Goodbye Den Haag

Today we left the Netherlands after what seemed like an eternity and a heartbeat in The Hague. 

  The movers arrived on time, shoved everything down portable elavators Dutch-style and our whole life trundled away in a 53cubic metre truck. 

I think there will be things I’ll miss like roaming around bike paths. I’ve moved around lots in the past decade and always felt pangs of longing at each departure. I never love a place as much as when I leave it. 

 

Do Belgians adore stairs as much as the Dutch?

 This time is somewhat different as the hard landing in the Netherlands from Canada has yet to wear off completely. 

Anyway, I’m thrilled to be in Brussels. A magnificent gem smack in the centre of Europe that makes me want to forgive excessive charges for glasses of water and shops that don’t open on Sunday! (But I hear progress is being made on the former front :)) 

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Almost didn’t make it to Paris…

  
We arrived in Paris last night safely with a hefty dose of providence. We had decided early to take the Thalys train but changed this to a driving trip just this week as we had to tack in a few other destinations. Turns out, the trains were cancelled all of yesterday due to arson on the tracks.

Next, while en route, we discovered that all the main arteries leading into the centre of Paris were blocked off for the day. Even major highways frozen off due to the arrival of Very Important People for the climate change conference. Fortunately our hotel sat just on the peripherique – no need to bust the inner ring. 

After a couple of extra hours of detours and jams (France has a makeshift border now where people are randomly pulled aside for inspections), we pulled up to the hotel to find guards everywhere. The first words we heard from in the city was, “Madam, we are at war.” And this elicited after asking why we could not drive up to the front doors of the hotel.

  Perhaps it’s due to our location at the Palais des Congres, but all doors are barricaded by burly guys (a frantic headhunt at the local gyms?) and wooden tables, it is nigh impossible to take a direct route anywhere, and all bags are inspected upon entering buildings. 

The second person we spoke to told us, “Paris is the safest place to be now”. 

It’s still certainly one of the loveliest cities in the world. 

 

The nicest bed I’ve ever slept in – gave me the worst night’s sleep ever 

 

Aspria Royal La Rasante .. room 11 – I’ll be back in 4 years!

 
This bed bore witness to the dynasties of magnificent forests. Its solid wooden posts made function-less spikes protruding out of a bed frame seem so relevant and necessary. The mattress was huge, firm, tangy, and the sheets the best silk cotton could be. Stepstools were even provided. 

Alas, I hadn’t realized that the sofa bed we initially planned for Petit-homme was located on the ground floor – 20 steps down an equally hardy wooden staircase….

A toddler sleeping in between his parents sounds awfully sweet but I can say, never again! How on earth do parents who share beds with their kids do it? (A very Asian thing as I’ve recently discovered – quite a few of my friends here sleep with their kids – plural!) 

Hyperactive bouncing, flailing arms, surprise thumps with teddy bears, emergency pees – were all part of the agenda for the night. Every time I drifted off, a stuffed animal landed on my face. It took 3 hours, two trips to the loo, a carton of milk, threats, whimpers, more threats till silence finally reigned for the night. 

Lessons learnt, no more split level hotel rooms, and little Thomas the Tank engine bed comes along next time. 

What Happens When You Lock a Heap of Lawyers Together in Quarantine

Lawyers milling around awaiting voluntary imprisonment

Milling around waiting for voluntary imprisonment

Several times a year, lawyers from around the globe huddle in anxious little bunches to sit the QLTS exam in London. The “Qualifed Lawyer Transfer Scheme” (you know you wanna do it) allows lawyers admitted to the bar in foreign jurisdictions to qualify as a solicitor in England (and Wales, but not Scotland). It is divided into two parts: the first is a 6 hour multiple choice exam (MCT), and the second (OSCE), is a 6 day carousel of presentations, meeting thugs (aka clients) and faffing around on Lexis Nexis to prove your research-savvy.

Last week, I was churned through and spat out the second-round OSCE mill and here’s what I remember…

The Quarantine

Not that they were trying to preserve the legal profession from an outbreak of disease – we all know how lawyers would fare (and perhaps reproduce) in an epidemic – but rather, my batch consisted of last-minuters who had to be quarantined in order to protect us from accidentally learning about the exams from the morning batch.

For three days straight (three hours per day), we stared at each other’s faces, shoes, and sandwich lunches. Eventually, we morphed into our natural states. If driving reveals our true personalities, exams are even more piercing of the suited veil.

