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When culture meets design

12 Nov

One of the most fascinating things about moving to a new country are all the little every-day things you notice, both what is similar and what is different to wherever you’ve come from. Since moving to Jakarta it’s been really cool to notice how culture and society influence form and function.

Take bathrooms. Specifically toilets. Yes, I know, not something you want to read about on the internet. But, if you think about it, clearly something that is intimately reflective of how we … well you know. It’s personal. What I’ve also learned is, it’s different. Here’s how:

  • The universal bidet – every bathroom (at least all the women’s toilets) have some kind of hose attachment that converts a toilet into a bidet. Imagine a small hand-held shower head and you have the idea. The really fancy ones have more than just a hose, they have electronic controls that let you manipulate water pressure, direction and temperature to your heart’s … or other body part’s … desire. Don’t believe me – check out the picture!

    Oh, the choices!

    Oh, the choices!

  • Foot washers – this was only slightly startling, but makes perfect sense. People wash their feet before praying, so bathrooms in work places have provisions for this. As I say, logical when you think about it, but somewhat puzzling to look at. Imagine a small shower stall, but with a tap at waist height rather than above one’s head. Foot washer, not leprechaun shower. (As an aside, having to wash one’s feet several times a day also results in communal shoe racks for rubber slippers, which people wear back and forth from the bathroom to prayer room, and an abundance of well dressed men and women periodically holding up their pants legs and flip-flop clopping down the hallway.)

    Don't do this!

    Don’t do this!

  • The signage! Apparently, not all people think about bathroom stalls the same way. Here’s the sign that the Kuala Lumpur airport displays, just in case you are tempted to misbehave … by standing on the seat for example!

OK, enough about toilets, let’s talk about elevators. This one really puzzled me when I first moved into my apartment. The elevator buttons for the floors weren’t consecutive. And I’m not just talking about skipping out the 13th floor, I mean, seriously non-consecutive. Like floor 50 comes after floor 39, floors 12 – 14 are missing. My realtor finally explained – the number 4 is considered very unlucky in some countries, and target tenants for the building were apparently in this group. Therefore, all the floors with the number 4, as well as lucky #13 were skipped in the floor naming. Incidentally, the #12 is also missing – maybe just for symmetry? This is what the panel looks like. By the way, notice the total number of floors? I don’t think anyone checked ūüôā

Going up!

Going up!

How to be happy

29 Apr

Let’s be clear. I’m not a therapist. I’ve never even seen a therapist. I’m not about to provide a magic formula for happiness. So if that’s what you were looking for, sorry about that!

What I can share is some thoughts I’ve had recently on my own experiences with happiness. You can be the judge of whether these experiences are helpful. Or at the very least, you can have a giggle or two. OK, now we have that out of the way, let’s go.

Pay attention to the now. Get up every morning with a firm resolve to make the most of this day. There’s nothing easier than looking backward with regret or looking ahead with anxiety to ruin a perfectly good today. Not to mention, it will probably ruin breakfast. And that would be bad.

Be thankful. I know this sounds kind of corny, but it works. There is a deep and peaceful satisfaction that comes from thinking about what you have, and recognizing the value in everything, big or small. I’ve found it has also freed me from worrying about what others have, or counting the things I don’t have. It’s also made me shop less, which is probably a good thing.

Delight in the small stuff. I know, I know – major clich√© alert. But it’s working for me, and as I mentioned at the beginning, this is about my experiences. If you don’t like it, Google something else. At the moment, I’m finding great delight in a family of squirrels that has taken up residence in the old BBQ on my patio. Initially, in the middle of winter, there was just one. I called him Frank. Apparently, Frank turned out to be a girl, who now has two off-spring who have begun to show themselves over the past several weeks. It’s pretty cool to watch them hanging out in the sun, taking their first steps into the world. And yes, before you ask, I realise this has implications for my summer BBQ options. Yes, I will probably have to move them on at some point. But for now, who cares?

Try new stuff. I have no idea if there are official psychological or physiological links between trying new things and happiness.

South Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

But it works for me. My latest new thing was hiking in Arches National Park, Utah with a good friend over Easter. No, I’m not a big outdoors person. Given a nice sunny day, I’d probably rather sit on a patio and read than do something super-active. But that’s kind of the point. I already know how to read and pretty much mastered sitting at the age of 3 months. I didn’t know if I could do a 5 km round trip hike to Delicate Arch, especially since the first 2.5 km were all uphill! But I did it, and man was it amazing! The view is gorgeous, the arch spectacular, and the feeling of accomplishment and exertion is priceless. So even if you can’t go hiking in Utah, try something new. A different drink at Starbucks, a new route to work, a different shelf at the library. You never know what might happen.

OK, there you have it. I’m sure you could find a completely different list out there, or probably come up with one of your own. Good for you. Whether you agree or not is not the point. The point is that you can choose to be happy. Even when crap is happening all around you, there are always choices to be made.

One final note. This post was inspired by my friend Tayo, a fellow classmate and awesome human being. You can read his post on being happy here.

Naturale!

21 Apr

Last week, I made a spontaneous trip to Italy with a couple of friends, who very kindly let me join in on their fabulous itinerary at the last minute. The trip covered Florence, San Gimignano and Bologna and was absolutely amazing. One of the highlights was strolling around the piazzas and people-watching, although as I learned, when you are watching people, people are watching YOU!

I was walking along taking in the sights of street artists, when an old Italian guy waved his hand at me and started to say something in Italian while pointing at my hair. I stepped towards him as he gesticulated… body language being what it is I had a feeling I knew what was coming. Sure enough, as he pointed at my hair in disbelief making cork-screw motions with his hands, I caught the word “naturale” in the midst of his speech. Making a guess at his meaning, I leaned towards him while responding “Si, e naturale”. ¬†At which point he reached out and patted my hair, after which he delightedly exclaimed “Si, e naturale!!!” at the top of his voice! It was hilarious – one more person who couldn’t wait to touch my hair!

Turns out hair like mine attracts attention, and people just love to touch it. ¬†Sometimes, this drives me mental – I mean, I don’t go up to strangers grabbing body parts without permission! My hair is attached to my body, and definitely falls inside the personal space boundary. Why people feel it’s OK to touch it because it doesn’t look like theirs is beyond me. In the bus, on the subway, at concerts, in restaurants, in stores …. you name it, someone’s tried it.

But it’s the hair I have, and yes it’s natural or “naturale” if you prefer. ¬†On the subject of hair, I’ve been contemplating letting it grow a bit this summer, but wanted to try some new hair styles and products. ¬†Imagine my delight when I headed to the internet for some inspiration and found¬†this amazing blog¬†right here at good old WordPress. ¬†Hair just like mine AND a plethora of product reviews just so I don’t have to spend all my money learning lessons she has already discovered! Even better, as the pictures attest – she is in the process of growing hers as well.

Now I’ve got some new ideas, and new hair products on their way. Molto bene!

The storm before the storm

6 Oct

No, that’s not a typo. That’s really what Freshers Week at Oxford feels like.¬† It’s a whirlwind of activities – social events, networking events, college induction, degree program orientation, examinations rules sessions, college formal dinners, and some plain old pub-crawling.¬† Brand new students, the “freshers”, are sucked into this cyclone of activity from the very first moments of Week 0.

Last night I attended my Newcomers Dinner at Linacre College.  In true Oxford tradition, we dressed up in our formal robes, and entered the dining hall.  Five long tables, with a mix of students, staff and faculty, all dressed up and eager to get to know each other. The 5 people who sat at my end of the table for 20 included a History of Science Major from Vancouver of all places, a DPhil (PhD) candidate in Archeological Science from New York City and one in Classical Archeology from Greece, along with a professor in Organic Chemistry, a Master of Financial Economics major and another DPhil student in Chemistry. And that was just my corner of the table!  Imagine the conversations happening at the other 4 tables, among about 100 people!

