Italy {Pictures}

MILAN

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LAKE COMO

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Potential reasons why the blogging stopped

1. I hit a slump and never came back. (Never say never?)

2. I became a full-time primary school teacher and feel weird about how readily available my  inner thoughts are (which have been known to include ‘drugs’ and PG encounters)

3. Who knows what’s acceptable for a teacher to say or write.

4. Its an endless game getting Facebook and other social media sights to cooperate and show your content to people. #algorithms #paidposts

5. If I write something good and stats are low I die a little inside. I put so much effort into each post and then Facebook plays hide and seek with it.

6. I became increasingly unsure of my brand and what I was bringing to the table. It became less about travel and more about me and my opinions. Perhaps I needed a new space.

7. But I love my space! Just look at it!

8. If my personal online behaviour and click-through rate is anything to go by……. no-one reads things anymore! So what’s the point.

9. Someone I Once Met was the most continually successful dimension of the blog. Somewhere along the line I lost my nerve writing about people I know and who know me and who I can potentially insult. I need a formula.

10. The haters. People are violent bullies when they have a cyber facade to hide behind. Just like I left South Africa before I became a statistic, did I stop the blog before people said shit I couldn’t handle?

11. I find it very difficult to ignore negative comments/feelings/cybervibes. Things stick with me and ruin my day!

12. I’m lazy.

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First World Problems

My problem is first world you say?

Rendering my issue irrelevant, hey.

My privileged life has come to this,

A muffled sound I should make, unless

My problem becomes what you deem worthy

Starving, bleeding, dying, dirty.

A lucky few have never had

to live with tragedy quite as bad

as most of our brothers far and wide

and so my worries I should hide?

My anger, my pain, my suffering re

An ‘irrelevant matter’ (like gluten free)

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How dare you feel this way my dear?

Haven’t I made myself quite that clear?

You are not marginilsed in any way

Your house looks out over the bay

Your life is enviable to many degrees

Stop your whining, honey, please.

We don’t care that you have fought

Tooth and nail and are now distraught

About that damn visa or delayed jet

People are starving, don’t you forget.

Just keep keep clam and carry on

You don’t have problems. You hear me? None.

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To what degree am I allowed to feel

if I myself have been born free?

According to you it’s guilt alone,

but your criteria are not my own.

 

Attack of the Liberal Nazi

When I told my boyfriend that I just had a fight about white privilege with Grethe K*** his response was “Whyyyy?” “Why would you enter into that?”

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I just shrugged my shoulders. I guess it felt like the right thing to do? I was in the mood for debate?

In the end morbid fascination got the better of me. I know all too well that these things never leave me feeling wonderful.

Grethe was having a rant about English speakers (read ‘white people’) and how she was fed up with them and their poor attempts to correctly pronounce anyone’s name that’s not English and might be difficult to say (including hers. She is white). Her point being that English imperialism is shit and white people are shit for failing to respect someone enough to pronounce a Zulu, Xhosa or even Afrikaans name the way it is supposed to be.

My response mostly ignored her racially charged rant and suggested that all over the world people find it difficult to pronounce words and names that are unfamiliar to them. That in Spain all B’s are V’s and all V’s are B’ and therefore I am often Bicky in that country. (She loved this point, retorting with my own personalized meme highlighting my white-people problem).

My Korean student the other day said that she hated Jews. After some discussion we came to the conclusion that what she really hated was zoo’s. That damn racist Korean mother tongue. We’re still working on that.

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The point I was trying to make was that mispronunciation of names and words is not something only lazy English speakers are to blame for. But after a few back and forths, our deeply connected Facebook friendship came to an end. (calling her a Liberal Nazi was probably the last straw).

A Liberal Nazi is someone who identifies as a liberal (i.e. accepting of other opinions and behaviours different to their own) but in reality is inflexible to opposing ideas and behaviours. There are a lot of these around. Should you encounter one, try your best not to make eye contact and certainly don’t bring up how you truly feel about illegal immigrants.

There is no winning in an argument with a Liberal Nazi. They will eventually accuse you of failing to acknowledge your white privilege, to which you can say nothing. There is no test or way to prove yourself, especially when using Facebook as your platform for battle.

Instead of being open to discussion she began with ‘Victoria you are the worst when it comes to this….” I hammered out a reply, hovered over enter and then backspaced. Wrote something else and backspaced. And eventually went with “How am I the worst?”

I knew then and there though, that I was dealing with someone who judged me for choosing to live outside of South Africa (a common phenomenon). Deciding for herself that I’d left hoping to live with my white privilege in peace. Or maybe she meant I that exploit my white privilege by travelling the globe with initial the help of my parents’ financial support 6 years ago?

Ok, Grethe. (How do I say that?)

According to Grethe, travel is nothing but a slap in the face to underprivileged and marginalized people. That’s the message I received anyway. According to her, my travelling has done nothing for my white-privilege-enlightenment, how could it? I’m too busy flashing my money and pale skin to ever consider the real issue of  whiteness in this world.

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Then I realised why I had entered into this discussion back when Grethe and I were still floating around each other’s cyber personal space. My gut told me to, and by now I know to always listen. My gut knew there was a lesson to be learnt here. And believe it or not, the lesson was not ‘don’t mess with Liberal Nazis’….. do whatever you want with them, they might explode and that could be fun to watch.

I learnt, not for the first time, that my choosing to live and work around the world has made me a spectacularly enlightened person. If I may say so myself.

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Here is a list of times I’ve been made shamefully aware of my white privilege:

  • That time in Chile when my interview for TEFL teacher involved a brief meeting where they made sure I was white.
  • That time in China when I made more money than my Chinese co-worker, because I’m white.
  • That time I met a Filipino girl on a train, on her way to becoming a qualified TEFL teacher, who wondered: would anyone in Asia hire me?
  • That time in the airport when Veronika, a beautiful young Filipino teacher, was questioned by immigration about the reason for her visit to HK. You see, if a white trans-gender person came through, with their passport saying male but their appearance saying female, would they be accused of being a prostitute? Probably not.
  • That time my previous boss outwardly admitted that she’d never hire a black person because it would be bad for business (Chinese are more racist than anyone). (A Liberal Nazi almost exploded that day).

A few months ago South Africans began a dialogue about the importance of recognizing your white privilege. Some folks got defensive, but the take home message was this: we’re not asking you to feel guilt necessarily, but simply acknowledge the fact that you have benefited in this world and in South Africa because of the colour of your skin. Just say you understand.

I understand, Grethe.

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Conversations in Japan

I had two very interesting conversations while in Japan. They were with the same person and were not exactly separate from one another. In fact, it’s incorrect to consider them ‘two conversations’. Instead I might say that two very important points were raised during one conversation.

First, intrinsic motivation came up. A year ago I wouldn’t have been able to properly appreciate a conversation about intrinsic motivation, and I can thank my teaching degree for changing that. Essentially, we humans are motivated in one of two ways – intrinsically or from within – or extrinsically, by outside factors.

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Somehow, as only conversations with strangers in a hostel can do, a relatively deep issue was raised…. The psychology of why I started blogging. And in that moment I realised, or finally admitted to myself, that documenting and sharing my life of travelling had more to do with the recognition than intrinsic motivation to do so. Of course I might be selling myself a bit short here, a huge factor was that I was and am completely inspired by the new, intense, experiential nature of being abroad. I wrote because of that. But the gratification from climbing stats, likes and shares was a solid feeling. Ahhhh sweet recognition. (Is this delayed middle child syndrome?)

Ultimately, extrinsic motivation rather than motivation that comes from deep inside you will almost always run out, fall short. While it’s 100% true that I don’t have it in me to be a ‘struggling writer’, it is also true, for this time of my life anyway, that I’m in a motivational lull. A point where the extrinsic motivation has exhausted itself. It’s had a good 4 years! The aim is to find that internal, substantially more powerful, internal will to write and share.

No more blaming Hong Kong for sucking my creativity dry.

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The next point raised was the importance of experience. Not the kind of experience needed to grab that mid-level job; rather the idea that living vicariously through instagrammed photos is just not enough. It’s plain, old uninspiring. Perhaps I speak for myself, but I don’t think I do, when I say that scrolling through all the social medias hardly ever leaves me feeling inspired. It’s all just so abstract, not even real. And how sad because pictures are supposed to speak a thousand words and nothing is usually more real than a photo. (debatable with Photoshop) But en-mass they become overwhelmingly untrue.

“The Grand Canyon was the wind in my face the birds swooping into the gorge, thunder rolling in the distance. When I looked at a 2D picture of it afterwards I thought – this isn’t where I went.” Wouter. The Netherlands. Spoken in Japan.

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Of course I’ll probably never stop sharing my work. There’s absolutely zero to gain from that! And as for social media – streamlining rolls of beautiful imagery into your brain isn’t always a huge bore 😉

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What I Learnt That Time a Publishing Company Made me Cry

I’ve realized something about myself lately and it’s that I’m the type of person who chooses the path of least resistance. Quite a random self-realization admittedly, but not completely out of the blue.

You see, I arrived home the other day to a parcel waiting for me. A long awaited parcel. A parcel that contained a coffee-table book I’d been published in, called The Journey. It’s a photographic Journey showcasing a range of amazing train trips across the world. My very own train journey, documented and previously published on my blog, had been hand-picked to feature.

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Imagine my surprise when, after ripping open my parcel and excitedly paging through the book, I could not find my piece. It featured nowhere in Asia, where an Indian rail journey would be found. Naturally it occurred under none of the other continents either. Anger, then disappointment, then sadness, the anger again. Had they really strung me along for almost a year? The emailing back and forth, captioning photos, doing a write-up, signing permission forms, sending my address to receive a free copy. Only to axe my contribution at the last minute? Or whatever the hell happened.

I get it – not everything makes it through the editing process. But this experience confirmed something for me, something I’ve know for along time: writers, or any creative for that matter, can be summed up in just a few words – disposable, undervalued and beat down. Of course there’s the constant rejection from magazine, book and online publishers we have to deal with, and lets not forget the fact that as ‘contributers’ we are expected to give our work away for free 95% percent of the time. I’d gotten used to all that. But the lack of decency to remain the least bit honest or transparent on the issue of ‘we know the deal was signed to publish you but unfortunately it won’t be happening this time’ completely bowled me over.

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So the path of least resistance comes in where you ask? Well, besides the anger and disappointment, one of my first reactions to this came as a flashback of me trying to organize a second Colorado ski season. It was looking impossible visa-wise and my dream of another season drifted further and further away. Eventually it would seem my only option would be to do it illegally – arrive and remain as a tourist and (hopefully) work cash in hand. I was so desperate to go I considered this option for a bit. But I eventually realized it could all go horribly wrong so I went back to the drawing board to map out a new plan, in a new country.

As it turned out, the path of least resistance in this case was to move to Chile and teach English. There was nothing complicated about the process and I was making a conscious effort to ‘go where I was needed and wanted’ and the USA could stick it.

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That year in Chile did two things for me: further fuel my desire to travel and spark my interest in teaching. The desire to travel was the stronger of the two and was accompanied by an equally strong desire to write about those travels. ‘I’ll become a travel writer’ I said. Turns out, travel writers are expected to contribute in exchange for the grand total of zero dollars – and as for making money from a blog…. Lets just say that’s not exactly resistance free, to say the least.

And so, over the years, I’ve leaned more and more towards the teaching. Because, who would ever think of asking a teacher to contribute to society without monetary reward? Of course, a child’s education is of greater importance than an entertaining or insightful written piece. I get that, I really do. But so do the publishers. They know very well that writers are desperate for recognition. They know they’ll contribute for free thinking that one day it’ll pay off with some recognition and maybe a measly payment. I’ve known this all along, but my recent ‘here’s your free copy of a book you’re actually not published in’ experience really just put things into perspective for me. The world, especially publishers, don’t give a shit about writers. They care about money, and their business models simply don’t not include paying the talent.

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At the end of the day, the path of least resistance works for me because I don’t have it in me to be a struggling writer. The way I feel today after receiving an amazing book that was supposed to feature my work but didn’t is not a way I’m keen to feel very often. I know I have it in me to be a writer, but I don’t have it in me to be a struggling, depressed one.

 

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Someone I Once Met: Mr. Marijuana

Let me begin by excusing myself for allowing my wanderlust and creative writing to fall by the wayside. I also want to take my hat off to anyone who has ever worked full time and studied on the side. Or even better, anyone who has worked full time, raised a family and studied on the side. I have no family to raise and still I find it tough to find time for creative projects. So here’s to all you go getters doing all the things to better yourselves, altering priorities and giving things up. For a while.

So in today’s short little introduction to someone I once met I bring you Matt. Matt sprang to mind the other day when I was pondering my new and improved mindset regarding my stance on the legalization of marijuana. For those of you who are not yet aware, I recently decided to be more vocal about my position on the topic of legalizing pot. I’m all for it. I have many reasons and perhaps I’ll focus more on them in future posts.

I realized that the reason Matt holds a special place in my memory bank is because of marijuana. You see, once upon a time in 2013, I arrived in Barcelona for an extended vacation. I booked into a hostel and continued to stay there for a little over a month. At some point, my path crossed Matt’s.

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Barcelona is one of Europe’s biggest tourist attractions. Everyone comes to admire the works of Gaudi and the fantastically historic gothic architecture. What people don’t realize is that Barcelona is the new Amsterdam. One is able to buy marijuana over the counter so long as you’re a member of one of the many ‘clubs’ (Think ‘Amsterdam coffee shops’). The laws regarding pot are hugely relaxed in this area and as a result there exists an intriguing and ever-growing cannabis culture. For this reason, I beg any potential reader to understand that my, or anyone’s use of pot in Barcelona, is not an illegal activity.

(For a better understanding of Barcelona’s weed scene- I go into more detail here.)

Matt is a fan of weed. I realized this when I walked into our shared dormitory and was hit by a pungent, yet not offensive aroma. Matt, the culprit, had been puffing on the balcony. At some point during his stay we must have had a conversation about it and our respective stances on the plant, although my memory of it seems a bit fuzzy.

Since no-one’s hostel stay was as long as mine, Matt and co. came and went. I didn’t get to say goodbye, but under my pillow I found a small gift. Since he was flying out and since one can legally transfer the toxic liquid that is alcohol from one country to another but do no such thing with marijuana, He left me a little surprise.

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There was no accompanying note and there was no need for one. Matt had left me his pipe and left-over ‘stash’ as a parting gift. All I have is a faded memory of him, in and out the dorm room, and a strong appreciation for his simple gesture. I don’t have much more to say about Matt or our mutual experiences, it’s literally that small little anecdote. But I do think the fact that it has stayed with me regardless (the impression not the weed), speaks volumes for how much this subject means to me.

Marijuana/weed/pot/The Devil’s Lettuce is completely and utterly a symbol of peace and healing (and friendship), and so far from the demonized ‘drug’ we’re made to believe it is. If I think about it, I’m actually impressed by the power of propaganda- because that’s all it is. False information fed to the masses which we in turn lap up. But let me leave you with this; if you truly believe in the offensiveness of marijuana then you’re showing the same ignorance as Nazi lovers did when they blindly followed Hitler and his colossally unfounded bullshit. And I think Matt would agree. *Ends rant.

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Someone I Once Met: Douchebag Deluxe

The struggle is real to dig deep into my memory bank for the purpose of Someone I Once met. Sometimes it takes a really random stroke of genius to realize that so-and-so would be a good candidate and ‘why had I not thought of them before?’

Its not like I can only write about people from the past, I am still actually meeting interesting people, however I’ve started to realize that not everybody likes being written about. Initially I hadn’t really thought much about whether or not folks would mind, my reasoning being that I was focusing on (mainly) positive things. But then someone asked me if I wasn’t worried about lawsuits??! And the odd subject asked me to remove this piece of information and that from a post.

And so came the slump in my will to write awesome little anecdotes about the random and not-so-random people I meet. Honestly- those who get written about are generally quite prominent parts of my life rather than an interesting passer-by. This because you only really get to know if someone is truely interesting after knowing them a while.