The Scary Asian (Far East)

Though no real math is involved (apart from a bit of tax law), certain stereotypes still persist. These super well-organized Chinese attorneys had spreadsheets, diagrams, flowcharts, and stacks full of notes in cramped, tiny handwriting (wood famine in the Orient?). The level of preparation was Very Intimidating.

The Bulldozing Asian (Indian subcontinent)

As part of our “tests” we had to interview clients (e.g. grieving widows, thugs who beat up their girlfriends) and present defences in front of judges. It’s a tough spot to be in when you have no clue about the law on (let’s say, restrictive covenants) and you are expected to blather on for 25 minutes, “winning your client’s trust and confidence”. Lawyers in this category reported a rather aggressive tactic – i.e. charging in and juggernauting over any questions the client attempted to ask. 

The Fans of Earplugs

I can’t get earplugs into my ear canals so whenever I see people sporting this look, I can’t help but to stare in admiration for a long while. First, at their focus, and second from jealousy at the size of their ear holes, and the attendant flourescent foam bits I can only ever dream of fitting into.

The American

One can hear and see these from a mile away. They usually look awesome in their suits (a requirement for the first 3 days), but a drastic difference is noticeable at the Research & Writing exams (the last 3 days). Sneakers and loose shirts 3 days running is a favourite uniform. They tend to sound extremely well-prepared and ready for a stint on LA Law. Hanging around them is extremely useful if you are woefully underprepared, thus just vacuum up everything they are saying. However, if you are somewhat prepared but could have done more instead of catching up on Game of Thrones, steer clear if you don’t want to feel overwhelmed and underprepared (as you obviously are!), as they joyfully debate the minutiae of everything, ranging from sentencing limits to inheritance tax percentages.

48 hours in Dublin

Trinity College

Trinity College

If you can look past the pouring rain that seems to nip at your heels everywhere you go, Dublin is incredibly fun. It’s the sort of place that has something for everyone. Museums galore, great restaurants, intense shopping, and opportunities to drink yourself silly on every street.

Seasalt and vanilla at Murphy's

Seasalt and vanilla at Murphy’s

The things I liked the most:

1. Trinity College – truly the heart and soul of this city. It has the majesty of Oxbridge grounds, yet none of the stuffiness.

2. Shopping – Loads of department stores and high street boutiques. A good mix of Irish, Continental European and British influences.

3. Food – Bountiful, generally inexpensive and most importantly, a decent supply of Asian restaurants.

4. Literature – You can’t fail to appreciate the monumental pride of the Irish in their famous authors. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before a blockbuster movie on Oscar Wilde’s trials and tribulation sweeps the screens.

5. Cosmopolitanism – tons of Continental Europeans have set up in this city. If the UK votes to leave the EU, those wanting to experience an Anglophone lifestyle in Europe will likely flock to Dublin.

Things other people like but I skipped:

1. Guinness Storehouse – We walked for ages to get here and were confronted with a massive crowd in a stifling atmosphere. If you’re certain you want to visit this place, definitely buy your tickets online. It’s even cheaper that way. (The demographic of fans is by and large Caucasian males between 18-35.)

2. Museums – probably a smart thing to do on rainy days (i.e. all the time), but with only 48 hours, do like the Dubliners and get on with life!

IMG_6342

They say Guinness tastes better in Dublin…

3. Temple Bar – this is an area chockfull with live music bars and restaurants. Its lively around the clock which makes for a brilliant change from European joints which open only at rigid set hours around mealtimes. You’ll inevitably meander back and forth this jolly site when tramping round the city, but my feet hurt too much by the end of the day to trek back here for dinner. Next time!

A bit of Canadiana ..

A bit of Canadiana ..

Overnighting at the Kids Hospital

The Accidents and Emergencies Waiting Room for Kids

The Accidents and Emergencies Waiting Room for Kids

Despite what I’ve heard about the Dutch medical system, my own experience has been somewhat contrary to my expectations. When Petit-Homme was born, I was mentally prepared to be ushered back home three hours after delivery as is the norm here, but we ended up staying overnight in the hospital with round-the-clock attention.

Sofa converts into a bed

Sofa converts into a bed

Recently, Petit-Homme was admitted into Juliana’s Kids Hospital. When we checked in, the Kids Annex was only 5 days old and staff were still meandering around trying to orient themselves. Everything was brand spanking new, from the play structures, to automatic glass doors that smashed you in the face if you failed to decipher the instructions in Dutch on where exactly to stand. Free wi-fi, tv channels, and a shiny bathroom in a spacious private room. The ward was far from full, which I found unusual but welcome (maybe because it was a public holiday?). No disinfectant smell and no anxious relatives milling around.

