The Dutch in Me

Have you ever had that feeling where you can almost hear something or someone calling you to a place? I had that feeling a couple of weeks ago, where I just felt like I needed to book a ticket and head to Holland. I have a strong connection to The Netherlands. When I was six, my mother remarried, to a Dutch man. Sadly he was only in our lives for seven years, but he will forever be my dad, for the rest of my life. I owe a lot of who I am today to the way he educated me, and brought me up as his own daughter. For a child who grew up in China and Hong Kong, I am more international, independent and self sufficient than a lot of people in my generation. Us Millennials as they call it can have a bad reputation for being too self absorbed and reliant on material goods.

I have an entire side of the family in The Netherlands. Cousins, aunts, uncles, second cousins, and others I’m not even sure how I should address really. I have quite a good connection with most of them which I am proud about. I like to know that they like having me as part of their family too, which I am very thankful for. My step-father passed away seventeen years ago, leaving my mother and I with our hearts broken. There is forever a spot in our hearts kept for him, his presence, his grace and memories of his wisdom. I’m not very superstitious but it almost felt like he was calling me to him a few weeks ago, this then drove me to purchase a plane ticket and head there straightaway, with no planning or organising what so ever. I simply bought a ticket and went on an adventure to The Netherlands with Rae by my side.

As I arrived at Amsterdam airport, I walked over to the rental cars counters and memories came flooding back. It felt like only yesterday that my mum and dad did the same thing, with a young me sitting on the luggage trolleys. We rented a car and started our six day adventure straight away. I like driving in The Netherlands, people are very respectful of each other and it does seem rather safe on the roads, even at busy times of the day. Of course the traffic jams here are nothing like in Asia and does not last more than ten minutes of standstill for any reason at all. I stayed with my cousins in Zaandam for the first couple of days. They live in most famous tourist area in Holland where you can see the windmills up close and take amazing photographs by the River Zaan. The historic houses and buildings along the waterfront are simply breathtaking. Of course all these properties are listed, as they are simply monumental architecture in this area.

The next stop on our travels is Den Bosh, or known for its full name S’Hertogenbosch. I can never pronounce that so I just say its nickname when asked. It must have been hard for others to say it too perhaps that was the reason for its shorter name? I love visiting Den Bosch. I only have one cousin there but it has the most amazing independent stores on its lovely shopping streets as well as a delicious chocolate covered ball with freshly whipped cream in its centre. That sounds good enough as it is but you must head there and try it out when you get a chance. I only had a day in the city which was plenty, perhaps a shopping trip without the kids would be nice, but not sure I will get that chance any time soon to be honest.

Tilburg is the city I guess I can safely say is where I was headed all this time. The cemetery where my stepfather is buried is in Tilburg centre. This trip was for me to make sure I have visited him before my 30th birthday so I made sure I had plenty of time to go at least twice on in the short days I was around. I stayed with a long time family friend in Tilburg. As always they are the perfect hosts. Rae and I had so much fun catching up with our old friends thats for sure.

When people visit cemeteries, I have always believed it is more for the comfort of the living rather than the departed. I would not go as far as to say I enjoy visiting the cemetery, but it does give me a tranquil feeling, makes me feel calm and content. This time, when I went into the cemetery, there was a sort of pull, as if the feeling I had calling me to something came from here. The minute I arrived, I felt I had fulfilled that void, I found the reason I felt like I needed to come to The Netherlands on such short notice. Looking at his headstone, where there is a space left for my mother’s name, I wondered about the future. I looked around me, looking at Rae sitting on the grave playing with the blooming flowers we took with us, and thinking to myself how life will be when my mother goes. We all wonder about how life will change when circumstances in it changes, but have we ever really contemplated how we treat them now? I stood there, telling my stepfather about my life now, my husband, my children, telling him how much my mother misses him, and that she is still overworking so don’t have time to visit him in Holland often.

For the last evening on our mini adventure we had a lovely dinner with my step aunt and uncle and their spouses. They are always great to visit, and we always talk about old times, when Dad was around. The silly things my dad used to do with me, makes me smile just thinking about it. We looked at old photos of their youth, their childhood games and fun times. It is just so sad how fragile life can be, how we never know what could happen. We lose loved ones, friends so easily that we really need to all treasure what we have. I made up my mind, after this trip to really change the way I view life. I have been so lucky through life, career and family. However all luck runs out so I will be prepared for all future adventures and struggles. Thank you Dad, for calling me to you, and letting me have a week to myself, well with Rae, but we had such a great time visiting the family and you. Truly, Thank You.

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Full time travel writer at Time Magazine ruling my world with my soon to be 3 children and an extremely supportive husband. I write to escape from reality only into a greater, more fulfilling world.

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