When Prince Charming Lost His Charm

Once upon a time in Amsterdam, it was a sunny afternoon in spring when I was inside tram 5. Chattering crowds in multiple languages, buzzing sound of operating (tram) machine, the bell tolls and the station name announcement from the driver formed an orchestra of the day. Bunch of standing people jostled inside, grasping handles hanging on the ceiling. Brushing each other’s shoulder or being bumped by somebody else’s handbag seemed inevitable. Those who managed to find a seat in that kind of situation felt like winning a lottery.

I was one of the 80 per cent of those unlucky passengers because I had to stand inside the cramped tram. In other words, I didn’t (feel like) winning a lottery.

“Dari Indonesia?” (“From Indonesia?”)

I heard someone speaking my language. Was that for me?

The question I heard was indeed from a Caucasian guy with dark blonde hair and blue-green eyes, who stood before me. His look could probably compete that of the character Charming from a twisted fairy tale drama series Once Upon a Time.

“Iya.” I replied yes in Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language). “Kamu dari Belanda, ya?” (You are Dutch, right?)

He said, “Betul, tuh.” (That’s right)

He continued our conversation in Bahasa Indonesia. This guy, let’s call him Prince Charming – or Charming, asked me the purpose of my visit to The Netherlands. The words coming from his mouth made me forget that he was European. The way he articulated every word, performed the accent and intonation accordingly sounded nearly flawless. He had very good diction, too, defining that he didn’t learn the language solely by the book since he nailed all the daily terms and slang.

It reminded me that after several years living in The Netherlands, I was still not able to speak Dutch like the way Charming spoke Bahasa Indonesia and that was a shame on me. Being an international student taking a program conducted in English in the university results in no sense of urgency to learn Dutch. I practiced the language when I ordered some food in restaurants, asked for a road direction, did a part time job in the store, yet I didn’t blend in that much with local (Dutch) students. Perhaps it was the reason why I couldn’t excel it like a pro.

Finally found Charming truly made my day at the moment. I mean, who could refuse a good-looking guy who initiated a conversation with a mundane like me? He got my attention not only by his look, but also with his fluent Bahasa Indonesia. Hearing someone speaking my language overseas somehow felt like home, not to mention it signifies high appreciation in other people’s culture when spoken by a foreigner.

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spring time in Holland, but it’s not where the “crime scene” was

Charming admitted that he often mingled with Indonesian friends in The Netherlands, had been visiting Indonesia before and had a distant family who were Indonesian descendants. Mostly, he picked up words, intonation and slang from his Jakarta friends, something I already had guessed earlier. No wonder why he managed to speak Bahasa Indonesia so well.

There was a chemistry between us, though it wasn’t a defining moment yet to legitimately say I had a crush on him. I got a piece of him in that sense, and I totally bought it. I would love to hear more about him, especially who this Charming was actually.

Age was a bit sensitive to ask, but I believe that he was a few years older than I and no longer a student. So, I wanted to what he did for living.

It came to my surprise that an employee in a private company was not the only answer I got, but also his annual salary. Unlike what some of you may think that he was boasting about a six-digit income or something, he frankly told me that he earned about € 40,000 to € 45,000 per year (I don’t remember exactly).

Whoa. I thought that salary information is more classified than age.

Although he had a decent job in my point of view, Charming had something else to say about it.

“Working in a prestigious company with good salary doesn’t make me loaded. Government takes a lot of money and look how high the income tax is, at least 30 per cent. And where does it go? It’s to fund homeless, jobless people etc. The living course is pretty high, too. Housing, utilities and other bills, too. In the end, you don’t have much savings no matter how hard you work.”

Oh well, may be I had too much daydreaming about one day my prince will come and exclaim that there’s live a happily ever after despite challenges in life. The idea of talking to someone you just met to complain about life and work is not cool at all. It totally turned me off.

Later on, I heard the announcement, “Museumplein. Museumplein.

That was the name of the station where I had to get off for a transfer. We said goodbye to each other. I was so relieved that I didn’t need to hear more about personal complaints.

Weeks later, I told my housemate about my encounter with Charming. When I mentioned the word salary, she suddenly reacted,

“Oh, so he told you his salary, too?”

