They say early bird gets the worm. I get peacefulness going to work three hours early than most people. There is hardly any lunatic scooters whizzing past you so fast that makes you wobble. And if there is, they normally take the car lane because there is no cars either. I have the little red bike lanes for myself or maybe some paper men. I sing Emmylou out loud when I am not out of breath climbing up bridges. I can jump one or two redlights. Well, maybe five.
Then I arrive at work, get settled in a corner to watch the sun slowly coming up over still water of the canal outside. I love watching the first light of dawn and soaking in stillness before the day gets too busy. I have nice caring chats with colleagues before we all have to move around frenetically burying our heads in worries, stress and frustration.
Getting up at ungodly hour is hard. The Dutch strong wind and cold rain make it much harder on the bike. But still most days I get out of bed the first time my alarm goes off, quickly put on my bomber jacket, hat and gloves or whatever else keeping me warm, and set out regardless. Because I know a fresh start of a day is worth the efforts and a lot more.
The summer has taken a chill turn by the time I manage to write this third note. Quite often I would go out in a summer outfit and afterwards deeply regret. The weather in the northern part of Europe never seems warm for long enough to leave your cardigan at home.
The rain frequents, and sometimes stayed for a few days. I actually enjoy a drizzle when I am on my bike. It feels like the type of romance I used to love. It is not always a drizzle though. One night, I was woken up by wind whistling through slits between windows, and rain crashing down neighbour’s roof. The whole sky was weirdly lit by lightning that struck any other second for a good ten minutes. Thunder after thunder hurried to catch up. A reddish patch on the sky in the far distance made the whole scene even more bizarre. I grew up sleeping through so many torrential rains and the aftermath of tropical storms but I can’t remember wakening up to such outlandish nature.
There are still nice sunny summer days thankfully. We took out our BBQ kits and set fire to the coal. I grilled some honey-coated corn on cob and Ian made the most delicious pasta salad. I put my chilli plants on pedestal to get more sunlight. I dream of the day I see the reddish. Who to say I am a daydreamer?
Ian and I decided to start our mini garden on the balcony in time for the summer. Soil, seeds, pots were chosen from some fancy gardening shop. Fertiliser was included. So we set out on a Sunday afternoon in our west facing balcony. It was hot. At one point, the heat was almost unbearable for even a tropical born like me, not to mention my English country boy. We had to take break inside from time to time, but we really enjoyed repotting chillies, seeding basil and rocket, trimming off stems to make a bush out of our mint plants. We named our chilli plants, and wondered whether we would be able to give any away. It is a bit silly to keep eight chilli plants for ourselves but it’s hard to choose. We would have our food out in the balcony, enjoy seeing them grow, picking and choosing. It’s fun.
I could see why my Dad used to spend so much time on his roof-top “garden” despite Hanoi’s scorching weather. Since Gau was born, he has spent most of his days looking after his beloved grandson. Somehow the garden survived its defeat by Gau for my Dad’s time and care. There are still chillies, bitter melons, spinaches, herbs and so on. He sounds pleased whenever I ask him about his plants. Back to our balcony garden, I find a similar joy.
The first two weeks of June saw sunny days with clear blue sky. The weather has been pretty decent: warm enough for T-shirt wearers and sunny enough for tan seekers. For me, it’s perfect weather for rides on my new bicycle. I often raced through quiet lanes to get to my Dutch language class, feeling like a true A’dammer. On beautiful days, I took my bike out and pedalled peacefully through (almost) deserted parks of Amsterdam. The quietness made my thoughts wander back to narrow streets of Hanoi where I grew up and learnt to love life. Back in Hanoi, I used to go out for street rides, but on scooter. Not many in Hanoi cycle anymore. Ones often rush ahead on hectic streets to go somewhere air-conditioned, less noisy and less dusty. I wonder if Hanoi would ever slow down to have its people on pedals again.