That one time I went to a BA drag bar…

Latin America gets a bad rep for sexism. Many point to machismo culture as one of the main factors in inhibiting gender equality. I don’t think that I’ve spent enough time here in order to really say anything definitive about the state of machismo culture in Argentina. I am also very aware of the fact that as a visible foreigner, my experience of the local culture will always be somewhat filtered. Though I’ve gained a better understanding of the political status of women in this country through my internship with ELA, I still have a lot to learn about what it is like to be an Argentine women.

Upon arriving, I was expecting the city’s incredible boliches to be one of the places where I could really observe machismo culture up close and personal. And while there have been a couple moments in boliches where I’ve been approached creepily (this one guy stroked my hair – not a cute look), I can’t really say that it was any more sexist than a club in Hong Kong or a frat party in Cambridge. In fact, I can actually report the opposite after a great experience that I had at a very special boliche just last week.

IMG_7575

Every Thursday, Niceto Club in Palermo turns into the aptly named Club 69, Buenos Aires’ premier drag club. It’s not hard to get in. One simply has to sign up online with an email address in order to get on “the list” so Nat and I decided to check it out last Thursday. Not going to lie, even though I had literally just typed in my email online an hour before, it felt super cool to be able to march to the front of the line and say “Hola, me llamo Rachel Chiu, estoy en la lista” (Hi, my name is Rachel Chiu, I’m on the list *insert optional hair-flip).

The interior of Club 69 consists of a long bar, a large dance floor, a balcony, and a stage with flashing strobe lights. What really set Club 69 apart though was that there were these incredible drag queens stationed on the balcony fiercely posing to the trance beat. It was really just a taste of what was to come.

At 2:00am, the performance began in proper. The theme that night was very Little Mermaid inspired and these gorgeous, fishnet clad, red wig wearing, shell bra rocking, snorkel donning, dancers were completely bewitching the audience from the stage. Other than the Hasty Pudding show back at Harvard, this was my first experience dipping my toes into drag culture. I must admit that I’m not very knowledgable of the importance of drag culture and it’s relationship with LGBTQ movements. I need to read up on this. What I do know though, and what I experienced that night, is the fact that there is something deliciously subversive about a group of gorgeous men in sky-high heels, all incredibly confident in their own bodies and their own sexualities, dancing around a stage in front of an adoring crowd.

But aside from the wonderful rupture of socially imposed gender norms, the drag show was just a sheer display of talent. Any one of these drag queens could have been on an episode of So You Think You Can Dance. And no, this isn’t the mojitos talking. Do you think it’s easy looking so sexy while wearing a snorkel? I was so mesmerised by the amount of energy they brought to every routine and the spontaneity behind every improvisation. Everything about the performance worked. The set design: fabulous. The music: so hip, so cool, so edgy. The vibes: so positive, so free, so loud.

IMG_7611

I think what’s powerful about drag culture is that it is so unapologetic. And when it’s done as well as it was at Club 69, it is a great showcase of dance, personality, and, of course, pride. I bet you didn’t know that Argentina was actually the first Latin American country to legalise same-sex marriage and the tenth world-wide. I certainly didn’t before coming here. This progressiveness really shows at a place like Club 69 where the crowd was visibly LGBTQ friendly.

IMG_7613
Thanks for a great night Club 69!

I can safely say that this show/club/rave was one of my best night-life experiences so far. And in truth, it was one of the most interesting and empowering experiences from a feminist perspective from my time in Argentina thus far. I am in the process of dissecting the generalised Latin American stereotypes about sexism in this part of the world and while there are certainly fights that must be fought here, I have thankfully had the privilege of experiencing other moments of female empowerment as well. These moments include: that time I watched women taking care of each other on the subway, that time I was inspired by feminist street art, that time I bonded with my host mom over good food and the importance of motherhood, and, last but certainly not least, that one time I went to a Buenos Aires drag bar.

The Intimacy of Home Cooking and the Importance of Motherhood

When I first applied for this internship in Buenos Aires, I greatly overlooked how significant the homestay experience would be. I was just so excited to be in Argentina, to see Iguazu, to drink wine in Mendoza, to see tango, and to fulfil any number of other Argentine stereotypes. I completely underestimated how a significant chunk of my experience would revolve around this concept of building a home in this city with my new Argentine family.