I asked her back, expressing my surprise, “He told you that too?? So you know this guy??”

She had met the same Prince Charming before and had the exact experience as mine. We both agreed that he amazed us with his fluent Bahasa Indonesia and attracted us at first with his look, but the rest was two thumbs down, from voluntarily mentioning salary to searching for a sympathy by sharing his reality bites.

Unfortunately, he never knew that he lost his charm every time he did those.

Whatever his name was, Prince Charming was officially dead.





Gado-gado Soep: a Transition from Salad to Soup

How to turn salad into soup? It’s either the easiest question to answer or the most stupid question ever asked. If you are being naïve by saying, “Just pour water on it!”, that’s what I’m talking about.

Today’s “victim” is gado-gado.

Gado-gado is an Indonesian (specifically Javanese) salad dish with peanut dressing. The word gado-gado itself literally means “mix-mix”. However, gado (without the repetition) has a different meaning, which is “to consume without rice”. In line with its meaning, there are various boiled vegetables in it, such as spinach, cabbage, chayote, boiled egg, long beans, bean sprouts, fried bean curd and fried tempe (fermented soybean). Alternatively, it may be added with potato, sometimes cucumber (no need to be boiled though). Or replace spinach with watercress, long beans with string beans etc. Unlike any western salads, this traditional salad can be accompanied with rice or lontong (compressed rice in banana leaf).

Basically, gado-gado is available nationwide in many Indonesian restaurants.

Nonetheless, I’m amazed that the Dutch create the soup rendition called gado-gado soep, or gado-gado soup. In addition to its peculiarity, this menu is not available in any Indonesian restaurants in The Netherlands (trust me, there are hundreds of Indonesian restaurants in the country if you notice), and definitely does not exist anywhere in Indonesia.

The first time I noticed gado-gado soep was at a cafeteria on campus in The Netherlands, provided by an appointed catering company. The soup was often in turns with minestrone, french onion soup and chicken soup. For a long time, I’d rather take the other 3 varieties than gado-gado soep. I’m not only into vegetables in peanut sauce, but also the idea of turning it into soup doesn’t sound appetizing.

i beg you not to turn me into soup :o photo by madya
I beg you not to turn me into soup 😮   -photo by Madya

I asked my fellow Indonesians’ (in The Netherlands) opinion about it. I witnessed 1001 kinds of mimic expressing disapproval, uninterested, even disgusted and puzzled feeling about what’s the point of making that kind of dish, when keeping it original is the best thing to do.

One day, I fulfilled my curiosity by tasting some zips of the soep from the cafeteria. Here’s what I can say. It’s savoury like a cubed broth with hints of peanut flavour from the paste. Since it only costs €0.80, so there’s nothing much to expect from the contents. You really need to dig it deep with the ladle to get all of them. Bean sprouts, spring onions, carrots and a few slices of cabbage. Fortunately, the taste of the peanut soup is not too heavy. Otherwise it will be too hard, as in sickening, to swallow.

Well, I conclude that it is my first and last to eat it.

gado-gado soep.  photo credit: http://www.vanexel.keurslager.nl

But don’t get it wrong. A multinational brand like Knorr creates a kant en klaar (instant) version of gado-gado soep. Several Dutch websites provide online recipes of this salad soup. Albert Heijn, one of the leading supermarket chains in the country, once distributed free gado-gado soup recipe in the brochure.

To be honest, I have never tried one at home.

These recipes suggest ingredients originally never used in gado-gado, such as leeks, broccoli and cauliflower. I think it’s just too westernized. And that’s not it. The additional chicken broth, chicken filet, noodles and coconut milk makes this food more weirdo than ever. As a result, gado-gado soep is no longer a vegetarian dish and it seems to me that they are trying to make a peanut-flavoured curry chicken noodle soup.

I’m completely “loss” without you.

A friend of mine said, perhaps gado-gado soep is inspired by Surinamese pindasoep (peanut soup), which is described as “strong peanut butter broth”. Though I don’t know which one comes first, there are ingredient similarities between the two dishes, including the use of noodles. Nonetheless, pindasoep doesn’t emphasize on vegetable varieties and it can be mixed with pineapple, minced meat or toast bread, something that I find very bizarre.

