspaper headlines etc. Apparently the international community has been more than worried for months about this movie, both the Dutch and various other governments having approached the guy asking him not to publish it.

Yesterday though it was posted on the Internet and by now hundreds of thousands of people have seen it. The Dutch security institutions have been on "Red Alert" since 7 AM yesterday morning. Not that I could notice anything on the streets yesterday... except of course the belowmentioned traffic mishap. There have been serious threats of terrorist attacks and people fear it might be an even bigger uproar than the Danish cartoon fiasko.

Mr. Wilders' intention is to draw attention to the islamification of Holland as well as the rest of Europe. Supposedly there are now close to a million muslims living in Holland.

I must say that the muslim women (at least - you usually can't tell by looking at the men) are indeed visible. However, most of them seem to have conformed to the Western world instead of the other way around. In fact, when I first arrived in the Netherlands I used to try very hard not to stare. The thing is, Estonia is 99% white. I was 13 when I first saw a black-skinned person and that was in Paris and I was awed... I mean I'd seen them on TV but never for real and there they were all walking around casually. Amazing! Anyway, when I got to Amsterdam, I could look at all the foreign-looking people for hours. I was especially fascinated with the way most of the muslim girls dressed - not at all as you can see on TV: all in black, covered from head to toe in flowing burkas. Although there are some of those around as well. But mostly what I could see was a mixture of following the restrictions of religion (covered head, only hands and face and feet exposed) but still following the current fashions. Jeans with short skirts/long jumpers on top, all kinds of colours and jewellery, biking to work with the fashionable trenchcoat's belt flippering in the wind. If anything, I feel more resentment in the society against "the Polish plumber" than against muslims. But then, I am a bit biased with that so...

So maybe Blondie there shouldn't be fearing for Holland's islamification but should concentrate instead on accepting Islam as it is in the mainstream. The mainstream of it is most definitely not harmful to anyone, it's the extremes that always cause trouble. Duh! He does imply that also in the movie and has said so in several interviews but the Islamic world is feeling hurt and insulted and stereotyped.

All in all, it's one big vicious circle: being hateful towards people causes them to be hateful towards you and all that.

I do understand the politician's fears as well. It is excruciatingly hard to see that kind of change sometimes and I'm sure that if the trend was the other way around - Western people "taking over" the Islamic culture... hmmm... isn't that what's beein going on for the last decades in ever increasing speed?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Openbare vervoer

Every morning and evening it takes me at least an hour on the public transport to reach work/home. 20 minutes on the tram from home to Central Station, 20 on the train to Schiphol airport and 20 on the bus from Schiphol to Schiphol-Rijk. Plus, of course, the time spent on waiting and walking to the next unit of transportation.

The dutch themselves are often annoyed at their public tramsport, mainly because of too many delays. I must say though that considering the demands and density of the people I find the public transport to be more than adequate and even though there are indeed often delays with trains, trams and buses (and, I'm sure, subway trains) it does seem to at least function regardless.

I could never really understand how all these delays come to be. But this morning on my way to Central Station, some time between 7:12 and 7:25, the tram had an accident. This white painter's van apparently didn't see or didn't turn fast enough and the tram grazed it a little bit. No one was hurt or even thrown about although it there was some hard breaking involved. However, the tram had to stay at the scene of the accident until furhter notice.

Luckily for me, this happened somewhere between the Magna Plaza and Central station so it was just a short walk. Unfortunately for the people at the complaints department of the OV, this happens to be the merging point of several tram lines and during the 3 minutes I was considering whether to stay in the tram see if it goes on or take the walk a whole 3 trams were already stuck behind the one I was in. And by the time I got to Central Station (maybe... 7 to 10 minutes later) there were a LOT of people there waiting for the trams which were all stuck. during the morning rush hour.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There are often little screens in the trams with current news. So that people wouldn't get bored or something, I guess. And every now and then I see a news item that goes something like "man hit by tram" and I wonder... how can a person not see or hear that a tram is coming? It's big and makes noise, for heaven's sake! So for a while I assumed that maybe it's the drunk tourists, just wandering about on the streets and not paying attention to traffic. For good reason actually because once a tram I was in almost hit one of those.

But now I have a different theory: it's the dutch themselves. They do not seem to have any fear of moving vehicles if they're not bikes. It is true that the chance to be hit by a bike is higher here than the chance of being hit by anything else but that doesn't mean that people can just cross the streets wherever they want and at the tramstop when the light is red and you SEE and HEAR that the tram is about to leave but you need to catch the other tram on the other side of the street so you make a dash at it and hope that the tram driver nearer to you has awesome reflexes.

