As I was running along the river Limmat in Zurich the other morning with my daughter’s dog Cookie, I was admiring the falling autumn leaves and thought how beautiful this was. The leaves were everywhere, on the grass, the path, the street and on benches. This being Switzerland, I could hear the city employees with their very loud leaf blowers blowing the leaves off the street, the paths, the benches and even the lawn that was perfectly mowed, of course. What a pity, I thought. The yellow, red, brown and green leaves were making the grey city look a lot more colorful. And in my eyes a lot more beautiful, too.
But maybe, this is not the typical Swiss idea of beauty. We normally like it neat and clean and well organized.
On the other hand, when our guests come to Pulau Pef, they like the fact that we don’t control and cut down nature that much and that we all live with and within nature. Of course, we clean the paths, the jetties and the sandy areas every day, as they would otherwise be covered with huge palm leaves very quickly and would make walking around very cumbersome. But apart from that, being on Pulau Pef feels quite the opposite of super clean Switzerland. Suddenly, we think this is beautiful.
Now that there are no guests at the resort, there is a lot of maintenance and renovation going on. Among other things, we also redid some of the pathway borders with new stones and rocks. The idea of our employees was to make these borders as straight as possible, because they considered this to look beautiful. Maya had to intervene and ask them to keep the borders a little curved to make it look more natural. In our – and our guests’ – eyes, it looks more beautiful that way. But not so in the eyes of our local staff…
Maya told me that during construction times, our employees wanted to sand down and varnish all the pillars that were used for the bungalows and other buildings, because they thought this looked more beautiful. Well, Maya thought the opposite – she wanted everything to remain as natural as possible, and so they remained untreated. It is what we westerners feel creates the special atmosphere and adds authenticity to our resort. We look for natural looks and the locals prefer treated materials, maybe also to show that we can afford the treatment. Two rather different ideas of beauty.
Indonesians also like colorful things and clothes and they tend to mix patterns. The more glitter and shiny parts, the more they seem to like it. A western eye might question their taste, but they in turn might question ours, judging our discreet style as too boring. And you have to admit that bright colors do look great on darker skin.
The more I get to know the joyful mentality and the sunny nature of my Indonesian colleagues, the less their idea of beauty seems foreign to me. It simply fits their style, their humor and their behavior. They love life, as simple as this life may be in our eyes.
The notion of beauty is not an absolute value, it depends very much on your personality and the world you live in. Like with many other things I experienced in the last 15 months in Indonesia, I have to let go of prefabricated ideas and think they are valid for everyone. Why would my idea of beauty be the same for my Indonesian colleagues when we grew up in completely different environments, having been taught different values?
I’m still curious to find out more about our two different worlds and what other notions we differ in. And I’ll make sure to tell you about them!
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…