Monday, September 13, 2010

Colombia, Reflection of 8 Months, and A Change in the Nature of This Blog

So this blog post is meant to indicate a change in the purpose of the entire blog, but first, let’s have a brief catch-up on the transition from Netherlands to Colombia, and the return to the US of A, including the first 2 weeks of university and some assorted updates of that nature.

Anyway: so I left Holland early in the morning on August 16 and the long chain of flight connections went without a hitch. Apart from the rain that accompanied my walking to the bus stop with a huge suitcase. But that's typical Holland, that. It was a struggle being in Miami overnight for like 12 hours, but eh, it’s been done before and I’m sure I’ll spend another night in an airport fairly soon. Upon arrival in Colombia, I took a cab into downtown Bogota to hang out there for like 7-8 hours before Madlien arrived from Monterrey later that evening. Hung out around downtown, went to Plaza de Bolivar (huge square in Bogota which is surrounded by parliament building, mayor’s office, etc.), La Candeleria (rather historic neighborhood with a really cool vibe to it), and some other interesting places. Headed back to El Dorado International Airport in the evening.

Interesting story about the process of getting there: so I decided to be a local and take the bus. With my large backpack on. Not speaking very good Spanish. So I headed to ask some guy where I could catch a bus to the airport. He said “over there” pointing towards a street corner. The street corner was pandemonium, there were like 40 people, and the busses would sort of slow down to about 10 MPH, at which time you’d literally hop onto the bus and pay your 1,400 pesos (about 80 cents). I had no idea which one went to the airport, but I decided to get on the one that said El Dorado something or other, as that was the name of the airport. I asked the driver if this went to “El Dorado”, and he said yes. About 30 minutes or so into the bus ride, I was told by someone that this stop was the airport, so I hopped off, quite grateful for such a friendly local. I got off and found myself on what was basically the side of a busy highway, with a building off in the distance looking airport-ish. Asked around a bit (and mind you, at this point it’s pitch-black out and I’m totally lost), and a friendly local did end up directing me towards the airport. Finally found my way there, but quite the experience. I can honestly say I was thinking I’d be robbed on the side of that highway, given that I was white, 6’ 1”, and with a huge backpack on. Practically a local.

Anyway, took Madlien like 4 hours to get through customs (really about 40 minutes), so we left the airport at like 9:30pm without a hostel (or hostal) or anything of that sort. We found one fairly easily, and decided to explore the neighborhood around the place, which was surprisingly safe. The next day we explored Bogota a fair bit. We got to see the Gold Museum, some parks, a few interesting neighborhoods, etc, and that evening we took a night bus to Medellin. Medellin was nice the next day, it was definitely by far the warmest city that we encountered in Colombia, with daytime temperatures at like 85 or so. It was fairly clean, though to be honest there wasn’t an overwhelming amount to do, so we decided to take a car to a small(ish) town called Manizales, in coffee country. We ended up spending several days there, seeing coffee plantations, climbing Nevado del Ruiz (17,000 feet), and enjoying the young, hip culture of the place. They also had some really nice parks that we walked around a fair bit, many of which offered incredible views of enormous mountains and valleys with farmers growing their assorted crops therein. Really picturesque place overall. So anyway, we took a devastating bus ride back to Bogota after a good few days in Manizales. It was particularly devastating due to how bumpy it was, the fact that the driver was making hairpin turns at 60mph, and the fact that it was just a generally uncomfortable bus. But that was still fine…ish. I spent the night in the airport, as Madlien had a late night flight to head up to Montreal to visit Rachael, and I left the next day for Miami (and another overnight layover… joy). I finally got back to O’Hare the morning of August 25. It was a bit of a surreal experience in Miami that morning, just sort of realizing that I’d finally be heading back to Chicago after 8 months abroad in 13 different countries on 3 continents. So I arrived in Chicago at 9:30am, got through customs quite quickly, and was whisked from the airport by Mom and Grammy. We flew by the house, I took a quick shower, grabbed a change of clothes, then headed to ISU, determined to make my 2:00pm class. Made my 2:00pm class, and had some meetings in the evening. Had some classes the following day, pretty standard.

Also – turns out my Financial Markets professor is Kazakh. Consequently, I went and shot the breeze with him about Kazakhstan, the workforce of Kazakhstan, their political situation, history, etc, all because of the knowledge I gained from my internship at SES WORLD SKIES, so if anyone from WS is reading this, please, please, please give Ludmila a special thank-you for all the knowledge of Kazakhstan that she passed down to me. Seriously, big thanks to Ludmila, for not only talking to me about the Kazakh satellite market, but about their government, history, etc. It allowed me to impress the hell out of a native with a Ph.D. in finance. Good times. So yeah, bit of a rundown of what’s happened during these first few weeks:

1) Student Export Project: despite the fact that applications aren’t accepted until October, I’ve already been accepted for the program as a member of the group going to Africa. It will either be going to Senegal, Ghana, or Kenya. Will be going there from early May until sometime in June.

2) International business club has been good as well. We got 22 new members at our new member meeting Tuesday.

3) Ran into Herr Z. at LZHS the other day when I was home for NIU’s family weekend. He offered me an internship in Nittenau, Bavaria, Germany this coming summer just after the export project, so I may very well do that. I’d be working for a company that makes machines for breweries.

4) I’ve started writing a book about 2010. I don’t want it to be a collection of journal entries, I’d rather it be a legitimate novel with recurring themes, an overall message, etc., so we’ll see how that challenge progresses.

5) Turns out the USA is kind of boring. Kind of struggling with that.
This coming weekend I’ll be riding my bike from ISU to U of I as part of a bet with Dan. It’s about 60 miles and I have a day to do it, should be a decent time, I may try and make a show out of it by perhaps trying to raise money by turning it into a “Ride for Senegal” or something, we’ll see. Certainly I don’t mind attention. Other than that, things have been progressing as per usual, looks like I’ll be hanging around ISU until May then graduating and figuring out what I’ll do from there (after 2 potential internships). Should be fun.

And now, a bit of a summary of this entire 8 month world tour. I guess I’ll go with the 10 most breathtaking, amazing, spectacular sights I’ve seen or things I’ve done, attempting to not do too many repeats from each country, and in no particular order:

Borobodur Temple, Yogyakarta, Indonesia: The world’s largest Buddhist temple, and we saw it at sunrise on the island of Java. We hung out with locals there, and it was one of the most truly amazing, mystical places I’ve ever seen.

World Cup Final, Museumplein, Amsterdam, Netherlands: The world’s biggest sporting event, and I was in the center of the capital of one of the participating countries with 150,000-200,000 Dutch people going mad. Even though NL lost 1-0, it was still the experience of a lifetime.

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: I’m not one to really be taken away by hugely spectacular buildings, but the Petronas Towers, their unique architecture, and the sheer scale of them was incredible.

Hong Kong Skyline, morning of May 24, 2010: Our last morning in Hong Kong, we hiked to Victoria Peak to see the skyline one last time. It was the clearest, most perfect sunrise of the entire semester, and was absolutely like something out of a movie. The three people I was with will be friends of mine for many years I think, and it was a beautiful and appropriate way to end the semester.

Sugar Beach, Sipalay, The Philippines: The most picturesque beach I have ever been to. Our hut that was about 200 feet away cost us $6 per person per night, and the mix of locals and tourists was perfect. Definitely found a little slice of paradise.

Russ Karaoke Night, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong: Not only was this the night that more or less led to the coupling of Elliott Sandaver and Paris McKey, but it is also a night that is sure to go down in the lore of Hong Kong exchange students, and the lore of the karaoke bar that we demolished.

Nevado del Ruiz, Manizales, Colombia: While there was nothing particularly splendid about the view, the hike, or anything else, it was simply an incredible feeling to be 17,000 feet up, and it was my first experience at that high an altitude, which led to a bit of shortness of breath, etc.

Seoul, South Korea: My favorite city in Asia that wasn’t Hong Kong, Seoul was an absolutely perfect combination of size, cleanliness, outdoor activities, history, chic-ness, etc. Amazing food, amazing people, just an absolutely great place.

Little India, Singapore: One of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been to. The fact is, while the rest of Singapore is grey, rigid, structured, etc., Little India is pandemonium, alive, vibrant, and just completely unlike the rest of Singapore. This contrast made it one of the truly special places I visited.

Lan Kwai Fong, Central District, Hong Kong: The granddaddy of them all. The greatest place on the planet. Lan Kwai Fong was undoubtedly the most wonderful place I went to. Nowhere else in the world can you simply walk down the street with a Tsingtao and run into 25-30 of your friends in a sea of people. The layout of the district made it almost a homey feel, in that it was large but had smaller alcoves and nooks where you could simply hang out with a few friends to avoid the ruckus. Particularly during Rugby Sevens, Lan Kwai Fong was the most electric, energetic, and just plain fun place I’ve ever seen.

These 10 things were life-changing. This 8 months was life-changing. The people I've met, the cultures I've experienced, the things I've seen have all been truly brilliant. As an old teacher of mine told me the other day, "you now have enough coffee table fodder to last a lifetime". I was asked today by a friend of my grandmother's if I'd do it all again, to which I replied an immediate "yes, and I wouldn't change a thing". Going into study abroad, everyone who had previously done it was saying how life-changing it is, how it was the greatest thing they ever did, etc., which I never really bought in to, but I can say without any reservations that it is all true. I miss Hong Kong an incredible amount, and it kills me that many of the people I met there, I'll never see again, but at the same time, it's all in the nature of studying abroad I suppose. And besides, it was one incredible ride, and it's safe to say we enjoyed it while it lasted. My outlook on life is completely changed now (and it turns out, after returning stateside, I really can say in all honesty that I hate America), and I have brought back many saying, mannerisms, and cultural quirks absorbed from the people I've met. Overall, it was the greatest experience of my life, and I want to thank every single person I met on this 8-month journey for simply taking the time and effort to have a conversation and forge a friendship, no matter how brief, as you've all contributed to what was the most monumental thing I've ever done. Hats off to you all, hope to see you all again someday. Also, big thanks to the family for being so supportive of me traveling all over creation in all sorts of dodgy third-world countries. Not that you could've stopped me from traveling to Indonesia from Hong Kong, for example, but your support made it much more fun. Big thanks.