Very Asian-street food looking cart

Very Asian-street food looking cart

The food cart comes round for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You pick what you want from an assortment of bread, hams, cheeses, spreads or warm food. And depending on which staff member you encounter at 3.a.m you may be allowed to pillage the pantry, and excellent coffee/hot chocolate is at your disposal.

I found our stay generally positive. I was surprised however not to receive any documents regarding treatment, nor even a copy of the invoice. In the Netherlands, these things get sorted a lot later, probably because of the compulsory insurance system. You may or may not eventually be informed of the charges. When we checked out (I suppose I should say “got discharged”), the hospital looked alarmingly full. Are humans conditioned at an early age to fall sick on work days?

 

 

Broken Glass With Your Dessert Anyone?

Dangerous Ice Cream at Oker, Den Haag

Dangerous Ice Cream at Oker, Den Haag

Unlike some desserts that come with pre-warnings like “Death by Chocolate”, my ice-cream bowl the other night was seemingly innocuous. Oker on Denneweg in The Hague is one of those atmospheric restaurants that lull you into a false sense of security. The fact that it was packed on a Tuesday night would have been sufficient grounds to believe that no customer had recently perished on its watch.

After two platters of oysters that were reasonably pleasing despite only one lemon wedge and about a tablespoonful of vinaigrette to go round, I had no reason to believe the subsequent dishes would prove exciting.

Well, I was wrong. My ice-cream tasted normal until about halfway through when my spoon started scraping against unexpectedly sharp walls, corroded into several petals of sunken edges. I touched the sides of my double-bottomed bowl that now had jagged carvings hanging on for dear life to dripping, molten vanilla. Without a doubt, the bowl was “broken” (but at least artistically so).

Turns out, as our waitress attested, they had placed the ice cream in a bowl that had come straight from a toasty dishwasher. Heat + cold = customer with possible stomach lacerations. Anyway, it’s happened here before, I’m told. Oh, in that case, no biggie.

I declined another brush with my maker, sweet as though the trip may have been and we got the bill. No charge for the ice-cream.

Is it too “American” of me to have thought the apology should have extended to bit more than a mere refund for something I couldn’t eat anyway, and that could have caused me grevious bodily harm?

A Visit to the Juliana Children’s Hospital

Petit-Homme has been coughing a lot recently. Last week, it deteriorated to disruptions in sleeping and gasping for breath. Apparently it has been a particularly bad winter (people seem to say that every winter) because the paediatrician’s clinic was booked solid for a month.

I brought Petit-Homme to the GP instead, which is typically what parents in the Netherlands do as a first step. Got an appointment easily after explaining the symptoms – the paediatrician gave me the tip that I should clearly describe breathing difficulties and lethargy, as it would be inconceivable not to get seen under these circumstances.

It was a positive experience. The GP, who was Dutch, surprised me with an extremely pleasant and caring demeanour. I have gotten so used to Dutch brusqueness that it was lovely to have empathy. Having said that, when I compare treatment of kids versus adults, I’ve noted that staff often treat kids with an abundance of care, while adults are expected to tough it out and stop asking for stronger painkillers. But in all fairness, 95% of my medical encounters here have been nothing short of exemplary.

The GP gave Petit-Homme a dose of ventolin to open up his lungs and sent us to the kid’s hospital for further diagnosis. In doing so, she had the clinic order us a cab and escort us to it. That was pretty nice.

To my own shame, I didn’t know before that a specialist children’s hospital existed in The Hague. We arrived at 4:20 at the A&E ward. All was suspiciously quiet. My past experiences at A&E have never been positive – waiting 5 to 8 hours to be seen is typical I suppose. I expected the wards to be flooded with wounded children, or kids in severe distress, but shockingly there was only one other child in the reception room – and we were seen within 3 minutes of registration.

All in all, we spent 2.5 hours hanging out in a private chamber tended to by a variety of doctors and nurses, checking symptoms, administering oxygen and ventolin (much resistance and wailing from Petit-Homme who resented being stuck to a mask), and even having milk delivered to us. Turns out, he had a chest infection.

Off we went to a night pharmacy on Laan van Meerdervoort in The Hague – another remarkable discovery!

It’s been five days and Petit-Homme is definitely on the mend. What surprised me from this whole experience was the speed of care we received. It would seem that on some levels at least, the system of compulsory health insurance works pretty well here.

Do Toddlers Find French Tougher than English?

