(OR: A Korean Girl in Holland)
02/10/2012 - 14/10/2012 10 °C
It has definitely been waaay too long since I've updated this blog.
The reason for that is quite simple: it's a lot of work photoshopping the dozens of pictures I want to include. Since that's such a huge task I've really been dreading it, so I've been ignoring it even when I did have lots of time to do it. So, since I don't want to continue making one post every 2 months, I've decided I'll just upload most of the pictures unphotoshopped. Only the ones that I especially like or can especially use some shopping will be changed beforehand. Hopefully that will allow me to increase my posting speed a little.
I've also included some informative links for anyone who'd like to learn some more about the best country in Europe (after Germany).
Well then now, without further ado, time for the blogpost about our time in the Netherlands!
For me, our time in my country was like a dream. When I realized I would really spend my life with a Korean girl, I expected she would one day visit my home, meet my family and learn about my history. I never expected that day would come this soon though. So, every time I saw her walking around our living room, sitting on our couch, petting our cat or sleeping in my bed, I was happier than I could've ever imagined.
I tried my best to be a good tour guide to her as we traveled, although in the end we did end up traveling less than we did in Italy. We both needed some rest and having the house practically to ourselves (my parents were on vacation and all my brother needs is a PC and you won't hear from him until it's time to eat) lend itself well for that. Even so, we still managed to visit Den Bosch, famous of being the birthplace of the painter Hiëronymus Bosch; took a bike tour to Drimmelen; visited my family; went on a safari in the Beekse Bergen; spent a few days in Amsterdam, and saw lots of other things.
Writing in my notebook at the time I wrote: "There's still so much left to show her though, with on top of my list Den Haag, my highschool, and Madurodam. We'll be back in two weeks for my grandmother's 80th birthday party, so I hope we'll have time to do more. For now, it's off to the Czech Republic on an 11 hour trip!" And Gahui added: "가희 짱!"
I should note that I'm writing all of the following based on memory since I didn't write much down. So some of the details might be foggy =p
When we first arrived, I knew there was one day of 'kermis' left in my town, and I really wanted to show this (as far as I know) typical Dutch event to Gahui, so we quickly set out the next afternoon to catch the excitement of blinking lights, tooth rotting candy and money slurping games. The best way to describe kermis is as a mobile theme park, I guess, complete with rides, food stands and games where you can win toys and plushies and stuff. It's something kids look forward to a lot, and usually parents give them some money to spend on the attractions there. They don't have stuff like this in Korea, so I was glad I could introduce Gahui to it. I'm not sure if we actually rode anything, but I am pretty confident that I've probably thrown some money away by trying my luck at one of those grabbing machines.
[Delicious suikerspinnen the size of your arm - who can resist them?]
[One of the most popular attractions for kids, and one I never dared to go on since I fell down in it once when I was young. Basically it's like a 'fun house' I think? With quickly rotating disks you have to walk on, bobbing bridges and spinning beams and stuff.]
The pictures I cherish the most from our entire trip are the ones I made right here at home. As I already said it was almost surreal that she was actually here, going through my drawers, laughing at my ecchi figures, complaining about my huge pile of SNSD merchandise.. It was wonderful to have her here, in my world, after spending 6 months in hers last year. Even the moments where we didn't do anything special, like just hanging around watching tv until it was too late to actually go out and do something, lying around on the bed because it was too cold to get up, looking at my old picture books or cooking dinner, all those moments I would never trade for anything else.
[Our cat, Shanti (it's a long story, but basically: blame the animal shelter) usually isn't a big fan of strangers and this was true for Gahui too. Here you can see her cautiously petting her while she's sleeping. I'm not going to make a racist joke about the nutritional habits of Asians though, mind you.]
[Because I wanted to give Gahui a present after not seeing her for all this time, and because I wanted that present to be pants-on-head-retardedly-amazing, I created a book containing of a selection of text messages I had sent her since we met all that time ago in Wando, South Korea. Nicole generously helped me with the design and by creating the cover image, and the end result was (in my opinion) something to be proud of. Luckily Gahui thought so too so all the work wasn't in vain.]
[While rummaging through every nook and cranny of my room, Gahui found some relics from my Gothic days and after some convincing allowed me to play dress up with her. The result was...shall we say...frightening..]
