THE START OF MY LOOK-BACK
I have a habit of waiting to start something; waiting for the perfect moment or opportune time, waiting for inspiration to flow or the adequate amount of time to present itself in my calendar. This is flawed. When will the perfect moment ever arrive to face the bittersweet nostalgia that flows every time I think of Oz? As I sit down to begin writing, I realize that the definition of “perfect” is subjective. When I reflect on my time in Sydney, freshly ended (for now) a mere eight weeks ago, I know in my heart that it was not only the “perfect” city in which to live, thrive and try something new – to face constant adventure, learning, heartbreak, romance and a newly intense kind of love that only meets the heart when placed in its most vulnerable and open kind of circumstance – but that it was also home to a season in my life that was the perfect length, degree of richness and distance from everything that I had known before.
What more perfect time is there than today?
That habit, or tendency to wait? It had arisen in the earlier years of my “twenties” too, taking the form of procrastination to “bite the bullet” and pursue my dream of living overseas. Since the later years of high school – in which my soccer team traveled to Europe and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants hit the big screen – I dreamed of moving to a far-off land for a time and immersing myself, speaking a bit of the language, meeting strangers in their local markets (aka playing soccer with cute older boys) and becoming friends with both citizens and fellow travelers who would become my new crew of worldly adventurers.
As college began and my exposure to the Earth’s corners expanded, I started to snag glimpses into this potential future: David left for a summer Euro-trip and sent postcards from countless cities; my closest comrade Jill left for study abroad in Sydney herself and did exactly what I had pictured: she lived in a shared house mere steps from the beach, tried foods and coffee orders of which I had never heard, and sky dived over parts of the Ocean of which I had barely heard the name and couldn’t even picture: Cairns (home of the film festival?), the Great Barrier Reef (like in Finding Nemo?). Finally, throughout my university years and with the help of my on-campus mentor and boss in the Study Abroad Office, I sought out as many chances as I could to venture across the proverbial ponds nearest me. I traversed Europe for five weeks, Singapore for two and Hong Kong for ten in my longest travel adventure yet. I was hooked. I had the itch and yet to start scratching. I knew that my first chance, or break, or job that I’d get would be “the one” to land me in a foreign country.
Five years went by and I fell into the [absolutely wonderful, privileged and fortunate] cycle of professional life – working for two corporations and indulging in the blessings of full-time, pseudo-adult employment (as well as the discretionary income this came with). I took trips, ate well, fell in love, and even ventured abroad again on an educational-service trip to Japan (chaperoning high-school students). Was my chance lost, or had my time passed? My first employer had shown it was possible to work overseas through a boss who made me feel encouraged by his leadership stint in Asia. He had worked temporarily in an emerging market, claimed to have loved its lessons and its people, but had recently returned home for the future of his family (wife and new daughter). While I pondered the possibility of following in his footsteps, I found myself in a work format that was grueling – though I’m ever-thankful for your teachings, retail – and switched careers before I could explore transferring enough to be dangerous.
Over the following three years (2014-2017), I loved working for an international company that allowed me to learn from peers around the world. I worked on global projects, had calls with communities of knowledge to share “best practices,” and even met a few international friends through work trips, conferences and onboarding sessions who would later become not only inspo, but assistants in my transformation. I began to get the proverbial “itch” again, approaching the age of 28 and wondering if I’d missed the opportunity to do something crazy. I examined what my career pivoting options were, and my long-time boss Donna then asked me what I now realize was a pivotal question.
Sitting on the communal couches on Level 15 of our SoMa offices, we were overlooking the East Bay of San Francisco and the infamous open-air AT&T park. Donna leaned in and asked me “Cory, if I told you that you only had one more role and “tour of duty” left at LinkedIn – what would you want that to be?” I hesitated to speak though the answer rose in my mind and heart immediately:
“I want to do a stint abroad.”
Why did I hesitate? Am I too old? Is it too late? Will my family ever forgive me? I’ll never forget a local teammate at the time and future friend telling me that she had recently secured a new role in London. In response to my outward wondering of whether it was “too late to pull it off,” she said that “it’s never too late to pull it off if I’m 31 and pulling it off now.” Little did I know then that my boss Donna’s scenario also wouldn’t be the case. I’d have at least three roles ahead of me once I embraced the desired future I could no longer deny. That day, Abroad Down Under was born -- if only to be cultivated a significant number of months later.
The going wasn’t always easy, and I hadn’t even moved away from home yet. Once I decided that I was finally ready to, I started to experience a preview of the pains that come with leaving your home and everyone you know and love. I applied for a role in Asia’s glittering headquarters, Singapore. I was rejected for inadequate cultural experience with the intended market I’d serve. I told my current beau that this was something I had always wanted. He rejected my hopes of making it work and maximizing the time we had left together. I began to tell my friends and family that this was the aim, by the halfway point of what was now my 29th year. Some of those same friends asked why I’d want to venture so far away. Didn’t I like my friends, or love my life back home enough?
The implied notions – that I didn’t love home, wanted to be far from family or wasn’t enough of a cultural chameleon to thrive abroad anyway – led to inevitable self-doubt. There were months of wondering and conversing ahead of me. I faltered in confidence at times, but I also refused to falter when it came to having calls, reaching out to colleagues whose names I had heard and asking questions incessantly.
I am forever indebted to the friends and strangers who had “coffee talks” with me, even at my most clueless of times: Claire, Neil, Audra and Jonathan. Next, there were friends who I had recently met at a culture convention of sorts within our company: they were four new work-friends who hailed from Australia, and the perfect acquaintances to surge my aspirations and spark a fire in my search. To Millie, Kat, Chris and Mary: I couldn’t have done it without you! Finally, I began interviewing for what seemed to be the perfect role Down Under: a job within my company and function that I was thriving in, amidst a slightly different business but related industry and newly growing team, into which I’d be eligible to transfer at my current level and into a young organization smaller than my own.
The more I type the words “little did I know,” the more I realize how little I knew about the pain that was ahead of me. There were countless heart aches, personal losses and days of uncertainty yet to come. At the same time, the road to the sunburnt country was also joyous and encouraging. I interviewed with two gentlemen – kind souls who pushed me and might have become adopted “dad” figures in Sydney – and the female mentor who would lead my soon-to-be greater team. I conversed with my god-sent recruiter named Millie, took my first stab at negotiating, and learned an endless amount by simply listening and verifying what I understood. The day I verbally agreed to come Down Under, I sat in a transparent glass-walled conference room on that same fateful Level 15 and felt – for the first and DEFINITELY not the last time – the bittersweet loneliness worthy of those on the path less traveled. Seconds later, I texted my best friend in the world since kindergarten, Chelsea - who had thankfully become a Work-BFF in the preceding year and worked in the same office that I did circa 2017. She immediately came to meet me, and held me as I sobbed with the realization of this thing I was manifesting – as well as the distance I’d be creating between me, and her, and home.
Little did I know...
