“Home”

After four years of being away, of making some of my travel and life dreams a reality, I finally stepped foot back on the fertile soil of home. I have been back in the land of the long white cloud (and the long black) for two weeks. It has been intense, confusing and a bit of a roller coaster – which is to be expected.

A few months ago, as I tried to sort my life out and plan what I would do over the vacation (or if I would move back permanently or take another job in another country), I had a romanticized idea of what my time back here would be like, based on an amalgamation of my favorite memories from the past: drinking wine in a cozy bar with leather couches and a roaring fire with my friends, hanging out at the public library and writing everyday (which I’m doing right now, but it’s the second time in a few weeks), going to yoga and capoeira classes everyday, shopping at farmers’ markets and eating like a rabbit, being cultured and going to concerts and arthouse films, lounging around in my mother’s bathtub under a heaping of bubbles bought from Lush, walking the family dog along the beach, hanging at the esplanade sipping decaf flat whites, shopping for classy and original clothes by local designers so I don’t need to dress like a 14 year old anymore (thanks Seoul!).

Alas, I was thumped on the head by Reality. While I’ve been able to live out bits and pieces of my being home fantasy, ¬†expectations and reality have been often clashed. It would be appropriate to insert a Buddhist quote about impermanence here, but we all know intellectually that everything is impermanent and nothing stays the same. It’s just jarring to be confronted with it on a daily basis, in both big and small ways. An obvious example is that old shops and restaurants have closed down or moved. It’s disorienting. On a more personal level, friends and family have changed jobs and careers, gotten married or divorced, had more kids, gotten sick or even passed away and your old friends from back in the day, a clique brought together by being big fish in a small pond have dispersed and are only held together by the fraying thread of Facebook. After a bit too much wine, the family stories come out and you find out that people are much more complex than you thought. There’s a bottomless pit of family secrets to fall into and coming to terms with the fact that those you put on a pedestal do not belong there.

There’s coming to terms with the fact that everything is so damn expensive. I knew I would spend a lot of money, but not THIS much money. Holy crap. $3 for a bottle of water? $3 for a one way bus ride? Talk about reality slap. But there are so many things that I have been ‘deprived’ of that I go nuts: chai lattes, marinated mussels, merino wool sweaters, organic NZ yogurt, authentic Japanese food, real carrot cake, sexy underwear, op-shopping, leather boots, lamb everything, licorice, and of course all those movies and concerts cost money too.

Also jarring is the fact that I have had to step out of my Peter Pan bubble of denial. Yes, my friends are buying multiple houses, stepping up their career game and breeding. Family, family friends, and friends all take me aside at one time or another and ask that most Kiwi of questions, ‘So, when are you going to buy a house?’ It’s a national obsession (after rugby) – on the six o’clock news, on the front page of the paper and the talk of the chattering and working classes. I start feeling very inadequate and very poor. To add insult to injury, I sometimes get the ‘why don’t you have a husband and kids?’ question too. I retort that when I die, my face will be eaten off by my thirty cats, but I’m OK with it.

Then there’s trying not to fuse with the reality of those you are bound to by blood. I have had many moments of biting my tongue, of trying to be generous and compassionate. Instead of flipping out with a snarky ‘Well, all you do is go to work, come home, cook dinner then watch TV and go to bed’ statement, I breathe and remind myself that this kind of boring, predictable, stable life has advantages too. It’s just not for me, and that’s OK. I do not need to keep reverting to my sixteen year old self and slam doors every time I disagree with someone else’s life choices.

And we can’t forget the lifestyle piece: in this small city on the coast, sandwiched by pristine mountains and beaches, people talk about the lifestyle. While some smart, ambitious and enterprising people have been able to forge incredible careers and still get to enjoy the lifestyle this part of the world affords, most people I meet and know work to live. They don’t care about climbing up the greasy monkey pole. Instead, they want their freedom and free time to enjoy the outdoors and slow pace of life. To stay home and raise kids, to be able to head out camping for weeks at a time when the mood strikes them, to survive on a part-time wage so they can do other things. It’s seductive, this idea. Leaving behind the rat race and all its pressures and pitfalls. But again, it’s not for me.

I’m in the midst of this ‘coming home’ story and I’m sure with more reflection, my experience and opinion will change. In the meantime, the beauty of this little paradise on the east coast of NZ’s South Island ¬†still takes my breath away. Enjoy.

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Jakarta-ing

Although I have been to Indonesia twice before (to Bali specifically), I had never been to Java, the most populated island in the world (145 million humans and counting). So I jumped at the chance to visit a friend living in Jakarta (the biggest city in Indonesia) to get a new perspective of this Muslim nation outside of the Bali/Hindu bubble I had previously experienced.

Jakarta is home to some ten million inhabitants and even more motorcycles. The public transportation system is undeveloped, which is both surprising and unsurprising for a large, developing Asian city. This means that there’s crazy traffic congestion and ‘slow chaos’ as my friend described it. Luckily taxis and Ubers are plentiful and cheap (but beware the dudes who zoom by stealing phones and handbags from unsuspecting tourists).

Jakarta is also a city of contrasts – extreme wealth juxtaposed with extreme poverty; slums next to high rises. The kind of place where white, expat privilege gets you far. Where there is still a colonial legacy (Dutch) and where someone with a middle-class income can have a cook, maid, driver and live in a beautiful, safe environment complete with swimming pool.

It’s an interesting time to visit the city before the western capitalist behemoth takes over completely and the little guys – the small, family-run traditional shops, markets and restaurants are washed away in a tsunami of giant malls and McDonald’s. But for now, one can still buy a bowl of chicken curry from the street for less than a dollar. And it will be interesting to see how the culture evolves – currently a very corrupt Muslim country, sex, alcohol, and drugs are plentiful for a local or expat with money. Ridiculous rules come and go (a woman applying to the military must undergo a ‘virginity test’). For a country with thousands of islands and languages, without a tenuous national identify, Jakarta itself is probably like a foreign country to those living in the often impoverished countryside. While I can’t speak about the boonies from my own limited experience, perhaps one unifying factor is the warmth and friendliness of Indonesia’s people. Below are a few photos from my visit to Jakarta, if you’d like to see.

The view at sunset from the 29th floor of a central Jakarta highrise apartment.

The view at sunset from the 29th floor of a central Jakarta highrise apartment.

A visit to Jakarta's mosque during Ramadan. The large structure is reportedly the largest mosque in Asia.

A visit to Jakarta’s mosque during Ramadan. The large structure is reportedly the largest mosque in Asia.

Some locals rowing from their make-shift housing to the mainland. Jakarta's port has played an important role in the city's development - from small colonial Dutch settlement to Asian megacity.

Some locals rowing from their make-shift housing to the mainland. Jakarta’s port has played an important role in the city’s development – from small colonial Dutch settlement to Asian megacity.

Street food is a big part of life in Jakarta. Delicious and super cheap, buying local food from vendors is the ultimate tourist experience. It also provides an interesting window on life in the city - just across the road is a glittering megamall selling Louis Vuitton.

Street food is a big part of life in Jakarta. Delicious and super cheap, buying local food from vendors is the ultimate tourist experience. It also provides an interesting window on life in the city – just across the road is a glittering megamall selling Louis Vuitton.