Thoughts on Living Your Holiday

Years ago, while I was still a student in Zürich, I had a conversation with a guy which has lingered in my brain. We discussed some of my background, with me saying that I spent a couple of years working in the hotel industry and then got out. His next comment was “Oh, so you’ve only been a functioning adult for 2 years.”

The best I can say about this response is that he probably didn’t mean to sound as much like a dick as he did. He was a rather conservative guy for someone several years younger than me, so it makes sense that his definition of functioning adulthood is working a full-time job and paying taxes even though he’d never done any. He had a bit of a talent for pointing out exactly what you might feel insecure about, though.

This is something that’s popped up in my mind now and then ever since. Living in a student WG at my age was, for most people, regressive. “Aren’t you supposed to get your own apartment? Aren’t you supposed to be working full time in order to get that?” I loved my life, but I was never sure if I should. I thought my life there was a bit of a holiday because there I managed to turn my regular life into having the energy of a holiday.

This even got turned up to 11 for my couple of months as a hostel volunteer. I wasn’t living as a normal taxpaying career consumer, but I filled my life with the spontaneity that can only easily come from not being that. Working as a tour guide, and then as a volunteer, gave my life a degree of freedom that was both liberating and worrying. I recently got to revisit one of my hostels for a week, and it was just full of the activity I haven’t been having lately as a full-time teacher.

All this was a rather intense experience. Every day was full of something, and I love the kind of social environment where meeting people is encouraged far more than not.

Generally speaking universities and so on also offer relatively intense social environments, and I’ve often recommended people to take advantage of that because regular adulthood does not make that easier. I’ve met many people who struggle with it afterwards because the contrast is dramatic: you go from living with friends in an environment where you would meet many different people all the time to living on your own working a job where you see the same people at least 5 days per week. Life does not make it immediately obvious how to improve on that either because you are usually on your own.

It was apparent to me while I was living in that WG that I had tapped into an aspect of happiness that society largely disagreed with: Everyone says you’re supposed to get a job and develop your assets in terms of property and savings. Then the idea is that you get married, have some kids, and eventually retire. Ideally, you love that person you marry, and ideally, you enjoy the job you work at.

Let’s be honest though, many people slide into marriage because they dated and it seemed like the next step. Many people get a job that they’re okay with and then just keep doing it for years until leaving isn’t easy anymore. Barring any big life shocks, it’s common to just go from one thing to another because society suggested that it was the next thing you should do.

And maybe that does satisfy you, which is great. I’m willing to bet that many people just do it because it was presented as the next thing to do, though, and the busyness of life keeps them occupied. This is, however, what mid-life crises are made of: reaching your 40s or 50s, maybe when your kids grow up, and realising that maybe you didn’t do what you wanted to do.

I was really affected by my last experience working in the US, and then my time in Penang soon after that. In the US I met lots of Americans who were working the exact same kind of job I was, but were limited by the parochial borders of American society which doesn’t look outside very much. Those without families to support just worked towards their next car, or a bigger apartment. I had the great fortune to live for months with a friend in Penang, and he was also dealing with the lack of the same social environment we had had before. Both these experiences taught me that life had a way of feeling empty without something more to fill it up.

I am, currently, trying the normal thing: I work 5-6 days a week, I rent a studio apartment, and I save money to go on holidays. The stability is great, of course, but I can’t help but find myself chafing a bit at the regularity of it. Sometimes I hear people say what many have said before: “I just came back from my holiday and now it’s back to work, I wish I could be on holiday all the time.”

And sure, bills need to be paid, and for that work must be done. But the way I see it is that you can still make your life more like your holidays if you want to. Insofar as possible, fill your non-work hours with the things you like to do while on holiday. Even if you don’t like your job, you can find something else to bring you joy. If you love your job, even better, but it need not entirely define you as a person.

I think it’s important to recognise your own humanity and individuality because it is your life, no one else will live it for you, so you have to choose how best you want to live it.

