Sunday, January 27, 2019

Vietnam (2): Settling In

So much has happened in such a short space of time!!! 
As we reach the end of our second full week in Vietnam (17 days here already, but who's counting!), I find myself living in that all-too-familiar contradiction of "Where has the time gone?!", and also "Wow, we've only been here TWO weeks?!". 

In fairness, I couldn't be more grateful. That awful limbo-space of beginning a brand new chapter in a brand new place is no longer feeling awful - although still decidedly limbo! The initial General State of Confusion is being exited. We're starting to know our way around, starting to fall into a routine of sorts, starting to get a feel for the place...

The major development for me, personally, has been on the work front. As my friend Candice told me right in the beginning: you have to be your own entrepreneur here. You sell yourself, you sell your hours, you hustle and manoeuvre. You build your own schedule by simultaneously working for a number of language schools at a time, and try to work it out so that you end up with a schedule that is most beneficial and best-suited to YOUR personal needs, in terms of the hours you wish to invest, and the returns which you wish to enjoy.

Now: this is all rather daunting for someone who is used to working a set weekly schedule, as most of us are. We're used to a Monday to Friday workweek, working X amount of hours within the usual 8 - 4 or 9 - 5 parameters. It's overwhelming to go for interviews and be asked how many hours you want, and on what days, or to be given a schedule and asked if it suits you, while waiting on schedules from numerous other companies, and all of them are waiting for your answer because there are other people who need those hours too... ARGH!!! It's been an EDUCATION, if you'll pardon the cheesy metaphor!

Anyway. I'm set, it seems. I'll be working 4.5 hours at the University a week (which is 2 classes), and after April another 4 classes will be added, which will bring me to 13 hours in total. 
Then I signed on as the Grade 3 English teacher at the biggest public school on the island, which I'm REALLY excited about. 6 classes with 35 kids in each, 8 years old. I think it's going to be an incredibly challenging and wonderfully enriching experience for me as an educator. It'll be vastly different from anything I've ever done before. But I've worked there for all of this week and a few lessons last week too, and I really do enjoy the environment. It feels like ACTUAL teaching. I connect with both the staff and students in a way in which I never did in all of the private institutions I've ever worked at.
Finally, I'll be working at one of the biggest language centres here on the weekends - one class of littleys on Saturday and Sunday morning, and a class of teenagers on Saturday and Sunday evenings. 
If the University accepts my proposed class-schedule, I should have a 26 hour workweek in total, with Mondays and Fridays off. And make enough money to enjoy my life here, as well as put some aside for travel and life. Fingers crossed!!!
(Shaun has his first batch of interviews and demos lined up for the week ahead. He's going to ROCK them, charmer that he is. ;) )

We've had some really awesome experiences in this past week that have brought me a great deal of joy, and continue to endear me to this place more and more each day. I'm often reminded of Taiwan in many of the interactions here, and I imagine it has a fair amount to do with the overriding Taoist/Buddhist ethos of most of the Vietnamese people, as well as the historic Chinese influence.

Most prevalent at the moment, of course, is the upcoming Lunar New Year, known here as "Tet". For the first two weeks of February, Vietnam will be on holiday (along with the rest of most of East Asia). The streets and alleys are being covered in fairy lights and lanterns, trees are being adorned with red envelopes, pomelos (a huge, delicious citrus fruit that is traditionally eaten around this time) are EVERYWHERE, big red festive signs seem to be going up everywhere around the town wishing everyone a "Chuc Mung Nam Moi!" ("Happy New Year!"), and there's a general sense of jubilation and excitement all around.

We were very fortunate to be invited to dinner at our landlords last week, who live on the 4th floor, just above us, as something of a pre-New-Year get-together... Candice and Connor, Shaun and I, and another couple who also rent from them: he's French Belgian, she's Vietnamese. 

The landlords are a young Vietnamese couple in their 30s, who used their wedding money to buy a small piece of land on the side of a mountain in this lovely little coastal town. Him being an architect, they built a house in which they could live comfortably on the top floor, and still rent out the two apartments below. As he explained to me, property in Vietnam is very expensive, so people build UP. (I should have known this house was designed by an architect. My mum is an architect, and the way this house flows into beautiful spaces and areas is something that immediately resonated with me, after years of learning from her and listening to her).

Dinner was casual and plentiful, traditional and unpretentious: a table laden with roast duck and roast chicken, different types of spring rolls, rice, greens, steamed fish, and different and interesting little sauces to go with each dish. The beer flowed freely, conversation was lively and interesting (I'd expected it to be somewhat stilted, as these events generally tend to be, what with the language and cultural differences, and the coyness and humility of local hosts as opposed to the brashness and gregariousness of us Westerners, usually - but we all fell into a rather comfortable repartee rather quickly). 
We left with full bellies, big smiles, a warmth and gratitude for all that is Vietnam... and a cactus-plant each for Candy and I, after we'd admired the landlady's beautiful potted succulents - a very typically Asian gesture of kindness.

