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).