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Thoughts on Remembering

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes me who I am, in particular what determines my behaviour. I’ve been through quite a lot, with both a lot of opportunities and just as many disappointments, and often the two are connected. The lesson I learned from my challenges was that while you should try and recognise your problems, you shouldn’t dwell on them. I’ve done a lot of feeling sorry for myself, and some of it is warranted, but sooner or later you have to choose to stand up and get on with things. No one else will. You have to seek out and find what brings you joy, but it has to be a choice and it has to be you. No one can make that decision for you.

I also choose not to dwell on regrets. I believe that the person you are when you make certain decisions makes them determined by all the factors in play at the time: what you knew, how you felt, if you were tired, anything. You can learn and make better decisions by knowing more, but there’s no point in actual regret because you are not the person you were when you made that choice.

I’ve been interested to discover how different friends learn different lessons from some of the same problems. Heartbreak, for example, can really destroy some people. I had a few rough ones, but the lesson I learned is that you can fall in and out of love. There’s no destiny to it. It can still be an emotionally heavy experience and should be, but there are billions of people out there and it’s a little self-centred to believe that none of them would be just as amazing as the last. And you, the different person who got to learn from that experience, can do better for yourself next time.

I had the good fortune to have a few transformative experiences. One was having a great roommate back in 2010. He taught me to ask “Why not?” to any outgoing activity and realise that most reasons you give yourself not to do it don’t really hold up. You’re allowed to be lazy and that’s fine, but you should choose that to be your good reason, or recognise it to be a bad one. This has made me seem really extroverted and outgoing since then, but I assure you it was not always the case.

I’ve been told all this adds up to a relentless optimism which seems in contrast with the sad state of other aspects of my life.

This is a preamble to me wondering about a question a good friend asked me at one point. When I got it confirmed that I was leaving Zürich, it was the latest of a long series of disappointments in my life. All the big things people say that you’re supposed to do, like university, career and family, are all things I have not been successful at. Of course, that doesn’t have to be everyone’s path, but I wasn’t actually against any of it and I tried. And failed a lot. So my friend asked me if I’m dealing with all of it well, because most people would be a lot more affected than I seemed to be. It’s not unheard of to hide these things, after all.

I won’t pretend that I didn’t still dwell on them and that I didn’t have some rough days. I prefer to sleep with white noise, like an audiobook or podcast, because nothing is worse for my sleep than being alone with my worries.

But like I said above: you have to seek out the things that bring you joy. For me, they offset the challenges and disappointments.

Still, her question made me think a lot about my path in life. One reason it was so difficult to leave Zürich was that I’d built such a network and lived there for so long that it was hard to imagine not being a part of their lives anymore. Most of my life since graduating high school has been mobile, so my friends were temporary. Being in touch with them by social media helps, but hard experience has taught me that you’re lucky to see most of them even once or twice ever again. I have had an inconsistent relationship with my family, too. So I try to make the most of the time I have with people that bring me joy.

My ex used to tell me that nostalgia was a useless emotion. This was a mild point of contention between us because I am a rather nostalgic person and she knew it. We looked at things differently. I have never dealt well with leaving a place and people I love. Even when it came to places I didn’t love that much, I still struggled somewhat with leaving.

And I love telling stories. I’ve met many people in my life who are not storytellers, and you can see the difference in conversation. A story is an artificial construct based on your experience, and some people just don’t frame their lives in that way. I’ve always loved telling stories about friends, family, and aspects of my life. I even made a life compilation video, and I did wonder if the act of making it was saying “This was my life, remember me when I’m gone” which is a little morbid, but it came from a place of joy. My nostalgia isn’t motivated by “Look how much better things were back then” but rather “That was a good time and I remember it.”

I realised recently that it’s because it bothers me on some fundamental level that no one else will remember it but me. My ex moved around in her life but always had her family as the centre of it. She doesn’t need to tell stories about friends long past, because her family was there. This isn’t a critique on my family, because every family is different and our dynamic is very much its own complicated thing.

