A Fine Balance

Recommended to me by a friend whose literary opinion I highly value, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry turned out to be one of the most intense and best books I have ever read.

You’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting this blog to be of the same calibre, because all I intend to do is borrow the title for my “Looking back upon 2012” blog.  Yes, it’s that time of the year…

Indeed 2012, in retrospect, has mainly been about finding my balance and as it turns out, it is a fine one. Fine as in nice, heart warming and fuzzy happiness but also fine as in subtle, fragile and easy to lose.

In 2012 I was reminded again that things are never black or white. They are always at least a shade of grey.  No, I have not read about the Fifty Shades of them yet, but I hear that it’s not quite in the same league as A Fine Balance anyway.

In fact, if you truly open your eyes and really look around you, you don’t only see shades of grey, but you see all the colours of the rainbow. It’s up to you whether you want to see it black, white or whether you simply choose to appreciate the particular colour of the day.

Well I’ve had them in all tones and tints this year…

Live to Work or Work to Live?
For a long time, work played a big and important role in my life. It was my main objective. I was a good girl in school so I could go to university. I was a good student at university in order to get a job that would make me rich and happy. And I was rich and happy, for a while. But it turns out that all I was doing was blindly following society’s rules. Thou shall work hard and thus be prosperous and respected. Not that there is anything wrong with with that. But it just isn’t me. Anymore.

Ten years ago, I would not have dreamed about quitting a job just because I wasn’t enjoying it. Actually, I would never not have enjoyed a job. You see, it’s a question of pride, of ego, of expectations. You apply for a position, you get the job, you boast about your new title and everybody, including yourself, expects you to outshine your predecessor, to surpass your previous achievements and to build another brilliant addition to your already impressive CV. You are therefore obliged to enjoy it. If you don’t, it means you’re a failure. So you tell yourself this is what you love doing, indeed outperform and impress the crap out of everyone and when it’s finally CV-technically acceptable, you apply for a new position, get a new job and dive into the next spiral. For some it’s a positive one, for others a negative.

Well, in 2012 I realised that I don’t have to enjoy my job. No more living for the sake of expectations. Sometimes a job simply sucks. Choosing for my own happiness can hardly be called a failure, right?  Indeed, for the first time in my life, I quit a job after barely six months. Remember the blog I wrote back then?  You could say I that instead of choosing black, I chose white.

But it’s not all that black and white. Because as I made that choice, I still felt an inner tug pulling me towards the black. So to appease my dark side, I wrote an emotional email to my friends and family explaining my choice, as if to justify my early resignation. Why, if I chose for my own happiness, did I feel the need to get validation from the people who are important to me? There is always some black in the white, isn’t there?

Rise ‘n shine, you lazy yogi! (A random morning in our bedroom in Perth)
As I turn off my 7-minute snooze for the sixth time at 5.49 am, Stefano rolls over and says: “Are you not going to yoga today?” Somewhere in between the fourth and the fifth snooze I have already decided that I will do an easy Yin practice at home later in the afternoon, because after all, yesterday was a busy day, I had three glasses of wine in the evening, a huge plate of delicious pasta Bolognese and I didn’t fall asleep until 3 am because I had a macchiato with a pinch of sugar earlier that day. Not the right conditions for an intensive Asthanga yoga practice at 6.00 am…

YOU WORTHLESS LAZY BUM!!! You!! Do you really want to become a yoga teacher? HA, WHAT A JOKE!! How about some self-discipline, some self-restraint! How will you ever get physically fit enough to even pretend to be a yoga practitioner, let alone a teacher! Get a real job, YOU USELESS UNEMPLOYED LOAF! You should be full-on vegetarian, vegan even! ALCOHOL? COFFEE?? SUGAR???? Have you completely lost your mind? Are you really consciously and willingly POISONING yourself?

Pffff… while the white in me shouts at the black in me (or is it the other way around?), I reach out to my phone, turn off the alarm, cuddle into spoons with Stefano and think “Yin practice this afternoon it is, it’s good, yes, good decision, it will improve my flexibility and also help opening up my hips… and… my… shhou… shhh…. sss… zzz….”.  My dream is about the colours of the rainbow.

House wanted
I’ve never wanted my own place as badly as I do now. For the past 4,5 years, I’ve lived in either very temporary rented accommodation, stayed for free at friend’s or family’s houses or was housed in spaces provided by employers. For the first 3,5 years, I loved it. No responsibilities, little to no expenses, freedom to leave whenever… But for a while now, it’s been itching. Now, I want my own new Nude Food Mover containers range in my kitchen closet, I want to unpack my boxes with the beautiful silver cutlery now sadly stored away in my mom’s garage, I want an enormous wall with shelves loaded with my books, I want to poo in a toilet that nobody else shits in but my lover and I want a huge fridge that I can organise the way I want it to be organised (actually, make that two, one for booze and one for food).

When I had a home before, I took it for granted.  Now I know I want it for all the right reasons. A home. It’s the black shaped outline on a white page of a colouring book. You need the black so you can fill the white with colours…

2012 was about finding my balance.

I think I found it, but now I need to hold on to it. I need steady grounding. I need a bit of black and a bit of white. Just to organise the colours of the rainbow that are all jumbled up.

Oh wait, that would be life unfolding before my eyes! How lucky am I not to be colour blind… ☺

May 2013 bring you everything you wish for and more, may you see colours that you never dreamed of before, may you hear music you never knew existed, may you smell perfumes that lead you to new heights and may you taste foods that nourish you with pure health and radiant energy.

See ya ’round, mate!

Happy 2013!

Posted in All, Life Travels IV ~ Nov 2012 - May 2013, Random contemplations, Yoga | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

10 Ways to De-Make Up and Feel Good

Source: elephantjournal.com, via Mind Body Green, via Daily Mail:

I saw this post passing by on elephantjournal.com (an awesome site!) some time ago already, but this time I took a closer look and googled some of the chemicals mentioned on the poster. Shocking!

