A Christmas Story:
Miracle in the Red Light District of Amsterdam
By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr.
Publisher & Editor
San Diego Asian Journal
The Original and First Asian Journal In America
December 17, 2010
It there was a city in Europe he would want to go back to, it would be Hollands Amsterdam. He was on a “European Sampler Tour with his family when they arrived in the early evening of December 24, 2007 in the city famous for its windmills and master artists like Vincent Van Gogh.
“Its already dark, he complained to the tour guide who was from Netherlands. “How can we see the city?
“I am sorry, the lady apologized. “We have a fixed schedule. Tomorrow, Christmas Day, we have to leave for Germany.
The tour started in London, England, and had taken them to Brussels, Belgium and finally Amsterdam in Holland. From there, they would proceed to Cologne, Heidelberg, cross the Black Forest in Germany, spend a day in Lucerne in Switzerland, and loop back to Paris, France.
The tour bus stopped in the middle of the city by the Amstel River and the passengers disembarked. They were led to a small cruise boat which gingerly made its way along the length of the waterway. From the boat, the tourists could see the lights from inside the Dutch houses along the canal that had boats moored by the river bank. Everyone listened intently to the tour guide as she described the sceneries along the way and the history behind each landmark. Everyone, that is, except for Peter. Peters mind was wandering off on an infamous street. Beyond the houses was the so-called Red Light District of Amsterdam and its window displays of prostitutes. Even before he came on the tour, Peter was curious about it. Tonight, he had hoped to satisfy his long-suppressed curiosity of the attraction which he had only read about in books and magazines
IT WAS DECEMBER AND THE WIND WAS BLOWING COLD. If he had his way, Peter would not have gone to Europe during the Christmas season. Years before, he had learned his lesson when he took his family on a “Bavarian Christmas Tour. During the last two weeks of December, they traveled from Frankfurt, Germany via Slovakia to Prague in the Czech Republic and then on to Budapest in Hungary and finally arriving in Vienna, Austria. The winter chill forced him to wear layers of clothing to beat the freezing temperature. But it was the only time he could bring his family together for a vacation because his daughters went to school the rest of the year, forcing him to brave the harsh and bitter European Winter. Two years before, also during Christmastime, an “Iberian Tour brought them to several cities of Spain, Portugal and Morocco. But the climate in the Mediterranean Region was mild and his body did not suffer from the cold.
HE REMEMBERED HIS FIRST CHRISTMAS IN EUROPE DURING THE “IBERIAN TOUR THAT THEY TOOK. They were in Madrid, on Christmas Eve, planning to hear a midnight mass in a nearby ancient church. Since Spain gave his native country, the Philippines, Christianity, he was expecting to see the church full of pious church goers hearing the Christmas Eve Mass. To his dismay, the Church was half-empty, in stark contrast to the overflowing churches all over the Philippines during that occasion. On their way back to the hotel, they noticed two men following them along the dark avenues of Madrid.
“We have to walk faster, his daughters urged him. They were reminded of the warning of their tour guide earlier to be wary of pickpockets and other shadowy characters in the streets of Europe. They learned their lesson the first time when during their “Scandinavian Tour that brought them to Denmark, Sweden and Norway, his wifes hand bag was snatched from under the table by the so-called “gypsies while they were having a buffet breakfast in their hotel. Some of their tour companions saw the misdeed, prompting them to tell the hotel security who went after and caught the culprits.
But Peter did not heed his daughters warning. He ignored the men and continued to casually walk to enjoy the evening breeze. But his wife and daughters were much ahead of him. He was forced to catch up by almost running.
The next day, Christmas Day, they found out that two of their tour mates, an elderly couple from India who migrated to Puerto Rico, were mugged the evening before.
THEIR SECOND CHRISTMAS EVE in Europe was safer. They were in Frankfurt, Germany, the start of the tour, where the locals were more observant of the Christmas Eve Mass. They walked the streets with snow lining up the sides together with dozens of people on the way to the church. When they reached the place, the huge, ancient cathedral was overflowing with people and they were forced to hear the mass outside the church walls as the bitter cold chilled their faces.
ON THEIR THIRD EUROPEAN CHRISTMAS EVE, the tour members had a dilemma. While a majority planned to hear mass that evening, some wanted to take advantage of their one and only night there by visiting the Red Light District.
“Its sacrilegious, one of the elderly members of the group told the young folks who opted not to hear mass.
But the wayward flock proceeded with their errant way.
“I can go to church anytime, one of them said, “but I can see that seedy place perhaps for the only time in my life.
Peter reluctantly followed his family on the way to the church as he looked with envy at the small group walking the opposite way. The church was full and as they squeezed themselves into the crowd toward the inside of the church to avoid being stranded in the cold weather outside. Then he lost contact with his family. As he looked around for them, he realized he was by himself. Nobody would notice if he left so long as he would be back by the end of the mass. After a few moments of agonizing with his conscience, he turned around, walked outside the church towards the citys infamous Red Light District. He could feel a sense of excitement and guilt, like a young boy nervously skipping classes to play hokey outside the school. He heard his guide tell the others that the place was just two blocks away, but he had already walked five blocks but could not find it. When he reached the end of the sixth block, he was surprised to see himself near the doorstep of the church where he came from. He turned around, and this time, he walked towards the left in search of his Shangri-La and when he reached the sixth block, he again found himself back in the church.
“No way, he told himself, as he tried to figure out his path. Once more, he turned around, this time walking toward the right. To his surprise, he was back in church in no time. He tried to look for the Red Light District three more times, but each time, he always ended up to where he came from. Finally, he realized that he must have spent more than an hour in his futile search and thought the mass was about to end. He gave up his pursuit and easily squeezed himself within the bodies inside the Church until he found himself right beside his family.
“Is the mass about to end? he asked his wife.
She gave him a quizzical look and asked: “What are you talking about? You were standing with us all the time. We just got here!
And when the priest appeared before the altar to start the mass, Peter bowed his head and knelt to pray.
The church was teeming with people, but there was plenty of space around him as he experienced his own miracle that icy cold Christmas Eve. – AJ