Outings, Trivia, and Durak

Aside from bike rides to the countryside, international dinner nights, and heading to Germany, much of my free time is spent doing other activities, typically every other night or so.

One of the most common things that typically occurs is playing the Russian card game Durak; the word “durak” is Russian for “fool.” Allow me to explain the rules here:

Each player begins with 6 cards in hand. The goal is to get rid of all your cards. Once the cards are dealt to the players, a card is placed face-up at the bottom of the remaining deck of cards. This card is called the “boss card”; whatever suit it is means that it’s the high suit. Players play to the left, attacking that person. The person there must defend against the attack successfully, or take the cards. All players must have, at the minimum, 6 cards at hand, therefore taking cards from the remaining deck until said deck is gone. The last person with cards still in hand is declared the fool (durak). 

sneaky person

“You sneaky person,” said in a thinly-veiled British accent. This has become a common catchphrase for us while playing Durak. (Image from video.planetgreen.discovery.com)

There’s more technicalities to the game that are best told when actually playing the game. But right now you’re probably thoroughly confused at this time.

confused person

Thought so. (Image from i.somethingawful.com)

Durak has become almost a nightly ritual for us on the second floor, being the most common game we play (“hide-and-go-seek” and “randomly chasing each other on our floor” being other fun and exciting games). It’s come to the point where we have a deck of cards always available in our little dining room on the 2nd floor of Avant Garde. Chances are you’ll be seeing us playing it a few times a week, usually with 3-4 games in a session.

our dining room

Our little dining room.

Other random things that the lot of us tend to do includes going out on the town to check out a concert shindig at a local pub, which is something that frequently happens (concerts, that is). From my memory, there have been at least 3 separate occasions of multiple concerts happening across Maastricht, as a sort of musical celebration. During the first autumn break, back in mid-October, one of the weekends included a jazz concert series that occurred across multiple pubs in Maastricht. And just this past weekend there was yet another concert series, with a multitude of different music being performed once more at various pubs in the city.

One of these concert venues that I have frequented a few times now is called Edd’s Café, located in the heart of the city center. Every Thursday night they have a sweet jazz concert night that is a joy to watch. The excitement really kicks in, however, at around 10:30-11:00 in the evening, when the jam session kicks into gear. My first night at Edd’s’, I found myself watching a stellar jam session go on from 11pm until near 2am.

Edd's Café

As seen here.

And last to talk about has been the Tuesday night trivia nights myself and others have been doing now with frequency. These trivia nights happen down near the Maas (the river, if you recall), at a local watering hole called John Mullins Irish Pub.

john mullins ext

Exterior of John Mullins. (Image from tephotos.s3.amazonaws.com)

john mullins int

And the (awesome) interior of John Mullins. (Image from vvv-maastricht.eu)

My first trivia night at John Mullins – which was some substantial amount of time ago – our team from Avant Garde placed well in the back of the rankings, so far back I can’t even recall. My second trivia night was also quite dismal, again placing near the back.

However, in recent weeks, we’ve seen a remarkable turn around in how well we’ve been doing. Last week, for example, we finally broke the Top 10, placing 9th overall. And just this past Tuesday, November 27th, we finally came near to winning, placing second overall. It does help to boost your ranking when you see that the 1st place team (at least they were 1st place after the 4th round) using their smartphone to look up the answers.

taken

“I don’t know who you are. But I do know what you want. You’re looking to win this trivia game, but you can’t use your cell phone. If you put your phone away, that’ll be the end of it. I will not give you crap, I will not mock you. But if you don’t, I will mock you, I will tell on you, and I will beat you.” Yes, we did beat that team, given that they fell back to 9th place after we told on them. (Image from cdn.pophangover.com)

With under a month now left in my tenure in Maastricht, I will continue going out for the little concerts, playing Durak with the friends, and rocking out at trivia night at John Mullins. It’s hard to believe that my time here is nearing an end, but I can say now that I hope to return to Maastricht once more in the near-future and visit this wonderful city again!

Gettin’ That Education

This past Thursday marked my last day of class for the Block B courses, as well as marking the end of Hell Week (also known as finals). From Wednesday, November 14, to Wednesday, November 21, it was a solid week of constant working, constant editing, constant studying, and constant preparing. Also, I swear to never use that many commas in a sentence again.

commas

Sorry. (Image from farm2.static.flickr.com)

From early September to mid-ish November (with two wonderful week-long breaks in there as well), I went about to and fro my three classes, learning much anew. So what exactly did I glean from this experience that took up a bulk of my time in Maastricht? Allow me to explain for a moment.

staring

Again, you don’t have to stop and stare. (Image from thumbs.dreamstime.com)

The Narrative

The biggest take away I had from this is gaining the ability to create a coherent narrative and combining that with clever filmmaking techniques and smart editing. What came out of this process was the short film “Stuck in the Middle,” which follows two distinct narrative paths, with one relating to the other. The basis of the movie came from the Mark Twain short story Cannibalism in the Cars, which also includes the two narratives, one relating to the other.

