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Laura.be

I’m in Belgium!  The lapse in posting about it wasn’t so much my getting on a hijacked train and ending up in Azerbaijan as it was my laptop dying.  Again.  I arrived here ten days ago now, and so far, it’s been good (albeit exceptionally busy!).

Arriving into Gare du Midi (the Brussels version this time, rather than the semi-disastrous Parisian version), I went searching for my hostel.  I’d screen-shotted the directions from hostelbookers, and they read “From the Train Station Gare Du Midi go south east Avenue Fonsny and turn left onto Avenue Fonsny and after Turn left onto Zuidlaan and turn right onto Boulevard Maurice Lemonnier 193 You can find the right The URBAN CITY CENTRE HOSTEL”.  So go south-east on Avenue Fonsny and then turn left onto Avenue Fonsny?  I chose a direction at random, after a Belgian woman I recruited to help was equally baffled.  I then came to a big road and wondered if this might not be Zuidlaan.  I asked a couple of people, most of whom suggested I leave the area quickly, but responded that they didn’t know if this was Zuidlaan or not.

Next I hailed a taxi, but he wasn’t keen to take me as it was the end of his shift.  He did however give me walking directions, and I found Boulevard Maurice Lemonnier.  Trying to follow the directions once more, I stuck to the right-hand side of the street and started walking up it, in somewhat of a hurry.  A kilometre-ish up the street, I still hadn’t seen it.  Where the hell was this hostel?!  I was stuck behind a slow-moving group of people on the street and was quietly resenting them when I realised that (a) they spoke Russian and (b) they were holding a smartphone with a map open.  Needless to say, I quickly izvinite’d them and they sent me back down the street the way they’d come: because apparently, “you can find the right” in the hostel’s directions meant “you can find us on the left, which is not even slightly the right-hand side of the street”.  To be honest, the hostel also ended up being both completely shit and way overpriced.

After dropping off my things, it was time to try and take on the public transport system.  When I’d been out of action with my head injury, I’d started looking at rooms in Brussels.  One of them was meant to have finished inspections before I got there, but I messaged them that the room looked nice, and if they didn’t find anybody, let me know!  As it turned out, they were having one final inspection in the evening as I was getting into town, and they said that they’d be there until 20:30.

It was now around 19:30 and I found myself staring at a Brusselian (is that a word?!) public transport map.  ‘Staring’ is about all I was doing: it was confusing as hell!  It was all colours and numbers and a million types of transport, and I had no idea what I was doing.  Nor did any of the Belgian visitors standing near me.  I was really keen to check out this room though, partly to get up some momentum, and partly because it looked nice and was 200m from my uni.  It was taxi time, for sure.

A short while later, I arrived at the house.  The people all seemed cool, and the room was adorable and had my own bathroom (stuff of hopes and dreams!).  However the other four all spoke French as their first language, and while they spoke English as well, I figured they wouldn’t want silly first-language-English me.  I mean, that’s kind of an inconvenience, right?

Either way, I headed back to my hostel for some well-deserved sleep.  I awoke in the morning determined to message the guys from the night before saying that even if they didn’t chose me, I understood, but to invite me to their next party!  (Like I said, they seemed super cool.)  To my surprise, they said that I was their first choice, and that the three of them who had met me just had to ask their fourth house-mate.  Just in case, I spent that day trooping through the torrential bloody rain, seeing house after house after house.  The more I saw, the more awesome the first place I’d seen seemed, and so I was stoked when they said I could move in!

I signed the contract with the landlord on the Saturday (he looked at me appraisingly and asked “they had a lot of people through.  Why did they choose you, I wonder?”.  I told him that I obviously bribed them), then moved in on Sunday.  Of course, I’ve since learned that nothing is open on a Sunday in Belgium, so I had no furniture etc.  Happily, one of my new housemates lent me some bedding and a blow-up bed (they’re all honestly so freaking kind!), and I was bezdomnaya no more!