I came to the happy conclusion that I have already taken most of the actions necessary to minimise the quantity of petrochemicals that smear I on my body.  In some of the cases it is by conscious choice, in other cases it’s just a lucky consequence of something else.

I know I’m freaking out a lot of my friends, talking about all these health conscious topics.  I do remember the days that I was living and consuming in blissful ignorance but unfortunately I am a little less ignorant nowadays.  My motto still is “Hey, we all have to die some day, so why not enjoy yourself in the meantime”.  I just interpret in a different way.  I assure you, it’s not death I’m trying to avoid, I know it’s coming.  It’s all the potential pre-death discomforts and diseases that I’m trying to prevent, as I believe those would seriously impede my enjoyment of life.

Here is the Top 10 actions I undertook (recently or long ago), which shows you how easy it is to avoid absorbing scary products such as parabens and other compounds with unpronounceable complex chemical names via  skin, hair and nails.

1) Shampoo (and conditioner):  Consciously stopped using those about 4 months ago after reading a post via Facebook about the harmful effects of traditional hair cleaning products.  Yes, I stopped shampooing my hair months ago!  I now use baking soda and apple cider vinegar instead, about once every 10 days and my hair looks super shiny, feels soft and doesn’t get greasy.  I can’t find the related post anymore, but here’s one that describes exactly what I’m doing now.  Additional benefit: you don’t pollute the environment with detergents.

2) Hairspray: Not that I used a lot of hairspray anyway, but I stopped using any kind of hair styling product since I started working in diving.  Your hair always looks like shit anyway in underwater pictures…

3) Blusher and foundation: Never used those in my life, except the one time I was in a high school play.  I just trust my natural glow 🙂 . And I also like to scratch or wipe my face without worrying about a layer of paint coming off.

4) Eyeshadow and lipstick: Stopped using those once I started living like a nomad.  They are those little useless luxury items which, if you throw out enough of them, help you get rid of 1 or 2 kg easy, thereby avoiding excess luggage fees.  And I don’t miss it for the life of me…

5) Nail varnish: After 18 months of getting my nails painted by a pedicure every three weeks in Singapore, my toe nails became yellow and lackluster.  Since I started diving, I gave up painting my nails anyway because the paint would chip in no time and behold, they are now healthy and shiny again!  I still go to the pedicure though, but that’s just for the enjoyment of someone pampering my feet.  If you want extra shine, buffing is the way to go!

6) Deodorant: Never used any deodorant in my life and so far, I’ve had no BO complaints… Have I?  I trust my friends will do the right thing and warn me should I suddenly start excreting funny smells from my armpits, in which case I would turn to something natural, such as Crystal Deodorant.  Totally free of chemicals.

7) Perfume: Also one of those things I stopped carrying since I started to travel a lot – despite the aggressive marketing attempts of the big cosmetic brands to undo you of a lot of money at the airport duty free.

8) Fake tan: Seriously? People really do that to themselves?  Ok, ok, I know I’m lucky to have a darker complexion that easily turns from latte to espresso colour when I spend some time in the sun, but still…  Would you trade a healthy white skin for a fake tan with cancer?

9) Body lotion (and facial cream and sun protection cream): Threw out my Biotherm, Lancôme and other expensive petrochemical shit that I was so fond of (check out a blog I wrote four years ago) and replaced it by paraben free, natural creams such as Sukin Body Lotion, a fantastic Australian brand which feels and smells delish and is much cheaper than those poisons in a jar.  For sun protection, very much needed here in Australia, I bought a paraben free Zinc Oxide cream SPF 30+.

10) And, to add to the growing feeling of  “Oh my god, she’s completely lost it” among some of you, I intend to soon get rid of my toothpaste with fluoride (= rat poison) to make room for a natural toothpaste (e.g. Weleda Calendula Toothpaste, a brand which you can get in almost any drugstore nowadays and it’s mint free – yeah for Stefano!!! 🙂 ) and I also will bin the last of my Lancôme mascara and eyeliner, which I only use about once a fortnight anyway and will be replaced by chemical free alternatives too.

Just the thought of using chemical free products makes me feel good.

And isn’t that exactly the point of make up? To make you feel good?

Puur natuurlijke lichaamsverzorging voor kinderen!

Posted in All, Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Job wanted (in Australia)

Today I started looking for a job.

The last time I did that feels like a very long time ago, although technically speaking that is not true of course.  Having been a seasonal worker in the scuba diving industry, I have had several jobs in the past four years, which were all preceded by some form of application procedure.  But in the diving business, a great deal of recruitment takes place through networking, references and informal and generally badly documented long distance arrangements.  And when you apply, you generally know exactly what kind of job you want and what kind of job you’ll get.  Dive master, instructor, cruise director, dive centre manager… they are all pretty boxed in.  Sure, at the level of location, team members and service standards, things can be different.  You can apply for a job at a dive centre in a 5 star resort on a remote exotic island or choose to work for a high traffic dive centre in a budget back-packers corner of this world, but in essence, the job is the same.   Once you have your PADI qualifications, you have established that you speak several languages fluent enough to convince yourself, your employer and your students that you can teach in those languages and you have social skills that make you fit for the transient relations characteristic of the tourism industry, you’re good to go. Any job application you send out is like the other and it becomes more a matter of a lucky draw.  There are thousands of people with the same skills out there dying to work in Thailand on the beach, or in the Maldives on a resort, or in Egypt on the beach…

The first time I really applied for a job was in 1999.  Last century that is.  I was about to finish a post-graduate International Relations course and my student life was fast nearing its expiration date.  The problem was that I didn’t really know what kind of a job I wanted.  It had to be corporate, preferably located in Amsterdam, should provide lots of career & international opportunities and couldn’t be anything too specialised – I had, after all, graduated in the mother of all generalist studies: European studies.  I always say I learned very little about a lot.  Not that I regret it, but…