But here’s a guy who I really don’t care to expose. I’m not even the first to write about him. In fact, this article I came across a few months ago has been the inspiration for this post. In this article, Andrew is listed as one of ’10 “if we’re not married by” pacts that actually panned out.’ There he explains;

“My wife and I met in high school at the age of 16. We told each other that if we weren’t married by 30, then we’d get back together and tie the knot. I moved off to a different state for college and after graduation I moved to Chile for four years. I moved back to the states when I was 28, we started dating again and just got married this past May before my 30th birthday. But not because we said we would, but because it just happened that way.”

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The funny part is that when I met him in Chile, he was the doting American boyfriend of my British friend. We all traveled to a surf town one weekend. He seemed like a nice guy. When my friend and I went on a longer trip to Chile’s Lake region and he stayed behind, he came across as very possessive. He came across as in love.

Not long after my arrival in Chile and the meeting of these people, Andrew took a trip back home. Texas, USA to be exact. His trip worked out well for me, I thought, because I needed a new camera so I’d buy one online and get it sent to his house in Texas. He’d then bring it back to Chile with him. So I did that.

Andrew began to delay his return from the States. My poor friend was on the receiving end of elaborate excuses for his not returning home immediately. Weeks turned into months and the constant reassurance of his love and certain return began to seem somewhat…..untrue. My poor friend, completely confused by it all, was particularly irate about the rent for the apartment. That they shared. Together. But no, according to Andrew, all was well and he would soon be home.

Eventually, out of the blue he asked her to move out. He was coming home and she needed to be gone by the time he got there. There’s a lot more to this story but I won’t go into it. There was a lot of back and forth, a lot of lying from his side and a lot of hurt on hers. In the end Andrew returned to Chile. With my camera. He came, collected his things, told my friend he still loved her and buggered off back to Texas.

Now if you’ll recall, according to Andrew; “I moved back to the states when I was 28, we started dating again and just got married this past May before my 30th birthday. But not because we said we would, but because it just happened that way.”

Aaaahhhhh! The more I read that the more I want to kick him in the nuts. While, in its essence what he’s said is true, there’s just so much more to his story. The beautiful story of how he and his high school love came to be husband and wife after years of separation is so lovely from the outside and such a crock of shit from the inside.

Because of his complete lack of common decency, I witnessed the girl he left behind in Chile turn into a shadow of a human being. He devastated her so completely that it took the better half of a year for her to show sings of improvement. Now I’m not saying he should have stayed with someone he didn’t love. But be a man- seriously. 

I hope your new wife makes you very happy, Andrew. Asshole.

 

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Bringing You Bingin – Finally! Indonesia 2015

While I wait patiently to finish my teaching qualification (that I’ve only just started), I will continue to enjoy only 13 days annual leave on account of not working at a school. When Chinese New Year came along this year, and all the teachers enjoyed their extended two or so week holiday, I put in for some leave and got the hell out of the city to enjoy a week on some islands.

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Indonesian Islands to be exact. There had been some discussion about where to jet to but we finally settled on Indonesia and put Malaysian Borneo on the backburner for a bit. A quick outline; we spent 5 days on Gilli Trawangan. Note: It’s very hard not to say ‘island Gilli Trawangan’ but this would mean that you are, essentially, saying the ‘island island Tranwangan’. Not dissimilar to ‘tea tea’ when you say ‘chai tea’.

Anyway, after that we headed back to the bigger and better known island of Bali to enjoy three days in a pretty sweet surf spot. This spot was carefully picked out by my other half, the water-baby who lives for waves. Today I tell you about this second half of the journey and leave Gilli T and my PADI open water dive course a mystery for now.

So, about Bingin, Bali. Bingin is famous among surfers for the sublime waves it has on offer. According to a non-descript Bali and surfing related blog, “Bignin is one of the famous surfing breaks of the Bukit Peninsula. The short, fast barrel is a joyride for those who dare. Its ideal for advanced surfers and has a beautiful wave, that works really well during the dry season (June-September).”

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The observant reader, or someone who knows when Chinese New Year takes place, will realise that our trip to Bingin fell nowhere between June and September. And thus nowhere close to the time when Bingin enjoys that famous fast barrel ideal for advanced surfers. Unfortunately, we were stuck with very unpredictable, small waves. I say ‘we’ but really ‘he’ because this part of the trip was all about views from balconies and 400 pages of a cringy chick-lit book (that I found).

Those three days were so relaxing time almost went backwards. We did manage to fit in a cultural activity in the form of a visit to a nearby temple in Uluwatu.

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We also managed a walk along the beach to neighbouring Dreamland which is less like a dreamland and more like a package-holiday for taking selfies and hanging out with friends from China and India. No, Dreamland was a nightmare and we were eternally grateful to be strolling back to our Bingin ten minutes later. Other than those two strenuous activities, I sat, lay, swam, photographed, read, ate and drank smoothies. All while watching my man trying to find a good wave with about twenty to thirty other surfers. I shudder to think how difficult it is to get a wave to yourself in high season.

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Arriving to Bingin is interesting. Its not the easiest place to find and I was happy to sit back and be guided by my surfer who’d actually been there before. After the narrow winding roads come to an end and cars can go no further, you get out and walk the rest of the way. Winding through small concrete paths shaded over by great big leafy trees.Eventually you’ll start your decent towards the beach, and you’ll arrive there through the back doors of various accomodations.  

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Bingin is small and set against a cliff which means you don’t have to go very far to find a place to stay, everything is very much layered and within arms reach. This can all be pretty ideal if you arrive looking for a bed. Note; this is a dangerous way of going about it if you’re visiting in peak (dry) season. I don’t expect you’d find a bed as easily as we did out of season. The place is tiny and popular so keep that in mind. 

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With all the doing nothing I couldn’t help but imagine myself at Bingin as a teenager. While I felt completely at ease there now, I know the young me would have been unnecessarily self-conscious and constantly aware of how I paled in comparison to everyone else. Literally. I would have felt uneasy about my lack of knowledge and involvement in the world of surfing and sat watching from the sidelines as the more bronzed and toned surfer girls rubbed up against their male equivalents. 

I suppose what I’m saying is I’m stoked I got to experience Bignin going on 27. I soaked up whatever unwritten surfer rules came my way from Reece and enjoyed my first attempt at surfing photography, although nature wasn’t on my side. Things are always better experienced hang-up-free. In some ways, being on the dangerous side of 25 is so much cooler than being a youngster. Young me was always questioning….. older me is very stoked on life. Not that younger me wasn’t.

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The One With The Boerewors Making Competion in Hong Kong

A few weekends ago a local establishment, The Butcher’s Club, held an event that saw various Saffas, and a Brit, go head to head in a boerewors making competition. $550 got you in with unlimited food and booze for the afternoon, as well as a duty to taste and rate each competitor on their boerewors.

Obviously no matter what happened our votes were to go to our friend Steven. And while his boerewors contained more spice than a winning spiced sausage should, he received numerous votes based on the amount of buddies he had there to support him. Unfortunately the rest of the voters did indeed have taste buds and could detect a slight overworking of the ingredients and a liberal-to-extreme amount of spices.

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No, that day a South African spiced sausage competition was won by a Brit. However, in true South African style, the MC abused the free alcohol and misread the winner’s name. A Brit hadn’t actually won, but he did go home with the prize.

The rooftop event on the south side of Hong Kong Island was a fantastic day, well worth the money spent. Of course we were concerned about this; over-indulged and left feeling disgustingly over fed. Low carb/no sugar went out the window upon sight of the confectionary stall and I’m pretty sure beer and gin are also not exactly on the green list either.

Are you in Hong Kong? Keen to give the Butcher’s Club a visit? Find more details here:

http://www.butchersclub.com.hk/

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Faces That Say “I Just Finished the Hong Kong Marathon”

As a tidal wave of marathon finishers surged past me, I waited for my marathon runner to appear. Unfortunately we were not able to find each other in the sea of 75 000 people and had to rendezvous back at home a couple blocks away.

I had an inkling this might happen but I also had a feeling I’d get in some good practice with the zoom lens I hardly ever use. Asians to the left and right of me obviously put my weighty lens to shame with their stereotypical telescope look-a-likes. With the zoom I was able to put faces to the otherwise faceless crowd. I found Caucasians, Asians, Africans, celebrants, wincers, stretchers, sitters, elders and all the combinations of adjectives you can think of from ecstatic to defeated and everything inbetween.

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Wild: Part Book Review, Part Self-Analyses

I was hoping to swap an old book for a new one, but that’s not how this sleepy bookstore somewhere in the Indian Himalayas worked. I’d have to part with some rupees if I wanted to leave with any new reading material. There wasn’t much to choose from, but one did catch my eye. Judge a book by it’s cover and go from there is what I often do. This one had a pleasant look about it – white and pink and with the image of a well used hiking boot on the front. Red laces.

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The story was about a young woman, called Cheryl Strayed, who decides to walk over 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail , on her own, in an attempt to overcome the death of her mother. The PCT allows hikers to walk from the Mexican border to the Canadian one- or the other way round. Incorporating California, Oregon and Washing states in all their glory.

This book ticked a lot of boxes for me: uniquely travel related with just the right amount of adventure, set in a part of the USA I could easily visualise because I’d been there before. I liked the book. I liked that it was written by a woman, I liked that she climbed an actual mountain to deal with her demons, I like how she took condoms with her for in-case. I like how, since reading it, I’ve watched the book gain popularity and be tuned into a screenplay starring Reese Witherspoon. I like how I didn’t know if it would be a good read, then I wasn’t sure the movie would be any good, and I love that its turned out to be Oscar material.

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I feel like I’ve journeyed with Cheryl from a random bookshelf in a Tibetan refugee town in India to her glamorous appearance at the Golden Globes, attached at the hip to Reese Witherspoon. Even more so, Wild has kept me awake at night thinking about that book I’d like to write. I’ve always loved writing, I’m inspired by travel and I’ve lived on 5 continents over the past 4 years. But i didn’t get married at 18. My mother didn’t die when I was 22. I didn’t become an adulterous sex and drug addict and I didn’t trek over 1000 miles to fix myself. 5 continents in 4 years but what the hell would I write about?! It’s a conundrum that’s got me thinking about writing fiction for the first time.

Then there’s the very real issue of having never finished anything longer than article before. I don’t think I could even claim to have written a short story. Any longer piece of writing I’ve ever considered writing has died not long after it’s birth. This does not bode well for undertaking and executing the huge task that is writing a book.

Wild is not about to be the next Harry Potter- read by billions- or turn into of the the great classics. And I’m sure it was never meant to be any of that. But what it has achieved, certainly in me, is a heightened appreciation for the average woman doing something for herself, thinking not much of it, and turning it into a source of inspiration for others.

I am increasingly of the opinion that anyone can be inspirational – just not everyone knows how to go about it. So good on you Cheryl. you were just another lot girl with a bleeding heart who navigated through various mountain ranges all alone and now everyone, including Reese Witherspoon, loves you.

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How to Grab Some Quiet Time in Hong Kong

There’s not much opportunity to get away from it all in Hong Kong. It is the most densely populated part of the planet and boy can you really feel it sometimes. Every now and then you’ll find a place all to yourself – but you’ve gotta make sure of a couple things first.

Don’t go in search of quiet time on the weekend. Seriously- rather just stay in doors or you will be competing for sidewalk space with the rest of them. We went to the seaside village of Shek O last Monday {which we’re lucky to have off every week}. Everyone else is working which kind of makes up for having to work Saturdays.

Go in winter. In the summer, Shek O will be crawling with people- Monday included. Like anywhere else in the world, summer means no school and no school means packed beaches and other fun places. Winter vacations seem bearable since everyone heads out in search of snow…or sun for that matter. Neither of which Hong Kong tends to offer in winter.

Not a long list but a fool-proof one. See how uninterrupted and glorious it all looks? The sun coming out to play helped a lot too of course but that’s not something us mortals have much control over.

So just remember- if you’re looking for some quality quiet time outside of your house in Hong Kong – make sure its a Monday, absolutely not during summer vacations and organise some elusive wintery sunshine and you’re good to go!

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The View’s my Muse: as Seen From the 21st Floor

A few weeks ago I came out and admitted that I feel Hong Kong is stifling my creativity. She’s a lovely city with many strengths like banking and shopping, but her ability to feed (at least my) creative side is a little lacking. Then one day, while working from the home office, I looked up and realised that I needed to open my eyes. This is not Barcelona who throws herself at creatives, begging them to use her assets to fuel their imagination. Its not India who’s poverty, overflowing religions, customs, cows and enlightened-wrinkled-half-naked men are available on every corner to photograph.

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A deeper look and a sharper eye will go a long way in Hong Kong if you wish to capture its soul and share it with the world. And then came my epiphany. The apartment I live in is the apartment I live in simply because of the view. We chose it based purely on the fact that it had a great view (and it fell into our price range). The ktichen’s not great, the bedroom only fits the bed, its generally pretty f*cking tiny- but that view!

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IMG_0866Cliche as it sounds, sometimes the things you’re looking for really are right in front of you. Just like my view of Victoria Harbour. Hong Kong is said to connect the east to the west, two worlds far apart in almost every respect from geography to culture. All this connecting is naturally going to keep its harbour operating at a maximum 24/7. While a busy harbour means a fruitful economy, for me it simply means a view that is in a constant state of flux. There’s not a minute that my view remains the same. In the time its taken me to write two sentences its changed again.

IMG_0882It changes with the weather, it changes with the sun, with the vessels that pass, the ones that anchor within sight and even the buildings change. The ICC is the tallest in Hong Kong and if its not disappearing into the clouds and smog, its constantly showcasing impressive moving, 3D images. Sometimes it tells me when its going to rain by way of a stormy rain cloud. In fact as I write this the whole building, from top to bottom, resembles a peppered TV screen that’s lost signal. You know how they go all black and white and make a god-awful noise? Its hard to explain.

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Christmas is fast approaching, and more than ever, you don’t have a choice in staying ignorant on the matter. Way before December arrives, the decorations, sales, and all round madness begins. If, for a moment, I wanted to gaze out my window and forget about it all- the consumerism, the red, green and white, the fake snow splashed all over the tropics –  my eyes would rest upon a festive, christmasy, Hello Kitty building across the water. I do wonder what their electricity bills must be like.

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I’ve always maintained that a good view is imperative. It does something for the soul, and at the very least it gives you something to do if the electricity goes out. Its true, one fateful night while home alone, the electricity failed and I had nothing but a half cooked meal and a dying phone to keep me company. The bright lights only kept my attention for so long before I resorted to creeping out the inhabitants of the building opposite. It really is a different life here- single apartments for whole families including grandparents and maids. Its enough to keep a creepster like me entertained.

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On Trying to Fuel my Creative Fire in Hong Kong

I don’t blog enough about Hong Kong. I can’t put my finger on it exactly but its probably got a lot to do with the fact that I’m not a city girl. As far as cities go, Hong Kong is supposed to be up there with the best and yet I find myself lacking the inspiration to produce content on it. Also my teaching job leaves almost zero hours in the day to work on my hobby. Valid excuses but excuses none-the-less right?

That being said I’m going to do my best to change my ways. I won’t be here forever so it really is in my best interests to take a deeper look and let myself be inspired and challenged to document this Gateway to the East.

I started my new leaf turning by taking my camera to work one day so that afterwards I could stroll past the arts festival/mardi gras happening in the famous Victoria Park. Finally I was being proactive and exploring (the bf was away and this was a better option than Saturday night in an empty apartment). Luckily my hopes weren’t high since the majority of stalls and activities had already shut down, and although there were a good amount of people around they were 70 percent infants and I felt like I was back at work.

I stayed a couple minutes photographing the mediocre dance routine on the main stage before continuing my walk in the direction of home. There’s a great little modern art museum/gallery on the way and I noticed it was still open so I popped in. I’m hesitant to label it ‘modern art’ since I really don’t like modern art – least not their museums. So lets call this a hands-on cultural center, with a current showcase called ‘Imperfect’.

