Letting go

For the past few months I’ve been reading a book called “The art of doing nothing” by Theo Fischer. It’s a book about the Tao and I can recommend it for two reasons. 1. It’s interesting. 2. It’s difficult to read (or badly translated, or both), so it only takes two pages to fall asleep. Easier than counting sheep.

This Tao thing is complicated, but also the easiest thing ever. I am not going to try to explain it, because I am not sure I understand and anyway there are other websites and books that you can check. In short though, I think it is about living in the moment, not resisting what is, not clinging to the past or future, letting go of your ego, and feeling connected to everything on earth. It’s also apparently something that you can’t understand by trying to understand it, so I guess we’ve all just failed. Now let go of that failure and move on.

At the end of the book are some suggestions for exercises. One of them talks about how we have so many people, objects, habits that we are attached or even addicted to, and it suggests we pick one and try to let go of it and experience what happens. I decided to give it a go and *shock and horror* delete Whatsapp from my phone. To some people this might not sound like a big thing, but I was definitely addicted to it. It was my lifeline to my friends at home. I am in a different timezone, but always aware of what time it is back home (also because I am just very good at math and adding six hours comes easily to me). I was clinging to Whatsapp and getting RSI in the meantime. And yet it was never enough, never really comforting. You can spend an hour typing like crazy and still nothing much has been said. In short, it was preventing me from dealing with being here and settling in.

I was also inspired by friends who don’t have smartphones or whatsapp. They seemed to be functioning perfectly fine. And yesterday I went to see a play and one of the props was an old fashioned airmail envelope, one of those with diagonal red and blue stripes around the edges.  I might have to go look for the thin sheets of paper that go with it and start writing some letters. After all, news is kind of like fashion: if you just wait there will always be a time when it’s ‘hot’ again.

So I hit delete, and felt…fine. Relieved. I guess the point of the exercise is to notice that you won’t have serious detox symptoms, that you don’t need the attachment to still be and feel connected to people. I am drawing the line here though. The Facebook app stays, and Gmail too. But I promise to be more dedicated to enjoying my life here, even if it means having to go to the beach allllll day today. I’ll do what it takes.

On another missing-home related note, someone just sent me this link, and it reminded me so much of Sundays at home when I still lived with my parents. I think I miss those times because (luckily) I was free of responsibilities and life seemed so much more simple. I decided to try to recreate that Sunday morning feeling so I am now listening to classical music. It’s almost the same, except instead of fresh baguette and boiled eggs for breakfast I just had a huge bowl of pasta, because I forgot to have dinner last night.

Hey, nobody’s perfect. Let’s just accept it.

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Two shades of blond

Yes, everyone is reading that book here too. There is a copy of it lying around in the house that I am house sitting. However, I care about my image so I am careful to take a Jodi Picoult to the beach instead.

In case you are wondering where I am and why I am house sitting, the short version is: quit my job, packed my stuff, moved to Curaçao. Is this a little case of ‘whoops I did it again’ or the best thing I ever did? I guess time will tell. I wanted something different, and although I used to live here when I was a child, everything is still very different from my life in Amsterdam.

Instead of a job and a monthly pay check, I now have nothing. Or as you can also put it, every chance to make a new start and finally find work that I might actually like. Instead of wearing heels and dresses and tights and scarfs, I am now walking around half naked most of time, because it’s simply too hot and because, until I have work, I can. Instead of smelling like Body Shop lotion and Gucci perfume, my signature scent is now a spray called Off!, combined with sunscreen.

Instead of annoying swarms of pigeons and the bunnies outside Arup, I now take care of two dogs, remove ticks from their ears, kill cockroaches (or let them run away), and try to save lizzards from the empty pool. Lizzards that do NOT like being saved by the way.  But I’ve discovered that if you leave them, they die within two days. Strange, you’d think they’d be better equipped to deal with the sun and lack of water.  I swerve for little goats, park next to huge dead iguanas (it wasn’t me), and spot and hear cool birds everywhere. Not to mention the underwater world.

Instead of biking and walking, everything except collecting the mail is done by car. I thought I noticed the speed limit being 60km/h, but everyone seems to drive either way above or way below it, so I just adapt, too. I think I have taken more drives in this past week than the past year in the Netherlands.

