There is definitely something to be said about the local life philosophy of each country, and it is most enlightening to learn as I weave my way through one culture to another. Asian life philosophy tends to be more fatalistic, leaving a lot to chance or faith and hoping for the best. Germans prefer to take matters into their own hands and face things head on, regardless of the consequences and pain as long as order reigns supreme. The Portuguese, on the other hand, have a rather quaint approach to things, which appeals to my Asian soul and German sense of order.
As I trudged up the stairs the other day, I ran into one of the long-term residents who asked how my day was. I mustered up all my remaining strength to smile and replied that I was exhausted but happy to be living in Lisbon now. He smiled broadly and said, “It is very good to be tired, only the dead do not get tired!” I stared at him utterly perplexed before I burst out laughing and agreeing completely. That wasn’t the end end of his philosophy lesson though, as he continued to impart his wisdom. The conversation that followed went something like this:
“If you are in pain, it is even better.”
“Oh? How so? This I have to hear because my knee is killing me.”
“Perfect. If you can feel pain it is confirmation that you are alive.”
“Well in that case I am very alive.”
“I am happy to hear that.”
This was definitely the first time anyone congratulated me for being in pain and meant it wholeheartedly, brimming with kindness and not an ounce of malice.
I thought this was a unique incident, coming from a man who has travelled much and seen life from both sides. But then one morning on my way to work the Uber driver philosophised that Portugal is where you come to enjoy life. You discover yourself in other countries, especially the ones you have been to, he commented. But here, you come back to the core of life, and find peace in under the Portuguese sun and in the depths of the water. I was at a loss for words after that.
I have yet to meet a driver here who didn’t wish me a nice day as I alighted from the car. I am used to being thanked for choosing to ride with them, but seldom have I experienced such sunny dispositions coupled with live and life commentaries that are amusing, entertaining and always food for thought. One fellow chuckled and said it was a pleasure to meet me in Portuguese, and I was truly taken aback by the comment. I supposed I have lived far too long in Berlin and the Berliner rudeness that I forgot that there are actually friendly people in the rest of the world who do not consider passengers as anonymous obligations.
Having a long commute to work is a blessing because I get to have such lovely conversations alongt the way. The solitary bus ride home is my exclusive immersion time, andn this is when I soak in all the details of the city, and learning more and more each day. Yesterday morning was paid another philosophical moment, as the driver turned to smile at me when we reached the final destination: I hope our paths cross again, you have such good energy.
It’s been ten days since I arrived in Lisbon, and I feel so at home here. There is something magical about living in a city where I can get off the bus and stand among orange trees lining the pavement and laden with fruit!
Everything seems to be falling into place one day at a time. I hit the ground running here, juggling several learning curves at the same time, in addition to being among people again after two years of isolation and social distancing. But I realise that we are all struggling to reintegrate and adjust to being back in an office. Gone are the days of rolling out of bed and commuting to the living room or wherever your home office was. You actually have to leave the house now!
So yes, I feel very alive at the moment and so un-dead. I’ll let that sentence sink in for a moment…