The following months were a blur and a joy as well. I began selling my things and coordinating with my two roommates. I planned farewell festivities, took road trips across and down my home state of California and soaked up every inch I could have of San Francisco. Highlights stand out in my memories, of the small moments: laying in the grass outside my favorite city landmark, the Palace of Fine Arts with my more recent BFF Stephanie, her reading my tarot cards; sharing açaí bowls and body scrubs at a Korean spa alongside my three closest gals, both times cleansing the heart and soul of my SF-self in preparation for a new chapter. I relished in the glory of this city by the bay right as soon as I was getting ready to leave it. I went back to the aforementioned beau and gave in to the romantic bliss of knowing – or not knowing, rather – the expansive and distant future that was now ahead of us. I drove my cat and my things to Southern California, Mom there for moral support in the front passenger seat. I recall laying grasswards, watching fireworks in the final patriotic display I might witness as a CA resident for the next several years. July 4th fell a mere few weeks before I left the Mainland and country, and - surrounded by three women from different phases of my life spanning sisterhood, childhood basketball teams and later-in-life work friends-turned-soul sisters – I finally began to realize the implications of moving 6,000 miles across the ocean… including the moments, traditions, milestones and company that I’d miss.
There were constantly moments like the aforementioned one which simultaneously broke my heart and got me through at the same time. They began right then: one of those friends above gifted me a beautiful necklace containing the coordinates of home – asking me to be at her side during her wedding, regardless of where we were in the world! My sisters and Mom met me in a Hawaii for a well-earned stopover on my route to Sydney; there, they gifted me one of my most prized possessions still today: a simple, home-constructed memory box filled with notes from over forty of my other family members of friends to get me through the expat days ahead as a Broad Down Under. Finally, my beloved and pen-pal-extraordinaire Gramz not only wrote constantly but took my FaceTime call as I sat in the window seat aboard Delta flight XXX to SYD, August 4th 2017. She told me that although she’d miss me, she was also proud of me because going abroad would make me a better broad.
That was the day that not only my dream began coming to life; I see now that the woman I would become and the pages to follow were coming to life as well.
As I embark on a new writing journey of reflecting back on my time in Oz, I ask myself: Do I want to live hours of each day reliving my time and months in Australia? In part, I do. I've always wanted to write, not only to savor and taste life twice but in the off chance that I'll inspire one person to write too, or go abroad, or move away from home, or try something they might not have tried otherwise. Moreover, November marks National Novel Writing Month in the USA... and we know we'll measure our life by the risks we took and the absence of shots we didn't take!
So to the past three years abroad Down Under that were to come… here's to relishing and celebrating them!
Abroad Back Home
October 3rd, 2020
My dearest Sydney,
How are you?! Are you faring well Down Under where the spring air must be warming up? How are your waterways and your ash-strewn outback this time of year? I remember fondly that this month typically marks the start of silly season!
It's been harder than I could have imagined to leave you. I'm only an ocean away but the 6,000 miles and [I still can't convert how many] kilometers feel like lightyears thanks to the change of season, time-zone and routine. I arrived smack dab at the end of a wet hot American summer in California, where it's been the opposite of wet and fires are rampant (at risk of continuing through Oct). I can't help but be reminded of your tragic bushfires earlier this year: countless homes, acres and families either devastated or terrified at the brink of evacuation. P.S. What is the world coming to that we can't contain nor avoid these devastations, even on opposite sides of the world?
In past years -- if I were in Sydney -- I'd be wandering the noodle markets and planning for my first boat party or yacht social club by now. Last year this time, I had just moved into my new apartment on Pitt Street and was still discovering new Chinese food haunts, my commute or yoga options beyond Surry Hills. I was also continuing rituals like book club (three years after attending with Ash, Charlee, Kristen and Becca!) or Cultivate-Club over dinner of snacks. These are things that I will miss so much and I wonder: Can I continue them? Recreate them? Realize that there is a reason or season for everything and that maybe I shouldn't try to relive the expat experience here at home?
California has been divine in some ways and an adjustment in others. It's nice to be in familiar cities, driving comfortable streets that I know like the back of my hand. As I write this, I am flanked right now by two puppies that love me... with one more at home where I move tomorrow, thanks to Mom and Dad. When I arrived in Cali on September 4th, I had a temporary living space that felt like something out of a childhood memory at the beach: a small one-bedroom apartment, one block back from the sand and sea. I landed on a Friday afternoon after what felt like hours of traveling that also absolutely flew by. I opened the unlocked door to Apartment 29 and saw not only brightly-lit tiles, a large kitchen and dining table that i knew would convert to a work space... but I also noticed a familiar face perched on my living room side table. Not just one face, but another -- then a group of them! There were ten women to be exact, they were everywhere. My Mom had printed and framed no less than ten moments in time captured merely days before in your very own streets of Sydney, Down Under. She didn't want me to feel alone when I arrived "home."
Where to begin with what I miss about you most? The photos featured Maybe and Silly Tart and Jacoby's in Newtown. There were the work gals, the book club gals, the epic jumping photo next to your STAR - The Opera House. I woke today thinking of more things that I miss: including but not limited to Canopy on the Park, spontaneous run-ins in Paddington, mixed berry muffins with Jenna and long walks through Surry with Simran. I miss Paramount Coffee Project and PRC upstairs, not just for our final moments together but for what it WAS when I went to daily six AM yoga, had coffee there, and generally ordered almond flat whites wherever I could get my hands on one -- all before COVID times. I miss Humming Puppy; I miss the pad see ew from Chin Chin. More than any single place I miss your resident bachelor and Peter-Pan for life: Rupert. I miss his couch and his presence.
Finally, I miss my days: waking to the glowing line where the sky and north of Sydney met the sea. Reading in bed after meditating to the city street sounds. Wandering down for a flat white in my freshly showered wet hair, donning my purple Disneyland shirt or Kindness is Cool jumper (it was winter when I left, wasn't it?!). Next, I'd work a bit; then, I'd walk again or escape through Hyde Park to the Botanic Gardens for that daily view of TOH. I'd cook Marley Spoon or sneak Macchiato wraps with haloumi for lunch; I'd stop at Coles for bakery cookies or more almond milk and fruit for smoothies. Finally, I'd chat with Rupert and crawl onto our couch with the blue and gray blankets. Though I know time will fade them, I don't want to lose these memories.
What do you miss most about me? Can't wait to hear from you.
Abroad Back Home
This past weekend I rose to an already beaming sun, shining through the headlands and over the north edge of Sydney Harbour. It was muted somehow by the morning mist, but relentless in its warm intensity against my legs while I sat under my desk, facing the window.
The sun was always a beacon to me, a sign of universal humanity and Mother Nature's energy source. It was a friend I longed for in winter and craved in bulk during summer. Long days at the beach, from dawn til dusk while camping or hanging out with the soccer team, were long accompanied by this yellow personality, nearly always there for us.
I'd lie in the hammock out back as well, or on beach towels in the grass reminiscent of summer days, and pray that her friendly rays would hang out with me- enough to make me cool. I associated being tan with looking skinny, feeling "hot," standing out in tennis whites or my summer break short-shorts.
Later, I indulged and upgraded from the occasional spray tan to UV beds in the University Village. I liked the solitude, the meditative nature of these beauty caves and I'd sit for six minutes, soon lying for seven or eight. Wasn't I knowingly frying my skin? I most definitely was, but I thought I could get away with it.