Walking home after post-dinner drinks and socializing in the Common Room, the student run bar and gathering place at the centre of college life, it was amazing to feel the energy in the streets.  Literally hundreds of people, some dressed to the nines in black-tie and gowns, others in jeans and T-shirts, all excited to be here, and ready to start a new term. I swear the air even smelled like anticipation!

Next week, Week 1 of the Michaelmas Term, is when classes officially begin.¬† That’s likely to be the second “storm”, and one that will no doubt consume a great deal of our time.¬† In the meantime, it’s Freshers Week! Pubs and friends await!

Free enterprise vs. red tape

23 Sep

OK, so this isn’t the title of my first business case or anything like that. It’s the contrast between dealing with different service providers here in Oxford.

So first, the “free market”.¬† One of the first things I attempted to tackle was getting a new phone number.¬† Step 1, find¬†mobile phone provider that provides iPhone service. Step 2, get phone unlocked. Step 3, get new SIM card for phone.¬† It’s Step 2 that made me chuckle.

None of the “official” mobile phone operators will unlock you phone for you, but when asked, they all were able to point me in the direction of a certain “news agent’s shop” that provides some value-added services, namely unlocking phones for anywhere between 10 and 20 pounds and 15-20 minutes of your time.¬† You walk in, you say you need a phone unlocked, they tell you up front before you pay if they can do it, and invite you to have a seat.¬† Mohammed, the mobile phone locksmith, does some magic with his laptop and hey presto! Phone unlocked, 20 pounds please.¬†

During my 20 minute wait, I counted about a dozen people who came into the shop for various things – cell phone charger, internet usage (they also have an internet cafe in the basement), printing, scanning, and cigarettes.¬† The bus driver ran in to grab a drink on the fly as the bus stops outside. A builder down the street came in to get a set of drawings and notes copied. And a lady popped in to pay the 5 pounds she owed from the week before, when she needed a charger in an emergency and didn’t have any cash.

Contrast this with my attempts to open a bank account, the definitive “red tape” experience.¬† I’d researched online, knew which bank and which account I wanted, and showed up to open an account with all the paperwork I thought I needed.¬† Not so! First off, a 20 minute wait in line, only to be told I needed an appointment to open an account.¬† Um, no I said account, not mortgage! But yes,¬†apparently an appointment is required, and of course there were no more appointments left that day.¬† Come tomorrow, I was told, you won’t need an appointment tomorrow. Oh and by the way, we actually need a completely different document from the one we told you in our brochures.

So visit 2, back the next day, new document in hand, another wait in line.¬† First question – do you have an appointment to open this account?! At this point, I start looking for the hidden cameras, thinking this has got to be a joke in the making.¬† Not so! After recapping the previous day’s conversation, the person serving me agreed they could “squeeze me in”, probably because some other poor sucker didn’t have the right documents when he showed up for his appointment!¬† But then … oh no, this isn’t the right document either, it needs to be signed and dated and on letterhead from the university. Grrrrr!

A classmate also in the line took pity on me, and showed me the letter he’d received.¬† Having confirmed that in fact, this third piece of paper held the magic formula, I agreed to go and source this document instead.¬† In the meantime, I was able to persuade the bank to open the account “provisionally” for me, on condition that I would drop the magic document off later that day. 3 visits, 1 bank account, maybe. Wow!

There’s a lesson here somewhere.¬† I’m still trying to figure out what it is.¬† Off to navigate my way through another day…

Time to come clean

1 Sep

OK. Confession time.  I have a lot of stuff.  Not as much as I did, say a month ago, but still, more than the average airline seems to think is appropriate as a luggage allowance for trans-atlantic flights.  So, unless my daily attempts to see if I can upgrade to business class (they get more bags) prove successful, I clearly have to make some tough decisions about what stays in storage, what gets gifted and what makes the trip.

