Friday, October 31, 2008

Fears on blogging and social networking

There’s an interesting article on BBC about Facebook -- Bosses should ‘embrace’ Facebook, and why companies should welcome social networking at work. It’s a good read that talks about the pros and cons of using social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, Friendster and many more.

This topic touches a sensitive nerve on me. I have to admit that up to now, one of my biggest fear is being googled and searched on social networking sites and searchers ultimately landing in this blog. I know, it sounds like this blog is a sort of clandestine operation, haha, but my real name is quite unique in the world and will definitely stand out in any online search.

Moreover, I feel awkward if people from my workplace, my boss, and my business associates read what I write here. I want my work and my personal lives separate. I want them to stay away from this blog! LOL! This is the reason why my Friendster account is on Dutched Pinay registration (which I am thinking of deleting soon), so as this blog of course, YouTube, Multiply, and even my YM!

There was a time - this was during my earlier blogging days, when this blog was open for comments. I went back and reviewed all posted comments accordingly (that took a lot of time mind you!) and deleted the ones that have my name on it. To make things convenient, I disabled my comments section and then deleted my chat box. It’s safer I thought, plus I’m a hermit who is reluctant and lazy to make new friends and socialize online. I just don’t have the time, gravity, and personality to make friends in a fly. I even went as far as contacting people who had my real name on their websites that point to this blog, requesting that they change my real name to Dutched Pinay or something else, if not, to just simply take it off.

The message is plain and simple. I WAS, AND STILL AM, SOOOO PARANOID!

Sometimes I feel like I’m living a double life. Strange, its like I am walking on egg shells and living in a glass house.

When I graced at before as a blogger for the Netherlands, I often get obsessed and very anxious. I fret that one day my colleagues at work would suddenly recognize me – hey, you are the Dutched Pinay I read! You see, many of them are foreigners, expatriates who read Expatica for advice regularly.

I also got interviewed by a local magazine here, they usually feature foreign women from developing countries who integrated well into the society and made a successful career in the Netherlands. Since it’s the magazine’s policy to publish the real name of their interviewed subjects, I insisted that they NOT publish a link to my blog. Well, they agreed to my terms. Ah, I gave the chance away, that could have been instant publicity!

It’s a double edged sword. I do like the attention that’s why this blog is public but I also like to shy away from attention in real life. It sounds artificial, ironic, but it’s kind of along the lines of not getting too close for comfort with the real thing.

On retrospection, there are many bloggers that have taken advantage of their popularity and used their blogs as an avenue to widen their horizons and even make it a fulltime career.

But I just know that there is very little money in blogging, and to use this opportunity to snag a book deal, writing job, or whatever neighboring careers it can get me close to is not my thing, nor my liking; too much risk, exposure against loss of privacy, all for little money, and I don’t think I can even write that well!

I will stick to blogging as my hobby, a journal of my life (well more like a travel and expatriation journal really), no more, no less, but will keep it semi-anonymous as I am still overly paranoid about this whole privacy thing. I say semi-anonymous because I post freely my fotos on here but at least no one can google my real name and end up in this blog, haha.

Nevertheless, I’ve signed up with Facebook a year ago due to pressure from my ex-colleagues in my ex-company, who incidentally, and rightfully, is one of the experts on this matter, or shall I say catalyst, in the evangelization of this amazing social networking epidemic. It was part of the project we were working on and it was only late this year, this was when I left the company to move to better pastures that I got into the Facebook momentum.

I think the trick that worked for me with Facebook is because the people I have in my friends list are people I really know in real life... ex-colleagues, current colleagues, old friends, old classmates, schoolmates, family and relatives, and people I have been communicating with, on and off, for quite some time.

Obviously, there is NO link of my blog in Facebook and I have NO plans of publishing this blog there. There is a thin line between cyber and real life, and I want to hold on to that thin line as tight as I can... but some of you have been personally invited by me to come over here ;-)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Texel, part 2

This is a long overdue post because I am lazy as can be!

I actually like writing as this type of activity help my thoughts wander into relaxing mode territory. I am hyperactive and energetic so this hushed way of channeling my energy open up new dimensions in soothing and destressing my senses. That is why I can never stop blogging!

The Texel trip seemed so far away now but the experience is still very vivid to me.


The red lighthouse in Cockersdorp, Texel and 2 girls doing power walk.

