Friday, December 25, 2015

My first time travelling, but not the last

I've been travelling around Southeast Asia for 7 months. Really. 7 months!

I recently returned home to Australia and am now capable of fully admitting that I failed spectacularly in my goal to update this blog regularly while I was on the road. I am sorry. I have always been sorry about this. Usually my problem is I have too many things to say, and in my painful, circular attempts to gift you the blessing of conciseness and precision, I give up, red-faced and puffing, mashing my face into the keyboard, and ultimately not saying anything at all. But let's face it, I also made a commitment to choose life whenever it was a choice between living and writing about living. So in that, I won.

Still, I do want to share with you my thoughts, hopes and feelings. All of which have intensified in importance and meaning in my past 7 months away. So thank you for your patience as I try, yet again, to blog.

Reflecting on this past year, I have to say, I made it! Who knew I'd last this long? From May 17th to Dec 11th, I visited Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. It's a magnificent Google map waiting to happen.

Far from sating my travel urge (I am trying to avoid use of the word "wanderlust" here) by living out of a 60L pack for almost a year , I have merely whetted my appetite to see more places, meet more people, and taste more food. And while I still wonder about how and when my completed university degrees and a successful career will collide in a bankable fashion, I worry about it less than I did before I left Sydney with a ticket to Saigon in my hands. Because I can now, completely and wholeheartedly, own the truth that my true interest lies in travel, and that I'd like to make it priority for at least the next 5 years. If a career happens along the way, whoopee. But come on, choices, people! We can't have everything... although we try. So we have to think about what matters to us most, right now.

(More on this later.)

For now, after realising I have actually invested over 11 months out of the past 24 in travel, I think it a reasonable outcome that at some point, while adjusting to my return to a developed first-world country, drinking tea made from delicious diarrhea-free tap water, I thought back about the first time I truly "travelled" - because I consider myself a late bloomer to the jet-setting, backpacking life. The answer would seem obvious - it was recent, right?

In fact, the result was surprising.

My first travel experience

I remember the first time I travelled outside of my hometown alone, and I mean "travel" in a way that I'd consider more than simply going from A to B. It made an impression.

I was 19. I'd gotten a summer job with a minerals exploration company. I was very excited because I was one of the earliest in my university cohort to find industry-related work experience. Almost everyone else in the company was an experienced older Caucasian male geologist, with greying hair and thick Australian accents.

View from the train window.

Every weekend for 3 months I left the sleepy outer-city suburbs where I grew up, and took a 4 hour train journey to a place further away from the ocean than I'd ever been before. There I spent my days traipsing about the rugged Aussie countryside in steel-capped boots, digging around in soil and rocks, to the operatic tune of heavy machinery. It was a culture shock for me, and a great learning experience.

One morning when I woke up early (not by choice, come on, I was 19) and crawled out of my little metal donga to get ready for work, I went outside before I met my workmates and took a moment to take in the pre-dawn.

Our work camp, consisting of nothing more than a few "dongas" or mobile tin buildings.

The first light of dawn.

An outback sunrise.

This was a new site we were investigating just for a week, and it was my first true-blue taste of The Outback. We were 600 km inland. The ground was as red as rust. The horizon was a dead flat thin black line rising to ever lightening heights into a diluted navy sky still dotted with a few exhausted stars. It was as close to the desert as I've ever been; cold, quiet, and empty. I was totally alone. Yet I remember thinking to myself, "I don't feel lonely. I feel peaceful."

Later that day, the heavens opened up and flooded the dusty, parched earth with torrential rain that lasted barely an hour. It was beautiful. My workmates and I waited for the mud to drain away and took photos of a giant mushroom that exploded out of the ground.

I love a sunburnt country. My country.

Sudden shroom!

This experience was the first time I travelled. The disappointing thing is, I didn't realise it until now, simply because the way I got there was through work. I saw it as only work. Which means I lost years of appreciation for what I am capable of. It took me so long to understand that there are alternative ways to make my dreams happen.

