Monday, 25 August 2008

More from Amsterdam

The weather has remained spotty, but the upside to that is that there have been a few nice days. However, summer has officially been cancelled!

The weekend of August 17th was one of the few times when the weather has cooperated over a weekend. Saturday was warm and sunny, a rarity these days, so we took advantage of it. As Nina was in Iceland and it was the first weekend with Jaana in the apartment, the three of us sat in Rembrandt Park for the afternoon. For the most part we just use the park as a thoroughfare on our way into the city. But with a nice day, no commitments and a beautiful park at our doorstep (literally) we finally made good use of it. And, Jaana came equipped with a beach blanket, something we didn’t have before.

In Holland you see a lot of tiny electric cars. By tiny, I mean so small they look like they would fit comfortably inside a Smart car. Last summer I took pictures of them and included them in my blog (like the picture to the left). Red seems to be colour of choice for them for some reason. They are limited to 35 km/h and are allowed to go in the bike lanes. In fact, occasionally you will see one driving along the pathways of Rembrandt or Voldel Park, which really looks unusual. But last Saturday, while sitting out on the blanket, we saw something very odd.

We were sitting in a big grassy field with a small lake off to our left. By the lake were sunbathers and a few other groups of people sitting on blankets enjoying the day. A few cyclists rode up onto the grass to the edge of the lake and sat down for a rest. Then, one of these red electric cars drove onto the grass, parked right in front of the lake, facing it, while the person inside took in the view. It looked completely ridiculous to see this thing there. After a few minutes, he backed up, drove back onto the pathway and scooted off. I was laughing so hard I had tears rolling down my face. It looked like a scene from a Mr Bean episode.

The roommate situation is much better now. The three of us get along very well and Jaana has proven to be quite the source of entertainment. We have decided to have a roommate night once a week where we cook together or go out for dinner.

Sunday was a company BBQ for the cruise terminal staff. We met in Vondel Park and spent the afternoon drinking, eating and socializing. At least until the afternoon showers started. But with the season coming to an end, it was nice to get out of the terminal and have some fun together.

In Holland the main grocery store chain is called Albert Heijn. They are everywhere! You rarely have to walk more than a kilometre along a busy road before coming across one. They have done something brilliant that I haven’t seen before. In restaurants it isn’t uncommon to find price-fix menus — a set price for a 3 course meal with a few options for each course. Albert Heijn offers the same thing in their grocery stores. There is one cooler in each store with 4 shelves labelled 1 - 4. You take one item from each shelf and pay a flat price of €9 for the 4 items. One shelf will have a few types of noodles and pasta, rice and potatoes. The next shelf will have pork, chicken, beef and fish. The third will have salads and packages of mixed vegetables and the last shelf will offer a selection of a dozen different sauces. The selection is ample and it’s the perfect solution for single people or couples as you get enough food for 2 meals. I am surprised the grocery stores in the West End don’t do something similar.

After a week of negotiations I have struck up a new deal with Stefan regarding my rate of pay. I am quite proud of myself because I came up with a pay scale that is truly fair for both parties, a middle ground rarely found. It is all based around the premise that I should be logging between 80 – 100 hours a month. That is what I was told on 2 occasions, but after working for him for 4 months now, it has only been the case once. So my new pay scale fluctuates depending on how work he gives me. At the end of the month we look at my total hours and see which of the three groups it fits into:

  • 80+ hours a month: I receive my standard rate of pay (same as before)
  • 65 – 80 hours a month: I receive my standard pay + €2 an hour
  • Under 65 hours a month: I receive my standard pay + €4 an hour

I sold it to him on the premise that the more work I do, the less he has to pay me. It now motivates him to keep me busy, which is what I wanted all along. It is fair because it only pays me an increase when he fails to meet the hours he promised me. I worked out the math beforehand and it essentially guarantees me a certain amount each month regardless how many hours I work. However, he swears we are entering the busy season now and it won’t be an issue. We’ll see, I’ve heard that before.

Nina arrived back from Iceland on Friday night, so I took the train to her place and was there waiting for her when she arrived. She had a great time, met a lot of future (possible) professors and made other important contacts. Our future is still uncertain as to where we will end up and when we will be going there.

The one professor at UBC who would be appropriate for her project will be taking on 1 student next year, but in the September semester. This essentially means we won’t be coming back in December/January as planned. It also became apparent having a plan B and C might be a good idea too in case Nina isn’t the 1 student he picks.

This isn’t really news to me. For a couple of weeks now it has started to become apparent things were not going to work out the way we had planned/hoped. Coming back to Vancouver is still our #1 choice and it’s the goal we are working toward. But it is getting to the point where it’s safe to say we won’t be moving back until the late spring/early summer. So for the meantime I am continuing to work and trying to be patient as I have little control over my immediate future right now.

All that aside, we did have a nice weekend together. Nina’s brother was visiting from Austria with his ‘new’ girlfriend of 1 year, but it was the first time the family had met her. And, it was the first time I met him. We spent the majority of the weekend playing board games and we all went out for dinner Saturday night to our favourite Italian restaurant.

I wrote the majority of this entry Monday morning on the train back to Amsterdam with all the morning commuters. When I left Nina this morning in Germany it was overcast and drizzling. To my surprise I arrived in Amsterdam to blue skies, warmth and even sunshine! So I decided to take the afternoon off and went for a long walk through a quiet residential neighbourhood. I stumbled upon a public city library in an old restored building. I went in and was happy to see they offer free internet service. I think I have found a new place to work.