The travel life and personal endeavours of a drug dealer turned writer.

Hi friends!

So, it's been a while (since I could stand / on my own two feet again... 10 points if you remember that #tbt). I feel like I've lost a bit of direction with this blog and that's why I haven't posted very often. It's easy to post when I'm on holiday or travelling somewhere new, because it's easy to share experiences about places and where to go and what to check out or omg the food = amazeballs 9000%!!!

When I moved to Melbourne, that was easy to talk about too, because that's a new experience on a bigger scale. But now that I've settled in, what do I talk about? The ins and outs of my day? Like, who cares? I mean, really. It's not funny like a Pharmacy LOL where everyone can kinda have a laugh. For me I don't really "get" the point of relating news to people on the internet. If I wanted you to know, I would've told you in person. And yet, isn't that everything this blog isn't?

So when I blog, I guess I try to make it meaningful. So that there's a point when you read it instead of "wow, that's 5 minutes of my life I won't get back."

(I'm writing this after having cleaned the toilet and there's nothing like staring into a porcelain bowl of shit mixed with bleach and Ajax to really put things into perspective.)

So. Let's try to make this meaningful. What's going on, Chloe? Well, I quit my job. FINALLY. I've walked away from retail pharmacy, at least on a full-time basis. I will never say never (thanks JB), but for now I'm out of the full-time work game.

I was looking through my drafts of blog posts and one I wrote a few months ago (and possibly from last year, actually) stood out to me. I was writing about the concept of being "ready" for something, and the seeming contradiction of waiting to be ready to do something, but also making sure I wasn't using that as an excuse for inaction.

As I was thinking about this, I realised that there was some weird sub-component to the whole readiness thing. I am not ready to stop caring about what will happen if I jump off the Pharmacy cliff and into the writing abyss. And this is where it gets shady for me. It grinds me that I'm not ready to stop caring. I don't want to care! I am the queen of not caring about things sometimes. I mean, there are only a finite number of things I can spend my energy caring about from day to day.

I wish I'd known exactly when I wrote that, because I'd turn around and say to my past self, "SELF! Look what we just did! We jumped off that f.king cliff, buddy!!! We bloody went and did it!!!"

Because the thing is: don't you want to wake up and get out of bed for something that actually matters? I don't mean we all have to work in a lab to cure Ebola or end the war in Syria or close down refugee camps. But there's a role for everyone, and the degree to which that role impacts society is different. HOWEVER: it is still an impact. Don't tell me selling codeine in a broken system is helping or impacting society—in a positive way. Don't tell me rewarding bad behaviour because someone is too lazy to go to the doctor is making a difference—in a positive way. Don't tell me that arguing with a cheap self-absorbed time waster over the difference of a dollar is something that matters—in a positive way. Or even at all, for that last one.

And you know, some people wouldn't mind. It's part of the job; you take the good with the bad. But for me it's like... Would you stay in a relationship that made you feel angry and resentful? Where the only thing you can say about your partner is negative? When you look at them in the morning and all you can think of is how much you hate their face, and how you don't share any of the same values? Why are you still in bed with them?

Over the years my work has made me feel just like that. I've had a f.king bar of it and I'm done. Call me burned out, call me a millennial, but the bottom line is I need a break and I'm stepping back to get some perspective.

So that's what I'm doing. And I'll always have Pharmacy (yay professional degree in an ageing population that will always require drugs to keep us upright) so it's not the end of the world. And I guess I'll do some soul searching or something because there's a fair bit in the pharmaceutical industry that I haven't explored, and to be honest I've deliberately closed myself off to because I've wanted to be angry and resentful about my job—in a way I've made it part of my identity and I've ended up in this comfort zone of "this is who I am: someone who hates Pharmacy." Like, what would happen if I did something related but still enjoyable? Which is a therapy session in itself and we won't go into it here.

And of course, there's writing. I do feel that for many years I've done everything I can not to do writing full time. Because if I make it THE priority, then I have to accept responsibility. If it all falls apart, I'm the one who ditched the stable to take hay out into the rain. All the excuses—I've only just started Pharmacy, I haven't given it a proper chance, I'm not good enough to be a writer, I don't know what to write—I told myself everything I could think of that was pretty much an avoidant personality relationship with writing.

Now, there are no more excuses. JUST GOTTA DO IT. Somewhere in the abyss is... something to be found.

Will I find it? Who can say?

Until then, though!
-TM


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Hi friends!

It has been almost exactly one month since my last post. And even that was a retrospective from January. It's pretty safe to say that this blog is in a coma. DNR? Or do we carry on with life support.

Trouble is, I don't know what to write about. I kinda do the same thing every day, week after week. I'm 100% in a routine right now and some days I am only vaguely aware of that fact. Routine is something I enjoy, because I'm so lazy that anything that reduces brain usage and actual thinking is welcome—yet, on the other hand, my entire being balks at the thought of being so comfortable somewhere, or doing something, that I could simply be ticking off days on a calendar while nothing changes.

How am I living my life? in other words.

I actually went to Sydney and Adelaide in quick succession, over two weekends in March after I got back from London. I really went through a mental crucible after that. It tires me out mentally, because even when I'm on holiday I don't really stop—I'm like an Energizer bunny trying to "discover" as much as I can about where I am, while engaging and exploring this new place I'm in. And then when you get back on Monday you just hit the ground running and you're right back in the routine. For an introvert, this can be pretty rough. Those rechargeables don't recharge themselves!

I don't think I know how to holiday any other way, though. I remember my sister and I went to Rarotonga for a weekend a couple of years ago and there's nothing to do there except beachside laziness, which one would think is GREAT... but I got bored. Is that some kind of millennial short-attention-span thing that has snuck up on me over the years? Or just a symptom of my personality type? It's interesting thinking about it (for me, anyway) because I consider myself to be very much a "plodder"—someone who will basically plod her way through life, both mentally in thought process as well as actioning said process. The incongruence is hard for even myself to comprehend.

Anyway. It's mid-semester break at the moment and after completing my extended-deadline assignment, I took some time this evening to think about what I used to like doing, instead of what I always feel I need to do (writing, studying, blogging). And I realised that I couldn't remember the last time I looked at the photos on my camera from a purely leisure perspective, let alone edited them.

So here are a few from Adelaide, where I had a great time over the Fringe Festival.

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[It's been a while since I went to London. While I remember what I did and where I went, I left my journal on the plane home to Auckland and I have not yet recovered from the emotional devastation. So the following posts condenses my last 2.5 days in the city.]

LDN: 4
Much to my dismay, London was smothered in fog on my fourth day. I guess that’s what they mean by London weather. Up to this point, I knew I’d had it pretty good with how clear and sunny and not-rainy the days had tended to be, but I didn’t know it would be like China levels of low visibility on foggy days. It was kind of romantic, though, very… Wuthering Heights, but without the backstabbing and resentment.

It was the only day with an available slot at the Skygarden, as well, and those can be quite hard to come by last minute so I decided to just go for it and tick it off the list. It was... foggy. Very foggy. I couldn't really see anything, but fortunately the gardens inside were quite nice to look at as it was. I didn't spend very long there and headed over to the Emirates Stadium for the tour. With the weather shite, I decided to shuffle my itinerary around a little and moved my visit to Emirates Stadium up by two days. Ideally I would’ve gone to Stamford Bridge but Arsenal worked better with the time I had. It was really really cool though. I’m glad I managed to get to one stadium at least. The scale of their match-day operations is immense; coming from a women’s football (soccer) perspective I was just blown away. Unfortunately I didn’t get to go to an actual match but the stadium tour was a decent substitute at least.

The Monday was really packed activity-wise, actually; after the tour I went down to Camden Town for a bit of a wander and had lunch there, where A BIRD SHAT ON MY SHOULDER. I was waiting for a delicious pulled pork chips when I heard this splat! right by my ear. I thought, that's odd, it's not raining at all, is it? and looked up to see overcast skies but no rain. And this sense of dread came over me and I thought, oh no, and sure enough, on the left shoulder of my Macpac puffy jacket, was some bird's urea poop. Great!

Fortunately the puffy jacket is quite easy to clean. And we both moved on with our lives. The upside is that the bird didn't shit directly in the middle of my head which happened once when I was a kid and I freaked the f. out that time.

After bird-shit town I went to Essex to catch up with Ash and Fliss who I met in Canada and if you remember from my super-ultra-delayed flight from Beijing, I was meant to meet them for dinner the night I arrived. So this was our raincheck date. It was a whirlwind, most delightful 45 minute catch up. The length of a TV episode! We could've filmed that in real time and included me sprinting across the clear-windowed overhead tunnel to get back to the station, only to miss the train I needed to catch to meet my UK-based cousins back in central London. I tapped on and screeched to a halt on the platform only to see the train pulling away, bye bye Chloe, maybe next time.

So I was late for dinner with my cousins that night, but at least I didn't miss it completely like I did with the Essex girls on Thursday night THANKS FOR NOTHING AIR CHINA, and it was good fun. It sometimes feels so strange that I can be related to these people but only have met them twice in my life, and you would think it'd be like strangers meeting for the first time or having nothing in common, but of course we do—we're family—and so the conversation just flows so easily. I will also forever love that I'm able to meet up with friends and family wherever I am in the world.

LDN: 5 & 6
My fifth day in London. I did ALL the touristy things. I wanted to do the duck tour, but I got lost, so we won't talk about that, and we'll instead talk about how I went to St James's Park which is the most g o r g e o u s park I've been to in recent memory. It was beautiful. And all the wildlife! Squirrels, swans, geese, an iced-over river, a bridge; it was like a movie.

I wandered about to Buckingham Palace and did a loop around to Green Park and also past Big Ben. By then it was time to head over to the Shard to meet Nat for dinner. Yay! That's probably still the highlight of my trip to London. I never thought, realistically, that I'd catch up with her in London over the two years she was there, not with moving to Melbourne and having had to go back to NZ four times in the past year and a half. But there we were, and she very agreeably accompanied me to Notting Hill, where we scouted out the bookshop from the movie (which is not really the bookshop from the movie, but something like it/close enough), and had delightful burgers from a chain with NZ origins.

On the sixth and last day, I only had time to visit the London Review Bookshop and the British Museum. A bit of a whirlwind trip. Both were great—I only wish I had more time to sit down in the Bookshop cafe. And then I was jetting off back to the hotel so we could go to the airport. The drive took a long time as it was rush hour, but it meant that we stopped right underneath Parliament and I got to see Big Ben all lit up and close up.

And that was my European holiday of 2017!

Until next time,
-tm


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On Sunday we went to Lille, taking the Eurostar train from London. It took about one and a half hours. Lille’s a very quiet, mainly student town if you stay within the metropolitan area, and when we got there there were hardly any people about—on account of it being a Sunday as well, I suppose. There’s not much to say in this post as a result. We wandered around, checking out the architecture and exploring the central area. It was a very clear, sunny, bitterly cold winter’s day; my favourite kind of weather.

We went to the Grand Palais, which we assumed was a… Grand Palace but was not (it’s a convention centre of sorts from what I gather), and then went to the citadel, which was closed. A lot of things were closed that day. The citadel is by this gorgeous park that has a river running through it and that was well frozen over when we visited. It made me very happy. A lot of the locals were out for a walk or a run and brought their dogs with them; it filled me with this pure joy watching the dogs bark and run about playing fetch between the ice and the footpath. The few parts that weren’t frozen over had been colonised by many many ducks, and I think I could have watched them forever.

My sister doesn’t speak French and I hardly remember what I learnt during that one semester in second year, but for a day we scrape together enough to get by. I’m most proud of when we walked past a bakery and saw a menu board with a great deal on a sandwich combo, and when we went inside I was able to convey what I wanted without needing to revert to English at all. The pain au chocolat that came as a side to the sandwich was… incredible. I hadn’t had one for ages, let alone an authentic French croissant. It was just gorgeous and amazing to eat and I’ll never forget eating it on the steps of the Lille Cathedral. Yes, I love food so much that that was a particular highlight.

After the cathedral we decided to kill the rest of our day with a visit to the Palais des Beaux-Arts. Did you know this is one of the largest art museums in France? It was so great. I had no idea what to expect but it might be one of the best museums I’ve visisted. I actually feel like the times I’ve been overseas and gone into something with no expectations, or had no preconceived notion about it, is when I’ve had the best time or the most pleasant experience. I guess because I was so busy running around London figuring out what to do, that by the time we got to Lille, I was able to just experience everything as I went, and be in the moment. Also helped that I could kind of just fob everything off to my sister to organise or decide, haha.

So that was Lille. We took the train back to London and I started figuring out how I was going to spend the last two days I had in the city.

Pictures:

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Until then!
-TM


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The first time I watched an AFL game in its entirety was the 2016 Bulldogs/Hawthorn second semifinal match. I had no idea what was going on, but I was house-sitting with a massive TV in the living room and I sure as heck wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity for some HD sports action. (I don’t own a TV.)

At the time, I had somewhat chosen the Bulldogs as “my team” after some discussion with various people but, after the final whistle, I was sold. The fact that they had a team in the upcoming AFLW only helped to seal that support.

I went into the rest of the finals series unabashedly on the Bulldogs bandwagon, still with only a very rudimentary grasp of the rules. I watched the Grand Final at my house with my housemates and their friends, and was more invested than all of them.

“You’re a bit of a sports nut, aren’t ya?” one of them asked me when I cheered the loudest at the final whistle. “Any kind of sport and you’ll watch it.”

Well. I wouldn’t say any sport, but generally, yes. I love the spirit of competition, I love the atmosphere of a crowd, I love the support and the sense of family the teams and fans give each other. And when women are playing, it’s even better.

So when details for the inaugural AFLW season began to unfold, my interest skyrocketed. As a lifelong soccer fan, I’ve seen women’s teams get infuriatingly little support—in revenue and in bums on seats, but the interest and momentum the AFLW seemed to be generating was uplifting. When the membership options came out for the Bulldogs, I threw my money at it. All the money! I can’t believe the games are free. Free!!! How are they going to pay these girls??

On the night of the historic first-ever AFLW match, I’m in my parents’ living room in Auckland. I fire up the livestream on AFL.com just in time to see the Carlton girls come out of the tunnel and break through the banner. My heart soars. I don’t even support this team but I’m behind them already. Honestly, I’m also behind Collingwood even though I understand that’s some form of heresy to support both teams. Just give me a good game, and I’m there. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for my footy-mad friends who are at the stadium right now and have been since the gates opened.

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The teams line up for the anthem. It’s my first time hearing the Australian national anthem in full, properly with words and all. Doesn’t really have a bar on the NZ anthem, though it is still very exciting. Princes Park is packed, and later on they’ll announce a lockout with two thousand more turned away after they shut the gates. I’ve never seen a stadium packed out for any women’s sport I’ve watched in my life. This is incredible. Take that, naysayers!

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As the game gets underway, my initial impression of AFL remains the same—people scrambling madly after a bouncing ball. For someone who has grown up watching the pinpoint accuracy demanded in soccer and rugby, this is hard to get used to. But the athletes here are brilliant. Amazing runs, the tenacity and ferocity in their tackling and the determination in winning the ball, not to mention all the points they’re racking up—it’s riveting.

I’m terrible at reading the game but Carlton are killing it. I recognise Brianna Davey from the Matildas, and I’m quickly becoming familiar with the Carlton standouts as well as—this directly quoted from my Notes app—“CARLTON 3?!?!!” who I later learn is Darcy Vescio. It’s all very exciting. Have I said that already? Ha!

On Saturday I stay up to watch the Bulldogs take on Fremantle. Whitten Oval looks pretty packed out as well. I can’t help but wonder if there’d be this turnout if tickets weren’t free. I suspect yes, or if not, very very close to it. It’s clear AFL runs in this city’s blood. If everyone in the crowd made a gold coin or $5 donation... just imagine. Hopefully in subsequent seasons the AFLW will be in a position to generate and sustain its own revenue—the interest is definitely there to do so to get the players to a decent ongoing salary.

You can even buy AFLW gear from the official team shops. Granted, it's still on pre-order, but it's there. Take note, soccer teams worldwide! I also love that some of the teams’ social media accounts aren’t separated into “men’s” and “women’s” accounts. All teams should be doing this. It’s a small thing that can make a big difference in getting the perception of the women’s game fully on par with the men’s going forward in developing the league.

Because my heart beats soccer first and foremost, I want to take a moment to say… Imagine if the W-League had half of all this. Just half! Or not even half, just a quarter. Imagine if ALL their games were on Channel 7 or Fox with one of their peers providing insight and expert commentary. The response to the AFLW on this first round weekend has been amazing, and I can’t help but picture what it’d be like if just a fraction of this infrastructure is there for women’s soccer.

But, this is AFLW's weekend. The public are putting official crowd estimates to shame, and I can't wait to be one of the punters come Round 2.

Until then!
-TM


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I’m doing fairly well with this jet lag thing. As in, it's kicking my ass. By 4am I can’t sleep, and by 7am I’m going a bit stir-crazy checking my phone every ten minutes. I’m also getting increasingly hungrier. Here’s a question for you, friends; if you’re in bed and ridiculously hungry, do you get out of bed immediately to eat, or do you kind of just lie down through the hunger? For me, sleep trumps food, especially if it is at some ungodly hour; I’m quite capable of making myself sleep through a gnawing hole in my stomach at 5am before it’s actually breakfast-time. Would be interested to know your habits on this.

At 8am I decide enough is enough, so I take my laptop to the bathroom, along with some biscuits and water. It occurs to me that it might be a bit strange to eat in a bathroom, but this one is so spacious and well-lit and clean that, does it really matter? I don’t want to turn the light on in the room because my sister is actually here for work and thus this is a proper Saturday lie-in for her. I’m pretty sure she’s 70% awake, but still. It’s the thought that counts.

I blow my nose and to my horror and disgust, it comes out grimy and bloody. What the hell have I been breathing in in London?! It must be the heating drying out my capillaries. Or the Tube. All the dust and dirt blowing around in the Underground. Cripes. Another moment as I realise how good New Zealand really and truly is. Side note: London water tastes RANK. What even is in it?

I wonder if my sister can hear me typing in the bathroom. I also wonder if there’s a gym in this hotel somewhere—there must be. Not that I'd go. Well, maybe I would. Who can say?

Today's plan is a little more organised since my sister had input as well. We are due to meet up with Natalie at the Borough Markets for some food around 10am. We get to where I think is the entrance we agreed to meet at, but Nat's not there. Oh god. We fixed up a meeting place beforehand because I don't have wifi or data once leaving the hotel. So far on this trip I've been mapping my itinerary out on Google Maps at the hotel, taking screenshots and emailing them to my phone. Hello, 1999. I can't remember what we used to do before smartphones and cellular data. Did we wait for as long as it took at the set meeting place? Every hour on the hour until we met up? I can't comprehend it now.

We walk around to check the other entrances, doing a round of the market at the same time. It's a pretty cool market—all kinds of food and stalls to choose from. There's no sign of Nat until we wander back to the original entrance, and then like magic she's standing right in front of me.

It's so good to see her. It's almost like a slow motion romcom where you both look up and make eye contact and realise that this is the person you've been looking for, ha! I love that we're able to catch up in the UK. I hadn't ever thought it a realistic option to have time to fly over to London before her visa expires, what with my moving to Melbourne and having to fly back to NZ multiple times in the past year. But here we are, and it is incredible.

After the market we wander around the city, meandering past the London Bridge and the Tower Bridge, and then around the Tower of London. It all looks very impressive, and it's a nice day for a walk along the Thames. It's freezing, though. It is fresh. My sister and I want to check out the Victoria & Albert museum, so we drag Nat out with us into some warmth and culture.

The V&A is great. I don't remember much of it except for the MASSIVE sculpture of David, along with all the other excellent sculptures. Sculptures are my fave. We spend a couple of hours there and then all of a sudden I am SMASHED by this EXTREME jet lag. "What do you want to do now?" I'm asked.

"I need a nap," I reply, quite happy to curl up in the room of Raphael cartoons and having a nap in two seconds. I was doing fine in London until then; and then, all of a sudden, I'm a zombie. So off we troop back to the train station, where I realise I don't have enough money for a fare—and you can't even tap on to get through the barrier if you don't have enough on your Oyster card.

At the station there is a stupidly long line, which I join disgruntledly because I have to. I start to crack when a girl comes wading through saying something like, "Do you all have an Oyster card? I have one. Can I cut in?"

Context here is my brain is like zombie mush. This is what it feels like to be there in body and your mind just... not. I have an Oyster card. Does this mean everyone waiting in line is waiting to buy one? "I have an Oyster card," I say. Almost kind of dumbly, like this rote reply when someone asks you a question but you have no time to process what it actually means.

I have a blank in time here. Further proof that my brain wasn't actually engaged in anything at that moment. But I end up somehow cutting in at the front of the line towards the spare machine. Right at the front I catch a glimpse of a girl waiting, holding an Oyster card. There's a split moment of confusion where my brain is slowly, slowly catching up with my body's momentum and wants me to stop, but my zombie legs are already carrying me to the brains of the Oyster machine. Give me brainsssss no wait but she has an Oyster card—GIVE ME BRAINSSSSSS!!!!!

Remember in Inception where they say you don't know how you get to where you are in a dream? That's me standing in front of the Oyster machine. I tap my Oyster card and select how much I want to top up, and am ready to put the cash in until I realise... it's card only.

EFF THIS SHIT!!!! (My actual mental reaction.) I'm NOT going back to the queue to line up again. Screw this! (Zombie brain is not rational.) I barge my way out of the line and actually say out loud, "Screw this!" and tap my card onto the reader at the barrier. Of course it won't let me in.

In London—and I think this is quite useful and clever—you can use a contactless debit or credit card as an Oyster instead. My sister passes me hers so I can tap in, but that doesn't work either.

"You need to top up," the Underground service officer person says, a little snippily, because the line is not getting any shorter. This, along with the tiredness, and the fact that I have a massive chip on my shoulder about people telling me things I already know as if I don't know it, lights my already short fuse, and I quite spectacularly lose my temper.

This is the first time in a long time that I've actually outwardly cracked the shits. I kick a plastic barricade in frustration and look up to see this woman looking horrified at this tiny person physically abusing an inanimate object. "I'm fine," I tell her, even as I'm almost laughing at how comically petrified her expression is. My anger is a match striking in darkness—it flares up sharply and dies almost as quickly—I'm honestly fine now.

"Okay, you need a nap," my sister says, patting my shoulder once we've cleared the barrier and are waiting for the train.

Looking back on it now, I think I was just wanting an excuse to have a tantrum without consequences. I've been stressed, and while I'm good at letting things go, it doesn't mean that they don't still put a strain on me as I am in the process of doing so. And I've had to just keep on going. I have really mixed feelings about anger; I know it's a normal, healthy reaction to life, but anger is like the height of losing control of your emotions for me. Annoyance, frustration, irritation—all these are legitimate reactions to incompetence or whatever, but anger is this ultimate boss in a video game and if you lose after all that hard work going through the levels (this analogy is getting away from me) and have to start all over again then... what was the point?

Anyway.

On the way back to the hotel we stop by the supermarket and find this incredible store called Wasabi which is like a Japanese fast food chain. They have pre-packaged sashimi, sushi, bento sets, actual meals that are delicious and you can just pick them up off the shelf and buy them ready to eat! I mean, okay, there are places like Sushi Top or St Pierre's sushi, but for some reason Wasabi seems like such a novelty—I think it's different to me because you can wander around the shop like a 7-Eleven before going to the counter, whereas with the NZ/Australian ones, the food is at the register area where the server is waiting to help you. If that makes sense.

I have my nap before getting up for the last thing on the agenda for the day: Book of Mormon! I've heard a fair bit about this musical and while I'm not much of a musicals person, it'll be good to check this one out. Overall, it's pretty funny. I'm glad I've seen it. I'm also glad when it's over because it is. so cold. It's really freezing. Do many people leave their houses in winter in Europe? I mean, I've only done so because I have to do as many things as I can in a very small timeframe... but it's so cold.

Pictures!

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This photo cracks me up because it's just... Pls.

Next up: More braving of the cold as we head out for a day trip to Lille, France.

Until then!
-TM


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I’m not sure if it’s jet lag (it probably is), but I’m up and about by 8am. Not complaining, though; I like to get a headstart on the day where I can. The only problem is, I don’t know what I’m doing! It’s not like me to go on holiday without a clear itinerary that I can have a full view of and rearrange where need be. Coming into London with only five days and a blank slate is a bit too casual for my liking, but with no time like the present I crack open my laptop and fire up Google Maps.

I’ve asked a few people for ideas before coming over and have a vague list of museums and markets to work with, as well as a couple of places I’ve thought of myself. For lack of better ideas just now, I decide I’ll head to Brighton and then go to the British Museum on the way back as it’s open late on Fridays.

So I wander along to Canary Wharf station and stop by the supermarket for some food. It’s busy. The work crowd are milling about and there is a long line of people waiting for… machine coffee?! Like the ones you pay $2.50 for at Subway or 7-11. The “last resort” kind of coffee when you haven’t been paid yet, desperate, or trying to cut back on coffee. I think about the coffee culture in Melbourne and I don’t think anyone would be caught dead doing this back home. [Ed: this is apparently free from Waitrose if you shop there and are a member. Still.]

I grab a sandwich and leave the supermarket and am immediately accosted by the sight of a Boots pharmacy. Ha, “accosted,” who am I kidding. It’s a pharmacy! I love pharmacies. Not so much the industry, but I love walking into a pharmacy in a different country just to see what they sell.

Chemist Warehouse has vending machines, Boots has self-checkout counters. New Zealand, you need to up your game.

Side note on the Underground here: the trains remind me of toy trains with the way the carriages curve towards the top. It gives the impression of a really cramped train, and the doors are tiny as well. If I find it claustrophobic just ducking in through the doors, I can’t help but wonder what regular-sized people think of it.

I get off at London Bridge to change to the Thameslink, which I gather is something like the V-Line equivalent. Except the two trains to Brighton have been cancelled. Crap! What to do. I quickly put together a plan B, which turns out to be checking out the Sky Garden and then heading onward to the British Museum a bit earlier. Maybe I’ll have time to go to Soho for dinner afterward.

Great! I jump on some Starbucks wifi to map a route to the Sky Garden. On the way there, I pass by the London Bridge station information desk. On a whim I decide to pop in and ask about the Brighton trains.

