It is new and it is brilliant, the Adam Tower – a remake of the former Shell research labs in Amsterdam. I had a great time this week while giving a presentation about dealing with international business and culture in front of spectacular views over Amsterdam. Nevertheless my public was highly attentive, for a moment I doubted whether they would be with me at all but they did 🙂
If you look at the photo above and you see the 9 meter high windows in top of the building, that is where I stood – and here are some pictures of the views:
The making of the Adam Tower is a story out of a wizard book: three Dutch guys who were succesfull in the international music scene decided to cooperate in this and won the battle for the tower in competition with 34 other interested parties. They turned it into a combination of music company offices, a hotel, different bars, restaurants and clubs with a 360° turning restaurant in top: a music tower!
On top they offer a platform for all inhabitants of Amsterdam and our tourists to watch the spectacular panorama and to take a seat in Europe’s highest swing: the Amsterdam lookout. Alas I had serious business to do when I was there so I definitely have to come back to experience that swing!
Our city is blessed with these creative entrepreneurs who make such major contributions to the quality of life in Amsterdam: well done, thank you guys!
Last but not least an photo-impression (made with my phone, lack of quality, in reality much better) of the elevator going up: the music experience starts already from there…
Dheepan is somehow a ‘neutral’ movie about refugees as it concerns refugees from Sri Lanka; I worked with many of them in the ’90ties but today we concentrate on other regions as every reader knows. Technically this choice in the movie creates a healthy distance to emotions in actuality. And practically, it makes no difference.
Refugees run for a reason, most often a quite serious one. And yes, they are surrounded by luck-seekers, criminals who have other reasons to flee and economic migrants. Making the difference between one and the other is an ideal but in practice not very easy. However the movie is not about asylum policies and dilemmas, it is about how people flee and become a refugee and how they experience the country in which they arrive.
In this movie, the Sri Lanka refugees find a house and a job in the banlieu of Paris, in one of the worst banlieus – I think the movie maker even wanted to point out that the refugees run from a war to end up in another one. It is as much a complaint against the ‘drugs in banlieu’ situation as about the refugee situation. Specifically, the total lack of law enforcement (no police or authorities at all) surprises the public.
I think the movie is brilliant in the way it depicts the refugees. I recognized every emotion, both in daily life and in the history of violence and resistence that refugees from war and conflict areas bring with them – not as a choice but as a fact. My experience with that is both friendship and work and I found the movie Dheepa shiveringly realistic and very strong in the way of showing the emotional side.
As a former French teacher, I regretted that the refugees end up in England – to their satisfaction – and not somewhere else in France, a country I love. This is, of course, a biased view 🙂 Anyway the movie ends well, which in a world of problems is nice and more encouraging to go and watch the movie than the opposite.
What surprised me is that nowadays every discussion and debate in the Netherlands is about refugees but we were only 8 spectators: 8! in a large cinema. Sometimes I wonder how much indepth knowledge people want about reality – I see loads of over-emotional people and few people able to handle the complexity that comes with refugee issues. Let’s face reality even when it is not simple. Go watch the Dheepan movie, warmly recommended!
Banana pancakes and the children of the sticky rice is a great documentary about two guys, or maybe an entire village in Laos in a period of starting tourism. The place is still ‘all natural’ and the first tourists arriving, mainly backpackers from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, are startled by the purity of the place. The village develops in many aspects and the two guys that are particularly followed in this documentary try to improve their life by offering touristic services. The road they go is so interesting!
The tourists themselves are also quite interesting, some of their conversations are recorded. They have their opinions about life in the village and how it develops and it does not seem to match a lot with the culture and desires of the villagers themselves. Although very sympathic, there was also a note of arrogance in their song.
From the point of view ‘image taking’ the documentary has quite some ‘vague’ moments, maybe nice as a hobby for the filmer but for spectators not always attractive I thought. Fortunately, many good and sharp moments offer enough compensation 😉 So go see this documentary now because usually this kind of movies do not stay long in the cinemas. More info: https://www.facebook.com/laosdocumentary
Other movies with a strong cultural side I wrote about that you might like: Kedi Dheepan
I was withholding my breath all the time while watching this movie: Loin des hommes. Algeria 1954, the colonial war or freedom war or however you want to call it, is about to begin. A teacher who’s school is in the middle of nowhere in the Atlas mountains gets involved. He is not looking for that but fate is looking for him. He ends up in several unexpected half war half peace situations. The mountains in the middle of nowhere are much more populated than you’d think: they are full of life, love and fights. Both the rebels and the French find their way over the invisible mountain paths. Will he have to give up his dream, to teach the children how to read? The teacher is also confronted with issues of culture, religion and identity. His parents were from Andalusia, he himself has always lived in Algeria and now others see him as French. There is so much actuality in this movie, it is not just a historical picture. And there is lots of deep warm friendship from man to man in this movie, too. The pictures are stunning. Go there, if you want to see something different!