Anyway, with that vague checklist in mind, I started applying for “Management Traineeships” with all the big Dutch corporates I could think of.  You can’t get any more generalist than that, right?  I had no affinity with the airline industry, but I was interviewed by KLM.  I had no clue about telecommunications, but I was psychologically tested by KPN.  I had no background in IT but lasted three rounds during the Oracle procedure.  In the end, I got into the management traineeship from ABN AMRO Bank, my only link with that company up until then being my rather red bank account.  I had no clue as to what I wanted other than the set of criteria I mentioned before and still I managed to talk my way into a company that trained me, developed me, invested in me and cherished me for the next nine years.  Over the course of that period, I applied for new jobs internally thrice, but on these occasions I was coached and supported by Talent Managers, High Potential development trainings and all sorts of career tools that were offered to me on a silver plate.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this Dutch flagship company and learned an awful lot, both in the workplace as well as during all these high-flying talent trainings and courses.  And I do believe that I actually also brought some value to the company, although proving that would be an impossible task.

But here I am again.  Looking for a job in Australia and not really knowing what I want.  Although…

It should definitely not be corporate, preferably a small or medium sized business.  It doesn’t need to offer international opportunities, since from my perspective I am after all already abroad.  The business or the intention of the owners should somehow make my heart beat faster.  I don’t want to work 80 hours a week, not even for a big fat salary, because I want to be able to practice yoga in the morning and have time to discover this wonderful country together with Stefano.  I want to see smiling faces of clients and guests on a daily basis and I want to see concrete results of my work, I want to feel I make a difference for the business, for myself.  I’m looking for a place where I can use my professional, academic and intellectual skills but where the atmosphere is personal, small scale, focused on the team and on the passion for the business, rather than on deadlines, financial figures or meaningless power point presentations.  Oh, and yes, I need an employer that will sponsor me for a work permit in Australia (tiny detail).

Today I scanned through dozens of job postings and I chose three that I replied to.  One is for the position of Office Manager of a chain of barbershops.  Not that I know anything about the hairdressing industry, but what appeals to me is that it is a business that has been set up by three Indian brother from Kenya.  Five salons and a Barberbus in four years.  Small, family business, ambitious, growing fast, looking to reach a next level of professionalisation.  It just sounds cool and it feels like I could definitely add some value.  Another position I applied for is even better.  Listen to this: Wine Bar Supervisor.  Now if that doesn’t make my heart beat faster… Located in a tourist area on the West coast where my favourite white wines come from, a business run by a couple with sheer passion for wine and food, cool restaurant with black board menu and lots and lots and lots of wines for sale, by the bottle or by the glass.  I would jump through the roof if I got that job!

But it’s early times, no idea whether they will find me as interesting as I find them and no clue whether they will be able to sponsor me for a visa, but the whole process of self reflection, thinking about the future and making plans with Stefano has got me excited, vibrant and full of energy.  Tomorrow the job hunt continues.

And should all fail, I can always go to Asia to finally do that yoga teacher training of course…

I win, either way.

Posted in All, Life Travels IV ~ Nov 2012 - May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reintegration into society

After more than four years of bumming around, it feels like it’s time for a change.  It all started in May 2008.  Years without a home, adjusting to a new time zone every half year or less, months after months of wearing only the clothes that fit in the maximum luggage allowance, which is not much if you also have to drag around 20 kg of dive gear and 10 kg of electronic devices…  About those electronic devices: I happen to own a laptop, an eReader, three portable external hard drives, an iPod, a camera (which used to be two until I sold my trusted ol’ SLR) and a mobile phone.  It may sound like a lot of gadgets, but trust me, I use all of them on a very regular basis, as any self-respecting traveller would nowadays.  Each of these items has a different charger and/or cable, sometimes even two (a USB cable and a plug-into-the-wall cable).  On top of that, I have to carry 176 types of plug adaptors, so that I can fit the three prong plug from Singapore into the two pin socket in Australia, but of course I also need the one that fits the Dutch one into the Singaporean one and another one that fits the Italian one into the Dutch and… well, you catch my drift.  I estimate that a universal charger and adaptor would spare me a good 2 kg… do you think the airline companies and electronic device manufacturers are in league?  Anyway, going off on a tangent here.

Back to beach bumming.  Well, the novelty sort of wears off.  Don’t get me wrong. I love travelling and will continue to as long as my body and wallet allow it.  But for a while now, I’ve started missing a few things in my life and in order to get those back, I need to… settle.

There you go, the word is out.  Shocked?  I doubt it.  Most of the people who know me well and whom I’ve spoken to recently, are aware that I miss sleeping in OUR bed, decorating OUR living room, displaying all the books I’ve read and still want to read in a nice big book shelf in OUR study.   I want to have my own kitchen so I can splurge on a slow juicer, a huge frying wok, beautiful wine glasses and a set of kitchen knifes for Stefano… I’m also dreaming of finally buying a big ass Futon so that Stefano can wake up in the morning without backache.  Sometimes I even fantasise about having a little vegetable patch in our garden, so we can eat our own organic veggies…

After four years of living like a nomad, working in the most exotic places in the world and having no other responsibilities other than earning enough money to eat, travel and buy a few other basic necessities – who needs a retirement fund? -, I’m looking forward to having “my own place” again.  But of course, it would be too simple to settle in familiar territories, such as Holland, Italy or Egypt… Been there, done that, time to tick a new box.

