Wild Young Minds: September 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Zen in San Fran

Seven weeks, already. From now on, I'm not gonna count the weeks anymore, since it makes me feel depressed. Time flies. And there's so much I haven't seen! This is my main stress factor here. Not necessarily the midterms or the essays, but all the things I have to do now that I'm in California. Big Sur, Yosemite, Las Vegas, L.A., San Diego, Napa Valley, Mexico, Canada. Stop it! Just enjoy the moment and relax. But how do people do it? My best friend this semester, Nietzsche, was all about ''living in the moment and dance''. Dancing is not the problem - as my friends here in SF have found out last week - but living in the moment is damn hard.

Anyways, you might feel that it's a big-ass luxury problem to only stress about all the fun things you have to do while being on exchange in the West Coast. You're absolutely right. There are few things I have to worry about here. I'm still surprised how quickly you get used to a new city. Directions took some time - unfortunately I don't have the same natural talent for routes as my brother - but thank god for GoogleMaps! This app saved me the first few weeks, it shows you exactly where to go, which bus to take, at what time and it brings you all the way to the bus stop. After seven weeks, I don't need it anymore to go to school (I'm not that retarded, no really) but it still comes off handy when I'm meeting friends at a bar somewhere Downtown.
I've also gotten used to the prizes here. That is, food prices. I know that it's most cheap to buy canned vegetables, canned fish and chickpeas. After my two days of sickness, I decided to completely stop eating meat, so I don't have to worry about cheap burgers or chicken. I know which supermarket to visit for the cheapest deals, something I unconsciously learned from my dad at a very young age. I buy fruit and vegetables at Trader Joe's (one pepper at Safeway costs 2 fucking dollars), coffee at Safeway and gum at Target. I'm still not totally used to the prize of the alcohol in bars, but I've decided that drinking at home before going out is a better option anyway. A bottle of gin only costs 10 dollars. And you can have a lot of fun with gin & tonics, I've found out :)
So what do I miss about life in the Netherlands? To be honest, not that much. I miss my bike like crazy, I miss the salads I had for lunch at Singel 404 and I miss my record collection. What about people? Of course, I'd love to be surrounded by my Dutch friends here, but then again, you meet so many new people, and it's fun to make new friends. Isn't that what's an exchange is all about? Besides, with the modern technology I have so much contact with people at home, sometimes it doesn't even feel like I'm on the other side of the world. Thus far my sentimental message - not my best trait, as you can tell.