“Take the East Croydon,” the guy at the desk tells me. It’s not even eleven and he must have had to say this all morning, because the man in line before me was asking the same question. “Change for Brighton there.”

The East Croydon train is in fifteen minutes. And now I’m in a decision bind. Do I go to Brighton as planned, albeit an hour or so later, or do I stick to the new itinerary? Oh god. This is when travelling with someone else is good, because there’s another opinion to sway yours into action.

If I go to Brighton now, I won’t be back in time to check out the British Museum. I mentally reshuffle my five-day itinerary. I guess I could do that on Monday, or Tuesday; even Wednesday morning at a push. But what will I do after Brighton? I’m getting a bit impatient. Even though I’m on holiday, my intolerance to what I see as “dead time” has its limits.

I stop and listen to my gut. It really wants to go to Brighton. It’s a lovely day, too; who knows if it’ll be this nice and sunny and clear any other day? I snidely remark that we checked the weather report that morning and it was the same for the next three days.

Shut up, comes the reply. We’re going to Brighton. We can go to Soho on the way back.

Jeez, self, don't hold back. Brighton it is.

The train to Brighton takes about an hour or so. It’s nice. I like train travel over moderate distances. When I get to Brighton it is… pretty bright. And cold. It’s a lovely spot, a quaint little town that seems to just have one main street that heads straight towards the seafront. The beach is nothing to really write home about; it’s nice, in the way that it’s always nice to be by water on a pleasant day, but I’m really here for the old pier. I’ve seen it on so many TV shows, music videos, all sorts. Now I can check it off my list.

I stop by Soho on the way back to Canary Wharf. HUGE MISTAKE. It’s rush hour on a Friday night and this is the place to be. Or, maybe everywhere is the place to be in London on a Friday night, but Soho is definitely a very happening place. It’s so busy, there are so many people going out for shows, shopping, etc… it’s a lot to take in. Is this the Times Square of London? Bright lights in the big city—plus a lot of people bumping into each other.

Okay, thought segue: Soho reminds me of NYC, but I feel that in NYC, people (or just locals?) watch where they’re going out of a sort of annoyance/exasperation at your inability to watch where you’re going. Whereas in London it feels as though nobody watches where they’re going at all. I almost, at more than one point, feel very tempted to just barge into people who don’t make any attempt to avoid collision. Or maybe they just don’t see me. This is a disconcerting thought that borders on an existential crisis—am I invisible?—so let’s move on.

I wrestle my way through to Regent St and begin my search for dinner. Steph’s recommended a Japanese fusion place called Bone Daddies… I mean really. Who isn’t tempted to check out a place with that name. When I get there, there’s a fairly long line out the front but as a solo traveller it shouldn’t be a problem for me to get a seat. It’s cold and one of the wait staff comes outside with little shots of sake on a tray. Yay!

This part of the journal entry doesn’t seem very exciting. I have dinner, which is ramen, which is fine, and then I go back to the hotel. Ah, and that’s it. How anticlimactic? Here, have some pictures!

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Boots self-checkout kiosks

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Old Brighton pier

Next up: I catch up with Natalie and check off the first museum on the list.

Until then!
-TM


Posted on .

“This is proper cold,” the girl says. We are walking up the ramp of stairs parked directly on the tarmac to get into the plane as quickly as possible. There is snow on the ground, freshly fallen powdered white stuff—‘real snow’ as the girl calls it—and small flakes continue to drift down around us. This must be what it’s like inside a snow globe.

It is freezing in Beijing. I have been on a six-hour stopover from Melbourne, heading onward to London, and I am thoroughly underdressed in Nike sneakers and a jumper over my t-shirt. The girl and her companions are even more so—they’re wearing jandals, and the girl is wearing one of those billowy floral-printed pants I remember buying in Morocco because we had to keep our legs covered to preserve our secular chastity.

The flight was scheduled to leave at 12:30pm but we only start getting carted off into the buses from the gate at that time. The gate itself is at the far end of the terminal and the bus moseys out and meanders about for ten-fifteen minutes until we reach some desolate Timbuktu section of the terminal, all soil and construction and what I assume is a retired 747 left to the mercy of the elements. I’m on the first bus; by the time everyone is boarded up and ready to go, it is past one and we must have missed our window for take-off, because the captain announces that the runway is “very busy” and we’ll have to wait.

And wait we do.

Oh, do we wait.

With no data and no access to Wi-Fi, the plane’s front camera becomes my main source of entertainment. It takes me a while to realise I’m watching a feed of the tow truck thing that attaches to the plane to pull it out onto the runway. Or back in. Or something. There are two men sitting in the cab, side by side splayed out in various positions killing time—wait, there’s a third guy huddled—oh my god, are they cuddling? Having a threesome? No—I’ve been listening to too much My Dad Wrote A Porno*.

I entertain a debate with myself. Would you rather be delayed on the plane, or while still in the terminal? There are merits to both, I decide. If you’re delayed on the plane, at least you’re ready to go the second you’re green-lit. If you’re in the terminal, you still have to go through the entire boarding process, etc. At the same time, your hope is pretty strung along when you’re already on the plane. Now? How about now? Or now? What about… now? And there’s a certain kind of claustrophobia when you’re stuck in your seat for hours and not going anywhere. It’s fine if you’re in the air; you’re on your way. But when you don’t know… And at least if you’re stuck in the terminal, chances are you won’t be further delayed once on board and everyone is raring to go.

Ultimately I conclude it depends on where your Internet is. I do not have any and I’m going a little stir-crazy. I brought a massive book which I didn’t think I’d actually read, but I’m only five pages from the end. What will I do when it’s finished? I haven’t brought another book, and I don’t like reading on my iPhone. I have the next 11 hours of flight-time to finish writing all my works in progress—this I haven’t counted on, and the thought is frankly quite intimidating. There’s also the option of listening to all the episodes of MDWAP, which is not really a bingeworthy kind of podcast, in my opinion.

To my horror they start the lunch service at 2pm. We’re still on the ground! It means we definitely aren’t getting any kind of taxi action in a hurry. At this rate I’ll outstay my 72-hour visa free period and we’ll still be sitting here in the 90s using the first generation Playstation-esque joystick remotes to control the entertainment system.

While I eat, I have flashbacks to Vietnam when my sister and I waited through a five-hour flight delay from somewhere in Vietnam to… another part of Vietnam. There was a bus involved then, too. We had been ferried from the gate to the plane, only to be informed of some mechanical issue on the aircraft and so ferried back from plane to gate, where we waited for so long until the staff ran out of flight hours and we were delayed further while the airline sourced new crew.

The captain makes a non-announcement announcing that we can only continue to wait. Great. Now I do actually finish my book. No more pages. Zero. It is over. I hadn’t planned to finish it this early into the trip. I’m not ready for it to be over. I could read it again. It seems like the kind of book you’ll absorb better the second time around without the hectic page-turning in one’s bid to find out what happened next, but it’s such a massive book. At the moment I need a breather. The next book up for reading is The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The unbearable lightness of an intolerable relationship, I think sullenly. I like the philosophy but not the relationship between the two main characters. Maybe not Milan Kundera just yet, then.

I think about the dinner date I have with the Essex trio. I don’t have a chance of making it on time, but I have no way of contacting them.

I idly observe a guy a couple of rows in front of me texting on his phone. Omg! Chinese people who live in China have data on their phones! Which means…

I turn to look at the lady sitting next to me. She’s staring bored at nothing in particular. What she needs is a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak her language. Perfect!

“Ah… hello,” I say, in acceptable-enough Mandarin. “Um, can use your…” I make a phone gesture with my thumb and little finger and hold it to my ear. “To write email.” This one using my patented typey-typey hand actions.

She kind of understands.

The language barrier means I can’t express that I want to use Safari to manually log in to Gmail, so I end up using her Mail app to send an email to my dad about the delay. This is Chloe, I write. Please do not reply to this email. Hopefully he opens it at all; it’ll be from a completely random Chinese person’s email entitled (no subject).

Messaging the girls is not so easy. I don’t have their email addresses, and the lady next to me doesn’t have Whatsapp; she has WeChat. She also doesn’t have Facebook, but I manage to get on via Safari… except now that Facebook has changed messaging to work solely on the Messenger app (which she doesn’t have), I have to post a status. It’s the most random status I ever type and is now floating in the ethernet of censorship somewhere.

Except I can’t post it. I’ve forgotten China has some Facebook block happening; I can view profiles and catch up on my feed, but the damn status won’t upload. It gets to 90% and then has an absence seizure before it “retries.” Lies! We all know it won’t be re-trying anything.

By this time we have begun taxiing, four hours after we boarded the plane. I figure there’s not much I can do but sort it out later.

At long last we land in London at 7:30pm. I was meant to meet the girls at 7 and they’ve been waiting since 5. Sorry girls! I call Fliss and we decide to try and fix up another date. Heathrow is on the absolute other side of the city; by the time I end up getting to the hotel, it’s quarter past ten and I’m ready to sleep.

Next up: I explore Londontown… sort of.

*My Dad Wrote A Porno is a podcast by this guy whose dad, well, wrote a porno. Quite funny. Would recommend.


Posted on .

love, what are we to do
on the streets these days
and how am I
to know that you
and how are you to know
that I, that

we are not parts of those
people, scraps glued together
waiting for a chance
to come to life

"On the Streets, Love"
by Margaret Atwood


Posted on .

Hi friends,

How are we all?

I feel like my weekends are longer if I do something on Friday night after work. Do you get that at all? It is as though the weekend starts RIGHT THEN at 7pm Friday when I knock off work, as opposed to Saturday proper if I don't go out that evening. I dunno. It's like I've crammed as much as I can into every hour. And by the time I get to Sunday it feels like I've had a third day off. It's kinda a nice psychological trick, depending on what it is I'm doing. The flipside is, I've noticed, that I don't get as much writing done.

This weekend just gone was pretty fun. On Saturday I went to a cricket match for the first time. It was a lot less scorching than I had braced myself for—they closed the roof of the Etihad stadium, which was excellent for shade but horrible for air quality. Can't have it all. The game itself was all right; I'm definitely not a cricket person. I will say it was pretty exciting at the end though as the match was very close.

I also went to Easey's in Collingwood to have a burger in a train carriage perched on a rooftop. It was great. I didn't take any photos. "I looked at it with my eyes," I told Steph, who is the queen of Instagramming food and was outraged at the notion. The rest of you will just have to believe me.

On Sunday I went out for brunch. I took my camera with me but didn't take any photos of food. I'm not doing very well at this photography thing so far, am I? Ha.

So lately I've been thinking about a bunch of things. Just snippets of philosophy that float through my brain while I'm waiting for the tram, or walking, or any rote physical thing that my body plays out in muscle memory while my mind is free to roam wherever it pleases (within reason). I think about a lot of things. But lately one thing that has stuck out in my mind is... when did I turn into a covering pharmacist?

Let me explain. At Pharmacy school we had dispensing labs, where they taught us "best practice"—how to talk to doctors, how to talk to patients, how to handle errors or problems, how to approach different scenarios and problems that might come up in our day to day work. And of course our day to day work also includes sticking labels on boxes/bottles.

"Best practice," as I was taught, was... well, honestly, I can't remember. I THINK it was to put the label on somewhere unobtrusive. Somewhere it could be read while not obscuring the original brand name of the medication. Por ejemplo:

alt alt

Not covering the name of the drug was GOOD because it meant that the patient could read all your instructions as well as have the brand name right in their face. Theory: patient would know what to do, and also know what they are taking.

Once you get out of Pharmacy school and into the real world, however, your internship consists not of "best practice" in a standardised sense, but of "best practice according to the pharmacist who happens to be checking your work at the time." So, y'know, pick your battles and all that. They're the ones with the green pen after all. So I just did whatever. But I remember that when I first started working as a qualified pharmacist, I left the brands uncovered. I'm a pretty idealistic person. I like patients to know what they're taking and to have the best possible education about their medication that a lay person can have.

And then somewhere along the way, I started covering up the brands. I think, honestly, it's because the brand is at the forefront of the box. It's the MAIN EVENT of the box. Which makes sense—companies want their brand to be the first thing you see. So it's like, the prime real estate of the box. And thus also the best place to put a label if you actually want anybody to read it. Medication packaging has this neat little empty space for the "pharmacy label" that is on the BACK of the box at the corner. Like anyone is going to read anything there. As if the first thing you'll do when you pick up your medication is think, "Ooh, I wonder what's on the back of this box. OOH, the pharmacy label is here!"

(Actually I know of a dispensing error where a bottle of tablets went out with NO LABEL on it at all and the patient didn't even realise. So that just goes to show how much people actually read LOL.)

So anyway. Covering. I'm still not sure. I think I don't want patients to get confused with all the different brands that are out there, so I now take away any chance they have of reading the part of the box where the brand name is biggest, in some hope of training them into reading the active ingredient instead (so far it hasn't worked, can't blame them, some of the names are ridiculous). I'd be interested to know what my fellow pharmacist friends out there do currently and if it's changed over the years. I find it interesting to notice little changes like that even while I'm doing the same type of work.

I just realised this is the first post where I've talked about Pharmacy at length. I think I'd like to write some kind of pharmacy memoir one day. I think it'd be hilarious, in the oddest way.

At any rate. Until next time!
-tm


Posted on .

Hi friends!

Welcome to the first post of the new year. There'll be another one for Chinese New Year in a few weeks's time ;)

2016 was a small personal triumph for me, with great highs and extreme lows, but I guess it means I lived my life and I've grown in some way. So who can find fault with that?

In terms of resolutions, I don't put much stock in them but I did think of three that I'd like to invest my time in:

  1. To use my camera more, whether it be for photography or videography. I can go long spells without picking it up and I find myself really missing it. Usually when I'm reluctant to shoot something, it's because I don't know my camera well enough to manage the conditions. So it would be good to build my relationship with the X-T2 a bit more and get to know it better.

  2. To try and get published more, which means writing more! Ah, it sounds so easy now... To be honest I've noticed that I turn to writing on this blog more often when I have an actual story to work on... like now...

  3. This third one is a little beyond my control but I'm going to try and be read as an actual adult by strangers this year. So far it seems I've been able to breach the 14-16 year old age group to 18, and I'd like it to get to the 20s. Not sure how I'll manage this, but I have a whole year to figure it out. I'm only being half-facetious about this, by the way!!

On a less "resolutiony" front I'd like to learn more web development. Tinkering around with the front end stuff on this blog is fun, but when I make an oops, I don't know how to fix it! Haha. And it would be nice to be able to know if I can broaden the scope of this blog/site and start hosting some of my writing here too.

So I think I'm already winning on the first resolution, which is a good start. Whenever I feel a little stumped by whatever story it is I'm writing, I like to go out for a walk or a run, just something to get some fresh air. So yesterday I went to Brighton Beach, which is about twenty minutes by train from where I live. It's a pretty popular spot and I always see people posting pictures of themselves in front of colourful bathing boxes on the beach there. I thought I'd go check it out and explore a bit more of Melbourne!

Messed up the bokeh a bit on this one, but here's a photo:
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Brighton's a pretty cool spot—it reminds me a lot of Mission Bay/St Heliers back home. Unaffordable beachfront houses, etc. The weather wasn't great; it was overcast and very windy, and rained when I got there, but it was still quite nice. So that was my New Year's Day well spent with some quality alone time.

In 2017 I'll be moving to a new suburb, attending my first AFLW matches as a season ticket holder(!), and going into the new year as a published author. There's a lot more work to be done on the writing front and I think I'm truly settled into Melbourne now to properly tackle those goals. That's exciting!

I look forward to writing to you all and seeing where it all goes in a year's time.

Until then!
-TM


Posted on .

When I was younger, about 6 or 7 or 8 or around that age, my parents took my sister and I on a tour of America, and we were with this tour group that let you choose your day's activity between a slate of options. On one of those days it was a choice between Sea World and Knott's Berry Farm. My parents took us to Sea World, and I was like cool, fine, why would you want to go to a berry farm anyway?

(I know, right?)

I think 90% of the group chose Knott's, so there I was sitting in the Sea World tour bus with like, one other family and a bunch of other randoms carting ourselves off to see Shamu and dolphins. And I had a great time. Really great time. I have mixed feelings about zoos but I think that Sea World trip when I was young, impressionable, and didn't know that a berry farm was actually an amusement park made a mark on my future globetrotting self. I love aquariums and the water now.

So anyway, Sea World, great time, loved it all. And then we got back and joined up with the rest of the original tour group. EVERYONE was talking about how amazing and fun Knott's Berry Farm was. Everyone. Because, of course, they'd all gone to Knott's instead of Sea World. And I remember feeling this awful disappointment and FOMO because I hadn't been to Knott's, and I couldn't talk about it with all the other kids.

And so, of course, instead of focusing on what a fun time I had at Sea World, and got all sad about not having gone to Knott's. And since we were moving on the next day, there was no chance of going to Knott's some other time.

I've been thinking about limitations lately. Of obstacles that stop us from doing what we want, when we want. For various reasons, they are personal, professional, existential, circumstantial... and I think it really just comes down to how one reacts to them. How you deal with them. Like Bruce Lee said, you have to be like water, and go with the flow etc.

(I've been watching Ip Man.)

I feel it's not unlike pain tolerance—a transient sting to someone might feel like a third degree burn to another; it's all about perception, and that plus attitude is the key to how water-like one might feel they're capable of being in the situation. Especially this year, I'm realising now that sometimes there are just things I desperately want, or want to do, but I'm just not ready, or the circumstances aren't quite right, and unfortunately we can't have it all.

I think in my mind I tied it back to the Sea World trip because... well, I'm not actually sure why. It had something to do with maybe all the other kids were wishing they'd gone to Sea World for whatever reason. And maybe they didn't. But I had to just get on with my life and get over it. Move on, and keep going with the tour of life, making the best out of the experience I did have. And only that person will truly, truly know how they see something. You are the only person who knows how YOU feel or perceive something—everyone else can only sympathise or empathise.

The key (and probably the hardest part) is to not let that limitation/obstacle turn into an excuse.

And hey, that fake berry farm is still there, so really if I wanted to go, I can.

So anyway.

This'll be my last post for the year as well. Thanks again to everyone for reading, I really appreciate all your comments and time to click on the posts and all that. Hope you all had a great holiday season—here's to the new year!

Until next time,
-TM


Posted on .

Random Australian thought: how did they not grow up with chocolate fish??? What kind of deprived childhood did kids have here? I guess they might say the same about Golden Gaytime not being a thing in NZ. But let's be real, chocolate fish >> Golden Gaytime. And they don't even have Goody Goody Gumdrops or Jelly Tip!

Anyway, hello friends! How are we all? I've been doing ok and really looking forward to going home for a bit in a couple of weeks. It's just for the weekend but there's something about bringing your heart back to where it feels most tied to, you know? I'm excited to see my friends, my parents, breathe in some NZ air and drink water from the tap without bracing myself for a weird taste. There are some things that just can't be beat.

The past week has been exciting and I'm really pleased to be able to say that I've officially been published in a magazine, in an anthology of short stories and great art run by the students of RMIT's Writing and Editing program. It's called Visible Ink, and this year's edition is entitled Breach. You can purchase a copy here, and I believe the ebook version will be released tomorrow. Please support local (or if you're in NZ, Australian—I know it's difficult but think of it as supporting me!) independent press and pick up a copy if you're interested.

This year I have earned over $100 from writing! My dream is coming true, one word at a time. If I sound like a dork, it's because I never want this excitement to end. It might never happen again! Although according to Stacey, all I need to do is write a Good Will Hunting and I'll be set. So keep an eye out for that one, guys ;)

As a final note today, I'm learning a lot about myself this year (adulting?!) and I think the biggest thing I'm coming to realise is readiness. Am I ready for something? Am I ready to pursue an opportunity that presented itself today? Sometimes the answer is yes, and I honestly believe one should always go for that kind of opportunity. But sometimes (and could be most of the time) the answer is no. That can be really hard to accept if you want it badly. And I used to be so hung up on wanting to grab anything, any time, and when I felt that I couldn't, I ended up feeling really angry and upset and held back. I've come to realise that I was just trying to run away from something else. And in a way, that's the attitude that was the true barrier to progress. I'm learning that being able to accept that I'm not ready to do a certain thing just yet is OKAY. Just take it slowly, one step at a time and just be a little more... wise, I suppose.

What else will I learn as I hurtle towards my thirtieth?! Who can say...

Until then!
-TM


Posted on .

Hello friends!

How are we all? It's a public holiday for a horse race today here in Melbourne. I'll take it!

Not much has happened since I last wrote, although the last bit of October felt like a reeeeeally long week and a half. I guess I was so excited to reach my one year mark that I didn't really know what to do with myself after it had passed. I've been keeping busy, though, as my final assignments were due and then I was off to the country for the weekend with the softball team.

And what a fun weekend it was! We went down to Waratah Bay and, get this you guys, I have been thinking my whole life that a waratah is a puma/cougar-type animal. I had just ASSUMED, that since it was the name of a SPORTS team, that it would have some kind of FAST, SPEEDY, POWERFUL, AGILE connotation as one would imagine a SUPER RUGBY TEAM would have. But no. It is a flower. A flower that looks like Hannibal Lecter's mask.

MY BAD.

Anyway, it was to there that we went. Such beauty was found by the beach:

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You couldn't make this stuff up. Truly. HOWEVER, it doesn't quiiiiite beat some of New Zealand's coastline, though I will say Melbourne really is a bad, bad example some of the greenery that is to be seen in the country. I feel like even just a half hour out of the city, the vibe changes to country mode and it is like whatever stress you had from metropolitan life just completely lifts from your shoulders.

That's about all I have to say today. This week, the Visible Ink anthology is launching and it'll be the first time I'll be published in an actual PRINT MAGAZINE which is quite exciting. I really liked the font they used when they sent me the final proof copy, so I'm really looking forward to see what it looks like on paper. Yes, the font is exciting. I read an entire book on fonts a few years ago so judge me all you like, but then think about the fact that someone out there WROTE an ENTIRE BOOK on FONTS.

(It's called "Just My Type" by Simon Garfield, for those of you who are interested.)

I've also impulsively decided to tackle NaNoWriMo this year, so we'll see how that goes. I've been feeling like I've almost forgotten how to write fiction because of all the screenwriting I've been doing for class, so it'll be a good exercise to get back into the prose side of things.

Until next time!
-TM


Posted on .

It is good that for the moment you are going into a profession which will make you independent and mean you only have yourself to rely on, in every sense. Have the patience to wait and see whether your inmost life feels confined by the form of this occupation. I consider it a very difficult and a very demanding one, as it is burdened by powerful conventions and leaves almost no room to interpret its duties according to your own lights. But your solitude, even in the midst of quite foreign circumstances, will be a hold and a home for you, and leading from it you will find all the paths you need.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Rilke was writing to Franz Kappus, a military academy cadet at the time, struggling with whether to pursue a military career or writing career, but that passage spoke directly to me and pharmacy. I'm sure it speaks, and has spoken, to many others contemplating the freedom of being creative while feeling restrained by a more conventional career.

I read Letters to a Young Poet in July/August and it struck home on so many points for me. I really feel that there has been a right time for me to come across certain things, may they be books or plays or people or experiences, and none more so than this year to read Letters, as well as The Alchemist (by Paulo Coelho). They are two books I needed to read, that reminded me of my passion and why I am doing what I'm doing.

But anyway. Before I wax all lyrical, I moved to Melbourne exactly one year ago today. I got off the plane and went straight to RMIT for my entry interview for the screenwriting program... and I got in! Phew, wasn't that a relief. Awkward moment if not.

So yeah. I moved to Melbourne exactly one year ago today and I have lived these 365 days more than I feel I have ever lived before. I've been on many adventures, so many adventures, so blessed — yes, really blessed, despite my disdain of the word — and so fortunate to have been on those adventures around the world. Yet none of them compare to the adventure I have been having in Melbourne. I moved, alone, not just to another city, but to another country altogether. Moving to Hastings was easy; the infrastructure for adulthood in New Zealand had already been built by my parents in 1999. In Australia, I learnt exactly what they had to do to build a life for me and my sister. That is hard graft, and I am grateful.

Overall, I am so happy here. The philosophy of what "happiness" is I won't go into here, but I feel my heart bursting, overflowing with what we think happiness is when I think about the life I have now. I don't know how to describe it. I am all those holiday photos with my head tilted back to the sky, arms outstretched over a vast canyon of opportunity; I am an empty vessel that has been filled with the richest wine; I am the first breath after an age without. My soul feels answered, whatever it is looking for. My heart knows that its deepest desire is out there, somewhere, carried in that godawful wind in spring, in the chill that sets into your bones in winter, in the rain that doesn't care where it's meant to be this time of year. I am a jigsaw puzzle to myself, and Melbourne is putting me together.

It has also been one of the most difficult years of my life. I don't know how I was living before this; it's terrifying to think I might've just been existing, going through the motions, rather than thinking for myself and consciously directing my future. I spent probably a good third of my relocation mourning missed opportunity and wasted time. But we can't look back to the past for what was wasted, because nothing is wasted. I had to learn, and understand, that the debris of the past is the fuel of the present.

One of the greatest difficulties I have had in Melbourne is the inexplicable love affair this city has with Southern fried chicken, and ramen. Two sub-types of foods that interest me the least in their respective food groups (chicken, and noodles) are all the rage here. My all time favourite burger used to be the Basic Chick from Burgerfuel back home, until they discontinued it, and I thought surely there would be a decent grilled chicken to be found that could be an acceptable replacement. I was WRONG. All the chicken burgers I've come across on menus are either fried chicken, or a sorry rendition of a grilled burger. WHY, Melbourne? WHY.

However, I'm all about adapting to the environment, right? This is how natural selection works, so in the midst of my (futile, ever-failing) search for an acceptable grilled chicken burger, Melbourne has converted me to pulled pork. I fkin love that shit now!! The best pulled pork burger I've had so far is from a pub in Carlton, not least because their lettuce bun is solid work. I'm all for brioche, but a good lettuce bun is money. Some would argue that choosing a lettuce bun over conventional carbs is also a form of natural selection, but let's just take it one step at a time.

Seriously speaking, though, I had to do a lot of "soul searching" and ask myself some bloody hard questions. This is, of course, in my career trajectory and where I want to go with work. I think we all know how I feel about the longevity of a career in retail pharmacy at this point, so I won't go into it. But within six months of moving to Melbourne, I quit a job. I quit a freaking job! I was shocked by myself—I'm not a quitter, but I also wondered if by that stage I just didn't know when to quit. Looking back on it now, I'm much happier with my current job and it's easier to think of job satisfaction and be happy with the work/life balance, so I know it was the right move to make at the end of the day.

And honestly, I think I do feel liberated by being able to have made that decision. It's like I proved to myself that I could do something like that, if push came to shove. When I was younger I was all about the "I'll work for less money if it means doing what I love!" which I realise now is not very practical, but I was earning a LOT of money in my first job here, by my standards anyway. I could buy anything I wanted and not blink twice because my bank account wouldn't dent. But it sucked my soul and it would've bled my spirit dry if I hadn't gotten out of there.

So I took a job for less pay. I guess the thing I had to decide was how much money was worth it? What was more important? It's an ongoing question I ask myself, especially as I move more towards writing. I don't regret a moment of quitting, though. I do think about the money, and contemplate all the cameras and lenses I've given up, but I still have me a decent wage and I wouldn't trade the weekends and sanity for it now.

As for the Big Reason why I moved to Melbourne: Am I chasing my dream? Sometimes I feel that it is less of a chase and more of a limp. I want more than anything to have the courage to tear away these shackles of "sensibility" and run for it full tilt. Somehow, sometimes, I feel I'm not desperate enough. How can that be? I feel so desperate sometimes, so full of melancholy and yearning. Not just for writing but for the feeling that I am not embracing and stuffing myself full with life the same way one would stuff a featherdown sleeping bag in a featherdown sleeping bag packing competition with only 2 seconds to spare.

My only consolation is that I am making progress, and that I have started. I can now say I've published something, multiple somethings, and I am writing. I've been PAID for something I've written, more than once! Every step is progress and this is much closer to where I want to be compared to where I was one year ago in Auckland. If everything is a spectrum, then at least I am not moving backwards.

So that's me, one year on. Thanks again to everyone for reading, whether it is on this blog or on Facebook, for laughing at my Pharmacy LOLs of the Day, for all the support. Here's to another year!

Until next time,
-TM

PS the most exciting thing? GAMES NIGHT IS A THING. Well, more like a board games afternoon, but still. It happened! And continues to do so!


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Hi friends,

How are we all? I'm doing well, as well as can be. I'm one month away from my one year anniversary in Melbourne and I think I'm on track with how I expected to settle into my new life here. Ups and downs, to be sure, but it'd be boring otherwise, wouldn't it? I feel as though the kernel of the goal that I moved over to Melbourne with in October is slowly, but surely, growing into fruition, and it is coalescing into what I desire for myself.

A customer came into work the other day which I mulled over as an analogy for a goal or ambition. He came in and wanted to have a look at some wrist braces. So I showed him the few different kinds we had, but they weren't quite what he was looking for. He didn't want one with a thumb support, but he didn't want just the wrist strap, either. The thermal ones were too thick. He couldn't control the pressure as much as he wanted with another.

I asked him to try and describe what it was he was after, because it sounded pretty specific.

"Something like a boxing wrap, you know? You can wind it like so and..."

I was like, uhhh... dude, just use a boxing wrap. It sounds like you know exactly what you want. Otherwise you can use these self-adhesive bandages which are basically like wraps but without the thumb loops. But he hummed and hawwed and was like, nah...

He knew what he wanted! He could even articulate it. But still he wanted to compromise because he thought the boxing wrap was too long. Okay, so the analogy might unravel (see what I did there, ha) here with the practicality of using a boxing wrap as a wrist strap, but follow me for a little longer. The thing for me was:

  1. This man had a goal (he wanted to support his wrist)
  2. He knew how he wanted to get this goal (what he was looking for in a wrist strap)
  3. He already had what he needed to achieve his goal (a boxing wrap)
  4. And yet!!! He still looked for excuses why he couldn't accomplish his goal when he knew exactly how to go after it (boxing wrap was too long)

Why are people so afraid of chasing their dream? And yes, as I write this, I am well aware that I am extrapolating a boxing wrap into what can be a lifetime's worth of desire, but as I lay in bed this morning contemplating it, this customer showed me that sometimes if we compromise on simple everyday things, even unconsciously, how can we expect to focus ourselves for the greatest challenge of our lives?

Let me wear my idealistic millennial heart on my sleeve for a minute and say that I feel so strongly about the fact that, if we know what we want—if we know that unique snowflake of desire in our heart, if we carry the precious unicorn of our deepest dream/goal in our head, and feel the pure light of desire with all of our being, we will find a way around the fact that the boxing wrap is too long. Whether that is slogging it out in your current situation for a little longer, or splitting the difference between the two, a balance can be struck.

Incidentally, another lesson I learnt from that customer is also that my dream should never be—and is thankfully not—to become a great salesperson, because I spent a fair while with him and left with exactly $0 added to the register. (He decided to give the boxing wrap a go and shorten it.)

Anyway, dollar bills or not, I hope you guys like reading my kooky thoughts. Writing this blog inspires me because as much as you all know how cynical I am/can be, sharing this side of me that I am too introverted to really say aloud to people makes me so happy. You're all so supportive of my dream and I won't forget you when I win an Emmy in 84 years. Haha! And I'm hopeful that if even one of you takes something positive away and is uplifted for a moment by my posts, that's an achievement unlocked in itself.

Until next time!

-TM


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Hi friends.

How are we all? I miss you. I miss Auckland and being able to see you guys whenever I wanted. It's not really the city that I miss, actually, but rather the people in it. Although I do miss Mission Bay and the easy walks along the water.

Sometimes I don't blog very often because I feel like I have nothing to say, or nothing exciting to tell, but then I realise that it doesn't have to be like that. We're not friends because it's always exciting or we always have something special to talk about (in fact if that were the case we'd probably want to punch each other in the face with how obnoxiously "happening" our lives seemed to be). We're friends because we know we'll always be around for each other, and we care enough about each other to never run out of topics or things to say to each other.

Right?

Anyway I thought I'd write about a few things that might... interest... someone out there:

  1. I'm house sitting. Well, apartment sitting. It's fun.

  2. I submitted a short story to RMIT's annual anthology and it's getting published! Yay.

  3. Ever since I quit my first job in Melbourne for a weekend, my social life has been so refreshing. I write this with a sense of wonder, like I've put on a new pair of glasses and everything seems so clear. I never have had a Saturday/Sunday weekend before May. I really am enjoying having conventional days off... it makes such a difference to have a proper work/life balance rather than the work/school balance I was having before. It's not overrated.

  4. I followed much of the Olympics last month and it was interesting watching the Games from an Australian perspective. It was as if NZ wasn't competing at all. I watched Nick Willis run bronze in the 1500m and it was a total non-event over here. Lydia Ko won silver in golf. Nothing. NZers in the BMX final: nope. It was all Australian coverage. Which makes sense but I also felt quite displaced in a sense. It was like, is my country even in this? It made me think of when you might be in someone else's house and they have control of the TV remote but it's not a great show you're watching but you have to respect their choices.

Also I had a random thought the other day: if you don't like something about yourself, say a personality trait—is it because you're concerned about what people think about that characteristic, or because you actually don't admire/favour that about yourself? It made me think that the reason for it makes an important distinction in how you approach correcting it or improving it or whatever. Any comments/observations on this, I'd be interested in your thoughts.

That's all from me today. Don't be strangers.

Until next time!
-TM


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I returned to what must be the most uncomfortable seats in Melbourne for Monday night's screening of The Handmaiden at the Comedy Theatre. My feet don't touch the ground there. It was like sitting in an airplane seat except nobody comes to you with a trolley of refreshments and you're expected to not fidget too much. But anyway.

On with the movie, which is about Sook-hee, a young girl who is instructed to pose as a lady's handmaiden so a trickster gentleman, the Count, can marry her and the two of them take her fortune. Plot twist (spoiler alert?), the two women fall in love with one another instead. Inspired by Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith, the film overall retains the spine of the source material but is adapted enough to be director Park Chan-Wook's own.

Handmaiden departs from Fingersmith most obviously in the third part, which is fair enough as the first two parts have to set up the ending from both girls' perspective. The three-part structure itself is probably the aspect of the film that is truest to the book.

Overall, I enjoyed it. The sex scenes — and there were many — did feel a bit gratuitous by the end; it was like Sook-hee and Hideko were enacting the terrible on-the-nose fanfiction erotica from her uncle's books. I can't help but compare it to Blue is the Warmest Colour, which felt incredibly voyeuristic at times, but I don't think I felt that here.

I think the difference is that in Handmaiden the men came across as almost caricatures at times, in their reactions to Hideko's readings which, by the way, were hilarious. The movie overall was a lot funnier than I had been expecting it to be. It was like Park was sending men up a bit and I thoroughly enjoyed that. More movies where male filmmakers can laugh at themselves, please.

Handmaiden puts the women front and centre and ensures that their agency is retained. It's been a while since I read the novel but I daresay the girls more overtly gave the Count the middle finger when it came down to it. And, best of all, Park didn't try for some tragic twist ending for the sake of drama. The film was a celebration of women's sexuality, and I'm very happy about that.

Next up is Operation Avalanche, at Hoyts. Praise be for a movie at an actual movie theatre!

Until next time,
-TM


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"Braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear."

I recently read The Alchemist, a book highly recommended to me by several people as well as the internet over the years. It's a short book and a very quick read, but it contains so much truth within the pages. It took me so long to finally get around to reading it, but I know I wouldn't have fully appreciated it if I'd read it earlier on in my life.

The quote at the start is not from the book itself, but rather from Coelho's blog entry regarding a message from the book in 2015:

There is sometimes a bit of confusion in regards to a passage of my book The Alchemist “When you really want something, the world conspires to make a dream come true”.

Mind you, some people don’t truly want something or sometimes want things that in the end won’t truly help them. The Universe is a merely and echo of our desires, may they be constructive or destructive ones.

I find that compelling and thought provoking, because a lot of the time it is hard to discern what you truly want and need, compared to what you simply think you want/need. The former feeds your soul and fulfils you, while the latter tends to turn into a negative kind of fuel that draws you away from your true goal in the guise of passion or desire. Of this, Coelho had to say:

One has also to keep in mind the difference between dream and obsession, which is the same difference that lies between personal legend and zahir. When you follow your the personal legend, you walk your path and learn from it. The objective doesn’t blind you to the road that takes you there. In the other hand obsession is what prevents you from admiring the teachings of life. It’s like trying to get to your objective without passing through the challenges.

July was the hardest month for me this year, hands down, where I had to decide on what was my "personal legend" and what was instead an obsession. I was at a critical place to accept the truth in my heart, and when you have been denying the truth with the mask of a lie for years, it's hard to tear away the disguise. It's called the naked truth for a reason; the deepest, most secret part of you becomes naked and exposed, nerve ends raw, stripped of protection. But what you think is protection is actually a comfort zone that restricts you from breaking out and achieving your fullest potential, from being your truest self.

Coelho ends his thoughts with the quote above:

I realized that despite the fear and the bruises of life, one has to keep on fighting for one’s dream. As Borges said in his writings “there no other virtue than being brave”. And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.

It's hard, but nothing worth gaining ever comes easily. So be brave, my friends, whatever it is you are facing in your life. Troubles are relative, but courage is something we all have within us.

Also, I have started a new page on this blog for books that I've read/been reading. To be a better writer, I have to read more, so that page will hold brief thoughts on the books and what I may or may not have taken away from them.

That's it from me this week. Until next time!

-TM


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My 2016 list of movies to keep an eye out for. So excited about Personal Shopper.

Two nights, two Kristen Stewart movies. Was I a lucky girl or what? It was also two nights in a rigid Comedy Theatre seat behind the tallest person in the row in front, but never mind that part.

Before I start, let us be clear that I cannot be impartial about Kristen Stewart. So I feel like this review will be a bit frazzled and all over the place due to my massive blindspot in the size of heart-eyes over her. Having said that, if you ever doubted her ability to carry a movie, this should go quite a ways to sell you.

Personal Shopper is a psychological thriller which follows Maureen, an American werewolf in Paris seeking closure over the death of her twin brother. After several attempts to make contact with his ghost, Maureen makes contact with something, and we are left, along with Maureen, to figure out if this is her brother or something more malevolent.

I'm not much for arthouse movies, so whatever Assayas was trying to do would have gone over my head. I'm sure there was something about art and abstraction, and loneliness, and fashion/celebrity culture and the juxtaposition between the lives of those who are the celebs and those who are their minions, but my mind fades to black like all the scenes in the movie when I try to ponder them.

What really worked was Maureen, and her intense loneliness and isolation in the physical realm, reflected in her desperation to contact her brother. The horror of being alone and the fear of dying and the unknown, that I can understand. And it really came through, particularly in a few key scenes. Sold! for the price of a gaunt and frantic Kristen Stewart over the course of 110 minutes.

Next up for me at MIFF is The Handmaiden. I have a few notes that are incredibly spoilery below, so read on at your own risk. For the rest of you, I'll catch you next time!

-TM

<This part gets really spoiler alert for the film>



A few questions and observations:

  • Who was sending those texts in the end? Was it Kyra's ex-boyfriend who asked Maureen so many questions? And what was up with the "ghost" sequence in the hotel before he left the room?

  • The continuity supervisor must have had hated that text messaging sequence on the train (or all of them)

  • It's official, nobody pulls off a top-button Lacoste look like Kristen Stewart does


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Tonight I saw Certain Women, a film by Kelly Reichardt screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival. I gave the blurb a quick glance, but any time Kristen Stewart is in something, I'm there. Except Twilight; still working on that one.

Certain Women is a series of vignettes, based on short stories by Maile Meloy. They centre around three women who live in Montana: a lawyer who has to be the bridge between a client and the law, a woman whose relationship with her husband and daughter is cracking at the seams, and a rancher who develops a connection with a lawyer who lives four hours away.

The setting so suits the stories themselves: this small, cold, isolated township in a film where potentially life-changing events unfurl in this quiet, almost ordinary way. The slow burn is exquisite, although the same can't be said of the rigidity of the seats in the Comedy Theatre. It takes a little while to get into the pacing, but once you settle in, it draws you in and keeps you there.

Kristen Stewart's vignette was the most riveting for me, in terms of the fact that it was left the most open ended at the end of the film. Aquila discusses it here with her review.

The funniest thing happened to me in the theatre, by the way. About half an hour into the movie, the lady sitting next to me turned around and told the guy behind her to "stop moving, please," and I thought wow, okay, and continued eating my popcorn. Then! A few minutes later, I kid you not, she actually reached over and whacked the bag of popcorn in my hand like she was karate-chopping a block of wood and said, "Can you stop eating?!"

I guess I could, but she didn't need to get so personal space invaders over it. The hilarious thing is that she made such a racket that the people immediately in front of us turned to rubberneck at the commotion. That wasn't awkward.

Tomorrow I'll be seeing Personal Shopper, and I'm really looking forward to it. I will talk to you all then.

Until next time!
-TM


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"Go into yourself. Examine the reason that bids you to write; check whether it reaches its roots into the deepest region of your heart, admit to yourself whether you would die if it should be denied you to write. This above all: ask yourself in your night's quietest hour: must I write?"

Rainer Maria Rilke, "Letters to a Young Poet"


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Friends,

I don't know what to say. It's been a while since I last wrote and honestly, it's been tough.

Long stories short:

  1. quit my job for another one
  2. had to go through a breakup
  3. keatan left me for a boy and moved out
  4. continuing existential crisis re: writing

so I have been quite sad relative to my usual level of moody introspection. Keatan used to sing that bloody annoying Sound of Music farewell song and now she's really so longed and farewelled, auf wiedersehen goodbyed and isn't it ironic that that's what I miss the most?

I wanted to do a six-month review on moving to Melbourne but life hasn't wrapped itself quite so neatly into chapters like that, so maybe I'll do a one year or something. I do think it's important to share struggles alongside triumphs, which is why I'm writing this post at all. I don't know what I'll take away from this just yet, but I guess for now what I'm trying to say is that if you're struggling, here's a blog post out there where at least one other person is struggling too.

But! There are always positives to find, so here are a few:

  • Submitted a short story to a literary magazine. I don't know if it'll be accepted, but I'm very excited that I've finally got something written to a standard where I'd be happy to hand it in somewhere for consideration.
  • Joined a softball team. Sports! Regularly getting outside for the fitness
  • Saw Ghostbusters, which I enjoyed. I thought it got a little bogged down with paying homage to the original but who gives a shit? It was a fun ride.
  • Shura, one of my favourite artists EVER, finally released her debut album earlier this month. Worth the wait. Go and listen, please.

So that's me. Keeping on keeping on.

Until next time
- TM


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Attrition is the only way I can describe what has happened to me in pharmacy. I've been worn down the same way water wears down a rock, not that I was ever fortunate enough to be as sturdy as a rock in the first place. I was more like packed sediment... solid and unyielding only until the first trickle of water pierced my armour, and then it could be all over in a turn of the tide.

As I work towards a new career, I feel, a lot of the time, like I've gotten off on the wrong foot with myself. Why did I not know what I wanted earlier? I'm so far behind now. How will I ever catch up? How long will I need Pharmacy to support me? Will I ever achieve my dream of working as a writer? Will it always remain a dream? I always said that I'd keep my head down and work, work, work until I a) knew what I wanted and b) was financial stable to make a decision.

Problem is I feel like I didn't figure it out until so late, and then even when I did, there were obstacles in my way to achieving it. I tried — and do try — to look at them as fate. Things happen for a reason and there was a fork in the road to choose from. Once you've chosen, you can't turn back and good things come out of the new path as well, it's just harder because you're carving that road from scratch now.

Sometimes I panic and would panic that I am almost 30 and I'm nowhere close to what I want currently. I forget that the journey is as valuable, if not more so, than where I want to be. I catch myself whiling my days away rather than seizing them and making them as productive as I can.

Brain Pickings is a great site for the creative mind. I don't read it as often as I would like to, but this weekend on the train ride home I saw that Maria Popova, the curator and writer of the site, gave a commencement speech at her alma mater. It really hit the nail on the head for me in most respects, especially about comparison to others, something that I have always tried to remind myself of in my youth (because I'm old and decrepit with a birthday rapidly approaching) when I felt lacking. Why compete with others when you are not competing for your best against yourself first of all? How can you expect to win against others when you're not winning with yourself?

I would encourage everyone to read the commencement speech in full, but my favourite takeaways are below.

This, of course, is what happens in every environment densely populated by so-called peers — self-comparison becomes inevitable. Financial inequality was just my particular poison, but we do it along every imaginable axis of privilege and every dimension of identity — intelligence, beauty, athleticism, charisma that entrances the Van Pelt librarians into pardoning your late fees.


But here’s the thing about self-comparison: In addition to making you vacate your own experience, your own soul, your own life, in its extreme it breeds resignation. If we constantly feel that there is something more to be had — something that’s available to those with a certain advantage in life, but which remains out of reach for us — we come to feel helpless. And the most toxic byproduct of this helpless resignation is cynicism — that terrible habit of mind and orientation of spirit in which, out of hopelessness for our own situation, we grow embittered about how things are and about what’s possible in the world. Cynicism is a poverty of curiosity and imagination and ambition.

Today, the soul is in dire need of stewardship and protection from cynicism. The best defense against it is vigorous, intelligent, sincere hope — not blind optimism, because that too is a form of resignation, to believe that everything will work out just fine and we need not apply ourselves. I mean hope bolstered by critical thinking that is clear-headed in identifying what is lacking, in ourselves or the world, but then envisions ways to create it and endeavors to do that.

In its passivity and resignation, cynicism is a hardening, a calcification of the soul. Hope is a stretching of its ligaments, a limber reach for something greater.



She also hits the nail on the head with the reminder that all you see of other people is their "highlights reel." You don't know what goes on in the inside for them, and they don't know what goes on in the inside for YOU.

So as you move through life, pedal hard — because that’s how you get places, and because it’s fun and so incredibly gratifying to propel yourself forward by your own will and power of intention. But make sure the pace of your pedaling answers only to your own standards of vigor. Remain uncynical and don’t waste any energy on those who pass you by on their electric bikes, because you never know what strife is driving them and, most of all, because the moment you focus on that, you vacate your own soul.

I've been meaning to do a six month review which I'll write up after the semester wraps in a couple of weeks. It's been a full on half-year and I'm grateful for opportunities that have come my way and for the people in my life here. At the same time, triumphs don't come without tribulations and there have been a fair teething few to say the least. I love to share about all the hard work I do pedaling away at my life, but sometimes the bike breaks down and not enough is shared about that, because that's what builds and reveals your character to yourself... and whether or not you can change a tyre. So stay tuned.

Until then!

-TM


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FRIENDS.

It has been a super long time since I posted anything. I knew I shouldn't have posted Part 1 before finishing Part 2... it always just ends up in this vacuum of drafted bloggingness and then what?

Part 2 was meant to be about Matt and Hayley's wedding. I've been to a few weddings in my day but theirs was the first where I was part of the bridal party. Or groom's party. The terminology still escapes me.

It was a huge honour to be a part of it, is the bottom line. I still remember the first time I met Matt, in fifth form sitting at the front of the classroom trying to understand his accent when he told me where he was from. England, obviously, but the wrong kind of English accent. Up to that point in my life I only knew Hugh Grant's melodious RP lilt from Notting Hill. What was this Northern business?

But yeah. Very special day and I feel so proud to have been invited to be a part of it.

No photos this week as I haven't been taking any. To be honest I've hit a bit of a slump for the past month or so, both in photography and in writing. All the creative things that I value the most and am most passionate about took a back seat as I settled fully into my new life here in Melbourne.

So on a closing note, I wanted to share this song with you; it came up on my Spotify Discover Weekly and I love it. The artist, Deer, is a producer from Melbourne, which I kind of want to say is "local" because he is local to me, yet at the same time it doesn't have that same kind of homegrown feel to it because I am actually from New Zealand.

ANYWAY! It's good. I love it. You should have a listen if you haven't heard it already. Moody, percussive, powerful. All Alone.


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Hello friends!

I type this from my childhood home in Auckland. No, not really. I don't have a "childhood home" per se as my family and I moved four times in the sixteen years I lived in the City of Sails, but I thought that sounded cooler or something.

Anyway, I'm at my parents' place having come up from Queenstown on Wednesday morning. It's such a relief to have kitchen benches that aren't up to my chest. And DO I HAVE A LOT TO TELL YOU ABOUT QUEENSTOWN... well, no, not really. I took the two full days there to chill out and be alone with myself in a private room of solitude at Nomads Backpackers... and it was so good. I need a lot of time to recharge and the past few months the time I've had to "recharge" have been like when your iPhone only has time to reach 79% before you've got to dash off again, and never gets the chance to charge to 100%. So this was a really good break for me I think.

I went to Rata for lunch on Monday. After watching my parents watch Masterchef, I decided to check out Josh Emmett's restaurant and treat myself to a small portion-large plate fine dining experience. The portions were actually really decent and the plate size not deceiving at all! It was an incredible meal—I had the seared sirloin as a starter (perfection!) and the salmon main (melted in your mouth and skin so crispy)... all for the very reasonable price of NZ$28.

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The next day, I went up Ben Lomond. I started tracking it with Nike Running about 20 minutes out from the gondola, so it is probably more around 4h20m. Yep, I "cheated" and took the gondola up and down, saving about 2 hours each way. I reckoned if I'd hiked from Queenstown, by the time I reached the saddle I would've had had enough and not gone right up to the summit, which was my main goal for the day. Indeed, in that hour from the saddle to the summit as the climb got steeper and the rocks looser, I constantly had to remind myself that I wanted to reach the top. If I turned back so close to the summit I would have regretted it seeing as I still had plenty of daylight hours left to finish the return trip. About half an hour from the peak I started playing some music to keep myself upbeat; the trouble with that is I began to bop to the beat—not recommended on a narrow and windy climb! Haha.

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Just a couple of photos of the incredible, incredible view from the summit and on the way up. I stopped at the saddle for lunch and looking out at the mountains and the water... it felt like I was looking at a picture. Just unreal, so surreal, how such majestic peaks can seemingly be plonked right in the middle of the lake, puncturing the sky and making their own horizon.

As incredible as it was, I actually think the view from Whistlers mountain in Jasper beats Ben Lomond by a whisker. I think it is in part due to the fact that the view from Jasper is a surprise reveal almost, when you come off the gondola and for the first time you get to take in this amazing view from the viewing deck. Whereas climbing Ben Lomond, you see a partial view the whole way through and it's there with you the entire time, so the "payoff" is not as gobsmacking all at once perhaps.

Either way, I'm glad I finished the hike. It really felt like I was exercising this metaphor for life being a mountain... the last 15, 20 minutes to the summit really killed and of course it takes less energy to climb down (although it is hell on your knees and harder to control your pace) and you forget the difficulty of going up. I need to remember that in life, when you're in the slog itself, it's hard to see the distance and the payoff and thus so much easier to quit and forget what you're working towards. But look at that view and you'll be pleased you stuck it out. Once you're at the top you forget the pain you felt during the slog, and you get this personal satisfaction of completing your goal.

Right, well that's enough of a motivational/philosophical jaunt. Part 2 is about Matt and Hayley's wedding and I'm so honoured to have been a part of it. Stay tuned.

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Until next time!

-TM


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Hi friends!

Not much to say this week, it hurtled away from me. I sat down to write and realised that I had no idea what I'd done apart from classes and work.

Well, speaking of classes, it's Week 3 now and I'm feeling it catch up! I had to write a 1500 word story in 5 hours on Wednesday; for one of my classes we get our first draft workshopped by others and I impulsively volunteered to move my workshop to this week (Week 4) instead of Week 8—that was pretty hectic! To be fair, I reckon even if I had all the time in the world until Week 8, I would've really only sat down and written it all in Week 7, so. Rip that band-aid off!

Cultural activities as are the compulsion of a new Melbournian: I went to a two-hander play by the Melbourne Theatre Company called "Lungs," about a couple who discuss having a child and the play follows their life following from that decision. I made that sound boring, but it's great!

I think what really brought life to the scenes is the set and sound design behind the couple; without giving it away, the set punctuates the beats of the play and provides this tangible manifestation of how the characters' lives are changed forever by this simple question of whether or not to start a family.

Next weekend is also the start of my subscription to Malthouse Theatre's 2016 season; I am very excited. Here they have discounts for under-30s, so for the next three years I better go see as many plays as I can!

That is all for now, I promise I will try to make my life sound way more fascinating next post.

Until next time! Here are the photos from the past week and a bit. All of these will be up on my Instagram too; check me out there!

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Last Friday night I walked out of work after a 12 hour shift, and walked over to Stacey's for a catch up of our favourite TV show at the moment. Doing so meant I had to walk down Chapel Street, one of the busiest strips in the southern suburbs, navigating all the pedestrians and dodging pub patrons and weaving through secondhand cigarette smoke.

A man was walking with his partner in front of me, wheeling a pram in front of him, and stopped suddenly to mock clap at something she'd said. In halting, I caught up, and had to slow my fairly brisk step to avoid a collision. I tailed behind them for about half a metre when his partner suddenly stopped, too, and whirled around at me.

Entirely out of nowhere, she snapped, "Do you want to get off our bum?"

Stunned, surprised, and not even sure who she was talking to, I simply stared. I think I almost even said, "Me?" out of sheer confusion.

"Just go!" she demanded, and the man, who was probably just as confused as I was at her sudden outburst, moved forward a bit so there was an actual gap that I could walk through.

I held my hands up in surrender and went ahead of them. I didn't say a word in the entire 10 second exchange, even though the following went through my mind:

  • Lady, I didn't walk out of a 12 hour retail shift to be nonsensically abused by you on the street
  • Maybe if you weren't hogging up the entire sidewalk, I could've stepped past you

And you know, it was not saying anything that pissed me off the most. Why didn't I say anything? I mean, I know why. It's because opening my mouth to talk uses a lot of energy, and after 12 hours of talking I really can't be bothered opening my mouth to say words unless I have to or I am actually interested in having a conversation. This woman met no criteria. And, there's no reasoning with stupidity. So I was like, okayyyyy... and walked on. I got in a good glare in on the way past, which unfortunately was not even half as satisfying. Screw you for ruining my five minutes of enjoyment about having finished work for the day! Go and annoy someone else with your repressed issues.

It's funny what I find myself getting frustrated or annoyed over, too. It's never really what I would expect it to be. For example, getting the breast pocket altered into my blazer for Matt and Hayley's wedding. Nobody would alter it. The lapel was either too small because of my tiny tiny body, or they didn't have the material to add a pocket; it was just a general all-round very hum-ing and haw-ing no.

But the thing I got really riled up about was after the last shop I went to, where I lost a bit of patience with the guy. I would feel sorry about this if it weren't for the fact that he returned to the back of the shop and must've been talking to someone else at the back who asked him what my deal was, and he said in Mandarin, "...小孩子..." AND I GOT SO ANNOYED. I almost wanted to yell across the counter "I'M NOT A SMALL CHILD EXCUSE YOU."

Anyway. Size complex aside, I've started cooking more recently. After three months it's finally sinking in that I'm going to have to start fending for myself in the kitchen with something other than pasta. So far I have made chicken stroganoff, which Natalie and I first made years ago back in Auckland (miss you Nat!), and I also tried my hand at making coconut yoghurt.

There doesn't seem to be any way to beautifully photograph coyo when it's kinda melting and runny and in a plastic Tupperware as opposed to a beautifully studio-lit mason jar, so I'll hold off on a photo for now. But what you wouldn't see in the photo anyway is that it tasted brilliant and only cost about $3 for two serves!

One afternoon I got home and decided to try and make banana pancakes, which is probably the only thing I've made so far that I wouldn't endeavour to try again. The recipe I tried called for one banana and two eggs, and the texture and taste didn't quite make it for me! I may stick to trying my mum's jemput pisang instead.

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Finally, classes for my Screenwriting course have started, and my evenings are quite a bit busier as a result. I'm really enjoying them, though—vocational education really is a far cry from any higher education I've done. The classes are full of us actually going through scripts, talking out ideas, writing those ideas, and working on the application of what we see when we do actually watch an episode of television in class. So long, textbooks!

Pictures from this week:

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Until next time!
-TM


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Hello lovely people

I wrote almost a thousand words before I realised they didn't say what I felt. But how I feel doesn't translate easily into words. There's so much going on and I have all the emotions! So many that I'm not even in a glass case any more, it's just exploded from the force of all the feels I have.

Something that I've been thinking about since my holiday last year is what I referred to in the last post as "the slow burn of life." When I was younger I believed that things happen for a reason, but even though I invested in the thought that life was all part of a bigger scheme, I couldn't quite grasp or understand that the things that happened to me or the things that I did all laid a foundation for the future. Anything big or small, or things that seemed inconsequential all could be a redeemable token in the game of life. It's what's in the background, the start of a weaving thread in the wind, able to be picked up and weaved again with another piece at any time. I love reason, and I love connection, so when it comes up in my life I just get so overwhelmed by how amazing life can be.

I can't adequately express in words how much that blows me away. As an example, I keep going on and on about how awesome it is that Keatan and I live together now but SERIOUSLY HOW AWESOME IS IT??? I feel like I need to carry a recorder with me everywhere to film or document our conversations and just general shenanigans because that shiz is gold.

But yeah. When Natalie and I went to Europe in 2012, I never would've thought that three years later, K-Dawg and I would go from standing on complete opposite sides of Barcelona taking photos of the same thing to living under the same roof in Melbourne. Melbourne! It's not even like one of us was already living here. We moved, independently and separately (is that redundant?) in approximately the same time frame to set up our own lives in a new city—and the foundation of our friendship that was built in Spain slid beneath us in Melbourne to continue where we left off three years ago.

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Speaking of time, it seems to have slowed down a bit since I last wrote. In 2006 David Foster Wallace wrote an article on Roger Federer describing his speed and reflexes in play, where "the approaching ball hangs, for him, a split-second longer than it ought to," and as a result athletes like him have what seems like as long as they need to hit the ball. And I feel like that, somewhat. I think — because its been the Australian Open and I'm all about the tennis bandwagon right now — that life is a ball coming at me but I have a luxurious amount of time to hit said ball out of the park. Am I actually hitting it out of the park? I don't know. But I'm having a good time and that's all that matters I suppose.

At the start of the year I felt like the days were hurtling me towards February and the start of my course at RMIT, but in the last week or so things have really slowed down and now the two weeks (at the time of writing this) to my first class seem like a really leisurely time away. I'm excited to start yet very much aware of how my time could get sucked away with this increased workload. Especially now that I'm just getting into that work/life routine and getting used to finishing late nights again (the pharmacy closes at 9pm), I'm quite aware that I could disrupt this fine balance I've only just started finding in the last couple of weeks or so. But — isn't going after what you want with a bullheaded defiance and both arms outstretched for what life can give you the whole point of being young?

I'm very interested to come back to this post in a couple of weeks after classes start to reflect on this sentiment and how I feel in this very moment, writing this blog post. Will I be as fresh-faced in my thinking and attitude? Whatever it may be in the future, I can't express how excited I am looking forward, really. To feel like I'm finally embracing what I have always wanted, in more ways than one. To stop denying myself what my heart has desired for all these years. There's a freedom in letting go, no matter how scary it may be. Fear is fuel for desire.

Lastly, I'm trying to make more of an effort to document my life in photographs, so here are a few from the past week and a bit:

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From the Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei exhibit at the National Gallery. Stepping in felt like a muscle memory and homecoming for my soul. Like, yay! I'm being cultural again!

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MJ having a fun time.

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Australia Day lunch.

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Out and about.


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Dear New Zealand.

It has been two months since my last post. It feels like an age ago that I last wrote to you... there is so much to say and yet I don't know what to say at all. I have been reduced to bullet points. BULLET POINTS! Oh well. At least you won't get bored as quickly.

So. Since the last time we spoke/read of each other:

  • I spent New Years in my new place in Melbourne. I did not think I would be here this soon, and I'm very proud of myself for that. Go get that thing you want, girl!

  • Speaking of my new place, I moved in about... three weeks ago? A month ago? I can't remember exactly. Time flies when you're trying to figure out which tram/bus/train to catch to go to IKEA for the third time to sort out your shelving issues.

  • All that IKEA is going to be a right b** to dissassemble should the occasion ever arise.

  • My room is delightful. I've noticed that my posts are rather... sparse on the pictures front, so here is a quick photographical of the house.

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The outside. It actually goes up another two storeys. The balcony you see above the garage is Keatan's room; mine is on the same floor but at the back of the house.

  • It is a right ball living with Keatan. I want to write a post about the slow burn of life, and that'll be coming up soon. Three years ago I never would've dreamed that one of the best, most funnest girls I met overseas would be my housemate. We live together!! And so far we don't want to kill each other yet.

  • It might have something to do with never seeing each other for more than fifteen minutes a day.

  • This is the secret to living successfully with other people, and you are free to steal this tip for yourself.

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The view from the top back balcony, which reminds me of Long Island City and was not a big influence on the decision, but still a factor, in me wanting to live here.

  • Work has settled in a bit more. The move is complete, the New Year has come and gone, and we're getting through the stage where customers ooh and ahh at the shiny new pharmacy and we can get down to business.

  • We are not yet through the stage where the customers peer at my name badge to make sure I haven't just stuck some "PHARMACIST" title sticker onto it, or where they demand to see my birth certificate because I'm far too young to be qualified.

  • You laugh.

  • I fantasise about putting something in its place very neatly and very firmly with a gunstapler.

Home and the workplace are the two main things, I would say, that take up the bulk of my time. As it would with everyone else. My parents came for Christmas and a bit of the New Year, and they are now safely back in Auckland. Things are coming together nicely, though some things still make me pause, sigh, and dismiss the things I can't control with a short, "Oh, Australia..."

(See above re: gunstapler.)

Despite all that nice — all right, perhaps a little forcibly — slotting into place of the things I need to carve out a space here for myself, I still feel like I'm not in my skin in Melbourne yet, if that makes sense. No, it doesn't make sense. I suppose I'm still waiting for the dust to settle. I'm still having a great time, and keeping busy, although part of me thinks I may be keeping a little too busy, and not giving myself the time I need to fully recharge.

Before I moved over I thought about how much time I would need for that dust to settle, and there were three phases:

  1. Move in, organise life, get everything in line — THREE MONTHS
  2. Get used to new, organised, in-line life in Melbourne — THREE MONTHS
  3. Get used to the fact that you have a new life — 1 + 2

Effectively a year, then. So really I'm only a sixth of the way into my projected settlement time. I think all in all, I'm not doing so bad.

I'm still working to make Games Night happen.

Until then!

-TM


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Hello friends!

The three week mark has passed since I arrived in Melbourne and started my new life here... and I thought I'd mix the blogging up a little bit by conducting an exclusive interview with... myself! I took the time out of my busy schedule to sit down with me and have a chat about the big move to Melbourne, work, and settling into this new city.

Chloe, thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about myself.
No worries. It's a pleasure.

So tell us how it's all going in Melbourne so far.
Yeah, it's going okay. Actually, it's been bloody hard. I'm really glad I started work as soon as I could just to give me something to do and distract myself. Every time I have some time off I invariably start thinking about what still needs to be done, and I'm the type of person who needs a plan and needs to tick things off the list in a timely manner. So if I'm not careful I end up slipping down this stress cortisol slope and I'm just like, "Wow, self, just relax. Walk it off."

Most of the time, though, it's good. I haven't for one second thought that I made the wrong decision coming here.

How would you say you're feeling now compared to, say, a week before you actually moved?
Before I moved I think I was a mixture of excited and nervous, with a hiccup or two of anxiety thrown in every now and again. Overall, I was really satisfied that I'd put a thought into action and saw out a tangible result. I couldn't wait to start this new chapter of my life, especially after so long of planning and thinking about it.

Now, I do think the honeymoon period is wearing off a little bit, just in the sense that it isn't as shiny as it was a couple of weeks ago. But I think that's due to the fact that I haven't been getting out a lot. It's funny because I just said I'm glad I started at work asap, but because of that it means my main focus has been work, learning all the things I need to get my head around for that, and its been actually quite exhausting.

I didn't realise it until maybe a couple of days ago, because I was just so focused and on the go about learning thing A and B and C and putting it all together. But now that I'm a lot more confident in what I'm doing in the dispensary, I've been able to sit back and take it all in and get a bit of distance rather than be so completely in it that I can't see the forest for the trees, almost.

So because of all that happening, at the start once I got home I was just keen to decompress and reflect on as much as I could to prepare myself mentally for the next day. Now that things are a bit more settled there I can maybe start to look outside of the work bubble.

Absolutely. And I heard you joined the gym recently—that'll go a way to help your mental focus as well, I'm sure.
Yeah, so I joined a gym that offers the same Les Mills classes as back home. I hadn't been to the gym since I left for Canada, so almost six months. Felt really good to get back into it. The first time I went, my legs were dying during the lunge track in Pump class but I couldn't help but smile. It just felt so good to sweat and expend the same amount of physical energy as I had been mentally.

I don't know if this will make sense to others but my brain was getting taxed 110% for the past few weeks while my body was copping the consequences (read: eating my feelings). So it felt amazing to just even out the playing field a little bit.

You're essentially building a new life from scratch; what are you doing in that regard to try and settle in?
It's been tough, which I expected but still feel somewhat unprepared for. I don't think you really know how it's going to be until you're thrown into it. A tech I worked with back in NZ told me something that has been really useful—don't put too much pressure on yourself—and I try to tell myself that every day. It's working a treat.

I tried to build a routine as soon as I could; I figured once I had a baseline of activity then it's much easier to expand that and look at things like meeting new people and all that. Also being patient, which is definitely not one of my strong points. So far I've joined the gym, looked at what Meetups I can go to to meet new people, and also looking at picking up a sport again heading into the new year.

What Meetups have you been to so far?
I've only managed to get to one so far—a pub quiz, which I was actually almost quite desperate to find. I've been really missing my Tuesday quiz nights! So it was good to just see what the scene is like here. It was a lot of fun. I'm also wanting to find a board games Meetup... or like, a Scrabble group. Haha!

Well, that's all the questions I had for me, thanks for answering them.
No problem, we all know I love talking about myself!

So yeah, that's me so far, friends! Until next time,

-TM


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Greetings mi amigos,

It's been one week since you looked at me I moved to Melbourne. I've been staring at the page for ten minutes trying to choose what to write next... I think I'm still processing everything and haven't quite articulated how I feel for myself yet. It's like my feelings are clothes and I'm trying to pack them so I can at least sort them out for reflection but all the information scattered across the room and hanging out of the suitcase crumpled and sleeves askew and I have no idea where to start while people are asking from all directions "so how are you feeling?"

Actually that's kind of how it was in the lead up to my move. I'd have all this crap strewn all over the floor and in boxes and bags and everyone asking "have you packed yet" and I'd just be like AHHHH... KIND OF, DO YOU COUNT MOVING THINGS OUT OF WHERE THEY USED TO BE INTO A NEW SPOT THAT HAPPENS TO BE CARPET "PACKING"???

So anyway this post will be quite haphazard in terms of my thoughts and those aforementioned ~feelings.

Generally speaking, it's all positive. Get on board, enjoy the ride, all that. I find myself walking down the street breaking out into the dumbest grin because I realise: this is my life now! I actually did it. I spent so long thinking about it and saying I wanted to do it, so to actually be here is a little bit amazing.

I started work on Tuesday and so my brain has been just been FULL of trying to keep up with Australian dispensing. I'm learning with a system called FRED, which is similar to LOTS, and is equally as frustrating. Some of the things about FRED are just... ??? For example, if you want to enter patient details, you would've thought you just hit ENTER to get through to all the next fields, wherever the box may be located on the screen. But in FRED, you hit ENTER to move down the fields, and TAB to move across. Not knowing this was the source of much frustration as I tried to ENTER across to the very important Medicare number field.

I don't understand that.

It's actually how I feel about Australian dispensing so far. Things that should take about two or three steps at the most to complete seem to require ten steps of triplicate in between. It just shouldn't have to be so hard. And the paperwork. Far out, the paperwork. It's just begging for a dispensing/admin error to happen. But in the past three days I've started figuring out my own dispensing and checking process, and I already feel myself becoming more comfortable with how I'll be working as a pharmacist here. So that's good.

It's actually neither here nor there in terms of whether it's "better" or "worse" than the NZ system—they are just two different systems. It's funny getting used to the change here. I've found myself saying "in New Zealand" a lot. Like, every second thing I say starts with that phrase, so I've started mocking myself about it before anyone else can. Lol.

Is this what culture shock is?

Other brief notes/observations:

  • I thought Hawke's Bay was allergy central; turns out Melbourne is. My nasal capillaries are WRECKED and I need wipers for all the dust and pollen accumulating on my glasses.

  • Auckland is four seasons in a day, Melbourne is not quite there yet but so far seems four seasons in a week, one day each and a bit spare for good measure.

I think I just need to go back to Spain. The balmy warmth of summer Granada drinking sangria and eating tapas that I didn't know the ingredients of but tasted amazing... mmm.

Anyway, I think that's it for now. It's my day off today and tomorrow and I know I've taken to Melbourne as my permanent residence because I'm already thinking, "Hmm, I should go do something... ah nahhh, I can go some other time." Haha!

Until next time friends, I miss you all and I am grateful for Facebook and iMessage for letting us stay in touch like we have been,

-TM


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When I was in 6th form I found my dream degree. It was the Bachelor of Behavioural Neuroscience at Monash University. It was everything I ever wanted to know about psychology and in particular the brain, about behaviour, about how the brain works to influence our personality, speech, habits, and just everything in my wildest dreams at the tender age of 17.

Because I was a giant nerd, I printed out the degree blurb and outline and pasted it into my journal so I could look at it all the time. My journal was an A4 spiral exercise book which made for easy flipping back and forth between pages, so you can believe that I did look at it all the time.

So anyway, 7th form rolled around and I had to start applying for University. Right now you’re thinking, of course I would’ve applied for Monash and applied for my dream degree, the only one that jumped out and made me think HELL YES I want to do that.

Plot twist: have you ever wondered how I got into Pharmacy?

I didn’t apply for Monash. I didn’t even put myself in a position to be rejected for my dream degree. I cut myself out of the running entirely. Instead, I went on to do a Bachelor of Pharmacy at Auckland, and I always regretted not applying for Monash. Not because I still want to do it (and it's discontinued anyway so it's not like I could), but because I didn’t even give myself a chance to see what might’ve come out of it.

I went through University feeling like I had shortchanged myself. As the years have gone by the regret went from a bitter feeling of being ripped off to a less harsh, more wistful, “ah, Psychology. What could’ve been.” But I never forgot.

The point of this story is, Melbourne became this odd combination of the city where my dreams were located, and also a nightmare city where it gets way too freaking hot (I’m a winter girl) and also spiders. Every time I went to visit (which was invariably during summer), it never struck me as “much” in the sense that… it’s not that green, it’s kinda arid, things are really spread out from one another, and also spiders.

But every time I got home from those trips, I’d still have that wistful/nostalgic pull towards it. I’d think about how I could get over there—work? Study? It was all very expensive and I think I just ended up in some kind of rut where I’d tell people, “Yeah, I’d like to go to Melbourne,” in the same way where if I start to introduce myself as a writer people will be like, “Oh cool, what have you written?” and I’d awkwardly have to say, “Well, nothing so far…”

The thing about me is I take ages to make a decision. I like to look at all the options, size it all up, make sure I've checked out every angle and possibility as much as I can. But once I've decided, you can bet it's going to happen, and it's going to happen FAST. Once the decision judge's gavel of my mind has pounded, things better start happening quick because I hate waiting.

And I guess three or four years is too long for even me to make a decision, because I decided ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Don't just buy Nike shoes, JUST DO IT!!

So yeah. I'm moving to Melbourne! I've been offered a job at a reputable company, one which sounds like I can have a long and productive career within. This is important to me. I feel like I've made everything in New Zealand as temporary as I could because I always had my sights on something bigger... and that's no way to live.

I have a couple more posts about Canada that I want to make, but from next month onwards I'll be blogging from my new home base in Melbourne. I can't wait to doubt myself in a new city, and I can't wait for you all to join me.

Until then,
-TM


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Travelling with only carry-on luggage makes things much easier when you're on the go. Your bags are with you all the time, you save money on baggage fees, you get on and off flights much faster, and you never have to worry about your bags going to Latvia while you are on your way to Ireland.

My reasons for travelling with carry-on only were two-fold: I wanted to know if I could do it, and I was flying on so many domestic flights that if I'd upgraded my seat to seat + bag, it would've really pushed the already tight budget I had for the entire trip. So I went overseas with one carry-on bag and a knapsack, and returned with one carry-on bag, two knapsacks, and one laptop bag. And still didn't have to check anything in :)

I've organised my "tips" below as a list for easy reading. It should be noted that this doesn't really apply to business trips where you might need to travel with a suit etc. But the tips should be applicable to most, if not all, travellers who are interested in how you can get out of the airport faster rather than standing around a luggage carousel after a 14 hour flight.

1. Take the biggest carry-on bag you can get away with
This one is a no-brainer. The bigger the bag, the more you can put in it (or the more you can buy while overseas!). You also want a bag that can take most, if not all, the conditions you'll be subjecting it to.

I travelled with the North Face Base Camp duffel bag. The SMALL size fits the carry-on bag size restrictions of most airline carriers, and fits 42 litres worth of stuff. It's solid-built and could take a beating, and also compresses down to a smaller size if you somehow don't use up all the space (I used up all the space). It was perfect for me.

Find a bag that will fit lots of stuff but also fit into the overhead locker. The more flexible it is the better—I find that the rigid small suitcases look bigger than they actually are, and there's not much room for leeway with them.

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The North Face Base Camp duffel

2. Everything must pull double duty
This is probably the biggest part of packing carry-on. Your clothes, your accessories, even your bag must be able to do more than just one thing. The North Face bag can be carried as a backpack or a shoulder bag, or just in your hands as a regular duffel. That allowed me to be versatile with how I travelled—from simply picking it up by the handles to board my flight, to carrying two bags on front and back to race from terminal to terminal, Amazing Race-styles.

Things like hair-straighteners, hair-dryers—they'll have to go. They are awkwardly shaped bulky items which will eat up valuable space and weight restrictions. It's easy for me to say because I don't use them in my styling regime, but it can be easy for you as well because most places will have a hair dryer you can use, and if you're travelling with a tour, I GUARANTEE you there will be at least two other girls with hair dryers and straighteners of their own. Tour groups like TopDeck and Contiki and TrekAmerica have forums that you can discuss your trip on with fellow tourists: pool your resources and nut out who'll carry what beforehand. Does it sound nerdy? You won't care when you're whizzing on and off planes and carrying minimal luggage to and from your coach to accommodation!

If you're travelling with a friend or group, that's even better, because you can discuss that amongst yourselves. If I were to travel with someone again, I would even go as far as to split the check-in luggage load (if we decided we needed to check a bag—say you were taking wine as a gift for someone or whatever).

Clothing-wise, all my clothes were worn at least twice. Layer, layer, layer. If you can't wear it more than once or pair it with another piece of clothing in your bag, it must go. Be ruthless! For example, I took a long-sleeved shirt that could be worn on its own, or worn as a light jumper over something else. I had t-shirts that doubled as pyjama tops and outing gear. My jacket acted as a pillow for those overnight stays at airport gates.

My trip to Canada is a good example for an exception to this—I travelled to the Rockies in summer: therefore I only needed "winter" gear for a small part of my holiday. Things like woolens or parkas or puffer jackets were not at all appropriate for when I headed back down into 30+ degree weather in Vancouver. I had a pair of woolen socks that I wore for 2 hours out of the entire trip. So, sometimes it can't be helped. But you can choose one sweater or jacket and wear it multiple times, changing the layer closest to your body.

The majority of your luggage should be able to be used a) multiple times, and b) for multiple reasons.

3. Roll everything
The best way to economise on space and fit everything into your bag, as well as minimising creases and wrinkles is to roll your clothing. Make everything as small as you possibly can, and make sure you use up every single centimetre of space. If there's an air pocket at the bottom corner—your sock or undies can be crammed in there. And so on and so forth. Travelling carry-on means every square bit of space is valuable. Use it!

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4. Carry bulky gear on flights
As my trip wore on, I accumulated more random souvenirs. My leather jacket wouldn't fit in my bag from the fourth or fifth week—well, it did, but I couldn't actually close my bag. So I carried it and wore it when boarding. It got a little warm but I just took it right off when I found my seat. Easy! Plus that way I had a readily accessible leg-warmer for when the flight got a little cold halfway through. I'm pretty short, so minimising the number of times I had to get up from my seat and reach for my bag in the overhead bin was a plus.

5. Get ready to do some laundry
All in all, I only packed about a week's worth of clothing. I did laundry at the Air BNBs I stayed at, and once in the Rockies at the HI laundry. The last one I had to pay for but I pooled my laundry with Keith and we split the bill so it wasn't that expensive. The bottom line is you don't have to pack one outfit per day, and honestly no amount of check-in luggage will help you if you need to pack that much gear anyway!

6. No, you don't need that other pair of shoes
One pair of comfortable walking shoes, one pair of dress shoes if you are so inclined, and one pair of jandals/flip-flops/thongs for avoiding athlete's foot in communal showers. Anything else is excess and a waste of space.

7. Lose the paperbacks/laptops
Books: you probably won't read them anyway. If you do want to read, most hostels have a bookshelf of left-behinds. If you're staying Air BNB, I'm sure your host owns a book or two. I took a Kindle and even loaded it up with new books in anticipation of killing time on flights... I didn't turn it on once.

Laptops: if you can help it, downsize to a tablet or take nothing at all. Most hotels/hostels have shared computers that you can use if you want to blog or check Facebook and all that good relaxing stuff. When my sister and I went to Vietnam in 2013, I took my iPad and put TV shows on it to watch on the bus/flight, and that was good enough. Much smaller and lighter than a laptop! If you want, you can even use your iPad as your camera... boom—double duty!

