August 2011

“There Is No Bad Weather…”

Hallie and Isabel

Week 30 of 52

“…Just Bad Attitudes and Bad Clothes!”

Great advice from two wonderful young ladies who have traveled more miles than most 25-year-olds. Lucky us, we were graced this past week with a visit from Hallie and Isabel, two of our three “adopted daughters” from Switzerland.

We tried and tried and tried and to find some fault with these two, but we just couldn’t see any, no matter how close we looked. They were full of life from the moment they stepped through our door. Even when we went to our favorite restaurant in the rain and found it closed, and the houseboat museum closed, and one of the canal houses closed, and the Van Gogh museum packed… (guess that’s where all the people went!), these two just twisted and turned and we went on to Plan B or C.

These twins are much more than savvy travelers. Between the two of them they speak Swiss German, German, English, French, Spanish, some Italian, some Russian, and Izzy even sings in Elvish with the Lord of the Rings! Oh yes, they are both accomplished musicians: classical piano, cello, a cappella; Izzy even picked up Harrison’s ukulele every free moment while she was here to see what this little instrument could do. They both play lacrosse in what spare time they have; in fact they had a game right before they hopped on the flight to Amsterdam! Hallie is in her last year at the University of Zurich studying psychology, and Izzy works for PricewaterhouseCoopers as an auditor and is also going to school to complete the Swiss version of a CPA.

Besides being beautiful, smart and charming, they know how to have a lot of fun. One night we went to a comedy club where Izzy was called up on stage and entertained the audience with an a cappella Beatles song, all impromptu and just as poised as can be. And check out the photos of our trip to Madame Tussauds; these two were not going to stay out of the picture. Shy they are not! These are just a few of the 30 or so photos we took of them in every corner of this very fun place overlooking Dam Square in the center of the city.


We don’t focus much on politics in these updates since you already get more of that depressing topic on a daily basis than you probably want. But since we just showed you a photo of President Obama, we wanted to insert a serious note. Most of our readers know we supported Obama in the last election, so naturally we have been sorry to see so little progress made in addressing the many problems faced by the U.S. One of Harrison’s best friends from MIT, Paul Schindler, has been writing a weekly blog called P.S. A Column On Things since long before they were even called blogs. Paul’s blog recently had a reference to an excellent commentary about Obama by Drew Westen called “What Happened to Obama?” Westen’s article does the best job we’ve seen of explaining the ambivalence many Obama supporters like us feel about his time in office.


Isabel at the Library

Izzy sitting in her own private work pod at the library.

We even had fun with Hallie and Izzy at the amazing Amsterdam Public Library! Hallie kept saying she wanted to show us the library, and we were, to put it mildly, blown away. This is a six-story, truly state-of-the-art facility. It has a huge inventory of books plus every modern digital convenience, along with places to read, study, work, and even practice on a silent piano (with headphones). The top-floor restaurant has an incredible view looking back to the city. Thanks, Hallie, for encouraging us to go. Harrison’s mother, Agatha — a forward-thinking career librarian — would be impressed by the library and pleased to see young people who value it.


With Hallie and IzzyWe managed to get in another canal bike ride (we also did that when Cathy was here several weeks ago), and as you can see above left, you just never know what you will see in this city! Hallie made a trip out to the AJAX (pronounced i-yaks) soccer stadium, which is to the Dutch what Yankee Stadium is to New Yorkers. She didn’t get to see a game but she took a tour.

And we finally did make it to the houseboat museum where Harrison looks very happy posed with two of his favorite women.

Junk Bike Barge

When the crane operator pulled up this large “catch,” the crowd started applauding; he stood up and took a bow!

The underbelly of Amsterdam doesn’t have much to do with organized crime, excessive drug use, or corrupt government, at least as far as we can see and have read.

But there is a dark side… the huge number of bikes that get dumped in the canals! We just happened to run across this barge, which never moved from this spot in the 10 minutes we were there and kept bringing up loads and loads of bikes from the bottom of the canal. It was pretty shocking to see. We just wondered who does this and why do so many end up this way??

Turtle SculptureBut to offset what’s lurking in the bottom of the canals, there is art everywhere! This is just one piece from an outdoor sculpture exhibit the city promoted during the summer months. You could take a 2.5-km sculpture walk and see lots of whimsical, interesting art without even stepping foot in a museum.