Let's go the things I don't miss about the Netherlands. As the title already suggests, it's mostly the stress. Life in San Francisco feels a lot more zen. I know it's not necessarily the city itself, it's probably just the fact that I've left my busy student life in Amsterdam behind me for a while. There are a couple of reasons for the zen feeling here. The most important one is probably: more sleep. The party life here is totally different, since parties start around 10 and end at the latest around 2. Quite different from Amsterdam, where me and my roommates often got home around 4/5 in the morning, ate some tosti's, after which I slept for a couple of hours before going to work the next day. I have to say, this way of partying is a lot more healthy!
During the week, my life feels more structured as well. I never have class before 12.35, which means I almost never have to set an alarm clock. I do have to read a lot for school, and I have to write responses about every chapter or book I read, but when it comes to the content, the courses here are a lot more easier. I have to make an exception for my Nietzsche course, which is quite hard. Try to read him once, he's tough. So many metaphors for so many ambiguous concepts. But well, it's fun to learn things. I respect my teacher and with each week, I seem to understand Mr. Moustache better and better.
Whenever I do an online quiz for one of the other courses, however, I feel I'm not even taken seriously. The teachers ask multiple choice questions and the answers are literally written in the book. You've answered 10 out of 10 questions right! Oh, really?
I shouldn't compain, though. Homework takes up some time, but not that much. I run a lot here, which is pretty cool, since you go up and down all the time and you explore different parts of the city - mostly Lower Haight - very well. The only problem are the traffic lights. You walk 20 meters and you have to stop again. Ah, there are worse things.
My weekends are completely stressless (is that a word?), so far. It makes a big difference that I don't have a job here, so all of a sudden I have free Saturdays and Sundays! They've been filled quite well, though. Last week me and my friends rent bicycles and biked the Golden Gate Bridge. I felt like a little child again, so happy to be on that bike! We made a lot of pictures - gotta act like a tourist once - and took the ferry back to the city.
The previous weekend we went to the Treasure Island Flea Market, where you find all you (or I) need: clothes for 5 dollars, records, books, books and books. So guess what, I bought many books. I've decided to not give a damn about the weight I have to bring back, because 1) my parents will be visiting in December and I already told them not to bring too much stuff with them and 2) I can always ship them back. I bought many beauties I've been looking for a long time. For those who are interested: Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs), Visions of Cody (Kerouac), Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut Jr.), The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) and many more.
One of the Swedish girls celebrated her birthday in Dolores park last weekend as well, so we all brought wine and watched Back to the Future, which they viewed for free in the park. A great audience, yelling and clapping whenever Marty McFly passed by on his fabulous skateboard. On Sunday, I experienced one of the most interesting things ever: Folsom Street Fair. If you think Gay Pride is outrageous, go visit Folsom Street Fair. It's an annual fear for BDSM leather lovers. You could spank for donations (no kidding! The redness of the behinds was clearly visible - yes, that turns some people on!) and people were either naked or dressed in obscure ways. I've never felt so plain in my life, but it was definitely worth the visit!

So what else is worth mentioning? Well, I went to a baseball game. SF Giants against LA Dodgers. Leggo Giants! Beat LA! It was definitely cool to experience this once, the stadium was beautiful, but sadly enough, the game was quite boring. Since I'm used to soccer games - oh, how I love to see Feyenoord play in De Kuip - I'd expected a bit more action. Turns out there's not that much action in baseball. Never too old to learn!
I've also eaten at Cheesecake Factory, which isn't really a factory, just a restaurant for people crazy about cheesecake. But they also offer normal meals. So I ordered a Vegan Cob Salad (hipster and proud), which was huge. It included chickpeas, tomatoes, beans, beets, almonds and much more. SO good. The cheesecakes we ordered afterwards were good too, but I've never felt so full before. I thought I'd never be hungry again. Of course, the next morning I was, so I ate my usual toast with peanut butter (though I do miss Calvé a little) and hummus.
I guess that's it for now. I won't bother you with the awkward house parties we've visited (basically young people being completely wasted, while we were just getting started and the party stopped an hour after we arrived) or with more money or food related things. Next weekend is filled with concerts, so lots to write about in my next post. On Friday, Emma and I are going to one of the most legendary artists ever and singer of one of my favourite songs. One hint: Ignition! On Saturday and Sunday I'm going to the Hardly Strictly Festival, which is a free bluegrass festival in the Golden Gate Park. Some artists that are performing: Joe Jackson, Fantastic Negrito and LeeAnn Womack. Hope you are doing as many cool things as I am, wherever on the world you - my readers - are. Enjoy the evening/night/morning or noon (time differences are so complicated) and I'll keep u posted!

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Scars of Sweet San Francisco

The United States of America, a country of extreme opposites. The country where vegan salad bars are located next to Taco Bell, the country where media magnet Donald Trump's followers go to the same supermarket as the few hopeful Obama supporters this country has left, and most of all: the country where the rich become richer and the poor are left defeated, dominating the street corners and desperately yearning for a fix.

As each day goes by, I can say that I feel more like a local in San Francisco. It's been five weeks now, and this city has welcomed me the minute I arrived at Oakland Airport, with its beautiful Victorian houses, its thrift shops and vinyl stores on the corner of each street and my best friend: the Bridge. I get what Scott McKenzie was singing about: even though it's fifty years later, the people here are still gentle, and yes, some of them even wear flowers in their hair.

