I’m having trouble coming back home after two months in Cambodia. In the beginning I could blame the jetlag. After more than a week nobody is buying that anymore. Everybody tells me that I’m so quiet. That I am lacking of my normal vibrant charm (sarcasm alert !). I can see that too, every morning in front of the bathroom mirror. Shaving seems to have become too much of a hassle. Maybe I am trying to hide my inverted smile behind a tough sailor’s beard. Or maybe I’m just too lazy.
In any case, this can’t go on like this. What is needed here is some thorough analyzing. About the what, the why, the where to and Hare Krishna. The reason behind my depression, hidden deep in the dark void that is my brain. Wonderful digging around in my spirit. Opening up that stuffy mind to scrutinizing eyes. Ousting deep tonal base tones while hitting my untrained knuckles to shreds on an ancient oriental gong. Ooooohmmmmmm ! Something like that. Or I could just write it down. Much neater, and as far as they are not on my email list it won’t bother my neighbours as much.
I can’t handle Holland anymore. Can’t deal with it. With the clean. The proper. The totally dull Dutch Model and the incredible insignificance of world news here. Our prime minister has won a court case. The advertising drawing where he is depicted as a toddler surrounded by presents can no longer be used by a local retailer. In other news, a female driver has finally admitted that she purposely hit a man with her car after he stole her handbag. It’s all of such a grand meaninglessness that it’s making me feel sick. I watched some television just now. If you weren’t suicidal yet, after a mere 15 minutes of Dutch TV, you will be left with just one wish remaining in this life. A relieving head to head with the intercity train Amsterdam-Utrecht putting an end to all your troubles once and for all. Which will lead to delays in train traffic going to Utrecht. Which will be extensively covered in the news. “My, my, my, if it’s not the snow that keeps the trains from running on time, it’s some ugly head on the tracks. You’d think a train could cope with a little bit more right ? Whatever will they mess up next at our national railway company. ‘They’ should really do something about it !”
I guess the ‘they’ is bothering me the most. The ‘they’ of our Dutch welfare state. ‘They’ are the people in our government. The people that are tasked with taking care of us. The people that ensure that we have everything ready and done for us. So we don’t have to take care of ourselves. The state takes care of us. And ‘we’ can complain about ‘them’ if we feel they aren’t doing it right. Like taking care of single mothers on welfare with kids. One-off benefits. Because they are having such a difficult time in this period of ‘recession’. And I do really feel so sorry for them. That they can’t afford a holiday to Spain. No money to finance a car. No designer clothes for their children when all of their little classmates do. Truly what inhumane tragedies we are going through in this country.
Here in the Netherlands you will not find one street tile that is not neatly aligned with the next one. Maybe four times in my 39 years in this country have I gazed with big surprise upon an actual broken traffic light. The sides of the Dutch canals and lakes are all neatly straight and clean, protected from deterioration and enough ‘wild’ ducks have been put in the water to promote our sense of wildlife. Back to nature you know. And woe is you if you dare to sit down at one of these waters in the shade of a planted oak tree with a fishing rod in your hand. That’s not allowed. You need a fishing permit for that. Neighbourhood Officer Henk will immediately ask what ‘we’ think we’re doing (I am fishing and YOU are being a pain in the arse) and whether ‘we’ have a permit for this (I don’t, YOU probably do, professional wanker that you are).
“But isn’t that a good thing ? That you need a permit ? So that ‘they’ can take good care of our canals and all the little fishies and the ducks ! That’s what that’s for. It’s for our own good !“
….Goddammit I’m gonna be sick.
I’d like to have a motorcycle. Ultimate freedom, wind blowing through what’s left of my hair. Born to be wild in a midlife crisis. But not in Holland. In the USA you can get your motorcycle license by going around the block a few times with the local sheriff. Not so in the Netherlands. Here you have to follow an indecent amount of very expensive lessons to get your license. Special Exercises they call it. Driving around little cones on the road. Driving at walking pace. To prove that you won’t fall over with your bike. Why ? And so what ?? What IF I fall off my bike ?? Who is bothered by that, except me, my knees and possibly my self esteem ? Let me fall if I make a stupid mistake for god’s sake. Without a helmet and in bermuda shorts if I were to be so irresponsible ! Why can’t I decide for myself what I do or don’t do. Why should ‘they’ have any say over that ?
“Well, if you fall, you will get hurt. And that costs money. And the insurance company has to pay for that. And then the insurance premiums will go up. And we don’t want that.”
I have numerous compulsory insurances. In all matters of safety and health. ‘They’ arranged that for me. For my own good. To protect me from myself. Lots of things in this country are being done to protect us from ourselves. And you know what is perfectly suited to protect you from yourself ? A straight jacket. And that is exactly the feeling I’m having now. We are supposed to enjoy freedom in this country. But we’re not allowed to do anything unless ‘they’ approve it and in the way ‘they’ deem it appropriate.
- That’s one.
