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.

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ING NYC Marathon 2011 – Part 1

Chrissy asked me some time ago to do a post on the ING NYC Marathon.

Well it’s been a marathon wait and here it is.

Three reasons for getting underway – Chrissy asked, lots of people at her birthday party (NZ) asked, and I’m stuck in a motel by myself so it beats TV by a long shot.

Where to begin?

Well perhaps somewhere past the end… I have had many unbelievably positive reactions to this achievement and often people have seemed somewhat confused as to why I am so seemingly modest about finishing. Truth be known I am not modest at all, but when it comes to running I have pretty high standards.

I did regard my effort as very modest compared to people who only took up running in the last twelve months, people who only ran it to honour a lost loved one (mother, father, sibling, friend), those running blind, those running without ‘legs’, the woman who had to be in her 80’s cranking the handbike up first avenue with a smile on her face, the people without arms, the war vets with injuries of all manner. And had I finished ½ hour quicker I would still feel just the same (though undoubtedly more satisfied within myself).

For those who know me well I’ll save the comments; yes I’ve broken both legs and ankles and still have metal in place, I have a lung which is glued to my chest, get asthma, but, and this is the point – I knew I could do it – the only questions for me were how fast and how much damage would be done (ankles etc.).

They say something like ‘Marathons are 20% physical and 80% mental’ I completely agree. Mostly it’s perseverance, it was nigh impossible to pick those who would ‘ace’ you and those who would trail you across the line – you could see them physically, but not what they had inside (though I wish I knew where the woman with the diamond studded head band and Hermes top finished). I particularly enjoyed the T-shirt a guy had on (who I ebbed and flowed with through much of the middle of the race) which said “Personal best is only temporary”.

Having done multisport events 2 and 3 times longer than the time I expected for the marathon I never for one minute doubted I would finish (though when I pulled a thigh muscle while boogieing to R.E.S.P.E.C.T being sung out loud as I ran into the Bronx – I did picture myself hobbling across the line).

So will I do another, and do I recommend it? Absolutely.
Absolutely.

Now I’ll try to explain why, and if I motivate one single person to get up and go for it, then all this self-reflection will be worth it.

The ING Marathon

This was simply the most amazing accumulation of human charity and compassion I have ever seen. 47,000 people running and in the process raising US $36 million which is simply amazing and makes most every other charity event I am aware of pale into insignificance.

For me though it was the 2 million odd New Yorkers (and foreign add-ons) who lined the course from 9:30 a.m. to 6pm to cheer and shout and sing and wave and high five and hand out sweets, Vaseline sticks (fortunately not on my list of needs – and that’s for chaffing for the non-initiated), bananas, drinks, smiles, shouts, encouragement and general craziness. It practically brought me to tears as I ran onto Fourth avenue in Brooklyn ‘this is insane’ I declared with tear filled eyes to any runner nearby ‘…and I mean that in a good way’ I added to probably a completely different bunch of runners!

(next installment in a day or three…)_

A box of chocolates

8 million people in small towns
Well that’s probably a little insulting to call some of the cities of Belgium ‘small towns’ however the reality is that take away  Antwerp and any other city of more than 100,000 people and you have 8 million Belgians living across the country in ‘small’ towns and villages.
So whilst we often think of NZ as a small village, Belgium truly is a collection of small villages. The infrastructure is so different to what a Kiwi or and Aussie is familiar with. I wonder with the population so dispersed, or perhaps  ‘not agglomerated’  is a more relevant view, how this influences the modernization of Belgium.
For me the country is very contradictory, home to many high tech and multinational businesses and a hub to eastern Europe and at the same time often I find Belgium just so stuck in the past. I expect this in France, but France has a different approach, there is industry / technology and there is what they are unashamed about protecting – their roots, their culture, their way of life, the villages, the eccentricities and so on, and somehow they make it look quaint if not frustrating for some, (OK maybe more than just a few).
Maybe it is with Belgium it is all so mixed up. At times Beglians make me feel like Forrest Gump ‘they’re just like a box of chocolates you never know what you are going to get’, i can feel either totally stupid, totally perplexed or totally engaged and welcome.