Instead of being close to my friends, I now have to make new ones. Luckily everyone is extremely nice and helpful, and one other ‘new girl’ got very excited and asked me straight out if I wanted to be her friend and come to her birthday party. She is 29. And I said yes, and felt very happy. Instead of everything being anonymous, I went to yoga and ran into the girl that lived across the road from me when we lived here in the late 80s. And when going from meeting to meeting with all sorts of people, it turns out that everyone knows each other (and is more than happy to refer you to the next person that might be able to help).

Instead of city streets, I see the dazzling Caribbean sea every day. Instead of things going quickly and efficiently, everyting here is much slower, but there still seems to be way more time.

And at the end of the day,  when the sun goes down and casts its last light and makes everything shine and glow in the most beautiful colours you have ever seen, there are no words to describe how good it feels to witness that beauty, to be here and give myself the chance create something different, new, exciting. But then in the car home, having a sudden breakdown, out of nothing, over all the things I miss, most notably all the people I miss, I can’t help but curse my neverending urge for change, and wonder why I am doing all this.

Maybe it’s because I think it might make everything, not just my hair, just those two shades lighter and brighter…

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Anger issues

Over the past weeks I heard a few stories where people I know were accused of having anger issues. The same thing happened to me, too. The catch here is that the people casting the blame were actually directly causing the anger they didn’t approve of. Say you hit someone, which you KNOW will hurt them and is a wrong thing to do, and then when the other person becomes angry you say: “you have too much anger inside you, it’s not fair you are letting it out on me”.

Now, this would probably piss off even the not-so-angry inclined amongst us. But while I was struggling not to explode (because proving someone right is just no fun), I started to think about it a bit more. Maybe I really am an angry person…with angry friends..  I do know that I would miserably fail the “Bike through Amsterdam without losing your temper  test”. But really, why do people bike so slow, so fast, so stupidly, so…in my way! And really, why do they allow cars and scooters in the centre anyway. Also, why do tourists think they can cross the road without even looking? And definitely: all pigeons MUST DIE. Clearly, the only people that would pass this test are trained buddhists or stoned tourists.

Even though I could easily blame the city, I realise I am not the most peaceful person on earth. It seems to get worse in times or situations where I feel unhappy or not in control. It is not something I am proud of, but I am working on it. I’ve also started to see that anger is usually a sign that I need to change things (you know, simple things, like quitting my job, giving up my house, moving abroad. But that’s a whole other story).

So while my friends and I are looking in the mirror to examine our issues, the manipulative anger-causers would do well to start being useful too. Here’s an idea: go kill some pigeons.

To all the rest of you: please spread your love to all people and animals. They need you.

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Getting older is the new trying to stay young

Age seems to come up in conversations a lot, and a lot of people mention how they don´t ´feel´ their age. This seems strange, but I think most people will instantly know what it means. I definitely do.

When I think back to when I was a child of say, 4 years old, I don’t recall ever thinking “man, I am really still just a little kid”. On the contrary, I remember feeling serious and independent and very wise. My mother, who sometimes (cheeks burning with embarrassment) had to pick me up off the floor of a shop because I’d gone into a screaming fit, probably didn’t share this image I had of myself. I was also scared of almost all strangers and other kids, the dark, sleeping alone, and Sinterklaas, so exactly what I based my feelings of maturity on remains a mystery.

I continued to feel that way though, like my official age was too young for how I felt or wanted to be seen. When I was a teenager I hated it when adults said patronising things about us not understanding yet, and how we would ‘get it when you’re older’. In the meantime I was constantly arguing with my mother, repeatedly getting my dad (who really prefers peace over conflict) to the point where I could see he was itching to hit me, and more than once slamming our front door so hard that the glass that was in it shattered to pieces. All the while wondering why the hell they wouldn’t take me more seriously…

Oh, the longing to be older, to turn 18, to move out! And with finally moving out and going to university started what I now think might have been the only time when the age I felt matched the age I was. In those years, my age fitted like a favourite pair of jeans: so comfortable, you never even think about them. With the urge to be older finally gone, came the sense that this was the way it always would be: age was irrelevant, after all we were all adults now.

