48hrs in Shanghai

As an avid traveller I’m sick of saying “Oh I’ve never been to China” so I was very excited about this little Shanghai stopover of 48hrs (or 53 to be precise). You can now not get a trasit visa for short stopovers in major Chinese cities if you spend under 72hrs there. I’ve learnt that 24-48hrs in a big city can be plenty more than enough so my plan for Shanghainwas to tourist on day 1 and chill on day 2.

I arrived on a Wed night at 7:30pm on China Eastern Airlines – I’m baffling at how they snuck into the global airline club that is SkyTeam.  Advice to future passegers is to carry your own food and minibar and don’t ask questions – the servious is attrocious and food indedible but hey, I’m on sabbatical and embracing all experiences.

I checked into this cute Airbnb apt in the French Concession that evening, a very convenient location and more interesting than staying in amongst the skyscrapers I thought. The cleaner was nowhere to be seen for check in but my nice taxi driver made some calls until she arrived on a scooter. Phew. First travel obstacle surmounted.

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Day 1:

Morning Yoga

I was up early with locals to Pure Yoga, Shanghai (making a strong start on sabbatical goals). Very chic studio in IAPM shopping mall filled with Prada, LV and other luxeties. Good bilingual teachers and a great way to stretch off the 14hr flight cobwebs. Must be expensive for locals though, with NY style drop in rates of nearly $20 a class. At least for this price you get spotless showers, hairdryers and everything you need to make you tourist ready.

Breakfast in the French Concession

Next stop breakfast at a street stand in the French Concession with a local granny staring at me while I muched on fried pork dumplings with pork fat oozing out of each bite, washed down by hipster coffee at Café del Volcán next door. Fuelled by Jiaozi and caffeine I motored towards the Shanghai Museum, heading generally north on Xiangyang S Rd and East along Huaihai Middle Rd.

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The great firewall side note: Google doesn’t work in China. I knew this before I left but I don’t think I really believed it. This means to Gmail, no google maps and downloading a serch engine like Bing or Yahoo. Yikes. I had downloaded an offline Shanghai Google Map that worked pretty well but trying to navigate listing and locations without Google was a challenge for me. The Shanghai Subway App on my phone was another lifesaver but if I go back to China, I’d probably buy a guide book.

Shanghai Museum and People’s Square

On the way I stopped off in local delis where people were lining up for fresh mooncakes for the Autumn Harvest Festival and strolled through the Yanzhong Park with its pretty ponds and young couples holding hands on benches. As you near the Museum and the river the buildings grow taller and you realize you’re in a city but I never got the sprawling, overwhelming, congested feeling I’d expected. For a first time visitor, the city is easily navigable mostly on foot.

A brief stop in the gardens of Peoples Square and then the iconic Shanghai museum, with anciet Chinese artefacts and a good temporary exhibition of Russian historical relics. Depending on how you do museums, you can get through this one pretty quickly. I spent lots of time on the floor dedicated to the cultural dress of China’s minority ethnic groups, which makes it sound like ethnic relations with the Governmnet are just hunky dory – no mention of Tibet or that they are in ongoing conflicet with the  Uighur people of the Xinjiang region in the Northwest.

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Walking Food Tour

At 4pm I joined a a Shanghai Foodie Walk by Intrepid. It was just me and the guide and we spent a pleasant early evening strolling around the Jing’an Temple area sampling things that were not too trying for my Western tummy. I consider myself more daring than the average foodie but I’d been burping up pork dumpling all day so this may have affected my curiosity.  I also don’t eat offal or dried blood, which, as it turns out put numerous nibbles off limits. Luckily my guide was understanding and we stuck with a lot of veggie and black and red bean treats. Pork is hidden everywhere, even in seemingly desert-like pastries, identifiable by that slightly salty sweet taste. We strolled around a popular fresh foods market, where apparently live chickens were for sale until bird flu put a stop to it.

More interesting than the food was my guide’s stories of her life in Shanghai. The same complaints as many other urban societies: the cost of living is high, property prices outlandish but also some things I don’t hear every day: the government profits from our savings while we suffer, I have to import diapers from Japan and baby formula from France if I want quality. We talked about the one child policy a bit and she seemed to think that people would continue to have one child to give them a good education, even if they are now allowed to have more.

