The horror that is parallel parking

I can drive. I like driving. I can’t wait for the day I get to own my first car. Yes, I’m 32 and I’ve never owned a car. But I’ve driven all over the world in rental cars and borrowed cars since 1998, and I loved it.
I can’t parallel park. I don’t like parallel parking. I successfully did it to pass my behind-the-wheels driving exam in Belgium, and then managed to never do it again. Who needs parallel parking? I don’t.
But if I ever want an American driver’s license, I’m going to have to be able to do it again. Because they won’t allow me to simply swap my Dutch license in for an American one.
What? Why not? I got my Dutch one by simply handing in my Belgian one… But in America they’re going to make me take the written exam and behind-the-wheels driving exam before they’ll give me a California driver’s license. Damn.
I don’t really need one right now, since my Dutch one is valid till the end of 2016, and I’ve had no problem renting a car with it in America. But what if I ever need an American license? This may be my last time in Europe before that happens. And they have those nice traffic squares in Belgium where you can practice those pesky car maneuvers in peace.
So last week Guido and I drove to Belgium and found the traffic square I used to practice on as a teenager. Guido took on the role of teacher and assistant and together , after a few slight panic attacks and general freak-outs, we got me parallel parked!
As you can see in the picture, the traffic square doesn’t provide real cars to park in between. After a while I had gotten pretty good at parking in between those high steel fence barriers, but doing it on a real street with other cars waiting impatiently behind me still made me extremely nervous. I tried on a few occasions that day in Belgium, but the giggling onlookers or the high volume of traffic just send me into a cold sweat and made me give up.
Today we tried again, in the Netherlands. Guido knew some quiet neighborhoods where I could practice. It was already dark so I have no picture to prove it, but I did it! Again, and again, and again, and a few more times.
People were nervously peeping out of their windows, wondering what the heck was going on. In the Netherlands, you’re not allowed to practice driving on your own, without an official driving school car and instructor, like you can in Belgium and America. I wondered if anyone was going to call the cops, which would have been funny, since I actually have a Dutch license so it was totally okay for me to practice parallel parking, over and over again. Weird, but legal.
No cops came and I took my parallel parking teacher out for some Döner Kebab. He deserved it, after being brave enough to let me practice in his car and being so patient with this parallel-parking-phobic. I just hope I remember how to parallel park when that American exam comes around. I may just freak out all over again.
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Two years in Japan!

Although I’m not technically in Japan today, I still celebrate the second anniversary of my arrival in Japan today, in my head and on this blog!
Last year, on the first anniversary, I was on my way back to the Netherlands for a short in-between-jobs visit and this year I’m already in the Netherlands to attend my grandfather’s funeral. But I’ll be back in the Land of the Rising Sun very soon to start on my third year there!

Opa’s funeral

Today was my grandfather’s funeral. Some of my relatives gave touching speeches and all the grandchildren got to light candles in his honor. It was a beautiful and sad ceremony, and afterwards all the guests joined the ‘funeral coffee’ at a cafe nearby.
I stayed behind with my brothers, because it was really important to Djamo to be allowed to push the casket into the cremation furnace. My mother and her sister this for their mother in the past and they told him it brought them a lot of closure. Djamo had been very close to Opa and hoped to be able to do this for his grandfather. Djamo’s wish was granted, so Gyano helped Djamo while I waited outside with my mom.
During the funeral coffee we received lots of condolences from the dozens of friends and acquaintances of my grandparents. It was nice to see the whole family again, and catch up, as we don’t really gather on many occasions. Afterwards we all went to my aunt’s house for one last cup of coffee (we drink way too much coffee in the Netherlands) before saying goodbye to the family again.

Oma’s grave

Coming home for my grandfather’s funeral allowed me to also visit my grandmother’s grave who passed away in February. I wasn’t able to attend her funeral, but I did say goodbye to her in the hospice over the Christmas holidays.
So today we went to sunny Gronsveld to visit Opa and visit Oma’s grave. Oma is buried in a beautiful spot in a wooded area and Opa seems to be handling things well. Of course he misses Oma but he’s doing well and I was glad to see him happy.