Yet, as we know, all that glitters is not gold. Friendly as they may be, the hippies on Haight Street have turned into hoboes and the amount of junk that must be sold there is unimaginable. Amsterdam is like a sweet, little playground compared to San Francisco. It's heroin here rather than hash - though cannabis is BIG as well - and old ladies yearning for it rather than college kids.
So yes, the city's shadows have catched my eye sight as well. Hoboes sleep in front of your house, ex-veterans offer you medicines in bars and crazy people sit in front of you in buses. This might sound like a horrible nightmare, but in fact, I've never felt unsafe in this city. Weird, I know. The fact is that hoboes are friendly, and often too passed out to do you any harm. Moreover, people here actually talk to each other. In the bus, in the streets, in the supermarket. A bit superficial, alright - they still get crazy when they see my ''Cara'' brows (''honey, please tell me, where do you get them done?!'') - but sociable for sure.

I guess the sun also rises. It is said to rise in the East, but it definitely sets in the West, and isn't this the most beautiful time of the day? In other words, America has its downsides, the extreme unequality is the most important one, but it has advantages too. Let me say a few more things about these downsides. As I've mentioned before, the city is so goddamn expensive. A glass of wine for 8 dollars, gum for 4 dollars (my main vitamin sources, yes) and let's not even start talking about the rent. How can normal non-technical people live here? Well, they don't. They either sleep on the streets or commute to university or work day by day.

Another thing that struck me is the fact that politics really are right-wing here. What is considered as left/Democratic in the States, would be quite right-wing in the Netherlands. The other day we were discussing the Syrian refugees problem in my Contemporary Moral and Political Issues class, and my fellow students actually agree with some very conservative ideas. We don't want immigrants. Keep the Mexicans out. If they don't have the right skills that will be beneficial for the US, we don't want them in our country. Nationalism is an important value here, without doubt. Then there are also people flyering at university, comparing Obama to Hitler and claiming that we should all support Poetin. I support free speech strongly, but was definitely shocked.

Now let's turn to the positive things I briefly mentioned! Because that's probably the reason you're all reading these long essays of mine. The thing that still surprises me everyday is the sociability and friendliness of the people in the States. They compliment you, they tell you how their day have been (and for the first time I don't even think ''who cares?'' but actually listen to them), they tell you where to go, what to do and wish you a pleasant day with honesty in their voice. The lack of sarcasm has been a bit harsh for me - Americans don't really seem to get my humour - but I'm definitely a lot more open now. Met so many random people here, you don't want to know!

So that's something I definitely don't miss about the Netherlands, where everyone is minding their own business, looking on their phones and often even avoid looking people they ''sort of'' know in the eye when they pass them on the streets (just admit it!). For the rest, my life in San Francisco starts to feel more normal each day. I go to university, do my homework, cook my own meals and have friends to visit.

Not longer a tourist, but far from a San Franciscan either. Though I plan to travel a lot (Vegas! Vancouver! Mexico!) I can't really say that I'm a traveler either, now that I have a fixed home. We did couchsurf in Oakland once last week, to experience the upcoming area in real life. Unfortunately, I got a stomach flu and we had to leave early, but we definitely met some cool people to hang out with more in the future.

So back to my identity problem. What am I? Let's just stick to exchange student, nerdy as it might sound. I'm in a priviliged position, paying fees to the University of Amsterdam and paying relatively low (ridiculous, right?) rent. I don't need to work here, have plenty of time to stroll around the streets and meet all these nice people who think I'm oh so interesting, since I'm from Amsterdam (proud of my roots, but Brabant doesn't mean much to them) and study philosophy. So I guess I'm balancing on the part of society that's better of in this intriguing country. Yet I'm always trying to remember the reality, which sadly enough, doesn't smell like flowers anymore.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Square dancing, Surfers and Santa Cruz

