Saturday, April 18, 2015

Time well spent

DSC00408 (1300x849)…loving Bossche Bols; living remarkably in the Netherlands has been the tag line of this chronicle since its inception.  The Bol defined Dutchness for me in the beginning, as I moved to Arnhem and took up work in 2007. 

A most delightful bakery lay just around the corner from my apartment and, once each week, I would pick up the chocolate cannonball and take it home to carve DSC00388 (1300x1082)up with friends.  The Bossche Bol weighs in at over  600 cal per 140g portion, putting it into Bacon-XL-Double-Cheeseburger territory. notes that a traditional Bol from café Jan de Groot contains even more calories, packed with stiffer whipped cream and thicker chocolate coats (Een Bosche Bol van Jan de Groot bevat nog meer calorieën. Ze zitten vol met dikke slagroom en de chocolade is ook dikker dan normaal.)

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The pastry originates from the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch, located midway between Utrecht and Eindhoven in south-central Netherlands.  Central ‘den Bosch is a medieval fortress surrounded by river and parks (the name literally means ‘The Dukes Forest’).  Founded in 1185, it’s the birthplace of painter Hieronymus Bosch (of course, his statue oversees the Markt Square, far left of the picture below) and sometimes-home to mapmaker Gerardus Mercator

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The Bosche Bol arrived here in the 1890’s as a custard-filled chocolate pastry made by Bakker Lambermont.  It took present form in the 1920’s when Henri van der Zijde created a cream-filled version, much like a super-sized profiteroleJan de Groot created the definitive recipe in 1936 and the family restaurant still survives, making trademarked Echte Bossche Bol (and a chocolaty Bosschebol liqueur) using a secret recipe.

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I made time enough today for an hour’s reunion with my old friend, settling into Jan de Groot’s outdoor terrace in the warm spring sunshine. 

Around me, the market bustled with stands selling flowers, cheeses, fish, and, of course, baked goods.

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The city’s signature dragons gleamed and glowered from nearby plinths and gables;  rich coffee and rapid conversations flowed around me (a fair amount understood).

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I ordered a classic echte bol, accompanied by rich dark biertje and a Panini Parisian, and indulged.

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Tijd goed besteed

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Soft skills, hard work

DSC00311 (1300x855)Crossing international boundaries, I always list my occupation as Scientist on entry cards.  It spurs good conversation with the border agents and reminds me of my roots bridging ideas and technology into products and services.

As an expat entrepreneur, though, days fill with many tasks outside of that mandate, and it always seems that there is more to learn. Some are logical and quantitative, like finance and regulatory, and just require finding capable help and delegating to them.  2015-04-17 11.58.35 (1300x975)Others are subjective and open-ended, like legal and contracts, requiring soft people skills and hard negotiating talent that can’t be outsourced.

This week filled with the latter tasks, difficult conversations about tangled topics.  Preparing with friends and mentors, I’m reminded to think things through beforehand, take the emotion out of it, don’t believe everything I think, and keep the negotiation in balance.

2015-04-17 12.02.14 (1300x973)Preparation, the High Road, and Patience aren’t always enough, though.  I was reminded of an article advocating a more accepting and constructive approaches to negotiations when the going gets frustrating:

  1. To remind myself that I don’t control others.
  2. To remind myself that other people can live their lives however they want.
  3. To see the good in them.
  4. To let go of an ideal that I have that’s causing the frustration.
  5. To see that when others are being difficult, they are having a hard time coping. And to empathize with this.
  6. To remember when I’ve had a hard time, when I struggled with change, when I’ve been frustrated.
  7. To do what I can to help them: to be of service, to listen, to make them feel heard, to make them feel accepted.

bildI see the good intent here, but I need to hear the same respect in return. Otherwise, it’s hard to hold the stance indefinitely.

And this week challenged me.  I likely achieved 80% adherence to my list of points and reminders on review.  Post mortem assessments with raadgevers en wezen focus on hard outcomes (accept reality, renew discussions, or reject proposals) and soft skills (listening, evaluating, and judging).  There are tough decisions still to come.

My mentors always reminded me, It’s only 10% science.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Back among the Dutch

DSC00279 (1300x818)‘nice to be back in Maastricht.  Back along the river, back among my things, and back with friends.  The river is sparkling blue, cafe’s and parks comfortably filling with folks enjoying the sun, chatting over coffee, and watching the joggers and strollers roll past. 

