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Bad luck and the unexpected

Whenever I have bad luck, my mom always repeats the famous Chinese saying: good fortune never comes in pairs, bad fortune never comes alone. [Fu bu shuang lai, huo bu dan lai.]

It's uplifting to hear my mother congratulate me on all the bad luck I had in Singapore: no boyfriend, no promotion, and then wham! a motorcycle accident in Phuket. She said, "It's early in the year. So you're getting all the bad luck out of the way. You'll have a great year."

Sure enough, after I left Singapore and returned to London, my income soared, I fell in love, and I lived ever happily after. Well, sort of. Almost.

Bad luck, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Here are my recent episodes of bad luck. I hope that by enumerating them, good luck will wake up and come my way.

From Utrecht to Amsterdam

On 15th June, I had one minute to get on the Intercity train from Utrecht to Amsterdam. For some strange reason, I decided not to run for it but catch the next one, while everyone else was rushing to get on it. Unfortunately, the next one wasn't due for another twenty minutes - and it was going to be late by fifteen minutes. [Note: Intercity trains are faster than sneltrein (fast trains) which are faster than stoptrein (trains that stop often).]

The delayed Intercity train that I got on suffered from hiccups and spasms of spit and splatter. What normally would have taken fifteen minutes took one hour. I was marvelously late for my meeting at Museumplein, that lovely green stretch between the Concertgebouw and Rijksmuseum. How I hate to be late!

Stranded in Amsterdam

In London, I don't worry about staying out late. London night buses go everywhere. In Amsterdam, I'm not too sure.

Giddy with excitement after the Holland vs Germany football match, I lost track of time. It was 12:30 am before I noticed that I wanted to go home. Should I take the tram to Amsterdam Centraal or Amsterdam Rai? They were in opposite directions, and I wasn't sure which had the last train.

Then I remembered that I had enough points to get a free night's stay at the Hilton --- the famous Hilton where John Lennon and Yoko Ono made their stand on peace in bed. Hilton Amsterdam was full of activity at that time of night, and they couldn't give me a free room. So what did I do?

Chained to the computer

"Could you please scan six pages of the guitar duo and send them to Erik? Tonight's the only night he can practise."

"But, I was going to do something else tonight."

"Please, this is very important. I'm sure you'll figure out how to use the computer."

And so I ended up spending five hours trying to send the scanned documents to Erik, a task that sucked up all the bandwidth of the broadband network.

What really bugged me was to get return failure messages saying that his e-mail account had overflowed. Next step was to reduce the file size and eventually send the files to one of my websites.

Did he get my e-mails with the links to the files? Did he get to practise those pieces?

Not on the 16th of June.

The entire ordeal exhausted me thoroughly. I retreated to bed at 10 pm, defeated by technology or my inability to conquer it.

Hilversum at midnight

On Thursday 17th June, I decided to go to a special concert in Utrecht thinking that it wouldn't take up an entire evening. After the concert, I missed the 10:25 PM train by a split-second. The next train was 10:55 PM --- a sneltrein (fast train). So I killed time by buying a chocolate swirl soft ice-cream on an empty stomach.

The fast train started to splutter and spit as it approached Hollandse Rading. Then it really slowed down --- ritardando el grande. An announcement was made. Judging by the looks on my fellow passengers, I guessed it was bad news. The train stopped at Hilversum to return to Utrecht. We all got out, walked downstairs, and crossed to the other platform for the 11:33 PM slow train (stoptrein).

It never arrived. There was no announcement about expected delays. Then we saw the board on the previous platform display a train going in the same direction to arrive at 11:43 PM with some delay. This threw all the anxious passengers into disarray. Everyone was thinking: should we walk back to the previous platform and catch the 11:43 PM train or continue to wait indefinitely for the delayed 11:33 PM train. There was no sign that the 11:33 PM train was late or if it was ever going to arrive.

I was reluctant to allow the unexpected delays ruin my good mood. Tschaikovky's Violin Concerto and Franck's Prelude, Choral, et Fugue had inspired me greatly. I was not ready to think ill thoughts of the Dutch train system. However, the Cinderella in me started to panic.

An announcement was finally made. I made a gesture to a tall blonde woman with curly hair that I didn't understand the announcement. She repeated the announcement in Dutch. I nodded, pretending to understand. Minutes later, another announcement was made. This time I spoke to her in English and asked what was going on.

It was midnight. I was getting cold, tired, and hungry. Hilversum is not far from where I live. In fact, I have cycled here before --- a pleasant ride through the woods. However, at this time of night, I didn't dare walk, run, or cycle.

The blonde woman and I decided to catch a bus. There was no bus in sight. Then we decided to share a taxi with a guy who wanted to go to Hilversumse Meent. The driver drove a long way, twisting and turning on side streets, and finally stopped in a residential area. The guy said something in Dutch and paid 20 Euros to the taxi driver. He was being very generous to us ladies by paying the full fare. We then only had to pay the extra on the meter.

The blonde woman gave me 5 Euros and said it should cover her portion as she was getting off before me. When we arrived at my station, the meter read 25.30. I gave the driver 5 Euros and 50 cents, and waited for the change. He didn't expect to give me change, and started to tell me that actually I should pay him a further 5 Euros. Why? Because if he had stopped the meter, it would restart at 5 Euros minimum. By this time, I was getting slightly delirious. Here I was, in a cab at 12:30 am, alone with a taxi driver who wanted to charge me an extra 5 Euros that was not on the meter.

I gave him the extra 5 Euros and got my 20 cent change. Before I left, I asked him for a receipt, which he made out to Euro 10.30. As I walked to my bicycle, I had a queasy sense of injustice or inequity. Something was not right. Something was not fair and square. His meter read Euro 25.30, and I paid him Euro 10.30. The first passenger gave him Euro 20. This meant he just pocketed 5 Euros of involuntary tip. I thought only taxi drivers in Bangkok did this, not Dutch taxi drivers!

18 June 2004 Friday

Related entries & links:
Computer has broken with not a warning, Le Bon Journal newsletter, Vol. 2, Issue 11 (2-page PDF)
Conversation with cab driver
Reader reaction:
A better translation may be:
Blessings never come in pairs, misfortunes never come singly.
But remember a wiser saying of Lao Tze: Good fortune lieth within bad, bad fortune lurketh within good.
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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku

writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page.
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