While Beijing has many cool places, streets, alleys and ‘hutongs’ to explore, Wangfujing Street is probably one of the city’s most famous markings on the map. This well-known shopping street only one metro stop away from Tiananmen Square and has many shops and malls for both tourists and locals to enjoy. I, however, do not care much for shopping.
Just west of the main shopping street, there’s a hutong called ‘Wangfujing Snack Street’. This street is full of restaurants and street food stalls, which offer a wide variety of common and exotic food. Not just any kind of exotic food. No, some examples of the things you can find here are grasshoppers, centipedes, sea horses, spiders… and scorpions. And of course, I wouldn’t leave this street without trying some of its delicacies.
Moment of truth
So what did I end up trying? Well, it was my first time eating something this weird — or ‘disgusting’, as some of the locals I spoke to would refer to it. Therefore, I was a bit unsure at the beginning what to take. In the end, however, I decided to just go with the things that looked coolest to me.
Don’t worry, even though you can buy them raw, they are deep fried as you wait. Still, the taste was surprisingly good — a bit like regular potato crisps! They were so good even, that I could build enough courage to take my weird-food-experience one step further. And so, I went for the small scorpion’s bigger brother.
So no potato crisps this time… I actually finished the entire scorpion except for the claws, by the way. Too bad I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth until the day after, though, but I’m glad I tried. It’s an experience I won’t easily forget and I would recommend it to everyone.
Let me know if have any questions or share some of your own weird-food-experiences below!
Luck. It’s a funny concept that bears more meaning for some than it does for others. On the one hand, it can be used to evaluate certain events, which may lead people to think they are lucky, or not. On the other hand, however, luck can be a magical concept that people may try to influence.
But no matter how look at it, the use and perception of luck is always culturally determined. Thus, its uses only makes sense within a culture’s very own belief systems — like so many other things. This is an important thing to keep in mind when reading this blog post about my visit to one of the largest and most important Buddhist monasteries in the world; the Yonghe Temple — more commonly known as the Lama Temple — in Beijing, China.
Good luck for sale
As soon as you get out of the Yonghegong metro station, you’re standing in a characteristic Chinese street, with a lot of small shops and red lantern decorations. The shops here, however, only sell one thing; incense. Of course this couldn’t be a coincidence as the temple was nearby, so I asked a nice sales lady for advice. Surprisingly enough (as nearly noone speaks English in China), she was able to explain to me that there are markings in Chinese on every stick of incense. The markings tell you what kind of good luck lighting the incense will bring. For example, it could bring good luck for yourself, for your friends or your family. More interestingly, the higher the price is of the incense you buy, the more good luck it will bring and the longer it will last — if turns out not to be true, it’s still a good sales pitch. We ended up buying one of the most ‘expensive’ ones for about 40 RMB (about 5 Euros); they’re supposed to bring good luck to our close friends and family. Well, it couldn’t hurt right?
Saying prayers and throwing coins
Armed with a pack of incense, we turned the corner, bought a ticket and went inside the temple. Once you’re inside, you can see people praying everywhere. Big, decorated fire pits are scattered around the temple. Here people can light their incense and pray to one of the many Buddha statues, or somewhere else inside the temple. All for good luck! Aside from praying, people could try to influence their luck by spinning some of the many prayer wheels, paying a visit to the world’s largest Buddha made out of a single piece of wood (it’s 26 meters in total), and trying to throw a coin on top of a special structure. The last one is my favorite as the first coin I threw landed on top! After that accomplishment, I could just be amused by watching all the other people try desperately to get the same result.
While for most people a visit to the Lama temple may serve a bigger purpose than just the experience, for me it was nothing more than just that in the beginning. However, walking around the temple and seeing everything that was going on turned the initial experience that I came for into a chance to experience a strange religion — to feel it even. The overall vibe in the temple made me feel really warm, welcome and accepted. It was a really good feeling and it seemed like everyone was free to practice the religion as they saw fit. Everyone was just busy doing their own thing, their own way. I even felt so comfortable that it seemed fine to join the Buddhists in their prayers. Even though my good luck should have increased drastically at this point already according to their standards, it could never hurt do get some more – and of course, we still had our incense. So there I was, lighting my incense and praying for good luck for my family and friends. Not just for the experience, not anymore.
Even though I’m skeptical of the new amount of good luck I was able to gather with this day, the visit to the Lama temple made me experience on a deeper level something that I’ve been thinking about for quite some time now; thoughts that I like to spread. No religion is right, it can only be right in the feeling that it gives you — in the emotional foundation that you use to live your life. So please, never say that your religion is right, or even that it makes more sense than someone else’s. Religions are based upon myths, which are based upon other myths for over thousands of years. They change over time and people continuously adjust their beliefs. There is no true religion. The only true religion is the one that’s true for you, based on what you’ve learned and what you know. The only problem is that it forms a deeply ingrained foundation of the one thing that’s dearest to us all — life — and that’s a foundation people do not usually like to break down.
