Growing up, my dad always said that the world was getting smaller and that his hope for me was that ‘Europe would be my playground’ as an adult. Now I find myself married with a baby, living in South East Asia. In so many senses my dad was right. Cheap flights, social media, and online shopping for birthday cards and presents make it possible to keep in touch with a network of family and friends all over the world.
But I’ve also developed a greater respect for the scale and complexity of the world we live in. Hearing myself ticking off places I have travelled to or holidayed in, I smile inwardly when I say I have ‘done’ Indonesia. Really?! An archipelago of over 17,000 islands, spread so widely that different parts of Indonesia operate on different time zones. Recognised as the world’s 15th largest country in terms of land mass, and with a population of well over 242 million inhabitants. It would take a lifetime and more to ‘do’ Indonesia. Still, South East Asia is my playground for the moment, and I’ve definitely got a few holiday hotlist places reserved for Indonesia over the new few years!
2013 was an incredible year for me, not least because I welcomed my baby girl into the world, making us a very happy family of three. 2014 holds so much potential it makes me tingle, and I can’t wait to get started. But so far away from home, in amongst all the celebration and excitement, New Year makes me reflect on similarities and difference in this global culture we live in. So many countries and cultures mark New Year on 31st December. Anticipating the good things to come in the new year, whilst being thankful for the good times over the past twelve months. But whilst New Year may be nearly universally celebrated, the customs and traditions in different parts of the globe are far from it. In Mexico people will carry a suitcase around the block to welcome the opportunity for travel in the coming year. In Denmark plates are thrown at the doors of friends, to show that their friendship is valued. In Spain, las doce uvas de la suerte, or the twelve grapes of luck, are eaten as the clock chimes midnight. And in the Philippines, people believe that anything round symbolises prosperity, so wearing polka dots is common at New Year.
We are celebrating the New Year here in true expat style with a boozy barbeque with friends later today. In deference to my Britishness, I will be taking a first footing gift. Champagne, a candle, a coin, and some bread…some of them a twist on more traditional choices…coal is hard to come by in Brunei! And I started my day thinking of my friends in the Philippines, strong and smiling in the face of having to rebuild their lives after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan. So naturally, breakfast was a beautiful plate of fruit, dotty and delicious in the hope of prosperity for my family and friends around the world in 2014.