I was invincible -- basking in the seasonal glow of sunshine and warmth and the positive hormones that permeate our bodies when sparked by Vitamin D. I had magical day after day in that sunshine, teenage romance pulsing through my sun-kissed limbs as a fifteen year old picnicking with Adam, my first boyfriend, at that park behind Amgen in NP. Later, I'd lie in the grass outside Golden Gate Park or at Dolores in SF, twisting daisies into flower crowns. Was that my mid-twenties or was that at Manzanita? Either way, her loyal beams of light made my skin glow, lit up our selfies, made us brave and led Matt-something to roll over in that grass a la Pocahontas and kiss me like we were in a romantic comedy. Wasn't it the sun to blame then?
When else was the sun at my side and looking over me?
The first time I circumvented the globe, I looked up at a Sydney sky and realized that the sun was the same, unanimously known and loved whatever side of the Earth we found ourselves on. Later that summer, I found myself in London watching her set on the Thames. Same girl, different day! From Paris and our warm nights, prolonged by her lingering radiance, to Roma's burning hot days dripping with melted gelato, the same emanating star was with me and I finally understood - this is why Mom always loved her. Why she symbolizes joy and radiance.
Maybe the Earth is the canvas of our sun. Everything she illuminates shines, transforms and grows.
In my third week in Europe and fifth week traveling the globe, I realized that this exact "sun" was the perfect symbol to embody how I was feeling about life and my inner workings, not to mention my calling: I wanted to light up every room I entered, like she does. I felt enlightened. I felt that on this trip, that light had been shed on my soul and on my potential, on the common nature of the world and of humankind no matter the country, city, park or streets we wandered. I doodled said "sun" on business cards and Metro maps, finally perusing a parlor in Prague where the uncannily perfect sun appeared to me.
It had six rays and six mini-sun beams, perfect to represent the six cities I'd travel through by end of summer 2009. I was still headed to Italy (five) and had a week of freedom in Madrid -- that'd make six! So I did it: Emily B (now married with a new name and still a beaming ray of sunshine from what I see in pictures) held my hand while Sabrina, mentor and early boss who ultimately changed my trajectory around the sun for the better, stood at my shoulder. She taught me that my body is my canvas. Insert my first-ever tattoo here; July 2009.
Maybe the Earth is the canvas of our Sun. Everything she illuminates shines, transforms and grows. Her energy can only be transformed, never destroyed. The fruits of transformation aren't always perfect; they're often flawed. The evidence showed in me as she traveled me around the globe on my next travels.
Maybe there are a few lessons here. Today, I glare out my window and over my balcony at the sun with mixed feelings. On April 1st, I learned that she played her part (though I did too) in a small, pre-cancerous case of melanoma in situ. A happenstance trip to the dermatologist led to a quick callback, an urgent biopsy, a sizable removal of a piece of me and twelve stitches.
Author's note: Pathology reports show that all cancer cells are completely gone. I'm high-risk but all clear.
This month, I've begun my days and approached my daily walk with a strong dose of icky, undeniable fear. My longing and prior love for that beautiful sun are now mixed with resentment - and guilt toward my own lack of boundaries. I am partly afraid and also sad that she and I will never lie together for hours on-end, no protection between us. She is dangerous in high doses. Her rays are relentless and also hurtful when over-used. She's not cruel, but in some ways toxic.
I have to remember that energy can only change, not disappear entirely. Maybe it's purely time for us to change our tune, evolve our dance... at least lessen my dosage. She's the same beautiful soul that circles our world and anchors us too. She shows up every day and models restfulness and resilience each night. She appears unconditionally and resurfaces after storms. She's the physical embodiment of love and light, God's two greatest qualities.
For now, I'll keep turning toward the light. Sun, I refuse to give up on you entirely.
Abroad Down Under
My new M.O. on walks takes sun protection and social distancing to new levels!
Last month, I was aboard my fourth flight of the year to Singers -- and it was my tenth international long-haul of 2019. Considering how often I'd been finding myself "up in the air" lately, I was deeply reflective upon the idea of home is where the heart is. Can you blame me? Where was my heart these days anyway?
It's no surprise that I then found it heart-wrenching to walk into Singapore's Changi airport, only to be greeted by this new sculpture featured near immigration. Its title? "Coming Home."
En route back to Sydney this weekend - having just completed my fifth and final trip to Singapore -- I am more conscious than EVER that the idea of home is fleeting; fluid. After taking ten+ long-haul flights this year between Oz, New Zealand, Cali, India, Japan and Singapore, lately I worry that I don't even know what home means anymore. Am I forgetting what it feels like? I realize that I'm not only feeling disconnected from home but even from my fam (who I was just with), my friends Down Under, my routine and my own well-being. I've been away too often to feel grounded but not home enough to feel a part of my own family.
I read a quote recently that I pulled out of my Daily Dose box. It said that "every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home." Could this be it? Do I have it in me to find a sense of home while still in motion?
A few weeks after these feelings emerged, I started realizing that there are a few things that feel like home wherever I am. They're not all easy to find, some are abstract. But they are the things that remind me of who I am.
Running the world
Hearing my songs
Chatting with the fam
Seeing the ocean
Taking a bubble bath
The smell of Sleepy
Writing down my feelings
Opening a paperback
Singing in the shower
Making a connection
Smiling at a stranger
Breathing myself to sleep
Taking a mindful moment
Hearing from a friend =)
Watching one of my favorite movies
Having a smoothie for breakfast that I made myself!
Cuddling a pet
Cuddling a person
Sending a postcard
Reading my favorite writers (like Steph, Liz Gilbert and JK Rowling)
Saying thank you! especially in writing
Talking with C
Cooking something new
Walking into work
Taking a ferry ride with my AirPods
Group FaceTime with all 15 of us (including boys and pets)
The list goes on. The important part is that I've begun identifying the things, the rituals that I need to prioritize to be my most authentic self. As candid moments show, these are the things that bring me to life! Some of them are pillars of well-being; some align to my core values. Some are basic hobbies and some are objects of my obsession -- "Sleepy" scent from Lush included.
For now, I'll keep building out the list and filling my days with intention.
Abroad Down Under
Last month marked my two year anniversary in Sydney. My two-year subscription to this site even renewed!
With two years gone by, I've held two job roles, been to two sales Kickoffs and traveled to two new countries with LinkedIn - Japan and India. I have lived in two corners of town, have run two workshops AND have run two City2Surfs (at the time of writing this post) Down Under. Now two visas in with one renewal to go, I've hosted two family visitors and two of my own birthday parties, and I even prepared dishes and entertainment for two Friends-giving dinners.
Don’t get me wrong! Sydney is TOO far from home, too hot in summer and too rainy on Christmas. The time zone’s too hard sometimes and texting can be too impersonal. FaceTime is too much for some people and calling is too much effort after I've spent my whole week talking. But Sydney is also too beautiful to leave; it's too convenient to warrant buying a car. Trains are too easy and Aussies are too easy to hang out with. Their accents are all too charming and the surfers are simply too cute to resist.
In my time abroad I’ve had two real crushes and two less-than-ideal workplace ones. Two dear friends have moved back home to the States... but I've already made 2+ work BFFs, 2+ lifelong friends (pictured below). I’ve held two gym memberships, retired two yoga studios and hosted two successful bookclubs. :) I've created two “homes” out of two apartments in my two respective neighbourhoods - while they're only about ten minutes apartment, they're still unique in their own ways.