I’m not able to make a taste comparison between gado-gado soep and pindasoep since I haven’t tried pindasoep, and I don’t think I’m gonna do it anytime soon.

surinamese pindasoep. photo credit: http://www.surinamcooking.com

As the old saying, if there is demand, there will be supply. No matter what I think about the “confusing” gado-gado soep, it doesn’t mean you have to second my opinion. It’s not a crime to expand you culinary experience by tasting this particular dish.

May be, a box of instant gado-gado soep could be your (uncommon) souvenir to carry back home. Go get it in supermarkets or Asian stores in The Netherlands. Remember, you won’t find it in Indonesia in a million years.

Then, tell me what you think about it.

Hidden Vintage: La Vie en Rose

Living or staying in a city or country for long time is not a guarantee that you’ve seen or known everything. Sometimes you just walk straight home or rush to school or office, unconsciously blocking your sensitivity on things around you. You know all the shortcuts to reach places you frequently visit. Everything you see seems so banal that you may find yourself wondering why on earth tourists are so into red-bricked buildings in Amsterdam while basically they are just everywhere in Holland and look all the same (not entirely true, though). Been there, done that, so what?

I revisited Amsterdam last year. The city where I used to live hasn’t changed that much apart from some shops and restaurants are closed and replaced by other huge retail chain stores. I still remember all main streets I passed those days. However, you can call me a big fat liar if I say I know all the streets in Amsterdam.

The best way to know what’s in Amsterdam is to pass all the alleys and dare to get lost in between. My former schoolmate and I wandered on streets of Amsterdam and their alleys on Sunday afternoon on foot. Thank God it wasn’t raining. After hours for walking, we felt like sitting somewhere in any cafe nearby.

Traiterie Chef was the closest one we could find. Lots of cakes on its vitrine, variety of fresh juices, tea and coffee? That would do just fine. The interior was nothing special, until we came to the first floor. Scroll more, please!

Pink rules, from walls, curtains to wallpapers. The effort of rich Victorian vintage details exhibited is magnificent for a small dining area.

Put your babies in the bed to make sure the won’t screw up displayed goods.

You can zip a cup of coffee here, too!

Assorted frames and pictures in one place.

A black candle and its saucer that reminds me of Mad Hatter’s hat.

The main dining table that lets you mingle with other guests.

Not everything displayed is really old, but they are so lovely. I can’t stand not to have them…..

A very cute detail…a white mouse doll? Sweet….

I’m not sure what it’s for. I guess it’s a small cupboard to keep room keysP1160343 copy

Such a homey feeling

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It’s not just a display. It’s actually a brush to clean the tables.

You might say you’re at a granny’s house or an artsy lady with her antiquities. You might say that it’s a vintage museum that makes you feel like home. Whatever you think, let me get this straight: coming to this café means you’re not in the café!

My gosh, how come I didn’t know about this place after 7 years in Amsterdam? Again, I repeat: call me a big fat liar if I say I know all the streets in Amsterdam. Suppose you visit the city, I recommend you to drop by and don’t forget to taste the delicious carrot cake.

I wonder why they don’t apply the awesome vintage interior on the ground floor as well. It’s one of the selling points they should expose, isn’t it?



EUROMAP illustrates my trip to European cities from August to September 2012 through a custom map I created with Google Map. I only include this chapter in the end of the post related to the Eurotrip I did in that month. Please feel free to enlarge and click the blue arrows to view further comments about places I visited. Have fun with it, that’s what it’s made for!

The Visitor at 439-5223

Back to my school life some years ago when I stayed in Uilenstede, a student housing district in Amstelveen, The Netherlands…….

I  was alone in my room, cleaning a dusty desk, bedside table, and all the things I put on top. Suddenly, the loud sound of a doorbell broke the silence.

I walked out from my room to the corridor to open the door. A long wavy-haired, fair-skinned Chinese girl stood in front of me, asking a permission to see my room. I didn’t find it a strange question. The management office always advised their future tenants to ring any current tenants’ room suppose they want know how it looks like and hopefully somebody will open the door for them.

