thoughts on living overseas

i was at dinner last night with friends who have all moved overseas and one of them said something that really struck me. she said she wished she could tell everyone back home to go and live in another country for a while, as she just thinks it’s so important for your development (especially as we were all in our early twenties) and after thinking it over i definitely agree.

obviously travel itself is great for your confidence and resilience, but i also think making a life for yourself in a place is uniquely special in a way that a backpacking trip doesn’t necessarily equate to. making your own routines, finding your locals, making new friends, trying a new activity or hobby (me doing zumba and volunteering with kids in nanjing) all are part of making a life in a place. and when you push through the stress and the administrative dramas that characterise the first phase (along with excitement and new discoveries, naturellement) you find yourself happy in a place that you never knew you could be.
i.e. me in Nanjing: look at me! i’m away from my countrymen, not able to do the things i love (get books out from the library, cook, go to barre class, hang out with my family) and yet I’m ok. better yet, i’m happy!

and then when i left china. all the things that i felt so keenly being ripped away from me. street eats, constant language breakthroughs, pudgy babies all around, zumba, my new friends, fun conversations with chinese people all the time…. those were all things i just loved!

and yet. in london i’m back with my uni friends, back cooking (and loving it), finding new places and neighbourhoods, finding enjoyment in earning and being a productive member of society again, being in a multicultural atmosphere, enjoying architectural splendour and fun day trips.

and i realise. there are so many ways to be happy. there are so many ways to build a rich, full life.
life staying always in one place can feel one dimensional. and i’m not saying it is, but we forget about all the rich possibilities and choices we have available to us. moving somewhere new gives a new lens to view the world through, opens everything up and puts it all on the table. and makes us realise what we can do without and surprisingly enough be ok without.

it is bittersweet. right now I know that all the people i love and care about will never all live in the same place with me. that’s a hard thought. i’ll always be a bit behind in their life, communicating through social media and the odd message rather than in person hugs and walks and long lazy dinners. but how lucky am I that i can visualize a life in four cities (chch, dunedin, nanjing and london) and from those countless more, since i know what it is to pack everything and go somewhere new and start afresh and succeed?

on replay: open heart, open mind and you’ll be fine.

ps – i feel i’ve learned so much in my short life of 22 years. can’t imagine the lessons and wisdom the next 60 or so have in store for me!

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taking stock, london edition

IMG_5020Learning: what types of events and announcements matter in political risk analysis and which don’t (its all about context)
Cooking: tasty simple summery meals with new potatoes and asparagus
Drinking: beers in parks, yay for enjoying beer and english laws
Reading: just finished The Hate U Give and pondering my next pick!
Wanting: for everyone to know how much i love and care about them, even if we’re not constantly in touch
Enjoying: my new city! london is a lot of fun
Wondering: how i will feel to leave it
Listening: Lorde’s new album. i don’t know how she does it but every song speaks to me
Loving: english raspberries. they are a tangy, juicy revelation!
Hoping: for the weather to work with all my travel plans, please and thank you
Eating: scrummy cafe brunches which i sure missed in china
Smelling: the roses on every street I walk down. they smell better over here, i’m sure of it
Wearing: my navy culottes which make me feel cool and breezy
Watching: the bachelorette with a passion and a need to discuss
Noticing: the bits and pieces about England that mimic NZ, and those which are very different
Knowing: that i am so privileged to have all these friends spread throughout the world
Thinking: that i have to stay in touch with them but also focus on my life in the city i am in
Laughing: so easily and so often with dear C & J
Feeling: overwhelmed at my countless blessings, amazed at my flawed and wondrous life

last days in nanjing

bittersweet, the taste of nostalgia, and catalyzed fondness, and joyous memories
mixed
with anxiety and sadness and sense of loss

i may be here again
and
i may be with these people again

but i will never be in it, in this season of life again

the saddest goodbyes are the ones you don’t verbalise
goodbye streets
goodbye favourite coffee shop
and second favourite coffee shop

the anxiety about what’s to come
the loss of what is now

i know, i know
i must say goodbye, but also say hello
and i know
that nothing ever stays the same

and that which does is but an illusion of sameness
and that still water is bacteria ridden and grotty

