Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mind my business, please. Don't worry, I will yours!

You know, I have had it. I am fed up with weird behaviour. Yes, 'weird' may be a rather subjective term, and yes, there is also a good type of weird - so allow me to clarify. Taking the train in Holland every day confronts me with some forms of human interaction, which to me seem wrong. Just plain wrong. People try not to sit near to each other, keep interaction to the lowest possible minimum and often are not even polite. It's awkward, unfriendly or even rude. I have started writing sweet letters in the first place to remind myself that we can also choose to be nice to each other. Just because we can.

A good kind of weird! (by Miriam van Oort)
Just now, I was on the train with my mother (after visiting my grandmother, a 2,5 hour train ride, one-way) and a girl in the four-seater opposite us, had her feet on the chairs in front of her. A lady came in and asked her very friendly if she could take them down. The girl responded "Why, there's enough space on the train, no?" and when the lady insisted that shoes on chairs made them dirty and that the girl's reaction was not very social, the girl replied "Don't have anything better to do than bug me? Don't you have a life?". I then could not take it anymore and was reminded of my pledge to mind other people's business. I said "Stop acting so weird! The lady asks you nicely if you want to take your shoes down". The girl put her earplugs back in and pretended we all were not there. 

I am sick and tired of this. I don't want to be part of a society in which people interact this way. The girl's behaviour was weird, but what I find even weirder is that normally, no one would support the complaining lady. They would pretend not to hear anything and simply look away. THAT, to me, is the weirdest part! Maybe my pledge will get me into trouble (in this case, I knew there were two guys behind us and I had made eye contact with the Spanish couple in front AND I am taking Chinese boxing classes - in other words, I was not scared of an attack) and maybe I will not keep my pledge when it concerns a group of four big men - but I just want to make a plea:

Please, let's mind each other's business again… Let's stand up for one another, take care of one another. Yes? Okay, good.

Footnote: Right after this incident the train conductor informed us that a passenger was having a heart attack and that he needed a doctor. The Spanish guy appeared to be one, so we went to help out (Me as the translator obviously. What else?). There were two other doctors on the train (how is that possible?), but I was happy with my pledge now. By telling the Spaniards why the train wasn't moving (and minding their business), he could have saved a life (in this case, hopefully others did). 

About the situation of my poor grandma, the state of our Dutch healthcare system and the way our society treats the elderly, I will rant some other time. But I did shed a tear about it. Sad.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Boersma's like it hot

Meet my granddad, Tjibbe. He served for four years in Indonesia from in the forties. Yes, during this time the Dutch colonial government violently tried to hold on to its colony. Recently (sparked by photos of mass executions), discussions arose again about the amount of violence used by the Dutch. There is quite some re-writing of history be done.

The young Boersma in the Dutch Indies
However, my grandfather speaks only with a happy spark in his eyes about the time he spent in the Dutch Indies (the Dutch still considered Indonesia as the Dutch Indies until 1949). He signed up voluntarily and even falsified his father's autograph in order to be able to go. He loved the climate, the people, and the food. These days his health does not allow him to eat anything spicy, but there is no way the doctors (or my grandma, for that matter) can make him stop eating sambal (Indonesian hot chilly sauce).

Sambal in the soup

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Flying perfectly - 5 tips from a flying Dutchwoman

I hate to brag, but I have perfected my long distance travel experience. Perfected it. This realisation came to me after a lady next to me on the plane made me itch as I saw her bumping in against everything with her three pieces of carry-on luggage and after overhearing an elderly Italian lady curse (Che cazzo! or did she say Brutto figlio di puttana bastardo?) when a security officer asked her to take her shoes off at the boarding gate security check. We humans learn slowly and I guess I just got fed up of making the same mistakes over and over again. I figured you all might as well benefit from my learning process :) 

So, here are the 5 things I think you should do to have a fantastic long distance flight! 
  • Travel Light 
Stick to the rules and bring no more than the amount of kilo's you are allowed to take (This includes you, my Indonesian friends!). Don't overpack and 'think it will be okay', because you will end up being nervous at check-in, or paying for overweight. Just buy yourself a good bag which will not allow you to pack too much stuff. I have been using Tatoinka's business roller for at least seven years now and it rocks big time. Besides wheels it also has straps so it can be used as a backpack in case of emergency. The size can be adjusted and it has a small backpack that can be zipped on and off on the front. I love my bag. Usually, I take around 18 kilo's with me, wherever I go. 

