A moment of serendipity. A leap of faith. How scary is the perspective of a trifle being able to change the course of your entire life? In the past six months I have counted at least six potentially life changing crossroads. In each of them a slightest turn in my decisions could have led me to an entirely different place. Workplace, university, people, city, even countries – in past six months I’ve had three of them to live in.
1. British informal – A nickname for the English city of Birmingham;
2. or the noise a car makes.
Known as the City of Thousand trades, Birmingham has struck me as an idiosyncratic mix of cultures, annoyed with its urban planning, sang to me in an elevator of the IKON gallery, and ultimately led to the library as an attempt to find my way around city I perceived as not only of the thousand trades but thousand of ideas.
A birthplace of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath, yet still holding a popular musical myth of being solely populated by heavy metal bands that yet have nowhere to play. Shame on you, Brum.
An award of aesthetic incongruity goes to The Symphony Hall in the International Convention Centre and the odd-looking modern library just next to it. Contrasting with picturesque Dutch-looking Brindley’s place, full of canals and red brick buildings, and the Baskerville House with its Ionic columns and classical architrave.
Next to it there’s Hall of Memory, another art-deco styled rotunda encircled with ecru white columns. Commemorating the dead during World War I and II, Birmingham is another city I got to visit with a burden of war. Birmingham Blitz from the 11th December 1940, just roughly half a year after the Rotterdam Blitz.
Got me interested in politics, ironically when some of the British Labour MPs seemed to have had enough of it, led me on the track of Moseley’s alleys and cul-de-sacs, home for a time and source of Tolkien’s inspiration with the early 20th-century steam trains, owing to James Watt, a local as well.
The Library of Birmingham holds tons of sources on city’s history, books on industrial revolution being most numerous ones. The three pioneers of this period- James Watt, Matthew Boulton and William Murdoch contributed most to the city development. On the other shelves there are books on the carat gold and silver standards, corresponding well with the Jewellery Quarter nearby, one of the city’s neighborhoods. Those on the roots of Middle Earth on Level 3 just near the windows can help track Moseley’s history, just as the other bookshelf bent with weight of books on any area of the city you’d wish to get to know more of.
As a foreigner, there are couple of facts that could not escape my notice when moving into the cheese-laden land of milk and honey, ornamented in white and blue- apart from the obvious stereotypes about the Netherlands. Besides gezellig stroopwafels, that, funnily enough, I’ve come across some time ago in Scotland, tall people, cheese (obviously), every third or fourth person named De Jong, and coffeeshops, here are some things I uncovered while in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
- Means of transportation contest on the streets.
Don’t ask me why, every time I ride my beige-blue teenage-looking bike with a giant sticker saying in curly glittery font, “Girlpower”, I get to notice most random range of vehicles moving on the streets. Some would say, and would be not far from the truth nonetheless that it’s a city of bikes. But once you spend here couple of weeks you might think it’s a Red Bull Flugtag for driving. Motorbikes and scooters are quite likely to chase you on those neatly separated bicycle lanes, while jaywalking is taken to a whole new level with giant quads, three-wheelers, cycle rikshaws, double bikes. If you pedal, or drive, cruise, or jump to the outskirts, there’s a true outbreak of camping trailers. Hell, for your jumpwear there is even a Kangoo Jumps Rental ! “Nominated best outing 2015”. “Only in Rotterdam”! And then, there are the elderly driving electric wheelchairs, teenagers on skateboards attached to bikes swishing near you, 60’s-looking old-school cars, the car on Vredenoordlaan that looks like batmobil, and the old Daewoo Tico whose speakers rumbled old Elvis’ songs near Trefpunt last Sunday, I keep looking for wizards on the broomsticks.
2. “The Black Market”
Is how it sounds phonetically when most of the foreigners refer to a local market taking place every Tuesday and Saturday near station Blaak. Ironically, it is actually the market where you can find anything. Including gossip about the tourists, opportunity for sales skills internship if you’re lucky enough to get some salespeople invite you to help them selling, the suspiciously-looking giant bar of Marseille soap, bike parts, bikes, food, clothing, kitchen utensils, kitchen appliances, parts for your stupendous vehicle to conquer the streets, home tools, you name it, whatever it is you need.
“There’s a time and place for everything, and it’s called
college“ Blaak market.
– Chef, South Park
Lastly, you are likely to get looks when casually dropping “Hey, I’m going to buy some fruit on the black market, you need anything?” on a serene Saturday morning.
