DO this don’t: Travel with your parents

I haven’t been on holidays with my parents for a VERY long time. And because it was my first year back in Australia and first Christmas at home for more than a week, we decided to plan a trip to Cairns.

My mum had recently seen travel photos on Facebook from a friend of hers who travelled to North Queensland and I think she was slightly jealous that they (being Americans) had seen more of Australia than they had. Up until the beginning of last year they had always used their leave to go back to the Philippines to see family, and it was probably their 5 week sojourn to the USA and Canada in mid 2011 that they finally caught the travel bug to see something more than just their homeland (as lovely as it is). So when mum suggested a Christmas trip to Cairns, I was a little bit hesitant, but thought it was a good chance to get them to indulge in the travel bug and show them how I travel.

The planning process was a bit mental to be honest. Me, being a non-planner, was frustrated by mum’s incessant questions about booking flights early, wanting to stay in a resort with a pool because there were killer jellyfish in the ocean, debates about hiring a car, and if shops were open at Christmas and maybe, no- we should- bring a Christmas ham on the plane just in case shops are closed and there would be nothing to eat and do you think the weather will be good because I hear it’s cyclone season… and so on, you get my drift. Mum’s have a way of being over paranoid so I was forgiving in this respect, but god forbid I was going to let her actually take a Christmas ham as hand luggage on a 3hr flight up to Cairns. Dad and I did eventually convinced her a Christmas ham wasn’t necessary, but when we arrived and were unpacking our bags I did notice she had smuggled across the state border some canned goods and meatloaf (maybe in preparation for that cyclone).

Holidaying with the parents wasn’t as bad as I initially thought. Sure, they’re going to want to eat dinner early, take pictures of everything, over-anaylse the touristy sights and they’re never going want to stay up late for cocktails – but I found that by having tons of patience, a bucketload of compromise and a preparedness to make time for thoughtful answers to all the questions, I actually really enjoyed their company and even learned a thing or two.

My parents are in their mid-fifties, and despite my perceptions that they were old, conservative and boring, I saw quite an adventurous side to them for the first time.  Whilst my siblings and I shivered timidly at the water’s edge of a river in Mossman Gorge, mum and dad both dived in head first into the freezing waters, giggling like school children, and egging us on to jump in.

During our boat trip out to the barrier reef, my dad surprised me by wanting to try diving and loved it. Mum went snorkelling on her own for hours, mesmerised by the rainbow of corals and intent on capturing about 87 underwater photos of the same fish.

When we suggested going jungle surfing in the Daintree rainforest, Mum – who was not particularly comfortable with heights – was terrified at at the thought of ziplining through trees 20 storey’s up, but by the end she was ziplining upside down and screaming in delight – even confessing that she’d conquered her fear and would love to do it again.

Of course when you’re in close proximity to family 24/7 tempers will undoubtedly flare (the most memorable disagreement was regarding having a photo taken with a koala!), but I suppose my point is that I never realised my parents were so fearless and open-minded.

After the trip I realised that it would have taken a lot for them to want to travel with me as well – knowing that I’m a seasoned traveller and can be pretty stubborn about my way of holidaying. In the end I discovered that travel doesn’t discriminate by generation (and why should it!). My folks just happened to get bit by the travel bug later in life. And the symptoms of the travel bug is the same at every age – the desire to get away, try something new, see the sights, be adventurous, meet people and maybe even conquer some fears. To experience a holiday with your parents as an adult makes you see them in a different light – I only hope that when I’m in my mid-fifties I can jump into frigid cold lakes, fly across tree canopies, discover underwater worlds, and put up with stubborn adult children who think they know everything about travel, who stop you from smuggling Christmas hams across state borders which results in having to order pizza and Thai takeaway for Christmas dinner.


When the world gets you down, give thanks

Let’s face it, we go through our fair share of ups and downs in life, but we always seem to remember the downs. From relationship break-ups, sunburns, parking tickets, rejection letters, bitchy bosses, office politics, unreliable internet access – I’m sure you’ve had it all.

But there’s always reason behind the madness.

I had the most HELLISH day at work yesterday (secret tears in the bathroom kind of thing – and I’m an ugly crier, believe me) where I felt totally unappreciated for all my hard work and my confidence was absolutely pulverised into smithereens by my bitch of a boss. I came home from work and my flatmate was waiting for me with a glass of wine and a ready to ear to listen to my raw, unadulterated anger. Later than night I went to a friend’s house who also had a glass of wine and a shoulder to lean on and she sat quietly listening to me vent, then when I finished announced that her grandmother had just died (making me feel even worse – here I was jabbering on about my trivial issues when there was a family tragedy for her to vent about). My point is, that when the world gets you down, I know that I have an army of people waiting to support me and fight for me.