Here we are on our last day at one of the canal house museums. Thank you Hallie and Isabel for sharing Amsterdam with us! It seems very quiet here without you…

As we write this it is Sunday afternoon in Holland, about the time the East Coast is getting pummeled by Hurricane Irene. To all our readers there, and especially to Sharene’s nephew who is a pilot and flies all over the East Coast, we are thinking of you and, well, we guess there really is bad weather no matter the attitude or clothes. We hope by the time you read this, the worst has passed without much impact.

A hui hou and tot de volgende week!
Sharene and Harrison

How Muzak Changed My Life

Yellow Submarine

Week 29 of 52

Yes, that is a YELLOW SUBMARINE! We spent last Sunday afternoon on an art walk to several open studios in the Western Islands, a part of Amsterdam that used to be warehouses and now is full of charming apartments, houseboats, and artists-in-residence. The art walk included a free canal boat tour, and in this city you just never know what you’ll see! The tour guide said the sub was formerly a floating brothel in Paris and was “asked” to leave; where else to go but Amsterdam?

Arthur MeijerWe saw a number of studios on the art walk and met some interesting artists, but our favorite on both counts was sculptor Arthur Meijer. He creates phenomenal terra cotta sculptures of real and fanciful Mediterranean houses. The tall walls have tiny real window openings that you can’t quite see inside, so they make you daydream about the kind of life that goes on in these old buildings. The word “unique” is often thrown about when it’s undeserved, but we’ve never seen anything like this!


Our goal when we set out on this adventure was to stay long enough in several places so that we could live like the locals, and so far in Seattle, Boston and Amsterdam we have felt the pulse of our neighborhoods and have become residents more than visitors.

Sharene: I got a bike this past week and I’m in heaven! The city really isn’t that big — more like a very large village — and since there are bike paths on almost every street, it’s a fantastic way to get around. It’s been almost three months since I drove a car, so hopefully I won’t lose that skill, but while in Amsterdam, I am doing what the locals do and riding my bike.

Harrison: I’m also doing what I would do if I lived here — working on websites! Even though we sold Hawaii Holiday Vacation Rentals last year, we still have a number of business websites, including,, and several others. I enjoy this work, particularly if I have a nice view when I look up from the computer. Even though I never have enough time to get really good at it — so these sites are pretty basic and still a bit dated — at least now they all work properly and have current information, which may actually generate a little income!

Van GoghThere are so many things we love about Amsterdam. The city has 37 museums; so far, we’ve seen 12 of them and our goal is to see 36 of the 37 (we’ll probably skip the Torture Museum). We love the canals — 47 miles worth — and bridges… all 1,287 of them! We live on one of the canals and we watch tour boats and personal boats go by all day with people out enjoying this city. As we write this, boats are passing by our apartment with people waving. If it’s a nice day, the Dutch will be outside on the canal or having a coffee on their balcony. People here are happy! We have not run into one rude person. They enjoy life, they look healthy, and (thankfully for us and our indecipherable Dutch) they speak English well; even when they don’t, they are happy to try. We also love the streets. There are generally four lanes on the big streets and three on the smaller ones, but we don’t mean just for cars; besides the car lane there are almost always bike lanes, tram lanes, and/or bus lanes, and lots of space for pedestrians. The public transportation is superb; we rarely wait more than three or four minutes for a tram or bus. With the ease of public or bike transportation, there are just not that many cars, and we love that, too.

Making IceA few things about Amsterdam are different and we have learned to adapt. Ice (as in frozen water)… Europe is just not a continent that likes ice; their version of an “ice tray” is this flimsy plastic bag you fill up with water and then, when it freezes, you spend about 10 minutes extracting the little round cubes from the baggie. Wash cloths… no such thing here, they’re little mitts. Credit cards… it’s cash only here, or a Dutch debit card, thank you very much! Drinking water… just not a big deal here; you never see people walking around with water bottles, and if you go to a restaurant and want a glass of water, it’s usually 2 euros for a very small glass (and of course, no ice). Ice tea… you can find the sweetened kind from a bottle or can, but unsweetened, freshly brewed ice tea? Forget it. But these are all very minor inconveniences and such a small, small price to pay for having this wonderful experience.


