In this journal:
- Christmas eve gambling;
- sailing a hot tub;
- I got physically assaulted.
Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.Arthur C. Clarke
My bus arrived into Eindhoven without any delay, and I happily hopped onto the next train to Tilburg. The entire Netherlands has been turned into a metro-area system, as every train station has those automatic gates, and I could just get an OV-Chipcaard and get in/out any time I want, take any train I want, and the fares will be deducted automatically from the card. However, the fares remain inexplicably high, as the 40 minute ride from Eindhoven to Tilburg costs a whopping 11 euros, and that is with discounts. The rich people and their lives in their lands below the sea, I can never understand.
I settled down in the hostel right in the student town of Tilburg. I looked around the empty 10-bed dorm, just a few beds were available, and after 20 minutes of hard work, I put on the sheets, bed cover, douvet, pillow case, and sheet cover onto an empty slot, and left my personal items on it. I took a small walk in the dark, crowdless streets, and upon my return, a guy was sleeping in it. He reeked of vomit and alcohol, and all my personal belongings were lying on the ground. What the hell? I woke him up from his sleep apnea, and saw his bloodshot eyes, without any light in the retina. This Belgian dude could not speak any English, so I have to use my broken French to question him. It turned out that he tucked his duffelbag underneath the bed, and so he claimed it righteously before my arrival, or so he said. How? He did not make the bed; he did not put anything on the bed; nor did he make his bag visible. I was visibly frustrated, yet he did not care, threatened me with vulgar languages, waved his fists, and went straight back to sleep. His travel companion, sleeping in the next bed over, used French to tell me to shut the fuck up, and pushed me outside the room. I walked to the reception, which told me there was nothing they could do, and told me to just sleep in the other empty bed, which happened to be right above him.
“I don’t like being verbally abused,” I informed the receptionist, “and I do not feel comfortable sleeping right above him.”
“Well, we do not have anything else for you, even if you want to pay extra, sorry, you have to sleep there.” The receptionist, a young man from Spain who was just taking this job temporarily during university winter break, was clearly impatient, and definitely did not check the system.
And so, I went back to my room, picked up all my scattered items tossed on the ground, and began making the bed, again, in pitch darkness, above the dude whose “irresistable” odor could be smelled a room away. Tough luck, I thought to myself, but this ain’t the first time I have encountered objectively horrible people during my travels. I rarely mention these people because 99.9% of the folks I encounter are true gems of humanity, while I do not want my blog to be oversaturated with the handful of bad apples that I have encountered. Look at that friendly Bahn-mi maker in Ho Chi Minh City, the friendly locals that proactively offered me rides on Ometepe, and the passionate street vendors who dragged me into semi-erotic swing dances in Porto, these are all kind memories that shall never be forgotten. I believe people are generally great, and those who embark on journeys outside their comfort zones are even better.
Yet, sadly, this day would be an opposite of the other 99.9% of days. Netherlands is known for being very liberal with recreational drugs, as I detailed in previous Netherlands journals. In Amsterdam, it is really easy to procure any kind of drug, hard or recreational, and the consumption as well as sales are widespread everywhere in the country. As a result, in places such as Tilburg, and the nearby Breda, Roosendaal, and many other first towns across the Belgian border, numerous Belgians drive here and purchase sufficient drugs to fuel a few trips, and return. This guy, on the Friday night, decided to come with his buddy and stay for a longer field trip, hence his bloodshot eyes and superheavy breathing, probably a result of a stimulant. While I was putting the sheets in the cover on the ground in the dark room, after collecting my things from the ground, I guess he was just annoyed because I was still there, leaped out while I was closing up the zippers. Before I became aware of what was happening, he held me in a chokehold while his buddy joined in to hit my face with my cellphone. I elbowed him a few times and was let off, and I promptly rushed to reception: not gonna fight two drugged up Belgians in a hostel. Police were called, but in a small town right before Christmas, they said nothing could be done, while the two realized what they had done and fled with their belongings: with the hourly night train, they could be back in home turf in 20 minutes. Sadly, they got away, and the police never came.
