Thursday, January 28, 2010

Because Sometimes a Potato for Dinner Inspires Things Like This

From my understanding in terms of reading this blog I have given much attention to food - rightly so in some respects. I have had an uphill battle with my stomach this entire experience, even bringing about the rare paradoxical exchange student weight loss (says a thing or two about my American diet, huh?). Anyways I thought I'd make an entry all about Dutch food - the good, the bad, and the downright unappetizing! Then maybe I'll summarize a bit of what I've done the past week (oh nevermind I can do that quickly - nothing).

The yums. What makes me stomach smile with joy. Dutch desserts and pastries. Well first off there are pannenkoeken, extra thin pancakes with thick, rich, dark Dutch syrup. I love eating it mixed with that and  the maple syrup I brought from home with some powder sugar. Did you say Appelflappen? Oh it's just the Dutch answer to apple pie. A personal sized deliciousness made with puff pastry, stuffed with apples, and sprinkled with sugar on top. Best when bought from Albert Heijn with the steam covering the box because they're so fresh and hot. I've already discussed Ollibollen and how they practically led to me going into cardiac arrest this winter. Sadly they're only around untill New Years then someone dumb Dutch person went "let's stop making these until next November." Stroopwafels. This, again, has been previously discussed as somewhat of a heroine like substance for me. There has been a recent development though - Saturday I went to Tilburg with Maria (Brasil) and Christina (Bolivia) and I bought a fresh, warm, syrup dripping stroopwafel. I felt semi-debilitated afterwards but Lord knows it was worth it. Albert Heijn donuts - they's just donuts, but they's some good donuts. I can't have anything but love for a country that shares my sentiments about warm ham and cheese on some type of bread - lucky for me there is an abundance of this very combination here. Oh and Vla! Vla is a thick pudding-like kind of a dessert that people eat with hagelslag (y'all already know I got love for that stuff too) and it's just wonderful. Buy it in chcocolate, vanilla, or a mix of both from your local grocer. Upon finishing the good food section I realize I have not included any Dutch umm...real food I guess you'd say. That's because, while some of it is acceptably average, I'll outline the (for lack of a better word) gross ones next!

Blegh. Here I will discuss Dutch main course-ish type food. I am unimpressed with this. There are a few I can eat and enjoy though. Pea soup and Pumpkin soup - I have had delicious versions of each, the best made by my liason's husband. I never thought I'd enjoy pea soup - but it's quite nice. Kipcorn. I am up in the air whether to be grossed out or not by this, but I've eaten at McDonald's before so I guess it shouldn't really be anything new. Kipcorn is uh...a stick of chicken, breaded. You can purchase this innovative and handy snack wherever you see the uh, semi-outdoor like snack bars with little windows where you put money in and can then open a window of your choice and grab out your delicious, home cooked (a-hem) treat. Kroket and Frikandel. You can also buy these at the snack bar. While my love for ground and reshaped chicken is unwaivering, I cannot however say the same for ground, soupy, red meat mush when it is deep fried. That is why I don't eat Kroket and Frikandel. The end. What elseee. Potatos is like a staple and I guess I can deal with that because well, we happen to eat them in America as well. What I do miss is baked potatos with butter and ughhh yum. Or Potato skins with bacon and melted cheese. Jesus. Also there is this like thing (sorry I have no better word for it) of mushed up potatos and some kind of leafy vegetable (you see already why I don't like it) and it just looks and smells bleh.

So there is Dutch food for you in a nutshell. Wanna know what I ate for dinner just now? Tacos (funny - no?).