If you really think about it, the entire idea of a host family is actually quite amazing. A local family literally decides to adopt you for a prolonged amount of time based on nothing but the trust they have in the program coordinator. The family knows nothing about you other than your name and your university before letting you stomp all over their home upon arrival. For all they know, you could be a totally inconsiderate jerk and yet they’d still have to feed you and wash up after you. The generosity and trust that these host families possess is really quite astounding.

I completely lucked out with my host family. Strictly speaking, I just have a host mom, but I used to have a host sister as well (Olenka, another girl who just finished a semester abroad), and we were a lovely little family. Now, it’s just me and Ivonne, my host mom, but we still make a cozy family of two. Words cannot express how grateful I am for madre, as I call her.

Of all the amazing experiences I have had so far in Argentina, I’d say the one I value the most is building my relationship with her. This happens primarily over the dinner table where madre and I break bread and work on my equally broken Spanish. I love it though! It makes such a difference that I have someone to ask me how my day was every time I come home.

I don’t think I really realised how intimate cooking is until I started eating with madre. I could see that she was concerned with whether or not I enjoyed her cooking which made me extremely aware that every bite I was taking was not only a bite of her hard work, but also a bite of her culture. And while I was tempted to just nod and say that I loved everything, madre was thick-skinned and insisted on honesty. Luckily, we do have very similar tastes and she is a fantastic cook so I genuinely loved most of what she cooked the first week. But after I told her that I didn’t like mayonnaise, coleslaw disappeared from the table and was replaced by a green salad. After I told her I was meh about bananas, apples and oranges suddenly filled the kitchen drawers and the bananas were banished.

After the first week, it’s really just been hit after hit from madre. In particular, I genuinely appreciate how seriously she has taken my request to eat healthy. You are what you eat which is what makes cooking for someone else so intimate. What you cook directly impacts someone else’s health. For the most part, madre and I eat incredibly delicious yet nutritious and light food. Madre really moved me one night when she made a healthy chop suey (veggie stir-fry) with rice after asking me about food from back in Hong Kong. Other favourites of mine include her wonderful pea soup, her grilled vegetables, and her delicious steamed fish. She’s an artist by trade and you can tell that she loves working with her hands and puts care into everything she touches.

IMG_7651
Only an artist would have such an aesthetic cutlery organization system.

Sometimes though, we eat a little naughty (all in the name of cultural immersion though of course). Madre cooks a mean steak (this is Argentina after all), a banging milanesa, and great homemade gnocchi.

On the 29th last month, I walked into the kitchen to see a little ten peso note laid underneath my plate.

“Madre, ¿has perdido diez pesos?” (Mom, have you lost ten pesos?).

“No Rachel, es porque hoy es el día de ñoquis” (No Rachel, it’s because today is the Day of Gnocchi), while loading a mountain of gnocchi and tomato sauce on my plate.

Yeah, you heard that right, Argentina has a monthly gnocchi day. The story of the tradition is that the 29th of every month use to be the day before payday so money and supplies would always be low. Families usually only had potatoes left at that point so delicious little gnocchis, essentially small pillows of potato, was the obvious way to go. Now, families gather on the 29th to eat gnocchi together for good luck. For extra prosperity, the tradition is to put pesos underneath the plate.

Little stories like this have greatly enriched my experience here (at the expense of enriching my waistline as well). I’ve loved learning about my madre and her culture through the amazing food that she puts in front of me every night. After each meal, I wash the dishes while she drys. We’re a perfect team. I am so thankful for being let into this home and for being so welcomed. This experience has shown me the importance of home cooking. It has reminded me how linked home food is to motherhood (I don’t call her madre for nothing), to nourishment, to wellbeing, and to tradition. As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but salivate a little at the thought of what madre is going to serve up tonight. Whatever it is, it is sure to be made with love and entirely mayonnaise free!