The other really cool thing that happened since last I wrote was this party we went to last Sunday night (most teachers here work full weekends, so Sunday night is the big party night here). We all went out to a place called Pineapple Beach Bar, which is literally across the road from the beach, for a birthday shindig. They have craft beers, a pool table, and a balcony overlooking the beach. They were also supposed to have a live music act, but when his equipment wouldn't work, the owners asked our friend Connor to save the day. He went rushing home to get the DJ equipment, and him and Shaun ended up DJing there! It was AWESOME!!! My man was cool as a cucumber, the consummate professional, and the floor was pumping! I couldn't have been prouder.

Also on the same night, Vietnam won their Asian Cup football match against Jordan, and the celebrations were quite something to behold! Suddenly, a parade of scooters and trucks FILLED the beach road, hooting, blasting music, and waving Vietnamese flags! It went on and on, both lanes were completely packed as the procession inched along the beach, everyone going in the same direction - elated in their victory.

We've had some adventures, Shaun and I. We like to go driving around without any real destination in mind - following the roads wherever they lead. Sometimes I go for walks in the narrow lanes and alleys around our house. It's so interesting to me, watching life unfolding all around me. There's a little old man who is clearly homeless, who lives in a hammock strung up between two trees on the pavement along the nearby main road. He always has food, and a drink in his hand. I think the vendors along the road take turns feeding him, as I've seen them chatting to him often...

One day, at the end of a Shaun-Honey Adventure Day, we popped into a Korean restaurant for dinner. We started chatting to a man outside, who introduced himself as Mr Kim, the proprietor of a new coffee shop in town. Later, as we finished our meal and got ready to pay the bill, Mr Kim said goodbye and told us to come to see his shop sometime. Him and his friends were out the door already when they doubled back and came back inside with a Vietnamese man, who promptly sat down at a little piano in the corner and started playing the most beautiful music! Mr Kim requested a song "in D-minor", and was soon singing along, while the rest of us watched and enjoyed! 
After they left, the Vietnamese restaurant owner came to chat to us, and explained that her husband (whom we'd just observed) was a professional musician, and played the piano, violin and saxophone at various hotels and venues around the city. She gave us her card, and invited us to come round to their house for free lessons anytime. She said she used to be a doctor, and was born and raised in Vung Tau, and offered to help us with anything we needed while we were here, because she loves her home town and wants everyone who experiences it to love it, too.

We left feeling high on life, high on Vietnam, high on the kindness of strangers.
THIS is why we're here.
This is the magic of stepping outside of the boundaries of regular life.
And I cherish every moment of it.

First time at the beach!

Dinner with our lovely landlords

Shaun getting ready to DJ at Pineapple Beach Bar 

 Sign at Pineapple Beach Bar

 Buddhist nuns outside a temple

 Lunar New Year decorations in the alley

 Scenes while out walking one day...

 Scenes while out walking one day...

 Scenes while out walking one day...

 Warrior statue in the park

 Buddhist temple

First time at the beach!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Vietnam (1): First Impressions

WHOOSH!!! And here we are!

New country, new continent, new time-zone, new life.
The pace is just different. The energy is different. Life has a completely different hue here...

In a way, I wish it were Shaun writing this blog rather than I, because everything feels so familiar to me, everything feels - oddly, yet unsurprisingly - like being home again. I've been encouraging him to  point out all of the things which he finds interesting, or different, or attention-worthy here. And every time he does, I realize that these things haven't registered with me at all, because after spending a decade of my life in Asia, it's all so natural to me!

We're in Vung Tau, which is a peninsula at the very southern tip of Vietnam, about 2 hours outside of Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City. It's little: about 140 square km in total, roughly (I've been told) 14 km by 7 km in size, with a population of about 300 thousand people. The beaches aren't very prominent (to be fair, we have yet to go to one), but there are little pockets of beach littered along the coastline where I've seen people swimming at all hours of the day and night. But there are lovely parks and green areas, little nooks and crannies and enclaves to explore...
Life is slow here, as if we were living on an island. I'm SO happy to be out of the insanity of Johannesburg. WOW. 