Harrison: So how did Muzak change my life? You may remember from last week that Amsterdam dim sum restaurants open at 2 pm, so earlier this week we decided to have a dim sum dinner, which was accompanied by some of the worst background music I’ve ever heard: disgusting synthesized ’60s pop standards that sounded like instrumental versions of Barry Manilow on quaaludes! But as I was making some joke about Muzak, I realized: we’re here because of Muzak!

In 1982, I became Director of Radio Engineering for Westinghouse Broadcasting (now CBS) in New York City. Westinghouse had just acquired The Muzak Corporation and, since it was an audio service, they put me in charge of Muzak’s technical operations. Muzak may be a joke to many people, but it’s a worldwide operation with thousands of subscribers and a very large and complex music production and distribution system.

My first Muzak task was to fly to Switzerland and check out an exotic new music playback system made by the Swiss audio company Studer Revox. It was my first European trip and I knew no one. The managers at Studer Revox introduced me to the newly appointed president of their American division, a young man about my age named Hans Batschelet. Hans graciously invited me to dinner with his wife, Sarah. That was the beginning of my life-long friendship with the Batschelets that endures to this day.

And so because of Muzak, I have my love for Europe and some of my closest friends, so I shouldn’t complain too much about even the worst background music!

And so also because of Muzak, we are very excited that Hans and Sarah’s twins, Isabel and Hallie, have just arrived and will be with us this week. We can’t wait to share this wonderful city with them.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!

A hui hou and tot ziens!
Sharene and Harrison

Anne Frank and Her Diary

Anne Frank

Week 28 of 52

The Little Girl Who Touched The World

Anne Frank Diary

Part of Anne Frank’s diary

In her wildest dreams of being a writer, Anne Frank could never have imagined that her story would become one of the world’s most widely read books, translated into many languages, the subject of movies and plays, or that she would be named one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

On Tuesday a couple of weeks ago, we went to buy tickets to visit the Anne Frank House here in Amsterdam where she went into hiding with her family. To our surprise, the first available tickets were at 7:15 pm the following Sunday! Just over a million people a year go through this house; for those without advance tickets, the queue is lined up around the block starting early in the day. The museum turns away many every day because it simply cannot handle the volume of people coming to see this historic place.

Probably everyone reading this knows that Anne Frank and her family hid in the attic annex of her father’s company to keep from being sent to concentration camps by the Germans who occupied the Netherlands (and much of Europe) in the 1940s. The Anne Frank Foundation has created a moving memorial not just to Anne and her family, but to all Holocaust victims. Spending a few hours in the house where they lived in secret for almost two years, without being able to go outside, open a window, or make any noise, gives you a very tiny taste of what they must have endured. In the end, of course, they were betrayed, arrested and deported, and all but Anne’s father died in concentration camps. Sadly, Anne and her sister both died just weeks before the camps were liberated by Allied troops.

Personally, we were pleased to wait our turn and gratified to see so many people interested in the Anne Frank story. She was a little girl who loved to write, wrote well, and had dreams of a better life. She never got a better life, but though her tragedy is only one among the millions of Holocaust victims, her story has touched and hopefully taught many, many millions since.


Dada Image

Painting by Victor Brauner from the JHM exhibition

We’re actually living in the old Jewish section of Amsterdam. Just a block away from our apartment is the Jewish Historical Museum, which we went through yesterday. Our last name may be Klein, but we’re not Jewish so we have a lot to learn! We were impressed by the extensive array of interactive exhibits and information about the history, culture and customs of Judaism, from Passover to circumcision and much, much more than we could assimilate in one visit.

We had our most fun at the temporary exhibition of Jewish avant-garde artists from Romania. The exhibition, From Dada to Surrealism, includes more than 70 works of art from the period 1910–1938 by several Romanian artists. A world war, economic boom and depression, communist and fascist revolutions; it was a fascinating but difficult time and place to be a Jewish artist, writer, poet, or musician. Very interesting and appealing styles that we had not seen before or known much about. Surrealist, abstract, and expressionistic works, picto-poetry, and personal variations on Constructivism — nothing was too radical for them.


