Amsternesia

I am currently sitting in a hotel room bed, sick out of my mind with a cold. The hotel room is in Indonesia, and this is my first time here.  So I will not let the day(s) go un-blogged.

Firstly to explain the title – it’s a combination of Amsterdam and Indonesia…

Last night at 11 PM I arrived here at the hotel.  My trip was extra long because I first went to my Mother’s house in the South of France.  So I left Vancouver on Tuesday afternoon, arrived in France the next day, jet-lagged but determined to stay up.  I spent Thursday with my little sisters, and on Friday, my Mom and I left for Indonesia to attend a conference that my grandfather organizes, called Building the Scientific Mind (BtSM).

But it was not a direct stretch then either.  We left France early in the morning on Friday, and then spent the day in Amsterdam. My Mom had a meeting so I wandered around Amsterdam by myself before meeting up with a childhood friend for a bit.

I was still feeling okay then, aside from my legs aching from walking so many hours, and my mind aching at the thought of the 13-hour flight I was to take that evening, via Kuala Lumpur, to Jakarta, Indonesia.

Amsterdam itself is a strange place.  Upon leaving the house where my Mother was having her meeting, a guy who was assisting some works being done in the street addressed me.

“You’re pretty.” He said, in Dutch, with a thick foreign accent which I could not identify.

“Oh. Thanks.” I said, awkwardly trying to avoid eye contact and speed up my pace.  But he kept up, following me down the street and around the corner.

“Are you Indian?” He asked.

“Yes. Well, half Pakistani.”, I answered, speeding up my pace and distancing myself from him by making my way to the opposite side of the street.  He then began to whistle creepily from behind me, which terrified me.  It may have been broad daylight in a nice neighborhood but the streets were empty aside from the occasional cyclist.  And even if they had been packed, I would not have felt safe.

We came to a bridge, which I crossed and then turned left.  If you don’t know much about Amsterdam, I will explain quickly here that the roads next to the “grachts” (canals) are one-way on either side.  I lost him on the bridge, or at least when I turned around he wasn’t there, but I could still hear his creepy whistling, possibly coming from the opposite side of the canal.

Forgive me, if you’re a kind, respectful, caring man (kudos to you, my friend), but what the hell, guys?

What could he possibly gain from following me around other than making himself come across as a scary creep? And why is that enjoyable to him?  The fact that so many men in the world treat women this way (not to mention attackers and rapists), is horrible.  In fact, you may not be an attacker or rapist, but you’re certainly making yourself look like one by behaving this way.

The fact that I cannot walk down the street in a civilized Western town (not to make any assumptions about other places), baffles and horrifies me.  If I can’t feel safe there then where the hell can I?

Anyway, I did run into him again soon after that in my wanderings but he was at the end of the street and I was able to turn around and change direction in time.

Which is the reason why instead of visiting the nicer, non-touristy part of Amsterdam (which was deserted by the way, which I found strange), I ended up in the usual tourist destinations, walking through the main street that leads down from Central Station and even passing through the Red Light District, where somehow I felt safer.

One thing worth mentioning there was that I walked past a store that looked a lot like an Apple store (slick, white, clean interior) but was in fact a store that specialized in electronic vibrators.  I almost wish I had gone in just to satisfy my curiosity about what crazy contraptions the store may house, but since I was on my way to meet my friend, I kept walking.

Honestly, the touristic centre of Amsterdam was awful.  It was gift store after gift store (with large marijuana leaves and obscene images on everything), interspersed with “coffee shops” (if you live on the moon and therefore don’t know about these, these are where you can go to smoke weed legally), bars, and sex shops.  When I went looking for a place to actually sit and have a cup of coffee, there were none (except not one but two Starbuckses in the train station which I had no interest in).

In my opinion, these things have destroyed Amsterdam.  The fact that they exist is more than okay with me, but the fact that everyone’s first impression of this beautiful historic city has to be this… well that’s just sad.

My childhood friend Ingo took me to the Eye, which is a relatively new film museum and theatre which is across the water behind the Central Station to the North.  If you’re in town, I highly recommend it.

Anyway, after briefly meeting up with my friend, my Mom and I left for Schiphol Airport and got on a very long flight.  We both took a Xanax and passed out for a good number of hours.  During the flight and the four-hour drive to our hotel, I realized I had contracted whatever sickness my sister had in France, and got sicker and sicker along the way (culminating in now, I am sitting in bed while everyone is downstairs having dinner).

The drive was rather scary.  My Mom and I sat in the very back of a 6-seater van.  Thank goodness we were in the back, because while on the highway leaving Jakarta the driver couldn’t have been more than a foot and a half away from the cars in front of him at all times.  We also drove through Bandung late on a Saturday, which means crazy traffic jams and as many scooters as there are bikes in Amsterdam, it seemed like.

The good news was that we arrived at our hotel in Lembang, which is beautiful, includes a Spa and a pool, has amazing views of the countryside – and doesn’t only serve noodles for breakfast… It’s a good way to start, but I do look forward to a less bourgeois experience next week when my family leaves and I’m in the country for a week on my own, hopefully fully recovered and ready to explore.

Suggestions of places I should go to are appreciated, by the way!

Tune in soon for Day 2.

PS: Sorry for the lack of photos, but they’re coming soon too, I promise.

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