3. Dutch directness…
In some instances, the Dutch language is ridiculously straightforward, which is one of the reasons I regret not having time to study it. Being able to understand what certain street names mean would surely make bike rides so much more entertaining. For what I luckily got to know, there is Oostzeedijk, a street just near the river, eastern part of the city. And the name literally means “east seawall”. It has a smaller counterpart, street adjoined to it, running just couple of meters below- Oostzeedijk beneden. What does it mean? East seawall- below. Hey, thanks.
Combined with other names such as “new shortcut”, “old dike”, “unwilling street”, even the very name “Rotterdam” itself is combined from the river Rotte, partitioned with a dam in 13th century. Clearly, the Dutch directness is a thing.
4. Huddled sea-through houses.
Having the area of 41 thousand square kilometers, and about 16.8 million people to fit in there, it’s quite understandable that flats and houses huddle cozily next to each other in a maze of narrow streets. However it’s quite remarkable how you can see what your 5-meters away neighbours do inside their living rooms. In some cases, you can even see through their windows at the back of the house- peeping right into the next street behind them. Into the next house, possibly.
Combined with random instances in which the only question that begs to be asked is “why?“, or better, “how?“, when you see a single shoe hanging tied onto a power line in between the houses, roughly 15 meters above the ground – Rotterdam, not to be confused with retarded.
― Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting
When I visited Dublin for 5 mentioned days, I immediately felt that different ‘feel’ rather than in Scotland, but still a familiar one. Even though Ireland has euros as their currency, Ireland is not part of the UK. Ireland is Europe, and bears a completely different feel than England. Slightly more similar to Scotland. Ireland has their own pride in Guinness and Jameson whisky, just like Scotland swims in their whisky. There are Irish pubs with irish fonts on their signboards and Gaelic language seen even on the street signs.
“When the surroundings speaks only in an unknown language, one begins to listen to it alongside with the whole environment. And if we linger long enough, the time existing in this environment will master the language for us. That was in my case, the mind did not know at all how did it happen. I think people don’t appreciate the listening and hearing words. And the listening prepares itself to speak up. One day my mouth started speaking. Romanian was then just like my mother tongue. Its Romanian words could not believe when I was involuntary comparing them with my German words.”
After being thrown into high-intensity pit of freshness and novelty, meaning a new country, I almost had to re-read my own blog in order to think clearly here. Blindly gathered one-year-old knowledge about clashing with a different culture re-emerged now in a completely new way.
Creativity requires the courage to let go of boundaries.
- You need to adjust.
Don’t expect to have the same habits as you’ve had in a different place. You go to Spain, you do things the Spanish way. Don’t look for your favorite cafe au lait in a first cafe that looks similar to the one from home. Take the Carajillo with best Spanish rum, learn how to make it. Maybe the culture shock people are experiencing when moving to other country, moving for good, is identity-oriented rather than pertaining to adjusting. Adjusting itself is easy, however wanting that – not so much.
- I’ve got a plant in my room.
Sure, I’ll take care of you. I can hardly take care of myself now and I think when I was 8 years old I accidentally starved my hamster to death, but there you are, in a room I rented, moved into. Sure, no problem, you will be the priority now. Maybe a prelude to me having own mansion with a dog and white fence (still on hold though). Funnily enough, not only I started caring for the plant, but the house itself too. Hey, thanks, Plant.
- Race for the 4G
How is it that I wanted the best (as I thought) for me, and instead got a 128kb/s internet speed only, forcing me to randomly stop on the street, waiting for Google Maps directions to home? Even worse, that is a prepaid. I wanted a contract for fast, reliable 4G mobile data speed.
Nevertheless, I’ve seen that slow internet to push me into shoving the phone back to the bag, looking around, speaking up to people on the street. They told me how to correctly pronounce the name of my street, ‘hoarsing’ it in a typically Dutch way. I was finding my way back home by streets looking nicer than the alternatives, rather than satellite-dictated Google way. Found myself a zeer smakelijke koffie just because I was mindlessly meandering through streets and stumbled upon Simon Lévelt shop. Even better, I bought a French press, found an Irish Pub to dance in four days later with a random beardy stranger, realized the 7.50 euro deal for my prepaid SIM was literally the best.
Think I am starting to realize what Mick Jagger and Keith Richards meant by you get what you need.
“Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy.”
– Robert Tew