In the past two years we've lost two remarkable matriarchs in our family. We've also had two cousin weddings and two new babes have been born -- make that three! I've seen two dear friends get married whose festivities I was lucky enough to join. I've also celebrated family, graduations, wedding preparations... I've had quality time with Kirb's two puppies and seen my two kitty nieces on visits home.
Despite the 14+ hour flight to CA, I could never take too many trips home nor spend too many hours on the phone catching up (as Jill and I prove time and time again). I think I'll simply know once I've been gone too long. For now, I'll count my 2 [million+] blessings and remember that it must take two years [and then some] to feel like somewhere is home.
It’s been a while since I’ve written, and I wish it were mostly due to my busyness living life. There are countless reasons: I turned thirty, had a fun-filled end of summer, went for a new job at work, and applied for a new Australian work visa. What else got in my way? Sporadic illness, procrastination, writer’s block and failure to dare greatly. I’ve journaled often and written reflections, but I’m always waiting to have that perfect a-ha moment or wave of clarity before I hit POST.
There are a few reasons that I’m writing NOW.
In the first quarter of 2019 I’ve already witnessed much, from great loss to new life. I’ve pondered and pivoted, endured waiting periods and ambiguity. To borrow from one of my comrades in cultivating a life with intention (yes - we have a “bookclub”) — my aim this year is to stay brave and leap whenever possible. If her goal is to leap, mine is growth -- I intend to try new things and keep flexing new muscles in order to build my career, cultivate courage, stay inspired and optimise for maximum well-being.
What do I mean by leap?
As 2018 came to a close and Christmas break approached back in California, I learned that a highly-ranked “dream job” was opening in my line of business at LinkedIn. In a unique intersection of high-demand and great timing, our APAC sales director was investing in a headcount role to support and enable our field team. In tech, this job is called Sales Enablement or, at LinkedIn, Sales Readiness. I wouldn’t know for a while if it would be based in Singapore or (potentially?!) Sydney, but what I did know was that I had been interested in teaching and consulting internally for years. I also had a chance opportunity to meet with the global leader of this team — she was working in our SoCal office at the time, and only through the end of 2018. We spoke that week.
After weeks of interviewing sales managers, talking to field reps and soliciting advice from learning professionals, I prepped a learning proposal geared at the team of which I’m currently a part. I spent those weeks considering my personal ambitions, my life and routine in Sydney, and my non-negotiables. Based on what’s in my heart, I told my company (in one of several “brave” moments) that I’m not currently willing to moving to Singapore. I shared my story, leveraged what I’ve learned from all my employers (to whom I’m so grateful, from Islands to Apple!), and taught a new concept or two. Days before my thirtieth birthday, I was offered the job of Sales Performance Consultant for LinkedIn APAC.
At the end of year while lounging at home in Cali, I considered my New Years’ Intentions differently than I had in the past. As I wrote ideas like “visit a new country” and “go on a solo trip abroad,” I was struck by a rhetorical question in my mind: what better time than the present? Though I knew work awaited and an interview process would begin as soon as possible, I also knew that January would be the best and slowest time for our customer business to be without me. I saw no better way to ensure I was ahead of my resolutions than by booking a trip while December was still in progress. So, off to Google Flights I went...
One of my dearest friends (Brittany the PhD!) and her hubs had a trip lined up to visit New Zealand’s South Island for their belated honeymoon come the first day of January. They invited me to rendezvous for part of their camper van road trip, but I was home in the U.S. during most of the time they’d be meandering. On the other hand, I recognised that I'm living in a remote corner of the Asia Pacific ring — right next to the beautiful and green island country — and shouldn’t miss an opportunity to meet my friends Down Under! While I had visited the North Island’s capital city of Auckland for a quick work trip, I had longed to see the South Island's natural beauty and lakefronts for a while. Finally, I learned that their itinerary’s January finale was a quick and affordable flight away from a long-desired bucket list location that all of my Sydney friends love: Queenstown.
In the end, New Zealand was beckoning and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity! So I re-packed my suitcase and headed off for a five day adventure from Christchurch to Queenstown via coastal mountain road-trip. On Day One, I took a shuttle from CHC’s arts district to the mecca of marine mammals where I’d meet Britt and Jefe: Kaikoura. We made great decisions, from choosing whale-watching via small plane (success! and no seasickness. See below.) to seeking out a small, quirky brewery off the main road that donned an escape room and mini-golf course out back. Night One we spent cooking in the camper van and seeking out refuge from the rain, which was made easier by the Irish pub (and its cute British bartender) based behind our campsite. I even tried my hand at surfing and caught a wave so tall and scary that I stayed flat on my tummy throughout the entire, exhilarating ride. Thanks Jeff for the push!
After saying goodbye to my travel buddies at CHC airport, I jetted off to Queenstown for my first international trip (mostly) solo. I was immediately met with stunning views and soothing ease; I took a $10 bus toward the lake town’s centre and walked mere steps to my hostel (recommended by a friend who was traveling days later). I arrived before 8am, allowing me to spend the day in leisurely solitude. First stop: the biggest mountain I could see - since it seemed likely to beget the biggest adventure on my way back down it. See my video here.
I enjoyed two full days of strolling, savouring and leaping (from zip-line to zip-line). I even tried one of my scarier adventure sports yet: river-rafting (with strangers!) down the ice-cold Kawarau River. Queenstown was ridiculously picturesque, so I walked/jogged and dined/drank alongside the volcanic lake as much as humanly possible. I met friends traveling from the North of England (see: center), the middle of the U.S. and the cities of South America. I slept in a hostel [for the first time solo] and enjoyed a deluxe pod that reminded me of Zenon’s room on her space station. Finally, I met with one of my first American Sydney friends for fresh seafood, downhill luge rides at sunset, heartfelt catch-ups and overdue reflections on life. After 48 hours in solitude, it was special to have company and an adventure companion at that!
The least-novel leap I’ve taken this year has somehow felt the scariest of all. After witnessing my own family and certain friends experience loss, I’ve come to re-appreciate and more deeply understand life’s profound fragility. Not despite but perhaps through the pain of distance and fear of worst-case-scenarios, I appreciate even more the fun times at home and today’s technology. I can’t predict the future, but I know that my home remains first - and always will - in California. So, led by my heart once again, I decided to pursue a second work visa to reside and consult in Australia.
This week, on 23rd March — it was approved. I have the option to be A Broad Down Under through March 2021.
I’ll take each new adventure and its subsequent teachings one leap at a time. For now, wish me luck and thanks for staying along for the ride!
A Broad Down Under
I have a tradition each year where, on New Years eve night or shortly thereafter, I reflect on the year that’s about to end by thinking about each of the twelve months individually. I usually list experiences and memories that stand out in my mind without photos or calendar entries; sometimes, I cheat and sneak a look back at my journals, forgetful and then nostalgic/grateful toward all of the great things that blessed me that year.
This year is the first that I scribe this exercise with the intention of sharing. After watching a recent learning course on Leading yourself in the workplace, I found new appreciation for the value of reflection. The course led me to conduct a workshop on ways that we can better acknowledge and celebrate our achievements. Not only does this help us stay motivated and get recognition for our work professionally; it’s shown to cultivate countless other benefits including increased happiness and fulfillment, greater amounts of positive relationships and deeper gratitude (not necessarily in that order!).