Work. Study. Family. The ultimate triad of life priorities, and they are good ones indeed. But when you've got other interests like travel, and you're not told how you can combine them with the other things on your list, you can feel like you've spent forever waiting to pursue that dream.

All I can say is, don't wait. Find a way. It will be worth it. You will surprise yourself.

~ ~ ~

Hope you enjoyed my return post and my photos! I dug through 6 years of archives and countless feels to find them.

If you like what I write (and forgive me my lack of discipline) please share!

Perhaps you could even Vacuuming On Holiday

Finally, and most importantly, I hope you have all had a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Going alone pt 2

there’s a peacefulness late at night that exists nowhere else
in no other time or place
not before dawn, when the restlessness of the earth waiting for daylight itches you
not after dusk, when the evening is fighting for attention and friends to play with
it’s the time when, if you haven’t sorted out your worries and anxieties, they come screaming blue murder for you
it’s the time for you to let your fears and inhibitions go
and they will float into the dark sky
and you literally cannot measure how far they will fly
so you may as well cut your ties now
because when this time is over, you will not find them again
and they will not come running back
and if you can close your eyes and feel the calm within as well as without, you’ll finally be able to hear the world telling you how alright you will be
so open your hand and feel how empty it is
exhale deeply and watch your lungs collapse outside your frame of view
and enjoy being alone
enjoy being at peace
enjoy the night
enjoy the quiet
enjoy the billions of souls at rest, dreaming, sleeping, living, for another day
a day that sits beyond the edges of this one
beyond the limits of your expectations
where your potential truly exists
behind the clouds of your regret and self-hate
it is dark
it is silent
it is still
but it is not dead
what a beautiful thing it is
what a beautiful thing you are

Vacuuming On Holiday

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Going alone pt 1

There’s a loneliness I cannot describe in travelling.

The very essence of travelling is to discover the transience of beautiful things, to discover that there is so much more out there, more than you can handle.

There’s no point getting attached to things, because the very thing that makes them worth keeping, deserves to be set free.

But you can’t help it.

Because no matter how many friends you make, places you see, memories you gather, you want to hold onto them all, even though you know it’s probably impossible.

Why must we posses the things we love?

Why can’t we just love them, as they are?

Why can’t we love them from afar?

Is it because we miss the way they smell? The scent of jasmine in the air on the first day of spring? The musk of your lover’s curly hair the second after they come? The salt spray of the ocean in the first light of dawn as you sit and knead the grainy sand between your fingers and wait for the light to blind you?

Of course we miss the things we see. That’s why we take so many pictures. But we can never quite capture the sparkle of the sun as it glimmers over that lake you spent every holiday at. Or the happiness in your best friends’ eyes. Or the way the fog melts into the dew over the mountains you grew up in. But we take the photos anyway, because we’re trying to hold onto something that cannot be kept.

Should we not?

Does it make it hurt more when we have to let them go?

Or would it have hurt the same anyway?

As much as I try not to form attachment over things, I do. I feel like once I’ve had something, experienced something, felt something, shared something with someone, they’re a part of me forever. And I want them with me forever. Why is it so hard to let go? Why does it make us so scared? Letting go of them doesn’t erase the time we spent together.

It’s easier when travelling, because there’s always going to be something else equally good to distract us. What about when there’s not?

I fear that time.

I want to travel for a long time. But I don’t want to travel just because it’s a way to escape the things that are hard. Ironically, travel should be a way to challenge us, but the constant migration, the continuous flow of new faces and flavours, is another form of distraction. Instead of scrolling down on Facebook, we walk into a new city. Is that okay? Or is that avoidance of the highest level?

I’ve met people who’ve travelled for a long time, a really long time, and it’s enriched their lives so much. They’ve explored the world, solo, alone, but never truly lonely, because they welcome with open arms, open hearts, and enormous smiles, every sight and sound and voice that comes to them. I want to be like them.

