Coming in at a total of 2.8 billion trips in just a few days’ time, China is number one in terms of mass movement. The images of the lunar new year, including congested roads, trains and airports, are the stuff of nightmares indeed. The Black Saturdays in Europe are not very impressive in comparison: just make sure to arrive to Schiphzl Airport one hour ahead of your flight and you ought to be fine.

Studying the most recent data on Dutch holidays, something struck me as odd. According to research company NBTC-NIPO, seven out of ten Dutch people want to go on holiday this year. It is the remaining three that fascinate me. Do these people really not ‘want’ (as the press release states) to go on holiday? Or do they rather lack the means?

Perhaps they are simply wary to go abroad. Broadcasting organization NOS compared old and current foreign travel advice. According to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, things have gotten increasingly dangerous in the past two years. Some of the advice should be taken with a grain of salt, however. Tunisia has tentatively received the label orange (‘necessary travel only’) or even red, despite the last terrorist attack occurring two years ago, with a total of sixty casualties. France, on the other hand, has received the label ‘no specific safety risk,’ even though just last year an attack in Nice claimed the lives of 86 people. Is this just a case of geopolitical class justice?

Since January 2016, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has had a special phone number that travellers can reach 24 hours a day, making the institution a lot more transparent than the ‘monkey rock’ they inhabit, as the building from the eighties is often called (referring both to the architect by the name of Apon – which sounds like the Dutch apen, ‘monkeys’ – and to its layered build). 

The civil servants will be leaving their monkey rock this summer, with their new building becoming available next week. Actually, the building isn’t technically a new one: it was the experimental sustainable building allocated to the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment in 1992. It now serves as a ‘flexible’ office used both by civil servants working at Foreign Affairs, and by those working for Infrastructure and the Environment – or for one of the many agencies overlooking affairs involving refugees, such as the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers.

By now, many of the Dutch office buildings have been transformed from buildings with endless hallways and tiny office cabins (perhaps more suited to factories from back in the Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor days) into transparent meeting points. We have become permanent travellers that no longer retreat into their personal cubicles.

Global issues tend to be highly complex: they require a systemic approach. Every solution requires a journey around the world, which can start in an office. It’s encouraging, then, that these governmental agencies are leading the way by shacking up. If those involved in foreign affairs bump into those looking to solve matters of migration and environment every day, the Netherlands will surely be a model country soon enough.


This article originally appeared on Studio Zeitgeist