So here we are, trying to start a new life Down Under.  Australia has been Stefano’s dream for donkey’s ears and I would be happy anywhere as long as there is running warm water, electricity and no civil war.  And a tropical climate.  And Ashtanga yoga.  And fast internet.  I’m not demanding, really 😉

And last time I checked, Australia fulfilled all of the above.  So here we are and we have a plan, sort of…

Project Mission: Find jobs (with work permit of course) that will permit us to rent a nice place of our own and live a good life, anywhere in Australia where it’s nice and that will allow me to keep up a daily Ashtanga yoga practice and Stefano to catch lots of fish in his spare time.  We don’t want to work in diving anymore (also there the novelty wears off and on top of that, the waters are bloody cold around Australia!) but fortunately we have other skills as well.

Project Deadline:  End of January 2013 or longer if the tourist visa can be extended and we haven’t run out of money.  If not successful by that date, plans will have to be revised…

Project Itinerary: Perth to start with, followed by a drive along the South Coast passing through Esperance, Melbourne, Sydney (or towns “near” those cities) to visit friends and then the East Coast.  But that can change, should a golden opportunity arise before the end of our planned route or should gathered information point us in another direction…

Sooooo…… anyone with interesting leads for us, do drop us a line! 🙂  All we need is one kind sponsor, we have our CV’s ready for instant send off! 🙂

Anyway regardless of the fact whether we succeed in settling in Australia, it’s already a cool adventure.

I arrived about a fortnight ago and was warmly welcomed by Nicole, whom I’ve known for more than 20 years and who moved to Australia years ago.  We did manage to see each other a few times since her move Down Under, but now at last, we have lots of quality time to catch up and enjoy the friendship that sprouted when we were sweet (not!) 16 and had the whole world at our feet.  How amazing to reunite after so many years so far away from where we met…

As soon as I was settled in Nicole’s guest room, she and I went to work:  in between trips to and from her daughter’s kindergarten and her baby’s feeds, we looked for an affordable, reliable second hand car for me.  In Australia “it’s just around the corner” can extend up to a 30-minute drive, so being carless here is like being handicapped.  Within two days I was the proud owner of my very first car.  Yes, I’m 37 years old and have never owned a car.  Timmo was always generous enough to let me use his – a Golf 1 Cabrio (too cool!) followed by a Lexus 350 (super fancy!) and within El Gouna, I drive my father-in-law’s car, so I never had the need to buy one, as a car on a resort island in the Maldives is pretty useless anyway…   Now, finally, I had reason and opportunity and thus I now possess a white Mitsubishi TJ Magna Advance Station Wagon.  The car is as big as its name.  I can just about look over the steering wheel and I have no idea how far behind me the car ends.  But I love it!

Second on my priorities list, was finding a place to live.  Rather than staying with friends or in a hostel, we wanted to get a real impression of what it’s like to live in Perth.  So I borrowed a UBD (a.k.a. Perth street directory – I’m practising my Aussie jargon here), marked all the Ashtanga shalas I could find in Perth and started looking on Gumtree (a.k.a. the Australian Marktplaats, Craigs’ List, eBay, etc…) for rental opportunities in a 1 km radius of those schools.  After 5 days of browsing the Internet non-stop, sending emails & text messages, making phone calls and visiting houses, I finally, 5 hours before Stefano was due to land, found the place that we now call home.

The main tenant of the house, which I shall refer to as T., was looking for a person or a couple to share his 2-bedroom house in Scarborough with.  House sharing is very common in the cities in Australia, making it possible to live in a decent place for a reasonable price.  And T. could use the extra income, I would say.  He’s a 48 year old Uruguayan aspiring tattoo artist, who dreams of going back to South America, grew up in Australia and seems to live of nothing else but the dole (unemployment benefit), the rent we pay him and the pennies he makes with the tattoos he does (i.e. he finds people to practice on and sometimes they pay him a little for the material cost).  He’s a hard core environmentalist with a very personal and intense view on modern human kind (we’re all assholes, destroying the earth and each other) and it’s not unusual for us to wake up smelling fragrances coming from his room indicating where his elevated state of mind comes from.   But he’s got a kind heart, the house is spotless and the combination of location, price and quality make this a great place for us to live for a few weeks.  After six years of fridgeless existence, T. even agreed to buy one for us as I insisted that, although I could live without a washing machine in the house, we would really need a fridge.  I’m not demanding, really… 😉

Anyway, for the past week we’ve been, what I think you might call, settling in.  Getting to know the neighbourhood, finding which shops are where and open when, where to go for the laundry (no washing machine, remember?), where to find my organic crèmes, flaxseed oil and other health stuff (no, it’s not just a phase), what the best fishing spots are and all those things one does when one does not have a job…

So far, my typical day starts at 5.15 am, when my alarm clock goes off.  Yes, I (the crazy one) get up at quarter past five in the morning and at 6.00 am, I’m at the yoga shala doing my practice.  Stefano (the wise one) usually snoozes on, although on one occasion he got up early as well to try out his luck and his new fishing roads on the beach.  No results reported as of yet…  When I get home at 8.00 am, I either crawl back into bed to warm up (it’s not yet summer here in Perth!!!) or we get cracking on breakfast, consisting of a super fresh healthy juice (made with the juicer that we can fortunately borrow from Nicole) and crackers with avocado or something similar – today we went overboard though, with fried eggs and bacon  :-).  By 10.00 am we are behind our laptops, catching up with the world and doing research for our job hunt.  And then, at some point during the day, we go out to run some errands, to have lunch, to meet up with long lost friends (long live Facebook!) or to buy groceries or other items we suddenly seem to need, like proper shoes and decent clothes.