But then, I come from a country with the highest rate of death caused by car accidents in Europe (at least) so I have a right to be afraid of moving things. To me, it's only rational to assume that if it's bigger than me and hits me, it will hurt me very much.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

think... think!!!

Things to do when friends come to visit:

1) Give them a map of Amsterdam and tell them to amuse themselves. The map is necessary so that they don't get ALL lost. Seriously, during the first month I was in Amsterdam, I managed to get lost 3 times. On the way to the local store...

2) Tikibad. No one is ever too old to have some watery fun. And indoors it doesn't matter that the weather is horrible.

3) introduce them to the wonders of satesaus. Yumm!

4) rush hour on Kalverstraat. just so they can't whine about the concentration of people at any other time.

5) Pancakes with bacon and syrup and possibly cheese. (can you tell that it's almost lunchtime for me?)

6) Terrasje pakken. That one depends on the weather but not as much as you'd think.

Any other suggestions?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Language post #1

The Dutch language is arguably one of the hardest languages to learn to pronounce properly. For me it's relatively easy as Estonian is also a language with many diphtongs (compound-vowels) and overall weirdness.

The Dutch g/ch I find no harder to pronounce than the French r. Just takes a little practice to get it in with other non-vowels though... Like in the words "Schiphol", "Groningen", "groot", "glimlach" (awesome word for "smile", by the way, it sounds anything but that) and so on.

The double a like in "maar", "Maastricht" (also a wonderful g/ch word) and "kaas" was a little bit more difficult. It sounds like a cross between a (like the British-English "vast") and ae (like the English "bat"). A truly strange sound. Sounds like a crying baby but quieter.

What I have serious problems with, though, is the grammar, especially in the sense of word order in sentences. I've only learned German for half a year and only because I had to and the English grammar is no help at all. Dutch is like a crossover between English and German- it has German grammar and English vocabulary. I never have any idea which words belong together in a sentence and when trying to speak I always sound so awkward to myself, coming up with sentences that in English might sound like "flower see must you to". And the Dutch are usually so busy complimenting me on my pronounciation that I have no idea if what I've just said makes actual sense or not... It is getting better now though. I think, anyway.

There are several Dutch words that do not exist in other languages. Such as "beleg". That means everything and anything you can think of that goes on bread. "Gezellig" means something more than nice, it means a nice time and place, often with other people. "Knus" means a space that's tightly packed with things and/or people but is still gezellig.

Another funny Dutch word is "lekker". Now, that is a very common germanic/scandinavian word that literally means tasty. But the Dutch use it in combination with the most bizarre things. For example "lekker knus" and "lekker feestje" and late at night you can hear the half-naked ladies in the tv commercials promise a "lekkere ereksie"...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


There's a storm warning out today, with wind speeds up to 110 km/h. Britain has had horrible weather since Monday already (and you can tell because they're being very quiet with ordering) and there's also a storm warning for France, Norway and Sweden. Brrr.

Most depressing though is that it's the same weather here since October already. around 10 degrees Celsius and windy/rainy. Bah!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


My brother was here this past weekend on a karate competition. Unfortunately he managed to sprain both his ankles before actually having a match (was warming up and landed badly) so we got to make fun of him for being a cripple etc.

But I also got to impress Sander by introducing him to the reigning World Champion, a friend of my brother's and a fellow Estonian all in one person.

There's a weirdness with Estonians and sports. Meaning that Estonians tend to be good at some individual sports like cross country skiing, chess, karate, judo, sumo-wrestling, decathlon and so on. I suppose it has to do with the difficulty of finding a certain number of really GOOD sportspeople of the same sport from a population of 1,3 million...

Monday, March 3, 2008


I had some really good sushi this Saturday. Were out celebrating my and Sander's birthdays (both in January... being celebrated on the 1st of March, shows how wonderfully organized we are, right?) with Anneth and Richard.

The restaurant was, according to Dutch standards, spacious - meaning that there were two storeys and about 15 tables and even a little bit of room for the elbows. The service was slow because it was high time on a Saturday evening and the place was packed and they only had 2 waitresses. But the food was EXCELLENT. They even served something called grill-sushi, which was a cross between deep-fried-FEBO type stuff and sushi, altogether really nice.

ah yes, the yet unimagined joys of deep-fried sushi... and green tea ice cream :) Life can sometimes be really good

In other news, Medvedev seems to have won yesterday's presidential elections for Russia. Wonder by how much, 70 80 or 90%? Ah, the good old times of communism coming flooding back...

Friday, February 29, 2008

Healthcare in a wellfare state?

Even though The Netherlands is not "The" wellfare state like Sweden or Finland, it is "A" wellfare state that is often used as a glowing example of how things should be run in the healthcare system.

