28 April 2009

Flourescent Lights and Coffee Shops

You cant miss the Red Light District in Amsterdam. It is one of the biggest tourist attraction and sits proudly in the centre of the city, 10 minutes walk from the Amsterdam Centraal Station. As we traipsed along the district, the sun was starting to set, and the darker it got, the street started to glow... in red. You will find a looooong street lined with sex shops, brothels, weed museum, erotic musuem, cinemas showing live-sex shows, and windows and windows of women dressed close to nothing, of all ages and sizes!
Despite the sleazy nature of this area, the buildings are actually gorgeous. I just cant get enough of the buildings in Amsterdam that are like unique dollhouses. The entire Red Light District surrounds Amsterdam's oldest church, and is spread along Amsterdam's first canal. It's almost impossible to believe that some of the buildings are 300 years old, expensive, and houses doctors, lawyers and families who have, for centuries, co-existed with the world of prostitutes and drug addicts.

On our 1st night in Amsterdam, we didnt see much action, i.e. we hardly saw any women displays on the main street. So we thought maybe the prostitution scene had died down. Only when we took another tour on our last night did we find the secret passageway. What Boon2 had initially brushed off as an aisle to toilets is actually an alley leading to a sensational window shopping experience. There were rows after rows of glass-fronted cubicles so small it fits one single bed with just enough room for a basin. In these tiny rooms, the prostitutes lounged, primped, danced and gestured after customers. However intriguing the experience is, it's not an easy walk for a woman to see other women patronizing themselves. Or are we even in a position to judge?

It is said that very rarely will you find an Amsterdam woman working as a prostitute in the Red Light District. Most of them come from abroad and even a good percentage of them are illegal immigrants.

Caryn told me that we're not allowed to take pictures in the Red Light District, but i couldnt resist. We resorted to so many silly behaviors to take a few shots. When we saw this empty room, our thoughts instantly clicked, Boon went "bah quick..!" and i fumbled for the camera, and prayed we were fast enough. JUST when i attempted another shot in case the first one didnt turn out right, a monstrous voice towered over us. "YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE PICTURES OF THE BROTHEL! YOU 'blablabalbala' ". At this point, i screamed 'sorry sorry' and we took off as fast as our feet can take us gracefully without sprinting. I was soooo afraid some hulk hogan lookalike would come and smash our camera. But there were no one around us.
So ya, they have cameras everywhere.. if you try something funny like taking pictures of their girls, or even their empty rooms, they will press a button and send their message across hidden speakers SO LOUD that people around you will stare like you're some kind of sick pervert.

The girls here are mostly dressed in bikinis, some uniforms and killer heels. We even spotted some who are obviously "he-she". Boon2 overheard a bargaining conversation; 50euro for a session. Men who were successful in their bargains, walked in, and the curtains are drawn.

I, once saw on America's or Australian's next top model a "Go-See" in the Red Light District. And indeed, there is Red Light Fashion in this district. Sex on ground floor, fashion on 1st floor. Amazing. It is one of the council's clean-up program to eradicate brothels or drug stores that are suspected to be fronts for money laundering. Licenses are revoked if they are suspected to have criminal ties, and some of the brothel-owners have been bought out by the city council and their cubicles are in turn handed over to fashion designers. Some of their clothes on display will make you drool.

So apart from prostitution, drugs are also legal. Boon2 told me that in Amsterdam, there is a difference between "cafes" and "coffeeshops". Cafe is where you sit down to have a real cuppa coffee or tea. Coffeeshop is a place where marijuana is sold over the counter and smoked openly. They even have a menu to choose your "weed" and "hash".

Late at night, on the streets, you will see people who are spaced-out, in their own psychedelic world which can in fact be quite dangerous.

Amsterdam is really a sin-city. You will not find or come across so many "Sex" and "Cannabis" signs anywhere else in the world.

24 April 2009

Amsterdam's China Town

I was very much alone on our journey to Amsterdam. I was struggling with my impatient body and fighting for legroom, whilst Boon is 'aaah-ing' over the delicacies he is served in Business Class. Hmp.

So, I heard Amsterdam is the Sin-City of Europe and probably the only 'living' museum of sex and drugs. I've also heard about severe memory loss cases due to excessive 'magic mushroom' intake and a good serving of 'space cakes'. Yea well, we stuck to the mundane tourist alternatives.

We arrived at 7am in the morning, spent a fair bit of time figuring out how to use 'em damn lockers in the train station, and the walking mission begins.

Zeedijk - Chinatown
I'm usually more coordinated; i would look at the map and mark my every step from start to end (I think its an obsession or fear of missing something out). Boon2's more free-spirited than I am; by the 10th time i unfold the map to check our bearings, he'd fold it back up and say "Lets just walk okay?, we'll find our way =)".
Sometimes, i tend forget the meaning of 'surprise yourself!'.

We stumbled on to Zeedijk Street, the mainstreet of Amsterdam's Chinatown. The street was totally deserted except for the occassional *tzings-tzings* from incoming cyclists.

As i was cursing the un-even cobblestones, i was equally aah-ing over the quaint buildings that instantly transports you back to an old world. You'll find a mixture of Japanese, Malaysian, CHINEES (this is how it's actually spelt), Indonesian, Vietnamese and even THAISE restaurants nestled in between massage parlours, oriental stores, chinese acupuncture, and beauty salons with faded portraits of pale-faced, red-lipped women donning cheongsams. It feels like we're in those old Shanghai-tang movie, except once in a while, i'd remember to hold my handbag closer to my chest. That's because I overheard a couple of guys saying "the robbers here are so good, they can literally take your shoes off your feet without you realising." Well, exaggeration or not, my bag's not going anywhere!

We wandered, peeped into windows, and I even attempted sniffing out noodle soups but it was just too early. No luck with Chineeeeees food.

On the same street, we saw the Fo Guang Shan He Hua temple. It's roof tiles and ornaments were flown in from China, and it's said to be the largest traditional palace-styled temple build in Europe.

Word also has it that the actual Chinatown where most of the Chinese lived is southeast of Nieuwmarkt (which is really just a street away).

16 April 2009

Ok, i will not order more than i can eat ever again...

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