Since then it’s been orientation week at uni, so I’ve been there, meeting people, learning things, figuring stuff out.  Class starts this coming Monday, and it looks like I’ve chosen all my subjects, so that’s good!  It’s going to be hard work I think, but I’m going to have Friday off every week: awesome.  Apart from that, I’ve been getting things for my room, trying to sort out my perpetually-on-its-last-legs laptop, and generally figuring life out.  I’m actually exhausted!  Hopefully I can get through my backlog of stuff this weekend before starting class, or it will just never happen.

Initial impressions of Brussels: it’s cute, and there are awesome comic book murals everywhere; everybody is overwhelmingly nice and helpful (and almost everybody speaks English); it’s a damn sight warmer and rainier than I expected.

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Oklahoma City

Okay, so firstly, this post has nothing whatsoever to do with Oklahoma.  Nor does it have anything to do with the US.  Nor even travelling, for that matter—instead, it’s about yet another stupid idea that I had.

My great idea—pauses to groan and face-palm—was to try online dating.  Oh, how I wish I were kidding.  I mean, I get that it’s mainstream now, but still.  Anyway, I wrote a post around 18 months ago called ‘Home‘, in which I said that I finally had room for someone else in my life.  The thing is, I turn 30 in 6 months and 12 days, and I have never been in love.  Not once!  Not once ever!!  I’m basically the set-up for a chic flick.  Yuck!  I haven’t even dated in nearly four years, which accumulated very quickly.  Between being heart-broken for a disproportionately long time, then in Russia, and then in Australia (but knowing I was leaving again), it just sort of turned out that way: I was busy living my life, and in the meantime nearly half a decade passed.  Haha.  ‘Half a decade’.

At this point I should probably also highlight my deep and abiding cynicism.  So I’m a cynic who wrote a fairy-tale.  The thing is, in preparation for that I read around 50 romance novels (nauseating), and I’d been around the Russian cult of romantic-ness (as opposed to romanticism) for quite some time.  It was all sort of easy after that: whenever I got stuck, I thought to myself ‘but what would a Russian want to happen?’  And believe me, I know all the cynicism-related clichés: “scratch a cynic, and you’ll find a disappointed romantic”.  A google images search for cynicism came up with some pretty hilarious results:

cynical

I did also enjoy the George Lucas (of all people) quote: “If the boy and girl walk off into the sunset hand-in-hand in the last scene, it adds 10 million to the box office.”  Eugh.  But my perception of it all as a fairy-tale, something that resides exclusively in the realm of fiction, is probably slightly less hilarious than the 48 hours I managed to last on online dating.  Yup: 48.

After my imposed single-hood of the last 4 years, I’ve put it on my to-do list that I have to try dating again this year.  I have no idea why, really: entertainment?  Variety?  The potential for excruciatingly awkward stories?  So, with my spirit of adventure firmly in hand (more on that in a minute), I bit the bullet and signed up to OkCupid, as the site I’d heard of the most.  (At this point I should probably mention that I am stopping and shaking my head at at least every other sentence.)  At least it’s a step above Tinder?  When I used the abbreviation ‘okc’ to a friend, he thought I was talking about Oklahoma City’s football team—hence the otherwise rather random title.

Sign-up itself was fairly painless.  Haha and they have so many questions to answer—it was strangely addictive, like all the personality quizzes that used to be on SparkQuizzes (?) during high school.  They were also quite interesting insofar as clarifying my own opinions on things.  However, once you’ve answered enough questions, it builds you a personality profile: and apparently my interests consist pretty much entirely of politics, math, sex, and adventures.   Haha for a while there my ‘top attribute’ was adventurousness (let’s face it, no surprises), then ‘arrogant’ started creeping up (ditto), and then suddenly, out of nowhere, ‘thrifty’ leaped to the top.  Thrifty.  What kind of negative-connotation bull shit is that?!  Hilarious.