So why am I so lonely?

I think all travellers are lonely, but we embrace the feeling, to truly embrace ourselves. I find another part of myself when I’m with others. But when I’m truly alone, indeed truly lonely even, that is, I feel alone regardless of how many people are there with me, faces either familiar or foreign who just can’t at that moment tap into the emotion that’s bothering me so much, I really get what cold is. I really get what hot is. I get what it is to feel wet, or dry, or hungry, or happy, or content, or frightened. Fear, when I’m alone, is paralysing. Happiness, when I’m alone, is giddying; the smiles that stretch over my face are painful. The aloneness, the vulnerability, the realisation that nothing happens unless I make it happen, is mind numbing. I can really feel my heart beat at those times. I feel the breath flow in between my lips. I see the lines in my hands and the freckles on my knees. I feel the gravity that pulls me down into the space that I occupy on the earth. The ground isn’t just dusty, it makes me cough. The sea isn’t just wet, it makes me gargle and choke. The sky isn’t just high, it’s endless.

I’m lonely in myself, I guess because I’m discovering myself for the first time. And it’s scary to meet someone new, all the time. Especially when you’re not sure you’ll like her. But acceptance is the highest form of kindness, and don’t we all deserve kindness?

Vacuuming On Holiday

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"Where you from?"

Those who remember the early days of instant messaging and chat forums - ICQ, Yahoo, MSN - will remember a/s/l, the universal way to begin a conversation. Age? Sex? Location? The question had become so common that it had to be abbreviated in that time-pressured era.

I think the travelling equivalent - no acronyms yet, sorry - is "What's your name? Where are you from? How long are you travelling for?" New names are hard to remember when there's dozens of them. As for details about itineraries, they are frighteningly similar once you're in the same part of the world. Travellers often have similar routes, similar time periods on their visas, even similar budgets, so the places we see, and how long we spend on the road, can sometimes be almost carbon copied. It's not unlikely to meet the same faces in the same cities, or to find mutual acquaintances. In fact, most of my plans come from fellow travellers' advice along the way.

But where are you from...? Everyone wants to know what country you left in order to visit this one. I'm someone with Asian heritage travelling within Asia but having grown up in a Western country, and it seems no one knows who I am. I'm pretty sure many people in my situation can relate.

People think I'm Chinese. They think I'm Korean. They think I'm Japanese. No? So they start to zoom out. Thailand. Malaysia. Myanmar. Still no? Those good with accents might guess the UK or New Zealand. Haha, sorry, no, but good guess. Okay, got it! American! The ultimate trump card. Nope, actually, I'm Australian.

Oh... but you look like one of us.

That's the usual response I get from the locals, anyway. My features are quite Oriental, and there are a lot of Chinese tourists in Southeast Asia, so people have gone so far as to start speaking to me in Chinese. Sometimes they look quite proud of themselves, thinking they'd identified my ethnicity and my language in one fell swoop, only to stop when I've given them a dumbstruck look and said loudly and clearly, "English." The disappointment on their faces is like a curtain.

Especially from touts who have their sales line down pat. Touts who want to sell me a taxi ride, a motorbike ride, a massage, a mani pedi, a boat tour, dinner in a restaurant (or if I'm with a guy, marijuana - regardless of the laws or how close the nearest law enforcement officer is). They shake their heads in confusion and momentarily forget they were trying to make money off me. They have to reassess their approach to potential "yellow squinty-eyed" customers.

Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it's annoying. It's a good reminder to not be too heavy-handed with our assumptions. As important as first impressions are, one cannot judge based only on the outside. This is something we should all know and follow if we want to live in a peaceful world, but travelling helps to really hit it home.