Warsaw Christmas lights make the world a better place. Some cities are good at special Chrismas lightning, some are less good. Amsterdam for example is not so good, not very creative in Christmas street lightning, but they also have the Amsterdam Light Festival (which is not the ordinary street lightning but specific enlightened art objects) and that is rather spectacular. Warsaw in Poland has very good designers for Christmas lights; look at the beautiful pictures. It gives class and style to the city and makes it a real joy to walk around:
What amused me in Warsaw is that they also have this: Some wouldn’t call it class or style but the Polish citizens probably do. At least Warsaw is not afraid to combine these styles in the same street. And the children are happy with it!
Vlinderado is an entrepreneurs’ dream, and it is beautifull: www.vlinderado.nl . It started with the cultivation of the Anthurium plant in special variations in a place that most of the readers of this blog never heard about I guess: Waarland, a small village to the north of Alkmaar or for the non-Dutch readers: 40 miles north of Amsterdam. As a hobby, bouquets were made with the different species of Anthurium; and then the bouquets became an important part of the business itself. Isn’t the best business the business that starts because it has the love of our hearts and the focus of our minds? It is interesting, yet inspiring to see how businesses develop in the hands of passionate people.
And then the next step was made, another entrepreneur’s dream was realised: Vlinderado, a garden full of butterflies. It is guaranteed that you see many, very beautiful varieties. Visitors come from different countries, all tourists suddenly discover where the village of Waarland is. Go there too and enjoy!
Entrepreneurs creating their dream make us happy because we can enjoy what they create. They also inspire us to do the same: to make our own dreams come true!
Wherever you go in Lisbon; beautiful pavements are all around or should I say: all under your feet! It is a joy to walk in this city. They really make the world a better place. Still, many houses are neglected, old and falling apart. But people are working hard, renovating, rebuilding, all that is needed to make the houses – many of them monuments – look as beautiful as the pavements are. Then this city will be one big impressive treasure of different, yet unique styles. Lisbon has class and history, it shows in great refinement of details and in the gentle manners of its citizens. What a pleasure to be here 🙂
Often, the idea to make the world a better place to live in, makes us think of great and revolutionary ideas. What I like about Lisbon is that they make the world a better place just by adding high quality details into daily life.
I don’t know where you live, but I guess the pavement in your city or village is just an ordinary thing; a bunch of stones, maybe low, maybe high quality stone but nevertheless: just stones. It does not really add to the quality of your life.Lisbon is different. The Portuguese understand that quality of life is experienced precisely through daily details like the pavement we walk on. Look at the pictures: aren’t they adorable? It is a joy to walk there! And it is clear that these pavements were made by craftsmen who really enjoyed to deliver a piece of art to the many customers they would have after finishing their job; thousands of passengers feel better just by trotting on the paths they laid. Thanks to all to visionaries to improve daily life!
‘Never ever give up’, a special English friend said to me during the first years of my company. I remember that I told him how much initiatives I took to have more customers and that the phone was so silent… He was very empathic with his reaction ‘yes and then you sit down in despair and think nobody is ever going to contact your company again‘ and he surprised me so much there.
He was a selfmade multimillionaire, I was staying in his ‘house’ (I don’t know how to call a place like that) overlooking the Mediterranean and having parties like I never had before and still he was so down-to-earth that he fully understood my problem as a beginning entrepreneur. He had lived it all himself I guess which felt like a consolation and he could only advice me what had been the best recipe for himself: ‘never give up’.
All this came back to me when I watched Diana Nyad who reached Florida beach after three days swimming starting from Cuba: an amazing and most incredible action. She was not just swimming from Cuba to Florida to set a record, she is setting a major message: ‘never, ever give up’ is her motto. Apparently she is a late believer in realising dreams, as she explains in a most interesting Ted presentation after her 4th attempt to cross that sea full of sharks and jelly fishes: on.ted.com/Nyad and before this recent 5th and finally succesfull attempt. Watch that speech, it is amazing!
She was almost 60 years old when she decided to transform the discontent she felt about herself, about the things she did not do or not change, into the realisation of the dream she had had since 30 years. She failed 4 times, she succeeded yesterday and the first wisdom she spread when she could talk again – apparently it is pretty exhausting, to cross a sea swimming 🙂 – was: ‘never, ever give up’.
Also very beautiful: http://a.abcnews.com/images/US/ht_diana_nyad_jef_120820_wg.jpg
For me her age of 64 years adds to the message, as the crossing of a sea while swimming is rather expected (by me at least) from a young strong person than from an elderly person. ‘You are never too old’, Diana Nyad tells us in her speech and she is right. We usually find too many excuses not to fulfill our dreams and to give up… Mankind is blessed with special people that encourage us to follow our dreams and never, ever give up; may they be blessed too!
All women who travel frequently for business will recognize what I experienced: most hotels are somehow similar, ‘efficiently’ organized, coloured in white/cream combined with black or brown, in one word: predictable – which is nice -, but boring – which is a poor contribution to the joy of life. The more a hotel is ‘business’, the more urgently Pay TV is brought to the customers attention. I have no specific opinion about men watching Pay TV but I do not want to be confronted with it when I travel for work. Finding a big sign to advertise Pay TV in the middle of my bed when I enter a new hotel is an absolute minus point for me and I never return to that hotel. Why don’t they bother to just find out whether the new customer is going to be man or woman? Is that against the rules of ‘efficiency’ in business hotels?