Well, my week in Beijing is over and I’m back safely in Hong Kong. I had the most incredible time last week, though, and that’s why I will be sharing some of Beijng’s moments with you in the coming time. This first post is about how much you can eat in the morning when all the food is good… and free. I would like to dedicate this post to my dad; even though he probably can’t read a word that’s here, he speaks this language very well — the language of food that is.
To start off, these are some impressions of the restaurant in our awesome hotel.
So why was I here again? Well, as you could read in my post from last week, me and my teammates won a one-week trip to Beijing on the expenses of the company we did a research for. Even though we did have to do some work during our trip, we had plenty of time to explore the awesome city and enjoy the excluxive luxury of our hotel.
I’m writing about my third day in Beijing. At this point in time, I just had my second night’s sleep (in the best bed ever, by the way) and thus I was about to get my second breakfast at the Grand Millennium Hotel in Beijing. I already had the chance to try it out a bit the day before, so I could definitely go all out now! I ended up getting three — well okay, four — rounds of awesome food, was completely stuffed for the rest of the day and my stomach felt like it was about to explode, but it was absolutely worth it. Check it out below.
Just a ‘normal’ beginning of another awesome day in Beijing. Not the most exciting food story yet, though!
I’ve been on exchange in Hong Kong for well over 2 months now; about time I got out of there! Today I arrived in Beijing, the capital city of China, for a ‘business trip’. Got a flight at 10.30 AM from Hong Kong Airport (made it just in time, as was to be expected), and checked in at the Grand Millennium Beijing at about 3PM. And I can tell you, it is awesome! And it’s free.
Write a paper, win a trip
So, how did I end up here? Well, I actuallywon a one-week trip to go here. Last semester, me and a group of three other students wrote a research paper on increasing brand awareness in China for a Western-based energy consultant. We were competing with three other groups, but in the end we turned out to be the best. And that turned out pretty well.
It’s 10.30 PM right now, I’m writing this post from behind my big-ass Don Draper desk, with a view on a bed even I can fit in three times and a bunch of lit skyscrapers on the background. When I look to the right I can see my bathroom, including a bath with a view 11 floors down and a separate shower. This definitely is a HUGE change from the midget bedrooms at CUHK’s Shaw College, which I share with my Chinese roommate who prefers to sleep during daytime and tries to bash the buttons out of his laptop during nighttime — when I’m sleeping, or trying to at least… If it’s not my roommate that wakes me up, it will be the pain in my back from sleeping on a 1-inch thick mattress, literally. It also is a relief not having to hear the Asian kids spitting and scraping their throats like absolute crazies in the communal bathrooms. Yup, I’m definitely going to enjoy my stay here at the Millennium.
Check out some pictures below. I’ll post a video online by the time I’m back in a place where YouTube is allowed. Don’t get too jealous…
Stel je voor… je bent op uitwisseling in Hong Kong, speelt een potje basketbal, blokkeert een pass, en nog geen half uur later word je door de ambulance goed en wel afgeleverd bij de spoedeisende hulp. Dit overkwam mij op 17 september 2012 en hieronder kun vind je het resultaat van een nachtje pure verveling en niet kunnen slapen. En wellicht een stukje geweldig leedvermaak voor jullie.
Mijn excuses voor de soms slechte geluidskwaliteit. Zet al het volume op ‘maximaal’ en/of doe je oortjes in/hoofdtelefoon op voor het beste resultaat! Enjoy.
Chanting is the rhythmic speaking or singing of words or sounds, often primarily on one or two pitches. In fact, the chant is the predecessor of the song like we know now, however, the technique itself is still actively used in some modern music styles. Reggae and rap music are good examples of this. A few months ago, I was introduced to music style of chanting for the first time as well, through a special man whom I met at street art studio Via Kunst (VK).