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I’d been in a couple months before to finally get a closer look at a very cool installation they had up. It was a massive mirror erected at a 45 degree angle to the ground. Below it was the facade of a building. The cool part? That you could lie on the facade and by looking into the mirror above you it would appear that you were dangling, standing, posing on the side of a building. (No idea what I’m talking about? see here) Naturally this would have made a fantastic photo opportunity but naturally by the time I got my ass there it no longer existed. This was when I discovered the ‘Imperfect’ exhibition.

It was too hot to explore so I drank some free hot tea on the hot day and took part in the exhibition by writing something on a coaster which was there to be written on and soon went on my way again.

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That exhibition was still going strong the evening I strolled onto the property again. This time I was game to have a better look around. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. In an Asian country focused on education, good grades, math, shopping and banking, I was intrigued to find a little artistic sub-culture manifesting itself inside these walls. I was more compelled to photograph then than I had been in a long while.

The idea behind it, I believe, is to partake in various activities, whatever tickles your fancy, or none if you just wish to wander around. There’s a room full of old sewing machines available to the public to make use of and donated clothing with which to sew. Or you can make a post card with hand made stamps which is what I took ten minutes doing. I was told though that the volunteers would help me if came by and wanted to sew. Maybe I should do that.

Upon further investigation, this arts and cultural center is called Oi! and you can read more about it here.

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Someone I Once Met: The Great Dane

I’ve always said: when travelling solo you are never really alone. Unless of course you head off the beaten track and away from anyone – traveler or otherwise. But my month long trip to Bolivia and Peru came with a certain amount of responsibility to stay out of trouble, or at least alive, for the sake of my concerned family.

That’s why on the very first stop of my trip, after a 24 hour bus trip to Chile’s Atacama desert, I alighted with bright eyes in the hope of finding a new friend ASAP. That person came in the form of a young, gay Dane with hair as white as a snow. Having arrived on the same bus with a relatively similar agenda, we sourced a cheap hostel and a Salt Flat tour to start the next day. Next stop – a three day jeep tour through Bolivia’s high altitude desert, complete with volcanoes, geysers, lakes of all colours and finally the star of the show- the Uyuni Salt Flats.

IMG_4454Cristian and I managed to share a jeep with two of the unfriendliest people to have walked this planet- French of course. The first two days and nights passed with relative ease; minimal effects from the high altitude, only one breakdown and constant wind.

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Early on the first day we passed through border control (in the middle of nowhere) between Chile and Bolivia. It was here that I realised Christian was special and gifted. I winced as he whizzed through passport control and I struggled to interpret my next mission – ‘you must complete your border crossing and visa process in the next town.’ You see, Christian’s Danish passport is also his stress free ticket around the world. It must have been my fascination with his wizardous passport that got me looking at it…. and then feeling a whole lot better about things when I realised he came from Middlefart.

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Christian and I were exceedingly eager for day three, the day we would reach the world’s largest salt flat and photograph the shit out of ourselves playing with perspective like thousands had done before us. In anticipation of being in front of the camera all day we had already decided what we’d wear . In an unfortunate turn of events, our cameras weren’t able charge that night.

We arrived at the salt flats at the crack of dawn with only a smattering of battery left on each of our cameras. I think Christian’s camera was completely broken if I remember correctly. Perhaps I was put off (and pissed off) by the battery situation, but I didn’t bring my A-game that day. I wasn’t able to come up with 100 fun and creative perspective photographs like I had imagined doing for so many months.

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On a lighter note, there had been a group of Hot Danish guys doing the same tour in a separate jeep. The tour follows a specific route and the list of things to see is limited. Thus, it would happen that mine and Christian’s paths would often cross with theirs. Christian came in handy as my eavesdropping translator-  who knew why or what I was so interested in hearing.

I am very thankful for having had Christian as my buddy over those three days. They were the first three days of my first solo journey in a very strange place. And he made the transition easy and fun. By the time we reached the town of Uyuni our adventure together was coming to an end. I had limited time which meant I had to crop a couple must-see’s from my itinerary.

IMG_4811But before the Great Dane was able to rid himself of me completely, he accompanied me to the building where I had been instructed to ‘complete the border crossing process’. To my absolute horror, the place was all locked up. It wasn’t even a weekend! Eventually someone pitched up, unlocked the doors and led us inside to a dingy room where he asked for three times the amount I knew I had to pay.

Luckily there isn’t much to do in the hell hole that is Uyuni. Its a pick up and drop off point for the tours so it see’s a lot of tourists – but believe me they’re only looking for the next ride out. So I guess there were worse things to do than sit in an internet cafe searching for proof of the amount I had to pay. Poor Christian was right alongside me doing the exact same.

Armed with our new ammunition, we went back to battle with the moron who was trying to rip me off. He wasn’t budging. I’d hardly made any cash teaching English in Chile for a year and I wasn’t about to pay it all to this opportunist. Then out of nowhere someone else showed up. He ruffled through some papers and found a list outlining the country categories and what their visa fees were. There was my South Africa, listed in group B. Not a country able to enter visa free but also not a country that pays an exorbitant price. FYI; Bolivia is one of the few places it doesn’t pay to travel on a US passport.

Thanks Christian- you’re the best! And I hope people have stopped pestering you on a daily basis about how you get your hair that way. Its natural people!

 

 

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Hong Kong, Occupy Central and the Struggle to Maintain Democracy

In the wake of back to back days of bumper to bumper traffic, Hong Kong slowly tries to readjust to life as it was pre-Occupy Central. Protester numbers fluctuate- still far from zero- rising mainly over the weekends when the dedicated find each other, once again, in the streets.

But for the most part, main arterial roads are again available for motorists to use as they were intended and Hong Kongers might let their minds flitter back to the hours and days spent in the unforgiving heat, fighting for an ideal they believe in. Others will reminisce less romantically about what it all meant for their daily commutes – if indeed they want to remember at all.

Photo from The Straits Times

Photo from The Straits Times

If nothing else, the far reaching headlines might leave a trace of curiosity in the minds of many about the world class city that is Hong Kong. Who is she exactly, this gloriously tall city? Is she China? Is she single? What is she on about and why?

The reality is that when, how and why Hong Kong came to be is often not widely known. Although the same can be said for the history of any city, thanks to our disinterest in the past and perpetual concern for future. The future in a personal capacity of course- not necessarily in a preserve-our-world kind of way.

The truth is that Hong Kong has a narrative. It might not be the longest or the goriest, but it is a rich one that is probably more relevant to now, and the future for that matter, than any other city’s history. Hong Kongers should, for all intents and purposes, suffer from an identity crisis. And a unique one at that.
Once ruled and shaped by the British Empire, who bred ideas of democracy and capitalism, Hong Kong emerged as a world leader, a gateway to the east. A vibrant port city and banking hub. When their work here was done and it was time to retreat, Great Britain and China came to a complicated agreement. Hong Kong would remain a semi-autonomous region for 50 years, during which time the People’s Republic of China and her socialist system would keep their distance. One country two systems.

Photo from International Business Times

Photo from International Business Times

Just less than twenty years into the agreement, an uneasy mass of Hong Kongers assembled in their thousands for days on end to protest against the lack of independence from China and her policies. The democracy introduced and instilled by the British almost centuries ago, a local might argue, is slowly slipping away as China begins to play a bigger role. Puppet master if you will.

There is no better insight into the minds of the masses than through the mouths of their children. In contrast to the Catalan, who inaccurately lead their young to believe that Catalonia is indeed a country, Hong Kong appears divided in its opinion. Or in its dedication to the cause anyway.

A classroom filled with children from top earning families, offers an interesting cross section of opinions. ‘What’s the point? Nothings going to change’ shows what has to be parental apathy. A yellow ribbon sitting over the heart shows support for the cause, most likely not obtained and attached by the 11 year old himself. ‘I’m on the police’s side’ means mom and dad have obviously cheered on their efforts to rein in the protesters and their growing negative effect on the city’s functionality. Which is really quite a short sighted goal.

Photo from EJ Insight

Photo from EJ Insight

These folks owe their riches to the capitalistic economic freedoms that Hong Kong has relished in for decades. Might their children enjoy the same opportunities when China takes full control in 2047? If she can bare to keep her distance that long.

But fair enough, the average parent doesn’t dream of their child becoming a revolutionist – waiting for that phone call saying their baby’s been arrested and jailed. A parent wants the best for their child. And in Hong Kong, more than anywhere on earth, the best is seen as a high paying job in a well renowned company. Climbing that ladder as best as you can. But will that ladder even exist when China comes? Its easy to avoid revolution, but it’ll be hard when oppression arrives. Because lets face it, having something like democracy and then losing it is the epitome of persecution.

Photo from Time Out Hong Kong

Photo from Time Out Hong Kong

Of course China is petrified of her own people catching on to the unrest. Not unless a mainlander pops over for a shopping spree would they ever be aware of the battle against Beijing. Only those who happen to be around during Occupy Central are privy to the details, either staring them in the face on the street or on TV. Its preposterous to think the people of China are in complete agreement with their government’s limiting socialistic policies. China knows it and will naturally keep her people uneducated on the topic.

Unfortunately, never has freedom been won peacefully. Starting out, Occupy Central’s protesters were commended on their behaviour- composed and mostly unagitated. But will their efforts ever come to anything without a fight?  As Occupy Central becomes weeks old, clashes between protesters and police intensify. While numbers have dwindled, passions soar. Parents are starting to receive those dreaded phone calls from their handcuffed babies, with 30 arrests made this weekend. Should Hong Kong buckle up for a bumpy ride? What is it going to take and will anything ever be enough? 27 years to go.

photo from abc.net.au

photo from abc.net.au

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On eating my weight in cheese and other French stories

With anything in life, things have to be pretty great to keep people coming back for more. If she’s good looking, you’ll be back for more. If her brain’s pretty good too – we know where to find you. And if she can cook! Well now there’s almost 100 percent chance of this hypothetical relationship working out.

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Countries are no different. Take France- people come, go and come back again for more. So much so that it is by FAR the most visited country in the world. It’s 84 million tourists per year way surpasses the US as runner up with a measly 15 million. France has earned it’s position!

The cafes, the pastries, the notoriously cute pastel coloured shutters, ancient alley ways and cobbled streets. Well perfumed people. Chic looking infants out-growing their Levi jeans faster than you can say ‘baguette’. Their equally as stylish parents. Free wifi at McDonalds. Good McDonalds. Macaroons. All French Food. The language. Overflowing national pride. And you can’t ignore the animal lovers. There must be more animal lovers per square kilometer than any other corner of the earth.

In the same breath, it might be nice to see fewer dogs in prams. When did dogs stop running alongside their jogging owners and be pushed in prams instead?

While we’re here, I personally (physically) could do with less pastries made up almost entirely of butter. Here’s looking at you croissant (remember to rough up the back of your throat when you say that).

Also, just like I could do with less Capetonians going on about their fantastical…… everything,  French people could tone down the ‘can’t beat our food and wine’ attitudes. Ze wine, ze cheese, ze Fois GROIS! Ze best! There’s something quite obnoxious about it all- be you Capetonian, French or just a nauseatingly proud mother. I dunno, to me, hyper-nationalistic people are about as annoying as someone who can’t hide the fact that they find themselves attractive.

As a possible after effect of all this love, the French have developed a unique character trait whereby they prefer to speak French and only French. As a country that attracts more tourists than any other in the world, it might be in their favour to be more open to the English language. And I’m not saying everyone go and learn it all- I’m just saying don’t treat it like an infectious wound that might take over completely if you get too close.

To ensure starting off on the wrong foot –ask a Frenchman if he speaks English. Then watch for that split second of what looks like a mixture between discomfort and annoyance before they say ‘no’. At this point try and work into the conversation that you are South African and not in fact British. This might salvage things a bit and prevent you from being shut out as effectively as the pastel shutters do the sun. Ze French don’t like ze Roast Beef.

But when you think about it, if you’ve got the world falling at your feet, jumping through hoops for their visa in the hopes of eating their weight in cheese – you can do and be whatever you like. And even though I’v successfully ranted and lets be honest, generalized, there are a number of French people who occupy a special place in my heart. You know who you are- please do not be offended. There might not be a more picturesque and cultured corner of the world, you guys have every right to be proud.

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Someone I Once Met: The Stalker

Looking back on this situation I shudder to think what could have happened. 

Over a year ago I was new to the town of Antibes, France, trying to land my first job onboard a luxury yacht. The yachting industry is saturated with twenty-somethings trying to edge their way into the world of being over paid for menial labour.

I was not the only newbie in town, in fact there were thousands of others prositiuting themselves on the docks, trying to make an impression or a contact that may somehow somewhere come in handy. You do whatever you can to get your foot in the door. They tell you not to tarnish your name at the local watering holes because no-one will want to hire you, although some have been lucky enough to score a job in exactly that way. The industry is slippery and unpredictable and landing a job is no exception.

In my first few weeks there was the Antibes Yacht Show where boats are more shiny than usual for people to come and pretend to buy them. At this particular event a certain tall individual of the male species locked eyes with me. He edged his way closer and when someone spilt a drink on my shoe he disappeared down to clean it off. Interesting tactic.

There was no turning back from there for this French man from Reunion Island. Over the next few days my friends and I got to know him and I tolerated his flirting and tried my best not to lead him on. Unfortunately he was probably well aware of my state of mind. During this time I, and others like me, saw the sky as the limit for things you’d do to get a job. He claimed to have dabbled in the industry, but not really but kind of. You hear what you want to hear I’ll tell you that much. He offered to drive me to Cannes one day to ‘introduce me to some people’. As the day wore on I lost hope in my contact as he was shrugged off by one person after the other just like the rest of us.

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Then he ran a red traffic light and next thing I know we were being pulled over. On top of that, he was driving with an expired license. Let me fill you in on all the things that were running through my mind at this point; ‘How on earth do I explain to the cops who I am to this person? Am even safe with him? Am I going to get deported? And finally- I can’t believe I’m going to the police station right now. And in separate cars to Thomas (that’s his name by the way). Could this situation get any worse?

Well actually yes it could. Waiting in the cop shop while my chauffeur was being questioned I called up my friend to find out how her day of dock walking was going. “It’s going really well actually. I got a job!”. I’m ashamed to admit the way I felt at that moment as rivers of jealousy ran through my body combined with disbelief that I was wasting precious time at the police station in the hope that some nobody would help me find a job.

The day didn’t really get any better. All I wanted to do was go home but he dragged me around town, first to his grandmother’s house so she could come and reclaim the car. Then she gave him money which he insisted on spending on me. Let just say that by the time I finally made it home I was one ring, a jar of honey, a jar of seaweed and frozen octopus richer.

He loved his granny

He loved his granny

In the days that followed his stalker tendencies really started to kick in. If there was anyone who couldn’t take a hint it was Thomas. I started by trying to ease him off gently and then resorted to completely ignoring his phone calls and texts. When he showed up to a night time get-together on the beach completely out of the blue and uninvited- that’s when I lost my temper.

I was finally free of Thomas except for the times I’d see him around town and I’d duck out the way.

But fast forward a couple of weeks to when I was still jobless and living in a different apartment. I told my story to someone I shared the flat with and this is where things started getting creepy. Her expression changed from entertained to intrigued when she began to realise that this all sounded terribly familiar.

The girl I was sharing a room with, she told me, had had the exact same experience. And when that girl got home and I asked her directly. It was official, we had both been overly admired and ruthlessly pursued by the same man from Reunion Island.

She didn’t necessarily find it as funny as I did, rather she felt quite annoyed that he had lead her to believe she was special while perusing someone else. As a result she told him what for in a not very nice way.

