Tracing the Dutch Heritage in Albany through Tulips

Albany is a city with a rich Dutch heritage. Around 1609, it was the Dutch who established the Fort Orange at the site of the present-day Albany. To celebrate the heritage, every year during the Mother’s Day weekend a Tulip Festival is celebrated at the Washington Park in Albany.

This year, however, the tulips are a few weeks early. Yesterday morning I rode my bike to the park and found that the tulips are in full bloom! Enjoy the some of the pictures that I took this year!!

The Esther and Maureen Tulips

The Yellow Ones against The Blue Sky

The Beauty Queen: Even Sexier When Wet

The Fringe Tulips

The Blushing Lady

The Yellow Pomponette

The Purple Diamond

The Flair

Thank you, tulips… for taking me to a very nice retreat to Holland!

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Soul Searching & Spring Cleaning

How do we pretend to be busy before the internet age? I happen to read that question posted by a random user when clicking through Yelp’s website. Certainly that question was meant as a joke, but it got me thinking. It’s true that there’s always status to update, thoughts to tweet, photos to upload, places to check-in, blogs to write, books/movies/restaurants/hotels/purchases to review. We don’t need to pretend that we are busy, because we are busy. We only need to pretend that all we do in the online world is worth doing.

During the last few weeks I’ve been cutting down on my online activities, and one of the main reasons is because I feel like I always have so many things to do. I miss the times when I can totally relax, connected to my inner being and not concerned about doing things. I remember when I was younger I can spend my Sunday afternoon laying down, listening to nice music from the radio while watching the white clouds lightly float against the blue sky, daydreaming, and falling asleep. Wow, I remember how nice it was but I almost forgot how to do that – because I’m always busy.

Daydreaming. Oh, what a luxury.

Why then, am I always busy? What are the things that keep me busy? Some days ago I decided to find the answer by creating the not-to-do list, instead of the usual to-do list. My goal was to simplify things by discerning things that I really should take care of, and things that can go on without me. It’s predictable that my online activities easily go to the not-to-do list. And turns out it wasn’t that hard not to tweet or not to keep checking my Facebook. I also have no problem of letting go of my habit of writing restaurant reviews on Yelp.

But I’m a WordPress sucker, and there’s always something that I want to write about. Last Wednesday, even though I know I have decided to limit my in-front-of-screen time, I still tried to write a blog post about International Women’s Day (IWD). I was tired after the long day at work, but I really want to publish the post before Thursday, March 8th, the d-day. So I kept writing, until suddenly my laptop froze for unknown reasons. Normally I would go nuts, but that night I just laugh to myself. I’ve learned from past experiences that unpredictable things like this usually happen when I don’t listen to myself. So okay, even though my laptop went back to normal again after not responding for about half an hour, I decided that the world can still celebrate the IWD even though I don’t write a post about it. My dreams for gender equality are not shrinking just because I don’t get the chance to write on IWD. Then I went to bed, sleeping peacefully right after that frozen laptop incident.

 

March, I think, is a really good time to back away and take some retreat. This month, many Catholics/Christians are observing the 40 days of Lent by fasting, doing some self introspection and avoiding things for self-indulgence. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with Nyepi, Balinese Day of Silence which this year falls on March 23rd.

In Balinese Hinduism, Nyepi day has four rituals (Catur Brata Penyepian) which guide the Hindus to step back from the world for one full day. They are Amati Geni (not using fire nor turning on lights, which also means that they are not cooking and eating), Amati Karya (not doing any work), Amati Lelungan (not traveling), and Amati Lelanguan (avoiding any entertainment). During Nyepi day, the whole island shuts down in retreat, literally cuts off from the rest of the world. Streets are deserted, even the airport and seaports are closed. Tourists are expected to observe the day by staying inside their hotels for the whole day. My sister lives in Bali and I’m hoping that she can write about her first-hand experience observing the holiday, which I think is really interesting.

One of the many beautiful places in Bali. This island will be in total silence on Nyepi day.

Retreat, silence, self-introspection is something that’s open to all, you don’t have to be a religious person to observe it. I, for one, am called to do this now so I can join the grass, trees, flowers and all my fellow creations in the rebirth of spring.

Dear flowers, teach me to just be...

