“Did you get high? You didn't get high? Why didn't you get high???” I had no answer to the bunch of questions of Akhya. I simply could not feel it in my brain.
Akhya was the first person I met since I arrived at the airport in Amsterdam. She is from India and has come to Amsterdam during New Year of 2017, which means that she is quite familiar with the city. We arrived in the morning, but we were not allowed to check in before 3p.m. Both of us had no idea of what to do. After a while of silence, she started to talk. “Do you know coffee shops? We can go to Bulldog. It's a famous one…” Oh coffee shop, nice! I thought. Why not? Drink coffee, and sit in the sofa chatting for 2 hours. That is quite cozy.
On our way to Bulldog, Akhya told me a lot of stuffs including smoking. Like she has been smoking up for three years but does not smoke… I just failed to get it. Do not get me wrong, but I did need time to get used to Indian accent and there were words that I did not understand. “The atmosphere is kind of weird.” I thought after getting to Bulldog. Looking at the list on the wall, the word on the top of the list read “marijuana”. “What does that mean?” I asked. “You don't know that? Look it up on your cell phone.” I see, so it is weed. Now I get it.
It turned out that my first destination in Amsterdam was a coffee shop! And the notion of coffee shop in my mind was totally turned. So this is how it started. It was a start that I had never imagined before but I love it indeed.
In the first and every time when I introduced myself, I said that I came to Europe, to Amsterdam to experience. Because I think that the life I have lived so far is way too plain. Which means the core reason for coming here is that I am lack of experiences and stories. I have not interviewed refugees, I have never worked in Cambodia for years, and I have not struggled with my identity. What am I supposed to write and tell about?
It took me a long time to figure out this problem. Eventually, I made the decision to talk about my life right now, which I am experiencing. It seems to make the situation kind of easier.
I have heard about the stereotype of Dutch people. In the Netherlands, during your visit you will often be offered coffee, tea or other refreshments. The Dutch are known for their (bad) habit of offering only one cookie with their coffee and/or tea. If offered a cookie tin, it is considered rude to take more than one or ask for another cookie. Coffee is also often accompanied by a slice of cake or pie. It reminded me of my own culture. On the contrary of Dutch, Chinese are so hospitable in this kind of situation.
When a guest comes to have dinner, the host, or hostess has a tendency to make like 10 dishes to entertain him even if the family only have 3 dishes otherwise. Besides, Chinese people are used to help others to food on the table, and to serve others' meal. it seems that they eagerly look forward to see the guest finish all the food they have. A few years ago, before leaving for the U.S. for summer camp, my friends and I were told that when the teachers and host family ask if you want to eat something, and you do, just say yes. Emphasizing the point is necessary, because in China, traditionally, it is considered decent and polite to refuse at the first time when offered food or help by others. Do not worry about it, because definitely they will ask you again. After a few times, you can say yes. The process of game satisfies everyone.
Akhya, the first person I met in Amsterdam as I mentioned, became my good friend. We hang out and talk a lot. She has never been to a city for twice until coming to Amsterdam again. I can tell her passion for the city through her eyes. “I love the atmosphere of freedom.” she said.
I find that Akhya is capable of distinguishing Chinese, I am not sure if all the people can do this. “Chinese always get confused. But I think you are different.” Well, I am glad to hear that. I am trying not to be a typical Chinese. Although I have met her for only less than two weeks, she already became one of those who have influenced me a lot and changed my view towards my life.
After listening to Akhya’s experiences about traveling, studying abroad in Italy for 7 months and her lifestyle, a Chinese guy of my age chatting with us commented, “You are cool.” “No. I am not cool. I just be myself. If being myself is cool, you are also cool.”Akhya said, “If you dream of something, do it.” Let’s go back to the word COOL. Seriously, what is COOL? That guy continued talking like “I met a guy. He drinks alcohols, smokes cigarettes and joints. He is cool.” I do not understand how the conclusion came. Stuffs like smoking, drinking and tattooing doesn’t make one cool, these are lifestyle and personal taste at most. Speaking of COOL, take marijuana for example, if someone considers smoking joints to be cool, it is must because of the illegality in their countries or states. The chance to show off to friends makes it cool.
My life is my own story, and it does not have to be that kind of cool or admirable. I keep experiencing, keep observing, and always remember not to be trapped by the past.
In fact, when talking about our classes we were going to take, I was anxious about mine. Akhya told me that one thing of most importance in telling stories is making connection, exactly as I learned later. She is quite intelligent.
“I am coming here for graduation, for sure.” Akhya said firmly. “Probably we will have a reunion here, in Amsterdam.” I replied. That is going to be another incredible story.