So the question now is, what to do about the blog? I’m done traveling (for now), but I feel like as long as I continue to live a reasonably interesting existence, I’ll keep updating this periodically so as to let people know what I’ve been up to, as I now know people from all over the world that I will never be seeing regularly, so I feel like this is a fine way of keeping them informed (that was a long sentence). Consequently, we'll see a change in the nature of this blog. Having said that, I still acknowledge that this blog has a readership comparable to the memoirs of Steve Buscemi, but I don’t really care. I’m self-absorbed enough to keep on writing about myself, but again, as long as I’m living a moderately interesting existence. If anyone really has a problem with that, email me (, and outline your complaints, maybe I’ll stop writing. So for the time being, expect this blog to contain info on the following, as they develop:

Student Export Project
Nittenau Internship
Book’s progress
Quest to keep off the weight I lost while traveling despite being back in the states (and I will be trying some interesting diets I think, so we’ll see the effectiveness of various ones!)
Other assorted musings

So that’s about it for now. Sorry for the really long post, but eh, I had to summarize the trip and other such things, so yeah. Also, if its choppy, it’s because this was written in 2 parts, about 4 days apart, so yeah. Big thanks if you’ve read this, and please, if anyone from WS did read this, do send a big thank-you Ludmila’s way for the Kazakhstan info. And a general hello to everyone in the office, miss you guys!

More news to come as it develops

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Farewell to Vlaams

So I have less than 24 hours remaining in the Netherlands. To say it's been a quick 12 weeks would be an understatement the size of Museumplein, and it's most certainly been a wonderful learning experience, in terms of both business and personal growth. I've met some incredible people from all over the world, and can honestly say that I have learned more in these last 3 months than I had at 3 years of university. I guess before I go into something of a reminiscence of the past few months, I'll briefly summarize the 2 weeks or so since my last blog post-

Company sailing trip was last week. My goal going into the thing was to not fall off the boat, which I succeeded at, with flying colors. We had 4 sailboats going around a chain of lakes near Leiden, and it turned out to be a very nice afternoon of sailing. Francois (our boat's captain) even let me captain our boat (albeit briefly), and I managed to not capsize the thing. So that was a success. Afterwards we had a few drinks by the water before heading back to our respective homes.

The weekend trip to Paris ended in terrific failure. Brief summary: I was to print out the ticket for the train, and I intended on doing that at the office, but it simply slipped my mind in the bustle that was my 2nd to last week at SES. I realized at the house Friday night that I'd forgotten to print off the ticket, so I attempted to print it off on the printer they have here, but I was unable to install it on my laptop. So I decided it would probably be alright to just show up in Rotterdam Saturday morning with my credit card I'd paid with, my passport, etc., and be alright. Rookie error, that. Turns out it wasn't sufficient, and I ended up not being able to catch that train to Paris. Not wanting to pay a king's ransom for a same-day trip to Paris, I decided to head to Brussels for 31.70 euros R/T. Brussels was... interesting. It was a nice city with some cool buildings and wonderful museums (including one with a special exhibit about trade between Europe and Asia over the past 2 millennia). It also had, however, arguably the highest per-capita beggar/gypsy population of any city I've seen. Absolutely mind-boggling, the number of people who were asking me for money for having done absolutely nothing of value to society. Get jobs, people. It's not THAT hard. And if you're not going to get a job, and going to ask me for money on the street, learn to play an instrument, juggle, etc. Don't just sit there looking like a degenerate asking for a handout. Seriously. I was able to buy a decently intriguing book in Belgium as well, about the C.I.A.'s covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. So far it's been good. Headed home from Brussels late Saturday evening. Sunday I mulled around, read a bit, etc. Standard.

This week was my last one at SES. All things considered it was pretty boring. I finished my report on Tuesday evening. In total it was 59 pages, 18,000+ words, and just a general novel about our European customer base. Hopefully more people have the patience to read that entire thing than this blog. Anyway- So yeah Tuesday finished the report, so Wednesday and Thursday I just sort of hung out at the office trying not to raise too much hell, which was exceedingly difficult. Friday was excellent. In the morning I gave a final presentation to about 15-20 or so people, lasted about 35 minutes. I was reasonably satisfied with the presentation, but more so, I was very, very pleased to see that some good conversation happened during the presentation (i.e. when I brought up some point about some market segment, that segment's Sales Director would chime in with their knowledge, and it seemed as though it was a good learning environment, anyway). So it was good to see that my presentation led to some good conversation between the sales directors, strategic marketing people, etc. The last lunch at SES was pretty typical, and in the afternoon we had my farewell drinks at about 4:30. Henning provided some wine, and his wife (on about 6 hours notice, no less) arranged for a few pies to be delivered, so that was a really great way to be seen off. I also got a ton of free SES WORLD SKIES stuff, and consequently the awareness of SES at Illinois State next fall should increase at least infinity-fold. Will be repping the blue and yellow with pride, most certainly. And any time I'm at a party and the satellite TV goes out due to rain... I'll slink into a corner and keep my mouth shut. So yeah, it really was a wonderful atmosphere at the farewell drinks, and I'll certainly miss all the people around the office that I've met these last few months. After my going away drinks, there were celebratory drinks (absolutely flabbergasting, I know, having DRINKS?!?! at SES WORLD SKIES?!?!?! unheard-of!) for Nihar's completion of his 11th masters degree, this one from Georgetown in their Masters of World Domination program. But seriously, yeah the man has 2 masters and has said repeatedly he's now finally overcome his crippling addiction to diplomas, and will consequently find a hobby (my money is on salsa dancing). Friday night I went out to Schevinengen with some people from the office and we watched some International Fireworks Display or something on the beach. I don't entirely understand the concept of having countries "compete" against each other for fireworks excellence, but I guess in a country without baseball they need a way to take up their time.

So yeah, I've just been packing the last couple of days. Turns out I have a lot of stuff, so I'm looking forward to paying some absurd amount to the Leprechauns at Aer Lingus for being able to bring like 120lbs of luggage onto their airplane. I'll be hanging out with the family at O'Hare for a few hours, as I said, then heading onward to Colombia. Should shorten my life expectancy substantially.

Anyway, now comes the time where I should write a meaningful goodbye to SES WORLD SKIES, so I guess I'll do that. As I've said exactly three bazillion times this summer, I've learned so much here, and can't say enough what a great opportunity it's been. I can honestly say I couldn't believe how international the company really is, which was best exemplified when my Grammy asked me a few weeks ago if I've learned any Dutch here. I said that, at the office, I hear more of the following languages than Dutch: Russian, Spanish, French, German, and English. It really is incredible. I'll certainly never forget the good times had at World Skies (notice the lack of capitalization, take THAT marketing! Now that I no longer work there I'm no longer in your clutches!) and can't say enough how welcome I felt every single morning upon walking into that office. It was a perfect first office job to have, though in a way it's a bit of a negative, because I'm 100% certain that my first real job out of university will not be able to hold a candle to the experience I've had here and the general office atmosphere. In fact, it will probably be a thoroughly soul-crushing experience to work in an office that isn't SES World Skies. If nothing else, I've still got some time until that day comes, so we'll just take it one day at a time for now. I felt before I came here that I'd likely make a bit of a unique impression on the place with my generally eccentric behavior, and I feel like I probably did that. So that's a win, in a manner of speaking. I can honestly say that the only thing I will not miss about this job is riding home 8-9km in the pouring rain on occasion. That was not fun. But other than that, my goodness was this just an awesome, awesome (Henning, if you're by some chance reading this, that 2nd awesome was for you) work and life experience. The once-weekly goodbye/celebratory/summer/wednesday drinks didn't hurt either. I'm starting to ramble, so I guess let's close with something like I wish each and everyone one of you the best of luck in your future careers and lives, and hope that my work helps to contribute in some way (preferably positive) to SES World Skies. It's truly been a pleasure working with each and every one of you, there are more characters in that office than should be allowed, for Chrissakes, but I feel like that's what makes SES what it is. So again, a big thank you to everyone, especially Henning Horst, my brilliant and equally eccentric mentor throughout this entire project. Not only did you attempt to teach me the art of keeping it brief (I say attempt because it may just be a terminal illness that I suffer), but you taught me a ton about satellites, marketing, strategy, etc. It's been great. Also a huge thank-you to the entire Sprague family for their truly absurd hospitality. I would have never been able to come here had it not been for you guys, so thank you, thank you, thank you for letting a complete stranger come live in your house for 3 months. I can't tell you how much that means to me. Signing off for the last time in the Netherlands, for those who have read all this, I extend you a big thank you and a hearty tip-of-the-hat. It's you guys that I write this for (who am I kidding, it's really just for my own ego, but eh). More to come from Bogota, it's been real, folks.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bike Thievery, Company Tomfoolery, Blaine Curcio Hum-bugery, Zen Master wisdomery, Afternoon Sailboatery, and other made up words involving -ery

"It's been awhile since I posted anything" is becoming sort of a recurring theme for the first line of these blog posts, so for the one household reading these blogs, apologies, it's not that I've been terribly busy, I just haven't felt hugely motivated to write. However, I feel like the title to this blog may be my greatest creative achievement. Or just a weird combination of archaic words that’s a bit forced and nonsensical. But either way, here’s where we left off I guess: Missing Asia, and organizing a trip to somewhere last week on Saturday.