Fortunately, I was not hurt badly, as their intoxication weakened their punches, and I got out of the chokehold rather quickly. After the owner of the hostel was notified, suddenly room 16, apparently “a private room only used for high season” was available, complete with clean sheets and everything. Strange, isn’t it? However, after a night of pure frustration, I decided to take my leave of this town. I understand most locals and the owner are amicable and welcoming, but the drug situation, the lack of policing, and the fact that most workers in this town are simply students on 3-week jobs, make this place not the best to hole up in. I promptly hopped onto the morning train, and headed towards Roosendaal. My good friend, Kelly, has her boyfriend living there, so I holed up there for a bit, before heading towards her house in Vlissingen.
I will not detail too much about the few days spent in Vlissingen, as the most interesting part of this 50000 people town was divulged in full during my adventure last year, which you can find here. I mostly relaxed due to the fact that I was physically assaulted just a day ago, and walked Dino, Kelly and her boyfriend Jan’s dog. He is a good boy, and loves walks on the beach. When he sees the beach in sight, he usually generates 270 horsepowers of pulling force out of thin air, dragging me behind like a tractor.
And for Christmas, the family celebrates on the 25th of December, in Kelly’s mother’s house, a cute adobe sitting at Middleburg, a few kilometers from Vlissingen. Kelly’s parents are both retired, but they do have an impressive collection of flowers in the garden, old records in the basement, and delicious food in the kitchen. I, of course, took full advantage of these amenities, shamelessly. Their basement was really low, but the moment I realized Kelly’s father dug the entire floor out of mud by himself, I was shocked. This is because the house already sits a few meters below sea level, and imagine digging through even more mud underneath? That must be an undertaking of the century!
And here, it is time to open your eyes for a brand new world. Gourmetten, literally meaning “the gourmet”, is the tradition for Christmas here in Netherlands. Similar to raclette I had with Cathrin a few years prior, it involves a strange stove, a ton of gnome-sized pans, and copious amount of options. While Cathrin was a staunch vegetarian, this Dutch family was not shy with the local butcher. This also has a reason, an important one. In 1977, most Dutch families consumed cheese fondue for Christmas, and it was clear that if nothing was done, the meat sales would continue to plateau, while meat production was expanding rapidly. The industry leaders found two Dutch chefs to go on a nation-wide tour in order to promote the consumption of meats, and the duo came up with the idea of raclette, which they renamed into Gourmetten. With the help of local butchers offering up tiny slices of meats, it worked, maybe a bit too well, as now nearly 70% of Dutch families eat Gourmetten for Christmas. And that is why Gourmetten is almost universally non-vegetarian friendly, and uses more butter than actual raclette cheese, resulting in a completely different experience from last time. Hard to imagine such a big tradition had only become a thing in Netherlands merely 40 years ago!
And yet, the strangest Christmas tradition is yet to come. Kelly’s family, for some unknown reasons, chose a rather obscure activity to conduct after getting way too much food stuffed into their tummies on Christmas Eve. Normally people would go for a classic movie, or some family games, or just simple coffee and chats. Nope, none of that. Every year, after finishing up the mountain of food, they would gamble. Yes, and not just normal gambling, I mind you. Since it was Christmas, it has to be Christmas-themed gambling, duh! Each person’s Christmas gift would be a piece of Christmas-special scratching lottery, made into the form of an advent calendar. Supposedly scratched off day by day, nobody would even have the patience to wait even if it just contains chocolate, not to mention if the grand prize is 100000 Euros. As a result, I was given a piece of paper, and told to go to town with the nickel.
Each day, you scratch off the cover and reveal a certain Christmas-related item, from snowman to bells to santa, and then tally them up accordingly. At the end, if you reach a certain threshold of the same item, you win the prize corresponding to it. While per usual lottery systems, it is virtually impossible to win any money, as the family has never gotten far past “one more free ticket” stage, the scummiest part is that it always makes you seem like you are just 1 short of the biggest prize. This feeds into an unhealthy gambling mentality and coerces people to buy more. Luckily, Kelly’s family have well-adjusted attitudes with this activity, as I actually enjoyed having something to do with the family after dinner, which does not involve even more food like in Sweden, or embarrassing tasks like singing in Germany. Yes, even though I was actually 1 short of the grand prize on my card at the end.