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The Bund
After the tour at around 7pm I forced myself to head over to the Bund to see the starry lights of what was swampland until the 80s when global financial services swept in. It’s an impressive display of lights and action but aside from the view there’s not much to do besides have a fancy drink in a hotel bar or if you’re the South African dude and his dad I met, head to Hooters and TJIF on the main drag for some action. For me, it was time for club duvet.

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Day 2:

Mysore Yoga:

This time I tried a new yoga studio, Y+ Yoga, in the heart of the French Concession and a ‘class’ called Mysore. I’d never heard about it before but MySore seems popular in Shanghai. Technically its of the asana tradition but the best way to explain it is DIY or yoga at your own pace, with light instruction from the teacher, so definitely not for beginners. My British neighbor, also a newbie to Mysore actually stormed out mid-class and when I saw her in the street afterwards she complained that a) she wanted a proper teaching experience and b) that the class seemed available online but was actually packed: “It’s typical of the Chinese – they can’t be bothered to book anything.” To me, her commment sounded like such a typical expat thing to say, implying taking advantage of all the great expat benefits while passing scathing judgements the locals (in this case they’re too backward or lazy to use technology)

Chillaxing

I softened towards the expats when I found this Aussie owned treat: Baker & Spice, at 195 Anfu Rd, serving delicious coffee and the best of breakfast, lunch and dinner that kept me going back for all my nourishment that day, breaking only for shopping and a massage at Zen Massage. Zen is a good option for traditional treatments in a modern setting without paying hotel spa prices. HOWEVER, I would say, that when they ask if you mind having a male or female therapist, you should definitely opt for female, UNLESS you are very comfortable with a man massage ‘professional’ very liberally touching your butt. That will be the last time I am massaged by a male, ever, in any culture.

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Rush Hour

By 4:30 pm it was time to start heading to the airport. My internal ultra tourist forced me to stop in the historic district at Yuyuan Old Street (with my backpack!) before getting the subway to the airport. In hindsight I would say skip – it’s full of hangers onners who want to help you part with your money, tatty jewellery markets, and a few random traditional Chinese temples and pavillions. It felt like an unsuccessful attempt to preserve ancient Chinese heritage in a city long since modernized.

The sardine subway in rush hour was mayhem and took a lot longer than expected. If you do take it at that time of day be prepared to be absolutely crushed and fight for every inch of space. Forget about a seat.

I had really enjoyed my visit but was quite happy to move on after my 2 days. Shanghai would be a great place to do a 3 or 6 month stint, or longer if you fancy expat life, but as a tourist I wasn’t interested in extending my stay. It had been a nice tame intro to the country and next time someone asks I look forward to saying I’ve been to China (or Shanghai, for 53hrs).

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Sabbatical Itinerary

After some months of careful crafting (budgeting, flight booking, convincing clients they don’t need me anymore and parents I am not abandoning my wedding) I am officially on a three month sabbatical.

It feels amazing! I was a bit stressed and emotional pre departure (sorry LOML) but I am on the road now and it’s as if the world of work has totally evaporated and been replaced with real life.

The Itinerary:

Day 1 (8 Sept): flight to Shanghai

Day 2-4: 53 hrs in Shanghai

Day 4: flight to Thailand (sleep in airport hotel)

Day 5-11: Hanoi and Halong Bay, Vietnam with my sister (also on sabbatical but in Sandton)

Day 12-14: Train journey from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh with (2 nights on train broken up by 1 night in Citadel city of Hue inbetween) I am writing this from the train so as usual I’m a few posts behind my actual movements – will catch up soon and write in real time I promise. 

 

Day 15-20: Sydney, Australia with my girls

Day 20-25: Road trip up to Byron Bay and back with the realjessharrison

Day 25-27: Back to Sydney for one last w end

Day 28-33: Bali for solo time: beach, yoga, raw + not raw food ( Wedding day approaches)

Day 34-38: More Bali or silent retreat in Thailand (tips for 3-4 day silent retreats in Bali or Thailand welcome please)

Day 39-49: Back to Harlem for LOML time

Day 50-75: South Africa for family time pre wedding

Day 75-81: week in SA on ‘safari’ and in Cape Town with friends and family pre wedding

Day 82: Wedding!!!