So after all the talk about unplugging from the online world, why this post then, am I relapsing? Perhaps, but most importantly I feel that this blog deserves an explanation for my future disappearance. I’ll be back whenever I feel like it, whenever I’m ready, but for now I really need to search for some silence so I can be attuned to my inner being again. Deep down I know that She is the existence that really matters, not the outer person that always dominates whenever I’m plugged the online world. And friends, since I can’t google how to be connected to her, I better log off now.

Can you see the sunbathing turtle? Life is good 🙂

 

Image credit: The gorgeous photo of Bali was taken by my sister, Asti aka jepun kuning.

bucket of ice

Albany is still full of ice today, and cold too. As I write this, the temperature is at the frigid 8F/minus 13C. Sometimes it is hard to believe that we’re just two weeks away from the beginning of the long awaited Spring. I feel the need to remind myself that very soon, we can start walking among dandelions and grass flowers again. Very soon, the fields will breathe the fresh air again, bathed in warm sunshine. Very soon.

Similarly, there are days in my life where things feels cold and the winter seems to have no end. When I look around it is hard to find some colors among the dominating grey. But I must remember that underneath those mounds of snow, there are bulbs of daffodils, tulips, and narcissus ready to bloom. They are there, just waiting for the right time.

All I need to do is just believe.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven

~ Ecclesiastes 3:1

Snow Plow

After staying dormant for a couple of months due to the unusual warm winter, finally the snow plows were back into action today. As someone from a tropical country, I’m always amazed at this snow removal technique.

Basically snow plows are trucks or tractors with blades attached to the front side. The blade is used to push the snow to the side of the road. This is an efficient way for making sure that the roads are still accessible for cars even during snowstorms.

Today I took some photos of the snow plow vehicle, this was the one provided by the Department of General Service of the city of Albany. On the back side of the truck, there’s a kind of small machine that sprinkles some generous amount of salt to melt the snow. Pretty awesome 🙂 

Happy snow day!!

You Say Potato, I Say Potayto

One of the things I love about traveling in Europe is I can really feel that I’m in a foreign land. Whenever I travel out of Holland, for example, I enjoyed watching how the usual uitgang (exit) sign turned into sortie in France, uscita in Italy, salida in Spain, or výstup in Czech. Easy way of learning more foreign vocabularies! This is something that I miss when I travel here in the United States, where even to the furthest place the signs and language remain the same 🙂

I like to take photographs of the common things that people have in all countries, such as the police or ambulance, just for the sake of remembering the different names that different people use for the same thing.

Austrian Police

Carabinieri, Italian Military Police

Police Nationale, Paris.

Similarly, I also enjoy collecting the different names of the Unilever Heartbrand ice cream. Depending on where you are, you might recognize it with different names. In my home country Indonesia, we call it Walls. In Holland, it’s called Ola. In Spain it’s called Frigo. Here are some of my collections, pardon the photo quality since I usually just took a quick snapshot with my cellphone while roaming the streets as a budget traveler 🙂

In Czech Republic it's called Algida

Austrian called it Eskimo

HB in Ireland (photo courtesy of Evita Pangaribowo, a friend who also collects Heartbrand photos).

I realize that there are still many more photos that I can collect from visiting different countries. Take a look at this compilation of Heartbrand logos:

Unilever Heartbrand Logos, from Wikimedia

I take this as a reason to do more traveling in the future. Vive la difference! 🙂

Kröller-Müller Museum

Kröller-Müller is one of the great museums in Holland that, for some reasons, is often not visited by international students. Maybe because its location is a bit inconvenient to be reached by a public transportation. It’s going to take some walking from the bus stop to the museum, but I say that in sunny day, it’s definitely worth it. I actually found it enjoyable since I got to see the beautiful Dutch countryside houses and their nicely tended yards. Suddenly I was there at the museum entrance!

At the entrance of the museum

The museum is located inside the Hoge Veluwe National Park in Otterlo. The National Park and the Museum are two independent organizations, thus you’ll need to pay entrance to both of them. For the museum admission you can certainly use your Museumjaarkaart, but you can’t use it for the park admission.

In order to get to the museum you need to be using the white bikes provided by the Park administration (for free!). There are plenty of bikes (1700 according to the website), so you’ll have a fat chance to find one that’s comfortable for you to ride.

Rows after rows of the white bikes are waiting for you.

Kröller-Müller has great collections for both their art museum as well as for their huge sculpture garden. Their collection of Van Gogh’s painting is the second largest in the country, after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Ms. Müller was actually one of the first few people who recognized Van Gogh’s talent and collected his paintings. She then donated her collections to the country, and they’re all here in this museum. Just to name a few, you can find Van Gogh’s famous Potato Eaters, Country Road in Provence by Night, and of course, the Cafe Terrace at Night. There are also lots of works from many other world renowned painters such as Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso.