Let’s talk about… the Subte

Little known fact about me: I’m from Hong Kong. Ha! Who am I kidding, I might as well have “HK” tattooed on my forehead seeing as I talk about it so incessantly. An actual little known fact about me though is that I wrote one of my college essays about my love of the MTR, the Hong Kong subway system. This isn’t as weird as it sounds, I swear. Hear me out. Subways are by far my favourite mode of public transportation. Subways are democratic and used by people of all walks of life. In Hong Kong, subway stops dot every part of the city and are connected in a rainbow grid of lines as vibrant as the neighbourhoods they service. Subways are great – easy to use, traffic free, and predictable. Though no subway system in my opinion comes close to the 99.9% on time, pristine, and air conditioned Hong Kong system, I’ve always enjoyed taking subways around the world.

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 8.28.04 PM
I’ll always be a Hong Kong kid, at my core.

You see, there’s nothing more local and authentic than taking a subway during rush hour. In Buenos Aires, I have gotten myself into a short-term but extremely committed relationship with the Subte (short for “subterranean”). I have a thirty-minute subway commute to work everyday. And while this seems mundane, some of my greatest personal victories, little moments of triumph and empowerment, have occurred while zipping around underneath the streets of this chaotic capital.

Little victory número uno: There’s nothing more satisfying than a good life hack. Something as small as figuring out the best place to wait for the train in the morning in order to guarantee finding a seat or a comfortable spot has really made me feel like I belong in this city. It’s very hard for me to look like I’m a local by virtue of my chinese-ness. Other than my Chinatown wanderings, I think the only times where I have come close to passing for a local have been on the Subte. I’ve really started to fit in with the dreary-eyed morning commute crowd, especially since I’ve started to read books in Spanish during the journey. Finding a good spot on my morning trip and relaxing with my book really just sets me up for success for the rest of my day.

Subte moment número dos: I knew I had made it in this city when I was one day stopped on the way to the Subte by an elderly couple that was lost. Like I said before, I definitely don’t look like a porteña local. However, I guess something about my fast-paced, self-assured, rush hour stomp to the Subte signalled to this lovely couple that I knew what I was doing. They stopped me on a street corner and kindly asked me where the closest Subte stop was. The poor things were visiting from one of the provinces and had been walking in the wrong direction for almost ten minutes! Feeling good about myself, and as surprised as ever by my actually decent Spanish, I walked with them to the station and even managed to tell them how many stops they needed to go before reaching their destination (I have the green line almost memorised at this point. Wasn’t kidding about being in a seriously committed relationship).

And finally, my favourite Subte moment: One day, at crammed-in-like-sardines-level rush hour, I managed to squeeze myself into a corner seat. However, at the next stop, this old lady who looked like she was about to faint stumbled onto the train. Naturally I let her sit. She looked extremely ill and I was very concerned for her. I worked up the nerve to talk to her in Spanish.

“Perdon señora, está bien?” (Are you ok ma’am?) 

“Me duele la espina” (My spine hurts). I truly felt for her as I watched her grimace with every jolt that rocked the train. However, what inspired me was how all the other women around me came to her aid as well. This old lady had managed to find herself in a corner composed entirely of women. One of them offered to give her water, another to hold her bag, and another gave her a piece of gum. She asked for updates on how many stops she had to go and I gladly talked to her until she finally reached her destination. When I first got here, I was a little nervous about taking public transportation after hearing stories about robberies and what not. And while I’m still very cautious (I rock the front backpack/pregnant lady look everyday), I am happy to report that women on the Subte take care of their own.

IMG_7652
The ceiling of Retiro, BA’s main train terminal.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of mishaps underground. One time, I had to wait for three trains to pass before I finally managed to elbow my way into a carriage during rush hour. It wasn’t that there wasn’t enough space in the first ones. It’s that I wasn’t confident enough to push myself in. Sometimes, the Subte really requires some grit. I’ve also found myself on trains that suddenly go out of service halfway up the line and have more often than I’d like to admit climbed out of a station at the wrong exit. That being said, the rhythm of taking the subway everyday has really made me feel like a porteña. I’ve loved spending hours reading on the train and I feel more and more local every time I swipe my Sube card or give someone directions.