We stayed in a B&B in Cockersdorp, a small rural village up north in Texel Island. It was Dutchman’s idea as he wanted something different from what we normally take. He did not fancy staying in De Koog or Den Burg where many tourists opt to stay, which is fine with me. So there, I am pleased to report that our first B&B accommodation was a success!

There was a lighthouse nearby the village and a white sand beach filled with kite flyers. I read on Texel tourist website that there will be some kind of kite festival in some parts of the island. We also found a tiny port that ferry passenger to the next island, Vlieland, which I heard is also a very nice place to holiday.

Texel lighthouse in Cockersdorp and the representing animal for Texel island, sheep, grazing on the dike.

In the morning we took a leisurely drive along the countryside and snapped fotos of the grizzly sheep grazing on top of the dikes. Texel is quite famous for its wool production that true to its popularity many souvenir shops sell wool-stuffed sheep animal dolls, even key chains with the name Texel engraved on it and little innocent sheep dangling from the ring.

Cocksdorp quaint countryside, taken from the car inside mirror.

We also saw parachutes and gliders, and Dutchman gleamed. I have actually forbidden him to engage in extreme sports. He used to parachute, paraglide, and bunjee jump before he met me. He was also younger before, more active and adventurous, not like now where his world only revolves around his work, and me of course. The only active sports he does now is snowboarding and roller blading.

He also thought the name of the village -- Cockersdorp, is a good start in learning the Dutch language, ha-ha. Well, what can I say the village name reminds me of equally hilarious real Dutch family names such as Kok, Dik, Fok and Fokker. When translated, they actually mean: Kok = Chef; Dik = Fat; Fok = Breed; and Fokker = Animal Breeder

Here are more fotos of Cockersdorp and Oosterend: Cockersdorp and Oosterend, Texel

Den Hoorn and ‘t Hoorntje

A field of white flowers and on the right is a residence selling home made ceramics. The owners laid out a bench along the street for interested buyers.

My most important part of this weekend holiday was the bike ride from De Koog through the villages of Den Hoorn, ‘t Hoorntje, and Den Burg. I really enjoyed the most the stretch between De Koog and Den Hoorn because the bike route goes through the forest. With the very hot sun and its spiky rays, the day turned out unexpectedly to be sooo excruciatingly warm, however, with the shade and gentle breeze blowing through the trees gave us the much needed cooling effect. It made the bike ride through the woods really pleasurable.

Me with my rented bike. This foto was taken in ‘t Hoorntje by the junction near the port where the big boat leaves for Den Helder, or mainland Holland.

Our roadsters were rented in De Koog. While we were waiting for our bikes there was another couple around who could not make a decision which bike to take, a young Asian girl (she could be a Filipina) and an older Dutch man who was very vocal. They finally chose a double bike because the Asian girl does not know how to ride a bicycle, and since she is small (smaller than me) the seat has to be adjusted. When the personnel attending to us gave our bikes, the older Dutch man quickly pointed me to the Asian girl, and said, albeit subtly, “Look at her, she can bike! Sure you can!?” She replied by making a face.

More fotos of Den Hoorn and ‘t Hoorntje can be found here: Den Hoorn and ‘t Hoorntje, Texel

Buffalo! Next foto is the yummy salad, quite surprising really. I think Dutchman had Uitsmijter.

The beach near Den Hoorn was a nice stopover. We were not really planning on swimming but it’s always a great idea to swing by the beaches, knowing the Dutch as ardent sun and beach worshippers, there will always be activity and inviting open-air terraces. Along the way, we saw buffalos foraging by a shallow lagoon and I was lucky to have one stray near the road so I could get a close up foto.

It was already lunch time on our watch and what better way of spending time but to eat! I don’t trust Dutch restaurants with salads anymore, however the heat was getting to me and all I needed was a light fresh lunch. With that, I gambled head on and ordered a salad on the menu, and oh wow, was glad I did order... the salad came as a nice surprise.

Oudeschild and Oosterend

The old pretty wooden houses of Oosterend.

The holiday was too short to visit and enjoy all the villages, which was a shame really. We quickly passed though through Oudeschild, an old village in the east part of the island with a harbour. The place was once the harbour of glory where the VOC ships took off to sail to the East world in search for spices.

I only caught a glimpse of the habour and the towering poles of the ships and their flags. Across the marina is an impressive windmill and a row of pretty old houses.

Residents really tidy up and make pretty their home facades, and this one is a perfect example of a house with the ubiquituous Texel map hanging on the house front wall.