But course, the main priority is to explore job opportunities.  So we talk to people, embellish our CV, spend hours online investigating visa regulations, make appointments with migration officers and meet up with friends and friends of friends to gather as much information as we can, hoping that we’ll find what we are looking for in these three months that we have labelled “a research holiday”.  Stefano started practising mock IELTS tests, as it is highly likely we will have to do an English language test to obtain a visa.  I’m online looking for the dream job that will combine my language skills with the experience I obtained in banking and diving as a manager and as an instructor without having to work 80 hours a week.  I’m not demanding, really… 😉

If we are not out with friends, we are in bed around 9.00 pm after enjoying a nice home cooked meal and choose from one of the many movies available on one of our hard drives.   And so we end the evening warm and cosy, together at last after almost two months of separation.

It’s almost as if I’m going through a process of reintegration into normal society.  The little bird that escaped from the cage is now, voluntarily, sneaking back in…  while making sure that the cage door does remain wide open.

I’m paying rent again, I own a car, soon I’ll hopefully have a fixed address and I might even be filing a tax return again in the near future… Oh my….

Scared?  No…  I must say I kind of enjoy the idea.  For now…

Posted in All, Life Travels IV ~ Nov 2012 - May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Portable slow juicer please!

Fresh & organic juices
Sari Organic Juices, Ubud, Bali

I’m turning into a juice freak.

It’s not the worse addiction one can suffer from, granted.  But it’s an expensive hobby.  And unfortunately not yet popular enough around the world, so I can’t satisfy my cravings everywhere I go.  Nothing beats a fresh veggie and/or fruit juice.  I can’t get enough of them.

Drinking juice or a concentrate from a carton simply doesn’t do it for me anymore.  Even if they don’t add sugars or preservatives, it’s pasteurised at the very least.  A little good does that do…  While pasteurisation kills harmful bacteria, it also destroys the good ones, leaving your juices with dead calories and zero nutritional value.  So I want fresh only.  And slow juiced if possible, because that way you release the maximum amount of enzymes from the fibres with a minimum loss of nutritional value due to oxidisation as a centrifugal juicer would cause (yes, better read that sentence again, it’s a mouthful I confess!).  They say that drinking juices is even healthier than eating your fruits and veggies, because there is no way that you’ll chew on your food long enough to extract as many nutrients from it as a slow juicer would.

It’s a tough life, trying to be healthy…

In my case, you have to remember I’m a homeless globetrotter, therefore most of the time kitchenless, hence dependent on local establishments to provide me with fresh, healthy & tasty juices.  Let me give you an overview of what was available to me over the past few months.

Our resort in the Maldives? Ha, what a joke.  Even if by some miracle I would have been able to get my hands on enough variety of fresh fruits and vegetables to press juices, we wouldn’t have been allowed to have kitchen appliances in our rooms.  The canteen and restaurant kitchens were off limits as was the Juice Bar, since Dive Centre staff members were considered evil beings to be kept as far away from guests as possible.  Fresh coconuts were the only source of natural fresh drinks available to us.  My staff would collect them personally from the coconut trees around the Dive Centre and we would have several coconut parties a week.  The highlight of my days!

Egypt?  Forget it.  In El Gouna, my base in the desert, no place sells fresh vegetable juices and there is only one shop that sells overpriced “fresh fruit juices”.  On the first and last occasion I was there to order two take-away mixed fruit juices, I actually had to stop them from adding juice from a pack to the mix…  Seriously???  So I ended up blending some at home, for lack of a good slow juicer.  Anyhow, organic (pesticide free) fruits and vegetables are hard to come by in Egypt and pesticide regulation is probably decades behind Europe, so even if you juice-it-yourself at home, you’re not really drinking the healthiest of brews…

Amsterdam?  Disappointing too.  Aside from the standard freshly squeezed orange juice restaurants and cafés, there might be a handful of “Juice Bars” in town, but personally I don’t go cycling through the rain for 10 minutes to get a fresh juice.  Unless it’s around the corner from where I stay, it’s useless.  The only good alternative I know of, and of which I am a shamelessly big fan, is Frecious.nl.  Deliciously cold pressed fresh veggie juices, non-pasteurised and delivered to your doorstep in bottles of recycled plastic.  Last time I was in Holland, I ordered 90 of them for the month and finished them off in no time.  I carried one or two of them in my handbag wherever I went.  Ideal snacks, thirst quenching and super tasty.  But other than these Frecious little drinks, the fresh juice coverage is pretty meagre for a metropolitan city such as Amsterdam…

Ubud, Bali?  Heaven of juice heavens of course.  Fresh & organic fruit and veggies juices are available on every street corner of town.  ABC’s (Apple, Beetroot, Carrot), Heartbeats (Beetroot mixes), Aloe Vera blends, Leafy Green Juices (Spinach, Kale, Cabbage, Parsley, etc…), Turmeric mixes, Detox shots, Energizers…. I could spend my entire yearly budget on the juices in Ubud and still not get enough of them…  Even the smallest warungs have fresh juices available.  Avocado juice with a splash of chocolate is still one of my favourites…

Alas, I had to leave Bali and move on…

I do carry around and pop my Fruit & Vegetable capsules of course, as I have diligently for years.  Ideal for when you want to complement your regular diet with natural, whole-food supplements instead of useless chemical multivitamins.  At least I don’t lack my basic vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients, whatever I feed myself with on top of this.  But these capsules don’t satisfy my taste buds as nicely as those juices do…

So what I need is someone to design and launch a portable slow juicer.  A small, light, easy to clean slow juicer, fit for carrying around in a hand luggage sized trolley.  Is that too much to ask for?

I volunteer to test the prototype.  Drop me a line when ready to juice, ok?