I plan to get a prime seat later on, order biertjes en bitterballen and settle in to soak it all up.

DSC00263 (1300x771)I landed in Amsterdam in late afternoon, dropping low over the harbour and the superyachts moored among the cargo ships.  The tulips have already fallen out of bloom, leaving the bold strokes of coloured fields dusty and brown.  Competently clearing the border (in Dutch), I catch the Sprinter into town.

DSC00269 (839x1300)The law offices in WTC East are fashionable; the team formidable.  We spend a couple of hours reviewing the week’s strategy and documentation, and I’m hopeful that Friday’s hearing goes as smoothly as the preliminaries. 

By evening, I’m on the train south through the groene hart: rivers, cows, fields, windmills of Dutch tradition.

Twilight falls as familiar scenery scrolls past the windows.

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By 9 pm, I’m opening the apartment and finally settling back in along the Maas.

DSC00272 (867x1300)‘Herb rub and mustard glaze the tenderloin, pasta is on the boil.  I open a local South African red wine.  It’s half the price and twice the quality of Tesco: I suspect that it enters the country under pricing agreements negotiated by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century. 

The sales are only seasonal, but 3 euros is irresistible.

AzktEAdam zoekt Eva plays on the TV.  It’s a combination dating show – game show -  travel challenge where everyone is naked.  ‘Only in the Netherlands: it’s a nice counterpoint to the Extreme Blind Date scenario playing out on this season’s Amazing Race.  The women smile, tug their hair, and allow that the men seem nice; the men grin and talk abut how lucky that are to compete for the women. 

I,  of course, use the opportunity to fine- tune my ear back into parsing spoken Dutch…

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Night is too short, then warm morning sun streams through the widows at 5 am.  I’m up and out for a walk and a coffee along the river, scratching notes to remind myself of key points for meetings at 10.  Barges steam past towards Liege, miles to the south.  The bridges fill with bicycles, commuters and students as Zamboni-style street sweepers whirr past.

An expat is often someone who knows little about his own people he spent a long time with, but thinks he knows everything about the foreigners he has spent a short time with.     Tony Crossley, Living the Thai Life.

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Actually, ‘maybe it’s more of a Hemingway morning  (The Sun Also Rises):

You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tourists or travelers

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A traveler and a tourist can visit the same city, but experience it very differently.

A tourist’s goals are typically to see all the sights, learn their names, make and collect stunning pictures, DSC00318 (1300x794)eat the foods and observe the rituals of the city.

A traveler, on the other hand, seeks to understand the city, to know and live briefly among the people, to understand the languages, both verbal and nonverbal, and to participate in the rituals of the city.

At the end of equally long visits, the tourist is likely to have seen DSC00280 (1300x887)more monuments, but the traveler is more likely to know how to use the public transportation.

Damiran (1993) as quoted in Oddou, G. & Mendenhall, M (2008). “Global Leadership Development”

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Then and now, along the harbour

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Sixty years ago, Parkstone Bay was the base for a fleet of flying boats that connected England to the world.  Imperial Airways relocated from Southampton to Poole in 1939.   The British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC, the  predecessor of British Airways) was formed in 1940.   Bournemouth Airport operated as BOAC’s trans-Atlantic hub from 1944 as a transAtlantic hub until operations transferred to Heathrow in 1946.  There were extensive flight tracks laid across Poole Harbour for takeoff and landings (below).

Today, the planes are gone, the air facilities Flying Boat (2)converted to boatyards.  Trans-European flights still take place, though: The bay was converted to  Parkstone Bay Local Nature Reserve, supporting a variety of migratory birds with the RSPB.

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I came down to the park early this morning – its going to be a terrible week ahead and I needed a bit of peaceful space to think.  I like to game game the goals, boundaries, roles and scenarios so that I know how my responses when things take a turn.  It’s especially important since these meetings deal with perceived  injustices where I have little control.  I need the emotion behind me, or I’ll only focus on having my say instead of listening and solving.

DSC00214 (1300x860)So, a couple of hours meander among the rocks and reeds, the water and the wind was welcome.   I looked for good images (the child’s bouncy castle set against the adult variety, the sailboats shadowing the ferry); I sat on the rocks and sipped warm coffee and reflected on the history.

Mostly, though I just enjoyed the Sunday morning quiet. 

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