Day 83-89: recover from wedding

Day 90: Let’s not talk about it

The goals of the sabbatical: 

Active goals:

  • Be fit and healthy: Do yoga every day, eat fruit for one meal (currently loosely in observance):

  • Blog regularly (currently in observance)
  • Develop the habit of reading more (currently at 7% – too many other fun things to do):

Passive goals:

  • Have one or more life revelations (but don’t think too hard about the meaning of life while on sabbatical)
  • Absorb elements from travels to incorporate in daily life when back in New York/find inspiration

Overall, my objective is to enjoy the experience of travel and to appreciate all new things ‘in the moment’ (very yogi lingo, sorry), initiate good habits that can be maintained when back to normal life and spend special time with family and friends, especially my parents, sister and family who are normally so far away.

Thank you world, LOML, sister, friends and fam for supporting this adventure. The objective I’m doing the best at right now is enjoying every moment in the moment!

Enough boring lead up and more fun travel stories to come next time.

Motivational Monday from the Mother City

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It’s Monday in Cape Town. People are chilled. Or ‘super chilled’ as many of them like to say. My long time Cape Tonian friend says the ratio of hipsters per capita here are higher than anywhere else in the world. Which means there’s good coffee, so this holiday maker is happy.

What’s inspiring about Cape Town is 1. The natural beauty and 2. The fact that you don’t have to work toooo hard to live a good life here. People work to live, not the other way round. They really spend time in nature: running on the promenade, hiking on the mountain, open water swimming in the freezing Atlantic Ocean.

The Capetonian message to us is: Relax wherever you are and take advantage of your environment.

One of my favourite things to do in Cape Town is to take the train from Cape Town Station (nicely refurbed for the 2010 World Cup) all the way through the Southern Suburbs and along the little seaside towns of Muizenburg, St James, Kalk Bay, Fishoek, Glencairn and finally Simon’s Town, a short local taxi ride from the home of the African (formerly known as Jackass) Penguin at Boulder’s Beach.

Boulders

                                 Boulders

Many South Africans have sadly never ventured on to public transport but I would encourage any visitor to Cape Town, foreign or local to embrace this adventure. The train runs right next to the sea and is so much more scenic than a car journey and a round trip is only R30 (about $3)

Sea Train

                           Sea Train

The Penguins are a delight to watch as they preen their fellow mate for life and if you are brave enough to swim in the icy temperatures you can frolic with them between the beautiful pre-historic looking boulders.

Train turns

                    Basking Penguin

 

Seasonal Change

This w end I spent some time preparing a boat for the Winter or in boat language ‘winterizing’ it. Boats are not used to being off the water and need some extra love to prepare them for the long lonely stretch ahead, without their beloved wind, ocean or sails. This is a time for them to repair and rest for the next season.

On the drive home from the boat the leaves were showing off their red, goldy, russet colored magnificence and the deer were scampering around, doing whatever it is they do before Winter sets in. It made me think about how best to winterize myself – what to take a rest from and how to reflect, reinvigorate and prepare for new things.

Whatever your situation, Winter brings opportunities. Some of us are like the boat and will spend Winter alone. Others are scampering around in a frenzy trying to find a filler boyfriend, while others still are already smuggly coupled up. Whichever category you fit into, we can all take a lesson from nature and make the most of this chane of season.

3 good reasons to motivate this season:

  1. Re-calibration: This is the perfect time to check back on your long forgotten New Year’s resolutions and your dormant to-do lists and ask yourself what it is that really matters to you right now. We are easily distracted from personal priorities in the warmer months, choosing friends and fun over the solo time required to dedicate to important goals. Figure out what your priorities are and start investing time in them.
  2. Productive hibernation: Once you have re-set your priorities, it’s a race against the New Year to make as much progress as possible, and what better way to do this than by staying home where it’s warm and buckling down to do some work. I’m really looking forward to less social and outdoor obligations and more time dedicated to the projects that are important to me. For those of you that are smuggly coupled up, you are still at risk of distraction. Make home time your time to be productive and try to schedule relationship time outside of the time required to reach your goals. For single people, be selfish while you can and put your personal goals first, sheduling time for seasonal fun around them.
  3. Seasonal festivities: I tend to have fantasies about all the books I’ll read and TV series I’ll plough through in Winter but this rarely happens because I’m soon distracted by this special season’s unique suite of attractions. In no particular order some of my favourite things to do over Fall and Winter include: Halloween dress up, Apple Cider, Christmas markets, Christmas present selection and giving, ice skating, wearing fluffy coats to the Theatre, sparkly shoes at holiday parties, New Years with friends, fireworks, walking/playing in snow, skiing. Plus, my personal favourite, because I’m a Southern Hempisphere person at heart, the Winter break to an exotic beach location.

