Friday, October 30, 2009

My Dutch Class Report #2 Poor Mrs Wytske (My Teacher)

I have now had four of my ten Dutch classes. So much has happened and changed since my first (and only) report about my class.

As you may recall we meet once a week on Tuesdays from 7-10:15 p.m.. Not 10 but 10:15. Those last 15 minutes are tough. After the third class the teacher announced that there was no class next week due to fall break. Thank God! All this school work has been hard. I deserved a break. All of us international students yelled out for joy in our various languages and tribal sounds once we each looked up in our native language to Dutch dictionaries what she said. I felt like I was in High School or college again and was just told it was Spring Break and heading to Cancun! The whole bike ride home I kept singing "PARRRRRR TEHHHHH I am on falllllllll break....PARRRRR TEHHHHH I am on SPPPPRRRING BREAK." It was the best bike ride ever! I love Holland. It is one of the top ten countries in the world on the number of holidays and vacations for students and employees. I have never wanted to get a job so bad, just so I can get the required 25 days paid vacation (not including holidays and sick days).

I announced my news to Jur by saying "Nederland is goed. Ik ben op vakanties". Then I broke out into my fall break party dance and pranced around the house. It was a good thing there was no beer in the house cause I am sure I would have made a beer bong and gone crazy.

Anyway, as of this Tuesday vacation was over and it was back to class. The vacation flew by! I was dreading going back as if it was the first day. I sat in my usual seat. I get to class early now to claim it. I have discovered that some cultures (ROMANIANS and GERMANS to be specific!) seem to have NO etiquette when it comes to seat assignments. True, we may not have been assigned seats, but I like to sit in the same seat. I chose my seat. It has a good view of the clock. It is at the end of the row so I have plenty of elbow room. It is not in the front and not in the back but toward the middle back so if I am lost or confused I can sort of be hidden. I was so mad when I got to class two when I found Eve or Eva or whatever the cold German woman's name is sitting in my seat. That was my seat. Now I notice she keeps moving every class to a different spot and I watch as people who used to sit in the seat which she now occupies walk in and are instantly confused and displaced. I can't help but to revert to history and wonder what it is with Germans needing to occupy everything? I am watching her! The big day will come when Eva the German tries to take Lieve's (or something sounding like that), the flashy dressing scarf wearing French woman, seat. Lieve is very outspoken and I don't think she would tolerate the invasion. I class-dream about them fighting over their territory. That would be one hell of a battle. I think as an American in Europe I get caught up in The Band of Brothers, Winds of War Hollywood movie version of Europe.

On class three I came early to stake my claim before the German, and THEN the quiet Romanian women came in (LATE I might add) and sat in the seat right next to me! OH GOD! See we sit at these two person table desks. This is not a normal classroom. During the day it is a science biology lab for High School Students. There are jars of pickled ancient animals and insects all along the right side of the classroom. It was kind of distracting and gross at first. Our desks are lab tables. They appear to be clean and the room never smells. Judging from the pictures on the chalk board (I see them since I am the first to arrive because of the GERMAN!) the students are actually dissecting a flower (Iris or Lily or something). Anyway the Romanian lady walks in (LATE as I said!) and sits down on MY lab table. Why would she do that? She has disrupted my personal space. She has immigrated into my territory. A whole different type of invasion. This was an annoyingly big deal! CLEARLY there were at least two or three empty lab tables in the front or back. GREAT! Class three is ruined for me now! Our elbows were practically touching and NOW this forces me to be her Dutch Lab Partner when it comes to the conversation exercises! Uugghhh the Romanians are hard to understand and she is like Jiajio (my previous Chinese Dutch Lab Partner) so soft spoken.

So NOW not only do I get to class early, I also spread my back pack, my papers, textbooks, pens and candy all over my lab table to make people feel unwelcome. It worked this week but I am always ready for another country to invade.

The really hard part about the class is that we are from all over the world and have different levels of Dutch and English and have no idea how to talk to each other in most of each other's native tongues. We seem to have all grown slightly scared of each other. There is a lot of darting eyes, the occasional hesitant smirk and a lot of shrugging shoulders. For example this guy from some country (I honestly do not know where he is from. He could be anywhere from South America to the Middle East, he is very unusual. I have thought that perhaps he is Gypsy.) looked across the aisle at me and pointed to something the teacher had written or said and mouthed some sort of question or statement to me. I had no idea what he wanted or was trying to say and I did not want to offend him so I did this physical combination of a shoulder shrug indicating...I don't know, plus the slight unfolding my hands indicating...I welcome your question, at the same time I widened my eyes to indicate.... I too am surprised by what he is pointing out, and the same time nodding my head in a weird way indicating both... yes and no. This is a safe answer that allows me to not point out that I have no idea what is going on or what anyone is saying. I learned this from Jiajio (My Ex Chinese Dutch Lab Partner). She did it to me all the time. It is a very effective technique that has spread faster then wildfire in the classroom. Now we all do it. Especially to the teacher, Mevrouw Wytske, when she calls on us.

Poor Mrs Wytske. The class seems to be taking its toll on her. She has a lot to deal with. People from all over the world asking her questions in broken English and broken Dutch. She is trying to teach one of the hardest languages in the world. She also has her own difficulty with English. I feel for her sometimes. Many times I see her just stare at a student when they ask something. She seems to have the look of a deer caught in headlights. A look of shock, fear and helplessness. As the weeks have passed I have noticed that the class has taken it's toll on her. Each new class she dresses in darker and more depressing clothing. By the end of each class her hair is all desheveled and frizzy and she always ends up with chalk powder smudges all over her face and clothes. (Especially her shoulder and elbow area because she is always hugging herself for comfort). She appears to be losing weight and has definitely aged. She no longer wears make-up or jewelry. It's like she has given up. She seems to have developed a nervous twitch on her lower lip that seems to be aggrevated when any of us raise our hand to ask a question. Especially by the guy from India who sits in the front row and asks a lot of questions. I feel for Mrs. Wytske because in all honesty I have no idea what the hell he is saying and wether he is saying it in Dutch, English or Indian. I am not sure how she deals with this. I am starting to worry about her. After the first hour I am exhausted just witnessing it all.

