Lifestyle Design

The Real Me

I was just reflecting today on a few things. Well, one thing really. About what my natural self looks like in terms of motivation to work, creativity and general life activities. Yeah OK, that doesn’t really mean a lot, but I put it in those terms because if I was still in a normal job, it would go something like this… “What sort of worker I am – creative, hard worker, willing to stay in one career for my whole life, etc”. But since I don’t have a regular job, the things that fill the main hours within my day are the things that keep me going. What those things are is becoming clearer.

This freedom has given rise to the emergence of my passions. Things I really couldn’t identify with prior to giving up full time work. Further, I’m now starting to identify my natural behaviours in the big bad world now that I have the freedom to do whatever I want. And it’s very interesting and totally not what I expected. When I was working a proper job, I was happy to stay put for years and years on end. I was going to die in that job. I was comfortable. I was in a routine. So when I quit work,  I feared I’d miss that routine (I did) and I feared that I would end up vegging for years on end, doing nothing. Quite honestly, that happened for about 9 months. Most of that 9 months was spent travelling.

Since that time, I’ve been flitting from one project to another (not always paid) and it has been a rollercoaster ride like no other! What is so interesting about it is that I realise my attention span on certain activities lasts about 3 months and then… no I don’t bored, I get inspiration for a new plan, a new trip, a new project. It’s crazy, because I’m loving learning Indonesian at the moment, but there are a bunch of other things on the horizon that are getting me very excited — even more than the learning Indonesian thing. I’m going to force myself to stick with the Indonesian thing whilst dabbling in the new projects, but it gives a very interesting insight to the type of person I am when the shackles have been thrown clear.

The other thing I think is interesting is that I find it much more difficult to be free in Australia. Basically because everything is geared towards people not being free despite the glossy brochures. I feel free in Indonesia like I have never done before. That’s not to say I don’t love Australia — I do. But it is such a refined, productive society that opportunities for great projects are difficult to come by and are usually extremely risky. Here in Indonesia, opportunities are everywhere and the risks are minimal. I’m loving it.

For some people, this will make perfect sense. I have a feeling, though, that this might not make sense to the vast majority. Make sense? Or absolute load of rubbish?

Indonesia Java Travel

Learning Indonesian Progress Report – Culture

Before arriving in Bandung to learn Indonesian language, I knew that part of the course was going to deal with Indonesian culture and to be honest, I just wasn’t interested. Mainly because I already knew quite a bit about different customs and the ceremonies that the different ethnic groups like to undertake. The other thing was that I thought I could just pick up the nuances of the culture by living here. I thought the culture was the stuff that as outsiders we observe. The surface stuff. The ceremonies, the way people interact, the way people talk, the styles of people’s houses – the things we can see. But it’s much more complex than that.

After almost 2 months of learning Indonesian, learning about the culture and living in a kampung, I can honestly say that I could never have understood the subtlties of this culture on my own. It would be impossible. And I now feel for many of the expats living in Indonesia who are regularly frustrated by some of the little things in day-to-day life when dealing with Indonesians – it’s really all about cultural misunderstandings.

So what am I talking about? Well, I’m talking about understanding the way Indonesian people think and feel and how that impacts on the words they use, the way they use them and the body language that accompanies that. There’s an obsession with status in Indonesia that I never really understood before. But it’s complex. It’s not just about wanting to be at the top of the hierarchy. It’s also about being polite about it and not boasting about your wealth or social standing. There is a constant struggle to lower oneself to ensure that other don’t view you as being a snob.

It also goes for things like new clothes or shoes. If you complement someone on the new clothes, the person will be embarrassed and will say they’re cheap, not good or were on sale… anything to devalue them so that the person doesn’t appear to revel in having someone praise their wealth or social standing. It’s all very strange and very complex.