It was during the winter of 2011 when I saw Anthony for the first time. Back then, I had only just recently found out about VK, so I was exploring the scene a bit while walking around to get acquainted with its staff and visitors. In the meantime, when I was busy talking to all the people around him, Anthony had been quietly playing a card game on the computer in the workshop — in his own world, not troubled by anyone. Yet, he stood out to me, mostly because of his reggae look and the quietness that surrounded him; it made me curious. So, eventually I approached him too, but it soon became clear to me that Anthony was a man of few words. Even though he answered all my questions, his answers were short and altogether he seemed to be more interested in finishing his digital card game instead of talking to me… That is until the moment when I asked him about his music. Almost immediately he took me up to VK’s music studio, where he gave me a crash course in chanting. From one moment to the other, it seemed like I was dealing with a completely different person. Proudly, he presented me his songs with a big smile on his face. He even started to sing and move along, despite the fact that he was sitting on a chair in front of a computer. Anthony got completely absorbed by his music and told me about it with much love and passion. A few weeks ago, in February 2012, I ran into him again.
He seemed excited to see me again and he almost immediately suggested that we went to the studio, so he could let me hear his new songs — even while it had been over 4 months since the last time I saw him. Again, a saw an extremely proud man being absorbed by his passion — singing along, dansing. The stark contrast I saw in the man because of his connection with music touched me, which is why I asked him if he’d like to share this with others too by the means of an interview on Urban 2Day. You can see the result of this interview below, in which Anthony tells more about himself, his music and, more specifically, what it means to him to be able to produce his own music at VK.
Anthony Richardson is currently 29 years old and he’s originally from Sint Maarten. When he was 11, he came to the Netherlands on his own to finish his education in the hospitality industry. That much he achieved, but according to Anthony he hasn’t gotten the chance yet to find a job in his field of study; “I keep getting rejected time and time again, one way or another”. After he had worked several years as a garbageman for an employment agency, Anthony got heavily discouraged to find a job that would suit him. Therefore, he recently started living on benefits. Every moment he can, Anthony spends his time at VK and on other moments he likes cycling, playing basketball and hanging out with friends. Thereby — mostly in the weekends — he tries to be a good father to his two little girls; one of 6 and one of only 4 months old. “I love them very much.” On the other hand, he doesn’t see their mother often; “She has a busy life”, he says. Anthony chose not to elaborate on this much further. Instead, he want to tell me all about his other true love, which is music.
“I opened Pandora’s Box. When I chant, then it’s about real things — about reality, and life stories.” Above all, making music is a way for Anthony to express how he feels and to lay bare his soul. That’s why he only chants about how he feels at a particular moment in time; something that’s bothering him or is simply stuck in his head. So, he never knows in advance what he’s going to chant about — not until the moment when he’s standing in front of the mic in the studio. Then he just lets the music and his feelings take over; a practice that can be referred to as freestyling. “Making music is like I’m having a conversation about my life. So, whenever I chant, I’m telling a story and I have to feel that.” And not just him, because he also hopes to touch other people through his music. “You might only have to replace a couple of words in the lyrics and perhaps then they’re about your life. But in order to be able to truly feel my music, you must have experienced what I experienced. You have to be able to understand my problems.” What kind of problems, then? Anthony laughs, “For that you’ll have to listen to my music, that’s all I can tell you about that.” Herewith, Anthony prefers to let his music speak for him. Below you can find his song ‘Kings & Queens’, in which he chants about how a man would do everything for the woman he loves — his ‘queen’.
Yin, no Yang
Liked it? As you might have heard, Anthony’s music is strongly influenced by Jamaican reggae, which has a strong connection to the rasta movement. “I guess you could say that rasta is my religion. It’s like meditating, but on a different level — meditating by expressing yourself. Do you know Yin & Yang? Good and evil. Rasta knows no evil.” Of course, Antony’s religion plays an important role in his life. “It’s about purifying oneself and becoming a better person in the process.” And it is partly because of this philosophy that Anthony ended up at VK. He sees his time with the institution as sort of an interim period in his life — a period of reflection, in which he’s able to think about his future and his past. “Coming to VK has been the best decision I ever made. Now I have a chance to do something; to make something of my life and to discover all the possibilities that are in front of me.” VK offered him a chance and gives him an opportunity to get back into society. Moreover, VK offers him the resources he needs to do what he loves most, because, of course, Anthony keeps secretly hoping to have a future in music.
If you think that Anthony deserves this future and want to hear more of him, then please support him by sharing his music and by responding to this post. You can download ‘Kings & Queens’ here! Also, Anthony is currently busy recording his first album, along with music videos, so he would love to hear your tips and criticism on how to improve his chants even more. Some of his other songs will be made available soon on the website and on our Facebook page, so keep an eye out for those. On behalf of Anthony, thanks!
