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.

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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.

new beginnings and great advice

i leave for China today. today! it is absolutely crazy. i’ve been packing, getting rid of old clothes, catching up, hugging, chatting… all these things while i get myself sorted for China.

it has been such a long time coming which i think is why it still feels very surreal. this is literally two years in the making, and there have been so many challenges and items to tick off between the thought and the reality. and now it’s here.

you can imagine that i have been having all the deep thoughts about this. as i said to my mum, going to China does feel like the end of my childhood. i know that a lot of things will have changed by the time i come back and that is of course good, and life, but is still hard to wrap my head around.

and then there is all my aspirations for my time in China itself. relationships, academic, language (my oh my do i want to get fluent after 8+ years of language learning!), travel, new experiences… goodness gracious.

with all these thoughts swimming around my head, i consulted my sweet, wise friends. i wanted to know what advice they would give their younger self before leaving home and going to university. while this isn’t my first rodeo, so to speak, i felt like everything that applied to undergrad and different city, would also apply to postgrad and different country. here is what they had to say:

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Take a deep breath, put on a smile and go out of your room! The best way to be interesting is to be interested – ask questions! Be kind. Everyone you meet is going through a big time of change and everyone is as nervous as you are! Just try to relax and you’ll find your groove with time.

Don’t go into papers with preconceived ideas of how hard it might be. Starting a paper where the lecturer tells you “half of the class will fail this paper” means that you believe it is impossibly hard when actually if you start with an open mind, it might be okay. With a bit of patience and focus right from the start, you might be surprised that you can do it – rather than putting it off all semester only to find it isn’t as hard as you thought but it is too late to get better than an okay mark for the paper.

As time goes by, whenever anything hard happened or I was feeling homesick, or sick of uni generally, I would count the friends and experiences that I would never of had if I hadn’t made the choice I did to leave home and move to Dunedin and that would quickly assure me it had been one of the best decisions of my life.

And make sure your parents are well schooled on what a top notch care package entails!
– Clara

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My advice to pre-uni or pre-exchange self would be to trust myself more. In really different circumstances with lots of change or other languages or new people, it can get very overwhelming and it was super important for me to realise I was my own best support. You’re you! And you really do know how to look after yourself, whether that means having another coffee or putting flowers in the kitchen or any little thing at all – making small changes to help you feel better can cause a massive shift in how confident and brave you feel over all. Trust yourself!
– Madeleine

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It’s really exciting to move to a new city so I think an important thing to do is really make the most of the opportunity that you’ve been given! Chances are, you probably haven’t spent or seen too much of the new place you are moving to so I think it’s really cool to get to know the new place you’ve moved to! It’s the perfect excuse to eat out at cafes and explore all the attractions your city has to offer. It’s even better if you do it with others – can be a great way to make new friends because after all, your friends become your family when you are living away from home so it’s really important to build some strong connections and relationships!! You don’t always have to do really “touristy” things either – discover the little things in your new city and become a true local!
– Nileesha

wow. aren’t i so ridiculously lucky to count these wise ladies as dear friends!

the next post will be coming to you from CHINA! wish me luck!

i’m back!

hi! it’s been a bit, hasn’t it?

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…ok, more than a bit!

would it placate you to tell you that the last 4 months have been action packed and contained my 21st birthday, a graduation, two 21st party weekends in wellington and friends visiting Christchurch?

no? how about homemade gingernut icecream, mango tart, yeasted naan, sweet and savoury scrolls, a midwinter christmas dinner and a indian feast?

now I’m just teasing you, aren’t I.

seriously though, I’m well. and filled with happiness and joy to be blogging again, which is just as well, because..

blooming anna is going international!

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Nanjing, China to be exact.

and i can’t wait to share my adventures in the middle kingdom with you. I’m practising my tones, packing my bags and trying to squeeze every last bit of family and friend bonding, new zealand scenic appreciation and delicious flat whites into the last few weeks.

the last 8 months have been fantastic – so special to have this time at home which i may not have had if the terms hadn’t worked out the way they did.

of course cooking has been a great joy this year – always such a treat to use the home kitchen rather than the grotty flat ones i’ve had to contend with in recent years. it’s just as well as i won’t have access to one in China (I KNOW, how will i cope?!)

so, i’ll be back very soon with my no doubt scintillating thoughts on packing (aka the worst chore/activity there is), travel, and my impressions of CHINA!

i’ll leave you with the recipe for mango tart, which was absolutely superb and one of the tastiest desserts i have ever made! I made it for my mum’s birthday, and it went down a treat. this recipe inspired me, and then little and friday plus this lady online helped me narrow down the exact execution.

