Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Afternoon at the Flea Market

I went with my friend Luuk and Sandra to the Zwarte Market today. It's a HUGE flea market about 18 kilometres from Amsterdam. Sandra used to work there as a manager and as part of my Dutch acculturation curriculum, they thought it would be good for me to be exposed to a non-Amsterdam part of the culture.

The things I learned today:

1. The Dutch are just as tacky and crazy about ugly cheap things as Americans. I saw so many cheap tee shirts, plastic toys, vinyl shoes, and bootlegged dvds as any US flea market. The only difference that I could tell is that the Dutch tend to like more cartoony funny sculptures of men peeing or gnomes and Americans tend to prefer solemn eagles or native Americans in their cheesy home decoration. Also, a lot less flag oriented gear.

2. Turkish food is the Mexican food of America. Similarities: spicy, greasy meat wrapped in a carbohydrate laden bread thing with lettuce and tomatos, fast, easy to eat with fingers, decor frighteningly similar. Turkish fast food places tend to have less decoration of the Virgin Mary. All the men tend to have moustaches.

3. Dutch Rednecks are not as fat as American rednecks. Maybe its the turkish food.

4. It is impossible to spend even 50 euros at the Zwarte Market. I tried in vain to find something to buy - I was tempted by a statue of a dog's ass digging into the ground but not sure there would be a place to put it on my balcony.

5. Unlike American flea markets, Dutch flea markets provide live musical entertainment- synthesizers and love songs!

6. Hema is the best store in the world.

7. Tony Montana of Scarface is a national hero to some.

8. You'll never go broke selling Che Guevera's image to teenagers.

9. 50 Cent could give Tony Montana a run for his money.

and finally...

10. There are more brands of soy sauce available at the Oriental Super Market than should be allowed by law.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Dutch Bike Police!

Woke up this morning to loud sawing sounds outside my house. The Dutch Bike Police are busy sawing through bike chains and cleaning out the bike rack in front of my house! They are putting bikes on the back of truck to take them away. i have to park my bike in front of my neighbors window where it clearly says (no bike parking please) because no matter what time of the night or day you get home, the bike rack is full. Most Dutch people have two bikes at least so I guess some of these are second bikes but I'm sure some of them are bikes that people lost their keys to. Anyway, go Dutch efficiency! In DC, on the way to work I used to pass by the same bicycle frame sans wheels, gears, and saddle chained to a mailbox every day for three years.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Happy Belated New Year!

A happy belated new year to you. I've recently returned home from a much needed vacation in South Carolina with my dad and sister and after one week back at work, immediately got a stomach flu and had to stay home for a day. Perhaps, it turns out, I'm allergic to work. Or maybe I'm just becoming French?

I spent about three weeks at home in South Carolina at my Dad's house for my vacation. I cooked a lot, watched a lot of movies, and hung out with my dad doing such soothing tasks as driving to the library, going to the Bi-Lo, Piggly Wiggly, Super Walmart, and Food Lion looking for fresh herbs and salmon (not easy to do in Sumter, South Carolina). We also went to McDonalds and Burger King after a day shopping in the hardware store and changing lightbulbs. The sky was Carolina Blue for a goodly part of the three weeks, the sun was shining, I understood the news on CNN, I voted in the South Carolina Democratic Primary, and for 18 days or so, i was a true blue American again. In short, it was heaven.

Anyway, I really wanted to see many of you when I was home but was unable to do so. I've decided to stop relying on technology so much and go back to the good old hand written address book. I found that when I was in the US without my computer or my Amsterdam or DC mobile phone, I had no record of anyone's phone number or mailing address. It was pathetic. So I basically didn't call or email anyone. In fact, in order to check my email, I had to ask my dad's permission to go to the sumter county library and log on. And to top things off, on my last week in the US, on my way down I-95 right past Wilson, North Carolina (an evil hateful place), I received a speeding ticket from one of North Carolina's finest. Since my well documented money problems and the sliding dollar vs euro rate depleted my savings account upon my arrival to Holland, I was unable to pay my ticket until november 2007. So they suspended my driver's license. And my sister and father are not scofflaws like me, so they refused to let me drive their cars and I had to rely up on them for transportation. Alyson kindly drove me to DC but didn't have as much time off as me so I was only able to stay there for two days. (Yes, I've cleared up the ticket and am legal again!)

Anyway, 2007 is safely behind me. It was a hell of a year.

* Started off with my father breaking his pelvis as I contemplated a job offer with Medecins Sans Frontieres in Amsterdam. (he recovered nicely)
* Sold, packed, and gave away my cute apartment on 18th street and said goodbye to DC with fun but drunken going away party held during the worst monsoon DC has seen in many years.
* Aforementioned Speeding ticket after Ava Gardner Museum in Wilson, North Carolina.
* Moving to Amsterdam in time for Queen's Day, enjoying approximately three days of fabulous sunny weather without humidity, never to be seen again.
* Difficult adjustment to living six hours ahead of all of my friends and confidantes (but slowly making new ones)
* Arrival of Simon LeBon, the loud Siamese and learning that litter boxes in Holland cost about 50 euros (about 75 dollars!)
* Eviction in Amsterdam
* Giant international incident with other MSF sections which lead to me being VERY well known in the organization (I am still feeling the ramifications- let's just say, Americans with DC connections + French people do not mix well).
* The Dreaded 40th Birthday
* Adjustment to the low lands, bicycling, rainy weather, good beer, and cobblestones and tram tracks.
* Wonderful visits from friends and colleagues - from a few hours in a train station coffee shop to exploring the city on bicycles, your visits kept me human this year - thank you!!!!
* The Year of not traveling - From December 2006 until now, I have not been in a developing country (unless you count Belgium, ha ha). It was a bit strange to not go to Africa, Asia, or Latin America. But I needed the time to understand all the changes that had happened in my life. So in retrospect, they managed without me for 2007.

This year promises to see the traveling resume. MSF is sending me to Ethiopia and Somalia in the summer, Papua New Guinea in the spring, and Central African Republic in about three weeks. I plan European vacations to Poland, Portugal, Italy, and Germany.

And after 2008 I'm going to explore my options for retiring to Mexico to live the good life at age 42 or getting myself knocked up and married to a European Industrial millionaire ala Salma Hayek and many other model/actresses.

Thanks to all of you for your support and wisdom and guidance in the past year. It was extremely difficult but I've made it through it and now - hopefully, I'll have more fun adventures in foreign lands to convey to you. Thank you again for your love and support. Turning on my email at night was a lifeline, many nights, and I appreciate your support (and the US Weeklies - KOL!)

Your friend,

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Next Step in Dutch immersion

I hit another step in my Dutch immersion this week! I successfully rode my friend Jen home on the back of my bicycle!