This week has been more strange limbo zone between host family and temporary family (because the spectacular AFS Nederland has taken 4 weeks to find me a new one and is not a bit closer than they were at the beginning) as I'm planning on moving in in a couple weeks with my friend from school Dustin. His parents were super cool about letting me stay with them for a little and I hope Dustin and I can make it work and not mess up a good friendship you know? I'm now taking math at school and I guess it'll be a nice review of like, Algebra II for calculus next year? shake it off. Besides that nothing doing. Language test on Saturday in Utrecht, Amsterdam tomorrow with Ivy. Carnival soon!!!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I'm Going to Try This Again

Sorry about that last entry - I just wasn't feeling it to be honest. Anyways quite a bit has happened in the past three weeks since I wrote in here (by that I mean a serious entry). I'm going to try to tackle this chronologically so I can hopefully remember the most. By the way after my computer was all screwy without Windows for a month it's finally back but for some reason I downloaded Dutch Mozilla and now all these words and currently underlined in red so if there are typos I apoligize. The day after I wrote my last full entry I had a really exciting day with Ivy - we decided to use our expiring day cards for the train and just do what we felt like. We started the morning in Delft, a beautiful, old city that I had heard so much about and a place I want to visit again because it'll will be a good place to pick up some Dutch-y souvenirs at the end of all this. It was still pretty early when we got there so we got breakfast-y like food and just wandered a little. When we lost interest we went over to Rotterdam for the first time, but since we kinda had a fleeting attitude that day we couldn't focus ourselves on Rotterdam since it was so gigantic and we just had no clue what to do. So we left. Ivy had this undying urge to see the ocean so we went to Vlissingen, a 90 minute train ride from Rotterdam, where we literally crossed over a lock for the ships and looked at the ocean. Too bad moments later it began hailing, making us slightly bitter we came all the way for this. We took the same train to Roosendaal when we left so we could meet everyone for Agustina's going away party! It was a great party and it was nice to say bye to all the Shopers who always assured us this place wasn't as bad as it seems during our first months here.

The Southern Hemisphere students leaving signals a very definite moment in the year for me and hopefully some of the other people in my group. In 3 weeks the new students will come, homesick, shocked, and bewildered. Many of us are uncertain we can calm their worries the same way the SHOPers did for us back in September. Do I feel I could confidently tell someone that in a couple months you'll understand all the Dutch and language will stop being a daily battle? No. I am just reaching a point where I understand a vast majority and can use it when I choose (although I can admit I am a bad exchange student and use it infrequently outside the walls of my host family's home). It also means that I now have 5 months of exchange to look back on. What do I see? To be frank, I don't see anything, because I don't look back anymore. The only thing I look to is the future, these last few months in the Netherlands (I plan on terminating early for various reasons including a summer job and orientation at Tulane, staying until July is just not viable for me), a fresh start with a new family, and all I have yet to do here. I keep my chin up everyday and am beginning to see things I didn't see before. I already see some of the things I am learning; when my parents used to tell me just to take it one day at a time, I had no clue how, now that's all I survive on! I think about today and only today (ok maybe tomorrow or next week, if I'm like, making plans, but you get my drift).

It's difficult for me to write the way I used to in the beginning of this blog, where I found humor in all corners of this country and the differences I could see in everything. Things become mediocre then worse and the stress I feel everyday from my current living situation has taken a lot of fun out of exchange life for me. My advice, to anyone on exchange this year or anyone bound for AFS in the future, as it was told to me by a spirited, helpful Argentinian: "Don't forget, this is your year. You can't always live for others and their pleasures and worries. Do this for yourself." I am trying to combine this entry with sentimentals as well as the general update of life on exchange because like I have always said, this is a documentation of my journey, which given my current situation, has had little humor in it recently. I need this back. It's come to this point where I over analyze most actions I take in this country because I feel like my whole being in general has come under seige in the past few months. I'm going to end this paragraph because it's not a nice thing to talk about - I understand this. But I won't apoligize for discussing the rougher parts of exchange, something I know a lot about.

Either way - I have managed to squeeze in fun weekends and schooldays with AFSers and friends. I'll continue with that and the lighter parts of my life now. Last weekend I spent another day in Rotterdam with Francesco, Timoteo, and Ivy. We shopped a little (I'm lying, a lot) and then explored some more, got to see the Euro mast (I know nothing more about it except that it's some big tower in Rotterdam, we struggled there in the snow). Ivy and I came back home and I met up with Caspar and David to go out - I'd say it was a successful night. This past weekend I spent at Ivy's getting to know her town of Helmond seeing as she's stayed at my house a bunch and I've never once slept at her house. It was superb. We went out Saturday night then Sunday just pigged out and watched movies and stuff and blahblahblah it was cool.

