Estranged Family

8 May 2011

Den Haag, Nederland

The plan was settled long before I ever arrived to go to Den Haag to see where we (lots of family members here) all came from – the real capital of Nederland: where you would go if you were coming from Indonesia.

I meet seven or so new relatives. Actually, eight, which broke yesterday’s record of five.

The stereotype is true, by the way, of the incredibly steep Dutch staircases; they’re uncomfortably steep. Not in the sense that it’s physically demanding (I would often run up Covent Garden’s fifteen storey staircase anyway), but it’s mentally unnerving since you’re always thinking about that next step.

The Ford’s engine rumbles as we head off to Den Haag’s centre. “There’s no seat belts, but no need to worry” my cousin reassures me as we squeeze through the tight streets in Ford’s attempt at a cadillac. Cool car, cool relatives.

The plan is to head to the house where my grandparents used to live decades ago. We get to the street, and one of my cousins knocks on the house next door, with the conviction that the neighbours from decades ago were still there. The conviction served him well, because they answer the door just like we’re all neighbours from all that time ago.

We’re all in wonder in our own different ways. For me, it’s the fact that this place we’re in is completely frozen in time; the wallpaper, the creaking floorboards, exposed plumbing and all. Thus, I am taken back in time with it. this is the house that I wouldn’t exist without, and I thought it would never be possible to visit, because it was sold decades before I was even born. The unfamiliarity to the ‘next door neighbours’ doesn’t bother them. We’re still neighbours in this old house, right?

The explanation here is that my family and these neighbours basically shared houses because there wasn’t enough room.

Nonetheless, by way of conversation we’re able to visit the original house. We’re all neighbours, right?

My cousins all tell stories, wrapped in pauses, sighs and laughter – nostalgia and emotion – of how they lived here. In some ways, in fact, I feel a bit more distant from my past, because this is more than just a peak into it that I ever imagined possible. Think about it: it’s one tiny speck on the other side of the world. Yet, like a missile, I was guided here by people who are, for the moment, strangers.

Another amazing Indo meal served back at one of the family houses. The football is played on TV; the world game indeed. Musical instruments are decorating the room, as many as there are surrounding relatives. “You what I hear when I think of Holland? Focus. Do you know them?” One cousin answers, raised eyebrows. “Yeah man. I used to play with them!” Luckily I don’t have any food in my mouth, because my jaw drops. Focus is one of those strange but amazing bands that have a genius classical composer at the helm. My cousin knows this, but what he’s saying about it all… “Thijs van Leer [composer of Focus] is an amazing guy. Really funny too – been on holiday with him” I mean, come on. There’s one person I know who is familiar with Focus: my Dad. The 2nd, now, is also family. Others here, in fact, are also familiar, so there’s no way family here can possibly be strangers for much longer.