We laughed the other day with what appeared to be a nationwide promotion in the stores, something which translated as ‘the day of the client’ we expect it meant there would be a special effort to provide service for customers. Surely you don’t need a special day to do what you should be doing anyway!

Presently I am in Los Angeles , and of course we all know the Amercians can be totally over the top on service, and I hate the tipping system – not that I don’t like to tip, I just like it to be a choice not a requirement to ensure someone gets fairly paid. Of course LA is no small town  in fact California’s GDP is large enough to make it the worlds 8th largest economy.

Clearly it is a big leap from Belgiums box of chocolates to Californias over-the-top-ness, but it does bring to mind theTom Watson comment about IBM ‘until you think and act like a big company you’re never going to be one’.

So with 80% of the population locked into small towns what does that mean for what Belgium can or cannot be?

Trucks – Zoom, Gloom and Doom

O.K. you should be use to the occasional loose post from me.

This one isn’t exactly about trucks, but they have a part to play.

We have just returned from a weekend ‘sort of ‘on the Rhine – from Neuwied to Cologne.

We had three days of typically ordinary weather as we have come to expect here in Europe as is witnessed by this Photo of Olive as we cycled into some beautiful little village which on a real summers day would have merited a stop for a drink, some nice pics and a wander about.

Great weather uh Dad!!

As it was we cowered in someones doorway, and tried to see the bright side.

We made it another 2kms before our next unscheduled stop, and so it went.

I had hastily researched the Rhine and thought we were on one of the better sections, but have since found we should have down between Mainz and Koblenz, never mind the weather wasn’t up to it anyway.

Overall it was interesting, but only reinforced to me how lucky we are that the population, industry and motorways haven’t overrun what we have in New Zealand. Our ride was interspersed with beautiful, ugly, tragic, historic, whacky, and ho-hum, and I really only thought Danniverke could offer so much variety!

The girls endured it with great spirit, and we enjoyed good German hospitality and friendliness throughout.

Whilst riding we passed one town with a Trodel Markt – sort of antique and used goods fair, which at the time was unappealing because of the weather, but which we returned to the following day in lighter showery weather. And here come the trucks…

There was all manner of stuff you would seldom if ever see in New Zealand, from Kaiser like Helmets, to stuffed animals, amazing lightshades and Barbie Dolls – Chrissy’s blog will cover it way better. Of course the girls wanted one of most things, so ever the bargain spotter at 50c a piece when Edie took an interest i responded  – they were part of a stall representing a half a life times’ collection of trucks and cars and motorbikes. I couldn’t bear to take a photo of the collection, the poor guys heart must have been broken. I’m sure I only added to it by having Olive hand over 1 euro for two trucks – one for her and one for Edie.

Girls don't like boys, they just like money and trucks! (A bad wordplay on a song)

It would have been too hard to explain that they would love them too (ultimately) pieces.

For those interested – one is a DAF and the other one, well another truck.

Anyway it had me thinking about collecting for life, giving things up, moving on, and wondering how many really do move on – can we really break the habit? I’ve always loved lots of things. The closest I have come to having a collection is ‘bikes’. But I use them and abuse them. I admire those who can just revere something, I think I am just too much of a pragmatist – or maybe I only see real art in art, but then a Truck is art in some ways, and certainly I regard a bicycle as one of the great pieces of mechanical art.

Anyhow, it seemed apt to reflect on this in a country where people are particular, and do appreciate and admire excellence in all sorts of things (we passed the Michael Schumacher kart center by the way). I appreciated it.

This was my first time to Germany, I’ll be back, I felt welcome.

I can’t help but leave and think of all the lives lost in the madness of war. I could only see peace and tradition and respect in all the little villages. Just like anywhere else you might go.

I felt as though I should tread very lightly, in respect of everyone, for everything ‘they/we all’ should never had to lose.

Right.

Now I have those trucks in perspective.

I can never have the war in prespective.

As a sort of proof of my ignorance, we also rode past this bridge end the Ludendorff Bridge – one of the more famous bridges (it was destroyed days later after the dramatic events of the film). I saw the movie quite by chance on the MGM movies in Cologne one night later.  We rode right past the tunnel entrance and could have gone in that night to watch the movie as a special ‘summer’ thing!!