If you can, imagine for a second that things went very bad for you recently and now you’re homeless, addicted to drugs and it looks like you have nowhere to turn to. Where do you go? As opposed to what many people think, the next step is not directly confined to a lonely life on the streets. Quite the contrary; in Rotterdam alone there are already many places you can go to for help and (meaningful) daytime activities. Of course, DPK is a good example of this, but of course there are many more. Unfortunately, the number of these places is decreasing rapidly, and access is becoming more and more exclusive. The same is true for Via Kunst (it says ‘Via Art’ or ‘Through Art’ in Dutch, but let’s just call it VK from now on); an art gallery, workshop and music studio for ‘artists from the streets’, located in the very heart of Rotterdam.
VK is part of the NAS (Nico Adriaan Stichting) and it’s currently used as an institution for creative daytime activities for homeless people, (former) addicts, refugees and people with a psychiatric background. In an interview with Urban 2Day, VK coordinator and counselor Milan Tilder (36) enlightens us on the strongly deteriorating nature of art galleries like VK in the Netherlands.
Once for everyone
“At VK, we approach people for their talent, and not for their problems”, Milan says, “that’s why I’m not a counselor in the first place, but a talent developer”. So, for Milan and his team making art — high quality art — is on the top of their list with priorities. Perhaps this is to be expected, since besides his job as coordinator of the arts, Milan also is a very active artist himself; he draws, paints, makes music and he’s the founder of the internationally known graffiti collective Lastplak. Maybe his experience contributes to the fact that there’s a great sense of mutual respect between both the visitors and team members of Via Kunst. Even though every visitor is very different and each with its own problems, this doesn’t stop rappers to admire the paintings of the artists in the workshop and vice versa the musicians are always proud to present their new tracks. I guess you could say that VK is in a different world – a world of artists and performers, where people are acclaimed because of their talents and where everyone’s called by their artist name. “It’s like role playing. For example, for artists I’m the gallery owner and for rappers I’m their producer.” Here you can find some songs that Milan has produced with some of VK’s visitors.
Despite the positive first impressions of VK, behind this facade of good will is great dissatisfaction. Namely, in the past VK was accessible for everyone with a creative talent. Now, on the other hand, only certain people with certain types of problems and demographics are allowed in — and then they still have to get the approval of an external municipal organization (SoZaWe). “It used to be full of people here everyday, we even had to refuse people to go in because it was so busy. Now I should refuse people access, because they aren’t in deep enough trouble (yet). Moreover, people that actually are allowed in now have to be kept up to scratch to come here, because if they don’t their entitlement for benefits will expire.” Of course, this is extremely demotivating for VK’s visitors, since they are obligated to go to VK 4 days a week — much to the disadvantage of the art they make. “Increasingly, the only reason people still come here is to write down their signature on a piece of paper as proof of their presence, and after that they want to go home again already.” In contrast to making high quality art, now reintegrating visitors into society has become a number one priority. Something the staff of VK would very much like to see changed, but they stand powerless. Subsidies are paid per person and VK is only entitled to these if both the organization and its visitors meet the strongly restrictive requirements that were composed by the government.
Past the user space
Since VK’s establishment of VK over 2 decades ago, the organization slowly became less and less autonomous. VK originates in a trailer on ‘Platform Zero’ — an area next to Rotterdam’s Central Station where drug addicts were free to use and buy their ‘medicine’ from 1987-1994. When this area was closed off because of the major nuisance for the city of Rotterdam, VK relocated to DPK and only one year later VK got its own location in the center of Rotterdam. After his internship at VK, Milan found the organization’s current location in 2000. Then, when in 2007 DPK had to stop the care for drug addicts, the NAS was appointed to take care of that group of people. Since then, the NAS started working closely together with VK. It was around this time that the Central Reception Policy was introduced in Rotterdam, for which one central reception was created where homeless people could report to. Together, these developments have lead to the fact that since 3 years VK does not have any direct influence anymore on who may enter and who may not, with as absolute low point that VK will relocate once again in May 2012 — this time it will be to one, big addiction center of the NAS.
This move goes against everything we stand for here at VK. Milan explains: “Being an artist means being autonomous — having your own identity — and therewith it is now the art that’s being degraded to the second or even third row.” One of the most important reasons that VK has always been located in the city is to be away from the daycare for addicts as far as possible. “This way we’ve been able to attract people that do not want to be confronted with drug use, for example because they were addicted in the past themselves. In a few months, people first have to go past a central reception, with a user space right around the corner and for many people that’s just too much. Even the presence of that counter will already scare off many of VK’s visitors to go there.” During his career, Milan regularly saw people revert to their old habits, simply because they were confronted with drug use during their daily activities. He is afraid this is going to happen to VK’s current visitors too. “VK offers people a neutral place; it keeps them off the streets instead of the other way around. Moreover, it provides people with a chance to get back into society by showing them opportunities and by developing their talents. But all of this will go away after the move.”