I leave you with some seasonal wisdom from the poetry section of the Bible,  Ecclesiastes, (or if you’re a Beatles Fan you may recognize it as Turn Turn Turn…and can hum along as you read): Turn Turn Turn

Happy sewing to all this Winter!

Sail Away With Me Honey

In the last post I spoke about falling in love. Well, the story goes, we fell in love and then we sailed off into the sunset, quite literally.

The American is passionate about water and floating on it. He went to sailing camp as a child and now owns a sailboat of his own and dreams about traversing the world in it one day, emulating couples like Alex and Taru, the ex sound engineer and yoga-model-hottie, whose blog he follows. This video gives you a taste of their adventures (warning, the first 30 seconds are total gratuitous boat yoga porn):

Naturally, with roles models like these, the American’s first choice for our first ever couples holiday, was to do a bareboat charter. Note: bareboating is a disceptively sexy word. While it does mean you will be alooooone, it also means you will have no crew whatsoever and have to do all the hard work.

Despite having grown up at the beach, my own boating experience is tainted with apprehension. The first time I went proper sailing for a work regatta I almost chickened out twice, first when I heard I would be sharing a boat with four middle aged men from our Technology division and then during the safety briefing, when one of said middle aged men concluded by telling us how many people die every year by ‘silly’ things like being hit by the boom. When I expressed concern, he told me I’d be ‘just fine honey’ and assigned me to winching duty for the next 48hrs, during which I abstained from a single toilet visit but was briefly released to cook the boys rice and beans over an open flame at high sea. I winched and boiled like a trooper but cried when I got home.

Subsequently, friends have tried to convince me that the the right kind of sailing is more cocktails and sunsets, less rope burn and I’ve had enough pleasant outings on the American’s boat to realize that I got off to a wrong start. And as the American hadn’t had a proper holiday in four years, I thought it was only fair that he get to go on the holiday of his dreams. So we booked seven nights onboard a 37 foot Moorings Monohull boat in the pristine BVI (British Virgin Islands) and the countdown began.

GB_Virgin_IslandsBefore we left, we talked playfully about what it would be like working together on the boat. I suggested that shouting at me under hurricane or other unforeseen nautical conditions would be unacceptable. He seemed in total agreement and assured me I wouldn’t have to do a thing. I could provision (Boat for shop and cook), keep an eye out for pirates and do boat yoga like the hottie in the blog. It sounded idyllic. I would read, tan/freckle and impress him with my galley (Boat for kitchen) and not getting seasick skills. While I had mentally psyched myself up for the trip I was a little surprised by peoples reaction to our choice of first couples holiday together. The thought of seven nights ALONE together, AT SEA, seemed to freak people out. Wasn’t it a lot of PRESSURE? What would we SAY to each other for all that time? What if I needed to POOP? What if we needed SPACE? All good questions and I had no idea what the answers were but I figured as long as I wasn’t yelled at or left to starve I’d be fine. And I wasn’t (yelled at or starved) and I was (fine).

Some time has passed now since that trip and I fondly refer to it as TOAL (Trip of a Lifetime). It was in many ways the trip to end all romantic trips:

Sunrises and treasure hunt surprises,

IMG_0539followed by on-board breakfasts to fuel sunny days at sea in the Caribbean trade winds,

IMG_0691swimming with techni-colour fish in turquoise blue water (sad side bar: the coral is going brown and disappearing),

bluefishPina Coladas on secluded sun loungers,

IMG_0606and bareboat exploration…

DCIM100GOPROWhile it was amazing, it could have been stressful. People are people, whether we’re in paradise or going about the daily grind. We get moody and tired. Sometimes on vacation, when all the noise dies down, we can be even more reflective and plagued by more existential thoughts than usual. I sometimes find that the more sublime the location and experience, the more my petulant mind will wonder, to the past and to the future, suddenly wanting to confront things like meaning and failure and hope.