First things first: official responsibilities. I started looking for work today. Had an interview at the University, and a school, and dropped off my CV at two other noted schools on the island. Our friends here don't seem to foresee any difficulty in us finding jobs. We wanted some time to acclimatize to a new environment, so we gave it a week. I've made the mistake before (more than once) of rushing into the first thing I find in a sense of desperate urgency, only to spend the next months feeling unhappy and frustrated. I won't make that mistake again.
From what I've observed, the foreign teacher schedule is 2 hours every evening (around 6 - 8 pm), Monday to Friday, and "full" days on Saturday and Sunday (with a 3 - 4 hour break in the middle). For that schedule, I'll earn THREE TIMES as much as I did in South Africa - at a far cheaper cost of living. Plus a lot of teachers here do online teaching, too. That brings in even more money. The potential for saving is incredible. 

Also - and just as importantly, there's so much free time for other things! Exercise, study, whatever you like! I'm really excited! It's common knowledge that I'm a giant geek. I LOVE studying, learning, expanding my horizons. I can't wait to flex my brain-muscle once again!
We're SO lucky. We've come to stay with one of Shaun's best friends, Connor, and his girlfriend, Candice - who are SUCH fabulous human beings! We're living with them for now until we find a place of our own. They have a big, beautiful, 3-room house with a large outdoor balcony, on which Connor (informally) runs 10 a.m stretches and yoga and Jiu Jitsu classes, which he encourages his friends to join. Different friends show up every morning - it's SO cool. We're totally keen on getting involved regularly... it'll be so nice to reintroduce exercise into my life again!
I was always too exhausted to do anything at all back in Johannesburg. Mentally, emotionally, physically... Battling rush-hour traffic twice a day? That alone is enough to render one bedridden by 7 p.m! My body craves it, I can feel it. I've been joining-in on the morning stretches, then when the boys start wrestling on the mats, I've been moving into the lounge and doing my own weight-and-fitness routines. Nothing crazy, nothing heavy, but just working my body again has felt soooooooo good! I can feel the gratitude seeping from my pores!
Plus, Shaun will finally have the time to pursue his passion of electronic music. Connor and Candice plan on starting to throw regular parties here (they had their first one on NYE), and my brilliant man will start DJing at those. I'm SO happy for him!!! After about a decade of working in construction: long hours, long days, in a stressful and miserable work environment, under dangerous conditions... he was exhausted, and uninspired. The artist in him has been screaming for release. I've seen a new Shaun since we got here. It's beautiful.

Some random yet fascinating initial observations:
Firstly, our fabulous hosts hired a motorbike for us for the first month, since that's how everyone here gets around. Traffic is typically Asian: everyone does exactly as they please, and everything runs smoothly because of it. I'll post a video and go into more detail next time, but it's quite something to behold!
Also, because of the heat, there is a siesta-culture here, too. Everything shuts down between about 12 and 3, in order for everyone to have a nap. Delicious! In turn, that also means that things shut down later in the evenings, which makes for a vibrant and busy night-time culture. Such fun!
We've met a few other expats here so far, and everyone's been SO nice. There's that old expat unity that I've missed: it's a camaraderie, a "we're-all-in-this-together"-ness, an understanding that comes from the fact that everyone's doing the same job and therefore experiencing the same challenges together. LOTS of South Africans! Which has also made assimilating so much easier.
I've also noticed that the city seems to be evenly split between the Buddhist and Christian faiths. There are as many churches as there are temples, and just as there looms a giant madonna-with-child statue up on the hill, so too is there a Buddhist one on a different hill. There's even a smaller-than-the-original Christ the Redeemer here! It makes for what appears to be a distinctly pious and peaceful energy...
Our lives here so far have been WONDERFUL. Wake up, morning-exercise sessions, drive around with C and C to get food and get to know the city (OMG ALL OF THE FOOD IS SO GOOD!!!), afternoon nap. In the evenings while our hosts are at work, Shaun and I have been exploring the island, he's been practicing driving the motorbike (I have no desire to learn - I managed to avoid it for a decade, I shall continue to do so for as long as I can), we've been reading up on life here, he's been working on his music, I've been reading (what a luxury! I can't remember the last time I read a book!).
Then at night the 4 of us will either go out for dinner or cook together at home... friends drop in and out of the house... it's all so easy and fluid here. The rhythm is SO good.

I'm really, truly, happy we made this move. We both are.
May it continue in this vein, and may everything fall into place for us in the weeks ahead. Sending out good vibes to the Universe.
Love and light to you all!!! xxx

 About to land in Asia! WHEEEEEE!!! :)

 First meal in Vietnam, at home with the utterly lovely Candice and Connor!

 Driving through the streets of Vung Tau

 Sights around the city, off the back of a scooter

 Sights around the city, off the back of a scooter

 Sights around the city, off the back of a scooter

 Sights around the city, off the back of a scooter

 Sights around the city, off the back of a scooter

 Sights around the city, off the back of a scooter

 Sights around the city, off the back of a scooter

 Mountain-top sunset facing West...