Posted in All, Health, Travelling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Told you so, milk is yukkie…

The thought of milk always brings back this childhood memory.  Or trauma really.  I was eight years old, back in Holland after having lived in France for four years and my new Dutch school had a milk programme.  For an extra yearly fee, the children would get a small, light blue carton of milk during lunch break.  School milk they called it.  And of course, you HAD to drink it.  Because it was paid for.  And because it was healthy.

dairy industry

It was the 80’s and milk was and had been the “engine” of society forever.  Healthy children, full of energy, drinking large glasses of milk for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Big strong men, coming home all sweaty after a run, opening the fridge, grabbing a liter pack of milk and drinking it straight from the carton, showing off biceps and abs while swigging it down until the last drop.  Whole families having picnics in the park, with brown bread, Dutch cheese and of course, never forget, milk!  Full cream milk, skimmed milk and later non-fat milk.  Milk with your cereals, milk when you came home from school, milk with honey to make you sleep better, milk, milk, milk…

And all it made me do, was retch.  I have a school milk trauma and the little comic strip about a rabbit on the packaging did not ease the pain in any way.  Since there was no way around it, I would suck the milk out of the carton as fast as I could, straight from the straw into my throat, trying to get as little milk in my mouth as possible.  When the milk was still cold, it would be just about bearable.  Much worse would be my suffering when the milk man had come to the school early that day and the milk would be at room temperature.  I have to heave just thinking about it.  No matter how often I begged my parents to stop paying the milk contribution, for three long years I drank 250 ml of milk every day of the week.  Deliverance day came when we moved to Argentina.  No school milk programme at the Lycée Français in Buenos Aires.  Imagine having to move to the other side of the world to escape this revolting white liquid poison.

Yes, poison.  Turns out my revulsion was not unfounded.  I was a visionary, already at the age of eight.  Milk is yuk.

Published studies nowadays show more and more that milk is in fact UNhealthy.  It’s acidic, depletes your body from its natural calcium, its fats are cause for diabetes and heart diseases, low fat milk is even worse than full fat milk and so forth.  Don’t take my word for it, just google “milk unhealthy” and you’ll have reading material for the next quarter.

I give you a few quotes and links:

Reading this makes me want to do more than retch.  It makes me want to puke up all the hundreds of cartons of milk I had to drink.  Cow milk is for calves, not for humans.  We don’t feed our breast milk to other animals, now do we?

Still, you’ll find just as much reading material on why milk is healthy for you.  The US and EU agricultural lobby will make sure of that.  In the end it’s up to you anyway to decide what to believe.

I choose to forget about milk.  Except perhaps for a little drop of white foam to make my espresso macchiato… 🙂

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Yoga Farts (or why Ashtanga is fun)

Ashtanga is fun, really.

Ashtangis take themselves very seriously.  They are bit like the military branch of the yoga community.  Ruthless training six times a week early in the morning, no deviation from the routine, absolutely no practice on Saturdays nor Moon Days and for the ladies, no practice either on their “personal moon days”.

Ashtanga is seriously intense if you want to do it properly.  Weakness (of the mind) is harshly looked down upon, so you need physical strength and discipline to keep up your daily practices.  And the practices are not for the faint-hearted.  None of that lying down in between asanas (poses) and resting horizontally for 20 breaths after each forward bend.  Oh no, you keep going, flowing from pretzel pose to pretzel pose, folding your shoulders under your knees and your ankles behind your neck in a constant, regular rhythm.  If you’re slow, like me, it takes 90 minutes to do just three quarters of the Primary Series.  Imagine how long my work out will be by the time I’m allowed to do the entire Primary…

Oh yes, proper Ashtanga teachers don’t just teach you the entire Primary in one week.  No no no, one by one, poses are “given” to you when you are well and truly ready to open up for a new asana.  You have to deserve it.  True Ashtanga practitioners also must go to Mysore, which is where the guru of modern Ashtanga came from.  You cannot pretend to be a serious Ashtangi if you have never been to Mysore and practiced with guruji or his descendants.  It’s almost like a cult and it scares me a bit, but at the same time, I really want to go there some day to see what the fuss is all about.

But to cut it short, the point I’m making is that Ashtangis take themselves rather seriously.

And this is where, according to me, it becomes crucial to consume only healthy foods when you practice Ashtanga.  Not only because one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga dictates inner cleanliness, but simply to avoid loss of far… sorry, face.  Let me explain my trail of thoughts to you.

I will not start the debate here on what is healthy and what is not (such as fatty meat, refined sugars, processed foods, just to mention a few), but in the end we all know that unhealthy food drains you of energy, can give you a bloated feeling in the stomach, followed by rumbling intestines and more of these discomforts.  And we all know this can lead to gas and we all know what happens when you get gassy.  You fart.  The air has to come out and there is only one way.  Out of your anus.  Everybody has the same embarrassing problem, even if they angelically pretend they don’t.  Meat farts definitely score high on the putridity scale, veggie farts are less toxic for the environment, it seems (human ones that is, not talking about cows here. Although I’ve seen some on the mat…).

Anyway, a fart is a fart.  Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can control it, but most of the time, it will come out anyway.  The pressure builds up, you’ve tried everything, from relaxing your belly to cramping up your poo hole but ultimately, you let one rip.  And that can happen in any normal daily situation, like in the crowded tram during peak hour or during an interview for the job of your dreams.

Imagine cutting one loose during your yoga practice.  There you are, desperately trying to get into Pindasana, folded back leaning on your neck and shoulders, legs crossed in lotus, your arms hugging your knees and your ass pointing upwards as vertically as possible.  Do you feel the pressure of last night’s cheese fondue building up? Exactly.  Mula Bandha or not, it’s straightforward physics… Or is it biology?

It gets even better (or worse) when the teacher is adjusting you.  Somehow, the ideal position for the teacher when assisting you, puts him more often then not with his face close to your bum.  So when your teacher, your guru, the person you look up to like to a god because he can do amazing asanas that you can only dream of, when this revered human being slowly and intimately pushes you into the pose with his nose dangerously close to the hole you’re supposed to control with your Mula Bandha, all you can think of is “Please don’t fart, please don’t fart, no no no, pleeease don’t fart…” and the harder you think it, the more you cramp up, the higher the pressure and… Yes, exactly.

