Time and Time Again

Five more days to go.

Less than a week to go before I’m back to Sumbawa. I’m not sure that I’m ready to go back to work. Even though it has only been three weeks, I feel the freedom of not being a time-slave. Many, many years ago I remember reading an interview with Jim Morrison in Esquire where he talked about being a slave to time. I can feel the reality of that here, well not here, but in what lies ahead for me when I return to work.

I can still remember writing in my notebook when I was a junior high student about how time was stolen away from people from their jobs (I started working at the age of 10 so I had some experience in the field).

Time here is different than how we from the West perceive it. That is, many cultures in Southeast Asia have a different perception of time. It’s something that we notice fairly quickly, but continue to bang our heads up against it. That is we do once we’re off vacation. The wonderful thing about vacations is that time becomes suspended, we enter into a liminal state. Once we make the transition from tourist to expat, we regress to our “normal” perception of time – that is, time is money, keep your eye on the clock, no time like now, a stitch in time saves nine – how many more can you think of.

I had an epiphany the other day – it’s only taken almost 19 years of living here to have it so I’m rather fond of it. I was standing in line in the supermarket with my son, the teller was taking her time ringing up the goods that the lady in line was purchasing, and I noticed that I started tapping my feet and glancing at my watch. I wasn’t tapping my feet very loudly, even my son who was standing right next to me didn’t hear it, but it sounded like the tapping of a multitude inside my head. I glanced around to see if anyone noticed, but they hadn’t, as I said. It was my impatience, my hurry to get nowhere in particular – I didn’t have anything planned for the rest of the day other than to cook dinner, get the kids settled in with what they had planned for the evening and then watch the sunset and later in the evening watch a movie on my iMac.

I started reading a book, a novel by an expat who lives in Thailand and has written several novels about expat living in Thailand. I came across a section where he describes how he’s hurrying through the streets on his way to his favorite bar. He’s not in a particular hurry to get to the bar as he is way ahead of the time for his appointment with a buddy. But the Thai way of shuffling down the street gets him irritated and first and then angry. He’s about to brush past several secretaries strolling down the street, when he has the epiphany about time.

My ex-mother-in-law used to call it BPT – brown people’s time – when getting irritated with her Indian husband. We call it jam karet – rubber time – here in Indonesia. There was a term for it in Pakistan as well, but I’ve forgotten what it is.

Back to the supermarket. I took off my watch, placed it in my pocket and haven’t worn it since. My children ask me what day it is – I don’t know is my answer now. When are we going, they say when we have a plan to go shopping – soon, I say and smile. Live slower, live longer, live more fully.

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~ by drbrucepk on January 7, 2008.

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