She attentively observed things around her, from an unfolded blanket, an untidy bed sheet, piles of papers on top of the printer, textbooks on a desk, arranged perfume and cosmetic bottles on a dressing table, a laptop on a sleep mode, unmatched pairs of furniture until a plugged water kettle on the floor. All right, I wasn’t proud of it. But I didn’t expect a company either.

Next, she asked me a permission for the second time to take a look at the balcony. The wind was mild, the bright sunshine gave some warmth on her face. She took her time a bit longer in the balcony than any other visitors. Most probably she drowned herself into her own world, playing with her own mind out there.

walk or swim: it’s their call!

After she was back inside, I started a conversation, “Do you study here?”

“No. I’m just visiting.” replied the girl.

We ended up talking about places she visited in Amsterdam and some European cities with her family, and I told a bit about myself. She introduced herself as Vivian. Knowing that she didn’t and wouldn’t stay in The Netherlands, I was very curious how she knew about Uilenstede, the place which is mostly popular among local and international students in the country, not tourists.

She finally revealed her main purpose of coming to my place. “I know someone who lived here. I just wanna see how it looks like and how he lived, how his life was. He used to study here.” She even said that the room I resided, unit 439 room 5223, was exactly the one where he stayed during his school life. I was like, wow! So my room was not just a random pick!

However, In response to my question about where he lives now, she only said, “I don’t know.”

Living my bedroom, we passed the corridor for the last time to show her the living room with public kitchen and washing machine. She didn’t ask for it, it was only my initiative to do so. She looked at it at a glance without expressing so much interest. Then I realised that it was not the most important thing for her.

She thanked me for allowing her to enter my room. After that, she headed to the elevator and went to the metro station to join the rest of her family.

I haven’t heard about her ever since. Months later, I emailed her to the Hotmail address she gave on that day. There was no reply. May be her account was already dead. May be she simply has forgotten me. Or else.

tram 5 that took me to Uilenstede hit a car near Zuid WTC

If I had an intention to write a blog at that time when I met her, I could have lead our conversation to someone whom I know very little: a Chinese male who once pursued his study in The Netherlands. This someone is the key character of the story. This someone also holds the reason why she didn’t know where he lives now. Or why she didn’t want to tell me about it. There must be something about someone, who was able to trigger a girl named Vivian to feel his life under her shoes by visiting his former 18-square-meter room.

The only way to know more about someone is to trespass someone else’s (aka the girl’s) privacy by asking more intimate questions, which is against my nature. Which didn’t cross my mind either. And I would never get that chance, ever.

Someone who didn’t love her back but she couldn’t accept it? Someone broke her up or passed away but she couldn’t let him go? Did the answer “I don’t know” conceal the sorrow of hers? I could only use my imagination to guess.

Nevertheless, I have one wish: I wish someone knew how much she admired (admires?) and loved (loves?) him.

It was a very small and forgotten part of a gal’s (my) life in travel that I had never shared to anyone. If you read this post, it means you hear (read) it from me for the first time. I don’t know if it is interesting enough to tell. I just feel like sharing it to you now.

Oh, wait! I still have another wish: creative people like you can turn a usual story like this into an epic novel.

walking home

Maastricht: Carnival Capital of The Netherlands

Maastricht might have been more well-known since Maastricht Treaty, which is responsible for Euro and European Union establishment. However, let’s focus on the cultural side of the town rather than politics and European economic crisis. Maastricht is the  capital city of Limburg province, the southern part of the Netherlands. Together with Noord-Brabant and Zeeland, also in southern Netherlands, Limburg is a Catholic cultured region.

In terms of carnivals, probably The Netherlands is not something that cross your mind at the first place. But actually, The Netherlands has various kinds of carnivals and festivals held in its major cities. Including the Catholic culture-based carnival celebrated mainly in southern Netherlands, resembling that in Italy and Brazil, where Maastricht is the carnival capital of the region. The parade takes place in main streets where famous landmarks are located, namely Bonnefanten Museum, Museum aan het Vrijhof, St. Janskerk, Stadhuis (Town Hall), St. Servaasbasiliek, Helpoort, Natuurhistorisch Museum and Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek.