8. Take advantage of your personal bag
On most flights (and all flights that I've been on), the airline will let you have a "personal item" in addition to your carry-on bag. This is meant for laptops, purses, all that sort. Take advantage! I put as much as I could into my knapsack—my laptop, all the random paper bits, travel documents, etc. I also put my clear bag of liquids/gels in my knapsack rather than in my carry-on; that way when I had to go through screening at security I only had to open one bag rather than both—thus streamlining the process even more!

Those are the main points I thought of when choosing what to take with me. I hope it has been a helpful starting point for if you're thinking of only using carry-on luggage allocation. If you have any other tips or thoughts to add, let me know!

Until next post,

-TM


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FRIENDS! It's another holiday post!

Okay, this is really the end. You're probably thinking, "Bloody hell, when will this end?!" but this really is the last holiday post. I've been so crazy busy with work that I've neglected my poor memories. However, it is time to move on to new adventures, so let's get on with the fantastic end of my once-in-a-lifetime holiday, where I visited an old friend and checked in with a new one.

I took the bus to Boston from NYC, not missing it this time! It was a nice ride upstate where I caught up on sleep. Geoff met me at the station and was my awesome local guide for the duration of my stay. He took me to Chipotle and I ticked it off my fast food bucket list. Chipotle is actually very amazing?? It's like Mexican Subway but less disappointing when you eat it.

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GIANT BOWL OF DELICIOUSNESS

After the best Mexican food experience I've had (and I had a lot of Mexican food experiences during my time in Hawke's Bay, funnily enough) we rented me a bicycle and Geoff took me on a tour of Boston's best and most interesting:

  • Quincey Market, where I went to Uniqlo and found CLOTHES THAT FIT ME! Amazing!

  • Copley Square, which is home to some of the most famous landmarks in Boston such as the Trinity Church, the Boston Public Library, and the Hancock Tower. The last one is SUPER COOL and has reflective blue glass panes, which once upon a time had an engineering flaw and so a whole bunch of the panes fell off the tower and crashed down onto the pavement below. Final Destination, anybody?

We went into the library my second day in Boston and it was amaaaaazzzingggggg

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The interior is even more amazing, mostly because of the green lamps that remind me of the TV shows I watched when I was younger:

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Look at the ceiling! Look at the amazing architecture!

  • Commonwealth Ave Mall, which was a lovely lush green strip, shaded by beautiful trees overhead. There are some gorgeous brownstones flanking the pedestrian mall as well. Comm Ave, the Boston Common, and Public Garden are all smushed into one memory for me because they're all pretty much adjacent to each other and cycling rather than walking apparently turns my sense of direction around in circles. All beautiful, though.

Later that night we went to a concert at an art gallery. Yes, a concert at an art gallery. It was really good! Geoff has more friends than I know people, and of course the majority of them would be amazing musicians.

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Alt-ok at Out of the Blue. Check out his website here.

We cycled back to his place afterward, and I have to say—cycling at night is awesome. During the day, not so much, because it was super humid when I visited, but at night there's something very refreshing about it.

Day two in Boston was basically:

  • Duck tour, where a family of five didn't realise it was allocated seating and then when they did their daughters didn't want to sit next to me (sad), so the dad sat next to me and it was such a bonding experience that we ended up taking a selfie (lol)

Duck tour is quite fun by the way. A different kind of sightseeing, and quite nice to get right into the Charles river as well.

  • H&M. I like H&M because it was the only place I went to that was "prices as advertised." As in, if I bought "2 for $10" t-shirts, I actually paid $10 at the counter, rather than $10 + GST + service tax or whatever. It adds up! Especially when the NZ dollar decides to tank rather spectacularly halfway through your trip... lock in those currency card rates, people!

  • Geoff took me to steamboat with his friends, which was the first time I have ever been out to a restaurant for steamboat. Yum.

And that was my two days in Boston! Thanks, Geoff, for an awesome stay and for being so hospitable.

I headed off to the airport fairly early for my day-long stopover in LA, where I met up with Ting who took me to IN N OUT!! I WAS SO FREAKINGABLE EXCITED! Someone (who told me? I can't remember but thank you) told me to order the fries "animal style" which was confusing but turned out pretty good.

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I feel like I didn't appreciate the fries as much as I should've while I was there, because I'm looking at them now salivating... In N Out isn't overrated, you guys. Tim Hortons is overrated (I'M SORRY CANADA) but those soggy, cheesy, saucy shoe-string fries were the best goshdarned thing. I think they might rate as my second all time fave food after pizza.

I think Ting was going to take me to the beach each, let's go get a wave, but parking was too much of a mish so instead we went on a super romantic drive down a section of the Pacific Coast Highway. ALL BEAUTIFUL. Witness:

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Hashtag no filter

Then we went to Manhattan Beach (NYC is all around, like love, but a city) and then I had to go and catch my flight back to Auckland via Sydney Airport aka Tim Tams Central... and that's it! Wow. How unceremoniously anticlimactic. I mean, I did have to hotfoot it all the way over from one end of Sydney airport terminal to the other, almost missing my final boarding call because Air NZ's gate was at some godforsaken end. This was not dissimilar to my Toronto airport experience, but Amazing Race was par for the course by that stage.

Sitting back home reprising my adventure, I realise just how much exercise I got overseas. I am a sad blob both figuratively and literally.

And so this is the end... I guess I'll just sign off now. Until the next adventure, shall we say!

-TM


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Going to DC was a bit of a spur of the moment decision when I started telling people my intinerary along the way in Canada. In the end it was relatively close, I had a fair bit of time in NYC already, and the bus ticket wasn’t that expensive at all (in fact, it was downright cheap). So why not? These are the decisions I don’t get to make a lot in my day to day work life—choosing what to do on the fly, the freedom of minimal consequences, and travelling by myself meant I didn’t have a second or third person to run something by beforehand. It wouldn’t get any easier than this.

So I booked a bus ticket for a day trip to DC, giving me I think 7 or 8 hours there in total. Initially I had considered an overnight stay so I could go to Taylor Swift’s DC concert which was on the day that I was planning to go (that was a sign if I ever had one!!), but by the time I got back to where I was staying in Montreal, the concert was sold out. Alas.

Picture this: in the city of late nights, I had the late night of all late nights in NYC (for this nana) where I went out for drinks after the NYCFC game and ended up getting back to the hostel at around 11pm.

In NYC, I always slept like a log. Despite the noise of the subway tracks just across the road, once we closed the window and cranked the AC for a more comfortable temperature, it actually was not too loud. That, combined with the aforementioned late nights in the previous post, it’s very easy to wear yourself out during the day, and crash for some much needed rest at night.

So, then, picture this too: missing the alarm and waking up naturally at 5:45am to catch a 6am bus that was 20 minutes away. WHOOPS.

I lay in bed in that frozen second between, “Oh, WHAT time is it?!” and “Oh, crap…!” and because I was on holiday, still fuzzy in the brain, and the ticket was so cheap, I jumped on my phone and booked another ticket while still in bed. I could’ve used my already-booked ticket as a standby for a later trip but didn’t want to muck around with it seeing as I now had two hours less in DC as it was.

I finally got to DC at around 12pm, tired and very hungry. At Union Station I managed to tick off another item on my North American fast-food list: SHAKE SHACK!! It is apparently the In-N-Out of the East Coast. Whatever it is, it was a winner for me because even though they didn’t have chicken burgers on the menu (my usual go-to), their burgers come with tomato by default. I LOVE tomato in my burgers, you guys. I harbour immense disdain for the “limited edition” burgers we have here from McD’s and BK that give you a fancy bun and one slice of tomato and advertise it as “gourmet.” DON’T TRY AND PULL THAT VEGE WOOL OVER MY EYES. So I enjoyed my Shake Shack burger very much, although as far as burgers in general go, I have been spoiled by the likes of Burgerfuel and Velvet Burger etc.

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Not one but TWO slices of tomato!

ANYWAY. Actual DC adventures. My first impression of the nation’s capital was… wow, this is one ghetto city. Rolling up in the bus and looking down at the street I felt like I was in an episode of The Wire. Yes, I know it’s a different city, but it’s close! But honestly. I can’t think of any other word to describe it. And then you get to the National Mall and it’s all touristy and huge official buildings. The dissonance is startling.

For my whirlwind trip I basically just started from the top of the National Mall and walked the length of it from one end to the other. First up was the Capitol, which would’ve looked fantastic and amazing if not for the dome which was under construction… so it looked very un-Capitol like.

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From there I headed to the Washington Monument and the World War II memorial. On the way I passed the back of the Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden and there I saw one of my favourite sculptures of all time: Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. You may remember I went to Rodin’s exhibit in Montreal and Adad Hannah had done a video replica of that sculpture with five strangers. It was very, very awesome to get to see the sculpture up close this time.

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Did you know that French law says that an artist can make up to twelve numbered copies of any single sculpture and it will be considered an original? I was wondering why I saw the same sculpture in different cities… like HOW MANY DID THEY MAKE?! Loses a bit of the magic for me really, but then when you think about all the effort that went into designing and bringing that amazing piece of artwork to life, why shouldn’t you make as many as you want up to a dozen? Kind of like making prints of a painting/photograph, right?

The WW2 memorial was very cool. It had a similar impact on me as the 9/11 memorial in NYC did… for me, I watch a lot of movies about war and about American involvement in military endeavours, and always leave them with my opinion split. I feel war is sometimes very glorified, or sensational, in part by what we watch in the media and also how movies tend to focus on one aspect of war to present to the audience. So seeing that memorial and the respect that was built for the veterans was quite a good thing to see. They sure know how to build big and shiny memorials, is what I mainly took away from DC.

At the end of the Mall was the Lincoln Memorial which I enjoyed. I had no idea about the impact Lincoln had on abolishing slavery in America during the Civil War—I mean, I knew he was the President at the time, but the walls of the Memorial are inscribed with his speech about why slavery should end. What a great speech. Sometimes I wonder if the import that these memorials are meant to impart (lol) is really maintained when there are a ridiculous number of tourists lining up to take photos in front of Lincoln’s statue, but I have to say… yes. I mean, you take away what you take away from it, you know? And who’s to say one person’s experience is wrong if they just went for the outstanding architecture and beautiful marble? And if you just go to the Lincoln Memorial to sit on the steps and gaze out towards the Washington Monument, that’s an experience as well.

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Took me ages waiting for all the tourists to leave before I could take this photo without people in the foreground. I really should learn that Photoshop trick.

Actually, it’s really quite nice sitting on those steps looking out over the water and the rest of the National Mall…

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On the way back I made a slight detour loop to check out the White House, or the back of it anyway. It started spitting a little bit so the crowds dispersed for a short while and I was able to get this awesome shot of Barack’s house… you may have detected some mild sarcasm in that last sentence there…

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After that it was time to make my way back to Union Station for my bus ride back to NYC. I walked past what felt like ALL OF THE Smithsonian museums, and I did feel very sad that I was not able to make it to any of them. I would go back to DC just to check one of them out. DC was also the only city out of my entire trip where I wished I was travelling with someone to, and I quote directly from my journal entry from the day, “see/share the awe of America’s pompous buildings with.”

BACK TO NYC
The next day would be my last day in NYC. Sob! As was the case with all my previous days in this amazing city, I spent it whizzing from one place to another, cramming as much as I could in the waking hours I had.

I met up with a friend made from my TopDeck tour in Europe a couple of years ago for lunch, and she took me to a really nice Korean BBQ place called Bonchon near Times Square. This is one thing I had underestimated(?) on my trip—the number of people who would want to catch up with me, and I feel a little ashamed about that. I hadn't contacted them beforehand to say that I would be in town, not because I thought I didn't have time (it's always a priority of mine to make time for friends) but because I didn't think they would want to catch up with little ol' me. In doing that, I forgot my own awesomeness (who wouldn't want to catch up with me?!) and short-changed our amazing experiences together overseas years ago. But meeting up with friends I'd made while travelling still remain the best memories I have of my whole holiday.

I find the problem with NYC is that it's the city that never sleeps, and the subway is 24/7, yet all the tourist attractions mostly keep business hours. Such was the dilemma I had in choosing between the Met and the Guggenheim. I had meant to split my day by going to one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, but I ended up only having the afternoon for both. So I chose the Met, because 1) Met Gala, and 2) I figured I could just take a photo of the outside of the Guggenheim later.

So, the Met. The admission fee of $25 is actually a suggested donation. You could go in for free if you were cheap enough/broke. I paid $5 because I was running out of cash and the exchange rate was tanking so quickly it may as well have been $25 in the end. But yeah. You pay what is comfortable for you, which I think is awesome because it means that anyone can walk in and appreciate what's there.

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Not-so-great photo of the Met to break up the monotony of text

And there was A LOT. I spent a couple of hours there just totally wandering and losing track of where I was. There's a map and audioguide which you should pick up—if I remember correctly you have to pay extra for the audioguide which is probably why I didn't get one, but I have always gotten way more out of a museum/art gallery from having one.

In the end I spent a couple of hours there (NOT ENOUGH!!) because it turns out I really, really, really wanted to go to the Guggenheim. So off to the Guggs I went, and holy shit you guys. Guggenheim >>> Met. I should've gone there first! It's obviously a matter of personal preference and opinion but the second I walked into the Guggenheim, I was in love. I love the architecture, the clean, unhurried rise of the ramp, and the way it facilitates the main exhibit and is part of it rather than just where the exhibit is being shown. The main exhibit at the time of my visit was "Storylines" which was a curation of over a hundred contemporary artworks in the G's collection.

From the Guggenheim website:

Storylines examines the diverse ways in which artists today engage narrative through installation, painting, photography, sculpture, video, and performance. For these artists, storytelling does not necessarily require plots, characters, or settings. Rather, narrative potential lies in everyday objects and materials, and their embedded cultural associations. In projects created through extensive research, acts of appropriation, or performance, the artists in Storylines uncover layers of meaning, turning to individual experience as a means of conveying shared stories, whether real or fictional.

I loved it. Worth every penny (which was $18 worth of pennies). I stayed there till closing and only just managed to finish the whole exhibit. There are other galleries as well which I unfortunately missed out on.

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To cap off my NYC adventure, I went to a showing of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, which I chose because it was the first billboard I saw advertising a Broadway play and it looked interesting. And it was! It was highly entertaining and so funny.

And that was the end of my time in NYC. I was really quite sad to leave in the end, for all my "all right, we'll see" responses to everyone telling me how great it was before I got there. The Big Apple has a way of sneaking up on you... ♥

Next up: Boston and my return lap to Auckland via LAX. Until then!

-TM


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We have come to the end, my friends. The end of my Canadian adventure, and the beginning of my American experience. I've been putting off writing this post; I've been re-living the last 10 days of my holiday by thinking about how I'll write it and what I'll write, almost playing back every day like a weirdly emotional and disjointed movie.

But we'll just start at the beginning, where I was in Toronto Airport aka the Airport Where Itineraries Go to Die, and my flight to NYC was delayed. Only for an hour, but still delayed. I still remember lining up for Starbucks, waiting for ages to get a tea and a chocolate croissant, and by the time I got to the counter, the last of the chocolate croissants had been bought by the girl in front of me... so I had to settle for a chocolate ring. Which was all right. I can still feel the oil from the flakes sticking to my fingers, the steam from the tea fogging up my glasses, me leaning back against the recycling bin because the gate was packed... Which strangely is one of my favourite things about travelling. I love sitting at a gate waiting to board a flight. That transient moment where I could be anyone, going anywhere, and the same went for all the other travellers around me. We could be going home or leaving home, we could be going to a place we'd never been to before. It's like Schroedinger's flight, or something.

Anyway. I was first headed to NEW YAWK, concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there's nothing you can't do, although some things are strongly frowned upon. It was late afternoon by the time I arrived and got to my hostel, the Local NYC in Long Island City. I would recommend it, folks. It's a two minute walk from the subway station which will take you straight into Manhattan via the E line. I might put together a tips post for NYC. I read a lot of blogs and the like before I left, and most of them made NYC sound like a scary maze that was impossible to navigate. Not true! It's confusing only if you let yourself be confused, and expect to be confused. It's a lot more straightforward and less rude than much of what you'll read might suggest.

DAY (more like night) ONE
I was recommended Ellen's Stardust Diner, so I checked it out for dinner. It's a diner where the wait staff sing to you while you eat. Most of them are pre-Broadway or at some kind of acting school, and they're all very good. The line went around the block and it was just past 5pm. Tourists have all day to stand around! So maybe book before you go, but from what I saw singles (me) and couples didn't have to wait long.

After dinner I walked through Times Square to meet a friend. Times Square. I dislike it. It's what you walk through to get to your intended destination, rather than a destination itself. It's busy, people walk super slow, there's traffic everywhere, but it's a must-do when you get to NYC. So, pick your time of day and get it over with.

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Bright lights in the big city

Karen took me to somewhere on the Lower East Side for some amazing live music. I have no idea where we were exactly, but we walked past Katz's Deli aka Where Harry Met Sally, and went to this venue which had burlesque red lighting in the bathroom. It was like a regular residential toilet but with a plush red armchair in the corner directly across from the toilet seat. It was hilariously confusing. Was it meant to be a private viewing corner if you had some voyeuristic toilet fetish? I have no idea. The red lighting definitely set some kind of mood, though.

It was an awesome first introduction to NYC. Staying out past 12am where everything was still buzzing and full of people. Something to note about NYC past regular waking hours: there is a LOT of subway diversion and maintenance that happens in the wee hours, and you'll find notices about whatever is happening that week or weekend. That night I had to detour to somewhere far away and ended up waiting two hours for a train to take me back to LIC. It's pretty confusing for locals, too, apparently, which brings me to NYC Tip #1: always have a copy of the subway map on you. This is one you'll see on many blogs, too. Download it and store it in iBooks or whatever you have on your phone, and I'd do it even before you get to NYC because you'll need it the second you touch down.

DAY TWO
The next day I was fortunate enough to catch up with another friend, a NYC native who was able to take me to some pretty awesome spots. The USWNT had a parade that morning down Wall Street so we lined up to catch that, and the atmosphere was incredible. I only took video, but here's a fuzzy screenshot. Must be quite nice being an office worker in those buildings, once you've fought off the throng to actually get into work:
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After that we went to the 9/11 Memorial, just the outside where they converted the foundations of the towers into pools, with fountains draining into the middle. It was pretty intense being there; it really drove home what it felt like for the Americans. Being so far away and so young when it happened meant that I've held 9/11 in my memory as some kind of bad thing that happened in a land far away, like anything you experience when you're a child, you don't really grasp the full gravity of it but mostly on the surface. So standing by the edge of the fountain with all the names of the dead etched into the cool metal was really sobering. That's all some people have left of their loved ones.

The history tour continued as I wanted to check out Stonewall. It was a pretty brief stopover, and we didn't go in. It continues to amaze me how, with most things in life, the most momentous of occasions and changes in history can happen with the tiniest spark in a seemingly innocuous location.

Next up was something a bit lighter: the Big Gay Ice Cream shop not far from Stonewall. If you like soft serve ice cream and Bea Arthur then this is the ice cream shop for you!

Continuing this whirlwind recap of my whirlwind day was Central Park, which... was... massive. HUUUUUGE. One of the girls in my room rented a bike and spent half the day there, I think, and she highly recommended it. My friend and I stuck to our own two feet and meandered through the park looking for squirrels; we spent about two hours there, I think? Not many squirrels were to be found that day, but I saw a hawk(!!!) fly overhead with a mouse in its claws, which was more than epic to see.

After Central Park we headed back to Long Island City, where we stopped by Silvercup Studios aka PERSON OF INTEREST STUDIOS aka Amy Acker has walked this ground!! Unfortunately I was a week or two out from the start of production, but it was still pretty neat to walk around the outside of the studio and see this:
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The studio was actually a spur-of-the-moment detour from our intended next destination, which is also my #1 recommended place to visit in NYC—Gantry Plaza State Park. It was a seven minute walk from my accommodation, and as you can see below, has a beautiful view of the Manhattan Skyline:

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DAY THREE
On the third day (the frost) I went to check out the Statue of Liberty by way of the Staten Island ferry. It's a 25 minute trip one-way and if you're not interested on actually stepping foot on Ellis Island, it's a good way to have a nice boat ride and see the Statue at the same time. Warning: avoid rush hour! People do actually live on Staten Island and go home that way.

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Life goals.

I didn't have time to visit Staten Island as I had tickets to an afternoon show of Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway. Darren Criss was Hedwig—not my fave, but he was very good. I was in there with many, MANY Glee fangirls...

After the show I went to Grand Central station and Top of the Rock. Two highly recommended spots in NYC. Grand Central is pretty goshdarned incredible; it wasn't too crowded while I was there so I had a fairly good view of the main concourse.

Top of the Rock was recommended to me over the Empire State Building; I didn't have time for both so majority ruled and Top of the Rock it was. It was... okay. It was so ridiculously crowded, which I expected but at the same time I live in Auckland and was born in Singapore, so my idea of "crowded" remains skewed to this day. I couldn't get in sideways, and you know how little I am. Everyone, of course, was taller than me, too. You do get a beautiful view of the city though. The funniest part was the elevator that takes you to and from the observation deck—once you're in and the doors have closed, all of a sudden the lights dim right down and a BOOMING video about the history of Rockefeller Center plays overhead as you're streaking up/down NYC... so if you are afraid of elevators/heights (Fliss I'm looking at you), this is a heads up.

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You can see why everyone was there at the same time I was.

DAY FOUR
That morning I woke up a little later than intended. The thing about NYC is that everything is better at night, and everything is still happening at night, and so you stay up and out all night because really, where else in the world could you do that? It really is the city that never sleeps, mostly because you're keeping up with the subway system changes at 2am...

Anyway, that day I wanted to check out Brighton Beach as that's where one of the most epic crane shots OF ALL TIME (in a television show called Person of Interest where a heartbreaking supporting character met his demise) was filmed... so I went and checked that out along with the half-naked old Russian men (I wasn't prepared for that) before heading up to Coney Island. I wasn't so keen for the rides and I was there before they opened, so I just had a Nathan's frankfurter which was REALLY actually incredibly tasty. I don't know what they do to make them taste so good (check your Soylent Green jokes at the door) but the hype is real and regularly rated, you guys.

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After that it was time to subway it all the way up to the other end of NYC—to the Bronx to see NYCFC play Toronto at the Yankees Stadium. What a great game... if you've never watched a game of football in your life. Eight golazos! David Villa was amazing to watch and he scored two goals; the thing about NYCFC is that their defense sucked so bad!! It was leakier than a sieve with only one hole. But it was still great to see a footballing legend play some beautiful game. The Chelsea fan in me would've loved to see Lampard on the pitch that day, too, but it was not to be...

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Baseball diamonds are one of my favourite things to look at, now. I love the colours and the expanse of them. Incredible and absolutely beautiful.

I'm going to end this here because it's getting pretty long and I still have DC and Boston to cover, along with my [sob] last day in NYC before heading back home via LA. So ciao for now!

-TM


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Montreal! Let's get into Montreal. It's oddly difficult blogging after the fact, and especially when it's AFTER the after-fact and I'm writing it not in a different city while still on holiday, but at home with my holiday entirely over. Blame it on the night? Blame it on the alcohol? Don't blame it on me?

Either way, Montreal was my last stop in Canada and what a cracking start I had trying to fly in from Vancouver. After a certain time at night, all security for YVR is funnelled through gate C, because the airport closes the separate security for gates A and B which are at opposite ends of the hallway (because gates A and B are at, would you guess, opposite ends of the terminal to gate C). Myself and half of California were in the terminal at 10pm trying to get through security, and so compared to, say, ten eggs trying to get through security at any given time and making the wait around 10-15 minutes long, there were 300 eggs this time, still thinking the wait would be 10-15 minutes long, except... you see where I'm going with this.

I'm going to chalk everything that happened that night to tiredness and inhaling all that smoke from the haze that was the Burnaby Mountain brush fire that day (intense!!). I was standing in line just chilling out when I noticed that my bottle was full. Shoot. I’d forgotten all about it. I wanted it as well. I considered emptying the water into the bin but it was too far for me to go without leaving my place in line. Why didn’t I ask someone to hold my spot for me? I think I didn’t want to be the person who said, “Excuse me, can you hold my place while I throw water into the rubbish bin?”

Plus, I knew I would be thirsty later. Why not drink as much as I could now, right?

(Tired logic is like drunkenness.)

The line actually took so long to move forward that molasses would’ve beat a tortoise in a 100m race, and I finished 600ml of water before I was anywhere close to security. There were staffers from Air Canada and some other airline calling for people stuck in the line who had flights leaving soon, but none from Westjet. I will never forget the most useless airport worker in the history of airport workers who was strolling up and down the line being of absolutely no use to anybody as possible. A man in front of me asked about his flight with AC and she said, “Talk to Air Canada.” Someone else asked about Westjet and she said, “Talk to Westjet.” WOW. SO HELPFUL. What was she there for? I could not figure out any possible role for her presence in the terminal. She wasn’t helping with security, with queries, with anything. She literally was not doing anything at all.

It ended up taking about half an hour for me to get to the actual scanners, and then another 15 to get through security itself. By the time I cleared my bags, my flight was scheduled to leave in about ten minutes. I welcomed myself to another episode of The Amazing Race and sprinted like hell (as fast as I could with an extra 10kg on my person) ALL THE WAY to the other end of the terminal to Westjet’s gate. Luckily I had been to the gate before when I was on my way to Toronto, so I knew exactly where I was meant to be.

The gate was deserted when I finally arrived puffing and sweating. The only person there apart from me was one Westjet gate attendant manning the gate counter, like a female Phil Keoghan without a local companion to greet you. I had been so close to missing my flight. Walking onto the plane felt like the walk of shame with everyone watching me get to my seat, but of course they weren’t.

I was seated in the window seat, next to an older woman and a young guy who were chatting away. It turned out that the woman was travelling to Toronto to get to Ottawa where her sister was nearing the end of her life. This detail is important because the moment I stowed my carry on under the seat in front of me and buckled up and settled in, I was instantly hit with the incredibly urgent need to pee. I’d kinda needed to go on the way in already, what with that hour for the water to go through my kidneys and everything, but the urge had been shoved back seeing as how catching the flight had taken precedence. Now that I was safely on board, my body decided to remind me that, hi, we really needed to pee.

I went to the stewardess at the front of the plane but they were all strapped in and ready to go. The toilet was locked like they do for take off and landing. I had to return to my seat. I was like, okay, I can do this.

Except the plane took freaking AGES to taxi. There were three planes ahead of us all of that haze plus fog that we had to clear once we actually took off. It probably was about 20 minutes in total but it felt like FOREVER. By that time I was sure I was going to piss in my pants. My two new friends tried to distract me and normally I would’ve been laughing alongside them but this was SERIOUS BUSINESS. Plus any time I laughed I would’ve had an unfortunate accident on the bathroom front.

I unbuttoned my pants and tried to alleviate the pressure, to no avail. This was one bladder which would not be denied. I loosened my seat belt to accommodate two of me, which didn’t help either.

“Is it a big one?” the guy asked, looking worried all of a sudden. “Or a little one?”

“A little one,” I reassured him. “But a big little one.”

This was the worst ever. How freaking long was the seat belt sign going to be on for?!

“Go in the bag,” the guy said, taking out the vomit bag they keep in the seat pocket in front of you. “That’s what they’re there for… sort of.”

“We’ll shield you,” the woman chipped in.

I unzipped my pants instead. It helped only a little bit.

We were still trapped in fairly dense fog and the seatbelt sign mocked me like someone hidden in the shadows with a laser pointer, shining it in my general direction every so often and laughing as they did so. IT WAS THE WORST.

And I mean, how much could I go on about it to a woman whose sister could likely die before we even landed in Toronto, for god’s sake. Surely we were getting to altitude soon. I had to go, and I had to go NOW.

“That’s it,” I said. “I’ve got to go. We must be getting there soon.”

The guy and the lady courteously squished themselves into their seats so I could stumble out of mine, and that is how I ended up running down the aisle to the back of the plane, half crouched with my pants almost falling off.

When I got to the end of the aisle I had to plead and beg with the stewardess to unlock the door. Bless her, she did eventually and I FINALLY was able to pee in a dignified manner… just as the seatbelt sign dinged off. Of course it did.

That was probably the most exciting comedy moment to happen to me on holiday involving an airplane... I think. The next thing that happened that involved airplanes was when I got into Toronto and promptly missed my flight to Montreal. Again, I probably would not recommend running on a few hours of sub-par aeroplane sleep, because I SWEAR I read "D6" on the gate for my transfer flight and so had to go through the kilometres of travelator that I'm sure you will all remember from last time. I remember thinking that it was odd for Westjet to have a D gate (they are usually B), but I just assumed it was a codeshare. I didn't really have much time to ruminate upon it because I only had 15 minutes to make my transfer.

Gate D also turned out to be in the next terminal so I had to exit security and ride on a SkyTrain to get there. At this point you will be thinking, "But, you don't have to exit security if you're transferring flights," to which I will reply SEE EXHIBIT A ON TIREDNESS BRAIN. So anyway I finally got to gate D security at 6:50am for a 7am flight, only to have my boarding pass bounced back in the scanner because I was meant to be at gate B... which is where the Westjet flight that had come in from Vancouver had parked.

LONG STORY SHORT I HAD BEEN AT THE CORRECT GATE THE WHOLE TIME AND OH MY GODDDD it was the worst.

Things go faster the second time around, as proven from sprinting for my flight to Toronto. I Amazing Raced it like never before, pleaded my way through to the fast-tracked Nexus security line, darted through the metal detector and dashed to the correct gate which was fortuitously right by security... only to see my plane pulling away from the gate.

First time ever I've missed a flight. Ever. But Westjet were great. I recommend Westjet if you are in need of an air carrier within Canada; I enjoyed the service on all my flights and couldn't fault their customer service. They put me on the next flight to Montreal at 8am, no questions asked (probably because the guy in front of me in the line had also just missed it), and boom—it was that easy.

Anyway, enough about all that. I finally got into Montreal, went to meet my friend at the train station and chilled out at his place. I was so tired… and took a nap. Very exciting stuff to kick off my three days in the Paris of Canada.

Later in the afternoon we met up with Keith who’d flown in shortly after me and was just getting settled in. My favourite kind of thing to do—meet up with new friends in different cities! We went to La Banquise for poutine, apparently rated the best poutine in Montreal (I would agree), and took it to Parc La Fontaine to eat. It was a delightful culinary experience and a nice vibe in the park.

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I have wanted to eat Canadian poutine ever since I had melted mozzarella on chips and gravy at my first ever job as a waitress. And I was slightly worried that eating that fake style of poutine AND LOVING IT would have spoiled me for the proper version, but it was no disappointment. The cheese curds have a different texture to cheese, obviously, and that was a little strange in the sense that there was more to chew on, but it gave a nice balance to the mushiness of the chips under all that gravy. Look at me rating like MKR.

The “Gay Village” caught my eye on the map and it was on the way to Keith’s hotel, so we wandered through it on the way back. I think Keith is well versed on what a sauna is, now ;)

There is just so much to do in Montreal. If you want to do all the things in three days, you have to be ready to wake up early and knock everything off the list one by one, like shooting cans off a fence non-stop—bam bam bam. The next morning Keith and I went to Marche Jean Talon, which is basically an organic/fruit/veg farmer’s market type of deal.

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After that it was onwards to Parc Mont Royal, one of the most rated places to visit in the city, and essentially a mountain in the middle of Montreal. You probably need half a day or a day there depending on what you're there for. We had... just over an hour, I think, and we ended up only wandering around the outer edge of the mountain. It's a really nice walk, and you are hardly in view of the city at all... it really is a forest in the middle of a metropolis.

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The reason why we only had a bit of time on the mountain was because I had to go and collect my tickets for Taylor Swift's concert that evening. That's right, Taylor Swift wouldn't come to Auckland but would play Melbourne THREE TIMES... so I paid hundreds of dollars to see her in Montreal. And it was worth every dollar. What a show. And it was a show in every sense of the word — the costume changes. The monologue before most of the songs. The dancing, the backdrops, the staging, the A stage, the B stage, the platform that lifted and went 360 around the entire arena... bloody hell she has a shitload of money (I wonder how). And I had an amazing evening surrounded by teenagers taller than me.

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After the show I met up with Keith after his city wanderings and we went to get a drink at a sports bar. It was pretty much our only option... turns out Montreal is not quite the buzzing hive of activity on weeknights. It might've been a combination of it being a Tuesday night plus maybe we weren't in the right area. I would say if you'd like to experience Montreal nightlife, do some proper in-depth research beforehand. You wouldn't be able to wing it like most other things, I don't think.

My last day in Montreal was mostly spent walking around Old Montreal. Some beautiful architecture! It was a stunning segue from city to old-time Europe, with the cobblestone streets and delightful shops that seemed hidden in the walls themselves. You could spend about half a day there quite easily, and if you actually went into the buildings, then you'd probably find a full day would be more comfortable.

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I don't know what this building is but I saw it from afar and I LOVE IT.

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The front facade of the Notre Dame.

Next up for the day was the Rodin exhibit at the Musee des Beaux-Arts. Ever since I saw Rodin's Gates of Hell in the Musee d'Orsay a few years ago, coupled with my mild Wikipedia obsession with the Divine Comedy (I have yet to read the actual epic) when I was a teenager, Rodin has been one of my favourite sculptors. The exhibit had 300 works on show, including all the famous sculptures like The Walking Man, The Hand of God, and the Thinker, set up in this incredibly logical and easy to navigate space. It was amazing. There was just so much to look at it was almost overwhelming in terms of walking through all the rooms and absorbing Rodin's process, from sketches to sculptures and everything in between.

There was a final exhibit before the gift shop, which was a behind the scenes video of an artist named Adad Hannah who recruited strangers to be a live version of the sculpture The Burghers of Calais, and I mention this because I went back and Googled him and his work is so interesting. He essentially uses his skill of direction and videography to recreate tableaus of classic works — such as the Burghers — and it is just fascinating. Check him out here.

And that was really all I had time for in terms of the touristy activities in Montreal! For my final meal in Canada, I was treated to the hugest smoked meat sandwich I have ever eaten in my life. Actually, I'd never had a smoked meat sandwich before up to that point. I'm not talking about those "smoked sandwiches" you see in the display of an inner-suburb cafe or in the petrol station next to the cold drinks. This. Was a smoked meat sandwich. Emphasis on MEAT. I'm quite disappointed in my Asian self for not taking a photo. If you eat something and don't take a photo of it beforehand, was it really eaten? It was stacks and stacks of delicious smoked meat with a bit of mustard and slices of bread "holding" it together, so dwarfed by the amount of meat that when I first opened the packet I wondered where the bottom slice of bread was.

Next up: the American leg of my holiday. New York, Boston, and a day trip to DC in between.

Until then!

-TM


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I'm not just a pharmacist any more!!

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I finished the diploma before I left for Canada, and when I got back this was waiting for me in the mailbox a few days later. Looks good, feels great.

It's funny because while I was doing it, it never felt like anything "much" if that makes sense. Or maybe I was too busy running around completing the assignments in between work and all that. But now that I have the certificate all official and up on my wall, it actually feels incredibly satisfying. Like I'm one step closer to... something.

Many thanks to all my friends who were super encouraging and helped me with my videos, tolerating me shooting take after take and spending your weekends with my camera in your faces. You all know who you are.


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It was back to the West Coast on Tuesday to spend five nights in Vancouver, and I spent the night at Toronto airport to catch my 6am flight. I do not recommend staying overnight at Toronto airport unless you go through security first, so I would say make sure you get to the airport early enough to pass security screening, or you’ll be left with the downstairs arrival lobby which doesn’t have many seats, and the seats are the same as Winnipeg airport—they’re not flat. It’s also very bright, and again plagued with a floor-buffing man who seems to only ever do the section you are sleeping in. It’s not horrible if you’re fine with not getting a lot of sleep, and hey, you’re saving on a night’s worth of accommodation!

I arrived in Vancouver in the morning and jumped onto the Skytrain to get to my Airbnb apartment in Burnaby, which by the way I would not recommend because it is a loooong way from anything. Especially after the convenience of downtown Toronto, travelling through Vancouver from Burnaby became a bit of a pain. I also found out afterward that Burnaby is not even in Vancouver (I am still trying to wrap my head around North American geography); it is British Columbia. But the reason I chose the location I did was because the room I booked had floor to ceiling windows—life goal! And had nice views of the horizon and gardens nearby.

So anyway I hopped onto the Skytrain and sat down, and the first thing I noticed was this bee-like creature moseying around on the strap of my backpack which was halfway on my lap. I say bee-like because it was green and vaguely furry. What the &#%@ is that?! Normally I would have leaped out of my seat and shouted for my dad to come and help me, but since I was 1) in a public space and 2) in a public space without my father and 3) a fully grown adult so really I should be able to deal with—ha, who am I kidding.

I threw my bag down on to the floor in an attempt to throw the insect off onto the ground. It worked only a little bit—the bee (we’ll call it a bee for convenience) bounced off but was still attached to the very end of the strap. Bastard! It immediately began crawling back up my bag. This time my panic grew even greater.

I quickly looked for someone who could help me. People were still boarding the train, and had that disinterested, unapproachable look. There was a young guy sitting in the next seat. “Hi,” I said, urgent yet calm, like they ask you to be when evacuating a building on fire. “Do you like insects?”

“Sorry?” he asked.

“Do you like insects?” I repeated, gesturing at my bag, trying to draw his attention to the bee. Why was it green?!

He echoed the word “insects,” except he didn’t, because I couldn’t figure out what he was repeating. Then I realised. He didn’t understand my accent.

“That,” I said, pointing more pointedly at the bee. At this stage it was almost two-thirds the way up the strap. Soon it would be on my lap! “Can you help me get rid of it?”

“Oh, insect,” he said, as if it weren’t what I had been trying to say the whole time, and stood up to be my saviour of the minute. Hooray!

“Thanks.” He booted the bee out the train door, almost sending it straight into someone’s foot. “I’m working on my accent.”

He laughed. “Where are you from, Australia?”

Every time. Nobody ever guesses New Zealand. “New Zealand. Close.”

“Oh, nice. I’ve always wanted to go there.”

Everybody says that every time as well, it’s pretty cool.

We ended up chatting for the length of the Skytrain journey to Waterfront station, where I had to transfer. He was pretty cool, albeit a little too friendly, and possibly unaware of what is called “stranger danger.” I mentioned taking a day trip to Steveston because of Once Upon A Time, expecting either a blank stare or a, “Oh, I’ve heard of it but I don’t watch it” response which I had been getting so far. But this guy was immediately enthusiastic.

“I love that show!” he said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Steveston.” He held out his hand. “I’m Steve, by the way.” (We’ll just call him Steve.)

I shook his hand and introduced myself.

“What else are you planning to do while you’re here?”

I mentioned the Capilano suspension bridge. Turned out he had this Tourism Challenge pass where he could take one person with him to certain tourist attractions around Vancouver for free; the bridge was one of them. “I can take you if you’d like.”

Wary of stranger danger, I politely declined his offer.

He gave me his number in case I changed my mind, and at that stage we were at the Waterfront station. As we disembarked he helped me carry my bag which was kind of nice. I mean, it was heavy enough that he couldn’t just run away with it suddenly. And then as we went our separate ways, he said, “If you want someone to go to Steveston with you, just give me a call!”

S t r a n g e r !!!! D a n g e r !!!!!

Obviously I never contacted him. Which I regret slightly because he was nice and didn’t exude any kind of creep vibe, and through our conversation I could tell he knew a lot and was well storied. BUT we can all understand why I didn’t, and I’m sure Steve can as well.

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Along with Steveston, Victoria on Vancouver Island was on my list as well. I decided to get all the day trips out of the way at the beginning so that I could mosey around downtown Vancouver later on in the week. I was feeling incredibly tired at this point and did not actually know if I could get up in time to make the four hour trip to Victoria. But I managed to wake up at the alarm and haul ass out the door, and I’m glad I did. I didn’t go to the Butchart Gardens or anything, just meandered around downtown Victoria, and as it was Canada Day there were many activities happening by the Fairmont Hotel and Parliament Building. I also walked past a little shopfront selling beaver tails where I finally got to try the quintessential North American pastry:

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With cinnamon and apple. Basically apple pie filling on a delicious pastry. Was not prepared for how filling it was going to be!

I walked around the main part of downtown and then along the water, very relaxing, very tiring… I ended up at a bar to watch the England semifinal which was heartbreaking. Football is a cruel, cruel sport. (For the unintiated, England played Japan and were beasting it the entire game, tied at 1-1 until the 92nd minute where a defender was doing her job to intercept an attacking pass… and sent it into her own goal. Worst!!)

Returning to Burnaby from Victoria turned into a very late night affair as I mistakenly took a tiki-tour bus from downtown back to the ferry terminal, thus missing the 7pm ferry. No problem, I thought, as there was usually an 8pm trip to the mainland. HOWEVER I was wrong and the next ferry was at 9pm. I ended up getting back to the Waterfront station just in time to miss the Canada Day fireworks (no!) and join the giant line to get into the subway station to get “home.”

I was really impressed by how organised the line into the station was, actually. Do we have that back home? The police had set up barriers to organise the line and were on hand in numbers to help the crowd. And the line was very civil, no funny business or rowdiness at all. Getting into the cramped station space they were manually checking that everyone had tickets and that was really well behaved, too. It might be that I just never use public transport and don’t see Auckland that late at night, but I can’t imagine that for New Zealand.

The next day was Steveston day, sans Skytrain-Steve. It was very neat to be able to see how a location gets turned into another world entirely. Unfortunately I wasn't there for any filming or even production, but Steveston is a very nice, quaint seaside town to walk around, with a beautiful and very well maintained waterfront.

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A few of the shops keep the Storybrooke signage year round!

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When I got back to downtown I went for a walk along the Vancouver waterfront. Vancouver had the dubious honour of being the first city I travelled alone after my tour, and I had been feeling kind of apathetic since I had arrived, but that sunset walk turned things around a bit.

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On Saturday I went to Granville Island with a girl I met six years ago, over ten minutes standing in line to get Andrew Bird's autograph in Singapore. She got in touch with me over Facebook and we hung out for the afternoon. Isn't that crazy? That's one of my favourite things about travelling and meeting new people—you can reconnect after years and years and catch up in a different city. And Granville Island is a neat little space with a market that I can safely say was my favourite market of the trip. It had everything, from fruit to other foods, to a specialised tea shop, to art supplies and other nifty things you would expect from an island-that-is-not-really-an-island.

On Sunday it was the reason for my whole trip (well, sorta)... the FIFA Women's World Cup Final! USA v. Japan, just the same as it had been four years earlier, and I was there in the lower level to watch it happen, approximately ten rows down from Joe Biden. And what a game. If you weren't there or weren't watching or somehow weren't paying attention, the most frustrating midfielder on the US team (and their captain) scored the goals of her life in the game of her life, ripping Japan apart in less than 20 minutes. We could all have gone home at half time. I was surrounded by a sea of Americans who were going nuts... it will probably be the only time in my life that I was chanting, "USA! USA!" alongside them.

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The USWNT celebrating their first World Cup since 1999. Don't zoom in on your iPhone! Digital zoom is the worst! But it was the best I could do in the moment... the best camera is the one you have on you at the time, right?!

And then it was off to the airport that very evening, along with what felt like half of California. Stay tuned for the most hilarious story of my life (yes, even more so than what you have read these past five weeks). I want to thank Erin and Thomas for keeping me company over my last two days in Vancouver and ending my West Coast experience on a high; the hospitality and kindness you extended will never be forgotten and always appreciated!

Coming next: Montreal, by way of Toronto.

Until then!

-TM


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The transition from a whirlwind ten days to the return to the slower, lonelier pace that comes with travelling solo was made easier by Fliss and Charlotte, who had a later flight to Toronto that night but would be there for the next two days. I got there quite early in the morning and headed to my Airbnb accommodation and spent the first half of the Friday by myself while the Essex Twins caught up on some sleep when they arrived.

I had a few things on my list to check off, including recommendations from people I had met in the last three weeks, so the first stop was the Art Gallery of Ontario. If I might take this moment to recommend a location to stay in Toronto, it would be downtown. There are two roads that are of import in Toronto: Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street. Everything intersects, more or less, through those two streets. The whole of Downtown Toronto is super accessible by foot and it took me 30 minutes at the most to get anywhere I wanted to from where I was staying. So I walked to the AGO in half an hour and had a good couple of hours there. It’s a great gallery, I really enjoyed it. I can’t say it was my favourite out of the entire holiday (as I am writing this in retrospect) but it is a destination I would say to go to if you are ever in Toronto, especially if you prefer sculptures over, say, paintings and murals. (I much prefer sculptures; AGO was like a sculpture mecca.)

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A section of the Henry Moore sculpture garden at the AGO. My favourite.

Another popular place that I heard mentioned often was Kensington Market, which is not a market in the conventional sense but rather a space of eclectic eateries and shops. If you are a hipster or are not a hipster but enjoy the food aesthetic, you will enjoy Kensington. I took a quick lunch break there at a little restaurant/cafe called Our Spot, which was pretty quiet when I went, but when I walked past again on Sunday morning there was a line out the door so I guess they are quite popular. Food was good, big portions, check it out.

I loved the AGO so much that I went back in afterward and killed some time until I had to meet Fliss and Charlotte to go up the CN tower. The CN tower is five minutes walk from where I was staying so having plenty of time I decided to not turn straight back around from the art gallery and walk “home” the way I had come up; instead I made a detour to the Times Square of Toronto, Eaton Centre, to stop by and find a pair of jandals due to my breaking them on the last day of tour.

Without any luck in Eaton Centre, I headed back via a street where I knew were more stores, and walked into a shop that looked like it would have what I wanted. When I walked in, it was empty save for myself, a couple, and the two shop girls (I will call them Alice and Michelle). Then—and this must be how it looks like to customers when I am the one behind the counter at work—everything went bananas. I can break down just where it all fell apart for the two girls at The Shoe Shop and thus turning my day into yet another episode of the Amazing Race:

Alice and Michelle were just casually doing their thing. It was dead and I had not yet found the jandals I was looking for. The couple were discussing a shoe size.

“It’s so quiet,” Alice said.

Mistake #1: Never acknowledge the deadness of your business out loud. Exaggerated eye movements are acceptable. Verbalising is the first step to asking for trouble.

“Yeah,” Michelle replied.

Another couple wandered in. I zeroed in on a pair of jandals that looked good.

The female from the first couple approached the counter. “Do you have this in size 8?”

“I’ll have a look,” Michelle said.

“I’m going to get an iced coffee.” Alice grabbed her purse from underneath the counter and seemed to not notice that now there were five people in her store.

Of course, verbalising her intent to get food turned into a signal for people who would otherwise have happily ignored the store to go, “Ooh, let’s go into this store RIGHT NOW even though I don’t know why! I am just compelled to walk in! There is a disturbance in the force, let us take advantage.”

The jandals looked good. Michelle was tending to the couple who had been there before me. I picked up the jandals. They did not have my size. Of course they didn’t; nobody has my size.

The first couple couldn’t decide if they wanted to buy the shoes or not but were hogging the counter anyway. (RUDE.) After a minute I was able to ask for my size. Michelle kindly went out the back and fetched it for me. I was 99% certain it was the right size, but I still decided to try them on to make sure.

That was my mistake of the moment. It seemed as though another half dozen people walked into the store in that second. I couldn’t keep count but I had horror flashbacks to those times at work where a twelve-item prescription gets dropped off, bringing in its wake five other people with similar books of drug requests and the retail manager has had to run across the road to pick something up for me, except for poor Alice nobody could find the size they wanted and so she had to keep running out the back to check for stock.

“Are you the only one here?” someone asked.

“No,” poor, hapless, harrowed Alice answered. “My manager left and then everyone came in.”

When it came down to the last two people—myself(!) and a dude waiting to pay—she tried to multitask even that. There were two tills and she ran cash on one and card on the other, hopping between the two like an Energizer bunny rapidly running out of battery. (Yes, it was that crazy; the Energizer bunny would have run out of juice.)

In any other circumstance “first in, last out” would be a good position to be in, but now I had ten minutes to make a twenty minute trip AND my phone battery was on its way out. The whole time I was wondering where the iced coffee was coming from. A galaxy far, far away…

I looked down. The machine had declined my card. I had a brief and mild instance of panic. My currency card was empty and I hadn’t brought my credit card with me. I had haemorrhaged money in the last ten days doing all the fun touristy things like spend hundreds of dollars on zip lining and riding ALL the gondolas! My card, sadly, was worn out. All the proverbial batteries were draining in that fifteen minutes.

So now I had to cobble together the price of a pair of jandals in what was mostly loose change due to my only carrying coins in the smallest denomination possible for public transit. They only accept exact change on the buses etc in Canada and so I had to dig up all of the 25c, 10c, and 5c pieces I could find…

… and I was ten cents short. Are you freaking kidding me. All that, and now I didn’t have enough money to pay for the jandals.

Alice closed off the dude’s transaction and turned to me. I counted out my change again in the hopes that I couldn’t tell a 10c and 5c piece apart. But I could. Alice could as well. She looked at me and asked, “How much are you short by?”

“Ten cents.”

“Oh,” she dismissed it with a wave. “Don’t worry about it.” She looked at my change scattered on the counter and took a breath. “You know what, I’ll give you a ten percent discount.”

I appreciated that. Retail is its own kind of battleground, and now we were the last ones standing. She bagged up my purchase and I gapped it out the door, quickly texting Fliss to let her know my ETA. I had intended on going straight from the store to the CN Tower, thus cutting out maybe five or ten minutes from stopping by the house, until I remembered—I had no money! I needed money for the admission ticket up the tower!

So I hot-footed it back to the house, dumped my stuff, picked up my credit card, whipped out my phone to pull up a route from the house to the CN Tower… which my phone battery promptly decided was just TOO MUCH and went completely flat. I had no time to charge it—it takes about five minutes alone to juice it back up to something anywhere near useable for some reason—so now all I had to guide me was the CN Tower itself.

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My CN Tower landmark guide, from where I was staying.

The problem with using a landmark as, well, a landmark, is that the distance between yourself and said landmark is deceptively small. And so there I was, walking in a straight line that never seemed to get me closer to the tower, coupled with my intense distate for personally being late to any appointment, trying to figure out my way through to meet the Essex Twins.

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Essex trio and I featuring Charlotte (far left) and Fliss (far right) in sunnier times.

One of the good things about doing this holiday alone was that I had to get my A into G and figure out the directions for everything—in Europe I pretty much dumped the map into Natalie’s hands and she would figure it out for us, because she is good at that sort of thing. Now I am marginally better at it. After a false turn or two I finally managed to find my new British friends, a full half hour later than initially agreed upon. Hooray!

And so up the tower we went. It was… you know what, if the CN tower is the only lookout-type building you visit on your holiday, it’s not bad. Every city has something to offer, and I will say now that Toronto ended up being my favourite Canadian city. The glass platform in particular was jelly-knees inducing. But I didn’t particularly feel like spending a whole lot of time up there. I have a feeling that all the beautiful gondola views I had just seen in the last week just made Toronto pale in comparison. The Rockies are a hard act to follow, even for the South Island!

After our CN experience, the three of us quickly grabbed a supermarket dinner before heading to the most anticipated part of our Toronto adventure: a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game. Our first baseball game, and something else highly recommended for me to experience while I was in Canada.

The game was against the Texas Rangers, and really good fun. We had good seats up in the 500 level immediately behind the short stop, so a great view of the whole game. The Blue Jays ended up winning by a hot mile, which just made it even better. The lack of sleep caught up to me and I dozed off during the second or third inning, but it was okay because there were another six innings. The sunset behind the Rogers Arena was something beautiful to see as well. There would be a photo here but my phone was dead! No!

The next day was a full day where we went to Niagara Falls, and where it was raining! But, we were going to get wet on the boat anyway so it wasn’t so bad, right? Sort of correct! It was good because not many people were out for a Saturday, and so it wasn’t packed and ridiculously crowded, but it was not so good because we went on the Hornblower cruise first under the falls, where my shoes became soaked. I mean 100% point-of-no-return wet. My socks were wet, my feet were wet; it was just a very wet affair all around.

But it was amazing. Amazing, amazing, amazing. Seeing the falls from up close, and really watching the water thunder down, almost propelling the current over the edge with the force of it, is really something to behold.

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The Women’s World Cup semifinal between Canada and England was that evening, so I split from Fliss and Charlotte to meet up with Nicole, who you will remember from Winnipeg Airport. On the way to the bar I stopped by a Tim Horton’s to use their bathroom. This would normally be a non-event if not for the somehow brilliant-at-the-time idea I had to use the hand dryer to try and dry my socks a little bit!

This would also have been a non-event if not for the fact that the hand dryer was not one of those hot air blowers, but the Dyson Airblade ones where you put your hands in vertically and it blows air onto your hands so hard that your skin ripples. If you have ever wondered if those Dyson Airblades are good at drying non-organic material: they are not. The air is not heated. It was the worst idea I had, because the whole time on the way back from Niagara Falls I was telling myself, “Just don’t take off your shoes. Don’t change anything and you’ll be fine.” And then what did I do? I… took them off. And because the shoe wasn’t secured to my foot via waterlogging any more, I had a nice blister to carry along with me after that.

Anyway. Dyson Airblade. Don’t try to dry your shoe or sock or whatever in there like a chump. I failed so you can succeed, or at least not look like an idiot.

Unfortunately Canada lost the match… but with that loss it meant England made history by making it to the semifinals for the first time! With a soft spot for the English team, I was happy with that.

I farewelled Fliss and Charlotte on Sunday, and wrote off the rest of the day with a nap and catching up on Netflix. On Monday I caught up with a couple of friends I had met on tour in Europe, which was really nice, and then went to check out the Royal Ontario Museum. Now THAT was a long walk. You’ll probably want to do public transport to the ROM from wherever you are, because it’s just that little bit too far from Downtown, I think. They had a great dinosaur and animal exhibit. I was going to say anthropological but… that is what a museum is… Either way, would recommend.

And now I shall wrap this post and spare your eyeballs. I was going to squish the final Canadian leg into one post but it is just that little bit too lengthy, I think. Up next: Vancouver and Montreal!

-TM


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We went back to Lake Louise proper from Banff the next day, dropping off our trailer of luggage at the Lake Louise HI before venturing out for our day's adventures. And girl was it full of adventures. It was as though the impending end of our tour made everything all the more hectic, like we were savouring every moment all the more since it was coming to an end.

Our first adventure of the day was the Northern Lights Wolf Centre in Golden where I was SO EXCITED that I opened the door before Stacey had stopped the van. No, I honestly thought she had parked... Anyway, off to see the wolves we went. There were three of them in the main pen and they went about their business completely disinterested in us. There was a man there who gave us a short talk about wolves and their place in the ecosystem and food chain, and how they are almost actually considered pests in British Columbia the same way that possums are considered pests in New Zealand! So government employed folk go around and shoot down the wolves if there are deemed too many of them.

The coolest part of the visit was hearing the wolves howl. We had to give them a bit of a coax to howl, doing a group howl ourselves before they joined in. I can't describe the howls... it was so different to what I had been expecting. I was thinking of the typical TV howl, the passionate anguished kind when someone gets turned into a werewolf... but since nobody was dead or dying right then, the howl I think might've been more of a communicative response to "family" close by. It was very low, more like a gruff than a howl. Incredible to hear and to watch. Wolves!

The past week had allowed us to feel more comfortable as a group and thus also more secure in splitting up and doing things separately, so after Northern Lights most of the group were dropped off to do white water rafting, while myself and a few others went to the Kicking Horse Resort to go up... you guessed it... another gondola!!!

There is a bear sanctuary halfway up the mountain as well, which you can buy a combined ticket for. We were yet to see a grizzly bear (although we had sighted two yearling brown bears earlier that week) and so what better way than to pay some $$ for a guaranteed bear sighting and also be assured that you will not die during the encounter?

It was another Amazing Race-esque afternoon when we reached the resort as we got our tickets at 1pm and were told that the last gondola up the mountain was at 2:30pm... and that the last bear tour was at 2pm. (Kicking Horse is primarily a ski resort in the winter and so hours were reduced for summer.) We quickly decided we would go up the gondola first, as you can do that quite quickly (Sarah and I were seasoned gondola riders by that point), and then come back down and get on the chairlift to the bear sanctuary.

Off we hopped into the awaiting gondola, unaware that it was the LONGEST and SLOWEST gondola OF ALL TIME. Kanye would agree. It was like the gravity-defying version of watching a kettle boil. It even stopped halfway up the mountain! It is a 30 minute round trip to go on the Kicking Horse gondola. 15 minutes each way... in comparison, the Jasper Skytram takes half that time and takes you up 2300m. If you are a skiing/snowboarding nut, then Kicking Horse would probably be for you. It gets the best kind of snow in winter, and boasts one of the longest vertical drops in North America — no wonder, if the gondola takes a quarter of an hour to ascend!

We eventually got there in the end, but to our dismay it began to rain about two thirds of the way up. This made it easy to jump straight back into another gondola once we had finally gotten up. I normally have a "rule" that if I take the time to go somewhere, I should spend at least twice the travel time when I get there; that went out the gondola window that did not even open very much that day. So straight back down we went and off we trotted to the bear sanctuary chairlift... where the person scanning tickets had a machine that couldn't scan the QR codes for s**t. We had actually made it to the chairlift in good time but because he was standing there like a chump trying to make the machine scan the tickets, we ended up being late anyway.

HOWEVER, when you're on holiday you shouldn't stress out. So we finally got onto the chairlift, enjoying the breeze and freedom of only a metal bar preventing you from falling to your death, and caught up to join the last tour of the day, and IT WAS A GRIZZLY BEAR. FROM THE SAFETY OF AN ELECTRIC FENCE AND MANY PEOPLE I COULD OUTSPRINT SHOULD THE OCCASION ARISE.

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(Actually we did see Boo—the bear—run really incredibly fast so, uh, you'll most likely die no matter how quickly you can run but the thought is still comforting that there is a buffer of people around you.)

When we were all back together as a temporary family unit, we checked into the Lake Louise HI which was my favourite in terms of the sleeping arrangements. There was a loft! I love lofts! So that was fun.

It was one night only in Lake Louise, and in the morning we went round to Kelowna for another "one night only" situation. It was also the last night of the tour! We were all sad but did not have time to dwell on our emotions because emotions are for the weak. No, it was just another jam-packed day of checking out an incredible waterfall, the Tekkakaw falls, which is a 260m free-fall waterfall. Incredible! (Again, I need a thesaurus to help me expand on how truly wonderful everything in the Rockies was. It made me think of Queenstown and the other great mountain ranges we have in New Zealand. We also stopped by the Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. There are 61(!) bodies of water in the national park, of which Emerald Lake is the largest.

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It looks fake but it's real!!!

After that it was onward to Rogers Pass for lunch, where I believe we went back to mountain-less British Columbia time. There were many squirrels helping us clean up the crumbs from our lunch...

And then it was a loooong drive to Kelowna for our last night's stay on tour. It was a fun night out for dinner at an Irish pub and an even more hilarious night out afterward where I ended up breaking a jandal (RIP jandals!) and trying to use a selfie stick for the first time when we got back to our hostel room. Such fun!

Our last day was sadly spent driving back to Vancouver. We did stop by the Othello tunnels where the Canadian government initially thought of building a railway in the 1900s before realising they probably should not do that. So the structure of the railway is actually there and dynamited out, but that is all it is currently. It is a beautiful sight with a river running through the three mountain ranges where they built the tunnels.

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We got back to our initial starting point, the Richmond Hampton Inn, in the early evening and we all said goodbye. It was sad but also entertaining. I was fortunate to have 2/3 of the Essex trio travelling to Toronto at the same time I was, so we all hung out for a little while and headed to the airport together. I feel very, very lucky to have made such good friends in just ten short (too short!) days. So if you, my tour family, are reading this—thank you for entertaining me and being such great company through the most beautiful part of Canada I have been able to see.

Coming up next on Canada 2015: Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.

-TM


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We spent a lot of time on the road, similar to the TopDeck tour I did of Europe a few years ago: you spend one day travelling and a day or two at a stop, rinse and repeat etc. This tour itinerary was pretty good in the sense that we made quite a few stops during our so-called “travel days,” whether it be to check out a waterfall or local park, use the bathroom — or “washroom” as they call it in Canada — or do a casual glacier walk as we did on the way to Banff.

The drive from Jasper to Banff was especially interesting as we drove along the Icefields Parkway, known as the most scenic and beautiful drive through the Rockies. Our casual glacier walk was along this stretch, on the Athabasca glacier, which is the most accessible and thus most visited glacier in North America. The glacier is part of the Columbia ice field, which sits on the border of British Columbia and Alberta and stretches from the southern end of Jasper to the northern tip of Banff. The ice field is particularly important for the surrounding ecosystem, as the water that runs off it eventually feeds the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

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The Athabasca glacier on the right. You can see people walking on it!

Walking the glacier was pretty neat. I last walked the Franz Josef glacier down in Queenstown when I was a kid, and didn’t remember much apart from the biting cold and terrible weather (I think it was raining). This was a much different and much more pleasant experience. We had uncharacteristically warm weather for the day and I guess when you’re an adult, you have more autonomy over your attitude and even the choice of whether or not you want to go up a glacier in the first place — as in, you understand what it means and what you’ll be doing.

The walk was also a small turning point for me — I had spent enough time with my temporary family now that I could appreciate their company and really enjoy the people around me. It takes a little while, I think, for a group of strangers to figure out their companions and where they fit into their personal experience of the holiday, or maybe that’s just me. Either way. That morning was all the more enjoyable for it.

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Me with my get-out-of-jail-free card if I ever encounter trouble in Essex... ;)

After the walk we had a quick lunch at the bottom of the glacier and onward we went into Banff proper, but not before a stop at Bow Summit, which you might have seen the picture of from my Instagram. Bow Summit is the highest point of the Icefields Parkway and looks down over Peyto Lake. My vocabulary was limited during this part of the tour as evidenced by yet another excerpt of my journal from that day’s entry:

Beautiful drive. Beautiful glacier. Beautiful lake.

Guess what, guys? The Rockies are beautiful!

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Peyto Lake. Some of you will have seen this on Instagram already but look at it again, because it's beautiful!!!

The next day we made a day trip out to Lake Louise where we canoed on the lake for an hour. It was… I actually feel quite neutral about it. Obviously the lake was beautiful (really?!) and we went early enough so that there weren’t many people on the lake at the same time as we were, and the water was still calm and easy to row in. Normally when I kayak alone, I like to take a moment to just lie down and be still. It lets the moment marinate a little and gives me a greater appreciation for where I am and what I’m doing. But this was a two-person canoe and it took an hour round-trip to paddle to the edge of the lake and back, so I didn’t quite get the chance. All the same, it was nice to be on the water, in the middle of this valley.

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The view from the middle of Lake Louise.

They say you learn about yourself when you travel abroad, and when you travel alone. I don’t think I’ve learnt too many new things about myself, per se; these realisations have been more of a confirmation of something I already knew about myself. That morning on Lake Louise led to a confirmation similar to what I experienced taking the ferry across the Puget Sound in Seattle — that I love being on water. And what’s interesting to me is that I don’t so much prefer being in water, although that is enjoyable also, but when I am on a boat doing anything — fishing, rowing, canoeing, kayaking, just travelling — it really makes my soul feel at home, for lack of a less navel-gazey way of putting it.

Stacey, our tour guide, doesn’t rate Lake Louise as much as she does another glacial lake nearby, so after our canoeing she took us to Moraine Lake which:

was Gorgeoustown. Beautiful. That is all.

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Moraine Lake.

And that’s the end of this post.

JUST KIDDING. How could I forget the burgeoning relationship between myself and Sarah and our gondola expeditions? That afternoon we went up the Banff gondola and you can really tell that Banff, although smaller than Jasper, is a lot more commercial and developed for tourists. The trip up was beautiful (I need a thesaurus!) and Sarah and I had our own gondola which had windows that opened. Not big enough so that you could get a body out and dump someone you’d murdered* or commit suicide if you wanted to, but big enough for your camera to have an unobscured view of the valley and forests below.

Sarah and I have decided to do a podcast/blog post about our gondola adventures so stay tuned for that in the near future!

We walked up the very well-developed and well-maintained boardwalk to the summit, the very top of which was closed, but it was a fun walk anyway. We saw several squirrels! I will never get tired of squirrels. I want to write about what the others were doing while Sarah and I were up on the mountain but I don’t know what they were doing and can’t remember what the other activities on offer were… all I know is that they missed out on squirrels!!

In the evening we all went out for dinner to this Mexican place where someone (Ashleigh) proposed we do this tequila challenge, where a group of people sign up to do tequila shots... except one of them has this habanero hot sauce in it. A group of us jumped on board but decided to do the shots after we had finished dinner, thus giving SOME PEOPLE ample time to try and figure out which shot had the hot sauce in it. Long story short, they found out and ruined the whole fun of it (of course I would say that because I didn't have the hot sauce shot!) but Keith and Charlotte split the shot and... yeah, that was pretty funny. Good times...

Next up: Golden and Kelowna.

Until next time!

-TM

*Terrible logistics… I mean, you’d have to sneak the body into the gondola and past the ticket counter etc… just all round a bad idea. Murder in general is a bad idea also. Do not commit!


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Our first stop was on through Stanley Park on the way out of Vancouver. There was a lot of greenery and a bridge where many photos were taken. Further ice was broken when Stacey dropped our token Australian dude Keith's unprotected iPhone.

We got to Whistler around mid-afternoon, if I remember correctly. For all the hostels bar two, we stayed at the Hostelling International chain, of which Whistler's was the best. I was rooming with the Essex trio — Brit accents for two nights! -- and in the morning of our first full day on tour we went into Whistler town centre for our first adventure activity: zip-lining!

I absolutely refuse to bungy jump, but zip-lining seemed like an OK activity to try out. I think it's because bungy jumping seems like signing up to plummet to possible death, whereas if you drop to your death in ziplining, it would've been an accident. I don't know. Anyway, as we walked out to the first zip line, everything seemed fine. Totally normal. Even watching the guide zip across was completely normal given the circumstances (of voluntarily attaching yourself to a metal rope via carabiner and James Bond-escaping it over a very, very long drop). My heart rate was normal until I stepped out of the gate and onto the steps that lower you enough for the tension to haul you across what would otherwise be certain death.

Then, my brain screamed, we have made the worst decision of our life!!!! right before my body careened away from rationality as I stepped out into air.

It was awesome. Being quite little, I had to make myself as small as possible on the line to reduce drag and make sure I could make it all the way across to the other side. To do this I curled up into a cannonball but I was hanging on for dear life anyway so it wasn't difficult. On the first and longest line, I did feel myself start to slow down, but in a way it was kinda nice because I was able to take in the amazing ravine I was zip lining over.

Whistler was pretty jam packed and an awesome start to the tour. We next went up the Peak2Peak gondola, something unbeknownst to me as the beginning of a beautiful gondola companionship with Sarah from Sydney. Also unbeknownst to me was the amount of snow and ice still on the top of the mountain. British Columbia had had a relatively short winter in 2015 and a warm spring, so the snow pack was low. But there it was just chilling on the mountain and chilling us also.

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From the top of Whistler you can take another gondola to the top of Blackcomb mountain, the adjacent peak- hence the name of the gondola. Blackcomb was just as lovely as Whistler and the walk that you can do to reach the summit is a little more immediately to the right of the gondola entrance and thus less intimidating as it presents itself as just a "oh look, a trail" rather than Whistler, which is more like a "go out here onto the exposed mountain and meander out to the edge."

alt Essex, North England, New Jersey.

Later in the evening we all went out for dinner as a group. We went to El Furniture Warehouse which has $5 everything on its menu and is a decent feed. A bunch of us then went for drinks at an Irish pub before heading back to the hostel.

Something I've noticed about public transport which I don't notice back home (because I don't take public transport in Auckland) is that there is always that one person. In the same way there is that one person anywhere — who ruins EVERYTHING or who is just that one person... you know what I mean — there is always that one person. That night that one person took the form of a possibly just eccentric but also probably homeless man who got on the bus as we were about halfway back to the hostel. It got a bit... interesting, shall we say. Thankfully there was Jochen to hilariously deflect what would otherwise have been an awkwardly tense "man creeps on girls on a bus" late-night situation.

The next day we were on our way to Wells Gray Provincial Park where we stopped by the magnificent Helmcken Falls and went on to the ranch where we were staying. It was an old school cowboy ranch on the outside, with really nice log cabin-esque rooms for the guests. There was a cat that came to greet us from the van when we pulled up but no other animals were in sight, possibly due to the sullen rainy weather. My soon-to-be-gondola buddy Sarah and I were allocated the "deluxe room" which was pretty deluxe with two queen beds, a couch, and television.

I felt incredibly tired the first two days I was on tour. I put this down to allergies and intense traveling, so took a sedating antihistamine to knock myself out and sleep for twelve hours straight.

Well, that was the plan, anyway.

I was in the midst of a deep dream, the details of which I can't remember, but it involved something about the tour mixed with action movie-esque stakes, when I heard a noise in my ear. It was directly in my ear, the kind of direct that means the source is right at your eardrum.

It's hard to explain the jumbled thought process that happens in the frantic and uncertain space between sleeping and waking. One of the girls had been asking about bears and cougars incessantly during the day and it must've bled into my subconscious as my mind attempted to place the noise I was hearing at 3 o' clock in the morning, because in about the space of a second, I thought, "A bear has come into the room. No, a bear wouldn't be so quiet now. What about a squirrel? Or a marmot? No it was more of a feline noise OH MY GOD, THERE'S A COUGAR IN THE ROOM."

And with that definitive knowledge in my brain that there was a creature of prey sharing my log cabin-esque space, I sat bolt upright in bed desperately searching for it. Unfortunately it took me a split second to realize two things: the room was pitch dark, and I wasn't wearing my glasses. Two essential things for sight.

"Sarah," I stage whispered, not wanting to wake her and yet desperately needing her to help me. "Sarah!"

Sarah awoke.

"Sarah, there's something in the room! Turn on the light!" I was still whispering. No idea why. But Sarah, good, level headed Sarah, fumbled for the light switch and as she did, the cat leapt up onto my bed.

A cat. Of course. It made 100% more sense than a cougar. But it was still an invader and it needed to go.

Outside it was raining. Once the light was on we searched for how the cat had gotten in. The door to our room was slightly ajar, restrained only by the latch that now made a gap just large enough for the cat to enter our room. We tried to coax the cat out, but it refused. It knew a warm and dry space when it saw one. Why couldn't it have gone into Katie's room, I wondered helplessly as the cat led us on a tour of the deluxe suite. Probably because Katie's room had a door that shut and locked properly.

We didn't want to open the door wide because the mosquitoes would've taken advantage of our inadvertent hospitality, and after about ten minutes or so the cat decided to settle on the couch. That's okay, we thought, and decided to call it a morning and go back to bed.

The instant I was in bed, the cat joined me again. Why do humans and animals assume that I am friendly and welcoming? I am the complete opposite of. I decided that that was that, and scared the cat off the bed. Not to be deterred, we continued our inter-species dance, and I became resigned to an early fate as a cat lady. But thankfully, not long afterward it sensed the bad vibes and slunk out of the room, and I was there to shut and lock the door.

I thought that the rest of our stay at Wells Gray would be supremely uneventful, but I was wrong. In the morning Sarah asked me if I wanted to shower first, and I said she could go ahead. She came out a while after and informed me that there was no hot water. Oh. Well, that was cool, I end my showers cold anyway so just having an entirely cold one was probably tolerable.

Except that the shower was glacially cold. Like, LITERALLY ICE COLD and the one time I am confident that I am using "literally" correctly. It was as if the water had melted directly from the snow pack the ranch had collected and was being filtered through to our shower. I think that is actually what they do, because how else would they get water? Either way, it was so freaking cold that I actually started laughing halfway through. I mean, if you don't laugh, you cry, right? It was probably also mild hysteria and tiredness combined.

ANYWAY, I was clean and that was all that mattered. I was also hugely awake. Take that, ice bucket challenge! And with that we all packed ourselves into the van and were trundled off to Jasper National Park. We stopped by Maligne Canyon, which is one of the most popular natural wonders of Jasper and a good reason why it is on the tour itinerary. The canyon is formed from the Palliser Formation, which consists primarily of limestone and stretches through the Canadian Rockies. There are rivers and waterfalls as you walk along the canyon and all the photographs you will see from now on are nowhere as beautiful as the real thing.

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On our first full day in Jasper we started off with a beautiful hike through the remarkable Valley of the Five Lakes. This following excerpt is direct from my journal entry of the day:

Today we went to the hike at the Valley of the 5 Lakes. Beautiful! And then Sarah and I went on the Jasper SkyTram which was EVEN MORE BEAUTIFUL!!! We saw a couple of chipmunks just chilling out and scampering about. Highlight of the day.

The chipmunks were actually squirrels:

alt Look at that cutie patootie golden mantled ground squirrel, what seems to be the most ubiquitous squirrel of the Rockies

I feel like if Sarah and I had not bonded over our shared faux-cougar and glacial cold shower experience the way we did, maybe we would not be the gondola buddies we are now. And I did not know it at the time but I think Jasper was THE most beautiful top-of-the-gondola sight out of all the gondolas that we rode.

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This post was very long and if you got bored then you probably didn't get this far, but if you take anything away from this report, let it be TO GO TO JASPER AND GO UP THE SKYTRAM BECAUSE THE SCENERY IS BEAUTIFUL, the weather is beautiful, the squirrels make you beautiful on the inside because of all the love you suddenly feel for little adorable animals like you're Snow White (the Disney version not OUAT version) and basically you will be endowed with this awe of nature and your place in the world.

Next up: Banff and Lake Louise!!

-TM


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The Rockies were a big part of my Canadian holiday. While I was planning my trip, I'd chosen cities i had heard well of: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal. But the one place I wanted to go to for sure was the Rockies. It's the picture I had seen the most of "Canada", the beautiful sceneries, the snow, the mountains, the New Zealand-but-bigger...

I decided to book with TrekAmerica mainly due to the fact that they were the only company that had a tour in the free space I had between the group stage games and moving on to NYC. It was also just 10 days long, which was the perfect timeframe for my schedule. I couldn't be bothered figuring out routes and car rentals, plus having to get used to driving on the left while navigating mountain roads... My eyes just glazed over writing that sentence so you can imagine how much I did not want to have to think about all that.

The tour met at 7:30am on Tuesday morning so I had a very short time in my comfortable Hampton Inn bed. But I was excited to get started. My tour guide Stacey (hi, Stacey!) picked me and a German guy up from the lobby and we went to meet the rest of the group for paperwork and icebreakers.

There was a surprisingly mixed crowd compared to the TopDeck tour Natalie and I did in 2012. Before I left for my holiday I jokingly said to a few friends that I hoped there would be cute British accents on the tour with me. I got my wish but unfortunately I was not specific in my wishing because the majority of them were not from the posh London side of town. What a let down. You all know who you are.

I'm going to break this post up into four parts; this overall recap post, and then split the daily itinerary up into three more. Our route was a loop through British Columbia and Alberta, starting from Vancouver and working our way up towards Whistler and Jasper before coming back down through Lake Louise and Kelowna to finally end back where we started, at the Hampton Inn.

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Map of our tour, courtesy of TrekAmerica

Overall, the tour was a GREAT SUCCESS (Borat style). Everything was beautiful and at an agreeable temperature that made it not-so-horrible that I was missing my favourite season back home. Although the Canadian mountain air sucked all the moisture out of my skin and seemed to turn me into not 50 shades of grey but somewhat close to ashen, it was incredible to be able to wake up and breathe in the refreshing cool and bask in the beauty of nature.

With zipline-quick turnarounds in each town, it made my time in every stop all the more precious. There are many similarities to be made between New Zealand and Canada, but each country has something special to contribute to the travelling experience and, as I truly believe, good times are made better by excellent company, of which I was never short during these ten days to follow.

One van. Ten days. Thirteen humans. Endless memories. Look out for the photos and video coming to you Spring 2015*

*New Zealand spring


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"Did you have long hair?!"

"Yep."

"And you cut it all off?!"

"Guess so."

"Why?! Did you break up with your boyfriend???"

It turns out that in Japan, a kinda casual and quirky societal thing is if a girl and her boyfriend broke up, the girl will typically cut her hair short to signify the change in her life and the start of a "new" her. I’m not too sure about what happens when boyfriends break up with boyfriends, but maybe extensions are involved.

I was chatting with my new friend (hi, Minori! Hopefully I explained the hair cutting thing correctly!) who I'd met that morning on a walking tour of Fremont and we had just added each other on Facebook. Fremont is a neighbourhood north of Downtown Seattle that is valiantly resisting the clutches of gentrification but unfortunately gentrification has already clutched it like your fist grabbing a fifty dollar note you found falling from the sky. Certified as the Centre of the Universe in 1991, it is also known as the Artists' Republic of Fremont, and is basically Quirk Central of Seattle.

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Seattle (Grey’s Anatomy land!) was a last minute addition to my trip itinerary, which I decided to tack on after my accommodation for the second half of Winnipeg fell through. It was a great decision; Seattle is a beautiful city, with so much to walk through and see, and was a nice change of pace from the relative inertness of Edmonton and Winnipeg. I had a quick three days, but took it easy in choosing what I wanted to do. I think I made good coverage.

On Saturday evening I went up the Space Needle. I went at 6pm thinking that I could just rock up and get a ticket and come down in time for dinner. Somehow I had forgotten that the Space Needle is a tourist attraction and, as such, attracts tourists (I think I had also forgotten that I myself was a tourist), especially on a weekend, so I could only get a ticket for a 9:30pm trip up to the viewing level.

Going up at that time worked out great because that was just about sunset time in Seattle. It is one of my favourite times of day, better than sunrise because you’re already awake, and watching the sun go down over the water and lights of Seattle was pretty stunning. Being up on the Space Needle also struck me how sprawling and large Seattle is. It is the largest city in Washington and also in the whole of the Pacific Northwest. Looking at how the planners of Seattle have seemed to utilise every available pocket of space to create their city just made it really sink in.

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The ferry across Puget Sound from Seattle to Bainbridge Island is touted as a must-do, so on Sunday I wandered my way down towards the water and then picked up my pace to the ticket counter as the ferry was loading RIGHT THEN!! I stood in line behind one other person and was served by a middle-aged Chinese woman who looked a little drowsy. Couldn't blame her. The temperature was pretty warm indoors and it was close to 4pm. Three-thirtyitis is a universal thing.

I walked up to the counter. "Hi, could I have a ticket to Bainbridge Island, please?"

She gave me the barest of glances. "How old are you?"

"Er..." Not entirely understanding why she needed to know how old I was, I fumbled for the answer. I always fumble the answer when I'm not ready for the question. They say never ask a lady her age; well, I must not be a lady or something, then. But, trained by years of customer service and retail to be polite even in the face of bewilderment, I told her, "27?"

Sometimes saying my age aloud is enough to throw me. 27! When did that happen? as if I didn't know exactly when my birthday was.

"Oh my god."

The pause that followed was so pregnant that I momentarily doubted my status as an adult. In those suspended milliseconds that felt more like the infinity between going to your boarding gate at the time it states on your ticket to the time you actually board your aircraft, I felt like I was experiencing an acute existential crisis. Was 27 an okay age to be? Was 27 too old? Had the North American air really aged me so much that I looked that decrepit on the outside?

"I thought you were just a little child," she finally continued, peering at her monitor and completely in disregard of the minor panic attack I was on the brink of experiencing.

I glanced at the ticket window where fares were listed.

ADULT 19-64: $8.
YOUTH 6-18: $4.

Then it clicked. I don't know why it still takes me so long to understand why people check my age. The woman obviously thought I was still in high school. High school students must look bloody old in North America, because it was not the first time that someone assumed I was a student here. If I had gotten a quarter for every time I was asked whether I was here studying, I would never have had to worry about having the exact cash fare for the bus for the duration of my stay in Seattle.

ANYWAY. Bainbridge Island. The ferry ride was a nice change of pace from all the walking I’d been doing for the past week and a bit. In general I really enjoy water-related activities, the relaxing kind that doesn’t risk injury e.g. sitting in a ferry for half a hour. I spent the first leg just standing on the deck watching us sail away from the Seattle skyline, enjoying the wind in my hair and the pending burn from the sun beating down on my face.

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Pulling into the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal. I don't normally like photos that show the reflection off the glass, but I like this one because you can see the Seattle skyline on the right.

I didn’t spend very long on Bainbridge but the ABSOLUTE HIGHLIGHT of the two hours I spent there happened in the first ten minutes of my arrival. I was walking up the hill towards the centre of town from the ferry terminal, trying to get my bearings, when I saw a couple of policemen directing traffic, and directly in front of me was a pedestrian crossing with a deer cantering across the road!

IT WAS MY FIRST WILDLIFE SIGHTING IN AN URBAN SETTING AND IT WAS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER. (I do not count sheep crossings back home as a wildlife sighting in an urban setting.)

I stared after it in amazement as it so casually pranced across the street as if it knew exactly where the crosswalk was painted onto the tar. Well, maybe it did. Or maybe it was just like, “To avoid life-killing cars, go straight!” They say that you learn about yourself when you go on holiday. Well, in that moment I learnt that I am in awe of how deer run/walk/otherwise conduct themselves. It is such a graceful, confident trot with zero doubt of its place in the world. Go forth, self-assured deer!

I would’ve loved to have taken a photo or video to show you my memory of Bambi but unfortunately I stared and stared as it loped up the grass bank, hopped a low fence, and disappeared back into its natural habitat, safe for the moment from becoming a venison meal.

On my last day in Seattle I went to Pike Place Market, which is home to Pike Place Chowder. PPC is an award-winning and highly recommended chowder eatery where there are always two lines: one line immediately outside the shop from the entrance to around the corner, and then a second line across the street continuing on from the end of that first line. So… it was a long line. Not having anywhere else to be, I waited about 20 minutes and it was just about worth it. Would I recommend Pike Place Chowder? Well, if you are a really big fan of chowder or if you have some mission to eat at all the chowder places in Seattle, then yes. If you are not, then I think it is worth waiting 15 minutes or so, but maybe not half an hour. Welcome to my new ratings system… just kidding.

I took the bus up to Vancouver in the evening. This would have been a complete non-event if not for the old man who decided to sit next to me near the back of the bus, later during the boarding process. I had been enjoying almost having two seats to myself when he bundled up and sank heavily into the aisle seat, jostling my leg in the process.

Has anyone noticed that some people like to sit with their legs splayed open, with no regard for the person occupying the seat next to them? Just take up as much space as they like even if it extends into the next chair. RUDE.

“Hello,” he said. He had a thick, foreign accent. I could hardly understand him but for years of retail training. Retail actually gives you a lot of life skills, an exceptional tolerance for bullshit included. More’s the pity.

“Hi,” I replied, mostly out of courtesy. No need to be rude.

He leaned closer, as if we were aisles apart rather than uncomfortably close due to his helping himself to my personal space, and mumbled something.

“What was that?” I asked. He repeated himself, but his accent was too thick even for my retail trained ears. “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand a word of that.”

He laughed. The girls behind us giggled. “Sorry my English is not good. I speak Swedish. I am from Finland!”

I gave him an “Oh, cool,” uncommital nod. I desperately wanted the conversation to end and for him to return to his seat. But the bus driver was walking down the aisle collecting tickets, tied up with a Chinese woman who didn’t speak English and also didn’t have a ticket. We weren’t about to leave any time soon.

“Are you going to Vancouver?”

I was tired. I had been on the go since morning, lugging all my bags with me as I’d checked out already and the hostel was in the opposite direction to the train station. I just wanted to get to Vancouver. When I am at this stage, unfed and inadequately watered, my tolerance for small talk is pretty much near zero.

“I hope so,” I said. I mean, hopefully everyone on this bus was going to Vancouver or they would have a problem when they got to the border.

The girls behind me giggled again. There were four of them, around my age, dressed in USA football jerseys — the USWNT was playing a game in Vancouver the next day. They were clearly hearing everything this man was asking me… and thanking the great American eagle that they were not sitting next to him.

“I am going to Vancouver also,” he supplied uselessly, finding a deeper need in himself to lean even closer, so much so that I had to shrink away against the comfort of the bus window. Something inside me began to snap as I struggled with figuring out a polite way to tell him to either shut up or move away, or both, or not say anything at all and hope the ordeal would be over soon. “These are my sons.” He indicated to the two men sitting in the row in front of us. They turned around and waved. One of them had eyes that felt sorry for me.

“Where do you live? Seattle or Vancouver?” he continued, and for a moment I experienced the same out of body confusion as when the ferry terminal lady had asked for my age. I didn’t live in Seattle, and didn’t live in Vancouver, either. So I answered as honestly as possible.

“Right now, on this bus, I guess.”

The girls behind me smothered their laughter. The man laughed, as did his two sons. “You are traveling alone?” he asked.

“Yep.”

“No boyfriend? You are very pretty.”

I didn’t grace him with an answer to that. FIRST OF ALL. Heteronormative. SECOND OF ALL. Not his business. THIRDLY, thanks for pretty much insinuating that people don’t think I’m pretty because I’m not travelling with a man????

But, it got even better (or worse, depending on your perspective).

“I will be your boyfriend,” he continued without pause, as if he was doing me a great favour and protecting me from predators on the bus. HOLA SENOR, you are the only predator on this bus right now, thank you!!

The girls behind me sounded like they were crying at this stage, out of horror or hilarity I couldn’t be sure. I decided we were friends now. I turned around and said something to the girl behind me. I can’t remember what I said now, but our tiny exchange of words and mortified laughter in female solidarity made the man think that I was the fifth wheel of the back row.

“Ah, they are your friends?” he said. His tone and demeanour was almost as though he finally understood how he was coming across. “Okay. Don’t worry. I am seventy nine years old. Old man.”

And you know what? That made me even more irritated. I think I was so annoyed by the entire exchange because it was typical of what women around the world have to go through every day, entertaining men who help themselves to our company and think they are doing us a favour by paying us attention. Some people reading this will dismiss my encounter as an old man merely attempting to be nice or make me feel safer travelling alone or something of the sort. Well, let me tell you that it had the complete opposite effect, and that I dispense and sell enough Viagra to know that men that age know EXACTLY what is going on and what they are doing. No thank you!

Finally the bus driver took our tickets and we eventually set off for sunny British Columbia. The rest of the bus trip was thankfully uneventful, with the man sleeping for most of it. Fast forward to the end of the night where I got to sleep in a huge and comfortable queen sized bed ALL BY MYSELF and with my personal bubble intact.

Next up, my ten-day TrekAmerica tour of the Rockies! It was SUCH FUN. I can’t wait to share it with you all.

Until next time!

-TM


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Hello friends!

The second part of the first leg of my Canadian tour was in Winnipeg. If Edmonton was Hawke's Bay, then Winnipeg might be Wellington. Mostly because it was so windy during my time there. That poplar fluff and construction dust was going wild all up in my sinuses. I would actually say that Winnipeg and Edmonton together are Hawke's Bay, with the former being Napier and the latter being Hastings.

I was in Winnipeg pretty much just for the USWNT group matches, but Winnipeg has a lot to do and to check out. Downtown Winnipeg is bustling, way more so than downtown Edmonton felt. It has the only national museum outside of Canada's capital, the Museum for Human Rights, that opened in 2014. I ran out of time to check it out, but it is an architectural landmark close to downtown Winnipeg which I was told is incredibly interesting. Other "must try to do" things in Winnipeg included The Forks, a historic site named after the junction of the Assiniboine and the Red River. It served as a meeting and trading post for the first Aboriginal peoples of Canada for over 6000 years and continues to be a celebrated public space today.

I did manage to get to the Royal Canadian Mint, where all the money is made. There are actually two branches of the RCM in Canada; the other one is in Ottawa and only produces commemorative coins and the dies that mint the actual coins. The RCM in Winnipeg is the one that produces the circulation coins that are used day to day. It's not a big place, but they service and produce coins for over 170 countries — including New Zealand! I had to do a bit of research but the RCM only produces coins, whilst the banknotes in circulation in NZ are actually printed by the Canadian Banknote Company based in Ottawa.

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A slightly crooked photo of the Parade of Flags outside the RCM.

I also went to the Winnipeg Art Gallery which wasn't super interesting, but the main exhibit at the time was the Olympus exhibit, showcasing a huge number of Greco-Roman sculpture and artwork on loan from Berlin. That is normally super up my alley but I only had an hour and had to pay extra on top of the regular admission fee so I will have to hang onto my experience of the Louvre's exhibit for now.

One thing I forgot to write about in the Edmonton section is something that I found incredibly hilarious and may not translate onto paper... You guys know how I get when I start laughing and can't finish telling a story. We'll see how this goes.

So my last day in Edmonton was a Thursday, and my flight to Winnipeg was at 6am Friday. I decided to head straight to the airport after the last match of the day, which was scheduled to finish at around 9pm. That would give me enough time to get back to my Airbnb host home, have a shower and something to eat, and then leave for the airport at around 10. I prefer to organize myself while I'm already awake and at a reasonable hour rather than fumble around at 3am for public transport that may or may not exist at that time.

That was all well and good... until the NZ/CAN game got rain delayed for twenty minutes. Nature laughs in the face of human plans! The whistle for kickoff blew on time but after about four minutes the referee must've seen some lightning. Play resumed after about twenty minutes, and it was all well and good from then on, until it was time to go home. The train station was PACKED, which makes sense. There was no way I was going to get back to the house in time as I would've had to wait for about two or three trains at least.

So I decided to walk. This is where the grid system for Edmonton addresses came in super handy, because my phone decided that the best time to go completely flat was right as I'd pulled up Google Maps for the walking route. I didn't even get time to zoom in. All I had was that I wanted to go east, and the street numbers I wanted.

Off I went, in what I hoped was east. It was, thank my usually-wrong internal compass. I pretty much walk-jog-sprinted and counted down the street numbers and everything was going great... UNTIL I GOT TO A DEAD END. Like there was no way I could've cut through it from 76th Avenue to 75th. From afar I felt my heart sink, and as I got closer I realised it was a train station. Okay. I could walk around it, if I could figure out if I wanted to go left or right.

(I couldn't. Darn it, internal compass!)

As I approached there was a shared bicycle and pedestrian lane but it veered off to the left almost parallel to the train tracks when I wanted to go straight through. I decided to check out the station, figuring that I could just hop on the line and get to the station I needed. When I got there I had a pleasant surprise- I'd walked all the way to Coliseum station, the one I would've gotten off at anyway! Yay!

From there it was a mad sprint-walk back to 68th Street. I got in the door and plugged my phone in (why do phones take so long to charge from being completely flat?!), dashed into the shower and had the fastest shower which didn't really do much because I was so freaking hot, and checked the schedule for the train when I got out. I had about twenty minutes to make the last bus to the airport or I would've had to wait until 4am when service started again. Ixnay on that!

When I'm at work and it's ridiculously busy for one person, I like to pretend I'm plating up on Masterchef as the clock counts down the seconds. I do this not to race myself and dispense everything as fast as I can, but to get myself into the mindset of absolute focus and concentration while being as efficient and accurate as possible. So as I packed up my things and jogged to the train station, I pretended I was on The Amazing Race. I'm not weird! But it was hilarious to me, trying to race the clock and get to the next destination as quickly as I could. This is what I looked like as I ran through the streets of Edmonton, in case you ever want to enter The Amazing Race with me:

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Ignore the toilet on the right... actually, a note on toilets in North America, they don't have lids and the seat is so flat! Plus they are super shallow and flush automatically, so if you move and the sensor thinks you're done, it just flushes... even if you're still sitting on it. Unwanted bidet.

I made the train with two minutes to spare. The Amazing Race mindset worked! It was pretty smooth sailing once I'd caught the train and just had to wait for the bus to take me to the airport. Despite the late hour, there were still commuters on the train who had just come from the Shania Twain concert. Shania Twain! Times like that you wish there were two of you or that you could do a Hermione and be in multiple places at once.

At the bus stop I struck up a conversation with a volunteer who had been working the World Cup in Edmonton. Nicole is from Toronto and pretty much lives an awesome volunteer life outside of her working life, working tournaments and festivals and has been to Sundance after getting experience from the Toronto Film Festival, which is one of the foremost film festivals in the world. TIFF is another thing I'll be missing out on while I'm here, but one day I'll get there...

Nicole and I had an awesome time in the airport waiting for our gates to open.

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We found a beach.

Courtesy of free airport wifi and a shared addiction to Netflix, we hooked into the new season of Orange is the New Black (thanks for sharing, Nick!) and I tried to nap amidst a strange airport worker using the ride-on carpet buffer thing. That was fine, the carpets need to be cleaned and 2am is probably the best time to do it, but he seemed to be cleaning the same spot over and over AND seemed to go away when I woke up and started the machine again when I felt it was safe to attempt naptiemz again. I WAS WRONG. I think he felt that Nicole and I were encroaching on his quiet carpet cleaning time. So I didn't sleep much.

Edmonton airport is great for overnighters, by the way (apart from aforementioned carpet cleaning man). If you go through security first, it's not a bad time. Can't really say the same for Winnipeg. The chairs in Winnipeg slope downwards towards the back of the seat, so you can't really lie flat on them unless you like sleeping at an angle.

So that's pretty much the first leg of my Canadian adventure. I'm writing this while our tour leader is driving through the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff. I can't wait to catch up on this writing business and tell you all about it. EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL.

Until then!

-TM


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"Excuse me."

"Hi."

"Did I hear you say you were going to the World Cup?"

"Yes! Are you?"

"We are! Which team are you supporting?"

"New Zealand!"

"Our daughter plays for New Zealand!"

And that's how my Canadian adventure started, on a Delta Airlines flight bound for Los Angeles. I had just spent a half hour in transit in Sydney, and was now packed into a sprawling yet all at once cramped 777 with hundreds of strangers. And somehow, I had found a couple of Kiwis headed the same way I was.

Wendy and Andy had relocated to the sunnier coasts of Brisbane a while back and were on their way to Canada to meet their daughter, a defender for the New Zealand women's football team. After some excited initial introductions, we learned that we were on the same flight into Edmonton and had the same exhilarating four hour layover in LAX. We could hardly wait.

Our layover in LAX was as exciting as any layover in the esteemed airport could be; our flight had arrived early, but since American customs doesn't actually open until 8am, we still had to wait to get through to security. This was an exercise in what I thought was exemplary of American bureaucracy as a whole. Picture a small room perhaps the size of your living room, with one entrance from the arrivals gate leading in from the airport bridge, and one exit leading out to customs and arrivals and Miley Cyrus soundtracks. This room is split into three lanes by those airport safety barriers to guide you through.

We were ushered into the room by a sole customs officer who asked if we were American citizens, and if we were not, we had to go through the lane on the far left. Americans were allowed to take the centre lane. The right lane was closed for the time being.

We obediently walked through, only to find that the end of our left minority lane actually merged with the centre lane and so everyone ended up exiting through to customs in the same lane anyway... But ok. We could play along. We all walked through our two separate lanes, together yet apart, like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, and merged in a messy zip and out we started going into the customs lanes.

"Foreign passports have to come back!" someone called down the hall just as I'd exited the door. "If you don't have an American passport, come back!"

I should've kept walking. Instead I turned around and walked back into the living-room-waiting-hallway to find that the customs officer had neglected to close off the exit to the left lane. Myself and a couple of other non-Americans were ushered back, and the safety barrier was pulled closed behind us. What was that game we used to play as kids where we were blindfolded and then had to pretend we were sheep being ushered back into the pen? It felt like that. And so us foreign human sheep watched as our American compatriots returned to their Land of the Free...

Eventually we were allowed out. Fingerprinted and photographed by an acceptably welcoming customs officer, I left and waited for my new travel companions to pick up their luggage. Then it was off to Terminal 6, where layovers go to die. There was nothing there, not even reliable WiFi. So let us fast forward to when I arrived in Edmonton... where holidays go to die.

Just kidding!

Edmonton welcomed me with heat and a confusing walk through the grid system of their street names to my first host Airbnb home. I must've walked the right way for about five minutes, somehow decided that I was going in the wrong direction so turned around, and then realised that nope, I had been walking in the right direction and had actually stopped immediately outside where I wanted to be the first time around. The thing that made the walk so frustrating was that the grid system is very easy to navigate once you've orientated yourself, plus there were these flying white mini fluff balls that kept floating themselves into my face. They were everywhere. Later on I found out that it was poplar tree fluff. Poplar trees are one of the most common shade trees in Edmonton, so if you are a fan of poplar trees and their fluff in particular, then do I have a city recommendation for you!

Edmonton in general is an industrial city. Their main source of livelihood is oil, and they have so much of it that Alberta is the only province in Canada apart from Nunavut that doesn't charge provincial tax. Other than that I found Edmonton to be incredibly dusty and dry, which my allergies 100% did not appreciate. But, I was there only for the games, which were an amazing experience and incredible to be amongst 53000+ fellow football fans cheering on their home country.

I also tried Tim Hortons when I was in Edmonton. I have a feeling that everyone who told me to try (that I HAD TO GO TO) Tim Hortons has never been to Dunkin Donuts or just doesn't appreciate that sweet, fully encased goodness of a Dunkin Donuts donut. I mean, it was okay. I will wholly endorse their chicken salad croissant, which has made me believe that all sandwiches should be made with croissants. Move over, sliced bread! There's a new carb in town.

On my last day in Edmonton I checked out the West Edmonton Mall, which is the largest mall in North America and tenth largest in the world. What a random city to have the largest mall in. It is like if Hawke's Bay got New Zealand's flagship mall. Why? But anyway. It was not a bad mall.

An ice hockey rink inside the mall.

A Water World adventure kind of thing also inside the mall. There was an amphitheater of sorts further in as well.

I went back and forth between Edmonton and Winnipeg for my first week in Canada, and I will post briefly about Winnipeg next. Together they form what I have unofficially classed as the first leg of my tour. In a way I'm glad to have started in the quieter parts of Canada. It has been a good break from work and life in general, without the hectic runaround that accompanies a city with endless things to see.

Until next time!

-TM


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Friends,

It is with an incredible amount of excitement that I announce my six week holiday to North America. I'm spending a little over four weeks in Canada, and the remainder of my time in New York and Boston. It's the journey of a lifetime, or at least five years or so, because I won't have a lot of money when I get back. Everyone says I won't want to come back. Well, I probably won't but I'll have to, because I'm fortunate enough to have a job waiting for me so I can pay back my credit card. Yay!

I was a child when I first wanted to go to Canada. Like most things from my childhood that have stayed with me until now, I don't quite remember how exactly it came about. It started out as a hard kernel of certainty, and as I've grown up, that kernel has grown and blossomed into something less tangible, dissipating into my veins and becoming part of the blood that keeps me going.

In the beginning, Canada was a secret. It was mine, and nobody else's, like a special penny I'd found on the ground and kept in a handkerchief and polished every day. I would look at it when I was bored. I would play with it when I felt lonely. I would keep it with me all the time. If I felt aimless or untethered, I would put my hand in my pocket and feel its smooth, rounded edge and be reminded of what I was still working towards...

Which came in very handy during pharmacy school. JK ILU PHARMACY. Kinda.

Over the years I've become a lot freer in telling people I want to go to Canada. Not specifically to study, or work, or live in some other way, although any or all of those would be an exciting and desirable time of my life. It has always been some open-ended kind of desire. I'll take what you can give me, Canada. And so Canada went from something private, and only mine, to something that I shared openly. And why not? Travel is one of the most exciting and interesting things to discuss. It breaks ice and is a shared experience that makes for stimulating conversation in a pinch.

And it's always been easy to just say that I've always wanted to go to Canada. Everyone likes Canada. It's beautiful, a Northern Hemisphere New Zealand, with people who sound somehow like the nicest I will ever meet in my time on Earth. I tell people these reasons, and they understand. Sometimes I won't have to justify why I want to go to Canada. Travelling itself is a reason of its own, self-explanatory enough to move the conversation along.

(To be honest I think it was because I loved Dawson's Creek and Joshua Jackson was born in Canada. He was my fave... This was before Pacey and Joey got together. Our relationship changed irreparably after that...)

ANYWAY. Whatever the reason, Canada's grown up with me. It's a part of me now, in my muscle fibres, my waking thoughts. For the last 17 years it has been the mainstay of my life goals. It felt like an abstract, intangible wall in the future, when you write down where you see yourself by the age of 30, or what you would like to have done in five years. Canada. Top of the list. Like some watershed moment in my life, the Wednesday of my existence, when I return from Canada I'll have come down from the Hill on the return leg of my Hero's Journey.

I'm so excited, yet somehow terrified. I think there's a special kind of fear in pursuing something you truly want. That charged anxiety, the thrilling anticipation. There is a need in desire, and taking a certain leap to indulge it means that you hold the hand of Danger as you jump.

So jump with me, friends! And I hope you'll be entertained as I tick off the biggest thing on my bucket list since I was 10 years old.

-TM


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Recap of my Wednesday night, 20th May 2015:

  • went to the Thrilling Adventure Hour show at Logan Campbell
  • it was very good and very entertaining
  • for the uninitiated, of which I was one, TAH is more like 90 minutes long and is a stage production "set in the style of old time radio." It used to be performed in Los Angeles and then that show would be cut up into three 20-odd minute long podcasts which were eventually hosted on the Nerdist website
  • it's very popular. I did not know this at the time of booking tickets, but I know now
  • I bought a ticket because I watch a lot of television and a few of the performers are actors I greatly admire, such as Paget Brewster, Marc Evan Jackson, and Janet Varney. Bonus: Castle's daughter and Taylor from the O.C. were there as well
  • everyone else was very good, too
  • I am now a fan of the Thrilling Adventure Hour
  • mission accomplished, Workjuice Players!

I'd bought a VIP ticket which meant I got to meet and greet the cast for a signing afterward, which was well worth it. They set up this super long table on stage after the show and it's not until you see them all sitting in a row that you realise how huge the entire production is.

  • I was behind this guy who must be a big, big, very rich fan because he had this folio full of original artwork previously signed by the cast and all that sort of thing
  • it reminded me of when I left high school and went to our 7th form leavers's dinner, and at the end of the night we had to shake all the teachers's hands, and I was standing behind Tristan Lomberg so he'd be having this almost entire conversation with every teacher and when they got to me I hardly even knew whose hand I was shaking (and they didn't know me, either) and I'd just be like, all we are getting out of this exchange is more surface streptococcus...
  • anyway he was speaking to the assistant handing out the posters that we would get signed and he'd been all over America just casually collecting these pieces of art and all that
  • just casually
  • later on I saw his handle on the Twitter hashtag feed and it turns out he is a medical doctor of some sort
  • which fits, doesn't it. There's something there about our respective career choices... a doctor and a pharmacist stand in a line...
  • I found it quite amusing
  • anyway I spoke to Paul F. Tompkins first and he has an awesome moustache
  • and then it was Marc Evan Jackson aka Kevin Cozner from Brooklyn Nine Nine aka the best comedy I am watching right now. He has a very firm handshake. And he is so cool!! When I grow up I want to be like Marc Evan Jackson... He is an incredible performer and he has this hilarious comedic quality that is so engaging, and get this — he can remember your name after about 30 seconds of conversation. He was giving everyone low-fives off the stage as we were leaving and this is something I'll remember forever: I ran up to him and went for it, and he said, "Thank you, Chloe!"
  • which is incredible because he had just met about over a dozen strangers in the course of half an hour and he could remember our names. It's something I love doing at work, just a small touch that hopefully makes our service feel more personal and special. So having it done to me was amazing and if my customers feel any way like how I felt after hearing my name leave Mr. Jackson's mouth as if he had known it for years, then putting in the effort makes it 100% worth it
  • Janet Varney was farther down the line and when I grow up I also want to be like Janet Varney
  • Her dress was so stunning. This is important!!
  • I managed to coherently express my appreciation for JV Club and Korra, and in turn she complimented my leather jacket
  • so next time and every time you see me I will always be wearing that leather jacket
  • even in summer
  • (I grew up in a tropical climate, I can take the heat)

As I continued down the line, everyone was gracious and super kind and thanked me for coming out to the show. They are so cool! They must have so much fun together. I didn't say anything to Paget Brewster apart from something that may or may not have come across as critical in my monotone — whoops! — and then I ran away because it was Paget Brewster. You would have run away, too, as quickly as one can run away when sandwiched in a signing queue with a four-foot drop off the stage behind you.

So that's me and the Thrilling Adventure Hour which is more like Thrilling Adventure 90 Minutes, Not that You Would Complain About It.

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