Stuff with my Dutch friends is going well. I still hold true that I feel lucky to have found my friends. I think they're awesome people and Dustin (or his mother...whichever way you look at it) even offered to let me move in with his family. I am thinking I won't take this option though because I hear living with friends can be really hard and I don't want to spoil a good friendship...especially with someone I have every class with. The hardest part though is definitely the whole Dutch thing with friends. I've been trying to prove to them recently I can actually speak pretty good Dutch and I guess they get the picture but who knows if there'll ever be a day we just look at each other in the morning and begin speaking Dutch - could happen, no? Either way I'm currently in the middle of another proefwerk week for my school (exam week) which means for me...I do nothing. Hopefully I can take a couple day trips to relax and stuff, then I have two weeks of school and then another week off - this time for CARNIVAL. I'm really excited about this and I hear it's just a splendid time. For the second half of this vacation hopefully I can go somewhere - I'm a little surprised with myself how little I have traveled during this year but I guess what they say is true - AFS is not a travel agency, and they have enough bureacracy and red tape to stop you if you try and prove otherwise.

I think I want to write a couple quirky things about the Netherlands that I appreciate just to pump up my spirit:

-  I have an everlasting hate for gym class and it takes more than an appropriate amount of effort to get myself there for two hours on Monday mornings. But I have to admit, trampoline? ice skating? This is not freshmen gym everyone. It's pretty different for me. I guess in America they just take the approach that a lot of people hate gym so why should they try? I get it but in my opinion it just made it worse. Either way, it makes me feel better about my lack of sports aptitude when barely anyone in my gym class is good at ice skating!

- Have I written in here that I have discovered I'm intolerant to fructose? Maybe I have, I don't know, but I'm around 90% sure it's true. I took fructose out of my diet about a month ago and things with my stomach have gotten so much better here. How does this exemplify my appreciation to this low-lying country of crazy people? I can easily go through a normal day without encountering fructose. Besides turning down fruit after dinner, it's really a lot easier than one would think. I know if I found this out in America I'd have to battle the inner fat person not to eat my normal foods. I'll tackle this topic again maybe when I get home - I know you're dying to find out how my gastrointestinal story ends.

- I have a second home on the Dutch rails. Every time I get to Eindhoven station I know that there is something interesting just going to happen. Someone is coming in or I am leaving. And when it's me that's leaving, when that train pulls out of the station and rushes towards wherever I'm going, my worries are left behind on the platform. I forget about the stress of exchange and know that this is what I came here for, adventure. When I step off this train I will be somewhere I may never before have seen, and if I have, I'm sure something will happen that will make the trip worthwhile. I love the ugly, green seated double decker stoptreins near Rotterdam and Amsterdam, the large, blue seated, newer double decker intercitys that make me feel at peace, or even the old, orange seated, single level intercitys that replicate the first time I ever boarded a Dutch train.

- This experience has made me certain of one thing for sure though - I love the United States of America, and I am an American. No I don't want to wave the stars and stripes wherever I deem fit, nor do I like to associate my patriotism with some bad decisions my government has made in the past few years. What do I want? I want the 4th of July, unreliable public transportation, abrasive friends, boring nights we make our own, macaroni & cheese, and being at home knowing, for certain, I am proud to come from where I do. You can tell me we're obnoxious, our accents are intolerable, we get treated differently for only saying where we come from, we dominate the media and popular culture of our modern world, but I really don't care. After all, it could be worse - I could come from Tasmania.

Monday, January 11, 2010

If I Had the Energy to Make a Nice Title...

