Gym and yoga

Today was a good day for my health and fitness, not only was I in the gym at 07:00AM but twelve hours later, I found myself in a Yoga studio on the banks of the Amstel river, slowly lowering my bum and straitening my spine into the all so famous “downwards facing dog”.

Gym was great today, my first rep felt like I was superman, I had a lot of energy and performed with exercises with intense explosion and absurd focus but then round two this seemed to waiver.

After doing my second round of ten pull ups, I needed to take a little break as I felt that I might be a bit sick, which is strange as this rarely happens. I mean I did push myself as I always do but never does my body react with nausea. The nausea soon passed and I was able to finish my workout but I could feel that it took a chunk out of me and I left the gym drenched in sweat feeling slightly dizzy.

Work was uneventful and frustrating, as I am working with some really high level concepts where the setup alone requires you to read manuals of 600 pages per concept and then if you dare miss a single line, the chances are pretty good that it is exactly that line that will cause your code to break.

Then after work it was yoga, hence me finding myself in the downward facing dog position.

I left work a little late and had to cycle like a maniac to be on time for the yoga class, which turned out to be a small mistake as the class was super relaxed and we only started a little while after I arrived.

This intense cycling caused me to for the second time that day be drenched in sweat and the already sweaty clothes from the gym the morning caused my clean yoga clothes to also be wet and sweaty.

Let me preface my yoga experience with the fact that whenever I practice yoga, I become really self aware of EVERYTHING. My breathing, my body, the yoga positions, my short pants (is it hanging out?!),  my sweat and my body odours. So in this case where I arrived kind of sweaty already, I seemed to be constantly worried a bit about how sweaty I was and how it smelt.

There was not much that I could do about it and I proceeded with the class as best as I could and it was a very small and intimate class, we were only five participants and the instructor, which made for an amazing experience.

Unlike other yoga classes, where they harp on the physical side of things, I found todays class a lot more meditative and relaxing. One exercise was to compare ones mood before and after the class and I definitely felt a lot cooler and calmer that before I had arrived.

The class was also prefaced and concluded with some breathing exercises, the ending exercises closely resembled the breathing practice that Wim Hof teaches, where one breathes in intensely and then holds ones breath.

Overall it was a great experience and I will definitely go again, I met some really cool people and we had some tea and snacks afterwards. It feels nice to kind of put yourself out there and meet new people especially when you are of a different culture, different continent even.

Tonight is definitely not the last time that I will be attending Julie’s yoga classes. That about covers the fitness part, as for the health part, I consumed a fully vegetarian diet today consisting of lentils, beans, green beans, asparagus, chilli and eggs. This was both my supper and lunch and it was delicious.

I have decided to cut down grossly on my meat consumption and also on all dairy consumption, especially milk. I have always thought that milk is not as healthy as they want you to believe but I will leave that for its own little write up.

Kings Day, Work Outing and Bevrijdingsdag.

So much has happened over the last two weeks, this will be a real catch up post. My last entries revolved mainly around the race that I ran and some pseudo intellectual rants, its time to get back to the basics and document what has been happening these last two weeks.

Kings Day 2018

Kings day is an annual celebration of the Kings of the Netherland’s birthday. It is the one day that everyone takes to the streets or to the water via boats and takes part in the yearly festivities. My girlfriend tried to explain the magnitude of the festivities but this had in no way prepared me for what it was really like.

We left the house at around 10:00 AM after making some sandwiches and packing some beers for the day. Upon leaving the house, hundreds of people had already taken to the streets, some just walking around and taking in the atmosphere, whilst others resorted to side walk commerce, selling all types of things from blankets and tables all along the road.

People sold all sorts of things, apart from the obvious food and drink, it also served as an opportunity for anyone to have a mini garage sale, so you could purchase all kinds of second hand goodies. I saw people were selling clothing, shoes, furniture, cutlery, art, actually anything that you can think of but what did stand out for me was the children. They also ran little side walk businesses selling home made lemonade, cookies and sweets. It was cute to see the little ones partaking in the festivities.

We walked around in the East a bit more and later met up with some friends, with whom we started the big trek into the city centre together. It was now around 11:30 AM and we had opened a few beers. It was great to walk around in the city, seeing everyone with their faces painted and their orange clothing.

Everybody  is Dutch on Kings Day.

We kept walking through the streets just enjoying the sun and the festive atmosphere until we finally reached our house party in the middle of the city. We spent a couple of hours there, as there were around seventy people, just hanging around and having fun. We ended the night with some delicious take Thai Food and the next day was definitely not as festive.

