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.

The Sabbatical Dilemma

So we got engaged and I was on cloud nine. I was floating through the streets of New York imagining myself the star of a RomCom – glancing down at my ring, brushing back my hair with my left hand unnecessarily and generally feeling very pleased with myself.

But there was a little niggling question surfacing underneath the powder puff…’What about my sabbatical?’

The LOML and I had talked about it, but that was before we were engaged to be married. Could I still take it? Could I desert my fiancé or worse, husband to flit around the globe? And what was he thinking? Did he assume I was taking it, or not?
When I mentioned it to others they said things like: ”Look, you have bigger things to think about now.” Public opinion was not on my side. So no sabbatical for me then I guess? No first time in Asia, no visiting mates in Australia, no silent retreat, no hanging with my family in South Africa? Obviously I wanted to be married more than anything else in the world but I sort of still wanted the other things I wanted for myself before he proposed.
So I spoke to the LOML about it about a week after we got engaged, almost jokingly, with some eye fluttering thrown in for good measure; ”So what do you think this means for my sabbatical?” He wasn’t opposed to the idea but seemed to be more interested in putting together some of the other pieces of the puzzle, like when and how we were going to move in together and where and when we would have a wedding. Oh yea, the important stuff! We were able to make some big decisions quickly, like:

  • we would move in together asap to start the new year and our new life together
  • we would get married in South Africa over Thanksgiving 2015

And because those are not the kind of decisions that self actualize we then started to put the energy required into making them happen. We moved into a wonderful one bedroom apartment in Harlem on Feb 1st and started feeling our way around the industrial machine that is the wedding industry.

I didn’t mention the sabbatical again until a plane ride back from LA in about March, when I suddenly felt the need to unburden myself of all the unknown factors flying around in my head, like were we having an engagement party, what should I do about hints of job offers, when would my Greencard arrive, would my mom enjoy our planned RV trip around Arizona, what did I want to do with my life and what did this all mean for my sabbatical?
So the LOML and I wrote things down – what I was worried about, what my options were to address them and what the timing for some of those options was. A good thing about dating (or being engaged to) someone older than me is that he’s already had most of the thoughts I’m having now about 10 years prior and has good advice to offer.

So we came up with a plan, including dependencies and contingency and agreed that I would ask permission from work to take a sabbatical starting in September for 3 or 4 months, knowing that I would have the option to decide not to take it closer to the time if I decided it wasn’t what I wanted. Before applying for the sabbatical, I thought a bit harder about whether it was what I really wanted. The desire to see the world, while still there, was not as strong as it had been when I was single and even less now that I was engaged. What was the point? The LOML couldn’t leave his business to travel with me, what if he ended up feeling deserted in the months before our wedding? Was it worth risking the beginning of something so important? He was supportive in theory but how would he feel once he was left eating freezer meals on his own for 3 months…? On the other hand I didn’t want to regret not doing it, sacrificing something I’d wanted for a long time and feeling resentful once I’d popped out two kids and had ‘responsibilities’. It felt like now or never. I needed more reassurance that the LOML was fully supportive though, so I quizzed him and tried to give him the option of saying that deep down he thought it was selfish of me and bad timing. But he seemed genuinely supportive. He compared it to when he’d done his MBA – he thought it was good for people to take some time out to reflect before major life transitions, in this case my transition to wifedom and potentially a career change. Yes! No wonder I love him. The final test for me was whether he would take an interest in itinerary planning and share in my joy in the preparation phase – I didn’t want it to be an isolating activity. He said he would love to. Sold! I applied for the sabbatical to start after Labor Day (7 Sept) and finish after our wedding (just before Christmas). Three whole months of glorious transition.

It was approved, and after 7 years as a Management Consultant, today is officially my 7th day on sabbatical (more details of what I’m up to coming soon).  Here’s hoping it does wonders for my blogging output, and of course my future marriage!

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Three things I learnt in my 3 single years

In my post about what I learnt from a 4 year break up I mentioned that I also learnt ‘lots of other things, about myself, the kind of person I want to be and the kind of person I want to be with.’ This is true and here’s a breakdown of that journey.

Single Year 1: Learning about myself

In my first year of being single, amidst the initial trauma of a break up, the first thing I learnt is that I knew my own mind enough to have made the right decision. While I was stuck with some feelings of guilt, the focus shifted to what I really wanted in life. Where did I want to live? What kind of career did I want? I realized I could be anyone I wanted to be and anywhere in the world. I only had myself to consult. This was liberating but also overwhelming. Should I quit my job and work on yachts in the South of France? Or should I get a job in a cinema on a ski slope and learn to ski? I seriously investigated any kind of life that was nothing like my current.