So all these Ashtangis take themselves super seriously.  They don’t smile during practice, because somehow I think it’s physically impossible to smile when you have to stare at an imaginary point 10 cm from the tip of your nose – without looking completely retarded that is.  They can’t sit down and relax in between poses, because it’s key to stay in the meditative flow.  They can’t look around and enjoy watching other peoples accomplishments, because it’s all about internal focus and concentration.  But they know that beginners sneakily stare at them from under their armpits, so they need to look good.  It’s all very serious business.

Until all these efforts explode in the teacher’s face with a loud fart.

No wonder serious Ashtanga practitioners eat as healthy as possible…

Ashtanga is fun, really,  if you look at it from the right perspective.

Bums up!

Note:  I have to thank all the Ashtanga people I’ve met around the world who dared to share their windy stories with me, verbally or anally, voluntarily or not.  So far, I’ve been lucky.

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Rock me Amadeus!

People who’ve been reading my blog for the past few years already know that after my yearly, almost traditional Tour de la Hollande, I usually write some kind of emotional nostalgic slobbering blog upon my departure, expressing how blessed I feel (without any religious inclination) that I still have so many friends in my home country, how grateful I am for the guestrooms, bikes and meals I get offered, how much I’ve enjoyed the Dutch foods & snacks, the dinner parties and the drinks, bla bla bla, etc, etc, etc…

Of course after this year’s visit, I could write precisely the same, because it’s exactly the way I feel again, but I’ve been there, done that and ticked the box.  So I won’t.

Instead, I would like to focus on one particular evening.  It was a cultural one.

When back in Holland, I always try to go to a classical concert or two, in order to catch up on cultural stimuli I’ve been lacking on the tropical island here or in the dusty desert there.  This year, my brother suggested to go see a French quartet performing in the small concert hall of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam: Quatuor Ébène.  Ying Wei warmed me up: young upcoming talents who’d won a several awards, super popular, amazing musicians, new swing to classical music and more superlatives of the sort.

The price already impressed me.  EUR 45 per ticket, which is roughly the same amount I paid for the last pop concert I went to in 2006 (Robbie Williams), was a bit steep I thought.

But considering that Ying Wei has been playing violin for 27 years or so, has played in several (youth) orchestras, is first violinist in a string quartet and sextet and is also concertmaster of a great amateur symphonic orchestra (Bellitoni), I would say his opinion on the matter is equal to that of professional.  I do therefore, trust my little brother blindly when it comes to classical music – and some other things too, but I’ll stick to the point.  The point being: Ying Wei was right and Quatuor Ébène was worth every single cent. (Note:  I’m quite proud of my little brother, did that come across? 🙂 )

The performance started with a Mozart piece written in 1785 and I was entranced from the very first note.  Although I must admit, I was initially a bit distracted by the musicians themselves.  Aside from the fact that they appeared rather hip for a classical group (though very smartly dressed in black suits), the first violinist looked like the twin brother of a friend of mine and kept sliding his feet back and forth as if he was cross-country skiing.  The second violinist, the shortest of the group, kept bouncing up and down on his chair as if he was trying to stick his head above the crowd.  The viola player looked like a fraternity student who had been drinking too much beer for too many years and held his bow as if he had just had a couple to many just before getting on stage.  That guy must have the worse stroke I have ever seen… The cellist, the sexiest of the lot, had a good part my attention too as I know from personal experience how bloody difficult it is to master that ultra romantic yet mighty instrument.

Anyway, as they went through a most passionate and inspiring performance, I realised that the music they were playing was composed over 225 years ago.  And I couldn’t help but wonder how many hip and trendy pop groups will still perform “Let Me Entertain You” or “Angel” in the year 2267.

Schubert was perhaps even better than the Amadeus piece and if I was impressed after the first half, I can fairly say that I was flabbergasted after the second half.  They played Tsaikovsky with such verve, enthusiasm, flawlessness and power that I ended up sitting on the brink of my chair, with a straight back, totally mesmerized and as high strung as the cords of their fine instruments.

I don’t usually agree with the standing ovations the audiences give away so easily in the Netherlands, but this one was worth jumping on the benches for…

And then came the encore…

The cellist gave a short speech introducing it as a piece by a famous quartet from Liverpool that we might have heard of, they shoved aside the musical scores, looked at each other, smiled and started playing the funkiest, jazziest and grooviest interpretation of “Come Together” you can ever imagine.  I have never seen so many old people (your average Concertgebouw audience) swing with so much gusto and I decided then and there that I would buy their newest CD “Fiction” on the spot.  Sadly it was already sold out that evening, so it will be put on my Christmas wish list.  I had an unforgettable evening.

Merci Quatuor Ébène.  And thank you Ying Wei for the intro and the company.

Classical music rocks.

Posted in All, Random contemplations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

War on Cash

Things change.  Even in places where nothing seems to change, there are always changes.

I’ve come back to Holland, Amsterdam, after another year of collecting passport stamps around the world.  Of course I go shopping.  Not for clothes or other “objects”.  My luggage allowance is 20 kg max, so there’s no space for any extra baggage.  I only go shopping for food and drinks, real consumables so to speak.  Those who know me will say that that’s nothing new and they are right.  The largest chunk of my budget always goes to food & beverages, wherever I am. But in Holland, I buy stuff I’ve not been able to consume during the rest of the year, things you can’t really get abroad, or at least not in the abroads where I hang out.  Herring, good wines, steak tartare, filet american, disgustingly bad for your health but fingerlickingly good HEMA worsten, bread… aaaah, Dutch bread, fresh, crispy, golden brown, full of whole grains and seeds, and all those other typical Dutch products that I don’t really miss when I’m travelling, but that I gorge myself on when I’m back in my home country.