It's gotten a bit better now that I am in Vietnam, my country of background. I hide my ability to understand basic Vietnamese sometimes for my own safety, and once it is finally revealed, locals respond either with outrage that I didn't announce myself as a fellow Vietnamese immediately, or with amusement because I clearly look like a weirdo foreigner. Occasionally they will use me as their agent in trying to rip off another tourist, which is not nice at all, being put in an "us or them" situation.

Other times they just rattle away to me in Vietnamese and are pleasantly surprised that I can respond, but then they quickly and excitedly go beyond my very simple grasp of the vocabulary, grammar and slang, before I can squeeze in the words "xin lỗi, em không nói tiéng việt giỏi" (sorry, I don't speak Vietnamese well). Sometimes they slow down, but if they're a bit older, they kind of sigh and gently let it go...

Luckily there's a word for me here. Việt kiều. Vietnamese living overseas. When they ask me why I know Vietnamese, I bust out that phrase and that opens up smiles and a bunch of questions. Which country do you live in? Where you born there or here? Where are your parents from? They're curious about me. Suddenly I fit into a category.

I can't help but think about how my life would have been different if my family hadn't left Vietnam. I'm sure many việt kiều wonder the same. What kind of person would I be? Would I be a proper Vietnamese girl? Or would I constantly be seeking ways to go against the grain? What's normal for me back home lies outside the box here, but not as far as one might think. Vietnam is an edgy country, and I see change happening all around me. The thing is, my family didn't migrate to seek a better fortune. They were refugees fleeing post-war Vietnam. If my family hadn't left, I may not have been born, period.

I love Vietnam already, and I want to live here, nor would it be hard to find work to facilitate that. I'm sure I'd discover a lot of myself here in the mountains and coasts and forests of this diverse, colourful country. Yet meanwhile, my heart still roots a big part of itself in the dusty red earth and dry scrub of Australia, my beloved old continent. I can't imagine not returning to those sandstone headlands or eucalyptus woodlands after too many years.

So when someone asks me "hey, miss, where you from?", it doesn't really matter whether I answer "Australia" or "Vietnam", because, well, I guess I'm both.

I'm a việt kiều, mate!

Vacuuming On Holiday

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hello. Goodbye.

These are two words I hear a lot when travelling. Hello, and Goodbye. I've gotten better at using them, but never become quite used to it. How can I, when I've met so many awesome people I've had to see leave all too soon, or be the one to leave them? It can be hard to let go, to not worry that you'll never share a laugh or a story with them again. But the fact is, the world is a big place full of way too many amazing souls in it, ready to cross paths with yours.

After 5 months on the road (yes, it's been that long, and I haven't posted since the beginning of my trip! You really must stop believing my blog-related promises), I've said hello to a great many faces from a great number of countries. Each and every time it's been worth the bittersweet risk of having to say goodbye afterwards, because the company they've given me, the memories they've gifted me, the lessons they've taught me, are everlasting and truly life changing. I never quite know who will make a mark on my travels, and sometimes it's been quite unexpected. Generally, a good rule to follow is not to expect anything from anyone, and people will surprise you.

I've heard some say they don't like goodbyes. If they can, they just silently disappear. I can't think of a worse thing. To just be cut off like that. As hard as it is, a heartfelt, genuine, sometimes teary goodbye is something solid I can hold onto. It's closure. It's my last chance to tell them, maybe for the first time, or maybe as a millionth reminder, how much they meant to me, and the difference they made, no matter how small. I think that's a beautiful thing. It makes me brave enough to step out of the doorstep the next time.

Current location: Nha Trang, Vietnam.
Current situation: cough-y, phlegm-y, blocked nose-y, toilet-y, and clearly emotional.
Next stop: Quy Nhơn, Vietnam.

On the road from Nha Trang to Lắk Lake.
My first time with EasyRider, another fresh way to travel around and see the country.
I promise (dun dun dun!) to post some more updates soon.