Work Outing

One of the points that came up during one of our development team meetings was that we should celebrate more. As a development team we had achieved rather ambitious goals, like becoming independent of all consultants, starting to manage our software releases on our won and achieving work which was planned for the year in a matter of five months.

So to celebrate, our business analyst found us an escape room in Utrech, which is a city about twenty minutes outside Amsterdam and a great tapas restaurant for afterwards. So we left work on Friday at 15:00 and did the escape room at 17:00.

It was fun, it is really a nice team building exercise, which takes a lot of communication and working together to get out of the room. With that said, we did make it out of the room but it took us around fifty two minutes which is not record breaking but not too bad either (judging by the times of other teams on Facebook).

We had some hindrances  which prolonged the situation such as faulty apparatus of the escape room and out of frustration at one stage we veered off slightly and started doing our own thing individually but eventually we managed to pull it together and escape the room!

We then headed to a tapas restaurant which was ten kilometres out of the city, myself and another college did not make the car pool meaning that we had cycle all the way, which in a way was good because I ate more at that tapas restaurant than I had eaten the entire previous week!

The tapas restaurant was great, here we really blew off some steam, made a lot of jokes and just enjoyed each others company. It is great when you work with a team you get along on a personal level as well. We all are different ages and come from vastly different walks in life but somehow we all get along really well.

Actually “get along really well”, is almost an understatement, there is not a standup meeting where we don’t laugh, make jokes and  try to help each other with the work load.

Bevrijdingsdag 2018

Bevrijdingsdag is another festival day in the Netherlands, dedicated to soldiers who fought in wars. It was once just in remembrance of everyone who fought in World War Two but has since become a day to celebrate all soldiers who have been in war.

This was on a Saturday and once again, just like on Kings day, we were super lucky to have amazing weather. South Africa also has amazing weather but a cool thing about the Netherlands is the ridiculously late sunset.

I am mean as I type this, it is 21:35 but the sun is still out and it is still light outside. It will probably be fully set around 22:15. In South Africa, as I remember the sunset was never really later than 21:00.

Bevrijdingsdag was no exception, the sun shone brightly and only retreated to its lonesome home on the horizon well after 22:00. We started by going to the market close to my house in the East, enjoying some ridiculously good sandwiches from the local corner store. The owner was very friendly and gave us some cheese and cured meats to try before buying a sandwich.

The shop must have been there for the last thirty years at least, you can see that the neighbourhood has gentrified but that corner store looks exactly like it did thirty years ago and the best part of it is that they are proud of it. I am definitely taking my parents there once they arrive.

From the East we cycled to the North of Amsterdam which is a ferry trip but definitely worth it, there we met up with Jytte’s sister, her boyfriend and some of his friends. It was lovely sitting in the sun and enjoying some beers.

Here we parted ways as Jytte had a festival to attend and I had made plans with a friend from South Africa, whom I had not seen in years, I think actually it had been fifteen years.

We met in Westerpark, it was hard to find each other with will all the thousands of people around but finally we managed to track each other down close to the main stage.

I did not think it was going to be weird seeing each other again after all these years, for some reason, I just knew that it will be ok and it was absolutely great. We started talking immediately and could not get enough words in fast enough.

Five minutes later a college from my work joined and we found a quite spot where we could just hang out and catch up a little bit. We hung there for about an hour and then headed to the gin bar and on the way another college joined us.

We git some gins and once again moved to find a nice spot to chill. The night started moving quickly, we headed from stage to stage, bar to bar and eventually made our way to a live performance of what I am sure was a dutch band. We literally spent the entire evening sitting on the grass, drinking beers and talking about everything from artificial intelligence to autonomous vehicles. It was clear that we tended to be a little more introverted than the friend of Melissa who was also there, he ran around, danced a bit and mostly avoided our conversations of the latest technology.

At around midnight the festivities had died down and then we went to Melissas place for a final night cap. It was about a twenty minute Uber ride and I left my bike back at the park.

We arrived at her place and she offered us a glass of wine, it was actually from South Africa, a delicious wine from the farm Springfield, which I frequently visited when I was in that wine region. She also had a dog which had travelled with her all the way from South Africa, to Switzerland and now to Amsterdam.

At around 03:00 AM we called it a night and got an Uber back to Westerpark. Luckily my bike was still there and I cycled the 20 minute route home in 30 minutes. It was a good night!

The race.