It’s more that just like how no one else can bring you out of a low slump but yourself deciding to, no one else will see all the things you have, do all the things you’ve done, or encounter all the people you have. I think, on some fundamental level, that that is a tragedy.

I’ve been fortunate enough to move countries or cities multiple times in my life, and while it’s an opportunity every time to reinvent yourself for the new environment you’ll be in, you also leave a lot behind. Even if you didn’t like that person you were or that place you lived in, it’s a part of how you became you today. Others may not think that’s important but I do.

I suppose it’s a little existential of me. We only have the time we have here and now in our lives. Each of us is one in billions of other human beings, and we are on a rock floating in a stupendously large universe. Our lives are, in a cosmic sense, infinitesimally small, but they are our lives and that makes them important to us.

It makes them worth remembering because no one else will.

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Rewriting Game of Thrones Season 8

First of all, Season 8 isn’t finished at the time of this writing. I’ve been dwelling on this since I have to say I’ve been increasingly disappointed with the way the show has been written. It’s not unusual to say that once the show ran out of book material to base itself on, the writing took a rather dramatic shift. In general, the books and the early seasons of the show focused on strong characters and interesting politics. The first season didn’t have much spectacle at all, and was mostly characters talking to each other. The last few seasons seem to gloss over character moments in favour of spectacle.

Similarly, the early seasons (and the books) focus on a degree of realism within its universe. Characters who don’t adapt and play the game with intelligence and pragmatism tend to die. The show educates you for 5 seasons about how this is not your typical fantasy story with invulnerable heroes, and that the characters you think of as evil seem to have the advantages. The last few seasons seems to recognise, instead, that we like these characters so we should keep them around even when they don’t serve any more narrative purpose.

Season 8 so far has been pretty mixed for me. I appreciate the filmmaking craft involved and I think it has delivered some great character interaction moments, but overall it’s a bit lacking. In particular, the show seems to break what I’d like to call the Stone/Parker rule of storytelling: rather than writing “A and then B and then C and then D” you should be writing “A happens, therefore B, but C happens, therefore D.”

Moreover, I feel like this last season, the conclusion to the entire story, fails to capture the whole theme of the story being told. I can’t say more without going into spoilers though.

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Thoughts on Teaching

It’s been a while since I’ve written an update, so here we go.

Before I arrived back in Jakarta, my company offered to find me accommodation, and I asked for a Kos Kosan. Basically this means shared cheap housing. My concept of it was shaped by my long experience with Wohngemeinde (WGs) in Zürich, in that case a shared apartment. In Europe this typically means a multiple room apartment where you share common areas in a kitchen, living room, possibly bathroom. I had a great social atmosphere with them in Zürich and generally aspired to be able to have the same.

I think it works differently here though. There’s some variety, but in my case it was a room with a private bathroom, but no shared space. The way it was built was more like the house had been built with servants quarters in mind, but since the owner didn’t employ any servants to live in the house, he might as well rent out the rooms.

The location being close to work was great, but I decided that since I wasn’t getting the social benefit of shared housing I might as well aim for comfort, and found myself a studio apartment. This was a lot easier after acclimatising a little more to Jakarta and how things work, as well as getting a better idea of the geography of the city and what would be a reasonable distance from work, especially factoring traffic in.

I also feel like I’ve settled into teaching somewhat. I have a few classes of my own now which are my responsibility and they vary. One is a class of 6-8 year olds, and they’re adorable, but also kind of difficult. Kids at this age are easily distracted, and my class has both strong and weak students. This makes it difficult because strong students tend to finish their work early, and then can get bored or start distracting other students, while you don’t quite have the time to give weaker students the attention they need. It’s a dilemma to deal with. It’s easy to tell parents that their child is too smart and should go up a level, but not so much the other.

I have some older students in the 13-16 age range, and some of them are great and talkative. I have one class where I know a few of them would have things to say, but they don’t want to be the first ones to say something so they just all stay quiet. Oh teenagers.

