Sunday, December 31, 2006

Reflecting on 2006

The last day of the year is always a day to reflect on all the things that happened (good and bad) that year, and I would like to look back on some of the highlights of my 2006. This year did not start very well, as we had to cancel our long awaited Christmas/New Year's U.S. trip due to a certain demon who took Gyano's passport hostage. But later this year the Belgian judge ordered the passport to be returned and this summer we got to embark upon on our U.S. trip to California, Nevada and Arizona. This was an awesome trip enjoyed thoroughly by all four travelers and I still intent to write a more detailed blogpost about this memorable trip at a later date.
My fellow travelers (Gyano, Guido & Lia) in Death Valley, CA
My mother got engaged to Guido and they are due to be married on May 11th, 2007. Of course soon to be married couples want to join their two seperate lives into one, to accomplish that my mom moved in with Guido this year bringing Gyano and me along! Guido also has children and all of us together now form a busy family of seven!
Myra, Casper, Lou, Gyano with Jurre on his shoulders & Guido (Lia was the photographer)
As kind of a try-out for all of us living together, we went on a trip to Mallorca. Naturally, we were quite nervous about the chemistry between the seven of us during a one-week vacation to some tropical Spanish island, let alone about the chemistry between all of us trying to live together in one house. But the vacation was wonderful and we had a great and lazy time in the sun and pool all week! Everything was really good and high above expectations, eliminating any doubts about living together with our large and mixed family!
Lou with Guido's kids in Mallorca
Then this year Bon Jovi decided to go on a world tour again, which is always good news for this Bon Jovi fan! Unfortunately, this year due to money and time constraints Minke and I only got to see a few shows. Yet, Minke and I enjoyed our few concerts to the very fullest! After the first concert we gave up camping out to obtain a front row spot, for going out in the city and having some real fun, and the next day we enjoyed the concert from a spot onstage! Yeah, Minke and I are two very lucky people without any expectations but seizing any opportunity we are offered. And along the way we met some very interesting and fun people, I wouldn't change our 2006 concert experience for any front row spot!
Lou with Chris a.k.a. Lumpy (Richie's guitar tech)
Minke with Mike, Bon Jovi's stage manager
Then one really big highlight this year was the end that came to the studies that I hated for so long! Yes people, I graduated! Finally! It was no big secret that I had a big aversion for the International Business studies that I was doing at the University of Maastricht. No motivation led to procrastination after procrastination and somehow the end was never in sight. After deciding that I wanted to move to Japan and work as an English teacher there, I was faced with the fact that I needed a University's degree to get a Japanese working visa. Finally, I found myself motivated to work hard to finish those wretched studies and got to work on my Master thesis. After a fair amount of literature research, I came up with a very interesting thesis topic that allowed me to vent some of my frustration with the field of economics and business. After two months of thesis research and writing and countless allnighters, the thesis was finished and handed in a couple of days before the deadline even! What a weird feeling it was to actually be finished with my studies.
My final thesis "Business education and corporate misbehavior"
My supervisor emailed me my grade during our U.S. trip, and I remember being in that lobby of a hotel near Yosemite National Park, and jumping around in happiness over my awesome grade. During the graduation ceremony my supervisor gave a very nice speech about me and my favorite quote from his speech: "Louana's thesis is a beautiful piece of work which may even be published in a good scientific journal. Which is why her thesis was graded with a 9; something which rarely happens. It is clear: Louana is a very talented and intelligent student". So I am pretty damn proud of myself: drs. Lou ;).
Thesis supervisor dr. Woody handing drs. Lou her Master's degree