Our boat, Escape Yourself, was aptly named:DCIM100GOPRODespite the serene refuge of Escape Yourself and the extreme proximity to the American, I felt needier than usual. I wanted him to stop fiddling with the boat instruments, hold me tight and gaze into my eyes for seven days straight. I also missed missing him like I do in the city when I don’t see him for a day and hoped we’d still miss each other when we returned and not be saturated from our sail time together.

Luckily, I know how my mind works on holidays and decided to shut it down for the duration of the trip. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, meditation helps with this.

GOPR0299As I also mention in that post, I haven’t yet mastered the art of meditation. I’m still on 5 minutes, which is apparently not enough to totally silence the mind on a TOAL vacation in paradise with the LOML.

And having thought long and hard about why this is, I leave you with a great sea faring quote:


All the thoughts of a turtle are turtle
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Special thanks to Maureen Muller for providing us with provisioning recipes fit for sea gods

And to Simon and Cate of Surfsong BVI for being such wonderful ambassadors for the island and almost hosting us on on our return from sea.

Following the Yellow Brick Road

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When I left my homeland seven years ago, I wasn’t running from anything. I hadn’t been stock-piling food for fear that South Africa was ‘going the way Zimbabwe’ had gone. I believed, and still do, that the country has a bright shiny future. I was following my own little dream – to see the world, to meet weird and wonderful creatures and learn clever things. At least I think that was my dream, but it’s all so long ago now, who can really remember? The days and the years speed by, the lessons change and the faces rearrange. All I can be sure that lingers on is the desire to see the world, to discover new places and people out there on the untrodden road.

There is a price to pay for all this newness and adventure. For every fascinating foreign encounter, a heartfelt homely one is forfeited. For every new relationship forged, an existing one is neglected.  All the energy we expend in adjusting, adapting and acclimatizing to new environments is used up and cannot be invested in other things. Emotionally, I live in two countries and service two sets of relationships. It’s important to recognize which of these are transient and which have really got your back, and invest in them accordingly. A big bad city like New York really helps to put things in perspective, you learn quickly that for all the wow factor, people here are self-involved and unlikely to invest in you. When a hurricane hits, that person you thought you had a really solid relationship with, is unlikely to invite you to stay in their guest bedroom on the Upper West Side.

But that ‘s just the flip side of why people come here in the first place, in search of self-sufficiency and self-expression. The anonymity afforded by a place that is not your own can be a convenient guise and fuel for freedom and re-invention. Or it can just be fucking lonely. It all depends on what you’re hoping to discover on your path at that point in time. And herein lies my massive conflict: I want to be invisible but I want to belong, I love my family and my country but I also love living here. In such unclear-cut cases, one has to make a choice –  to abandon one world or to inhabit two simultaneously and dedicate a little more energy to a double life. For me, this is a privilege rather than a sacrifice. It affords me the luxury, of one day, when the going gets too tough, to be able to click my heels and wake up in a place where the sun is shining, the language is colorful and the love is abundant.New York, I adore you, but there’s no place like home.

I’m a Proud Legal Alien

Having morphed into a consummate New Yorker in just six months I wasn’t too sure how I would feel about being reunited with my ex-city. But stepping off the Heathrow Express onto the grey cobbled backstreets of Paddington, I was overwhelmed with a fondness bred out of familiarity. Rush hour was in full swing, with commuters in their Burberry trenchs muttering customary ‘pardon mes’ as they scurried past.  Luckily the men are never in so much of a hurry that they forget their manners – I had one heaving my suitcase up the stairs before I’d had a chance to feign weakness. Ah, gracious home to chivalry and, what’s that smell!? Pie!  The pervasive whiff of Cornish pasties made me mourn all the other great British products (mainly Waitrose, Asos and the BBC) now lacking in my everyday life.

Mmm. The British are So Wise.

For the next few days I re-kindled my love for London. I found myself lured back into the same smelly pubs and Kings Rd clubs crawling with Public School boys that made me want to leave the city in the first place. But this time my experience was brightened by nostalgia.  Here, in the land of my father’s birth, I was understood without any repetition or clarification required. It was liberating to be able to drop a sarcastic witticism without its literal meaning being dissected (typically the response to my brand of humour in New York).