I concluded that I didn’t want to live in London anymore. I was stagnating there and I wanted an adventure. And that’s how I got plotting to move to New York. I had a goal with a unique focus and it made me feel like my own person again.

What I also noticed about that year, on reflection, was that I sought male attention. I wasn’t used to being alone and made a string of bad dating decisions. I dated more than one person at a time, I hooked up with a friend, I had my first one night stand. All a disaster. I slowly realized that I was affected by the behavior of these men I supposedly didn’t care about. The common advice for singles is ‘make the most of it’ but I would be more selective if I had to do it over again.

Single Year 2: Learning about the kind of person I wanted to be

Freshly arrived in New York for my adventurous new life, I adopted the ‘yes man’ approach. I said yes to everything. I didn’t necessarily stay friends with all those people I met in the early days but sometimes I met other people through them. I also did a lot of solo travel to locations I’d always wanted to go to, like Mexico and girls trips to party places like Ibiza. I even went on a mom daughter cruise around the Caribbean and discovered that my mom was a very cool person and travel buddy.

Girl Time in Ibiza

                                                               Girl Time in Ibiza

Party Boat with Mom

                                                             Party Boat with Mom

While on this busy exploratory streak, I also learnt that I had some work to do on myself. There were things I was fearful of, things I was angry about and things I didn’t know what to feel about. I decided to self examine more. The easiest way to do this (if you live in the US and have health insurance) is to go to a therapist. I don’t say the best way, just the easiest. If you can’t afford a therapist, I would suggest setting a timer at home and talking to yourself as if there is a therapist listening on a chair opposite you. One hour of uninterrupted time with yourself will tell you everything you need to know.

With a little bit of probing I learnt that I could let go of certain emotions and stop fearing certain others. I felt much calmer about life in general, less like I was racing against a clock or competing against a sea of un-named faces. I spent more than a year away from my family that year, fighting against the balance of what was expected of me and what I wanted to give. By the end of that year, there was still lots to learn but I felt like I knew what I was striving for. I’d made enough mistakes to see what needed more work but I stopped self-flagellating.

Single Year 3: Learning about the kind of person I wanted to be with

In my third year, I decided to reset. I was looking for discipline and rigour. I was tired of saying yes to everything, tired of eating out and staying out late. I moved into an apartment by myself, stopped drinking for a month and signed up for a cycling training program with New York Cycling Club, doing long distance rides in a group every Saturday for 10 weeks. I felt fit and strong and focused. I stopped dating (for a bit) and I don’t recall but I apparently told a friend at the time that I wanted to be in a real relationship. So I know that I knew what I wanted.

I spent the Summer with friends going to the beach, sailing, cooking at home. I didn’t realize that in amongst this group of friends was the person I would end up being with. We would talk about everything, including what we were looking for in a person. I recall citing a list of ’10 things I was looking for in a man’ to him on a car journey home.  Things like ‘quietly confident, ambitious, must think he’s won the lottery, good face’. I remember it fleetingly crossing my mind that the American fit the description of most things on my list other than thinking he’d won the lottery (he showed no interest at the time). I think it was this exercise of actively naming what I wanted and recognizing that there was someone in front of me who represented the majority of the criteria that prompted me to explore the option when it became available.

7-10 of The 10 things I look for in a man: Feed me, take me to the beach, take me on a boat (please):

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Don’t get me wrong, three single years is a long time to learn all these lessons and if I were to find myself single again, I hope I wouldn’t have to re-learn all of them. I was also 3 years away from 30, trying to make a life in a new country, hating my job and at one point adjusting to the idea of having a very sick father. But we all have things going on all the time and break-ups and being single probably won’t come at a good time. Whatever your circumstances, I guarantee it will be a great time to learn about yourself.

Four things I learnt from my 4 year break up

It will be four years ago this month that I ended a relationship of four years.

Here are the four most important things I learnt:

  1. Rip off the Band-Aid – if you’re thinking of breaking up with someone it’s the right thing to do, so do it, and quickly.

I don’t like to think that I regret being in the relationship I was in, but I do know that I thought about breaking up with him after two years and very seriously after three years. So why did it take four? Because I loved him and I wanted it to miraculously work out. I wanted to not want to break up with him. But in the end I was so anxious and annoyed every day that I had to do something. I psyched myself up (literally) by speaking to a clairvoyant tarot card reader. She told me I was standing alongside a gushing river, unsure whether to jump in or stand on the bank and watch it flow by me. So I jumped in. Well, first I dipped my toe in and moved out for a couple of weeks….then I escaped with my family on holiday to think about it some more…then I came back and told him what my decision was and we debriefed our four year relationship over a bottle of whiskey. I wish I hadn’t protracted things for so long. I wish I’d ripped off the band-aid sooner and suffered the pain. The sooner you make the decision, the quicker you’ll know whether it was the right one or not. If it was the wrong decision you’ll end up together again. If it was right, you can both start your quest to alternate happiness.

