July 28, 2015

Writing in the Car

summer gear
28 July 2015 
I know you can see the date by just opening the blog, but I just thought I'd add it here. After all, from the 'bright' sky and the odd clothing combination, you might not be able to figure out which season it is - here in La Belle France.

Theo and I are winding our way down south, to the West Atlantic Coast, but along the way, we sadly encountered some poor weather, not to mention poor taste in clothes.  Which means it's fine as long as the roads stay clear of traffic and straight enough for me to write on. 

Yes, you read that correctly (oops, an adverb). I have been using this time well to write my weekly contribution to the Flash Fiction competition of Musings of Alissa Leonard. You can read last week's story there (written from Amstelveen to Haussez), and this week's story will be online shortly. (go to the comments section to see the stories).

As I write, am trying to integrate the tips I've been learning from Stephen King and others - avoid adverbs and use the first person without filters. Hmmm. that last one is quite tricky.

Anyhoo, it's summer time, and the sun will come out soon, and I have noticed (me filtering myself) that my moods are steadily up rather than down, despite whatever is coming down from the skies. 
This may have to do with Theo being so encouraging lately about my writing. "Write that down," he says, "and that... it's so funny." Well, he's completely objective, which is great!

For now, I'll leave you with a couple of my 'famous' groundbreaking quotes:

Bon soir!

July 6, 2015

Blog 12: Final Exam Week and the end of my exchange abroad!

STRESS! The only emotion I had during the finals . The First exam I had was in the early morning at 9 A,M. Sleep and having plenty of rest is essential for my brain to function properly during a test. Therefore, I always want at least 8 hours of sleep on the day before the test. However, one of my Singaporean classmate, Jun Xiang, told me he slept on the couch in the library because he was so afraid that he would be late for this exam. He ended up studying all night with only four hours of sleep, because he wanted to score high! 

The first exam was for Global Market Strategy. The exam was open book and students were required to bring any material needed to the exam. Beforehand, we were told to research the Singaporean Cosmetic Industry. As such, I gathered as much information as possible and wanted to share it with my classmates. However, I have noticed that my classmates did not want to share their information with me! When I asked why, they answered that they rather research themselves. Later I found out that it also because of the competitive nature of the students. Giving other students your work and research would give an advantage and they did not want that. 

Oh well...., I  went to the exam hall with a pile of around 150 pages of research. You could see  from the faces of all the students present that they are worried and afraid of failing. I sat down and was ready to ACE this exam!

We received a 5 page long case about Douglas Singapore, and were asked to write a expansion strategy based on the information given and gathered by yourself. In the four years at the HVA, I have never gotten an exam like this before! I ended up writing 8 pages full of text for my strategy!

The exams at the NTU are so much different from the HVA. For one, It is at least twice as much. We had a 4 hours time limit. The open questions were formed in a way that there is no clear right answer. This means that multiple answers/solutions would be sufficient to get all points. This actually means that the grading is based on your knowledge of the theory, creativity, logic, and application abilities.

I remember mentioning this in one my previous blogs. Exams at the NTU test the students' intelligence, creativity, understanding of the theory, application abilities, and more. Where as the exam at the HVA only test the students memory and understanding of the theory. The NTU is far more superior in my opinion, and the HVA should change this! No student will benefit from only understanding the "Porter 5 Forces Theory" unless they would use the theory  in a practical case and are required to strategically develop a plan based on it. Especially at the HES and is entrepreneurial studies. UNDERSTANDING THE THEORY IS NOT ENOUGH HVA, APPLICATION IS KEY! CHANGE THIS, OTHERWISE STUDENTS ARE UNPREPARED FOR REAL BUSINESS LIFE!

Well, now I got that of my mind. I had four exams similar in the same style. My grades were surprisingly very high! I guess it was because of my creativity on developing a proper strategy. 

This would finalize my exchange semester. It was the best experience of my life. I got to experience the amazing cultures of Asia, saw the most beautiful and extraordinary locations, and made very valuable friends which I still am in touch with today. For those who are thinking of doing an exchange semester abroad, I definitely recommend Singapore! The only thing you will regret is leaving so early!

Arvi Martono

July 5, 2015

C'est la vie!

C’est la vie..

Momma told me life is like a box of chocolates, you’ll never know what you’ll get’ –Forrest Gump –

It seems like everyone is trying to figure out ‘ life’. How to be successful? How to be loved? How to be happy? And a lot of other questions to be asked and also which will never be answered. At least not with a simple one-size-fits-all answer. The countless of books who claim to hold the secret to life, the many self-proclaimed life-coaching preachers and all the guru’s in the world have figured out life about just as much as ancient emperors had found the elixir to it.