Saturday of last week Hunter and I went to Delightful Delft, perhaps the most appropriate alliteration of an adjective and a town name imaginable. Just a perfect little Dutch down of roughly 120,000 people (ish), with two very nice churches, a very Dutch (yeah that would be the best adjective) market, some wonderful canals, and a couple of interesting museums. The churches were both about 500 years old we think, though it was a bit difficult to be sure as they’d apparently gone through a number of refurbishments, rebuildings, fires, earthquakes, typhoons (in Holland), biblical plagues, and the like. But yes, point being, they were older than the US of A. The most interesting museum we saw was a museum outlining the history of Delft, which included a fair bit about William of Orange and Delft’s role as a revolutionary city. Decent, and the entry fee was negligible (like 3 euros or something). After that we went to the Indonesian museum. I thought this had some real potential, as I’d been to Indonesia and figured “well, I saw some Dutch colonial stuff there, it’d be cool to see what they have to say about it here”, or something like that. All I can say is thank God the entry was free. We walked in and I think they were under some kind of renovation or something, because the guy in the gift shop was like “oh the museum is right over there through that door”. We walked through that door, and I kid you not, the “museum” was basically a big glockenspiel on the floor surrounded by symbols and drums and such. We were pretty confused, and just left. We then went to this really cool public square that almost had a wild-west feel to it, in that there were, for lack of a better word, “walls” of storefronts on three sides of the place. By this I mean basically the buildings (in typical Dutch fashion) were build touching the neighboring buildings, so rather than having separate buildings, you had a “wall” of buildings. Again, for some reason, sort of wild-west-ish… or not. So Saturday night we got home and were just sort of hanging out watching Eurosport2 (think ESPN8, the Ocho, from Dodgeball… kind of) and they had on some big beach soccer tournament. We saw in the background “Crocs Challenge 2010: The Hague”. We were a bit surprised, and looked up this Cros Challenge online, only to find that it was taking place that very weekend at Schevinengen. So of course we went the following day.

Some observations about the beach soccer tourney: this was not a sporting event, per se, as much as it was just a social gathering. The crowd was fascinating. You had Rastafarian looking people just sitting on beanbags under a huge Red Bull tent just outside the place. The entry was free. During intermissions they had those same Rasta guys playing bongo drums and such on the field (beach). During the match they had music blaring the entire time, and all 500 people there (still about 100 times the readership of this blog!) were just sort of hanging out. Very interesting stuff. Also, beer was cheaper than soda. Welcome to Holland. Anyway, so we watched a couple of matches, including the Championship match between the Dutch and Turkish National teams. The match was 3 periods of 12 minutes each, and Turkey won 6-5. Yeah, 11 goals in 36 minutes. So basically, 3 times the goals of standard soccer, in 1/3 the time. Quite an exciting sport, at least for a short while.

So last week at work was decent. It was Hunter’s last week, so there was kind of a bittersweet feel to it, but overall I got some good work done and had some valuable meetings with some people. Good stuff. Friday was the much anticipated “Company Boat Tour”, which was basically 30 or so employees taking a boat ride around the canals of The Hague. At about 4:00pm we (about 15 of us) rode over from the office to the boat. We all parked our bikes near the boat. My bike was locked. Anyway, so we took the boat tour, got back about 90 minutes later, and to my general indifference, my bike was gone. It was actually a bit hilarious that I was probably the least upset out of anyone, but eh, the whole ordeal reminds me of the story of the Zen Master, which I first heard in the film Charlie Wilson’s War (though this is slightly different from that version) :

“So there’s a small village somewhere, and in this small village a farmer’s horse runs away, and all the villagers say “oh how terrible, the horse ran away”. And the Zen Master said, “we’ll see”. Two days later, the horse returns, bringing with it three more wild horses. Everyone says “Ah, how wonderful, now the farmer has 4 horses to tend to his crops!” and the Zen Master says, “we’ll see”. A short while later, the farmer’s son is riding one of the untamed horses, and he falls and mangles his leg. All the townspeople say “oh how horrible, his leg is broken”. “We’ll see”, said the Zen Master. A couple of weeks later, a war breaks out. All the young men are required to go fight in the war, except for the boy with the mangled leg. All the townspeople say “oh how wonderful”, and of course, the Zen Master replies… “we’ll see”.

Anyway, so now that I’ve rambled about the Zen Master: after the bike theft, we went to the company drinks held at a nearby restaurant/bar. Was a real good time, got to meet some employees I’d previously not talked to much, which was quite nice. I ended up taking the bus home awhile later while Hunter biked. Saturday we headed to Amsterdam for the last time for Hunter. It’s a bit interesting, he spent 11 years of his childhood here, but he’s more or less decided that, odds are, he’ll not be returning at any point (as he spent his childhood summers in Chicagoland prior anyway), so a bit sad to see him leaving the place for what will maybe be the last time.

Sunday morning Hunter left for the airport quite early (this would be the cause of the aforementioned Blaine Curcio hum-bugery), and I spent the morning Skyping Lexx all the way from Gold Coast, Australia. Good to hear the Aussie accent again, though as I type this I regret not asking her to pronounce an “h” related acronym just to hear their horrible mispronunciation. Spent the afternoon at some park in The Hague reading a book about second world economies before exploring The Hague’s “Chinatown” neighborhood (real dodgy relatively speaking), then headed home to speak with the parentals and Grammy. That was very nice, especially as I was also able to speak to Aunt Trina, Alex, and The Hen, as my family was at their house. So that was the weekend.

A bit bittersweet as well, word from the lads back home: Dan's 21st was the other day, so they went to Vegas where Dan rented the penthouse at the Aria. Apparently there's been a fair bit of debauchery, sounds like they've had a blast, and the legend of Mike Greenwood has made a guest appearance all the way from LA. So yeah, wish I could be there, but eh, Netherlands isnt' bad either, certainly.

This week should be interesting, I’ll be starting to wrap up this whole project, as I finish work here next Friday. This evening I’ll be going sailing with some people from the office. To answer the obvious: no, I have never sailed before. But then again, as a one Sabutai Haider can attest to, my introduction to cricket was a semi-competitive match, and while that ended in tears (ish), I did nonetheless show up and play (and still have the scars to prove it!). Plus my second time I batted an 8. So yeah, sailing today, should be good (provided I don’t fall into the water, and even if I do, I’m always one to see the hilarity in things like that). This weekend will be a trip to Paris which I booked last week, roughly $135 for R/T high speed train Rotterdam-Paris. Can’t complain. Hoping to see Chanwa there, as he may be around this weekend. Other than that, the next few weeks will undoubtedly be hectic, with Paris this weekend, The Hague/Amsterdam next weekend, flying home Monday, flying to Bogota Monday, then spending a bit of time there. Its been a real good internship, I must say I’ve learned far more than I’d’ve ever anticipated, about myself, satellites, marketing, sales, people in general, etc. It’ll be a bit sad to leave the Netherlands, but at the same time there isn’t much here that interests me at this very point and time. Anyway, that’s about all, this blog has far exceeded the length I was hoping it would be, but eh. If you’ve read all this, many thanks, it’s people like you that feed my ever expanding ego! (but really, a big thanks, I’ve been told by a few people how much they enjoy reading it, and that really, really does mean a whole lot to me, I can’t thank you all enough).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Missing the Exotic Vibes of Asia in the Disturbingly Normal Netherlands

Regarding the title to this blog post:
Asia is a different world. No where else that I've been can you just see something absolutely ridiculous happening (elephant walking down a street, street sign preventing bringing Durians into a subway system, bullet holes in bus windows, etc.) and just dismiss it nonchalantly as "well, that's Asia". Everything is abnormal, and your senses simply get overrun by the pandemonium that is everyday life going on in the world's largest continent. After awhile it becomes a bit of a nuisance, but overall it's a pretty beautiful way to live your life, as far as just having absolutely perfectly structured anarchy going on all around you. Europe, as I knew beforehand, is extremely different. It's just normal. Yeah, you'll see some weird things in Amsterdam, but overall, the Netherlands is just incredibly normal. Everyone bikes, which is odd for an American, but that's not shocking or offensive, its just different. Also, pace of life is very much slower than ANYWHERE in Asia. This could be a result of the time of year (Europe goes on holiday in late July-early August. Yes, the continent of Europe. All of it), but in my other experiences in Europe its been much the same. What I'm trying to say here, is that I'm sort of missing the absolute sensory overload and pandemonium that was, and still certainly is, Asia. We'll see how this goes in the next 6 months once I'm back in the states. ANYWAY:

So I've got about three weeks left in the Netherlands. All things considered, it's been a pretty crazy year so far. As both regular readers know, I'm heading to Colombia after this for about 9-ish days, much to the general chagrin of my family, but in fairness, I'm graduating college pretty soon and have few opportunities left to travel recreationally. Plus, cheap airfare is a powerful motivator. This last week here has been pretty good:

Friday of last week, Hunter and I went to a friend's house and hung out for a bit before heading out into The Hague for a night out. Not a bad time at all, except for one of our friends who fell off his bike on the ride into The Hague and was bleeding profusely for the next 3 hours or so. Rookie error, as they say, but eh, pretty hilarious nonetheless.

Saturday we headed to Amsterdam to play tourist. We started the day at the Heineken Brewery around 1:30pm or so. It was a pretty awesome place, for 15 euros you got a tour, 3 free Heinekens, and a wristband similar to the LiveStrong ones, except instead of endorsing cancer research, they endorse alcoholism. Welcome to Holland. After a 2-2.5 hr tour, we headed from there over to Leidseplein (probably misspelled). This was just sort of a square with some restaurants, touristy shops, etc. From there we had dinner at the Hard Rock before going to a pub crawl organized by some company in Amsterdam, and, for 20 euros, offered a free t-shirt, entry+1 drink at 6 clubs, and some "vodka" between bars. The quotations there indicate that it was basically 95% fruit juice and 5% vodka in 2L bottle that they just poured into your mouth. The alcohol content was so pitiful that it could have easily passed in a Madrasah without anyone blinking an eye. The bar crawl was rather disappointing, and the night ended with us jumping into the canals of Amsterdam with some Serbians. Yes, you read that correctly. To my knowledge I do not have any intestinal parasites as a result of said actions, but I'm no doctor...

Sunday we went to Zaanse Schans with Samer and Laura. Basically, imagine the most incredibly stereotypical Dutch town you can think of, and multiply it's Dutchness by about 7. The place was shocking. Just tons of picturesque windmills caressed by canals which extended into fields of tulips and other such things. Cottages where they showed you how Dutch cheese is made, a place where you can see how they've mechanized the creation of Dutch wooden clogs, just really really touristy Dutch. Overall it was a great time, I got some good photos and bought a pair of wooden clogs (which I intend on wearing with disturbingly decent regularity upon my return to the States). We also got some magnificent weather during the day at Zaanse Schans, which made the day all the more excellent. One problem was the fact that the entire town had a whopping one ATM, which was conveniently out of order (those Dutch, can't take them anywhere), so I had to borrow a bit of money from Hunter for about 6 hours.

