The airplane descended for landing, through the clouds the monotone landscape of small villages, farms, lakes and rivers slowly revealed more and more details. At first only white cars seemed to drive on the highways. Followed by red cars. Until eventually cyclists, of which there are many in Holland, could be made out from the airplane windows.
We touched down a few minutes later. The screen in front of me that was displaying flight information such as the direction of flight, the speed, also showed the altitude. Minus 3 meters. Like many parts of The Netherlands, their main airport is also a few meters below what we consider sea level. But sea level doesn’t mean anything to the Dutch. Where there is ocean, they will build what is effectively a large encasing, pump out the water, and reclaim land that was once sea.
Together with my fellow passengers we deplaned and made our way to the immigrations officers, the baggage belts, and eventually the arrival hall where many of friends, loved ones, and business relations were waiting to see who would come through the glass sliding doors next. I had to wait two hours until my luggage arrived. During the height of covid-19 Schiphol airport laid off a large number of it’s staff. Now it has trouble re-hiring because of reasons. And because of those reasons it takes extra long to get your luggage.
I tried to familiarise myself with the smells and sights that I haven’t seen in 11 years. 11 years. 4017 days. That’s when I packed a single bag to build a future for myself, and my wife (then girlfriend), in a foreign country where they speak in clear syllables and write in characters ranging from simple to utterly complex.
I flew back to the Netherlands to, in part, rediscover who I was and who I am. I met up with friends who I’ve known for, well, decades really. People who flew out to Japan and met me. But also my family. Who haven’t visited me in Japan yet, and probably never will. I don’t hold it against them.
I sat down into my rental car that would be my main mode of transportation for the next few days. The steering wheel was on the other side of what I was used to. People also drove at the other side of the road. I got my drivers license in Holland. And drove there for the better part of 2 years. In Japan I’ve driven a car for 11 years. Driving in the Netherlands for me was like driving in a foreign country.
A foreign country. Is that what my home country had become? After being away for so long? And what is a home country? I’ve built a family in Japan. I have a wife. A daughter. Friends. A home. A car. A business. All in Japan. The only ties I have in Holland are my relatives, my friends, and my nationality.
I’ve come here to The Netherlands to find out who I was. And who I am. Instead I’m leaving with more questions than answers. But it was great to see my friends and family again. I’ve made memories that I will cherish forever. Tomorrow I’m flying back with a new and refreshed perspective on life, what it means to be a me, what it means to be at home, and with vows to return the country that at the end of the day, I will forever can call my home simply because I was born there. Next time I will visit with my family. I will show my daughter the great works of the Dutch masters. Show my wife the town where I grew up. And finally, have my daughter meet her Dutch grandparents and uncle.
I hope that you, dear reader, will take the time to reach out to your loved ones and tell them “hi”. To ask how they’re doing. Because one of the things that transcends nationality and borders is friendship. And with enough proper care, and some watering every 11 years, these friendships will be able to last a lifetime.