The most common question she gets though, which occurs at least fifteen to twenty times a class is: "I sorry, please, Wytske, but what you in book page where, danku?" or many variations of this question. This too seems to make her upset. I hope she knows we are all trying!

I study. I do. Jur and I both work on my flashcards, which is very challenging for our relationship. I have put post-its all over the house to become accustomed to seeing words. Jur tolerates this. To see him drinking from a coffee cup with a post-it is very touching. He cares. I asked Jur's sister Cathy (mijn schoonzus) for some children's books which she gave me. I am presently reading a lovely ten page book about a family of pigs that are going to a Mud Festival (I think?). It is a bit advanced for me.

Most of the time we learn strange things like words involving ice skating, cheese and dogs. I am not sure why that is but I trust Mevrouw Wytske. This past Tuesday, however, we did learn about numbers and time. All hell broke lose as Mrs Wytske played an audio tape of authentic announcements of train schedule changes. All of us just looked up into space hoping to catch a glimmer of a word so that we might catch our imaginaery train. Numbers are hard in Dutch for example 1998 in Dutch is negentienhonderdachtennegentig. What? They might as well be saying supercalifragilisticexpealidotious (which I am starting to believe is a dutch word, probably meaning something important like "look out!"). These long words are annoying. Get this....3271 is drieduizedtweehonderdeenenzeventig! Huh?
When I confronted Mevrouw Wytske about my dislike of this (most of the class giggled in agreement) her lip twitched a bit but then she turned to the chalk board and wrote in English threethousandtwohundredseventyone and turned back to me with this smug chalk covered look of victory and said "see in English it is just as long, you just separate the words with spaces. Dutch are more efficient and take up less space." I shrugged my shoulders, opened my hands, widened my eyes and bobbled my head.

So that is my Nederlandse klas report. Next week, if I am correctly reading ahead in the book, we are learning about nephews, bald people, beards, twins, Van Gogh, ham and itching. I still do not know how to say help me, I feel sick, I don't want to eat that, I am lost or important things like that, but I can tell you if a woman has red glasses, a dog is on the couch or that I am not camping....... I'll keep you posted on Mrs Wytske's health and the progress of my class. Tot Ziens.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ice is important

Hello my name is Ken and I am addicted to ice. I'm an iceahloic. An ice junkie. It has been over 6 months since I had my last glass filled with ice. I guess I realized I had a problem with ice when I moved to Holland.

There is very little ice. Ice is hard to find. People just do not have ice trays. This was one of the first things I noticed here. There are no soda fountain machines, like at the movies (which is healthy. I get it) however not seeing glasses filled with ice is shocking for Americans. Even restaurants. You can maybe get one ice cube! One! Two is rare and is like winning the lotto. Even Dutch McDonald's gives very little ice.

When I first got here Jur had this mini (1 inch x 1 inch size) 6 cube ice tray, made from some sort of bendable rubber. I can't tell you how angry I would get trying to pop those cubes out and having them shoot out like bullets into the air, or skid across the counter. I would scream and scramble to try to save them since I only had six cubes to work with. There was no ice to spare! No room for error. Ice had quickly become a precious rare commodity to me. God forbid if a cube fell on the floor and got dirty. I was screwed if that happened because the cubes are so small that if I rinsed it off most of it would melt!

I would often scream things at Jur from the kitchen like....

"This is INSANE...Ice should not be this hard!"

"OH GOD! Jesus, I dropped a cube!"

"Jur, you get no ice! You hear me? No ice for you" (I blamed him for this ice problem so he should be punished).

I even tried to freeze a pan of ice and chisel large ice chips out of it but ended up with a drenched kitchen and walking into the living room with shriveled, red, frost bitten hands, a few melting ice flakes in my hair and said defeatedly: "Ice is important Jur."

This ice thing was driving me insane....for a while I would lay awake at night and wondered if I was sent here to be like Harrison Ford in the Mosquito Coast and introduce ice to the people of Holland!

I spent almost 50 percent of my time the first month or so in Holland obsessed about ice. It was my mission to find ice trays. I made Jur take me to department stores, IKEA, kitchen stores, all over Holland looking for ice trays. I asked employee after employee over and over about ice trays, all who seemed to have no idea what I was talking about but when I would finally mime it out to them they would nod and indicate that oh yes we have that and THEN they ALL would hand me that damn same rubber mini 6 cube ice tray. After each store and each employee I grew more and more upset and anxious. I would get my hopes up and then they would get shattered. Twice I got so upset I started to get teary eyed. Once I just started to laugh uncontrollably at the realization that there just are no decent ice trays here.

I even got a bit angry once at a VERY uncaring employee as he stood there holding out that dangling, miserable excuse of a piece of a doo doo Dutch version of an ice tray. I swelled up with anger as I explained to him "NO NOOOOOO, no good! a BIG Ice try, BIGGER! Pops Out right when you twist it. POP! POP! POP! GIANT AMERICAN ICE! Comprende? (I don't know where the Spanish came from) Understand? A GOOD POP OUT AMERICAN BIG BIG AMERICAN ICE TRAY! I AM AMERICAN I NEED ICE! WE HAVE ICE IN AMERICA!" I angrily again mimed the twist and popping out of the ice but he and the crowd that had gathered all just looked at me as if I were some typical emotional obnoxious American doing some hand jive dance. I wanted to hit them all with their stupid rubber floppy ice tray!