But then comes the day you wake up and think: ‘holy shit, I am getting old, but I still feel so young!’. And then you are in the reverse pattern of all those childhood years, with the common factor that when you say your age, you don’t feel it represents you. I clearly remember the day I went from being blissfully young to stressfully aging: 1 January 2010, the day before my 29th birthday. Before then, I was 28, the perfect age, and felt 28 too. New year’s day 2010 was special, because I was in New Zealand, where it was obviously summer and 12 hours ahead of the Netherlands. I remember going to the beach, sunbathing, and taking calls from my slightly intoxicated brother who had somehow managed to get himself into hospital. In short, life was sweet. Except, tomorrow I would be turning 29. 29!! That in itself was not such a big problem, if it weren’t for the fact that it meant I was actually starting a countdown to 30. Thirty, an age that really did not have any likable sounds, looks or qualities to it. Pondering these issues I flew back to Auckland, and arranged a birthday party at the local pub. All went well, and to reassure myself I had a little kissing session with the bartender, who was, apart from tall, dark and insanely handsome, also 22 years old. Great stuff, except the next day I woke up with a headache, one day closer to turning 30.

The rest of the year was spent in a state of mild panic, worrying about the milestone that was approaching (Is this the life i want? Will people start asking me about having babies? Will I be able to keep eating or will I get fat? What is the purpose of life? Where do I get the best anti-wrinkle eye cream, and how will I discipline myself into using it?). When the big day actually arrived I was fine, probably partly aided by the increased sugar level from all the wodka-red bulls on New Year’s Eve, the effects of the delicious sgroppino I made and kept pouring into my glass (because it was such a pretty pink), and the presence of friends and family.

Then it was back to work, life and normality. And it was fine. Actually, it was more than fine. And this is where I am getting to the point of this story (Jesus, there is a point?!). I had sort of resigned to having to spend the rest of my life wishing I was younger: still 25, 26, or even 28. Surprisingly though, I recently realised that getting a bit older is pretty damn great. When I think about it, pretty much all my friends look hotter and more interesting now than they did five years ago. I recently saw a wrinkle and thought, I like it! It’s from smiling! People don’t try to bullshit you as much anymore (well, they still try, but you are more likely to see it for what it is), and you are finally, finally (finally!) at peace or even happy with your body. Also, you can still easily flirt with a 22 year old. Or a 50 year old. Hell, you can flirt with anyone really.

So, now that I’ve shown such gratefulness for what I’ve got, can I please stay 31? Thanks.

P.s. My parents still love me.

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Scottish men have it all

When I was still in Beijing I was having drinks with two Dutch guys and we were discussing our interesting experiences with toilets in China. Without going into too much detail, these toilets tend to be different from Western ones, and can take some getting used to. One of my Dutch friends remarked “I’m so glad to be guy”, and in response I agreed that men definitely have it easier when it comes to toilets, but also added that I was still glad to be a girl.
This then caused my friends to ask me with genuine interest what I thought were the advantages of being a woman instead of a man. I enthusiastically opened my mouth, confidently thinking a passionate, eloquent, persuasive speech would flow out.

“Well, it’s so much better because we…..(damn, that’s not true). At least we can…..(no, not really), well, we, we….*&&^$^%#@@???!!!!”

For every flimsy reason that I did manage to produce after the initial struggle, the guys easily argued why it didn’t really hold. Me: “We can talk about everything”, them: “So can we if we want to, but why would you even want to all the time anyway”? Me: We have more feelings”, them: “And that’s an advantage how….?” Good point.

Now I know that some women will say that we can give birth, and that that’s an important advantage to being a woman. This might be the case in their mind, but I strongly suspect that most men don’t feel disadvantaged that they cannot have babies, and wouldn’t want to swap with us. My friends certainly named this one of the biggest disadvantages of being a woman, and I agree with them. So although I am sure a lot of women feel privileged, I was looking for things that even men would agree on. As you can imagine the whole conversation left me feeling a bit sorry for myself and other women.

But then, just when we were almost done with the topic, I jokingly said (because I was wearing one): “At least we can wear dresses when it’s hot!”. And, amazingly, they both agreed this was definitely something they were jealous of sometimes.

Following this logic the best thing in life would be to be a man and be able to wear a dress. So I have decided to create so much good karma that in my next life, I will be reincarnated as a wee Scotsman.

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Hazy Chinese memories

I’ve discovered that having a blog in a communist country is very relaxing. The blog is blocked, and the writer doesn’t have to bother. Did I constantly take notes anyway? Did I write 20+ posts offline to post as soon as I got home? Nah, I love to write, but I am lazy too, and tend to overestimate the powers of memory, thinking I will be able to recall, roughly, about 100% of my thoughts, experiences, jokes, and observations. Whereas is fact this percentage is probably closer to 5%, the other 95% being replaced by more current and immediate concerns such as “Hmmm, what shall I eat next?”.