and yet
i’m not really for the white water to rush through and propel me forward to the next thing

i want
to be babied, rocked, cooed at
in a place where everything is safe
and can’t agitate my ruffled state

i know
that i will look back on my stress and worry, and only remember the almost imperceptible silver thread of faith in everything,
in god, in myself
that things would work out just fine

that i would be cradled and carried
even as i felt i was falling and skidding

you don’t remember the pounding work of it all
you remember the view from the top, and the satisfying ache in your joints
that reassure you that you earned it

it’s never like what i imagine
it never quite measures up to what i imagine
(in technical, numerical terms)

it’s so much better
the swish of a monet watercolour compared to a paint swatch chart
a dog compared to a computerised 3D model of a dog
it’s alive and breathing
and so much more
in every dimension
than anything you could ever generate

over/under-achieving

i have an inbuilt mechanism that clamps down when i get close to finals and keeps me in the library until I get what i need to done. it’s been useful, i admit, over the 6+ years i’ve been taking exams.
i’m currently trying to fight it, however.
I have 40 days left in China. I know for sure i will be otherwise engaged until June 2018, just over a year from now, but I suspect it’ll be a while longer until I’m back..how long exactly, is up in the air like the rest of my future plans after june 2018.

i want to savour it. at the start of the year, the staff advised us to get outside and soak up the atmosphere. that class and assignments weren’t the be all and end all. i’m just trying to remember that in my final month. i’m aiming for my first b+.

being confronted with career stuff is hideously terrifying. dreaming big from the comfort of the midst of bachelors degree is one thing. from the rapidly approaching graduation from an expensive postgraduate programme is another.

i keep trying to establish what i truly want, trying to sketch out a dot to dot figure which ends up with a complete picture. how do i get there?

i repeat to myself: you don’t have to conquer the world. you don’t have to make a ton of money. you don’t have to be prime minister or a ceo or win an olympic medal.

i state to myself, with an upwards lilt: if you’re a good person. if you have kind friends. if you find someone lovely. if you get to have kids. if you stay close to your family. …does it matter what your career is?

marketing myself to people seems like such a waste of time. i just want my cover letter to read: i’ve done these things. i’m nice. you’ll like me. i’ll probably laugh at everyone’s jokes. i’ll try really hard. i’ll do a good job.

econometrics has been good for me, in a cod-liver-y oil kind of way. i’m bad at it. i just am.
and on the whole, when things tend to come fairly easily to you (as long as i’m trying), you forgot what being bad at things is like. you scorn those who take longer, who falter after countless tilts.
it’s humbling to really, really, really not get something.
and it’s so good for my character for me to feel that way.

boxes and definitions are so arbitrary. i struggled with not getting econometrics because i thought it devalued my economics knowledge and skills. i thought it meant i was faking.
but why does the world have to be split into diehard number crunchers and airy fairy pols majors?
i can choose to exist outside of those two categories. i can proudly admit my love for economics, and use what i have, without having to be the one scribbling equations and commenting on regression software forums.
plus, i can take myself out of the race.
once i admit it is truly not for me, i can completely sidestep any “ought to” feelings about achieving in the field, and focus on passing the paper and getting it over with.

life is too short for that stuff.

i guess the message of this post is, i’ve set myself expectations and i’m trying really hard to under-deliver on them.

inspiring stuff, huh?

kindness

something i’ve been mulling over, during this month away, is that travelling is almost the definition of getting out of your comfort zone. as home, which we have moulded and patted into the most ideal habitat, is for most people their comfort zone.

no matter if you are an introvert or extrovert, the change in social settings can be disorienting, with an extrovert away from their beloved social fabric in a solo situation, or introvert plunged into an environment where they are constantly meeting new people.

not to mention the changing availability of foods, products and services (i’m looking at you, washing machines!)

anyway, what it had me thinking was that travel is really good in making it abundantly clear of your natural level of generosity and kindness when all your support systems are stripped away from you. for instance, if you visit me at my house, i would be delighted to make you a cup of coffee – but share my special coffee bags when i only have a limited number, for my own purposes? i’m very good at saying get well soon when you are feeling poorly, but what about when i have to skip dinner and spend money and time looking after you when you have an allergic reaction? when i want to cut loose, go with you for a night on the town… but what about forfeiting my own sleep to accompany people to a social occasion, and stay up later than i personally would prefer?

