Liou's quiet little life...or is it?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Last post

I haven't updated this for a long time, and I think because this blog has been about my stay in Japan. Now that I am back, life is normal again, so I don't feel like bothering people with boring stories. Also, if I start another blog, that will be anonymous. Too easy to be found on the web (googling my name and I found this webpage as the 4th result), and I don't really want that. But I'll let you know when I do so.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I have been in my appartment in Amsterdam for one week now, and it is a strange feeling. On one side, I know the city and its streets well, on the other side a lot of people I knew are gone and many other circumstances are different. So it feels familiar and anonymous at the same time. Some of my best friends are now in different countries, such as the U.S. or Mexico. I associated them with this city, so returning and not being able to meet them, feels like a little void.

And then again, I need to start my life again. I got my old appartment back, which is definitely a big advantage in Amsterdam. The lack of living space is so urgent here, people will settle with the most cramped spaces or ludicrous prices. Apart from this though, I will need to to make a living to pay for my appartment, and make some money aside (I would like to go to China sometime within this year). And I have no idea what job I want... I will talk to my professor soon, and go to some presentation of PhD soon, so that might give me some insight. But the problem is probably whether to opt for a full-time job with long-period carreer opportunities, or get the necessary money with temporary assignments. Essentially, I am still a bit anxious of the prospect of committing myself to a task for a long period.

I think it will be important to get on with activities, to create some stable reference points where I can meet new people, alongside reestablishing old friendships.

Before returning to the Netherlands, I did quite a bit, including visiting my grandmother's family in the south, or more correctly the west of Honshu (Japan main island), in a prefecture called Tottori. My grandparents moved up after the war to Toyama, which is a little north of Tokyo and on the other coast. Originally however they are from Tottori though. I met there with a nephew and niece of my grandmother (cousins of my father, if you can follow me). The coolest thing is that my grandmother's nephew lives in the house where she grew and it's really old, 200 years or more. I made some b&w pics, but still got to develop them and see how they turn out. Meanwhile you can see an old film poster, which probably dates from before the second war. The inside of this closet door is filled with newspapers who are 100 years old.

Tottori is famous for its dunes, although they form a very narrow strip between forest and regular beaches. But since this is one of the only spots to have dunes in the whole it has become a famous tourist attraction, even with camels to ride! I am here with the grandson of my relative, who was to afraid to climb alone with his sister. It didn't seem like he enjoyed the ride a lot, as he was trying to get off halfway. The camel assistant asked me something about someone being half-Japanese; I thought he meant me, but he actually meant my companion, as he thought that I was his father (!).

After the stay in Tottori I went up to Fukui, which is actually half-way to Tokyo. But my remote cousin invited me to go there and visit some of his family. It was really nice, because apart from I didn't know anyone, but even if his family had no relationship to me, they were very friendly. This was a nice change from work, where my colleagues would be polite, but would difficultly go into more casual conversation. I guess anywhere in the world there is a difference between how family and colleagues behave, but the contrast in Japan seemed striking to me.

After this I got back to Tottori by car again, to fly back to Tokyo, quite a detour! I spend the last week in Japan with my uncle and aunt, and had a goodybe dinner with my colleagues somewhere in Tokyo. It was hard to realize that I would leave this country suddenly, and I really didn't until I got on the final airplane.

The shock I was expecting only lasted for the first 10 minutes. And it actually only consisted of the amazement of how many cultures were mixed in Paris. Living in such a homogenous country as Japan, you get used to seeing few foreigners. But I got used to it really quickly. When I got to my father's place, everything was familiar, although it felt a little surrealistic. But that was also due to the lack of sleep in the airplane, I guess.

I am not sure how often I will update this blog, as I am back in the Netherlands and life has returned to normal. I guess it will be a good place to announce important changes as new jobs and plans...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

It’s been a week now that my internship has finished, and I am currently enjoying some holidays at my grandparents house in the countryside. Even though there is no internet at home (obviously), I was smart enough to bring my laptop along with me, so I can watch all the series and movies I meant to watch the last past year. For example, the last few episodes of The Office (painfully realistic), and a lot of old Hollywood movies such as The Philadelphia Story, nice cast (Cary Grant, James Stewart and Kathryn Hepburn) but a bit disappointing.

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Last week was a little bit hectic, as I had to settle the last things for the end of my internship. I managed to go out with a couple of colleagues to a yakitori-street near Shinjuku, downtown Tokyo. Yakitori are basically skewers of meat on barbecue. Although it means grilled chicken, pork and vegetables such as onion and green bell pepper are used as well. This street is narrow, crowded, smokey and full of tiny yakitori bar with usually a maximum of 8 clients or so cramped between the bar and the wall. But this only adds up to the atmosphere, which is really convivial. If you want to know how it feels to be a japanese worker drinking and eating after work, this would be the place to go.

I must say it feels nice indeed not to have wake up early and to be able to relax, study some Japanese and watch movies. Although I know this can only last for a bit, as after a while the monotony will starts setting in. For now, I will travel a bit around Japan, not necessarily in the most logical order. Next weekend I will go to Nagoya, take a look at the city, and visit a friend nearby. After returning to Tokyo, Tuesday 12th I will take the airplane to go to the other part of Honshu (Japan’s main island) to Tottori prefecture. There I will visit some remote family - my grandmother’s niece and nephew. The latter lives in the house where my grandmother grew up. This house is considerably old, probably somewhere between 100 and 200 years, although I am not sure. I mean to bring my camera and make some nice black & white pictures, as I think this is a really interesting part of my family history.