Following up on our great experiences at Symphony Hall in Boston, this week we got to hear a performance at the Concertgebouw, another of the world’s most renowned concert halls. The Concertgebouw is actually the second most visited concert hall (that must be true… we read it on Wikipedia). It was built in 1888 and just being inside is exciting enough! We were lucky to see Hugh Masekela (remember Grazing in the Grass?) perform there this week. We had actually seen him a few years ago in one of the least known concert halls in the world… the University of Hawaii at Hilo! We loved him both times; he puts on a fabulous, energetic show (how we hope we are as limber as he is when we get to be 72). We loved how he paid tribute to all the classical composers whose music has been played in this distinguished hall and how he felt very honored to share his music in this special place. Good music, great acoustics, a beautiful building and an appreciative audience — a very lovely evening!


We may be living in Amsterdam, but we are still Hawaiians at Heart. No matter where we go, little things remind us of Hawaii. This flower-filled bike prompted our memory of an old truck on Kauai (some of you probably remember seeing this down near Hanapepe).

We know there is beauty wherever you go. What there is NOT in Amsterdam, however, is Chinese dim sum for lunch, which we find very odd since there are dim sum restaurants. Dim sum is one of our favorite brunch or lunch foods and we have it whenever we can — one reason we have a condo right in Honolulu’s Chinatown. We’ve eaten dim sum all over the U.S. and Canada and it’s always been a late breakfast or lunch dish for the Chinese. If you get to a dim sum place after 2 pm they’re usually pretty much sold out. But the dim sum restaurants in Amsterdam don’t even open until 2 pm! We don’t get it and, well, we didn’t get it!

That’s it from Week 28. Wishing you all a good week and we’ll touch base next Sunday.

A hui hou,
Sharene and Harrison

All Together Now

Gay Pride Flag

Week 27 of 52

Another fun and interesting week in this amazing city. Although many of the locals leave to go on their annual August holiday, the city fills up with hundreds of thousands of visitors coming in for the biggest Gay Pride celebration around (even bigger than San Francisco, we think). Banners throughout the city, starting at the train stations and airports, welcome all who come to take part in the festivities. The entire city embraces this week with signs everywhere. Businesses and museums offer special events, the gay men’s choruses give a free performance, street parties abound, and then comes the crowning event: the grand canal boat parade! Over 60 wonderfully decorated boats float down the canals through the center of Amsterdam (is this where they got the name “floats”?) accompanied by loud pulsating music as about 250,000 spectators cheer from the adjacent streets. Throughout it all, you feel the hospitality, tolerance and pride from people of all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds having a good time and sharing in the celebration of personal freedom. You gotta love that.

No other city in the world takes a more tolerant or progressive attitude toward homosexuality and other personal freedoms than Amsterdam, surely the “gay capital of Europe” and for many years the gay capital of the world. A’damers are tolerant and progressive in many areas but in sexuality they are way ahead of the curve. Not only do they strive to give the gay community a separate voice, but they seamlessly accept gays and lesbians into their everyday lives and give them the same rights and benefits as heterosexuals with little controversy. They not only see but support what’s in front of all of us: many of our policemen, medical professionals, businesspeople, and soldiers — brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends and co-workers — are gay. So each year when they publicly recognize this branch of humankind, they end the week with a huge canal boat parade where they invite locals and visitors alike to come out and celebrate the diversity not just of homosexuals, but of people.

How boring it would be if we were all the same! The gay community is generally very colorful and a lot of fun, and this year’s parade did not disappoint! Some boats had political messages, many boats were sponsored by businesses showing their support (YouTube had one of the more colorful entries), and some were just plain fun, like the “Priscilla Queen of the Canals” boat. Representatives of the Dutch military showed up in full uniform bearing PROUD TO SERVE and DO ASK DO TELL banners. Boats full of police and paramedics, Christian and Jewish supporters, and representatives of the Dutch government followed right behind them.

Enjoy the photos, and to all our gay and lesbian friends and family… you would have been proud to be here; there was a lot of love and support and people in pink in this unique city this past week.

Besides participating in the Gay Pride festivities this past week, we rented bikes and rode about 32 kilometers (just 20 miles but kilometers makes it sound farther!). We are doing our best to take in all that Amsterdam has to offer. We spent most of our time riding in the Dutch countryside but got back to the city just in time to experience “bike rush hour”… sort of like a 15-minute E-Ticket ride at Disneyland (they probably don’t have those anymore, do they?)! No photos of that adventure; that would have been courting instant death!

Until next week, a hui hou and tot straks!
Sharene and Harrison