Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm Leaving Amsterdam

"I think you're making a mistake leaving so early. To me, Amsterdam is one of the most interesting cities in Europe."

- Muni, at breakfast this morning

It's my last hour in Amsterdam. 

I've spent the last three nights in a Christian youth hostel in the middle of the red light district. When I read about it on the website, I just had to see it - the mental image of a bunch of Christian youths singing around the rubber raincoat brigade was too quirky to resist. But it's turned out to be a really, really good hostel. Staff are friendly, nice and seem interested. People are quite interesting.

I think Amsterdam means different things to different people. 

I met this Algerian guy in the hostel, a political asylum seeker. He's a former military guy who's ratted out on the army and is seeking refuge. He's been here in Amsterdam for five years, stuck in an endless loop of petitioning and adjudicating. His kids are growing up without him, he's stuck in a country he doesn't belong to, and he's going bald. He speaks of Amsterdam as a jail with open skies. 

I met this Aussie girl who can't wait to go home. She's been on a Contiki tour for a couple of weeks, and was exhausted by the time she came to Amsterdam. She hangs out in the lobby with a bottle of Coke and chips, dreaming of the beaches in Sydney. 

I met this English girl who grew up in Nepal, who works here in Amsterdam because she sees a need for God amongst these people and she believes she's the one to bring it to them. When she goes out to her church meetings, she skirts around the alleyways with their red-lit windows and the canals with their XXX theatres. She has the earnestness and concrete certainty of youth. 

I met this American guy who's spent a week in Amsterdam, and is thinking of staying another month. He like the canals. He likes the culture. He likes the tree-lined streets and the market squares. He's thinking about buying a stolen bike from a druggie so he can ride around the city, but he's keeps getting bitten by his ethics. 

I think that Muni's right. Amsterdam's probably been the most interesting place I've been to. There're 166 nationalities in this city, and probably more sub-cultures than I can count. And most of them are represented here in the red-light district. It is a very, very strange place to live. 

The place where I'm staying, the Shelter City, have a deal whereby you get free food and board if you become a cleaner. And if the Schengen zone visa wasn't perched on my shoulder like a vulture, I'd probably take them up on it. But you know, I've got 2 months left and I want to see Roma and Pompeii, Barca and Granada. There's always this compulsion to move, to leave, to see what's on the other end of the train line. 

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