Out in the sculpture garden, you’ll see how the art and architecture beautifully blend together with the nature. To make sure you won’t miss anything in their forest park, you can download the Ecological Walking Route from the museum’s website first. Here are just some of the highlights, enjoy!

The floating sculpture, with a live outdoor orchestra! Special treat of the day. -> Sculpture flottante 'Otterlo' by Marta Pan.

This is one huge sculpture. The one that looks like a tower is actually its entrance/exit door. ->Jardin d'Email by Jean Dubuffet.

Krijn Giezen, Kijk uit attention. You can actually climb it.

L'Air by Aristide Maillol. Doei! Until next time!

Related Posts:

Museum Year Pass

Vincent van Gogh and the Story of Pain and Passion

Winter Scenes from Hendrick Avercamp

This year, Albany’s winter has been unseasonably warm. It’s almost the end of February, but the school has never been cancelled due to the snowstorm. The snow actually came pretty early (on October 30th, when trees still even have their leaves). But other than the three or four days with couple of hours of snow, it has been pretty quiet. No more mountains of snow at the sides of the road, which used to be the normal sight starting from December to March.

Icicle from my bedroom's window, last year. This year? I haven't seen any.

Things seemed to be different in Holland. Some weeks ago the nature provided them with lots of ice, enough to make them consider having the Elfstedentocht or the eleven-city marathon. The last marathon took place in 1997 with over 16,000 people participating! Too bad this year it was cancelled because  some parts of the course didn’t have the required thickness of ice (it has to be at least 15 centimeters/6 inch thick).

Still, from Facebook photos and blog posts I can see that my Dutch friends were having fun ice skating on canals and ponds. Their photographs actually reminds me a lot to the paintings by Hendrick Avercamp, a 17th-century Dutch painter. Avercamp’s specialization was winter landscapes, and his paintings often feature people ice skating on frozen lakes. He was probably the one who established winter scenes as a genre.

Avercamp was a person with disability – he was known as de Stomme van Kampen (the mute of Kampen). But many people said that perhaps it was  due to his disability that he was able to observe his surroundings thoroughly and thus paint with such a great narrative.

Hendrick Avercamp's Ice Scene (Mauritshuis, The Hague)

I first learned about his paintings during our Research Methodology class. One small assignment was for us to go to Mauritshuis museum (with a paid ticket!) to do some observation on certain paintings, including Avercamp’s. All we need to do was to jot down as much as observations. Avercamp’s was one of my favorite since you can observe so many things from just a single painting; people golfing, playing, skating, watching, talking, working, gossiping… a community brought together to enjoy the free activities. And oh, did I mention that Avercamp also has a humorous touch? Look at one of the fallen skaters. It was a lady without any undies 🙂

Ice skating (schaatsen) is an extremely popular sport in the Netherlands. Hendrick Avercamp’s paintings tell us just how timeless this celebration of winter delight is.

Image credit for Hendrick Avercamp’s Ice Scene: WebMuseum, Paris.

Ich Liebe Dazs: Love for the German Ice Cream

Have you ever done something stupid, collectively? I have.

I mean, we have.

We’re a bunch of Indonesian students who traveled together to Düsseldorf, Germany. The day was a little bit chilly, but we decided that we should have an ice cream. How can we skip the ice cream? We’re in Germany and we want to truly experience it by having its super premium ice cream; the HäagenDazs!

Häagen-Dazs cafe, Düsseldorf

So there we were, happily enjoying the sweet taste of Germany. We can find the ice cream in some big cities in Indonesia, of course, but isn’t it more fun to have it in its native country? It’s like having a Viennese Apfelstrudel in Vienna or a Belgian beer in Belgium. This is a story we can share to our friends and families back home, so we thought.

Years went by, until one day I watch a rather old PBS documentary called An Ice Cream Show. The narrator introduced us to Reuben and Rose Mattus, the Jewish polish immigrant who established the Häagen-Dazs in the Bronx, New York.

Wait, where???

Yes, Häagen-Dazs was first established in the Bronx and then the couple opened their first Häagen-Dazs store in Brooklyn. In the United States of America, far away from Germany!