Oosterend, I had the quick chance of wandering on foot while Dutchman waited in the car. It is a monumental protected picturesque little town with wooden houses that is preserved and dates back in time.

I love how the villagers adorn the façade of their houses with pots of flowers, welcoming knickknacks and carved wooden map of Texel painted in dark green hanging on their front wall. It seems like the carved wooden map is the emblem of each house in the island.

All in all, Texel was a nice short weekend getaway. The trip was actually Dutchman’s late birthday gift to me, as per my request ;-)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rietlandpark Tram Stop

It is a cold early autumn evening (yup, there is still light!) waiting for the IJtram in Rietlandpark tram stop to Amsterdam Centraal Station and then change over to an intercity train going to Utrecht Centraal Station.

Rietlandpark Tram Stop corner Piet Heintunnel and Piet Heinkade near Llyods Hotel. I just recently learned to appreciate this tram stop. It is my first time to take the tram here although I pass by the area many times going to work, to the gym and to nearby shops and cafes. It is pretty, modern, and minimalist. Definitely my style. That noticeable transparent glass vestibule is the lift (elevator).

I just arrived from a trip abroad and it is not always easy to lug a large suitcase in public, especially on cobbled streets, inside trams and trains and crossing tram railways.

But thank heavens, in the Netherlands there is always a ramp, an escalator or a lift (translated as elevator, someone actually asked me what a lift is and realized the term is so European) available in every tram and train station. Planning, organization, vooruit kijken and vooruit denken is just so so Dutch. The Netherlands is probably the most handicap and aged friendly country, and let me add this too, traveler-with-large-suitcase friendly country in the world.

Speaking of handicaps, yesterday I saw a middle age blind man walking alone, with just his stick as companion. He was doing his slow morning walk in our neighborhood. It makes me smile.

Visit Period: October 2008
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shopping in Ghent, Belgium

Belgium compared to the Netherlands is a shopper’s sanctuary. There are more choices, better of course, and many popular designer shops abound. Moreover, the women in Belgium are better dressed than their counterparts in the Netherlands. The petite Belgians as compared to the gigantic Dutch women are in my opinion classier, elegant, and feminine.

Of course, it is not complete visiting Ghent without a souvenir foto, there must be! This is taken in Veldstraat shopping street and if I am not mistaken that is the Sint Bavo Cathedral at my back. Thanks Rich for taking this foto!

In Holland, I only see stylish women in moneyed suburbs, posh little villages, PC Hooftstraat in Amsterdam and in Maastricht, but in Belgium these women with the élan touch are everywhere. They strut the busy streets of Ghent from 9 to 5 and till later. I just love to see well dressed women around me and I can’t help but admire these Belgian women, they absolutely have finer tastes in fashion.

Ghent (Gent) as a city is also very pretty; she is like a well dressed Belgian woman! I do not understand though why Ghent is often regarded as second choice by travelers opinion in travel forums over romantic Bruges (Brugge). Bruges is overly touristy and having been to both towns, I think I would prefer Ghent. She has this special allure and magnetic mystery in her. The old Graslei harbour is my favorite. The panoramic line up of beautiful and impressive medieval buildings is one great sight to behold.

The Graslei Harbour, a very popular attraction in Ghent. Boat tours starts from here too.

Biking is an everyday activity in the Flanders region which also bears the same flat landscape just like the Netherlands.

The buildings in Ghent are very similar to the Dutch architecture. Given the bond of history, Flanders or Belgium was part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands until 1830 when the Kingdom of Belgium was born and separated from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The façade of the structures and the “trapgevel” are very familiar, you see the same thing as you go about in Holland, however there is a French flair into it, in the art work details, which makes the buildings very uniquely Belgian manner. You don’t see such type of art in France or in the Netherlands.

More fotos of Ghent here: Ghent, Belgium

For those who read the news dutifully, you might be aware that Belgium is currently torn apart by a serious national crisis: a country divided by two cultures and two languages, Flemish (Dutch speaking in the north) and Walloons (French speaking in the south) that resulted into not having an official government for more than a year already. Check BBC for more information.

Mrs. Rich and I having our warm choco and coffee drink. I like this cafe because they have plaids that you can drape your body or cover your lap as it was a bit chilly day.

The Belfry Tower, one of the striking structures in Ghent that dominates the city skyline.