[Probably not a very interesting photo for you guys, especially not after the horrors you just saw, but a meaningful one nonetheless. I think the times Gahui was cooking were the only times the bar stools opposite the kitchen counter had ever been used; I really loved watching her do her thing. And no, it wasn't just because I was too lazy to cook myself =p]
[This is my cousin Remko. He'd been asking questions about Korea since I got back from there, and especially about my girlfriend whose name he couldn't pronounce. Of course when I actually showed up with her, he was surprisingly quiet ㅋㅋㅋ. Still, she kicked his ass in table tennis (or maybe she didn't and I just imagined she did because of stereo types) and we had fun talking in broken English.]
[One day when we were leaving (to the Efteling, I believe) we decided to make kimbap to take with us instead of the boring Dutch eierkoeken and krentebollen. We had bought some 김 and other necessities before, and while the end result wasn't exactly like how it would taste in Korea, it wasn't all that bad. We decided to leave some for my brother, Michiel, and while I didn't really expect him to actually taste it (he's more of a 'wat de boer niet kent, vreet 'ie niet' (what the farmer doesn't know, he doesn't eat - it's a Dutch proverb) kind of guy) when we called him later in the day to let him know at what time we'd be home, he told me how he had gagged and almost thrown up eating 'that crap'. I can't wait until he comes to visit me in Korea!]
[Pro gamer at work! I tried to get her into playing some Xbox games with me, but wasn't all that successful. She did love Catherine though, except that she freaked out hard at the puzzling bits "AHH! NO! RICHARD HELP ME! BALLI BALLI!" and got bored at the Stray Sheep bits. I think she appreciated the overarching story though. Surprisingly, she didn't like Viva Pinata much even though I thought the cute little animals would totally woo her. All in all a failed attempt. I suppose we should just stick to Starcraft.]
[Something that was a bit more successful though, was playing Levensweg (Game of Life in English, I think?) with my family. The game was in Dutch, of course, but we all pitched in with the translation and explanation of the rules. It was loads of fun seeing Gahui accrue a shitload of wealth while losing most of it in the end-game, while I worked myself up from a bum with a 40,000 euro debt (kinda like in real life!?) to the millionaire at the end. It was great to see my family doing their best to talk and have fun with my girlfriend, and I think it's a great memory for everyone.]
The first place we visited was Den Bosch, capital of the province I live in and medieval fortified city. It's famous for being the home of the painter Jheronimus Bosch, its many waterways, and its defensive structures that are still around today. I had never actually visited any of the places I took Gahui to in Den Bosch, since I'd never been a tourist in my own country before. It was surprisingly awesome to not go to a city simply to shop, but to actually look at the culture and history it has to offer. It's something I would love to do a lot more, but it feels strange doing it by myself..so if anyone's reading this and is thinking "By golly I wouldn't mind tourin' that!" leave a message =p As a result of being a tourist in my own country for the first time ever, I was a rather poor tour guide, but on the other hand I could actually speak to anyone whenever I wanted so that kind of balanced things out a bit. I also noticed it's really fun to pretend you're a foreigner by only talking in English and then suddenly switching to Dutch.
Something I noticed wasn't in the pictures but was really cool is that we took a boat ride through the famous canals of the city, remnants from centuries ago, often threatened with disappearing forever but every time being saved at the last moment. The tour guide was really informative, making me translate my head off trying to keep up.
[An image instantly recognizable by any Dutchman: waiting on the train. We decided to use the train quite a lot to travel because that would mean avoiding parking fees and we got discounts because of our Eurail passes, but in true Dutch style pretty much every train we took was late at least 5 minutes...not a great first impression there, NS.]
[The Sint Jans Cathedraal is one of the most famous cathedrals in the Netherlands and I was happy we could go inside to take a look. Gahui had almost recovered from her overchurchuration so it was the perfect time for it, too.]
[Being my favorite Dutch painter (though I should admit I know absolutely nothing about painters, nor am I all that interested in them) it was great to be able to visit the Hieronymus Bosch Art Center in Den Bosch. It was a small bummer that almost all of the art were replicas, but at least that meant we could touch them and the audio tour was quite interesting. The best thing was that they made a bunch of his freaky characters in 3D though, and some of them were even strewn around the city! Looking at Den Bosch from a non-tourist view you would probably not even notice the weird statues placed here and there along the waterfront, so it was cool to be a witness to that.]
[Near the end of the day we decided to just walk along the defensive wall for a while, since we couldn't spare any money to go shopping. We found some interesting places, and the view was simply amazing.]
[I remember I was trying to take a good looking picture of this war memorial and Gahui jumped in front of it just when I had the correct settings. I assumed she'd step out of frame after a couple of shots, but she didn't =p That's how I ended up with this wonderful picture.]
