A cool thing about moving to another country is that your life gets longer. Last year I calculated, that I should move to Colombia, and since then I’ve lived about two months more than I would have otherwise. I know you think I’m bullshitting you, but hear me out! The way i see it
For the person who is moving, the perception of time changes!
Here’s why: The way our brains are wired, we tend to remember exceptional stuff better (check out the Von Restorff Effect or this fascinating list of other memory biases). Those individuals in the past who had an amazing eye for stillness, had a harder time staying alive (“staring at the sand again?”). Those who noticed exceptional things and danger were more likely to survive and procreate. Hence we are all descendants of people who remembered exceptional stuff better.
The experience of our lives consists of memories from the past – the more you remember, the more it feels like there was a lot of time to do a lot of things. Staying in environments you are deeply familiar with will on average present less opportunities to be surprised by exceptional things and remember them. There are of course many ways to create exceptional experiences while staying put (with conscious effort), but on average staying put means you’ll be less likely to have more memories and you might feel like you had a shorter life. This has been discussed in detail in The Atlantic and LessWrong through examples of investing in experiences rather than possessions. There’s also evidence that suggests a change in temporal perception (in insight) with frequent stimuli (Does time really slow down during a frightening event).
I moved to Colombia in January and my days have been full of small surprises and memories of new discoveries since then. Here’s a few I wanted to share:
- I was pleasantly surprised to see how many motorcycles are in use in Colombia. I’ve always seen motorcycles as very efficient means of transportation and can only image how Colombia will transform when electric motorcycles become mainstream. They are already so accustomed to this form of transportation.
- I was surprised to notice quite a few motorcycle riders switching gears with their heels as opposed to their toes. Turns out it has to do with not wanting to damage/mark the shoes. Needless to say I find the risk/reward of this action very questionable.
- I noticed many buses had some form of colored LED lights attached to them to make them more visible. The scenes occasionally reminded me of Mutant Vehicles at Burning Man and I felt slightly “at home” even in the remoteness of the Colombian countryside.
- I saw very few animals in Colombia despite spending substantial time in nature. Given the warm climate I found this a bit surprising. In insight I probably should have made an effort to make it to the jungle.
- During my first month in Colombia I only came upon two people who looked to be of asian descent. I found this extremely surprising, given how populous the countries of China and India are. Is there more friction in the immigration law for them or has the news of improved safety during the last decade not reached Asian countries?
- I saw chip based credit card terminals readily available in most big grocery stores, but despite of the technical readiness, most people were still using cash. Turns out Colombians are “creatures of habit” and very careful in adopting new technologies as my Colombian friends told me.
- If you want lemon, don't ask for "limón" just because it sounds like lemon. Although the correct term for a lemon is "lima", you'll probably get limes anyway since the yellow fruit we call lemon is pretty hard to come by here.
- Turns out you can only drive your car on the streets of Bogota on certain days depending on your license plate. In essence half the folk are driving one day and the rest on the next.
- The Hass avocados were only recently introduced to Colombia. The local avocados sold here are easily 2-3 times bigger and much juicier than those sold in US and EU.
- My California sun trained skin was no match for an hour in the Colombian sun. The closeness to the equator and the elevation of Bogota had me losing my skin from a mere hour of exposure without protection.
- Don’t expect to find seat belts in all taxis. In fact, it’s rare to see them at all in taxis.
- Many big intersections in Colombian cities turn into circuses when the red light comes on as the acrobats and fire jugglers try to earn money by impressing people stuck in traffic.
- Very few cars use blinkers. They just slowly start switching lanes and expect everyone around to adapt. On average it seems to work out.
- Only two people made their startup pitch in English in Bogota at a startup event where I was an English speaking guest speaker. I was slightly surprised that most chose not to welcome an opportunity to try to practice their two minute pitch in English. From the comments of local entrepreneurs it seems that thinking beyond local or latin markets is not that common here.
- I was frustrated to hear myself being called Silber many times. I stressed less after seeing even locals struggle exchanging wifi passwords with “b” and “v” in them.
- I saw more barbed wire and electric fences around apartment buildings than I ever saw growing up near soviet military bases.
- Do not expect to get receipts from most taxis.
- Even “World clock” – special software to help you figure out timezones, was an hour off during daylight saving in Colombia.
- I discovered my new favorite fruit – granadilla.
- I learnt how cooperative mules are compared to horses.
- I had someone come up to me after my talk to ask about Paul Keres – an Estonian chess grandmaster.
- I was amused to learn that a guy who walked in half way into my talk at Atomhouse thought for the first 15 minutes that I was talking about real teleportation.
- I got to witness the scale of the social gradient and just how different the two Colombias are.
And that's all just a tiny sample of small surprises and discoveries I had every day that I'm happy to share publicly. Most of the real time distorting stuff is either too personal or too controversial to share with you all. To learn about those you have to move to Colombia! :)
All and all I’m very happy with my decision to move to Colombia and feel like I’ve lived more during the last 3 months than I lived in the last half a year of staying put. There were certainly many surprising discoveries and plenty of colorful memories to keep and I’m especially happy with the new friends I made on the way. I'd like to sign off by thanking each and everyone of them for making my life longer!
Gracias amigas y amigos!
Next stop – Galápagos Islands!