While I was volunteering at hostels, I met a lot of teachers in other places, and some of them told me that the job can sometimes just be an excuse for a local company to show off that they have a white person working for them. I was told that in Vietnam or China this can be particularly egregious, with them also disregarding, say, Asian-Americans, who are fluent in English but just don’t look right. The quality of the school or company can vary a lot too, depending on their priorities. Sometimes people get hired even if English is a second language to them as well, but they’re still white, even if they come from Ukraine or somewhere else.

In my experience here in Indonesia, it’s not bad. I have classes where I make the plan and I do the teaching, and I have classes where I co-teach with someone else. Ideally, what the students benefit from is being able to interact with a native speaker who can also bring an outside cultural experience. Indeed, some parents insist on that being a selling point for them to send their kids to these classes. We have a minimum number of hours we officially have to be teaching in to fulfil requirements, which is typical bureaucratic stuff, and you don’t always have a class to assign, so you sometimes end up feeling like an unnecessary second teacher in a class. I don’t consider this to be the same problem as teachers in other countries had suggested though. You have to be teaching a certain amount per week, and it won’t always be useful time. Welcome to any workplace, after all, not all working hours are productive ones. Especially with smaller children too, in a bigger class, the second pair of hands and eyes can be very useful.

My initial worry upon arriving was that I haven’t had much experience working with kids and it was the most intimidating part of it. I’m still learning, but I think I’ve gotten into a bit of a groove. I like my younger students and sometimes I wish I could just play around with them, but teaching is important. The teenagers tell me that our classes are harder than what they do in high school, so it’s worthwhile work. It’s sometimes difficult to limit my desire to talk about what I’m interested in though. This was a point that I could revel in as a tour guide, but kids lack the mental space to learn quickly, and teens often don’t have the experience to put it into context and understanding.

I’ll always remember marking one short essay though, where the question was about describing a big challenge in their lives. Most of them, coming from middle-class families and only having experienced school, wrote about big exams they had a lot of pressure to pass. One, however, wrote about how starting the last years of her high school emphasised that pressure because everyone around her was saying that her life and future would be decided with everything she did. It wasn’t talking about a particular exam, or conquering stage fright to give a presentation, but the pressure of academic achievement and competition. My heart went out to her, because girl, that isn’t going away anytime soon.

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Thoughts on Place Informing Personality

Something I was deeply worried about before leaving Switzerland was that my change in environment would also change me. My concern was that I really liked who I was in that context, and I wasn’t sure that I’d have another opportunity to continue being that person in a different one. It sounds a little ridiculous, you are still you wherever you are, right?

Well, I’ve had plenty of times in my life where I behaved differently. When I was stuck in the hospital a couple of years ago, one friend remarked that I must get really bored there, because I seemed like such an outgoing, extroverted person. It wasn’t true, I’ve also had plenty of times in my life where I was happy laying in bed watching shows. Sometimes that mode would last weeks.

However, I do have to say that I enjoy my extroverted self. No one is ever 100% anything, which is why I hate when people take Myers-Briggs tests so seriously as if being INTP or whatever was the be-all-end-all of their personality. You are more than just a type. So, of course, I also liked my time on my own… but I relished the part of myself I had cultivated as an extrovert. Despite stereotypes of Zürich and Swiss people being cold or unfriendly, many aspects of Zürich made it easy to build this version of myself around. It was easy to get around, and therefore also easy to socialise and meet friends in. There was often something happening, and therefore it rewarded you for being in-the-know. The weather was often pretty good, so it also rewarded you for getting outside.

I feel that contrast pretty highly with being back in Jakarta. Jakarta is not that easy to get around, so it discourages me from getting out a lot. Parts of the city can be quite cosmopolitan, but not where I am, so chances to be spontaneously social are more limited (you have to arrange things ahead of time with friends rather than just meet them) and dependent on your level of Indonesian. The pollution outside is a big part of what keeps people indoors in malls or at home. Most of my friends in Jakarta are also more established in their lives, being married or close enough, so meeting up is also not a casual affair.

