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bricolage \bree-koh-LAHZH; brih-\, noun: -a dump site for anything at hand, in mind-

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

being forty

the office threw me a small and simple belated party.
i am forty today
a sacred age for a guy
so said everybody

hey, i'm forty. i have a great life. a wonderful family. a bright career.
a nice house with a pool. a driver ready to serve.
a family station wagon. several maids who takes care of the house
so that household works won't drive my lady out of her mind.
i have a beautiful, smart and supporting wife.
a couple of offsprings who have been rewarding me with straight a grades every year.
i have a great circle of friends. i have rejuvenating hobbies every weekend.
a game that the whole family enjoys.
i know i've been blessed. i'm actually at the top of the world.

as a master in my own working space, i have wonderful staff at work as well.
probably not all of them, but at least 80% of them.
i can joke easily with them despite my being a stranger in a foreign land.
well, you know, even if you share a culture by birth, somehow -- to some extent
it's still hard to have a firm footing on both cultures.

you started to build up my psychological background now?
don't. because this is no "american beauty" genre little story.
it's just something that happened on a business trip
after i turned forty a couple of weeks ago.

in my line of work, you get to go to different places.
no, i don't work in the army.
no, i don't count other people's money.
no, i don't do some software/hardware installation.
no, i don't do some infrastructure installation.
no, i don't sell/import/export any goods.
and god, i'm not peter arnett nor larry king.
and i don't have any flying license.
steward? geez.. i don't serve people. i'm the boss, remember?
i'm not even a model. and for crying out loud, i'm not a tour guide! give me a break.
i work in something else.

one day, i ended up on a trip somewhere with one of my staff.
i never really talked to him -- yes, it's a man.
so, again, i guarantee you that this story won't end up like "random hearts" or something.
he's one of the operational team members. i mostly talk to my managers.
but this trip was different. i just feel a bit weird, that's all. especially since a couple of weeks ago.

exactly, a couple of weeks ago when i just found out
-- after a year that he's been around --
that our birth dates were only different by two days.
mine came before his. same year. that means we are both forty.
and i started to dig his cv. no signs of year and date of birth. well, of course!
impressive cv though. well, that's why i decided to hire him.
he's been around the archipelago more than i have.
he's been to those exotic places doing different jobs and professions.
he's been a foreign language teacher. he's been a salesman. he's been an auditor.
he's been a warehouse manager.
he's been a researcher. he's been a volunteer in a non profit organization.
he's been in an earthquake, a landslide, a flood, a road accident.
he's been both in vertical and horizontal conflict hot spots.
he's been working with people of all corners of the world: african origins, indians, americans, french and koreans!
he's been in an area so remote that there were neither power nor telephone networks.
he's been in different life-threatening situations
where the word "evacuation" were both passive and active voices.
he's been working with machetes, pencils and computers.
he's been up in the boonies and down at the shores.
the question is, what is he doing now being an operational staff in my office
with such extensive experience and background.
why did i hire him? he should be overqualified for his position!

where have i been? that's what i'm thinking now, sitting beside him on an airplane
heading for some other city for this so-called planning meeting or whatever.
i had to go because my men were scattered pretty much everywhere else.

after a one full-day meeting, i need to go out to get something for my lady.
so, i called him up and we decided to go out together.

(#) "don't you want to get something for your wife?" i know he's married as well.

(=) "no, we've been saving since she decided to care for our child when she was still expecting it."

(#) "why, you forbid her to work like most men i know over here?" probably i was too much.

(=) "ha ha ha.." he laughed heartily. "she's living off her own savings.
which is a lot more than mine. so, it's her decision."

(#) "is that really so?" i was a bit surprised. sure the office is in the country's metropole, but he seemed to be different.

(=) "what is it that you want to get for your wife?" he diverted the topic.

wooden jewelleries i told him.
might sound stupid, again, but my wife and i just haven't been able
to get a complete set since our past holidays in this island of gods
(yes, the meeting takes place in a resort island -- don't ask me why)
have always been for our kids to enjoy.