The work week was interesting. Henning, Simon, and Mr. Sprague were all out of the office, so I had no one to report to. Consequently, Monday consisted of me just putting random variables into graph format to see if I could discover anything meaningful among our European customers. Tuesday I did a fair bit of editing on my final project, as advised by Henning via phone. Wednesday and Thursday I did some editing that was suggested by Regina. Sidenote on Regina: she works in Market Development (I think?). Her comments on my paper were extraordinary. The sharpness (for want of a more existent word) of her critique was literally unbelievable. Absolutely incredible how valuable the critique was. Anyway, Friday Mr. Sprague returned from Singapore. The flight was 13 hours, he arrived at the house at like 7:45am, and was in the office before 9:00am. The phrase "Is THAT all?" got thrown around a lot in Hong Kong, but I feel like that's about the only thing to say here. Hunter's work week was a bit hilarious. Thursday and Friday his 3 immediate bosses were all gone on various excursions, and at one point I went down to his desk to say hello. On his side of the floor there's about 12 desks, and 11 of them were empty. He was literally the only person on his side of the floor. Absolutely hilarious.

This weekend should be pretty quiet, it's been a good, long while since I've just had a day to relax, which will likely be tomorrow. As I'm typing this, Hunter has just woken up, and I think the plan for today is to go to some other town in NL, either Utrecht (home of the Peace of Utrecht in 17?? which ended the War of Spanish Succession, if AP Euro serves me right), Nijmegen (home of Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678? which ended something?), Rotterdam (Europe's largest port), or Delft. We'll see.

As I said at the beginning of this blog post, I've got three weeks left here. It's incredible that I've been here 2 months already, and that I've been away for about 7 months or so. It should be interesting to re-immerse myself in American culture after this whole world tour. Not a whole lot more to say at this point, I'm beginning to get a bit road-weary, if you will, for the fact that I have not seen my closest friends from home since before Christmas (with the exception of Dan, who I obviously saw during the entire trip to Japan in January). Turns out I've travelled to 11 countries on this trip not including Dubai (where I only had a layover). I've flown about 33,000 miles, and I have a fair few more to go in the coming month. And I wonder why I've spend about 60% of my money during the past 7 months...

Missing the exotic vibes of Asia a fair bit in the terribly normal Netherlands

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The World Cup Final, and Other Rants Ranging from Lorenz Curves to Caterpillar Scholarships

It is a rather long blog post, but I feel like I've kept it decently interesting. If nothing else, it's not as though I'm forcing you to read it.

So it’s been a little while since I posted anything, and, while these last 12 days or so have been uneventful relatively speaking, it’s still been 12 days of living in a country that is, despite becoming more and more familiar, still quite foreign. Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first: work.

Work has gone well lately. Today I finished my complete analysis on our largest European customers. The analysis was like 42 pages of just dense, dry, boring numbers. I tried to liven it up with colorful vocabulary, weird case studies, quips, commentaries, inappropriate or immature jokes, and other such things that might keep the reader out of a mental institution, but it was still a rather tough pill to swallow. At least the graphs were nice. And I got to use “jamboree”. Speaking of not-often used words, the other day (and by that I mean like 3 weeks ago) I was proofreading a friend’s paper when I came across the word “philosophes”. No, that was not “philosophies” with a typo. “Philosophes”, or, (generally) French Enlightenment thinkers. I hadn’t heard that word since literally 2006. Definitely made my day. Now that you’re all questioning whether I belong in a mental institution…

Henning is currently on holiday in Poland with his family. He left last Tuesday, and beforehand I had a meeting with he and Simon to sort of hand over control of me from Henning to Simon. Consequently I’m reporting to Simon now for the time being, which would be nice, if he hadn’t left this morning for the UK. So basically I’m now outsourced labor despite not having been outsourced. But yes, I’m outsourced in that I am working elsewhere from my immediate bosses and will be taking a lot of orders via phone. I want to clarify that I’m not complaining about this, I just find it rather interesting (just like I found it interesting when Henning told me that SES employees get 27 paid vacation days per year. Twenty. Seven. Let’s say the office is open 50 weeks per year times 5 days, that’s 250 days. Over 10% of the days are therefore vacation. In theory you could basically take off from Thanksgiving onwards and not come back until next year and still be paid. I’ll be that’s the very longest thought within a single set of parenthesis that any of the 6 readers of this blog have ever seen. And if it’s not, I’d really like to hear what is. Seriously, email it to me,

ANYWAY… other than that, I showed Ludmila my Russia+CIS analysis (which dealt exclusively with her customers). Brief aside: Ludmila is Bulgarian. She is a phenomenally sweet lady, but, by nature of her Eastern European-ness (if there is such a word), I was expecting her thoughts on my paper to generally be “what can you improve”, rather than “what have you done right”. Again, I’d like to point out that she is one of my favorite people at the office, and I do really enjoy working with her, but I was just expecting a more negative critique. Quite the contrary, the first thing she said was how impressed she was with the writing quality, and that there was significantly more in this paper than she had told me in the interview I had with her, which showed a good bit of initiative and outside research. She also gave me some wonderful pointers on how to improve the paper, and I definitely feel like it is better as a result. Overall a very good chat, and one which really showed that she is a very skillful critique, as she picked up a number of small details that I’d’ve never picked up had I read the thing 10 times (which I’m probably absorbed enough in my own work to do). Other than that, on the work front not a whole lot has been going on. Again, I finished my novel of a European customer analysis (the table of contents was two pages, it contained 14,933 words, it required an industrial-strength stapler, 7 teams of oxen were required to carry it from my desk to Simon’s office (a path now known as the Oregon Trail), the weight alone nearly collapsed the building, a rainforest the size of Ukraine was cut down to produce the paper, and other massive under-statements like that. You read that correctly. Understatements…).

So now to the fun (or… not so fun?) stuff, the World Cup. As many of you probably saw (and as many of you didn’t because I’d assume that about 75% of the readers (i.e. 3 people) are American), the World Cup happened to occur this summer. For those who don’t know, Holland made the final. I already went into detail about the pandemonium surrounding our quarterfinal beheading of Dunga and his joga bonito-ing Brazilian fighting squad, so that’s the end of that. Tuesday of last week we played Uruguay in the semi’s. We went out to a 3-1 lead late in the second half, Uruguay scored a 2nd to make it close, but we held for a 3-2 win. The Netherlands went into pandemonium. There were fireworks, flares, mortars, bazookas, insurgents, Taliban (now we’re getting politically incorrect)… but you get the idea, it was nuts. The next night Spain upset arguably the most German team on the planet, Germany, with a 1-0 win. This made an all-European final of Spain and Netherlands, in a matchup that pitted the stylish, free-flowing Spaniards against the orange, oranje, and anaranjado Dutch.

Hunter and I decided that it would probably be a good choice to go to Amsterdam for the final, because there were allegedly 80,000 people at Museumplein for the semifinal, and therefore it was reasonable to expect at least like 50-100 people there for the final (conservatively speaking, of course). Turned out it was closer to 150,000 people, or roughly the population of Siberia. Crammed into a space the size of a large elevator. This led to an incredible atmosphere that included truly staggering amounts of the following: orange, Dutchmen, Heineken, vuvuzelas, shoes (each person was probably wearing two… so think about it, three hundred thousand shoes!), and did I mention the ORANGE. So much orange it was unbelievable. I bought an orange t-shirt for an outrageously expensive 5 euros. I nearly told the lady m-goi, thinking “I must be back in Asia for prices this cheap”. Anyway, so the match was being broadcast on 3 massive (and my God do I mean massive) televisions perched about 20-25 feet above this sea of orange (or the Orange Sea (not to be confused with the Red Sea), as I christened it just now in a failed attempt at wit). The match atmosphere was intense, though the match was about as exciting as reading my report on our European customers. So it was a positively thrilling affair. Anyway, in a throwback to the 2006 Italy-Germany semifinal, no one scored for like 115 minutes. Then, Andres Iniesta stuck a knife into the hearts of 16 million Dutch and two Americans (I believe their names were Gustovson… Anyone get the reference????) as he scored a goal to put Spain up 1-0, tearing off his kit to reveal the “Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros” t-shirt, an homage to his fallen friend Dani Jarque who died of a heart attack at age 26 last year. Anyway, so afterwards, the closest thing I can compare Amsterdam to (even more so after watching Shaun of the Dead last night) was a zombie apocalypse. Yeah that’s right, I just compared a world cup loss to a zombie apocalypse. Which coffee shop have I been frequenting, you ask? Well basically here is what I mean: the 150,000 or so people that had been watching the match just sort of left Museumplein. They were walking the streets in hordes just sort of walking without purpose. Their faces were full of a combination of sadness, disbelief, horror, and just general lack of comprehension at what had just occurred. They were essentially just walking to avoid standing still. We nearly saw several fights break out due to people being in such a foul mood. Weird, weird stuff.

Work Monday was a bit dead with the exception of Nuria (who is Spanish), as she bounced around the office. She was very graceful in victory, however, refusing to be overly cocky, celebratory, etc., which was good to see (though probably not something I’d ever do). Anyway, so that’s about it for the World Cup, only 47 more months until Brasil 2014. I now have a massive Jabulani shaped void in my life, which will likely be filled by British comedy, a developing case of workoholism, and reading SuperFreakonomics and the Lonely Planet on Colombia (month from tomorrow, should be good provided I don’t get kidnapped by a cartel… and even if that does occur, no one could argue it wouldn’t be a life experience).