Call for action
What is currently happening to VK, is happening to art studios in all parts of the Netherlands. “More and more art studios disappear, probably because they are increasingly embedded in the care sector. While most art studios once started as a project for artistic development, they are molded more and more into a daycare center.” In most instances, this development can be ascribed to the required finances, which are needed for art studios to remain in existence. “Making money in the art world is already hard enough by itself, but for us it’s made impossible.” Milan says this, because VK can only exist from the subsidies it receives per visitor, and thus not from the art that is sold. “People that live on benefits can’t make any extra money. If governmental organizations only suspect that they are, their right for benefits expires immediately.” And therewith the subsidy for VK. Milan calls on governments to make a semi-freelance construction, whereby people can try to earn money independently and whereby it is VK’s task to guide them in their efforts. “Then people could be entitled to at least a minimum amount of their benefits money, but with what they can make themselves they will be able to show for what percentage of a month’s money they were responsible themselves. And if that’s more than their benefits money, it can only encourage them to work harder.” That way, care organizations can truly help their visitors to find a way back into society by learning them to be independent and to make their own money. Moreover, part of the earnings can go to the organizations themselves, so they will remain to be able to give people the tools they need and to become less and less dependent on subsidized money.
So, according to Milan, there is thus a big necessity for organizations like VK to become more flexible and to be embedded more in a commercial system. Therefore, Milan calls to governments to sit around the table with the NAS, in order to come to new agreements about subsidizing NAS projects. “For many years, the government had helped to retain our [VK's] presence through its many subsidies. However, since a few years we do not get subsidies anymore for people who do not have the proper credentials, while these people are still allowed inside. The NAS has always supported us in this matter, but did not yet make a policy for these visitors. And after the move, they will literally have nowhere they can go.” Milan indicates that there are other care organizations like Bouman and the Leger des Heils, but these organizations have a very different audience. In terms of policy, most of VK’s audience has yet been left out of the equation. And thus, if VK moves — or even disappears — a big group of people will have to resort to the streets again. Together with Milan, I hope that the understanding for the work and the visitors of organizations likeVK will increase soon and that the care system will be adapted accordingly.
And for that we need all the help we can get, so yours too! Therefore, please leave a comment below and share this article to help increase awareness for this issue. I can also very much recommend that you to step by VK’s art studio sometime at the Karel Doormanstraat 335 in Rotterdam to show them your support and to see it with your own eyes. The art studio is open from Monday to Thursday every week from 12 to 4 PM. Remember though, it won’t stay open for much longer, so be quick and most importantly, have fun!
Edit (22-3-2012): It just became clear that the move of VK can’t happen after all, because of demanded requirements and NAS’s necessary reduction in size. Therefore, VK will cease to exist if they don’t find a solution soon! VK thus needs your help now more than ever, so it can find the faith, finances and location it needs to be able to continue its work and keep their visitors off the streets. So, if you want the organization to remain as well, spread its story!
Sunday morning, 8.30 hours; I startle awake because of the incredibly annoying, continuous sound of the doorbell. Even though I’ve only recently moved to my new apartment, I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to the doorbell. As fast as I reasonably can, I jump out of my bed. “Who the hell would be ringing my doorbell at this particular time – the one day I don’t have to be woken up by my alarm clock?” While the bell keeps on ringing, I quickly grab some clothes, which I’m putting on while making my way to the front door. While I was running up the stairs, some possible options flashed through my head; “the mail man…? My parents, perhaps?” I jumped off the stairs to the front door, pulled it open… And there stood Torro, ready for his interview.
Encounter on the streets
Torro, a.k.a. Tyron Duwaer, is a small Antillean man with big dread locks (and a big mouth) whom I met earlier that week out on the streets. He approached me on the exact moment when I just got home from university and was about to turn around the key in the keyhole of the front door. Immediately, Torro started to tell me an elaborate story about his life. However – as regularly is the case when you meet strangers out on the street – I only listened to his story with one ear. I did catch some of the things he was saying though; “… did a lot of bad things…been in jail for 14 years…addicted…found God…”. After hearing his sputter for a while, I cut him off and asked him what he wanted; “money?”. Of course. Something that’s normally entirely against my principles. Giving money doesn’t help anybody, it only gives people more reason to stay on the path they’re on. Yet, for this one time I wanted to make an exception, because of the talkativeness of this small but interesting man. I suggested we’d ‘trade’; money for an interview. Torro was enthusiastic right away and we agreed that he would meet me here at Saturday again – he already knew where I live anyway. Unfortunately, Torro interpreted the set time a little more loosely (he “he forgot about it for a moment”, as he told me), so Saturday afternoon became a Sunday morning.