Anyway, my stingey sex-addicted math-head self apparently wasn’t quite enough to scare people off, and responses started flooding in.  And I use the word ‘flooded’ because I felt like I was drowning: the tide of diverse desperation was all just too much.  Because while the cliché is that people will open with ‘tits or gtfo’, ‘hey wanna suk my dk bb’ (lol), or just insistent ‘hey’s, most people actually put a lot of thought into what they were writing me.  I simply do not have time in my day to reply to tens and hundreds of people, and the fact that they’d thought about what they were writing made it more like I was rejecting them, personally.  I did have a few more interesting opening messages, of course: I think my favourite was from a guy who was hoping to tie me up and take photos.  He was really respectful about it, but seriously—as if I’m going to let some complete stranger tie me up!  What happened to buying me a drink first?!

Next there was the ‘quick match’ feature, which while on a laptop isn’t unreasonable (it shows the guy’s self-introduction as well as photos), on my phone it brought out what I see as a pretty ugly side to myself.  On the phone app, ‘quick match’ was more Tinder-esque: swipe left to reject, or swipe right to ‘like’.  You couldn’t seem to access the person’s profile from that page, so instead you were judging entire human beings on their profile picture alone.  How awful is that.  In an effort to get through the hundreds that were stacking up, I found myself judging people on a purely superficial basis.  It honestly just disgusted me.  Incidentally, I only lasted around 12 hours with the phone app before uninstalling it because the constant notifications were so stressful: every time I’d see a message or a ‘like’ come through, I’d just think “oh, fuck off!”.

All in all, the whole thing made me feel like I was suffocating under the administrative workload, while bringing out these awful sides to myself.  It’s like people were being objectified and commodified—it was soooo depressing, and I was in a funk over it most of the day.  That’s right: less than 36 hours after signing up, it made me feel thoroughly down for around 12 hours (and continuing).  I really don’t think online dating is for me.  Haha onto the next project!

On another note, I’ve started doing a ‘Real Life Where’s Wally’, and will be posting the photos here (see menu) as well as on facebook, so that you can view the photos full-size.

Hmm, this post is a lot more depressing and a lot less hilarious than I anticipated.  May follow-up experiences be awkward rather than agonising?  Haha or perhaps I’ll just stick with being the Wicked Witch of the West, and doing whatever the hell I want 😉

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TIFU

Sigh.  It’s poem time, guys—and for those who don’t know, ‘tifu’ stands for ‘today I fucked up’.  And I did.  Lesson learned: never ever use your photos from facebook anywhere else.

_____________________________________________________

I decided one day it was finally time,
For a new adventure (which I’ll tell you in rhyme).
After four years of single, and in a new State,
It was once more time to look for a mate.

My horizons had broadened, and I signed up
(though I wish that I hadn’t, had the strength to say ‘nup’)
To online dating – OkCupid to be precise,
How I wish I hadn’t! (It bears saying twice.)

After 48 hours of constant distress –
‘Likes’ and messages, it was a huge mess –
I felt like I was drowning under the tide of desperation,
Too much work responding to would-be flirtation.

So I closed my profile with a great sigh,
And couldn’t care less that I found not a guy.
It was all over – what a relief! –
Then someone hunted me down (oh disbelief!).

It turns out this guy had downloaded my pics,
I don’t know why – perhaps just for kicks?
When he found that my profile was now deleted,
He didn’t stop – oh no, he wasn’t defeated.

Instead he used reverse image search, our Google Overlord –
One of my pics was on fb – I’ve fallen on my sword.
Despite being hidden from all search engines,
It didn’t get in the way of this guy’s intentions.

He’s now tried to add me, and sent me a message,
Of depth and length rather impressive.
It’s left me creeped and invaded – how fantastic!
(And “cos now we’re saying it,” that was sarcastic.)

At least there is ‘block’, and I’ve learned my lesson:
No online dating, no responding – and hopefully no more transgression.

_____________________________________________________

I am so creeped out!!!!!

