Running in Brussels

Well tomorrow after next to no training I run the 20kms in Brussels – anything close to 1hr 50 I’ll be happy with.

Belgium seems to be conspiring to do it’s worst (read best) to ensure we miss ‘her’ when we go.

The weather has been brilliant the last week hi 20’s low 30, Sunshine – it didn’t even start out grey!

26c forecast fro tomorrow and 21 at the race start.

That’s why I’m writing this now, I may not be able to move tomorrow.

One of the best things about leaving anywhere is you start to see what is good about a place, much like you did when you first decided it was a good idea. The rose tint returns, things don’t seem to bad.

So today when I had Edie on the tow-behind and Olive rode her bike by herself in front of me and we went to Nordspark, and they ran about recklessly without concern for where I was or where they were – well it was sort of “Hey this ain’t to bad”

The coffee tasted better then before, the sun shone, people smiled (and grimaced and smoked to be honest), the setting was not to bad if you didn’t look past 100 metres, and, well, life could be a whole lot worse.

I think how contained we mange to live our lives has a lot to do with how much we enjoy it.

The Castle – the source of the forewarned post – Castle Catastrophes

If i kept my view to 100 metres a lot of time Antwerp would seem pretty spectacular, but I think NZ life has made me a bit soft. I’ve got used to having space and plenty of it, if you don’t want things in your face they don’t need to be, it’s easy to escape.

Nelson, one of my favourite spots in New Zealand – and where I lived for 8 great years – is a case in point. You could disappear to places that well almost no-one went to, yet they were still spectacular places. It’s very hard to do here.

Olive was asking today what the biggest country in the World was – Russia, Canada, China, North America..are the top four, New Zealand though comes in at number 75, only 10% behind Germany would you believe. do the maths on population the answer is obvious.

However by the same token North America offers us lot’s of space and freedom – that is part of it’s appeal to me, and part of what I want the girls to experience.

We’re all social animals, but for me being able to be just yourself in nature is the most special thing we can do, and I can’t wait to do more of that with our family.

Anyhow, back to the run – as mentioned I’m completely undertrained, and the heat will not be my friend, so it will be a bit of minor torture, though hopefully also an affirmation that once you have your base fitness up again as I did for the NY marathon then – well lot’s of things are manageable.

the plus as well for me is that while we have been here we have seen very little of Brussels, though what we have sen we have really liked, so running a 20km loop through it’s streets and parks will be a pleasure indeed.

Bismarck Statue from 1901 in the Tiergarten

Last weekend i ran in the Tiergarten in Berlin, and throughout I felt enormous pleasure and privilege in being able to cover so much ground under my own steam. A car or a tourist bus just doesn’t cut it for me, and if a bike isn’t at hand it’s a great privilege to be able to run, I’m so glad I got back into it.

Anyway I trust this finds you all well and happy , and I’ll look to update you soon

It’s been a while…

A long time between blogs

Very thought provoking – the Jewish Memorial in Berlin – a great work of art

There has been plenty happening – and the more that happens the less I can blog – it’s sort of the inverse law of blogging – the true excuse however is that I have been travelling so much for work that what spare time I do have I try and commit to Chrissy Edie and Olive.
However motivated by Chrissy’s biggest ever day of hits on her blog – and while I await the arrival of friends with our takeaway Indian (yes that busy) – oh and I mean take-away Indian food not a take-away Indian! – I thought well why not thrash out one of those many blogs that have occurred to you in the last month or so.
Possible titles:

  • Why we are moving to Virginia
  • The name of my new blog is…
  • OMG we’re leaving Belgium
  • Great friends and special people I have met in the last 20 months
  • Things I won’t miss in the least (rudeness, traffic, grey, traffic, gray, grey, waiting for everything, grey , gray – did I mention grey?)
  • My amazing family
  • Take life by the Kahuna’s
  • Croa(d)tia here we come
  • The dumbest things I’ve seen in Europe
  • The best things I’ve seen in Europe
  • I think I’m turning Germanese, turning Germanese I really think so…
  • Running in, around and from Antwerp
  • People who I really want to see again
  • The smells of Belgium
  • Great food disasters in my travels
  • Don’t get a 3 year lease just buy noose and hang yourself
  • The many shades of grey (gray) – mainly found in Belgium
  • Castle catastrophes
  • My worst summer holiday
  • How to know you really love your partner
  • At the Berlin Wall – East side – where i never thought I would be