... and East, overlooking the fisheries in this port town


Monday, December 31, 2018

Reflections, 2016-2018: Another African Adventure draws to a close

A few days ago, one of my wonderful and brilliant friends (Jenna) put up a post on Facebook, that read, as follows:
"What did you do, create, or make last year that you're proud of? I want to hear some of your reflections from 2018! Perfect time to review before moving forward in the new year."

I thought about it for a minute, and started to write a quick response. Before I knew it, I had a whole list of things that I had certainly thought about seriously before, but hadn't ever really put together into a comprehensive list of just how much my life has changed, and how much *I* have changed, in the past 2-and-a-bit years.

I say two years, and not one, because, in truth, the foundations of much of what I achieved this year were laid in the previous year-and-a-bit. Moving back home to South Africa 27 months ago has been FUNDAMENTAL to my personal growth.

I never really knew why I was moving back. I didn't really have a plan (surprise, surprise. This IS me, after all. Ha!). I only knew that my time in Taiwan had reached a point where I was beginning to stagnate. The lessons that I had needed to learn, the experiences that I had needed to have, the people that I had needed to encounter... I felt like I had achieved all of the goals that were required of me in that phase of my life. And so it was time to move on.
But where to from there?

Instead of opting to head to a new and exciting location, instead of pursuing a job in an international school in an exotic location which I had not lived in before, I chose to go home. ("Home". Sigh. Where is "Home", anyway? I've always found that to be a terribly difficult question to answer, having been born in one place, then growing up in another, born to parents who were from two entirely different places to either of the ones I'd lived in, but whose identities were closely tied to their own countries of origin... What a mish-mash of identities to traverse... )

I chose to go to a place that I knew, a place that I was familiar with. So I returned to my African roots, to fulfil the next chapter that I was being drawn towards.
In retrospect, I now understand why I did it.
In a message recently, I wrote:
"I've really grown and learned SO MUCH in these last two years. I feel like THAT'S why I was driven to come home for a while: to focus on ME.
If I'd gone to a new country, I'd be expending all of my energy on getting to know how things work, making new friends, learning the language... all outer things.
But being home, I already knew all of that, and had all my networks and routines set, so I could turn my energy inwards, and actually start to learn about ME.
It hasn't always been good - in fact it was fucking awful for quite a while in the beginning! - but now that I'm on the other side of it all, WOW."

In the time since I moved back to South Africa, I've found ME again.
I say "again", but even that's not entirely accurate.
I discovered myself in ways that I was not aware of before. I didn't really KNOW the inner me. I'd spent my whole life perfecting the persona - as we all do. I'd worked so hard on the image of ME that I wanted to present to the world, that I dismissed the parts of me that didn't fit in neatly with the persona. The soft parts, the sad parts, the tender parts. The parts we bury deep down inside. The parts we wish weren't there.
But they ARE there. And the pressure to keep them buried is what creates so much turmoil and conflict within us... until we learn to forgive ourselves. Until we learn to embrace it ALL, to revel in the lessons that our soul has sought out, and to trust the path that we're on as being exactly the right path.

In answer to my friend's post, about the achievements of 2018, I wrote the following:
*I attended - and completed a diploma in - a year-long set of workshops on how to teach using the Reggio Emilio approach, which is INCREDIBLE. ❤
*I continued working on myself and healing myself with the help of a phenomenal therapist, and feel like a completely different person now - whole and calm and centred and truly at peace.
*I started immersing myself in the world of plant medicine, attended several retreats, went to an incredible series of chakra workshops, and am discovering my own spirituality and connecting with my soul in ways that I never even imagined I could do before.
 *I'm in a healthy, positive, beautiful relationship, completely devoid of angst.
*I learnt how to be brave enough to let go of toxic people and relationships, which created a space for many new and beautiful and wholesome ones instead.
*I got to reconnect with my brother and build a friendship with him in a way that we never had before.
*I taught a class of beautiful children, and loved them, and sent them off into their educational futures with strength, knowledge, confidence, and a sense of awe and magic about the world around them.
*I learnt that what other people think of me is none of my business... it's THEIR stuff, THEIR ugliness, THEIR damage, theirs to heal - both in a professional and a social environment. As long as I live my life and conduct myself with kindness, honesty, and integrity - I'm on the right path. ❤"

As I prepare to say goodbye to South Africa exactly 9 days from now, and embark upon yet another adventure, I am filled with gratitude as I reflect on this most recent chapter of my life. It hasn't always been easy - in fact it was downright crushing at times! - but I am SO incredibly grateful for where I find myself today.
Again, the future is a great big mystery. (Isn't it ALWAYS, though?!) But I've been learning to live in the moment. To quiet the noise. To trust in the journey.
My soul's got this.
I am at peace. ❤

Wishing you all a big, beautiful, enriching and joyous 2019.