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Take Me to Church

One of my housemates is currently looking for work, and so each morning last week he greeted me with this song, belting out the only words he knew (“take me to church”):

Today it was stuck in my head so I looked up the lyrics, only to find (much to my amusement) that the song isn’t about a religious experience, but instead about sex.  So whenever this guy greets me/anyone with “take me to church”, in the context of the song he’s actually demanding that we immediately make passionate love to him.  Lol.  I think I might not tell him.

I must say, my flatmates are freaking amazing.  I haven’t seen one of them (R/Ms Belgium) in a few days, but the others are always adventuring with me—D (church man/Mr Belgium) has obviously been hanging out with me during the day, and we went missioning on Friday; M (Ms France) and I have been on a few adventures and had some good conversations, and A (Mr France) invited me out on Saturday night (though I didn’t end up going) and is an all-round lovely person.

Apart from that, I really like Belgium, and the little of my course I’ve done so far is thoroughly enjoyable.  I think I said already, but my professors are all adorable, and the course content is obviously fascinating.

I have, however, hit PRIME culture shock as of today.  I mean, Belgians are all freaking lovely, helpful and understanding, and it is a Western country.  But man.  It’s the little things that really get to you: not knowing where to find things (what kind of store sells dressing gowns?), and the supermarket.  Mon dieu (just going to leave that there and set linguistic difficulties aside for the moment)!  I spend at least an hour there every time, figuring out which kind of flour is which, looking for pine-nuts for twenty minutes (what section do they belong in here?), and bloody hell—say I want to shave my legs?  Where the fuck do I buy razor blades?  Aaaagh!  Everything is just slightly wrong, and in many ways it feels like some kind of dementia preview: nothing is as I expect, my routine is off, and I can just barely deal with it.  I haven’t actually cried in the supermarket yet, though it’s been a close thing.  Twice.  The second time today, and the first time the other day when I got to check out, only to find that they didn’t accept my card and I had no cash, so I had to leave all of my groceries behind.  Supermarkets are the worst.

I also know it’s fucking retarded, but I’m already feeling depressed at the thought of leaving.  As an Australian I can’t work for the EU or NATO (not that I give two whits about the latter, but it’s the other major organisation in Brussels so worth mentioning), and generally I’m feeling glum about my prospects for employment and sponsorship.  I’m trying to be positive about this year—it’s a luxury, you know?  Another year in the place I’m meant to be.  But then I’m constantly dragged away from my home and forced back to Australia.

Speaking of Australia and ‘fucking retards’, it has to be mentioned that it is, again, racist bigot/invasion day in Australia.  I awoke to the news that the simian representing us to the world has knighted Prince Phillip.  Eugh.  On so many levels.  He’s so wildly out of touch—what a complete joke!  But as I was cooking dinner just now, I wondered whether perhaps Mr Abbott and I have something in common: he’s clearly in love with the UK and everything it stands for, and apparently living in some kind of delusion where he’s a diligent subject of Her Majesty the Queen.  Maybe when I’m President of Australia, I’ll still be so wildly besotted with Europe that I’ll create my own reality like Abbott’s, and start pledging our allegiance to the EU and knighting residents of Malta or something in hopes that they’ll adopt me as one of their own.  Sigh.

Anyway, I’ve got lots (and lots and lots) more reading to do for the week ahead, so back to it like a good little student for me.

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Sex and Power

There’s a famous quote by Oscar Wilde, which says that “Everything in the world is about sex except sex.  Sex is about power.”  I’ve found myself thinking about this, after just now simultaneously having a conversation with Mr Belgium about love and romance, and reading an article on power politics.
 
There are traditionally three main paradigms of thinking about international politics.  Proponents of these paradigms are known as realists, rationalists and revolutionists (eg Stern), or realists, pluralists, and structuralists (non-English School authors).  Basically, realists believe that international politics are all about states (countries), and each state has the aim of survival.  This survival is assured by seeking power, and therefore domination over other states.  Famous early proponents of this paradigm include Machiavelli with ‘The Prince’, or Hobbes in ‘Leviathan’, where he described the life of man as “nasty, brutish and short”.  In realism, political strategy is like chess, and is often described as a zero-sum game.
 