By the same token, even though you’re lowering yourself at every opportunity, it’s only on the surface. You really do try and move up the social ladder while acting as if you’re not and that it’s not important. So you might buy an ipad partly because it increases your status in the eyes of others, but you’ll try and say it’s rubbish and not that good knowing that it still makes you look richer and more important. I love it.

So why is this important? Well, if I want to be something other than just another white guy living in Indonesia that can throw around a few dozen Indonesian words, I need to fit in. I need to cocok. And I think it’s every person’s responsibility to cocok if you go and live in another country. In Australia when we see immigrants stick within their enclaves and fail to embrace the local culture, we castigate them — we discriminate against them. The same happens in Indonesia and I think it’s fair enough.

So this culture thing is all important. It can’t be learned from a book, it can’t be learned from the people. It has to be taught to you, you have to experience it and you have to be pulled up when you get it wrong. And that is something that is not likely to happen from an Indonesian person as it’s embarrassing to correct someone when they do something wrong. Especially a bule. Which is just another one of those cultural complexities.

Lifestyle Design

Agitate for Change or Die

Aside from all the tales of travel, a major theme of my blog has been about escaping the rat race and finding the spark that everyone had when they were in their teens – and had no real responsibilities. I harp on about it to anyone that will listen and quite often people just don’t get it. “Everyone has to have a job. Everyone has to do things they don’t like. My circumstances are different – I can’t do that.”

OK OK, say what you will. But this is how life turns out if you don’t agitate for change.

Java Travel

Learning Indonesian Progress Report – Understanding Accents!

Today, for the first time, I realised that I recognise accents in Indonesia. You might think that it’s no big deal, but for me it’s important because it allows me to understand when someone says a word that sounds different to the way I learnt how to say it. Wha? Example.

Pakai. This is the verb people use for “to use” (which is not technically correct anyway!!!) I learnt to say the “ai” part like an American would say “I”. People in West Java say the “ai” like a Brit would say the “ey” bit in “hey”. Then the rest of Indonesia quite often speaks informally and just says “pake” with the “e” sounding like “e” in “egg”. That same principle applies across all the words with “ai” in them and then a range of other words that mean you have no idea what someone is saying, even though you’ve learnt the vocab!

So it’s important. And I have only just realised that I am naturally hearing the different variations in pronunciations without having to think about them. That is fantastic! Real progress.

Pantai or Pantay?
Pantai or Pantay?

The next problem I have to work out is when people are speaking in a mix of English and Indonesian. Most of the time I have absolutely no idea what they are saying when they use English words because I’m concentrating on each word trying to convert each Indonesian word into English in my mind… and then someone gets tricky and slips in an English word with an Indonesian accent. For me, it just sounds like an Indonesian word that I haven’t learnt yet! Pure hell! I reckon it’s better for people to just use one or the other, particularly if their English pronunciation is not quite up to scratch.

Which leads me to my last point — Given that I often have problems understanding Indonesians using English, it’s important for me to make sure my Indonesian pronunciation is spot on if I want to be understood by the vast majority of Indonesians. So I’ll continue to work on that…

What’s your experience with accents in foreign countries?


Relationships Travel

Nomadic Relationships

One of the things I’ve been thinking about in recent times is the issue of personal relationships when you have no fixed abode. In other words, when you’re a digital nomad, location independent person, so on and so forth. I really don’t like those labels, but let’s roll with them for the sake of the post.

I’ve been finding that my relationships with people ebb and flow between real-life relationships and those online as I move around the place and do different things. Sometimes I’m physically alone, like when I did research for and I lean on my twitter network for social interaction. Sometimes I’m hanging out with real people (for reals!) and twitter takes a back seat, as was the case on my recent roadtrip with Heather and Nicole. Online relationships are great and I have made some really cool friends through the likes of twitter, but it’s those real life relationships that I treasure most. Those are the ones that I feel a deeper connection with. It’s part of the reason I make an effort to meet up with friends when I’m in town or try and meet up with twitter people when opportunities arise. But the problem is that when you move around a fair bit, you rarely have the chance to follow up on those short meetings and therefore don’t get an opportunity to cement those relationships. (much like when you’re backpacking somewhere and meet a great bunch of people and say that you will email them soon and never do)