Next step after getting my degree, was actually finding a job in Japan. I had my heart set on a job as an English teacher at a Japanese eikaiwa (English conversation school). There are several really big eikaiwas in Japan, which could all be potential employers, but AEON corporation was the one that seemed to suit my preferences the most. I applied for a position and needed to go to London for a nerve-racking two-day job interview/assesment, and a week later I got a very happy phonecall from the AEON recruiter in NYC. I was offered a teaching position with AEON corporation! They tried their utmost best to place me in a school near Yasu, but the closest that was available was in Inuyama, near Nagoya. So, Yasu and I will have to do some traveling every weekend, but at least we get to see eachother every week instead of once a year!
Drs. Lou or LouAeon, take your pick!
Of course, I needed a way to gather some money before I move to Japan, and also as a way to finance my jobhunting and future move to Japan. So I also found me a job in the Netherlands, a simple but fun job at the EXPO, one of my favorite stores. This is where I am currently earning my money and killing time until my big move to Japan in May 2007. This is also where one of my coworkers alerted me to the existence of the 'All You Need Is Love 2006 Christmas Special', which led me to apply for the show that reunites loved ones from abroad for Christmas. And a few weeks ago the host, Robert ten Brink, kidnapped me with his private jet to Russia (of all places) to be reunited with Yasu :)!
Yasu with two of my EXPO coworkers in the break room
So this sums up an eventful year and I am ready for the new year in which my mother will get married, I will finally move to Japan, and many more unexpected and unplanned events will surely color my life! 2007, here I come! Happy New Year everybody!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Yasu's visit to my daily work life

Being in Russia with your boyfriend (whom you haven't seen for 13 months) is absolutely awesome, but all I really wanted when we were there was take Yasu home with me and show him my daily life. Bring him to the places where I go almost everyday and the places I tell him about everyday. Now I could finally show him, what I had been talking about all these months, and I was most excited about that!
I work at the EXPO in the city center of Eindhoven, it is a gift shop which sells postcards, calendars, stuffed animals, clocks, prank gifts, loads of picture frames (standard and made-to-order), posters, photos, paintings, and much more. I started working there in September to finance my job hunting for a teaching position in Japan, and so far I have already spent a small fortune on traveling to and accommodations in London. And now that I secured a job at AEON Corporation, I am spending buckets of money during every step of the immigration process and moving-to-japan process, so I will continue to work at EXPO as long as I live in the Netherlands.
It was really weird to have Yasu on my work floor, I come there almost everyday and I never believed that Yasu was going to visit me there, but now we got to visit EXPO together! I called my store manager from Russia to get some extra days off, as Yasu's visit was so extremely short and it would be a terrible waste to spend that time working instead of being with him. My store manager gave me all the weekdays off, but I had to work the weekend because of all the Christmas shopping that would be going on. But one of my sympathetic coworkers offered to work my Saturday shift, and on Sunday I only worked about 3 hours, had a 45 minute break which I spent with Yasu, and about 90 minutes before the end of my shift I was send home to enjoy my last day with Yasu. But even though I worked only 3 hours when Yasu was here, he did get to see me in 'action'!
My coworker Leonita is a huge fan of the 'All You Need Is Love' Christmas special. She told me she locks herself in her bedroom every year with a box of tissues and a bag of chips to watch the show. And when she saw the commercial for this year's show asking for applications, she thought about her coworker with a boyfriend in far-away Japan! She is the one that alerted me to the show almost 2 months ago and if it wasn't for her I would have never written a letter and Yasu would be going on our 14th month of separation by now! So thank you, Leo!
Jolanda, the store manager was another partner in crime of Heleen, the tv producer who arranged the entire reunion. Gyano had a hard time getting a hold of my passport (as I always carry that around with me), but Heleen needed it to get me a visa for Russia, so she contacted Jolanda. She made up some story about an identification duty to EXPO's headquarters for which she needed everybody's passports. Of course, she only actively hunted me down for my passport and when I gave it to her, she said "Thanks, and I'll keep it in the safe." Excuse me? I thought she was going to copy it, but she actually took my passport hostage! I was very uncomfortable with that and all week I kept bugging her about my passport, she had quite a hard time blowing me off every single day.
Of course my passport was no longer in the safe, it had been picked up by some secret courier, who I actually met that week. I was working at the cash register and this man asked me if he was in the EXPO store, this was an odd question to say the least because his location was extremely obvious, with big EXPO signs everywhere. But I answered his question, and then he asked me about the address, which again he knew correctly! This man was quite weird in my opinion, but he might be a customer so I was as friendly as ever. Then he asked if my store manager was present, which she was not, so I asked him if could help him with something. He told me he was there to pick up some white envelope... this guy was getting more bizarre with every word he said. I went to tell my coworker in charge about the peculiar guy and the desired white envelope and I never thought about him again, until I sat in that private jet to Russia and all the puzzle pieces fell together! Before that moment I had no clue whatsoever that that weird guy was there to secretly pick up my passport!
Yasu wanted to bring some presents to EXPO, so he bought some sushi for my coworkers. But having most of my coworkers pegged as the non-adventurous type, I brought a back up gift of 'oliebollen', a traditional Dutch New Year's snack. I was right about them not being adventurous, as they had never even tried sushi before, but they did try Yasu's sushi with quite some hesitation and neither of them wanting to go first. But after a considerable struggle with the chopsticks they both tried the sushi (the others tried later) and they even liked it, making Yasu very happy!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Almost famous for a few days