I can’t give a grade yet on this project, as I am still waiting to hear back one what that will be, though I am happy to report that the film had a positive reception among my friends and classmates here in Maastricht. I found it to be a fun and exciting project to undertake, especially in the aspects of editing. I’ve edited a few films before, but this was the first one that I have done where I truly felt like I was making something special and had a blast doing it.

As of now, I’m looking to creating a blooper reel for the film over the next few days, as well as doing some possible re-editing of the final film, as there are some cosmetic changes I wish to make to the film itself (I’ll be re-embedding the link from a couple paragraphs back when that does occur).

User-Centered Project Management

This class became infinitely complex as it wore on, making it become more difficult with each passing week. The final itself took the 3-hour allotment, an exhausting effort for myself, especially when the entire test was short answer, i.e. I had to write all of my answers done. While I do enjoy handwriting from the perspectives of artistry, I cannot say the same for writing answers that take up two pages per question; I am a born typist and find handwriting a near-crippling effort that pains the hand to no end. Teachers, take not: typing is much easier to come by and allows me more time to formulate my answers than to write them out by hand.

typing

I googled “typing” and this image came up. Kinda disturbing, if you ask me. (Image from techiemania.com)

Aside from the grueling final exam, one thing that became sharper for me, with the help of Multimedia Management, was giving presentations. Twice in this course I had to give an extensive presentation covering my team’s efforts towards creating a prototype software. While the content of the presentations may have been lacking, according to my professor, the actual presentation itself (how the information was presented) was considered well done. Compared to the presentations I gave not more than 4 years ago, which were nothing more than me iterating note cards, that was a compliment that I could certainly walk away with.

The real professional aspects that I learned from UCPM was a product’s development cycle, from finding reasons, to creating solutions, implementing design, and prototyping. I’ve never had a class that quite provided me with this process before, though previous courses I have had at Northwest dealt, in some way, with developing a prototype/product/solution, but just never at this scale this class did. It was hard work, where I spent many a good number of hours online with my team working into the night to create or write something that needed to be turned in within a few hours of time.

Multimedia Management

As with UCPM, this class really built up my ability at delivering a presentation to a whole class. The final itself was essentially one big, 20-minute presentation covering the development and selling points of a game that my team developed for a fictional European Union department. There was quite a bit more of a cultural element to this class than I had reasoned before; looking back now, and noted in the presentation, was how the use of cultural really affected the way our game was developed.

Of the game, we created a product called Europe United, an augmented-reality base tablet app meant to be played primarily among 14-18 year old teens. What started out as a sort of tactical role playing game morphed more into a creative first-person shooter, as we became more and more aware of our target demographics’ desire towards FPS-based games, such as Call of Duty and Halo.

Our concept for the game was based around the need to bring different nationalities, in the European Union, together to create a stronger sense of a European cultural ideal. This crisis is something that I have mentioned a while back when I first arrived in Maastricht, and continues to be a point of contention among Europeans a few months later. So, to create a game that would work towards our goal of bringing Europeans together, we turned our game into a war game; looking into the history of Europe in general, the main highlights of unity tended to be during and immediately following wars that struck the continent. Having a game being a war game, where players must combat and defeat a nameless/faceless enemy through collaborative effort, appeared to be the most logical method for us in development.

 

And with that, I’ve concluded my Block B courses at Zuyd Hogeschool in Maastricht! There’s a much greater dearth of detail to share with each of these 3 courses, but I presume most of your probably aren’t up for reading for more than 10 minutes.

sleeping at the desk

Called it. (Image from localseoguide.com)

Up next now is 4 weeks in a new course, called Semantic Web. I still have no real idea of what to expect with this course, but I am nonetheless looking forward to it.

What Maastricht Has Done to Me

I’ve been falling a little behind on posts lately here on this blog, thanks mostly to my 3 classes at this moment. At this time, I’m working on editing the short film for my Narrative course, studying for my User-Centered Project Management final, and putting together the big final presentation for Multimedia Management.

Busy office worker

Me at the moment. (Image from corbisimages.com)

However, I’ve had time to reflect upon these past few months, namely on the things that Maastricht has done to me as a person. After all, I’ve been here since August 28, so there’s certainly been new perspectives and habits that I have developed since my arrival. And here following is the list, as to what I have now this November 16:

 

I cook nearly every meal for myself.

With a central community kitchen in my residence hall on this second floor, I’m usually in there twice a day preparing a dish for myself from scratch. More often than not, chicken is the primary meat, with onions and pasta serving as auxiliaries to the dish. I’ve mixed and matched other veggies and foods over time so as to keep things interesting for myself and not get dulled out by the same thing over and over again.

So far, I’ve prepared dishes ranging from the standard spaghetti and sauce (sometimes with chicken, ground beef, or a steak), BBQ chicken with Gates/KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce, Oriental-esque pasta with numerous veggies (and usually chicken), and chicken salad. Basically, chicken is my specialty and I know now how to prepare it in various manners.

Dinner

LIKE A BOSS.

 

The bicycle is my bst friend. 

In order to get around Maastricht, a bicycle is a must. The city is easily accessible by bike, much easier than any car or bus could do. I use my bike to get from one end of the city to another to attend school (a 4 mile/6.3km trek); to make grocery runs to Albert Heijn, Lidl, or Jumbo; and to get away from the city and out in the countryside.

