November 29, 2004

Jamaica links (photos and video!)

We got our photos of Jamaica online; you can view them here on O's website. A selection of 40 out of the more than 500 taken, though as I noted before, a lot of them were shots of the sunsets, taken seconds apart.

And an added bonus: two little videos we took on the trip! One was taken from the car, showing some of the landscape, some shacks and houses, and we go over a little river. Maybe you can get a sense from all the shaking going on how bumpy the ride was. The other was taken from the boat we rode on up the Black River. There's mountains in the distance and eventually you see the peat fire that was burning. When the water drains out of the swampy area enough, the peat dries out and the sun can warm it enough that it spontaneously combusts.

Belated Thanksgiving story

Last Thursday, I dragged O's poor Dutch ass along to the potluck Thanksgiving dinner that the American Book Center puts on each year. We'd never gone before, I usually cook a not-so-little Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us, but this year I remembered early enough to sign up for it. The people there may not be my actual family, but you can pretend for one night.

On the way there, I ran into an American co-worker on the tram. We quickly worked out that we were headed to the same event and she offered O and I a place at the table with her, her Dutch boyfriend, and the other friends of hers that were going. Everyone was great, O wasn't the only Dutch one, and we were a happy little family for the night, even having a table on our own in a small side room. A bit anti-social, but we didn't care.

I say everyone we met was great, but there was one person in particular who stood out, an American guy from NY named Basil. He was so funny in a random, off-his-head kind of way, he had O and I in stitches most of the night, especially when he was going on rant after rant probably assisted by a sugar high after eating a whole plate of desserts. He was definitely a unique character, and I felt happy to have met him. They don't make 'em like that often. He happens to be the manager of a used book shop in Amsterdam, so if you feel like browsing some books and getting a good deal (the books are mostly English, but there are some Dutch) or trading in/selling books of your own, pop in his shop and at least keep him company awhile. (He said part of the reason he talks so much is that he spends his days surrounded by 20,000 books, and they aren't very good for conversation.) The shop's called Book Traffic, the address is Leliegracht 50, just up and around the corner from the Anne Frank House.

November 26, 2004

This is what great minds come up with?

There's been a lot of changes recently for the company I work for. At the beginning of October, we had to move from our happy little office of about 80 people into the great big mothership containing about 1700 people. We also lost our status as a fully seperate company and are now truly part of the parent company. Everyone got new email addresses, we had to remove certain words from official documents, etc etc. To add to the whole facelift, we got a new logo and a slogan. The logo we've known about for awhile, it was part of a bunch of time and money being spent on "rebranding" the company. Hardly anyone likes the new logo. We went from a rather distinguished, yet not old-fashioned logo to a candy-coloured modern "logo" that is really just doing designer-y things with the name, there's no picture to it anymore.

What was less touted, but first spotted on a poster in our building advertising the company, was a slogan to go with this new logo. This brilliant new slogan that they've paid we-don't-want-to-know-how-much for? "Great minds don't think alike." The creativity and originality that oozes out of that one... I see what they're getting at, the idea that the people in our company think outside the box, they are creative and, well, original and all those things that these slogan people weren't. But it has that big "don't" in there that I think carries too much negativity, and I think the logic in the statement (if there is any) seems to lead to the conclusion that if great minds don't think alike, they can never agree, so there's just a lot of butting of heads going on. All in all, not too positive.

Then I return from holiday this week to find a complimentary pen on my desk (to celebrate the new logo) with a business card-like thing attached, on which is printed the new logo and an extended version of the slogan. What, you may think, could they add to make the slogan even more brilliant? The extended version: "Great mind don't think alike... be a great mind." Oy. It brings to mind the whole Life of Brian "Think for yourselves! You are individuals!" "Yes, we are individuals," joke. And this is supposed to market our shining creativity...

November 24, 2004

Two Tales of O in Jamaica

A couple of O-related stories from our Jamaica trip...

On our last night, we were just leaving our hotel room and walking down the sidewalk when something caught my eye off to our left. I grabbed Onno's arm and said "What's that?!" It turned out to be a rather sizable, white crab. I've probably eaten bigger ones, but this one would give you enough meat. It was maybe 10 inches across, including the legs. And there it was, sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, eyeing us with its pincers pointed threateningly in our direction. O, being a boy, decided to walk a couple of steps closer to get a better view. While this normally scares off animals, this crab was not backing off and instead came scuttling at O, pincers a-snapping. O appropriately freaked out and ran off a few steps in fear of losing some appendage. The crab, feeling that his warning had served its purpose, retreated to a nearby area of plants. We followed it a bit more, though at a careful distance, and watched it scuttle from plant to plant. Eventually we left it alone, but we were a bit more afraid now of walking through the resort paths at night, not sure what was waiting to jump out of the bushes at any moment, worried that we'd hear again the scuttling sounds of doom.

