Monday, 25 October 2010

NL, SG, TR (and mallorca)

a couple of days ago, i watched "four last songs", a light, unassuming yet enjoyable movie with a fab cast (including marisa paredes, stanley tucci, rhys ifans) - a comedy telling the story of a rather bizarre bunch of expats coming together on the spanish island of mallorca (what a gem!, btw) to organise a (memorial) piano concert. i enjoyed the movie and the director certainly did a fantastic job in choosing the film locations - always brimming with colours and amazing landascapes.

in addition, the different reasons why the different characters find themselves on the island and - moreover - the way they live there (some hardly ever sober; some because of nostalgia; some because they have no other choice; some pursuing meditation and yoga sporting balinese sarongs)...kind of made me smile and ponder about many of the feelings and ideas i have around the much debated concept of "being an expat".

then a friend from high school sent me an email - asking for infos about singapore, a place where she is about to move with her current partner and her 8 months baby boy, thomas. "what is it like?" she asked.

singapore - what is it like? i heard my voice repeating her question.

and finally last night i stayed up till late - reading the economist's special issue on turkey - an in-depth analysis of the current state of turkish economy, society and foreign policy. alongside quite a considerable amount of promising data - the magazine very accurately pointed out the great problems both the government and the people here are very (very) unwilling to come to terms with - namely cyprus, the kurdish issue, a rampant black market, a high degree of social and cultural unpredictability plus a number of additional issues: a dithering education system, an overcentralised bureaucracy, the inability to accept and respect minorities, the major inequality between the condition of men and women in the country.

the movie, the email exchange with my friend, the economist's pages - all of these started fuelling thoughts and reflections on the different countries i have known up close in the latest years.

right after graduation (2002) i lived in holland -- but my dutch stint can hardly count as "expatriate" material. i was fresh out of university; ended up in a glamourous sounding job which in truth made me rather unhappy and tired... i did not breathe in much of the local culture / society around me -- mostly because i was too busy wondering whether life was actually all about working 9 to 5 in an open space and finding it hard to fit in with my colleagues, people that, unlike me, seemed to live with clear aims and career expectations - and an ample dose of contempt and self confidence. plus, i must admit i found the benelux region dampening my spirits. brussels and amsterdam can be extremely charming - but most of the sightseeing i did in holland and belgium only managed to depress me and bore me out of my head with the mere exception of limburg (the region outside of maastricht) which i grew fond of because of its lovely cuisine and extremely elegant chateaus.

then six years in singapore followed - which was altogether a totally different atmosphere and experience.

first, one has to note that living there for such a long time is a bit unusual. singapore is a place where people come and go. they stay for a brief time and then return home - or move onto another country. singapore remains in their heads, i sometimes imagine, like a rapid image confused by amnesia...or one of those fragments you recall over breakfast about a dream you have just had -- but that yet you never bother to eventually piece together...because you are late. and in a rush.

singapore is one of those places you kind of dislike / do not get if you are visiting - but that you usually love if you live there. the whole expat culture is taken to an extreme in singapore - especially because of its predominantly angloamerican community.

i loved my time there - and still keep amazing memories of the place and the people it allowed me to meet. while living there, the travelling was constant and mostly interesting and i had the incredible opportunity of spending long stints in new zealand and australia - something i could have never even dreamt of had i stayed in europe.

like with all the places i fall for - i must add that i cultivated with singapore a rather "physical" relationship...meaning, in a city that prides itself on its skyline and modern buildings -- and that appears to visiting tourists like a blade runner-like pile of over-airconditioned shopping centres...the places i loved to walk around were all mesmerisingly green and wild reminescences of what the city should have been when it belonged to the jungle -- or to a retro colonial urban landscape. i still remember about some secluded corners of singapore that (as strange as it may sound) always seem incredibly beautiful and sensuos to me.

i will forever miss the torrential rains you can only witness in an equatorial country... and i will forever miss some special people i met there who will always be safe in my heart.

i loved my time there - yet i must admit i always found it a place where foreigners kind of developed high flying expectations; a despicable attitude and odd routines involving pilates, educational theories about parenting + fickle fascinations with the oh-so spiritual asian exoticism (applied to art, alternative medicine, religion, you name it). i guess expat life can spoil you there and kind of cuddle you in an unreal bubble that makes you believe you are (and deserve) far better than what everyone else (surprise surprise) was allowing you back home. i have the feeling that places like dubai, singapore, abu dhabi and qatar kind of all reproduce the same type of pattern - creating business and living environments that are very expat friendly, well organised and socially accessible. yet - a tad unrealistic and self-indulgent to say the least.

and... it is turkey now...

leaving aside the technical infos i have just registered and considered thanks to the economist... i often find myself wondering whether, apart from torrential rains and memorable encounters i truly (truly) miss singapore -- having ended up in a country that is so (sooo) different (and far) from it.

the answer is yes and no.

yes -- because i will forever be thankful to those six years. i will forever feel them under my skin. they gave me so many opportunities and so much love for life. plus the diversity of people and backgrounds i had the chance to meet there is nothing short of extraordinary.

yet at the same time "no" -- because even though i have a bit of a comedy time with some of the uncouthness and craziness of turkey (whatever works here seems to work by chance)... i find this place and its people extremely... "true", real - and perhaps closer to what people were in postwar europe, with a deeper sense of what struggle might mean. sure, perhaps with some (ample) margins of opportunism and incoherence -- but with a core of genuine human touch that is very hard not to be partial to.

"four last songs" was, btw, the title of a piece of work from strauss. in the movie you can hear it playing... a mellow contrast to the booze, the balinese clad meditation sessions and the sweet eccentricities of stanley pucci's erratic initiatives.

will read again the economist pages tonight and wonder about my friend packing on her way to singapore.
i gave her plenty of tips, addresses and infos ... but she is only staying for a very short time... which means she might end up forgetting about the lion city very soon... or perhaps (like many people i know do) playing down the uniqueness of the time they spent there. and getting on with... their breakfast -

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