So why did all of us in the group think that Häagen-Dazs was from Germany? Undoubtedly, it must be from the name. Reuben and Rose Mattus chose the name Häagen-Dazs because it sounds Scandinavian to the American ears. They thought that Scandinavian countries are known for its dairy products, thus making the ice cream to be more appealing to the Americans. So they came up with these fake words (which certainly made a unique name). In the marketing world this trick is known as foreign branding, which is the use a foreign-sounding name to imply the superiority of the product.

Oh. That awkward moment when you realize that you’ve been totally fooled by a fake Scandinavian-sounding name.

But wait…. Germany is not even part of the Scandinavian countries. That means we would’ve looked less stupid now if we had thought that Häagen-Dazs was from either Denmark, Norway or Sweden.

Once again, why Germany? Whose idea was that? I don’t know, but I know now that what we did in that Häagen-Dazs cafe in Düsseldorf was a super premium stupidity, lol!!

Image credit: Aleksandra K, Yelp User.

Inspiring Love Story from an Expat Couple

Three years ago during this time of year I was busy making preparations to go to the US. When I resigned from my job, applied for a visa, said goodbye to my family and friends, I explained that I need to move to another country in order to be together with my husband. That’s true, and there’s nothing wrong about it. But it annoyed me when I sense how some people assumed that it is only natural for me to follow my husband around, simply because I’m the wife. I’m annoyed because that assumption holds the notion that my sole responsibility is to be a dutiful wife, and that my existence in the foreign land is only defined by my identity as an “expat wife.” No, thank you very much. My husband and I need each other’s company and support, but we are still two different individuals with our own interests and aspirations.

That said, I admit that in the beginning it was hard for me to show that I too have a mission here in the US other than to be an accompanying spouse. I was jobless, had no friends, and didn’t belong to any social group or activities. I tried to keep my spirit high by actively looking for a job (in a bleak US economy), volunteering at a local non-profit, and writing some newspaper articles so I can feel productive. But the first couple of months were rough.

During those difficult months, a movie called Julie and Julia was released. That’s when I first learned about Julia Child (yes she’s very famous in America and in the cooking world, but since I wasn’t familiar with either one I’ve got to be excused for not knowing her before the movie). The movie was based on her autobiography, My Life in France. It’s a beautiful story about how she moved to France to join her husband Paul who was stationed there by his office (the US Information Service). In the beginning, Julia didn’t know a word in French and she knew nothing about France. But then she fell in love with French cooking and with the country. She learned the language, and also enrolled in the Cordon Bleu – a very prestigious cooking school. Eventually, she became a very influential chef who introduced the French cooking to the Americans.

To me, the story was really uplifting because it was about how an expat woman discovered her own passion and excelled in it. In addition, it was also inspiring to learn about Julia’s relationship with Paul. When you read the book, you can feel their love for each other.

"Valentine cards had become a tradition of ours, born of the fact that we could never get ourselves organized in time to send out Christmas cards." (Julia Child, My Life in France. 2006. p. 301.)

Yes, Julia moved to France in order to be with Paul, but she also had her own calling; to learn French cooking and to write a cookbook about it. And Paul really motivated her in her endeavor (although she was new to cooking world, let alone French cooking). Using his skills in photography, Paul took pictures of Julia’s cooking and provided illustrations for her cookbooks. Julia, on the other hand, was also there for him, supported him in his daily battles with the Washington bureaucrats. In short, they were depending on each other but at the same time they’re still independent individuals. They’re complementing each other but each of them still has their own identity. Most importantly, they were equals, and no one was under the shadow of the other.

“How fortunate we are at this moment in our lives! Each doing what he most wants, in a marvelously adapted place, close to each other, superbly fed and housed, with excellent health, and few interruptions.” – Paul in 1967. Source: Marilyn Mellowes. “Julia Child.” PBS.org, quoted from Paul and Julia Child Marriage Profile.

This is one moving expression of love. And this is the kind of relationship that I hope to cultivate with my husband. I’m there for him and he’s there for me. I’m supporting him in his daily efforts, and he’s doing exactly the same for me. We’re helping each other to reach a common dream, but we are free to have each of our own aspirations.

Paul and Julia Child, A Beautiful Love Story

And once again folks, although I have yet to become a successful chef like Julia Child, I’m here in the US not because I’m just a trailing expat wife 🙂

 

Happy Valentine, may you find lots of inspiring love stories and most importantly, may those inspirations become a reality in your love life.