Frankly, I am amazed at how healthy my grand-parents still are, especially considering my grand-father is almost 90! He managed to go up a ladder and crawl around in the attic to find our family's family crest! I am not sure if I will be able to do so at that age. Especially if I recall the elderly in the Netherlands with their walking devices. I haven't seen any of those her, but maybe that's just a bias, as don't see that many old people in the city anyway.

My family crest:
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After this I will stay one more week in Tokyo, probably meeting the interns that haven’t left by then, my family and buy some last-minute items. My return flight is the 26th and I will arrive the 27th in Paris. I’ll probably stay there one week before going back to the Netherlands. Of course, I hope to see most of you guys by then!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hiroki's concert

(left to right: Takako, former secretary at Asahi Kasei, Hiroki, colleague as well as Marco, me!)

Today, one of my colleagues, Hiroki, gave a concert in a small venue in downtown Toyko together with a set of singers brought together for this occasion. It consisted of songs of various musicals, such as "Les Miserables", "Rent" and also Disney movies. It was very enjoyable, despite my initial prejudices against the musical genre. I actually discussed this with Maarten when he was in Japan. In the Netherlands, musical is considered a commercial product, devoid of any artistic content. Whereas in the UK, London especially, musicals are popular amongst everybody and from what I understand offer a vast amount of topics and range in "intellectual level".

So, I was pleasantly surprised by the voices of the singers - give or take a strong japanese pronunciation of english ;) And although musicals still remain a commercial commodity, this holds true for so many cultural things, not the least cinema for example! So I might give up my elitist view and watch one in London one day!

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Haven't been writing for a while, so here is a badly needed update about my life in Japan. The coolest thing so far is that my best friend Maarten (you might now him of some of my pictures) came to visit me for 2 weeks. Although I had to work during the day, we managed to eat and drink a couple of beers afterwards and visit Tokyo and do some other stuff during the weekend.

Most importantly we climbed Mount Fuji (or Fuji-san, not the Fujiyama, this is a wrong term only used by foreigners - according to Tadahiro-san, Fujiyama was the original name, this was changed to Fujisan by a new intellectual group, but the original name persisted outside Japan) Japanese say that this is a thing you should do once, but not twice, and I completely agree with them, as it is a rewarding yet tiresome experience.

Actually, the group consisted of four persons, as next to my friend Maarten, came another Maarten (!) , who I visited earlier in May during my trip in Hokkaido, and his Dutch girlfriend (Sietke) who had come to visit him. We just went ahead of the tourist season, starting July 15, and started at a less popular stop. Actually, you don't start from the very bottom, as that would take too much time, or you would have to rest one night in an inn. Instead, we took a train and taxi and arrived at the 5th station (out of 10) around 21.30. Then started the climb, tougher than I expected. As we went higher the temperature dropped, and while you are walking you don't feel this, but the minute you stop your sweat turns ice-cold. Actually, we went too fast, and as we didn't want to wait on top of the mountain for the sunrise, we waited outside of the wind for about an hour. Since we started the climb in a less touristy spot, we only met about 30 or 40 people. But when we arrived at the point where multiple paths converge, the amount of people basically led to a jam, and we spend at least 1,5 hours to get to the top even though it was a smal distance.

Just when we arrived the sun rose, at least that's what we guess, as it was so cloudy that it was impossible to see when the sun exactly appeared. But the cheering and applause of our fellow japanese climbers was as good a signal as any! The climb down was much tougher than up, or at least in a different way. The road was just volcano stone's gravel and our feet would dig in at least 10 cm or more everytime we walked. I guess having climbed for about 6 hours had made us tired already of course! Finally, we arrived at the same station we started from, and the owner of the local shop offered every climber some mushroom soup, green tea and a piece of chocolate. This was very thoughtful and certainly appreciated! Called a cab and after 2 or 3 hours we were back home taking a rest.

Apart from this memorable experience, I managed to see kabuki theatre for a second time with Maarten, eat wonderful sushi at the Tsukiji fish market just next to it, go to a local rock jam in Atsugi, visit my friend from the Vladivostok-Japan boat and visit a wasabi farm with the three of us, amongst many things. But I guess the best thing was that Maarten could come here and now have a good understanding of my life here.

Monday, July 31, 2006

I know - update really needed

In the meantime, I put up a couple of b&w pictures i shot some months ago on my Flckr account.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tragedy on the playing field

Just a quick note, nothing I want to linger too long on. Yesterday I have been to Roppongi (one of the night districts of Tokyo, famous for foreigners) to see the match between the Netherlands and Portugal. At 4.00 am on Sunday night, or more correctly Monday morning, mind you!

The obvious question I often get during European cups, and furthermore complicated during World tournaments concerns which team I support. Now, most of the Earth's population will have an easy choice - their maternal country and place of residence -, for me slightly less. Especially when the three countries I consider as having influenced me through my parents and location are all participating. The matter is less trivial than it seems, as people expect you to be loyal to one country. Needless to say, I am not the nationalist type. At least that's what I thought. So why do I end up watching a Dutch football game at an insane time knowing I will not be able to get any sleep before work?

Apparently, I am more attached to this country I believed, although I am not particularly looking forward to returning there. Except to see my friends. And eat cheese and smoked herring. And be able to have more time of my own to spend. By traveling through nearby European countries.

Hmmm...guess all places have their charm and downside.

PS. No regret of watching the match, even though it turned out to be memorable for the wrong reasons...