When you speak a little Chinese…

I speak Chinese. I’m by no means fluent and yet sometimes all it takes is for me to say 謝謝 (thank you) in my ‘standard’ Chinese accent and I get gushes of ‘哇,你講得很厲害!‘ (Wow, you speak Chinese so well!). On these occasions (twice today) all I’ve said is ‘xie xie’ and in return, received congratulations. It’s so strange. On no occasion would I applaud a foreigner in an English speaking country for correctly saying ‘thank you.’ Infact, I expect them to be able to say it, unless of course they can’t talk. But it’s just simple manners to be able to thank someone in their own language.

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Obviously if I’ve been chatting away about the growth of a certain farmers crops in the back fields of some Sichuan village, then I can happily accept a little praise. Or if I find myself expressing my feelings about love and life and fate, which often happens when I’m stuck in traffic in the back of a taxi, then I can’t help but feel a tiny bit smug if the driver applauds my vocabulary.

In those instances feel free to shower me with appraisal. But if I say ‘ni hao’ (hello) or ‘xie xie’ (thank you), let’s just let that float by. Sometimes I’m not sure how to take it? Am I being  fawned over because I am a simple foreigner and I couldn’t possibly be able to utter Chinese words? Or is the praiser actually really that amazed that I can say one or two phrases without mixing up the tones?

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Oh, don’t get me wrong, it can back-fire too. Those moments when I get a bit overly-confident and try to tackle a difficult topic. Usually the receiver will be like ‘你說中文說得還好…’ (Your Chinese is alright…). That makes me want to scurry out of wherever I find myself, and wonder why my Chinese is only ‘alright’ after 9months of intensive study.

Today, for example, I had lunch with my Canadian Taiwanese friend. We both study Chinese at the same school (she’s at a more advanced level though) and yet only I got told that my Chinese was amazing. Well, to put it simply, because of my foreign face. The same thing happened again at dinner tonight with my roommate. He is from New Zealand but of Hong Kong descent, so once again, only I got praised for my Chinese, and actually all I said was ‘好吧’ (OK).

I’m curious to see if it’s just here that it happens, or if it will also surprise Chinese people overseas. I think when I go home and spot some Chinese people, I’ll whip out my Chinese tongue and see what reactions I get. Well, assuming I don’t forget all that I’ve learned as soon as I leave this beloved land…

Oh, Gatsby

The Great Gatsby 大亨小傳 is…

I truly have no words…

It’s like bouncing off the highest trampoline or bungee jumping. That initial fear- will it live up to the classic that F.Scott Fitzgerald so carefully sculpted? Or will it leave you feeling deflated, lacking in that special adrenaline that can only come from throwing yourself straight into space? But then you jump, and you’re most certainly flying, faster than any bird, swooping into the openness from all angles (just like the crazy camera-panning of this movie), diving right on in to thee coolest party on the planet. You’re left dangling, suspended mid-action, gasping for air and laughing at the same time. You could cry because you’re so involved in the moment, living every second, but instead you just breathe it all in, savouring every scene, not wanting it to end.

But it does end; and you find yourself back on land, out of breath, even though you inhaled it all so slowly. It’s OK though, it’s not a movie/moment you’ll be forgetting for a while. It stays with you long after the afternoon sun has slipped behind the clouds and the moon is out to play. It’s one of those fantastical cinematic journeys that you can replay again and again in your head as you remember the dazzle and sparkle and exuberance of every single facial expression, costume and setting, all thought out to perfection. And the music! What a party!

If you haven’t seen it yet, please go! It is freaking spectacular.

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“So, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

tumblr_m8rqhcpQq11qzyk5wo1_500_large tumblr_lv3mzwT7lV1qm39z5o1_500_large THE GREAT GATSBY gb gatsby“Ah,” she cried, “you look so cool!”

Dear Green Island 綠島, love Lomo and Luna

What is it about analogue photography? Every picture just seems so much more real, so much beauty is captured. I don’t even care that they’re a little grainy. Each one is so special because I had no idea what was being snapped, what light would leak in, or how they would turn out. The colours are saturated, but in no way do they change what it actually looked like in real life. It really was a bluer-than-blue sky, and the ocean really was that deep and sparkly.

I love using film. What do you think? Does it give you a different feeling from looking at a digital print? It makes me want to run out the door right this minute and experiment with double exposure. Infact that’s exactly what I’m going to do tomorrow.

Take a peek…

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If you’d like to visit here, which I really recommend you do, here are a few travel tips:

Transport

* Firstly, take the train to Taitung 台東. You can pick up a really good deal using Taiwan’s TR Pass. We went for their 5 day pass for a bargain 599NT, which covered our return journey, saving us 400NT. The only downside with these passes is that you are only permitted to travel on the slowest trains and you don’t get a seat. Well, saying that, we had a seat the entire time. I recommend taking the night train from Taipei. You can snuggle down and wake up in Taitung at 4am, bright and early. And you’ll probably score a seat or two.