Man on a Bike - Nothing to do with Relationships
Man on a Bike - Nothing to do with Relationships

I have the feeling that perhaps many other people in my situation find themselves lonely. Not in the traditional hermit-in-a-cave sense, but in a going-out-and-getting-drunk bonding type of way. So what does everyone else do about this? Try and settle on an island in Thailand with other like-minded souls? Sounds great, but then you aren’t really location independent. You’re in Thailand. Drinking buckets. Attached to a bungalow on the beach.

Gratuitous Random Cupcake Photo
Gratuitous Random Cupcake Photo

I guess the ultimate for me would be this. To flit from one 3 month sojourn to another, with those sojourns often involving other individuals on a similar path. That’s what I want. But it seems that everyone is so focussed on doing exactly what they want that they forget that in order to establish meaningful relationships, it requires time and if you’re constantly moving to where you want to go, you are never going to be moving to where the next person wants to go. The solution probably requires compromise. That is, going somewhere that isn’t your first choice in order to share a bunch of experiences with other people who do want to go to a particular place.

I don’t even know where I’m going with these thoughts, but I reckon it’d be cool if more people from the twitterverse actually got together for longer term travel rather than just one-day meetups. So. There you go.

Anyone feel this way?

Lifestyle Design Relationships

Symbolic Departure

Today I leave Melbourne. Destination Bali to write the Bali edition of Travelfish’s travel guides. I don’t plan to return to Melbourne. I was asked the other day if I felt my journey to Bali and therefore the conclusion of my time in Melbourne was symbolic. Symbolic in that it’s the finalisation of the separation from my wife. I responded by saying “no” because it didn’t feel like it… But now it does. I really do feel like today is the end of a chapter and the start of another and the page turns without even a hint of sadness. Sure, we can all talk of what could have been, but I look forward with optimism and renewed passion for the journey ahead.

So what have I learned through the process? Well, the main things that I have done well revolve around positive energy. I’ve tried my hardest to remain optimistic, tried my hardest to get out there and socialise (not always successfully!), did my best to accept the inevtiability of the situation immediately (ie didn’t hang on with false hope), held no grudges or bad feelings, did my best to not revel in the victim role which many many people would have me be in (they felt pity), and most of all, I got on with my life. I see these as contributing to the emotional place that I am in now and I love it.

I’ve tried to think of things that I could have done better but I just can’t find any at the moment. I really do feel fortunate to have had things turn out as they have.

So it all sounds as if everything for me is beautiful and that this journey was easy. It wasn’t. Introspection, which I think this process necessarily involves, requires complete honesty with oneself, the ability to observe your thoughts and the ability to tame ones ego. I’m no messiah when it comes to this stuff, but I did try hard and it was difficult at times.

So on the eve of a new adventure, I urge everyone to: not judge, reject cynicism, live pro-actively and above all, remain optimistic even when every bone in your body tells you not to be.

Lifestyle Design

Who’s Writing Your Life Story?

Everyone has a story to tell about their life. And we’ve all met at least a couple of people that seem to have had lives filled with all sorts of interesting sub-plots. Two mates of mine in particular seem to have accomplished more in a lifetime than I had ever thought possible. And by “accomplished”, I don’t mean it in terms of making their mark on society or completing some great project or having a stellar career. I mean they have just done such a wide variety of things in their lives and have such amazing stories of adventure to tell that one can only dream of perhaps living just half as interesting a life as they have led.

The problem is that the story of their lives, our lives, everybody’s lives has to be written by someone. Most people, me included until a couple of years ago, choose to have their story written by their careers, their family and other random people. Whilst it’s great to have outside participation in our lives and our stories (we are after all social creatures), we can’t let others be the authors. Contributors maybe, but we have to write our own life story!