[And of course you cannot visit Den Bosch without gorging yourself on a Bossche Bol, a local delicacy. Much like most traditional Dutch food and treats, Gahui wasn't a big fan of it because there was too much cream and cinnamon taste xD]
A little later I wanted to introduce my girlfriend to the Dutchest thing in existence: bicycles. Foreigners always make a huge fuss about how many bikes there are in the Netherlands (Apparently 99,1% of our population owns one or more bikes) and Gahui had said she wanted to go on a bike tour (going as far as to make me suggest we could get one of those trailers you could hook behind your bike that's kinda like a bike-caravan) so I thought 'why not?' We own 5 bikes actually, in a family of 4, so she could easily choose one she liked...or so I thought... Turns out our beautiful Dutch bikes aren't well tailored to the more petite Koreans, leading to the painful display of Gahui, a panic-stricken look in her eyes, speeding through the street in front of our house on my (not very tall, might I add) mother's bike unable to reach the pedals properly and as a result swaggering around like a drunk man at carnaval. Before we finally found a bike small enough for her (my aunt's) we had spent hours calling and visiting people in search of it, so half our day was already gone before we even set out.
When we finally did though, not all was well either, because Gahui hadn't ridden a bike in years so she wasn't quite used to it. Especially the stopping was cause for concern as she nearly drove into a tree while avoiding a car and panicly caught on to my jacket as she had to stop for a red light. We did some training and after a while she was getting better, but it was quite worrying. On the way back she did a lot better though, and I enjoyed taking pictures of her in our polder scenery.
[I love this picture so much. Gahui had to do about 6 passes before we got it, but the result is wonderful.]
[We were lucky that the weather was quite good that day, and we made our way to Drimmelen - a town not far from my home town. It's a nice place with a marina, lots of nature and known as the gateway to the famous national park the Biesbosch.]
[This picture of a rabid beaver was taken at the Biesbosch Visitors Center, where I was hoping to arrange a tour through the Biesbosch. It's a beautiful place that I (and hundreds of other kids who went to school anywhere near here) have visited many times and I wanted to share it with Gahui. Unfortunately we had arrived way too late to catch one of the tour boats (because of the whole bike incident) and renting a boat would be an expensive undertaking, so we decided we'd just see this day as a 'bike trip' and pretended that's what we'd planned all along.]
Before dragging Gahui with me to a bunch of World War 2 stuff in Germany, I tried to do the same here in the Netherlands. World War 2 interests me greatly and although not much took place in my country when compared to the rest of Europe, it's still interesting to visit places of historical importance such as the place I'll show you some pictures of next: Kamp Vught. Kamp Vught was a model camp, so it wasn't as bad as most of the camps you read about or see in documentaries. Not that many people died there and working conditions were a lot better than in the other camps. Still, it was quite impressive to see a place like this exists so near the place where I live. I hope Gahui found it interesting too, though I'm sure she went along with it more for my piece of mind than out of her own curiosity. Thank you honey ;]
[It's okay to make pictures like these nowadays right? It's not a faux-pas right? Right!?]
[Near the camp is the fussiladeplaats, the execution site. A monument to all those who died there was erected and is still visited periodically by the Queen.]
On to a much more cheerful outing a few days later: our visit to the Efteling!
As the pride of Brabant (the province where I live) a visit to the greatest theme park of the Netherlands couldn't be skipped of course, so we sucked up the price of admission (kindly lowered for us by my aunt who had purchased a discounted ticket for us and Maarten who works there and made use of his employee discount) and headed out into this land of fairy tales. The weather was great all day, and because we visited during the fall it wasn't busy at all; we could ride every attraction we wanted to, even the new ones, and could even ride some of them twice. As someone who grew up near this park, I've visited almost as many times as I've been to the Biesbosch, which is why it will always hold a special place in my heart. Sure, the rides are not as amazing as in Euro Disney, the rollercoasters not as extreme as Six Flags, and it doesn't have the licenses Warner Brothers Movie World has, but it's completely based on the stories of the brothers Grimm and other traditional fairy tales and the art of Anton Pieck and as such has such a wonderful atmosphere you can't help but fall in love with it. And fall in love we did! I will spare you the romantic stories of holding hands while flying through the magic land of faeries, looking eachother in the eye as we walked through a fairy tale forest and kissing while a giant water ballet unfolded in front of our eyes. I'll spare you the stories of hands crushed and ears ringing after intense rollercoaster rides too. I will however say that my visit to the Efteling with the one I love is one of the most wonderful things I've ever done.
[Every Dutch person with half a childhood has a picture like this in their scrapbook: the entrance to the Efteling in its full glory. I remember being so surprised at the amount of cars in the parking lot; usually it's crammed full on all sides, but today not even half of one side was filled. It promised to be a fine, fine day indeed.]