And on another day, I decided to repay the family and their hospitality with even more food. We Chinese have a saying that goes by “滴水之恩，湧泉相報/A drop of water shall be repaid with a gushing spring.” And so I asked Kelly to help me buy all the required materials for my instructions. Surprisingly, everyone was really good at making dumplings, what is normally regarded as a difficult dish, and they even managed to finish eating all 200 of them! Kelly also thanked me for not burning down her house by serving a fresh platter of appelflappen. Unlike the æbleskiver I had in Denmark, this apple-named dough pastry actually has apple slices inside, battered with enough flour to feed a starving Cambodian village, and deep fried to a golden brown, topped with cinnamon as well as ample sugar. Do not worry, it is usually served in Netherlands just before New Year’s Eve, so they do not count in your new year resolutions.
For my last day in Vlissingen, I followed Kelly on her quest for the best horsing materials in town. She would participate in a dressage competition, as this is the most popular sport of the entire country that does not involve a ball. Many people in the countryside keep a few horses even in the age of motorized vehicles, and in Vlissingen, the district holds competitions on a bi-weekly basis. Mostly women participate in the sport, while men aim for faster horseraising or obstacle courses. The result is that Dutch have one of the best breeds, trainers, environments and communities for horses and related sports, so Kelly was employed by a premier ranch in Shanghai. Many local stores have sprung up in the country for everything related to horses, saddles, horseshoes, whips, reins, boots, horse food, medicines, you name it. I also accompanied her to the competition, which took place on a local ranch.
These are the most local level of competition, so there were only 6 competitors in her category. She works with a local rancher to borrow horses on a symbiosis system, as she trains the horse on a weekly basis while the rancher provides her with a horse to ride. Of course she crushed it, earning a first place in the competition. Everyone knows Kelly as the girl who made it big and managed to turn horseriding from a casual hobby like basketball for many North Americans, into an actual gig in a prestige establishment on intercontinental level! Duh! She should be the one handing out awards!
I bid Kelly farewell as she still had to prepare for more ridings, while for me it looked like horses walking drunk. So I decided to not bother her too much more, and hopped onto the next train heading to the southern capital, Rotterdam.
Do not be fooled, even though you might think this city is just a small one in the tiny country of Netherlands, Rotterdam, along with her neighbor city Den Haag, which you may know as The Hague, form the largest metropolitan area in the entire nation, even bigger than Amsterdam! I hopped off my rapid train in the center, and meandered out of the impressively modern-looking central station, facing the port of Europe, heart of the center of the continent.
Welcome to the largest port in the entire Europe, the economic heart of European Union. The name Rotterdam derives from the eponym of Rotte, a river that is in the city center, and guess what? The Dutch put a dam on top of it in 12th century, hence the name Rotter-dam! The city holds the access to Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt, three major navigable rivers on the continent, so the Dutch has the chokehold of a majority of western Europe’s access to sea. Due to the extensive Nazi bombings of the city during the Blitzcrieg, Rotterdam does not have the untouched historical canal downtown as Amsterdam, but a modern, sleek, clean, and sharp center, a stark contrast over the small villages in Netherlands that I have become so accustomed to.
To begin my exploration, I will first introduce you to the gigantic market going on in the city. On weekends, entire blocks of the city center will be sqaured off with a large row of stalls set up in the heart of the cultural district. This includes virtually any kind of food one can possibly want, from locally famous dried mackarels to Vietnamese summer rolls, you can find someone selling them. Of course, there are also vegetables, fruits and meats cheaper than supermarkets, as well as fresher. There are also a gigaton of clothes, fake jewelry, handbags, eco-friendly daily use items, and other typical flea market junk such as antiques, plates, pots, teapots, wardrobes, cupboards, vinyls, and many other non-edibles.
And of course, for it being Netherlands, I have to get myself some kibbeling. As I had it last time, I managed to down an entire box within a minute, completely disregarding the accompanying sauce, or the fact that my mouth had practically been seared off. How did they manage to cook such simple dishes with so much flavors? What else did they put in the magical crumbs that gave this special “kick” to simple fried fish? I may never know.