Ghent is part of the Flemish region so I did not have to speak a word of French there. Yet the Flemish Dutch is always an interesting thing to me. I just can’t help but smile when I hear the locals, perhaps I find it amusing, but their accent is softer, milder, and it seems that they have this certain rhythm when they talk, like they are softly singing.

I find it droll too when Belgians quickly find my accent. Although I have presumably a distinct foreign accent when speaking Dutch, they just know I live in the Netherlands. I reckon the universal throat gurgling sound of G and SCH (that I have learned and gotten used to!) cannot be utterly disguised.

The Vleeshuis (Meat House), the place where meat was weighed and sold during the Middle Ages. Now it is used as a Promotiecentrum to promote events about delicatessen products.

In wrapping up, it wouldn’t hurt to cross over to Ghent (or even to Brussels and Antwerp) from time to time. The drive is around 3 hours only; definitely worth the trip – hey, it’s outside the Netherlands! However, I realized that shopping is a real chore, and believe it or not, it’s not always something that I look forward to. I’m terribly lazy and I prefer to stay at home if I am not working or traveling, but I don’t mind some sane periods of shopping in between, though I must insist, it must be scheduled. I am trying to control my spending! Given that I have come to a point in my life that I can pretty much buy whatever I want (that’s why I will never trade in my older years with my younger years), it is a challenge, and undeniably hard to keep the standards low in terms of spending. I am glad I have the Dutchman as my conscience and financial adviser.

Nevertheless, I would need at least 2 days to shop. So next time when I am in Belgium for shopping, to maximize and stretch my time I would need to book a hotel to stay and relax for the night.

The quality of my photos are not really great because they were all taken by my Nokia Navigator mobile phone.

Travel Period: October 2008
Destination: Ghent (East Flanders), Belgium

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Gym (and Angelas Ashes)

Some good news. I’ve been going to the gym since July, directly after Dutchman and I came back from our Santorini holiday. My routine schedule used to be 3x a week but a few weeks ago I changed it to 2x a week because (a) we are entering autumn and it’s getting darker (b) its getting colder as well. I hate going home when it’s already dark and cold, but I’m committed to improving my condition, so I’ve decided to compromise a day in my schedule.

I like to spend half an hour on the cross trainer after I have done my exercises. The bald guy in white tee usually spends an hour on the cross trainer. He sweats like crazy; the sweat would be flowing from his groins dripping like tears on the floor. I am not exaggerating ok.

My trainer told me emphatically that inorder for me to get the desired results I would need a 3x a week schedule. Well, let me put it this way. I don’t want to end up like her with those icky masculine muscles. But being almost 40 years old, with age taking its toll on my body, I want to be more healthier, better my condition and tone down my body just a little bit. In the last 2 weeks though, I’ve been going to the gym only once a week because I have not been well. I like to push myself but I realized there is no point really if when I get home, instead of feeling better I just get sicker.

The nice thing about this gym is it’s just a 3-minute walk from my work. 5 or more if I wear high heels, haha. The distance from my work place is the most crucial thing. If this gym was farther, my requirement would have to be parking facility which I know is near impossible in Amsterdam Centre so let’s just forget about that and go back to the original, the distance. Too bad I don’t have a bike. My male colleagues did offer me to use their bikes but I am too small to even get on it, haha. So that’s why I’m walking to the gym which I can always use as a teaser exercise anyway.

So far everything is doing fine and dandy. I have lost a few kilos already, my abdominal is starting to get firmer, and my condition is way better than months back.

I will let you in for a little gossip. It’s true what they say about the guys in the gym. Majority are either (a) gays (b) fanatic body builders. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I have gay friends and my sister is gay by the way, but it’s just that it’s interesting to really notice it, and to see it with my own two eyes the stories I heard from others. There must be a reason. Hmm, lol.

On other matters, we watched the movie Angela’s Ashes yesterday evening at home. The movie was precisely the book and Angela was exactly what I envisioned her to be... but how very odd it is to have found the book more intriguing and enticing?

Dutchman also had the same sentiment. I swear he got bored (and grumpy) and was waiting for the film to end.

I bought this bestseller of Frank McCourt in a second hand book shop on a narrow shopping alley in Koh Phi Phi Island, Thailand, some 7 years ago. Wow that was a long time ago.

Amsterdam North, The Netherlands
October 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Budapest, the second time around

This week has been so slow for me. I have been weighed down by a cold, and still am (yet I worked all week), and my wireless internet at home has been acting up!

So I am really looking forward to this weekend where I can unwind. Do nothing, blog, and maybe go out for a long relaxing nature walk.

