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Thousands of letters (Or: The curious connection between Mr. Kaor from Japan and a Dutch hotel)

Recently I stumbled on an article from Atlas Obscura about a Japanese man who has been writing letters to a Dutch hotel for over 40 years (!). Usually once a week, sometimes more. As of 2018 he has spent about 4,500 euros on stamps alone. The crazy thing is – he has never been to The Netherlands and has no plans to go there. The letters usually had the same message – asking about the weather and asking them to give his regards to all the members (employees). The hotel would sometimes write back, but they never received a different message.

The hotel (Art hotel Spaander) is located in Volendam, northeast of Amsterdam. A Dutch paper (Het Parool) stumbled on the mystery a handful of years back. After some investigation, they were able to travel to Japan to meet him. They even had a Dutch artist come along (as the Volendam hotel is an art hotel, they hoped to paint a portrait of him to hang in their hotel). When they asked the man why he was writing the letters, he explained that he was born on the 22nd, which was letter V in the alphabet. Also, his father was born in the year of the mouse, or nezumi in Japanese, which sounds a bit like “Netherlands” when pronounced. He also liked strawberries, which The Netherlands is apparently famous for (I didn’t realize).

If you are up for a bit of Google translate from Dutch to English, you can try this Google cache version of the Het Parool article, which goes into extensive detail about the mystery and trip to Japan.

The painting of Mr. Kaor for illustration, but note if you do not have a subscription with Het Parool it is better to click the Google cached version above this tweet (the Google cache version isn’t behind a paywall).

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For those with an aversion to needles (Or: Time to bring in virtual reality)

If you don’t like the thought of the dreaded needle, you can request a special appointment to wear virtual reality glasses and headphones to distract you. At the moment the service is only offered at a few locations like Rotterdam, but they are looking to expand it.

Check out this tweet from Hugo de Jonge, the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport:

Hey, whatever works to get more people vaccinated.

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Do you know what trees eat? (Or: Traffic signs, apparently)

Here is an article from a local news website a few weeks ago:

In other words, a tree is busy eating a nearby traffic sign. Apparently the tree views the traffic sign as a sort of “wound” or “injury” which it needs to heal. It does so by growing around it. If you click the article, you’ll see a second photo at the end of the article with how the tree and sign looked back in 2005. It is definitely a slow process, but it makes for some cool pictures!

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Back into a lockdown (Or: “Fun” in The Netherlands)

The Netherlands is officially back in a lockdown, as of this morning at 05:00. In the end it went pretty fast – I started hearing rumors on Friday evening, which intensified when I went to bed, and then there was an emergency government meeting Saturday afternoon and a press conference Saturday evening. Of course, everyone could see it coming after Friday night so the stores were packed on Saturday. Consumers rush to do last minute shopping; Rotterdam municipality asks people to avoid center from nltimes.nl.

Hard lockdown in this case means only essential stores (like the supermarkets, pet stores and pharmacies) and services (gas stations, libraries, notaries, lawyers’ offices) are open. See also rijksoverheid.nl in English for a full list of the lockdown measures. In this case services includes driving lessons and swimming lessons, two things that have a long, long waiting list due to corona. And considering The Netherlands is full of water, swimming lessons for children are quite important.

The good news is that The Netherlands have learned from previous lockdowns, so it isn’t quite like the first one. It is possible to order something online and pick it up by the door of a physical store (called “click & collect” here). Non-essential stores are also allowed to be open as package pickup points, although while they usually receive a small stipend for staying open from the delivery companies it generally isn’t worth it. Cafés and restaurants are also open for takeaway and delivery.

Group sizes are also further limited, inside and outside. Except for the holidays (24, 25, 26 and 31 December; 1 January) group size is limited to 2 persons. During the holidays it is limited to 4 persons. You are also not supposed to visit more than one household per day. Although that is a bit iffy since the police can only check things inside your home if they have a different, valid reason to be inside your home. So if you don’t make a lot of noise…

The interesting thing is that infections are also decreasing at the moment. Although they are very, very high still (higher than any wave before this one). But the lockdown is for the arrival of the next variant, omikron. While hospital admissions are decreasing, they are still also too high to deal with the upcoming variant. At the moment about 25% of the new infections reported in Amsterdam are omikron, and that percentage was already from a few days ago.

Here is a cartoon for you that sums up 2021 (although it is not 100% negative like it sounds):

How are we supposed to just keep going? What a long grim year, again – First Dog on the Moon, The Guardian

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Riots against corona measures (Or: Another press conference)

As expected, things are getting worse before they get better in the Netherlands. For instance, our previous record was around 13,000 infections in a day, back in December 2020. We leapfrogged over that record last Thursday – clocking in at 16,300 infections (!), a jump of more than 3,300 in one day. The numbers will start getting limited by our current test capacity soon.