I know that 'All You Need Is Love' is a TV program and that it airs all over The Netherlands, but it is hard to realize that especially when you watch the show within the familiar confines of your own living room. Apparently, over 2 million people saw the Christmas Special this year. Meaning all those people saw my face on their TV, and me acting kind of giddy while being treated to a trip to Russia and a reunion with Yasu. Everyday, walking the streets, waiting at the bus stop, shopping and working at Expo I still carry around that same face, and even though I wore the silly pink hat on my way to Russia, people still recognize my hat less face!
Reunited on TV in Russia
It is sometimes quite weird to be stared at so intently by people you have never met and then have those strangers blurt out the fact that they saw you on TV, thereby alerting the clueless people around them to the same fact which leads to even more strangers staring at you. One woman confronted me with the fact that she saw me on TV so unexpectedly, that she startled me into silence and a red face. But of course, it can also be quite enjoyable when people recognize me, as it was quite an extraordinary event to take part in that show. But the nicest reactions I have had were people telling me they had to cry when they watched our reunion on TV because they were so touched by it.

Of course, soon people will have forgotten about the show and pink-hat-wearing-girl with the Japanese boyfriend, and I will happily return to being as anonymous as I always was. But this will have been an interesting experience, being almost famous for a few days.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Keeping the universe in balance

Goodbye kiss
Goodbye kiss at Schiphol Airport
Whenever something miraculous happens to Yasu and me, I keep being amazed at how lucky we are and what we must have done to deserve something that wonderful. But I am also afraid of what will come next, something that will set the record straight. As I can be quite the pessimist and I always make myself realize that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

So how does the universe keep us in balance? Well, every pleasure has a price in the same manner that every dark cloud has a silver lining. Like there is always something that offers hope or benefit in a situation that is generally undesirable, there is also always something that offers misery or disadvantage in a situation that is very desirable.

A few examples: all the bonus time we were given last year, when Malaysia Airlines delayed Yasu's departure to Japan for more than a day, the price for that pleasure was continuously being on opposite sides of the world for the following 13 months. When AEON hired me as an English teacher providing me with a working visa thereby enabling me to start a life in Japan, the price was my placement in Inuyama, which is a 3-hour-and-50-euro-train-ride away from Amagasaki, oneway!

I was thinking about this on my way home today, and I think I finally accepted the Yasu-had-to-leave-before-Christmas-situation without getting furious again. As the price for the 'All You Need Is Love' dream was Yasu's way-too-early-departure a week after our reunion. Easy come, easy go.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Seeing the glass half full on Christmas Day