This is what I brought when leaving to Colombia for six months

  • Don't be afraid to look like a hippy with a hangover
When I hop on a plane, I usually look like a hippy tourist, even if I am travelling for work. Yes, I look slightly ridiculous, but hey! I want to be comfortable and warm above all other things. So, I wear a 'harem' pants (as my mom calls them. Is this even their official name?), a long sleeve shirt, a sweater and sneakers. This way I also don't need a belt, which saves me time at the security queue. For women it's very important not to wear tight pants during a long flight. I hope you girls know why, so I don't have to go into details here :) I always bring a big scarf, which I can use to hide under if I want to sleep or when I get cold. Oh, and socks! I bring a pair of thick socks… I hate cold feet.

No harem pants in this case, but certainly easy-going...
  • Hydrate
Don't bring bottles of water on the plane. You know this. So why is that still many people do it? Every single time! Well, the intention to drink a lot during the flight is a good one at least. Make sure you drink enough. Take every opportunity for drinking something, because flying really dries you out!  A positive side effect of drinking a lot is that it will make you get up and pee. Move! Do some exercises while you're at it. Also, bring moisturiser to keep your skin hydrated, it suffers during the flight. 
  • Keep it simple
In order to make sure you can get through the baggage and body check, don't wear jewellery, belts or shoes with steel in them. Also, just bring one piece of carry on luggage. I usually bring my backpack and a tiny purse where I keep my passport on the plane. If you have a laptop with you, take it out of your bag at the security check, please!

Do bring a pillow, an eye-cover and a shawl to keep it comfy!
  • Drink tomato juice, eat ice cream and enjoy!
Apparently, our taste buds go crazy in the air, so enjoy it! Drink tomato juice or other things you usually don't like. Explore to see what happens! Don't drink too much coffee or alcohol - these will dehydrate you even more. KLM's in-flight service usually offers something salty (crisps or noodles) and ice-cream after 8 hours or so. This really doesn't make any sense to me, but I always secretively look forward to the ice cream. 

Oh, and enjoy the feeling of arriving at your long awaited destination! 

Granada, Nicaragua

Monday, February 4, 2013

The journey starts today

How it happened, I am not sure, but somewhere around Christmas I had suddenly made a decision: This summer I will walk the last part of the camino to Santiago de Compostela. With the last part, I mean the 800 kilometres from Saint Jean Pied de Port. People that have known me for a while are seriously flabbergasted. Am I, Amis Boersma, telling them I will go walking for a month? Yes, I certainly am. "What is the matter with you?" a friend recently asked me after I told her about this plan and these esoteric explorations of mine.

Well, one of the answers to this questions could be that I don't know perseverance. The word just does not appear in my dictionary. I have never learned to persist, especially when things get hard. I have never understood why you would continue to climb to the top of a mountain, when you're already exhausted halfway. On hikes, I could always easily just turn around and go back down. When I was meditating at a Buddhist monastery in Indonesia last year, I realised how my mind objects to physical pain and how quickly it seeks a way out. I began to see the relationship between physical power (and pain) and the power of the mind. Hence, this plan to go walking. 

Of course this particular pilgrimage always spoke to my imagination. Last year, the Belgian television aired a great show interviewing people on their (often spiritual) journeys. Some of my friends have walked the camino several times and have told me all about their experiences. They are advising, coaching and guiding me now (yeah!). And, as my friend Luis told me a month ago: my journey starts today.

So, I have already bought myself a pair of (ugly) super-shoes and have started training right here in Holland. I will be taking you along on my journey the coming months. These are my first steps. Hooray!

Several people have told me about 'The way', a movie by Emilio Estevez, in which his father (both in real life and in the movie), my favourite actor, Martin Sheen (whom we should all know as Josiah Bartlet in West Wing) walks the camino. This was never his intention, but he ends up finishing the walk his son started and spreading his son's ashes out along the way. I watched this movie just now and it makes me want to start the walk right away!

A funny (albeit cliche) element in the movie is the pot-smoking, drugs dealing, loud and blunt Dutch guy 'Joost from Amsterdam', who ends up being a sweetheart (of course).