Personally, I think acceptance is essential in finding peace of mind. (notice how I say finding peace of mind and not a cheat-code to the game) Self-acceptance starts by not allowing yourself to live up to anyone else’s standards and forcing yourself to come up with your own. This is harder than we think, we as social creatures tend to often unconsciously define ourselves by how other people perceive us, especially those who we like. This is dangerous because this means you will lose your identity about just as quick as a person changes his mind. Leaving you lost. Being a solid rock in a restless sea is what I believe the biggest achievement. The ever-changing tides will then become something familiar and you will grow stronger than the currents.

Not just self-acceptance but also the toleration of unforeseen circumstances which are imminent in life will help you reach that state of contentedness. Being mentally flexible is actually a lot like being flexible in the physical sense: your body no longer is limited in movement and can effortlessly reach farther. Being a flexible as a state of mind will allow you to deal with all the circumstances in life, not being afraid of change and will more importantly save you a whole lot of anxiety attacks and break-downs.

This is what I hold on to dearly. As long as I keep that in mind I know that I won’t need to go through this journey shielded, no, I will let my guard down like Muhammad Ali and when life throws a punch I will dodge it like a champ.
 And yes, sometimes I will feel down and out, or at the least heavy-hearted  but that is another part of my acceptance: accepting that when God gave us the ability to feel, he did not leave out any emotion.

So why is it that we still search for loopholes and form conclusion just to reformulate them shortly after? Is it because we humans live with a mindset that demands logic and sense and an answer to every question? Or is it our haughtiness that would never allow us to accept that life and all the meaning of it is something much greater and bigger than our limited human minds could ever comprehend?

We all have our struggles, we all fight our demons every day, we all find and lose love, build our hopes up and have them torn down by disappointment, we all are hurt by some and uplifted by others and so it goes a long ride in the emotional rollercoaster called Life. Each and every one of us lives under different circumstances that is why both pain and joy are relative. That is also why one cannot possibly figure out a way for all of us to make it work.

I say life is not an equation which can be solved. Change one variable and the entire outcome changes. Life is dynamic.

That’s all we can know about life and that’s why we should just live it instead of figuring out how to.

My last day as an exchange student of Seinan Gakuin in Fukuoka

It was my last day as an exchange student of Seinan Gakuin in Fukuoka and I felt like a bit weird because I will never be a student in Japan again. I am surely going to miss the courses which are not given at my own university such as traditional culture of Japanese, calligraphy and the anime course. And of course the other exchange students, it was really nice to meet people from all over the world and learning about their culture besides Japan’s culture. Furthermore, in the morning I had to go to the university to dress in a hakama which is actually used over a kimono and is worn in occasions such as graduating from university. Putting on the hakama is kind of difficult because I am bad at tying and folding, but luckily there was a person to do this for me and the students. A group photo was made with the other exchange students, which makes for a good memory.

In the afternoon, all exchange students had to gather in a building just across the campus. The president of the university was there to hand the diplomas to the graduates. He is a foreigner from America which I did not really expect. There were also some students crying because they will have to leave Japan in a few days. However, I was pumped up because I would travel through Japan after graduating. When the diploma was handed to me I had to take a bow towards the public to show my respects. After this ceremony, it was time to celebrate at the cafeteria which was nearby.

At the cafeteria, the staff had prepared food for us! I was really happy to see it because I was hungry. There was sushi, onigiri, mochi and more Japanese snacks! Furthermore, one student of each level of Japanese did a speech. There was one guy from the beginner level of Japanese and he spoke Japanese like a pro, his speaking skills were better than mine and I am on a pre-intermediate level! I was really wondering why he stayed on the beginner level… After the speeches, there were videos which each Japanese language class had to take. These were short movies with exchange students talking in Japanese. My class did not make a video because my teacher of the Japanese class had to leave the university and was going to teach at another university in Osaka two months ago. I really thought she was a very great teacher and I was sad to see her go because I would love to learn more Japanese from her.

In the evening, I started packing all my stuff because I had to leave my dormitory within two days. There were many items that I just could not take with me, so I had to throw lots of stuff away. I did not really want to throw away my notebooks, but there was no other choice. I even had to send 15 kilograms of other valuable items I bought to the Netherlands. This definitely felt like saying goodbye to Fukuoka by throwing away stuff and leaving the dormitory. I will definitely visit Fukuoka and other places in Japan again because I really enjoyed my time here!

July 4, 2015

Dontaku festival in Fukuoka, Japan

On a warm day, I went to the Dontaku festival with classmates of my university. It is a parade through the streets near the shopping centre of Fukuoka. Also, the name Dontaku stands for Zondag in Dutch but since the Japanese pronounce it differently they just call it Dontaku. I do not know whether this festival has something to do with The Netherlands because I haven't seen anything that looks like something from the country in the parade.

Anyway, luckily, I was just on time at the place because it started to get crowded and I could find a place to stand to get a good view of the parade. There were all kinds of groups with costumes coming by and I thought it was very interesting to see the traditional Japanese clothes from regions nearby Fukuoka. There were also tourists in the parade which I first saw standing beside me, but I did not expect the parade people would invite them to participate.  My favourite person in the parade was Kumamon, a black bear which is the mascot of Kumamoto. Kuma means bear! I think it is hilarious how they use this bear with wide open eyes to promote the Kumamoto prefecture. Currently, he is the most famous mascot in Japan.