Saturday in the Netherlands

My mom and Guido went to an Indonesian Pasar Malam today, which I couldn’t join because I wanted to attend my grandfather’s wake in the evening and they wouldn’t be back in time. So instead I did some blogging on my computer in an empty house, a different house than where we lived last time I was in the Netherlands. My parents are moving to a newly built house this summer and their old house is already sold, so this is kind of the in-between house, it’s a bit small but a lot bigger than what I’m used to in Japan.
In the afternoon I hung out with Gyano and his girlfriend a bit. For lunch we went to a Dutch snackbar (ironically owned by Koreans), and I had all my favorites: friet speciaal, frikandel speciaal, a beef kroket and carbonated sweet iced tea! What a wonderful lunch.
In the early evening Gyano and I went to the wake. Our grandfather looked different from what I remember. He was much thinner and his skin was yellow due to his fatal liver disease, so at first it was a bit hard to recognize him. But soon I got used to how he looked and started seeing the man I used to know. It was sad but good to see him one more time to say goodbye. Almost the whole family and lots of close friends came to say goodbye to Opa.

Back at home, my mom and Guido came back from the Pasar Malam with some delicious Indonesian food for dinner, and while I enjoyed that they discovered the joy that my iPhone is.
They especially enjoyed the Grolsch air hockey game, but my mom didn’t really understand the rules and kept ‘cheating’ and therefore winning. It is nice to be home (even though it’s an unknown home) with all the people I love.

Together

I spent the morning with my grandmother. We went grocery shopping and like all the million other times I’ve been grocery shopping with her we arrived at the store before it opened and chatted with all the other early birds. We also took care of some last minute arrangements for the funeral on Monday, read my grandfather’s obituary in the newspaper, and caught up with more family members who stopped by during the day.
I got to pick what was for dinner and I choose a simple and very Dutch meal, which I’ve had many times in the past. My grandmother cooks the best potatoes in the world and her meat is always so tender, and only she can make a salad taste the way she does. Dinner was delicious, and so different from Japanese food!
I’m not particularly fond of Belgium, but I do love their ice cream! It’s way better than Italian ice cream, and it’s almost impossible to get in the Netherlands, and totally impossible in Japan. So I got very excited when I heard the ice cream truck’s chime, and even though I was still stuffed from dinner, I knew it was now or never. So Djamo and I ran outside to stop the Krijmboer (Cream Farmer) and my sweet brother treated my grandmother and me to a delicious treat. I may have slightly embarrassed him with my over enthusiastic behavior at the truck, but he easily explained it away with “She lives in Japan…”
After dinner and dessert Djamo wanted to play some chess. I’m not sure who Djamo’s usual chess opponent is, but he was unpleasantly surprised (see his face below) when he was playing against me. He underestimated me and lost the game, poor guy. He took it like a man, but I’m not sure if he ever wants to play me again.
It was nice to see my other family members but the best times today were when it was just Oma, Djamo and me. Of course, we’re sad that Opa died and we try to comfort Oma as much as we can. Yet somehow we spent quite some time laughing together, and it was so good to finally catch up after so many years. Coming home was a good decision.
Lommel

Back

After finding out about my grandfather’s passing things have been a bit of a blur, but somehow I went to work a day later, made the final decision about going home, taught some lessons, booked a flight in between lessons and got things ready at work for the emergency teacher replacing me. And now a day and a very boring and long flight later I’m back in Europe. My mother and Guido picked me up at the airport, and it was great to see them especially thinking I wouldn’t see them for at least another year. We made a quick pit stop at the new house, before my mom drove me to Belgium to be reunited with my brother Djamo and grandmother.
They hadn’t known I was on my way home, but they had suspected as much. When I called them to say I was back, they didn’t want me to wait till tomorrow, and told me to come stay the night in Belgium. It was really good to see them and Djamo’s girlfriend Sanne again, of course the reason I was there was sad, but catching up, seeing them and holding them again was wonderful.
Lommel