I immediately want to start by saying that I did not reach my goal that I had set for the race, I ran last week. I had a very ambitious goal to run a 14 kilometre race in one hour, actually I was a bit more ambitious and wanted to complete it in less than an hour which as you just read did unforetuneatly not happen.

What did happen is that I finished the race in one hour and four seconds. The best time I that have ever ran in any race. Not only did I beat my personal best time, I beat it by more than ten seconds. My average time per kilometre was around 4:26 whereas the last race that I ran in Hong Kong, was 4:38.

I am thrilled by the results and really proud of myself although I always think that I can do better. One thing that did happen really early on in the race was that I tried to pass some people and I was not paying attention then the next moment a man in a wheel chair rode right in front of me, in an attempt not to run right into him, I dodged to the right, causing my upper leg to hit a pole which hurt throughout the race.

Now I am not saying that had this incident not happened, I would have reached my goal (I would have) but who knows.

At one stage I also paced myself with another runner, at first it felt like a pretty decent pace but after two kilometres I realized that he is definitely not trying to set any goals. It was hard to break away from him but at one straight stretch of road, I managed to push past him and started putting metres between the two of us.

Before I get into some more details of what I think, could have been done slightly better, below is a video of the event, you will even see the guy in the wheelchair that I mentioned earlier.

Factors that I need to address that will make me better next time:

  1. My running shoes.
    Even though I love running and run a lot, I have never really invested in running shoes, the shoes that I did the race in were ok in the beginning but recently every time I ran with they gave me shin splits and they hurt my knees. I initially did not buy them as running shoes but rather as casual trainers but due to lack of other shoes they defaulted as my running shoes. I have already ordered new Nike Pegasus and I believe that these will make a huge difference when I go running. The Adidas also felt a size or two too small.

2. My diet.
I should have invested a little more into what I ate before the race. I did have pasta the evening before the race and was planning to have some pasta for lunch before the race but this did not happen and I ended up eating a light salad at around 13:00 and the race was 20:00. I may have had an apple or banana in between but I could feel that my energy reserves were running on empty. Next time, I will make sure to research a little bit and be very prepared.

3. Running long distances (training).
When I run, I tend to run between 5-10 kilometres, never really planning the exact times and setting goals for timings on how far, how fast I want to run. I will have to align my training routine with my goals, so for this race, it would have been great if I had actually ran a 14kilometre or two so that I knew what to expect.  One needs to know how to pace oneself and how when to go fast and when to speed up. My lack of training and exercise caused this aspect to fall flatly on its face.

4. Pacing oneself.
I was out of the gate like a jack rabbit, my first three kilometres, I did just above four minutes, this was already extra tough as I had to push through the crowd, which means that if it was without the masses, I would probably have done the first three kilometres in around 3:50, which is great but not sustainable as you have another eleven kilometres to go. This point might relate to point three, one can only learn to really pace oneself with experience and training.

5. The music.
I opted to not make a playlist and go for a generic Nike playlist found on Apple Music… Stupid choice, although I did give it a listen the previous night and heard numerous songs that I liked, on the race day, not one song that I liked made it to shuffle. This sucked big time as I get really pumped up from familiar songs, like I have written about in a previous post,  I get really psyched up when I listen to Kayne West or just something familiar. I could really feel the mental tole that the music was taking on me as time passed, with each new song I hoped to hear something familiar but did not, so I suffered a slight disappointment each time a new song started. I did consider stopping to change the music but this would have been disastrous for my end time.

Other than that I cannot really think of anything else that I could have done any better. So with the above noted, I can now start working on my next goal, which is slightly more ambitious but nevertheless, a great challenge to strive for and it is the ten miles in an hour challenge. Ten miles in an hour equates to 16kilometres in an hour.

I used an online pace calculator to work out which pace is needed to achieve this feat and it is a whopping three minutes and 45 seconds per kilometre. This sounds insane but when I think that I did the first three kilometres of last weeks race at just above four seconds, it give me a lot of hope that I can achieve the 16 kilometres in an hour goal. I will get a decent plan and consistently work on it.

Bonus photo, the knock I took on my knee:

Monday the long day

I am one of many expats at my company. Out of the 38 employees, I would guess that around 15 are not Dutch, which makes sense as we are an international company, operating across several different countries.

We currently have online stores in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the UK and Germany with plans to expand to several more European countries in the near future, we may even take on the Asian and American markets one day.

With that said, the company has been kind enough to have gotten us a Dutch tutor to teach us the Dutch language. The only condition is that we pass the entry level Dutch language proficiency exam or else we pay for the lessons ourselves.