[This is me at the entrance of The Flying Dutchman. Because..you know..I'm Dutch..]
[And just to prove I wasn't kidding, this was one of the only places that had a waiting time of over 5 minutes.]
[The Flying Dutchman is a relatively new attraction so it's quite popular still. Basically it's a roller coaster with some added twists, as you can see here.]
[Another classic shot, taken outside the Spookslot (Haunted castle). I had talked this attraction up a lot to Gahui (as I do with many things, because I love my country, damnit!) saying it won a bunch of awards and even featured in a music video of a famous singer, which in the end led to her being extremely disappointed with the actual thing....sorry hun..]
[There's also a Land Van Laaf, which is like a fairy tale world inside a fairy tale themepark. It makes more sense when you're there. Anyway, the buildings there show off the Pieck style wonderfully.]
[Gahui at the Vogel Rok, another rollercoaster with a twist. The twist is that it's FUCKING AWESOME.]
[We rode it twice =p]
[Posing in front of Villa Volta, the haunted house that can't stop spinning until a person with a pure heart enters. Of course, being based in the Netherlands, this will never happen. I tried to trick Gahui into this ride by purposely being vague about what the actual deal was, but my acting skills were so poor that by the time she sat down on the benches she definitely had an idea that something was fishy.]
[You're never too old to tickle a baby's giant feet. Or...you know..fist it in the mouth..]
[This was the first time Gahui discovered the magic of Dutch 'wall food'.]
[But in the end we decided on something that hit a little closer to home.]
[Wow that thing looks really disgusting but I swear the noodles were delicious!]
[I really like this picture, taken outside of the Fata Morgana. Actually, seeing this picture now makes me wish we could do this again someday. It was such a wonderful day ;_;]
[Gahui was really adamant that we should ride the classic steam carrousel, so of course we did! It was almost completely empty as usual, but a nice little romantic and nostalgic ride.]
[You're also never too old to feed and/or hug an old lady, even if she is made of plastic.]
[When I was younger I could never play these awesome games where you shoot a sensor with a gun and then something happens because you had to put money into it and my dad is a giant cheapskate, but HAHA I FINALLY DID IT!]
[The fairy tale forest has been a part of the Efteling since it was founded, and me and my family have had many happy memories there. I'm super grateful that I could create memories with Gahui there as well.]
[And in the end we even met the princess!]
Another well known theme(?) park in Brabant is the Beekse Bergen: an open range safari park where many wild animals walk around freely and you drive your car through them. Kind of like Jurassic Park only without the gates. And the dinosaurs.. Gahui was really interested by this because in Korea a park like this is completely unheard of, probably due to lack of space. I must've made dozens of pictures of all the animals we saw running around near our car, blocking the road or hiding behind a tree. We had a great time there as Gahui loves animals, and there was plenty to do to fill an entire day. Even after a full day of walking and driving we were so happy we could die.
[Gahui had no trouble walking right up to some lions..]
[Or meerkats, her favorite animal.]
[This park, too, was so empty that we could easily put down my camera to take this shot without worrying about someone taking it. I remember there was a lion in a cage directly opposite of where we were standing that was making an insane sound like a monkey with a stomach ache..]
Speaking of insane, look at these friggin' fish!
[It was pretty cool how you could basically just walk up to some animals and slap them around if you wanted to. It was also a good way to take cool pictures.]
["Don't feed the baboons." Good thing I didn't translate the sign for Gahui or I would've missed lunch.]
[Alright, stop me if you heard this one. A monkey walks in to a doctor's office...]
A different place that isn't actually a theme park but might as well be that we visited was the Zaanse Schans. And its theme was MUH HERITAGE. The Zaanse Schans is basically an area where all stereotypes about the Netherlands are gathered in a small idyllic little town, surrounded by windmills, tulips, cheese and clogs. When I first read about its existence I was kind of offended, but having been there I can only say I frickin' love it. It's so cute and cuddly and yet still manages to display the Dutch culture somewhat seriously.
It was also full of Chinese guys.
[We got super lucky with the weather again. Even though fall was setting in, the sun was out and temperatures were quite doable, something that isn't all that common in the Netherlands. I suppose we would've hated this place if the weather was bad, but as it was, it was a beautiful traditional village (people actually live here! Imagine 500 Chinese people walking through your garden every weekend..) that represented Dutch countryside living very well.]
[Oh yeah, now that I see this picture I'm reminded of this; at the Zaanse Schans there's also the old Verkade fabriek where they used to make Holland's most famous cookies and chocolate. Inside was a museum of Dutch culture and CANDY. The museum was kinda boring but the candy factory was pretty cool.]