Livin’ the good life
Of course, I had never thought Torro would still come back for the interview after he missed our initial meeting. Moreover, the chance that someone you met out on the streets – someone you gave money – would come back to share his story does not seem that big. Fortunately, the feeling I had about Torro earlier got to be confirmed; he’s a man of his word. While he was only just inside, right away he again started to talk about his life experiences elaborately. Quickly I grabbed my pen and notebook, and there I was; half awake, sitting on my own dinner table with a stranger. Not really a desirable situation, I admit, perhaps even dangerous, but I think that sometimes you have to be able to give trust to people – even when no one else can.
Torro wanted to start his story with his birth; March 10, 1974 in Curaçao – at the time of our meeting he was almost 38 years old. As a child on Curaçao, Torro had a good life; “I was raised by mother and stepdad, we had everything”. However, this situation changed entirely when his stepdad cheated on his mother after having one drink too many. Because of this, Torro’s mother moved out and went to live in the Netherlands. Torro started to live with his ill grandma in Curaçao. At this time, he was 12 years old. Since his mom and stepdad now played a much smaller role in his life, Torro stayed home from school more and more. “My stepdad always used to say ‘Tyron, go to school’, but I rather did other things – have fun”, Torro said. “I also had many different girls during that time. At a certain point in time [around his 16th birthday], I had even made a girl pregnant.” It was around this time that Torro’s grandma didn’t feel like she could handle it anymore. Together with his stepdad, she decided that it was best if Torro would also move to the Netherlands – back to his mother.
Mugging and cocaine
Once Torro arrived in the Netherlands, he continued to live his life like he did in Curaçao; “a lot of going out, women and playing sports”. Initially, this lifestyle worked out well for Torro, however, he slowly came into contact with a certain group of people. “I regularly saw people selling drugs out on the streets. And since I was still young, I thought it was cool. So, I wanted to hang out with those people.” While Torro continued to live exuberant, he started dealing drugs and it wasn’t until much later when he also started to use drugs himself – because of his activities as a dealer. It started with smoking some weed out of curiosity, however, this escalated quite rapidly in the heavy use of cocaine. “I became addicted to coke and I had a lot of debts because of it – a lot of problems. Coke can make you forget all those problems, but after two minutes that feeling is gone already. Then you start doing crazy things.”
From that moment on, Torro started to mug a lot of people on the streets; in the beginning, he said it was because of the coke, but later on he also did it while he was sober. He needed the money to pay for his addiction – a lot of it. “I only had to threaten people to get what I wanted – I frightened them with my mouth. I’m a good talker”, so he told. “Most of the times it sufficed to say that I carried a knife or gun with me; I never hit or stabbed anyone.” Until around a year ago Torro carried on to do this; sex, drugs… and mugging. “I’ve seen a lot of crazy things in my life; I saw people get shot, people dying. One time they shot at me too; a few years ago, here in Rotterdam, at the Marconiplein. De bullet didn’t hit me, but it truly is a miracle that I’m still alive”. Naturally, a lifestyle like Torro’s is not without its legal consequences. Torro says he has been behind bars for 14 years in total. “I saw every prison here in the Netherlands, I went everywhere. Every time after I got out, I got arrested again a few months later. As a stupid donkey I kicked the same stone over and over again”. Recently, Torro has been trying to better his life.
A new start?
And it turns out that isn’t easy. “Rotterdam is a bad environment for me. Here at Kruiskade I can’t learn anything. People walk around with guns, with drugs, so here I will definitely make mistakes again.” Torro also can’t count on the help of his social network with this; “I don’t have any friends, only acquaintances. They tell me they want to help, but they only want one thing; use me”. Torro explains that he regularly steals for his ‘acquaintances’, because they tell him to; laptops and mobile phones, for example. “If I get €50, – Euros for something that they’ll sell for €600, – I’m already satisfied. I just really need the money.” The only person that could’ve helped him, his mom, kicked him out of the house last month. Now, Torro has nowhere left to go. “I’m a good man, I was properly raised, I’ve got a lot of potential, and yet, I’m left with all these problems. I have to get out of my current environment, it’s dangerous. This is no life, out here on the streets.” Despite the current situation he’s in, Torro’s religion gives him hope.
