Friday, October 14, 2005

Weekend at Amsterdam

Well Richard only worked a half-day on Friday, so we were able to take an afternoon train to Amsterdam for the weekend. It would be our first time there. The Friday afternoon trains were packed with people, mostly students, all out for a good time in the city.
After the quiet of Emmen, Amsterdam seemed like chaos incarnate. When we got off the train and I was pulling my bag behind me, I kept having to zigzag through the maze of people.
Amsterdam has an interesting vibe about it. There's almost a sexual thrum in the air. It is a little unsettling, slightly distasteful, yet at the same time compelling. There is a sense of wildness amongst the people, albeit this is mostly from the tourists, come to sample a hedonistic culture. When night falls people spill out of the city's nooks and crannies. There have been many locals living in Emmen who have fervently told me that Amsterdam is not their city. I can understand what they mean.
By day we took in the sights. We did a Yellow Bike Tour, a three hour ride around the city, taking in the major highlights. When we were waiting in line to be equipped with a cycle, there was a hens party, all the girls donned in party hats, and pretty clothes, ready for wild adventure. The bride to be's last hoorah.

We visited the History Museum (Historiche Museum) and Vondel Park, the Van Gogh Museum.

Our cycle tour took us through the Red Light District. Here the sense of sex was at its most concentrated. It is very difficult to gaze about and take in all the sights of this district whilst trying to manouvre about on a cycle. Here boys and men roamed about in packs.

One of my subjects this semester is a journalism one. An assignment I need to complete is a feature article. I had to find a topic to write about whilst overseas, because I essentially have the weekend to write it up before handing it in when I get back. I told my lecturer that I will keep my eyes and ears open for a subject. What came to mind was the drug debate in Amsterdam. This was from an exhibit at the History museum. There was also a video playing with a panel discussing the issue. Part of the requirement of the assignment is that I have to interview people. It can't all be about research. I have well and truly decided that journalism is not for me - I hate having to approach people for an interview! Anyway, after much thought I thought up a list of possible interviewees. My plan was going to be: interview coffeeshop owner (the places where it all happens), maybe a policeman, and then perhaps some Amsterdam locals. In reality, what did happen, was I went to the Hemp museum, where I tried to do an interview with the guy behind the desk, and then I happened upon a Hemp shop (Tiani Hemp) where I was able to interview the owner Jorge. The gentleman working at the History museum shop had encouragingly told me that all the people of Holland have an opinion about the drugs, so it would be very easy to do interviews. Easier said than done, I'm afraid! Richard was mortified, and refused to go in with me to do the interviews. in some ways I can't blame him - if I was him I would have refused as well.

The interview at the Hemp museum was really difficult. The guy was not forthcoming, he did not want to be named for the article. and standing beside him was this vocal American woman, who kept up with the cynical comments, making it very difficult to explain and try and get some information. She was really irritating, (and that's me being nice about her). She kept on saying, you can get all this from the internet. I had to keep telling her, that yes, I know that, but I need to include quotes. It's an article. It's a requirement of the assignment. Her rolling her eyes at me made me feel extremely stupid! Richard had definitely made the right decision to hang about outside to wait for me.
Feeling very dejected after that, I walked away, casting my eyes for other potential interviewees. Everytime I looked inside a coffeeshop, I thought the people behind the counter didn't look very approachable, and especially after my awful interview at the museum I was very hesitant in entering.

Spying the Hemp retail store, I thought this may prove more promising. Which it did. Jorge was great. After his inititial hesitation, and after awkwardly trying to explain what I was about, he began to warm to the topic and gave me heaps of information - lots of things that I probably wouldn't find on the internet. I was talking to him for such a long time, Richard ventured into the store and Jorge was so relaxed about it, even he joined in the discussion. We even bought a Tshirt for my brother (to say thanks for looking after the dogs) from him. Jorge even took a couple of dollars off the price, which was very kind of him.

After this interview we found that we were running out of time, because we had to return by the afternoon Sunday train back to Emmen. As we walked away from the Hemp shop, I heard Richard say to me, don't you dare! Confused at first, I then realised what he meant. Two police officers were walking towards us on the street. I decided to spare him and just walked past - though I think I may have missed out on some valuable quotes from the esteemed Amsterdam police!

Now back in Emmen, I'm going to interview the Boer family. Richard is here working with Peter, who is one of the managers of the Holland company. We have been invited to dinner on Wednesday night, so I'm hoping I will get some opinions about the drug debate from some people living outside of Amsterdam. I think that will give the article a nice touch. Also invited to dinner are Robert and Henk. They spent about eight months working in Melbourne, returning to Holland only recently. Richard and I took them out and about whilst they were there.

So, my final thoughts of Amsterdam? Considering I managed to talk to some of the locals about the drug debate, and how it sits with the surrounding countries, I have decided to dub it, the indulgent, eccentric uncle of Europe! It's a culture that seems to be at odds. It is a refined cultural European city with the gorgeous backdrop of the canals and the pretty canal homes, contrasted with the seamy side of sex and drugs.

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