At the very moment President Trump was announcing his European travel ban on Wednesday, Champa and I were returning home from a two-week trip to Europe.
We didn’t expect to be there during a pandemic. When we flew to England for our nephew’s wedding, coronavirus was just beginning to appear in Europe. As we then traveled by train to London, Paris, Belgium and Amsterdam, it kept spreading.
We enjoyed visiting the Eiffel Tower and other attractions without waiting on lines, but we were concerned about what was happening to others and relieved to return safely. We’re now staying at home as a precaution.
At this moment when the health and financial news is so grim, and our thoughts are with everyone affected, let me offer some relief with a post about a time and place that already seem far away: Amsterdam’s Dam Square this past Sunday.
As Champa and I walked towards our hotel near there, we heard boisterous chanting and cheering from what turned out to be a demonstration for International Women’s Day. The crowd was huge and full of energy. We saw countless homemade signs in Dutch, English and other languages. Here are some that caught my eye:
As soon as the Women’s Day protesters marched away from the square, a new demonstration and concert began. This one was for the human rights of Indonesians, who were once colonized by the Dutch.
That was on the main stage. Elsewhere on the square, a man set up a display in support of the Palestinian people. A few steps away from him, another protestor defiantly held up an Israeli flag.
In another direction, several Falun Gong protestors stood beside a booth with large signs condemning Chinese oppression of their religion.
Meanwhile, tourists snapped photos of the historic architecture, tour guides led groups and police officers observed patiently. Marijuana smoke wafted from “coffee shops” beside the square and prostitutes posed in windows of the nearby Red Light District.
It all illustrated why Amsterdam is renown for its tolerance.
When we returned to Dam Square two days later, we encountered yet another group of protestors. This time it was Tibetans condemining the oppression of the Chinese govenrnment and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama.
Champa and I enjoyed Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House and other famous spots, but Dam Square was the most memorable for us. We loved being in the middle of this festival of free speech and democracy.
I hope such trips become possible again soon for Americans. For now, we all need to focus on the more serious business of saving lives at home and around the world.
Keep Dam Square in mind for when that day comes — and if you’re lucky enough to travel there, be sure to bring a sign.