And while I still think that the MTR is far superior, I will give Buenos Aires this: you’d be hard pressed to find a violinist playing Despacito in any other subway system in the world.

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 8.32.50 PM
Despacito virtuoso in the Plaza Italia station!

Red Herring: The Hidden History of Food in The Hague

The Hague is the third-largest city in the Netherlands and is the seat of the Dutch government, Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State, but is somehow not the capital of the country (that’s Amsterdam. Don’t ask me why. I’m confused too). Additionally, it is home to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. In other words, it is a MUN kid’s wet dream. Balim, Sunaina, and I all do some sort of international relations work and were very excited to go see what the fuss was all about.

The Hague is only a short train ride from Amsterdam (you can read about my love of Dutch infrastructure here). We got there bright and early and proceeded to explore this historic town.

IMG_4158
Stumbled upon The Hague’s Chinatown. I’m drawn to these things like a moth to a flame.

In a nod to the international spirit of the city, we soon found ourselves wandering on cobblestone streets flanked on either side with Greek (or is it Turkish?) gyro stalls, Indian (or is it really more British?) curry restaurants, and Chinese (or is it Singaporean?) chicken rice vendors.

IMG_4207.jpg
Girl with a Pearl Earring, one of my all-time favorites.

After stopping to say hi to Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring in the Mauritshuis, we headed to an Indonesian restaurant for lunch. After all, the only Western city with better Indonesian food than Jakarta is Den Haag. The satay and nasi goreng did not disappoint us which is quite an achievement seeing as Balim grew up in Singapore, I grew up in Hong Kong, and Sunaina spent most summers in New Delhi. Our mini-United Nations panel of food critics came to the consensus that Dutch Indonesian food was certainly worth the hype.

IMG_4208.jpg
I sadly don’t have better photos of this amazing meal. Was frankly too busy enjoying it to properly document!

But let’s take a moment to unpack how something like “Dutch Indonesian”, or rijsttagel (literally meaning “rice table”) even came to be. The evolution of food has always been a political process. The origins of rijsttagel are entirely colonial. Over the course of the 18th century, the powerful Dutch East India Company was the dominant economic and political power on the island of Java. In 1800, the company was nationalised and the area came under the administration of the Dutch government. Many Dutch business people and ministers relocated to the island in order to oversee its governance. Rijsttagel was created as a feast to showcase cuisine from all over the archipelago to those Dutch officials. It traditionally consisted of many (up to 40) small dishes including gado-gado (vegetables in peanut sauce), krupuk (shrimp crackers), and everything in between. All of these small dishes were ceremonially paraded up to the table and served with rice.

COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_De_rijsttafel_TMnr_3728-820.jpg
Rijsttagel in the 18th century. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Though this is a gross simplification, Dutch rule in the area had all the classic trappings of colonial life: a rigid and racially based social order, establishment of Western models of infrastructure, exploitation of natural resources, and a certain degree of violence.

The words colonialism and its uglier cousin, imperialism, often illicit strong reactions, and for good reason – as concepts, they tackle complicated themes of self-determination, race, history, and globalisation. My purpose in writing this is not to make some grand statement about the Age of Empire (I might write about that some day, but not today). Rather I’m trying to demonstrate that something as seemingly simple as deciding what to eat while on a trip to The Hague is actually a decision laden with historical circumstance.

But as messy and complicated as that hidden history is, isn’t our consumption (literally) of that history the beauty of travel? The idea that eating like a local can be a history lesson, more vivid and salient than anything in a textbook, is very moving to me.

Food is primal. And food is often, for better or worse, tied up with national identity. The Turks and Greeks fight over who owns yogurt. A classic South East Asian fish salad is called yusheng by the Singaporeans but yee sang by the Malaysians. Both have pointed fingers at the other for “hijacking” the dish. Even the Aussies and the Kiwis, two peas in a pod, have fought over who has claim to pavlova!