So far, my bike has given a little trouble from time to time. First, I suffered from a flat front wheel, which necessitated the replacement of the tire and inner tube, a small expense. Then there was the matter where my bike tried to murder me by greeting me with a wall in a bike tunnel, which could have been a far serious accident if I didn’t the ground the way I did (am finally healed from that incident, which occurred over a month ago).

About to Crash

This really did happen to me. (Image from media.egotvonline.com)

And my front brake has decided it doesn’t want to be a part of my bike anymore, which leaves me with only the backward pedal brakes as my way of stopping (which work well on their own thankfully).

 

I get out more often. 

Thanks to having a bicycle, I do seem to get out more often then I realize. Sure, there are long stretches of time where I am away in my room, working over some project, but in the end there’s always the occasion of getting out and going somewhere with friends. While I’ve only gotten out of Maastricht once, I do not feel troubled that I have not been anywhere else. This city is quite a delightful one to live in, to which I surely will visit again in due time!

I’ve also had a few excursions out into the countryside of the Netherlands, making a few trips out east of the city and into the beautiful hillsides near Valkenburg. I hope to make another such trip soon before the weather turns truly bitter, but for the time being my attention lies on accomplishing my courses.

Dutch sunset

Sunset on the Dutch countryside

 

American politics matter to people abroad. 

If there was one thing that I was not prepared for, it was the intense discussions I would have with others regarding the 2012 elections. I was often asked by other Europeans about my views on Romney and Obama, as well as if I had yet voted for the election. Nearly all such discussions were never brought up by myself, but rather the other who would engage me in talk. At times, I would hear other students speak about the 2012 elections themselves, with not me around to lead the discussion; they went entirely on their own free will. Even such political news as Todd Adkins’ ridiculous remarks made the news here with Europeans (and the Middle-easterners) that I’ve come to know here.

And I’ve had the opportunity to talk with all matter of people on American politics, ranging from Britons, French, German, Dutch, Lithuanian, Latvian, Finns, Norwegian, Bulgarian, Russian, Ukrainian, Italian, and Spanish, and all the way out to Iranians, Afghans, Azerbaijani, Japanese, and Australians. No such small talk can be had from merely living in your hometown.

Old men chatting

Not how you get international perspectives on important issues. (Image from ebsqart.com)

 

New perspectives on 9/11. 

Yes, the terrorist attack from 11 years ago in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania were horrid to all Americans, and it was just as much to anyone else in the world. I talked with a few from my building on the matter of the terrorist attacks and they all remarked about their feelings from that day. Most remember where they were when they first heard the news of the attack, just as myself and many others of my generation do as well. The event was one that was felt globally and continues to be felt the world over.

 

No haircut for 8 months.

Yes, I haven’t had a haircut since late April, when I moved out from South Complex at Northwest and back home to Kansas City. I can easily say that I have never had my hair this long ever in my life!

Presidents, Politics, and False Truths

This Tuesday, November 6, marks the fourth presidential election of this 21st century. Over the past couple of months, I have had the time to share and hear opinions regarding the upcoming election. In a prior post I remarked how nearly all of the Europeans that I’ve come to know have a positive viewpoint regarding current president Barrack Obama. While my viewpoint of Obama vary from meh to… just meh, I still came to really enjoy what others have come to say.

barrack the rock obama

I think Obama would become instantly be more popular if it turned out his alternate personality was really Dwayne Johnson. (Image from i50.tinypic.com)

And with talking presidents, other issues related to politics, society, and customs somehow always come into play. A few nights ago, during another large gathering of residents in Avant Garde, I found myself spending a lot of time talking with a man from Tehran, Iran and a young lady from Kabul, Afghanistan. If the news media had anything to show right now, you would think that Iranians are out to destroy America (and only America) and everyone in Afghanistan lives in constant fear or is a terrorist.

Let me say right now that any of those notions regarding people from those countries are completely unfounded and should be shoved down the throat of any news anchor (or writer) that feels compelled to force down into us. As I conversed with the two throughout the night, I couldn’t help but find myself believing that these two are some of the nicest persons that I’ve come to know while here in Maastricht.

One story that struck me the most was that of one the lady shared with me about someone she knew (forgive me for not recalling exactly whom the person was). She told me of when American troops, in a moment fear or hate – be it hard to say – killed this man that she knew, for no reason it would seem. It’s beyond belief that such a thing would happen, though the sad truth remains that stories such as these happen from time to time. Needless to say, I gave her a hug and told her that I was sorry for such things that have happened.

Other political discussions were had, ranging from gun rights, abortion, and capital punishment, just to round it out. People’s perspectives vary on those topics, and to avoid any confrontation, I won’t delve heavily into the matter on those since it’s contentious enough as is. But if every abroad, take the time to converse with others; gleaming upon the views of foreigners from lands afar is the healthiest thing you can do.

mountain biking

But not as healthy as mountain biking, though talking tends to have a lower risk of death than the other. (Image from www.sidiergo.org)