This exercise fondly reminded me of a framework called the 18 areas of life. Introduced to me by my college and now-lifelong bestie Jill, it's a list of value categories that one can use to gauge and benchmark their overall contentment in life. From my recollection, the eighteen areas include the obvious: family, work, health, finances, spirituality, purpose. It also prompts me to rate my Relationships, Community, Home, Personal Space, Body (Sex too!). My favourites include degree of Learning, level of Adventure/Fun, and the basics we take for granted including Time and Habits.
2018 was a year of countless firsts, several failures, serious loss, and numerous learnings. It was abundant in travel, friendship, new discoveries and new habits. Though it's taken me weeks to think about said areas and finally sit down to draft this reflection -- perhaps delayed in part by the desire for more time or the absence of the right time -- it's nearly the end of January. I'm out of time. Better to just write than not share at all!
A few lessons stand out as I think of what the Universe showed me this year:
Life's biggest lessons come at the most inconvenient of times. My last handwritten note from Gramz boasted these words on the front, and I read them two weeks after her passing - the day her note arrived in the mail. Being even further away from home than I normally am when I got the news, my biggest fear upon moving overseas had come true. Surrounded by new experiences and people who were celebrating, I had to stand up in her honour (see above) and accept both my award and the fact that life has highs and lows -- often at the same time.
Grief is weird and different for everyone. I had never related to those who lost someone-- not really. Certain friends and colleagues gave advice with the best intent, but no one else could put words to how I felt or what I should do. My deepest moments of grief came unexpectedly and sporadically. I miss and long for her as much as I savour my gratitude for her. I wish she could read this.
Everyone is doing the best they can at their level of consciousness. While such optimism reads like something I should have always believed, it wasn't until I realised my uniqueness and endured my hardest year that I truly understood the effort of -- humanity, I guess. How could she say that? Why don't they understand? We each see the world through our own lens and struggle with the same desperate hope of being happy or doing something great. We can't rightly assume that we would do better if we were in the other person's shoes, in the exact same "totality of their circumstances." We’re not them. We all have our struggles.
In order to live the life we desire, we have to release the hold that our past has on us. I've listened to this mantra through a digital meditation for years, but only this year realised the extent of its meaning. Releasing the hold that our past on us is not only about pain or those who may have “wronged us”; it's also about letting go the grip on our past selves as well as the expectations that we alone have set upon us. My previous chapters are precious and inked, yet closed.
Music is woven into our family’s legacy. On Christmas Eve we sat and listened to holiday classics, acknowledging the greats who were favourites of Grandma and Gramz. As the thought crossed the room that it was like they both were with us, I realised a new appreciation for music's gift of connecting us: regardless of time or celestial plane. My mom’s choral teachings and my sisters’ lovely voices collectively weave some of my fondest memories together.
I can run the world. Moving my body across Sydney and even Newbury reminded me that there isn’t a minimum distance or a certain pace required. Running wasn’t a part of my SF life, or a ritual that belonged to Mike or the Embarcadero or the streets of LA. Running is a part of me, and running is about covering a little ground each day… in order to become a better version of myself when I fall asleep than I was when I woke up that morning. Thankful for discovering Coach Bennett through the Nike app to remind me of that!
No often isn’t a bad word! While essentialism taught me that boundaries garner respect, this year and its mentors taught me that "no" also makes room for "yes" by someone else. I can choose with intention when I know my heart and values. I can also decline opportunities without missing out on the right to others. I've built a community and circle of trust. I am worthy and I am enough exactly as I am.
Manifesting my dreams won’t always turn out looking like my vision did. I believe so firmly in the power of intentions and visualising - but this year, several milestones arrived on unexpected paths. Where I assumed things would change or I'd be required to move somewhere else, an opportunity arrived in the place I newly call home. When I dreamed of crossing a bridge later down the line, I walked at the right pace and the bridge arrived before me. Finally, I need not cross the proverbial bridge until I come to it. I should only focus on what I can control and have faith in the rest. I'm applying this now to my pursuit of a new opportunity. My visa, my residence and the homes in my future? Only time will tell.
Finally, daring greatly will only reward me.
Being vulnerable when I was struggling at work helped me grow more effective strategies with my boss throughout the year, and being vulnerable with my friends or through social media paid dividends -- it turns out our confidantes appreciate authenticity. This year, I even "dared greatly" by posting videos, sharing my story of transformation and writing about how I built brand rapport since moving here. In turn, I was celebrated as a top profile at Linkedin AU and my long-form post on LinkedIn went viral. I constantly re-read Teddy Roosevelt's words via Brené Brown:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the [one] who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [one] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming... who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly”
Upon deeper reflection, countless highlights and bucket list items were ticked in 2018:
January Alyssa and I took the reef! We rang in the year at my first festival, first time camping, first time traveling together. Phil moved to Sydney. Book club thrived. I met one of my soul sisters here: Becca!
February Scott and I took the Vic coast. Sydney too. I conquered the Great Ocean Road and I turned 29 with everyone I’d come to love! I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
March I hosted my first culture program and cultivated an Int'l Women's Day. Jill and I discovered Byron Bay and even more of Melbs. Saw my first Mardi Gras in Australia! "30 before 30" began in a courageous attempt at dating. I met another true friend Cecilia and celebrated home[sickness] on Easter.
April I grew my crew. Becca’s birthday led to endless flirting, shameless dancing and my first true flame. Yoga continued, more goodbyes took place. Amanda came to visit and I savoured Sydney more deeply than ever! I filmed my first-ever web series as a travel host (dream job #1 -- coming soon).
May I also hosted my first true celebration on Cinco de Mayo. I hosted USC students! I got Lys married and fell in all kinds of love on Kauai for the weekend of a lifetime. I reconnected with SF. I saw Talia graduate and got to spend time with half my Welsh family.
June I celebrated and said farewell to Gramz. I saw SD, explored with Chlo and Mom. Returned to Hamilton Island, showed Mom my city. I had quality Bram & Sarah time and rounded out the best family visit.
July I saw Macau and returned to HK. I won big, a career highlight… and we lost Gramz. I endured the lowest of lowlights I've experienced in this life.
August I don’t recall clearly. I reaccelerated at work and took on a dream job (on the side) in welcoming our new hires. I started cooking; I set boundaries. I went on dates and opened my heart again. Kirb and Andy decided to spend their lives together.
September Ticked the bucket list and went to the Blue Mountains to savour an escape. I branched out, started career chats and brought women leaders to LinkedIn. I started embracing Marley Spoon and growing my cooking confidence!
October I rocked my most intentional and rewarding [Learning] InDay for employees! Made new friends, painted again. I started personal training with Raks.
November Zina got married. I was recognised on LinkedIn, I wrote a post... and I hosted my very own fulfilling Friendsgiving! Explored more culture activities in Sydney and went out on my latest first dates. Saw potential by keeping my heart open.
December I celebrated life love and 2018, from person to party to purposeful day after day. Partied across Sydney and then continued home to NP! Reunited across LA and AZ and got the family time I needed, pieces of Gramz included.
I read at least 10 books, met more than 15 cute guys and cooked over 20 new meals. I went to 10 new cities and booked my first international solo trip! I ventured across Oz, grew my confidence, celebrated my loved ones from afar and saw countless new things, movies, recreational things and yummy restaurants.
