Exploring Budapest

I have always wanted to travel to Eastern Europe, especially since a lecturer told me that his dream is to visit Prague. With that in mind, as soon as my friend told me that there is an offer on ticket, I figuratively jumped at the opportunity. What he offered was a daunting itinerary,  a five-day trip to Budapest, Vienna and Prague.

The offer was too good to refuse, so I didn’t. But as it is, the trip began with a flight from Eindhoven to Budapest. I was preconditioned to anticipate Prague, and considered Budapest and Vienna merely as a prequel to the real treat. Budapest proved itself to be more than that.

Budapest has more than just the famous Parliament House, it has the Fishermen’s Bastion, the Chain Bridge, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Heroes Square, etc. Budapest is not as managed and orderly as most of Netherlands, it is not as clean, but it is quietly charming. My kudos to the government that put proper lighting on all the noteworthy buildings.

If any, the only thing I regret is the lack of information on all of these sites in English. The explanation on the monuments were all in Magyar, none of them in English. This left me wanting, especially since the presence and celebration of national heroes is very conspicuous (check the statues next to the Parliament and the Heroes’ Square).  As I found out later, Budapest and Hungary had 3 moments of revolution in their history, one against the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1848, one against the Soviet Union in 1956 and one by the end of the Communism in 1988/9.  It is a country with a really rich history, and I fear that concentration on the mere visual side of their heritage would draw away from the potential to give travelers like me a chance to learn more about and from Hungarian history.

But, I digress. Budapest IS charming, and highly recommended. The latter is especially applicable to the pastries. People make amazing bread there, it is really soft and delicious. My pita-bread loving friends, keep on reminding me that the pita bread is better in Budapest than in the Netherlands (which, coming from them, is high praise). As a fruit pie loving person, I have to agree that they make great pies. If you have a chance to stop by Budapest, do not miss out on trying something from the local bakery. Nuff said, go to Budapest, enjoy the view and eat heaps of pastries! I myself will definitely return to do that and enjoy their famous baths.

The pastries are amazing

The pastries are amazing. I am especially referring to the cake on the left side of this photo. Do try it.

The surprise that is Jakarta

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I’ve never been a fan of Jakarta, but from time to time this city surprises me. I have to say that I have very low expectations of the city.
I think the beauty of Jakarta can be found in the calm. That’s the thing though, in Jakarta I find myself in constant need of calm; there’s not enough of it.
But perhaps the lack of focus up there is not enough, perhaps you need a clear picture. So here it goes.

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Exploring Middelburg

Went to Middelburg recently with friends from my department. It was amazing. Middelburg is a city in the province of Zeeland in Netherlands. Yes, you might think the name Zeeland is reminiscent of New Zealand. Yes, you see, this is the old Zealand, the one Abel Tasman and friends remembered when they saw present day NZ. Middelburg was a big player during the European Age of Commerce. They were involved in three commerce companies; VOC (Vereenigde Geoctrooyeerde Oost-Indische Company, The Dutch East Indies Company), WIC (West Indische Compagnie, The Dutch West Indies Company) and MCC (Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie, The Middelburg Commerce Company).

MCC was a big player in slave trade in Atlantic. They were part of the Triangular Trade you hear about in History Classes. The Zeeland archives recently launched MCC Slavenhandel website, which allows you to follow the trips made by the ships. If you are interested in slavery in the Atlantic, the website definitely worth a visit.

If you visit the city, you can directly understand why and how this city was involved in trade. It is surrounded by water and canals everywhere. It is obviously a city living from trade, and an old one at that. Every house has names, which is in these days unimaginable. Middelburg is not as famous as Amsterdam, and nowadays it is not the centre of trade activities in the Netherlands, but as a historical visit, it is more than sufficient.

 

Recommended author: Saadat Hasan Manto

For a recent class, I had to read short stories written by Saadat Hasan Manto. Well, only three of them; Toba Tek Singh, The Return and Bitter Fruit. I was hooked. Yes, this writing is a recommendation and a look back on my reading material this week.

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A very telling scene from ‘Toba Tek Singh’

Saadat Hasan Manto is awesome! If for anything, read his work for the thoughts it can inspire within you. And if you decide reading an entire book is too much for your taste, just read one story, Toba Tek Singh. Saadat Hasan Manto writes short stories (or afsana, to use the original Urdu name for the genre). Now I should explain the reference to Urdu. Sadat Hasan Manto was a writer born in the Punjab region in the British Raj Empire. In 1947, when England finally relinquished their hold on their South Asian colonies, they created a state in the northwestern region.

This state would be named Pakistan, and what was formally Punjab was suddenly cut in the middle, one half in India and one half in Pakistan. This Partition figured greatly in the stories of Manto, and understanding this is very important to get the meaning and crisis in his work.

Toba Tek Singh tells a story of how this Partition news affected people in an asylum in Lahore. Lahore was a place in  India, that overnight found itself as a part of Pakistan.  As some of the lunatics were going to be exchanged, the question of where Pakistan is ensues, and the sense of displacement settles in. How can we be displaced, when we haven’t gone anywhere? As experienced by the tenants of this asylum, they were in the same place, but the earth moved beneath them.

Enough rants from me. Just read Saadat Hasan Manto’s work, and if that is too much, just read Toba Tek Singh.

Exploring Dusseldorf

Awesome Dusseldorf

Awesome Dusseldorf

Okay, so perhaps saying that I had a chance to literally ‘explore’ Dusseldorf is somewhat of an overstatement. I went to Dusseldorf on a whim, without a plan or any preparation. As a result, I depended on my fellow explorer to guide me throughout the city.