I was going to write out the second Tale of O in Jamaica, but O already wrote about it on his website, so instead of repeating it, I may as well just link to it. So, go here to read about his strip search adventures with the airport security woman. And once you've read it, check out this story about women in the US thinking they have it bad when the security people pat them down. Bring in Jamaican security screeners, I say!

November 23, 2004

Irie Jamaica

O and I have returned from sunny, warm, wonderful Jamaica. It was an incredible trip and I'm in total withdrawal after having to come back to this gray, cold, boring place.

We stayed in Negril, on the western coast, in an all-inclusive resort called Swept Away (cheesy, I know). I had my apprehensions about going to an all-inclusive place, worrying that I wasn't going to get a real feel of the country, but we were trying to go for a more relaxing vacation here, instead of our usual "see as much of a place as we can in one week" type of trip. The resort was right on the beach, which is one of the longest in Jamaica, 7 miles of white sand. In the distance to the south you could see the point of land sticking out where the main part of Negril is, and you could see the lights of the town at night.

Our room was quite nice, with a large bathroom, roomy area with a high, vaulted ceiling and king-size bed, and a patio/balcony with a couch and chair that looked out on an area full of vegetation, like flowering plants, ferns, palm trees, and a patch of really tall bamboo. It was nice and quiet, except at night after dinner when we got the noise of the entertainment coming from the restaurant, and in the evening, starting at dusk, you'd hear the cricket-y chirping of tree frogs. When we got to the resort and I heard that chirping, I thought it was a tape playing in the lobby, since it seemed so much like atmospheric background sounds for a movie or something and not something that was actual nature.

I quickly fell in love with the all-inclusive concept, which, as it suggests, meant that all food, drinks and activities were already paid for in the price of the room. You only had to pay extra for spa services and some scuba activities. There was so much delicious food and drink available. Breakfast and lunch were both buffets, so you could delve in and eat to your heart's content. Dinner was a buffet twice, but otherwise it was a more formal 3 course affair. There was also a "Veggie" Bar that had a lovely jerk chicken sandwich, and chips (not sure what they were made of; cassava?) with salsa, sour cream and guacamole that made a good snack. They also had good tropical juices. There were two bars on the beach in these cool little huts with straw roofs that came down so low you had to duck under them a bit to get to the bar. They had all sorts of wonderful cocktails, our favourites being the pina coladas, and a drink called Golden Paradise, which was coconut rum, pineapple juice and banana liqueur. Yum. All of the bar and wait staff were so friendly, always asking how your day was, chatting with you a bit sometimes, the guys would call women "lady" (as in "would the lady like a drink?"), and they gave the most sincere "you're welcome"s, all in wonderful Jamaican accents.

Most days we went out to sit on the beach after breakfast and just relax, read and enjoy the warm weather. They had comfy lounge chairs with cushions that doubled as floats that you could take out in the water, and O went out floating a couple of times. Sitting on the beach also gave you a good seat to watch all of the water activities going on, like waterskiing, jetskiing, parasailing and boating. You would also regularly hear the calls of the cigarette sellers who walked up and down the beach all day, calling "Ceeeeeeeegarettes! Ceeeeeeegs! Cigarscigarscigars!" Every once in awhile one of the guys from the bar would come by and ask if you would like something to drink, or else you could flag them down by sticking a yellow flag in the sand, if you were too lazy-assed to go to the bar yourself.

One of my main regrets is that we didn't take part in more of the activities on offer, considering they were included. We did go one afternoon though to a couples massage course, which was quite nice. And we went on a glass-bottom boat ride, which is kind of a way to go snorkeling without getting wet. We saw some cool coral, some very big starfish, many different fish and a couple of stingrays, but what made the trip was the two resort guys who were our guides. They were funny as hell, and I still smile when I think about them. They'd go on about how seaweed is called sea marijuana here, and the fish eat it and are all chill and they get the munchies and eat everything else. There was more, but I think it's only funny in a "you had to be there" kind of way.