I can't explain to you the rage I felt as I sat at a table explaining my ice cube plight with a few Dutch and I drew them a diagram of the ice tray I was searching for. One of them had the nerve to correct me and said "that is not an ice cube. Cubes are square. That is a rectangle" I wanted to lunge across the table and scream in his face All RIGHT ICE RECTANGLES THEN! I WANT ICE RECTANGLES! A GLASS FILLED WITH GIANT ICE RECTANGLES!..... Ice was making me violent.

My addiction had gotten so bad that I found myself sneaking into the kitchens of my Dutch friends to see if they had any ice. I would often yell or snap at anyone serving me a drink if they did not provide me with ice. When we were out at a bar or restaurant and someone would leave our table to go to the bathroom I would steal their ice if nobody was looking. I would go into restaurants and bars as I walked along the streets and beg for them to sell me ice to take home. Only one did. I paid one Euro for a plastic grocery bag (that I found on the floor near a trash can that looked clean) of ice and I ran home before it would melt. I hid it from Jur. I was hiding my addiction from the ones I love. Ice was controlling me.

I guess I hit rock bottom when I went into a liquor store to ask if they had ice. She said yes but she had not turned the machine on. She had a machine! I was so thrilled! She told me to come back in 30 minutes and she would give me a bag of ice. I waited for an hour so that there would be plenty of ice. The whole time I was thinking of ways she and I could set up an arrangement for ice. Could I call her whenever I needed ice? What could I do for her in exchange? How much would a weeks supply of ice cost me? When I returned she smiled and said "Oh the ice. wait here!" When she returned she handed me a Ziploc sandwich baggy of about 15 mini ice cubes. Apparently seeing that I was confused she showed me their ice machine. It was the size of a samll microwave and only made one cube at a time. I am not exactly sure what happened after that but I remember trembling, screaming something, running out of the store, mumbling the whole way home about the Dutch and Ice as I sucked on as many of the cubes as I could before they melted. I haven't been back to her liquor store since.

Eventually I took matters into my own hands and got a good American Friend (fellow ice junkie) to send me 40 American Ice Trays. I have given a few out as gifts but only to people I visit on a regular basis so they will have ice for me. Jur and I now have a freezer full of ice. All is good. Guess what all my Dutch friends and family are getting for Christmas?

Unfortunately now that winter is here I find it too cold for ice...... FYI....I do NOT need to hear anyone say "SEE that is why there is no ice in Holland!" ICE IS IMPORTANT!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blog #6 Dutch Delicacies

Hello All!

An update on Dutch Delicacies combined with Corri, Trixie, School and a few other things! sort of only friend/neighbor seems to have either moved passed the banana bread fight or has forgotten about it. Jur and I ran into her on the street two days ago and she asked us to buy her a bottle of booze. Jenever! Dutch Gin (Dutch Delicacy).Very strong stuff. You should try it. My friend Michael visited me from the States and he drank a bit too much Jenever (not knowing what it was) at a neighbors gathering and passed out (he says fell asleep) on their lawn furniture. They took photos of him and keep them on their living room table for all their guests to see! Jenever, however, in moderation is wonderful! I recommend it.

School....well after three weeks of going on Tuesday nights for 3 hours I am happy to announce that we are on autumn break! Thank God! I was worn out. Although I do plan to study over the break. It has been recommended that I start to read children’s books to learn my Dutch. I feel a bit awkward reading in bed the Dutch version of Sesame Street while Jur is reading James Michener's Texas. (Which by the way I would never read anyway. It is WAY too long).

Beatrix (the Queen).... I am very committed to meeting with The Queen. I will keep you regularly posted on my progress. Why does Elizabeth get the entire world’s attention over there in England and her Cousin (2nd really) gets so little coverage? I want to become Queen Bea's American liaison! (BTW if any Dutch readers out there know her or know someone who knows someone who knows her, will you please tell her I said hello and inform her of my liaison offer, Danku). So I know where her office and home is, now I just need to know her schedule. In the meantime I am getting to know the family. Mainly from tabloids but I am trying to improve my sources. I do know that all Royals and descendants of Royals wear a special ring that indicates they are of Royal blood. I am looking for those suckers everywhere! I have developed a Dutch ring fetish. The other day Jur and went to see Julie and Julia. It was in a nice theater, pretty close to Trixie's Palace and the film seemed to attract a more sophisticated crowd. You can order bottles of wine (and beer) and they give you little wine glasses (Dutch Delicacy). It was fun hearing wine bottles pop open during Julie and Julia. Well, just as the lights dimmed for previews this distinguished older, nicely dressed woman with puffy hair and a gentleman were escorted in by a man in a suit. My heart skipped a beat. I thought IT'S HER! I dropped my bag of Dutch gummy candy I was so excited. I was pretty sure I caught the twinkle of jewel covered ring on her hand as she walked in but it all happened so fast. I watched her try to make her way in the dark but it turned out the theater was too full and only two crummy seats in the front row were available so they left the show. I whispered to Jur “I think that was Beatrix" and Jur whispered back "I am sure they would have reserved seats for the Queen, Ken." Yeah, that makes sense. Maybe it was one of her sisters or cousins or something. They're everywhere. I am so close I can feel them. I am GOING to meet her and you all will be the first to know!