There was another press conference on Friday, with more measures added (official government website in English). Consider it a partial lockdown. We’re back to ‘work at home unless impossible’, with non-essential stores closing at 18:00 and essential stores like supermarkets and pet stores closing at 20:00. Cafés and restaurants also need to close their doors at 20:00. This will last until early December. Part of me thinks the government went straight for three weeks to ensure that stores would be closed in the evenings for Black Friday, which was definitely the start of our wave last year. At the moment there is no curfew, though.

The government also said that they were looked into a 2G approach versus the 3G approach we currently have for some things. The “G” comes from the Dutch verbs gevaccineerd, genezen of getest (vaccinated, healed or tested). The current measures are in place to give the government time to change the law to allow for 2G (vaccinated or healed) without the possibilities of getting tested to enter certain areas anymore. Although it also feels like the government is shifting some of the responsibility by stating that certain professions can go for either 2G and not have assigned seating or 3G with assigned seating.

As you can imagine this is a bit of a sensitive subject in The Netherlands. A few hundred people (or a bit more) decided to protest outside of the building where the press conference was held while it was being broadcast. And of course some people come with the intent to damage stuff, not just protest. You can see lots of images of the protest over at regio15.nl, in Dutch. For some reason people decided to vandalize a café (photo taken by me yesterday):

The owner figured something would happen and had moved all furniture inside by 15:00 on Friday, but that didn’t stop the vandalism. The damage for the glass wind screens was estimated at a few hundred euros, whereas the damage for the building’s window was around 10,000 euros (omroepwest.nl in Dutch). And how did rioters cause that damage, you ask?

Why, they literally pulled bricks out of the sidewalk, of course. Oh, and they also threw bricks and fireworks at the police. Who eventually turned a water cannon on them to get them to leave (see also the regio15.nl article linked above). Five people were arrested.

As usually happens in 2021, there is already a virtual donation started for the café owner (omroepwest.nl, in Dutch).

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Friday’s press conference (Or: Possible dates for lifting corona measures)

There was a press conference yesterday evening, as always with the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and the Health minister Hugo de Jonge. This press conference was to discuss the next (hopeful) steps.

Set in stone:

  • Higher education will be open from 30 August, with no social distancing
  • Lectures are limited to 75 students maximum (to prevent large outbreaks)
  • Testing is encouraged but not required

Possible, if all goes well, from 20 September:

  • Social distancing is no longer required anywhere (but can be practiced if desired)
  • Face masks are no longer required on public transportation (which means they are not required anywhere, although hospitals and corona test centers would probably still want to keep the rule in place for some time)
  • Businesses that want to have more than 75 guests can use the Coronacheck app. This app generates a QR code which displays a green check mark if the user is vaccinated, has a recent negative test result or has had corona in the last 6 months.
  • The strong advice to work from home where possible will be removed (they removed it for a few weeks in late June but it quickly came back during the last wave)

This will be decided and announced during a press conference on 17 September.

Possible, if all goes well, from 1 November:

  • Night clubs / dance clubs will be allowed to open again
  • The CoronaCheck app will no longer be needed for domestic use
  • All Covid-related measures will be dropped except for the base rules (hand washing, staying home if you have corona-like symptoms, coughing and sneezing into your elbow, etc.).

The government has also launched a website, prikkenzonderafspraak.com (vaccination without appointment) for anyone who has not made an appointment yet. The website lists the sites that are open without appointment so that people can walk in at a time convenient for them and get vaccinated. You then book an appointment for the second dose.

I think there is a good chance that 20 September goes ahead, but it remains to be seen if all measures can be lifted on 1 November or not. The government’s reasoning is that everyone 12 years and up has had a chance to make an appointment, and that at some point we need to go back to “normal”. The main worry is that the 1.8 millions adults who don’t yet have a vaccination would all end up in the hospital in the fall, putting too much strain on the hospitals. We will have to wait and see. I do expect the numbers to start going up again–there is no way around it as measures are being lifted. However, hopefully the numbers will keep decreasing until 30 August when higher education opens up again so that the numbers are lower in mid-September.

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Let’s go racing! (Or: Formula 1 preparations in Zandvoort)

Formula 1 is coming back to the Netherlands this year, the first time since 1985. It will be held in the dunes of Zandvoort. The race should have happened last year, however due to Covid-19 the Dutch Grand Prix organizers decided to pull out of the racing schedule rather than have a race without fans. Fast forward to this month, where the organizers are (cautiously) planning for 105,000 visitors a day on 2, 3 and 4 September.

My favorite part to read about is the preparations the national Dutch train company has put in place for this event. At the moment 2 to 6 trains arrive in Zandvoort (a beach town) every hour. During the F1 event, 12 trains will arrive every hour, one every 5 minutes. In that way 10,000 people can be transported to the race every hour. That infrastructure did not exist before the F1 deal was signed; it was built in the last few years. During the race weekend the area will all but be inaccessible by car – you would need a special pass to reach it, even if you are just trying to visit the beach. So, the train is definitely the way to go.

