“Don’t go to the Bjilmer,” was the general consensus among folks I asked about this predominantly Black neighborhood in Amsterdam.
“Make sure you hold your purse” cautioned my taxi driver on our way from the airport to my hotel. While I appreciated her advice, I grew up in Kingston and lived in Brooklyn for sixteen years, so visiting Amsterdam’s proverbial ghetto wasn’t a stretch for me. I took the #54 train from Centraal Station in the heart of the historic district.
In twenty-five minutes I was in Bjilmer, home to 100,000 people of 150 different nationalities, mostly from Africa, the Dutch Caribbean and Suriname. I exited at Bjilmer Arena A and walked into the sunshine. The day was unseasonably warm and I took off my jacket and scarf. I had no plan, no direction. I just walked.
As I walked past the Heineken Arena I saw a Green Day poster and thought, “If Green Day is going to play here then how bad can this place be?” I considered all the warnings I had received and even though they were well intentioned, I was annoyed that I was getting so much warnings because I was going to a Black neighborhood.
In the 1960’s the city of Amsterdam had a housing stagnation problem. They had more people than available shelter. Bjilmer was built to abate this crisis. It was touted as the most modern place to live in all of Amsterdam with innovative housing implementations. The high rise apartment structures were a modern approach to living for the Dutch. The design was also innovative, from the air Bjilmer looks like a series of connected honeycomb structures with long hallways and galleries on the interior. It later became problematic to manage Bjilmer because management offices were located too far out of town. Livability issues like trash collection, resident deviant behavior and police patrols ran amuck. Decades later 1970’s, Dutch colonies like Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles gained their independence. People started flocking to Amsterdam and then funneled into Bjilmer’s affordable housing. The low social status coupled with low-income of many tenants, subsequently led to Bjilmer’s notoriety of high crime rates and drug trafficking. I noticed the Bjilmer development was far removed from rest of Amsterdam, out there in the Dutch wasteland.
I walked into the development past a café where locals were out enjoying the sunny weather while sipping beverages. There was a moderate police presence in the area. Underneath the three-story brick apartment locals first built shops into the spaces to suit their needs like harberdasheries and small grocery stores. Today, these are replaced by flower shops, make-up sores, H&M, bakeries and flower shops. It was obvious to me that Bjilmer was shedding its negative stigma for one of gentrification and urban development. The Bjilmer even has a Starbuck’s, the quintessential modern day symbol of gentrification.
As I walked further in the Bjilmer I bumped into a street market and was immediately transported to Flatbush, Brooklyn and downtown Kingston simultaneously. Fruit and vegetable stands were brimming with vibrant foods from immigrant’s homelands. Yellow and green plantains, coconuts, scotch bonnet peppers, avocadoes, squash, field greens like callaloo and kale made a bright spot in Bjilmer. The sounds of reggae music from Luke Dube, Peter Tosh and even bachata and salsa floated throughout the market.
Bjilmer’s does have an underbelly and it showed. I was walking alone and taking pictures and I was being followed at a distance. There was no way the man following me was that interested in perfume, flowers and make-up as much as I was. I made sure I stayed in wide open spaces in the sunlight. Bjilmer is definitely a diamond in the rough. On certain corners I noticed young boys as “look outs” and saw money exchanged hands quickly quite a few times.
Bjilmer has definitely cleaned up since the 1970’s, but there are still telltale signs of the ‘hood. A shabby Chinese food store, a beauty supply store, a weave store, a stall selling international phone cards and satellite dishes hanging off the sides of porches (Bjilmer is only zoned for cable TV) and worn out porch furniture with peeling plastic littered on many balconies throughout the complex.
I safely made it back to my hotel in central Amsterdam, happy that I ignored the warnings. Have you ignored travel advice and just gone with your gut? Tell me about it in the comments.
This year, I was privileged to be in Bali for three major festivals; Nyepi,(Balinese New Year) Galungan and Kuningan. During Galungan, the Balinese celebrate the victory of good over evil. Elaborate temple processions and offerings are made to the dieties. The streets are decorated with bamboo shrines and tall bamboo fixtures cascade along the edges of the every streets. During this time, the offerings of young coconuts, fruits and tiny colorful cakes line the ground in front of homes, stores, shops and temple steps.
I have created my first travel app! Indonesian Street Food has been a delicious project of mine and I am happy to share it with you. There are many options for street food in Indonesia. I break it down into four categories:
As a bonus, I have added two documents on eating street food safely and handy Indonesian phrases to help you order your meals. For $2.24 you can explore the culinary delicacies of Indonesia. If you are planning on visiting Indonesia, this app is quite helpful in preparing you for the dizzying food options. I put my heart and soul in this project and I hope you find it useful.
Download the iPhone version here!