it can be discomfiting to realise the twinges that accompanied each of these actions, that urge to be stingy with possessions, time, money. it’s not always as effortless as we might hope, doing the right thing.
sidenote: i know that we’re not supposed to ALWAYS put others before ourselves (trust me, my boundaries are very much present haha)
it can feel even wasteful, or unhealthy, or spendthrift to overcome the impulse to economise. but i’ve come to conclude, after mulling over my reactions to these events and trying to figure out where this all sits in the realm of right, wrong and human nature, is that i want to be a kind person. i know what kind people are, i can recognise them out in the wild (amongst friends and family, acquaintances and sitcom characters), and i hope and expect that when i eventually get married, it will be to a very kind man. so the thought i now have in the forefront in my mind, and which i hope to cling to moving forward in the moments when my baser nature threatens to win out, is that it isn’t always easy to be kind.

it often is. most people can’t help but stroke puppies, coo at babies, hug their family, smile at their friends, pay an obvious compliment, spend a happy afternoon in the kitchen baking fun cupcakes for a charity event (that sounds so great to me right now, sans kitchen, ha!). these things come easy. they are easy breezy to accomplish, one of those cases where the right and the comfortable go hand in hand.

i want to work on the right and the uncomfortable. speaking out about an unpopular topic, refraining from hurtful gossip, ordering food that isn’t my favourite because it fits someone else’s dietary preferences, insisting on squarely splitting the bill even when the other person’s drink was more expensive – none of these things actually is going to really negatively impact on me. none will hurt me, or make me broke, or render me sick from food poisoning or faint with tiredness. but it will do the world of good for my character, for the experience of others around me, and make me into that kind girl i’ve wanted to be all along. the girl for whom kindness is just how she lives her life.

the silver lining in this realisation, that kindess and a generous spirit doesn’t come easy, is that you come to value these so much more. i’ve heard it said that love is an action, and so we can also see that “kindness”, “generosity”, are also actions. we have to choose to be kind.

of course, our wise pals the dalai lama and henry james put it best:

“three things in human life are important.
The first is to be kind.
The second is to be kind.
And the third is to be kind.” – Henry James

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – the Dalai Lama

plus this one, which i think sums up the spirit of this post:

“Every act of kindness grows the spirit and strengthens the soul.” – unknown

and now… the word kindness just looks all squiggly to me, i’ve repeated it so many times. hopefully it is still in fact a word (I can’t tell at this point!)

ps – back in nanjing on saturday. this break has been delicious, but i’m ready to go back to study and more importantly, back with my darling friends!

the year of the rooster

img_0771today is the first day of the year of the rooster! its been really special being in tainan the past 10 days and observing the lunar new year preparations slowly happening around the streets. at the hostel i am helping out at, we were also tasked with decorating the common areas with characters, red and gold.

img_0728

除夕, the eve of the new year, is super important for chinese families. that evening, i found myself wandering the streets trying to find dinner. (i did have oats as a back up in case the search proved fruitless, no need to worry!)
as i walked through quiet, empty streets usually packed with noisy street carts, and brightly lit restaurants that spill out onto the pavement, it could have been thought of as eerie, or unsettling, or frankly an inconvenient nuisance, but it wasn’t. every closed up shopfront, every cart with a tarpaulin fastened over it, symbolised a family sitting together, around a table, celebrating together with their loved ones. all those dark empty streets meant lighted, warm, full living rooms in houses and apartments around the city, around Taiwan, China and the other Asian countries celebrating the lunar new year. getting to witness the inverse of the celebration felt like a peculiar privilege, one that never crosses my mind on days like christmas and easter, where i’m too caught up in my own family celebration to ponder others.

in my anthropology class last semester, we spent what seemed like a vast amount of time on 仪式, rituals. after reading hundreds of pages of readings regarding them, i got quite sick of the topic. however this chuxi, the necessity and wonder of rituals was so clear to me. how much we need to have things that we repeat, that mark and structure our days, months, years. that bring us together with those most important to us.