And during my shopping expeditions this time round, I have made an astonishing discovery: shops are becoming “cashless”.  Some of the supermarkets have converted half of their cash registers to cashless registers.  Other shops have decided to ban cash completely.  They just do not accept cash anymore.  No notes, no coins, no cash.  You can only pay by debit or credit card.  I can hardly believe it.  I have a flashback.

2006.  I was heading a huge program for the Bank.  We had labelled it “War on Cash”.  The objective of the program was to drastically reduce cash transactions and paper based payments throughout the country and stimulate both consumers and commercials clients to only use plastic and internet for money transactions.  We had wild ideas like asking retailers to please stop charging EUR 0,10 to customers for small debit card (PIN) payments, offering cheaper banking products to consumer clients who would only do payments via internet banking, we were getting database analysis reports from Marketing Intelligence cross referencing the age of our customers with their transaction behaviour, inventing all sorts of packaging strategies to sell our cashless dreams.  We (Product Management) had endless discussions with Marketing and Management convincing them that a cashless society was the way forward.  After each presentation we made to the top of the Business Unit, we had to make changes, tone it down, exclude seniors, change the pricing, prepare a new presentation and the whole circus would start again.  Shortly before I moved to Singapore, the program was more or less shoved under the carpet.  Despite the endless efforts of the team, it was clear that the world was not ready for our vision of a world without coins and notes.  Or rather, our senior management did not think the world was ready enough.  Or perhaps our business case was just not profitable enough. Whatever they thought, I worked my ass off for 18 months and was rather disappointed that “my” bank did not have the guts to be the front-runner I would have liked them to be.  But then again, this same bank supported my move to Singapore so in the scheme of things, I was still happy with my employer.

2012.  As I walk into a shop to buy a respectable quantity of bottles of white wine, I notice the sign: cashless shop, PIN only…  I smile, I draw my card and I think… told you so.

Things change.  I like it.

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Blog, Blogger, Bloggest!

El Gouna, Red Sea, Egypt

5 September 2012

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” T. S. Eliot

This post is an exact a copy of my last blog on yaisa.waarbenjij.nu.  In the end, any end is just a beginning, isn’t it?

Thank you for following me and welcome to my new weblog site!

Any comments to improve it?  Let me know! 🙂

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It is with mixed feelings that I start writing this post.

Looking back upon my blog history, which started on 14 November 2006 (in Dutch, how cute), I see a series of captured moments describing my adventures, my observations, my emotions and a whole lot of comments from friends and family on my stories throughout the years.  I would never have dared to dream that almost six years later, my blog would still be alive and kicking and that so many friends around the world would still be reading it.  I mean, surely I find my life interesting enough to create this diary for my own record, but who would have thought that so many others find it worthwhile to read about it and why?

Actually, I’m not even going to try to answer that one, because I may be bitterly disappointed when finding out that it’s only because they were very bored at work and already spent two hours on Facebook, booked the ticket to their next holiday destination and googled the names of all the one night stands they could remember.

But I do know this.  I enjoy writing and sharing my thoughts with the rest of the world.  The rest of the world being my limited network of friends and acquaintances of course.  Let’s be honest, I’m just an amateur blogger and can scarcely claim that uncountable strangers are following my blog just because I write such fascinating stories.  Be that as it may, I intend to keep on writing.

However, this particular blog you’re reading now is going to be my last one on yaisa.waarbenjij.nu.

Yes.  I’m moving on to a slightly more sophisticated and professional platform.  In the world of blogging (and I’m hardly an expert), there have been numerous developments thanks to all the tools available on internet, most of which I don’t understand at all.  Simultaneously, my blogging aspirations have developed as well.  I feel I’ve outgrown the “backpacker’s letter to the home front” kind of writing.  Facebook is a better and faster way to let your beloved know that you’ve landed safely and have settled in the hostel recommended by Lonely Planet.  Although travelling is and always will be an important part of my life, I have more to talk about than just that.  My blog is not a simple travel diary anymore and moreover, I have more writing ambitions.

Therefore, even though I have grown sort of emotionally attached to my yaisa.waarbenjij.nu address, I have decided to cut the longstanding umbilical cord linking me to this Dutch blog site and subscribed to a more mature and global weblog hosting provider: WordPress.com.

Unable to completely disavow my humble blogging origins, I’ve named my new weblog: whereisyaisanow.com and that’s where you’ll find my stories from now on.  This old weblog will remain accessible until the waarbenjij.nu team decides to remove my account.  Of course I’ve taken precautionary measure, should they do so at some point in the future, I won’t lose the precious content as I have printed albums of all the blogs I have written so far and I must say they constitute an amazing compilation of memories, including your comments.

So to those who would like to keep following me around the world, go to whereisyaisanow.com, click on + Follow and leave your email address. New posts will also show on Facebook and Twitter, so you can pick it up from there if you prefer not to be spammed in your inbox.

To those who have been more annoyed than entertained by my blogs but have just been too lazy to unsubscribe, here is your day of deliverance!  This is the last one, you shall never have to hear from me again, that is of course, if we are not connected on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn or some other social network J .

Now, if you are actually interested in what I have been up to since I left Ubud and arrived in El Gouna 5 weeks ago, leave your last comment on yaisa.waarbenjij.nu at the bottom of this page to help me create a worthy farewell to this blog (it will be printed, added to my blog album collection and cherished for ever), go to whereisyaisanow.com, sign up and you’ll hear from me soon again from this new platform…

In the meantime, thank you waarbenjij.nu, thank you friends, family, loyal readers, thank you all for making my blog, keeping it alive, feeding it and thereby feeding me with so much positive energy and giving me such a great podium to express myself, to document six years of life travels, through high’s and low’s, from banker to beach bum and from Antarctica to Taiwan.

I’m turning a digital leaf and starting a fresh page.  Enter.

Posted in All, Life Travels IV ~ Nov 2012 - May 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment