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)
In the first 90 days of 2018, I have traversed more of the Eastern Coast of Australia than I have the U.S. coasts combined. I'm the luckiest beazy alive, if not for the fact that I live in Sydney with a job and spot I love but because I've had no less than three visitors come to Oz: lifelong friends from LA days that range from childhood romps to collegiate escapades.
I haven't written or drafted or shared with my humans (all twelve of you) for a few reasons: travel fatigue and a classic holiday hangover; logistical obstacles (such as leaving my laptop at home during most of my coastal adventures); most importantly, a strong desire to soak up the present moment and company of my far-away friends. I am dead-set, however, on forever-remembering each ounce of detail from these trips and discoveries. This will hopefully be made possible by my faithful journaling habit, iCloud shared Photo Streams, my kind friends below and their half of our memories, and written recollections of epic proportions (like that in my birthday card from Lys!).
A new romantic prospect (Source: Bumble for iOS) recently asked what I meant by a “holiday hangover.” I am currently enduring Week 3 of a short- to mid-term, treatable condition that consists of multiple familiar symptoms:
Recovery step 1: Reflection
A recent yoga practice spoke to the three layers of our spiritual self: the physical body, the energetic body and the emotional (or inner) body. First, the physical body is what we use and feel daily: our bones and muscles, our skin and exterior senses, pain and tightness and many sorts of pleasure. Second, the energetic body is that which sustains us, provides life: our heart beat and blood flow, our energy and oxygen, the electricity that flows to our fingertips igniting movement and ability. Finally, our emotional self contains the parts we feel only inside: heartache, sadness, joy, relaxation.
These first three months of 2018 have been rich with not only visitors but abundant expeditions and luxuries within, including but not limited to epic views, delicious delicacies, adventurous lodging and discoveries that awe-inspired me. Each of my three layers of self were tried, tested and stretched to new degrees. I fell in love with no less than four new towns and regions and reunited with three lifelong friends in my new reality: Sydney life! Before I reflect on their countless stories, I thought I’d analyse how they’ve left me feeling.
Recovery step 2: Recollection
Reading through my first journal (which spanned the six months of Oz) and current one has been cathartic, perspective-granting and unexpectedly beautiful. My emotions and musings have varied SO widely since my arrival on the evening of August 6th in AEST. The tiniest interactions, some of which have now faded from immediate memory, comprised each brick of the foundation for my imminent assimilation and coming-of-age as a Sydney-sider. Every cafe I tried or window display I passed contained some kind of symbolic reassurance that I was in the right place; signs from the Universe were bountiful if only because I had wide eyes for them. Still do.
Now, I'll tell the story of my explorations across a new land. I'll leave no stone nor palm frond nor seashell unturned. I'll reminisce, re-read journal entries and reach to recall jam-packed days and blurry nights. Most importantly, I'll share that not each leg of this journey or sticky week in Sydney has been flawless nor easy. Though Facebook and Instagram say otherwise, there's an abundance of unspoken (or un-posted, rather) feels, including but not limited to: loneliness, homesickness, stress and anguish, and even guilt and shame for getting lost. In this context, "lost" could mean feeling lost metaphorically, getting temporarily lost within 1k of my flat, and leading friends down the wrong path quite literally until you find yourself hailing a taxi and searching in desperation for a rural motel with a vacancy within the hour.
What do I mean, you ask? Stay tuned, as this might get juicy.
A broad down under
When I embarked upon this journey across the Pacific six months ago, there were countless reasons why and goals in my head that comprised the purpose of this pilgrimage. In seeking a new horizon, greater independence, cultural immersion, international exposure, an open canvas and first home-away-from-home? I brought visions and pictures and lists and to-do items that filled pages and pages of my journals and dreams. A few, my loyal readers have heard about: cooking more, prioritising fitness, cultivating greater well-being, writing regularly.
What I decided recently was that several of these withstood the trials throughout my assimilation into Sydney.
Lesson 1: Certain Daily Doses are essential to my happiness.
These components evolved into my 2018 daily intentions (working draft), and include:
Get fresh air
Connect with framily
Exercise (my mind or body)
Learn something new
The simple ingredients above are much less robust than my goals/intentions in prior years. This could be due to the fact that, while conducting my routine reflection at the end of 2017, I had a two-part a-ha strike me. It came along after reading a personal testimony, reflecting on the aforementioned years past, pondering the countless dreams/ideas/social constructs that influence my goals, and digesting it all alongside multiple accountability partners in my well-being.
My colleague Arlyne wrote a piece on what society and femininity have historically described to us as “having it all.” I know the concept from my own aspirations and musings: I want success and also happiness. I love what I do, and I want more. I value family, and I value my personal development! Exploration! She really seems to have it all; could I do that? How will I manage that?
The borrowed lesson I’ll paraphrase and share is this: Not only does "having it all" look different for everyone; “having it all" might mean something different for me at varying stages of my life — and independence. Of course there are archetypes of what having it all could mean to an adult woman, or any human. However, all I can know with certainty is what I value and want to cultivate in my own life today. Oftentimes while strolling home or journaling, I smile outwardly with heart-about-to-burst gratefulness because I have most all I could have asked for when moving to Sydney: a safe and cozy home, a career and company I enjoy immensely, a new world around me, and the means to see my family through technology and visits. In LA five years ago, I had it made because I had a paying job and my family nearby to fill my days with joy, support and good food (+ free laundry!). Someday, my interests/priorities/happiness-sources may be slightly different. In summary, I’ll take my dreams and actualise them day by day — maybe a year at a time.
Various versions of "having it all" over the past five years
This led me to a subsequent and micro-realisation that blew my mind like a macro-level life one. If I’m not tied to an idea of “it all” or my exact “best life”? Then perhaps I didn’t need the blueprint for the perfect day, either. Over the past four years of learning more of the psychology of happiness, I’ve obsessed over the recipe for the ideal day in the life-of-Cory. It’s been an idea, a working draft and an aspiration for so long that the halo around my outline? It blurred my view, and I failed to realise that a perfect day is different depending on where I’m at and what I need.
Yes, there is virtue in my "dream day” (it’s typically my birthday when proposed in a hypothetical imagination activity): wake to the sun, read, enjoy the best brunch-on-planet cough-at BluJam-cough, go to the beach, see all my favourite people, travel to a new city in a high-speed private jet, dance the night away! However, while certain facets of a strong day repeatedly feed my soul (see intentions above), I accept that other days are for resting and nesting. There will be times that I need to re-charge, and times where I’ll gain from the choice to “tend and befriend.”
Lesson 2: Certain Daily Doses may may be prescribed based on symptoms.
The perfect remedy for Caturday blues and all I want as I write this post
As a child, I had a morbid if subconscious fascination with shipwrecks. I fawned over Ariel’s many treasures, and ability to be awe-struck by gadgets and gizmos. The Swiss Family Robinson’s existence enticed me — what an adventure! — and even the film Castaway hung on my mind for years by the question of what I would do, how I would survive in such a solo crisis.
Fittingly, viewers read a quote in The Shape of Water from a 365-day calendar, one that resonated deeply with existing beliefs of mine like "everything happens for a reason." It stated simply:
Life is but the shipwreck of our plans.
While I hold true to the power of dreaming big and visualising, I also know in my heart that oftentimes blueprints must go out the window. The best things that have happened to me and for me have been [mostly] unplanned: my first trip abroad (thanks Mom), my visit to Jill in Sydney (thanks Josh), my leap of faith toward LinkedIn (thanks Taylor), and my new role in Learning Solutions at LinkedIn that led me to Oz. The best ideas and possibilities for my absolute most authentic self? They may not exist, have crossed my mind nor have been invented yet.
At the outset of my voyage and move to Australia, my sisters gave me a invaluable and unforgettable gift before I left port: My Daily Dose box, filled with over eight-hundred index cards adorned with doodles, photos and words of inspiration. Intended to keep me company and remind me of the crew I have rooting for me around the word, the box contains enough of these doses to start my day or round out my night EVERY SINGLE DAY for two years -- the duration of my work visa.
Over the past six months of my time in Sydney, I've pulled countless cards that made me smile, tear up or laugh out loud. They’re pinned behind my headboard and scattered across all of my room’s surfaces. There are more to come, and they’ve come by text, or iMessage, snail mail from Gramz or hidden in the words of mine and Dad’s latest book club indulgence.
Lesson 3: The most essential Daily Doses may come courtesy of others... or be unknown.
For now, here are a choice top ten lessons learned thanks to the wisdom and generosity of my biggest supporters:
Courtesy of Aunt Nancy and the Lowerre clan:
Courtesy of the lifelong and all-knowing bestie Chelsea Hartling:
Courtesy of the lovely and wise Lauryn Wells:
Courtesy of Grandma Sioux:
And finally, courtesy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian a la Dad:
Here's to the unknown doses, blueprints, detours and shipwrecks ahead!
A broad down under
Part 1: The Power of Yasss-tralia
As most of my faithful readers (all twelve of you) know, I find the ridiculous Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel-starring comedy "Yes Man" to be an inspiring though hyperbolic film. The idea that boldly and unconditionally saying Yes to life's every opportunity and odd request has the power to pry open our eyes and hearts? It not only resonates, but has proven true time and time again in my own adventures.
When the idea for my first career transformation came about via a close friend from my first job, I metaphorically compared LinkedIn to a high-speed training rushing toward and past me. I knew I had to jump on, despite my sadness or uncertainty. Saying yes to Linkedin and San Francisco? Best decision of my young life. The same happened when my first collegiate boss/mentor nominated me for a program in Singapore, a global and multicultural explosion-of-a-place that I had never considered let alone researched. This intro led me to explore and fall in love with APAC, bravely say yes to the vacancies in USC's Hong Kong internship exchange two years later, and eventually consider a career in APAC a la Sydney myself. Finally, from saying yes to Carolyn's Iceland expedition to shouting "sure!" to Laura's yacht-party invite on the first day we met in Oz, I couldn't possibly have been rewarded with more joy or novelty for saying “yes.”
Upon arriving in Sydney (and in the weeks leading up), many a friend's advice included not only to say yes, but "Say yes to everything!" I soon realised that this was not sustainable nor necessarily me either. Despite my gregarious and extroverted nature, the rate at which I was absorbing new information, experiences and relationship-vibes was insane... to the point that certain weeks of consecutive beach days, friend dates and harbour nights were leading to imminent exhaustion and couch-potato-syndrome on the weekend.
Don't get me wrong: there are opportunities to which I've thankfully reserved the energy to say YES. Looking back upon my most immersive (and transformative) month yet, I am grateful and relieved that my first-draft of SAY YES-criteria helped me to nail down the most nourishing, unique and gloriously-"Australia" activities:
The first thing that I rightfully said yes to in November was going to the Races for Melbourne Cup Day. Considering even my boss insisted I attend the "Race that stops the country," it was a good choice to take a half day, wear the heels instead of the flats, and even take the first tequila shot at [my new favourite outdoor pub] the Beresford -- which may or may not have been handed to me by the work crush (enter: warning signs *danger zone* etc). Such a fun and memorable day!
This month, I also said yes to returning to Ladies Book club. I could not be happier that I said yes to downloading Glennon Doyle's Love Warrior, reading about our messy shameful lives and their worthiness of acceptance, getting to know inspiring American turned Aussie-permanent-residents like Ash and Kristen, and learning about cultures vastly different from my own thanks to Small Great Things and, most recently, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.
I then said yes to Power Living. As much as certain yoga studios and experiences make me feel like a total poser (pun noted and trademarked, FYI), I agreed to try a class that was next to the beach with a new girlfriend and a teammate. I have never sweat more and I have never felt so in tune with my body, mind and spirit. I've now been to four classes, three in the calm morning-time, two with some serious sweat and one in Manly Beach instead of Bondi. My favourite parts? The ocean breezes via the skylight, the touch-base with Mother Earth when in child's pose, and that soothing scent of sage and sandalwood that permeates the foyer and entire studio in both locations I've seen so far.
If you recall, I said yes to Girls Gone International -- the most unlikely yet similar group of expat women, world travelers and adventurers, intro- and extroverts alike -- who gather to find community and camaraderie in their new homes, filled with uncertainty. After choosing the sunrise kayak and being vehemently rewarded, I opted into cocktails on a Friday after work only to meet countless fun women, connect with two of the Trojan variety (Fight On!), and make one friend who I instantly loved (and definitely felt drawn to due to her nerdy librarian Lynda glasses like mine!). She and I later went on our first friend-date for burgers and boy talk; I'm now sharing Christmas eve and my upcoming housewarming with a few of these keepers!
Nearing the end of this eventful month, I said yes to Friendsgiving. When Alesia (yogi friend mentioned above) invited me to a strangers' Thanksgiving feast in a new neighbourhood, I wasn't sure what to expect -- I knew that I'd at least turn out with new friends. I could not have been more pleasantly surprised! While I was definitely met with a dinner party alright, it ended up being 40 people and the same number of dishes, dances and drinking games. There were dancing gals from all countries of origin and even a rendezvous with an American sailor who walked me along the beach in some God-forsaken and very un-Sydney-like rain the next day. I guess it was kind of magical.
There are so many things I said yes to that it's actually hard to keep track. And why do I keep beating myself up, you ask? I said yes to new friends, intros galore, and fitness (from yoga to soccer to personal training, as you've read). I said yes to trying, to showing up, and to conducting an event for my client in Melbourne that took me on my second trip there! It's almost as if it was going too well to last forever...
Part 2: What I Learned about saying Yes in No-vember
First, I said yes to a point that caused a faux pas. At the end of the month, I made a first-of-its-kind mistake in my three years at LinkedIn and missed a decently sized, virtual client event. It's like I got too comfortable; I was busy saying yes to every client and every request, to seeing the town and staying out late. I suppose I then said yes too eagerly without thoughtfully planning (or calendar-ing) the commitment, which led me to fail a client, let down a teammate and disappoint myself. I was ashamed, had been forgetful, and maybe needed to take a hint from the Universe.
Fortunately, I've also been saying yes to learning opportunities, podcasts, Netflix recs and LinkedIn Learning courses in my newsfeed (see above). If I learned one thing in this course, it's Lesson 1: a failure is a single frame in a LONG strip of film. One error or proven experiment is not a testament to who we are or even what people think of us.
On the other hand, maybe I had pushed myself too far. A long month of sun, sea, socialising and sipping drinks didn't allow much time to recover. So, the Universe intervened again and said: Cory, it's okay not to say yes to everything. Don't believe me? Fine: I'll show you. At the start of December, I took a wrong step (shamefully clad in tennis shoes) on the soccer field and felt that lurch in my gut that comes with a sprain. Convincing enough, Cor? It was a test, I'm sure of it; barred from stairwells, my upstairs living room and definitely the playing fields, I was tempted all December long by friends, fun things and all the things aligned with most core values: family, adventure, simple pleasures like sushi (all the way across town). Was this a sign that I often try to balance too much?
As the month of yes-vember came to a close I thought, wrote and realised that it might be a good thing. I felt this overwhelming sense of fatigue coming over me, as if I over-exerted and -extended my efforts, intentions, interest and invitation to the Universe for more. Discouraged by my injury and saturated with paradoxical inspiration from podcasts like Oprah's and books by Brené, I felt paralysed by that torn feeling between enthusiasm and terror, mental energy and physical fatigue. I had remorse for pushing too hard, neither stretching (nor buying cleats) and for ignoring both my gut instinct and oncoming head-cold that morning of the soccer game. Then again, I was reminded with not-so-subtle symbols of Lesson 2: The many people looking out for me can serve as sanity-checkers, sounding boards and bumpers to my bowling lanes. Friends drove me home, my flatmate Rupert brought me dinner and icepacks, and a colleague just happened to call me and check in the next morning as she was passing by my house?! In the spirit of the holiday season (and my Last Watched on Netflix): It's as if God sent in his angels full force a la It's a Wonderful Life.
The setback led me to say YES to lazy pool days and letting someone else play "Tour guide" for once
Earlier this month, I decided to sleep in on a Sunday and opt out (aka bail on) a few activities I had planned, including morning yoga and a tour along my other favourite beach: Manly. Thank goodness I rested my weary soul, and thank goodness my new friends gave me another chance: a new acquaintance Justine asked if I'd be willing to venture in the afternoon instead and so, when I got a surge of energy, I rounded up my favorite new athleisure instead of getting ready and took my absolute favourite ferry ride through the perfect breeze and choppy harbour. Lesson 3: Saying no to one thing makes room for something else. I had the perfect afternoon almost unexpectedly. I walked, treated myself to Yogurtland for old times' sake (instantly reminded of USC days), explored the side streets that are off- shoots of Manly's boardwalk and saw open air markets, cute gift ideas and the This & That boutique where a separate new friends works. :) Finally, with Power Living next door and my afternoon dates dying for a workout, we checked in for what became my favourite yoga class to date in Sydney: It was calming, static and deep, sweat-inducing but not overly hot, just breezy enough and tasty from the salty air outside
I had such a good time meeting Justine and Chad, walking them along the Manly beach walk and showing them a brewery (where it was my first visit too!). We had delicious shared plates; I loved the infamous ginger beer, setting sun and conversation about life, career, entrepreneurship and life goals. I cruised home through an epic Sydney sunset high on inspiration re: living off house-sitting/ literal "couch surfing" in order to explore a new land the way they were.
While forbidden from exercise and seeping with reflections and ideas, I had the opportunity to attend a unique career workshop that my office was hosting: the topic? Transformation. Needless to say, I mustered one last yes.
In a ninety-minute exercise, I thought more deeply about my aspirations and the fears/insecurities/fixed-mindset narratives that keep me for reaching wholly toward them. I recalled wanting to live abroad... I realised that I still want to travel solo to an unknown land, continue to discover my independence, and write a work for the world about it: a novel, a memoir or a piece to remember me by (hence the return to this blog!). I want it to reflect what I've learned so that someone else can feel confident enough to explore beyond the reef; I want it to contain the shortcuts that were lent to me and I want it to inspire someone to grab life by the collar, say yes to speeding trains and no to non-essentials by leaping into uncertainty, not with the absence of fear but with the FIRE of it. I want to be a Jill of all Trades and Mistress of None; I want to say yes and listen close for when to say no, because Lesson 5: some things in life might only happen once. I want to stay safe and still push myself beyond what I might know now in favour of what I don't know or do YET.
In an episode of Super Soul conversations with Oprah and Liz Gilbert, LG says that we all are unanimously asked or beckoned to The Call of: what is it we were put here to do? That is the first vulnerable part: listening to and pondering the question, so that Lesson 6: our core values can help us know when to say yes. Finding the answer? This might take what I'm here to do: lean into the discomfort, love shamelessly and wholeheartedly, and fail a few more times if I need to because I'm not perfect and I'm not alone. I have my NP fam, my LA and SF framilies, my new Sydney posse and a nearly global clan rooting for me from around this world!
Jill once told me that there are no such things as mistakes, only experiments. Failed romance? Simply the work of heart-refining, as "all love ends in heartbreak until the one with whom it doesn't." Failures at work? Attempts at creative genius that simply provide more pieces of evidence. As I heard on a timely TedRadioHour episode called Failure is an Option: Failure as the cost of innovation equates to learning. Finally, my favourite book on the planet Daring Greatly might read that Lesson 7: failure as the outcome of courage is vulnerability. That sounds brave to me.
Last but not least, tonight I said yes to what my mind, body and soul have been craving all along: a “me night.” The work week came to a close, the Christmas lights in my living room beckoned and after eight days straight of festivities and fun, I realised that there was no harm in saying no to Friday night’s events. I was finally saying yes to ME (as well as #NetflixandChill with James Stewart).
In a few more words of BB, here's to knowing myself and saying yes with a strong back, soft front and wild heart always.
A broad down under
Yesterday marked three months to the day since I had my last fish & chips, classic SF-Sunday Bloody Mary and jetted off for Hawaii en route to Sydney International. By no coincidence, recent days have been nostalgic and quite reflective. After a long month of adventures, reunions, goodbyes and new beginnings (more on these later), I am happy to say that I’m feeling symbolically settled here! I cut the tag off my bathmat and removed some from my throw pillows; I hung a shelf, more Kodak prints and even a local painting above my bed.
Last weekend, I awoke to my first relentless and rainy downpour in Australia. It felt mystical and a little sappy, the type of metaphorical weather that causes us to snuggle deeper into our covers -- and feelings. It begged the natural, rainy day behaviour: sleeping in, opening the windows (just a crack though), reflecting on sad things, and thinking about Mother Earth’s reasons for crying. Her too!?
The emotions could have been due to exhaustion; in October alone, I traveled to Melbourne, LA, SF and back to SYD for a whirlwind reunion with near all of my favourite people. In this shortened, time-travel-filled month, I experienced my first international trip from Oz and first visit home, my first entry back to the US and my first time at my old office and former home in months. On top of inaugural logistics feats, I also attended my first wedding of a dear old friend, walked down my first aisle (as a bridesmaid people calm down), had my first fling and played in my first soccer game in at least four years! Finally, I am currently witnessing the first (and an epic) Dodgers World Series in my lifetime, from the distance of my first international home during my first bout of living outside of CA — study abroad not included. It’s been exhilarating and exhausting.
While lounging in Chelsea’s apartment back in SF -- perhaps only the third of all places in the world I’d currently consider home -- she asked me if I felt as though I’ve been “holding back” from truly immersing in my new city, knowing that I’d be coming back to CA for a visit with all of my people. My first thoughts were defensive and insecure; I’ve been trying so hard, saying yes, meeting countless new people and adventuring enough to wipe myself out!
But maybe, deep down, I was awaiting quality time with my family so fiercely that I wasn’t pursuing life here as actively as I could. Instagram stories paint my picture-perfect moments: charting new waters, trying gelato whenever I can and capturing forever-novel views like those with the Harbour Bridge framing the top of them. But there are hard moments too. I miss my “family” (in all meanings of the word) and long to be a part of the fam-events and moments, from holidays to average Tuesdays. I haven’t found my rhythm, my comfort meals, nor my shortcuts; I still step into traffic and trip over flaws in my sidewalks!
Despite my doubts and recent writer’s block, maybe every moment to this point has happened at the exact pace and intersection it was meant to. What if this annoying and view-impeding scaffolding outside my new bedroom windows was placed there with a purpose: to help me truly hear the pitter patter of this first cleansing rain outside my new home, and to oblige me to pause, look inward and shift my perspective?
In October, as it turns out, I had strategically and subconsciously planned a jam-packed week of fun for my return. The highlights of this first week, now dubbed as my recommended preventative homesickness-remedy, were as follows:
Monday night: Book club! Not only did I absolutely inhale an inspirational memoir (read: Love Warrior) and adopt an instantaneous community of power-females; I explored a new part of town, enjoyed my first taste of suburban adult-living in Sydney and got ideas for my eventual dream nook. Our host, a friend of a first-friend through LinkedIn, was hospitable and warm, open and nurturing. There were teachers and tech gals and beauty consultants and a psychologist. Like-minded women with a wider diversity of thought than I see on the daily invoked total encouragement.
Tuesday night: Soccer game. Against my most primal fears and insecurities, I said yes to playing with a co-ed crew at work who have constantly welcomed me but simultaneously intimidated! Of course, everyone was nicer than I could have imagined and similar unique in stories and backgrounds. The best part of yes was the rooftop beer schooner shared after the game in celebration of our win. I felt totally exhilarated and weirdly nostalgic to be back on a grassy field like on so many adolescent weeknights…plus, I got an assist!
Wednesday and Friday: Plenty of LinkedIn love. My team, delivering on Linkedin’s newest business line in the Australian fiscal’s year’s rising summer season, decided to host a first-of-its-kind client event: it fostered mingling, brainstorming and learning from a few industry front-runners through a panel of speakers. It was my favourite type of work activity! Meeting new clients and learning from our internal rockstar about the learning and development industry renewed my enthusiasm for all that I’m learning in this new job. The other occasion I returned to was my favourite day of the month at LinkedIn: “InDay,” where the company let’s us get out to invest in ourselves, the company or the world. In one day, I learned about an Australian charity benefiting a world unknown in Cambodia, sat through a workshop on cultivating a path toward my own career dreams, AND did my first-ever presentation to the Sydney office on the platform I work on: LinkedIn Learning. Nerd alert! See below.
Wednesday eve & the weekend: Fun by the sea. Finally, I got face-time with my old friend The Pacific during a Friday adventure, day-drinks for a departing teammate and sushi dinner with a new friend. There is nothing to make you appreciate your presence in a place like a “going-away party” for someone else! Seeing the gorgeous harbour in Woolloomooloo, Bondi Beach again at twilight or my second favourite bay — that beneath the Opera House — up close instantly made me feel at home again and reconnected. I know that ocean like the back of my hand. I knew I loved it here for a reason! Aussie treats help too (see below).
The best parts of my routine which I was happy to return to:
The highlights (in hindsight) of my first ninety days:
The day I left my first Bae and her golden gated arms, I couldn’t have guessed I’d be coasting beneath her sister Down Under’s iron crown a few months later.
Saturday, rising before 4:30a (by some natural and unexpected phenomena) and showering off my fatigue rewarded me with a new friend and neighbour, a warm mocha awaiting me and a view unrivalled by any other in Sydney. I don’t remember another time I’ve risen for that kind of sunrise… unless it was for a flight or dreaded soccer tournament road trip as a kid! I dressed in my favourite Sydney tourist get-up — not unlike my Halloween costume from the night prior and yep, you guessed it: wore my gray vest again — and jaunted a whole three minutes up to Liverpool Street in Surry. My carpool saviour was named Corinne from Byron, and we got to the Lavender Bay docks (new territory!) to meet the remaining five females plus host-guides and coffee-providers. Ben (who runs the tour company Sydney by Kayak) and Danny (the cute photographer) loaded our gear, gave us a few paddling tips and pushed us out into the shark-filled harbour. Somehow, my kayak filled with neither water nor dread. The flags of my new finish line in the distance? The HB and the O House herself.
Two long days, twenty new friends, two harbour crossings and two home-cooked meals later, I’ve earned the entire bowl of popcorn-for-four I'm eating while watching Stranger Things on NetflixAU. Stranger things have happened. I kind of wish I had a giant Diet Coke and Mom to share it with me.
I can’t believe the miles or waves I’ve covered in the last twelve hours let alone past three months (especially since after the most serene and pleasant kayak in recent memory, I headed over to Manly). I don’t know of any other route/mode of transit combo — except perhaps kayaking through the same waters — that I love more than the breezy passenger ferry past Sydney’s main edges to the north islands like Manly Beach. I indulged in a sun-bath and most of the lyrical soundtrack to Moana, of course. As I FaceTimed Summer briefly and giggled about our old pastimes, recent lovers and upcoming adventures, I realised how much I miss comforts like her presence, our apartment... Simba! My old house and even my old ferry from Sausalito; will the novelty and amazingness of here soon feel like home?
I realised, also thanks to Summer and some of the other friend-wisdoms I collected whilst back home: I don’t have to build a replica of my dreamy-seeming SF life here in Oz. The only constant is change, and as roomies and Villa North Beach and people have changed in the past few months, so have I. I couldn’t have been more blessed with friends and discoveries across my first Bae. Maybe here, at twenty-eight and in a new role and country, I will have a new number of friends I call family. Maybe I’ll try long-time traditions like soccer and love them; maybe I’ll retire marathons and embrace yoga, a few new ones! I won’t rely on old comforts but I’ll keep exploring and indulging in things I love.
Wish you were here!
A broad down under
In celebration of six weeks knee-deep in Sydney, I manifested a balanced weekend of drinking, dancing and slurping oysters in front of the Opera House with several seemingly mundane and adult-ish tasks: buying a duvet cover (yay!) and hanging frames on the walls of my bedroom never felt so good. Tonight, it has me thinking about what wellness means to me; what it truly means to be living my best life, a phrase I’ve heard repeatedly lately in reference to traveling the world, enjoying champagne-filled brunches and/or posting colourful snapshots of such experiences across Instagram and the like just to make sure it’s official.
My wellness has been an important facet of the new life that I hoped to design in Australia, and I still don’t quite know what the ideal that will look like. From experimenting with running routes around Darlinghurst and trying workout classes during a plethora of free trails to discovering new cafes and making my mediocre attempts at cooking, all that I know with certainty is my desire for good habits and a routine that helps me maximise my day, optimise stress and contemplate all the new experiences I’m taking in on the daily.
LinkedIn’s distinct culture and values lend to a particularly nerdy manifesto within them around wellness: there are six tenets that our employees programs are all based upon. LinkedIn wants to help us optimise our strength, breathing, movement, nutrition, hydration, and rest (yes, I know them by heart). There are countless unspoken reasons why LinkedIn’s onsite fitness centre and amazing activities beckoned me back in SF and beyond, but Sydney’s unique office and this perfectly eclectic and quaint city seem to be setting me up for a new and nice routine entirely its own. There a few key areas that continue to both call to me and help cultivate the best moments I’ve experienced thus far down under.
Getting a werk-out
While the watery boardwalks and lovely lit paths of Sydney make way for beautiful outdoor workouts, I'm also seeking a gym I can escape to and thrive in. This week, I went first to what might have been the next most transformative yoga sesh since the life-changing and breakup-inducing one at Crunch circa 2012. Monday night vinyasa at Virgin Active, the workout haven of my favourite entrepreneur and airline, brought me both comfort and anonymity combined with nostalgia from the smell of the mats, the resemblance of the studios and who knows what else. There were hanging wicker egg pods surrounding the studio and a stage for the instructor, who was quirky and confident in guiding us throughout the soft- and kindest form of vinyasa I’ve ever been instructed on. She said a few words of wisdom that transcended their yoga application and seemed to speak to my life, this place, this instance and circumstance I’m in: soften with each breathe, find safety in being vulnerable, and don’t get ahead of [my]self. Sounded like exactly what I should be doing each and every day in my new city.
Next, I switched it up and tried the third-level city studio that boasts "Fitness First": the most common gym around the city was hosting BodyBalance at five-thirty taught by Steve, someone shamelessly positive and newly back in the game. It was yoga and tai chi (a la Hong Kong in my summer 2011) meets pilates repetition and the need for double floor-mats due to intensity. Sprinkle in a dash of Beyonce and my night was unexpectedly hard-core! Each move burned. I sat in the front of the studio for the first time maybe ever, connected with said host Steve via plenty of motivational and mortifying eye-contact, then took a self-guided tour (since the staff was less personal). Similar in price, Virgin was winning based on connection and customer journey. Fitness First had abundance and proximity to my apartment going for it. I loved VA’s proximity next door to my work. FF is, as it turns out, about twenty steps outside my front door. I'm torn.
The most fun workout experience I’ve enjoyed Down Under thus far was that which I was most likely to bail on. This past Saturday morning, after my sixth and busiest week at LinkedIn Sydney and an insufficient eight-hours of that blissful weekend sleep, I made it out of bed thanks to a FaceTime by Mom and climbed the five-minutes and three flights of elevator to my new neighbourhood gym (which I’m now sold on thanks to this class). BodyJam, named and trademarked by one of my very own health&wellness clients in Oz actually, was a choreographed cardio craze similar to Zumba meets modern-kickboxing! The best part about it was definitely the instructor’s playlist, but regardless I could not stop smiling nor reminiscing my Hong Kong evenings at “Funky Dance” and 'SC days of Zumba. I knew it was a kick-ass werkout too thanks to the sore shoulder and tight buns that night on the dance floor!
In the realm of workouts, my best track record to date has been when accompanied by my first and only personal trainer Summer, a life-changer turned life-long-friend back in SF (who had most recently hailed from Sydney when I met her). Because of her convenient integration into my SF life once she moved from Crunch to my company’s onsite wellness centre, I had admittedly NEVER done a self-led workout at home… at least not one that lasted more than ten minutes of what Claire and I like to call cat yoga. That was until NOW, however. My first ever-visitor in Sydney and SF gal pal Katie introduced me to a simple-enough Pinterest workout circuit: one with no weights, no shoes required containing nothing longer than a 30-second plank or minute-long wall-sit. Summer ensured that as long as I repeat said “twenty-minute” home workout at least three times, it’s a solid one! It’s been an amazing mechanism for taking ownership of my wellness, pushing my own limits, bulking up my Down Under playlist via Spotify’s Discover Weekly and trimming down at least by the stress-factor if nothing else.
If I had no motivation to muster and no budget for gyms, my last and best option might be our on-site bootcamp classes led by LinkedIn’s own contracted trainers. They include but are not limited to “Abs,” “Range of Motion” (which saved my sore bones today) and “Bootylicious,” all glutes and lower body if you couldn’t guess. I think I need to take advantage of these. As if I had my own trainer leading me through six or eight circuits — while surrounded by familiar faces to cheer me on while suffering themselves — they have been (all three of them that I’ve tried) my perfect combination of motivation and peer pressure! While sore today, I'm pretty stoked about these perks... I mean, look what they'll do for my hops.
When I need a break from werk, Tuesday lunches and Wednesday eves feature the loveliest of resources just a flight of stairs from my desk each week: yoga in the office taught by the elegant super-yogi Laura (who is awesome and super down-to-earth, by the way). Since my first week living in Sydney, I’ve meandered into our small wellness centre a few minutes before five o’clock to roll out a borrowed mat and stretch self-consciously. Each and every person who attends, male and female, is welcoming and supportive of each other; my first and second class, I met several bro-gis (yes, I mean male yogis) who I had already been introduced to via email months prior and now there is a clan of eight to ten who I recognise fondly each practice. From strengthening my chaturanga and up-dog to getting centimetres closer to a crow pose each week, I feel absolutely encouraged and empowered by this peaceful blessing within the walls of LinkedIn in the CBD. Thankful to my company!
Why was it that this week’s savasanas felt so particularly meditative, so opening? Perhaps, as my bff helped identify, it’s because I haven’t taken ample space — in my calendar nor mind — to simply digest everything I’ve been taking in and enduring. I reflect, I write, I make time to debrief with the ones I love… but when do I ever sit? I listen to Spotify, I try podcasts, and the other night I listened to a TED talk before bed. The only times I can think of in which I do nothing but process my memories, emotions and aspirations — most about Sydney and lots about home and the places I currently am not — is in the final minutes before sleep and after lights out, when I’m longing for peace and sometimes resort to distraction.
A friend's candid words about practicing love and kindness recently spoke to me; we don’t take enough time for that either, as social media and real media and live media (our people! our information!) fill in the space where pain or sadness might flow. I need to make time for that too. My Dad has consistently reminds me that prayer is always an option through which to practice gratitude, seek help, process my needs and realisations. My Grandma continues to remind me of the same, through a poem she gifted me that’s by my bedside and in her appearance at Palm Beach in the form of a lone and massive pelican (her favourite!): that the loneliest of times might be when God and the Universe are most forcefully carrying us and me.
This week, I also pondered for the first time (about 3/4 quarters of the way through post-vinyasa restore) that two years and then some just might not be enough to take in all that I’d like to of Sydney. In three, I barely scratched the surface of the other city that I love: SF. I wasn’t taking that place in through the same lens: in San Francisco, I was invincible, limitless, and filled with untapped potential. Here in Sydney, I feel free and ambitious and terrified…. but I also feel temporary, I realise still. Maybe that’s where my desire stems from to root and nest rather than remain a nomad (see my final paragraphs on Building my Sanctuary). Maybe that’s why my urgency to take in new knowledge and befriend everyone in sight surges through me at most hours of the day... only to exhaust me by nightfall or the weekend.
The last practice that has consistently and unconditionally helped me to reach these realisations is a brief, guided meditation courtesy of Deepak Chopra and thanks to my first friends in San Francisco — Steph and Shira — who introduced me to this noble effort. Meditation, which I can in no good faith claim that I’ve figured out, is an art form — it’s dependent on the person, it turns out differently each day, and it always tends to reveal something deeply personal (often embarrassing) and raw.
Eating with earnest
My intentions for my time in Sydney included so many previously unfathomable things: scuba diving, mastering surfing, and trying more swimming so that I could take on ocean swimming included. I also included things that didn’t seem as exotic: living in a Sydney apartment, eating more organic (see above), cooking dinner more often, and building a new wellness routine without a new trainer. I would not have guessed that learning how to pan-poach chicken breasts would be checked off my first-six-week bucket list, nor that How to Cut a Butternut Pumpkin would be an online video that I consumed in that same time span; oh, how rewarding both felt! Talk about just-in-time and bite-sized learning, quite literally.
It all began when my new flatmate asked if I wanted to join on a trip to Aldi so that we could cook dinner. I agreed, as long as by we he meant he. The first night this happened, Rup whipped up salmon fillets on the stove along with three different sets of steamed veggies — I mean, “veg” of course, according to Aussie abbrevs. I was amazed; I love sweet potato, and he made that, broccoli and asparagus magically steam simultaneously in one pan before my eyes that first night. How did I get so lucky? The second night we cooked, we settled on pre-diced veggies and seasoned peeled prawns for a lil’ stir fry. I must have been inspired, but all I know is that in my efforts to 1 build my wellness routine and 2 spend more time processing my many experiences and emotions, I found the sudden desire Monday after yoga to take a stab at cooking up my own, fresh dinner. It was an adventure in and of itself.
After shopping veggies and fish for one, then resorting to the first cooking blog I came to (thekitchn) upon Google searching “how to cook the perfect salmon fillet,” I started my process based off instinct; turned out, my gut instinct was off in all ways but one. I had laid my beautiful pink hunk [of salmon] flesh-down in a pan straight out of the shopping bag, only to then read the best practices of 1: allowing the fish to inch closer to room temp, 2: towel-drying my fillet so it wouldn’t be dripping before cooking, and 3: starting skin-down so the delicate flesh wouldn’t start out burnt. So much for trusting my “gut.” The creator and star of thekitchn’s quick and easy cooking videos soon became my best friend; she helped me know to wait until the fleshy and grill-inspired white reached at least three-fourths of the way up before I flipped! Fast-forward to nights two and three spent with her and I was in love. Chicken cutlets, brussel sprouts and freshly diced and roasted butternut are now on my recurring home-chef menu.
Tonight after publishing the initial version of this post, my roommate had to come along and reinforce all of my glory/gratitude/amazement: he suggested we grill after shopping for a bunch of our favourite veggies, some new and some repeat. We didn’t hold back: grabbed my favourites (sweet co’s and asparagus) and his that I was previously impartial to, like eggplant! This resulted in a quick and easy explosion of color once more. Our back patio’s small but mighty “barbie” was fast to light and quicker to cook; the calming process [and hopeful ritual] of washing, dicing, steaming and monitoring the grill just to sit in the springtime outdoors and enjoy our fresh meal — with enough evening to unwind and then some! — has me certain this “cooking thing” is something I need to keep at.
As the author of my second and latest novel in Sydney retells so elegantly, water has been considered the ebbing and flowing lifeblood of communities and a person’s wellbeing since the ancient Romans revered and celebrated it through their epic fountains. Supposedly, the first thing that a Roman settlement entailed was building an aqueduct to unite the people; here in Sydney, water flows in such a central manner just naturally. Thanks to the capital city’s splash-like shape and coastal location, countless harbours and beautiful bays surround every desirable neighbourhood. I’m not only embracing my inner Moana on harbour-side runs and ferry rides; public fountains appear in the loveliest of places, including but not limited to the epic botanical gardens I explored early on and the park that I cross each evening on my way home. The tap water is better than drinkable here; that and the lemon-infused water at work inspires me to stay hydrated and then some. My fun and beloved Swell water bottle, a gift from my motivator and trainer-turned-bestie back stateside, doesn’t hurt either: it’s a welcome reminder and vessel that accompanies me everywhere I go.
Aside from water and my previously-mandatory morning java, I am now a newly awakened lover of tea. After living with Claire, whose kettle and delicious loose-leaf (in combination with our manatee-shaped mana-TEA infuser) introduced me to this caffeine alternative, I began to warm up to it. However, my British and Australian neighbours in the office serve as further inspiration to experiment with new flavours and essences. One of the local tea-shops, T2 (a colourful explosion of delicious scents that could rival a Teavana and Bath & Body at once) is my new favourite escape and source of gifts (spoiler alert). Chamomile before bed? Peppermint in the mornings just after I’ve brushed my teeth? The day I learned that Creme Brûlée was a tea flavour was the day that I realised I’m tea-tering on the edge of addiction. Sorry (that I’m not sorry) for the bad pun.
Finally, coffee is a staple delicacy of Australia and one central part of the workday culture that I will never complain about. Who said I couldn’t drink tea and still enjoy my daily flat white? I’ve mentioned (perhaps numerous times) the unconditionally friendly face I find daily in Phil, my Philz replacement and new local barista; it seems that each and every shop-owner or barista that I meet is both kind and expedient, willing to give me a recommendations or explain once again the different between a flat white, a good ol’ latte and a simple cappuccino. These debates never get old. Below is an example of my favourite flat white yet: it’s accompanied by a smile and a tiny chocolate wafer cookie each time, courtesy of The Two Good Eggs cafe located below my apartment.
Building my sanctuary
One of the most pivotal factors that has lent to my comfort, rejuvenation, and degree to which I feel settled and at peace here is the place at which I feel most at home: my new home in Darlinghurst, Sydney, Australia, Planet Earth. While it’s evolved from shell to IKEA-clad starter-room in my first few weeks, I knew it had potential the first day I saw it: the afternoon sunlight shone in through its floor-to-ceiling windows and illuminated the almond-colored carpet, bordered and guarded stylishly by exposed brick in the shape of tiny staircases to heaven on either side. As I alluded above, my six-week anniversary culminated in a delicious salad and cider in front of both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge with my latest purchases tucked beneath my high-top table: two new pillows, two gorgeous more-decorative plushes, and a vibrant patterned quilt cover that encapsulates all the colours I love, styles I aspire to and travels I’m set on: Eastern meccas meet tropical paradises. I couldn’t love it more and it was worth the wait for the perfect design.
The perks of living with a flatmate have included not only the delicious home-cooked meals but also the affordability of a modern, sexy pad with high-ceiling and all the modern luxuries an expat world-traveler could hope for. Rup instantly made me feel at home and as though what’s-his-is-mine, thanks to his generous manner and cozy couches, chaise lounge ottoman in the living room and [newly] two plush blankets that he deemed must-have. I knew we had more in common than our passion for world-travel; he also loves home as much as I do. Our patio is quaint and urban, overlooking the industrial and gentrified block filled with warehouses-turned-highrises and eateries featuring an array of cultures. My room is both filling up, softening and evening out: it has a new and simplistic vibe thanks to my newness and scarcity of things; it also has touches of my sentimental collector’s way, thanks to my dresser's glass-top (which shades the bright smiles of my comrades from “back home” in photographs) and my new string lights that feature photo-clips for my assortment of Polaroids!
After investing today in my first-ever set of luxury bedding and pillows, I’m beginning to feel a tingle of that new and adult cross-roads approaching once again. Pillow and pics aside, I’m designing not just my sanctuary, but the lifestyle that will shape my time and rest spent in Sydney. In seeking to refine a new wellness routine, maybe I’m hoping to create an internal landscape — poised though ever-changing and adaptable for optimal wellbeing — to accompany this glorious landscape around me of history, culture, city and sea.
What the experiences of the last few weeks and few nights in particular have shown me is that becoming in tune with my mind-body-spirit relationship may be key to realising my best health, my best mindset and my peak physical condition but also my truest safety, my optimal community and the "best shape of my life" (as I so nobly aspired to only two years ago, pre-marathon). If nothing else, it’s the most certain place to start in my pursuit of my *best life.* I may not know yet whether I’ll swim a race or try a tri, live around Sydney or live in Surry forever; all I can know are the fears I’d like to face, the spaces and friendships that summon me, and the opportunities and abundance that are surrounding me in this one-of-a-kind ecosystem on the other under side of the known world. I’m in Oz alright, and it turns out there’s no wizard here either. I think namaste in Sydney for a while.
A broad down under
Since touching down in Sydney and starting this new job and journey a month ago, I feel a significant turning point coming toward me. I feel… somewhat cozy. I jogged home tonight as the sun went down and spring approached, noticing that the days are getting ever-so-slightly longer. I skipped to the tune of a thought-provoking podcast, perusing Facebook notifications and thinking of my dearly beloveds while they snoozed. I knew the route without looking, the turns without reading Maps or street signs. My landmarks tend to bring me reassuring joy along the walk home: my $20 all-you-can-eat pizzeria and the towering monument out of another century overlooking our reflecting pool in Sydney’s Hyde Park. I come home, snuggle into my [flatmate’s] couch in my ski socks and Iceland leggings and realise that I’m savouring the season (teacup in hand) because a new season is upon us -- in more ways than one. It’s my second springtime this year; the close of my second winter. Perched under the giant wall map courtesy of the roomie, I’m reminiscent of journaling in dorm room beds (from SC to Singapore to Hong Kong), our Vik apartment in the south of Iceland, my soft brown couch in Lower Pac, and evenings multitasking on the couch in North Beach with various roommates, Bachelorettes and Simba. The things I miss most: the traditions that felt so much like home I didn’t have to think or blink about what I looked like or the expressions I emoted (most in response to the Bachelor); also, the establishments so comfortable that I knew my order without glancing at a menu, the taste to expect in my coffee mug, and the friends and SF neighbours with whom I ordered.
As I reflect on my first thirty-one days here, I recall the many highlights throughout my first four weeks. There was my first walk along the Sydney side of the Pacific, my stellar 360-degree view of this city, the nearly 100 meals (not to mention 100 dumplings) enjoyed thus far, and my perfect tourist-tours across my new home. There were the hills and valleys of my first ~14 kilometres across Sydney on foot (weekend 1!), my favourite discoveries in the form of parks, storefronts and office hallways, and the most inspiring anecdotes or people I’ve stumbled across since 6 August. Finally, there’s the opportunity that helped bring me Down Under: my company, our badass global vision, and my werk. It’s a new side of "LinkedIn life” and already contains its share of milestones.
Sydney — the city and the workplace — are equally novel and easy. I love Phil, the barista at [downstairs cafe] Soho who says hi with a pleasantly-surprised smile and big eyes twice daily when I order my flat white. I love the office, that greets me with its harrowing ol’ clock tower and a pillar of blue flip flops that resembles a pile of overstock at Locals in LinkedIn-theme (see below). I love my commute: past museums and churches, malls and bank buildings, I practically apparate from hip and flavourful suburb (past quaint European and fountain-filled park) to packed metropolis filled with diverse faces. I even love our office kitchen, more like a dining room complete with restaurant tables, hanging plants and shelves for a new bedroom like mine to envy. My desk area, not unlike SF with its green leaves a la A-Bugs-Life and LinkedIn swag, hosts both sales people and quieter work horses in customer success, ad ops etc. Not that I’m quieter. Much to my satisfaction, we sit adjacent to both the kitchen and the dedicated workplace team: this means that anything and everything I could have possibly needed throughout the first four weeks of a new job was within approximately fifteen steps. I can jet out for water or a new and native snack (yes, Vegemite), or I can pop over to our resident tech whiz (my first unofficial #workbff simply due to pure proximity-meets-frequency) and ask him for the fifth time to activate my new Aussie SIM card, troubleshoot my browser issues and adjust my standing desk that won’t stay standing.
While a regional office like this one does not house the same perks to the same extent as HQ, there is an amazing amount of hospitality and home between our two cozy floors. The two kitchens and entire workspace for 225 souls is kept up by a married couple; they host breakfast and lunch, manage our common prep space for countless snacks and amenities [including but not limited to local Australian teas, candies and aforementioned local delicacies like Veg] and stock fridges full of snacks you’d find in your fridge at home: cheese squares (that are not individually wrapped), tortillas and fresh fruit slices cut and and ready for smoothie-blending. When lunch time comes, the Sydney staff (most of whom are not local) take time out of their day to sit, prep their own meal and enjoy restaurant-style luxury like shared water jugs and silverware at the tables over relaxed conversation. Finally, a single ping pong table and FiFA setup with cushy couches are constantly occupied, emitting the illusion of a start-up and that same comfort of a home-away-from-home.
Each day, I fill my new LinkedIn Learning water jug and assemble my breakfast bowl with cool poached eggs, pre-sliced avo and fresh ground s&p. Aussies love their abbrevs and I lean in to hear the goss on the reg while I munch. I am routinely asked if I’m up for a jaunt downstairs to get coffee, which most people indulge in at least twice daily. I meander awkwardly to the bathroom on my floor, walking one of two ways since it is equidistant from my own desk I think (and since I still don’t know which way to turn instinctually when nature calls). My teammates are from everywhere, both in professional background and country of origin; there are hunters and farmers in the sales realm, customer champions who manage post-sales implementation (that’s me!) and managers who span from team leads to office-wide business heads. My first friends that surround my desk include two homegrown Aussies, a British gal, an American Girl, an Irish lass and a Chilean-Australian with a huge variety sprinkled in on either side of me. All the males are charming, three of whom are named Tim, and all have already offered up their favourite bars, restaurants and retailers for my reference. The American who preceded me to Oz most recently is a dashing twenty-six year old who is part jock, part boy-next-door. Let’s hope my coworkers don’t read this anytime soon. Everyone is nice and everyone has opened up in their own time.
In Australia, any and all business conversations are built upon a foundation of rapport and relationship. I was told this from day one of my exploratory discussions, but it’s been a treat to witness it first-hand time and time again. Small talk, combined with the type of punny humour I was born for, are so abundant here that my first-ever mock customer pitch — delivered to no less than my country director in front of a class of thirty sales people — started with a fictional exchange about [her] five cats… since my male Director was playing Taylor Swift, of course. That put me at ease. My first day of work and twelve hours after landing in Sydney, I was invited to join an in-the-office first-meeting with a client who’s introducing our product into her government department. That same gal? Brought “lollies” (that means candy) to share to our most recent meeting and I’m working with her to promote and launch Linkedin, four weeks later. Since most enterprise clients prefer meeting and planning in person, exposure to Australian customers has served as the perfect method to learning the suburban landscape around Sydney. Traveling to inner 'burbs with names like Liverpool and Paramatta introduced me to motorways, more bridges and sparkling waterways than I knew were here, and driving (or rather, passenger-ing) on the “wrong side of the road.” This was also invaluable in granting me line of sight to the working world — public and private sector — outside of international tech. My customers have strong corporate cultures, value-driven missions and inquisitive people… all of whom are still human and love cupcakes.
Work has already brought great routines, amazing friends and an endless wealth of knowledge of things I didn’t know I love. In adopting our own value prop of blended and micro-learning, I’m listening to podcasts (have I mentioned that yet?) and watching Lynda courses both informative and inspiring in nature. I’ve taken to our in-office yoga instructor, powerful and nurturing, and tried other wellness classes offered mid-day like “Restore” and “Ab Lab.” Great breaks; better workouts for the mind body and spirit. Having two relatively new teammates and the most international team I’ve worked on has lent to amazing time for practice, mock scenarios, demo races and contests all to help us each demand excellence. On my one-month anniversary of landing in Sydney, I was certified by my new leader and already-thought-provoking mentor to demo our technology to clients (yes!). Finally, I’ve met so many cross-functional counterparts and ambitious women across different products Linkedin offers that my heart is bursting. My first month included a peer-mentor gathering of “Women at LinkedIn” (over wine), one women-in-industry networking event, an inaugural LGBTQ+ community event, and a celebratory evening party for LinkedIn and plus-ones because of our company’s global emphasis on the fact that “relationships matter.” It’s a value tenet but also a thing. I met partners, wives, sisters and roommates. I danced like I had known these people for years.
Finally, in my thirty and thirty-first day on this island, I checked off a few other bucket-list items — most were cheesy. My company has a ritual from the start-up days in which we stand up, introduce ourselves and share a “special talent” (uh-oh) in front of all our peers. Who knew that our Aussie offices combined contain close to 300 people… or that our Director of Asia-Pacific would be in town during my turn?! I decided to go for the only [not talent but ] tendency I’m known for and share my knack for jumping photos in both scenic and totally-average-and-everyday moments in time. Not only did I get a few laughs; my newly acquainted Head of Oz and a few strangers gave me kudos for sharing, being brave etc. That night I rep’d LinkedIn at a recruitment and networking event in-house for the first time in my tenure; wearing my LI letters and illustrating my company’s commitment to personal transformation (not to mention that of the world) made me quite proud.
I couldn’t be doing this without my desk-mate, my dance partners, teammates, or new boss. There are my yoga girls, my barista buddies, the local concierges and the passerby who tend to smile more here than in my former cities. My flatmate, first Australia mentor and unconditional listening ear is a laid-back bachelor at first glance; at the second, he’s a world traveler and videographer capturing every experience he can get his hands and feet around. He cooked dinner for us the past two Mondays and recently asked if I wanted to watch Despicable Me 3. Obviously. Moana is now in our queue, and I can’t wait to learn from the rituals I detected from our first meeting: he cooks, he explores, and he travels to both local and remote destinations for adventure, good friends, good laughs and novel excursions. I think I’ll learn a lot from him!
I’ve taken my time to reflect on my new LinkedIn life, and consider work to be a major channel and vessel for this journey away from home. It was not, however, necessarily the impetus or core fuel-engine of my transformation. Why is this a dichotomy I struggle with, I wonder? Often, I lead with the professional experience when asked why I wanted to move to Australia: I always dreamed of working overseas, experiencing an international market and, as it turned out, serving a customer from different backgrounds with new perspectives to broaden my expertise and understanding of our ecosystems, making me a more well-rounded potential leader at our company. Phew — exhausting. I know in my heart that this was not the first nor only reason for dreaming of what was past the line where sky meets sea. It’s been a powerful vessel and guiding light, however.
The dream actually began during one of my first vocations, with my realisation of our vast uniqueness and simultaneous, common humanity while running down a soccer field in Manchester, England. I wrote in my 2007 essay to USC about hearing a coach that summer — yelling from the sideline — in a language I couldn’t understand but a tone I knew only too well during an early-in-the-tourney match. The passion, the direction? All the same, as both were when we stood on the winner’s podium later that week, too. I knew from that moment on that I wanted to better understand people’s common aspirations and the lenses through which they pursue and fight for them. Fast forward ten years and, as it turns out: my company strives to do the same, all the while empowering users, learners and seekers from all walks of life to fulfil those dreams. What better way to contribute to this than by broaching this lofty mission from a different geographic angle?
After years of thinking, reading and talking about it, the dream felt more driven by a need for personal transformation. I told one of my early LinkedIn mentors that I also wanted a simple fresh start: the chance to experience a new [array of] cultures, build a community amidst new perspectives and scenery, and do so upon a blank white canvas. I grew to see that this meant a new level of independence, the essence of exploration and an exercise in resilience; as a prototype family-girl and extrovert with a knack for nostalgia and HUGE capacity for love, I realised later down the road that this would lead to extra-juicy pain, unavoidable longing and good practice in letting go.
Here I am, countless iterations of this dream later. It’s been 3 years since embarking on this path at LinkedIn, 8 since visiting Sydney and 10 since meeting the friend who would change it all: Jill, destined collegiate soulmate and studier-abroad who inspired my trip to Australia circa 2009. Before that, it was both my first love who modelled how to adventure abroad and my Mom, who — back at my current age — trekked across Europe solo with her dream of seeing, eating and falling in love in foreign lands just the same.
Thanks to Mom, my high-school superlative co-star, my inspirational friends and generous encouragers of the dream above — I’m making it werk at LinkedIn and across Oz (I even have my first interstate work trip coming up!). I know that I’m helping customers, learning new technology, building new relationships, and helping fulfil LinkedIn's vision of economic opportunity, everywhere. All the while, I’m refining and living my own vision. While I’m still meandering down the road that some call a career path, these factors make me certain that not all who wander are lost.
To my new LinkedIn life and my first nerd— I mean, thirty days!
A broad down under
When I opened my eyes this morning, the true first in which I had set no alarm and allowed myself to succumb to my black out curtains instead, I woke up to a new view and vast ocean... of covers, thanks to my wall-canvas turned bedspread. It was also marked the first morning I woke to the stark realisation that I was a vast ocean away: from “home,” my old life and the people I consider family.
While this may sound quite somber, it’s not a bad thing. This early-morning epiphany could have struck because I’m beginning to feel more settled in the fine city of Sydney. The mattress I rest my tired limbs upon is starting to meld to my shape; I’m doing adult things, like commuting home through a park daily while listening to podcasts and flossing every night. I have exercised every day for the past week if you include scenic treks along the coast of my new continent. Mind you, I’m also doing teenage things: collaging pictures of my friends and family, staying up late reading, and text-flirting with my SF-crush on the reg.
Despite having views like this one to spark inspiration in its glimmering reflections off the water, my own reflections haven’t been flowing with the abundance I’d like. While pondering the question of: How could I possibly have writers’ block when I am living the epitome of what I once envisioned to be “a life worth writing about”?! the bestie put it perfectly. She assured me that it wasn’t a block; I’m busy LIVING! "Living and experiencing and making memories, and once things calm down a bit the writing will flow like wine,” she said. I feel drunk, alright. Throughout my first four weeks, I’ve felt so saturated with love and awe that I’m fatigued on the daily. My brain gets sore, my heart is bursting, and my hands are often too tired to write from typing away at work, shaking furiously among new friends, snap(chat)ing glimpses of my new city and unpacking final items from my suitcases.
My latest and ideal ritual, for which I've decided not to apologise, is as follows: settle into a bubble bath after a long day of learning, trying, meeting people and exploring a new sight/path/eatery in Sydney. Whilst bubbling, I'll perhaps read a chapter of All Over the Place and hear a great new song or podcast that reminds me of home but opens my mind to something new. Climb into bed and read an email from a friend, write one to a family member, jot down thoughts for my blog and journal in my green leather-bound that reads "On to the Next Adventure." For writing's sake, I need to default to my purist exercise more often: writing not for an audience but simply for the sake of processing my thoughts. There are almost too many things, there are so many. On the fullest of days, I’m perfectly content getting in bed between 8 and 9p, using my downtime to catch up on my entire family and network via social while they sleep, and then drifting off to memories of my new town and savoury nostalgic flashbacks to my favourite people. Am I savouring enough?
Note: an insecurity of mine stems from a blogger and LinkedInner years ago who wrote that no one should ever watch a drop of Netflix in their first year in a new city let alone country. Maybe it’s lazy to find connection or stimulus in the ladies of Litchfield, the lovebirds of tragedies like 500 Days or the comforting ocean of Moana's and Maui’s. The question is: how should I balance the expenditure of my energy across work, well-being, social connection-building and the need to reflect and update? I’m still working toward mastery on that one, still adjusting to this new time zone.
Signs that I live here:
I have a bank account. And a nail salon.
I know my own phone number.
I have a yoga teacher and a Spotify playlist titled DOWN UNDER.
Went grocery shopping;
Paid my first month’s rent;
Zipped and finally stored my suitcases in the closet under the stairs.
Signs that I belong here:
The line where the sky meets the sea and the electric pulse it sends through me
The retro & quaint Hyde Park nearby which feels like Central Park, another planet AND home
The warmth and instant-friendship offered by most around me
Highlights to date:
Panorama views from the Westfield tower and its 360 restaurant bar
Mini-yacht cruise around Sydney Harbour and the O House
Bondi-to-Coogee Beach walk and sneak peeks of pools with names like "Icebergs"
Prosecco on the roof-deck of Coogee Pavilion with my first "visitors" (see: next post on My Touristy Trek around Oz )
Brunch items that are totally novel and delicious:
Breakfast bruschetta with haloumi and poached eggs what?
Soft baked eggs on pickly pork hash
Seaweed-y Avocado toast on Saturday #1
My current, rotating coffee orders:
Skim flat white - who calls it that?
Latte over ice
The "Cory," as my barista Phil calls my cappuccino with chocolaty cocoa powder
As the brekkie above clearly reveals, good omens seem to pop out at me everywhere I go. If I balked at the late winter chill here in Sydney, I was pleasantly surprised when met by the first day of Spring this weekend! The worst travesties to have struck include a long-overdue sore throat after weeks of over-doing it, and recently a night of walking steadfast [unbeknownst-to-me] circles home only to end up at the same train station exit at which I started.
Each morning, I walk a spritely eighteen minutes through a park to get to work. En route home, I take Oxford Street east (which makes me feel certain I'm bloody proper) and turn right on Brisbane Street to get home (whose name just makes me confused again). I jog through a line of bulbous lanterns that are reminiscent of Central Park, while sipping from public fountains that are oh-so-European lined with plants that could be found anywhere. As I gaze upon the ancient-seeming churches that can't be more than a few hundred years old, passing statues seemingly of another time and world, I can simply look up to recall that I'm beneath the same sky I've always been, shooting for the same stars.
Precisely 28 days after landing in Oz, I’ve seen and felt more than I recall of this incomparable harbour hub. I love the bustling pace down the streets and comfortable ease of conversation indoors; I love the colonial buildings and other-worldly train stations juxtaposed with modern buildings, towering skyscrapers and a revolving restaurant tower that looks intended for space. I adore the Santa Barbara trees alongside European cobblestone, lining a sparkly-smooth harbour with surprisingly jumpy waves crashing into its walls! I felt wary of the prehistoric-looking birds and untimely cold of August, but remain infatuated with the brisk summer sun over beaches only minutes from the icy urban mornings in my new city suburb. Finally, I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of the geometrically uninterpretable icon that is the cloudy white Opera House: sitting atop stairs but floating in the upside-down sea, it both houses entertainment and emits a silent tune that transcends language, culture or mileage. It feels like a fort made of white sheets; a home away from home.
I could get used to this.
A broad down under
My first Saturday in Sydney became my favourite day thus far, nearly most accomplished and the most rich with meaningful conversation (per cousin Jill’s inspirational quote from my Daily Dose box). The Universe gave me signs, beautiful sunshine, kind potential flatmates and every blessing there is except strong internet.
I woke that morning with butterflies humming in my stomach with anticipation to find a place I could call home. I dressed in athleisure, put on my lucky Sydney necklace and dreamcatcher bracelet from Chels, making sure to pack my hat and water bottle so that I’d have no excuse to give up. The night prior, I stayed up searching and filtering flatmates.com.au so that I could line up plenty of places, ranging from 4-bedroom houses to beach-facing flats shared with 1 or 2. As I whored myself out to strangers both Aussie and expat, I listened to New Music Friday on Spotify. Perks of being in the world’s first time zone: I’m hip to the new trends.
First stroke of luck: Carolyn introduced me to a lovely friend (with whom she shares a lifelong bestie back in LA) named Marissa. She’s lived in Sydney for about 12 months with six to go, and originally studied abroad the same semester as Jill at UNSW! Not only is she so kind for offering to welcome me immediately; she offered to meet me for coffee or brekkie by the beach to kick off my day of apartment searching. Her and her fiancé Johnny recommended a cafe called the Nine, to which I Ubered while catching up with Carisa via FaceTime. Lovely but roundabout drive. I can’t wait to learn the bus system!
After an iced latte and delicious avocado toast slightly tainted with “seaweed salt,” they ushered me off to the first spot with good luck and invites to friends’ couches and Facebook housing groups. I walked uphill to Home #1: Anna’s four-suite tri-level which houses her, two expats and two rag dolls named Meeko and Rocky! She was direct, kind, seasoned with an independence and warmth that made want to keep her as an auntie and mentor. Room was street-facing, huge with two large closets, private modern bath and brightly lit. Liked it.
Home #2 was slightly further uphill, only a few more blocks from the beach (which I could see on my walk from the cafe). The two-bedroom sanctuary with an unreal view of the Eastern sea is home to Pete and Rui, an older couple who work in sales downtown; seemingly the nicest, most hospitable couple in all of Oz. Have a private room with own bath and bed provided. Living space was airy but would have been tight! Very tempting option.
Home #3 was a short walk North of 2 on the main thoroughfare that is Bondi Road. Neighbouring the chicken cafe I ate at Wednesday night, it was quaint and tucked down a strange alley… but located above a florist, which I loved. The girl was lovely and 3-beds looked like they would have made a fine hub. But the room was too tiny and Bondi is feeling increasingly far from the city by this point! Home #4 was a third-floor share with a charming Irish guy, with a perfect balcony and sunset views from the glass shower. Wanted him as a friend and loved the warm vibe, but couch was weird leather and sharing with a boy is still meh on my scale of preference at this point. Sad to tell him!
Home #5 was an Uber ride from Bondi, back toward my current interim neighbourhood on the border of Surry Hills and paddington. Spoiler alert: I thought this might be the one. I unexpectedly received a lovely tour from 61-year old Uber driver named Marissa (two in one day?!) through Paddington, down Oxford Street en route to Surry and was drawn to the quaint shops, churches, markets and storefronts we were passing. I knew I was getting progressively closer to my office and current hood, so that felt good! We turned onto a diagonal street not far off the main thoroughfare, also near the heart of the “gay-borhood” and neighbouring a cool, edgy fountain next to a pink and purple hotel that looked like my gate to heaven. I crossed the street to find 148 (on Goulburn), a modern gray complex with a buzzer and neat-looking foyer.
Rupert, who had reached out to me on Flatmates.com boasting an en-suite bath and nice room, buzzed me up and always seemed lax and flexible on time. He looked younger than I had assumed (at 38!) and had blonde Jimmy Neutron hair, cool wardrobe. He blew me away with a step-down master suite right by the door (convenient), private bathroom with huge tub, built-in shelving and a separate glass shower that’s pretty and sleek. Jaunt up the stairs led to this giant, airy common room with floor-to-ceiling windows (like the master!) that were fully open onto a large patio. His wooden table and giant deep couch begged imagery of small dinner parties, cozy nights in and great TV access, if I’m honest. He had Spotify on, I felt comfortable and then: TWO major good omens jumped out at me.
Not only did Rupert have a giant world map on the wall — that I found out used to have pins on all his destinations —he also had not one, but two wooden hippo figurines on his frontmost side table next to the couch. Bayan, the bestie [and hippo-obsessed screenwriter] who I had chatted with earlier that morning, jumped back into my mind and heart! Would he tell me that this was a good brave choice, that my gut was screaming at me only good things?! Rupert loves to travel, used to recruit, and saves his money for adventures he’ll remember. An upcoming dive trip with local fur seals and a GoPro? Designed his own outdoor deck-lounge with a movie projector over Surry? Yes, I thought: I could get used to this.
This was only the start to my day; after charging my phone next to his couch, I walked a mile or two back to Paddington and explored shops, murals, and cafes — constantly looking for more signs. The street and neighbourhood in the running for first were quickly cornered by a smoothie shop (that yelled Love Life! on its mural), book-share shelf and coffee stops galore. I crossed for more storefronts and noticed pleasantly a park, bookstore and acaí bowls in proximity. Fatigued by delight, I then grabbed a bus and felt proud that I trusted the routes and my Opal card.
When I made it to Paddington markets, I reminisced the Melrose Trading Post and marvelled at local art, savoury food trucks (how is my Mac auto-correcting to English spelling of words like “favour” and savour”?!) and Made in Australia signage (see: Saturday’s Snap story). I bought my first souven— I mean, purchase; a friend asked over Snap whether I was already engaged and I realised that yes: Sydney had proposed a home, a flatmate and a leap of faith. I said YES. My new ring is sterling silver and comprised of a small infinity loop that forms a heart beneath it!
In Paddington I met up with Daryl: a three-year-local who hails from Atlanta and #transformed from a different state-side LinkedIn office. She previously worked with (my first SF roommate) Britt at Groupon and seems to have so much in common when it comes to [our] path to Sydney. She showed me around, introduced me to the cutest shops like Opus (picture: Picnic meets Papyrus in quirky Oz fashion) and led me to maybe my next fave cafe called NotJustCoffee. We sat upstairs, gazing at bougainvillea and local birds and a cute lazy Bulldog below. While sharing a delish rice bowl and kale salad, we told each other our inspirations, feelings on work and life, dating histories and insights on living. I was overjoyed and relieved to have her insight on neighbourhoods that are fun versus home. We wrapped the afternoon and wound down as the sun did, heading back to her brownstone-like haven so I could re-charge.
I took the bus again and found my direct route to Sydney Town Hall or Darling Harbor in the near future. As I walked to my hotel, humming to Tulou Tagalog and relishing in my day’s accomplishments, I realised once again that I am literally living my once-upon-a-dream. The sun was approaching eye-level and, unbeknownst to the tourists and visitors beside me, I was approaching what felt like home.
The next weekend...
Sunday, after packing up my interim home and sipping my beloved instant java, I ventured out in an Uber to move my things exactly 1.5 more kilometres. I realised nostalgically that these three cases had traveled from North Beach to Lower Haight, then Lower Nob to SFO. Next? SF to Maui, Maui to Honolulu and (thanks to Quantas) directly across five thousand miles of Pacific to my new home of Sydney... from the Mantra to Surry.
Upon arriving at my newly decided-upon mid-rise in my recently-christened-with-a-coffee neighbourhood, I felt a tingle and surge of anticipation run through my body... and all the way down my arms hands and suitcases. I was almost there, with only twelve steep stairs and a minimum of three IKEA trips to go! The beep that accompanied the swipe of my key at the front door panel brought me straight to reality: I was officially a resident of Sydney, Oz.
In the arvo, sitting in the coziest corner of my new room — exposed brick on one side and my very own pillow on the other — I sipped borrowed chamomile while Kelly from Airtasker helped me assemble my new Malm IKEA bed. I could not have felt more grateful nor productive (well, maybe if I had assembled every last bit myself) after a half-day trip around the home-in-a-warehouse, in which I solo explored all of the [Swedish] possibilities of my new space and downstairs oasis. It was a sentimental journey.
As I strolled alongside couples, newlyweds, dumbstruck parents and their toddlers that Saturday, I couldn’t help but acknowledge them with sweet appreciation, only a touch of yearning and mostly good riddance. I envisioned the independence and freedom before me. I thought of JGL and Zoey in 500 Days; I thought of my first apartment with Jill, and my first roommates in life (the sea-stars, of course). Realising the start of my creative process with a giant, blank slate at my fingertips, there were endless combinations of solo sanctuary meets work-space, think-place and more in the aisles ahead. I grazed my fingers over desktops, bounced youthfully on the mattresses, and wiggled bed frames to test for both comfort and durability. I let my imagination run wild.
After sticking to the essentials and only indulging in one, pinnable world map for my new room, I made it back to the city just in time for a walk and nice meal. This would be my last night of nomadic limbo. I planned to soak it up wholeheartedly — with sake and sushi — because my stay symbolised the grace of my company, the ease of my new city and my transition to a new stage of self. Name: Coraline. Age: 28. Location: Sydney! As I strolled home through the narrow streets and damp winter air, I felt both safe and saturated with wonder and awe. Who knew such a dichotomy of happy-sad, nostalgic-excited could not just exist, but persist and deepen so quickly!
Fast-forward to sitting in my bare-walled basement-loft with my first-ever bought-brand-new queen-sized bed. With a lamp on the floor and my life-blood beside it — a short stack of current reads, my journals and Daily Dose box — I’m acknowledging another dichotomy. Life and its collections, its findings and its purchases are all simply comprised of a set of “things.” While I know that none of these things will go on, their meaning and the pleasure we derive from them are no small thing. I'll savour my trinkets, gaze upon their symbolism and cherish their emblematic comfort in my cheeriest and loneliest of times. Being in a new world, I can appreciate the memories of my last one and love seeing glimpses of “home” or my friends in the corners of my new sunken sanctuary.
What thrill and comfort me even more, however, are the blank walls and light-strewn haven that surround me. They’re illustrative of the endless new discoveries and learnings still to come. I’m home, Sydney. Bring me that blank space and I’ll write your name.
A broad down under
Who am I?
I am a girl who loves my island and a girl who loves the sea; it calls me.