Sunday, September 28, 2014

What is Your Favorite City to Live?

I have been pretty nomadic since I was 11, and I have been moving from one place to another in search of my dream (it keeps changing, by the way). And no, I don't move because my family had to move somewhere. I basically moved out of house by sheer luck (and perhaps destiny, if you believe in one).

So if I create a map, this is the extent of my mobility (and I am 25 years old when I wrote this):

I'm pretty sure that you must have read or heard so many people saying "you must travel lots when you are in your 20's". Well, I guess my case is a rather extreme one. So when I feel like I need to spend some of my weekends lazing around my apartment, I have a reasonably valid excuse :P

To people who have never lived outside their own country, or even their own hometown, I get a lot of "Which country/city do you like the best?"

The answer is always difficult because there are pros and cons to each place. And while some places are great for tourism, it's not a great place to live. For this, I will have to nominate Paris. I don't want to say anything further about Paris, but living there for 2 months certainly destroyed my fantasy about "a romantic city".

Living in the US can be rather boring if you are interested into experiencing cultural events because pretty much people are interested in shopping, getting the latest gadget, eating at famous restaurants, etc. Unlike in Europe, Christmas season means big sales, not drinking mulled wines and enjoying little Christmas treats. And living without a car can be pretty painful in the US, since the public transport is pretty bad. Well, it probably differs from cities to cities, or from states to states. The US is a very convenient place to live, with stores open till late every day and online shopping made very easy. The best part of it? Almost in every corner of the US, everyone speaks English and at this point, I am more confident speaking English than my native language, Indonesian.

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Cork in Ireland can be rather dull and gloomy. And rainy just like the UK. But what I love from Ireland is the Irish hospitality. I felt so welcome by the locals, and I perceive their kindness as saintly. I remember getting lost in the city as a newcomer, and someone on the road just stopped her car just to ask if my friends and I were lost. They speak English, too, but their accents are a little bit hard to pick up. It took me about 3 weeks to adjust my ears.

In Kinsale, a neighboring town to Cork

Lund in Sweden is a cozy place, although it's pretty much filled in with aged residents in the summer, since the university students would be leaving for home. Things are rather slow-paced, and it is blessed with great nature. I was there during summer and I enjoyed it. Not sure if I'd become a snowball in winter, though. One thing I don't really like about Sweden is that the food is rather bland. With exception of the Swedish meatballs served with real lingon berry - not cranberry - jam. I know that in most IKEAs around the world, lingon berry is not available, so you've been eating the IKEA meatball with cranberry jam instead. The difference between lingon berry and cranberry is probably rather minimal and if you don't even know how lingon berry tastes like, cranberry jam is good enough.

Summer in Sweden

I lived in two cities (well, I would consider the other one a village, but it is officially a city based on legal laws) when I was in the Netherlands. To be honest, Rotterdam has been the most enjoyable city I have lived so far. It was a lively city, not too crowded, convenient, excellent public transport... and almost everyone speaks good English. The weather is considerably mild, and there is almost everything you need. True, it is rather modern and some people may take modern city as boring, but it is very close to good touristic places. And oh, the open market is absolutely awesome. Everything is fresh, the prices are lower than the supermarket, and there are good selections of items, ranging from fresh produce to gorgeous flowers.

The iconic symbol of the Netherlands: windmills

If there are unique things I like about the Netherlands, those are: 1) a lot of people speak good English considering English is not their first language, 2) finding Indonesian (and other Asian food) is rather easy, and 3) it is very international. The hardest thing to get adjusted to was the Dutch directness, which can be perceived as rudeness if you are not aware that they do not have evil intention when they openly criticize something about you. But in the end, I kind of like it. It's better than holding in things and cursing people behind their backs, not giving them any chance to improve.

Singapore, on the other hand, has gone quite tremendous changes over the years and sometimes when I went back there for holidays or to visit my friends, I felt that it was oddly foreign. There are more and more foreigners, and wherever I go, I always meet an Indonesian on the street. It's weird. Singapore is rich with many forms of entertainment, but it can be a very stressful place to live. I remember when I was in high school, someone from the top 3 school across the nation committed suicide because she got one B in her midterm exams. The "B is a failure" mentality can be rather suffocating, but I don't think Singapore can be released from this culture any time soon. But hey, there are lots of good food in Singapore, like Hainanese chicken rice, laksa, and roti prata.

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Now, the reason why I started this post was because I just moved to Switzerland almost two months ago, and by far, this move was the hardest for me. Contrary to the "I don't care if you see everything inside my house, I'm gonna open all the curtains in my house" mentality of the Dutch, the residents of Switzerland love to close their windows not just with curtains, but with metal blinds. After working hours (let's say 5-6 PM), all windows are shut.

Enjoying Alpen horns in St Cergue, close to Geneva

You can say it is peaceful, but it is too quiet for me. It's kind of like Wageningen in the Netherlands. But I think I will get used to it soon by picking up hobbies and exploring places. The best thing about living in Switzerland is probably the abundance of good cheese and white wines, the reliability of the public transportation system, and the fact that you are forbidden to work on Sundays (yippie!!).

As for my hometown, Jakarta... I think I see more cons than pros, and if my family is not there, I would not pick it as a place to live. The traffic jam is insane. At one time during my vacation back home, it took us at least 30 minutes to go to the supermarket, which is probably less than 5 km away from our house. My mobility is extremely restricted, and I really hate that. Walking on the streets alone as a girl, even in a broad daylight, can be very dangerous. In the malls, in a restaurant, on the streets, in front of your house, in your car... let's not even talk about in public transport. When I go back, the only things I appreciate are my family, my house, and the food.

Can you imagine that you have a sudden heart attack in the middle of the road and the ambulance can't even pass through? Or you are in labour and you are going to give birth in the next few minutes, when the traffic is like this every day? I mean, let's cross our fingers that we don't have to be in such situations, but if any of these emergencies were to happen... Ugh!

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Oh, and finally, Tokyo! I went there in spring for 3 months, and it was awesome. Things are pricey, and people there are rather reserved. Stand out a little bit, and everyone will be staring at you. The morning trains make me understand how it feels to be a sardine in a can. But overall, it is a very convenient city with lots of entertainment (especially the karaoke boxes and game arcades!). Tokyo is rather unique, with very modern buildings blended with natural landscapes. The old and the new are standing side-by-side. Vending machines are everywhere, and 100 yen shops are dens of evil sucking money out of you without realizing it (the items are worth their values, though). People are still shy about speaking English, but the young ones are quite willing to speak English. And there are more and more signs in roman letters, so navigating through the city is rather easy.

In a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan)

What is your favorite place to live?


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