The lessons start at 17:45 and end at 20:15, hence the reason that Monday is so long, especially if you arrived at work around 08:15 AM, then you clock in a solid 12 hours. But I guess it is relative as I have had many jobs where working a 16 hour day was the norm.

My day was not quite 12 hours as I arrived a little late this morning. The reason I was late was due to a gross miscalculation of distance on my part. Instead of checking the distance between two locations on Google maps, I just did an estimate based on how far they looked from each other on the map, which was a huge mistake and I realised this as soon as I arrived at the first location which I estimated to be no more than two kilometres from the second location but it ended up being a bit more than twelve.

See here in Amsterdam, you take your bicycle everywhere and with everywhere, I mean really everywhere… Clubbing? I will cycle. Job interview? Let me get my bike. Dinner with the in laws? Let me just hop onto my bike. Emergency and need to go to hospital? Let me just find my bike keys… Moving homes…

You get the point…

Unfortunately my bike was stolen last week, so this morning I wanted to go to the gym before work so I borrowed my girlfriends bike, which was not at her house or at mine but at a bus stop which I assumed was close to the gym (location one), this was the first mistake, as the bus stop was eight kilometres away from the gym. The second location is my work, which was twelve kilometres away from the gym.

This would have been ok if the bike was any good but the bike of my girlfriend was salvaged from the pre European Union era and not much has gone in the way of care and maintenance, causing the bike to creak and crack with each peddle and as soon as one settles into any kind of rhythm, the chain slips off the gears, leaving you with no way to stop as the bikes only way of breaking is peddling backwards.

Needless to say, the careful biking and stopping to replace the chain, turned what Google maps promised to be a thirty minute journey into a fifty five minute slog.

I arrived at work sweaty and my hands covered in oil from replacing the chain.

When I explained to my colleges, they were happy that I made it to work in the first place, as the area where my bike constantly “broke down” was apparently not the best neighbourhood to be stopping with a laptop on your back. Luckily all was well and I was only about twenty minutes late.

So what did I learn? Plan better, read maps better, double lock your bike to protect theft and several Dutch words and phrases.

It is now 20:37 and I have ran out of time for today as I literally have eight items on my to do list. As per yesterdays post, on quieter days I will back peddle and write about the past but whenever something slightly significant happens it shall take president.

P.S. The photo is of my old bike, the one that was stolen last week.

Waiting in Limbo

Recently I wrote about my final days in Hong Kong and how I am absolutely ready to start a new life in Amsterdam! Today would have been the day that I race to grab a taxi, then en route to the airport, book my flight and hop on a plane to the Netherlands, all within the span of two hours!

Or at least this was how I had it all planned out in my head…

Here is the current unfortunate situation which I find myself in: All my possessions are packed, my apartment has been spring cleaned and I have given or thrown away all my toiletries, cooking essentials and junk that I have accumulated over the last six months, so now I find myself in a barren apartment, living out of an unsettlingly overpacked suitcase.

Furthermore I have left most of the expat Facebook groups, leaving me slightly vulnerable and understandably lonely, as it is common knowledge that you do not enter a country before joining every expat Facebook group, from “Expats who read in Hong Kong – The Book Club” to “Expats who like to dance – Salsa for expatriates in Hong Kong” and you certainly do not exit these groups whilst still in the county.  In both of the above mentioned groups, I was a pillar in the community, and leaving them was done with a very very heavy heart.

The only slight hang up is that the Dutch Consul still has my passport and I am still waiting for them to let me know when I can pick it up with my works Visa approved.

It is actually the only factor holding me back and worst part of all is that there is nothing I can do about it.

I called the Consul as soon as I woke up, only to be told by the voice messaging service that the Consul is still closed and that they will only open at 09:00AM. This prompted me to call again at 08:30AM and also at 08:59AM, just to be told again the Consul will only open at 09:00AM.

When I called at exactly 09:00AM , my call was answered in a very thick Dutch accent by a very friendly and stern, Bianca, who I assume is not on the premises at the Dutch Consul, but actually in a call centre somewhere in the Netherlands.

Bianca requested my tracking number and after a slight pause, she told me that my Visa application has already been processed, but could technically be anywhere in Asia and there was no way of knowing exactly where it is…

She went as far as telling me that I may only receive my passport in the new year.

Gutted. Absolutely gutted.