ISU came through in flying colors today when I found out, a whopping 36 hours in advance, that the deadline for the Caterpillar Scholarship is tomorrow. This $2,500 scholarship is awarded to 4 College of Business students every year. One of the kids that won it last year was a juggernaut (US Marine veteran, studied abroad in Japan, just a spectacular kid), but this year there’s no one really like that, so my chances are good I think. Got some help from Grammy today on my app essay via Skype (modern technology for the win), so we’ll see. The whole 36 hours in advance thing was even more infuriating because I’d emailed the lady in charge like 6 weeks ago asking about the Caterpillar Scholarship, and she said she didn’t know but she would email me when she did. Suffice to say she did not just find out today about it. But eh, got the application in, that’s all that matters.

Read for a good long while last night about Gini coefficients and Lorenz curves, pretty interesting stuff. I’d previously understood how to interpret individual Gini coefficients, but had never really bothered to learn how they were calculated, etc. Turns out it’s a right-angled graph using a Lorenz curve and taking the area to the left of said curve divided by the total area of the graph. Or, more obviously, area to the left of the curve times 2 (as the area of the total graph is 0.5, as the axes are from 0-1). Really good stuff involving mathematical demography.

The plan for the weekend is to play tourist. Saturday we’re (Hunter and I) going to Amsterdam to see the Heineken Brewery, Amsterdam ArenA, the Hard Rock Café, etc. Sunday we’re going with Samer (another intern) to some really stereotypical Dutch town up north (stereotypical being windmills, wooden clogs, Dutch people, soft “j”s, KLM, etc.). Should be…Dutch? Yeah. Incredible to think I leave 1 month from tomorrow to go to the states for a whole 4 hours before leaving for Bogota. I’ve learned a ton this summer, and even more on my entire world tour, which is really quickly coming to an end. In fairness I’m about ready to head home, and in the words of Alexander the Great, “there are no more worlds to conquer” (aside: I know very well there is much more of the world to see, I’m just ready for a break, so at this point that’s where I’m at.) So yeah, plan is currently to leave Holland the 16th, fly to Miami the 16th, overnight layover before flying to Bogota morning of the 17th, do God knows what in Colombia until the 24th, fly home the 24th before another overnight in Miami, arrive in Chicago the 25th at 9:30am before heading down to ISU that afternoon. Should be a blast. Seriously though, should be a good time.

Note: I’m fairly satisfied with this blog post. I feel like it’s a bit lengthy but it reads reasonably well and I’ve kept it fairly entertaining I feel. If you feel the same way, I’m very glad to hear that. If not, I guess you’ll just have to punch me in the mouth next time you see me.

An enormous thank you if you’ve read my psychotic ravings. And an enormous request to not report my Taliban reference to the authorities. Other than that, good night, good morning, good afternoon, good evening, or good whatever time of day you may be reading this (except noon… who says good…noon?)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

So Just How World Cup-Crazed Is Holland?

As many of you probably saw yesterday, Holland made a Herculean comeback against the mightiest of mighty national soccer teams in Brasil, coming back from a 1-0 halftime deficit to streak past the heavily favored Seleção in a thrilling 2-1 victory. As I've made very clear, the 7 people that read this blog aren't reading it for my World Cup analysis, so that's all I'm going to say about the match itself. More importantly were the activities going on around me before, during, and after the match.

First off, let me just say, thank God this match was on a Friday. I shudder to think what's going to happen Tuesday when the Oranje play Uruguay in the semis. I showed up to work with Hunter, I was wearing the orange NL National Team jacket and had my orange vuvuzela, Hunter had on an orange shirt, orange scarf, and orange Heineken hat. We were not the only ones, to say the least. Basically everyone in the place was wearing some form of orange, with the exception, of course, of Hunter's boss, Gerson, who is very much Brazilian. The day went by quickly, and before we knew it it was 4:00pm, starting time for the match. Hunter and I headed downstairs to the boardroom, where there were about 30 people with bowls of chips, platters of cheeses and meats, a fridge full of soft drinks, wine, and Heinekens, and a guy with an airhorn. Yeah, he had an airhorn. Like a foghorn. Anyway, so NL went down real quickly (10th minute or thereabouts) and the place sort of died as Brazil appeared to be in complete control. Early on in the 2nd half, though, Netherlands equalized, and out came the cheers, air horn, vuvuzelas, etc. The office went nuts. About 20 minutes later, Netherlands scored the go-ahead goal, and, once again, it was pandemonium. Yelling, cheering, air-horning, vuvuzela-ing, other verbs followed by -ing, etc. Absolutely huge.

Here's where it gets interesting. By this time it was around 6:00pm, so we left the office. And we basically went out into another world. There were cars honking. People yelling. Kids on motorcycles flying Dutch flags. The only thing I can really compare it to was being in Italy during Euro 2008 when Italy beat France in the final group stage match to advance to the knockouts and I was on Isola d'Ischia, which was a pretty crazy scene. But that really isn't comparable, as this is the World Cup Semifinals that Netherlands now find themselves in. The entire ride home, we encountered cars honking and people just celebrating in the streets. So as to not give away the fact that I'm in no way Dutch, any time someone honked/yelled in our direction, I'd just blow the vuvuzela rather than say anything. Fair call, I think. Anyway, we got home and immediately began planning for the evening. We were going to head into The Hague with some friends of Hunter's which we ended up doing. It was a solid atmosphere in The Hague, with people in a generally celebratory mood. We watched the extra time and PK's of the Uruguay-Ghana match in some bar in The Hague, then headed elsewhere. We went back home relatively early because it started drizzling a bit, and we wanted to get back before it started raining badly, as we were biking home. Tonight the one and only Iain McMahon is going to be in Amsterdam, should be a good one.

Work update: it's been going very well lately. Booked my airfare to Colombia the other day, so I'll be going there. Found out I need to do a write-up for ISU for this internship, unfortunate but you've got to do what you've got to do, as they say.

More later, and many thanks for reading this far.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Work Update and Goals for the Next Year

Work has been pretty excellent lately. I've been more in my element than ever before, as work has been less data collection and more writing about said data this past week and a half, and we all know that I enjoy writing (and am pretty decent at it). I've been interviewing the Sales Directors about their largest customers, and had a wonderful conversation today with Ludmila, the SD of Russia+CIS. We discussed some of our business in that part of the world, as well as the governments and policies in the CIS in general. Certainly the most interesting conversation I've had all summer, really was great.

This past weekend was pretty good. Friday night was the company beach party, which was fun. There was a beach volleyball tournament (our team went 1-5, I did pretty badly, having never played beach volleyball. Henning was an absolute juggernaut, though, which was slightly surprising, as he's probably not any taller than like 5'5", but he really was by a wide margin the best player on our team). Afterwards we watched the World Cup matches (we being 50 or so employees) at a beach bar with a huge buffet and open bar. I had a fair few pints with the English boys from the office, and it was a late night which was not my finest performance. Saturday morning I woke up around 8:30 somehow, despite not getting home until about 2:45. I biked about 15-20km through Wassenaar before going into "town". This was actually really cool. A brief aside: businesses here in Holland have inconvenient hours. They close at like 5:00pm, and open at like 9:00am, which means that every time I go into "town" (i.e. after I get off work), everything is closed except for like 2-3 restaurants that I eat at when I go there. However on Saturday morning, it was absolutely jam-packed and bustling, which was really, really cool to see. Bought a few post cards of Scheveningen Beach from a store in town, bought SuperFreakonomics and read a bit of that Saturday, and just sort of had a lazy afternoon of World Cup watching. Sunday was another day of biking, reading, getting a bit of sun, and watching the World Cup.

Monday was good at work. Hunter returned from the States, which was excellent as I've now got another person about my age to hang out with. I continued to do some data collection and start the writing. Tuesday and Wednesday have been more of the same.

Looking likely that I go to Colombia, I'll probably book that airfare tonight or tomorrow afternoon. I've decided on my 4 goals for next school year, in order of increasing difficulty:

1) Win either the Outstanding Senior in International Business or the International Business Service Award

2) Get a 4.0 GPA while taking 22 credit hours (7 classes) fall semester

3) Participate in the Student Export Project. Explanation on export project: basically a midwestern company wants to expand abroad. The ISU College of Business selects about 4-6 COB students to do a market analysis for the market the company wants to expand in to. These students do this the entire spring semester. After the end of the semester, the students travel to whichever country the company wants to expand into for about 4-5 weeks (sometimes as many as like 7 weeks). This year they sent some students to Germany and another group to Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. The internship I'm doing here in Holland will be excellent practice for this project.

4) Establish a College of Business study abroad program in Istanbul, Turkey, hopefully with the help of Dr. Aysen Bakir. I brought this up to Dr. Bakir about a year ago and she expressed modest interest, so I'll be looking forward to hearing back from her about this, but to my knowledge no student has ever done this before, so we'll see how this works out. It would be a wonderful legacy to leave at the ISU COB, so we shall see. Again, lofty is this.

Other than that, Mr. Iain McMahon is coming to Amsterdam this weekend, so that'll be fun. Next weekend Hunter may go to Munich, though that's not looking promising, but if he does I'll come along. I'll probably post something if I end up buying tickets to Bogota, as that's sort of a major-ish thing. Hopefully I'll be able to take off Friday a few weeks from now and go visit Henna Helsinki and The Village Man in Finland, as the Old AlanKey is coming here from Hong Kong to see them then tour Europe for a bit, so meeting them would be excellent.

More to come as I keep hanging around the Netherlands...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More Holland, South America Plans, You Know, The Usual

So it’s been about a week since I posted anything, and given the swings experienced when adjusting to a totally new culture, a week is a fairly long time to go between posts, so here we go:

Where we left off from last time, I was struggling a bit to adjust to things in The Netherlands, and longing for HK. I’m glad to report that since then things have changed significantly, most of that change taking place in the last 48 hours or so. That being said, let’s backtrack to right after my last blog post:

Last week was fairly uneventful. Henning was out of the office for a few days, and I just sort of did my own thing at work. The work week was rather long, but I learned a fair bit more about the industry, key customers, the setup of the company, etc. Last weekend was also the planned “970X run”, i.e. go to a major public transport hub and try and catch the next mode of transport to somewhere. Anyway, so the plan was to take off Friday and go somewhere, but Henning preferred that I did not take off Friday, given that I took off a few days a couple weeks ago to head down to Italy to meet with the family.