My favourite memory from all this? Shortly after my co-admiree lost it with Thomas he showed up at our doorstep (naturally he hadn’t been there before but being Thomas he knew where we lived). I watched on from my bedroom window, craning my neck to get a good view and trying not to fall out. I watched as he stood patiently waiting for one of us to show up – and I wasn’t going anywhere. When one of us finally arrived home he started his with his apology which of course came with a gift.

While she accepted his apology she was not keen on the apology jewellery he was trying to give to her. Eventually he forced it into her hands and walked away. If there was ever a man who didn’t understand ‘no’ it was this one. Poor girl, I had a great stifled chuckle at her expense that day. I was completely entertained.

The forgiving/open person in me saw something else in Thomas. I saw, after pushing through all the creep, a very lonely person with a kind heart. I know the picture I’ve painted of him here makes this hard to believe but the poor guy never appeared threatening. When he’d see my (male) friends out and about he’d offer them lifts or even just his company on their route home. Maybe they just do things differently on that little Island off the Island off the coast of Southern Africa.

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Turning 26 in the Philippines

This year my birthday fell on  Monday. On the bright side, that Monday happened to be part of a long weekend over which we decided to escape to the Philippines. Since I now live in one of the world’s most impressive cities, along with the fact that cities don’t really ‘do it for me’, we rummaged through a list of 13 beaches near Manila for the perfect spot. Long weekends are exactly that- not much longer than a weekend- so if you’re looking for seclusion in another country be prepared to mission.

Straight after work on Saturday (yes we work on Saturdays), we hopped on a flight that took us from Hong Kong to Manila in less than 2 hours. A quick couple hours of shut-eye in a nearby hotel and the adventure continued with a two hour bus ride south. From there we boarded a ferry which got us to our final location by 1pm. Perfect. A day and a half in paradise before we do that all again.

Now, in case you were wondering, that airport hotel, the bus and the ferry didn’t just miraculously arrange themselves in preparation for our arrival. No, a 72 hour getaway involves a decent amount of preparation because who wants to waste time in-limbo on a blink-and-it’s-over whirlwind tour? The vagabond in me took a back seat as I wrapped my head around the way ‘normal’ people travel. When time is limited, that obnoxious person who ‘doesn’t like to make plans and just goes with the flow’ needs to take a hike. Aint no-one got time for that.

Before I give you a blow by blow on the few hours- and even fewer days- I spent in paradise, there’s one thing I must share with you. You’re never experienced enough to be a cocky traveler. The moment you think you know it all, someone’s gonna come out of the woodwork and scam you. Here’s ‘Miss Wanderlust’ and her equally as wandering boyfriend handing over a small conservation tax fee to a man on the boat after being told NOT to pay anyone but the right people at our final destination.

This dude played it so chilled and there we were handing him our money like idiots. A moment later we realized we’d probably cocked up and said to him we’d like our receipts please. He came back with two torn pieces of paper that weren’t going to fool me (again). I tapped him on the shoulder and held out my ‘receipts’. Without saying a word he slipped my money back into my hand and carried on trying to scam people.

In other news, Filipinos are some of the most friendly, kind and helpful people I’ve ever come across. They definitely made an impression. Two ladies fanned me on separate occasions while we took public transport together. Now THATS hospitality.

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A Day in my Hong Kong Life

I roll out of bed, but not before I moan and groan and make my ‘monster’ noises. Getting up never seems to get easier. God help me when a child arrives to dictate my sleep pattern. I do the usual routine, one that is common place for anybody recently risen and preparing for work. Rub sleep from eyes, shower, dress, eat, put off walking out the door and then eventually do it.

I call the lift to the 21st floor and get in. Its an old lift and not the most efficient. By the time I reach the bottom I’m already two minutes into my commute. Then, depending on my mood, I have a quick chat with the doorman. ‘Doorman’, as he asked to be called, speaks a high level of English. Either he is chatty by nature or he just enjoys practicing his English with one of the few people around to do so. I don’t mind either way. I’m grateful for his presence and interest in my activities. He is easily the closest thing to a father figure that I have in Hong Kong.

The lobby, or doorman’s office, is blistering cold. In Hong Kong, it’s not uncommon to counteract the miserably hot summer with subzero indoor temperatures. As much as I love Doorman, he has a bad habit of exaggerating a problem. “Ohhhh, its a big problem,” he says when you ask where to dispose of your trash. It didn’t take long to figure out that we have differing ideas of what is ‘problematic’.

Its a good 5 minute walk to the bus stop. 7 if you’re taking it slow. And the beauty of finally having been here a while is knowing the short cuts. Up this side street, through that building and voila, your commute to the bus stop involves only one problem traffic light instead of three. Newbies waste so much time.

And waste time they do! Before my education ‘on how to catch the bus to work’ by the School of Life, I knew of only one bus I could take. There are actually five- and now I no longer have to curse as I see the 601 drive by while I’m stuck on the other side of the busy road. Within 3 minutes the 680, 10, 8 or 19 will be around to take me to work. Settling in really has its pro’s.

Work starts around 10am. This depends on when your first and last class is. Either way you are expected to be there for 8 hours. I’m a teacher, but not at a ‘real’ school. Here we are expected to bend over backwards to please the richest of the rich while helping their children gain entrance to UK schools like Eaton and Harrow. Hong Kong parents are no joke. Being a Hong Kong child is no joke either- their childhood is so vastly different to mine that I struggle to comprehend it. I won’t go into much detail but let’s just say they enjoy a one day weekend, and seeing your friends is reserved for school.

As each day passes and my hope of becoming someone who writes for money lessons, I think more seriously about becoming a ‘real’ teacher at a ‘real’ school. With a PGCE under my belt I could increase my already high pay check by a third, enjoy summer, winter and Easter holidays like a real teacher should and use that time to get my ass to new and old favourite places.

But for now I’ll enjoy my late morning starts and short commute to work. I’ll hope that someday someone feels like employing me as a writer but I’ll also accept the fact that I’m too lazy to pursue that goal entirely. It’s no small mountain to climb and while I feel like I have the equipment, I’m not sure I have the will-power to push through all the others trying to do the same. Even if their equipment sucks.

Oh and speaking of equipment, my laptop is broken and I have to pay through the ass to recover my hard drive and I’m writing this on not my computer and I’m feeling very sorry for myself.

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Why Moving Across the World Doesn’t Always get Easier

Each person, city and country will present its own relocation difficulties, but today you’ll hear about Hong Kong’s (slash mine). I can almost officially say that uprooting yourself does get easier after a while, but there are always those hidden stumbling blocks.

Time to get my gripe on about moving to Hong Kong….

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Its fucking hot. I think its appropriate to have this at the top of the list. I never knew I was one of those weak people who cant handle hot, humid weather, but turns out I am. Its the boob sweat, dehydrating kind of heat that leaves me wondering if next time I’ll be so stupid as to join in on the hike. the only place to be is indoors with the AC on. Although apparently the AC needs to be sub zero in order to counteract the heat. You can’t win.

Finding an apartment. On the one hand there are a tonne of apartments available because people come and go like its nobodies business. On the other hand, property costs about a zillion dollars per square meter. The moment you start looking at places within your budget, you realise your previous ideas of big and small spaces will soon change.

The best part is the down payment on your over-priced apartment.In Hong Kong, be prepared to part with 3.5 month’s rent for your initial payment. Its made up of your first month’s rent plus a 2 month deposit plus half a month’s rent in agency fees. Most people I know had to ask their parents for help when they first set up shop in Hong Kong. Me? Well I payed my dues on the yachts.

I share a 3/4 bed with another above average sized human being. This may sound impossible to westerners but its doable I promise. I’m 5.9 and he’s around 6.1 ft and we, believe it or not, have managed to make it work for us. Its not even that we cuddle the whole night through. The early days and winter are clearly behind us.

The mattress incident. The extra-length mattress we had delivered to us but then needed to return is the mattress we sleep on today. Why is that? Because coffee spilled directly on and ALL over it before they managed to take it away from us. Think of one of your worst 48 hours and then think of this. A stressful and PMS-filled move, topped off with ‘the mattress incident’ that brought me to tears. The mattress now fits because it has to. When I tell this story everyone always wants to know ‘who spilled the coffee?’ the answer is and has to be ‘both of us’ to avoid ruining a relationship over spilled coffee.

An initial loss of social life. Drinking at any establishment is as expensive as if you were doing it in Australia. Drinking alcohol is abut 50 times more expensive, relatively speaking, than anything else here. We’ve been here 3 months and only went out for the first time a few days ago. Moving to Hong Kong without a job or steady income means that you SHOULD NOT have much of a social life at first. That is if you want to keep your head above water, financially.

Other than that, things are going swell 🙂

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Someone I Once Met: Lord Krishna’s Dad

Once upon a time in India there was a Kiwi. His name was Nanda. Nanda was a kiwi of New Zealand descent rather than the fruit kind. Before stumbling across his acquaintance it was his better half who I met first- the lovely Lucy.

Nanda, according to his better half, was working on the road. The road as in the figurative road, the one he traveled around India on. Throughout his trip Nanda had cartoons to draw and deadlines to meet. As is the lifestyle of a freelance cartoonist for a popular surfing magazine.

Lucy had thought Nanda should be working harder. A tiff ensued. Lucy was seeking alone time and leaving Nanda ‘to it’ when we met.

Hours into knowing all about Nanda, there was still no face to the name. It was clear that despite the tiff she was still rather besotted with boy named after the mythical Lord Krishna’s father. Nanda was only the boy from her friendly banter at this point.

India is special. Often in a good way, but just as often in a bad way. There’s a lot of love going around and, supposedly, a lot of healing. But India also forces people into situations and conversations that would otherwise not have materialized until, ever. Toilet/stomach/illness related conversations in particular. On the plus side you’ll grow that much closer with your travel partner because of it.

It’s not uncommon to speak of these with virtual strangers. Nanda, (after finally meeting the myth, the legend) was, for some reason, the first and last person I spoke to about using a squat toilet. Make that a toilet-paper-less, toilet-less toilet. “But how exactly do you go about it?” I asked as if it were a conversation about something socially acceptable like doing the splits.

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“So you pull your pants down past your knees, or just take them off altogether. When you’re done, use the jug and water to wash yourself” he explained, half motioning what he was saying. “I don’t know about Lucy” (perhaps he thought it might differ depending on gender) “but I use my hand just to make sure.” I probably just nodded in response. There wasn’t much left to say- I’d been schooled.

The average person snaps a photo of something worth making a memory of. Nanda draws it. I’d have a hard time explaining his drawings with my words. Its better you take a look at them yourself. Find some here on his Instagram.

Nanda was raised a Hari Krishner, or at least in a way that would make a Hari Krishner proud. He has never eaten meat in his entire life. And despite being home schooled, he is more at ease in a social situation than you or me. His sense of humour is also something I’d have trouble describing. Perhaps return to his Instagram to get a whiff of it.

Thanks Nanda for sharing your Indian toilet wisdom with me. And thanks to you and your lovely Lucy for allowing us into your stumbled upon Mumbai apartment. The one that a random expat lent to you on a whim. It was luxurious and for a moment I forgot I was in India. I’m sorry for calling you a Hipster.

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Eye Spy With my Little Eye Something Beginning With ‘Mainlander’

Us westerners are guilty of a lot of things. One of them is being of the opinion that all black people look alike. (It makes me feel better to know it works both ways though). We feel the same about Asians. To the majority of white people, the majority of Asians look alike. We can’t tell them apart.

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When you live in Asia this changes a lot. I have fun eyeing out the hordes of passers by on my way to work. Looking more closely at their individuality. There differing styles, facial features and body types and noticing that they’re just as much, if not more, unique than us whities.

Hong Kong is full to the brim with people. There’s not a moment in time when its quiet and there’s almost no place you can go for some reprieve- apart from your home. This overflowing of people has been an issue on the news recently and it’s not because Hong Kongers are reproducing at a rate of knots. Its the influx of mainland Chinese coming to visit (shop). Recently the visa rules have relaxed and mainlanders have been taking advantage.

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But how does one tell the difference between people from mainland China and their lookalikes- the people of Hong Kong? Here are four giveaways that I’ve noticed so far.

1. Luggage. If someone hadn’t pointed it out to me I would be none-the-wiser. People come from mainland China with one thing in mind… to shop. But what do you do if you’ve hopped across the border for a quick weekend throughout which you intend to buy more than you can carry? Well you take your luggage shopping with you of course. Blocking up sidewalks and escalators are tourists on their spending sprees with their trusty roller-bags by their sides. If you didn’t know any better you’d think folks were between the hotel and airport. These suitcases are actually for shopping-till-you-drop purposes.

2. No-one loves their luxury brands like the Chinese do. Luis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Fendi, Versace. The more I’m exposed to them here in Hong Kong, the more I am of the opinion that a sometimes ugly item of clothing, branded with these household names, is the biggest waste of money. If you see someone walking out of one of these high fashion, luxury brand stores, they are almost definitely Mainlanders. They probably also have roller bags by their sides- Gucci of course.

3. The subway/underground system in Hong Kong is called the MTR. The MTRC (corporation) own everything- but that’s besides the point. The MTR swallows people up and spits them out at different places around the city, just like any semi-functioning underground system would. The MTR is always busy. A good day on the metro is when you have breathing space- not a seat. This is one of the areas of concern regarding the influx of Mainlanders.

It’s argued that their numbers are clogging up the main arteries of the city. A counter argument is that without them the luxury brand business would suffer.. hmmmm. If you see a Chinese walk out of a metro carriage and straight up to a map, congratulations, you’ve spotted a Mainlander! No Hong Konger needs a map! Not even me… well sometimes.

4. Hong Kongers speak Cantonese as opposed to Mandarin, which Mainlanders speak. Now, its very much the case that you would never ever be able to tell the difference between the two. However there is a way to tell if you listen really closely. Mandarin, spoken by Mainlanders, is much higher pitched, uses much more intonation and is way more sing-songey.

The only time I am able to make out a difference is when the metro speaks to you about what stop is up next. The clever metro speaks English, Mandarin and Cantonese and it is here where you will observe the very obvious difference between the two Chinese languages. I’m yet to identify an actual Mainlander based on their language, but there’s still time.

 

 

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On Being an ‘Angry South African Expat’ and What Really Makes us Tick

Lets get one thing straight- there is no such thing as a ‘South African expat’.

People who have chosen to live outside the country should not be lumped into one category. Even though the term applies to anyone living abroad, its much more complex than that. There are South Africans living all the over the world for reasons that vary from being racist, to a career move, to prolonged travel. And for a long time now ‘South African expat’ has become somewhat of a curse word, a word used to describe deserters full of hate.

I felt the need to bring up the issue of the South African expat because a) I am one of them and b) I’m pretty damn tired of feeling guilty about it. (And also a recent trending article got me thinking.)

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The first category of South African expats are of an older generation. These individuals have many enemies. They have been living outside of South Africa for years, if not decades. They are targeted by anti-expat articles written by naysayers who write with just as much hate as their accused ex-countrymen supposedly harbor.

This generation of expats left South Africa around the time of the country’s first democratic elections. In the months leading up to them, petrified white South Africans fled the country for fear of being the victims of a counter attack. (That or they were just downright racist and couldn’t deal with a black president).

There is a certain (large) amount of negativity towards this group of people. You can find proof in all the long winded pieces about evil-expats written by gushingly proud South Africans. We get it- there are South Africans living abroad who talk shit about their native country, it’s crime stats and corruption.

But if you ask me, one of the few places one might be exposed to these bad vibes and negativity is in the comment section of an article written by aforementioned gushingly proud South Africans who love singling out expats and their ‘stupid’ decision to leave. Being picked on for being ‘unpatriotic’ and leaving is only going to cause debate, negativity, a lot of back and forth and name calling. I do not condone bad behavior from either side. No-one is idiotic for choosing to leave or stay.

But, as with most things in life, there is a new generation.

