Of chip cards, family and friends

Sep 07, 2011 in Life

wpid-handlebars-2011-09-7-16-46.jpgI was back in The Netherlands for the first time in two years. Chance to see family and friends again, and to meander through my favorite city.

The meandering included use of the public transport and that required getting used to and obtaining an OV-chipcard (public transport chip card). Trains, trams, buses now all use the same payment system: a chip card you load with funds and then wave in front of a reader as you enter (check in) and leave (check out) the vehicle. Yvonne sent me an email with instructions beforehand and I also browsed the Dutch Public Transport web site. It seemed reasonably straightforward with the most tricky part being to remember to check out when leaving the train, bus or tram.

I flew into Schiphol (aka Amsterdam Airport) which has a train station: the place to obtain the card. There are several machines where you can buy and load a card. As at least one improvement over earlier visits these machines now accept credit cards in addition to a Dutch bank pass. Using the touch screen I indicated I wanted to buy an anonymous OV-chipcard (a named one can be automatically reloaded via your bank account but for that you need to live in the country), inserted my credit card and out came my very own OV-chipcard! Except, it didn’t yet have any funds on it. Why this is a separate transaction, I don’t know. A card without a balance is pretty much useless. Anyways, added 20 euros to the card which should be sufficient for the travel planned for the week. Proudly holding my card high in the air I descended upon the track where the train to Amsterdam Centraal will be departing from. Found the pole with the card reader to check in, waved the card in front and I got a red light and a short message that check in failed. Hmmm…. No further explanation…

Luckily, several train conductors stood around doing nothing (with this automated system what role/job do they still have?) and asked why my new card wouldn’t work. The lady said I needed to assign to first or second class for train travel. Why didn’t the machine ask this when I bought the card? She shrugged her shoulders. How do I do this, I asked? I have to go to the ticket desk. The machines do not provide this function. Alright, back on the escalator and standing in line for the next agent at the ticket counter. He held my card in front of a reader, tapped on his keyboard and I was all set. Back to the track to wait for the next train.

Friday afternoon I hiked up and down the Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat, Bloemenmarkt, surrounding streets and canals to collect presents. During the running around I thought of a little photo assignment: taking pictures of what Amsterdammers to do to and with their bicycles. They make phone calls, send and check text messages, haul groceries and small children around, walk the dog and much more. Check the photo gallery for yourself of how to use your bicycle in Amsterdam like an Amsterdammer. This also represented an opportunity to try out the photography workflow using my iPad instead of the MacBook.

Saturday was birthday day for my dad and Wouter, the oldest son of my oldest sister, Marja. Yvonne and I first brunched at the Koffieketel before taking the tram to the Muntplein to obtain the last needed present. It was a hot and humid day. We took a break at Cafe De Jaren to cool off. We were tempted to text the family to come and celebrate here rather than us having to get back out in the hot weather… At the parental home in Amsterdam-Noord my 6 year old nephew politely accepted his present and put it down next to him. After a little while, his grandma asked him: “Aren’t you going to open your present?”
“No,“ he answers, “I’ll do it later. It’s too hot.”

It’s more or less tradition that we go to my dad’s favorite Chinese restaurant for dinner. Since a few months he has a Canta, basically a narrow two-seater with a moped engine for disabled and elderly people. These are allowed to ride on bike paths and park on the pavement. I asked my dad if he was going to drive. He was and I went with him. My first time in a Canta! I recorded the experience. Can you enjoy my Amsterdam accent!

One of the nice things about the restaurant is that they know our dad very well and keep an eye on him. The seating arrangement didn’t work out as intended and I used the excuse of a toilet break to effectuate a little reshuffling of the chairs. We generally had good fun and amusing dinner conversation. Wouter and Marina leave a little earlier because Lennart was getting tired. But for a 9 month old baby he did extremely well! After dinner we said goodbye to my dad and I promised to come by Monday afternoon.