Perfectly understandable, so Friday night I decided to head to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and attempt, knowing that it was a long shot, to just ask a KLM ticket agent if there were any not-full flights departing that evening that I could possibly fly out on for a discounted fare, given that odds are, if the flight isn’t full 2 hours before takeoff, it won’t be full. Given that Europe is the “land of high prices and unfriendly people”, they would have none of that, so I got nowhere fast from Schiphol. From there, I headed onward, relatively undeterred, to Amsterdam Centraal rail station, assuming that there’d have to be a train going somewhere Friday evening. Upon arrival, the international ticket office was closed for the night. Massively deterred, I tried walking to Amstel St. Bus Terminal, which I only knew to be “about 2km South of Centraal Station”. So naturally, having no real idea of where I was going, I just walked in a direction I knew to be South. Thankfully, Amsterdam is not a maze of a city, otherwise I might not have found Amstel St. Station. That was sarcasm. I absolutely didn’t have a chance at finding the place, by this time it was about 10:00pm, and I really didn’t feel ambitious enough to hunt down the station. Had it been HK I’d’ve taken a cab, but in Holland (or anywhere in the west), cabs aren’t retardedly cheap, so I just went back to The Hague Friday evening.

Upon waking up Saturday morning I saw that Marije (a friend of mine that I knew in Hong Kong that is Dutch, and lives in Amsterdam) had attempted to contact me via facebook regarding my plans for the big Netherlands-Japan World Cup match Saturday afternoon. I got a hold of her and she told me to come to Amsterdam to watch the match with some friends of hers in some random bar. I certainly couldn’t turn down such an invitation, especially given that I hadn’t seen Marije in like a month, so I took the train back into Amsterdam Saturday morning and met up with her and her boyfriend, Juriann at AMS Centraal. From there we went to drop off some things at their friend’s apartment, and I was able to see how Dutch students live. Not too surprisingly, it was a pretty standard, American-ish apartment. The one thing that would have looked very out of place in an American apartment was a huge soccer trophy, but that’s about it. And all the orange stuff all around. Speaking of orange, Steve Guilford (Stinen Guildford to those who know him well) would have loved the match. The bar we went to had about 60-70 people fit into a place that was about big enough for 40, and every single person there was wearing orange everything. Bright. San Francisco Giants style. Orange. Everywhere. Holland scored early in the 2nd half, and my God, did the place go absolutely nuts. Absolute pandemonium, the likes of which I can basically only compare to like, maybe the pandemonium I experienced when LSU blocked an Alabama field goal at the end of regulation to force overtime at a game I was at in 2008. But even that might be pushing it. Anyway, so that was electrifying, and Holland ended up winning 1-0. After the match we went and walked around Amsterdam for awhile, with Marije and Juriann pointing out interesting sights. I also bought a Dutch sim card for when my old European phone from last summer arrives in the mail from the parentals. With said sim card came a free orange vuvuzela in celebration of the world cup. Welcome to Holland (or Europe, for that matter) during the world’s biggest sporting event. So now that the random tangent about vuvuzelas is over, back to Saturday. After hanging around for a bit I headed back to The Hague Saturday evening and watched more World Cup.

Sunday involved some (shocker) World Cup watching, bike riding (found a very decent little Japanese restaurant in downtown Wassenaar), and talking to the Old AlanKey via Skype on his cell phone. I didn’t even know that was possible, but apparently AlanKey is able to talk into his cell phone as though he’s making a call, but have me be on the other end on Skype. What an age we live in, and to think, S.E.S. World Skies is (maybe) involved in the transmission of that info, given our involvement in everything (including World Cup broadcasting to North and South America). AlanKey was in central Hong Kong, and the sounds of the city could easily be heard in the background, making me a bit nostalgic for the old place.

Also Skyped Madlien for a bit in the evening to further discuss the possible trip to Bogota. It is looking decently likely that Blaine Curcio will be making his first appearance in South America sometime in August, an event that will surely be met with fiestas, siestas, and other “estas” immediately upon my arrival. So yeah, again, the plan would then be to arrive at O’Hare at 3:15pm on a flight straight from Dublin and leave for a flight to Miami at 6:55pm same day, have an 11 hour connection in Miami, then get to Bogota the next day, on the verge of mental and physical collapse from having travelled for something like 40 hours. However, if nothing else, I had decent training for this sort of thing on December 26, 2009, when Dan and I missed a connection in Minneapolis due to snow and ended up doing Chicago-Minneapolis (4 hour layover)-Amsterdam (10 hour flight followed by 11 hour layover)-Tokyo (10 hour flight)-Aiko Ichida (3 hour train ride). So if I can handle that (and, for the record, I felt great upon arrival in Tokyo), I can certainly handle Amsterdam-Dublin (3 hour layover)-Chicago (9 hour flight 4 hour layover)-Miami (11 hour layover)-Bogota (probably about a 6 hour flight). Now that all 3 readers are spinning from too many flights and cities and layovers and such…

This week was a good one at work. Monday and Tuesday were pretty standard, and Wednesday morning I decided that I ought to catch up with Henning on my work thus far, and on a gameplan for the last 7 weeks of the internship. The conversation went very well, with Henning and I exchanging some very interesting ideas and insights.

After that I worked out with H.R. my tax rate and other such things for my pay for this internship. Basically because I’m not making enough money to live off of, I pay very low taxes, as it turns out. That’s a win, that. I also am considering pulling the old tax fraud when I get home and not reporting my meager income here to the I.R.S., given that I can’t be bothered doing that, and they won’t find out about a few thousand US$ that I made here… hopefully. So yeah, good week at work overall.

Also, last night I figured out how to order pizza for delivery despite the fact that the whole website was in Dutch... I thought it was a decent accomplishment, at the very least.

This weekend the plan is to really explore The Hague on Saturday. I’d like to visit the place where Milosevic was tried and jailed and died. Given that it’s literally right across the street from my office, I figure I should go sometime… Friday night is the company summer beach party, which goes from like 2:00pm-late and includes, but is not limited to, volleyball, limbo, samba, Dutch people, food, beverages, napkins, and sand. Word is there’s going to be a beach there as well. Sunday I’ll likely go to Henning’s, as he and his wife are having some people over to watch England vs. Germany in the World Cup round of 16. The weekend after next, Iain McMahon, the man, the legend, the Aussie, will be in Amsterdam, so I’ll be going to visit and hang out with him and, presumably, Marije as well. That’s more or less all at the moment. It’s crazy to think that next week is already July, and that I’ve now (having just realized it) been here for a month. Time flies when you’re having fun… or working 50 hours a week.

To those who have read this far, a big thank you, and I hope that you enjoyed the hyperlinks I decided to put in, some obviously being quirkier and less useful than others, but all being lovingly placed for your reading enjoyment and enhancement. If you’re reading this then you’d probably be characterized in the statement “I miss you all!”

More news to come as it develops.

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup Fever, Continuing the Internship, and a Period of Immense Self-Doubt

It's a bit of a lengthy blog post, but eh, you've got the choice to read it or not. Apologies for having this post be relatively poorly written and choppy, but I couldn't get into the greatest groove when writing it.

Going into my study abroad in Hong Kong, I had the arrogant mindset that culture shock was a load of garbage. I’ve always thought that people who couldn’t handle adjusting to new situations or environments were either weak, uncultured, or unwilling to put forth the effort needed to adapt to their new environment. I more or less thought I confirmed this idea upon arrival in Hong Kong, when I had absolutely no trouble adapting, and within a couple of weeks had a solid crew of people and was really enjoying my time in Hong Kong. The difference in cultures between Chicago and Hong Kong, while vast, was not a hindrance, quite the contrary it made it much more fun when hanging out with this new group of friends, in that together we were all discovering and adjusting to this great, foreign place.

However, these first couple of weeks in Holland have really changed my outlook on culture shock, adjusting to new lifestyles, etc. I knew when I left Hong Kong that I’d really miss everyone there, and that it would be a tough adjustment to Holland. At this point, I’ve more or less come to terms with separation from the individual people in Hong Kong, but what I find myself missing is just the feeling of cohesion within a group of friends. As I said in my last blog post, the host family I’m staying with has left for the USA for the next few weeks. Yesterday morning I woke up to a house that was entirely empty with the exception of two Filipino maids, who don’t really offer much in terms of human contact, to say the least. Yesterday during the day I was in a pretty right state. Essentially, I was mulling over the slim possibility of going into the office today and simply telling my supervisor, Henning, that I can no longer do this internship and will be leaving for the States as soon as possible, due to the difficulty of adjusting to life here. However, I then took a couple hour bike ride and realized that I’m Blaine Curcio, and I’ve never tried and failed at anything in my entire life, therefore the only realistic thing to do here is go into the office tomorrow (today) and just thoroughly dominate the rest of this internship in every way possible. Additionally, I realized that it would be massively hypocritical of me to look so adamantly down upon people that give up in difficult situations, and then to do the same thing myself. Besides, as is the popular adage, go big or go home. I guess a good long bike ride is a good way to clear one’s head, and what better place than Holland to do such a thing.

