The stay in the Netherlands
Schiphol airport, Amsterdam. I was taken aside by the customs at the exit gate and my luggage was opened and checked. There was a new shirt still lying in the factory packing. The customs guy asked, "Why is it packed?" I said, "I bought it in hurry, in case I had to attend a formal gathering". This was the last hassle I had to go through. The life ahead was wonderful.
The airport looked like a big shopping mall although most of the shops were closed as it was early in the morning. I think at that time Delhi only had Ansal Plaza, Khel Gaon Marg and the IGI airport only had a small kiosk for tea/coffee, like the one we had in the school canteen.
Leo was waiting outside the airport. It was the second time I had met him (earlier he had come to India for a quick visit). I think the distance to Tholen, where I stayed, was around 200 km. The GPS navigation system, with turn-by-turn voice instructions, impressed me. Driving at 120-140km was normal and 18 wheelers were cruising beside us with only a foot or so of distance. The only thing separating us was a thin painted line on the road that they called a lane.
Next morning we visited the police station. For the first time in my life I saw a police station with a door bell. Leo pressed the bell and with a buzz sound the door opened. Inside the police station there was a counter similar to an information desk. There were few toys on a shelf which I guess was to ease the wait for people who came with children. Except for the police uniforms and the sign board outside, there was no way to tell if it was a police station. The process was smooth since Leo was with me and he spoke to them in Dutch. No need to say how shocked I was to have this pleasant experience.
I visited there in July so the weather was pleasant although it rained almost daily. The daylight lasted till late in the evenings. Fortunately thick curtains on the window helped to block the light when going for a sleep.
I missed my chemist guys back in India who were experienced enough to cut the chase to the doctor for minor ailments. Here the chemist shop would give you nothing without a doctor's prescription.
Life is tough for a vegetarian abroad as the choice for the food is very limited. Thankfully my hosts were very kind to give special attention to my food. During my stay salad, croquette, mayonnaise and omelettes constituted the major portion of my diet. Once in a while I ordered egg curry from a nearby Chinese restaurant but the gravy tasted sweet instead of spicy. By the end of first month I started to dream about lachcha paratha and paneer butter masala.
In the Netherlands it seems people take early dinner. We would have our dinner by 7:30pm. Back home I was in the habit of late dinners so by 10:30pm I would get hungry again. To avoid any embarrassment to my host and myself, I started to stock some readymade food (mostly cookies) to munch on.
I came to the Netherlands without a camera. In India digital cameras were recently introduced so the prices were high. Also most of them had "Made in China" tag, which was not yet accepted as a universal truth by our society. I planned to buy a 5MP Benq DC-C50 digital camera in the Netherlands. There were no Benq dealers in Tholen. The nearest one was in Bergen Op Zoom around 5-10 kms away. Leo called the shop and ordered one for me. After few days the shop owner called back and told us that the camera was available. When we arrived at the shop in the afternoon there was a "closed" sign on the door. I think 2-3pm was siesta time or something similar for the shopkeeper. I was appalled to see how could a shopkeeper turn away a customer right in the middle of the day. In India I had witnessed many shopkeepers who even while they were eating would wash their hands and serve the customer first. After 20 minutes of wait the shop opened again. I was very happy to get hold on my first digital camera.
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