After the parade, I went to check out the streets which had food stalls and there were also two people making mochi which grabbed my attention. Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made by pounding sweet rice paste and then shaping it. This is the traditional way which often happens at a festival or New Year's celebration. There was one guy with a hammer pounding the sweet rice paste and another person which quickly shaped it with his hand so the hammer could hit it well. I was kind of astonished that the hammer did not hit the hand of the man which was shaping the paste.

Furthermore, I went to go shopping since I was near the shopping centre anyway. While I was browsing the goods in an anime store I heard voices talking in Dutch, they were boys. One of them had a Hamster Weken bag of the Dutch super market Albert Heijn, that was a bit cringeworthy and funny. Why would you bring this bag to Japan....  Haha. Anyway, it was a nice day and I saw many costumes that are worn in Fukuoka and its nearby regions.

Blog 11: Studying for finals at the NTU

Blog 11: Studying for finals at the NTU

This week, I started studying for my exams, which were due in one week. I had a total of four exams. The course material is twice as much  compared to the courses at the HVA. However, three of the four exams were open book, because of the entrepreneurial subjects.

The libraries were packed with students studying for finals. Initially, I was very surprised by this because of their discipline on getting high grades. This is something you will never see in the Netherlands. In Holland, students are happy when they pass with a mere 5.5 average. Here in Singapore, students are only pleased with a B+ or higher. The reason is that companies in Singapore request the students’ grade lists together with the job application. Luckily, they do not do that in the Netherlands, but they should. I got above average grades, which is the reason I got the chance to go to Singapore, but I am not even in the top 10 of my year.

By the way, the libraries are AMAZING! if you are a student at the HVA, I am pretty sure you complained about the library once in your life. There are too little computers, no space, slow internet, old software, old software, etc. Here, the library has Ipads, touch screen computers, latest software, fast internet, sufficient amount of computers and space, and pods where you can practice presentations on, and many more! HVA, do something about this!

Back to my story...

For 5 days straight, I studied together with my classmates in the library. This is when I noticed that their way of studying is also different from mine. The book for Strategic Marketing had about 12 chapters, 300 pages, we had to study for the exam. Of the 300 pages, around 100 pages was essential for the exam, while the remaining 200 are just elaborations and very irrelevant to the exam Even though the Singaporean students knew this, they still focused as much on the these irrelevant topics, because they are afraid of getting a lower grade. This way of studying is very time consuming and inefficient in my opinion.

One thing that scared me the most is the NTU grading system. The teachers do not talk about it, but students say it is definitely there. The exams are graded with a bell curve. Typically, an assignment or test is scored, and the average score automatically becomes an average grade (typically a B- or C+). The scores above and below the average are distributed accordingly. Essentially, curve is designed to have a pre-determined distribution of grades. The students say that curve is there to spark competition among the students because it makes it harder to score high. Also, this is making it difficult for me because I am competing with them as well!

These Singaporean students are smart and I am competing with them on this bell curve! Double the stress!. I will tell you about the exams on the next blog, so stay tuned for the upcoming blog.

Arvi Martono

July 2, 2015

Blog 10: Going on a trip to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia! Part 3

Finally, we arrived in Cambodia as we landed in Seam Reap! First, we had go through customs and proceed with the formalities. To enter Cambodia with an European Passport will cost you around 25 dollars for a two month stay. We only planned to stay for two days before leaving to Singapore.

After we left the Airport, there were tons of tourist companies waiting in line to offer accommodation. We finally found on company who was working for a hotel which was promoted in the books "Lonely Planet Cambodia". 

The first thing we wanted to go to is the city and the infamous night market. The night market is packed with stalls selling a variety of handicrafts, souvenirs and silks. Moreover, there are many bars where you can have a drink or you can enjoy the massage parlors. After a week full of walking with our heavy backpacks, we decided to take a foot massage, which  was only 2 dollars for a 30 minutes.

On the following day, we went to the infamous Angkorwat in the early morning. We arrived there at 5 A.M to see the sunrise behind the temple. The sight was very beautiful, with the sun rising above the temples. 

Once you are in the temples, if actually feels like you are in on of the tomb raider movies.The ancient constructions and the religious monuments make for a beautiful  sight.

The only downside is that the temples are crowded with tourist. Angkorwat attracts thousand and thousands of tourists every day, making it difficult for you to snap a picture without having another person on it. 

Moreover, I felt that every local were very money orientated. The locals trick you into thinking you are their friend. They will do random acts of kindness but will ask money for it afterwards. On top of that, there are many scam artist walking around, and you should definitely be careful coming in contact with them. 

At night, we took the plane back to Singapore. At this point, there are only two week left until the finals. In the next two blogs, I will tell about the school life during exams.

Arvi Martono