Netherlands

Travel and trust – Part 2

by Steve Brock on May 21, 2014

Delft MusiciansWhen I was a kid, my brother offered me an intriguing experiment. He claimed he could pull a hair from my head without me feeling it. Being the gullible younger brother, I said, “No way,” but let him proceed. He grasped a single strand, tugged gently saying, “That’s the one. Feel it?” “Yep,” I replied. “OK. Here I go. On the count of three you won’t feel me pull it out. One. Two. Three!”

On “Three,” he slammed his other hand down hard on my head. Despite the near concussion and my anger at his deception, I had to admit it was a pretty clever ruse. Painful. But clever.

Pickpocketing works on the same principle: Distract your target and mask a smaller movement and pressure (the removal of the wallet…or phone) with a larger one (e.g. bumping into the target or say, saddling up right next to him in a friendly photo pose. Just as an example, of course).

So there I am in Delft. I’ve listened to the Serbian musicians play, chatted and laughed with them, taken their photo as they took mine – side-by-side with their leader (third from the left in the photo above). Then, as I walk away, I realize my smart phone is missing.

What would you think at that moment? Maybe your thoughts might run something like this (if you would ever actually admit these to anyone):

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. When did I last use my phone?
  3. Double check all my pockets, etc.
  4. Could it be? Did they really steal my phone?
  5. No way.
  6. Way. Or at least a possibility.
  7. They’re from Serbia. Serbia is in that region where the Roma (gypsies) live, right? Aren’t they known for stealing things and doing scams?
  8. Don’t think like that. That’s profiling, stereotyping and all sorts of other bad things. But…
  9. When did I last use my phone? In the car for navigation. Could I have left it there? Please, oh please, God let it be there…

And off I walk as fast as I can back to the car.

On the way I think about going back to where the group was performing. But what will I say to them if I do?

“Hi there, fellas. Say, you didn’t by chance steal my phone did you? And if so, could I have it back? No hard feelings. Love your music.”

I’m saved from that by finding they’ve all dispersed…which only furthers my suspicion. All except one. He’s sitting not far from where the group had been playing. He’s casually talking to his wife or girlfriend. He sees me and waves in an ever-so-friendly manner.

Either he’s really milking this scam or he’s as innocent as he seems. I wave back in a half-hearted manner trying to look like either I know what’s going on or I’m just in a rush to meet up with my family. I hurry on, feeling even more awkward about the whole thing.

It takes me almost 20 anxious minutes to get back to my car. All the way there, I’m praying to find the phone, praying for forgiveness for my judgmental thinking, praying not to be so stupid in the future.

I get to the car.

Not only is the phone there, it’s sitting on the console between the front seats where I left it when using it for navigation. Right there where, ironically, anyone could have seen it, busted the window and stolen it.

I want to run back. Find my Serbian friends (they’re friends again, of course, not suspects now) and apologize for something I could never really explain to them without insult and embarrassment.

So I don’t. I simply wander back to where I’m to meet my wife and son. As I go, I think about several lessons from this experience.

First, always be vigilant when you travel. Keep track of your valuables like your phone. Always.

Second, be careful but extend grace. I won’t make some Pollyannaish pronouncement to just trust everyone everywhere. There are people out there that do prey on us tourists. You do have to be careful. But wariness is a tricky thing. The more protective we become, the more it shapes how we respond to people in general, even if they haven’t earned our distrust. We close ourselves off to the very people we’d often like to meet.

Interestingly, the more we do the first point – be vigilant – the easier it is to do the second point – extend grace. When we know where our stuff is, we have less to worry about. Even better, the less we’re lugging around with us, the less we need to protect.

Each situation will be different. Sometimes wariness is the right response. But for me, I will try to err on the side of trust. What I found is that you lose more than your phone when you stop trusting people. You lose a little bit of your own humanity.

I can’t afford to lose that.

 

Read Part 1 if you haven’t yet.

If you found this interesting, why don't you share it with others?

2 comments

Travel and trust – Part 1

by Steve Brock on May 9, 2014

Delft Building and Bicycles

On the afternoon and evening we were killing time waiting in Delft in the Netherlands, we did something every family should do when traveling together for an extended period.

We split up.

No matter how well you get along, it’s good to go your own way occasionally and get a small break from each other. My wife and son went shopping for some of Delft’s famed blue and white porcelain. I took off to explore.

Traveling solo opens a world that isn’t available to you even when you’re with just one other person. You’re more approachable, even vulnerable. That can be very positive since you have encounters you’d miss otherwise. But it can also put you in situations where you wish you had some back-up…

As I wandered around the main square taking pictures of the interesting buildings such as the one above or the numerous canals such as the one below, I came across a beautiful sound.

