Covid Connections: Gig (Matthanee Nilavongse) in The Netherlands


Intro from Alan Dearling

This collection of words and photos brings together Gig’s current thoughts and experiences of life in the Netherlands. But to put it in some sort of context you need to know a little about the ‘lives’ she has travelled from. For some years, Gig has been something of a local ‘institution’ in the town of Todmorden in West Yorkshire. She’s a larger-than-life character. An artist, performer, host, Thai, exotic, colourful, loud, energetic. Full of life. A bright chameleon… Along with her partner, Richard (Waka) they have birthed the ‘Golden Lion’ pub, music venue, food emporium and community hub into a stellar existence. But one that is often contentious in an ex-mill and market town which boasts a range of different, contrasting, and sometimes fractious ‘communities’. Its roots are firmly old-school, Yorkshire and Lancashire working class. Football and rugby union. But in 2020 the Rochdale Canal links its indoor and outdoor markets with the worlds of sustainable food – the ‘Incredible Edible’ projects; creative crafts; dance music; Trans and LGBT communities; street arts/performance and more. Culture Clashes!

Gig’s friend, Josephine Rainford, wrote this recently during the Covid pandemic:

“Woke up thinking about this nasty post that a local person felt was acceptable to post on a local chat group (admin quickly removed it).

Most of my closest friends have been formed in the last 10 years and the one thing in common is Gig.   She has been at the centre of many life-affirming moments for lots of people.  From my first date in Todmorden where I went for some amazing Thai food at the Three Monkeys (where we met Gig for the first time) to many celebrations at the Golden Lion births, birthdays, marriages and music.

The Golden Lion has brought so many people together and is always the first to offer help for the local community.  So to see them publicly attacked continually is heart breaking.

They have done an amazing job during the Pandemic.  Have done everything asked of them and followed the rules.

Keep doing what you do best, Team Lion and don’t let the Bastards get you down.”

Alan says: But Gig isn’t in Todmorden at the moment. She’s in The Netherlands, a country I know pretty well having spent many months living there over many years since the mid-1960s. Amsterdam in particular is sometimes a paranoid mix and cultural potpourri of contrasting liberal and conservative tendencies. A Mad Max Mix of coffee shops, brown bars, squats, sex shops, bicycles, parks, music venues, museums, canals and non-stop tourism. But, like the rest of the world, the bustle is partially on ‘hold’ during a government Covid lockdown. This is Gig’s personal story of her life in Amsterdam and beyond, as she potentially searches for a new life…or lives…

Here’s a prelude to her most recent writings and photos. Hers is a roller-coaster ride of emotions, feelings and experiences, ideas, plans, hopes, fears…

Gig wrote:

“I’m stop watching the news,

All I observe is,

It’s a half school term holiday in Holland at the moment,

The weather is great all week,

The government announce the new rules on Tuesday about 7 pm,

For all the pub and restaurant to be close for 4 weeks and maybe more if it’s not working.

So last night was the last one for pub and restaurant to be open, I bike around town and it’s all quiet, instead of people come out to enjoy their last freedom, they decide to stay safe at home,

I live in the town Center, by 10 pm… all the noise went quiet…

Today everywhere is empty and quiet. 

The place I worked (Spa) still open until 10 pm

Not allow to purchase drugs or alcohols after 8 pm

I come to visit the museums again while I can x

Lots of paintings and artists life are inspiring,

Going to “Porn” bingo

Lots of laughs too!”


Gig writes from Covid Amsterdam:

“I’m just fed up like everyone else, feeling these struggles and for not being able to plan anything, or to see your families and still keep losing money on the trip that you had booked for a while and not enough sunshine. Working in an environment that I see all the people around are so grumpy, anxious, so up and down…


Sometimes I feel annoyed because the society and myself said that I’m actually OK… OK to have somewhere warm to live, food to eat and Netflix to watch… what are we moaning about? Why are we moaning? It’s only a little freedom that has been taken.

As I came from the East, it’s easy to pretend everything is OK and I’m getting by. But I know the inside of me is dying, my hand is tight and my mouth is covered with a suffocating mask.