  • Constant reminders
  • Friends in low places
  • Friend sin far-away places
  • Support, supporters and suppositories
  • Apotheek’s and reducing the size of your bank balance
  • Mountain biking on a flat surface
  • Enjoying traffic
  • Why vehicle pollution is such an issue in modern Europe
  • Laughing at yourself
  • Being genuinely and pleasantly surprised
  • Music as an icebreaker
  • Staying fit
  • Fat and Sugar
  • Friends, Belgians, Countrymen, bring more your greens
  • The right to party hard
  • Living with global children (who know as much as you do, possibly more)
  • How to conceal Great public events in a cosmopolitan society
  • Why I still want to be French – or at least claim some hereditary status
  • NZ is neither the end of the nor is it all things to the world, stay there or stay away at your peril
  • Zoo 101 – Berlin
  • The wall …and ways to hit it

So anyway – I could go on, and as you can see there is quite a list, now I have no time to attend to any of them.
Votes for which one you would like me to start on are gratefully received
And I promise I will.

For many in Antwerp – you won’t need the blog post – you’ll get it in two or three words from each topic, for others, I promise all will be explained over the next few months

Oh and as a hint my new blog will be http://www.youcannotbserious.wordpress.com

My favourite girls – living the life in Berlin!

Love you all
Croadie

Changing or shaping – it depends on how old you are.

Changing or shaping – it depends on how old you are

When we set of for Belgium in Nov 2010, we were full of optimism – why would you go otherwise?

Friends and colleagues knew more than we did – Wow you’re brave – was a regular expression. Others lived the dream with us ‘Wonderful, what an adventure, you lucky things’ And indeed we were and are and have been – brave, be-wondered (new word), adventurous and adventured, lucky – well no, fortunate yes.

Hold on – not lucky!?

Exactly, I firmly believe you make your own luck. There are exceptions like winning the lottery (though again you had to buy a ticket to be in), but invariably where we end up is where we take ourselves.

Happy us (Ok it's NYC but hey...)

Join the front of the queue or stand back until the course is a safe one – well trodden, predictable and, well, if we are honest boring. Most of life’s joys lie in the hidden corners of our lives.

Like having children – there is nothing predictable about that adventure and anyone who thinks otherwise better look at just how quickly the world is changing around us; and then of course throw in the infinite possibilities of the children you will have and then raise with the habits you will draw them to and those you will repulse them from.

Many of my joys, if not all, have been from stepping out from the usual path including my marriage with Chrissy and having our own amazing children.

My sporting and outdoor adventures have followed a similar pattern – my most memorable being largely spontaneous and largely uncharted (running the Heaphy track with 2 others – at a weeks notice, and an impromptu 28 km circuit around Lake Rotoiti –South island – prior to a friends wedding).

And then there was Belgium. Easy, right?

Life isn't always a box of chocolates

Well, as readers of this full blog would know, not exactly. None of it was Belgium’s fault. Entirely the blame lies with me.

Somewhere in in the aging process there is a change that takes place. Until a certain age an adventure to a new land and way of life – well it ‘shapes’ your life, enriches it, opens you to possibilities, blah, blah, blah… Then there is a stage at which such an endeavor no longer shapes your life – it changes it – BAM, BAM, BAM!!!! Clearly if you’re not ready this hurts.

And there I was, and here we are.

For the girls this has very much created a time that will shape their lives in ways we can’t imagine from here – and increasingly the third culture kid phenomena is being observed and understood globally.

For me, everything has changed. New Zealand is still home, but I am no longer fixed there like before. I won’t comment for Chrissy – if she chooses to comment in her blog, I’ll let you know. I’ll get back to New Zealand, but I’m not really in a hurry.