Rationalists/pluralists are a bit more liberal.  They don’t think all power relations are about domination and coercion—rather, states can co-operate.  Moreover, states aren’t the only actors—other parties such as multi-nationals operate across borders, and big businesses such as these have to be taken into account: as do things such as a global economy.  So rationalism is more about the stick and the carrot, and states aren’t the only ones with a garden.
 
Revolutionism is concerned with the system as a whole—so rather than looking just at states or just at bodies who transact across borders, revolutionists look at The Big Picture.  Think Marxism/Leninism, and the idea of the world as a large capitalist economy.  If mention of these two is enough to put you off, then look at it a different way—think about where the rich, liberal, well-resourced countries are, and think about where the poorer countries are.  Think about people travelling from places such as Australia or Western Europe for eg sex tourism (or even just cheap clothes!) in places such as Thailand or Moldova.  There’s a persistent idea of the ‘Global North’ (rich) and ‘Global South’ (poor), with an exploitative relationship between them.  For revolutionists, it’s not about states or people acting across borders, but the whole system which constrains people.  This system can only be over-thrown through revolution (hence the name).
 
‘So what the hell does this have to do with romance?’ you might be wondering, and rightly so.  Well, I was talking to Mr Belgium about how the world he lives in is so different to mine: whereas I see love and romance as belonging exclusively to fiction, that’s something he actively believes in and seeks.  I see relations as zero-sum—eg, to their gain and my loss—whereas he seems to see it as a positive thing to be sought.  So I’m a hostile state of the Hobbesian system, whereas he’s all about transnationalism and the penetration of state borders, to potentially mutual gains (I grow bananas and you grow grapes; I want grapes and you want bananas; we swap and both have munchies).  Because you see, a lot of politics is based on ideas of economy but also on human psychology.  The idea of ‘nature vs nurture’ comes in even here, with realists seeing power politics and a struggle for (state) survival as natural and inevitable (even if the idea of such makes them miserable—they do the best they can with it), and rationalists seeing it as having elements of nurture (continuing relations or ‘transactions’ on different levels will lead to closeness and less danger).  Don’t you think it’s funny that we categorise countries as having the personality profiles of school bullies vs people who sell chocolates to fund-raise for a school event?
 
Revolutionists are harder to categorise, as using the last analogy, they’re looking more at the idea of the school itself: what about the school system and how it’s funded and prioritised means that people have to conduct extra fundraising?  Where is the money that could be used for the school event actually going instead?  You can see how Marxism and anarchism come in here.  I guess in a way, social revolutions and eras such as the ‘swinging 60s’ (going to be awkward if it’s actually the 70s and I got the decade wrong) reflect revolutionist views.  Ideas such as ‘free love’ then and ‘polyamory’ now (being in multiple committed relationships concurrently) can be seen to reflect the idea that structures such as monogamy are potentially exploitative power relations, and that structure should be overthrown in order to gain equality and superior outcomes for all.
 
Beyond these three main paradigms, there are revisions and amendments.  Neo-realism, neo-liberalism, Gramscianism.  A zillion more.  But my personal favourite is constructivism, which is summed up in the following quote by Anais Nin (yes, that Anais Nin):  “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”  Thus if a state has a neighbour who it perceives as friendly (say Russia and China in the first half of the 20th century), it’s probably not going to be too concerned about having armies stationed by the border.  However, if a state has a neighbour who it perceives as potentially unfriendly, it will naturally treat things as more suspicious (how would Russia react now if China started doing military manoeuvres by its border?  Or look at how its foreign minister reacted at the rumour that Finland was being scoped out for a NATO base).  I guess this theory is most obviously related to human psychology, as it relates to therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy.  So perhaps if I started trying to see the world as Mr Belgium did, I would in fact find myself living in that world.  Maybe things would then be less ‘nasty’ and ‘brutish’ (cheers, Hobbes).  But ah, the cynicism is strong in this one.