I feel so naive  at times.

Thank you to all who lost your lives, limbs and loved ones.

I understand a whole lot better now.

Everyone fighting for the same thing.

Easy on a Sunday morning

It’s been 10 weeks since I last posted – wow that’s bad. Truth is it has been full on, no particular fault of Antwerp, but a disproportionate number of things coming to a head, and in some cases fizzing out completely.

And to keep it simple I’m going to stick with my running theme – as 10 weeks later I am still running.

Truth is I found a way around my dilemma of the local park – I started running a different route – more urban, fewer drunks/ dropouts. It hasn’t solved anything of the real problem but it has allowed me to keep running.

So here’s what I observed when I headed out for a 15km run on Sunday morning at 0615 hrs.

  • Several groups of slightly weary ‘gents’ heading home or back to their hotel / home.
  • One person asleep (almost on a park bench)
  • Before entering the lift to take me through the Sint Anna pedestrian tunnel under the Schelde the guy on his push bike sculled his can of Jupiter (beer) and threw it to the ground. I got in with him – just a little anxious.
  • At the other end (578 metres long) – he had waited for me – keeping the lift door open (the world is full of suprises), and gave me a cheery smile.
  • The cavernous lift (made for bicycles) had a dubious wet patch on the floor (I don’t think it was his).
  • On the other side (Linkerover) I ran to the John F Kennedy tunnel (and checked the air pollution as a possibility of running later) – the answer is no.
  • Passed one illegal camper fast asleep with his tent flap up and his hairy bum showing (worse is yet to come)
  • Passed a strange man in full waterproof garb fishing who knows what out of the reeds with a little net (I hope that was his job, otherwise he must get a life)
  • Saw the most rabbits I have ever seen in a short space of time– probably 3 or 4 hundred over the next 30 minutes of running.
  • Passed the 8 or 10 sailing clubs hunched around a lake the size Westpac Stadium, looking rather like a bad sideshow. (Why couldn’t they all agree to share one decent facility)?
  • At about 0700 I reached a carpark where two male joggers had just driven in – I thought they looked ‘suspect’ in their white shorts and matching backpacks – the pre-jog kiss confirmed it. I ran faster.
  • On reaching the Schelde again I encountered another strange clubhouse thingy – and disturbed someone relieving himself in the Schelde (OK downstream from Antwerp – but only confirms my intention never to set a toe in its waters).
  • Finally a lady walking her dogs.
  • Another lady, another dog (her dog I mean)
  • As I headed towards the bend which leads the river back to Antwerp a flash of white caught my eye – yes another bottom – this time female – doing the wild thing. (I must learn how to cough politely or run more noisily, I slipped off down the other side of the bank so as not to disrupt their rhythm)
  • I then encountered a bunch of crazy taverns, a camp ground, and an outdoor swimming pool. All looking rather tired, like some closed down amusement park that had run out of cash and patrons (whilst knowing that on a nice day many Belgians would think this the lap of luxury).
  • I weaved my way near and far from the river due to restricted acces in many parts with more yacht clubs, more strange clubs I couldn’t understand, and sometimes for no reason I could understand.
  • A group of Englishmen/ Scotsmen (one with his countries flag wrapped around him) – heading for the aforementioned Campground – after a BIG night out.
  • Another illegal camper – strangely within walking distance of the camp facilities.
  • Two more people – sleeping next to the river – not active to my relief.
  • Back through the tunnel – again with an accompanying cyclist – looking totally confused as to why anyone would run at all! (Yet again the lift was ‘held’ for me – not that i was far behind this languid cyclist)
  • And then finally back through the Meir – where I saw to my amazement – in the last 200 metres of my run – another runner. I waved to her, she back.

Hope you enjoyed the trip.

I plan on running from home to the Nederland’s this weekend.

This is particularly amusing for a Kiwi – we can’t run to any country – so there is some unusual lure and anticipation about it.

Hopefully the local authorities don’t find out I may get locked up, i certainly won’t have my Belgian residents card on me.

Coming true

So I think in January I declared I would try hard, adapt, blah blah blah.