Food..... I have wanted to write many things about the food culture (and some might say lack thereof) here in Holland but now after seeing Julie and Julia I am thinking I should try to introduce the Dutch to Mastering the Art of American cooking! This would be a whole other blog. Hell, do you know that they do not have Chocolate Chips here (American Delicacy)? No Chocolate Chips. Seriously. None. Anywhere. I have talked about this for months with everyone I meet (and I am sure it will be something I bring up to the Queen when we meet!) I even considered breaking it off with Jur and moving home just because there are no Chocolate Chips here! (I was having a bad day). No Chocolate Chips seems barbaric. Anyway, I will try to be positive about the Dutch (I do not think Trixie likes me talking bad about her peeps) so I would like to say that there are some WONDERFUL Dutch dishes I have had here in Holland and inspired by Julie and Julia I plan on letting Americans know about them . If you would like the recipe just hit me back and I will send it to you! Heck when was the last time you had friends over for a Traditional Dutch meal? (You can even make a joke about it being Dutch treat!)

Here are my recommendations:

Zuurkoolschotel (Dutch Delicacy)
Fruit boiled sauerkraut with ham and bread crumbs, pineapple, served with mashed (and then baked) potatoes and for dessert baked apples with rum and warm vanilla sauce!

Jachtschotel - I think that means Hunters Pie(?) (Dutch Delicacy)
Seasoned meat, apples, onions, and then a mashed potato topping and baked in a Dutch Oven (Delicious!) (This one takes time) followed by Dutch Appeltaart! Yummy!

Witte Asperges met Ham en Eieren (Dutch Delicacy) (This one is seasonal)
White Asparagus, Egg, Potatoes, Ham and melted butter. (Delicious!) Followed by poached fruit and yogurt whipped cream.

In the is my big news.... I am preparing to host 6 Dutch people for their FIRST Thanksgiving meal. (Not the Queen, I assume, this year but maybe next year) (Beatrix if your reading please know that you are invited!) Also one English (sort of) Gentleman, named John (friend of Jur's) who lived in the States for many years and gave me some sob story about how depressed he gets every year on Thanksgiving. He has somehow weaseled his way into getting to make the stuffing. He is already overstepping his boundaries. He even had the nerve to ask me how I was decorating the table and in which way do I plan to cook the Turkey! If he does not simmer down I just may sit him at the kiddies table. Anyway my Dutch guests are excited and are even taking the day off work to come. I told them Thanksgiving is sort of an all day affair. I will keep you posted on this as it approaches. I am getting a few things shipped in from the States. (Thanks Mom!) The Dutch seem shocked when I told them that everyone in America is pretty much eating the same thing on that day, SOOOOO I was thinking (hoping) I could get some of ya'll from all over the States to send us (me) some pictures of your past Thanksgiving table/meal to show all of them how you do it! Will you? I want to knock the clogs off them! Oh and I am nervously excited (and a bit embarrassed) to be introducing the Dutch to Green Bean Casserole. I think I will let the English guy do this one.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blog #5 You know the old saying: "It's just like riding a bike."

Foreigner Bike Riding in Holland 101. Ken's Tips

I ride my bike to school about 20 minutes each way. This is what I think, how I prepare what I do and experience when I go for a bike ride through Central Den Haag. Me, who has not ridden a bike in 10 years, through a major city IN THE NETHERLANDS where bike riding is something the Dutch learn at birth, DURING RUSH HOUR AND on the way back IN THE DARK, AND....... IT IS RAINING!

TIP #1 When it is raining in Holland and you have to ride a bike here is what you do: You get wet. 

TIP #2 Visualize where you need to go.

Now it should take about 20 minutes for me to bike ride to mijn klas in nederland (my Dutch class, damn I am getting goed (good)) BUT since I am a newbie to riding a bike in Holland I give myself 45 minutes to get there. So I visualize the route I need to take. I do not MapQuest this because there is no way I will be able to remember words like cross over Veechstraat, left on Dordrecht, quick right on Meerwaardeen then another quick right on Tijdschrift etc etc. I tried it once and first off I never seemed to find out where the names of the streets were and then the map (aka post it note) flew out of my hand while I was in the middle of a pack of Dutch Bike commuters (which to me is the equivalent of a herd of stampeding Wildebeests). 

TIP #3 Dress appropriately.

I tend to over dress so far for each of my bike rides. I am worried I will be cold so I wear a t-shirt, sweater, a coat, scarf, pants and long knee high socks. At first this is great but if you are going to be riding a bit of a distance on a bike and keeping up with the Dutch Commuter pace (which you are kind of forced to) you can work up a sweat. Each time I have shown up for my Dutch class I have been a bit sweaty and dehydrated. 

TIP #3 Addendum - Dress appropriately (or carry deodorant and a bottle of water).

TIP #4 Check the light bulbs.

SO on the first day of class and my first bike ride, just before I was getting ready to leave, I realized I should check the head light on my bike. It didn't work. I panicked. I called Jur. "My light bulb doesn't work. Is that okay? Will I be able to see? What is someone doesn't see me and hits me with their car? Should I wear something bright? Yellow? Neon? What do I do? I need to ride my bike and I do not want to be late on my first day of class! Should I take a taxi?" Secretly I was kind of thinking this is a legitimate excuse for not having to go to school. Jur, calm as always, said "it is okay. But you are supposed to have the light. It is the law and you can get a 24 Euro ticket but just be careful and you should be fine" Well I was already stressed as it is but now I was a paranoid law breaking bike rider, freaked out that I was gonna get busted by the Dutch Coppers. I decide to try to carry a mini flash light that I saw in a tool box a few days before, but being an inexperienced wobbly bike rider (with a book bag over my shoulder making it harder), while trying to look for foreign Dutch street signs, the cops and a now a flash light is not a good combination. Within the first block from my house I dropped the flashlight and chased it, screaming as it began to roll down the street toward a canal. I thought I broke it but it came on. Then on the way back from class, when I really needed the flash light, it started to fade.