Monday, October 1, 2018

To love/ In Love/ On Love ❤

I didn't know it at the time, but exactly one year ago today, I did something that would change my life immeasurably:
I went out for sushi on a sunny Sunday in S.A...


I'd known Shaun for about 8 years, in passing.  
In my extended circle of party friends, he had always just been "Dean's hot younger brother", whom we'd bump into sometimes when we were out. Whenever I'd come home over the years, for a visit from Asia, I'd come across him out on the town. And he WAS hot, and charming, and INCREDIBLY sexy!
But he was also 10 years younger than me. 
Which - while he was in his twenties and I was in my thirties - was a veritable lifetime of experiences and understandings apart. 
So we'd say "Hi", smile, flirt-with-our-eyes, and then go our separate ways.

Then two years ago, I moved back home to Africa, and realized that a lot of my friends had settled down, and slowed down, and yet, here I was: still wanting to go out dancing. I missed the joy and exuberance that only dancing can bring... the freedom and wild abandon to an internal calling of the soul...
I needed a Party Buddy!

Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I started to notice that Shaun was out often, at music festivals, on a dancefloor somewhere - always smiling in the sunshine, always looking like he was having the greatest time - THAT'S the kind of energy I wanted to be around!

We made plans to meet up at the Earthdance Festival, but I got sick that weekend and had to bow out. A week later he messaged me about a drum-'n-bass party in town, but I woke up from a delicious afternoon nap at around 7 p.m that Saturday night to a gorgeous thunderstorm raging outside, and decided that I'd much rather stay in bed and watch it exploding outside my bedroom window - beautiful and wild and dramatic and powerful...

To make up for cancelling twice, though, I suggested we go out for lunch instead. Shaun said he'd probably be ravenous after dancing all night long, so we made loose plans to meet up the following day. 

In truth, I was fully prepared to not hear from him at all on Sunday. I knew that he'd been out on the town for a final Johannesburg hurrah with one of his best mates who was moving overseas. I knew that he was an irrepressible hooligan, I knew he'd have had a raucously good time at the party, and I was half-ready for him to cancel on ME this time, and for us to simply keep trying and meet up again sometime in the indefinite future, on a dancefloor somewhere. No stress, no pressure, no obligation. Casual.

Instead, I found myself driving to a quaint little spot not far from my place to meet someone for lunch whom I'd known for years, but barely really knew AT ALL. I distinctly remember driving there and thinking "What on EARTH are we going to talk about?! I barely know this person! It's one thing to meet up on a loud and chaotic dancefloor and share some laughs and good times, but to actually sit through a whole meal and make conversation?! With a veritable stranger?! Uggggghhhhhh, what was I thinking?!"

(It is relevant to note here that I was COMPLETELY disinterested in the whole world of dating at this stage. Relationships were not even a blimp on my future horizon, superfluous to the happiness of My Future Self. After a series of heartbreaks over the past 20 years - each one more dramatic and devastating and destructive than the one before  - I finally got myself the help that I needed. I began to see the patterns... to recognize my mistakes... to understand the choices that I'd been making, and the reasons for why I'd been making them, and how to stop making them... and began to work on fixing the "hole in my soul", as my therapist called it.
So by the time I went out for that lunch, I was feeling WHOLE, and happy, and centred. For several months now, I'd been celebrating the power of Me. I was excited about my OWN future, about the path that lay before ME, about all of the adventures that I was going to take MYSELF on.)

But my concerns were quickly allayed. Lunch was easy. We chatted, we laughed. We enjoyed each other's company, and conversation flowed effortlessly. Before we knew it, almost 4 hours had passed, and the restaurant was closing for Sunday evening. Shaun walked me to my car, and in true swoon-worthy fashion, gave me a kiss that I could not stop thinking about all the way home! Yum!!!

And it all started from there, really...

For the next few months, we began to date "casually". We'd see each other once a week, laugh and enjoy each other's company, and then go back to our regular lives. 
Early on, I gave him the "I'm not interested in any kind of relationship" speech, and he expressed relief, because neither was he. We both had plans for ourselves for the year ahead, we both had things we wanted to do, and we both did not want the pressure of any kind of commitment to cloud the horizon.

But life's funny like that. 

Before we knew it, our weekly meet-ups became the highlight of the whole week. Seeing each other was the best part of any week, and the time we spent together became more and more magical and sparkly and beautiful! We recognized what was happening, spoke about it openly, and just agreed to let things unfold as they will. No stress, no pressure, whatever happens, happens. Easy-breezy.