I want to change the scenario, even a little, I want to experience something new, I want to hear a different language and different opinions …I want to feel alive again. If this virus is going to kill us all and if my life and all people I love are gonna be over, please let me use my life a little… I was actually planning to go around Europe and maybe a hot country like Italy or Portugal, but my destiny send me to the Netherlands, Amsterdam…

I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times… I like it but nothing made me love it in the past. Until I went to live in the squat for a little time and met my Dutch friend call Walter, then I learned that Amsterdam had its own incredible history … I watched a few Dutch films to understand the taste of Dutch, I learn language and live and talk with Dutch people. Very smart, very liberal, very fair and very closed too. So I can see that there’s a good connection between Amsterdam and England, and people can communicate in the English language. I start to think that it shouldn’t be difficult to start something here, but, as in every big city there’s always a little tiny issue about housing, a small city and many people. There are lots of opportunities and also none for some.

Firstly, if you haven’t got contracted work here, how can you find any possible accommodation that is not too far? (as the transport costs a fortune too). The price ranges for one person, £400-£1200, and you must be able to register your name for the accommodation or you wouldn’t be able to open a bank account or business. Mostly, it is at least a 6 months contract, and if you are in this place what would you do if your work failed? Or, you change your mind, or even the horrible people next door?  I’m making my start by staying with a friend in the studio on an air bed (that’s common ) within the next building there is a shower room and we have to be quiet at night time, so no one know that we misuse the premises.

You need to apply for the BSN number (it’s like your identity number to show who you are, it allows you to get a phone, arrange appointments and be interviewed). But, as we came from England it doesn’t mean you can do the job straight away… you need to do a contract with your employer (but what if you are not good enough or if you quit before contract ended?) So, the other way is open your own company with the KVK Chamber of Commerce (short for Kamer van Koophandel).  So again, phone, an appointment and an interview (prepare paper work). I’m a quick person but this whole process took me about 1.5 months. At the KVK you need to tell them about your company and what service you’re doing, so then they’ll give you a company number straight away and the job code, then they’ll send their invoice in a letter for you to get paid €50 and be allocated a BTW number about 10 working days later (BTW is the VAT number, as the service and product tax in Holland is 21% depending on your profession).  So, I went to do the job first and send invoice to get paid later… phew … My company is call ‘Golden Gig’.

How did I end up working in the spa? Firstly I ask my beer rep to make appointment for me and the Heineken beer rep. All my friends hate Heineken, because it’s such a capitalistic company, but I know how to use capitalists to share to socialist people.

I met Bas on one afternoon and he bought me drinks and give all support he can of where to find the empty bars, I went to see the empty place affected from the pandemic period… Until I found one place I really liked, so I put the offer straight away, everything seem bright and positive. But while I waiting, I want to make some drinks and food money! (as it’s so expensive in Amsterdam, my gin and tonic is £9-£13 a glass, food £8-20).  If I’m gonna live in Amsterdam, I need to earn like an Amsterdamer. But also I want to be learning how to run the business in Amsterdam step-by-step,

How did I find the job? I went to search on Facebook for about 1-2 days. Looking at what’d be suitable for me. I’m very lucky to get the reception job at the Thai Spa.

First I was worried how can I be the reception if I can’t speak Dutch, but my boss said it’s OK as everyone in Amsterdam can speak English. But just in case I thought that I’d try to learn basic Dutch.  I bought the app on the phone call Babble – £79 a year and it’s seem quite useful … but at the end I kind of give up …Dutch language is very funny, difficult and not very useful.

I’m still looking forward to hear about the bar though. I started working at the spa around early September when everything in Amsterdam still open as normal apart from the quarantine rule. You’re in voluntary quarantine for 10 days if you come from UK, and you must quarantine 14 days when you go back to UK. When the UK law of the big fine for not quarantining came out, it’s scared all the tourists away… 100 people gathering rules. Then, pubs bars and tourists spots became 80% less people, and of course, I didn’t see the actual Dutch people going out as much! Mostly it is the tourists that packed the place out. But to be honest it makes Amsterdam beautiful and less busy, less noise and chaos, not much queuing to go to the museums.

With the museums, even if you have got a year pass, you need to book your spot of time to go in, so the museums are not over-crowded. And there are still a few events to go to that happen outdoors like ‘Paint and Beers’ at De Roze Tanker. And some big indoor spaces like Paradiso, De Nieuwe Anita, Mezrab, Kompaszaal… A few of my favourite places that have tiny spaces like Cafe Pollux, cafe de doelen, De Steek, Cafe schiller, Cafe Leita.