I took my first weekend-long solo trip along with interstate and int'l adventures:
In hindsight, 2018 was spent Becoming a Better Broad just like Gramz foresaw. My grandma knew more than I ever could have realised she did. She got me through it.
Here's to embracing 2019 with clarity and intent!
Abroad Down Under
In a forgotten journal entry from 2015, I wrote that "September is the new January.” It’s a month of fresh starts, spring cleaning and untapped potential. It marks the fourth quarter of the “game" as the clock runs out on the time for annual goals and New Years Resolutions. Seasons take a brisk turn, either down colourful autumn lane (back home) or onto the long sunny days of Summer. It's the final countdown.
So much happened this month of September that it felt I was mid-leap from the spring of an inflection point I mentioned in my last post. If July endured the hardest combination of grief, joy, bittersweet pride, love and gratitude, then August was for healing and September was for building up my strength again!
By absolutely no coincidence but, rather, a few fated opportunities and a stroke of intuition, I spent a long weekend in September taking my first entirely solo trip: in a town called Long Jetty in the Central Coast of New South Wales.
I arrived via taxi after a two-hour train from Sydney. Sloped slightly downhill in number nine’s slanted driveway, I noticed I was being greeted by a banana yellow door like its AirBnB listing had promised. I approached the door and touched the digital padlock with a Hogwarts-sort of magic: the numbers glimmered to life on the screen and silently prompted me to tap: one one oh six. Unlock.
The first thing I noticed was a coastal theme: warm hues of sunshine and sky blue adorned each room. In the master bed and bathroom, alternating blues and gold suddenly reminded me of my arch nemesis, the UCLA Bruin. That slid from my mind as I glimpsed seemingly local and aboriginal art; a wise elephant in Noir filter glanced down her trunk at me knowingly. This could work for my private thinking sanctuary.
The next thing I saw was a critter on the floor, in stark contrast on the cream carpet and disrupting the otherwise peaceful ambiance. Deep breath. I delicately grabbed him up in a paper towel and freed him onto my private patio - let’s be honest, I chucked him onto the grassy depths below it - since the alternative was risking his company in my fresh white bed linens that night. This was not a replay of Jubilee Pocket in Airlie Beach circa earlier this year; I didn’t have a brave companion like Scott with whom I could chase and capture unwanted flatmates until all hours of the night! First proud moment of solitary courage: check.
It was early afternoon, so I took my time to settle in and observe my spacious quarters. My room: cozy with electric blankets and three simple furnishings only. I took my three weekend outfits and placed them cozily rolled onto my corner chair. A hanging mirror and its protruding frame made a quaint shelf for my single pair of earrings and four rings. Later that evening, I’d place my precious findings from the day’s beach walk there.
Past my room, a small dining table neighboured a lonely guitar and small houseplant. The room-length bookshelf featured classics and modern pop reads, mysteries like I’d find on our bookshelf in the pink room [back home]. My three-ring-binder of a host-guide told me there was Foxtel and Netflix for my enjoyment. I thought, I think I’ll avoid them in favour of the rarities only available on the Central Coast.
I set out for my first bout of exploration, inspired by the daily ritual and sole tourist attraction native to Long Jetty - The 3pm Pelican Feeding at "The Entrance" (fondly known as such for its unique and narrow waterway from the Pacific into a saltwater bay-like Tuggerah Lake). The birds were fearless, bigger than small preteens and resembled the epic pelicans that came out of Jumanji! After taking a look, I continued on an easy jogging path that circled the entire peninsula from Long Jetty (on the west side, facing the lake and the rest of Oz) all the way around the Entrance and several more ocean bays (named Blue and Toowoon). There were ocean baths, rocky beaches with treasure troves of abandoned shells, and only a scattered few passerby or vacationers (likely due to my weekday timing). I passed a pair of women, sisters, who walked their dog lovingly and asked what had brought me there. I also spied a beach bungalow hideaway back in the trees that I later discovered hold's the homey name of Kim's beachside retreat. I can see myself returning someday.
Upon reflection, I am just now noticing this coastal pocket's resemblance to a nearly-whole heart. Little did I know when I chose and booked it that such a whole-heartedly heart-encompassing journey would ensue. Bonus! Being positioned on the west coast of such a quaint peninsula (see "Long Jetty" on the map) would mean sunrises over the ocean and sunsets over the Lake just beyond my private backyard - see below.
When I returned home that first evening, I found my patio to be framed in magic hour sunshine softened only by the second floor’s wooden pillars. A glass-top table and five wicker chairs look out over the lower patio deck, inviting with a giant outdoor sectional and black-brick fire pit that’s square in shape. To its left was a half yard of grass, an herb garden speckled in red and a hammock that’s been unjustly neglected according to its sun-faded hues. The thick, smooth branches of the yard's mystery-trees slashed starkly against the sky’s glow, resembling a monster-size urchin resting behind this cottage of mine (see it there behind my tea mug?). The autumnal cloud-cover made for some heavenly witching hour-lighting.
Enter: Day two of my first-ever solo retreat and vacation
My first morning’s jaunt was to the nearby Glass Onion Society, a neighbourhood corner haunt boasting coffee, food and vibes on its front door. All were served. In one of the first effortful activities of my phone-free day, I savoured each rare colour and taste on my plate instead of photographing them… like I normally would. Button mushrooms, cherry tomatoes on their vine, half a perfect avo and multi-coloured grain sourdough toasted to a crunch. Meals don’t often get better than that, but this one did - thanks to an almond flat white and tropics smoothie (featuring pine, mango, passion and coconut).
I returned home to rest in my queen sized bed under a checker-quilted duvet in Long Jetty. There was Morning Tea at my bedside and a fresh apple in my belly, books stacked at my feet where Simba should be. As I both read and wrote and wondered what else would come of this retreat, I realised that Rilke’s words from Letters on Life touched on why I love journaling about my experiences: he says,
"The longer I live, the more urgent it seems to me to endure and transcribe the whole dictation of existence up to its end, for it might just be the case that only the very last sentence contains that small and possibly inconspicuous word through which everything we had struggled to learn and everything we had failed to understand will be transformed into magnificent sense.”
When I wasn't scribing my innermost thoughts, musings on my career goals and writing down every rich and lovely detail of my discoveries on this trip, I made time for activities that we don't often fit into the daily, city routine. I decided to attempt a digital detox on Day 2 and left my phone on airplane mode. I went for another stroll through the coastal path lined in rainforest-y foliage and did some sketching in the aforementioned backyard. I jogged through a protected marshland and waved to more pelicans; I even forewent headphones in favour of nature sounds.
I picked up litter! Finally, I went back to the Glass Onion Society and listened to Central Coast locals share brave snippets of Spoken Word. Over a light Mexican food dinner at a cozy recommendation by my BnB hosts, I people-watched and appreciated the unique eccentricities of this quaint coastal town.
When asked how was it? about this quiet solo adventure, I reflect that it was both beautiful and quiet, raw and confronting. I had space to think, remember, dream and imagine. I reached several moments of the clarity I had set out striving toward. I savoured love and gratitude as well as well as longing and mourning. Finally, I watched the sun recede beyond the still lake and mysterious hills of NSW mainland. As quiet strollers and amateur fishermen and -women passed me on the long jetty, I acknowledged the 180-degree panoramic view of lake-sea around me (and no, not through my iPhone's Panorama setting). We should remember to unplug more often.