So what does it mean to consume food and history from all over the world? What do we make of amazing dishes like rijsttagel that wouldn’t have been possible without colonialization? I’m honestly still not sure (although I’m certainly not going to stop eating Hong Kong’s classic egg tarts, a result of British colonialism, any time soon). Perhaps the answer lies in another sight from The Hague – a collection of hopes and aspirations from around the world on a wishing tree outside the Peace Palace. Between the three of us, we were able to read messages in English, Spanish, French, Turkish, and Chinese. The majority of the messages simply wished for world peace and international cooperation.

As Hallmark-worthy as it sounds, people from all around the world just wanted the same things: an end to violence and a better life for their children. Similarly, people from all around the world just want to eat good food. Though food will always been historically complex, I think the best of our food should simultaneously be a celebration of what makes our cultures unique while also being an homage to the fact that the love of food is universal.

But argh, enough of that cheesy stuff. Bringing it back to the title of this post. I’m sure you’re all wondering if I worked up the nerve to try pickled herring. The answer is: yes, of course I did. And it’s honestly pretty normal. It’s just salty fish. I quite liked it actually. But really, I was just happy to be eating something that was definitively Dutch… or is it Nordic (inlagd sill)? German (Bismarckhering)? Estonian (marineeritud heeringas)? Ah! When will I learn!

The Origins of Imperfect Feminist

This past semester, I took part in a photo project by Diana Im, one of the cool seniors in my history of feminism class. For her final project, she decided to tackle the pressure that many young feminists feel to be perfect. To be intersectional enough, to be well-read enough, to be woke enough, and to be inclusive enough. While these are all wonderful aspirations, fear of imperfection often leads to silence for fear of getting something wrong. Diana’s project chose to highlight growth and effort – the process of being what she coined, an imperfect feminist. I’ve been struck by this phrase and I’ve decided to borrow it for some of my own writing.

This is a piece of what I originally wrote for Diana along with some cool photos that she took to go with it:

IMG_0157 (1)

 

 I think that it’s a beautiful phrase to capture how I feel about my own feminism, as someone who is still learning, I think that there is a tendency to want to be perfect because very ironically, I think studying institutionalized women and gender studies just ties feminism in at least for me with all the trappings of academia. It’s like always having to have read the right authors, to have been exposed to the certain theories and being able to talk about them and apply them properly… And so just being able to balance the imperfections of reality and of my own life with the want to be perfect in an academic sense has been really interesting. We talk about it a lot but there’s almost no way to translate what goes on in the ivory tower to what goes on in the real world, and so I am so down to embrace this idea that we’re all imperfect and we’re all bad feminists.”

Please check out her blog and the other entries here!

 

Let’s talk about… Harry Potter

As with all things pure and good in this world, Harry Potter has been talked about far more eloquently and by far better writers than myself. However, I can not think of a better subject to start my “Let’s Talk About…” column. The timing is also fortuitous seeing as the world is currently celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first book. So, accio nerds, let’s talk about Harry Potter

Like many others, I am truly one of the Harry Potter generation. I haven’t lived in a world in which Harry Potter doesn’t exist. I’m one of those true potterheads who has read each book at least 20 times and can quote the movies backwards and forwards. I am the proud owner of a cloak, a Gryffindor scarf (I’m a gryffindor, obviously. Do not fight me on this), a stuffed toy cow named Hagrid, and all the spin-off textbooks.

But apart from falling in love with the characters, getting charmed by the spells, being engrossed by the storylines, and yearning for Hogwarts, Harry Potter is tied to real emotion for me as well. One of my favourite memories with my best friend Ashley is staying up all night racing each other to the end of the last book. We sat back to back through the night in total silence yet we had never felt more connected.

–Me and Ashley: Circa the time HP books were still coming out (taken somewhere in Japan) vs. As high school seniors (still a couple weirdos though)–

Another one of my favourite memories is watching the last movie with my dad. I remember walking into the theatre with my cloak on (we dressed up – obviously) with a knot of confused emotions in my stomach. I was excited, yet sad that this was the last one. This was it. At the end of it all, when Harry’s scar had stopped hurting for 19 years and all was well, I was in tears. I looked over and saw that my dad, my stoic dad, had glistening eyes as well. Harry Potter had been the one series of books that we read together and fell in love with together. I was glad to be sharing this moment with him.