About 4 years ago I went through a very tough divorce. At the end of it I was emotionally drained, had nowhere to live, was in serious debt and my close family and friends were thousands of miles away. I felt incredibly desperate, confused and alone. I internalised the situation for a long time – I didn’t even tell my mum for 2 weeks – because I wanted to believe it wasn’t real, it wasn’t happening and that it was just a blip. But it was real, and it was happening and divorces are far more than just a blip. When I was open about my issues, I suddenly realised there were people that loved me, that wanted to help me, that would make the time to listen to my problems. I actually wasn’t alone.

Life has a way of giving you lessons – and my divorce was the ultimate lesson in my life. The lesson learned? I am never alone. And for that, I want to give thanks. I give thanks to a casual acquaintance who took me in, gave me a home and helped me rebuild my confidence, emotional stability and positive attitude back, brick by brick. I thank his girlfriend for showing me how to find passion in life, become a confident woman, and for teaching me how to love myself again. I thank all the other friends who I subsequently met in the years following who injected fun and laughter and for creating amazing new memories to replace the painful ones.  To my fellow travellers who I may have only spent a few hours drinking with or weeks backpacking with – I thank them for their camaraderie, understanding and sharing the life changing experiences that travel gives you. To my siblings, with whom I was never particularly close with, but gave me support nonetheless in ways that only family can. My parents, whom I owe everything and thank them for their unconditional love, support (and good food). And to a dear old friend, whom I’ve known for twenty years – who understands me better than I do – without her I would never have been able to cope with one of the most gut-wrenching, emotionally scarring and depressing moments that a woman could ever go through.

And to all the ex-boyfriends, ex-husband, ex-friends, ex-flings, bitchy bosses, nasty parking inspectors, egotistical nightclub bouncers, and Vodafone customer service – I thank you guys too. Because without you, I would never have woken up to realise that I have amazing friends and family to help me get through your incompetencies, lack of commitment, pretentiousness, bitchiness, laziness and pessimistic attitudes – through them I’ve learned that when the world gets me down, I just give thanks.

And if the world is getting YOU down, please don’t feel that you are alone. Reach out the someone, anyone. See a counsellor. Talk to God. Hell, email me if you really want (I’ve been told I’m a good listener!) Otherwise if you  keep yourself caved in, locked up, and let the issues eat away at your soul – you might never have known that there are people out there who will look out for you, help you and build you back up again.


Ten things that make me smile

In no particular order:

1. Not waking up hungover after a big night out.

2. A really comfortable pair of shoes that look great and last forever.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Learning how to say something awesome in another language. C’est magnifique!

4. Driving in my car with the windows down, singing out loud to my favourite song (the daggier the better) and not caring if anyone hears me.

5. Baking.

 

 

 

 

 

6. Recieving a postcard or handwritten letter in the mail.

7. The anticipation at the top of a ski run or chairlift and looking out towards an expanse of fresh, fluffy, white powder snow and knowing I’ll be first person in the world to go through it.

 

 

 

 

8. Watching sunsets.

9. When my hair decides to behave and looks fantastic.

10. When you hear from someone out of the blue who you’ve been thinking about recently.


Life B.I. (Before Internet)

In the year 1986 B.I (Before Internet), my family moved countries. Now I wasn’t exactly aware of the all the logistics involved (considering I was only five years old at the time) but it must have taken months, perhaps years to organise. Research, job applications, moving companies, plane tickets, selling houses, buying houses, finding schools, keeping in touch with family and friends. All done without the internet. Just imagine what that would’ve been like for a minute.

The expensive international calls. The paper work. The fax machines. The physical leg work.

Twenty years later, I was the one moving countries. With the Internet at my fingertips, my entire move was co-ordinated in less than two months; I arrived in my new home with a good orientation of the city thanks to Google Maps, knew what my contacts all looked like thanks to Skype, was aware of the local customs, weather, currency exchange rate and even knew my hotel breakfast menu that morning from all the online research I did. Moving countries using the Internet was uncomplicated, easy and efficient.

In contrast, Life B.I was a world of hand-written letters, postcards, film cameras and telephones that didn’t have buttons or hash signs. To use a computer you had to write ‘code’ and the television had funny looking antennas that made you contort your arms above your head in weird positions in order to get a smooth picture. You kept a notebook of everyone’s phone numbers and home addresses and to look for a plumber you would tediously thumb through the thin, transparent papers of the Yellow Pages.