If you want a market more touristy, and less temporary, then you have to sidestep from this street, into the nearby attraction called Markthal, literally meaning Market Hall. It is a 11-story behemoth that is shaped like a horseshoe, and no, not like a horseshoe seen from above, but from the side. Yes, it is actually a structure that resembles a large arch, and underneath the 10-floor arch, hundreds of stalls are housed under the roof, and the two sides sealed with a glass panel. In fact, the outer sides of the strange building are used as apartment complexes, and sold to various rich citizens who want to have a cornucopia of food right inside their lobby.
The inner rim of the hall is decorated with a detailed artwork that spans 11000 square meters, called Horn of Plenty. It is so large and detailed that its imprinting file was more than a terrabite in size! As a result, the construction company had to use supercomputers to accurately print the image onto 4000 aluminum plates, in order for them to stick perfectly on the roof. Tons of tourists gather here daily for a taste of the fancy foods offered under this ceiling, including some real overpriced shit that I had no interests about. However, there were indeed a few shops of exceptional quality, offering high grade Dutch cheese that is hard to find elsewhere in the city.
And here we have a stall selling Negerzoen. A seemingly harmless treat of choclate coated marshmellows, this obesity-inducing smooch of love is an easy sign of contention. You see, in Dutch, zoen means kisses, and neger, uhhh, means nigger. Yes, the hard “n”. The lore goes by the fact that once you eat this and kiss others, it will leave a brown hickie on the other person, and in the minds of those people who spread the dessert from Denmark 200 years ago, it was like being kissed by a black person. So, yeah, not exactly the most progressive name out there, hence most countries have changed the name of this delicious little thing in their respective tongues, but in Netherlands, the name was only starting to be dropped in 2006, and many people are opposed to that. True, the racial connotation is mostly nonexistant in the mind of any muncher nowadays, but some people still want to purge this word out of existence.
I also went for a round of fries, given that I was yet to meet my daily 35000 calorie intake standard. This is from a locally famous chain of fries stands called Bram Ladage, founded by the owner of the same name, here in Rotterdam decades ago. The Dutch style fries are cut thick and fresh in store, and pre-fried just to be refried before being served, topped with a thick layer of mayonnaise and onion, as well as a sauce among the dozen choices. Is it yummy? Is that a rhetorical question? You know the answer already.
While wandering the city’s intricate system of canals, I found an entire series of interesting architecture. Unlike most other canal cities with history such as Amsterdam and Hamburg, these tight spots that used to be the golden lands of cargo shipping had been completely transformed into golden lands of scenic office buildings. Concrete and steel are way less used than glass, and these new designs that probably only sprang up in the past decade formed a stark contrast against the old ships that docked by the tranquil quays. In fact, most of these boats are owned by the Maritime Museum, as it collects all kinds of ships and save them from potential scrapping doom, and offer these historical monuments a new home in the waterways of Rotterdam, so a ticket to the museum goes a long way here in the city. A lot of other larger boats are also homes for the locals, as a lot prefer to stay in boat houses to avoid exorbitant land taxes in town, and hey, you can move whenever you want! Wait, what is that in the last picture? What is that little thing in the waterway? No way! It is a tub in a tug! A hot water bath tub powered, and propelled by a stove!? whaaat!?
Talking about spending money above water, Rotterdam actually has a very thorough coverage of water taxis, even though they are mostly used by tourists. You can hail one of the taxis that pass by once in every few minutes, and there is actually a specific rate to go between each pair of the 50 stops in town, albeit almost always quite expensive. Next to the waterways, you can also find the only part of medieval Rotterdam, a lone leftover from the years that the rest of the city had abandoned. Lawrence Church is of the Protestant sect, originally finished in 1525. It was badly damaged during the Blitz in the war, and was called by many to be demolished. However, the queen of Netherlands at the time wanted to have a symbol to show Rotterdam’s resistence, so it was forcefully kept and rebuilt. Now it stands quietly in a small park, telling its stories to anyone who wishes to listen. I am glad I did.
And how can I miss the city landmark, the Cube Houses? Originally envisioned by Dutch artist Piet Blom as a solution to a city housing problem, it is probably one of the oddest communities in existence. In the late 70s, the Rotterdam city commission had a problem, as they had two tiny plots of land available next to the popular Blaak Station, and was having trouble to connect these two pieces of land zoned as residential. They approached Blom and he came up with these oddities built on top of a pedestrian walkway. However, they are quite useless, because of the 100 square meters of theoretical usable space, only 25% is actually not inhibited by the 55 degree sharp angles, and those comfortable livable space is spread all over 4 floors.