“One year ago, a lot of things have changed for me. Then I found God.” Something inside of Torro snapped last year when his application to go to rehab got rejected for the third time in a row; he said the judges in court called him a ‘monster’, unable to fit in society. “At that point, I lost hope, I didn’t know what to do”. So, in complete desperation Torro took off his clothes, cried and turned to God; “I kneeled down, completely naked, and I asked; ‘God, you exist right? That God, aren’t you love?’.” Two times Torro turned to God this way and miraculously enough, his application to go to rehab got approved not much later. “God was the one who opened that door for me.” Torro devoted his life to God ever since and has been trying to better his life with it. “I made mistakes, I admit that. But I’m responsible for the consequences, not God.” For a split second, everything seemed to head into the right direction again; Torro had his own apartment, a job, he went to the clinic, he even had a girlfriend whom he loved very much. Yet, his past caught up with him and he made a mistake once again; “two mistakes”, he admits, “I went to the hookers and I did some cocaine with friends”. Now he has nothing left; he is back where he started, but he remains hopeful. Hopeful for a second chance from his probation officer. Hopeful for a stable life. Hopeful for a new start.
Do you think a man like Torro deserves a new start? Or do you agree with the judges in court and is Torro a ‘monster’ indeed that is better off behind bars, punished for his past? Let us know.
Today, I’m going to solve a mystery of which I know it has been bugging you all for a very, very long time. When you first heard about Urban 2Day or visited the website for the first time, it probably crossed your mind (whether or not it was consciously): “Why couldn’t they just call this website ‘Urban Today’?” Maybe you had this thought out of frustration, because you were trying to find a website that does not exist, or maybe you were just wondering — like we all do sometimes — about random stuff. Well, after you read this post, you will wonder no more!
Slide along side
Strangely, the first thing that comes to my mind when trying to explain the presence of the 2 — and what was stuck in there the entire time I was writing this post– is a song. It’s a song I remember from when I was only in my first years of high school — it was a great summer hit back then. The song’s called Slide Along Side by Shifty. However, it wasn’t the song that kept repeating itself over and over in my head, but one line in particular; “…it takes two to make a thing go right, but what’s it gonna take to take to take you home tonight”. Even though it’s just a little bit out of context, Shifty was right about one thing, because in fact it does take two to make a thing go right.
Actually, it’s always been kind of a thing to me to get inspired by music, movies and TV-shows by relating the things you here and see there to real life — my life. Now that I think of it, Seven Pounds, The Pursuit of Happyness and The Soloist together might very well form one of the most important reasons why Urban 2Day exists in the first place. Movies like these can change how you think about certain things, which is what makes them great. So, if you haven’t already, go see them!
You’ve probably read about Urban 2Day’s mission statement already. Every organization or website has one, so why not us too, right? Part of the mission statement entails that Urban 2Day wants to enhance understanding and respect between different cultural groups by making particular, often underexposed aspects of urban culture more visible. Urban 2Day does not only represent what’s socially desirable, it represents everything and everyone by creating a neutral platform where everyone is heard. In order to achieve this, we need at least two groups of people; those who are willing to share their knowledge and perspectives and those who are willing to learn. When a coke addict, for example, decides to share his story with us, it might change our former opinions and prejudices about him, but, of course, it could of course also confirm them. However, at the very least, it allows us to understand the man behind the mark better IF we choose listen to his story and have an open mind beforehand. So, creating a public sphere in which everyone can take place can only be achieved with the help of at least two groups of people.
Besides the philosophical thought behind the 2 in Urban 2Day, there is also another reason why the 2 is present and that’s a simple one; it’s cool, just like Urban 2Day! Let me elaborate on that a little. Urban 2Day is a website that does something (and a little more) that is done all over the world. What I’m referring to are the street newspapers, which are mostly sold by people who are ‘from the streets’ themselves. Therefore, Urban 2Day itself sounds like it’s a newspaper. However, the 2 suggests we’re unconventional, cool and fresh. We have a distinct style; the U2D style. By going out there, as being students, and letting people share their stories — hearing the ‘unheard’ — and by adding our own experiences and opinions into the mix, we go further; further than the static, and perhaps even boring stories you have all read before.
Mystery solved! I’m very curious if you are able to recognize the aforementioned ‘U2D style’ already. Or perhaps you can help to develop it, as there is an open brainstorming session in Rotterdam next week, on the 29th of February! Starting from 18.30 hours, we will discuss the ideas regarding the future of Urban 2Day. Very exciting! If you’re interested, please feel free to join us next Wednesday. Just send us a message in which you confirm your presence and we’ll send you the further details. If you cannot make it, you could also share your ideas on the future of Urban 2Day in the comment section below. Of course, you can also share your thoughts on Shifty and the ‘it-takes-two-principle’ and U2D’s noble mission. Cheers!