Party places, workshops, food and jamming at the Slibvelden.

Noord market, Monday market and Waterlooplein market.

With the shopping, all the shops are very clever, soon as you walk in the shop you have to grab the sanitised basket or some trolley with you, so they can limit people in the shop. If there’s no basket or trolley, it means that the shop has reached the limit of people, and you to wait until basket free… I told you Dutch people are smart.  In the spa we do take the details of the customers for track and trace and provide masks and hand gel and also check temperature if needed. All the masseurs wear masks… No one want to get the virus, but they are comfortable to work with the strangers with the protection provided. I enjoy bike or public transport to work and having a little drinks after work, I enjoy the story-teller clubs and the drawing class, just like the normal, local people.

Two weeks later, I ask the agent about the bar, the answer is: someone else interested in that bar too…

Until around early October the government announced 10 pm curfew, which means no life for me after work (as my work finish at 10 pm). Never mind, I start to buy drinks and keep in my bags to drink with my colleague or drink at home…(you could end up that you drink more ). Or on the day off we have to go to drink out in the afternoon and get drunk by 9 pm. Early night and fresh morning… actually I can get adapted to that… and, of course I’m always ready to find the secret party place after 10 pm!

I ask the estate agents again, Jasper he call, the young Dutch guy, he said the landlord want to speak to the other offer first and if it fail he’ll contact me …I’m start to feel negative about Dutch people, I call them ‘liberal bullshit’ when I got drunk , I start to find all the unkindness around me in the city, soon to realise it’s not the Dutch people, it’s the city, it makes everyone feel they have to be so competitive and look after themselves first…

The idea of opening the bar started to fade away … To open the bar you have to check the zoning first… If it in the Council-permitted area, you need to see what the Horeca (Hotel/restaurant/cafe) license will allow in your premises. You need to have the Sociale Hygiene qualification (it’s like a drink license, and I need the test in English language during the Corona time…that’s a bit of challenge too). Then in the second week in October, the government announce on Tuesday 7 pm (they always announce on Tuesday 7 pm), restaurants, bars and cafes to be closed for 4 weeks.  My heart sinked…

I bike to all my favourite places to have drinks and said goodbye, I was a little drunk and alone and also not much good news in UK… I had try to shake it off and concentrate on working , work really hard and learn how to massage, as I find that the magic of the two-hands can heal people… It was a lonely time, all alone and cold … Just felt like nowhere in planet to be. Then I start to make drawings, went to museum, had lots of good ideas and feel clear and still… Even though I’m still not sure what I want, but I know that I was in demand and to feel supported my family and the help of my good friends. Sometimes apart from that I’m quite free like a bird …

I’m now living with the 73 year olds polish artist, Monika, Israel born, she taught me a fair few house tricks, and how to be strong, how to never say sorry all the time, to eat good food , to slow life down, she didn’t worry to stay with me as she know I’m healthy and keep good hygiene etc… I heard a lot of people are getting infected by COVID, it was one time that I felt like I got COVID when my body is run down, I can’t taste anything and I can’t move. All I do is not seeing anyone and try to get myself better, take Thai medicine, drink lots of water. But apart from that I feel happy and fine. This week in Amsterdam it is pretty with some Xmas things, but the streets were quieter than I’ve ever seen. I walk past the haunted red light district, those streets used to be filled with people. I remembered I was in the crowd walking with strangers in the past… I don’t know what’ll happen with Amsterdam, people in the world or myself.  But if we keep doing our own best every-day and not over-do it, and be happy to give and to take, keep a good balance I’m sure everything will be fine.”

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One Response to Covid Connections: Gig (Matthanee Nilavongse) in The Netherlands

    1. Giggy!! Thank you for sharing your amazing story!!
      I see that you are frustrated… But you have an indominable spirit!! Wow!! How do you have so much energy?? I have some ideas for you, let’s make outdoor parties!! Let’s make them monetized, and let’s keep them safe with the rules for Covid-19! I think we can do it. I am looking into things.
      Whatever we do, let’s not let the illusion of separation to get us down! It can be hard, bit I think that we can use technology to aid us. I love you, Giggy!! Keep up your wonderful, amazing energy, meditate, and things will get better if we have created a map for the future!! LOVE

      Comment by Sofia PW on 8 November, 2020 at 9:00 am

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