Even McyDees is Witty in Britain

Besides the cultural nuances, there are some distinct differences between London and New York and how their people live. Some of these, I believe are purely a result of the physical environment: Manhattan is small and compact compared to sprawling London, meaning you can cover more ground in a day or even an evening. You can walk to most places or hop in a taxi if you are rushing (you often are, given you can fit more into the day). This means that while New Yorkers are busy, busy, busy, they tend to be left with more energy than Londoners, who are fatigued before they even surface from the tube.

A good illustration of this is a typical Friday night in London versus New York:

In London you emerge exhausted from a long week of work, fall into the nearest pub with your colleagues and have a good old moan over five white wine spritzers before staggering home again at 8pm, most likely to your boyfriend who has just performed a parallel ritual in some other part of town.

In New York you emerge exhausted from a long week of work. But you might workout (its literally survival of the fittest in this town) or if you’re feeling defiant you might pop home for a nap. Then you’ll take some time to transform yourself into a fresh un-work look for a whole new chapter of Friday – the Night, which consists of dinner, drinks and possibly dancing.  If you have a boyfriend (unlikely given the competition) he too will be out. In New York in my experience, couples also venture out to socialize on a Friday night – I suspect they are just more likely to have opted for a nap first.

Maybe it’s this relative ease of existence that translates into another stark contrast between Londoners and New Yorkers. Londoners are notorious for moaning about their city – the sticky tube, the gloomy weather, the silly mayor.  New Yorkers LOVE New York . I love NYC logo is not just for tourists, it’s proudly displayed on everything from dry-cleaning to the plastic bags used for take out. When people ask me how I like it here and I say ‘I LOVE New York’, their eyes sparkle – right freakin’ answer!

 

Non Touristy Tees

Maybe it’s because of these two features – an abundance of energy and a fanatical love of their city, that New Yorkers pride themselves in being walking Time Out guides.  Any New Yorker worth his salt (artisanal preferably) knows what exhibitions have just opened, what restaurants are ‘trending’, what restaurateur they were opened by (and the chronological order of the places he opened before that), where to buy the best local organic grass-fed nitrate-free uncured bacon and what dj is playing in what hidden warehouse in Williamsburg. If you don’t know these things or worse, don’t find them of interest, you will struggle to obtain authentic New Yorker status. In London, all you have to know is who got knocked off X Factor at the w end, in New York the stakes are a bit higher.  But then so too are the rewards.

Come and see us in the Hamptons! Part II

By the end of the Summer I had been exposed to four distinct mini breaks in the Hamptons.

My image of life there prior to these visits was limited, predominantly infused with scenes from Gossip Girl.  My most recent impression was formed by a South African friend’s declaration that ‘New Yorkers are excited by the Hamptons because they’re used to really small houses’.  The inference being that those of us South Africans who weren’t raised in shacks are used to big houses and are therefore very unlikely to be impressed by the size of dwellings in the Hamptons.

Wrong! While the most affluent South African and American playgrounds may share pristine sandy beaches, lush polo fields, an abundance of privately educated school boys and social acceptance of drink driving, they cannot be compared when it comes to sheer ostentation of property size.  Plettenberg Bay’s most lavish residences would fit in the pool rooms of some of the estates I spied out there.

These monstrosities are literally the foundations that dreams are laid on. At one very-large-house-party, a man pointed out to me that just by virtue of their presence the guests were likely to be wealthy. Not an observation a wealthy person is likely to make was my first thought, but admittedly a good place to hang out should you wish to become rich by association.  The competition will be fierce if you are hoping to go the marriage route but at least you don’t have to beat about the bush. It’s quite acceptable to ask things like ‘do you have a boat?’ and if the answer us yes for the follow up question to be ‘can my friends and I come sailing with you next w end?’. The men are just as ruthless. At another party that resembled a wedding in a botanical garden but was really just a ‘small beach party’ I was introduced to quite an attractive man. After two minutes of small talk, his wingman arrived and announced that they were going to do ‘a lap’.  I was familiar with the concept – the rapid reconnaissance mission you do in clubs, parties and the like. I was not familiar with this normally discreet activity being verbally acknowledged and performed in order to avoid me. I had been identified as the female equivalent of a non boat-owner  – a non-model.