Ok so now that all 6 readers have had a good, thorough look into the mind of Blaine Curcio, let’s talk about the last few days. Friday was epic, the start of the biggest sporting event in the world. I remember in September of 2006 when Tom Nielsen and I started a monthly countdown to this World Cup. Thank god it’s finally here, and I’m in one of the best countries for watching it (the Dutch fans are psychotic). Friday afternoon I was able to sort of sneak away from the desk for awhile to join the boys downstairs watching the opening match. I walked into the executive conference room to find the match being played on a projector screen, and to find, among others, no less than 1 Senior Vice President and a few Sales Directors anxiously awaiting kickoff of South Afirca-Mexico. I was able to watch about the first half hour, went back to work for an hour or so, and returned for the final 20 minutes. I don’t really care to get into what I thought of the match, as ESPN, BBC, Eurosport, and every other sports news agency have already had every match covered by every analyst and their mother. Plus, anyone who’s reading this blog probably isn’t reading it to get my opinion of the World Cup matches. Anyway, Friday night I got a random facebook message from Andrew Cohen, a friend from HS that I hadn’t seen since my going away party back in December. He happened to see my facebook status regarding watching the World Cup in Dutch, and said that he was in Amsterdam until Monday, having completed a study abroad in London, and was working his way down through Europe. So of course, being about 45 minutes from Amsterdam by train, I headed into “The ‘Dam” on Saturday morning to meet up with him. Met him and his friend Drew at Centraal Station, and more or less played tourist for the day, something I’ve not done in Amsterdam. We walked around for a bit, went to the “I Amsterdam” sign, something I’d not seen since December, and then went to a canal cruise. This was very interesting, as we got to see a lot of Amsterdam via the city’s extensive canal network. The cruise was about an hour and 15 minutes, and, in addition to seeing a fair few things from the canals, the boat had an audio system that told us what everything was in English, which made the cruise much more pleasant. After that we got some “Dutch pancakes”, which, according to Andrew’s friend Drew, are something of a specialty in Holland. Basically, it was a flattened crepe (i.e. not rolled up at all, very much in “pancake form”, if you will) with a few different toppings. I got mine with some cheese, tomato, and garlic, which was very nice. We also had some sort of syrupy sauce (it was kind of a cross between syrup and vegemite), which was decent. After that, I headed back to The Hague to watch USA-England. Again, don’t care to offer World Cup analysis here, but overall I was satisfied with a draw.

Woke up Sunday morning to an empty house, as I said. However, it was quite nice, I was able to Skype Elliott and Paris from Ulaanbaatar. Apparently they’d taken a 32 hour train ride from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, and had just arrived. Talked to them for awhile, and, as I said, it was very nice to see their faces and hear their voices again. The phrases “is that all?”, “that is shocking”, and “are you still here?” were used repeatedly, rest assured. I found it a bit amusing, at one point Elliott asked if Paris would want to go catch the Aus-Germany WC match, to which Paris replied, “that starts at 2:30am, and the guidebook says don’t go out after midnight unless you want to get robbed or harassed by drunks”. Welcome to Mongolia, as they say. It should probably be mentioned that, for nostalgia’s sake, I’m turning on “The Seeker” by The Who right now. Shoutout to you, Mr. Roy Sandaver. Brings back memories of bundy rum and coke zero in the 4th floor common room.

Anyway: last night was spent watching World Cup matches and doing a bit of preparation for a meeting with Henning today, the point of which was to discuss my image for the final product of this whole internship. Henning seemed to really enjoy what I’d put together, and this week will involve me getting into some “nitty-gritty” (for want of a better word) stuff, such as customer analysis, speaking with sales managers, etc. I plan on absolutely demolishing the work like it’s nobody’s business, so we’ll see how my loads of confidence hold up throughout the week. If nothing else, it’s not as though I’ve got anything else to do, given the fact that I’m currently living alone in a huge house in a country where I know like 4 people outside of work, so I’ll have plenty of time to work. That statement was not necessarily bitter or sarcastic, it was more a general acceptance of the situation that I’m in. Despite the fact that it’s not ideal, it could sure as hell be worse, and the fact is I’m still spending a summer working in Holland with the rest of Europe at my doorstep, more or less, so I can’t be complaining too much.

The whole South America idea is starting to look more and more feasible, and interesting. Frankly I’d only go if I were to meet up with Madlien down there, as otherwise I have no real reason to not be home the week before school, given that I’ve not been in the U.S. in something like 168 days, so I think it’s safe to say I’ll have a few things to take care of upon arrival. Anyway, that being said, if I can meet up with Madlien somewhere in SA, it’d be worth going, as she’s a lot of fun to travel with (she’s also very good at figuring out where exactly we are in Seoul at all times… much better than I am anyway) (Madlien, if you’re by some chance reading this, that is as sincere and genuine as I’m ever going to get, so relish in the compliment! :-P). So yeah, there is, at this point, realistically, maybe a 40-45% chance that I’m in South America the week of August 16-22. Another option would be to go with Dan and Steve to Foxwoods in Connecticut, and on the way hitting up some Giants games in Philadelphia. Definite possibility, but given the fact that I can’t imagine I’d sacrifice that last week to go to somewhere in a region that I’ve already been, I don’t think it’s too likely. Although I have been known to occasionally do things on the fly like that…

Further facts, musings, etc: today Holland plays Denmark in our first World Cup match. The atmosphere in the office is intense. A fair percentage of the people are wearing orange (or Oranje, if you’re Dutch…), and I’d expect more to be wearing orange if this was actually a Dutch company, but the multinational influence causes there to be a lot of diversity. Consequently, however, there is rarely a match that no one in the office has some emotional stake in, so maybe the diversity will make the WC all the more interesting (and by maybe, I mean it will).

I’m attempting to get an override to take 22 hours next semester. The courseload would be as follows: MQM 227 (some management course), FIL 185 (business law or something similar), FIL 241 (investments), FIL 242 (financial markets), GEO 207 (natural disasters, just finishing core requirements), ACC 270 (information systems), and, drumroll… LAN 111.12 (first year French, part one). Why French, you ask? I honestly have no idea, I just sort of woke up one morning and decided it sounded decent. Welcome to the mind of Blaine Curcio I guess, it’s a strange place.

Spoke with Profe Lisa the other day, my old Italian professor (and by old, I mean I had her before, but will also have her next spring). I emailed her about 3 weeks ago regarding writing me a reference letter, and when she didn’t respond, I knew the culprit, her massive incompetence at reading email! She’s definitely the best professor I’ve ever had, but my god is she incompetent at checking email (partly due to general computer illiteracy. However, as I said, my favorite professor ever, and a decent candidate for sainthood.) Anyway, called up her cell and we spoke in Italo-English for a good 15 minutes, she’s write the letter, etc. so that was good to get that finished.

Anyway, this post is getting a bit long, and, frankly, I’m really unsatisfied with the structure, flow, tone, etc. anyway, so I’m just going to stop writing before I feel obligated to change anything, because that would involve far too much work. If you’ve read to this point, many thanks, I do appreciate knowing (or not knowing, but assuming) that some people find my life at least somewhat interesting. More to come later in the week most likely, or when I feel like writing something that’s not as sloppy and unorganized as this piece. Forza Azzurri, beat those Paraguayans.

Also: in brief summation relating this all to the initial point of this blog: overall, despite finding it very difficult to adjust to life here, I definitely view this as a good experience. I’ve been massively humbled by the fact that my arrogant attitude about being immune to culture shock was proven wrong, and I feel that that’s a very important step in becoming a successful international businessperson, so even if I don’t get anything else out of this internship (which I very much hope to not be the case), it was worth coming here, if only because it caused me to reassess myself as a world traveler.

That is about all, more to come later

Also, been listening to a fair bit of Rod Stewart lately. That's been enjoyable

Also: A happy birthday to my Dad, Mark Curcio. Doubt you'll be reading this today, as I believe you guys are returning home from Italy so you'll be in the air most of the day, but happy 54th, see you on August 16th, love, Blaine

Thursday, June 10, 2010

First Couple of Weeks in Holland, Italy, and a Potential Hong Kong Throwback in an Old 970X Run

So my last blog post came on one of my first couple of days in Holland. I’ve now been here a bit over two weeks, so I figured another blog post was in order. My first couple of weeks of work have been a bit monotonous. I’ve more or less been told to read up on the industry, learn about the different services SES offers, etc. I have, however, achieved a clearer vision of what exactly it is that I’m supposed to be doing here. From what I gather, I’m to analyze SES World Skies’ 20-25 biggest European customers, tell my supervisor why they buy from us, why they buy from competition, are they buying from us and from competition for different purposes or the same purposes, what is our share of wallet, etc. So yeah, that’s about it on the work front. Had a scavenger hunt around The Hague one of my first days here, we got 2nd out of 6 teams, would have been first had it not been for the raging incompetence of two of our team members, but let’s not go there. Afterwards we all went to a bar (and by we all mean like 40 SES employees) where it was open-bar, paid for by the company. Fairly late night spent talking pre-world cup analysis with the Englishmen.

Last weekend I got to see the family in Italy. I flew down to Rome Thursday night, and was met Friday morning by the 4 in my family, 4 in Uncle Fred’s family, 3 Gabanski’s, 4 Lane’s, 3 Caputo’s, 1 Grammy, and 1 Pop. Yes, that’s 20 people. From there we went to Formia via minibus before taking the ferry to Ventotene. I was there with the family until Monday morning, and on Sunday afternoon we were joined by Uncle Fred’s business partner from Hong Kong, Chanwa, who I hadn’t seen since February, and who has been stranded in France for a few months due to a passport issue. So that was a nice weekend. Also, it turns out, Monday on my journey back to Holland, I did the following: boarded a ferry, which dropped me off at a dock, where I was picked up by a private car, which dropped me at an airport, where I boarded an airplane, which dropped me off at another airport, at which I boarded a train, which dropped me off at a train/bus terminal, where I boarded a bus, which dropped me off at a bus stop from where I walked home. Public. Transport. For. The. Win. Boat to car to plane to train to bus to foot. I then rode a bike to work the next morning.

Next weekend I’m debating pulling the old 970X Special (those from HK, in particular a one Raphael Holca will know why it is so appropriately named) and going to Amsterdam Centraal rail station (or, as Madlien pointed out, Amsterdam’s main bus station, as busses will be much cheaper), and just boarding the next internationally bound bus/train and taking it to the end of the line. This idea would really only work if I was able to take off next Friday, which definitely seems possible. Should I do that, it appears the odds are decent that I’d end up in Paris, as there are something like 12 busses daily and 9 trains, which is vastly more than anywhere else. Other intriguing destinations could include Copenhagen, Berlin, Munich, etc. That being said, I will not be taking a train/bus to Russia if that is the next train/bus, due to visa issues (something like $130 for a visa and you need to do it in advance). As much as I don’t mind doing things on the fly, I don’t like my odds of getting into Russia without paying an arm and a leg should I show up at the border with no visa.

