Now that I have lived abroad for a longer period of time, there are some things that I have taken for granted in The Netherlands, that I now see in a new light.
Being able to ride your bike everywhere. Isn’t that just great? You are not dependent on public transportation, you won’t get stuck in a traffic jam and you can go wherever you want.
Knowing exactly what to get where. I guess this is true for everyone’s hometown or country. You know which stores to go to for certain items and you know about fair prices.
There is fresh air in The Netherlands, which allows you to breathe. In Jakarta, there are no parks and smog is everywhere. I mostly noticed this if I got back from being in a natural setting outside of the city, and I felt like I was choking when I got back to Jakarta, but it usually just took me a day to get used to it again. But still, I prefer a place with at least the illusion of oxygen.
You don’t have to go far for the actual oxygen. A lot of the Netherlands consists of land, and it is easy to go out of the city to go there, be it by car or even on these amazing bicycles I missed so much (although riding a motorbike was tons of fun too).
You can drink water out of the tap. Isn’t that just great? Not having to buy a bottle, drinking some water while in the shower… I’m always drinking water, so this is something I really missed, a lot!
Having personal space and room to live. In Jakarta, everything is packed pretty tightly, be it the people on the street or the buildings that are so close together. There are no open spaces except for the roads, and even those are always packed. Sometimes I just want to extend both my arms and spin around. I cannot do that there without hitting an Indonesian.
Having all my stuff. Actually, this is weirdly not something that I missed, but I’ve gained a new appreciation for it nonetheless.
This is one of the things I love about travel. It makes you realize what you do and do not have, and most importantly, what you do and do not need. And I’ve come to learn that I don’t need a lot, and that I already have the world.
I’ve been back in The Netherlands for a few weeks now (and in fact leaving again in less than two weeks from now), and I find it has been surprisingly normal. I know I have been totally neglecting you with my blog posts and seeing as how I have recently discovered people actually read them, I almost feel bad about this. But I have plenty of ideas and still some unpublished blogs from way earlier that I will publish sometime soon.
Do you know that moment, when you walk off a plane and pass customs and you see all these people waiting for their loved ones? Every time I pass this area, I look around for a familiar face. I never expect them to be there, but it is an automaticity. I always look. And when I arrived back home from being away for 6,5 months, I didn’t even have to search for a familiar face, because they were at the front of the crowd, right there in my face, unmistakably, my friends.
Even though I didn’t want to expect somebody to be there sometime, I’m the kind of person that remembers… a lot. So I kept it locked away in my mind somewhere that one of my friends had asked for details on my return flight when I left, so I had my suspicions. But what I did not see coming, was the banner. They made a freaking banner. Mind. Blown.
After I got past the fact that it felt so weirdly normal to be with two of my best friends whilst not having seen them for so long, it was like I had never left. I also experienced this when another friend came to visit me in Jakarta. I was looking through the stream of people coming into the arrival hall at the airport and occasionally you will see someone and wonder ‘is this my friend?’ But it is never them, because when it is actually the person you are waiting for you will know it instantly and you don’t even have to ask yourself.
I felt like everybody expected me to have changed when I came back. Maybe they expected me to have become Buddhist, or maybe they would wonder if my native language skills have decreased a bit, or if I would now be this sophisticated, well traveled, young woman who feels like she has ‘seen the world’ (which, I have to admit, is a little true). And yeah, maybe I have changed in some ways. I have seen more, I have learned more, I have more knowledge and experiences, maybe some new ambitions or insights, but my personality has not changed. I’m still the same person as I was before I left. We’re just at a different point in time, at a different location, but it is weird how you find yourself wondering if you will still have something to talk about, and, oh my god, what will we talk about? But you never wondered about this before, so why start now?
And I found myself wondering why people would expect this. Maybe it is the fact that when you don’t see someone for a long time they always seem to look slightly different and they have many new things to tell, new topics to discuss and new insights to share. But you have read all of my stories and know a lot of what I have experienced. So when I see the people I have been away from for so long they ask me to tell them all about it, as they seem to think I have many stories to tell. And yeah, I could tell a few, but I notice I’m more interested in what they have to tell. After all, I already know how my stories end, but I have been kind of out of the loop where the lives of my friends are concerned.
Of course, as any returning traveler, there are some things that I miss, some things that I’m very happy to have again and some interesting moments, created by a new set of eyes.
Euros felt like foreign money, but I’d gotten used to it quite quickly. Speaking to people in my native language felt like I had mastered a foreign one and I was actually proud at the well structured sentences that left my mouth. Doing laundry and dishes again is not something I had missed, and could have done without for the rest of my life. Cooking all my favorite meals has been a joy and sharing a meal with my loved ones has been even better.
Walking into a Dutch supermarket felt like walking into a foreign one at first. Different products, prices, people… Maybe they renovated during my time away, they changed their assortment… But there were also some items I had missed and it felt really nice walking into a familiar supermarket and knowing exactly what to get and where to find everything.
Coming back to Groningen, I had expected them to have made huge progress on the mall-like building they were busy with when I left, but I found it in the exact same state as when I left, while two other buildings just seemed to pop up out of nowhere.
You know how they say ‘it is like riding a bicycle’? With this saying, one tries to say that you will never forget how to do it. And while this may be true, and I still knew how to ride a bicycle, muscles do weaken and make it harder for you to do so. The first time I got on a bicycle was completely embarrassing and made me realize I had neglected some of my muscles. It’s going much better now, thankfully.
When I went out to dinner to spend some quality-time with one of my besties, I saw the huge white walls and I kept looking up expecting gecko’s to appear out of nowhere. And I noticed that we have so much less bugs here. I guess it’s too cold for them, which brings me to my next point: the cold.
I got off the plane in flip flops and a thin sweater, as I didn’t have anything warmer. So when I arrived at my brothers house, I took a hot shower and dressed in many, many layers, drank a bunch of tea and went to bed cold anyway (and I had to get out in the middle of the night because the tea decided they couldn’t wait until morning to make an exit).
When I went back to my mothers house where all the crap I call my possessions is stored I got to open all the boxes that I had packed away seven months ago. Let me tell you, it was like shopping for free. I was so grateful for my collection of warm sweaters and my ginormous winter coat. I also gained a new appreciation for gloves. I forgot many of the clothes I had, which made me realize how unimportant stuff is. Clothes are replaceable, as are all the other items I stacked away.
So, I’m getting used to the cold again, I guess. And I liked dressing up again, putting on some make-up, trying on all my old clothes. And the past few weeks have been filled with fun dates and events. The jet lag was less severe than I expected, which was great. I was quite tired in the evenings, but all that did was ensure I would go to bed early and get up at a reasonable hour, and even after three weeks, I’m already back to my lazy old self that cannot get out of bed in the morning. I had so many people to see and most of them I have already seen, my schedule was crazy (also, because I picked up some work at the university, which sounds a lot more glamorous than it is). The next week I am completely free and I will spend it doing more of the things I love, seeing the people I love and packing my bags for the next adventure: working at a campsite in the south of France.