Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

You can contact us at werkingwells (at) gmail . com

Monday, August 27, 2012

Humble Pie

A few years back, during a period when I was saying “yes” to every invitation that came my way, I agreed to provide weekly English tutor sessions to a recent Somali immigrant.  My only qualification was that I could speak English and had time on my hands.  She and her husband had six kids under the age of eight, the youngest had serious health problems that required them to visit OHSU on a weekly basis. 

The tutoring sessions would consist of me holding one or two of the babies, while going over the oldest kid’s homework and explaining to Howa (the mother) the many sheets of paper in his backpack.  I wanted to spend more time with her, but that proved difficult given her situation.  She told me that she wanted to learn English so that she could get a license and drive a car.  Drive a car?!  I thought and probably said out loud—though not to her.  There was more to driving a car than reading a STOP sign!  The test itself can be highly complex, even for some native English speakers and wouldn’t she want to be learning English for higher pursuits like reading her child’s school notices or David Sedaris essays? 

I’ve been driving around Eindhoven for the past few weeks and let’s just say I’m eating a bit of humble pie. 

Howa, I’m sorry for even questioning your desire to drive and I can’t imagine how you got/get around Portland with six kids dependent upon your husband, a bus or the kindness of friends.  And from what I’m learning, reading the language, while helpful for actual driving, is not necessary. 

I know this because I’ve already driven through construction zones closed off to cars, mistaken 70 km per hour to mean 70 miles, and gone the wrong way down a street.  While there is a universal pictograph sign language where many signs don’t have words, somehow in the States I’ve never seen them, and so am having to learn the sign language as well as Dutch.  I know this might be self-evident to most, but all the signs in the Netherlands—or at least the important signs—are in Dutch! 

I’m proud of myself for getting around Eindhoven and I can almost get from our temporary rental to our “new” home without our GPS.  Can I just say that our onboard navigation system has not only enabled me to brave driving in a new city, but has gotten us into downtown Berlin, Copenhagen and Antwerp, where I’m pretty sure we’d still be without her assistance.  We’ve dubbed the GPS Lola, short for Dolores Umbridge, because she has such a bossy tone about her. 

While I’ve never been anti-immigrant, maybe because I’m one myself and I believe that the awesomeness of the United States arises from the contributions of so many different nationalities, I know that I’ve wondered how someone who has lived in our country for years hasn’t mastered the language, or clings to the ways of the “old country.” 

If nothing else comes out of our experience from living in the Netherlands, it will be the full understanding—not just the intellectual bit—but the visceral ability to get what it is like to be an immigrant.  To not read, speak or even understand the rules of the country you make your home, whether for a year or twenty.  To have to wait, and wait some more for things that citizens take for granted.  Want to sign up for a cell phone?  No problem.  A bank account?  Your parents probably helped you with that one?  Rent a place?  Money helps, but you probably know what steps to take to find one.  Everything is slower for an immigrant.  Mind you, we’ve had the help of Andy’s company getting us appointments to the Expat center, hiring lawyers to deal with our paperwork, calling relocation specialists to assist in our home search and even having a Dutch woman who has lived and traveled extensively overseas take us down to the City Hall so that we can change our address. 

Even with her help, we get overwhelmed with the cultural differences.  One of the mistakes we made was thinking because most of the Dutch speak excellent English (the few who don’t are over the age of 60 or very low skilled workers) and since there is a terrific infrastructure, that we’d be moving to the Euro Disney version of America.  An, “awww, aren’t those differences cute, now let’s go get Starbucks!” kind of place.  And color me stupid, but I didn’t realize that in order to stay in the country for more than 3 months we’d not be traveling Americans with nothing but our passports to guide us, but full-on Dutch residents.  Residents who will pay the taxes, but not necessarily get the benefits.  Wait, no paid vacation from the government, but we do get to visit the community pool! 

I’m learning from this experience one very huge thing about myself.  I make a much better traveler than expat—may be some commitment issues there—but there are some very big differences between the two.  So with my humble pie, I’m being also served a healthy dose of the immigrant experience and finding they’re dishes difficult to swallow. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

London's Calling

I could live in London.  

I know I can Keep Calm and Carry On.

I'm all about Minding the Gap.