Back to blogging programming – I wanted to share a few fotos I took in Budapest recently when I was there for a quick visit a few weeks ago.

A random foto of a horse carriage with tourists in the Buda Castle District and on the right is a building with clearly Turkish influence, remnants of the Ottoman occupation in Hungary.

I had the opportunity to visit the Buda side, which I wasn’t able to during my last visit early this year. Buda is very pretty, green, hush, aristocratic, and boasts a brilliant cultural Hungarian heritage. It has splendid nature parks and houses many magnificent old structures such as the Buda Castle for example in the popular Castle District where many visitors come to visit. Moreover, the whole place will bring you back in time.

My favorite bridge in Budapest, the Chain Bridge with lions guarding it, and is probably the most beautiful of all bridges in Hungary.

I caught a glimpse of the Fisherman’s Bastion, and from a distance, the interesting structure really caught my eye, she intrigued me as she has this oriental twist wrapped around her. You see, I have this weakness for striking architectures. It was very tempting to get out of the bus, wander around, and stay for a while, but too bad, time was not on my hands this time. Sigh.

St. Stephen (Istvan) Basicilica taken from a corner street in Andrassy Avenue. On the right is typically Budapest, many building entrances have these grand Art Nouveau style sculptures.

The striking Hungarian Parliament - with some Turkish influence in its design, taken from the Buda side of the Danube embankment.

Hungary was under the Ottoman occupation for a long time, thus many of the old buildings still standing in the city have this Turkish flair in them. It is an East meets West confluence of design and architecture which is really impressive.

If I had another day in Budapest, I would definitely spend it in the Castle District and make sure I get to visit the Fisherman’s Bastion!

From the Citadella built by the Austrians, one can enjoy the beautiful panorama of Budapest day and night. On the foto is Buda on the left and Pest on the right.

Buda is also hilly and one can have great views of the whole city, especially up in Citadella in Gellert Hill. From there a fabulous panorama of Buda and Pest, the Elizabeth and Liberty Bridges, and the great Danube River straddling across several countries in Europe. I must say that this is the best vantage point of the city that offers the best views. I managed to get out here and spend some time enjoying the sights.

More Art Nouveau style in the streets of Budapest - this is a door in the center of Pest. On the right I think is the Andrassy Avenue leading to Hosok Tere, the Heroes Square, now a world heritage of UNESCO.

More fotos of Budapest can be found here - Budapest, Hungary

Vaci Utca, the shopping and fashion district of Budapest. It is always busy here.

Another place I discovered is Vaci – the shopping and fashion district of Budapest. The cab driver gave me another chic place to shop – the name of the street escapes me but we briefly passed by this place and I was quite taken by the area I have to admit, posh and exclusive, unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time. I cannot have both, so I asked the driver to send me to Vaci Utca instead.

I didn’t really get to shop which was fine. I was more interested in people watching while having a dry Martini in my hand.

Here are more fotos of Vaci, and from the cafe where I sat. It was 22C when I was there.

That evening, I strolled out of Vaci towards the Danube embankment filled with outdoor cafes and restaurants. I was really attracted to this part of the city, maybe because twilight was beckoning. I could see candles being lit on top of well-dressed tables, they flicker against the light night. The street musicians are out and playing, and the lively atmosphere of people chatting and laughing while having their fill fills the air. Well, in this part of Europe, it seems Hungarians eat dinner pretty early, just like the Dutch.

The lighted Buda Castle from the Pest side of the Danube embankment.

Across the Danube embankment I could see the spectacularly-lit Buda Castle, also a UNESCO world heritage. She is so beautiful, noble and imperial – what a great backdrop to have and enjoy whilst having a long dinner with great company or even just by myself – I wouldn’t mind really.

Alas, it was almost 9PM on my watch and it was time for me to go back to Herifegy and take the plane to Athens, Greece.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Athens Meet Up with the Boys

In Athens I met up with a good friend, Herr Philippe. He is on holiday here together with Stan. We had coffee at a cafe restaurant in a park at the back of the Greek Parliament. We watched the changing of guards earlier and had to stand for an hour or so under the heat of the sun. Thus time for some cold refreshments.

If I am notorious with taking pictures, I lag behind Philippe. The evidence below. He was non-stop taking pictures of Stan and me!

And here we are again goofing around on the high street of Athens.

Travel Period: September 2008
Destination: Athens, Greece

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Typically Dutch 003


Kermis in Maliebaan, Utrecht sometime in the summer, mid-July 2008.