Lots of love from BooksBikesandBeyond 🙂

 

 

 

 

Images are taken from the book, My Life in France.

The Best Age to Go for Your Grad School: When?

Most of my friends in my generation were born in 1982, including me. That means this year in 2012 we will be turning to the big Three-O!!! As we entered the month of February, one by one my friends are starting to have their milestone birthdays. Mine is not coming up until the last quarter of the year, but their birthdays made me begin to reflect about life in my twenties.

One of the biggest endeavor (and adventure) that I did during the decade was attending a grad school. I turned 23 during the first week of the program, and completed my college degree just 9 months before that. I was one of the youngest folks in my batch, since most of my friends were in their late twenties or thirties. Sometimes I wonder if I actually went to grad school too early. Will things turned differently had I decided to wait a couple of years? Is there a best age to go for your grad school?

Maybe you’re wondering about the same thing too. While I can’t promise an exact answer, I can tell you my experience attending grad school in early twenties, the good and bad things about it. Here goes.

Pros: An opportunity to change career/specialty. I attended business school for my undergrad. I worked part time and volunteered at a non-profit during my junior and senior year in college. Then as a fresh graduate I worked at a local bank, but I never got the same satisfaction that I had when working in the non-profit. Attending the grad school gave me the chance to learn another topic that I initially came across at the non-profit, something that I genuinely care about.

Cons: Changing specialty meant rough beginning. When my friends were building their graduate studies based on what they already have from their undergraduate, I was learning something that was entirely new to me. That means academically I wasn’t as prepared, and although eventually I can catch up, it did require some extra efforts (and lots of stress) in the beginning.

Pros: Not so concerned about family issues. Some of my older friends were already married and have kids when they attended the grad school. I can’t imagine their pain when they had to leave their family behind in order to study abroad. I’m sure that it must be a really difficult choice. But since I was only 23, I was still single and I can concentrate on my studies without missing a spouse or worrying about sick kids.

Cons: Being single has its own problem and distraction. The distraction is called (ahem…) love. When I look back, I don’t know how I can afford spending hours and hours building a relationship with a significant other in the middle of all the essays, exams, research and assignments. Celine Dion said that love can move mountains. I guess she must be right!

Pros: A chance to expose myself to lots of new experiences, which helped me to be more mature. Living in a foreign country with an entirely different culture and people helped to expand my horizon, and provided lots of learning opportunities for me. When I came back to my home country after the grad school, I wasn’t the same. I had a significant growth, not only intellectually but also emotionally.

Cons: Lacking the maturity. When I look back to my 23 year old happy-go-lucky person, I feel that at that age I still didn’t have enough maturity to negotiate and navigate all the new adventures that I had to go through. I came out okay, but I sometimes think that I was more naive then compared to now, and that could mean I had assumed more risks.

Cons: Minimum language skills. English is not my first language, and it was two times harder to study all the theories since I wasn’t as skillful in using the language. It means it took more time for me to read, to find the right words to express myself, and to try to understand what my professor was saying. Had I waited a couple of years, maybe I could afford the time to improve my English before actually going abroad.

Pros: A chance to improve my language skills. Study abroad means I got the chance to improve my English, although it’s like learning the hard way. Sometimes when I read the writings that my 23 year old self made, I would cringe over the poor choice of words and the messy grammar. But then, if I hadn’t gone study abroad, maybe my English would still be much worse compared to what it is right now.

Pros: Mastering something early – gaining a competitive advantage. I don’t really care about this aspect but it’s undeniable that nowadays people like to start early especially in education, in order to get ahead in this competitive world. They send their children to school early so the kids can get a headstart in reading, writing, etc. Going to grad school early means I got the degree earlier too, and I’m pretty sure it does affect my chances of getting better jobs.

Cons: Not much to give during the studies. I believe that studying is a give and take process. It’s not just about me getting knowledge, but it’s also about how I can contribute to my fellow students or even professor through my existing knowledge or experience. Unfortunately, since I went to a grad school with only two years working/volunteering experience, I only had minimum insights that I can bring to enrich the discussion.

Conclusion?

Based on my reflection above, it seems that for every negative aspect there’s a positive aspect to it (and vice versa). So I guess the conclusion is, there’s no magic number when it comes to the best age for your graduate studies – all will have its pros and cons. And more importantly, when the opportunity knocks on your door, just answer it. As for me, the opportunity for my graduate studies came up when I was 23. I took the chance, and I have no regrets 🙂