as part of the celebrations, people offer food as sacrifice. the incongruous sight of a whole chicken or duck, baked goods, fruit and other objects sitting on a table with incense sticking out of them like birthday candles has been common throughout the streets of tainan. when talking to a taiwanese girl the other day, she said “you must think it is a waste, and crazy!” I smiled and said i thought it was nothing of the sort. it reminded me of leaving milk, biscuits and carrots out for santa claus and rudolph. of making a gingerbread house that after a month of sitting out in the living room, was stale and inedible when we took it away after christmas. of dyed eggs at easter time. doing something for the sake of ritual, of love, of culture, is the thing that assures me we aren’t the money hungry, materialistic robots that newspapers warn of. and how very reassuring that walk through the streets was, in the most surprising of ways.

thoughts on the last four months

hi, friends. happy 2017.

despite the excited tidings of my previous post, lol, i haven’t been blogging while in china. part of that is the lovely censorship we have to deal with over here. part of it is my computer’s random refusal to access the wordpress website even when censorship isn’t an issue. and then there’s the fact that i’ve been so busy and had so much to do that figuring out solutions to these issues has felt too hard.

anyway, i am currently in Taiwan on break! i have finished one semester and i’m utterly stumped as to how it has flown by. just one semester to go! i have been so immeasurably blessed with how helpful and kind everyone who I have encountered here has been – from the fellow student on the first day who calmed my flustered nerves and showed me my room in the dormitory, to the kind chinese professors who could see steam was just about blowing out my ears in my efforts to understand what they were talking about, to my lovely classmates, some of whom have already become dear dear friends, to the ordinary chinese people on the street who do things like remind me of drink bottles left on restaurant tables, to staff at cafes who assiduously ensure i have plenty of water and repeat the wifi password multiple times until i finally catch the right spelling, to my roommate who has to deal with me at my most stressed and curt when i’m up to my ears in assignments. i can honestly state i’m yet to meet anyone in China who has been nasty to me. perhaps the sarcastic comments go over my head (since there’s no way my comprehension extends that far) and the dirty looks evade my glance, but i can’t help feeling bowled over by the gracious hospitality i felt in Nanjing, Yunnan and now Taiwan.
i want to yell it from the rooftops: thank you! 谢谢! merci à tous! it feels indulgent and extravagant to be having such a positive experience. when does the penny drop?

i was really afraid and nervous to go to taiwan alone. the night before my flight, i couldnt sleep, gasping for breath as my heart beat much faster than normal. the thought of navigating the two metro lines, check in, flight, bus, high speed rail and taxi that was awaiting me the following day stressed me out enormously – so many chances for things to go wrong. not in a mortal danger kind of way (i’m not that kind of worrier), more getting lost and flustered and upset in a different city kind of way. yet the following day, even after my flight arrived late and i feared i wouldnt get to the high speed rail station in time for my train, i felt eerily calm. i imagined a sensible adult’s voice in my head saying, worst case scenario, you miss your train and you have to take a later one. you buy another ticket. it’s not the end of the world.

i chose enrich as my word of the year, which is supposed to guide my approach to the year ahead.
this quote really summed up my position towards it:
“You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things.” – Nate Berkus

the thing about an enriched life is that it’s not necessarily an easy, or comfortable, way to go about living.
things i have been a complete beginner at in the last 4 months:
– speaking chinese to people who aren’t my teacher
– zumba (we do it multiple times a week with the local community down at the communal track!)
– hip hop dance (our friend runs a dance class at the center)
– ordering things in chinese restaurants
– living in a foreign country
– navigating the metro
– playing lacrosse
– teaching cockney accents to chinese schoolchildren (funny story there!)
and the list goes on!

i have been so challenged by my new experiences in china. extraordinarily so. but it has been so rewarding and has taught me so much, and i just want to keep this momentum going. i want an enriched life, not an easy one.

i’m writing this as i sit in a cafe in Tainan surrounded by the soft chatter of chinese conversations. would i have ever believed at age 13, starting Chinese for the first time, that I would end up here? i doubt it. but i’m so glad i did.