Last night on Christmas Eve 'All You Need Is Love' aired on TV. The whole country got to see my deformed morning face in total confusion as Robert ten Brink tells me we are going somewhere far. And then the rest of the show you can spot me wearing a crazy pink hat in an effort to try and hide my unwashed and bad hair day! Still it is fun to see our reunion in Russia on TV and Yasu and I got spend time together and that's what it was all about!
Robert ten Brink in the studio on our living room TV
Having been to the studio taping last week, we already knew what was going to happen, but it was still interesting to see it all on your own TV screen at home. Unfortunately, we were seated on the far right of the studio so you could not really spot us sitting there in the audience, but I assure you, we were there!
With Robert in the tiny Russian carriage talking about Yasu
After a long and confusing trip in the 'All You Need Is Love' Land Rover and private jet, hours of waiting at a Russian airport, enjoying a narrated drive through St. Petersburg and then walking the streets of that huge city, we finally ended up in the carriage. This carriage was tiny and either built to seat two very thin Russians or one very fat Russian, we couldn't quite figure it out. This is where Robert finally started asking me questions about Yasu, which I answered very skilfully... not! I sound like an uneducated child, but a happy and especially giggly one!
The carriage arriving at our destination somewhere in St. Petersburg
After getting of the carriage, Robert told me that Yasu is there too (surprise!) and he is standing right there! Where? I did not recognize him until he started walking and I immediately recognized his movements. First, we walked towards each other but soon we started running (knowing this was the desired action from us) and end up crashing into each other, hugging, kissing, smiling and looking at each other's faces (just to make sure it is really him!).
Yasu impatienly waiting for me to arrive
I was still too confused to really understand that I was finally in the arms of the boyfriend I had missed for 13 months! The cameras kind of disappeared too and we were actually about to walk away together (no idea where we were going but whatever), when the camera crew called us back. We had to redo the running scene twice and Yasu had to reshoot some individual stuff too, that brought us back to the 'created' reality of TV, but we were more than happy to oblige!
Reunited in Russia!
Afterwards we were brought back to Yasu's fancy hotel and told to enjoy everything all expenses paid for. This is a dream come true in some expensive hotel with loads of expensive amenities, but honestly we felt a bit weird about it so we kept checking prices during dinner and when getting drinks from the minibar. The next morning we did discover a phone bill of about 250 euros (!) which was quite shocking, but luckily we did not have to pay for it!

Yet, this Christmas my boyfriend is no longer with me and this has bothered me, especially after being confronted with all the happy couples during the studio taping. Yesterday night after the show, Yasu and I had a four-hour-talk via skype (pretending to celebrate Christmas together) and we talked about missing each other and being miserable about it during Christmas. But is that really how I want to spend my last Christmas at home with my family? So today I decided to look at the glass as being half full instead of being half empty (or some 80% analogy my NLP boyfriend was talking about) in order to enjoy this Christmas without him. So tonight at dinner (at a Japanese restaurant) we all raised our half full glasses of champagne, plum wine and melon cocktail and wished each other a very Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Feeling lonely in the studio without Yasu

Yesterday was the day where the whole 'All You Need Is Love' show came together and the Christmas Special was taped in a studio with an audience. The show was very nicely put together with many heartwarming and funny moments, so for those of you who plan to watch the show on Sunday, it will be worth it.

As you can read here, this TV show reunited Yasu and me for Christmas and New Year's. But sadly Yasu had to go home just a week after we met in Russia. Why? Because Yasu's father did not allow him to stay here with me for these special holidays... Don't get me started on how incomprehensible that man is. So instead of sharing this studio experience with Yasu (who desired to be there so much), Yasu sat at home in Japan, doing nothing and I sat there in the studio audience in a row of reunited happy and kissy couples, without the person I was reunited with :(. Quite awkward and lonely...
Studio filling up with people
Of course, I did not go there alone, my brother Gyano, my mother Lia, her boyfriend Guido and my friend Minke also came along. Gyano served as my surrogate 'boyfriend', occupying the seat which was supposed to be filled by Yasu, luckily Gy is sweet too. Unfortunately Guido, Lia and Minke were seated a couple of rows below us, but as far as they all told me they thoroughly enjoyed the show and especially the piece on Yasu and me. Funniest thing during the show, was the constant crying by both the audience and TV crew, because of all the touching moments in the show. So get your tissues ready on Sunday night!
With my little brother Gyano in the foyer before the taping
Guido, Lia and Minke in their studio seats
It was supposed to be a special and happy event, yet it was just a bit too overwhelming and painful for me. Especially during the afterparty, seeing so many happy couples reunited for the holidays enjoying eachother's company (kissing, hugging, holding hands etc.). That made me miss Yasu even more and more severely. Also several strangers, who recognized me from the show, started enquiring about Yasu's whereabouts and I ended up 'cheeringly' trying to explain the inexplicable multiple times... Unfortunately the whole situation was quite a downer.

Loads of people had put in a lot of effort to make sure Yasu could spend the holidays with me, yet I am still without him this Christmas. The producers had actually offered to fly him back again for the show's taping in the studio and for Christmas, but his father did not allow him to. You'd think there was something important going on in Japan that he needed Yasu for, but alas that was not the case. Mysterious and frustrating. Inlaws... grr.

