Pen-friends, Paris and a year in England

In July 1947 I had to leave my school, I couldn’t go to another school either, since my mother no longer received any money for me.
I started working at a bank in Amsterdam, travelled daily by train from Haarlem to impressive Amsterdam. It was not really a nice job, but at least I continued learning, this time about bookkeeping, and I met new friends.

Having pen-friends became a trend in those years and I had really many pen-friends from all over the world. Most of us wrote in English, two of my pen-friends wrote in French. One of my pen-friends was a Japanese young men of my age, we wrote each other for several years and I received many nice cards from Tokyo. I became very interested in the world around me, started reading many, many books, magazines and newspapers also in English, French was more difficult but I loved that language.
I started reading a lot about World War Two in Europe, about what had happened to all those poor Jewish people. Right up till 1995 did I read about World War Two in Europe, about the war in Korea, about the war in Vietnam and many other wars.
I listened to the many stories Dutch people told me about what the Germans had done during the occupation of Holland.
But I never spoke about the war in Asia, never about the Japanese occupation, never about what happened to my father, I just couldn’t talk about that period of my life, it had hurt me too deeply.

One of my pen-friends, Eileen an English girl from Nottingham came to stay with us for 10 days in the Summer of 1948, so we both travelled together to several places near Haarlem. Eileen loved Amsterdam, she found it a very romantic town.
Just before she went back home I asked her if she could find a job for me in England.
She was very surprised but promised me to do her best and thought that going as an “au pair” would give me more chances than other sort of jobs. That was okay with me of course. Working as an au pair, was looking after children and doing household work for an English family in Nottingham. Eileen would write me as soon as she had found something for me.
And indeed she did, I could start for a family with three children in Nottingham, so I told my mother that I was leaving around October that same year by boat to England.
My mother couldn’t believe her ears, but after a lot of talking she found it a good idea after all, very good for your English she said. So that was fixed.

I had another dream as well that very Summer, and that was Paris.
One of my cousins had been a long weekend to Paris all by himself and I found this a wonderful idea. So I asked for information at the Central station in Amsterdam.
I could leave on a Friday and be back on Sunday evening. So that was arranged.
When I told my mother that I was going to Paris the next weekend she asked me who was going with me. And again she couldn’t believe her ears, but after all I was twenty-one years old, so maybe old enough she said. I left on a Friday evening and travelled more than seven hours by train to my Paris.
I had booked a small room in a small hotel near Gare du Nord  and I felt myself a globe-trotter. Maybe a very poor globe-trotter and one that could hardly speak French, but at least I was walking through Paris, a beautiful town in a beautiful country.
I bought bread, butter and French cheese that I ate in my hotel-room, I drank cups of coffee on the pavements of Paris and always asked for a glass of water.
I walked over the famous Champs-Elysées, I visited the Sacré Coeur, I visited the Notre Dame where I prayed for my father’s soul.
Saturday night I slept in a bed with fleas but Sunday morning I went outside in the fresh air and drank my coffee together with my glasses of water and with two croissants, oh what a beautiful morning that was.  I started walking again right through Paris, eating my bread with butter and French cheese and feeling great. I bought a bottle of red wine for my mother and took the train back to Holland.

My mother’s friends asked my mother how she could have let me go to Paris all alone?
My mother said that she trusted me. But besides that, Paris in those days was no more dangerous than Amsterdam. In October that year I went by boat to England and I told my mother that I was going to be a globe-trotter.

Indonesia had once been my home, but I had lost my home, I was uprooted.