So I have been living in Amsterdam for a full year. It is long enough for me to get over some culture shocks like this one: Somebody told me that the grilled spicy chicken drumstick (that I was eating) looked disgusting so they rather stuck to the usual boterhammen (two slices of bread, one slice of ham, one slice of yellow cheese) as they had yesterday and the day before that and so on…
The Dutch are normally quite short (verbally). While the English northerners that I know would use five extra words and three ah, uhm, well to hint that they are not crazily in love with something you offer them, the Dutch just don’t.
And they love sandwiches. Full stop. When I told a friend of mine, who is teaching me Dutch, that I don’t like eating bread, her reaction was like: “ But you are learning Dutch, you should like bread”. With what I learn in the last year, it actually makes sense.
I still do not like eating bread, but I started to get a grip on the language. I began to understand gossips around lunch table, or held a short conversation using only one or two English words here and there. Others still laugh at me speaking Dutch with my English accent, but I passed caring. Maybe it is time for them to get over it too because my accent is adorable, even without some surprising British-like sounds 😀
I joined the not-a-tourist club when I bought my own bike. I felt in love with cycling in Amsterdam straight away: the sense of freedom, the amazing view over canals, the breeze touching my sweaty back. I stubbornly cycled to work most days regardless that it was dark, cold and rainy more often than not. I dinged mindless tourists loudly when they wandered into my bike lane. I feel like I belong.
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.
The description I found online of Bergen was “an artist village” with interesting architecture, amazing sand dunes and a long beach. After a week in Bergen with a lots of cycling, I found such a description could never do justice. You have to see it with your own eyes and feel it on your own skin.
We hired our bikes from a local fietsen shop. Unlike in Amsterdam, no official identification form and credit card authorization were needed. That’s how it works in a village. That’s how it should always work – said my country boy.
The first direction of choice was Bergen aan Zee. As little as my Dutch vocabulary was, I could almost taste the salt in my attempt to pronounce “Bergen aan Zee”. Waiting for us was a long beach with soft fine sand – the kind that stays in your shoes for weeks upon your coming back to concreted roads of the city. The sea was not so warm though. It’s North Sea, not the Pacific – I had to remind myself. Still I ran cross the beach to dip my feet into the biting cold water. My impulsion was to get my feet salty: a must-do on a trip to the beach.
Leaving the sea behind, we pedalled up hills to see sand being stranded into massive dunes. The view was impressive. More were the sea defending efforts. On top of a dune a highland cattle stood in solitude, merely noticed us passing on our bikes.
Heading back to town we found hidden behind fences of green leaves and colorful flowers houses of beautiful structures and unique designs. Many of them have thatches, as a warning sign of a frosty winter in North Holland. Grey dense layers of dried plants give modern house a look of warmth and comfort. A resemblance to those houses would be yuppies who wear slim fit chinos and top-button-off shirt with a straw conical hat. The combination is uncommon but the presentation is pleasant to eyes.
My favorite rides were actually ones across stretches of fields. I was too late for the flowers that must have filled those fields with spring colors. It was however about time for the smell and sensation of summer when the wind blew through open fields. I just loved the early summer wind. Feeling my hair tangled up in the wind, I was very free.