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Archive for the ‘Memories’ topic

Inception Explained, almost.

One of the strangest lucid dreams I’ve ever had was indeed being caught inside a dream in a dream in a dream in a dream. I found myself waking up one morning, taking a shower, brushing my teeth, getting dressed, and going to school. During my first class, I woke up again. And so I got out of bed and repeated my morning rituals. This time round though, I only got as far as the bus ride to school. I found myself waking up again. That’s when I realized something strange was going on. This scenario would continue to repeat itself several times, each dream sequence getting shorter and shorter until I couldn’t get any further than stepping out of my bed before ending back to where I was. Finally, I was awake. But even then, doubts remained. How could I be sure I wasn’t still dreaming? It was only after my day had progressed well passed the afternoon that I started to relax and assume that I really had returned to reality.

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TEDx and the European Parliament

The European Parliament building complex in Brussels

As one Belgian – the first European to do so – handed over the command of the ISS back to the Americans, and will be returning to earth shortly after a six month stint in space; another Belgian was handing in his government back to the king, so he can prepare to become the first president of Europe in January.

And I would, for the first time, be visiting the European Parliament in Brussels. As this event pales in comparison to what my fellow countrymen have lately achieved, don’t expect to find my little excursion mentioned in any history book; not even as a small obscure footnote on page 527 or other. But I was there for a reason though. The TEDx Brussels event, also a first, was being held there, an independent spin-off the TED events that have brought world inspiration since… well, since its inception. While the official TED event is by invitation only, they do post videos online of some of their most inspirational speakers and their ideas about the world. Definitely worth a visit if you haven’t heard of it yet.

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A Place Where Ships Go to Die

Two vessels on the beach in a Chittagong ship breaking yard

Remembering Chittagong, Bangladesh

Some ships meet their fate at the bottom of the ocean. Others continue sailing, long exceeding their expiry date, or are docked as museum pieces for the generations to come. But for most ships, their demise is spelled on the beaches of the poorest nations. In particular: the shorelines of Chittagong, the southernmost province of Bangladesh.

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Why I Drew Cartoons to Subvert the System

Cartoon of a boxing match gone wrong

Improvising My Way Through School

The biggest culture shock I’ve ever had to experience in my life was when I had to return to my own country. I was thirteen when I was sent to a strict Catholic school in my new home town. Until then, most of my youth had been spent in international schools abroad. In comparison, my previous schools had been very lax and easy going. To add to the difficulty and after for years of living in an English speaking environment, I had pretty much forgotten how to speak Dutch and had to relearn it for the third time in my life.. I was given a crash course over the summer with a private tutor. But even then, it would take years before I actually mastered it well enough to take part in conversations. It was a frustrating experience. By the time I had found the right words to say, the conversation had long moved on to something else.

And if the communication problem wasn’t enough, I quickly discovered I had little in common with my most of my fellow students. Frankly, I found them to be close minded. Not that it was their fault. They had simply lived very insulating lives. While I had already seen half the world by then, most of them had rarely ever left the villages they had lived in all their lives.

I also had a serious problem with the strictness of the school system. Being in a position to compare, I found that the way they went about things to be very counterproductive. And to make things worse, I was not only subjected to the normal school curriculum, I also had to spend an hour after school every day in study. It was a moment where one was supposed to do their homework and review the subjects they had seen that day. Doing my homework was rarely a problem, but I was never one to actually study. I simply didn’t have the patience to take the time and memorize stuff. If the subject matter was interesting enough, I would automatically remember it. Otherwise I couldn’t really be bothered. That meant that in practice, the subjects I enjoyed, I usually past with flying colors (Do colors actually fly?). And the subjects that couldn’t hold my attention didn’t get my attention either. When faced with tests and exams, I simply improvised my way through it. This is probably also the reason why I always failed in French. You can’t invent new words and grammar in an existing language spoken by two hundred million people around the world. They simply won’t stand for it, and my French teachers shared the same sentiment. My lack of effort in certain domains showed in my grades and is it’s probably also the reason I was forced to follow study in the first place. What goes around, comes around.

Cartoon of a lost arc

Subverting the System

I had to fill an hour every day in which I was not aloud to leave my desk or even make a sound let alone talk to the others around me. The only thing expected from me was to do my homework and study, and that posed a serious a problem. I really had no intention of wasting my precious time on this planet with such silly things. So I tried to make the best of my less the stellar situation and started to improvise my way out of it. On my first day, I decided to write a book.

Big mistake!

Coming from schools with a relaxed attitude, the concept of punishment essays was completely alien to me. In my previous schools, you really had to misbehave before a teacher would intervene, and at worst, that meant being sent to the superintendent’s office. Not so in my new school. Any behavior that deviated from what was expected of the ideal student was enough to get you punished. Talking in class? A two page essay on why not to talk in class. Chewing gum? A five page essay on why gum chewing is an abomination of civilization. Not paying attention? Rewrite the school rules three times. Even not knowing the correct answer to a question could at times be punishable by essay.

And each lesson would begin with the students – whom had previously been punished – coming forward handing in their essays. And each lesson would end with a role call of all the students that had received punishment during the lesson as a reminder of how much and when their essays where due.

Cartoon of an airfieldcartoon_11

Metro Cartoon

And there I was, on my first day at study, confidently writing the first pages of my first book. As they saw me write, some of the students around me started to react in excitement pointing their fingers at me, sniggling and giggling. Puzzled by their reactions, I continued writing, but without a clue of what all the fuss was about. Alerted by all the commotion around me, one of the study masters walked up to my table. Once he saw what I was doing gave me a frown. He then asked me if I was writing an essay. Well, actually, I was writing a book. But fearing I had to explain myself in a language I didn’t quite master yet, I went for the obvious answer and replied with a simple ‘yes’. Little did I know right then that ‘essay’ was actually code for ‘punishment’. Unwittingly, I had gained the reputation of a troublemaker on my very first day of school.

