This Dutch Dame turns 100 this year

This Dutch Dame turns 100 this year 

Started in 1908, the Hollandse Club is now home to 2,000 members from 46 countries

By April Chong 

 

IT STARTED out as a drinking hole for 10 Dutchmen.

One hundred years later, the Hollandse Club has morphed into a resort-style club with 2,000 members from 46 countries.

 

Even so, the club, which celebrates its centennial in Singapore this year, has stayed quintessentially Dutch in some ways: The restaurant at its Camden Park clubhouse still has Dutch pea soup and bitterballen or deep-fried beef balls as menu staples.

 

These are what make financial investigator Ferdinand Balfoort, 43, feel right at home.

 

Last year, he uncovered an even stronger tie with the club when he chanced upon its historical records and realised he was the great-grandnephew of its founder Chris Koopman.

 

It is believed that the Dutch, mostly in the trading and shipping industries, started coming here in the 1800s. Today, the Netherlands Embassy reckons there are 3,000 to 4,000 Dutch nationals here, engaged in professions ranging from researchers to lawyers to company directors. About 530 of them are members of the club.

 

In 1908, Mr Koopman, a businessman, used his Grange Road home as the first Dutch clubhouse. Four years later, the club moved to its first formal premises in Cairnhill Road, when membership grew.

 

Then World War II hit, and the club history entered what current club president Andrew Baartscheer called a ‘black hole’. Club activities ceased between 1942 and 1946.

 

It was only after the Japanese pullout that the club restarted in 1946. In 1950, it sold its Cairnhill site and moved to Camden Park, where it remains today.

 

When Dutch colonial rule ended in Indonesia after three centuries, Singapore became a destination for the Dutch, who brought with them a strong Indonesian influence, including the dining experience called rijsttafel – meaning ‘rice table’ in Dutch. This is a meal not unlike traditional Indonesian nasi padang, where a spread of more than 20 dishes are eaten with rice and condiments that include satay sauce.

 

In the 1950s, the club opened itself up to other nationalities. Singaporeans now make up 15 per cent of its members, said its general manager Gerard Hanssen.

 

One of the oldest Singaporean members, Ms Franciska Ho, joined the club 47 years ago when she worked for Dutch company KPM.

 

The housewife, who would say only that she is ‘old enough’, said club activities used to be geared more towards adults. Black-tie parties, for one thing, were more frequent.

 

‘Today, it’s really a family club,’ said Ms Ho, who used to take her children to the club.

 

Club activities now range from cooking classes to sports clinics to social activities for mothers and their toddlers. The membership fee starts at $6,000 for ordinary membership.

 

Dutch holidays and traditions are still very much a part of the calendar: Every April, the community marks the Dutch Queen’s birthday decked out in orange, the colour of Dutch royalty.

 

Mr Siep Hiemstra, 52, the Asia-Pacific head of Dutch beer company Heineken, said: ‘Everyone had orange hair, orange hats, orange spectacles and even orange shoes. I was one of the dullest with my orange shirt!’

 

And as the club marks its centennial with a bash at the Ritz-Carlton tomorrow evening, the Dutch community is also gearing up for another event – the Euro 2008 football tournament next month; its matches will be screened at the club.

 

Mr Paul Peeters, 44, chief executive of Philips Asean, plans to be there to back the Dutch team – dressed in orange, of course. He said: ‘If we win the European Championship, it will truly be a celebration for the club’s 100 years!’

 

Source: Straits Times

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