Being a native Anglophone, my perspective on this question is necessarily biased. However, even my Franco husband has concurred lately that many French words are quite the mouthful for young kids, especially because they are much longer and often require articles and prepositions.

Teaching Petit-Homme to speak involves a lot of repetition. I am fairly committed in this endeavour though nothing like someone I read about who insists on speaking 40,000 words a day to her kid.

Having to pronounce the same words all day with perfect diction, careful enunciation and exaggerated enthusiasm has made me aware of what feels good, what feels easy, what fits the context, what I’d rather leave for Sesame Street to teach. Some examples of English triumphing over French:

  1. “Out” – Let’s go out! Get out of bed? Take out the light bulb from your mouth. Out, out, out! Monosyllabic, easy to repeat, rhythmic, fits a myriad of situations. Contrast: On va aller dehors. Tu vas sortir du lit? Enlève l’ampoule ..
  2. “Come” and “Go” – Come here! Nanny’s gonna come tomorrow. Versus viens Nanny va venir demain. The word changes completely depending on context and speaker. No need to get into vous venez and nous venons or je vais and ils iront (You’re coming, we’re coming, I go, they will go) but I have wondered on more than one occasion how French kids figure it all out!

Anyway, I suppose there are some exceptions where the reverse is true. Bicycle is so much mushier than the crisp vélo. Caresse, caresse, I implore, to prevent him from yanking the bejeebers out of Little Girl’s hair at Ikea. That just sounds so much better than stroke gently.

I wonder what it is about certain languages that make them infinitely more appealing than others. I reckon Chinese sounds abrupt because it’s a very context specific language that lacks just about everything (tenses, articles etc.). (Also, we tend to remember dramatic scenes of Chinese people yelling at each other, which reinforces the thought that Chinese is for hurling slimy fish in the marketplace. But watch some Zhang Yimou and the throaty Gong Li …) Dutch sounds coarse perhaps because there is very enthusiastic jaw and throat engagement leading to uncomfortable sounds of buzzing, rasping, some even call it hacking. And French is universally considered the sexiest language because those who speak it well purse their lips and pout a lot, which makes them look like they are about to engage in foreplay (or are currently doing so). Back to the notions of caresse – which everyone should indeed learn early.

All Packed – How to do Travelling-Mommy Chic (yeah right!)

I used to be one of those super rigorous types who would never beep at the security scan, never had a drop of liquid nor need for those tacky plastic bags, cases were minimal and compact – raising my long-suffering eyebrow at hapless travellers in their belts-boots-coins clanging frenzies. I had no sympathy for that super irresponsible mother who deliberately let her rambunctious toddler zip around in a trolley until it eventually overturned and pounded the kid on the head. I had travel heels, travel lipstick, crease-free cocktails-to-cab outfit, and a shopping list at duty-free (Bvlgari sunglasses/Shiseido foundation/more lipstick).  Everything I needed was on my phone – for everything else there was AMEX – and I was ready to go, go, go.  But first, the pit stop for some whiskey tasting at Heathrow.

Tonight, my gigantic multi-compartmentalized carry-on backpack (gasp, faint!)demands to know if I can stuff more into it. For surely, apart from LU crackers, cheerios, organic Ella travel-spaghetti + spoon, milk powder, muslin, spare muslin, blueberries, string cheese, iPad with 10 kid apps, there will be more, more, more toddler travel must-haves. I’m the food mule, hubby the loo-supplies camel.

I’m trying to remember where the kiddie zone with giant plastic tulips and clogs are at Schiphol. Most importantly, I need to know who (plural) to sue if there is a delay.

The worst is figuring out what to wear. We are going to Canada, so the boots have to be ice-friendly. No space in the luggage for other fabulous footwear so it will also have to be versatile. Cue the new Sorel Joan-of-Arc ankle booties with SERIOUS tread. Jeans and a top of course – but the fabric has to be hardy enough to withstand Petit-Homme’s yanking and chomping. No light colours in the eventuality of spitting/throwing up (the former him, the latter me). Top has to be long enough for decency in all the contortions of chasing, bending, lifting, bowing, begging. Coat – well, the Canada Goose Mystique will is a no-go this year – just too much to schlep around to have to worry about a full length sleeping-bag wannabe.

So it’s going to be, high-waisted skinny jeans, the 6 year-old red tunic Lacoste sweater, and a short winter parka (with excessive fur trim as my only tribute to frivolity.)

As for beeping, the RoadRunner’s ready to rock and roll.