Sunday, June 22, 2008

Oranjekoorts - Dutch orange fever

You will get to know this country is linked to the color orange when you land in this country. You will feel it present in some national holidays, such as the Queen's day at the end of April. People dressed up with orange color accessories. However, the fever has been at its highest temperature in recent days - the European football season. You will be amazed, how much this country is fascinated with the orange color, and the way they use to claim their national identity.

It is said that "Oranjekoorts" can occur when the Dutch get excited about any Dutch representative competing in any international sports event when the probability of victory increases. People with "oranjekoorts" suffer from increased body heat and adrenaline due to a sudden outburst of unusual patriotism and national solidarity. Usually there is a bit of "oranjekoorts" leading up to the sports event and it will abate when we (there is always suddenly talk of "we") do badly, but it will increase significantly when we do well. Many Dutch people have "oranjekoorts" right now as a result of the unexpected victory against Italy recently. This is a bit premature of course :-)

"Oranjekoorts" can turn into "oranjegekte": orange madness. This is the word for the behaviour and appearance of Dutch supporters, ranging from decorating your street with orange and national flags, to dressing up as an orange lion. It is expected that 50,000 Dutch fans will populate the city centre of Bern when the Dutch play against the French this Friday: there will be "oranjegekte"!

We started noticing this recently when an apartment building close-by was decorated with lots of orange flags. We were told it is the football season. I wore an orange color fleece sweater yesterday to show my support, in the time of the quarter final between the Netherlands and Russia. Sadly, Dutch team lost. The orange fever will cool down soon. (Picture is from here.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Is Amsterdam an ideal city? - comparing drug use between US and the Netherlands

Recently there is a call for papers among American sociologists on a conference called "Ideal City: New Perspectives for the 21st Century!" It thus brought a interesting discussion about whether Amsterdam is the ideal city, since the organizer of the conference tries to justify having this conference in Amsterdam because it is.

Amsterdam is known as the "Venice of the North." Progressives have called Amsterdam an ideal city when measured by the standard of social justice. Holland has what many call a "radical," "progressive," "unique" and for some a "sinful" approach to housing, drug laws, transportation, prostitution, crime, brown fields, and urban design. The Netherlands has turned our American urban policy and planning programs upside down and found innovative ways to solve social problems. Many American visitors who come to Holland come away shocked, amazed, impressed and changed forever. Holland is controversial. Indeed, Amsterdam is a laboratory of innovation that provides a national model for the rest of the world. It's a place where we can honor their successes and learn from their errors in urban policy and planning. Without a doubt, Holland is also the home of world class architecture that is envied around the world.

"Amsterdam is the great liberal experiment in Europe. No part of the city announces that liberalism as boldly as the red light district, where in the Oudekerkrsplein—there coexists the Old Church (possibly the oldest building in Amsterdam, believed to be consecrated by the Bishop of Utrecht in 1306), all the prostitutes in their doorways and windows, and a kindergarten. What other city in the world would believe in the hopeful coexistence of religion, prostitution and early childhood education?…But it is both brave and original of the Dutch to celebrate human differences."

It is a kind of proud for being close to this city. However, what really caught my attention is some data on drug usage comparing Americans and Dutch. I am just copying the following directly from the circulated email written by Dr John I Gilderbloom:

Drug use is higher in the Amsterdam because the vast amount of users is tourists who come there from around the world where they can do it legally and get the highest quality marijuana in terms of potency. But if you ask Dutch citizens, you get a much different result and goes against conventional wisdom on drug use (including the many U.S. comedies on the Dutch starting with Austin Powers). My sense is that U.S. Drug laws and prevention strategies simply don't work---it's the old axiom that if you tell a teenager not to do something or its against the law they will rebel and try it. I think that is part of the dynamic going on between the U.S. and Holland.Drug laws in the U.S. do not deter, they encourage. They need to be changed and Holland provides the ideal. Another reason, the potency of Dutch marijuana is so much more powerful than the weed smoked Jerry Garcia at Woodstock--as my family in Holland warned me--if you don't smoke make plans to be a zombie for 2 or 3 days with a possible big headache.
Here are a few numbers concerning drug rates per capita in the U.S. and in the Netherlands, which backs up my argument: along with the reputable multiple sources:

Comparison of Drug Use and Behavior United States (U.S.) and Netherlands (D)

Lifetime Prevalence of Marijuana Use 37 (U.S.) 17 (D)
Marijuana ever 46 (U.S.) 23 (D)
Marijuana in past year 14 (U.S.) 5 (Dutch)
Marijuana usage in past month 5.4 (U.S.) 3 (D)
Age first used marijuana 17 (U.S.) 19 (Dutch)
Cocaine ever 15 (U.S.) 3 (D)
Used cocaine in past year 11 (US) 1 (D)
Age first used cocaine 20 (US) 25 (D)
Lifetime prevalence of heroin use 1.4 (US) 0.4 (D)
Heroin ever 1 (US) 1 (D)
Smoked in past month 25 (US) 30 (D)
Teen smokers (past month) 13 (US) 19 (D)
Teen drinkers 29 (US) 21 (D)

1. US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Volume I. Summary of National Findings (Washington, DC: HHS, August 2002.
2. Trimbos Institute, "Report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point, The Netherlands Drug Situation 2002" (Lisboa, Portugal: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Nov. 2002.
3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Results from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-30, DHHS Publication No. SMA 06-4194). Rockville, MD.
4. Van Laar, M.; Cruts, G; Van Gegeldonk, A.; Croes, E; Van Ooyen-Houben, M., Meijer, R., and T Ketelaars. (2006) Trimbos Institute, Report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point, The Netherlands Drug Situation 2006. Numbers gathered by J. Gilderbloom, M. Hanka and C.B. Lasley.