WhatsApp Image 2017-06-27 at 9.05.53 PM
“Platform nine and three quarters? But Hagrid, there must be a mistake. This says platform nine and three quarters. There’s no such thing is there?”

The two of us, being the nerds that we are, later went on the Harry Potter studio tour in London together. I’m only half kidding when I say that it was the best day of my life. We walked through London to get to King’s Cross with my dad pointing out locations from his medical residence days in the city. We took the obligatory Platform 9 3/4 photo before heading to Leavesden Studio. It was a pilgrimage of epic proportions. I could hardly contain my excitement while walking through the studio turned museum, and my dad, my serious dad, wasn’t much better. The true magic of Harry Potter has always been the power of love and friendship – themes that were just as resonant with me, a geeky teenage, as they were with my father, an incredibly intelligent doctor. In my dad, I have always seen the wisdom of Dumbledore, the reserved dignity of Minerva McGonagall, and the level-headedness of Remus Lupin. That day though, I saw in him the fun of Fred and George, and the wonder of Harry the first time he walked through Diagon Alley.

–Other photos from that trip to London back in 2014–

Not to be left out, my mom also plays a part in this. Back when I was a freshman in high school, we watched JK Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech together. I didn’t want to admit it, even to myself, but I knew that Harvard was my dream school. Even as a freshman I knew I wanted to attend Muggle Hogwarts and Jo’s incredibly moving speech, as dumb as it sounds, felt like a positive omen (like a reverse Grim). Throughout the next years of high school, I kept this dream to myself, for fear of the stigma and of jinxing it by saying it out loud.

With my dream in mind, I threw myself at school in my best impression of my idol, Hermione Granger. Like her, I was a bit, shall we say… intense. But also like her, I grew confident in my own intellect and in the fruits of hard work and diligence. Despite all this, I knew that applying to Harvard was a total crapshoot. I knew that any number of factors, luck included (and I sadly had no Felix Felices), would be the difference between acceptance and rejection. And so, when I got my Owl from Harvard in the form of a 5:00am email, I was totally stupefied. Then came the flood of emotions: relief, joy, excitement, disbelief. All this was only amplified by my mom’s cries of “OH-MY-GOD-IS-THIS-REAL? Oh my god! OH MY GOD! CHECK IT AGAIN!”.

While I say that Hermione is my idol, my real idol has, and will always be, my incredible mom. Though my mom, having only read four of the books, is decidedly the muggle of the family, she is my Lily Potter, my Molly Weasley, my Nymphadora Tonks, all rolled in one. She was the one who calmed me down after episodic breakdowns when the stress of classes and test prep got to be too much. She was the one who drove me to band rehearsals, softball practices, piano recitals, dance classes and any number of other activities, all while being a full-time business executive. She was the one who held my hand in my high school counsellor’s office when I at last blurted out that I wanted to pull an Elle Woods and go to Harvard.

And on graduation day, she was the one who knew what present I would find most meaningful: a hardback copy of Very Good Lives, the book version of the text from Jo’s original Harvard 2008 Commencement speech.

–My wonderful parents at my graduation, Very Good Lives indeed–

So thank you Jo and thank you Harry Potter. You have been there for the entirety of my 20 years and you have made my family, my life, and the lives of so many others, immeasurably more magical. Happy Birthday Harry!

That one time I almost biked into a canal…

No prize for guessing the location of this particular memory correctly. In the list of thing-that-are-so-Dutch, bicycles and canals rank up there with tulips and windmills. incidentally, the latter feature in this story as well.

I was travelling with two of my dearest friends, Balim and Sunaina. We had decided to skip American Thanksgiving in favour of a trip to Amsterdam. We were dedicated to getting as much out of the Dutch experience as possible. After checking off Rembrandt and stroopwafles, bikes and windmills were in order. We decided to pass through Rotterdam in order to reach Kinderdijk, windmill capital of the Netherlands.