Traveling funfairs or carnivals (kermis) are all over the Netherlands. They are usually not that big in size, but are not also that small. Some ask for an entrance fee of €1,00 while others, like the one we have been to in Maliebaan, Utrecht, did not.

My nieces and nephew (whom I refer to before as little ones, apparently are not little anymore, they have now outgrown me!) visited the kermis also, just the other week in the village where they lived. Its very popular with the children.

The candy shop. I would be ecstatic if I was a kid looking at this, but I had my own share of cotton candy ;-)

I still remember my childhood days with these events. In the Philippines we call these funfairs, carnivals and my favorite ride back then was the ferris wheel. My parents won’t let us kids alone out for the evening and they are also too lazy to go out with us to the carnival so I beg to go out with our maids. Unfortunately, I am at the mercy of what our maids fancy for a ride as they have the money.

Stuff toys giveaway if you win the game which you have to pay, and this ride, Dutchman and I had fun watching the kids scream while eating our snack: pouch of Patat Oorlog (Dutch verion of unhealthy fast food - deep fried fries with Dutch mayo, curry ketchup, and chopped onions).

Looking back, I would be at awe at all the rides, games, toys, blinking lights and loud colors at the carnival but strolling along Maliebaan in Utrecht, I somehow did not share the same enthusiasm as I have had some 25-30 years ago. Well, except for the cotton candy.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The banking madness continues...

For some, rather many people, they have got to lose.

Just yesterday the second largest bank of Iceland, Landsbanki was declared insolvent and nationalized. Landsbanki is the owner of the online bank called IceSave that has branches in the UK and the Netherlands. IceSave has been very popular and attractive to people like me who wants to diversify as they guarantee up to 5.25% interest rate on normal deposits. Not even on term deposits!

Of course, with that very high interest rate, I grabbed the opportunity to open an account online. Unfortunately, just yesterday the bank has suspended operations. In panic, I tried to log in online to retrieve my money but the website was so damn SLOW (about 120,000 account holders in the Netherlands probably had the same idea as me) and secondly, the withdrawal transaction was not approved. All transactions were denied.

I found out about the tragic news yesterday when I went to check BBCWorld for my daily dose of news at past 2 in the afternoon at home (was home because I was not feeling well) when I saw the Landsbanki-IceSave article released just 15 minutes ago. I felt my fingers turn cold when I clicked on the news item, and immediately dialed the telephone to call the Dutchman. We’ve both been trying on their website without success as the gloomy reality hit us: All IceSave accounts were frozen.

Dutchman was luckier, (and so was the Dutch sister) as he moved a large chunk out of his account a few days ago, while I and a friend still have quite a sum deposited.

The main and crucial issue here is Iceland is not part of the European Union, thus different banking terms and conditions apply. For the first €20K deposit, the Iceland Central Bank is the guarantor, and the next €20K the Dutch Central Bank. For European Union member banks, it’s the other way around. Big question right now by the savers left hanging in mid air is this – Should we now go to Iceland to get our money back?

It was just on the news today that Prime Minister Brown of the UK will be suing the Iceland government (since they are now the owner of the bank) if they will not honour their part of the bargain. Currently, the UK government has pledged guarantee to about 300,000 IceSave depositors in the country.

It might be interesting to know that Iceland population is about 300,000 (same number as the UK depositors) and that the whole country is on the verge of bankruptcy, however, momentarily seeking a loan with Russia. The Kroon has plummeted to very low levels and Iceland’s banking industry became too huge for a small country to handle. The ailing sector was too volatile to fight and protect against the financial upheavals due to the large exposure it created. To note, Iceland highly depend on its banking industry for returns as well as fishing. And now all the banks there have gone down under... I think the Icelanders will have to go back to the basics, and that is fishing, as seriously told in an interview by an Iceland national on BBC.

For the Netherlands arm of IceSave depositors, I have been following the Dutch Central Bank website for press releases, which by the way has gone flat because of too much traffic in the last few days. Same goes for the website, it has gone flat yesterday too.

The Dutch Central Bank has not promised anything yet, but has put up a press release saying the agreed terms and conditions still apply. The first €20K is guaranteed by the Iceland Central Bank and the next €20K by the Dutch Central Bank. In addition, the Dutch Central Bank stated it will help facilitate Dutch depositors in getting their money back from the Iceland authorities, at least for the first cut. And in tonight’s news on TV, Finance Minister Bos said they have not heard anything (yet) from the Icelandic authorities. So nothing, no positive news is no news.