Stockholm proves how different this can be! The Collector’s Hotels offer a completely different environment. The hotels are full of antiques in all colours, live paintings turn the walls into something special and beautiful and many details are taken care of: from a special gift to the customer arriving until little cards on the breakfast tables with interesting quiz questions about Sweden. I felt at home in this hotel from the very first minute, it is nice and comfortable to travel like this!
The Hotel info says: “we are convinced that our chain of hotels are in step with times” and “Personality and history is scarce in the hotel business; but we feel that there is a lot more that we can do to change that“. They announce they might expand outside of Stockholm and even outside of Sweden. I think their concept would be real added value in Amsterdam. When they start a hotel in my home city, I will be the first to advertise it! It’s great when you see that people in a ‘standard’ business have the vision and the courage to introduce diversity…
On the south side of Blantyre, the Stephanos Foundation runs a project that is based on participation of villagers and their empowerment. Many people work in the tea plantations that cover the hills in the area: in good days, the wages can be 600 kwacha(= 1,70 euro) per day. Workers of Stephanos sat together with the community to find out how to improve their situation and this is how the pig-project took shape. Isn’t that a great way of working?! This is what the community wanted and so this is what they were going to do. So different from projects that start from the idea of the donors, and what donors think should be done and paid for…
9 female and 2 male pigs were given to the community as a start. The female pigs are given to a child that has to take care of it; when the child is at school there is a watchman (usually woman). The male pigs go around to do their favorite thing and this is how young pigs are created. In general, a pig gets 6 young ones. 2 young ones are given away to other children to make the project grow, the rest can stay at the house where they were born. Now in a few years time, already 300 children are participating in this program. A committee that has a real constitution and a serious chair is overviewing the project and making decisions.
The value of a pig is 5 times more than a goat, between 42 and 57 euro. Compare that to the income the tea plantations offer…! So now children can fund their school fee for secondary education because of the pigs. And their surroundings are profiting too. There is already more money than necessary, so the committee decided to invest in agriculture. It was their idea, not the idea of Stephanos.
Stephanos offers the encouragement and the knowledge input for what the committee wants. And they offered a pump for water that can be handled by feet (so no need for electricity, oil or whatever that will make the pump stop when there is no cash money – very practical). The villagers have made a beautiful field where over 10.000 oignons are growing now. One oignon can be sold at a price of 30-40 kwacha (say 10 eurocents). So next October they expect a big profit… and it might be invested again.
This project is not a Millennium Village: there was no ‘integrated total approach’ of things, no fancy barn, no mechanical work on the fields, no manager. But it has a very good chance to be sustainable because all of it is run by the community itself in the first place – and it is affordable without donor because the people run their own business and don’t rely on the donor’s money.
I like to add one thing, and that is that I found the villages we passed very clean. The reason could be that this is a different area, with even a different tribe, but it was striking the eye (also when I went ‘at random’ to the toilet in one of the houses) and I do think it matters. Consciousness of health and hygiene, even in poverty, is a great asset for self-esteem and development. The sheds for the pigs were well made and looked after. Animals can stink and reduce the pleasure of living at a place, but this was not at all the case because the cages were also well maintained. Photographs above: the pigs in their cage, and a girl who is the happy owner of a pig, with her watch(wo)man (green shirt) on her side, and the field with the oignons.
The UN is building Millennium Villages to accelerate development and the achievement of the millennium goals that were set. In many countries in Africa an integrated approach of agriculture, health care, education etc. is brought into practice. The Millennium Village in the Zomba region of Malawi contains a vaste area with a lot of very small villages and 35.000 people. What jumps in the eye at first sight is the larger scale of agriculture that is applied here, with the use of mechanics and new kinds of crops that are richer than the former ones (like the pieces of orange patatoes at the picture above). The project works with partners rather than donors (like the electricity company of Malawi), although visitors see a big sign of US Aid when they arrive.
The success formula to make this work was to have villagers involved from the beginning in the cooperation they formed, and also to give village chiefs a role in it. An increasing amount of farmers are now self supporting, getting crops from the cooperation and giving back a few bags of crops after harvesting – thus they guarantee the continuity of the project. See the picture of the barn above. They have some extra money now so that they can pay education fees for their children and have a little luxury at home.
The best breakthrough was when they started to talk business. In the beginning, ‘food security’ was in the center of the program. But when there was food security and they started to think of markets to sell their harvest to, that is when general interest and participation really grew. An important lesson learned in the Millennium Village is: start from the needs the people have (which can be different from the needs others tell them they have!).
Yet there is a lot of work to be done. It is clear that this is another project in Malawi that got a lot of outside / donor money put into. Managing the cooperation, building barns or other materials are not included in the ‘self-support’ so far. Health care has improved considerably in general, and specifically for pregnant women, but nobody pays a dime for health care. How sustainable can that model be? Well, they have some more years to go. The good news is that many visitors pass by to learn about the Millennium Village model and return to their own region full of ideas and inspiration.