Well check this out…

Adapted!

Adapted

OK so I’m cheating a bit – that is not Belgium – amazingly I’m only 30 kms from the sea and at over 2000 metres altitude! thats Tenerife where we went for a burst of sunshine – and unexpectedly we found the island positively amazing.

But this is in Belgium – at the Binche carnival- and now instead of saying I had a blast I think I’ll say I had a binche!!!

When you have two daughters you don't get to wear rugby jerseys!

When you have two daughters you don't get to wear rugby jerseys!

We had a great day, and following a happy break in Tenerife, things have been on the up. We have had 6 weeks of pretty remarkable weather- certainly early spring weather that would make Wellingtons envious (well it did us anyway).

We have adapted, adjusted. I think Chrissy more than I, still a bit too much rebel left with me – the bureaucracy here is truly something else.

We hit the bikes every weekend, have wonderful parks, lots of events and options and have met some wonderful people – including Belgians! I think also we have been to more parties in the last three months than in three years in Wellington!

The girls are storming at school – learning new language, proving popular, and getting to do lots they wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to – just as we intended.

And so what have I learnt?

We were right, there was a rainbow… see this one in Tenerife as proof…

But like most rainbows, theres a bit of disruption to normal transmission preceding, during and sometimes after.

A book I am reading at present is called Happier – the author makes the point the objective isn’t happiness but to be happier. Think about that if you will.

I owe it to Chrissy that she dug in, we all dug in, and we knew that we would be happier.

And now we know the way, it is probably the best lesson of our lives together.

Nothing for granted.

Take your rose tinted glasses off.

Don’t run for cover.

What you resist resists.

It’s all in your head.

Other than that, it was just like the guide books promised.

And so as promised, from here forward I will be bringing reflections from a more adjusted, more mature, more worldly mindset.

I’ll leave it to Chrissy and her wonderful blog to bring through the travelogue – which in recent history has taken in Tenerife, London, Laon, Bouillon, Binche and Mechelen see her blog in addition to updating the wonderful things the girls are doing at school.

Meantime I must keep reminding myself as i join yet another insane queue, or answer another crazy request – it’s not them, it’s you!!

Tenerife 2011

Our wonderful children

In pursuit of happiness

We watched the film In Pursuit of Happiness the other night on a recommendation of a friend.

It was an interesting watch, surprisingly downbeat for an American film i thought.

And today I realised that what keeps us pursuing happiness and what allows us to avoid being stuck in doom and gloom are one and the same thing.

We adapt.

Yes, we adapt.

I’m sure the psychs of this world have bigger more meaningful theories and expressions, but I like simple.

When the going gets good, we adapt. We adjust our comfort meter and want more, or don’t think what we have is enough. And so what was good or even great becomes, ordinary and everyday and we want more of it or more of something even better.

We adapt, and in adapting we set ourselves up to both succeed and fail.

Now that is a kind-of weird and spooky thought.

So is happiness borne of contentment. Stupid and happy may be less a criticism than I thought.

And the other side of the coin is when things don’t go our way. When situations are new or even frightening or dangerous – or all of the above.

We adapt – or those that survive do – the others get eaten, run over, or pull the rip-cord at the wrong time.

And when we adapt we diminish the things which at first were so strange and we re-frame them. Reframing is something young children do much more easily than adults because their neural pathways to what is normal or good or bad are not nearly as worn as that of an adult. my youngest daughter does it so quickly I’m not sure she has any frame of reference!

And fortunately as we assimilate our new environment it becomes more survivable.

Ultimately we survive, and the lucky ones even thrive, no doubt they are the happy immigrant stories.

And it is rather sobering to think that the same skill which can undermine our happiness can relieve our unhappiness, and even deliver happiness.

Lastly, there is one happiness i will never tire of. It’s the happiness of my children. It is so dynamic and so incredibly constant at the same time that i can never ‘adapt’ to it and never be tired of it.

Is the art of happiness based on not adapting?
On always marveling and always being grateful for what we have?
On never taking for granted what is around us, from loved ones, to clumps of earth, falling leaves and shooting stars?

I think that just may get you close, but not too close.