Ghost Stories IV: Damn, A Lesson In Amsterdam

Yesterday, we arrived in Amsterdam. It is one of the prettiest cities in the world. People are friendly, and environmentally friendly too but that doesn’t mean they are generous. The free Walking Tour was a real eye opener for me. The local guide, Floor, a well informed Dutch girl, holds degrees in Philosophy and English Literature. She told us you would not get a piece of bread from a Dutch friend until you’ve been friends after a year. Amsterdam was a fishing village which had to be continually dammed to prevent flooding by the River Amstel, hence its original name Amstelredamme. Floor, Dutch for flora, traced the city’s history from the 13th century as an important sea port for the Catholic king, whose selling of indulgences to the sailors to absolve their sins before they actually committed them raked in enormous wealth for the place. Right next to the Old Church is the red light district, men with money with nothing to occupy their time except drinking, and seeking the services of prostitutes. On one side of the street, a red door leads to the confession rooms of the church where sins were reassuringly forgiven once the asking price is met by the would-be sinners. These men would then walk across the street to the red rooms with red curtains to commit the sins that they have prepaid for.

The 17th century was the Dutch Golden Age. The Dutch East India Company was valued more than the combined worth of FAANG; Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google. I suppose it’s easy to generate wealth by slaughtering those who did not want to trade with you, and robbing those who have to trade with you. Slavery was so profitable for the Dutch that theirs was one of the last countries to abolish it.

The Nazis occupied Amsterdam in 1940. The Jews were almost wiped out, sent to the gas chambers or labour camps where they perished. The soft velvet glove approach meant the population was less distrustful of the Nazis. The local government officials were paid a bounty for handing over the lists of Jews and their addresses. That meant an easy roundup of the Jews. This was further facilitated by locals dobbing in on their fellow countrymen to collect their windfall gain. Not many could resist the temptation to replace the Jews they displaced as the new owners of their properties. As we walked past the old Jewish quarters, I could hear their distant cries and feel their eternal pain.

It didn’t surprise me, therefore, when my sister who is traveling with me told me she was visited by a ghost last night. The combination lock of her luggage would not unlock. She uses the same 4 digit code for every lock, every PIN number and every password. But last night that code couldn’t unlock her luggage. She googled ” How to unlock a combination lock without the code”, and to her relief was able to open her luggage. Otherwise it would have meant going to bed without brushing her teeth or changing into her pyjamas. After settling down on her bed, she suddenly wanted to find out what code it was that unlocked her bag. She almost passed out when she realised the new code was the same number as that of her hotel room.

The best thing to do when you discover a ghost is in your hotel room is to act casually. So, she quickly tucked herself into the queen size bed which was equipped with a set of four different pillows. Synthetic firm, synthetic medium, synthetic medium special for neck and back complaints and the last one was natural, soft with down feather.

Before she could even nod off, she heard the rustling of plastic shopping bags at the foot of her bed. She knew she didn’t do any shopping, there wouldn’t be any plastic bags in her room. But again and again, the clear and loud rustling sound of plastic bags would not stop.

She coughed loudly and sat up, to make it known to the someone in the room that she was there. As she reached to her side to turn on the bedside lamp, the light turned on before her hand had even reached the switch!

Whoa! She jumped out of her bed and rushed to the main switch near the room door. Before she could even touch the switches, all the lights in the room had turned themselves on.

Panic set in but she couldn’t bring herself to call me. Instead of demanding a change of room, she dived back into her bed with all the lights on. She closed her eyes and was glad the room was now quiet. No more rustling, no more misbehaving lights.

She had her eyes tightly shut and hoped the long walk earlier would take her to her dreams effortlessly. Her tentative peace was spoiled by the rainforest shower. It suddenly gushed out a strong stream of water, but by this time my sister was no longer brave to turn anything on or off. All night long, she heard a pack of dogs howled. And then the tv turned on by itself and blared out the eerie music of Carl Orff – O Fortuna, from Carmina Burana.

The next morning, dazed with hardly any sleep at all, she called me to quickly get to her room without delay. Her four pillows had all turned to just the one type, natural soft with down feather.

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