Utrecht

utrecht

Two things describe the highlights of Utrecht: Miffy and De Stijl Movement.

The Dutch art movement De Stijl‘s most representative architecture work, Rietveld Schroder House, is located in East Utrecht. Thursday was Ascension day holiday. I brought my bike on the train and took a day trip there.

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A house, a machine, a magic box, a delightful 3 dimensional realization of a Mondrian painting–Schroder House is a building that cannot just be seen from the outside. Known for its ingenious conception of movable interior partitions, the Schroder House has to be fully appreciated when you see the unfolding of the space in the interior. Despite my terrible sense of direction on the bike, I was still lucky to catch a 12pm tour after 20 mins late of my originally scheduled tour (nagivate oneself in a new city on the bike is not easy, and why doesn’t the google map app have a bike route option??)

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One of the biggest misconception I used to have about this house is the non-functionality of its floating planes and structures. In fact, not a single component is extraneous; each panel and stick all has its own “devoir-être”. A lot of components in the house actually have multiple functions and can be reorganized for different ways of use and different time of the day. For example, the grey square panel on the black wall below is a decorative panel, cover of an alcove, and a window panel that can be disassembled from the wall to cover the glass windows at night.

The most amazing episode of the tour was when everyone land onto the second floor, felt a little bit cramped by the narrowness of the space. Then the guide slowly opened up each wall around the fireplace, the space gradually unfolded, and when he eventually poped up the skylight on top of the staircase by the fireplace, the whole space was lit up–the surrounding merged in, the walls, beams and columns dissolved into the surrounding. The transformation was like a magic show. Everyone was astonished. Silence was the best applause they could give to this great piece of craft.

Bid farewell to the masterpiece. I took a short ride to Utrecht University. The campus is full of interesting architecture by big names. Rem Koolhaas, Neutelings Riedijk, Wiel Arets. My favorite was Wiel Arets’ library.

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Got enough of architecture. Time for something cute. So I headed to the Dick Bruna House (a.k.a Miffy House). Interestingly, the house is filled with Japanese visitors.

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Miffy is also a product of the dutch De Stijl heritage: the simplicity of forms and the use of primary colors. For the dutch, Miffy is actually not called Miffy but Nijntje (short for “konijntje”, little rabbit). When I told my dutch colleague Natasha that I went to the Miffy House, she was like “What is Miffy??”. Also according to my colleagues, the creator of Miffy, Dick Bruna, is actually a grumpy old man who doesn’t like kids. A children book writer who doesn’t like children–quite paradoxical right?

I guess this photo of him tells a little bit of his character. He looks like an arrogant surgeon cutting the bunny with his scissors!

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Here is one image i really like: Miffy viewing Mondrian painting 🙂

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Til next time!

Secret Admirer?!

Today I was having dinner with Hong, previous employer of my company who is also from China. While I was diving deeply into my organic dutch beef burger and heated conversation in Chinese, the waitress handed us a little piece of paper that says “<3 Dames”.

Hong and I meticulously opened the paper, and in it it says:

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My first reaction, interestingly, was “Did I just talk too loud?” After all, this neighborhood doesn’t have many Asians and I was afraid I was unintentionally living up the “stereotypical Chinese image in Europe”. We looked around, there was also no “suspicious admirers” within our field of view. So we continue our organic beef feast…

After a while another note comes, which says: Will you consider our offering? Along with it was a bottle of Cabernet Shiraz–exactly the same as what we just ordered. “These guys are good!” I said to Hong.

So we decided to write something back in order to show our gratefulness. I was running out of witty words to say though. So in the end we put: Merci beaucoup! New to the country, would be glad to know a local guide! *email adress*

A few minutes later a reply note came:

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Oola-la! It turned out that it was a lovely joke from my colleague Euan and Christos, plus my boss Matt who is the sponsor of all this. Of course we are gonna “spend A LOT of time in den haag”, but hopefully not in the office!

This past week has been a little bit crazy with past due projects and overtime. Christos and Euan joked that they think they should include me to the “du-du club” (euphemism for OT club), which I definitely have no interest in becoming part of other than the bonding aspect.

Many times I am just amazed at this kind of positive energy characters in the office. They are always able to keep the spirit up with their sense of humor, amazing patience and tolerance (to my crazy Photoshop layers), and dilute any kind of stress with a sense of ease and positive thinking. I am feeling lucky that no matter where I go and how dire the office atmosphere is, I am always able to meet some positive energy people to save me from unnecessary self-doubt. Seeing them makes me feel puzzelled by all the tension and selfishness some people have–life is already tough enough, why shouldn’t we walk through it together with an open and light-hearted mind?

Deceitful Days

_DSC0599The extended daylight time in this northern country always gives me an illusion of “I am able to get off work on time”, which is totally not true in this profession no matter where I escape to in this world. I thought I work way less hours compared to what I did in HK, but in fact I get to work 1.5 hrs earlier than my HK schedule, and get off around 7ish. In total that is more or less the same as HK.

The only difference is when I get off work the day is still THIS bright. This is a picture taken 9:30pm today. The lovely daylight makes me feel as if I still have plenty free time to go for a evening jog.

It is fascinating how the natural phenomenon can give one a false perception of time. For example I hardly felt a year has passed since graduation, mostly because I have been lucky enough to land in the 20+/- Celcius weather no matter where I move around the world. Nice as it may feel like though, I think I still prefer a clear cycle of the changing seasons, just because it can make me have a better sense of time and remind me not to work too much!

Antwerpen

_DSC0510My first stop outside the Netherlands is this northern Belgium town Antwerpen. Actually I didn’t even know this town until I read about this really nice piece of architecture–Museum aan de Stroom–by Neutelings Riedijk. Two months ago I was still browsing the pictures of this building on google image with my colleague in Hong Kong, but now voila–here I am! In front of this gigantic artwork right by the harbor of Antwerpen.

Antwerpen greeted me with its magnificent train station–a grand, airy, and uplifting cathedral for the trains with multiple height open space. I guess for me, what made the experience of arrival so special is the unexpectedness. It is definitely a serendipity that one encounters along the way, instead of a pilgrimage to the grand destination on your to-see list. Trains are running on multiple levels of platforms while the crowds are all naturally channeled towards the central rotunda given its iconic presence. The transparency of the roof adds a lustrous touch to the hustle-bustle  of the traveling crowds.

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I took a bus to the northern side of the city, where the harbor, new side of city and MAS is. It is surprising how well such a modern structure blend in with the rest of the city, mostly due to the use of red brick facade and the wavy glass which allows the mass melt into the rest of the harbor.

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Have to say how the stacking of the mass guides the circulation is quite ingenious. I found the double height space created by the staggered mass especially enchanting. Luckily I encountered a local choir group rehearsing in one of the double height space. The music, the space, and the cityscape as the background constituted such a harmonious picture.

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A nice walk through the university quarter down to the lively old city center, Grote Market. The city center is quite delicate and elegant with little pinches of green in the middle of the historic stepped gables. A cup of Chimay would be perfect for a short stop, plus it is the same price as a cup of coffee–so there I go, ordered the weirdest combination for an afternoon snack: whipped cream waffle and a cup of belgium beer.

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