(=) "do you have a picture of her? a set of pictures." he added. i was a bit confused.

(#) "i have some in the digital camera. i can get it now." but he refused that and asked for bigger pictures.

(=) "i know someone who will make your wife loves you even more." he said.
so, being a loving husband i decided to bring my laptop rucksack with me.

we took a cab to some city corners i've never been.
we've been going around for half an hour or so.
it can't be this far. but this guy looked cooler than cucumber.
he kept giving the driver directions.
i guess the taxi driver must have had enough for all those left and right turns.
in a small, dark alley we got off.
i followed him like a dog. we stopped in a simple wooden house. with minimum light.
the owner of the house seemed to be so happy to see this staff of mine.
they exchanged words in high speed local language i can't understand.
i can if they would go slowly, though. *doh*
we were seated on the floor, on simple woven bamboo mats.
an old man appeared and sat with us. my staff gestured me to take my laptop out.

(#) "the pictures." so i turned it on, chose the folder and opened several pictures.
the old man pulled his head closer to the screen,
smiled at me and say "beautiful" in local language.

(=) "set it as a slide presentation, so the guy can have a good personal observation."
my staff asked me.
WHAT IS THIS???

(=) "what do you need? earrings, bracelets?" my staff asked me.

(#) "i don't know. a set of whatever he has." i looked totally doped.
"hey, he's not going to put anything into the jewelleries, is he?
you know, like some sort of mantra or something." i whispered at him. my staff laughed.

(=) "he's going to make you a set of whatever you want. everything is arranged."
he chatted a while with the old man and off we went.
in front of the alley, a taxi was waiting for us. a different one. i don't know how the taxi got there.

we stopped in a pub somewhere. it's the only place that i used to go.
i like the local wine and the wines there was okay. this guy doesn't drink wine, he preferred guinness beer.

(#) "it's on me." i said after he finished a bottle quickly. so, he asked for another round.
"you don't talk much, do you?" i told him.

(=) "it depends." i smiled. a strange person..

(#) "how did you know that old man back there?"

(=) "i did a favor to a friend. i was doing some background research on jewellery artists
and stumbled on that guy while i was touring this island."

(#) "oh, that was when you did some research work several years ago. i read that in your cv." he nodded.

after several rounds of beers he swayed to the classic rock tunes the band was playing.
not really my kind of music although we were from the same generation.

(#) "i'm kinda confused with you." i admitted -- after a third quarter of bottle.

(=) "did i do something wrong?" he asked.

(#) "no. i mean, i read your cv. you've been everywhere. really. and.."

(=) "wondering why i'm still in the current position?" he put the matter on the table.
i raised my eyebrows.

(#) "you could be in better position with everything you have. i mean, i just realized that we are peers."
he just grinned while applausing the band.

(=) "well, i only do things i like."

(#) "but doesn't that seem to.." i paused. "sorry, i might have stepped on your toes.." somehow i was reluctant.

(=) "wasting my time?" he gave me a wide grin. "i was looking for myself, actually.."
he hanged the sentence and took another gulp of beer.

(=) "i don't know how does it work at your end. but i had to survive on my own back then."

(#) "you mean, there was no one else but you?"

(=) "my oldman let us live on our own. stuff like that."
there was so single hint of regrets in his voice. "i've done some construction job when i was 18."

(#) "how's your kid? is it a boy or a girl?"

(=) "a sweet little girl. you know what the locals believe about a girl as a first born?"

(#)"is there such thing?"

(=) "yeah. they believe that if a couple got a girl as their first born,
the father must have had some interesting past." he laughed.
i just smirked. i'm not a superstitious person.

(#) "how old is she?"

(=) "she started to walk. actually she took the first step right on my birthday. which was incredible."

(#) "yeah, i know that feeling."

(=) "what about yours? still rewarding you with straight As?"

(#) "yeah. kids these days. they are a lot smarter than i was at their age."
and i started to tell him all these great things my kids did.
with my current position and financial capability, i can give the best education they could get.
my kids went to this prestigious and progressive international school.