It is astonishing to see the difference. I am not sure how has the drug mainly become a tourists' consumption rather than locals. First time coming to this city, people are all interested in seeing the red light district, and wanting to taste the grass in 'coffee shops'. It is only a desire for the new comers, not the locals. In streets of central Amsterdam, you sometimes see one guy standing in front of a shop, rambling something when you passing by. I guess they are those drug dealers. But I haven't seen any trade going on. On the other hand, the red light district is more exposed than the drugs. For me, the fun was to watch those potential customers negotiating in front of the glass door about the price. When everything is about money in this exchange, it somehow makes you feel that it is less dirty. I am not sure whether I am the only person who felt this way.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Mooi Weer Spelen (Theater festival at Delft)

The past weekend in Delft was a big festival, full of street artist everywhere. It attracts crowds from everywhere, and the city center market has kept crowded for the whole weekend. Most of the programs are planned on a time table, with locations spreading all over the city. However, there are some interesting smaller skill efforts made by some individuals also attracts the crowd.

Saturday afternoon, suddenly a man dressed like a superman appeared: he wears a pair of roller skate shoes, a helmet, glass, carrying two tanks on his back. The tanks are making loud noise, and he was going to make something interesting happen. He guided the crowd around him to a street along the canal, and spread the crowd on both side of the street. He perform the high speed roller skating! As he bent forward, and start igniting the tanks on his back, it is like a jet plane, the force pushed him going forward, at a high speed with loud sound! Check out the video:

Four person dressed is bright green color costumes, fully covered while their face were formed in the shape of gas mask. They performs in a way of improvising, with posing and walking at different styles and pattern, and cooperating with each other. A little kids got scared when these four aliens walking toward him. While some older kids started making faces in front of them when they stood still for a while.

There are a group of five remodeled vehicle on display in the center of the market. They were all made seemingly out of junk yard materials, with most of the medal parts rusted looking. It also has some political connotation in their work, such as a tank hanging with radioactive symbol on it, a bomb made cart, a human skeleton sitting on top holding a black umbrella full of holes, ... They are all functioning very well! they once in a while gave a parade along the city canals.

A class of school kids joined in the crowd, in their customized birds dress. I would like to imagine that the teachers made this happen. The birds are all with different design, with kids controlling the birds' wings with two sticks. The bird is just carried on their backs, with its neck and head stretching up. The crowds just follow wherever they go.

Saturday night at 23:00pm, there was a program called Spectacular. We decided to wait and see. The sky is still bright around 10pm, and we thought they might really show some light and fireworks so that it need to be even later. Our waiting along the railing in the first row of the stage really got paid back, it was excellent show. I am posting the video I took during the show, and hope you can feel the spectacular as it was named. (It was the crane that lift those fairy ladies flying in the sky!)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What is a Dutch bike?

When living in US, a colleague used to bike back and forth to office every day. His home is 11 miles away, and he has a nice racing bike, and a full set of equipment for biking: helmet, speed indicator, shoes. Everyday seeing him coming and leaving the office, I all the time felt impressed. He bikes along the highway.

Recently I met a lady in her 30s, told me that she bikes everyday 20 kilometer to her office! It took her around 45 minutes one way. I am sure she doesn't use helmet, not even a racing bike. She said she had a strong bike and strong legs, that way she doesn't need to do any other sports at all. Since she already bikes 200 kilometers every week.

I like the idea of biking in the Netherlands. A big advantage of this country is that, since most of the land were reclaimed from water, the ground is rather flat. It is good for biking because there is not much uphill or downhills. However, the wind in the winter time can be rather harsh that you still need bike with gears to bike in the wind. We like this country that save so much energy in daily commute. Come and see, you will be surprised to find out that kids start biking alone maybe from 3 or 4 years old.

Here a good bike has nothing to do with mountain bikes. A good bike always relates to strong frames with back seats to carry load, normal width wheel for city biking, possibilities to add one, two or three small seats for kids in one bike. The chain is always covered, and wheels with mud-guard secured for rainy days. In US we used to have strips to bind the bottom of the right leg pant so that you clothes won't got winded into the chains. I have never seen another single person doing the same as I do. Also, there is few people using helmet. Only those people who bikes as exercise sometimes use helmets.

Another interesting attachment to the bike is its lights, front and back. It is automatically generated by your biking, through letting a motor touching the inner side of the bike frame. It generates the light as you bike, and stops lighting as you stop. To carrying load, the backwheel of the bike are most of the time covered with bags on two sides. It is enough to carry home enough supplies for two three days. Here you shop a lot more often since your home frig is smaller, faster since the stores are closer, and greener since you bike.