As my previous posts perhaps indicated, I am a fan of old, old cities (and yes, I did went to Paris but lost all of my photos because of a certain errr…accident). Dusseldorf has not been on my list because I did not think that there is a lot to see. Well, historically speaking, I did not see a lot — although my lack research may be the reason for that. I went to Dusseldorf because I could not pass a chance to travel and because I knew that Dusseldorf has awesome Japanese food.

Dusseldorf is pretty though, most of the city ran along the Rhine river. And I had a chance to eat Teriyaki Udon! That was worth a 3-hour trip from The Hague!

Things we lost in translation: George Asakura’s love letters

Yes, I read mangas. I’d say this is my biggest guilty pleasure. As I have said elsewhere, I read mangas when I want to read simply for my enjoyment. Reading mangas gives my reprieve, which is why I hold on to this guilty pleasure stubbornly.

I read the work from George Asakura (and this work particularly) when I was a senior in high school. And yes, it is the love letters that drew my interest. It might sound cheesy, but I will not even try to defend my interest. It’s mine and mine alone.

Reading this manga was worth it for me because of one particular letter in the first story ‘Love Letters in the LIbrary’ I’m not going to explain the story, it is the letter in the story that struck my attention:

You are like snow
you make me white and cold
then you make me freeze
you are snow.

I still want to be close to you,
I’m an idiot.

Yes, that is the English translation of the letter. I have no idea how the original version sounds, but that translation was not the version of the letter that has been stuck in my brains for years. I first read the Indonesian version of the letter:

“Kau adalah salju.
Kau adalah salju yang menyejukkan dan membuatku
beku.
Dan aku merasa sangat bodoh karena begitu ingin dekat
denganmu.”

Everyone speaking Indonesia would tell you that it is poetic. It was interesting for me to challenge myself whether I can translate it with a more poetic nuance. Here’s my effort:

“You are snow.
You are the snow that cools and freezes me.
And I feel like an idiot for desperately wanting to be close to you.”

Is that poetic?

 

Friends Forever: Gray

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Gray,
I wish I have any idea on how and why we are still here discussing this. I thought this topic has lost its relevance. Apparently, it hasn’t. Perhaps because I still sense awkwardness in all of our correspondence. Am I reading too much into things? 

Now as I’m sitting here, typing these words, I just want to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for changing you from a best friend into an ex-boyfriend. I look back and wish I can kick myself. If I just let it be, we would probably conversing today without doubts, unfinished business, words barred.

But at that time, loving you was ruining me so thoroughly that saying it promised a relief. It didn’t, instead all of it spread within me, making all the risks and all the changes worth it. It wasn’t, instead I dragged you into my mess and ruined all we had forever.

Or at least until now. I consider you very dearly, and the fact that I cannot send you this letter perhaps speaks to this lingering awkwardness. But I am sorry, and this is an effort to go back to the time where I can speak to you without using niceties.

I’m sorry, my impulses threw us into a suspended state that took too much time and energy. And ended up not being worth it. Nor did it have closure. I wish I have your patience, then all the need to consult you on this would not be an issue. You can have regrets alone, but this awkwardness is ours to share. I take all the responsibilities. All the fault is mine.

Warm regards,

Susan

Surprisingly, I learned something from Singelloop!

I realize that the title bears a lot of explaining. So let me begin from the most questionable part of the title, Singelloop. To strip it to its basic point, Singelloop is a community running (race?) event in Leiden. It is celebrated annually, and this year it took place on April 11, 2014. The route of Singelloop basically surrounds the city canal/ boulevard, the length of which is aroung 6-7 kms. It’s a charity event (as far as I heard) and it is organized by Leidsch Dagblad, a local newspaper. I suppose that would suffice as basic information.

My friends and I, all the students in my class were registered for this event. It was at first impression, daunting. People I met in the Netherlands so far seems like they are mostly fit and physically active somehow, but I know I’m not. But also, it begins at 7 pm, which is nice for a shy person like me, until you realize that it is in spring, and it doesn’t get dark until 9 pm, so there’s no protection in anonymity.

As the day approaches, I started dreading the event. I have a tendency to back out from events, especially if they involve a big number of people that I don’t know. And to be completely honest, some of my friends did cancel their participation. It took everything in me to not back out of the event. I have never jogged so far. I have never ran in daylight. And I have never become a spectacle on something I’m really bad at.

It was daunting indeed. A friend, in trying to explain the festivity, told me, ‘It’s fun! Half of Leiden participates in the event and the other half participates!’ Well intended, but that made me even more nervous. Until I heard that kids participate in the event, that entire families would just participate and run. Until I heard that people watching will be there to give you support, no matter who you are.

One of the best part before I started running was knowing that these people are not just there to watch, but also there to support me in my effort. I never thought I needed support, I thought what I needed was only training. As it turns out, that support actually mattered.

The support mattered because it gave me energy to continue and decreases all my fear of embarrassing myself. I managed to finish, but that is not why I wanted to write this post.

I wanted to write this post because Singelloop proved me wrong. I was always informed that Westerners are individualistic and not interested in other people. Leiden has proven to be a completely opposite experience for me so far, and it becomes obvious in Singelloop. Through Singelloop, I got an experience of community, albeit a very different one. But having unfamiliar people screaming ‘Go!’, ‘You can do this!’, ‘Keep running!’ from the sidelines of the route was heartwarming, was energizing, and gave me a sense of being in a community. And that was more than enough to keep me running for 6 kms.

Me and my fellow students-cum-Singelloop runners

Me and my fellow students-cum-Singelloop runners

NB: want to know more about the Leiden Singelloop? Click here Disclaimer though, it’s in Dutch.