The Very First Days

On New Years Day 1996 and the next day, the very first days of my appointment at UNU/IIST, I travelled from Voorschoten, the Dutch village where I lived, to Macau. After a heavy good-bye of my wife and children, I went by taxi to Amsterdam Airport. Like the preceding days, there was both snow and black ice on the road in front of the house where I lived. However, the taxi ride went smoothly because the main roads were cleared.

I flew business class with Cathay Pacific from Amsterdam to Hong Kong. It was a more enjoyable flight than I expected, possibly because I had only one earlier experience with business class on intercontinental flights. The plane was a Boeing 747 and my seat was on the upper deck. I was among other things surprised by the fantastic leg room, the relatively fancy meals, and last but not least the outstanding helpfulness of the stewardesses. It was also my first flight on which I could watch a film of my choice on a private television screen.

To illustrate my surprise about the meals, I mention what I got for dinner. I could have mentioned what I got for breakfast instead. I got first marinated salmon with duck liver apple pâté, next a mixed salad and then a main course consisting of fillet of lamb with mustard sauce, rosti potatoes, carrots and broccoli. Before dinner, I got an aperitif with oriental bites to eat; and after dinner, I got small pieces of French cheese, a piece of chocolate cake, coffee and chocolates.

Much more interesting than the meals was the helpfulness of the stewardesses. It was extraordinary. The stewardesses did their utmost, each in her own personal style, but it seemed to me that they got confused if their was any deviation from what is most usual. It was the first of various strange phenomena with a common root that I experienced afterwards with people from the Far East. However, it would still take some time before the communality became clear to me.

The next morning, the plane arrived right on time in Hong Kong. I went by taxi to the terminal of the jetfoils to Macau. There I bought a ticket for the next jetfoil to Macau, and made a phone call to UNU/IIST to pass my departure time from Hong Kong before I went on the jetfoil. The jetfoil departed soon and I experienced for the first time the rather mawkish smell of the instant noodles that many Chinese people aboard the jetfoil were eating.

After a relatively short journey I arrived in Macau. There I went through the usual passport and customs checks. When I had passed customs I went to the meeting point to look for someone from UNU/IIST. I immediately saw Dines Bjørner, the director of UNU/IIST at that time. We left the jetfoil-terminal building. I had not been outdoors since I entered the buildings of Amsterdam Airport the day before. My first thought on leaving the jetfoil-terminal building was “Macau is a Turkish bath”.

Before my journey to Macau, UNU/IIST had given me detailed directions concerning the travelling from the airport of Hong Kong to the UNU/IIST building in Macau. These directions took into consideration the possibility that I was not able to make a phone call to UNU/IIST after I had bought a ticket for the jetfoil in Hong Kong. In that case there would of course no one near the meeting point in the jetfoil-terminal building in Macau. Therefore the directions were accompanied by a picture of the address of UNU/IIST in Chinese characters to show to a taxi driver. Clearly, I did not need that picture.

Dines instructed a taxi driver to bring us to the hotel where I would stay until I had found an appartment in Macau. Arrived in the hotel, I set down my suitcases in my room and I freshened up, while Dines was waiting for me in the lobby. We went on to UNU/IIST without a break, again by taxi, in an attempt to reduce jet lag. At UNU/IIST I was introduced to those who worked or were in training there.

At that time the people from the academic staff included Dines Bjørner from Denmark, Chris George and Richard Moore from England, Tomasz Janowsky from Poland, Dang Van Hung from Vietnam, and Xu QiWen from China. The people from the support staff included Margaret Stuart from Scotland, Tian Siyuan from China, and Alice Pun, Anna Chiu, Coffee das Dores, Michelle Ho and Wendy Hoi from Macau. The people that were in training at that time were from China, Vietnam, South Korea, Mongolia, Philippines and India.

After a lunch with a number of my new colleagues, Dines showed me some spots in the middle of Macau. Later I got an advance on my salary with which I went to a bank to open an account, and by the end of the afternoon I went to my hotel to take a rest. Back in my hotel room I first quickly looked for letters from my wife and children which I expected to be hidden in my luggage, but I did not find any letter, and then I gave my wife a call to tell her that I arrived safe and sound in Macau. After a nap of one hour, I went by taxi to Dines’ appartment.

Taxis were very cheap in Macau. That may be the reason why many foreigners in Macau took a taxi even in cases where the walking distance is a few minutes. I myself seldom went by taxi in Macau after the first day in Macau. In the cases where I took a taxi, such as this evening, I always needed a picture of the destination address in Chinese characters because my Cantonese was not very well understood by the taxi drivers in Macau.

At Dines’ appartment, I had a few drinks with Dines and his wife, and after that we went to a Portuguese restaurant together with Chris George. Dines and Chris were the only colleagues at UNU/IIST that I already knew before my arrival. At about eleven o’clock, I went back to my hotel and fall asleep.

© Kees Middelburg, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kees Middelburg with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


About Kees Middelburg

Retired computer scientist
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