At this point I’ve sort of unexpectedly come to accept the fact that I left behind something great in Hong Kong. Realizing that everyone had their own places to be, things to do, etc., I’m sort of at peace with the fact that we’ll never, ever have that entire crew in the same place ever again, barring some very unexpected series of events. More than anything, however, I miss the stupid random nights where we just either did nothing, played monopoly at uhall, or went out and wrought havoc on HK like only our crew was able to do. If nothing else, I easily take solace in the fact that several solid people are living just north of the border in Canada (Rapha, Divyan, Racist Henry, Caitlin, Mawuena, Matias I’m looking at all of you!), and will be relatively accessible next year. Additionally, I figure anyone who studied abroad in a place as off-beat as Hong Kong will probably be traveling a fair bit in their lifetimes, so I’m sure my path will cross randomly with a fair few people that I met in HK in some odd places over the next few years at least.

Now that what is most likely my last “I miss Hong Kong” rant is over, let’s get back to Holland. Yesterday during my bike ride home from work, I saw the following modes of transportation utilized: car, bus, tram, bike, motorcycle, scooter, ATV, horse, foot. Welcome to Holland. Additionally, the considerable use of horses leads to bike paths being littered with piles of their defecation. Fun. It’s been rainy the last few days. Two days ago I left the office around 5:20pm, when there appeared to be a good break in the rain, blue skies, etc. Rookie error on my part, about 7 mins after leaving the office it started downpouring. Thankfully I was near a bridge, so I just went underneath there, joining about a half dozen other people sheltered from the rain. Luckily, because its Holland, the rain stopped after like 5 minutes, so it was alright. The cafeteria at work continues to be free. This is a result of enormous incompetence by the planners of the place. After a 6 month, several million euro renovation, no one had thought of a way to get money from the employees, so basically last week they ordered the equipment they need, and it takes three weeks to get here. So I’ll be having free lunch for the next 2 weeks or so. It’s also a very high quality of food, and the chef is more or less a legend among men.

These next few weeks have potential to be difficult. Hunter left for the States last weekend, and he won’t return till like the 28th of June, and Sierra is leaving for the States Saturday, so at that point I’ll know a whopping zero people in The Hague under the age of 30. Mr. and Mrs. Sprague are also leaving for the States this weekend, so I’ll have the house to myself for a couple of weeks, which may sound decent, but I anticipate it to be rather boring/lonely, as I don’t really know anyone here of my own age group at this point. Therefore, I ask you all, be available on Skype, as I’ll be bored presumably.

It occurred to me today that I currently know people that I met in HK that are on 6 continents. As said earlier, people who study in Hong Kong apparently enjoy traveling sometimes. A sick part of me is considering going to South America from the 16-22 of August to visit Madlien after her internship, as airfare to South America at that time of year is quite reasonable. This would involve returning from Holland at 3:15pm on the 16th and flying to Bogota at 6:55pm on the 16th, before returning around 4:00pm on the 22nd, and starting class at 9:00am the 23rd. Hence the fact that I said it’s a sick part of me wanting to do such a thing. That being said, it would at the very least be a fitting way to end the summer, and the “2010 Blaine Curcio World Tour”. I guess this is also a fitting place to end this blog post, as I don’t have much more to talk about. If you’ve read this far, hats off to you, I guess you find this sort of thing interesting, and I do appreciate you taking the time to see how I’ve been doing in my time here in Holland.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Most Overdue Blog Post of All Time

So it’s been literally 2 months since I’ve posted anything from Hong Kong, so go figure my next “Hong Kong” blog post is being posted from Holland. A brief summation of the last two months:

The highlight of April was a 5 day trip to South Korea early on in the month. Basically, Madlien and I were hanging out one day when we realized we only had class like one day that week (due to more public holidays provided by HKU, shocking), so we decided to bolt to South Korea for the week. Overall, definitely one of the best decisions I made in Hong Kong, as Seoul turned out to be my favorite city in Asia other than HK. It was quite similar to Tokyo, only everything was literally 1/4-1/3 of the price. We spent most of our time in Seoul, though we were able to take a day trip to the DMZ at the border, which was quite eerie. The street food was absolutely wonderful in Seoul, and, as stated earlier, quite cheap. Among the best things were bulgogi, which is sort of a bun filled with seasoned pork, and a variety of cinnamon flavored bun things. Anyway, another highlight of Seoul was hanging out with a couple of kids that Michael had met in his time in Holland, Won (Michael’s roommate in Holland), and Rany. They were both originally from Seoul, and they showed us around the city for a couple of nights, which was very cool, as it always is to get a local’s perspective. Other highlights included some awesome hikes which got us great views of Seoul, a visit to the 2002 World Cup Stadium, and a trip to the North Seoul Observation Tower, which stands hundreds of meters above the city of 20 million people. The view from the tower was particularly spectacular, as we did it at dusk, so we were able to see as Seoul transformed from a daytime city to a constellation of neon lights once the sun set. We also got to see a Korean professional baseball game (the two best teams in Korea were playing a Friday night game… and the tickets were roughly $6… nice country, eh?). Anyway, the game lasted 12 innings before ending in a tie. Yes, that is correct. After 12 innings, the two teams marched out onto the field, shook hands, and that was it. Certainly a bit unexpected, a bit 2002 all-star game esque, if you will, but eh, who are we to judge. If nothing else, their fans were INFINITELY more passionate than USA baseball fans. I really can’t stress that enough, every single player had their own really loud cheer from the fans, and they were on their feet screaming literally the whole time. Incredible stuff.

Anyway, so after Korea we sort of mulled around Hong Kong for about 3 weeks before deciding to go to Indonesia. That trip involved Elliott, Paris, Mirjola, and I. We were there for 10 days, and it was a pretty good trip. Highlights included visiting what is arguably now my least favorite city on the planet, Jakarta, which was just absolute filth. Tons of traffic, air pollution, nothing to see, etc. Terrible place. From there we took a 10 hr train to Yogyakarta, which was much more interesting, as it was smaller, cleaner, more Indonesian, if you will, and had 2 beautiful temples within a 30 minute drive, both of which we saw. After that we headed to Gunung Bromo, in east-central Java. This was a volcano located several thousand meters up, and we woke up to see the sun rise over it, which was absolutely breathtaking. This did, however, cause a massive body shock, as the night before we were in 100 degree heat, and that high up in the mountains the temperature got down to about 35-40 degrees. Later that day (after we left Gunung Bromo), again we were exposed to 100+ degree heat. Fun times. Anyway, from there we went to Bali and stayed with Paris’ dad’s friend Walter, who is a German architect living in Bali. He had an absolutely amazing piece of property with a few huts that we stayed in, it was quite incredible. After Bali, we had a long, long ride back to Jakarta, which was basically a 10 hour bus followed by a 12 hour train. Rough would be an understatement, but my God was it cheap.

Anyway, so that’s about all about Indonesia. After returning I had some exams, then before I knew it it was the last week in Hong Kong, and I was finished with exams. Consequently, every night involved someone’s goodbye party, so the week itself was quite taxing. Leaving Hong Kong turned out to be on of the most difficult experiences of my life. The people I met there will absolutely forever influence me in whatever I do, and I learned infinitely more from them and from Hong Kong itself than any classroom could ever teach me. Below is the list of the 10 things I am most grateful for having learned or done in Hong Kong, in no particular order:

Learning to play cricket (and batted an 8!), thanks to Sai

Exemplified the patience of Job by not tearing strips off my roommate for wreaking of mold and bad cheese

Broke into the 4 Seasons roof pool, etc... (will not elaborate)

See a clear sunrise over the most beautiful skyline in the world

Nearly get stabbed for standing up for what I believe in

Kung foo fighting in slow motion in the streets of Lan Kwai Fong

Have gin and cigars in a castle

Wear a stolen bathrobe to LKF with Elliott and Benno

Dance like a fool while not wearing shoes... in a club

Learn that there are no laws in Asia (as Rafa can surely back me up on)

There are countless more things, and on any given day this list could look totally different, as there really were that many great times this semester. I really, truly can say that this was the best 5 months of my life, and I will miss each and every one of you all dearly. As I've said to many people before leaving, "this probably isn't goodbye, its just a hiatus". Anyway, that's enough of that or I'll start crying... so-

Back to the beginning of this post, I’m currently posting this from Holland. For those who don’t know, I’ll be interning in The Hague, Holland, for the next 12 weeks or so. The trip here was a bit rough, 7.5 hr flight from Hong Kong to Dubai followed by a 7 hr flight to Amsterdam. Given that its now Tuesday, and I haven’t slept more than 3 hours in a night since like Friday, I’m starting to drag pretty badly, and will likely go to bed very shortly (its 9:41pm local time right now), especially given that I have to report to work at 8:00 tomorrow morning. While in Holland I’ll be staying with the Sprague family. Mr. Sprague is an ISU alumni and the VP of SES World Skies, the company I’m working for. Mrs. Sprague, as it turns out, is childhood friends with someone who lives literally 2 doors down from me. If that’s not a small world, I don’t know what is. I’ve also found out in my short time here that she is a wonderful cook (shrimp curry was quite nice tonight), and that I really have missed the Midwestern accent since leaving for HK. I also met Hunter, their son, who is a freshman at TCU. He is also interning at SES this summer, so we’ll be seeing a fair bit of each other presumably. Their daughter, Sierra, is just graduating High School next week before heading off on a trip to Spain. If only we American HS kids got to do such things after graduation. So far I’ve enjoyed my 5 hours or so in The Hague. A few brief observations: despite the fact that its 9:46pm here, its still really, really bright outside. Literally, like as bright as it would be in Chicago at like 4:30-5:00pm. Really quite strange. Also, much slower than Hong Kong, and there aren’t skyscrapers, or at least, not of the magnitude of Hong Kong. I briefly went by the office today, and it seems very nice. Most of the people I’m working with seem very nice, and I’m really looking forward to it. In the meantime, its been about 4 days since I’ve had proper sleep, so I’ll be doing that now. For those still reading at this point, thanks for the dedication, apologies for taking literally 2 months to post anything. More to come in the coming weeks…