But foreigners, especially if you happen to want to settle for a while and perhaps even work, beware! The Dutch healthcare system was relatively recently privatized, which was supposed to create competition on the market and eventually provide the people with better quality-for-your-pay medical care. Everyone chose a health insurance provider and all was good. The problem for foreigners - like me - is that from the moment you are registered to live in the Netherlands (which is necessary if you want a legal job and get a social-security/ID number aka burgernummer formerly known as sofi-number. Registering to live is relatively easy if you're a European citizen, all you need is your passport and a legal place to live = rent contract or some such) you are OBLIGED to have a DUTCH health insurance. This, of course, no one tells you.

All information is in Dutch, which is how it should be seeing as this is the official language of the country. But there are tens of thousands of foreigners here and tens, if not hundreds arriving every day who do not have the slightest clue about the language. Of course they will learn as soon as they can, but the moment they get themselves registered I very much doubt that the majority can understand Dutch. Therefore it would only make logical sense to have at least the information that health insurance is reqired in the major languages of the World available at the immigration office... But I digress.

When I registered to live in the Netherlands I was asked if I have a health insurance. I said yes, I have an Estonian health insurance which is valid in all of the EU and showed him the card and everything. The official guy said "Good. Sign here..." During the whole process of making sure everything was in order with my stay in the Netherlands no one mentioned to me that I would need a Dutch health insurance. And I asked: "I have done this this and this. Is there anything else I should pay attention to?".

Fast forward half a year during which, being from EE I couldn't find a job that didn't involve scrubbing floors. I'll write about that some other time... Anyway, as soon as the laws changed allowing people from the New EU states (except Bulgaria and Romania) to work according to the same regulations as all other EU citizens, I was literally whooshed off my feet and within the week found myself working at an office near the Schiphol airport. And this is when I found out that I was legall obliged to have a Dutch health insurance. So I applied for one.

A few days later I got a letter saying that they want to fine me for the time I wasn't insured. The amount was my monthly insurance cost times 6. And my monthly insurance cost was just over 100 euros. Very expensive, if you ask me but this is Western Europe and everything is expensive here. This is just about the least you can pay per month. So 600 euros just for not being informed that I needed a Dutch insurance. At that time my Estonian insurance was still 100% valid and I thought I was completely insured for any emergency. I hadn't been ill and hadn't needed any medical care whatsoever and they just take my money. Splendid. I sent a complaint stating my ignorance and didn't hear back from them for months.

Fast forward another 4 months. I received a letter from some agency or another saying that they had received my complaint from the health insurance company but had sent it back to them because they don't deal with complaints of that nature. oooookaaayy... Fast forward 2 more months. I get a letter from my health insurance company (in Dutch, of course. But luckily it's now been a year that I've lived here so I understand the letter) saying that ignorance does not save me. Yeah, whatever. By now I'm so fed up with the whole thing that I just want to drag it out some more for them so that in the end they've spent more than my measly 600 euros on administration and work-costs. I'm feeling vindictive. So I send a letter saying that I don't want to pay it in one lump sum but in parts, please.

A few weeks after that (that is, this past weekend) I fill out my tax report. Because like all people I want my money back. Turns out that because I wasn't employed and thereforemy employer didn't pay their part of insurances for the first 6 months I now get 500 euros less back from my paid taxes. Ok, so it's money I had already paid for taxes and never actually *had* but still... Welfare state indeed.

So I can live here but can't work and while I can't work I have to pay a hundred euros per month for health insurance, which I don't know I have to pay. On top of that my non-existent employer, because, remember, I can't work, does not pay their part of the insurance. And the state and the health insurance company combined take my 1100 euros. Which, excuse me, is almost my monthly wage, net.

Morale of the year: never believe the Dutch bureaucracy-officials, they know nothing. Also, don't trust all of the information you fins ont eh official expat pages on the Internet. I checked and there's absolutely nothing on health insurance anywhere. Talk to your (potential) employer about what you need organised. And trying to out-protest the system only delays the inevitable but at least it should give you some time to amass the money...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

First one

So work got boring. I have been reading peoples' thoughts and participating in some debates for a while. and then work got even more boring. Well, not so much boring as s p a r s e... Once it speeds up again I expect to post less or not at all. For that matter, I don't know how much I'll post as it is.

The blog is about me me me and living in teh Netherlands. About the nice little things as well as the overhanging power of EuroBureaucracy. As I'm from Estonia (.ee), which is located in Eastern Europe (EE) and am in contact with the Dutch, I've decided to call the blog appropriately. Hopefully it'll turn out to be a handy guide to what to pay attention to should you (dear reader) ever decide to move here. Lesson 1: the Dutch call things "handy" or "unhandy" instead of convenient/inconvenient etc. And it's catching.