Delft CanalAs I turned the corner, I beheld a group of street musicians, a half dozen playing while a few others and what appeared to be their wives or girlfriends sat in their midst enjoying the music as well.

I’d never heard music like this – exactly in this style – before. It sounded like a cross between the band in the bar scene of the original Star Wars movie and Jewish Klezmer music. Led by a lively, uplifting clarinet, the music was both complex with the various instruments weaving their sounds together, but almost childlike in its simple, catchy melodies.

I paused to listen and watch, then lingered in the general vicinity ostensibly taking photos, but mostly enjoying the music. I passed through an entryway into a nearby garden area where I discovered a lovely park and sculpture made from the shards of Delft pottery such as the bench below. All the while, I could still hear the music.

Delft China BenchI decided to reward these musicians, so I dug out all the change I had, a substantial amount in heft but totaling barely a euro (about $1.30). Still, it was something.

I held the coins in my hand as I returned to where the musicians were, but by now, they were wrapping up and bundling away their instruments. As I approached, the leader of the group came over and, shrewdly surmising my intent, held out his hand. “You like our music?” he said in halting English. “Very much,” I replied pouring what now seemed like a paltry amount of change into his hand. He didn’t seem to care about the monetary value so much as my appreciation.

Soon, the entire band was around me, all smiles as I told them how I’d never heard music like that and how good they were.

They told me they were from Serbia and, of course, they wondered about my country. So we talked and they held up their various instruments; clarinet, violin, small guitar, tambourine/drum, accordion and others. Soon, one of the members was gesturing with his cell phone for me to stand with their leader (who did all the talking) for a photo. The leader wrapped his arm around me and there we stood for the photo like two old friends. And for that moment, that’s what it felt like we were.

By now, they were all packed up and so we said our goodbyes. I wandered off toward a canal and they dispersed. As I walked, I mused over these small moments and brief encounters you have on trips, ones that usually only happen when you’re on your own.

What a great experience I thought. Then I reached into my pocket for my smart phone to check the time.

It wasn’t there…

To be continued…

If you found this interesting, why don't you share it with others?

1 comment

Waiting, waiting, waiting…

by Steve Brock on April 15, 2014

Delft CafeI’m normally about as excited by the prospect of waiting as I am of going to the dentist, seeing the friendly neighborhood-roaming Jehovah’s Witnesses approach my front door or having a water pipe – upstairs – burst.

I change lines at the store and lanes on the freeway at least twice (usually ending up worse off) and I will enter 1:11 on the microwave instead of 1:00 (alas, our microwave doesn’t offer the coveted “1 min.” button) just to save a few milliseconds required to move my finger the 2 inches to the other keys. Getting someplace too early is, to me, a greater violation than paying retail. Delayed flights? Don’t ask.

It’s not that I am inherently impatient. Okay, I am. But I like to think that I’m optimizing life: I’d rather be spending time on all those wonderful things that delight rather than standing in some line somewhere for longer than I should because someone in front of me isn’t, well, optimizing life.

So imagine my reaction last summer when faced with the prospect of waiting seven hours for my oldest son to attend a concert. Not any concert. The North Sea Jazz Festival (one of the jazz world’s top gatherings each year in Rotterdam, Netherlands). He had been looking forward to this as the highlight of our European trip. Which was great for him but left my wife, younger son and me…waiting.

Actually, we used the time well by driving out to see a jam-packed Dutch beach and the major sites of The Hague before stopping in the quaint town of Delft.

This beautiful old city – home of the famous blue and white china that bears its name – was a joy to explore: the main square, churches, canals and windy streets. All of these made for a great way to spend our time as we waited for my oldest son.

Most of the shops and points of interest closed by 6 PM and we still had over three hours to wait. So we found a small tree-lined square several blocks from the more touristy main square, selected a restaurant both by sight and due to a guidebook recommendation and sat down at an outdoor table for dinner.

For three hours.

Yes, I know the Europeans do this all the time. But me? Three hours just sitting there?

Sure, the meal was extremely good: salad leisurely followed by the main course (barbecued pork something: our waiter’s excellent English failed to find the word for this part of the pig put he reassured me it was a noble – and tasty – section. He was right.) Eventually, dessert and coffee, all spread out over three hours. Three hours just waiting.

The funny part? When it was finally time to go, we were not ready.

We’d had great conversations among ourselves, with our waiter, with another waitress who was delighted when we gave her the page from the guidebook with the restaurant’s write up, and even nearby couples were also enjoying their leisurely meals.

By the time we picked up our son at the jazz festival, the three of us who had “endured” the lengthy wait all wondered the same thing: Why don’t we do that more often?

I can still be impatient. But I realize that waiting isn’t the issue. It’s how you do it that can make it feel like a curse…or an amazing blessing.

If you found this interesting, why don't you share it with others?

1 comment