Quickly, by the 90s, these bizarre existences became a city landmark, giving the owners so much trouble that they decided to open up one of the houses as a show-room for the visitors. Now, the line for seeing these crooked adobes snakes through the overpass every day. Having to be bothered by slanted walls, nonstop traffic, and waves of selfie-sticks, these houses have probably turned into the most inhospitable residential zone in the city.
Now let’s turn our attention to the waterfront of Nieuwe Maas, the mother river of Rotterdam. The most famous bridge over it is probably the Erasmus Bridge, a steel suspension tension bridge overhanging the water precariously. Right behind it is the De Rotterdam, the largest single building in Netherlands, looking like a pile of bricks stacked on top of each other. The bottom 6 floors serve as the cruise terminal, while the top is consisted of a hotel, a few hundred apartments, and office space for the city government. Below you can see another modern architecture put into use in the same year, the New Institute, built as a space for design and arts in the digital era.
And this is the new art depot of the famous museum Boijmans van Beuningen due to open in 2021. 6 floors of curved mirror perfectly reflects the skyline of the city, and I cannot wait to pay it a visit once it is all finished and filled to the brink with all the art collection amassed by this old museum! Talking about city landmarks, how can I possibly leave out Euromast? This concrete block of tower was built in 1960, and was so heavy that a 1.9-million-ton slab of concrete had to be embedded under the current position to stabilize the structure. Yes, that is a piece of solid block of 1.9 million tons, you read it right. It was the tallest building in Rotterdam when it was completed, and regained its status after it nearly doubled its height when a separte antenna was added onto the 101-meter-tall observation platform, and has been pridely No.1 since.
Now let me help you dig into those secrets Rotterdam has to offer, a deep dive of this interesting city. The above manor sits at the park which houses the Euromast, but few know that its gardens are actually open to the public. Originally, this park was a piece of land frequently overflooded by the dirty water from the river. It was thoroughly reclaimed in the early 18th century, and quickly became a favorite of the rich. The garden of this manor was frequently decorated, and eventually settled down on an English style in 1920s. It was opened by the owners to the public in 1976, and now is a public park open for everyone, for free! It has more than 1000 species of curated plants, and is an especially quiet place for local couples to canoodle.
And this is Schouwburgplein, the most popular plaza in downtown Rotterdam, thanks to its proximity to the orchestra, shopping centers and museum quarter. Originally a huge slab of dull concrete, it was reimagined in late 1990s into its current form, complete with a 60-meter bench, reused floor paneling, and these four kinetic lamp posts, heavily inspired by the large dock cranes that used to line these shores. Back in the days, you could pay 1 gulden (currency before advent of Euro) and have them move to one position randomly, but now, it has been fixed for quite a while now, even though the city claimed it is “temporary”.
This is The Delftse Poort, a strange art piece sitting next to a busy road. The old Delftse Gate protected the citizens of Rotterdam from raiders and invasions ever since mid 1500s. It was destroyed and rebuilt 3 times, until WWII, when the old gate was moved out of its original position after the thorough destruction. An artist, Cor Kraat, brought the gate back to its original position with this piece as a protest against the drab concrete architectures found throughout the rebuilding efforts. It is colored orange for the national color of Holland, and is made in a steel beam form as a representation that Rotterdam is always under construction.
This is another of Kraat’s work, unveiled in 1987. This BMW is one of the most famous pop art pieces in the city, as it hangs precariously over a secluded street from a seemingly-too-normal parking building. You can see its active posture really contradicted with the utilitarian cement blocks that used to surround the central station. Below you can find Kraat’s protest not to materials, but to straight lines. After realizing everything was deadly boring in the postwar architecture style, he sketched up a curvy lamppost just to spite all other lamp designers. Right after its debut in the 70’s, Kraatpaal was the most photographed city hallmark in Rotterdam, but now, it is just a forgotten piece of cityscape, only left for the keenest eyes.