Here's to have taken time for what's in my heart, and to many more solo adventures to come.
Abroad Down Under
This past month and then some has felt like a sort of inflection point. The dawn of a new start or a different season is here: not just of 2018, but also of ME. In the past five weeks, I celebrated my one year-anniversary since landing in Sydney, my halfway point around the sun toward Age 30, and the start of Spring (according the land down under). Not only do I love celebrating my birthday; I latch onto any excuse to commemorate and reflect on where I've been and where I've landed.
For all the reasons I acknowledge above, there are twice as many more that I didn’t realise loomed within me. This month-long storm of surging nostalgia and self-inquisition could also be spurred by seasonality or the zodiac. Every year for 15 of my laps around the sun, September marked the entrance of a fresh school year by the academic calendar: New teachers, new classmates, new friends and (often) a new romance. Then again, not only am I halfway around my current waltz of this galaxy; a new moon also rose in the sky this past week! Could it be to blame for the wave of clarity? Is Mars is close-by I hear? Is Mercury permanently in retrograde at Age 29?
Finally, various occasions for grief and joy have come and gone lately. In the wake of my work anniversary, recognition in my region and a personal-record of a performance review, I also hit bumps: a major error, an exciting milestone (teaching new hires!) and a major opportunity (all unrelated). This month I traveled thrice, the act of which always leads me to reflect while suspended in both air, a giant vehicle over which I have no control… oh, and time. Lastly, I enjoyed relief at the end of the latest trip...only to realise that I was boarding an aircraft on September 11th. While not the first of the somber anniversary of my first glimpse of mortality, terror and the true meaning of vulnerability — it was the first of its kind that I momentarily forgot. It reminded me of how precious life is, and how much I value the resilient spirit of people back home.
Upon returning home for a stroll around my local Surry-Hills-Sydney — donning a brimmed hat in the warmer than lately spring air — I finally felt I had a grasp on what was turning a new leaf. Something about the temperature, inbound love and catch-ups from my family here and abroad and an agenda-less day of errands and meaning-to-dos helped to put an extra spring in my step. Enter: Year Two.
Each weekend I'm local, I walk around to some of my absolute favourite neighbourhood landmarks and still explore at least two new places. That's the thing about Surry: Sydney's oldest and nearly the most recently gentrified hood. There are countless quirky storefronts tucked between town homes and split levels, usually identifiable by a flash of neon or subtle street art. Sometimes, a faded awning or creaky sign made from a multi-purpose object or signpost tells that that a hidden treasure or treat lies within. While I'm still finding many each day fit for a stroll, I also have my favourites to pop in -- like Messina and Sticky Fingers. There's Paramount and Chilli Coral and Bean Temple and Oscar & Friends - they're not unlike old friends you're stoked to run into each time. Never get old. New kid on the block? Bare Naked Bowls, the latest of the acaí family who are taking the nation.
Another trait of Surry Hills, thanks to her hills, are the cheeky views. I'll be jaunting along without a care in the world, and glimpse the juxtaposition of busy Sydney through SH's rearview. Perhaps due to its slopes and my uphill-facing route home, it's always a pleasant surprise when I glance back or in my peripheral on a corner turn to see the silver towers and reflections of the CBD. I'm only steps away, but outside the 9-5 it's like I'm in another time and world. After a year of getting to know her, I’d say I call Surry home.
I have routines. Local haunts. I store excess toiletries and hoard clothes I should donate. Every other Thursday, we have Rupert's fairy godmother (and our saint of a cleaning person) Ines come in. This means Thurs evenings or Fridays in I take a bubble bath and organise my possessions accrued. I've woven twinkle lights through his houseplants and across our front balcony. The other string stays in my room and frames my bed's headboard, preserving a permanent and year-round merriment that reminds me to reminisce of younger days and Christmas at home.
While certain milestones have passed now that I hit One year, a few staple favourites (see: lifesavers) have helped me make it through the busy times and tougher moments.
They Say Good Things Come in Threes
Friends at work, at home (no, literally. Upstairs.) and around Sydney have helped build a community where I feel safety and belonging. While I’m constantly vetting my Emergency Contact list (including backups), I am fortunate to know who I could call at any hour. They’re expat and local alike (they know who they are), and closest to home is Rupert who - lucky for me - is a bit of both as a Brit-turned-Aussie. I can make it out to bars, to musicals! and to dim sum. I can stay in with wine and in pj’s or with nothing at all and feel right at home thanks to my down-to-earth crews.
There are three prized possessions that have turned into [almost] daily habits. First is my Daily Dose Box: Shoebox turned affirmation-vending-machine that fits on my bookshelf. This past week (the tough one) suffice it to say that I pulled a stack for the first time in my 13 months here. It reminded me of how many people I have in my corner on all corners of the globe! Second: My "You Are a Badass" 365-day calendar (thanks, Chels). It speaks for itself, and also speaks for The Universe when I forgot. Most recently is my Beautiful Thoughts weekly journal that helps me check my mindset and re-frame it when necessary.
My three favourite on-demand applications that help me show gratitude and love: Bloomthat for sending not-only-blooms (like Talia's college dorm cactus and Chloe's edible birthday surprise)! Soothe - the most genius Uber-esque service I've come across that let me send zen to my sisters and their other halves for Xmas via virtual massage vouchers. Last but not least, Amazon Prime: it’s amazing what global reach and insta-delivery can do when it comes to must-haves and must-reads.
Three signs that I live here are scattered across my room. The first is a collection of local prints from Rocks Markets, Opus and Bondi Markets Postcards. Beneath the twinkle lights is even art of my own, painted at a Paint Nite concept in Sydney and resembling a sunset in Joshua Tree. Scattered amidst my books read and letters received are also seashells, collected from my favourite beaches visited yet. From Auckland to Byron to the secret bays of Central Coast, I’ve brought home twisties and spirals to rival Frawley’s beach house collections from our childhood.
Bonus: My three favourite podcasts lately really really help me to feel inspired — and connected back home: They’re currently Ted Radio Hour, The Goodlife Project and Masters of Scale.
A few highlights of my time Down Under have been thanks to my visitors and our bravery toward interstate travel. As far north as Port Douglas & as far south as the 12 Apostles, I've driven the Great Ocean Road and traversed the oceans around Whitsundays. I've landed in Cairns, Brisbane and Melbourne. I've been to Hamilton (twice!), Byron Bay and even Auckland. I've been to my first festival, first campsite and first back-to-back yacht parties!
Recently, I've explored suburbs and trails in my own backyard. Marking my first local excursion by car (rather than plane), I properly explored the Blue Mountains with the gals I met in GGI: "Girls Gone International." We got an AirBnB comfortably designed for eight, and made brekky and coffees and snack-dinners for cozy nights in. After moderate hiking around iconic mountain formations like the Three Sisters, we read tarot cards and danced to a disco-lit karaoke machine. By coincidence or the countess reasons I mentioned (or some other turn of the Universe’s knowing), I also embarked upon my first-ever solo retreat and vacation this month. Three days and two nights in a salty lakeside town up the New South Wales did me right. But that is a story for next time.