If you wanted to go on holidays you would traipse down to the local travel agent, flick through the brochures and when you booked something you’d get a plastic travel wallet that contained your plane tickets printed on carbon paper. Then when you got back from holidays, you would bring all your negatives to the local chemist and anxiously wait 3 days to see how your photos turned out.

For entertainment as me and my brothers grew up, we biked around the neighbourhood, watched Back to the Future over and over again on video, swung around the Hills-hoist, climbed trees and went swimming at the local pool.

During school, we’d play bullrush, cricket and handball at lunchtime and passed notes during class – the punishment for getting caught was to dust the blackboard dusters or peel gum off the desks at recess. After school, I would get into trouble for using up the phone line for hours on end as I gossiped with my school mates about what happened at the bus stop that afternoon, or making prank calls to boys we liked.

The centre of my universe in 1994

I was about 14 when I got my first portable music player. A Sony walkman. It was royal blue and I loved the fact that it had ‘auto reverse’ and a little screen that told me the radio station I was listening to. It immediately became the centre of my universe. I would spend hours in my bedroom listening to the radio, waiting for my favourite songs to come on and when they did I would quickly press the record button so that I could forever commit them onto celluloid for later listening pleasure on my beloved walkman. 6 months on and I managed to fill an entire shoebox full of illegally recorded music from the Top 30 countdown shows; the cassette tapes housed in plastic covers that were lovingly decorated by me in love hearts and swirls, listing every single song (in order) on the sleeve. I then started making mix tapes for my friends and boys I liked as a way of sharing all our favourite music together.

I discovered the Internet at 15. My dad brought home a computer one day, and we had 3 hours of dial-up internet access a day. That was it. I hogged every single minute of it. I swiftly ascended (or descended?) into geekdom – my homepage was Yahoo (what else was there, really?), I got an email address (my friends had no idea what that was), taught myself how to build a webpage and code in HTML and somehow found myself wasting time talking to strangers on billboards and online chat. I completely and whole-heartedly devoured the internet and all it had to offer me. Less than 5 years later I started my career that is completely reliant on the internet. And here I am today.

For all its tediousness and what now seems like a complicated and time-consuming era, I look back on Life B.I. and get little pangs of nostalgia. No one cared about tweets or status updates. Keeping in touch was done with pen and paper and phones were just phones. And whilst I like to think that I should really give myself a ‘break’ and totally disconnect, even for just a day, I would probably find it hard to do so. Because while Life B.I was sweet and nostalgic, I couldn’t imagine Life W.I. (without internet).


Staying sane in an insane world

“All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusions is called a philosopher.”

– Ambrose Bierce

Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Politics. War. Bullying. Drug busts. Talking smart phones. If you were from another world and you read the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald you would think the inhabitants of earth would be insane.

This is a world where we let our views be shaped by less than credible politicians, or worse, celebrities. A world where we we let our ego’s run wild in pursuit of never-ending desires; where the end justifies the means.

A world where we work excessive hours to earn large incomes so that we can afford to surround ourselves with disposable toys and possessions that we barely have enough time to use. We constantly put a value on leisure time but don’t know how to relax when we have it. We are brought up into a society that happily distributes drugs, both prescription and “recreational” because we don’t live healthy lives and need something to protect us from the unhealthy lifestyles we have decided are necessary for us.

We constantly try to balance ourselves to ‘normal’ but our ego’s won’t allow us to settle. In this globally interconnected world we are more altruistic than ever.  I think it’s sad that it takes an epic natural disaster, or the death of an icon, or a traumatic personal experience for people to wake up and smell the roses.

I encourage you to smell the roses on a daily basis.

Because life is too short to sit idly on the conveyer belt of insanity.


Ten guilty pleasures

Everyone has several guilty pleasures that they indulge in to feel good. Here are my top ten guilty pleasures:

1. Driving with the windows open with the air-conditioning on – it isn’t exactly environmentally friendly I know, so I rarely do this, but there’s nothing like  the feeling of driving with all the windows open, wind in your hair, music blasting, singing at the top of your lungs. If only I had convertible…

2. Trashy magazines – I don’t actually buy trashy mags but every now and then, at a doctor’s waiting room or the local bookstore or when borrowing a friend’s copy at the beach, I like flicking through the glossy pages to catchup on celebrity goings on; whether it be about Lady Gaga’s latest outfit tragedy to Brangelina’s newly purchased orphan. There’s just something voyeuristic (and addictive) about the concept of knowing what these people get up to on a daily basis. Are they normal? What does she look like without make-up? Look at Britney’s flab! Really shows how shallow we can be sometimes, and I feel almost dirty once I’ve gone through a couple mags.