I find it a little sad that, when I ask the kids in my classes what they do outside of school, they mostly say they study or play video games. There isn’t a lot of life for them outside of that, and from conversations with some of my colleagues, I suspect that for some of them that continues into their adult and professional lives. You work, you go home. A lot of people live life like that, and that can be fine, but I think it’s good to be aware of what you’re doing so you can make a choice.

Now, I am still me, and I still would like to be that extroverted person I was before. I also have to say that it’s more difficult here. The city as it is encourages the part of me that lays in bed watching things, which is alright as a part of me but I don’t want it to be all of me, which makes it a bit of an uphill struggle.

We shall see.

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Film Analysis: Captain Marvel

I should preface this by saying that it isn’t a review. I think movies, like all art forms, are pretty subjective and everyone should decide for themselves. I would say, however, that half of the purpose of a review should also be to educate movie viewers about how to think about movies. Sure, you can get my opinion of the movie by reading this, but I won’t tell you what to think, just what I think.

I also don’t think this is a bad movie, but it definitely feels a bit messy, like they didn’t know what to do with it, and that’s what’s interesting to pick apart. I’ll probably spend more words criticising it than praising it, but that’s just because thinking about what might have gone wrong, and what could have been better, is interesting.

Before we get to the spoiler line, I have to say that the movie hit a bit of the Last Jedi problem for me: it had some interesting things it was trying to do, but it was too much and couldn’t focus on one thing. This is what makes a film feel messy and unfocused.

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The temptation to use a prequel to explain everything almost always ends up bad.

Part of this is because it’s a prequel. The main story isn’t really a prequel, but it has so many Cinematic Universe things it’s trying to do that it gets distracting. Characters we saw in other movies show up a lot (Fury, Coulson, Ronan, to name a few), and if it were left at that, it would be fine. This is, however, coupled with lots of 90s nostalgia, which got pretty annoying.

A period piece should never focus too much on the setting at the expense of the story. Writers should probably ask themselves if the setting informs the story at all. “Stranger Things” is famous for its 80s nostalgia, but in many ways the time period informed the show (at least, the first season): the 80s were a time where D&D was becoming big with kids, “missing children” was a common reality that people would hear about and see, and so on.

“Captain Marvel” plays lots of 90s music hits, and references things like Windows 95, Blockbuster, and the fashions of the time… but they have no point. Both “Guardians of the Galaxy” had a famous soundtrack, but its existence did more than just reference what was happening in the film. It ends up informing us a lot about Peter Quill’s character. Even in movies where the soundtrack featured famous songs, it was used effectively. In the end, “Captain Marvel” makes the same mistakes as “Suicide Squad” where it feels like the songs were kind of just thrown into the movie where something vaguely related to the events on screen was happening but that’s it. The only point is nostalgia.

Nostalgia in this movie just gets a bit distracting. While you should be paying attention to the characters and the story, you keep getting bombarded with “Remember this?” As someone who grew up during the 90s, I can’t help wondering if this is how 80s kids felt with the explosion of 80s nostalgia lately.

There are also many problems regarding being a prequel. Setting it in the past apparently tempted the filmmakers to fill it with way more cinematic universe than they needed to, and most of it isn’t necessary. How did Fury lose his eye? Why were the Avengers named what they were? What was the Tesseract doing in the 90s? All of this is also distracting from the main story. I know plenty of people who love this stuff, but I don’t think it should ever take over the movie and it kind of does. A surprising amount of screen time is taken up by hinting or explaining these things, and while it makes lore nerds happy it doesn’t make it a good film. There are two reasons this can happen: they’re given too much focus, or not enough is given to the main story or character. And I’m tempted to say it’s both.

I also have a problem with the writing of the movie. I think they struggled with what to do with Carol Danvers as a character. Part of that is that her comic book character doesn’t have that many defining traits either, but that isn’t really an excuse. Many other Marvel characters don’t have strong characteristics, or have fairly generic ones, but the films can adapt that and have largely succeeded in doing so.