TIP #4 (a) If you are stupid enough to have to use a flashlight as a replacement headlight for your bike, check the batteries.

TIP #5 Be aware of your surroundings.

You just have to ride the bike to truly know this but I will give you a short list of things to be aware of that can be a physical danger to you on a bike in Holland.

Other Bicyclists (they are everywhere and fast), Motorcyclists (which really should have their own designated lane if you ask me), Skateboarders (they are dangerous, aggressive and irresponsible), People on Wheelchairs (they feel entitled and will not acknowledge you), Rollerbladers (come out of nowhere and too fast), Parents with strollers! Flocks of pigeons, Ducks, Dog Poop, Puddles, Trolleys (this is a major one and they seem to come from every direction), Buses and of course the Cars. All of the above share the road but we are all sort of separated by little painted lines on the streets. It is terrifying. Truly terrifying. I try to follow the dotted lines but there are so many and I get confused. Plus the cars and buses are so close to me and I wobble.


There is no room to wobble. I try to stay as far to the right since I am so slow and wobbly but if I wobble to the right I will hit the curb. Which I have several times.

TIP #7 Don't be ashamed if you fall. Get up, wipe yourself off and act like it never happened. If someone notices just smile and say "I am new."

I do not like being on the left side of the bike lane because that is where all the buses and the motorcyclist come whizzing by you. What if they were to hit my elbow or snag on to my scarf or book bag. I could die. Several times I have screamed out of fear from speeders passing by me on the left so I avoid the left side of the bike lane. Plus the faster bicyclist pass you on the left (show offs!)

The Final Tip
TIP #8 Do Not Be Intimidated!

Sure I feel stupid struggling on my bike, Sure I have ruined a pair of shoes jumping off my bike so many times because I thought cars were close to me and I'm wobbly. Sure whenever I approach an intersection and there are a bunch of bicyclists waiting at the light I jump off and wait several yards behind them to avoid being part of their pack, sure I feel bad not knowing how to shift the gears on my bike yet (Jur says I have to peddle backwards or something like that to shift gears. Oh HELL no!) so, yes, I have to peddle harder then everyone else. It is tiresome to see everyone riding around me so leisurely and I'm panting from peddling so hard like I am in the mountain stage of the Tour de France. Yes, it is degrading to have EVERY other biker whiz by me, especially the couples holding hands that lift their arms over my head to pass me, or those three elderly ladies, one of which threatened me with her cane and snapped something rude to me in Dutch as she circled me before she sped off or even worse are the ones that speed past me carrying two kids, a sack a groceries, on the cell phone, with a bouquet of fresh flowers and a cup of coffee, yeah that one stings a bit. AND yes it is humiliating to have everyone ring their little bike bells as they approach me. What do I have a sign on my back that says DANGER out of control idiot!?!

Well I don't care. I just peddle on. Of course I have snapped on occasion, "ahh shut up. I'm new" or "Go around." And of course I have said countless times "sorry". Once when I jumped off because a car scared me and almost plowed into a pack of passing cyclists I was so panicked that I said something like “I didn't know, I’m American, this is hard!" I am not sure what that was about. The POINT is....... just keep peddling and have fun. I am not sure why but I have found that singing out loud the Witches Bicycle melody from The Wizard of Oz and "saying I'll get you my pretty and your little dog too!", calms my nerves and makes me laugh as I ride. Who cares if all the Dutch people stare at me. 

My next goal is to put a mint in my coat pocket and as I ride to try and take the mint out and put it in my mouth. Maybe one day I will be able to hold a cup of coffee. Big dreams.

Oh, one more thing. Apparently, you are supposed to give signals when you are going to turn right or left. But I have found that when I raise my right hand to indicate turning right my bike veers left. I think my bike has bad alignment but I have been told that is not possible and since sudden veering is not good in any direction I just do not use hand signals......yet.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Blog #4 My Bountiful Harvest!

Goedenmorgen Ya'll!  That is good morning in Dutch!  It is raining. The 7th day in a row of on again off again rain. Maybe the rumors are true the winters might be long, cold and wet. I was hoping it was an exaggeration. My California Cats are having a more difficult time with it. Murphy (my big fat black cat) is no fool and even if there is mist will not step out in the wet. He is indoor now. Marvin my half deaf cat seems to not get it.  He runs out the door and then stands stunned in the garden getting drenched looking every direction but up and seems to be saying "what the hell is going on" then runs in soaked. This happens daily.

As for me I am prepared.  I mended my sweaters, darned my socks, am thinking of learning to knit, I made lots of fruit preserves (even though Cathy my Dutch Sister in law) assures me there is fruit in the stores in the winter. What Pumpkin? I have secretly stocked up on can goods and candles. I am not sure why I am doing this. Maybe my years as a Boy Scout and being told to always be prepared. Perhaps it is also because one of the few American shows I can watch here in English is Little House on the Prairie. I have been watching  a lot of it and have started to feel like them. I am like a pioneer in a new frontier. Adapting to the land. The other day Cathy brought over a bushel of apples from her trees. No one seemed all that impressed with the bountiful gift. I, on the hand saw so much potential. I saw jars of apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie, candied apples, stuffing with apples, caramel covered apples, dried apples, apple muffins, apple juice, apple cider, Ben and Jerry's Apple Pie Ice cream, Apple jelly, Waldorf Salad and so many other things. The Dutch seem amazed at all the things I could or would do with an apple.