I think some slip even further than this into the realms of unconscious passive living. That is, the story is just being filled with a bunch of blank pages because the owner is just driving along, asleep at the wheel, not even knowing that there is a story to write! It’s being written, but it’s empty and they don’t even know it. I want to help these people (if they want help).

So, if I’m writing my own life story, don’t I owe it to myself for the story to be interesting, occasionally exciting, full of wonderful characters, romance, adventure, discovery, self exploration and a dash of drama?

Yes, I want my story to be one of those good ones, where my attention is held from start to finish. Boredom begone! To ensure my story is one of those good ones I have to make the effort to write it myself, write it with creativity and passion and learn not to beat myself up when the story takes an unexpected twist. The twist may just end up being the best part!

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lifestyle Design

Your Sense of Purpose – Quit the 9-5 and You WILL Need One

When thinking about leaving the 9-5, all I could really think about is how free I would be once I was no longer obliged to get out of bed for a day filled with tasks – tasks I was responsible for, but had no personal connection with. I think most people transferring from the 9-5 to the free think this. But once I was free of these obligations and my end-of-work holiday was finished I really didn’t know what to fill my days with. I started practicing being lazy and found others online with the same philosophy. Surely this is what it was all about! The art of doing nothing! No… It’s a cop out. It’s great to be lazy for 9-12 months, but then the “Meaning of Life” question starts to rear its ugly head. In recent times, I’ve been giving deep thought to the purpose of giving up the 9-5. Why give it up? If I’m not compelled to work full time anymore, am I compelled to do anything? If there’s no compulsion to do anything, what am I going to do!? The three points I came up with were:

Pursuit of the Arts

For the ages, artistic expression has been the mechanism by which people have communicated their inner-self in a manner that words cannot compete with. The sense of expressing my inner-self through music, dance, drawing or any other form of artistic outlet is something I want to reconnect with. I’ve never been good at drawing and many of the arts, but I have a passion for music, I’d like to learn how to dance and I’d love to expand on my photography knowledge to the point where my shots are of a professional standard.

These pursuits will be passions; activities which will feed the soul and stimulate the mind.


What use are we in the world if we can’t improve ourselves both on an emotional and intellectual level? The intellectual can be pursued through the reading of books and more formal education (whether that be skills-based or academic). The emotional is more difficult and we owe it to those around us to be the best we can be. To be a good person, to forgo judgement of others, to be a positive person. This emotional self-improvement I feel will be a life’s work. If at the end of my life I can say that I gave it a good shot, I’ll be pleased. We are such complex, emotional beasts that the struggle for improvement is destined to be a long and difficult journey, but one in which falling asleep at the wheel can be a waste of one’s life.

Abandonment of the Inane

Many people spend their work lives whiling away the time until 5pm rolls around so they can go home. Surfing the net, endlessly reading and sorting emails, chatting to work colleagues. Much of this is inane and a complete waste of your time. I found that after leaving work I fell back into old habits. Surfing the net for hours on end, constantly checking email, reading and rereading the latest news headlines, doing internet banking daily (!), searching online for stuff to do. This was the inane of my work-life creeping into my personal time. My time will now be filled with all of those things that I said I would do when I left work. Make my own cheese, take more interest in gardening, learn a bunch of new practical skills. Inane begone!

I’ve only managed to realise these issues on a deeper, more meaningful level over the past weeks as I went through some difficult times in Myanmar. This emotional turmoil in the mind lent itself to much self-reflection and an opportunity to set the course for the next chapter of my life. For me, I knew all of this on an intellectual level, but it required some serious soul-searching for it to really make sense and force me to act.

To all potential lifestyle designers, I urge you to tread carefully as this next phase is truly a make or break occasion. Fail and you may fall back into old habits from your old life (and you’ll be poorer). Succeed and you will achieve all of the life-changing experiences that you dreamed of – it just won’t be handed to you on a platter.

How did you manage your transition from the drudgery of the 9-5 to free living?