I quickly gave up on my idea of writing a book and concluded that if I was going to survive in this environment, I would have to outfox the system and everyone in it. It’s here where I discovered the ninety/ten rule. If you appear to be good ninety percent of the time, people around you will automatically assume you’re also being well behaved in the remaining ten percent of the time. Of course, no one can possibly always be a saint 100% of the time. But in practice, most people never question this assumption unless given good reason to. We generally don’t like unpredictable and complex world views.

And so I was quick to learn how to become a mischievous little bastard without ever getting caught. Especially considering some of the things I pulled off where quite public affairs. I would skip school on occasion, get into fights, commit acts of creative sabotage, sneak my way out of ever writing punishment essays, psychological manipulation, signature forgery, trespass, gamble with money, indulge in chalk graffiti… all while maintaining the image of a boy that would never hurt a fly. As I said before, it was counterproductive system. I was much better behaved in the schools that showed more tolerance.

Cartoon of a clown and balloonsCartoon of a toilet by the meterCartoon of wallpapering the chinese wall

Art School

But back to my problem: how to spend an hour in study without actually studying? I learnt how to pretend. Turns out, it’s really easy to fake. It’s sufficient to just stare at a page to fool a study master that has to keep a watchful eye on a fifty other students. And instead of making notes, I made little drawing instead. And it was during this time that I started dreaming up all kinds of funny situations and translating them into to cartoons.

Predictably, while I was having fun during study, some of my grades suffered. When I passed my second year there, it was deliberated that my scores where ok, but not good enough to continue in this particular school. I was thrilled. I had always wanted to continue studying in an art school, but they had denied me that option on the grounds that I was too intelligent for such a thing (In Belgium, a school education is mandatory until you’re 18 years of age. As a result, art school had a reputation as a place for students who would have otherwise dropped out if it weren’t for this law). But thanks to my laziness and my grades not up to standards, I was finally able to do what I always wanted to do: learn something at school that I actually enjoyed. Add to that, it wasn’t Catholic and it wasn’t strict. It was perfect. It was also a relief. I knew that if I had to remain in a strict school, that eventually, the only thing I would learn was how to be become an accomplished petty criminal.

Cartoon of an operation part one

Cartoon of an operation

But things turned around. The predictions that the lack of discipline at my new school would further make my grades suffer, were proven wrong. It was actually quite the opposite. Though I must admit, I was still not able improvise my way through French, but at least I was passing, though just barely.

The Cartoon Collection

My published cartoonBut after two years of study at my old school, I had managed to accumulate quite a lot cartoon sketches. And it was during my first year at art school that I brought them all together, redrew them in a formal format and started to ink them in. A year later, I had created about eighty such cartoons. I even managed to get one published in a national newspaper. My biggest dream at the time was to one day win a place at the International Cartoon Festival of Knokke. It had even become a yearly pilgrimage to take a train to the coast and visit the festival exposition.

But those dreams came to an abrupt end once my second year at art school commenced. Play time was over. Faced with being creative against constant and extreme tight deadlines plus a very tough grading process to boot, everybody’s stress levels skyrocketed. Those who couldn’t take it bailed out and probably still have nightmares from that period. I managed to hang on long enough to see the light. But it left me with little time for other things. Especially after I quite by accident started publishing my own weekly class newspaper (which I continued doing until I finally graduated from secondary school). Somehow by then, I had lost interest in drawing cartoons. Instead I had discovered I had new passion: though I couldn’t spell, I loved to write.

Kate Winslet Caught in the Act

Kate Winslet giving advice on how to phone sex in Extras.

This seems like a fitting post, especially now that she’s finally won an Academy Award for best leading actress in ‘The Reader’.

For most of us however, Kate Winslet’s greatest contribution to mankind must be that single most iconic scene from the film: ‘The Titanic’. For since then, any man or woman, setting foot on a boat or ship, will always be plagued by the irresistible urge to stand at its bow, with arms stretched wide and open.

Phone Sex

But it is her appearance in the comedy sit-com called ‘Extras’, that’s pure comic genius and just as memorable. ‘Extras’ revolves around Andy, a struggling actor with aspirations of one day making it big. But in the mean time, he has to make do with the actor’s equivalent of breadcrumbs: playing as an extra in the shadow of stars.

In this particular episode, he’s been given a small role as a German foot soldier in a movie about the Holocaust. The films lead role of a devout nun is played and portrayed beautifully by Kate Winslet. But in between takes – and still dressed as a nun – she freely exalts her advice on how to talk dirty on the phone to one of her colleagues in need. But then, she takes it a bit too far and gets caught.

And from Popeye to Punch-Drunk-Love

On a less serious note, I was a huge fan of Popeye during my childhood years. I even ate my spinach hoping to be as strong as him. I still remember when I was five; my father told me a Popeye movie was being made. I was wildly enthusiastic about this news. At least until I discovered we were moving to Upper Volta and would never get to see the movie. My world came crashing down. I didn’t want to leave. But for some reason, my parents felt it wasn’t a strong enough reason to stay in Belgium. So we left. No Popeye movie for me.

I did finally see it, many years later. And if I remember correctly, it was in the Dutch Club in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Every Saturday afternoon, they’d show a children’s movie for us kids. The film, as it turned out, was terrible. Even though it featured Robin Williams as Popeye, it just seemed long and winding and everything but fun. Nothing like the cartoons.

The film did however give us this wonderfully odd little song by Shelley Duvall: “He needs me“. The song was used again in Punch-Drunk-Love, a quirky song for a really quirky film. This movie on the other hand, I can only highly recommend.

T-shirts with the god Shiva print