Also tradition is that Yvonne and I end up at Cafe Kale after a parental visit. It was finally cooling down making it even more relaxing to sit on Cafe Kale’s terrace and watch the Amsterdam nightlife flow by.

wpid-wouter-eric-2011-09-7-16-46.jpgMonday evening I met with my friends. I hadn’t seen Wouter in about five years and Leon perhaps even longer. Wouter sat already at the bar when I walked in. He recognized me before I recognized him. He’s all gray! And a tad, just a tad, heavier. Eric still looked like the schoolboy of many years ago, Gero and Leon hadn’t changed much either. Cafe Kale delighted me by having mussels on the menu. We chatted about cycling, technology, life, the universe and everything.

Waiting for Superman

Dec 17, 2010 in Life

wpid-school-2010-12-17-10-43.jpgThis is the title of a new documentary on high school education in the US. I haven’t seen it yet but I watched Larry King on CNN a while ago now paying a lot of attention to it. It got me thinking about my teachers. Here is a rundown of the good and not so good.

Mr Claus was my physics teacher in 3rd and 4th grade (age 14 and 15). He seemed more into guns than into teaching us physics. Gun ownership and fascination is very unusual in The Netherlands but he was often talking about his gun club and the weapons he had licenses for. There were many rumored stories about him. The school building was a concatenation of wooden buildings (a source of many other anecdotes for a future blog entry) and so one rumor was that one of the holes in the wall of his classroom was a bullet hole. And that once he shot the headlight off a student’s bicycle. The rumors conflicted in whether he ‘merely’ pointed the gun or actually fired it. Needless to say by the end of 4th grade we were seriously behind on the physics teaching program. But Lady Fortune smiled upon us and our next physics teacher was:

Together with Sanders (see further down) the best teacher I have had. He inherited our group at the start of 5th grade and quickly realized he had a big problem getting us ready for the exams at the end of 6th grade. He basically had 1 1/2 years to make up the slack of the previous two years. But he pulled it off! He was energetic, motivating, fun, a great storyteller and just a very good explainer. He managed to motivate this bunch of teenagers to give up free afternoons and weekends for extra class hours.

Bödicker is also the source for my love of photography. The school had a darkroom and a little photo club. I joined and had a great time learning to take photographs, develop the film and make prints. During winter time he would organize ice skating trips. He is in the picture above, standing at the left.

Lübeck and Ecstady (sp?)
My two chemistry teachers. One year we would have Mr Lübeck, the next Mrs Ecstady (not sure that’s her name exactly…). Both were quite good. My main struggle was that I understood inorganic chemistry but not organic chemistry. For some reason our textbook alternated these chapters so one test I would do great, the next…

Wilbert (Wilgerts?)
My teacher for German class one year. He was not very good. An elderly man and just not all that good in interacting with children. His teaching skills were a bit limited too. He would explain everything with one and the same sentence about Kartoffeln (potatoes). Yvonne had him too one year, maybe she remembers the sentence?

Speaking of one sentence teachers, Mrs Struick was my English teacher in 2nd grade. She would explain everything with either “I have lived here for five years”, or “Yesterday I bought a book.” Beyond that I don’t remember much about her.

My English teacher from 4th to 6th grade. Very strict and difficult to approach but an excellent teacher. He tried very hard to get me interested in Dickens and Shakespeare. For our exams we had to read at least one book from before 1850. I chose a play by Shakespeare. During the oral exam he asked about it. I said that I read it all to the end but didn’t much understand it. Hofwegen then spent most of the oral exam explaining the story to me.

I’m pretty sure Mr Hofwegen knew that I helped my best friend Joan during tests (we had an elaborate foot tapping system). During the written exams he put us in opposite corners of the class room.

Years later, living in England, my friend Susan and I tried to work out which play it was. We eventually concluded it must have been The Merchant of Venice.

My German teacher in 2nd grade. Our 2nd grade group was unruly and not very pleasant. Boschma was very young and this was her first or second year teaching. We harangued her so much that a few times she would run out the class room crying. It seemed funny at the time but I am embarrassed about it since. I’ve not yet had an opportunity to apologize to her. Needless to say we didn’t learn much German that year and I failed the grade miserably.