We did escape the resort one day, though that is my other big regret, that we didn't take a trip out to see Negril proper. The day we escaped, we went on a tour with our own personal driver for the day, Avril, who drove us on a tour of the south coast: a boat tour up the Black River to see some wildlife, a trip to YS Falls where you can go swimming, and a stop at the Appleton Estate Rum distillery. Avril was awesome, a big guy with a big laugh who told us all sorts of bits and pieces about Jamaican life and history, taught us some patois (the spoken language of Jamaica), and told us all about the native fruits and food. Well, he didn't just tell us about them, he also would pull over sometimes when he saw them alongside the road so we could see them up close and personal as well. He also stopped to make sure we tried a coconut. You can buy them at a roadside stand, big and green, not small and brown like we're used to seeing them. They hack the top til you get a little hole and then you drink the water that is inside. Then they hack it in half and you scrape out this soft white coconut jelly from the inside. O liked it all, but I wasn't too keen on it, maybe I'm too used to coconut being very sweet.

The planned stops were all very interesting. We saw crocodiles on the Black River tour and learned about the plants and animals of the river. O swam in the YS Falls and went 3 times on the rope swing they have. And the distillery tour was pretty interesting, especially because of our funny tour guide, Wayne, who was so gay and telling us about visiting Amsterdam and partying all night, and telling O that he was short for a Dutchie. You got to sample all sorts of rum drinks at the end, and Wayne made fun of me for not being able to handle a few samples. They were good though, especially the flavoured rum creams. They also had an overproof rum, which is like 63% alcohol. Oof.

I think my favourite part of visiting Jamaica, besides the people we met, was driving around past all these little towns and seeing all of these flashes of Jamaican life. Ok, it would have been better to have really visited some towns, but we'll be sure to do that next time. Still, I couldn't get enough of the scenery from the van, everything was so colourful and full of life. There were tons of bars everywhere along the road, which were really nothing more than little shacks, sometimes with just enough room for a few stools, but cheerful with bright paint and little lights at night. One town we passed through was known for its shrimp, and women sat by the side of the road with tubs of them, holding out small bags of their spicy shrimp to lure in a passing car. We'd also pass people who were just standing on the side of the road, seemingly with no purpose, until I realized that they were waiting for a bus. Jamaica's bus system is pretty laid back, so there aren't really any bus stops, you just stand around and flag down the bus you need.

The downside to driving around Jamaica was the actual driving part, since they have rather poor roads that are very bumpy and potholed. Our driver, Avril, was good about avoiding any really major holes, but you can't avoid it all and it was so bumpy at times you felt you could use a sports bra and a neck brace. After a day of driving around, part of you got used to the bumps; the other part was starting to feel very weary and bruised. At least we had air conditioning in our trusty little van.

We have tons of photos to get online from the trip, which will hopefully happen soon. When it does, I'll put up the link. Until then, I'll be getting used to this winter thing, work and making dinner myself...

November 19, 2004

Greetings from paradise

It may be totally sad, but I wanted to send a post from Jamaica. O and I are still here, for another couple of days. It's been brilliant. Too much to mention quickly; I'll write more when I get home. For now, enjoy the photo O has posted of our resort's beach.

November 10, 2004

Glass is half full?

I made the mistake of watching the news tonight. It was one big heavy what-are-we-going-to-do-with-this-world downer. It just seemed worse than usual. Besides the far away problems in Fallujah and the Ivory Coast (I haven't even discovered yet what all that is about), there's the problems that are a bit closer to home. Some bad shit went down in The Hague today when the police raided a house where they believed there were some suspected terrorists. While it was going on, the airspace around The Hague was even closed off. Early this morning an Islamic school was burned down in a small Dutch town, probably in retaliation regarding the death of Theo van Gogh. The news pointed out the many attacks on schools, mosques and churches that have taken place all over The Netherlands in just the past couple of months, but after the death of Theo van Gogh it seems likely that an endless cycle of retaliation acts could start, or has already started.

I try to be an optimistic person, and think how we've survived this long regardless of all the wars and horrible things we've done to each other throughout history, and that the current situations don't mean it's the end of the world. But then I think that the world should be a better place now, that we're smarter now, have more hindsight, we should have learned our lessons from our past and improved things and sure as hell learned to live with each other's differences. After the past couple of weeks though, it all just feels a bit hopeless, and I do start to wonder what the hell is happening to the world. I sound like a cynical old fart. Maybe I am.

It's definitely time for a vacation, just sit far away in a tropical paradise and forget about all this crap for awhile. It'll only be all too short.

November 9, 2004

Bug fossil

I was vacuuming our new house for the first time last weekend (shush) and near the front door there was a black blob that I first thought was a ball of fuzz. I quickly realized it wasn't when the thing wasn't being sucked up. So I looked closer, and was quite puzzled by what I saw:

The bug from beyond

It first to appeared to be a very flattened fly, but then I blew at it and it didn't go anywhere. I tentatively scratched at it with my fingernail and found it to be part of the floor. It's very intriguing, this fossil/imprint/impression of a fly that happens to be in our floorboards. It evens has a white-ish area (to the top right in the photo, under one of the legs) that could be a wing. I wonder how the fly got there. It's almost as neat as a bug in amber...