Vacuuming On Holiday

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Tales of the Travelling Pants

Howdy! It's been a long time since I posted. I have a good reason for that! (honestly)

I actually drafted this ages ago when I was running around like a headless chicken preparing for my trip to Southeast Asia. I was madly organising visas, buying travel insurance, booking flights and accommodation, not to mention getting a tonne of vaccinations. Seriously, I am like a human pin cushion! After all that, thankfully I still had some money left to actually travel.

So I wanted to write you (tearily) before I left, but instead, you find me typing this in Vietnam! I almost can't believe I've already been on the road for 2 weeks! While I take some time to absorb the happenings of the past fortnight, and the fact that my feet are once again on foreign soil, let me tell you about my Travelling Pants.

I present to you the aforementioned:

My Travelling Pants. Dey be every where mon!

I bought this pair of jeans in the first week of my Europe trip last year. £11 at an ordinary Primark in London. Bargain.

I didn't think they'd last very long, but as the guy at the beginning of Aladdin said, don't be fooled by its commonplace appearance! They went with me nearly everyday for the following 4 months as I walked, plane'd, train'ed, tram'ed, bus'ed, and climbed (a lot of cathedral towers plus a couple of hikes in Switzerland) my way around 8 countries in western Europe including the UK.

Berlin wall. Oh my god, yes, I'm finally uploading photos from my Europe trip last year! And it's nice to remember that Berlin is where I started this blog. :)

Sometimes they were too much for me, like in hot Barcelona when I decided to lounge on the beach in something shorter while checking out cute guys with my friend M (to our dismay, there weren't any). Sometimes they weren't enough, like when I was shivering in cold Lucerne and my friend A introduced me to delicious roasted chestnuts, yum!

Sometimes they were too tight, like when I ate that amazing duck in Nice. Sometimes they were too baggy... nah, that never happened.

Paris at night, with a view down the Seine River towards the hauntingly magical Notre Dame Cathedral.

So besides my booty, these jeans carry a lot of memories. There was that time I was having a horrible day in Antwerp: a man kicked me for no good reason (not even kidding), and then when I sat down on the wharf near the river to compose myself, the sun-scorched wooden pier bleached the colour out of the bottom. Wow, they got off to a bad start in Belgium. I even remember that time in Ghent when my friend's adorable frisky kitten Billy accidentally pulled out a thread near my left knee with his sharp little claws. After that, every time I fingered that loose thread, I remembered cute little Billy.

But that was more than made up for by the many hours I spent in them wandering the cobblestones of beautiful Bruges, the canals of picturesque Amsterdam, and the alleyways of Florence. I wore them when I ambled all the way down the Unter den Linden in Berlin, from my hostel in the Mitte to the Tiergarten, a walk that was longer than I expected. I wore them again in Paris when I walked from the Notre Dame Cathedral, all the way down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, to the Arc de Triomphe - another long urban trek. Then again in Milan, when my friend M and I diagonally cross-cut the entire city in search of good aperitivo (calories we totally earned!)

Cinque Terre and the beautiful Italian Riveria. I'd never seen olive trees before, and there they were along the coastal hike from Vernazza to Corniglia. Kind of cool to think that almost a year later I was picking olives in the backyard with my cousins.

Still, that wasn't enough for my Travelling Pants! Even after I returned home to sunny Sydney, they wanted to keep on moving, although the adventure was taking its toll...

So I wore them for 3 weeks in Melbourne, sightseeing and feasting with my friend D around the city, laughing my ass off at the International Comedy Festival with a crew of awesome mates, and visiting my cousins.

My beautiful cousin M suggested my Travelling Pants deserved a post all of their own when she saw how hard they'd been working:


Uh huh.

All the thigh chafage they've prevented! There's no way I can repay that debt.

Now that I've properly recognised what they have done and what they mean to me, I can gracefully retire them to the rubbish bin. Ain't no charity is gon' need them. I pushed them to their limits and now it's time to herald their farewell with the attention and respect they are entitled to.