Apples affect me.  It was because of apples that I wanted to become Amish. I had a brief period in my teens, where I seriously considered adopting the Amish way of life. I had the privilege of getting to know the Amish people on a stop my family made on a trip to Hershey Pennsylvania. As we drove through Lancaster PA (Amish Land) I saw the Amish picking apples and working in the fileds. They seemed so peaceful and happy. We stopped at an Amish Store called All things Amish.  When I walked in I saw shelves and shelves of Amish breads, Amish fruit preserves, Amish butters, Amish cheese and Amish Apples. All things made with Amish love. I was in ecstacy. They had an Amish traditional clothing section and I begged my parents to buy me the straw hat and a pair of Amish boots. I think they thought it was cute that I showed an interest but they had no idea that I had decided, right there, in front of that wall of Amish baked goods, in the All Things Amish Tourist Shop Bakery I had found my people! I had recieved my calling and I was going to be devoting myself to the Amish way of life. I immediately put on the hat and boots. When I got a chance I put on my khakis and my long sleeve light blue dress shirt. I looked as close to Amish as I could with my limited suitcase belongings. What I wished for more than anything was suspenders but I could tell my parents already disapproved of my new way of life and that getting them to buy me suspenders would be next to impossible.  Even though my family disapproved I even wore my Amish traditional attire to Hershey Amusement Park. I loved that people looked at me and weren't sure if I was real or not. Was I an Amish renegade breaking from the sect to try some chocolate? I bet they were wondering if I was committing an Amish sin by being here. I think some of them wanted to take a picture with me. I felt like I was an Amish celebrity. Not to worry though I did not let my Amish fame deter me from the glories of Hershey Park and the CHOCOLATE! Let me tell you this Amish TexMex was getting WAY into the chocolate. I fell for Mr. Hershey’s pitch hook, line and sinker and, as quick as it had started, on that day, I gave up my Amish way of life and decided to devote my life to becoming a chocolatier! (that is a whole other chapter of my life.) My parents were so relieved they bought me a 2 lb Hershey Chocolate Bar to celebrate the news!

But now holding Cathy's apples here in Holland I felt a bit Amish again. How could no one be as excited as I am about these apples? These apples just might save our lives and get us through winter. 

The first thing I decided to attempt to make was a Dutch Appel (that’s Dutch for apple not a spelling mistake) Taart (very different from good ole American Pie). One of the few things all Dutch seem to like to eat. The Dutch are fussy eaters. Jur told me that I can't make the taart because the apples Cathy gave us were not the right kind of apples. Now, I know that there are many different apples and they are used for different things BUT I tasted these apples, they are free apples, we have a cornucopia of them and they are delicious! Plus when you mix it with cinnamon and sugar and a BUNCH of buttery brown sugar dough it is going to be freakin' delicious no matter which apples you use. Jur and I went back and forth on this. 

He says “I tried to make the Appel Taart when I was in the States but the US did not have the right apples."

I said “Oh, I see, so EVERY Apple Pie I ever had in the States was not right then, huh? Is that it?"

He says "no it is just different; these are not good apples."

I, now angry at his disregard of the gift of our live saving apple bounty, snap back "well if you were one of the Ingalls on the Prairie you would be thrilled to have an appel taart made from these apples. Hell, you know what? If you knew anything about the pioneers you would be happy just to have an apple at all!"

I heard him say "what?" as I stomped to the kitchen with my apples. It did occur to me that I may need to cut back on the Little House on The Prairie.

Anyway the Appel Taart turned out great! I loved it! Jur did too although he said it was a bit grainy (whatever the hell that means) and like a stubborn, persistent, never budging, fussy, typical Dutch person, said  (in what I believe was a very rehearsed, passive aggressive response).

"Yeah it is good. Good job. Delicious. I would be curious to see what you think of one made out of the apples I was talking about."

Ughhhhhh, ..... well I know The Ingalls would have loved it!

By the way school is fine. I will get you all up to date on that soon and my bike riding adventures as well but I just had to get this winter, food, apple drama off my chest!  
(UPDATE Jur admitted he liked my Appel Taart when I noticed a piece was missing and asked him about him about it.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Blog #3 My new Mantra.......I LOVE Holland (Especially Trixie!)

I love Holland.... I have nice things to say about Holland...... Holland is good. 

This is my new mantra. At least it has been for the last few days and will be for today. Several Dutch people close to me in Holland (Hi Jur and Frits) have read my "Dutch Diary" and they said:

"You should say something nice about Holland." 

I said I would. 

And then they said "like what?" 

Nothing seemed to come trippingly of the tongue. There had to be something. Think Ken! Holland... what have I done in Holland? What have I liked in Holland? Then I shot out some answers which basically sounded like one of the 1000's of postcards I have seen.  "The tulips are pretty, I get excited when I see windmills, there are french fries everywhere” (although the Dutch use WAY too much mayonnaise and they pour it all over the fries which ruins it for me.) 

WAIT! See? I need to stop that. I seem to have trouble saying only nice things about Holland! 

So today I am only going to say only nice positive interesting things about Holland. 

To start I would also like to rephrase what I just said about the french fries. Instead I will say the Dutch love french fries and they love mayonnaise. It is very unique for me to eat french fries with so much mayonnaise. There is no shortage of mayonnaise in Holland. I find it amazing that the Dutch eat so much mayonnaise and very few seem to be overweight. The Dutch must have very healthy metabolisms. (Oh, did you know that the Dutch are on average the tallest people in the world? Isn't that interesting?) Anyway back in the States I used to feel guilty about ordering mayonnaise because I was always told it was not good for you but now I have had so much mayonnaise that I do not think I will ever need to special order a side of mayonnaise again. That is great! 