“And now we are going to see the thurtee-tee,” said my guide Tin Oo. We were surrounded by tall palm trees. The van door slammed loudly behind me. Nearby, a cow was going around a tree attached to a makeshift mill. The red hair, dark skinned man shot me a wide toothless grin as he prodded the cow around. I responded in kind, but with all my teeth. The dirt was cracked, dry, mineral rich red, as if it hadn’t rained in a while. I looked around for the number thirty-three. This wouldn’t be the first time Tin Oo and I had a communication problem during my week long stay in Myanmar (formerly Burma). “To hell with it,” I told myself. “You’ll figure this out soon enough.”
We sat down on palm tree stumps that took me a while to find my balance. We were served a traditional tea leaf salad, made from fermented tea leaves and an assortment of nuts. In between handfuls of nuts, Tin Oo made a sweeping gesture and said, “See, many, many thurtee-tees.” I started to count and soon realized that there were more than thirty-three trees in front of us. Clearly, I wasn’t going to guess this riddle.
“So what are the trees called?” I asked.
I still didn’t get it. “Spell it.”
“T-O-D-D-Y -T-R-E-E” Tin Oo spelt it with a bit of an attitude, but I ignored it.
“Oh! The toddy tree!” I exclaimed as a refreshing wave of clarity washed over me.
“Yes the thurtee-tree.” Tin Oo nodded and returned to eating his salad.
In Myanmmar (formerly Burma) the palm (toddy) tree is used for a number of things. Honey, candy and alcohol (htan yay) can all be made from the same tree. The harvesting process is quite labor intensive. The sap is collected by a ‘tapper’ who climbs the tree and taps out the white liquid. The sweet liquid is collected into the metal containers pictured above, then processed according to the end product they will make.
Going to the movies in Jakarta is a luxury experience. I like going to the Premiere Theater in Mal Kelapa Gading. The environment is smoke free (one of the few in smoker happy Jakarta) and I can order a lychee martini before settling in to watch the movie. The plush leather seats recline and movie goers are provided with blankets. All of this luxury for the lofty price id US $7.50. Here are a few photos from me and JP’s movie experience this week. I can never go back to watching movies any other way again. I am spoiled.
The wait staff call me “Miss Lychee Martini.”
I ordered udon noodles with mushrooms and beef.
Plush leather seats.
JP is ready for his movie experience.
I am hosting my first ever blog competition. Head on over to this blog’s Facebook page and guess WHERE WILL I GO TO TEACH NEXT? All answers must be on the Facebook page by 5pm US Eastern Standard time today April 13.
This is my thanks to you for being awesome readers!
1st Place- A travel calendar with my photos from all over the world.
2nd Place- 5 travel postcards.
Eating healthy in Indonesia doesn’t have to be an oxymoron. Most food is deep fried, then dipped in loads of soy sauce or a black sweet syrup, similar to molasses called kecap manis. In the year that I’ve spent here, I’ve employed different food tactics that garnered many puzzled looks from street food vendors and waitresses. Indonesians, don’t like varying from how food is traditionally served. When I ask for no rice, they look at me like I’m crazy. It is infuriating to me that the Indonesian diet is full of oils, lard and salt, but they are no bigger than my little finger. I know skinny doesn’t mean healthy, but geez.
Choose Bihun Noodles
Noodles rival rice in terms of carbohydrates. I haven’t been able to find brown rice, unless I am dining at an upscale restaurant. But, rice noodles (bihun) are more readily available. Street food vendors and restaurants alike sell it. You can swap out meals served with traditional noodles like mie goreng (fried noodles) for bihun.
Grilling is a popular method of cooking. The process of grilling is better than deep frying in lard or oil. Look for the word “bakar” and you will know that the restaurant serves grilled meats. You won’t be able to help that your meat is dipped in kecap manis for a sweet savory taste, but you will stave off the extra calories by sticking to grilled.
Literally meaning “mix-mix” this popular Indonesian salad is the closest healthy salad that meets my budget. A mixture of boiled corn, long green beans, potatoes, bean sprouts and cabbage. However, the merits of the nutritional value of this salad are devalued when it is doused with a cup of peanut sauce. Say “sedikit saus” for a little sauce or ask for it on the side “saus sendiri”
Siomay is a distant relative of dim sum. Boiled fish, cabbage and bitter gourd are steamed to perfection. But much like the gado-gado, these ingredients swim in peanut sauce when you order it.
Skip the Peanut Sauce (or ask for it on the side)
Peanut sauce is choc full of calories. It is lathered on gado-gado and satay meat skewers.
Hello, you’re on a tropical island. Whatever the time of year, there is a fruit is season. I delight in jackfruit, pineapples, papayas and apples. Sadly mango season is over, but there are plenty fresh fruit to have as a healthy snack or in a fruit salad. Give local fruits a chance like, rambutan, a gnarly hairy looking relative of lychee. Also, order cha kankung ( looks like spinach) and cap cay ( lightly steamed vegetables). A little oil is used to seal in the flavor, then the veges are steamed in a little water. Pair your meat with these veges instead of rice for a healthier meal.
Quick Indonesian food reference guide:
Nasi Putih- White Rice