It's been a year now. I can't remember ever being happier than I am in this very moment. 
Don't get me wrong: outside of me, it's all still completely topsy-turvy. My life is wildly uncertain, I've no idea what I'll even be doing next year, or where I'll be living, but none of that scares me anymore. I have no control over anything. And I'm okay with that.  

What I DO have is an incredible amount of joy in my life, and a magical human being who reciprocates and mirrors and returns that joy tenfold.
I find myself in a relationship unlike any other that I've ever been in before. There is no stress, no anxiety, no doubt, or confusion, or feelings of insecurity or unease. We talk honestly about whatever comes up. We recognize our own mistakes, and apologize for them. We work on being better people, better lovers, better friends - constantly. We laugh A LOT. We appreciate each other.
We have never had a fight. We don't raise our voices. We don't need to. 

This is all still very new for BOTH of us. We are remarkably similar in many ways - not least of which, in how we love. This new absence of volatility in a relationship, this lack of emotional turmoil - it's still something which we're both quite stunned by. 
We are kind to each other. We respect and value and esteem each other.
He really is my best friend. I know I'm his. I've never had that in a relationship before. I never even knew it could be like this.

So here's to this past year! 
Here's to all of the love and joy and goodness that came at me from out of  NOWHERE!
Here's to love!
To MY love:
Happy Anniversary, FavouritePersonEver!!! 
 Oct 2017: It all started one Sunday... Our very first date. :)

 Jan 2018: New Year's Day at the Revolution Music Festival

 Jan 2018: Sunset Sessions @ Movida

 Feb 2018: Sunday lunch with friends

 March 2018: Dinner at Shaun's brother and sister-in-law's

 Apr 2018: 6-month Anniversary at the same place (and same table!) where we'd had our 1st date

 Apr 2018: Passover at my brother and sister-in-law's

 May 2018: Mother's Day at Shaun's parents' farm

 June 2018: A quiet Saturday night in

 July 2018: My birthday weekend away, in the Magaliesberg

 Aug 2018: Flying down to Durban for the weekend

Sept 2018: Charles and Kym's wedding

Sunday, September 24, 2017

One Year, and Yet So Far...

September 22nd, 2017

Today marks a year.
A year since I left the continent which I called home for over a decade.
(Asia? I mean – Asia?! Who woulda thunk?! Certainly not me!)

A year since I returned home, to Africa.
(Home. What a strange concept that is. “Home”. What is home, really?! I wasn’t born here, my family doesn’t live here, I feel as comfortable here as I have in several other places in my life… Hmmm. Philosophical ramblings for another time.)

But here we are. Back in South Africa. And what a wild and wonderful roller-coaster it’s been!!! I came back without any idea of what I was going to do. I was jobless, homeless, directionless… I simply believed that it was the next step for me to take in my life. That I had enjoyed all of the goodness that my Asian Adventure had had to offer, and that it was, once again, time to leap towards the next chapter. So I leapt! And that brought me here.

For now...

Who knows where the next step will lead?!

I was SO fortunate (once again). I moved in with my brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law for a few months, so I had a home base. I applied for a fair amount of jobs in my first month here, and after about a month, got 3 offers in a week (2 teaching jobs, and one with the film production company I had worked for briefly before I left the country.) I found a car, I found a place, I met someone lovely, with whom I shared many magical moments (and some not-so-magical ones), until we parted ways – realizing that it was exactly what we both needed and craved at a certain time in our lives, but that life goes on, and relationships evolve, and paths diverge…
And suddenly I was living in my very own little house, driving my very own little car, to my very own little kindergarten teaching job, and falling into patterns of life that were so new to me, and yet all-too familiar.
I love being back here. It feels SO right – for right now.

It hasn’t always been easy. 
In fact, it was devastatingly, soul-crushingly, agonisingly difficult for a long time in the beginning. The sheer JOY of the warmth of being back with old friends who’ve known me for such a long time, was juxtaposed against the dawning realization that my life seems to have been placed on 'Pause' for a long while. It felt (feels) a bit like I just stepped out of a cryogenic freeze, and everyone’s lives have gone on, whereas mine is not all that different from when I left 12 years ago. I still live on my own, do as I please, eat whatever and whenever it suits me, hang out with friends a lot, spend days holed up in bed if that’s what I feel like doing… I don't have a partner, I don't have children, I don't really have any formal obligations towards other people (as one does when part of a household), I'm free of debt, and still remarkably untethered to anything - unlike just about everyone else is, here.
It’s difficult to connect on a fundamental level with those who haven’t shared the experience of being away for a long time. It often feels more like being an observer of life, always on the outside, looking in through a glass pane… there, but not quite there.