Home

Looking back much of the tension after our arrival I think was driven by the unrealized, deep down, recognition (I know that sounds oxymoronic but hear me out) that there was no going back. To return was futile; we came to create something new and exciting. Our company Chairman often says “It is what It is”. “It” took us quite some time to adapt to that fact as far as Belgium was concerned.

So 24 hours after completing my first mountain bike in Belgium since we came here – I now realize it was a bit more symbolic than just a ride. I had finally said to that deep down part of me “It is what It is”, and that deep down part of me accepted it (again without me realizing). A week earlier I had declared that I would only listen to the French speaking Brussels radio station (Pure FM), whilst commuting so I could improve my French (sacre bleu) – this was more than wanting to be able to understand the commentary on the six nations, I’d finally shifted to an attitude of ‘well you’re here, make the most of it’.

So the two events are connected and represent a sea change in my stay here in Belgium.

Seeing the light?

On the drive to the airport I was thinking about our plans to go to Croatia for a summer break – and how the fact that I already live somewhere that I can’t understand the language means I no longer have language as a reason not to go somewhere; liberating.

For our girls this will and has already shaped their lives. They are well down the track in accepting that they can travel and communicate wherever they wish – as I left this morning they were conversing in basic Dutch inspired by having been to see K3 – the enormously popular Belgian trio of women who appeal to all the sub-teens. They go to school with Dutch, Spanish, Americans, Germans, Czechoslovakians, French, Indian, Austrian, Chinese, and talk of places we didn’t even know existed until our high school years. What that leads to I have no idea, but I know they won’t live in one place forever.

Edie and Olive - going crazy in NYC (one of my favourite all-time pics)

However, to view this as the dream start for their lives is as fraught as our optimism in coming here. Everything is just a beginning and it very much has to do with what paths are chosen. And more important than bringing them on this journey is that they understand where the reward in life is; somewhere off the beaten track and before the precipice.

And then, as I understood and then forgot whilst standing in “Belgium’s headlights’, sometimes you still need to jump – your life can’t simply become a predictable series of ‘adventures’, because that is oxymoronic and pointless.

I marvel sometimes (as I am sure my parents did) that I have been able to survive some of these jumps, but daily I need to remind myself that is no reason not to ‘jump’ anymore. Everyday is discovery.

I re-tweeted a quote from Deepak Chopra last week rephrased it’s like this

– If you treat every moment of your existence as a miracle then happiness will follow –

It found me at a good time.

Thank you Belgium. Thank you Chrissy. Thank you my amazing daughters.

Our happy little Belgians - and friend Milla

Thank you ‘change’, without you I’d have none of this. Nothing.

So what do you plan to change today?

Go make yourself lucky.

Shameless

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a simple test for who will make a great expat and who won’t.

You simply need the “Shameless-ometer”.

I think in general I would score average, or, in truth – less than average – because shameless was something I was only good at in my late teens and early twenties, particularly after a drink or three.

The basis of my theory? To make progress, to get things done, to do something new in a foreign country, each and every time you have to accept that you might:

  • Say something wrong
  • Culturally offend someone
  • Incur the wrath of some local, official, parent…
  • Be completely mistaken in your reading the measure of acceptance, or rejection, in  social setting
  • Appear way less intelligent than you think you are (or perhaps just appear only as intelligent as you really are)
  • Waste a lot of time doing the wrong things, joining the wrong queue, asking the wrong question, going to the wrong park
  • Say the completely wrong thing and not realise

And so it goes.

You must approach each and every situation with a mindset of complete gullibility, with almost a wanton disregard and a shamelessness which means whatever the event and whatever the outcome your face remains bathed in calmness and your body floating on the sea of tranquility.

And if your don’t, your life quickly starts to resemble an ancient ruin unlike any other ruin you ever occupied when back in your cosy cave of familiarity.

It’s a simple reality and for me it explains why I at times have crashed so badly whilst on the other side I know of people who have breezed the whole expat experience and yet I generally regarded them as being slightly naive and not really independent.

And there’s the point – as an expat not being ‘all-knowing’  (and to accept that) and not being independent are actually huge advantages, and me, well I’m not gifted with either of those blessings.

