I attended my first durian party last night. For those less familiar with South East Asia’s ‘King of Fruits’, durian has a distinctive taste and smell (I am putting it mildly). A durian party is a seasonal event around this time of the year when the harvest is plentiful and friends and family organise a gathering to trial the fruit, whether that be a run-of-the-mill durian or what I’m told is the prized D24. Having not grown up with durian I have to say, like many expats, I found it an acquired taste and an appreciation that I’m unlikely to acquire for in the near future!
Many cultures have a food that is revered locally but lacks global export appeal. Marmite is perhaps our equivalent in New Zealand. I can think of nothing better than a slice of toasted Vogel’s bread with a thin spread of butter and Marmite, and a glass of Kiwi milk to wash it down. Try explaining this delicacy to the rest of the word and you may come up with some strange faces.
One of the things that I enjoy about living overseas is undoubtedly the ability to experience local customs, food and tradition. There is nothing quite as mind expanding as stepping out of your own world into someone else’s and being exposed to things you never knew before. This is a privilege I’ve experienced in Singapore, with national holidays to celebrate all three major religions, a truly multi-cultural work environment and the rest of South East Asia at your doorstep.
The benefit of living in a new place is not, however, the external one-off events. Rather it is the bonds that you make with people who are going through the same journey called life that you are on, albeit with sometimes different perspectives. This is when the experience of being a foreigner in a foreign land is unrivalled. This deeper level of connection naturally comes about by spending quality time with people; time that occurs when you commit to a place for a period.
It is natural for people to sometimes focus on differences rather than the obvious similarities. As part of the one human race we are, by definition and design, alike. Where our differences are powerful is when we can draw on our upbringing, philosophies and culture to give new ways of thinking about a problem. The conclusion is not to bring a person to a given worldview, but to give them the gift of a different perspective, backed by context. The problem discussed will invariably be common, such as health, happiness or the meaning of life, and this new perspective may be all they need to break through a restrictive paradigm.
Durian, and the seasonal celebration, is in many ways the perfect metaphor for having an enriched expatriate life. Joy comes not from an experience of solitude, but one that is shared with others. Growth comes from being open to new experiences and engaging with authenticity and an open mind. It is not about agreement, but being involved. The gift is realising that while we are fundamentally the same (i.e. we all eat), the unique expression of this sameness is what makes the world such a fantastic place to live in.
I’m looking forward to next year’s celebration. I may ask if I can bring along my own jar of Marmite for good measure!