[The Zaanse Schans has an example of every Dutch stereotype available; this one being the wooden shoe artisan. Apparently a guy was making wooden shoes there LIVE all day, be we wandered in too late to actually see him at work. It was cool to see the walls covered with overpriced clogs (they were seriously 25-65% more expensive than in a regular store) and clog-related merchandise (you'd be surprised!) and to show Gahui the traditional Dutch dress though.]
[Here, too, it wasn't all that busy (the magic of fall, ladies and gentlemen!) and after all the Chinese people left we took some selca's to remind us of that day.]
[There were also several mills there that were actually functional. You had to buy a separate ticket to get admission, and it wasn't really worth it, but it was quite interesting to see how a real mill worked. One of the people working there explained to Gahui in terrible English all kinds of boring stuff about our history with windmills, so at least we both learned something..]
[This door...what the hell is the deal with this door!?]
[Can you believe we actually had to wait in line to take a picture with this clog for longer than we had to wait in line for Vogel Rok at the Efteling? Bananas.]
[I really like this picture. A Korean Girl in Holland.]
Considering Gahui really wanted to visit the Zaanse Schans (it was in her Korean tour book about Europe after all!) and of course we couldn't skip Amsterdam on our trip, we decided to get a hotel there and stay for a few days. I think we stayed for two days and one night, visiting the Zaanse Schans first, then moving to Amsterdam to stay at the hotel and tackling Amsterdam the next day, leaving late in the evening. There were a few things in Amsterdam I wanted to do (besides the thing I usually go there for: buying comics) which included showing Gahui the Red Light District (of course), dragging her to a comic store (whoops I guess old habits die hard) and visiting the Anne Frank house.
I'd never been to the house of Anne Frank before, and had always thought that was kind of a shame considering my interest in World War 2 history. Having visited it though, I gotta say it's not as impressive as school text books would make you believe. The 'room' she and her family were hiding in was surprisingly big, almost an entire house by itself, and the living conditions seemed so much better than what I had imagined in my head as a young boy when I first read about this achterhuis. I thought she was living in a closet, eating nothing but grass or something.. But I suppose that's my own imagination's fault.
Something I did have a pretty good picture of was the Red Light District, the main reason most foreigners even bother to visit the Netherlands. I'd been there on a school trip once, walked around with a friend for kicks before and more recently showed a foreign friend from 4chan around there because he was afraid to go by himself. However, my visits had always been during the day, and goddamn is the Red Light District different at night. It was packed full of people (some of them passing out on the street, chocking in their own vomit, and doing other classy things) and there were so many more red lights than I remembered. When the sun's down the whores dance in the moonlight, I guess. I think Gahui was impressed, though I wouldn't know if she was impressed in a good way =p She actually wanted to visit the Sex Museum too, so we did. We also, and this is definitely a first in many, many ways, paid a euro to see one of those 'live sex shows' together. You put a euro into the slot, window blinds roll up, and you can watch some dude fucking some chick. I was surprised at how completely unerotic it was, not only because of the entire idea of it, but probably also because the guy was banging on the glass while fucking the chick because some other guy had forgotten to close the door behind him. Man...what an experience...
[We started our day with a delicious Dutch treat: pannekoeken! Although I guess pancakes aren't all that Dutch? They are considered a traditional dish though so I'm not really sure what's up with that. Anyway, we had some pancakes, the guy who made them was super gay, they were friggin' delicious and also friggin' expensive.]
[Amsterdam's the only city in the Netherlands that I know of that has open air public toilets. Fuck yeah muh heritage!]
[We couldn't take pictures inside Anne Frank's house, but here's Gahui keeping Anne dry at her memorial statue. The weather that day was quite bad, I remember, and my umbrella kept being broken by the wind. As an added extra I didn't know how to get a ticket for Gahui on the tram so we just freerode it all the time and we got caught and had to pay two €50 fines...I Am sterdam...]
[Such an innocent girl in such a wretched hive of scum and villainy..]
[The Sex Museum was actually pretty cool and not juvenile at all. I thought it would be all LOL PENISSES but actually it had some really interesting information about sex through the ages and in other countries, and..yeah..a mechanized potloodventer.]
After our visit to Amsterdam, we left on a long, long train ride to the Czech Republic to visit our friend Martina. I'll talk about that in the next post, so tune in next...week? month? season? Who knows!?
I've decided to leave our second visit to the Netherlands for later, so the story is kind of chronological.
Also, I'm really, really tired after typing all of this.