Keith Jenkins is a thirtysomething living in Amsterdam. His greatest passion is travel: having visited more than 60 countries across six continents. Along with travel blogging Keith offers social media consultancy and marketing services for travel companies and organisations. He talks to us about Amsterdam.
I’m sure you’ve never heard this before: where are you from?
I was born in Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. My family moved to Kuala Lumpur when I was about two and I lived there till I was 17.
And what did you do there, then?
I was born and bred in Malaysia and lived in Kuala Lumpur for about 16 years. In addition, I briefly lived in Sydney, Australia and in Toronto, Canada during my teenage years. My family lives in Kuala Lumpur and I’m frequently in touch with my old school mates, some of whom still live there whilst some have migrated to far-flung places like Melbourne, Sydney, Vancouver and New Orleans.
How did you end up in Amsterdam?
LOVE brought me to Amsterdam. We met in Malaysia, fell in love and two years later, I moved to Amsterdam at the age of 18. My parents had other ideas at the time. They wanted to send me to Toronto for my tertiary education. I spent some time there but Amsterdam called. My heart was taken and I knew there was only one place I wanted to be. I flew to Amsterdam, enrolled at the University of Amsterdam, then later informed my parents of the err… slight change of plans. I argued that an education in the Netherlands was a lot cheaper, and besides, I got to live in and travel around Europe, which had always been my dream. They were sceptical at first but they could sense my determination. Yes or no, I was going! So, instead of holding me back, they said, “It’s your life. Do whatever feels right but you’re responsible for whatever happens”. That was my ticket and I left for Amsterdam within a few months.
Have you lived abroad before?
In Sydney and Toronto. During my teens, I also spent many months in Japan, often during my school holidays, helping my sister babysit her two kids – she lived near Yokohama at the time.
I loved Sydney. I still do. When I was there for the first time at age 12, it felt like a whole new world had opened up for me. I was absolutely fascinated by the harbour and spent many, many hours just watching the boats and ships pass by. Sitting at the edge of the Sydney Opera House and watching the activities on the water is still my favourite thing to do whenever I return.
Japan, on the other hand, intrigued me endlessly. From the moment I arrived at the airport, where foreigners are called “Aliens”, to taxi doors which open automatically, to the glitzy neon lights of Ginza and the childish voice announcing the next stop in buses and trains. Oh, and the food! Sushi, yakiniku, shabu-shabu, ramen and the huge variety of mushrooms are my favourites. I had many amazing experiences. One that I will never forget was trying to go against the flow of ‘people-traffic’ at the Shinjuku train station during rush-hour because I missed a turn. It was like trying to swim against a tsunami!
I was miserable in Toronto. It was a strange city, I had problems making friends and I missed Amsterdam.
So what’s so good about Amsterdam?
Just about everything! I remember walking down the Damrak from the Central Station the first time I visited Amsterdam (when I was 17). The energy was absolutely infectious. It’s quite extraordinary when you think about the impact Amsterdam has made in the world despite its relatively small size. Hardly a million people live here yet it’s got a rich history that goes back centuries, world-class museums and theatres, and an unrivalled variety of restaurants, bars and cafés…. and all that in a village-like setting. I often call Amsterdam a ‘global village’ as it’s so small (everything’s a short walk or bike ride away) but is home to about 200 different nationalities! You can mingle with the crowds in the city centre or take a stroll through centuries-old neighbourhoods where the only noise that will disrupt your dreamy state is the ringing of a bicycle bell, warning you to get out of the way.
Its liberal attitude is one of the city’s strengths. Even today, Amsterdam can vie with the biggest cities in the world when it comes to international allure, the performing arts or even cutting-edge technology. I know many people who have been drawn to Amsterdam because the city simply allows you to be who you are.
Another awesome thing about Amsterdam: it’s airport. For a small town, it sure has a massive airport with flights every day to every corner of the planet. I live a 20-minute drive away from the airport – absolutely perfect for the traveller in me!
And what don’t you like?
The fact that Amsterdam taxis are amongst the priciest in the world annoys me constantly. At EUR 5/hour, parking in Amsterdam is also a pricey affair. And, I’m not a big fan of the current policy-makers at City Hall!
Do you feel like an insider or outsider?
Definitely like an insider. I’ve lived here for almost 20 years and I felt like an insider from Day 1.
How do you support yourself?
I’m a full-time travel blogger.
Any advice for wannabe Amsterdammers.
Be yourself. Don’t be a wannabe. Just be you. Oh, and watch out for the tram rails when you’re cycling around the city!
Is the move permanent?
Absolutely! Amsterdam is my home now.
Finally, tell us about something typically Amsterdam (or Dutch)
A very typical Dutch word is “gezellig”. There’s no real translation of the word in English. “Cosy” comes close. The Dutch use the word many times a day to describe a heartfelt feeling about being together or a cosy ambiance. If you live here a while, this will be one of the first words you’ll learn to use!
Keith Jenkins writes about his travels on his Velvet Escape blog. He’s also the co-founder of the Global Bloggers Network, a community that helps individual and corporate travel bloggers grow and monetise their blogs.
Follow Keith on Twitter: @velvetescape
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