That by itself isn’t so much an issue as much as they failed to make her relatable. I feel like many people are going to blame it on the acting, but it’s really the writing. Many lines she’s given aren’t great, but overall the problem is the execution of her character arc. And for that, we’ll have to talk about Feminism.

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Jakarta Transitions

Jakarta is the city I grew up in, and to date still the place I have lived longest in (14 years, compared to 7 in the US overall and 9 in Switzerland, mostly Zürich, overall). I’m at the age now, however, where I have spent more time away from it than I spent in it.

So coming back is… odd. There are a number of things which are familiar, and it feels so good to recognise that familiarity. Being in Malaysia for the past few months has made me treasure how enunciated Indonesian sounds compared to Malay. The food, as ever, has been excellent and it’s nice to have it again. While some areas of Jakarta have changed a lot, some haven’t too much. Even little subtle things, like phrases, body language, and mannerisms just feel good to recognise.

At the same time, I’m also a different person coming back here, and the way I grew up here wasn’t exactly normal. Growing up as an expat kid means that your exposure to the culture around you is mixed and can vary a lot. When I went to the US later, people would sometimes try to figure me out and assume that 14 years should be enough to determine my sense of identity, but I knew very well that I didn’t really qualify. Today, I know that any sense of identity that isn’t a legal nationality is really just up to you, but I can definitely say that while there are ways that Indonesia feels like home, there are also ways it doesn’t.

Regardless, I can’t help wondering how I even got here, because it’s changed a lot in the past few months. A few months ago I was a tour guide in Zürich. I lived in a student WG (shared apartment), would bike around town, do standup comedy every couple of weeks or so, and generally delighted in a busy schedule that was under my control. By that point, I knew Zürich pretty well, had developed a number of contacts which made me feel connected and had a broad variety of friends from the different walks of life I was in.

I spent about three months in Malaysia and spent two of them hostel volunteering, which I have to admit was something I felt pretty comfortable with, pretty quickly. Hotel work is similar wherever you go, and tour guiding gave me lots of practice with people. If anything, I rather thrive on meeting and greeting. Tour guiding left its mark on me, and I really enjoy telling people about the country they’re in and making recommendations on places to go or try. Hostel living is really hectic though, and it can sometimes just be overwhelming.

And now, by contrast, I’m starting one of the most regular jobs I’ve ever worked in terms of hours. It seems like can get hectic during class hours, but outside of that is largely administrative. East Jakarta is mostly outside of the expat circuits, so unless my Indonesian gets a lot better my social life has and will take a dive. From some of the people I talk to, it’s normal to work, then go home and chill.

I have to say, this isn’t something I’m used to yet. And yet, this is also what people tend to pretend adulthood is all about. “I used to go out on Saturdays, but now I prefer just to sit at home and watch Netflix” and I don’t know if I can do that yet. Sometimes, yes, it’s nice to have a break after hyper hostel life, but I’m not a huge fan of the main social contact I have being either work or over the Internet. I’m also generally of the opinion that you can always question what people all assume you should do at whatever age you are. Being over 30 doesn’t mean your behaviour has to be any one specific thing. It’s possible that behaviour would change if I settled down with somebody, but I hardly think it’s mandatory before kids would hypothetically be involved.

Location determines possibilities though, and Jakarta is massive. I could get by with a wide bunch of contacts in Zürich’s 400,000 people. I could handle a microcosm of that at a hostel, where the backpacking community always felt small because most people followed similar routes and would all know each other. But now life is “normal” in a huge city and it’s just uncharted territory for me. Even the kids at the centre I teach at talk casually, even with their teachers, about spending a lot of time gaming on Fortnite. That’s cool in terms of normalising gamer culture, but also possibly indicative that social life might work differently here.

One thing I know for sure, I do like building communities by bringing people together. It’ll be a challenge over here, but you never know.

Still, it’s understandable being a little flummoxed at the moment. It’s been a lot of change, and I’m only contracted for a year as things currently stand. Most likely it’ll feel like no time when that’s up.

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