(=) "that's why my wife decided to stop working professionally."

(#) "but doesn't that mean less income for both of you?" i understand the current national economy condition.
it must be a bit tough for him.

(=) "it's not about income. it's about transferring your knowledge to your child,
while learning from the child at the same time."

(#) "wouldn't that be simpler if you can have more money
and put her into the best school she could get later on?" i argued.

(=) "i beg to differ. we realized our limits and we knew what we may give her.
so, we decided to be there on every moments of growth with her." he responded.

(#) "of course education begins at home. but.."

(=) "what is a standard? what is normal education?" he fired back. i was quiet for a second.
then he continued talking, "i wasn't brought up in a complete family, but my wife did.
i never had the presence of parents around. probably i felt guilty and wanted to be there for my daughter.
call it whatever you want, but the simple logic to this would be i want to experience being a full father;
while my wife and i decided to be a full parents for her."

(#) "you know it's not easy on the money."

(=) "i only need a handful of money to survive."

(#) "you sound like a buddhist." i grinned back at him. he grinned as well.

(=) "much to my admiration to buddha values,
i don't think i have to say to you that i'm an agnostic.." we both laughed.
well, i don't know what is my religion anyways.
"but i believe in both good and bad values, though. the most important thing
that i believe is to learn and unlearn at the same time."

(#) "is that how you bring up your daughter?"

(=)"well, she's still a year old. but as a father, i can give the same comments you gave to your kids."

(#) "okay, then." i rest my case. i wouldn't say that he was being defensive. i don't know.
i had a bottle of wine and he had probably several pints of guinness beer.

(=) "and don't give me this logic of wanting less responsibilities for men of my age. our age."

(#) "someone might look at it that way." i responded.

(=) "i'd rather say that i want to give the best the way i could give it. within my ability. on my own."

(#) "is that the explanation for never hanging out after work with us?"
once a week, i asked my staff to hang out,
either play pool or just having a couple of glass of beers or coffee or tea.
or i'd invite them to my place on several special occasions.

(=) "kinda. call me weird. but i'm just trying to make a balance in life.
after eight hours of work, i need to see my family.
i need to be there for my daughter." it's kinda true, though.

(#) "is that also why you refuse the mobile phone
the office gave you in case of emergency?"

we've been having trouble in communicating with this guy because
he doesn't have any phone number both modular and cellular.
i heard rumors at the office that the whole office have been persuading him
to buy the cheapest mobile phone
and bought a prepaid card so that he can be contacted in case of emergency.
the finance department had even offered
to buy him a used mobile phone but he refused.

(=) "i'm a simple man. probably more on the conservative side.."

(#) "but still.. such communication gadget might come in handy in case of emergency. what if.."

(=) "yea.. yea.. i know where you are driving me." he cut me in.

(#) "don't you feel at least worried?"

(=) "not really."

(#) "i heard that you still living in a rented house.
don't you think it costs more than owning a house of your own?"

i know one of my staff and his wife have been working their butt
to buy a house on a monthly installment credit scheme.

(=) "to some extent, yes. but i'm still trying to figure out the best way.
i don't have capital to buy a house."

(#) "so, what if your needs expanded or after a long and good thinking
you decided that your daughter should get better goods and services in the future?"

(=) "actually i plan to move to a smaller city with less living costs,
find a land, earn standard salary, leave home for work at eight
and be home at four, ride a bike to work, do some gardening, walk with the family in the nature and stuff."

(#) "geez, man.. get real."

(=) "really. i mean, one day i'll get there." i just stared at him.

(#) "hey boss, you know what, it's almost one in the morning and tomorrow we got a morning meeting."

we got up and walked back to the hotel, which is not far from the pub.
i sighed. this guy doesn't seem to worry about how is he doing right now.
but he seemed to be worried about not being able to wake up early this morning
due to a meeting that we have to attend.
is it just him or is it me who's getting so damn worried about achievements,
careers, finance and family at the age of forty?

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