Happily, even us non boat-owners and non-models who manage to slip past the heavies in the driveway can enjoy free canapés, cocktails and sunsets. If  people are too busy lapping the room to have a conversation with you, at least you won’t go home hungry or thirsty. In fact, if you’re extra lucky you might even take home some schwag – that’s American for free shit. Turns out even the rich and famous love a goodie bag.

So what did I bring home with me from the Hamptons this Summer? A bit of a tan and some new acquaintances (I’ve actually heard myself saying ‘we met in the Hamptons this Summer’ when asked how I know someone). But more importantly I feel like I’ve returned from a pilgrimage to the essence of the American psyche. From Labor to Memorial Day, the Hamptons are a non-stop celebration of the great American lifestyle –  athletic, free and plentiful. This is where you know American dreams have been realized.

Come and see us in the Hamptons! Part I

I’m told that there exists a great guide (sadly only published in German) called something to the effect of  ‘An Idiots Guide to America’. In this guide they caution that when an American says to you ‘You simply haaave to come and stay with us in the Hamptons darling!’,  this should in fact NOT be interpreted as an invitation. Though it may sound like it, they don’t want to get to know you better in the intimacy of  their sprawling Summer home on Long Island. They just want to let you know that are fortunate enough to have a house in the Hamptons. The same applies to ‘You simply haaave to come and stay with us in Aspen darling!’ … and so on.

I wish I’d known this a few months ago. When the guy I was dating (and yes I know that we were dating because he confirmed when I asked him 2 months in) alluded to having a house in Montauk for the Summer on our very first date, I naturally started packing my mental w-end bag. Silly me. Firstly, he doesn’t ‘have’ a house there for the Summer. He has a share in a house. Secondly, it wasn’t an invitation. He just wanted to let me know that he was someone who ‘Hamptoned’.

Luckily, he’s not the only one with a share in a Hamptons house.  Access to one is not as exclusive as you might think. It works pretty much the same way as a regular apartment share. Someone rents the house and auditions roommates to live there with them for the Summer. Of course, most non-exclusive people like me have jobs they have to go to during the week and so only go up on the w-end or every second w-end. And so, the parallel Summer housing arrangement is born. You have your city roommates and your Hampton’s roommates. When someone introduces their roommate to you in the Hamptons, they mean their Hamptons roommate.  And as in the city, when a roommate isn’t occupying their room (or bed), you get someone else to sublet it.

This is how I’ve come to find myself in the Hamptons – by knowing someone who knows someone who has a ‘share’ and is happy to maximize w-end rental income. If you think about it, if you hang around in New York for long enough you’re bound to happen upon someone who knows someone, who has a spare bed in a share.  Don’t misunderstand, I’m not being blasé, I’m thrilled to have stumbled upon my very own secondary connection to prime beach property in my first year. For all its glossy mag pretension, Long Island is undeniably pretty. It has pristine beaches, quaint harbor towns and ridiculous houses with sunsets, rolling lawns, swimming pools, tennis courts and hot tubs. Perfect if you just ‘have to get out of the city!’

I love a good cliché and America lives up to a lot of its on-screen projections. As a result, living here, I often like to pretend that I’m in a movie. So I made sure when I first caught the train out there early one Friday afternoon along with the rest of Manhattan, I was armed with all the essentials: Fun Friend, floppy white hat, oversize shades and whatever stripey yacht clothing I could find.

The Hamptons welcome lived up to my cinema standards. Upon disembarking in Bridgehampton, Fun Friend and I were greeted by 3 charming Ralph Lauren poster children who were clearly waiting for a lift from their mom. They wanted to know if our boyfriends were coming to pick us up. ‘Yes’, we said, ‘and they’re very big and strong’.  It is the ultimate playground and the inhabitants behave accordingly.  The island reeks of decadence of course, but tolerance for trashiness is reassuringly low.  I witnessed a great example of this when our group was invited to a house (read mansion) party being hosted by some young successful start-up founders.  In attendance was us and literally, a coach-load of University of Texas girls who had been flown and then bussed in as poolside entertainment. They were very excited to be there and had donned their skimpiest butt-hugging shorts, neon heels and push-up bikini tops for the occasion.  I hate to judge but I did find myself thinking that if I was a guy and was basically paying chicks to attend my party, I probably would’ve picked classier ones, models even. The start-up founders obviously realized their mistake the morning after, because the next night the sent the guys in our group  a text to reassure them that they’d ‘gotten rid of them and replaced the house with new girls’.  Disappointing for the Texas crew, no doubt, but not a bad little graduation party after all.