However, after giving so much shit to concrete, I have to provide a chance for it to regain its reputation as a trusty material. Here you see Sylvette, a work by Picasso. After meeting his muse, a 20-year-old named Sylvette, the 74-year-old Picasso went into a creation frenzy. That was when he cooperated with Carl Nesjar to enlarge an existing statue of her into a chonker. Nesjar developed a method to “paint” concrete by making it with blackstone and then cover it with a layer of normal concrete; by sandblasing it you can practically draw on top of the slab. The statue was gifted to Rotterdam in 1963, but it only took 8 years of citizen protests for her to settle down.
Ahhh, the good ol’ Buttplug Gnome, wait, Paul McCarthy’s Santa Claus. Sorry for the Freudian slip, but this is actually the more accurate description of this strange artistic installment paid heftily by the Rotterdam city government. It was created by Paul McCarthy, famous for his abstract style, but he definitely did not think it through when he decided to don the black statue a more abstract idea of Christmas trees. This gigantic toy was originally planned for the most popular square of the city shown before with the kinetic lamp posts, and eventually was rejected by 4 more locations before settling down by a main road. Now, all we need is a yo-mama joke…
This is an unassuming statue of Fikkie, a gift from a Hungarian artist on the centennial of the Rotterdam Student Association, representing the resilience and the joy of the youth. It has always been treated like a real dog, with care taken, hugs given, clothes worn in cold weather, and bowls of water fed in summer. A little turd was added a decade later as a symbol to remind citizens to take care of the trash in the streets. And since it is a Rotterdam student symbol, it had been stolen by rival student groups 3 times!
Rigardus Rijnhout is a Rotterdam citizen born in 1922, and he suffers from the rare condition of acromegaly. This causes his body to grow stupendously fast, and he eventually reached the unmanly 7 feet 6 inches, wearing an unimaginable size 29 shoes (I wear 11!). When he unfortunately passed away due to pertuitary gland issues at the age of 36, he had to be lifted out of the hospital by a crane. A statue now remembers him at the side of his old residence, now a Chinese supermarket, which still uses the large doors he installed for himself as the front gate.
A few kilometers west of the city center sits the multi-ethnic area of Delfshavn. It is where all immigrants come to settle down with their new lives thanks to the cheaper housing rates. It is also where a unique food is born, the kapsalon. It all started just a few years prior, when a Cape Verdean hairdresser, working in his own barber shop, asked the neighbor shwarma store, owned by a Turkish family, for a new recipe. He specifically asked for a pile of fries to be topped by shwarma meat and Dutch gouda cheese, and grilled on the heat for a bit, before drenching it with a bit of lettuce and white sauce. This dish quickly caught the attention of other diners who found him walking out of the store with a gorgeous looking and irresistable smelling tray of food.
Frantically trying to look for a name for this invention, the owner of the shop named it kapsalon, the Dutch word for hairdresser, and it stuck, and spreaded. Now, you can find kapsalon topped with fish for Lent folks in Germany all the way to ones with bulgogi beef in Korea. Yes, I went to the humble beginning of that shwarma shop just to pay a tribute, and digested the 1500 calories of food without a problem.
Now, moving a bit further, a dozen kilometers down from downtown, I found myself in the historical Schiedam. Now a mere commuter town, this place is famous for its past, not present. Originally a large shipbuilding district, it was turned into the most famous Dutch jin production area thanks to its jenever production. In fact, the word jin comes from the juniper berries that was put into these Dutch alcohols. Another fun fact: the Delft Blue Houses that KLM airlines still give out to business class passengers contain jenever! These productions were all fueled by nearly 50 windmills scattered around the city, and these big boys were the reason that I paid my visit.
Because the town had already been built but by the time these windmills were constructed in 16th century, they had to be taller than the urban landscape in order to catch the breeze. The resulting behemoths are the largest windmills ever built in the world, with De Noord being the biggest windmill ever, with a roof height over 33 meters. Now, only 8 remained, but all of them are functional, with a few of them converted into electricity generators. De Noord is turned into a fancy restaurant, and De Walvisch is turned into a museum that still grinds flour, or any other thing that you want to pay them to grind for you.