3. Excessive shopping – It always catches me out; I pop down to the mall to relieve my boredom on a Saturday afternoon, and a few hours later I’m walking out with a dozen shopping bags. A few days after I separated from my ex-husband, I moped about in the Mall of the Emirates, and in my depression mode I walked into Gucci and decided without hesitation I would buy a bag, a wallet and a pair of shoes. Then walked into another shop and bought a pair of jeans. Then some make-up. Then got an extravagant haircut complete with highlights and treatments. Whilst my credit card probably wasn’t happy about it; it certainly gave me that wide-eyed instant adrenalin rush and feel-good factor that only shopping can give you.

4. Chocolate ice cream – My premier choice in junk food. I know Italy has fantastic gelato, as too does Argentina – however I can never say no to a Marble Slab special of Chocolate Swiss mixed with French Vanilla with a generous helping of pecan nuts.  Drool. Then you’ll see me at the gym for the next 3 days trying to work off the calories. But its so worth it.

5. Karaoke – yes I LOVE Karaoke. I can’t help it, I’m Asian, its in my DNA. My local establishment in Dubai was a Japanese Restaurant inside a 5-star, 54 floor toblerone-shaped building where I’d belt out traditional favourites like Livin’ on a Prayer and Like a Virgin in a tightly packed room of other drunken expats. If funds were low, my flatmate and I would crank up the Singstar and annoy all our neighbours with our voices, which were anything but 5-star.

6. Travel planning… that is beyond me – I often dream of cool adventure trips like diving the Galapagos Islands, riding a motorbike through Africa or sailing the South Pacific, however I don’t have the required licenses to do any of these so the experiences have always been beyond my reach (although in saying that, it does inspire me to get qualified!). I also love dreaming of trips that require ridiculous budgets like lounging about in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives or seeing the Antarctic on an icebreaker…but I’m quickly brought back to earth with a thud when I look at my bank balance. But there’s no harm in dreaming, is there? The most extravagant trip I’ve ever taken was a 3 week South African safari complete with all the luxurious trimmings; and whilst it made a considerable dent in the savings, it was worth every. single. cent.

7. Cheese and Crackers – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My eyes go hazy when I see a plateful of soft, gooey Brie or crumbling feta rolling in glistening olive oil, most often accompanied with the usual mezze staples of prosciutto or salami. Not great for the thighs but there is an evil pleasure in convincing yourself that this is only ‘finger food’ so it really doesn’t count.

8. Staying in a really really expensive hotel – I was 19 when I stayed in my first 5 star hotel with my boyfriend, the Regent (now Four Seasons) in Sydney. From then on, I was hooked. I remember the feeling of crawling into fresh white sheets on a massive super King size bed, playing with the dimmers on the lights and looking out at the amazing views of the harbour. I get excited about raiding the mini-bars and trying to make cocktails with the miniature (and very expensive) bottles of booze and soda. I delight in the thought of breakfast in bed, cable television and extravagant bubble baths. I once stayed in a hotel in that had a glass window from the bathroom looking into the main room so that you could lie in the bubble bath while watching TV. In a resort in Oman, you could swan around in the pool all day, getting served cocktails at the swim-up bar, or grab a sun-lounger on the beach and be waited on hand and foot by ‘butlers’ who are never too far away, awaiting to take your next order. I took a birthday trip to Paris with my mum a few years ago and treated ourselves to a gorgeous hotel a couple blocks from the Arc de Triomphe. We were the only guests and were treated with amazing hospitality. And mothers being mothers, she proceeded to collect every single mini shampoo, soap and sewing kit in the room and even asked for more from the housekeeper. But to them it was not a bother. That’s the whole point of being in a luxury hotel; to feel important, cared for,  like there’s nothing you can’t have. It’s like being a princess. And I think it’s okay that every now and then, if I have the means, I will happily fork out for the pleasure of being treated like one.

9. Wearing pyjamas all day – There’s nothing like the satisfying feeling of lounging around in your pyjamas all day. Not getting out of them is a sign of defiance of the routine; of apathy; of pure unadulterated Sunday morning laziness.