Ok hey, hello. Sorry this has been such a long break here again (or so it feels). A lot has been going on here and it's not always the most positive stuff to write about. I guess I'll start with the not so nice stuff? That way I can end this entry positively and we can all leave feeling good! I'm switching families. I'd like to say it was an easy decision or something that tones down the situation but I got nothing! I'm surprisingly pulled together and hope I can keep stuff positive in the next couple weeks through all this. In my opinion I feel my Dutch is going well but I know I still have strides I gotta make. I actually don't have the focus right now to finish this post so I'll update full and well soon!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year That Sure Feels Like the Old One

Since I last updated I haven't really found anything too inspiring or mind-boggling to write about, I just figured I'd talk about what's been happening this last week of break (seeing that it has been much better than the first). Maybe I'll work backwards because I have the least to say about the most recent developments in life. I rang in 2010 with my host family. I suppose it was nice and we ate these things called ollibollen and appleflops or something the other and you know, since we don't have TV, we uhh...watched the clock. fiesta. (The following excerpt it going to make me sound like more of a loser than I am) I was expecting to be contacted by friends who told me they could only go out after the ball dropped and after only speaking to them prior that day I thought that someone could contact me. Boy was I wrong. We outside with the family in the freezing cold and watched as the Dutch sky was lit up with nice, minor and large, illicit fireworks of all shapes and sounds. This proceeded like mad for maybe 35 minutes after which we returned inside to munch a little bit more. Realizing that I was tired and wasn't getting a phone call to come out, I called it a night. I prefer watching fireworks in the summer - when it's actually pleasant to be outside, but to each his own.

Earlier than day I had returned from Zoetermeer where I spent the night at Crystal's. Wednesday I decided I needed something to do so I trained to Den Haag (seat of the Dutch government) and we walked around there for a while. We actually went and sat at this cafe and got cookies and hot chocolate (ok Crystal had wine and a brownie but...gross) and we conviniently sat ourselves next to what turned out to be three fascinatingly American girls. Don't jump to conclusions - we didn't introduce ourselves as fellow exchange students or anything, it was way too much fun listening to their unbarely dumb banter about living here. I guess they were with a college organization but they broached really interesting topics like "Oh my god we had to take a inventory for a class to see if you're like, you know, more European or American stereotype, and I was like, totally more European, because you see, I like believe that we should share everything and then it's like, more even." or about how she (one was quite domineering and controlled the conversation, loudly) has to attend a mandatory class for foreign students and "It's like me, three British guys, and then ASIANS. And I totally won't go unless the British guys go because like, otherwise they just speak in their languages, like so much Vietnamese!...(this is my personal favorite) And you know I like, have never been exposed to Asians." So thank you, fellow Americans, for making me proud to hale from the land of people underexposed to Asia.

Besides that Crystal and I just had a merry time talking and catching up and such. The day before that, tuesday, I arrived home from spending a night in Utrecht with approximately 25 other AFSers. Someone (Francesco) had the brilliant (kinda) idea to get everyone together and spend a night in a hostel in Utrecht. Monday morning Ivy and I found everyone standing on a random street in Utrecht not quite sure what to make of the city. Ivy and I went to a couple stores and returned to the group, which was waiting for more people, so we could become a louder, more rowdy group than we already were, and make our way to the hostel. I don't want to take too much credit, but where it is due it is due. I was a major help in getting 20-so foreigners to the hostel. When we were finally there we were...surprised. But I guess you get what you pay for! We had free reign of a kitchen filled with...I'd say food but it was mostly frozen meat, pasta, and pannenkoeken mix. We survived. Needless to say the rest of the night was, eh hem, ridiculous. AFSers were pouring in throughout the night with others running back and forth to the train station to fetch them. There isn't much more to say about the evening.

That about sums up my week! Traveling around this country and coming home to my own bed in between. Today we've been relaxing, went on a walk and the kids collected sticks from the fireworks (it was a mess out there). Tomorrow I'm using one of those unlimited ride day cards for the trains with Ivy so we aren't sure where we're going yet, maybe Rotterdam and Delft, then we're going to Agustina's goodbye party! I'm going to miss the shoppers - especially my Argentinian wife Agustina (te quiero amor mio!). I think the prospect of school coming up isn't so bad. I really need to get the gears moving because this vacation has lasted forever. Also I hope I can get windows up and running on this computer soon because Linux is tiring me out. I don't expect January to be a very busy, interesting month (except for a language test administered by AFS at the end of the month - woo!...) but Febuary at least has Carnival to break things up!