All the other reunitees will be enjoying each other's company until at least sometime in January 2007, some even until February. Naturally Yasu and I are very jealous of them, but we try to focus on being happy about the one week we did spend together, thanks to the show. But staying focused on that was really hard during the afterparty amongst all the other happy people, I so wished Yasu could have been there and enjoy that special event with us.
Studio being cleared out during the afterparty
Late that night, I heard Yasu's many voicemails asking me how the show's taping had been. He sounded so curious and a bit desperate, he had waited up till about 4 am hoping to hear something from me. It broke my heart a little, especially when he told me how crappy he felt for being unable to experience the studio taping. So I called him in the middle of the night and we spent a long time on the phone feeling crappy together, which made me feel a bit less lonely.

Monday, December 18, 2006

All You Need Is Love

Eight days ago at 6:45 am, I'm woken up by insanely loud knocking on our front door and several strangers yelling to open the door :o! I sit straight up in bed, shocked and frustrated because it must be my brother's drunk friends who are keeping me from my sleep. He is asleep next to me and I try to wake him up, but he is totally comatose. No one else is in the house, so I will have to check out what's happening myself.

From an upstairs window, I try to get a look at the people that still have not given up making a hell of a racket. I do a double take when I realize what I see: it's a freaking camera crew in front of our house! I run back to the bedroom and shake Gyano back to consciousness and yellingly alert him to the presence of a camera crew in the driveway!

After quickly throwing on some clothes I go to open the door for Robert ten Brink, a famous Dutch T.V. personality. He asks me to fetch my toothbrush and accompany him on a trip; destination unknown... So me and my toothbrush hop on the Land Rover parked in our street and we were off to... somewhere. I am not allowed to ask any questions so I'm basically left to myself and my confused thoughts all the way to... wherever it is we are heading!

One of the television shows that Robert ten Brink hosts is 'All You Need Is Love', and every year there is a Christmas Special where he reunites Dutch people with their partners who live in some far away country. Having applied myself and Yasu for the 2006 Christmas Special, I know this trip to the unknown will eventually lead to Yasu, so I happily let myself be kidnapped by Robert ten Brink and his crew!
Yasu waiting to be reunited with his Dutch girlfriend
Killing time with his camera crew
Yasu pretending to be the camera man
Camera crew setting up for the reunion
Soon, we arrive at Schiphol Airport but instead of picking up Yasu, I end up boarding a private jet! Best flight experience ever, albeit numb in my confused brains. I wish I'd brought a camera and not just a toothbrush. While enjoying the comfortable seat and luxurious brunch I try to guess where we are heading. Best guess I come up with is Finland, but we end up in St. Petersburg, Russia!

After walking the streets of the Russian city and a slightly uncomfortable carriage ride we end up at a huge square, where they finally reunite me with Yasu! All the way from Japan (and the Netherlands) there we are in Russia, finally able to see, kiss, touch and hold each other after 13 very long months!
Happily reunited after 13 months on a romantic square in St. Petersburg, Russia!
I'm in a milkshake-state-of-mind, after having a camera pointed at my face all day long and having no idea what's going on, so when I finally do see Yasu I am not totally aware of it. Later that night when we are camera-crew-free, my disorientation starts to fade and I come back to my senses. And with those senses thick-happy-tears also come rolling across my face. The next day we fly back to the Netherlands and spent an enchanting week together, after having missed each other for way too long!
With Robert ten Brink, the host of the show, in front of our fancy Russian hotel
With Heleen, the producer of the 'All You Need Is Love' Christmas Special
Producer Heleen, Yasu, my little brother Gyano and my boss at Expo (where I work) were all in on the secret and arranged this special reunion in secret for the last month. They were very successful at keeping me in the dark, even though I applied to the show myself (on a whim), I honestly never expected to be among the lucky ones who get reunited with their foreign lovers.

Unfortunately, Yasu had to fly back home today :(. So he will have to miss the studio taping of the show this Thursday, the show airing on Christmas Eve, and of course Christmas itself... I would have loved to share these special events with him too, but this last week was precious and nobody can take it away from us!

Yasu, ai shiteru and all you Dutchies don't forget to check out the show on Sunday night @ 20:00 @ RTL4!