But first, a look back at what I used to own … all my furniture and plenty of household items were¬†given away to friends and family, or donated to community groups! Yup, even the table I bought at a yard sale, the $5 lamp from a thrift store.¬† Now, considering that just about everything I owned was given to me or bought second-, third- or whatever-hand, I think I’ve done my bit to spread “stuff karma” out in the universe.¬† And it was uncanny – a friend needed some extra furniture to add to a spare room, another had students coming to stay for a year, and someone else knew of folks who were out of work,¬†short on cash and expecting a new addition to the family.¬† People were generous to me, and so I got to pass that on, right when someone needed a hand.¬†¬†Just as¬†importantly, it all went on one day AND they did the lifting! Hard to argue with that kind of efficiency.

So what’s left? Clothes, bags, hats, scarves and shoes – I had about 30 pairs!¬†Some framed prints, photos from when they used to print them out, and all the myriad things that you stick in the junk drawer, the back of the closet, or the handy Ikea storage container, just as long as they are out of sight … and of course, out of mind.¬† In short, all the stuff that is super-annoying to sort through, but seems to take up an alarming amount of space!

What’s interesting is that the less stuff I actually own, the more protective I think I feel about it all.¬† Things I haven’t thought about in years are all of a sudden my long-lost friends, things I can’t imagine living without.¬† That sheer purple blouse I’ve worn exactly twice since I bought it – love it! The dress that¬†I wish I could find the receipt for, cuz the tags are still on – best friend!¬† Don’t get me started on all the things I’ve convinced myself I *might* need.¬† Weird how that works – there’s a metaphor here somewhere.

But I think I have a strategy, or at least the beginnings of one.¬† My very wise friend Sarah said to me today – what you need is a few things for each of the various niches; think shallow and wide, not narrow and deep.¬† She’s profound, that girl.

What I need to figure out next¬†– how shallow is shallow? Hard to know when you’re drowning in stuff, and everything feels deep! Anyone need a tote bag?

Things that go beep in the night

15 Jul

It was the loud and insistent ringing that woke me. The intercom phone in my apartment, which kind of sounds like a fire alarm.  Was it a summer vacation prank, an urgent summons, a dream? It was weirder than that Рit was the police!

“Good Evening Ms. Rudder. This is the police. Your car alarm keeps going off, can you come down and turn it off? The police car will be waiting, ma’m.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but it’s not every day that the police show up at my house, especially in the middle of the night.¬† Still rubbing sleep from my eyes, I dressed, grabbed my keys and headed downstairs.¬† Sure enough, there was one of New Westminster’s finest, along with a tow truck, flashing lights and one of those fabulous “policeman’s flashlights” we all secretly crave.¬† Sure enough, there was my car¬†horn, stuck somehow and producing a pretty feeble, fast-fading tone.

“Could you open up the car, ma’m? There’s a smell of burning wires, we just want to make sure there isn’t a short or a fire.¬† Maybe you should make sure it starts and the battery isn’t dead.¬† If you¬†pop the hood we’ll take a look for you.”¬† Such service!

The tow truck driver, a sprightly young guy with a “back East” Nova Scotia accent checked it over, concluded my battery was fine, and that it must have been my steering wheel lock that had somehow pushed against the horn and caused it to stick in the “on” position.¬† After recommending I take it in for service, and verifying my name and address, my two new heroes disappeared into the night, taking their flashing lights and sense of adventure with them.

Now, let’s reflect for a moment on the amazing things about this story.¬† That I live in a neighbourhood¬†where noise after about 11 p.m. gets the attention of the neighbours.¬† That said neighbours care enough about what’s going on out in the street to call the police, and that the police respond¬†with politeness and assistance. That I live in a place where social trust is high enough that if the police ring your doorbell in the middle of the night (well OK, it was 11:30 p.m. but I’d been asleep for at least an hour by then!), you feel comfortable enough to answer the door, rather than diving to hide the valuables and grab your passport as you head out the back way!

I love this country! July 1st is fine and all, but this officially marks my personal¬†“Canada Day” this year.¬† Here’s a lesson to¬†us all: make sure you put your steering lock on properly, and don’t forget to appreciate the small but important¬†things in life.

Happy Canada Day, everybody!