Another birthday has come and gone, and I’m now four-fifths of my way through the continuous string of non-prime-years in my twenties. (In non-geek speak, I’m 27.) Another birthday in Amsterdam, too, to follow the 2006 extravaganza.
Despite being a newly christened Amsterdammer, it wasn’t a lonely birthday. By chance, the Tinbergen Institute had organised a ‘welcome weekend’ for its new graduate students, so I spent the day with my fellow classmates in the quaint little Dutch town of Haarlem. A scavenger hunt around the city, a cook-your-own hostel barbeque and classic party games (including my favourite, Mafia) were followed by pitchers of Dutch beer, shuffle dancing and ten-pin bowling. How could I complain?
(n.b.1: “Shuffling” is a modern dance style, usually acompanied with hard trance music. A little bit of trivia: it originated out of Melbourne, Australia, with the so-called “Melbourne Shuffle” of the late ’80s. The main move in the more modern scene is the ‘Running Man’; think Gene Kelly crossed with a sort-of stationary Michael Jackson moonwalk, but on steriods. My attempts to teach myself from YouTube videos in my room over the past week has given me impressive carpet burn on the soles of my feet.)
(n.b.2: It turns out my (predominantly Eastern European) classmates haven’t had the ten-pin-bowling education that all Australian schoolkids seem to have forced upon them. It being my birthday and all (and apparently it being an Eastern European tradition that the birthday boy be plied with drinks), I was certainly not in a coordinated mood, and started the game with four gutter balls in the first four frames. A dedicated resurgence of Jedi-focus proportions followed to bring me home to a pitiful score of 92 – which turned out to be enough to win. Yes, a 92 won a game of ten pin bowling.)
In the week leading up to my birthday, the television was utterly jammed with ten-year anniversary tributes to the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York. “Where were you on 9-11?” became an oft-quoted catchphrase in the press (and Facebook statuses – thank you for flooding my wall again, social media). There’s perhaps an argument that the amount of attention this received was overkill, given the number of far more gut-wretching (but non-American) international tragedies over the past decade that have paled anonymously by comarison in the press. But I did undertake the thought experiment, nonetheless.
September 11, 2001: I was at home, watching the early morning Australian news as the twin towers saga unfolded. I had the day off school, because – believe it or not – I was off to see the doctor about a kidney stone. Yes, I was 16, but apparently my quirky habit of eating a kiwifruit a day whole (that is, skin and all…) wasn’t quite as healthy as I thought. Somehow the combined effect of the acid and the inedible skins had crystallised in my kidneys. A lot of people experienced a painful knot in their stomachs while watching the footage from the twin towers; mine was doubly so.
Too much information? Probably. But continuing the thought experiment, I then wrote down all the things I would have done differently if I could go back a decade to 2001. It’s a really interesting little game, and I recommend you give it a go. If you do, give me a snapshot. Overall I came up with a couple of pages, some of significance, but mostly trivial. Here’s three at random; two trivial, one a little more serious:
– I would have learned Mandarin. I lived in a predominantly Asian neighbourhood in Brisbane, and we even had some Mandarin classes back when I was ten or so. I think it’s going to be an incredibly useful language in future years, particularly for an Australian. I wish I’d taken it up back when my mind was young enough to thrive on new information.
– I would have learned to sing. I’ve always loved the arts, but I have a voice that has had as much interaction with proper pitch as the Dutch have with sunglasses. It’s on the bucket list.
– I would have become a neurosurgeon. Of all the careers in all the world, this is the one I’ve though I’d really, really enjoy. It takes a dedicated student, though, and one who knows very early on that this is the chosen path. I missed that window a long time ago, but unfortunately it stays a regret. And no, it has nothing to do with the Grey’s Anatomy star, ‘McDreamy’, nor his hair.