While everyone here has been really busy growing up – buying houses, building up careers and/or companies, starting families, setting up mortgages/ pension plans/ provident funds, “achieving!”, “succeeding!”… I’ve been living in Never Land with all the other Lost Boys and Lost Girls.
Except – we aren’t lost. We never were! We just chose to forge a different path. One free of the shackles of everyday stresses and strains, devoid of the constant tension and anxiety that the rat-race forces one into. I like to think that this mentality still informs how I live my life here, back in the “Real World”. 

(Let me be clear here: life as an expat is most certainly not without stress and anxiety. Particularly in a country which one is so obviously not from, where it is impossible to physically "blend in". You’re a stranger in a strange land. It feels like home, but never Home. Your friends are your family. You cling fiercely to your traditions, holidays, customs, to maintain a semblance of connectivity with those whom you’ve left far away. You spend a lot of time feeling so free and liberated! The rest of the time, you feel lost, adrift, aimless… )

I adore being back in a country where people celebrate things like National Braai Day, where I engage intellectually with the crazy political climate because it touches me on an emotional level, where I can watch rugby and cricket games in bars with my mates drinking beers and enjoying the sunshine no matter what time of year it is, where I can (and do!) often strike up a warm conversation with just about everyone whom I come across in my everyday life and have a lovely exchange which leaves me smiling on the inside long after it's over, where I can read the labels on different shampoo brands and understand them and determine which one I really need, where clothes actually fit my body size and shape, where I feel somehow connected to the pulse of this vibrant and exciting and dangerous and seductive place - the raw-ness and the real-ness of this city is breathtaking for me, still. I imagine it always will be.

There is a great deal that I miss about Taiwan. Most of all, I miss my Tribe. 
There's something about being an expat that drew us all together and tied us inextricably in bonds of family and familiarity. We were a mass - a living, breathing unit of love and oneness. 
It's different in S.A. I have phenomenal friends here too, from different times in my life. Many, and varied, and all unique and fascinating and wonderful. But I don't have a "clan", so to speak. And I think that THAT'S what all of us miss when we leave Taiwan.
You go back to being on your own, where once you were part of a protective collective.

Coming back in the year that I turned 40 was also a big deal. I had goals in my head that I thought I would have lived up to by now. I thought I would have had the TV-sitcom family life by now. Settled, with a loving and lovely husband, beautiful and adorable kids, a puppy, a station-wagon, a big sunny kitchen in which we all ate breakfast together… Hashtag: life goals.

It has taken me several months of processing and working through things, reading a lot, speaking to loving and wise and accepting and inspiring people, challenging and questioning myself; to come to a point where I can truly say that I am CONTENT. I am grateful. For it all. I accept my path. Not in a quiet sort of acquiescence or resignation – no! I embrace it. I cherish it. I SEE the magical life that I have lived, and continue to live. I love the path that I have trodden to get to where I am now. I’m no longer stuck in a loop in my head of worrying and trying to control or direct my life. I surrender to the flow. 

This has been such a fundamental year. So important, in so many ways.
I did it MY way. And I shall continue to do so.

Peace and love, beautiful friends. Always. xxx

 Last night out in Taipei, dinner at the Yi Bai Kwai on Le Li Lu
 My surprise Farewell Party. Because My TaiwanTribe is magical. 
 My surprise Farewell Party. Because My TaiwanTribe is magical. 

 Asia, to Africa. BOOM.
 This is how it feels to be HOME. 
 Only in Africa. My soul is nourished in this place. It glows, it is warm, it pulses and radiates.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thailand Holiday Diaries: Day 6 (Final)

(Friday, January 17th, 2014)

Sawadee kah! Hello from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport! Soon to be “Ni hau!”
I’m comin’ HOME, baybeh!

So, as half-expected, the simple hotel->boat->bus->hotel transfer guaranteed the day before, was neither simple nor a transfer. BIG surprise. Yesterday consisted of trudging down the hill to the shore (past the stationary tractor-with-carriage which I had so optimistically assumed might actually drive us to the boat), laden with bags and packs – through the muddy swamps, into knee-high water, and gracelessly plopping into the longtail boat. As I watched the island receding in the distance, I was once again stunned by the sheer beauty of it all. I could wax poetic for pages and pages about the colour of the water, the streaked limestone cliffs, overgrown in parts with lush green thick trees, but I’ll let these pictures speak for themselves.

View of Railay from the boat

View of Railay from the boat

Thailand is BEAUTIFUL. Even with all of the over-tourism and craziness that exists. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the level of commercial tourism is both disturbing and saddening. I watched it happen in Boracay before my very eyes, and it’s well on its way in this South East Asian island nation too. Huge resorts are going up all over the place, obscuring the tree-line, diluting the cultural uniqueness, and destroying the lush beauty. The shoreline is littered with cigarette butts and plastic wrappers – there’s even a bloody shooting range in Railay! WHAT. THE $%^ ??? WHY?!?! Le sigh.
We humans seriously need to wake up.

