My very first day in the Netherlands was spent celebrating Queen’s Day in Amsterdam; but that does not count as a first impression. Why, you ask? Because it would be like landing in India on Holi and thinking Indians are mad – or excessively cool – depending on how much bhang you end up consuming.
So, my first impression was formed a day later, after several second thoughts.
There we were, walking around the city centre of Delft, when we saw the strangest sight. An unusually portly, slightly dirty pig, came waddling across a bridge, then trotting along the canal, with his belly jiggling from side-to-side. I rubbed my eyes and stared again. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the sight of the pig per-se that had me agog. I’m from India, I’ve seen all kinds of animals on the road; elephants waiting at red lights, cows causing traffic jams, even camels if you’re in Rajasthan. But a stray pig swerving through pedestrians is definitely not something I expected to find first-up in this part of the world.
That night, the two of us were on our way home after a late night show of The Avengers (I am a superhero buff, do not judge) when a young woman came up to us on a cycle. She was deathly white, with sunken eyes and straggly blond hair. Akshay, who has been here much longer, told me in Hindi that she was probably a junkie selling a stolen bike. But, she fit my mental image of a modern-day vampire (blame it on Twilight) and against the backdrop of 16th century Dutch houses and the shimmering canal, that lady freaked me out.
I made the cardinal mistake of making eye contact; she began hounding us. When we refused to buy the bike, she started on about having a son, who had had brain surgery in a hospital in Tilburg. She said she needed 100 euros to go and meet him, and that she hadn’t eaten in 3 days to save up some money. We knew she was lying, if we rolled up her sleeves we’d probably see strawberry fields. We didn’t of course. However, barring the irrational fear of Vampires, this was a familiar scene for me.
You see, there are traffic signals in New Delhi where you can always count on getting accosted by beggars who need money. Sometimes they have prescriptions to convince you they need money, or fashion cushioned bellies to show they’re pregnant. The backdrops get more bizarre and threateningly gut wrenching and it all boils down to whether you want to go down as a sucker or a saint.
Once we got rid of her (at the cost of 10 euros), I turned to Akshay with a smile and said, “Between stray pigs and scary money mongers, Delft feels just like home.”
1. I soon learnt Mr Pig is not a stray animal, but a proud pet. He usually goes for a walk with a scarf around his neck. I last saw him out for a jog on July 27. Here is a Youtube video someone has made of him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0V14JsLpzIw
2. Bike theft is very common in the Netherlands. This particular lady approached us thrice since, with a different cycle each time. We fondly call her the Delft Ghost. The fondness ends there however. I am still not convinced that she is not a vampire.