I feel a bit bad not getting back my money now but there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as I have great confidence in the Dutch government and Dutch Central Bank (they have lots of €). So perhaps, if the Icelandic authorities will not pay up, I hope the Dutch authorities will step up to the plate and rescue the depositor’s money.

It just makes sense since yesterday the local authorities have raised their guarantee protection up to €100K per account per bank. The figure was based on the statistics that about 98% of Dutch depositors have €100K and below amount in their accounts. Very interesting to learn indeed that only about 2% have accounts above the €100K mark, however, a person can have several accounts, of course.

So anyway, a technicality as Iceland not being part of the EU, and with a different guarantee conditions, hopefully would not be the doomsday of our now frozen investments.

In addition, the local economic climate in the Netherlands seems fine. So far... but you never know. The labour market is still looking rosy. The prices of houses have not gone down, in fact they have been very stable but the only concern is that there are many on Te Koop. My sales performance at work have never been better. I closed last month at 200% from my target and just this month for the first week, I’m already at 70+%.

There are speculations of course, but there will always be speculations everywhere and anywhere in times like these. And it’s always good to be cautious.

As for the financial side of matter, some rumors are circulating in the media that Aegon and ING being in volatile waters might get hit pretty soon. Fortunately, I am not insured with Aegon although I used to bank with them for a time nor I have relations with ING. But at any rate, the press conference regarding the guarantee from the Dutch authorities has put back confidence on the table.

For those with enough money on their financial portfolio, they can always spread it across different banks and make sure these banks are guaranteed by the Dutch Central Bank. But for the Euromillionaires, well good luck!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Pireaus and all things typically Greek

Greece as we all know is beautiful. It’s actually one of my favourite countries to holiday, mainly in the Greek Islands – an oasis of beauty, culture and relaxation. The difference though from Athens and “the Islands” is worlds apart. So I am talking about “the Islands” when I said favourite to holiday ;-)

A hazy foto of us in Pireaus train station. The station was quite nice, it reminds me of Antwerp train station and some of the older train stations in the Netherlands.

In this post I will be writing about all things typically Greek and some observations I found interesting and familiar. I’m also going to plug in a brief summary of Pireaus, the biggest harbour of Greece.

Our train ride from Athens to Pireaus took about half an hour. One thing that stands out with Athens is its great public transport. S told me the infrastructure was laid out to meet the Olympic deadline 4 years ago. It is indeed the soundest investment the government invested but she said many Greeks were against it. Change for the Greeks is a long tiring uphill climb. They are still traditional, fixed, hardheaded bunch which is quite proverbial as many Filipinos are too.

At any rate, the underground Metro I have been using for the last few days was simply wonderful... clean, modern, spacious, high-tech, and very efficient. The whole setup brings me back memories of the Metro in Barcelona, maybe because they have similar directional signage and light paint on the walls. Syntagma Metro is the most notable of all stops and because of the grand staircase in the huge open air lobby, I can’t help but think of Brussels train station. I always have this deja vu moment of places I have been to previously when traveling.

This man insists to be part of the photo shoot! Ha-ha! I did not mind as he was quite cool about it. Check out his pose and his eyes.

I also asked S about the ramshackle yet pretty-nostalgic ancient structures that is seen all over the city. Why the Greek government left these precious gems, these buildings that could have been worth a fortune alone to rot?

Well, I was duly enlightened that these buildings are actually owned by foreigners, and in most cases by a Turk family. Greece and Turkey have a long history of hostility with each other which I am quite familiar with. In Greek law it seems that it’s almost impossible for the Turkish owners to claim rights over the building. Since they could not claim it, and the Greek government also does not have the rights, these beautiful works of architecture are left falling to pieces. Phil once said that if there is an earthquake in Athens, these ancient structures will be the first to go down flat, destroyed forever. Such a shame; the EU should over rule any law whatsoever to help save these structures.

So moving on, and still inside the train to Pireaus, an old lady sitting across us, who is a bit on the cunky side caught my attention because she was dressed in all black and kept making the sign of the cross. Every time the train passes by a church, she quickly makes the sign of the cross.

Pireaus looking like downtown Manila.