November 8, 2004

Theo van Gogh protest

O and I went out to the Dam on the night of Tuesday, 2 November to take in the protest that was planned after the murder of Theo van Gogh that morning. O's already posted some of the photos he took (starting here), but I also took the G3 so I could take some little videos of the crowd. I particularly liked the one I took of a circle of people chanting and clapping and banging things and a Michael Stipe-looking guy tooting a horn.

Triple J Elliott Smith tribute

Triple J radio in Australia recently had an hour-long tribute to Elliott Smith, consisting of an overview of his life and career; interviews from himself, friends and fellow musicians; and of course many of his songs. You can listen to the full show here.

One week!

One week from now I will be sitting in sunny, warm Jamaica, hopefully sipping a cocktail on a white sand beach. I can't wait. I've been reading tons about the resort we are going to, and it sounds incredible. It's an all-inclusive resort, so we can eat and drink til we fall over. You can have breakfast delivered to your room so you can eat on your veranda surrounded by tropical flora and fauna. There's a spa and all sorts of water activities, like snorkeling or water skiing. There are also excursions to places like waterfalls and crocodile-infested rivers and rum distilleries. I should have plenty to post about when I get back.

November 7, 2004

Linky update

I added a bunch of links today, especially to blogs and sites that I read on a regular basis. A fair majority of the blogs are from people based in Portland, which leads from the fact that I didn't really start reading blogs until Willamette Week did a story on prominent Portland blogs and, in a state of homesickness, I checked them out. Reading them definitely upped an already high percentage of time spent reading about things from back in Portland. Just a little (?) bit of escapism...

Sorry everybody

The least we can do is apologize.

November 4, 2004


I was fairly depressed over the election results yesterday, and am just saddened that Bush won. Of course a million words have been written already about people's opinion on the matter, so I won't add too much to it. I'll just add this link to a place on the BBC website where people from all over the world have posted their views on the election.

My other big worry became a reality when Oregon passed its measure banning gay marriage. Of the states voting on this issue, we had the narrowest margin, but I was hoping Oregon's progressive nature would win and be an example to the rest of the nation. No such luck. At least Tom Potter won the race for mayor of Portland and Ron Wyden won for senate.

November 2, 2004

Not-so-scary Halloween

My Halloween was rather lame. No parties, no dressing in a costume, no trick-or-treating, no haunted houses, no pumpkin carving. I'm determined to plan ahead better next year and actually do something for what is my favourite holiday. This year was hampered by all the move business I was busy with at the beginning of October.

Next year I hope to track down a proper, carveable pumpkin, since I love carving pumpkins, and it would look wicked sitting out on our front balcony. I'd think it'd look wicked anyway, most of the neighbours would probably wonder what the hell is wrong with the residents of the house with a glowing gourd on their balcony. Bah to them, I say.

When I was out last Wednesday with O and the in-laws for my birthday dinner with them, our table happened to have a very nice, wonderfully-shaped-for-carving pumpkin sitting next to it. I mentioned pumpkin carving, which lead into a whole lecture to O's brother and the brother's girlfriend on how it's done. It is fairly humourous describing it to people who've never done it and only know the concept from the movies and tv. Also the questions I got made me smile: "Do you cut the hole in the bottom?" "What does the inside of a pumpkin look like?" A whole few minutes were spent trying to describe what pumpkin seeds look like. So sad, to have a pumpkin-carving-less childhood...

In an attempt to remind myself that it was actually Halloween Sunday night, I suggested to O that we could watch a creepy movie. We had a look at what movies we had available and not much fell in the creepy category. The only one, really, was Secret Window, where Johnny Depp plays a writer living on his own in a cabin in the woods and he starts being hassled by a guy (played by John Turturro) accusing him of plagiarizing a story. The creepy factor was not all that high. Johnny Depp did a fair job in the role. But the ending was so cheesy, my mind is still cringing when I think about it. Overall, rather disappointing.

And to add to the disappointment, Sunday night was the first night back in standard time, so it was dark by 5:30. I've discovered that O is a little confused over the term "daylight savings time." He thought (thinks) daylight savings time is what we go into for the winter because it gets darker then, so we need to save more daylight. I sort of see that logic, but considering that when we change the clocks, the darkness moves forward, it doesn't really work. Of course he wouldn't believe me (or wouldn't admit that I was right) when I said that daylight savings was ending, not starting, so if anyone would like to point out how right I am, feel free. =)