Each year in February (or March, depending on the date of Easter), there’s a big event called Maastricht Carnival or Vastelonavend in Meestrecht in Dutch to celebrate the last day of eating and drinking fancily before the 40 days of fasting until Easter. It officially starts from Sunday (unofficially Saturday) to Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. All participants usually have singing, dancing and music performances, and also create elaborated costumes, giant puppets, facial and body make-up. The three-day-carnivals are public holidays. Shops, schools, banks and offices are closed.

When I attended the carnival in 2007, I was in the final year of my study period in Amsterdam. I didn’t regret at all traveling 2.5 hours from Amsterdam by NS train just watch the parade. Did I say that some other cities in The Netherlands have carnivals too? That’s correct. Nevertheless, Maastricht is the main carnival town in The Netherlands where Catholic religion is the foundation of the festive event.

Meanwhile, what happened in Amsterdam and other cities in northern Netherlands on the same days? Nothing, really. The northern part is more protestant-oriented and normally they don’t celebrate religious events as lavishly as the CatholicsAmsterdammers did their daily routines on those Monday and Tuesday while the fun parade was still on in Maastricht. Amsterdam has a lot of festivals held several times a year, but there’s no such carnival with costumes, giant puppets and marching bands.

Still having Venice and Rio in my bucket list for the next carnival destinations, Maastricht Carnival was something worth to visit. My friend and I only came on Sunday, the first day of the carnival. Yet it felt like a breeze of warmth in the middle of chilly winter. Using only the first generation of Canon digital camera and old Samsung mobile camera (they were new at that time), images speak louder than words for such event. Nothing pretentious about them, nothing but fun, fun and fun!


It was approximately10.30 am. Maastricht Central Station and it surroundings was quiet, not as many people as expected. I was a bit worried that we were at the wrong place and time. Several minutes later, I started to see some people with their costumes walking towards the central station exit door, passing in front of the station, standing in the middle of the street chitchatting and rehearsing. It was a relieving sight, signifying we were in the right track. Participants or non-participants, both party dressed up as striking and colourful as possible. We didn’t expect the carnival goers wore outrageous costumes too, not only the performers. It was our first time ever to attend a carnival like this.

Bunch of weirdos on street. Get used to it!

Dragging a puppet to the main street. However, I didn’t see them anymore during the parade.

Yes, we’re ready!


“Star” is a symbol of Maastricht flag. A carnival theme that will never be outdated.

Carnevale di Venezia was the main inspiration of many participants.

Happiest toddlers of the day!

Vlaamse friets met knoflooksaus (fries with garlic sauce). Nice costume. But texting during the carnival parade, seriously??

This was my favourite giant puppet in the carnival. Look at the details on the left side. There were two dolls hanging on its waist. Weren’t they cute? And the early bird Santa Clauses dragging the puppet? Probably North Pole was still too cold for them.

These fellas were the most professional performers of the day.

No matter who you are, what you are or what you believe, carnival gathered everyone in a cheerful and peaceful way. Squeezing among the crowds was something inevitable, could be tiring and troublesome. Still, I’d rather be one of the crowds than just watching the crowds. I loved the atmosphere and the excitement of Maastricht people with this event.


Family Portrait – everyone celebrated the carnival, from toddlers to senior citizens. After a long walk being the centre of attention, it was time to capture a living memory with a camera.

The party was nearly over. Nobody wanted it over, indeed.

They needed a break, too.

Glasses and bottles of beers were scattered especially right outside the restaurants and bars. A friend of mine got an idea of taking  empty glasses of Gulpener beer on street as a free souvenir. We haven’t heard brand before in Amsterdam, so it was fun to do and nobody noticed what we did. I should take the bottle too, but my backpack was too heavy. I was glad that there were no stinky streets as it has less portable toilets, trashes were much less than those in Amsterdam on Koninginnedag or Queen’s Day (check my older post for this subject), it was a saver place for an outdoor event and more friendly people in the neighbourhood.

I haven’t really seen the town itself, but it is actually a beautiful place to visit. For once in a lifetime, spare some of your time to join the crowds. Get some costumes if you can. As the old saying, the more the merrier!