As it turns out, these feelings and bouts of nostalgia and gratitude are NORMAL! Expected, even! I’ve passed landmarks and a bend in the road, and I’m not a sappy spastic for reflecting on it. Some tell me the first year is the hardest; I know from experience that the second mile is easier than the first. I’ve been away from my former stomping ground and settling into my new one for long enough that I’ve missed things, truly longed for them and also sprouted new synapses for my current sitch. I’ve visited home, returned back, celebrated from afar and experienced great loss.
I’m grieving not just what was but who I was before. Meanwhile, I’m healing and growing into someone new.
Let the growth continue.
Abroad Down Under
On days when I feel really sick, I have a routine that’s evolved since the elementary school days. Whilst it began with tummy aches, trips to the Nurse’s office (again, Cory?) and sad Disney classics like A Little Princess, it’s only changed slightly as I approach the stage of adulthood where whiny calls to Mom are rarely appropriate.
First, I resort to pathetic eating habits. All I desire are Campbell’s Chicken Noodle and classic Saltines; in Australia, I have to settle for generic brand Instant Noodles and my favourite sea salt crackers from Aldi. Anything soft and bland will do, including but not limited to toast, rice crackers, plain pasta noodles begging for accompaniment. Last night, Rupert asked who had eaten all the bread. Then he said I get a pass “because I’m sick.” I also take the excuse need to drink fluids to an extreme, and skull tea and apple juice by the jug full. Watch your OJ, Rup.
Second, I pull out the photographs. While some might call it wallowing, I’d like to think of it as savouring: taking in old prints, re-reading handwritten letters from Gramz and fingering the mini Polaroids that I’m now unspeakably grateful for having taken on my last long trip home. Sometimes I’ll even go to lengths like pulling down my photo album from home or sifting through drawers with the second-choice pics that didn’t make it into my collage frame. I’m so lucky to have these kind of mementos. Second thought in my mind: my kids will be fascinated by these relics of the paper sort!
Next up, it’s the Daily Dose box! I suppose this is what it was intended for: for me to uncover gradually and take in small nuggets of love, tokens of memory and nostalgia shared with confidants back home. It works: I’ll often find mystery quotes, dirty jokes or entirely inappropriate memories of college stories that should have stayed in college (cough Bayan cough). Never has a single card failed to make me smile at the least, if not laugh out loud or get a lump in the back of my throat. I am so fortunate and could never thank Kirb and my fam enough for assembling it.
This week since arriving home from Hong Kong, I have watched an entire season of silly telenovela-style dramedy (yep, “Jane the Virgin” Season 4) on Netflix as well as no less than one hand's worth of escapist comedic and action-packed films. How to Lose a Guy was a guaranteed feel-good chick flick (full of anti-dating advice that Lord knows I need, too) and Bridget Jones’ Baby was predictably cringe-worthy and heart-warming. Edge of Tomorrow was expectedly thrill-inducing and had Rup and I on the edge of the couch… which was as far out my front door as I had been all weekend. Finally, Evan Almighty was a brain-reducing chuckler that had surprisingly redeeming jokes — and was at least a spectacle to look at because of so many animals! CGI wasn’t half bad.
Between pathetic ebbs and flows of lethargy, discomfort, restlessness and fatigue, I managed ample naps and early bedtimes. I read my latest book club selection: Calypso by David Sedaris, and stuck with it for the duration of time my bath would stay hot and/or eyelids could endure. When I didn’t have the energy to hold up my iPad mini, I gazed longingly at Jamie from "Outlander" as I began my second tv binge and first new show in a while (thanks again, Netflix). Finally, I got the absolute most minimal-effort tasks out of the way so I could call it a productive sick-iday: ran and switched four loads of laundry, unpacked and folded and hung everything I owned, and paid a few online bills with just a few taps. Oh how I wished my secretly domesticated animal friends could have flown in my window to help me with these a la Cinderella. Way too cold to have those windows open, though!
This takes me to the best sick-day gift I’ve ever received and my number one caretaker: Rupert. You’ve all heard about him. Online-sourced flatmate turned couch-cushion confidant, he is truly the only man who’s ever loved me (relatives not included). Yesterday, not only did he leave me out three packs of throat lozenges and leftovers from the weekend… he bought me an ELECTRIC BLANKET. Game-changer! It plugs in on both sides of my bed and has separate controllers for the body and the feet area. Did I mention that last week, when I was homesick over Independence Day? Rupert brought home a slow-cooker from K-mart and dressed like a lumberjack to be on theme for the holiday. Swoon.
Other sources of comfort: friends, costumes, and double scoops
Last but not least and, as much as I hate to admit, outreach from friends and co-workers near and far on social media has been a source of comfort. Last week marked a true career highlight when I received my first regional award at work, and I was both humbled and overwhelmed by the amount of love and congrats I received in response. In the lowest points of loneliness that tend to follow homesickness (and sicky lows), it was touching to hear from old co-workers and childhood friends that I haven’t spoken to in a while. I’m thankful to all the realms of family I have around the world these days.
At least once or twice a year, Mother Nature and the Universe tend to conspire, knock me on my ass and laugh as if to say we warned you to slow down, girl! They’re laughing with affection only, I know. A debilitating head cold, tickling cough and all sorts of aches and pains tend to accompany this sabotage, like an intervention coming at me from all sides. I know it’s a sign and symptom of too much exertion, not enough sleep, too much hosting & boasting, not enough me-time nor self-care. After six months of visitors and sixty days of traveling (from Sydney to LA to SF to AZ to Sydney to Melbourne to Hamilton to Hong Kong to Macau and back) — what did I expect?
If I’m reflecting honestly on the past week of true holiday hangover, I can also admit that whether “homesick” or “real sick” — was also likely a blessing in disguise. Taking five true days off, in uncharacteristic isolation spent nesting in my recent cave of cozy, gave me the space to reflect on recent events and mourn my Grandma Sioux. Gramz, as we all know her. Being in Hong Kong when I received the news, I pushed on through my work trip and even ascended the unrivalled lookout known as Victoria Peak — feeling as if it were the truest honour I could bestow on her in that circumstance. I couldn’t take in the reality of her departure until I was home, alone but also with my family virtually and in spirit.
Reflecting back on the week since we lost Gramz, I know that what I am is heartsick. From this, I won’t recover swiftly — if ever. The little things above, however? The pictures, the text messages, the teary Facetimes with family and the colorful letters that Gramz held in her skilled fingers only months ago have gone a long way in helping me to celebrate her here in Sydney. My best friend in the world and one of the few who spent quality time with Gramz too sent me this simple yet symbolic, gold candle. Its relentless flame reminds me every minute I burn it of the energy that Gramz instilled in us, her fiery spirit and burning love for her grandkids, and the legacy that I’m so lucky to carry in me. Burn, baby, burn.
As my best friend in Sydney reminded me — and as I hold onto when the heartsick homesick sick-day drags on — Gramz was the first to point out that moving abroad will make me a better broad. Thanks to everyone who’s been there for me from afar.
Abroad down under
My trip to Victoria Peak (left) and the 4 of us donning classic Vickie Sue sass (right)
Who am I?
I am a girl who loves my island and a girl who loves the sea; it calls me.