Ahh Mr Westerbeek. Bit of a mixed bag. He was Yvonne’s math teacher before me. Yvonne and math were not friends. Also my oldest sister, Marja, didn’t enjoy the subject very much. And so Westerbeek was convinced that the third child wouldn’t be good at it either. Which was true till the second trimester of 3rd grade. In the third trimester the coin dropped for me and suddenly I understood how it all stuck together. Eventually he and I got along just fine even while he once declared in class: “If you don’t understand it then I don’t know know how to explain it to you.”

My French teacher for two years. Here being the youngest played out much better. Yvonne was (is?) excellent at French and so mr Roth believed I was too giving me minimally a B by default. I never saw a good reason to disagree with him and inform him otherwise.

He taught Dutch and was also the deputy head of the department, a bit fierce. The year before I always got excellent grades for essays, different teacher, but he rated my writing differently. Took me a while to work out what he liked and then was back at A’s again. During the final exam he asked me why I put Het Dwaallicht by Elsschot on my list. I explained that Yvonne had read it too, liked it much and recommended the book to me. “And, “ mr Nobel observed, “it keeps the excerpt in the family.” Yes, that too :-).

My linear algebra teacher. As mentioned above excellent at it. I loved how he talked about algebra, the exercises he gave us, and how he prepared us for our exams. The day of the first test during our final exams was an off-day for me and I scored not very good. He was perhaps more disappointed and surprised than I was and motivated me to pull up my average overt the next two tests.

And lastly, Politiek
History teacher who was rumored to have an affair with another history teacher (forgot her name). Ahh, the high school intrigues!
Over the years I changed my opinion of mr Politiek. At school and for some year after I thought he was great. But since then I came to realize that his teachings were rather colored by his political views. Ironic no, seeing his last name?

The glass door is fine

Aug 27, 2008 in Life

Yesterday checked email and news at Cafe Dantzig near the Stopera. While leaving I was busy untangling the iPod headphone cord – amazing how quickly such wires wrap themselves up.

And then, Bang!!

I walk straight into the glass door. Never saw it. Smacked my forehead and right knee against it. It never flinched. My forehead has a red spot but I can report that the door is fine.

I thought to take the metro back to my sister’s. From Nieuwmarkt to Amstel station and then walk from there; must go quicker than tram 4 or walking all the way. I go into the metro station, have my strippenkaart stamped by the machine and nod in an altogether friendly manner to the public transport guy standing there. Down the escalator to the train tracks. Many people hanging around. On the side where the metro to Amstel station is supposed to stop the display overhead reads “Andere kant instappen” (board the train at the other side). But that side goes to Centraal station and I don’t want to go there. A train to Centraal indeed stops by, opens its doors, some passengers go out and in, but most passengers seem to wait for a different train, and it departs. The display on the side to Amstel still says the same. I wait for a while but not much seem to be happening. Apparently no trains to Amstel this afternoon. I decide to go back up the escalator. Another passenger has the same idea and goes up just ahead of me. He finds that transport guy and asks but I see the man shake his shoulders: he doesn’t know about trains to Amstel.

Alright, the tram then it is. I walk along the Stopera, via the Blauwe Brug (Blue Bridge) across the Amstel river and then along the gracht to the Utrechtsestraat through which tram line 4 goes. No tram insight as I turn into the Utrechtsestraat. A bit later I hear the ominous sounds of a tram approaching from behind. About forty meters ahead is the bridge over the Prinsengracht where the next stop is. The tram passes me, I start running. But, nobody’s waiting for the tram on the bridge and nobody in the tram wants to get out here so while sprinting I see the tram continuing on past the stop.

I slowdown to a stroll, fish my cell phone out of my bag. After such fierce resistance by the Amsterdam public transport to bring me back to Yvonne’s place I decide to call her, see if she wants to come this way instead. After all Cafe Kale’s terras is just around the corner!

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