Anyway, so there I was, 20 minutes later, trying to manoeuvre my way back off the boat again, down the little ladder on the side, backpack-sidebag-frontpack ON! On the shore, several Thai people waited, all in different uniforms, clearly having been sent by various hotels, tour companies, and so forth. I showed my ticket to someone, and waited and watched the confusion mount as they all passed it back and forth amongst themselves, yelling things in Thai, pointing, correcting each other on the name of the hostel as printed on the ticket, gesticulating, looking around. None of this neither surprised nor perturbed me. Anyone who has ever travelled in the developing world will know: par for the course. Eventually a man directed me towards his minivan (with another couple) and started FLYING down the road like a lunatic. Again – pretty standard. Only two driving speeds exist in Asia: either speeding like a maniac, or driving slowly enough to drive Miss Daisy.

Turns out the other couple in the van were headed to the airport, so when the driver got to town and randomly stopped, depositing me on the side of the main road and telling me we were there, I was on my own. He pointed down a side-street and shouted “Guesthouse! Guesthouse!”, then hustled me out of his van before speeding off again. So I walked down the side-street…
… and found myself nowhere where I needed to be. Turns out (again – no surprises) that there is more than one guesthouse with that name. FARKING HELL. The woman behind the counter at this rumbledown, nasty-green hovel told me in thickly accented shrieks as I walked towards her “Me no English! Me no English!” Of COURSE not! We communicated through a series of grunts, gesticulations and speaking to each other in our own languages - which meant absolutely nothing to the other, smiles, and embarrassed-yet-somehow-we're-in-this-together laughter. She really wanted to help me, sweet thing. She pointed to her phone and tried to give it to me, saying “You call! You call!” but as I mentioned yesterday, I don’t have a number for my hostel because Agoda doesn’t provide it, lest you book it directly with the hostel and screw them out of their commission, no doubt. Eventually she called her friend, who spoke a bit of English, and him and I worked out where I should be but wasn’t, and he spoke to her again, got her to call me a taxi, and I was duly deposited at my rightful spot.

Anyway, the new place was LOVELY, and clean, and felt like my own bedroom. I showered, had some lunch, and after verifying with the hostel owner that there weren’t really any not-to-be-missed sights in town, I was more than happy to go lie down on my new soft, super comfy, bed and watch some TV for the rest of the day. Which was really quite a rare treat as well, seeing as the last time I watched TV was… I don’t even remember when.

In the evening I walked down along the river’s edge to the local Krabi Night Market, and was absolutely THRILLED to catch my first moonrise in YEARS!!! Moonrises are AMAZING!!! I didn’t even know they existed until about 5 years ago! (Don’t judge me, I’m a city girl.) Anyway, no sooner had I set out on my walk than lo and behold: a bright orange orb rising up above the water, just on the other side of the river! (I remember the first time I ever saw the phenomenon. I was watching the sun set on Koh Samui, and it had just gone down – the sky dark and full – when suddenly it started to come back up again!!! Whaaaaaaaaaat was happening?! I thought it was the end of days for a second! Until the guy sitting next to me on the beach, who’d probably heard me gasp audibly, told me what it was. And then I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen!)
I love watching the moon go from a huge orange ball on the horizon, to a smaller yellow one as it rises, and then even smaller white as it keeps rising in the sky. It’s SUCH a beautiful sight to behold.

Holiday: MADE. This was the bright, shiny, glorious cherry on top!

Full moon over the river. Moonlight and magic. Ah!

So yup, that’s it.
Woke up early this morning to get on a domestic flight to Bangkok, caught the shuttle bus to the bigger international airport, and am now entertaining myself on my 7 hour layover thanks to my iPod that sends sweet sounds into my ears. Have been thinking about this year ahead and am feeling VERY motivated for it - which is a GREAT sign. WHOOP WHOOP!!!

I am absolutely determined to learn conversational Mandarin this year. The fact that I bumble along as I do after all of these years is, quite frankly: bullshit. No more, no less. I also have an apartment-hunt to kick off, as the manfriend and I will be moving in together once my lease runs out in March. So – YAY! Then I want to look into the Masters programme which I intended to start last year but postponed due to my dad’s illness. I also want to travel more within Taiwan – research the options and explore the country more, spend my weekends more wisely. (Not all of them. A lot of them will still be spent doing delicious NOTHING. Ha!) And more exercise. And just generally being a happier, nicer, more patient person. I’m excited. It looks to be a big, beautiful, rose-coloured year ahead!!!

See you soon, Taiwan!!! :) xxxxx