Not all expats decided to ‘run for their lives’ around 1994. What about those who left more recently. Those who stuck around long enough to see Mandela become president, watch the ’95 Rugby World Cup and maybe even long enough to enjoy the 2010 festivities….. but eventually still made the decision to leave. While l don’t hold the all answers about the increasing flow of South Africans out of the country, I do have a few questions for those who love to complain about it:

Did you know that people all over the world leave their native countries to pursue better opportunities? Did you know that it is not necessarily unpatriotic to leave your country to live in another one? That often, living outside the country makes us more patriotic than ever before? Especially because, and did you know this, being removed from South Africa and it’s problems helps us keep a more positive outlook on it that you might?

Arriving home the day of Mandela's death was extremely special for for. I was humbled and totally appreciative of my country.

Arriving home the on day of Mandela’s death was extremely special for me. I was humbled, appreciative and proud of everything my country stands for. I was like a tourist experiencing the magic for the first time.

If you meet an American living outside their country, or a Swede or a Kiwi, would you question their patriotism? Probably not. And their countrymen probably wouldn’t give two hoots about their decision to leave either. So why do South Africans get so upset at the idea of, God forbid, a South African living outside of South Africa?

Remember, a lot of people who leave South Africa intend to return in the future. The experience and knowledge they gain overseas and eventually bring home is priceless and should not be underestimated or downplayed. I like to think they’d contribute massively to a better South Africa one day instead of assuming they’re making things worse.

Unfortunately the dilemma continues for new generation ‘deserters’. Although we’ve gained the right to vote abroad, we’ve somehow lost our right to an opinion on the state of the nation.

American expats wouldn’t think twice about calling George Bush out on his stupidity. They’d second guess their country’s gun laws in the blink of an eye . So why are South African expats at the point where they feel guilty about making judgments about home? We seem to have lost our right to speak negatively about South Africa after making a decision to leave. Apparently leaving means we’re no longer entitled to think along the same lines as people who remain to contribute: Zuma is a dick, crime sucks and growing your savings account takes decades.

If someone makes the decision to leave, so be it. Instead of reacting with negativity and blaming them for their lack of positive contribution to the country, rather give them a hug because you know how hard it must be to leave and a high five for managing to do it on a South African passport.

In the past four years living abroad I’ve encountered a lot of questions related to South Africa, its political and social situation. I don’t sugar coat things. I say yes, my house is fortified and yes, my heart does race when I arrive home late at night for fear of being hijacked at my gate.  I say these things because I have been asked and because they are true. NOT because my favourite past time is to talk shit about South Africa.

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It is also my experience that once these people have heard what I have to say they are, naturally, quite shocked. My answers are often met with more questions. And this is most likely the reason why when you meet foreigners they might bring it up in conversation with you. Not because I’ve exaggerated or gone on, but because they were shocked by what I had to say. Because a lot of the time what South Africans call their reality, is insane.

In the same breath I try and encourage the people I meet to visit there one day because just like a problem child, my problem country is completely delightful and they’d be missing out if they never got to know it.

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Hello from Hong Kong

Almost two months in and only now am I getting down to write something Hong Kong related. Terrible, I know. The thing is, there’s been a lot going on and I’m going to use that as an excuse for why I’ve been so slack on producing content. Then again, as someone once said; “If you don’t write when you don’t have time, you won’t write when you do.” So utterly true and blows my excuse out of the water completely.

Ok fine, I have another one then. This time my excuse is that for the almost two months that I’ve been here my life has revolved around spending as little money as possible. Luckily I got a job soon after arriving. But there were a long couple of weeks where my man and I waited for our work visas to process. Anyone with a brain knows that it’s not wise to spend money when you’re not making it. And anyone who’s ever lived in a city, or lived at all, knows that doing things costs money. (A down payment on a rental apartment here costs you 3.5 month’s rent which has been our biggest reason to budget).

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A view of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon on the mainland

That’s not to say we didn’t keep ourselves busy exploring the cheapest or free-est spots in and around Hong Kong. Our lack of money also didn’t stop us from agreeing with everyone else that Hong Kong is a fantastic city. Easy to navigate, beautiful, and not too expensive- even for budgeters like ourselves. Besides taking advantage of free museum days, various landmarks and beaches, we have also been forced to explore what’s out there in terms of the city’s best value for money meals.

Our living situation has been…interesting. It’s not been uncomfortable or dirty- on the contrary. We’ve temporarily shacked up in a brand new serviced apartment. Hong Kong is full of these serviced apartments which are basically single en-suite rooms that have access to a communal fridge and microwave.

Getting anything from the fridge involves being seen by other residents. He threatened to go out there like this once.

Getting anything from the fridge involves being seen by other residents. He threatened to go out there like this once.

So yes, you guessed it, we’ve been kitchen-less for a good while now. Say hello to microwave meals and cheap restaurants. Our self-inflicted price limit has had us peering into, walking out of and when the price is right, settling down to eat in various budget restaurants around Hong Kong.

Watching a friend and fellow blogger complete a 30 day juicing challenge with emphasis on the importance of healthy eating was tough. It was a sobering reminder that I was definitely not aware of exactly where my food was coming from.

Riding the world's largest outside escalator system is free! up up up!

Riding the world’s largest outside escalator system is free! up up up!

By the way- did I mention that our room is 8.5 square meters small? Real estate in Hong Kong is amongst the most expensive in the world. The tiniest, nothing-special apartment costs about the same as a mansion elsewhere in the world. So just know that we pay more than you could ever imagine a sane person would pay for 8.5 meters worth of space. That’s just the way it is.

The bathroom sink is the kitchen sink and our cutlery is plastic. And although we’ve done our best to explore the city on a budget, there’s been ample time spent on our respective beds which serve as couches, desks, and dining tables. There’s no doubt in my mind that one day, maybe not too far in the future, we’ll remember this time fondly. All the instant meals and bad TV shows, the being forced to live in each other’s pockets and above all, learning, growing and moving forward in life.

In the same breath, we’re looking forward to July when we move into a real apartment!

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Making the Video “Eye Spy”

Not too long ago, in a not-so-picturesque town on Spain’s Costa Brava, two green/budding media enthusiasts made a short film.

Aside from learning a lot about filming, editing and each other, I also learnt that Google Images can often be misleading. I guess any seaside village in the middle of Winter would be a little dead and gloomy. (Then again, I got no gloomy-feeling from my Winter trip to San Sebastian so I guess we’re back to “dead-and-not-so-picturesque”.)

That being said we didn’t come away empty handed. We picked this town randomly from a map for a reason- we needed to get out of Barcelona for a bit and wanted to make a video. Canet de Mar seemed the best option considering its proximity to the city- and off we went. Go Pro, Canon G12 and 650D in hand, we arrived ready to make miracles.

And that’s almost exactly what had to be done. There was close to absolutely nothing going on in our chosen little coastal town which made it difficult to film anything. In the end, we chose ourselves as subjects and that’s why you see so much of us in the film.

Less than 24 hours after arriving we had seen what there was to see and done our best at capturing it. We hopped back on the train to the city we were trying to escape. Luckily for us there was a lot going on back in Barcelona and for that reason alone we were able to gather enough footage for “Eye Spy”.

Although the weather didn’t play along, we did what we could to put together the best of our clips, sorting through all the over exposure and grey to bring you “Eye Spy: 48 Hours in Catalunya”.

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Here it is! A look into 48 hours in Catalunya, Spain. Brought to you by Wanderlust and Driftsole Media.

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Boys and Their Toys at the 70th Anniversary of D-Day

By James Bourhill

Normandy, the 6th of June, 2014.

I’m sure that for those who were at the ceremonies in and around the cemeteries, there was an opportunity for reflection, but only invited guests, royalty and the like, were allowed access to these events.

For the rest of us rubber-necks, there was plenty of action but little opportunity for reflection. By all accounts, the TV coverage was superbly sensitive, but what follows is my personal experience on the ground.

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On the afternoon of 5 June, without any planned itinerary, I decided to head for Pegasus Bridge on the River Orne. This is where British paratroops landed virtually on the bridge, took their objective and held it until the commandos arrived to relieve them. I like to think that I am somehow connected to Brigadier Simon Fraser who led his men from the beaches with his piper, Bill Millin, playing.

En route to Pegasus Bridge, I got caught in a massive traffic jam and had to park on the side of the road. The attraction was a mass parachute drop, and I was just in time to see it all. First there was a flypast of two Spitfires with the distinctive D-Day stripes on the wings, they growled low overhead a few times as if attacking ground targets.

Then, as they probably would have done seventy years ago, they waggled their wings and departed. The first paratroopers jumped out of an old DC-47, then came about eight modern giants, each carrying thirty men. They dropped into a field of wheat in the same spot where the originals landed on the night of 5/6 June 1944.

Like them, I walked the rest of the way to Pegasus Bridge.  The road was bumper to bumper traffic, much of it consisting of beautifully restored military vehicles. The sheer number and beautiful condition they were in is what left me with my over-riding impression of the event. This and the thousands of men women and children, dressed up in period costume or military uniforms, riding on the vehicles or pissing it up in the beer tents.

Ladies not to be left out

The most popular street food on sale was a boerewors roll or rather a baguette with spicy sausage and fried onions piled on. Also doing a great trade were the souvenir shops, selling T shirts, mugs, flags, toys and lots of army memorabilia. Which brings me to my second key observation.

It seems that for many this is a celebration, not of peace, but of militarism. This is not a judgement, just an observation. Military men were everywhere. Old soldiers, serving soldiers and wannabe soldiers. At worst, it is a gathering of cult followers, at best they are primarily enthusiasts, collectors and restorers of vintage vehicles

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At midnight there was a fireworks display at each one of the landing beaches along the 80 kilometre front. I decided to try Omaha Beach because it is a bit more remote and it is where the most dramatic events of D-Day occurred.  There were no noisy crowds here, perhaps a thousand or so pilgrims picnicking on the beach or walking along the water’s edge imagining the scenes which took place here.

The fireworks did not disappoint. The ground shook with the explosions, giving an inkling of what the German defenders must have experienced under the opening bombardment.

As you can imagine there was no available accommodation, so when the fireworks were over, I went back to my car and slept right there. I wasn’t the only one. A policeman armed with a flashlight came to tell me that I was welcome to sleep there but I needed to be gone by 6.00 a.m. Otherwise I would be compelled to stay exactly where I was for the whole of the next day since no vehicle was permitted to go anywhere. There was no negativity on the part of the police or other officials, rather an attitude of “welcome to our liberators”.

Speaking of police, I have never in my life seen so many cops. All the way from Paris, busses and vans transported a large portion of the gendarmerie of France to protect the likes of Barak Obama, Vladimir Putin and Prince Charles. There were thousands of immaculate, fit, young policemen ready to protect and serve.

To their credit, the townspeople tried hard to accommodate the influx of visitors. As the announcer quipped, “we were not expecting such a large crowd, but when you arrived here in 1944, we were not expecting you either”. The entertainment for the occasion included a concert show in exactly the same spot where a performance was put on for the troops. An old photograph shows the men sitting on vehicles and on the ground in front of an improvised stage in the town square.

There were 1,200 American “musicians” in town which consisted almost entirely of high school marching bands. There was going to be a parade of these marching bands. It was going to be an “unprecedented sight” and worth waiting for. Against my better judgement, I stayed on and missed my chance of getting out of town before the mad rush.

What a disappointment for all those thousands of people who waited and jostled for a view.  At the best of times, an American marching band with their bling uniforms and feathers stuck onto cardboard hats are a bit of a joke, but on this occasion they were wholly inappropriate.  Never mind the carnival style marching, I was fascinated by the appearance of the kids themselves.

They bore no resemblance whatsoever to the lean and mean paratroopers who marched through the town on a previous occasion. This pimply lot looked as though they had never missed out on a MacDonald’s meal, and could never possess the fortitude to run a man through with a bayonet. But this is what the German intelligence effectively said about the American soldiers back in 1943.

Among the Band-of-Brothers lookalikes, it was easy to forget the real human beings who dropped in seventy years ago. One such example was a parachutist who got snagged on the church steeple and remained there during the fighting. The ringing of the bells deafened him but he survived to jump and fight again and again. He died of cancer in 1969 at the age of 57. The commentators and journalists who did the story well, concentrated on the stories of such individuals.

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Hanging from the bell tower

So was it a celebration of a commemoration? I suppose that it is a lot like Christmas. Only a few think about the true meaning. For the rest it is all about consumerism and consumption. I reckon that if I was one who had parachuted into the night or who had bled to death on the beaches, or who had been bombed in my home, as happened to thousands of French families, I wouldn’t care how the day is celebrated or commemorated, so long as people (especially children) learn something.

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Someone I Once Met: Roommates of 2012 – Year of the Chile

Depto once dieciseis, or ‘apartment eleven sixteen’, was my home for the whole of 2012. When I moved to Chile for a year of teaching English it was hard to imagine what life would be like. Now looking back, it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like if it hadn’t gone the way it did. If I hadn’t moved into 1116.

Today’s Someone I Once Met is about the people I lived with who became my family away from home and who I continue to learn from two years down the line.

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Looking down from 1116

A week after arriving on Chilean soil I had already been robbed of all my important possessions, including passport, phone and all my bank cards. Shortly thereafter I stood in front of the door to my new home, ringing the door bell, waiting for what seemed like forever for someone to answer. I had already hit rock bottom, it could only be up from here.

Finally a tall, handsome Frenchman opened the door. I had clearly woken him up at the ungodly hour of 1pm- I based this on his appearance and the time it took him to answer the door. Sam would become a brotherly figure, a guy who I loved in a platonic way and hated every now and again. Reasons varied from his French-ness to stubborn and bossy-ness.

Sam was a student and later an intern, an occasion that was important enough for a tailored suit. As you would imagine, he had a huge soft spot for cheese and wine and spoke with a strong French accent that could be detected in every language he spoke. The day I left we shed a tear and an embrace for the year that we had spent together and for the high likelihood of never seeing each other again. Luckily, my leaving overlapped with him meeting his future wife who I met briefly. Unfortunately, her understanding (or misunderstanding) of what our friendship was (and wasn’t) is the reason why Sam and I are no longer friends. Cest la vie, it was fun while it lasted.

Yannek, dear Yannek. My American brother of Swiss decent, fluent in French and Spanish. His ability to switch between three languages in one conversation always blew my mind. I always wished Yannek hadn’t left halfway through my stay in Chile. If there was ever an individual to have on your side it was him. Annoyingly politically correct and frustratingly positive about all the people around him, it didn’t take long to realise that Yannek was one of life’s special people.

An alliance with him meant a constant look on the lighter side of life. It also meant a good meal in your belly, albeit deep fried. While he knew how to cook up a storm, cleaning up seemed foreign to him. I suppose between being the master of languages, the resident chef and guitar maestro, there wasn’t much time left for cleaning.

Yanek and Sam in Southern Chile doing their 'Encyclopedia Brown'

Yannek and Sam in Southern Chile doing their ‘Encyclopedia Brown’

The third inhabitant of 1116 was Mariela of Costa Rica. She was the only native Spanish speaker in the house and spoke the most beautiful, fluent English. Her petite figure and perfect hair seemed to attract the French men, which annoyed her since she wasn’t particularly fond of them herself. If I remember correctly she actually made the French of all sexes weak at the knees.

But as was the nature of 1116, roommates came and went, equilibriums upset and dimensions changed. Soon Mariela and Yanek were gone and Sam and I remained as the original roomies.

I soon convinced my Chilean friend Jeimy to move in with us. 1116 was a far cry from the neat new apartment she had to leave behind. After one too many police-involved house parties, 1116 was all but collapsed. The walls needed painting, the couch needed throwing away and the carpets upstairs, well, they gave poor Jeimy a nasty rash.

I’d feel worse about having encouraged Jeimy to move in but she was in desperate need of removing herself from the apartment she’d shared with her previous boyfriend. I moved out of my room which was way to big for me and my lack of possessions and into the downstairs room big enough for a only bed. this suited me perfectly and simply took myself up to my old room that Jeimy had turned into an oasis. Decorating wasn’t her only talent- another area in which she excelled was eating for four and still maintaining her figure.