Which is kind a funny when you think about what I’ve wished for in our children, what I have thought of as critical life skills, and… well now I see the other side of life. The side which is the Ying of the Yang or the Yang of the Ying  – whatever way that’s meant to be, and now i’m not sure which is the fire and which the water.

So I’m learning to be wrong and accept it, learning to put myself in situations where I may be embarrassed (but for shorter and shorter periods of time), learning to be completely lost  in understanding what is going on, and generally learning to accept this.

And as, if not more, importantly I now have the challenge of how we might transfer this to our girls, and at a business level how we might apply this to our managers and leaders.

And where it resonates is when I think of many of the more entrepreneurial people I have met (I mean the successful ones). Often they are not the brightest and they have a certain gullibility about them. Their main belief is not ‘themselves’ (as they are often accused) but that progress is imminent and the only way is up. They know they will make mistakes (learn) and they know they will go into places and situations they have never been before – typically about very 2 hours would be my guess.

And what we teach and lecture and insist upon in much of life is ‘get as many ticks as you can, have the right answers and don’t make yourself look foolish.’

The platitude is that ‘mistakes are OK as long as you learn from them’.

I now think a better phrasing may be:

Mistakes are Ok as long as you are prepared to follow them up with more new ones

For me, this may just be the beginning (just when I though I was getting closer to the end)

Go forth and get something wrong!

Be shameless.

There’s a building here 828 metres tall

A quick post from Dubai.

This post has nothing to do with the building – but that is amazing.

This is what I am going to post about  – New Zealand, from which (whence?) I am returning?

Things I noticed while in New Zealand:

  •  I could understand most people
  •  Plenty of smiles
  •  Plenty of acknowledgement – direct and indirect
  •  Discussions with people I had never met
  •  Having someone come out from behind their counter to heartily shake your hand because you had competed in an event that day
  •  Store owners staring conversations with you
  •  The amazing ease of getting around
  •  Stress free driving on roads I used to think were busy
  •  The realization that most New Zealanders really don’t realize what they have
  •  The thought as I walked around Blue Lake – that if millions of people a year passed it’s shores it would be as famous as most any other tourist attraction in the world (along with many, many other parts of New Zealand)
  • I thought about what this drawing of Olives meant

  •  The guilt of not contacting family and friends
  •  The futility of contacting family and friends when if its only a phone call I can do that from home
  •  The longing to see those same family and friends
  •  The exhaustion
  •  The celebration
  •  Not hearing the hum of a motorway at every stop
  •  Being in places where you could truly look for miles and see no sign of civilization
  •  Water you wanted to swim in
  •  Water that was just water (sometimes sea water, sometimes fresh)
  •  More people exercising per capita than I have seen anywhere else in the world (OK maybe I would include parts of Australia this, especially if you count the surfers)
  •  Late winter and it’s warm enough to be in a T-shirt
  •  Pretenders
  •  People of considerable warmth
  •  The sense of community which Maori and Pacific Islanders seem to uniquely bring to the party
  •  People willing to share some of their life/ their family with you
  •  Warmth (in all the other variations)
  •  Humour (which I understood)
  •  The beauty of Chrissy, Olive and Edie – constantly bringing warmth to my day
  •  It’s a long way
  •  Knowing this will always be home (And questioning if this is the same ‘knowing’ as Belgians ‘know’ Belgium is – I think not)
  •  Celebrating we have had the strength to leave it – to discover, to grow, to not cultivate moss.
  •  I had more time
  •  I slowed down
  •  I liked myself more (please that is not a gloating comment, it is perhaps however the most telling)

Lastly, the destinations on the departures board here in Dubai:

  •  Jeddah
  • Sana’a
  • Damascus
  • Newcastle(love the Geordies)
  • Beirut
  • Amman
  • Accra
  • Casablanca(come on Chrissy we have to go sometime)
  • Lagos
  • London
  • Colombo
  • Kuwait
  • Tehran
  • Glasgow
  • Madrid
  • Singapore
  • Riyadh
  • Karachi
  • Birmingham
  • Paris
  • San Francisco
  • Frankfurt
  • Seychelles
  • Doha
  • Amsterdam
  • Entebbe
  • Copenhagen

It’s 7 a.m., they’ll all be gone by 8:30 a.m

So will I.

