Student - December 16, 2010

'Everything is made of gold'

Who: Matthijs Lorsheijd, fourth year student Garden and Landscape Design (VHL)
What: Design of ten parks
Where: Saudi Arabia
Why: To research how other countries approach matters of technique, materials and planting

'Doing an internship in Saudi Arabia was not my first choice. I really wanted to go to Dubai, but the money for big projects has dried up there because of the economic crisis. I then ended up with a Dutch company in Saudi Arabia through a friend. The most important project I was involved in consisted of helping to design and make preparations for ten city parks. Through my enthusiasm and experience I even ended up being the project leader. That didn't really make sense, of course, and could never have happened in the Netherlands. But it does say something about the way things work there: if you have an idea, then you can execute it more or less at once. There is plenty of money and they have complete confidence in you. I worked six days a week and didn't have much to do on my days off. Alcohol is strictly forbidden, you can even get the death penalty for that. At the weekends shopping malls are only open to families to prevent men and women meeting up there. I have also seen migrant workers being refused entrance, while westerners are sort of treated like VIPs. That's when the hardness of the social culture in Saudi Arabia really hits you. Once a month I would travel to Bahrain to sort out my visa. It's fantastic there, with white beaches and lots of cocktails. Those weekends made up for a lot of things... My boss was very well connected; for example, he was called out to Saudi Arabia by the King's brother. One time we were invited for a meeting with a minister in the Diplomatic Quarter. On arrival, there were tanks in front of the entrance and people with guns. We got a complete body check. Once we were inside, it was a totally different world; everything was made of gold and there was so much luxury. A big contrast to the rest of Saudi Arabia. The big cities are quite like New York, but once outside, you see the Arabian landscape as you know it from television.'