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Me, Jeimy, Desi and Sam

But hang on! I skipped the part between Mariela’s leaving and Jeimy’s arrival where the biggest Chilean in all the land moved in. Fernando was the one new arrival that we had no say in and moved in as a friend of the apartment’s manager. Fernando loved whiskey so much he would have had no problem drinking it in the place of morning tea. Unfortunately this is not socially acceptable nor is it healthy, especially for this poor dude who suffered from the worst alcohol induced gout. I remember him crippled at times, hobbling down the stairs in pain.

Almost as much as he loved whiskey, Fernando loved women. It isn’t completely uncommon in Chile to be outspoken about your feelings (read urges) about a woman. A good looking woman in Chile is, more often than not, made aware of what men around her are thinking. Anything from a grunt of approval to a whistle or a comment.

For some reason Fernando thought it ok to let me know whenever he saw someone who made him feel alive in his loins. Based on this fact, his having fathered a child years before, his relationship with a crazy woman, his love for strip clubs and his friend who carried around a gun, it took a while to warm to Fernando. But I learned to love him in my own way.

The final addition to 1116 was our very own Mexican chef, Désirée. Désirée arrived on our doorstep with all her energy and cooking knowledge about midway through my year in Chile. Not long after that she’d befriended every other Mexican exchange student- and that was the end of any peace and quiet for 1116. At any one time there were between 3 and 7 Mexicans eating quesadillas and speaking in slang in our apartment.

Four Mexicans

Four Mexicans

This was probably the best thing that could have happened to me and my Spanish language acquisition. Without the presence of Désirée and her entourage, my Spanish would not have been able to progress to the level it did. Even though most of the time I was too self conscious to utter much, the mere exposure to a daily dose of Mexico was priceless.

Thanks to Désirée I now have a humungous urge to visit Mexico. Thanks to her, my sneaking suspicion that all Mexican dishes are made from the same 3 ingredients was confirmed. And lastly, thank you Desi for filling up my room with balloons and sticky notes for my birthday after knowing me for just a few weeks.

Gracias a mi familia Chilena! Thank you to my Chilean family! I couldn’t imagine 2012 without you.

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Someone I Once Met: folks ’round India

Short stories of people I met once upon a time in India.

The only thing these people have in common is that I’ve met them all. Actually, some have met each other, but other than our paths crossing at some point on Indian soil, there’s nothing else linking everyone together. The three people I have chosen for the Indian Edition of Someone I Once Met all influenced me somehow, even if it was in the smallest way. A bond, a funny moment, a touching story.

Laura

The first person I met in India, besides the guy who picked me up from the airport, was a young lady by the name of Laura. Our first exchange of words was early in the morning, shortly after landing in Mumbai, when I climbed into bed next to her. This wasn’t a dorm or the sharing of a bed between two friends. This was a private room and a double bed shared between two strangers. The only thing we had in common at that point was that we both knew my brother, I from birth and her from their stint teaching in South Korea.

We didn’t know each other but knew we were arriving in the same strange and crazy land on the same day, so we did what anyone would do and booked a bed to share. I was hardly able to eke out the pleasantries before fading off to sleep . Later, we continued the sharing as we left our room together and let Mumbai unleash herself on us.

Two strangers became travel buddies and friends over the next few weeks, eventually sharing a love for photography and blogging rather than just knowing my brother. Find Laura’s blog here at Cherishing the Cherry Blossoms.

Jonty

Laura and I went to Goa where we met Jonty, an Indian fellow from Delhi. Since Goa is one of the few places in India where alcohol is easily accessible and consumed in abundance, it’s no wonder Jonty was never seen without a drink and cigarette in hand. It could have simply been because he was in Goa or, it was what my over-analytical brain saw as escapism.

Jonty had us all-ears when he told stories of being unfairly locked up in an Indian jail for months and the time when he followed his girlfriend to Russia where she unleashed a Russian mob on him. Tied and beaten up for days by angry Russian men, interspersed with bouts of oral pleasure performed by the same girl who had put him there. Unbelievable, literally. But those days were behind him, he couldn’t be trying to escape those still.

This time he was running away from his arranged marriage. Not ready to be tied to a girl he picked out from a bunch of photographs, he got on a train to where we would meet and befriend him, on a Goan beach. A place where he captivated us with his stories and where we taught him to swim.

Annie

Skip forward a couple of weeks and meet Annie. She looks every bit foreign until she opens her mouth and you’re hit with a wave of Australian. But who is this Aussie chick and why does she look so….. Tibetan? Well that’s easy, sort of. 30 or so years ago a young Tibetan women escaped her arranged marriage and fled to Australia. (notice the theme here).

Shortly after arriving she realised she was pregnant. The young, pregnant Tibetan woman miraculously found stability and love in the form of a young Tibetan man. Then something happened that westerners, like myself, struggle to understand. The Tibetan man, although committed and in love, refused to raise the baby as his own. And so, when Annie was born, she was given up for adoption and raised by an Australian family.

Years later, when Annie was a teenager, she met her biological mother, the man who wouldn’t raise her as his own, and her siblings- the children her mother went on to have. They are all friends today.

This bright and beautiful young lady took herself off to Dharamshala, the place she would have called home and the place I met her. Here Annie plans to get in touch with her roots and understand the community that would have been hers. She also calmly recites her story to interested folks like me as if she hadn’t explained it 100 times before.

One of Susie's biggest passions is doing what she can to work to toward's Tibet's freedom

One of Susie’s biggest passions is doing what she can to work to toward’s Tibet’s freedom

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Challenge Accepted: My Travels from A – Z

This A-Z travel challenge has been going around for years but seems to be going through a bit of a resurgence- which is why I’m finally in the loop. The challenge seems to have originated as a meme where people get nominated to do one. I nominated myself 🙂

A: Age you went on your first trip.

My first big trip was to my uncle’s wedding in Scotland when I was 8. My brother and I were lucky enough to be sponsored by our grandparents, otherwise my poor (literally) parents would have had to leave us behind. I have such clear and wonderful memories from that trip. The bare-bottomed male wedding-goers doing the ‘braveheart’ is a particularly strong memory.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where.

Blue Moon- a deliciously smooth wheat beer from Colorado, often served with a slice of orange.

C: Cuisine (favorite).

As much as carbs hate me, I love Italian food- Pastas, breads, pizzas.

D: Destination (favorite and least favorite).

Colorado, USA is still my favourite destination. I spent a winter skiing there and WILL return for the summer one day. I’d have to say that India is my least favourite so far 😦 I like efficiency and unspoiled landscapes, and unfortunately India has neither of those. I love cowboys so thats probably a big reason why Colorado is close to my heart.

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E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow.”

I watched the Foo Fighters live at the Lolapalooza Festival in Chile. But that doesn’t have as much to do with the destination as it has to do with Dave Grohl blowing me away.

F: Favorite mode of transportation.

Train. Hands down. Whether its for short or long trips, trains are just awesome. Best trip so far- taking Amtrack up the west coast of America with one of my best Friends. San Francisco to the Canadian border over the space of 10 days.

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G: Greatest feeling while traveling.

While there are many things that make you ‘feel great’ when you travel, I’d have to say bumping in to an old university acquaintance on the streets of Cuzco, Peru. We were by no means close friends before but the sheer craziness of bumping into each other in the most random part of the world during my solo trip was an incredible feeling.

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H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to.

Lets see…. Oudshoorn, South Africa and Rajasthan, India. 40 degrees plus.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where.

Really recently actually. Moving to Hong Kong where cost of accommodation is through the roof, we’ve had to rent a room in a ‘hotel’ (more like apartments that are actually tiny rooms). While it might be tiny and cramped, its also brand spanking new and the people in charge bend over backwards to please. The other day we asked them if the room came with towels or if we should buy our own. A few hours later they came knocking on our door with a hand made card and two towels that they had bought for us. According to the card, their policy didn’t include towels but this was a gift from them to welcome us as their first ‘VIP’ guests. ahhhhh

J: Journey that took the longest.

a 38 hour bus trip from Cuzco, Peru to Santiago, Chile. It sounds like an ordeal but it was painless.

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K: Keepsake from your travels.

I’d have to say, like most of the other bloggers answering these, that photos are my main mementos. I obviously love taking them but they also happen to be free and I don’t like spending money or accumulating things.

L: Letdown site and where.

Hmmmm, probably Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona. Its one of those ‘must see’ sights, at the top of all the ‘to do’ lists but it just means that its overrun with people and, well, its not that spectacular.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel.

I’d have to say it was when I was a young girl listening to my dad’s and uncle’s stories. My dad was a cowboy in America and my uncle a rough and tough African overlander. Although I went on many trips, it probably wasn’t through travel itself but the romantic idea of adventure their stories put in my head.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed at.

I haven’t stayed at many fancy hotels. Probably a stopover on a family trip up South Africa’s east coast. It was my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary so my dad spoiled us all- it was very out of character.

O: Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?

Animals

P: Passport stamps. How many and from where?

9 on my current passport- so since 2010. USA, England, Ireland, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, France, Spain, India, Hong Kong

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where.

Chiloe- Chile’s third biggest Island. The beautiful Island with its rolling green hills has a culture influenced by a mythology that tells stories of legends and mythical creatures.

R: Recommended site, event or experience.

I had a really good time in France on June 21st for Fete de la Musique – an annual celebration of music that the French go all out for. Its supposedly a worldwide thing but I’ve only ever seen or heard of it in France. Every pub and restaurant that line the streets have live music inside and out, its incredibly vibey!

S: Splurge. Something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling.

Convenience. I actually stole this answer from someone else but its because I agree fully with it. If something costs more but its way more convenient I don’t mind forking out. For instance, you can take three different local buses to get to the train station or you can hire a taxi. Not having to lug my backpacks on and off numerous buses in the heat and getting there in half the time makes up for it being double the price.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done.

Machu Picchu, Peru. As amazing as it was touristy. I found it incredible how the pictures we see never show signs of people but when you’re there, in the midst of it, you realize how teaming it is with thousands of daily tourists.

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U: Unforgettable travel memory.

How can I choose just one? Lets go with the time I worked on a sail yacht and we crossed overnight from Corsica to France through the most treacherous storm. We sailed through lightning, rain and massive waves (for the med) for 12 hours. The boat tilted at 45 degrees the entire way as we sailed to our destination on what felt like a roller coaster. Halfway through it the the steering broke- as if the guests weren’t in enough of a panic! The most impressive part? I amazed everyone with my sleeping skills when I made myself a bed in a safe corner of the saloon and slept through the worst of it. (I panic about working with little or no sleep and I had to do my job the next day!)

V: Visa. How many and for where.

I had to laugh when I read other travelers say ‘one’ or ‘none’ here. Four for me. USA, Bolivia, Schengen area and India.

W: Wine. Best glass of wine while traveling and where?

I’ve been lucky enough to live in world famous wine countries over the past four years. Chile, France, Spain and of course South Africa. I love all their wines. To me, there’s no such thing as ‘the best wine’- it depends on so many things.

X: eXcellent view and from where.

The view of Santiago de Chile from the hill Saint Cristobel. I loved, loved, loved this view of the city with the Andes rising up in the not too far distance. I miss it a lot.

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Y: Years spent traveling.

4.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where

Being part of the Fifa World Cup in South Africa 2010!!!!

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I am

I wrote a cover letter for a freelance Assistant Editor position for an online publication called Pink Pangea. It is, in a nutshell, ‘a community for women travelers’. This is what I said, more or less. The pictures are an added addition, for your pleasure, not theirs. 

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Me on my second gap year in 2012, the same and yet a very different person I am today

I am a writer.

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and this is how I spend a lot of my time

Because I am a writer in this modern world, I am also an editor, a photographer, videographer and web designer. The world of online media is the world of multi-media and so it is the world of Jacks-of-all-trades. I studied Journalism at a prestigious South African university known for its Journalism department, facilities, degree and of course all the famous faces of media that studied there.

It worked this way: 2 years of general Journalism and 2 years of specialised Journalism. It was your choice to spend two years studying and practicing either photography, writing, television, radio, new media or design. I chose radio. The fact that I majored in audio journalism and have subsequently been involved in media of all kinds got me thinking…. Today’s Journalism student should not be specialising in just one thing, and certainly not for two whole years.

It’s no secret that the online presence media holds has journalists juggling all types of it on a day to day basis. It’s no longer sufficient for a news broadcaster to merely read the news. He or she should be tweeting, sharing and blogging. Writers should be doing the same, and since we live in a digital, visual world, a writer would do well to be a photographer too.

I am a traveller.

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Finding my feet in India

One thing university failed to do was ready me for the working world. ‘Work’ as we know it was something that I avoided after graduating. I did this by work-travelling around the world for four years. Ski-instructing, teaching, working on yachts, you name it- I did it. And as a result I have become an advocate for travel and its benefits on the human race.

A previous job in the communications department of a big company and my personal/travel blog have taught me as much and more than university did. The interest I have in my blog stats has heightened my awareness and interest in social media and its uses, trends, effects, benefits and limitations. My blogging experience has also increased my editing and proof reading skills along with the obvious influence it’s had on my writing.

I also understand why paragraphs have halved in word count.

Sometimes sentences become paragraphs themselves.

Just one of the many ways the internet has changed the way we read and write.

 

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#MyRoute around India!

Testing Testing! Embedded Facebook posts in WordPress! Not too shabby. This is the route I took around India for two months, proudly brought to you by Paint.

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India Souvenir Giveaway WINNER!

Here’s looking at YOU Sian Cohen, the winner of Wanderlust’s souvenir giveaway Indian Edition!

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The winner didn’t need to answer correctly, participation was enough to put you in the runnings. But clever Sian answered correctly with ‘Dharamshala’ to the question ‘Where does the Dalai Lama live?’ (Mcleod Ganj and India would also have been correct)

I’ll be sending her an authentic string of Tibetan prayer flags to remind her of, well, me, and things like to live in peace and with compassion. Enjoy Sian!

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10 Indian Animal Encounters

Those who know me well know that I am a crazy cat lady. I’ve moved past the point of caring too much when people speak mean words about my fluffy friends. “Dogs are better” “dogs are loyal”, “dogs actually care about you”. All valid points, and of course, I love dogs too. But I’m not hurt by the the fact that a cat doesn’t need me. I’m in awe of their independence. And cuteness.

But this post isn’t about cats or how much I love them and the surprising amount of people that hate them. This post is about all the animals in India that stole my heart for a moment.

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A photogenic Himalayan goat!

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Snowballs (puppies) in a travel agency in Goa

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A cat called Jacqueline in Goa

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Dogs playing at the sunset point (hippie hangout) in Hampi

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One of the pups from the previous picture- on a different day in a different location.

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Lakshmi the Elephant gets a bath twice a day in Hampi. Lucky girl.

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These kitties lost their mom to a street dog just the day before. You can see me trying to coax them out with my necklace. Poor babies. Goa.

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Temple viewing didn’t capture me as much as the monkeys did. Not that I’m huge fan of monkeys.

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The Beatles came to Rishikesh in the ’50s and stayed in this now dilapidated ashram. this guy showed us around the grounds.

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Puppy love in Daramshala. Covering my hands to avoid street dog diseases.

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India Souvenir Giveaway!

I’m sending someone a string of prayer flags! And this is why…..

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It was difficult finding something to send off as a souvenir from India, mainly because I was determined to offer something cool that both guys and girls would like.

An added complication was the guaranteed nightmarish shopping experience. It takes a lot of will power and self-control (to prevent lashing out) during any and all shopping endeavours. Shopping will always include a persistent vendor or shop owner eagerly pushing his products on you for a “special price”. If only they’d understand that their forcefulness makes you almost 100% less likely to make a purchase.

The only place free from this was Dharamshala, a Tibetan refugee town that stole my heart. The town is almost entirely made up of Tibetans who fled their country up to a generation ago. It’s so Tibetan that you struggle to find Indian cuisine up there.

