One year in Asia; it has been quite a year
Jeroen’s first blog
It is Sunday evening January 19, 2020 when I get off the plane and walk to the immigration of Bangkok Airport. Looking back on the past week I realize this is the fourth country I visit in seven days. With 65 flights in 2019 my ecological footprint is certainly not a good example and it doesn’t look like 2020 will be any better. ‘Another year in Asia‘, is going through my mind while waiting for my luggage. Is it what I’ve expected?’, I ask myself.
With a seven-year relationship as a basis, but without having lived together nor knowing exactly where Malaysia was located, Lisa and I said yes to a proposal from my work to move to Kuala Lumpur to get a job with regional exposure. With the lack of knowledge about Asia (and living together) we didn’t have expectations and looking back, that was a good thing. It speeds up the process of acclimatization in another country with different cultures. You take most of the challenges as they comes. By the way, I don’t think the local bookstore in Tiel would have had a book called: ‘How do I survive living together and working in a continent I’ve never been to at the age of 26?
“Wear ju from, sir?”, asks the taxi driver in his best English. It is a question which is generally asked twice a week in a taxi or Grab and I always answer that I am from the Netherlands, but am living in Kuala Lumpur. The latter I always add in the hope of finding some connection with the local South-East Asian. In vain, because the looks will always betray us Westerners… or help us. It betrays you if you want to book a tuk-tuk, because they ask for the highest prize anyway. It helps you during business meetings, because there is great respect for Western colleagues. Every advantage has its drawbacks,’ a great Dutch football legend once said. I couldn’t agree more.
While the taxi drives through the streets of Bangkok, I think back to what my Malaysian colleague asked me this week. We had ‘char siew’ for lunch in a local Chinese-Malaysian restaurant near our office, when he asked me if I ever felt homesick. I told him that celebrating the holidays, so far from family and friends, had been harder on me than I would have expected. He nodded and continued his questionnaire. Whether I felt at home in Malaysia by now, was his next question. The colleague and I travel a lot together, so he understood when I told him it had taken a while. By travelling a lot and sleeping in different hotels in cities where I had never been before, this feeling at home took at least half a year.
Upon arrival at the hotel I am warmly greeted with a ‘welcome back, sir! I check in, have a short chat with the receptionists and leave for my room. The next morning I have breakfast with colleagues from India, Poland, China and Russia. I remembered myself of the fact that in the past year I have learned a lot about countries, cultures and mostly people during those breakfast, lunch or dinner sessions.
The above has repeated itself countless times without me really thinking about it. We Dutch are in the habit of rationalising many things and acting ‘just normal’. I am certainly no exception to this rule, but as I write this down I realize that it is not entirely normal. It is a great privilege that I am able to experience all of this and I am glad that, together with Lisa, I said ‘yes’ to this adventure. Even though every now and then it is quite outside of any comfort zone; it is highly recommended to everyone!