And being called "love" as in "the loo is down the stairs, love" makes my day.  

Yes, I've been known for being a bit of a travel slut--meaning I'd do any trip, but I'm also finding that a single city can not be my one true love.  Tokyo I admire for her surreal exoticness, Paris for her beauty, New York for her energy and London because you'd have to be daft not to enjoy her mash up of past and present.  The Olympic Rings may hang off the top of Tower Bridge, but it's not hard to imagine Henry VIII staring at the bridge after he condemned another wife to the chopping block.

So sue me if I seem loose with my devotion.  

Dylan and I found a bit of a lull in our schedule. Kind of a limbo land really.  No school till this week, our house isn't ready for move in till the 24th, our official Dutch residency cards (entry to a full Dutch life) were still in the mail, no Wasabi to worry about, and we'd exhausted most of the major shopping and sites of Eindhoven.  So we did what I imagined would be possible living in the Netherlands, and booked a last minute trip to London!

We arrived Thursday around noon and left Sunday morning and in that time managed to cram in:

Visiting Platform 9 3/4

It sucks to be a muggle.

Watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

Walking from Parliament and Big Ben through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace

Window shopping at Harrods

A evening stroll to Hays Galleria where we got great views of Tower Bridge

A proper fish and chips lunch with my Portland friend Rachael and her daughter Amy.

At a pub that looked like this one--kinda.

And then a visit out to Greenwich.  We didn't straddle east and west, but it's nice to know it's there.

Wandering Borough Market, which had the best brownies I've ever eaten and the biggest english muffins I've ever seen.  Talking to the seller about his muffins reminded me how much I miss eggs benedict and then I began to miss Milos--where they have awesome benedicts--and then I wondered why I haven't seen Hollandaise sauce in Holland, which put me into a bit of a funk.

The last/first time Dylan was in London she was nine.  Sadly she doesn't remember much about that trip except for the tube stop at Southwark and a theatre in Leicester Square.  Random, but I guess that's the downside of taking a kid traveling when they are younger than ten.  Don't do it for what they remember but how it forms them.

Dylan, Tina Needham and I at the Hop Exchange, 2006.

Dylan and some random dude, at the Hop Exchange 2012.

Even though she no longer loves rats, for old times sake we had to get this picture of a Plague rat  hand puppet sold at the Globe gift store.

All in all, it was a great weekend.  

Meanwhile back at the ranch...the highlights, or memorable bits of Andy's weekend was stumbling upon the owner of the porn shop (for those who haven't kept up with us on Facebook, we currently live in an adorable temporary rental above a porn shop) sunbathing nude by our back stairs and biking to Belgium.  I think we can guess who had the better time.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

I want to ride my bicycle, bicycle!

One of the things we looked forward to during this move was buying Dutch bikes.  Today both mine and Dylan's arrived!  Andy picked his up on Friday night--picture to follow.  

We went to the bike store in the town center.  It took a few visits, but we were able to get the  exact bikes we wanted and it only took 3 days for them to special order and customize them.  

Yes, mine is the largest kid's sized bike available.  Now we get to feel like real Dutchies as we ride around town for all of our errands.  Jealous?

Oh, we also got this for opening a bank account.

Lime green and big enough for half a slice of bread.  And it toasts the bank's logo onto the bread!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Parting Shots from Berlin, Copenhagen and Malmo

Here are just a few parting shots from the end of our vacation.  

Our one picture at Checkpoint Charlie

After a long hot day, nothing beat the heat like this wonderful dinner at a Singaporean restaurant in Berlin

I am so digging the satay and crab patties.

The dogs travel in style in Copenhagen.

A highlight of Copenhagen, a canal tour.

This was one of the sights of Copenhagen that I really wanted to see.  Charming if you took away the hordes of tourists and ugly restaurants.

This is the same view that Hans Christian Anderson enjoyed during his 20 year residency along the canal.

Yes, we had to eat a Danish in Denmark.  Not bad, but not alone worth the trip.

Dylan and her viking troll friend.

Our "intimate" moment with the Little Mermaid.  Ugh.

At the Taj in Tivoli.

The Danes do a great sandwich.

A sweet afternoon in Malmo Sweden.