10. Drinking on a school night – I’m doing less and less these days but the midweek drink used to be my specialty. There’s pleasure in the first sip, but when you’re getting home at 2am on a Tuesday, you know there’s going to be regret in the morning.

What are your guilty pleasures?

All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.


I deserve to be heard!

Last night I celebrated St Patrick’s Day like the rest of the world – drinking terrible beer and wearing silly green hats.  And like an Irishman to potatoes, redcalifornia here needed her nicotine hit to complement the beer drinking. I bought a packet of Marlboro lights and when I ripped open the foil packaging, I found this card:

front

Back

The front of the card depicted a scene that smokers are all too familiar with – huddled together, looking cold, miserable and lost as a result of being treated like pariahs due to their unfortunate habit. The back side explained what this was all about. It was a campaign called “I Deserve To Be Heard” calling for smokers to unite against all the barriers we’re faced with in order to indulge in our dirty habit. It was essentially a campaign organised by the cigarette manufacturers to fight back for our right to smoke! My first thought was, is this even legal?

Gone are the days of when we used to see commercials or billboards of the hunky Marlboro man light up, then jumping on his horse riding away into the sunset as he enjoys the flavour of his chosen tobacco.  Nowadays, with advertising and sponsorship bans, It makes me wonder what kind of things go on in the boardroom when marketing execs of tobacco companies get together to discuss advertising campaigns for their products. I imagined a scene similar to the one in the satirical movie Thank You For Smoking, where Aaron Eckhart (who plays a tobacco company executive who makes his living defending the rights of smokers in an effort to increase sales) and his boss yells at the marketing staff: “People, what is going on out there? I look down this table, all I see are white flags. Our numbers are down all across the board. Teen smoking, our bread and butter, is falling like a shit from heaven! We don’t sell Tic Tacs for Christ’s sake. We sell cigarettes. And they’re cool and available and *addictive*. The job is almost done for us!”. Of course,  I don’t think this is exactly how it goes down, but I can imagine the challenges that a marketing manager might have over at Philip Morris in these modern anti-smoking times.

But I digress. So, after some more thought (and another cigarette), I realised this little card hidden in my ciggy packet could may well be the start of a revolution by smokers. I agree with the need for the government and health officials to warn us of the dangers of smoking and to discourage all of us from taking up the habit – and I’m happy to put up with being exposed to nasty ciggy packet pictures of deformed feet or rotten lungs every time I reach for a smoke (so as long as its not a photo of a dead baby fetus, like they have in Argentina!) – however I am disturbed that there are many groups and individuals who make it their own personal mission to vilify smokers – there are even groups in the States that campaign for smokers not to be allowed to adopt children, or even be employed – these people seem to believe that our choice to smoke makes us undeserving of a having normal life.

So I do think its important we smokers get our say too. We’ve put up with the rising prices and taxes. We put up with the smoking bans from the restaurant, bar, pub, beach, cars, everywhere. We put up with being treated like diseased second class citizens, like drug addicts, who are constantly exposed to a barrage of criticism and naysayers. I’m a good person. I’d like to think I’m a good member of society – I love my family, I contribute to charity, I work hard, am intelligent, kind to others, recycle my bottles and generally am a decent human being. But to some people, as soon as I tell them I am a smoker, their perceptions stop them from seeing who I really am, because I’m immediately stereotyped as a non-healthy, lazy, dirty, slacker. Believe it or not, I do know that smoking is damaging to my health, and possibly to others, but I do also have manners – I don’t light up indoors, or in front of children. I make it a point to respect those I’m with who don’t like the smell of smoke to not light up around them, or ask their permission if I want to. I treat non-smokers with the same dignity and respect that I hope to be treated in return, regardless of whether I am a smoker or not. Unfortunately some people are all to quick to judge.

The laws have forced us all outside in the cold, both in the physical sense but in a larger metaphorical sense. We cough up to $17 for  a packet for the honour of being treated as social outcasts, lepers and child abusers. And Im kind of glad I discovered this campaign – because we do deserve to be heard.

I hope one day that smokers and non-smokers can live in harmony;  I believe its just all about using common sense. I agree no one should have to put up with my second-hand smoke when they’re trying to eat a meal, but I think I abso-frickin-lutely should have the right to have a smoke while I’m drinking my gin and tonic at a bar, and shouldn’t have to feel guilty while doing it.

If you’re a smoker, check out the site – www.ideservetobeheard.com.au. If you’re not, then I’ll await the barrage of criticism I’m sure to get about this post.

P.S. Just to be clear – In no way am I glorifying smoking, or support that anyone – especially children – take up smoking.