* Secondly, take a taxi from Taitung train station to the Fugang Harbour. It takes around 15minutes and if you arrive at 4am like we did, it will cost you 350NT, otherwise during the day it is 300NT.

* Thirdly, pick a good spot to make a nest. The first ferry is at 9.30am and well, you might as well make yourself comfortable. We chose the harbour wall and settled down, amongst the mosquitos, to watch the sunrise over the bay. It was very pretty, and before long we were passed out.

* Fourthly (wait, is that even a word), we bought our return ferry ticket- 900NT, and hopped aboard the first ferry- 9.30am. I warn you now, it is not a fun journey. If you are prone to sea-sickness, pleaseeee take a tablet. We had to deal with people vomiting all around us, and seriously that is the last thing you want to deal with after a night train and a harbour- wall bed. Luckily, the ferry is only around 50minutes, and truly it is worth it in the end. Alternatively you can fly on a mini 4 person plane from Taitung Airport. I hear it is around 1000NT one way. Up to you!

* Fifthly (yup, totally not a word), once you arrive on the island you will probably have dreams of hiring a scooter, yes? Well, unfortunately you can’t. Not unless you have a Taiwan driving license and even then you’ll be so lucky. Two foreigners drove off a cliff a couple of months ago, and since then they’ve tightened the laws. However, you can still hire bicycles, and the crazy-cool invention of electric bikes. The latter ROCKS. For 300NT a day (worth every penny) you can hire one of these beauties and sit back and be lazy while the battery does all the work. It’s actually ridiculously fun, and easy. I can’t recommend these enough! The shop you hire from (right next to the harbour) will give you chargers and after a day of cycling (sitting back and enjoying the ride) you can plug the battery in at your guest house and prepare it for the next day.

Accomodation

* Before we arrived we booked Lijing Hostel which Lonely Planet had recommended. I’m not going to lie, this place was a little old and dusty with a few too many bugs for our liking, but at the end of the day it’s a friendly place to rest your head and for only 500NT per person, it’s cheaaap. It’s actually pretty fun to be living with so many spiders… No, but really, the owners are awesome and we called them as soon as we arrived and they whizzed over to pick us up.

* I personally wouldn’t worry too much about booking in advance, there are tons of hostels, guest houses, hotels etc, dotted around the island. Why not just arrive, take a stroll and see what floats your boat?

Food

* Deer. Yeah. A lot of deer. It’s the island of deer. There is even deer burger. Yup.

* Seafood. Yum. You saw that sea above, that is a fresh blue sea. Eaaaat.

Fun

* It’s an island. Go here and roam around. Frolic. Dance. Cycle. Picnic. Laugh. Be free. It’s beautiful.

* Scuba-dive or snorkel. Apparently it’s world class here. Stupidly we skipped it as we were feeling pretty lazy, but you can get your scuba license here and a snorkel sesh is only 300NT. Wow!

* Hot springing. Green Island is home to one of only three salt-water hot springs in the entire world. Take my advice- when you get there and they tell you you can’t use the real hot spring right next to the ocean, don’t listen to them. Skip on down the steps and hop on in. There are no crowds of tourists there and it’s the real deal. Otherwise, of course you can still enjoy the bustling springs near the entrance, even if they do feel a little fake and hotel-esque. It costs 200NT to get in. Go at night and enjoy the stars. It’s open until 2am right now, and possibly 24hrs during the summer months. Yay!

If you have any questions about this little gem of an island, feel free to comment below and I will be sure to bombard you with my enthusiasm! It really is a wonderful little getaway, and it isn’t too touristy (yet..go quick!).

p.s It used to be an island for prisoners, just incase you wonder why there are prisons etc dotted around. Don’t let that freak you out though, it just shows how much history is lying around.

p.p.s Enjoy!

Love Luna.

An Encounter with Elegance

The sky hangs low. Clouds align themselves just above the treetops, urging us to pedal faster. They seem to be in tune with the vulnerable clock of the day, trying their best to linger a little longer, but simultaneously brewing the inevitable- yet another farewell.

We ride on, rich rusty earth flirting with the wheel, flurrying in every direction, swirling up further as we bounce between the rocks and trunks. I grip tighter, welcoming a painful array of blisters. We pedal faster, rounding the corner of a steep enclave, determined to find some kind of opening.

With every turn of the wheel, I can’t shake the thought of my impending departure. I stop. Nestling myself amongst the long grass, I try to let it seep away.

Camouflaged against a nearby tree, she catches me off guard. She appears as if from nowhere, and in her quest to get a better understanding of us, twists her neck over a branch, her lashes tickling a patch of leaves with their incredible length

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I expect trepidation, but find curiosity. She takes a few delicate steps forward as I pick myself up and brush away the haze. I blink. Five more appear on the horizon. They drift through the grass, forming a gentle barrier.