The Dutch REALLY do like Herring. Really! Just plain and simple whole Herrings, with scales and all, and some chopped onion on top. It is everywhere. Really everywhere! People all over Holland swallow Herring like Pelicans you would see on a Pier. Although I do not eat herring (or fish,  I do not particularly like the taste or smell of fish NOT just Dutch fish so this is NOT a criticism of the Dutch) I have learned to enjoy waiting for my friends at the herring stand and watching them swallow their fish.  It is also special to stand there and witness a tourist come and try a herring for the first time. Often I take pictures for people and tell them where to run if they get sick. The whole experience is unique and such a Dutch Treat! Also since the VERY fragrant Herring can be smelled blocks away from a Herring stand and the stands are everywhere, I have learned to kick my dislike to the smell of fish, although I am still very well  aware of it.  My sensitivity and awareness of Herring has led me become known as a keen Herring Stand Hunter! Just ask me and I can sniff you in the right direction! That is great! 

Oh here is a good one! The Dutch government offices are amazing. I have had to do lots of paperwork to obtain my visa to be here. I was dreading going to all these offices during this process. I think years of visits to the DMV, Social Security office, Court Houses (don't ask) and various other government offices in the States have left me with a bad taste. Well when I got to my first Dutch government office it was like Disneyland. It was so clean and colorful. I have always been greeted by a receptionist at every office I have been to. There always seem to be fresh flowers. I was allowed to have food and water in every office. They even had cappuccino machines. Cappuccino machines! I love it. One even had cookies. They ALL have some sort of mints or candy! All of this is truly great. I now love going to government offices! Every time I leave a government office I have accomplished what I needed, quickly, and I leave wired on good coffee with a pocket full of candy! I love it! (Jur says they probably process me faster than most because they don't want me to drink all their coffee or eat all their food.  Whatever.) 

Here is another wonderful thing about the Dutch. People dress very colorfully in Holland. In fact the national color is orange. Interestingly, when I arrived here I did not own one piece of orange clothing and now, because of wonderful Holland, I have orange house slippers and a checkered shirt that has orange in it! This is big for me considering I generally only like to where black or navy blue (it is slimming)! Anyway, colorful dressing in Holland is great! Soon I may even be wearing pink, neon and floral prints like all the guys do here! Baby steps. 

What else?  Of course there are the canals. Which are everywhere and beautiful. I love walking along them looking in the water. I am determined to see fish and yet I have never seen one. Not one. Not even a minnow! I know they must be there cause I see people fishing. Although I think fish can smell the herring stands and they know something is up! Anyway looking in the water has allowed me to learn several things! Never park a Smart Car (those new two sitter little econo cars) along a canal. Apparently some people (probably Belgians) discovered it was easy to push them and started tipping Smart Cars into the canals BUT the Dutch government acted swiftly, warned Smart Car owners to not park along canals and cracked down on the Smart Car tippers so this trend has ended. BRAVO to the fast acting government! Also I have learned to always securely lock and protect your bicycle. Apparently, for whatever reason, bicycles often end up in the canals. But this is not a BAD thing!  I have seen so many happy Dutch ducks and swans that have converted them in to bike bird nest! It is lovely. 

The final thing I will talk about is one of my favorites. Trixie! Bea! Queen Bee! I am living in a country with a Queen and a Royal family. She lives about five miles from me. She is so close! Generally I do not express my excitement about this too much to those near me because they seem to think my excitement is weird or worrisome. I am not sure which.  I can't help it, I WANT TO MEET HER! I have visions of Queen Bee and me hanging out and me being one of her confidants. I would be perfect for that. So I first mapped out where her office was and walked a few miles to get there (I was too scared to ride my bike) (I'm still practicing, more on that another day). Anyway she wasn't there.  Her guard told me I would know she was there if the Royal flag was flying. I then went home and mapped out where her palace was.  Her Palace is not too far from mine (I mean apartment). The Palace is in the Hague Royal Forrest. I then spent the next few days trekking through the Royal Forrest Park trying to find her Palace. When I finally found it, damn, she wasn't there.  I asked the guards where she was and when she will be home but they wouldn't answer me. They also made me feel kind of awkward. These were innocent questions. It is not like I asked them if she was mad at me. Or had I offended her? Why was she avoiding me?  Would they please give her my letter and tell her it is from Ken the American?  I just wanted a chance to see her. I have never been so close to Royalty it just excites me. Gees. I left a bit embarrassed and worried that they might have taken photos of me and created a file.  

The other day I was lying in bed and I heard helicopters everywhere, which I had never heard before in Holland (I felt like I was back in LA) so I said to Jur (my VERY Dutch partner) "something bad most have happened? (again helicopters in LA= Murder or police chase or fire)” and he said, with very little enthusiasm "Oh it's just the Queen addressing the nation. Her Coach must be passing by us." 

"WHAT? WHAAAAAATTTTT? Why didn't you tell MEEEEE? You KNEW about this?   MY GOD!" I jumped out of bed and became hysterical. I started running around the house trying to change out of my pajamas and looking for my orange checkered shirt. One has to be dressed in orange to meet the Queen for the first time! I remember screaming a bunch of things like “Jur, JUR! Give me your orange clothes! ANYTHING! How close is she? I need my Dutch flag! Jur turn on the TV and find out how close she is? WHERE is she? Jur! GET UP OFF THE COUCH AND FIND OUT WHERE THE QUEEN IS! MapQuest her carriage! Can we do that? WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME! You know I love Beatrix! DAMN! HELP ME FIND MY OTHER ORANGE HOUSE SLIPPER!