S whispered to me that the old lady is in mourning for the rest of her life? Fact she said is when a traditional Greek woman loses her husband, she will wear black for the rest of her life. This is her way of paying tribute to her dead husband, while, when a traditional Greek man loses his wife, he will wear a black band on his arm for a few weeks. Hmm, I think it’s too chauvinistic in Greek society to punish women for the rest of their lives wearing the black sentence whereas men are set free after a few weeks!

This practice is also similar in the Philippines where the traditional religious families wear black (sometimes white) for 40 days. To wear colorful or red colors on a wake would be abomination.

Another interesting point, since we are talking about tradition, is the naming of the eldest son to the father of the father of the child. So if the fathers name is Giannis and he has 3 children that gave birth to a son as the eldest, then they all have to be named Giannis, after him, or else a family cold war ensues.

One of the harbours where the yachts are anchored.

Sigh. The Greek macho culture is so close to home. Funny, macho it is, yet its the mother who is highly honoured in the family, sometimes everything revolves around her and she could even be the boss at home! I’ve also heard about the common parasite-ing phenomenon of the children which when translated into ultimate Philippine scenario is sentimental at best. Many children depend on mom and dad for handouts even when they are old and strong enough to get out of the house and fend for themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, it is true that thirty year olds still stay at home with mom and dad in Greece. I have live on my own since at the age of 22, and I don’t think I will be able to respect a man who is a parasite.

And who would have thought that in today’s age, bearing a female child is a burden? In Greek traditional way of living, traditional conditions still apply when bearing a female child. This is the ridiculous dowry in the form of an apartment or a house given to the child when she marries. The home also serves as a security-protection deposit from the parents that if all else fails, the daughter will always have a safe place to stay. Now, this explains why there are so many unfinished buildings in Greece. The Greeks have this tendency to build houses up to 3 floors and more. S said that whenever I see those unfinished houses with the poles sticking out of the roof, the family has a daughter, and is saving the money for future construction of her apartment on top.

Whew... quite heavy Greek tradition in there! Haha

Another foto session in the harbour boulevard. I tied my hair as it has gone amok because of the rain.

So, we’ve finally arrived in Pireaus and my first impression when we got out of the Pireaus train station was downtown Manila. The pedestrian flyover outside the station brings back memories of the late 80’s and early 90’s in Cebu. The whole sphere is just so Philippines. Even the noise and the smell. Unbelievable.

We took a cab to the harbour where the yachts are anchored. Pireaus is home to many ships and is the most important and busiest trading port in the east Mediterranean Sea. There were cafes along the promenade but we wanted to walk further down however the rain caught on us so we trailed back and took shelter in one of the cafes. I ordered a dry Martini while S was thirsting for a beer. Greek beer she wanted but she was served with a Dutch beer, Heineken, and with a Dutch beer glass, Amstel. Double Dutch jeopardy, lol.

More fotos of Pireaus here: Pireaus - Athens, Greece

Later in the evening we went to the southern suburbs of Glyfada. S said its where the rich and the famous live.

Unfortunately getting a cab from Pireaus to Glyfada is a nightmare. Hailing for our elusive ride, already for half an hour is no joke especially when its showering outside. My hair was all over my face and has totally gone amok. I frickin spent a lot of time blow drying this hair in the morning, and now... arghh! More importantly, no cab would want to take us down south? Sounds familiar to me, huh. I could hear the Greek cab drivers saying the same thing in Tagalog.

View from the cafe in the harbour of Pireaus.

Here is what is very interesting. Taxis are very, very cheap in Greece. A thirty minute drive in Holland would rake up to €70-90 while in Athens you pay around €20ish. It was explained to me that in Athens the cab driver can take more than 1 passenger. The rule of the game is simple. Both passengers’ destination should be the same or along the route of the other. It happened twice that the cab driver took another passenger while S and I were at the back of the car.

Another thing I learned in this trip is that the Filipino community in Athens has integrated well into the society because Greek and Filipino culture is quite similar. They are cousins you see, ha-ha.

In Glyfada we went to the home of S friend who is Greek-Egyptian. For dinner she brought us to a nearby traditional mom and pop type taverna. It was the best Greek dinner I ever had as I got introduced to real authentic Greek cuisine served by the locals. Not in a touristy spot, and yes, you can really taste the difference.

The total cost was a surprise as I would have thought it would come out more but then I had to remind myself I was not in Athens where prices are inflated because of tourists like me. I wrangled to pay for the dinner but this unbending Greek-Egyptian lady could not be moved. She declared she was the host and picked up the tab while I had to shut up.

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