  1. Find a friend with a sofa bed – while you might be starting your quest to future happiness, you will probably be doing it from a mate’s living room floor.

When I left my ex, I was homeless and displaced. I moved from friend to friend for about 10 weeks, before finding a new home of my own. Splitting a relationship in two brings practical challenges, like cutting financial ties and deciding ownership of shared things. If you’re the one who moved out, this can is a good excuse to revisit the place you lived together. Nobody understands what you are going through quite like the person whose heart you’ve just broke, so it feels good to seek solace in each other. Don’t! Gather your belongings and get out of there. Every trip I made back to our shared home left me an emotional wreck and my friends soon forbade it. I needed this stern advice and living with them after living with a man was also fun. We stayed up talking girl talk and planning our futures, we dressed up, we went out, I practiced flirting. It’s hard to be sad when you’re around people you love so I surrounded myself with them all the time by squatting with a new friend every week for 6 weeks. They fed me and dried my tears. I also cried less than I would’ve liked because, let’s face it, nobody wants to deal with a blubbering mess and  didn’t want to burden them with my emotional needs.  Surrounding myself with normal life was the quickest way back to my own normal.

  1. Fall in love with yourself again – when your relationship ends you will be left with only yourself so you better get to know who that is and what they like.

Once I had found a new home of my own and was starting to reconstruct my existence, I found it hard to know what I wanted to do with my time. Suddenly, I was the only decision maker and I didn’t know what I wanted – what I wanted to eat, whether I wanted to go to the beach for the day or to a movie, whether I wanted to quit my job and travel round the world, whether I wanted to be alone or start date. I was unsure of everything and it was disconcerting because the independent self-assured vision I had of myself didn’t seem to hold true anymore. So I fought against indecision. Every time I found myself deliberating over what to do with my Saturday, I forced myself to just do something and start to gauge how much I enjoyed it. I started dating myself. My favourite date with myself was, and still is, to the cinema. I found the Prince Charles in London and would go there on a Monday, because I could. Then I’d take myself to dim sum at Beijing Dumpling across the road. I also took myself to Highgate Cemetery because I like cemeteries and to the British Library because I like libraries. When I’d conquered such simple outings, I started taking myself cycling in the countryside and then off on holiday to Montenegro. I had the best time. The great thing about being alone is you are never really alone – you always meet new friends along the way but you can arrive and depart whenever you please.

Communing with the dead at Highgate Cemetary

Communing with the dead at Highgate Cemetery

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Private beach at Villa Milocer, Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

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Islet of Sveti Stefan, where Sofia Loren used to holiday.

  1. Allow enough time for a full recovery – the reconstruction process can be slower than you think and you need to protect your heart until its properly healed.

My path to reconstruction was probably more self-destructive than I realized. I thought I was doing all the right things – putting myself ‘back out there’, getting ‘back on the wagon’ and all the other post breakup clichés that are supposed to make you feel better about yourself and excited about the world. But I was in a fragile emotional state and should’ve been more selective about who I let in. The trouble with casual dating is that I’m just not that good at it. If you like someone enough to show them who you are then you will probably be sad when they go away, even if it is ‘casual’ and you are told you shouldn’t expect more. I was hurt by men I didn’t care about for a long time before I realized I needed to auto-protect. I remember leaving a Bikram yoga class one day, and getting soaked in the rain on the way home. Bikram always leaves me feeling exhausted and sometimes emotional if other things are going on and suddenly the raindrops had turned to floods of tears. I felt like nobody loved me and nobody cared about me and never would. The casual relationships I’d attempted had taken my confidence away instead of adding to it. The guys I’d dated didn’t mean any harm but I just didn’t have enough me-reserves at that time to risk losing them to anyone. So I started to guard them more closely. Instead of giving away little pieces of me – personal information, time, energy – I started to hold on to them, until I felt someone had really earned it. I think the full healing process took me two years. This isn’t to say that I was a broken human being for that entire period, but in retrospect I exhibited behaviour that showed I was still in recovery.

I also learnt lots of other things, about myself, the kind of person I want to be and the kind of person I want to be with, but I’m saving that for another list.

What did you learn when you went through a big break up?

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.