And then....  the sound of the helicopters disappeared. I missed her. It is just as well. I looked all disheveled and would have preferred to have showered for my first visit with the Queen.  

I could tell by Jur's face as he looked at me standing half naked in the hallway with a pile of orange things all around me holding my tiny plastic royal Dutch flag that I won at a carnival, that I had lost control and perhaps was a "bit" too excited about the Queen. I wanted to explain to him how I have always felt that I was in some way meant to be Royal. How I relate to them, feel connected to them, like I belong with them. How I could handle all the pressure and appearances, and duties and palaces but..... Again looking at Jur's face (and now writing this) I think it is perhaps best to keep this lifelong personal "belief" to myself. Long story short Holland has a lovely Queen. Her name is Queen Beatrix.  I think the Dutch Royals are very interesting and wonderful.  Apparently more than most of the Dutch do.  My next goal is try and have Trixie (which is what those of us close to her call her) over for tea. I'll keep you posted!

See, there are so many things I like (even love) about Holland! Hell, I didn't even get to the cheese!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Blog #2 Mijn naam is Ken

First off, for those of you who have expressed concern, Corri, my best Dutch friend with the tracheotomy did not choke or die from the cookie I gave her. I know this because I decided to make her a banana bread.  Actually I wanted to make banana nut bread but I know nuts can be card to swallow. So I thought why risk it. I baked her a banana bread and took it over to her. She seemed surprised at my gift and since it was the first time I had ever knocked on her door she seemed startled when she answered and she had also forgotten to bring her microphone. She looked at my bread gift and, as with most Dutch people and my cooking, she seemed to not have a clue what it was.

I said "uh, banana.....broed (I think that is dutch for bread) ... uh, Banana?"

She still seemed confused so I made the sound of a monkey, did a slight monkey pose and then mimed a monkey eating a banana. She got it. I think. If not, she thinks I am some crazy American handing out strange breads and acting like jungle animals. Actually I haven't seen or heard from her since and I know she didn't choke on it because I saw her take her trash out so now I am beginning to think she is either scared of me or she didn't like my banana bread. Which is very rude and ungrateful in my opinion. I know my banana bread is good. I tasted it. As for me being the crazy one, well she came over to mY door crying which is way worse then my monkey dance. I think Corri and I are having our first fight!


Despite the EXTREMELY stressful bike ride to and from school I made it. Bike riding in Holland is a major issue but I will save that hellish part of moving to Holland for another day. The minute the class started I became aware that I might need to be moved to the Special Ed section of the class. Clearly others in the class have lived in Holland longer and have more experience with the language. The guy next to me from Gambia even stood up ten minutes in to the class and announced that he felt the class was too basic for him and he thought he should transfer to the next level. Oh please, what a show off! AND I had just lent him my extra emergency pen, which he took with him! The first day of school was not starting off well.

The Teacher, whose name is Wytske Versteeg, (yeah, that's right, you see it, YOU try to say it) gave us the exercise to "get to know" the person sitting next to us and then we would  have to stand up and tell the rest of the class about them. We should try to say what their name is and where they are from. In DUTCH! I have to use a sentence in Dutch on the first day? My heart started racing. To make matters worse, now that my Gambia, Gambian, Gambianeese or whatever neighbor left the class (with my emergency pen!)  my new neighbor was...get this...Jiaojia Xiujang from China. She speaks in some sort of combination of Chinese,  Dutch and possibly English AND she was soooooo soft spoken. I was leaning in as close to her as possible and squinting my eyes to hear her which I think made her nervous because she wouldn't look at me. I was starting to panic and develop stage fright. I have about three minutes to come up with 2 grammatically correct Dutch sentences about Jiaojia to say in front of everybody!

I was not at all ready and wasn't even sure how to say the name Jiaojia correctly, but before I knew it, it was my turn. I stood up and said something like

"um, mijn naam is Ken (which wasn't part of the assignment but I was desperate for material) , zjij (she... I think in dutch)  naam (name)  JiaoJia  (which I tried to say in my best Chinese Giao ya Gia or something like that)  and  JiaoJia..... uh..... China"

I heard a few giggles from the advanced beginners behind me. They were all grouped together in the back corner. I think their leader is this know-it-all guy from India who by the way has lived in Holland for three years already! I have to be nice to him though because he is downloading all the practice CD's for the entire class. So I guess he can make fun of me ......for now.

Anyway the teacher said with a puzzled look  "Well, you will get it, and that yes your naam is Ken."  Yes, that is what I learned on my first day of Dutch class. My name is Ken. Mijn naam is Ken.

Then Jiaojia stands up and, in this loud clear voice that I NEVER heard before, recites THREE perfectly constructed sentences in Dutch about me. She says my name, where I came from and where I live now.

I just stared at her as she sat down but she continued to refuse to make eye contact with me!

After that I was emotionally and educationally exhausted and I started to hide behind the guy from Turkey in front of me so that the teacher would not call on me. I spent the rest of the class trying to listen but mostly I focused on sneaking tic tac's out of my book bag whenever the teacher turned her back to write on the board. I am not sure what the rules about eating in class are but I didn't want to have anymore trouble on my first day.

Anyway I really can't say I made any friends on my first day at school. Jiaojia and I may (?) be close even though she deceived me and doesn't seem to want to talk to or look at me. I do know her name though, and that she is from China, oh, and, either me offering her a tic tac is offensive, or she very much dislikes tic tacs or she just does not want MY tic tacs.

And one last thing. Class went over 12 minutes. This better not be a regular thing.