We just needed to get away from the city. Seriously, now, already? You've just been there for four weeks, you might think. Well, the city can be a bit overwhelming - even though I'm used to a busy life in Amsterdam - and friends had trips planned to national parks and Hawaii, so yes, we needed to go.
''We'' is Lavinia, my Italian roommate, and I. We knew little about Santa Cruz, aside from the fact that there was a beach, an amusement park and a big surfing scene. Not that we could surf, but well, you know what we mean ;) We took a bus, a train - the biggest train I've ever seen, God Bless America - and another bus. It took a while to get there and when we finally got there, we were surprised about the size of Santa Cruz. It was so tiny! We'd arranged a place to stay via Couchsurfing, but had to wait a little while before we could go there because our host, Spencer, was still at work in Big Sur.
No worries, because if there's a beach, one should go to the beach and that is exactly what we did. The view was typically American, a few big rollercoasters, a carousel, a grand casino and lots and lots of food stalls. From burgers to chocolate ice cream, there seemed to be only one condition: there had to be calories in the food! We've even seen fried cheese cake. Seriously?
We decided to go for falafel, because one can never eat too much falafel - this is what the nightlife in Amsterdam has taught me - and we needed to kill time and fill our stomaches. Afterwards, we bought a huge bottle of red wine and began our trip to the host home. Which turned out to be not that far and one of the cosiest houses I've ever slept in! We were welcomed by a group of guys who were just cooking dinner, by the cutest dog ever - except from my own of course - called Dingo, and by a lovely garden to sit and relax.
Sitting and relaxing is what we did for a while, but not for too long, because we needed to do some dancing! And not just dancing, real American square dancing. I'd only heard about line dancing before, but this type of dancing turned out to be a lot fun as well. We arrived a bit late in the church - cool right, dancing in a church - but were very welcome to join the group.

Square dancing is basically a dance for four couples arranged in a square, with one couple arranged on each side. We just had to listen to the instructions, but it was one big chaotic mess. I'm not the best dancer in general, and I had no clue what the technical terms meant. Neither did my partner or the rest of my group, so what it came down to was a lot of running around and trying to follow the instructions. And a lot of laughing too.
Aside from square dancing, there was more activity this weekend. Lavinia, the guys and I made a trip to UCSC (University of California Santa Cruz), which has the best campus ever. And I'm not turning into an American here. The campus was in the middle of the forest, surrounded by trees. There was also a trailer park where people actually lived. My dream house really, aside from the tree house, because it looked so hippie-like and cosy. After a short hike we went to Dog Beach, where dogs and surfers reside. I decided to show off my courageous side and went into the water. Cold! And dirty! But it felt refreshing as hell.
On Sunday we borrowed some bikes from one of the guys, and went for a ride along the coast. Finally! I could put my feet on the pedals again and move! Honestly, I miss my bike so much here in San Francisco, but unfortunately they cost a lot of money, the environment is not so bike-friendly and it so goddamn steep (I know I already told you that). So yeah, biking was a lot of fun and above all, magnificently beautiful.
In the afternoon we played some volleybal on the beach with our new friends. I wasn't too good - serving has never been my strength - but it sure was a lot of fun. We ate some delicious veggie taco's at a Taceria and had drinks with a couple of Dutch girls during the night. Yesterday, our short but most relaxed weekend trip had ended again and we made our way back to San Francisco.
Our first trip south was definitely all we could've wished for, especially thanks to the lovely guys that hosted us. We might meet again in San Francisco during Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, so that'd be amazing. It sounds silly, but I'm really thankful we've met them, because I can finally say that I've experienced a bit of the traditional Californian life. Taking it slow, leaving the door open at night and spending your days at the beach. Doesn't that sound like heaven? To be honest, a few days were just perfect for me, I need the city life and the speed of San Francisco, but everyone was very friendly and super, super chill. I know Dutch people use this word a lot, but they have no clue what it means, if they haven't experienced the Californian way of life! I can't wait for the other trips we're going to make this semester, starting with Oakland Pride next weekend. I'll keep you posted.

Love from San Francisco,