Amsterdam, The Netherlands
One bright February morning, I’m happily getting lost around the Amsterdam canals until a certain shop catches my eye with all its beautiful pieces on display: mirrors, jewellery, wooden boxes, statues, special trinkets. My eyes scan the large shop window on the corner of Singel and Blauburgwal until eventually my sight lands on a man with a twinkle in his eye. He’s seated on a bright red chair parked behind the open shop door, right across the cobblestone street.
The sun blankets the shopkeeper and his little shop around the corner as I smile and wave. The man smiles back, gesturing for me to walk to the front and come in.
I normally wouldn’t hesitate, but his age (which I later find out is 71) within the context of the pandemic has me reluctant. But he keeps inviting me in and I step towards him anyway, reaching for the face mask in my pocket and quickly putting it on.
After an exchange that reveals I can’t speak much Dutch, the conversation transitions to English. Rob introduces himself, smiling the whole way through, and I can’t help but warm up in his presence.
His friendliness and his charm, I expect, has this usual effect on people. Rob inches out of his red chair and with a little limp walks a few steps towards the end of his shop. I follow him as he proceeds to tell me more about his life — about his Dutch-Indonesian heritage; about his mother, who he says has tan skin just like mine; about his impressive international career in the fashion industry; about the story of how he came to be the building and shop owner of Singel 110; about the stroke that gave him his limp and that will likely keep him from remembering my name.
As I listen to Rob’s story I marvel at how open he’s being with me, a complete stranger. We chat for a little while, he gives me a copy of this news clipping in both English and Dutch (so I can practice, because I told him I was learning), and I thoughtfully select something from his shop to buy and take home with me before eventually saying thank you and goodbye, and that I would be back again.
I leave his shop with a charmed spirit.
On any other weekday, you’ll typically find me tucked away in my little apartment, mostly working. But on the day I met Rob I had taken the whole Friday off in a personal effort to slow down, de-stress, and enjoy myself as I explored Amsterdam under the winter sun.
I haven’t really experienced much of the city since moving here in July last year. Because of the pandemic life has largely been spent indoors and mostly working, apart from the occasional moments spent with a handful of friends and family. Amidst the isolation and blurred lines between work and life outside of it, it has been so easy to become consumed by my screen and my inbox of endless emails. It has been so easy to forget the importance of carving out time to go slow; to get out and look up towards the sky; to find solace and even joy in simpler things.
Walking is one of those things. And on this sunny winter day, I couldn’t be more grateful that my feet led me to a such a special place: a lovely little corner shop, owned by an even lovelier shopkeeper named Rob.
Safe to say, Rob lit a spark in my heart that day. There was just something about his person and the moments that he unknowingly crafted with me— about the act of making a genuine human connection, no matter how brief. About the heart-warming wonder and almost rarity there is to serendipitously exchanging smiles and stories with a complete stranger, before eventually going your own ways again.
This short yet special encounter has truly lifted my spirits. It reinforces to me the value of slowing down, connecting with others, and opening up a little bit more to the world around you— the world outside our screens, our silos, or the depths of our own minds.
Days can get rough, but life is also riddled with pockets of joy — sometimes it’s just a matter of going a little slower and looking out for them.