Actually, I really believe that everything happens for a reason, and that I will leave Hong Kong exactly when it is meant to happen but this does not stop me from wanting it really badly.

My ex college told me that the secret to life is to really want something, it must be a burning desire, you really need to feel it, but if it does not materialise then you should be perfectly fine with it. It sounds rather contradictory but it actually works in perfect harmony.

With this philosophy, you allow yourself the pleasure of getting really excited about something but you also spare yourself the disappointment if it does not come to fruition.

I am always a naively optimistic, positively positive, optimist who in most cases believes that a situation will always turn out for the best, so with this mindset, the idea of getting my passport in the new year, never even crossed my mind.

I really thought that even though the Visa application process can take up to two weeks and it is the holiday season, I could still get the Visa in a couple of days, so yeah that is the naive optimism which may be shattered today but its has payed off tremendously in the past.

So here I am today, waiting in my favourite little coffee shop where I routinely bought a flat white and a salmon, cream cheese and  poppy seed bagel. This morning I deviated from my routine and bought a standard breakfast of sunny side up eggs, bacon and toast, this may well be my last breakfast in Hong Kong or it may later turn out to be my first breakfast of 2018.

Bags, shoes, outfit and skateboard stacked against a wall and ready to go.
Bags are packed and ready to go.

*South Africans

Three nights and counting…

Sunday night, Monday night and Tuesday night, this is all that I have left before leaving for Amsterdam on Wednesday… Or at least so I hope.

I was actually planning on leaving Hong Kong a few days ago, which would have allowed me to spend Christmas in Muiden, a small city outside Amsterdam, with my girlfriend and her family in their super cosy family home.

Unfortunately my dreams of pyjamas, cuddles, Christmas treats and hot chocolate was stopped dead in their tracks before they could ever realise due to a delayed visa.

Actually it was not delayed at all, in fact it was processed in record time but in this case record time was just not fast enough.

About one month ago I was hired by Beerwulf (the lead online craft and speciality beer retailer in Europe)  as a senior frontend developer, this was amazing news.

The process would most likely have been a breeze had, I been an European citizen, but due to my South African heritage, Beerwulf had to sponsor me with a higher skilled working visa and this naturally takes some time.

The process was started a few days after I signed my employment contract and then it took two weeks for the Dutch government to grant me my work Visa. Once granted by them, I also had to follow several steps to get the process going on my side.

I immediately started with process. The first thing that I needed to do was to apply for an appointment at the Dutch Consul in Hong Kong via their online scheduling system and to my horror, the earliest appointment was for the 31st of January 2018! Off course this was out of the question as I had been planning to start my new employment, bright eyed and bushy tailed, no later than the 2nd of January.

I immediately called the Dutch consul and after several conversations, emails and a lot of pleading, I was granted an appointment 09:00AM the next morning, this was Monday, a week before Christmas.

The following morning I was there with all my documentation, passport photos and  the pleading eyes required to get the necessary assistance. In my heart I knew it would be a stretch, I mean just the fact that I was already granted an earlier appointment was already a stretch but alas, upon leaving the Dutch Consul after handing in my completed paperwork, I gave Tracy one more teary eyed look and mumbled something about Christmas alone in Hong Kong. This would surely do the trick, I naively thought.

The big thing is that they need ones passport which I handed in my passport at Tuesday 09:00AM, it then had to be shipped to the back office in Beijing, there it had to be approved, processed, examined, fraud checked and then shipped back to Hong Kong and in order for me to be in the Netherlands for Christmas, this had to happen before Friday, so like I said, “This would do the trick, I naively thought”.

After handing in my passport, I called the Dutch Consul several times over the following days, even my girlfriend called them trying to speed up the process. On Friday they informed us that my passport has been mailed back to Hong Kong but it would not be here before Christmas 😦

In defence of the Dutch Consul, they were always super helpful and super friendly but unfortunately all our calls, tears and prayers (yes we did pray) did not increase the speed at which the government official graced the pages of my passport with their tired stamps.

Hence this post and hence me still being in Hong Kong for Christmas.

So is it disappointing to still be here?

Well I did have my hopes up about spending Christmas with my girlfriend and her family and about making the big move to Amsterdam (I am packed and can be at the airport in 45 minutes) but actually it is ok… I have been invited by my (ex) manager from Palo-IT to spend Christmas with her and some friends, which I am really looking forward to and I also have time to say farewell to Hong Kong and all that goes with it.

It can be easy to forget but Hong Kong has been great and it has also been great to me and it will stay in my heart forever. ❤