Now, at the time, I was the first to admit that I was pretty Type A. Ok. Very Type A. Make-my-bed-every-morning-type Type A. Consequently, I had planned our trip to Kinderdijk to a tee: walk to the train station, train to Rotterdam, ferry to just outside Kinderdijk, bike to the windmills, repeat on the way back. Simple! Luckily for me, the Netherlands as a country is just about as Type A as it gets. The infrastructure: amazing!

The three of us easily followed my plan and made it to Rotterdam. We had some time to walk around this very cool and industrial city before hopping on our ferry.

After hopping on the ferry, we were making good time to Kinderdijk. So far so good. We were having an (type) A+ day! We hopped off at our spot and walked over to the bike rental store. Alas! Despite all my planning the store was closed for the season. I was a little annoyed but don’t worry, I didn’t spontaneously combust right there and then. My particular brand of type A also includes A for Adaptability. Unfazed, the three of us set out to walk to the windmills instead.

Is there anything lovelier than a nice walk on a beautiful day with friends? Yes. A nice walk plus a hearty meal. After hiking along for quite a while, we stopped in a little pub in order to quell our growling stomachs. And, as luck would have it, the pub also rented out bicycles. Don’t you just love it when things work out?

After our little meal, we each hopped on and did our best impressions of effortlessly chic Dutch bike riders (with varying degrees of success – no surprises as to who was the least graceful). We biked for about ten minutes before finally reaching what we had trekked all this way to see: the stunning windmills of Kinderdijk. We had made it!

The three of us excitedly peddled up to the path that would take us in and amongst the mills. We zipped up the land exhilarated at the fact that we were finally here. Now, they say that you never forget how to ride a bike. While this is true, you can certainly be a little rusty after not doing it for a while – a fact that normally wouldn’t be a problem save for the fact that I was surrounded by canals on both sides. This by itself is also not a problem. What really screwed me over were my millennial tendencies. The lovely Balim was right in front of me and she had mastered the art of biking with one hand while taking photos on her phone with the other. Anything you can do I can do better, I thought.

Wrong.

Feet peddling wonkily, handle turning wildly, and hand flailing pointless, I looked less like a effortless Dutch girl and more like a toddler who had just graduated from training wheels to a “big girl bike”. I somehow managed to plunge my hand into my coat pocket and pulled my phone out. Never had I been more frustrated with my lock screen. Suddenly, I careened off the path and had to put both feet down in order to stop myself, phone and all, from plunging into a canal. I stopped seconds away from being drenched in weeds, mill water, and embarrassment. I learned my lesson. Live in the moment. Bike now – pics later.

I caught up to the other two and pretended like nothing happened. Not that they would have cared – they were two busy being mesmerised by the rosy sunset that was happening before our eyes. As we turned around to head back the way we came, the sky was slowly painted different shades of pink and orange. Sunset’s are natures version of HD TV. Never static, the colours faded into one another with each passing minute being somehow more beautiful than the last. We were speechless.

While peddling along in silence, I reflected on yet another lesson I had learned that day. Sometimes, the most Type A and thorough plans fall through for a reason. Had we rented the bikes from the ferry stop, we would have come and gone too early to witness the silhouettes of the windmills against the beautiful magenta sky. We would have completely missed the beautiful show that mother nature had put on for us. It was as if She herself had closed the first bike rental shop in order to ensure that we would arrive at the mills at the perfect time of day.

When we got back and returned our bikes, we realised that we had in fact missed the last ferry back. Somehow wiser and decidedly more chill than I was this morning, I laughed off the scheduling error and simply asked a local how we could get back to Rotterdam. She pointed us to a bus stop where the three of us waited patiently, still savouring the last of the ever-changing sky.

IMG_1201

IMG_1200
A fiery sky and a perfect day

The whole experience is truly one that I will never forget. I wouldn’t say that I am no longer Type A. Nor would I say that I’ve turned my back on my picture-taking millennial roots (as exhibited by all the pics that I ended up with in spite of my near disaster with the canal). However, I do find myself putting the phone down more and living more in the moment and I would now call myself Type A-. I still make my bed everyday and my Google calendar is as color-coordinated as ever. But whenever I miss a bus or take a wrong turn, instead of freaking out, I remember the sunset, the windmills, and that one time I almost biked into a canal.