So I was in China. Why? God knows. Because it’s on the way from NZ to the Netherlands. Because a friend of mine lives there. That’s about it, which is not a lot compared to other travelers in China that just looove the language (??), or know all about the history (I paid more attention to the discovery/invasion of Latin America), the architecture (all looks pretty much either grey or red and gold to me), or, in the case of many of the guys, come up with all sorts of reasons which are just meant to hide the fact they are there for sex with hot Chinese chicks.

After four weeks in China I can safely say that my interest in this country remains pretty much at the level it was before. Ok, maybe it increased a tiny bit, but not very much. Sure, I didn’t go to the most interesting areas so I’m sure I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I think China is just not for me. Shanghai has a nice river, but it seemed to have Amsterdam’s weather and Barcelona’s smell.

Hangzhou might have been stunning but it was hard to tell through the incessant downpour. Beijing is cool, hip, happening, but also so polluted that even my white skin never burned on sunny days (a grand total of about five days in four weeks). Of course there was a huge amount of stuff I did like, mostly the fact that there is cheap and good food everywhere. Such as meat on a stick, savory pancakes with spicy sauce, noodle soup, deep fried scorpions, baby sharks, and sea horses. (But I’d be lying if I said I tried the last three.)

I also really liked the shopping, the nightlife, and the first temple I went to. And, like on every trip, I met some pretty amazing people. So even though China is not for me, it’s safe to say I’m glad I went anyway.

Now I am back in the Netherlands which is ‘home’, and I guess it kind of feels that way. I thought I had my plans for the next few months figured out but things happened and now I am not so sure, and I keep reviewing all the options over and over and over again. A wise man told me to just not think about it for the next couple of days while I am getting over my jetlag, but clearly he doesn’t understand how my mind works. I guess I could try to not make any real decisions until, say, Monday.

It’s like somewhere in the back of my mind I think I know what I want (passionate sex with a hot Swede? No! Well, yeah sure, but that’s not what I meant!), but I can’t reach it and put in into words. Anyway, I need to figure it out. Let’s see where all this will take me, but it’d better be a quick process with a nice paycheck.

Did I mention I am very jetlagged, and also high on painkillers to fight off flu-symptoms, so I shouldn’t be taken too seriously? In fact, I can barely remember my previous sentence. I mean, did I mention I am jetlagged? I don’t remember….is it time for wine yet?

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Time to move on

My dear New Zealand,

It´s time to go our seperate ways. Correction, it´s time for me to move on and leave you behind. This should come as no surprise to you, as it was clear from the beginning that you and I….just weren´t made for each other. I know we both tried hard, and every now and then it seemed to work, but every time we got back to the same point of just not knowing how to make each other happy.

Let´s face it, you like the foreign girls with hiking boots and tons of other sensible gear, and if they have a German accent, even better. And sometimes you tend to go for the other extreme: ten-inch heals, too much make-up, not enough clothes, Kiwi twang. I am neither, and I can’t change just for you.

Still, I am glad I met you and spent some time with you. You’ve shown me things that I had never seen before and were breathtaking (sometimes in a literal, sulphurous way, but beautiful nonetheless).
I’ve met some really great people through you, who I will surely will keep in touch with, and one of my best nights in the past 6 months was spent eating, drinking and playing silly games with your family in Dunedin.
Needless to say, I always loved exploring the fiords and climbing the peaks in your Southern regions, leading me to heavenly views. But other times, you made me feel lonely, prevented me from earning enough money, you bored me, you made me spend too much. I guess we just never really understood each other.
It’s not you though, it’s me. I am a product of Europe, as much as I like to think I’m not, I am. A product of the smallest, most crowded, least wild, part of Europe. You can take a girl out of the city, but…well, she’ll miss it! I do love nature and hate cities that don’t have enough green, but I need a good balance and I didn’t find that with you.
Nevertheless, these months with you have given me new insights for the future and I am very grateful for that.

So now, as I am getting ready to leave you, I feel tired and a little sad, but mostly, relieved. Relieved that I have decided that enough is enough, and that I am moving on to something bigger and better. Or smaller and better, who knows.
As these things go though, I am sure in not too long I will start looking back and see more and more good things about you. And after a few years I will have forgotten the bad stuff and will probably long for you sometimes. So who knows, maybe in the future we can have a little rendez-vous again. An adventurous, fun, let’s-go-crazy-and-spend-all-our-money kind of thing. Good but short, because you and me where never meant to be together forever. So many others do feel that way about you though, so I am sure you will be far from lonely.

Well, goodbye, take care, and don’t let those Germans mess with you!


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