Finally I came across prayer flags for sale. I’m sure you’ve seen these strings of flags somewhere in the world and perhaps not thought much of them. That’s how it was for me anyway.

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My visit to Dharamshala enlightened me. I saw them for myself- strung along mountain ridges and peaks high in the Himalayas. Numerous, meaningful and beautiful, blowing in the wind. On the colourful blocks are mantras and prayers for long life and good fortune. They are believed to have originated from a religion that predated Buddhism.

These flags are not a religious symbol for me. To me, they mean Tibet. To me they are a symbol of the ongoing crisis in the country overpowered by China and overflowing with human rights violations.

If you’d like one for yourself for whatever reason; religious, awareness, decoration or even if you just think the Dalai Lama is the coolest guy- it’s easy to become a contender!

1. Answer the following question in the comment section of the ‘India Souvenir Giveaway’ post of the Wanderlust Facebook page.

“Where does his Holiness Tenzin Gyasto, otherwise known as the Dalai Lama, live?”

2. Share the post on Facebook

3. For extra brownie points, invite 5 friends to like Wanderlust 😉

4. Cross your fingers and hope that my list randomizer picks you!

***Learn more about Tibet at www.freetibet.org

 

**Photos of the Dalai Lama taken from various internet sources.

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F**k you, Lonely Planet

The traveler’s bible. The massive brick of a book lugged around by globetrotters, taking up precious space and adding unwanted weight to an increasingly heavy backpack. All for the times when we need some information about where we are, where we’re going and where to stay and eat.

I’ve never been tempted to buy a lonely planet. Not for any of the countries I’ve traveled or lived in. They’re expensive, hefty and much like the bible- seen as gospel instead of a guideline.

Why buy it when the internet has everything you need to know about anywhere in this world? You can access it from almost everywhere and more often than not, its free (or close to it). You might have to do a bit of work to find what you’re looking for but I’ve always thought that’s part of the fun. Hell, you can even head straight to the lonely planet website if you want.

During my India trip I traveled with various people who were in possession of a Lonely Planet. I paged through them now and again looking for some help and inspiration. This is what I came to find out.

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Writers for the Lonely Planet know the places they write about like the back of their hands. They are chosen over other travel writers for the job because they have lived in the area for extended periods of time and know what they’re talking about. Only problem is, while they know the truth about somewhere- like how its just another shitty Indian city- they don’t say as much.

They are not being paid to write negatively. Instead they write about the Pink City, the lake palace and the famous temple with careful objectivity interspersed with as many pleasing adjectives as they can muster.

So when the time comes to choosing a spot close to Delhi in which to spend your last few days before departure, you’re left feeling helpless because each place has been described as not being too different from the rest. A temple, a river, a bustling bazaar.

They had this to say about the Rajasthani city of Jaipur:

“Jaipur, the City of Victory, is chaotic and congested, though it still has a habit of tickling travellers pink. Stunning hilltop forts and glorious palaces fit like footprints from a rich royal past, candyfloss-bright turbans blaze a trail through brilliant bargain-filled bazaars, and fluttering saris catch the eye like butterflies.”

I beg you, show me a sane person who enjoyed Jaipur. There was nothing, literally, nothing going for it. Not the 45 degree heat, not the disease ridden train station, not the unimpressive Pink City or the even less impressive Lake Palace. We hated almost everything about the place and yet, there’s someone being paid to write what you see above, misleading poor travelers who don’t know any better.

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We should have known better, though, after a fellow traveler told us it was hell. And after countless Delhi locals told us how hot it was. But you’ve got to see these things for yourself I guess and, well, Lonely Planet doesn’t paint an aweful picture. They even dedicated more pages to it than any other Rajasthani destination- it must be worth seeing. Wrong!

Ok, so Jaipur is shit. Thats fine, we’ll find a nice air-conditioned room and spend most of our time indoors and get some work done. Where does Lonely Planet say we should stay? This one sounds good, lets book there. And yes, aside from the broken AC that had us unable to sleep through the heat, and the, literally, exorbitant prices of what they call food, I guess it was a nice place. A place worth mentioning in the travelers’ bible.

I suppose when the Lonely Planet guy had visited, the hotel’s surrounding area didn’t look like central Baghdad, the road completely torn up and none of it taken away- like it had been recently bombed. And I also suppose that the price of food wasn’t originally so sky high. It was no doubt the hotel’s mention in the Lonely planet, and the subsequent rise in guests, that had them thinking it was ok to charge what they do for food. Luxury restaurant prices for way below average dishes.

Our experience in the self-proclaimed ‘Yoga Capital of the World’, Rishikesh, was no different. Lonely Planet, in all fairness, is not the only one to blame here. It’s also the mob mentality regarding the place and general over exposure of it. The Beatles went there 50 years ago, its a yogi’s delight and is big on the map of the well-worn tourist path through India. These are all pull factors attracting close to every traveler of India.

But what I can’t see past is Lonely Planet’s claim of Rishikesh being “conducive to meditation and mind expansion.” Yes, its famous for its ashrams and yoga courses within them but I can’t help but KNOW that those are the only places one is to find peace in the fly, monkey, vendor and tourist infested town. While I’ve often struggled to find peace during my stay in India, walking through the streets of Rishikesh while whipping my hands around to ward off the flies, was one of the least relaxing things I’ve done. And don’t get me started on the motorbikes and their incessant honking on the two footbridges that cross the Ganges. 

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I went as far as typing “Lonely Planet sucks” into Google to see who out there agrees with me, if they do at all. I was happy to see that I’m not alone/crazy. There are people out there who agree with me on this. While once upon a time it was a guide book worth having, it is now an over-commercialized bible-esq book that people think they need. The information is often unreliable and there’s even a mention that a Lonely Planet Guide Book was written by a man via Google, having never stepped a foot in the country. That would explain a lot.

What sucks even more is that successful and respected travel writers that I follow use and mention these guide books on their blogs. An indication of how difficult it can be to make money as a writer. Having to resort to aligning yourself with a famous but low quality guide book just for an added source of income. Unfortunately, this is the life I’m striving for.

To conclude, don’t buy a Lonely Planet. Have more faith in yourself, your gut and intuition. Do your own research and go to cities and towns that sound good to you and have reviews that sit well with you. There are also other, lesser known but higher quality, guide books out there. Here is a list of them. 

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Wrapping my head around blogging on the road

Who knew there were so many things to consider when blogging on the road. What do I write? How in-depth do I go? How much hindsight do I need? How much of an effort do I make to find wifi? These questions and more swirl around my head, contaminating my mind, frustrating me.

Arriving in Mumbai almost four weeks ago was a definite sensory overload. For me it was mainly the heat and the noise. Coming from tourist-haven Barcelona, I felt like I was prepared for the amount of people, but the incessant honking combined with the heat was headache material. I was probably adding to the sensory overload by trying to figure out how I would filter through all the mental and photographic images, the encounters and experiences.

India_315It took a while but I finally came to the point where I was able to side-step the over-stimulation I was causing myself. I gradually realized that it’s near impossible to take everything in and live every experience while simultaneously coming up with story ideas. At what point does my lived experience become part of a story?

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What helps, unsurprisingly, is jotting things down in a notebook. The trick is to have this notebook with you almost always because, and take this from me, you’ll often think of a great idea that you will never again remember if you don’t write it down straight away.This side of things takes practice. Although I consider myself a writer I’ve always struggled with keeping diaries. I can’t do the day-to-day musings, preferably written poetically and possibly ‘for my eyes only’. A big reason for that is probably because no-one will be reading it and so I half don’t see the point.

 

But there is a point. The point is to remember. A diary reminds people of their experiences and my notebook does the same. I might jot down a word or a sentence or elaborate on a point I want to make, but the overriding idea is that I can come back to it later when at some point I’m inspired to do so.

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to figure this out.

Backpacking is tough. I might be stating the obvious here but there’s a lot of moving around with heavy backpacks and if you’re me -a camera bag and a non-travel friendly laptop. Backpacking is about overnight travel. It about putting your belongings down in your new digs and feeling like you’ve just run a marathon and could sleep for days. Then there’s the added self-imposed blogging pressure; a niggling feeling of needing to maintain consistency.

Then you remember you’re in India. After you’ve booted up your breaking computer, converted your unreadable photo files and touched them up a bit, you realise the internet has stopped playing along and opening a single webpage can kill your soul.  Don’t forget that there’s 1 socket, 2 people and 500 things to charge.

So I ask you to excuse me while I travel, while I navigate around the idea of blogging on the road in a third world country. I may be experienced at being an ex-pat but this ‘backpacking’ is a whole other ball game.

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Goa to Gokarna by Rail – a Photo Essay

India has one of the most extensive railway systems in the world. In four weeks I’ve only taken one train trip however, and I’m on the verge of vowing ‘train or nothing’. The roads are so perfectly shitty its no wonder people are drawn to the smooth, hypnotizing rhythm of the tracks.

This particular trip was just about covering the short distance from our spot in Goa to a new destination- Gokarna- where hippies of the world come to, well, be hippies (work on their dreads, play bongo drums and smoke weed). And while Goa has the reputation of sucking people in and never spitting them out, Gokarna is somewhere only the hardcore folks go to stay and never look back. We managed 5 or so very relaxing days there, doing so little time almost went backwards.

I got a bit over excited at the thought of finally training it and went a little wild taking photos. I was quite pleased with how some turned out.
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#NoMakeUpSelfie, No Harm

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Why do people who contribute nothing to awareness on a day to day basis (or ever) get in a tiff about how little difference a Facebook trend like the ‘no make-up selfie’ makes? {I bet you did a neknomination, so, um…}

I don’t even waste my time reading articles that bash it because I know where I stand on the matter and its somewhere between ‘it doesn’t hurt’ and ‘every bit helps’. Whether it raises money or makes any significant changes is certainly a question worth asking. But how could getting it on the lips and minds of people be considered anything but positive?

Maybe it’ll remind someone somewhere to go get checked. That checkup could save their life.

Don’t get me started on the “I don’t usually do this” part of it though. And we’re talking ‘taking selfies’ here. We all take selfies girls- no shame in it. I’m in full support of removing the stigma attached. Having traveled solo I’m an advocate for the #noshameselfie.

What does get to me is the make-up I’ve detected in some of these so called ‘no make-up selfies’. This gets to me instead of the whole thing possibly achieving nothing. {Which we’ve all agreed isn’t true, right?}

Most importantly it’s got me thinking about someone who is no longer with us because of cancer. She managed to pull through breast cancer after being the youngest woman in South Africa to be diagnosed with it, only to lose the battle to a very aggressive stomach cancer later on. Watch this space for the full story of Someone I Once Met: Christin Page. She loved a good selfie.

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Where you Goan?

……A Goan Beach Scene……..

What makes a Goan beach?

Is it the golden brown sand meeting the blue Arabian sea?

Or the cows roaming freely up and down the beach just after sunrise and before sunset, cleverly avoiding the lava-like sand?

Maybe it’s the palm trees every now and then losing a coconut or dead branch to the scorching earth.

How about the hut accommodations with sea facing restaurants that line the beach? Or the menus at each one, all suspiciously similar and equally extensive. Indian, Chinese, Western, Israeli.

And the Mango Lassies? Chai tea?

It must be the Sunset yoga. Maybe even the faded and torn flyers for it.

Or the hot bodies frolicking in the warm water- hot from the sun and the yoga.

Is it the temporary-ness of it all? The fact that come rainy season, every structure that lines the beach is folded away, ready to be built again next season.

It has to be the Russian menus.

Is it ‘not the real India’? Is it too pleasant?

What about the crows that that make up all the birdlife, unpleasant to see and hear. Scavenging no differently than they did in the slums.

The tattoos on travellers old and young, telling stories of lives preferably lived out in Goa.

What is a Goan beach?

It’s 600 km’s south of Mumbai and anything you want it to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Someone I Once Met: So what, I Manage a Brothel

Close your eyes and Sera-Jane sounds like just another Aussie chick. Open your eyes and you have what looks to me like the lead singer of 90’s band the 4 Non-Blondes with a ring through the middle of her nose and tattoos scattered around her body.

India_240When I laid eyes on her she had just acquired a new one in what must have been a shady beach tattoo hut in Palolem- one of Goa’s most visited beaches. It was on her shoulder and definitely didn’t stay wrapped up and out of the sun for whatever the recommended time was.

It wasn’t until the end of my stay in Palolem that I spoke to Sera and her friends and I might never have, had it not been for the scooter accident she’d recently suffered. Nothing like a few scrapes and bandages and talk of strong pain medication to get a conversation started.

 

Sera and her friend had come short somehow and went from on top to underneath the scooter to paying an exorbitant price in damages. The fee might have been exaggerated, but so is any hostage asking price- the scooter company were in possession of their passports. When one’s passport is at stake one generally puts away their bartering skills and does what they’re told.

But I digress, the fascinating thing about Sera is that she manages a brothel in Melbourne, Australia.  I recently read an autobiography of a sex-worker who went from working the streets to being an employee at various brothels around Melbourne. All to feed her heroin addiction. I was instantly curious, right in front of me sat a girl who was fully immersed in the fascinating world of prostitution which I had read about. A world which she insists there is no shame in.

Coming from a country where prostitution is illegal is probably a big contributing factor to why I find it so fascinating. Sex for money, across a majority of the board, is illegal and frowned upon. Never mind the idea that sexual intimacy is ‘supposed to be reserved for marriage or close relationships’.

It was during my conversation with Sera that the penny dropped and I realised that the thriving sex-industry in Australia could be a big reason why Australians are so sexually uninhibited. In all my travels I’ve met a great deal of Australians, guys and girls alike, who don’t put a lot of emphasis on the idea of sex- other than they like having a lot of it.

I compared what I’d read to Sera’s real life where she forms close bonds with the girls, half of which are locals and the other half just travelling through making a quick buck. I was familiar with the concept of regulars and falling in love, getting paid to connect verbally and charging prices you won’t believe for fetish sessions. Apparently golden showers are rather popular.

If there’s one thing in this life that I cherish its (the idea of) happiness in the workplace. Sera absolutely loves her job and is really happy to be considered part of the industry. She says the biggest and most continuous learning curve is how to remove judgment from your day to day life.

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Impressions of India

I saw two people take a shit today. One of them was no older than 9 months and the yellow soupy poo pouring out his baby grow and onto the step was out of his control- so no judgement there. No judgement in general- I’m in India and arriving without an open mind (ready to be opened further) is literally, pointless.

The second ‘defecator’  was spotted en route to Asia’s biggest slum, Dharavi. You might recognize it from the small film Slumdog Millionaire.

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There are certain ideas people have about India and its for those reasons many won’t visit it. In general these ideas are a reality. Almost every Indian stereotype you can think of is real. I guess they exist for a reason. India is full. The country is massive and so is the population. Over 1 billion people – and believe me it feels like every one of those is in Mumbai.

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India is hot and its not even summer. Perhaps the rainy season brings relief but I’m not sure I’d want to be around when the floodgates open and the the once grimy, dusty ground becomes filthy mud. India is dirty and it can make you very sick, but it doesn’t have to. Just like America can make you fat- these things are avoidable.

It’s been less than a week and already the Someone I Once Met list is growing, because India is as interesting as it is dirty. The foreign concept of arranged marriages is as much of a reality as the head wobble and features in the human stories I will write.

There’s not much more I can say on the subject of India- my time here has been short. But it is far from over and I will do my best to bring to your attention what has come to mine. For now just know that a great deal of what you thought about India is very true. There’s curry, covered up ladies, taxi drivers taking you for more than one ride, and a constant battle to avoid paying ‘white tax’. But then there’s other things which you thought you knew but actually didn’t- like not every Indian meal will burn your mouth off.

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And despite the constant honking, hooting, hustle and bustle there’s peace. Muslims, Hindus and Christians living peacefully side by side is an indication of the lessons one can aim to learn here.

To be continued….

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Wanderlust Giveaway Winner!