 

Leaving or coming home?

I’m in transit to NZ as I type this – exhausted in the lounge at Dubai.
I think a lot of the exhaustion is because i don’t know which way home is. The pain of being overseas away from my family will come from being overseas at ‘home’.
If I didn’t care about my family, or didn’t care about New Zealand, or didn’t care about where I lived none of this would matter. But clearly they all do matter – and should matter.

Here’s some of my problem:

In Paris before I flew out

 
 
So it will be hard for Chrissy and the girls not just because I am away but in particular because of where I am away to.
 
It has also made me realise that it is not just about being away from New Zealand, but being away from those places and people that are close to New Zealand – Australia for instance (my mother and our many friends over there). Even when we return later in the year for 4 weeks it is just not practical to get about and see everyone or cross the Tasman.
 
The world changes with children, and certainly expat life with firm roots half a world away is very different – it will be challenging enough flying them there and back in a month without the extra challenge of getting them all about the place.
 
As mentioned before – it also makes me think expat NZr’s in Europe are a hardy breed as must be expat European’s in NZ – the distances and logistics are not to be underestimated (as we did). I have a much better perspective as to why a colleague of mine returned to Munich from Wellington, even though she and her family appeared quite well adapted – I thought she was overly sensitive to her children. I now get it completely.
 
Anyway, this is my sixth time through Dubai, and each time I look at the barrenness and don’t get it. then it occurred to me if you unwrap even a city like Paris there are not many natural features left, and it is the structure and infrastructure and the people that make it so interesting and appealing. So for the first time, I am thinking… maybe a trip to Dubai with the family would be one way to guarantee a summer which has eluded us for over 20 months now!
 
Meantime New York to Washington DC is in line for hurricane Irene, hopefully forward planning, common sense and a bit of luck prevail for those that endure its strike.

I’ve got rhythm…

I didn’t run to the Nederlands at the weekend – I drove with my family to Kinderdijk, and then onto Middelburg after some cycling and fun around the windmills.

On the outskirts of Kinderdijk - my second shot - I missed the all important windmill on the first one

I had come down with my worst ever allergic reaction on Wednesday and had cautiously recovered through Friday and Saturday, going for a shortish10km romp with 2 laps around Rivierenhof on a rainy cool Saturday night.

I felt sorry for all the locals and travellers who will have booked tickets for the nightly outdoor music concerts held in Rivierenhof (just flicker search it if you want a squizillion pics of the concerts) July/August with some great acts – but unfortunately atrocious weather for this season. It is a beautiful park if not for the unfortunate constant hum of traffic which has come to symbolise Belgium for me in many respects:

Not my pic, from flicker, it does look as good as this though! (stinky water again however)

As I commenced my second lap however it occurred to me what one of my many problems is.

To run as I do – and I’m lucky because I feel much the same at 10kms as I do at 1km – and usually that is not too bad – I was reminded that it is about rhythm.

Of course! Since we have been here we have no rhythm.

And because of what we have, or don’t have, here – we are always keen to escape.

Catch 22; the more you escape the less rhythm you create – because for one  – you won’t escape to the same place twice (We’re stuck in this ‘not a holiday, not a life’ mode, so to return somewhere is to usurp any opportunity to go somewhere different).

So I’m open to ideas.

We lack rhythm, yet can’t handle the monotony. Many Belgians relish rhythm often returning to the same holiday spot year after year (Kiwis do this too I note). But we don’t have those hubs, those family gathering, old chum back slapping options.

Further all the expats we do sometimes slap backs with do the same as us – we behave somewhat like an exploding skyrocket, escaping the city at tremendous pace and dispersing in every possible direction to see where we might head towards and then fade out.

…And we must see what we can see, though at times I crave to see it as an explorer and not a tourist – to actually dwell in one place/region for a while, discover the hidden charms, observe the way of life, live in their shoes a while.

…and then of course, leave and go back to our rhythm which is not rhythm.

Perhaps I’m living a Jazz, and just like Jazz at first it feels a little odd, but there is a pattern, there is a core, and life and purpose and vibrancy can spring from it.

…or you take the record off.