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Mango, lemongrass and coconut tart

lemon and coconut sweet pastry
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup toasted thread coconut
1 cup icing sugar
pinch of salt
250g butter, well chilled and cubed
1 egg
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest

Blitz flour, sugar and salt briefly in food processor. add butter and process to breadcrumbs. add all other ingredients and pulse until it forms a ball.
turn out, gather to a dough and wrap in plastic wrap. let it rest for at least an hour.
you will use 2/3 of the pastry. either remove 1/3 immediately or roll out with this in mind. roll out to 3mm thickness and line a removable bottom fluted tart pan.
rest for an hour in the fridge.
blind bake for 15 mins with beans/paper in. remove filling and bake for another 10 mins.
allow to cool completely.

lemongrass custard
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 stalks lemongrass, sliced
600ml cream
1/4 cup cornflour

heat cream and lemongrass in a saucepan to a simmer. turn heat off and let steep for 20 mins. strain and return cream to saucepan.
beat egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until very pale and fluffy. add a small amount of hot cream, whisk to temper, then add the rest of the cream in increments.
pour back into the saucepan. place over a low heat and stir constantly. it is VERY EASY to curdle. when it comes to boil, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely in the fridge.

topping
3 perfectly ripe mangoes

peel mangoes with a potato peeler. Slice the cheeks and the other sides off. slice into half moon shapes 2 mm thick – you are aiming for delicate and flexible but not floppy.

dollop lemongrass custard evenly into tart shell and spread with a knife. arrange mango in rose formation.

serve! and wait for the compliments to pour in (it is just so good).

it’s good to be back in this space, friends!

lots of love, Anna, BA, DipLang, 21 years of age (how official this all sounds!)

podcasts for any mood

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^^because podcast listening is an excellent way to spend a plane journey^^

i’ve chatted about podcasts over here before, but scrolling through the app on my phone today, i noticed i had quite a few new ones that i haven’t mentioned yet so it was worth writing a new post on them.

gosh i enjoy podcasts. they are the best way to while away time walking somewhere, cooking, cleaning, folding laundry or when you’re lying in bed unable to sleep. there’s something about listening to human voices that interests and soothes me at the same time.

here are five new picks depending on how you’re feeling..

when you need a new book to read:
the concept of this podcast sounds like fun for the participants but kind of boring for the listeners, but i assure you it isn’t at all. guests share books they loved and hated and then move on to recommendations. i have loved every episode so far, but my favourites were probably meredith and osheta – for their warmth and enthusiasm more than preference in books. it will make you want to head to the library immediately!

when you feel like some self improvement:
i really adored gretchen rubin’s the happiness project (and just checked better than before out of the library!) so no surprise i’m enjoying her podcast. she chats to her sister (and occasionally her super cute, very articulate 17 year old Eliza) about ways to boost your happiness and quality of life. i found the episodes about tendencies especially interesting, and have figured out i’m an obliger. entertaining and inspiring.

when you want a little girl power:
Lena dunham’s short series women of the hour was really enjoyable for me. while the advice segments are way too short to be satisfying, the personal testimonies from some very cool ladies and lena herself were interesting and mind opening. and they’re all so friendly and supportive of each other’s work! very cool indeed.

when you’re after a twisting tale:
the modern love podcast features a modern love column from the new york times being read aloud by an actor, then a short interview which follows up with the writer of the column. these columns are about love but they kind of remind me of a roald dahl short story in that there’s always a catch, or a twist. lovely to listen to thanks to the skilled narration and also intriguing to hear the follow up.

when you’d like to hear an interview:
in the twisting circularity of media these days, i initially downloaded this podcast after reading this article, which i’m pretty sure i came upon by way of a blog links post, so – thanks internet, is what i’m saying. i’ve enjoyed listening to a handful of episodes, the one about talking about sex with teenage girls, maggie smith and the creators of spotlight and the big short in particular – really well reasoned, interesting interviews. terry is a lovely interviewer (as are the others on the show) and i appreciate the depth and breadth of what they talk about – for something so blindingly obvious, interviews can be so good or (often) so bad. these are in the former category.

let me know if you try any of these! and of course, tell me what you’re loving. back soon!