Zandvoort preparing for Grand Prix despite Covid restrictions from nltimes.nl. There is of course a bit of uncertainty in the air, since last minute Covid restrictions could put a stop to the plans to be at full capacity. Since the Grand Prix is categorized as a sporting event and everyone has assigned seating, being at full capacity is currently allowed. That might change between now and the beginning of September, depending on how the Covid situation develops in the Netherlands. At the moment cases are decreasing at an average of 40-45% per week, so that is very good news. But you never know.

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Apparently this is a normal summer (Or: Cold and wet)

Okay, I do remember summers being colder back when I first moved to the Netherlands back in late 2012. But after that it was a handful of years with warm (or even hot) summers and a distinct lack of rain. Rain seems to be a lot less annoying these days, considering we are working from home so often. You usually don’t have to be somewhere at a certain time. So that is a plus for this weird year. I am not looking forward to the first commute in pouring rain. Or running for the tram and still missing it.

Showers and cooler days: First normal summer in NL in years from nltimes.nl. I don’t mind too much, but I was thinking this morning that I have only gone outside a few days this year without a jacket on…

Back in June, the Netherlands decided to vaccinate all sailors who were Dutch or flew on a ship under a Dutch flag at Rotterdam’s harbor. This week the program has been expanded to any sailor, regardless of whether they are Dutch or on a ship flying under the Dutch flag. Ten thousand J&J vaccinations have been set aside for this two month pilot. See also this article in English at nltimes.nl.

And for the “opps” category: Brandweer redt vrouw die huissleutels was vergeten en op dak was geklommen from nu.nl, obviously in Dutch. The fire department had to rescue a woman who had forgotten her keys and climbed onto the roof to try an attic window. Unfortunately for her (or fortunately every other day) the window was locked and she was too scared to climb down afterwards. Her neighbors called the fire department to help her get down.

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Black Saturday (Or: European traffic woes)

Today is Black Saturday. That is the busiest day of the year on European roads, especially in France. Around lunchtime today the busiest road in France, the Route du Soleil, saw travelers waiting in a 6 hour traffic jam (article from nos.nl in Dutch). This happens because most Europeans travel south for vacation, Parisians now also have vacation, and the first group of vacationers are now traveling back north. Travelers think if they leave on Friday evening they will have better luck. But no: there was also a 1,000+ kilometer traffic jam then.

In other news: Amazon is slowly increasing its presence in the Netherlands (article also from nos.nl in Dutch). For some years amazon.nl was only a place to buy Dutch e-books from Amazon. In early 2020 amazon.nl became the “traditional” website. They have now opened a distribution center outside of Schiphol airport. Bol.com (what I always refer to as the “Dutch Amazon”) still has three times the market share, however. They also have pickup points at Albert Heijn grocery stores which is a big plus for me.

Netherlands unlikely to introduce compulsory vaccination from dutchnews.nl in English. I can only imagine the protests at Malieveld and across the country if they tried.

Dutch robot arm attached to international space station ISS from nltimes.nl in English. The robot arm was built in nearby Leiden.

City council member quits after sleeping through online meeting; “I saw the cat more often” says colleague also from nltimes.nl. We will just put that in the “opps” category…

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Awww (Or: Cute little bikes)

Apparently even the littlest bikes can be left out on the street. It is very Dutch, although I don’t see usually bikes this small on the street:

And in other news, the Netherlands have managed to mess things up again yet. Even with the delta variant starting to hit Europe, they decided to relax more measures than expected in late June, including only requiring face maks on public transportation and opening dance clubs without social distancing restrictions. To enter the dance club one needed to either be vaccinated or take a test that was not older than 40 hours. But one could be considered “vaccinated” if they received the J&J vaccine earlier in the day and went clubbing that night. And as you know, it takes a bit of time to build up some protection, especially against the Delta variant…

Check it out:

And really, I think the only reason today is lower is that it is Sunday. If we continue at this rate testing numbers will look like they have stabilized but in reality we have merely hit the maximum number of tests we can analyze per day.

See also: Misuse of access testing may be behind Covid outbreak at Enschede club from nltimes.nl. Out of 600 visitors, 180 of them got corona. This was the first weekend dance clubs were open again.

Note: I don’t think it was the fault of anyone who visited dance clubs, especially not in the first weekend. Clubs have been closed for over a year, so of course people will be desperate to go there, especially with the carrot of not needing to social distance. And yes, the Dutch government is following the UK model where a higher amount of cases is okay provided the number of hospital admissions or deaths does not increase drastically. But it would have been a bit better if they could have waited an extra 4-6 weeks so that more people could get fully vaccinated.

It just means I am counting down the days until my second vaccine even more than before. Almost there!

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