My holiday in England started with fish and chips bought from a local shop of Lancashire. I was longed for the taste of gravy since I left England last November. Fish and chips is not a sophisticated gastronomy art. It is more like comfort food for winter. God knows that it’s wintry weather almost all year round on this island.
Holiday treat continued with free chocolate handed out in Manchester’s Arndale Mall. Christmas is coming real soon. Either that the whole year away from England made me forget that there was always a queue; or that I was so excited about free Maltersers that I cut through the queue without noticing it.
Manchester was rainy as always. But the city was nicely lit up and cramped with Christmas stalls. All pretty things you can think of are in display. Whether you are ticking off your Christmas shopping list or you are a fan of warm drinks and sweetness, you will find what you want there. I indulged myself with some hot roast pork in apple sauce. I felt good.
It is a strange sensation to be back in England. In a random mobile phone shop in Manchester, I talked with a guy who lived two streets down from my street in Fenham of Newcastle. He was nice. The total stranger who reminded me that it was home once.
It was one of many questions for me to fill in if I wanted a visa to visit the UK. The online form allowed me to add a maximum of 5 friends. In the three years I lived in the UK, I befriended a multiple of five friends – not to mention those who were not in the country anymore. Because it was impossible for me to provide enough information, I chose to put down details of a friend. In my defence, five is almost as far from the fact as one. So why bother? My boyfriend, who proofread my application, didn’t see the same logic. He insisted I put down more names & addresses; or else he would use his friends. “You met him. He is your friend, too”. If he were right, I would have had a multiple of 50 friends; therefore, never had enough patience (and time) to finish that application form. He wasn’t right, but he still successfully made me sit on my arse pulling out details of my friends. One by one: name. address, phone number, status. Coming along were their stories interwoven with mine. Our paths crossed so that we could share parts of our life; sometimes, one of the best parts. They made my time in England unforgettable. They made it mine.
When my boyfriend went back to England for a visit, he asked me if I missed anything there so that he could bring back to Hanoi for me. I listed Fox biscuits, Earl Grey tea, meringue, and mashed potato. I mentioned my friends but he failed to bring anyone back. I wished he could. I knew I had my best friend in Hanoi with me. But I was greedy. I still am being greedy for friendship.
Today is Mum’s birthday. She told me on the phone that she was very happy with the roses she bought for herself. Yep! She bought her own birthday flowers. It is not that Dad won’t buy her some. Dad will buy Mum everything if she lets him. Most of the times, she does not. It is like that Mum tries to protect Dad from having to go to the “scary” market to haggle with some “also-scary” flower ladies. Mum over protects her family. She does everything she can think of so that we don’t have to do them. When I was still at home, so often I was tempted to shout out of frustration that I wouldn’t know how to cook if she never let me cook. I never did though. I chose to move out instead. It is almost impossible to confront Mum. She overpowers me because I know how much she loves me. And I love her too. Happy Birthday, Mum!
When I was at school, I learned about a beautiful country in Europe sharing borders with Germany and Belgium. There were a lot of tulips, wind mills and dams. All girls looked like ones on Dutch Lady milk packages. In English class, I was told that the Dutch Lady lived in a country called H.O.L.L.A.N.D as in Hope Our Love Long And Never Die. It’s a romance.
Years later, I find myself in Amsterdam realizing that there is no Holland. There are a North Holland and a South Holland as two of the 12 provinces in the Netherlands. Here are the rest: Drenthe, Flevoland, Friesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Limburg, North Brabant, Overijssel, Zeeland, and Ultrecht. Each province has its own flag and capital city. Haarlem won the title to be the capital city of North Holland but its neighbouring city Amsterdam won the country’s prize. Amsterdam is the official capital city of the Netherlands but it doesn’t host the government, the Netherlands’ monarch, parliament and supreme court. They all seat in Den Hagg (The Hague).
The Netherland’s border actually reaches outside Europe to three islands in the Caribbean. Boniare, Sint Eustatius, Saba islands are three cities of the Netherlands but do not belong to any of the 12 provinces. People of the three islands are Dutch and vote in election with the Dutch government. However, they don’t buy things in euros. They use dollars.
The Netherlands herself is daughter of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Her siblings are another three islands in the Caribbean: Aruba, Curacao, Sint Maarten. The four siblings don’t share flags, currencies or governments even though their people all share a Dutch citizenship.
There are tulips, wind mills and dams in Amsterdam. However, the Dutch girls I have seen look awfully unlike ones on the Dutch Lady milk packages in my memory. I suspect the ones in the Caribbean do too. I don’t know whether it is that the milk company’s advertising and packaging departments screwed it up or simply that stereotypes are normally wrong. By the same token, there are much more about the Netherlands than the stereotypical romance of a not-even-exiting Holland.