For those of you who have been living under a rock or just haven’t noticed whats trending on all social media platforms, I recently held a mini competition/giveaway thing. For the rock dwellers; the idea was to get people to answer a simple question which put them in the running to receive a souvenir from my current location.

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While my current location recently changed from Spain to India, the souvenir, competition and winner that was randomly selected (on excel) remain the same. Sarah Britton of Cape Town, South Africa- congratulations!!!!

Sarah, its as if excel knew you were using a pencil case for a wallet!

Vaho, I couldn’t thank you enough for parting with one of your lovely wallets all for the sake of my little giveaway.

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‘Till next time Barcelona! Now its time to keep my eyes open for the next souvenir… from Incredible India.

 

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A Few Words Before Departure

Barcelona has been kind to me for the most part. I arrived two months ago to pursue a new relationship and accumulate a few teaching hours to keep my head above water financially. I managed to wrangle 9 hours of English lessons a week  and pursued the relationship successfully. Actually, Barcelona has given me everything I wanted.

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Although everyone says it all the time it remains unbelievable that times moves so quickly. Monday becomes Friday, then its Sunday and soon its December and we’re left wondering where yet another year has gone. I can only hope that the majority of you are using your time wisely since its so obvious that we have so little of it.

There are a few aspects to my current life that I reckon are important enough to mention here on my lust book.

1) In a few days time I’ll be landing on my first bit of Asian soil. I’ve ‘avoided’ Asia in my travels for reasons I can’t explain. At first it was to avoid the ‘obvious’ destinations like South East Asia, I wasn’t feeling particularly sheep-like. But I look forward to my Asian debut and I’m sure once I arrive I will wonder what took me so long to get there. I’m prepared to be blown away. {Don’t worry South America, you will always be dear to me}

2) Then another biggie is that a few days after my arrival in India, I’ll be meeting up with my brother whom I haven’t laid eyes on in two and a half years. A lot of the people that I’ve taught have openly wondered how one can travel the world like I do ‘guilt-free’ basically. They want to know how it affects my family life and I know some of them feel sorry for me. And they aren’t completely wrong- the lifestyle does detract from your family life.

But a life abroad is also allowing my brother and I to reunite in a foreign land that is known for it healing powers. Where we will spend two months exploring, learning, soul searching, catching up and making memories. Its not the same as meeting up for a weekend at the coast- this is real adventure.

3) I subtly hinted to my partner that the opportunity to travel Incredible India with me was presenting itself and it would be silly not to take it. A few weeks ago he listed the pros and cons of coming/leaving Barcelona for good/starting a new life with me somewhere new and luckily he convinced himself easily. So, in a nutshell, I will be with two very special men in India and not to mention my mother who will be joining us for two weeks. Sounds like a recipe for bonds-ville.

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Travelling brings people closer together

4) I have been investing a lot of time (and money) in improving my blog. I’ve moved to self hosting and as a result have been inundated with the problems that come with it. There is always an obstacle to overcome, and thus, something new to learn. I might not have a desk job and work nine to five, but I am working hard at achieving small, reachable goals which I do believe is more than some can say.

I hope I haven’t completely bored you with all my personal updates, but there you have it.

So long Barcelona, its been (mostly) a pleasure living in your busiest district. See you in India!

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Your random squares with interesting features have been epic

 

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Someone I Once Met: Chef on the Road

Thomas Zacharias is not a name you’d associate with someone born and bred in India. His lack of strong accent and head wobble are also deceptive.

I met Thomas in the small seaside town of San Sebastian, Spain, late last year. Our hostel stays overlapped by one night and its in the one hour I got to spend chatting to him that realized I was sitting with a very strong candidate for SIOM!

Thomas is head chef in one of India’s top restaurant’s The Olive Bar & Kitchen- once again- not very Indian. His specialty is European cuisine and it was on his 3 month culinary expedition that our paths crossed. Thomas blogged his way through Italy, France and Spain; eyeing out, helping out, getting ideas and basically just eating as much as he could. The hope was that his acquired knowledge would be priceless when it came time to open his very own restaurant.

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Our hostel in San Sebastian was very homely, and it was not unlikely that the long term stayers (sometimes also known as employees) would aggressively encourage you to stay on. I witnessed this happen to a few people, myself included, but it was the effort put into the request for Thomas to stay that really astounded me. People who had known Thomas for more than 24 hours knew it was in their best interests that he stay.

There was not much left of Thomas’s culinary trip- just a week or two dashing around Spain before finishing up in Barcelona and then heading home. And who was in Barcelona? You guessed it- me! Mine and Thomas’s paths crossed again, this time left a little less to chance. He settled on a well known Tapas bar and off we went- two travel and writing enthusiasts joined up in Barcelona ready to spoil our taste buds.

And as if I wasn’t already aware, I was reminded that when an establishment doesn’t offer visible prices, you the customer are going to pay pay pay. And 80 euros later, that’s what we did.

 

 

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Wanderlust Souvenir Giveaway!

{To participate, go to my Facebook page here}

Here I am on the Balcony of my apartment in Barcelona. With me is a wallet begging for a home.

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Lets rewind a little bit. Recently I’ve been thinking about holding a competition, a giveaway more like it. A chance for me to send a randomly selected follower a little souvenir from my current location. This is the first time I’ll be doing it, but hopefully not the last!

When I stumbled across a local store called Vaho, with its walls covered in colorful wallets, I had to step inside. Because, well, I needed one.

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I could see from a distance that each wallet, or item for that matter, was unique. Made from advertising canvases across Barcelona, everything they produce is sustainable. In the sense that its both recycled and strong. I needed a new wallet and thought you guys might too!

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So I approached them and asked how they would feel about sponsoring me a second one that I would offer to you guys.  Their online store means you can buy their stuff no matter where in the world you are- and you can design a custom made one too! Take a look at their shop here.

To enter is as easy as this:

1. Answer this question by commenting on the giveaway post on the Wanderlust Facebook page: “If you were born in Barcelona, what is your first language most likely to be?”

2. Share the post on Facebook.

3. For extra brownie points, invite 5 friends to like Wanderlust.

And that’s it! Each person who comments on the post will be in the running to receive my Barcelona souvenir 🙂

 

 

 

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Eye Spy: a short film

One wintery weekend in the Spanish state of Catalonia, a creative collaboration happened between Wanderlust and Driftsole Media.

I’ve always been a fan of making videos, but they’ve never been something I’ve put a lot of emphasis on. Its an art that requires a great deal of knowledge, practice and patience. Luckily for me, I’ve teamed up with one of Driftsole’s co-founders, Reece Wartenberg, who meets the requirements!

We spent 48 hours capturing our movements and those of people around us.

Eye spy is the first of many inspired videos to come.

Be sure to watch in HD.

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Citizen of the World: Recapping 3 Years on 5 Continents

“I’m South African. I’ve lived abroad for over three years. I like travel, writing and photography. Those three loves are combined in my blog- read it, don’t read it. I’m not sure what’s next.” 

These seemingly random sentences usually follow one another in a conversation with someone I have recently met or am getting to know better. While talking about my adventures used to thrill me, now it just seems to roll off my tongue, parrot fashion-like. But recently I’v been thinking…. I’m about to make my Asian debut with a trip to India. Soon I can say that I’ve visited (and mostly lived) on 5 different continents in the space of three years. That, excuse the lack of modesty, is pretty damn insane! IMG_0124 What is especially insane is that I find it hard to see it that way. The past three years of my life have been a melting pot of extremes; cultures, climates, emotions and more. I’ve hassled with visas, bureaucracy and job hunts. I’ve learnt new languages and felt their barriers. I’ve made friends and enemies and left them all behind- quite possibly never to be seen again. And in the rare moments I allow myself time to think back, I slowly begin to appreciate what I have done, and what I have done for myself. After all, we only really appreciate things with a bit of hindsight and nostalgia. When you’re living it, it couldn’t seem more normal.

So lets recap.

It all began one wintery day in December 2010 when I touched down in Denver Colorado – final destination – Steamboat Springs. With three of my best friends beside me and a very menial four month job ahead of me, I could only imagine the fun my first ski season would bring. I learnt to ski, how to separate trash from compost from recyclables, how to adjust my accent so Americans could understand me, how to keep calm when said Americans knew so little about South Africa and how to live each day with my eyes and mind wide open. These, I can safely say, were the best days of my life. Stress was not a thing, the only scary thing was how easily I felt I could fall into the lifestyle of ‘ski bum’. IMG_0417 In April of 2011 I found myself back in South Africa feeling depressed. I read, googled and researched how I could get back to Colorado for the next season. But no amount trying would change the fact that it was impossible. All things considered, I would not be able to live and work in Colorado again. It was a sad realization. Either way, I was hell bent on following my travel urges, I just needed to find a new destination.

So many people were hopping on the South Korea band wagon, and I just simply wasn’t interested. However, I did realize that as a penniless travel hopeful, wherever I went I would have to work. And the only work I could easily do abroad was teach English- just please not in Korea. How about South America? And back to the drawing board I went. Yes, South America sounded good to me- culturally and linguistically and cool-factor-ly. Google told me that Chile was the best option for ESL teachers. And it was decided, I’d be going to Chile for the whole of 2012. But not before I slaved away in a terribly hostile restaurant environment for 6 months in Pretoria.

January 2012. How my parents put on such brave faces when their young daughter got on a plane bound for Chile is beyond me. After all, it is hard to ignore horrific stories of human and drug trafficking that plague the American sub-continent. Beyond that, I had little planned and I spoke no Spanish. If something had happened I may be of a different opinion, but from where i sit today I have only gratitude and pride for my parents selflessness. They knew how important it was to me and not once did they attempt to stand in my way.

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While my parents would always be there for me- the same could not be said for the boy who made up the better half of my early adult life. He was the ‘perfect catch’. But perfect catches have a way of getting caught, and it wasn’t long before I faced the dreaded “I’ve moved on” email. I was under the impression that I’d find my own new (latin) love but oh how wrong I was. The closeness at which I came to moving on can only be measured in tens of miles, and I spent 2012 in a string of loveless flings in the hope of finding one I cared about.

In between all that, I laughed, partied, explored an entire country, learnt Spanish, made friends that felt like family and ventured, solo, into Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. I was so happy living in Santiago, Chile, that I seriously considered staying on there. But as much as I would have loved doing just that, I longed for something different, something new. And so I returned home once again to figure it out.

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Early 2013 was spent half considering settling down and getting a real job and half considering continuing my nomadic lifestyle. I moved in with my girlfriends who now all happened to be in Johannesburg ‘making a go of it’. That fact alone helped me lean more towards wanting to stay. Its all too obvious that life moves on without out you and that friendships form and strengthen when you’re gone- just not with you. I loved having my friends around me again- after all- they’re the ones who helped make my ski season what it was.

But somewhere between not feeling completely satisfied with my travel accomplishments and a rude reminder about the reality of violent crime in South Africa, I decided I had to head out again. If I was so uneasy about staying it was clear that whatever (travel/lost/wandering) bug I had caught wasn’t yet out of my system.

It was back to the drawing board. Again I had no money and wanted to be abroad and after a catch-up phone call with a friend, I was persuaded to join the yachting industry. Working on board yachts in the Caribbean and Mediterranean  gets you a lot of money. One is paid stupid amounts per month (not to mention guest tips) to scrub, clean, iron, wash, smile and serve millionaires who choose to holiday on a floating hotel.

I saw an opportunity to work abroad while seeing exotic places and earning more money I could ever wish for, so I invested in myself by doing the basic courses and headed to the South of France. For one month I walked, asked, inquired, begged and eventually proved someone of my worthiness. Its a tough industry to get into, but once you’re in you’re in (assuming you’re not incapable of retaining a job).

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After my first guest experience I knew I wasn’t cut out for this job. And while many people are happy in the lucrative yachting industry, there are an equal amount who cannot see the value in it. Not even the money. After such a free and positive experience in Chile, I was so out of my comfort zone and towards the middle of the season I knew this would be my first and last. Not least because I didn’t enjoy seeing the world that way- your time is not your own and neither, quite frankly, is your life. I knew it was time for the drawing board again, at least this time I had money.

By October 2013 I was so tired out by 5 months of hard labour that I decided to take some ‘me’ time and venture off somewhere. Actually travel. Explore places and not just drool at the sight of them from my anchored boat. I decided on Barcelona for various reasons. Barcelona was easily accessible from the south of France, I could practice my rapidly fading Spanish, and finally, there was someone there who I desperately needed to see.

***Insert new dynamic. I spent a lot of time on social media during my season on board. At times, in hindsight, I was extremely lonely. It was a new and horrible feeling of negativity that I wasn’t used to. My previous experiences had all been so positive. On Facebook I linked up with an old acquaintance.

We had last been in contact at university and almost 6 years later, here we were talking about our respective blogs. This friendly social media encounter re-introduced me to someone I realized I knew nothing about. He had me laughing, feeling challenged and supported. I saw something there and saw it so clearly that I had to go see him – in Barcelona.

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If anyone felt anything it had not yet been mentioned- and then I told him I’d be staying for a month. I knew I needed more than a few days to let him see what I did. Six weeks later I returned to South Africa, puffy eyed and unaware as to when we’d be seeing each other again. It didn’t take long before we knew- this ‘being apart’ nonsense wasn’t going to fly.

Fast forward a couple weeks and I’m back in Barcelona, from where I write this (long) post. As much as I am an advocate for solo travel there’s no shame in finding the perfect (travel) partner. Someone who is just as discontent with letting the world pass them by. Its not long before I say farewell to Barcelona for a second time and arrive in India. I couldn’t think of a better place to take this relationship, which is essentially still an embryo, and help it grow.

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Someone I Once Met: A Net

 

Like what you catch a fish in – a net‘ …. this is what we used to tell our new American friends in Colorado. They found it difficult to wrap their tongues around her name, Annette. We’d say either that, or Americanize it by repeating it back to their confused ears without the t.

Meet, Annette (Nettie).

Back in 2010, almost a year before teaching America how to pronounce normal English names, and that South Africa was the name of our country rather than a general area, Annette and I were only kind of friends. Which is why I was taken aback when she said genuinely, that she was ‘in’ for a Colorado ski season. We called ourselves ‘doers’ after this decision.

Fast forward at least a year – our ski season was over, and we’d forever agonize over how epic it was by writing on each other’s walls. There were four of us and we probably annoyed a good amount of people with our private Colorado jokes and quotes displayed publicly on social media.

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I was always half impressed, half annoyed that while I skied to work everyday and she didn’t, her skiing skills were on par with mine. Its all in the guts. She had the guts.

Unfortunately, her gut gave way when somewhere along the way she contracted C-dificile, a painful bacterial stomach issue which if untreated, only gets worse and worse. Annette’s went untreated for about 6 months which I’ve put down to her a) never, ever complaining b) her tendency for FOMO c) (dumb) youth logic.

A few days before departure on our post-season spectacular train trip from San Francisco to the Canadian border, Annette was on the verge of pulling out. I shudder to think of how terrible of a friend I was to miss just how bad she must have been to even verbalize this thought. But just days after hitting rock bottom, and in hindsight – far from recovered, Nettie packed her bags waved goodbye to CO with me and flew to San Francisco to hit the tracks northwards. (This was all before I became brave enough to travel completely alone – I don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t been able to come.)

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Together we became Ellie Goulding fans at an intimate show in Portland – just before she exploded into stardom. We witnessed Tinie Tempa perform to an embarrassingly small crowd in an almost empty club. We met people who inspired us. We acted questionably on long haul train journeys, couch surfed with friends, and almost never spoke about her pain. 27 year old me is appalled by how little I remember asking her how she felt. Was it me? Should she have simply complained more?! Lord knows the self-pity that would have emanated from me if put in her shoes.

To sum Annette up; she is the sober girl having the best time at the party. Only special people can do that. And Nettie is just that, very special to a lot of people 🙂

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6 years later and still the only thing I can really fault this woman on is her spelling 😉

 

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