A few days ago I was at a birthday party. In amongst the people so to speak. A social exercise. For more than half an hour a heated discussion was going on about some gaming computer. This neighbourhood girl, from three houses down the road, tripped over it and now it was broken. And these poor people don’t earn enough money to buy her a new one. Such a terrible shame and the poor girl was so very upset about it. The world’s suffering today was limited to a broken Nintendo. And of course, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s actually great that this is the only thing bothering you on an evening like this. And good also to talk about it when more distressing matters are lacking in ones life. But I had some trouble processing it. After all I am the one who has changed. Not the people on this birthday party. They are normal. I am the weird one. All of a sudden I was back in Cambodia, sitting outside of a French restaurant with an almost full plate in front of me and no appetite. Standing next to our table an apparently deaf boy of about 18 asking for some change. I had a policy of never giving anything to beggars and I made no exception for this boy. When the waitress came to collect our plates the boy touched her arm and looked at her. The waitress nodded and took my plate inside. A short while later she came out again with a cardboard box and gave it to the boy. God this hit me like a truck. This guy was simply hungry and not too proud to ask for my leftover dinner. I suffered my shame in silence, didn’t even have the guts to look either the boy or the waitress in the eye. Later I managed to locate him a little further down the street and gave him ten dollars to buy back my conscience.
And as I was listening to the Nintendo discussion, I was wondering, what would he be doing right now ?
At the same party there was this little blonde girl of about 12 years old. She was very upset that she couldn’t get a particular popular ringtone on her mobile phone. All the tech wizards at the party were trying to help her do it. From a Dutch perspective there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Still it reminded me of the many Cambodian girls, her age and younger, in high heels and make-up, leaving for a hotel room by the hand of some fat German guy. But I won’t tell her that. That is of no use at all. She is happy, and that’s what counts. But if she would be aware what really goes on in this world, would she be even happier with her phone ? Or would she, like me, feel a bit guilty about it ? She seems like a sweet sensitive girl to me. Twelve years and in blissful ignorance. It’s exactly this ignorance that I no longer posses.
- That’s two.
And in the mean time you all have your own opinion about all this. The pompous applesauce that you are reading here. The politically correct blah blah wagging a finger like a schoolmaster.
“Do you know, these poor little kids in Cambodia…” – Yes of course you know. And you also know that I am hypocrisy personified. With my sailing yacht of almost 14 meters. With my iPod and digital camera. My laptops, computers and whatever else expensive stuff I thought I needed at some point in my life. And I don’t have the luxury of ignorance. I know what’s really happening in the world. And I’m not doing a damn thing about it. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be just as normal again as you are. I’ll get upset over nothing, sitting in front of the television set zapping from one trash channel to the next. I’ll complain that really nothing with any depth can be found on television nowadays. While I myself have become as shallow as the reflection in the mirror.
So what’s the alternative ? First of all, sell that yacht. And all the superfluous electronic crap. Hit the shop to buy some goat hair socks and sandals, and some proper lentils and soy beans for dinner. Grow my hair, learn to play guitar and go and make the world a better place. This is what I should do and I don’t. This is what bothers me the most.
On the other hand, there’s not so much to do. Not in Cambodia at least. That country is not even really poor. There’s enough people living in small palaces in Phnom Penh. At most you could say that wealth is not very well divided there. No, as far as poor goes, I’ve seen much worse. Africa for instance. Liberia, one of the worst places of all. In Darfur thousands of people are killed for no reason at the moment. I can imagine our Minister of Foreign Affairs returning to Holland, determined and motivated to do something about the dreadful situation there. Only to be gagged and silenced in never ending meetings and the drafting of final conclusions. Oh no, it can totally be worse. Bangladesh the perfect example of a sheer hopeless country that impressed me deeply. Cambodia is rich compared to Bangladesh.
So ? What’s the morale of this story then ? Well, there really is none. No one needs to transfer any money. No charity event with bank account numbers running across the screen for us to buy back our peace of mind. So then what ? Let me tell you. It’s not the poverty that is bothering me at the moment. It’s the wealth. The obscene wealth we enjoy in our little country by the North Sea. Did you know they have water taps of pure silver in public toilets in Oman ? Shame ! Such perversion ! Disgusting ! But if you have the means, why not use it ? And If you live in Oman, in the middle of all the wealth, you’ll automatically start to accept it as normal. That Dutch municipalities at the end of the year waste their surplus budget on useless stuff because they would otherwise be cut on the budget the next year. That our country is decorated with huge works of art that nobody likes but cost millions. That we spend millions upon millions on shady NGO’s with unclear objectives. We have enough money, so what does it really matter ? Subsidised monuments and decorative paving on the streets. And if you see a loose brick, you know the number to call.
The things everybody deems normal in this country are not normal to me anymore. Not at this moment. I just came back from a country where people are mostly busy with the important things in life. Eating. Sleeping. Finding a roof to live under. Caring for their elderly. And that is my problem. Not yours. My problem alone. And that is why I might seem a bit quiet lately. And that is why I decided to write this down.
And I wrote it down now, because in a couple of weeks it will be too late. In a couple of weeks I will be just as normal as you again….
(And that’s three.)