It's funny how the things that mean so much to us can be so unassuming in and of themselves. Just a cheap pair of jeans. One among hundreds on the shelf at a chain store. And yet they've been everywhere, man. With me.

Flinders pier. D and I visited the scenic Mornington Peninsula on a day tour while we were in Melbourne.

As I embark on another long backpacking trip through a new continent this year, I think it's helpful to remember that the things/people that matter most are not measured by how much money we spent on them, but by how much time we spent with them. And it seems like the experiences we value most of all are the ones that we absolutely didn't see coming!

One of several picturesque vineyards in Victoria's Mornington Peninsula, Australia.

Thanks for stopping by to adieu my Travelling Pants! grin emoticon It's already taking me some time to sort through my photos and stories from the past 2 weeks in Vietnam. I know first-hand that it's super hard to stay updated while I'm constantly on the move, but I'll try to do a better job of blogging this time!

With that promise made, here's a bit of a visual preview of my current journey through Indochina:

Bùi Viện: backpacker central. One of the busiest streets in bustling, hectic, chaotic Saigon. Haven't yet figured out if I love this city or if I'm stressed out by it, but it's certainly got me captivated!

As always, much love to all of you, my readers, and please share your thoughts in the comments below. Backpacking solo can get lonely and it'd be great to hear from all of you!

Vacuuming On Holiday

I wrote this in Cà phê Ngôi Nhà Số 7, a beautiful cosy little caffeine-infused secluded retreat, hidden down a long driveway off Ngô Thời Nhiệm street. I won't go so far as to review it since Tom has already done such a good job, except to say that it's probably my favourite café in Saigon, and I've come back 3 times in almost as many days. If you're in town, make sure you pay it a visit - and bring your charger! You'll want to stay a while.

Friday, April 24, 2015


If you haven't already heard, it's been raining cats and dogs here in Sydney and across the greater state. It's been all flash floods and gale force winds and power outages and even, sadly, fatalities.

Today we saw the first bit of sunshine we've seen all week, so I thought I'd take a moment to celebrate the beginning of the weekend and enjoy the small pleasures of life at home. Normality is underrated!

I really like the look of my family's coffee table right now - it reveals a bit of insight into how we like to unwind in the evenings after dinner. It's peaceful and calm and comforting to share quiet telly time together in the living room.

Tea, yarn, roses, and tasty morsels to schnickety-snack on... everything a person needs to relax.

Did I mention I have a lot of yarn-fans in my life? My sister is one of them and she's constantly working on some knitting project. There's always lots of patterns and needles and baskets of multicoloured balls of wool and cotton lying around. My friend M recently got me into basic crochet too, which I've been doing off and on (currently on), leaving me with a bunch of practice squares.

I'm trying to look past my perfectionism and actually use them, rather let them go to waste lying useless in the bottom of a bag in a dusty corner somewhere. They're lumpy and imperfect, but my sister insists there's an element of charm in that! Right now they're doing well as coasters and place mats to protect our wooden surfaces.

My thoughtful mother also often dots the house with beautiful flowers that she clips from her garden. They brighten up the place fabulously - very important in dark, dreary weeks like this one has been!

This tiny vase is so cute! I found the glass jar a few months ago when I was working in the Aussie bush, and I loved it so much I dug it up and took it home. The rosemary, from our own herb pots, was leftover from a roast veg dish - perfect for makeshift leaves, and deliciously smelly.

Anyway, it cheers me up. And it's so simple! smile emoticon What's putting a smile on your face this thankful Friday?

By the way, if you were wondering, my head torch is there because I use it to help me see my stitches at night when I'm working with very dark yarn. I look like a total dork wearing it, but I'm not crocheting to impress!

The little ziplock bag of coloured squares are miniature tasting blocks of chocolate (did I mention I'm a chocolate fanatic?) that I got from ... but I'll save that story for next time. wink emoticon

Happy weekend folks!

Vacuuming On Holiday