but first: a colonial detour

June 21, 2009
sky. high.

Europe was quite literally the last place I expected to be when I woke up this morning.  (Is it still “this” morning?  After 105 garbled hours  of drug-induced debauchery, my circadian rhythms skip and stutter like a syncopated gamelan interlock with no apparent downbeat or tonal center.  And crossing twelve timezones in a day doesn’t help.)  But Northwest 19 to Singapore-via-Tokyo was overbooked, so instead I flew east:  Singapore-via-Amsterdam.

lots of cheese, da?

About a decade had passed since the only other time I’d been to the Netherlands, on a family vacation for four or five days.  All I remember from that visit is seeing Anne Frank’s house and a handful of archetypical windmills, watching “Cow and Chicken” dubbed into Dutch on my cousin’s TV, playing Godzilla in Madurodam, and being very upset about leaving a prized Lego set under my seat when we got off the hovercraft.  This time I was on my own for about eight hours, and armed with only those scant memories, a camera, and a sense of adventure.

the only girl i've ever loved
the only girl i’ve ever loved

Fortunately, the train from Schiphol to Amsterdam Centraal takes only 15 minutes and 2 euro each way.  After the airport’s ATM hungrily devoured my American debit card, I counted in my trusty red traveller’s wallet a grand total of US$25 — not counting Singapore $4.70 (US$3.23), Rp. 100,000 (US$9.70), and a $750 voucher from Northwest (priceless).

“I’m sorry about your bank card,” said the fair-haired man at the currency exchange.  “But there’s a five-euro minimum commission.”  Not sorry enough.  So with a paltry €13 jingling in my pocket, I made my way to the platform.

was born with roses in her eyes
was born with roses in her eyes

Round-trip ticket, Schiphol International Airport – Amsterdam Centraal:  €4

Pocket Street Map of Amsterdam:  €2,97

1.5 gram “Pablow Picasso” award-winning cannabis:  €5

The remaining €1,03 found its way into an upturned hat, behind which was playing a somber-looking accordionist.

In the 142 years between Portuguese colonization and Japanese occupation, the Dutch (or technically the Dutch East India Company, at least at first) held many of the islands that are now part of the Republic of Indonesia.  The Netherlands formally recognized Indonesia’s independence in 1949, five years after Indonesian nationalists declared it.  Today, Nederlandsche influence permeates Indonesian society, albeit in slightly less-sinister post-colonial guises:  Dutch brands of snacks and biscuits in department store aisles and street vendors’ carts, remnants of a railway system and the archipelago’s first public schools, and a smattering of vocabulary.  Some of my favorites are wortel (carrot), rokok (cigarette), and dongkrak (car jack).

More pictures and links…