Missed me? I’m sorry if you were hoping for a few interesting stories after the winter break, but the last few months have been extremely busy for me. It feels like I just recovered from an overdose of schoolwork. Add to that actual work, a move to a new home and having no internet for a month and you will have to put your life aside for a while. Fortunately, I’m back and as I just moved to a new place (and a nice one for that matter), I want to share a story about when I first started to live by myself.
As a student, you tend to move around a lot — we’re going places, you know. Every move feels like a new adventure; different place, different neighborhood, different people… In between all of these different adventures, there is one place I’ll never forget though, which was – believe it or not — at an urban farm. It all happened 2,5 years ago during the summer break. I had passed my high school exams, finished high school and I was ready to go to university. So, as most people in that position, I decided to move out of my parent’s house and live on my own. Quite a challenge, but I was more than ready to finally take that next step. And so the hunt for a room in the densely populated student town called Delft began…
Finding a room proved to be harder than I thought. I searched, called, e-mailed and searched again… By the time I was about to consider not to move out at all, I got a phone call. On the other end of the line I heard an enthusiastic young man talking, presumably in his mid-twenties. After a couple of questions about my hobbies and whether I like music and movies, he offered me to come by for a visit to his student house. He told me the house is a farm in the center of Delft, next to the water, and he offered a room there for a relatively cheap price. As you can imagine, to me it almost sounded too good to be
true, so there I went; off to visit the farm in Delft.
By the time we arrived, I had made myself some expectations about the place, but I could tell the man on the phone wasn’t lying; the farm was located in the center of delft, in a nice neighborhood and right next to the water. When I was struggling to open the fence to the farm, an old man came out of the front door: “Hi, let me help you”. I recognized his voice and at that moment I knew; this was the man I spoke on the phone! However, it wasn’t the young, enthusiastic student in his mid-twenties I expected him to be. Instead, it was a 60 year old gay man with only six fingers. Nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but he kind of leaves a lasting first impression. I can imagine, though, that this impression could have scared off some other students who came by to see the room earlier, but not me of course. I don’t like judging people in the first place and you know… I could really use a room at that time, so I didn’t really have the luxury to turn around and run away. Moreover, the man seemed like a very kind, sincere and warm person and it turned out he was, so I had absolutely nothing to worry about.
After the first acquaintance, we got a tour around the house and that’s when I realized something else. The house wasn’t just called a farm, but it was an actual farm! With real cows and real milking machines! I didn’t notice it at first, because the cows are in the meadow during summertime. I also found out that the man who showed us around rented two rooms of his farm to students, that he had no partner, that he loved antique furnishing and that he had a massive collection of LPs and CDs. But after the tour I didn’t know yet that this guy was going to be my landlord for the next year…
Rap and porn
When I look back at the year I lived at an urban farm, I have to say it definitely was a fun year. There were always some black spotted friends to greet me in the winter and besides the one time I was locked up in my room for half a day (the door handle broke), my landlord’s enormous outburst of rage about which tortillas we ate some time ago and a stench in my clothes that no washing machine, but only time could remove, I can’t say anything really strange happened. My landlord and I both shared a passion for music, which I think is quite remarkable. A difference of 40 years and he knew about the newest tracks of Kanye West and Jay-Z before I did..!? He loved movies and TV shows too, especially those historical ones like I, Claudius and Rome. However, I did think his taste was a bit questionable. The one night he could pick a movie for movie night, he chose Caligula — apparently one of his favorite movies of all time. For those of you that don’t know the movie; it’s pretty much a giant orgy combined with a story about some notorious Roman emperor, and it leaves little to nothing to the imagination. Yet, the acting performances go a little further than your average housewife and the pizza guy scenario. But still, I didn’t feel too comfortable that night… Another fun fact about my former 60 year old landlord is that he’d occasionally went out. I never had the courage to ask him whereto, though. But something tells me I’m better off not knowing. What surprises me, is that after all the other student still lives at the farm. The last time I spoke with him he told me that some time ago he had to come out of bed in the middle of night, so that he could help give birth to a calf. He had to grab it with both hands and pull it right out of the cow. Well, even though it might be quite eventful, I guess that’s one thing you can’t wake me up for in the middle of the night. The delicious homemade pudding and desserts my former landlord made on the other hand… for those certainly!
So, this was the first place where I lived free from the care of my parents; at an urban farm. What do you think? Would you want to live there? It definitely wasn’t the place where I expected to end up, but in the end it gave me a whole bunch of new perspectives on things I would never have had otherwise. For example, only the notion that a farm could be urban is something that I really couldn’t have thought before. And in the end, the farmer who rented me the room there turned out to be a very kind and considerate man, who was always there to help me with whatever I needed. Thus, my advice, if you ever get offered something out of the ordinary, take it! And if you already have or are about to, share your experiences below.