The Student Hotel has a new location in Amsterdam and they celebrated their grand opening on Friday with a slew of events. Most exciting for me was Bed Talks – a “free thinking festival” with demos, workshops and speakers around a variety of topics.
I got there early to meet a friend and after registering and picking out a few sessions that looked interesting, we went to our first workshop: desk yoga with the Clear Head Club. The instructor guided us through a gentle yoga session that centered entirely on exercises that can be done from your desk and that are particularly beneficial for people spending all day sitting in an office chair and staring at a screen. We stretched our backs and shoulders and even did a few eye exercises to alleviate that pervasive screen strain. With a little time left in the session, another instructor led us in a guided meditation meant to generate positive feelings of love and compassion. It was a beautiful way to start the day and as I put my shoes back on and prepared to attend the next workshop, I felt simultaneously serene and energized. We need more yoga in our lives, y’all.
The next session we attended was a talk led by Simone Lindhout from Wageningen University and Research Centre about her project “Saving energy when others pay the bill: behavioral intervention experiments at The Student Hotel.” Beyond the hard data about how much energy is used, Lindhout and her colleagues were interested in studying the efficacy of various strategies to change behaviors around sustainability. What kinds of messaging and data is most useful to enact meaningful change? We may be well intentioned, the research shows, but our efforts are often misplaced. We pat ourselves on the back for turning out the lights when we leave the room, then hop in the shower for 20 minutes before catching a flight to an international conference about climate change. Lindhout was fun and engaging, and it was neat to hear about the different strategies that are effective in getting people to adjust their behavior. A memorable one involved a display in the shower that monitored your hot water usage and showed a polar bear standing on a proportionately shrinking ice floe.
We had some time to kill after the sustainability seminar, so we walked around a bit and checked out the other demos. There were lots of areas with various props and scenery that encouraged you to take photos and video. Kult&Ace had a studio set up in one of the hotel rooms with balloons all over the bed and prom-inspired costumes. There was a station where you could create your own stop motion film using coffee beans. There was also a telephone-booth-sized box that was made up into a vertical bed with the idea that you would draw on the clear plastic walls to recreate a dream scene and then, standing in the box, act out your dream while a guy shot a video of you on your phone.
Next we wandered over to the Eritrean coffee ceremony, a slow and purposeful (and aromatic) ritual that ends with coffee. Perfect. The woman leading the demo started with fresh green coffee beans and, smiling and chatting, roasted, ground and then brewed us up the freshest coffee I’ve ever had.
My last workshop was Arabic calligraphy, where the guy leading the session apologetically admitted that we were unlikely to complete any Arabic calligraphy in the 30 minutes or so we had. He’d been forced to go to lessons as a child and said it took him 10-12 years before he was proficient. Still, he showed us how to hold the bamboo pen, how to dip the nib into the ink, and then showed us how to write a proper ‘A’ and ‘B’ in Arabic. We didn’t make it to ‘C’ because we were, unsurprisingly, so shit at ‘A’ and ‘B.’ Arabic calligraphy is meditative and precise. “The first thing you must know about calligraphy,” he said, “is that you have to be patient.” You have to master the dot before anything else, because the dot is used as a unit of measurement for every other letter. An ‘A’ should be precisely three dots tall and have a precise 45 degree angle at the top. B starts with a 45 degree angle at the right and sweeps to the left in five dots. I was making inept swooshes and dots all over my paper until I forced myself to slow down and make one painstaking and squeaky single stroke. “That’s a great A!” my instructor said as he came around to look at our progress. I proudly showed off my masterful Arabic ‘A’ to everyone I met thereafter.
At one point Sayid, a friend of the instructor’s, wandered in to check out the session. Sayid is from Syria and a great calligrapher. He took a seat next to me and started playing around with the ink, making artful swoops and curls that were way out of our league. He asked me my name and a few minutes later had written it at the bottom of the paper. He drew a bit more and showed the guy on his other side how to write the letter ‘E.’ When Sayid wandered out again, he left his paper behind and I stealthily rolled it up and slipped it into my bag. A nice little memento from a great day.
The Student Hotel sponsors cool events and offerings all over town, and frequently hosts neat stuff in their own mega swank space. If you haven’t already seen it, it’s definitely worth checking out. They primarily house students but also offer boutique hotel rooms for travelers, encouraging everybody to mix it up in their many common rooms and at their café, The Pool. The hotel is hip and modern and I’m looking forward to seeing what cool stuff they’ve got planned for the future.