The whole outing was a major cultural eye-opener. While I’m very happy to have access to the beautiful playground that is the Hamptons, I’m thrilled to be doing so in a couch surfing capacity with my Fun Friend in tow. At least when you’re paying for your pillow you can’t be sent home after one night for not being fun/pretty/skinny/classy enough.

The Age of Austerity

Reflecting on the contents of previous posts I realise I’ve diverged somewhat from the essence of this blog. I named it GrowingOnUp with the intention of addressing all the rude awakenings of the transition to adulthood. Finding the perfect mate is but one element of the transition. There are plenty of other things we have to come to terms with. Like saving for our futures. And for our parent’s futures. And our unborn children’s futures.

The more resourceful amongst you might already have made the link between the ‘finding the perfect mate’ and ‘saving for the future’. I think that intuitively, many of us put off saving until we are in a position to merge piggy banks with our soul mate and tackle the pension plan together. Everyone knows that multiplying a pittance by two equals way more than we could save on our own. Worse, as a woman, I think embedded somewhere in our psyche is the remote but reassuring possibility that our perfect mate will be absolutely loaded.

It is this logic that leads me and most of my upwardly mobile friends to live for the moment, take each day as it comes, Carpe Diem etc. We know that it is for this very limited period of time only that we can live and spend completely selfishly. Soon there will be mouths to feed and school fees to pay.

Spending now is of course a trade-off against future stability and if you’re anything like me, as you catapult towards the big 3-OH, you will stop and think: ‘crap, what if I’s just me?’ When will I start saving for my future? At this point, you open up a new Excel workbook and do some sums. A second ‘Oh crap’ moment ensues. Your incomings and outgoings are in frighteningly close proximity. The emotions that follow are a mixture of panic and helplessness. I may not be a mathematical genius but I quickly conclude that without doing anything fun, purchasing groceries or going for a wax, I can start a very small savings fund each month. I’m talking miniscule. Next conclusion: I need to earn more money. Lots more. Or move to Queens. If I waitressed one night a week I could save enough to give me some financial freedom. But I hate waitressing. I did it when I was at university because I thought it was a standard sacrifice to help me get the education I would need for future employment and stability. Here I am, five years into the world of professional work. I have a ‘good’ job, why should I have to take on a second one? Before feeling too sorry for myself, I think about Gloria, the barista en route to work who whips me up my morning cap at 8am Mon-Fri (note to self – must make café at home – savings of c$80 a month) Gloria and I are a similar age and she must be earning next to nothing in comparison to my consulting salary. She’s still there when I saunter past at 7pm. That’s a long day for a small wage. She must definitely live in Queens and feel even more panicked and helpless than I do.

I’m annoyed by this sorry state of affairs. I am not an overly extravagant spender. Brought to light by my sister’s recent visit when she exclaimed: ‘You’ve had that cardi since 2008!’ I know and it’s from H&M.  Doing a quick stock take, the same can be said for most of my belongings with the exception of a few notable ‘because I’m worth’ it indulgences:

  • Black leather La Furla bag £230 (on sale), 2010
  • Snake skin Jimmy Choos €200 (on sale), 2011
  • Road bike  £1350 (£700 after tax thanks to Bicycle Boris), 2011
  • My new Canon SLR and BF $400 (Craigslist), 2012

I should include the the real budget killers on the list: bi-annual holidays to Europe, flights to South Africa and bars and restaurants. But to be honest I’ve always seen those as essentials, in the same category as a wireless connection at home.  Flawed thinking perhaps, but those are the things that make me really happy. Meeting friends at home for cheese on toast and staycations are just not the same!

So I ask you, what am I to do?

  1. Wait for the perfect mate and hope he’s loaded?
  2. Throw caution to the wind, enjoy my youth and rely on the state when I’m old and fragile?
  3. Cut out the cappuccinos and holidays and start my solo nest egg as soon as possible?
  4. Start waitressing and move to Queens to augment my income?

I return to one of the central tenets behind GrowingOnUp – ‘I’m not alone’ and turn to you for suggestions.

How are you living now for the future?