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Home is where the flowers are … and the wine

18 Oct

So much has happened since the last blog post, it’s hard to know what to cover. Let’s hit the highlights – I now live in Amsterdam. As a somewhat politically incorrect German colleague noted, I’ve moved “from the colonies to the motherland”.

What’s been the most interesting about moving to Amsterdam is how quickly I’ve begun to feel at home. Part of it was the ability to move directly into the flat where I’ll spend the next year. Another was being able to walk almost everywhere, so I quickly got a grasp of the neighbourhood up close. But the real excitement has been the block-by-block discovery of the streets around the flat, which led me to the neighbourhood flower shop.

Now there are undoubtedly lots of flower shops around the city. There are probably several within a mile of the house. But my flower shop is on a side street, in a converted garage with a permanently damp concrete floor, and a walk-in chiller filled with the most amazing roses, tulips, chrysanthemums, and this week, golden oak leaves and the last hydrangeas of the season.

Turns out feeling at home isn’t necessarily about having all your stuff around you, or knowing your neighbours, or having lived there forever. For me, it’s really about the special moment when you can mentally call up a picture of your space, and realise that there is no place you would rather be at the end of a long week, a long flight, or a long day. It’s the place where you want to have a glass of wine, make a nice meal, and just be. It’s the place where you know you will spend more time than usual, enough that buying flowers doesn’t seem like an over-the-top extravagance, but the most logical thing in the world.

Welcome home to me. It’s nice to be here.

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Found in translation

8 Feb

Since moving to Jakarta, I’ve been trying to learn Bahasa Indonesia, the most spoken, but certainly not the only language in Indonesia. In fact, one of the first things I learned is that there was actually “Jakarta Bahasa”, a city-specific slang. Sure, that’s not going to be complicated at all.

Although my Bahasa has improved a decent bit since I arrived – I can now reliably order 1 more water in a restaurant, and prevent taxi drivers from getting lost on the way to my house, I am still taken by surprise by the language all the time. So now, at just about the 6-month mark, I thought I’d put together a list of my favourite Bahasa words.

Belum. Google Translate will tell you this means “not yet”. But it’s so much more than that. It’s what someone will tell you when they really have no idea when something is going to happen. It’s what someone will say to be polite, when what they’d probably tell you if they were a native English speaker would be “no”. I think it expresses what I’ve observed of Indonesians so far: ever-hopeful, ever-future looking, and always happy. Belum is all about possibility.

Besok. This word is first cousin to belum. The textbook translation is “tomorrow” but much like the Spanish version of the word, is probably better interpreted as “sometime in the future”. A friend’s internet was out for more than a week, and each day the answer in response to her “when will it be back on” was “belum, besok”. Hmm. When, exactly?

Sudah. This is definitely my favourite word in Bahasa. It means somewhere between “done”,”already” and “finished”. It’s what a waiter will ask you before clearing your plate, and it’s also the response to the question. It’s a word defined as much by punctuation and context as anything. “Sudah makan?” could mean “Have you already eaten?” or “Are you ready to eat?”. And at the end of the day, when you are ready to go home, you are definitely “sudah”.

Kemarin. The first time I read this word and looked it up, the translation was “yesterday”. And it mostly is. But it could also mean last week, or last month. If you mean really in the past, you can say it twice. I guess “previously” would probably be the best way to think about it. It’s kind of like how besok could mean tomorrow, or not.

Sampai. This one really confused me. It loosely translates as “until” but (you knew there was a but, right?) unlike English, this “until” doesn’t imply the change of condition has already happened. It’s more like when we use the English word “to” in order to describe a range, as in “4 to 6” or a period as in “up to” . Indonesians speaking in English would say “4 until 6”. Not wrong, exactly, but not always clear. Witness a conversation I had before moving here, regarding the status of my work permit.

Office person: I haven’t received any information until now. Me (optimistic that new information has arrived): OK so what are the next steps? Office: Well maybe I will be able tell you tomorrow. Me (looking at phone with puzzlement): OK?

You may notice that all these words are somehow connected to time. An Indonesian colleague’s theory is that since there is no tense in Bahasa, time doesn’t matter as much as it does in the West. (He said this to me after I complained that meetings never started on time, even though people were fixated about having meetings in their schedules). He’s probably right. I suppose these words exist to provide context and meaning, albeit somewhat vaguely. On the other hand, I like to think of them as more expressive of a different attitude to time, a way of being more “present” or more “now”. And that’s not a bad thing at all. It’s like the ever-hopefulness of “belum” – it hasn’t happened yet, but stay alert to what’s going on, because it just might.

Let me clear my throat

20 May

Does the Web get cobwebs? It’s been ages since I had something to say, and so there were some relatively anxious moments when I struggled to recall my password, and wondered whether the powers that be at WordPress had reallocated my virtual real estate to others with more time on their hands and words in their fingers. But as it turns out, the cloud is forgiving, and so here we are.

In the meantime, it’s good to be back. A recent week off left me with lots of thinking time, and via discussions with friends and family, the issue of choices and how we make them came up time and again. What should I pick? How should I choose? Is this better, or that? It’s amazing how many times these types of questions come up in day-to-day living.

It seems to me that one sign of growing up is that this choosing business gets harder, not easier, especially for the big stuff. Gone are the days of easy assertion – I don’t want broccoli, I like the blue one, let’s go this way. Instead, we think about the what-ifs, the trade-offs, the what-will-they-thinks. And hey, those are probably the right things to consider. If it was easy, we would have done it, right? If I look back on some of the big choices I’ve made, there are some common threads I’ve noticed.

  • They were outcome-driven, not process-driven. I had no idea how I was going to make it happen, but I knew what I wanted to have at the end
  • They were the sum of many smaller choices. Every time I got to a potential “fork in the road” I chose the path that got me closer to the outcome
  • They all had potential upside and downside consequences. I coached myself to articulate the best possible as well as the (much easier) worst possible things that could happen as a result of my choice.
  • They were mine. I shared the options with many people and discussed them thoroughly, but I made the choices on my own.

Now this isn’t a recipe, and it’s definitely not advice. But I am curious about whether other people’s brains work this way too. How do you make choices? What are your ‘go to’ questions or criteria for making decisions? If you choose to share, that would be cool.