I purchased a rather expensive ticket to enter De Walvisch, and ascended the few flights of stairs. Besides the first giftshop I have ever seen that sells flour, I also got to see the storage on the second floor, a movie on the third floor, and sample models of the windmill on the fourth floor. Eventually, at the rooftop, I got to see everything in motion. The windmill was surprisingly complex, requiring at least one master and two apprentices in order to operate. I saw the inner mechanics and support beams that turn longitudinal rotations into vertical ones, and the grindstone that rotates surprisingly fast. When the wind changes directions, the entire sail structure can be rotated with an external wheel you see in the picture above, with at least three people’s assistance. The master in charge told me that he and his subordinates can produce half a ton of flour every hour given good winds, and these products have a natural taste that is highly prized in local restaurants for superior bread quality. He was the 4th generation in the family, and he himself had been running this mill for more than 30 years!
Den Haag/The Hague
Finally, the other twin of the pair is Den Haag, 30 kilometers from Rotterdam. It is virtually a part of the same metropolitan area, as the metro lines from Rotterdam go straight from one to the other, and many people commute between the two on a daily basis. Many may know it as the head of world judiciary system, as this city is home to UN’s courts, the international criminal courts, and Europol. This is also the place where the king and queen of Netherland lives, as well as their equivalent of congress is located. I arrived here for a few hours in the sun before my flight out, so I had the opportunity to take a walk among the historical center, quite a way from the modern central station.
The city is mainly centered around the gigantic complex called Binnenhof. It is a series of large buildings surrounding a plaza, mostly built in 13th century, and come with the mandatory Gothic style typical of that time. Just in this block of buildings, you can find the parliament of Netherlands, the Prime Minister’s office, and the State General of Netherlands. These buildings are the oldest parliamentary buildings that are still in use today. However, do not be fooled, even though the monarchy, prime minister, and the parliament are located in Den Haag, Netherland’s constitutional capital is still Amsterdam!
I spent most of my time meandering around the wide streets of the city. If Amsterdam center is completely from the golden age of the flying Dutchman on the high seas, then Rotterdam is its polar opposite, full of modernist counter-culture signals and hyper-futuristic architecture, while Den Haag is the balanced recorder of the times, from its modern city center to the historical Binnenhof. I personally can see how each fo them ended up in this way, and each has its unique charms and difficulties. Which one do you prefer?
As for lunch, I had to go for my all-time favorite Dutch snack again: stroopwafle. Wait, hold on, that is my other all-time favorite Dutch snack, in Den Haag it is kibbeling again. Yes, this little stand by the lake of Hofvijver actually has to post large warnings about the aggressive seagulls looming above the foods. Yes, it was that serious, because these ferociously winged fuckers are actually literally looming above you, no more than a meter apart. Just a split second of your diverted attention could result in the loss of the best tasting snack being snatched away.
The Great Filter
After partaking in the carnal sins of kibbeling nibbling, I hopped onto the train to Amsterdam Schipol Airport, and boarded my flight to Copenhagen. There is no denying that Netherlands is such a place of wonder, a rare earth. Those post-modernist art decorations in Rotterdam, the best boy Dino, strange traditions of Christmas, and the gigantic windmills still standing today, all tell a different story, a unique story. I am so glad that I spent the most festive time of the year with Kelly and her family, ate all those great delicious food despite my extra chins, and visited one of the most modern yet historically fascinating cities in the world.
Yet I cannot help but wonder, about a strange paradox, especially whenever I think back about that fateful night as I felt so vulnerable and betrayed. There are nearly 7 billion people on the planet, so even if 5% of the people are single and within my range, and 0.001% find me attractive, why am I still alone? There should be 350000 gals out there, to console me when I am down, to assist me when I am helpless, or to congratulate me when we succeed. Yet, after years of wandering on this planet, I am still, alone. That is like the great Fermi Paradox, if life can exist, then just in the Milky Way, there are 10000 star systems for each of grain of sand on Earth Even though the chance of life happening is trillionth of a percent, then where is everyone? Are we alone in the universe because we are so far ahead? Or are we the only lucky ones? Or we are just way too primitive in our non-uploaded minds? No matter what it is, the thoughts are equally terrifying.
There is no solution to the Fermi Paradox, and the only way to avoid complete existential dread is to try and find an answer. For me, I guess that will be the same. I will just have to keep on truckin’, and try find out more about this life and its meanings, because there is no other way.