Throughout my entire adult life I’ve been very fortunate to have extensively travelled, lived and worked in different countries around the world. One of the great things about working and living in a variety of countries – especially countries where I haven’t spoken the local language – is that you’re afforded a truly ‘coal-faced’ experience. You benefit from learning and understanding all the amazing things about said country, plus glean a more developed and broader perspective on not only where you come from, but how lucky you truly are.
I spent years in South East Asia (Jakarta mostly), and what I truly relished was submerging myself into the local cultures and ‘street-life’…this was achieved mostly through eating. Eating regional cuisines in family run Warungs, with ‘the locals’.
The ‘Jakartians’, like pretty much everywhere in Indonesia, are super friendly and welcoming.
They love smiling, laughing and eating…quite possibly my 3 favourite things.
Unlike ‘most’ expats in living in Jakarta, I’d had no problem leaving my compound, to literally wander off and explore.
Expats don’t generally walk around the streets of Jakarta, so the locals would be curious, staring at me wondering what the f**** I was doing. I’d get an even bigger reaction as they watched me, a 6ft bald westerner, taking a seat in one of their very, very humble establishments.
Visualise sitting street-side on plastic furniture aka crates, under a tarpaulin, makeshift BBQ’s, dodgy electricity, absolutely no hygiene, the odd rat, often pouring with rain, always stupidly humid, and everyone gossiping and smoking Garum clove cigarettes – all the while, curiously watching me eating quite possibly the most deliciously spicy, ridiculously hot food, gleefully smiling as I suffer and sweat.
I felt I had a genuine connection with the locals, I’m not afraid to smile and attempt to speak Bahasa, so it didn’t take long to pick up a nickname or two in the Warungs that I regularly visited. Some of the nicknames, well, the ones that they said to my face, included Pak Botak (Mr Baldie), or Botak Bulé (Bald Foreigner), or, and if I was eating in a Chinese area of Jakarta I was referred to as a ‘Gweilo’ – another term for foreigner or ‘white ghost’.
It wasn’t unusual when returning to a regular Warung the owner would yell from across the street “Hey Botak, makan, makan??” (Hey Baldie, eat, eat??)
If anyone was to ask me how to best describe Jakarta I’d say, and aside from mentioning the traffic, it’s like an onion. It’s layer upon layer upon layer upon layer. From extreme ugly wealth to extreme poverty, and everything in between. You can see and smell the most beautiful and sweet, and within a heartbeat, your senses are assaulted by something brutally pungent and visually distressing…this incredibly rich tapestry is astonishingly eye-opening, & humbling. The crazy-vibrancy of SE Asia makes Australia look positively beige in comparison.
“Macet, macet lagi“…what Indonesian’s say when stuck in traffic
Translates to ‘stuck again’.
One of my biggest takeaways from my time there, that still resonates today, is not only how grateful I am as to where I live, but that I have so many choices available to me. Unlike the millions and millions that live in abject poverty in Jakarta, who’s lives are consumed ‘hoping and praying’ that they remain ‘healthy’. My life-choice selection is so privileged that I don’t have to even consider concerning myself with shelter, safety, clean water, working electricity & sewage, food abundance, clean air etc
I have the luxury to choose how to live.
In Australia, we are both blessed and burdened with the scope-of-choices we have available to us. And I’d argue that it’s our over distracted-reliance in seeking (choosing) comfort and abundance that keeps us anxious, fat, tired, sick and unhappy.
Given this privileged abundance of choice available to us, one couldthink we’d use this gift to procure what best fulfils our psychological and physiological needs – that unlike our less fortunate brothers and sisters around the world – we’d have a uniquely blessed opportunity to be the best possible versions of ourselves – living a life striding purposefully & curiously in pursuit of self-betterment.
But, and to use a very West Australian colloquialism…yeah, nah!
We all continue to struggle…
“We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word,
everything of our own doing.”
Why are our choices often over-complicated, and tend to be both vice-dependant and vice-influenced?
Another hurdle we face is the tenure of our choices – we’ve been making the same choices for (often) decades. If you’re past the age of 40, it’s the tenure of repeated choices that is most complicit when it comes to both identifying, and implementing the actions to recalibrate the changes we may need to make.
Why change now?
“You are being presented with two choices:
Evolve or repeat”
I have no idea if solely being more aware of how lucky we are will be enough to stimulate the motivation required to ignite the change each of us needs.
However in positive psychology research, practicing gratitude daily(using strategies to remind yourself how lucky you truly are) is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
But what I do believe, it is more important now than ever before, that via calm sober reflection, we remind ourselves everyday, that we do have a choice on what we can focus on.
And by reducing our distractions and stealing a little of our timeto deliberately focus more on what is good in our life, and what is actually available to us in our life – then, then we have an opportunity to raise the quality of our choices…and when our choices improve, that’s when we feel really lucky.
Making ‘good’ choices or ‘bad’ choices, ‘healthy’ choices or ‘unhealthy’ choices are just different sides of the same coin…once we have identified and understood this, we’re then in a much better position to flip that coin.
And it’s often by investigating our vices, is where we can heal best.
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Resist it…pick up a good book, play with the dog, go for a walk in the rain, or do some squats.
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