They stand and watch us. We watch them back. The clouds sweep by, revealing undertones of composure. We are still, enveloped by their presence, not daring to move for fear of ruining this fleeting encounter.

The most majestic of the six cranes his neck towards us, penetrating our present state of wonderment. We shuffle back, a tingle of realisation flooding to the surface- this could be it for now. We keep our eyes locked, confirming our acknowledgment of the situation, a situation that is so seldom celebrated. It appears we are experiencing something out of the ordinary. I try to grasp it.

But it slides out as quickly as it had sailed in. We pick up our red-stained bikes; they glide back to revel in the new warmth of the day. We notice one remaining. He is standing guard as if he knows something we don’t. We get closer, inching towards him with a hint of regard.

I feel distracted. The blisters prickle my palms, and the red earth that was once a sticky paste, congealed in the spokes of my bike, flakes away. I try to focus on what lies ahead. There is a look of endurance in his eyes. I, too, want to master this art of patience that he so perfectly embodies. As I ponder this, he turns and floats off to the others, already halfway down the hill. He leaves our path wide open.

The Land of Deer

And so it was that they found themselves asleep on a slightly damp harbour wall, awaiting the first ferry to their slice of paradise. Everything had gone according to their plan, or lack-of, rather. Equipped with a week’s supply of seaweed-seasoned snacks, sneaky minuscule bottles of liquor and a Chinese manga filled with a foot-fetishing gentleman and all kinds of strange souls, The Birthday Girl arrived. She was met by Leaf Girl, and together they sought out The Boy and his speakers. They boarded the night train and attempted to snuggle down for the evening amongst the excitable Old People, promptly covering their ears with earplugs and headphones to block out the garbling and chattering flowing throughout the carriage.

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As the mosquitoes flurried and played within the lights, they lay on the brick-hard wall, and allowed the itching to commence, satisfied that they had found a suitable bed for the next few hours. They had debated between hopping aboard a random’s boat, open to the idea of waking up in the middle of an unknown ocean. The Birthday Girl had also suggested a bench, only to discover the very next morning that this bench was broken and filled with filthy water.

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The wall it was then. As soon as the sun rose and the clouds turned a tinge of pink, fishermen began their quest into the depths and the silhouetted figures practicing a balancing act on the edges of their pier pulled in their early-morning catches and strolled past the rather strange people asleep on their usually silent, still wall, give or take a dog or two.

An hour later, it hit them, right on the left side of their faces; bright, burning sun, freshly awoken and ready for the day ahead. Thus, they gathered their belongings and strolled towards the ferry.

It was torture. Torture in the form of vomiting neighbours, thanks to the choppiest sea in the world. They pulled through after a quick escape from sick alley, and made it in one piece to the chamber of dusty lamps, cockroaches and tarantulas. It was actually a step-up from the boat. And as their heads hit the sticky pillows, emanating a slight twinge of mould, they laughed off the circumstances in the name of adventure.

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Their mode of transport whilst on the Green Island was to be a bicycle run by electricity, aka the lazy man’s bike. It was perfect. They sped along the coast, high on blue skies and the greenest leaves and the brightest sun. Leaf Girl could have sworn they were driving along the Cape peninsula, The Birthday Girl was stunned by the burst of white as the bluest waves she’d ever seen smashed across the rocks, and The Boy, who had in-fact graced this land with his presence once before, took it all in as if for the very first time. They raced along, secretly hoping to spot a deer or two, out dancing under the trees. They explored every corner imaginable, and didn’t stop even when The Boy’s bicycle decided to give up on him. Leaf Girl lived up to her name and used a gigantic leaf to protect her milky skin, providing endless entertainment for passersby.

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They climbed the ‘great wall’ and searched frantically for a path to ‘the ridge’, never succeeding, but also never giving up. They inhaled the freshest air, squinted under the brightest sun and laughed continually as never-ending sweat poured, all the while circling the island, full on seafood, remnants of plants from far-away lands and an adrenaline, particularly found in such a happy place.

IMG_2873 IMG_2872 IMG_2879 IMG_2875 IMG_2893As the first night fell and the stars drizzled out onto the sky above, an exhaustion oozed it’s way in and sent them off to deep slumbers one can only dream about.

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They awoke fresher-eyed and The Birthday Girl really was the birthday girl. To celebrate they feasted on secret fruit concoctions, steamed fish and raspberry in the form of fun juice. Lying on the ever-so reliable purple blanket, they talked life and frolicked with balloons under a stormy sky.

They pedaled home under the watchful eye of the wind and cooked their own food to smithereens into the late hours, before retreating to salty-pools accompanied by the lapping waves, seeking out the hottest rocks to push back the shivering seeping onto their skin. Again, they laughed and chattered until the little hours, before embarking on a night venture to try their last luck at finding deer and a starry blanket. Instead, they found themselves on a journey into the history of the island with a rather merry fellow, full on beer and the simple life.

As quickly as night had trickled in, morning rose. And with it, farewells. A farewell to the spiders, a farewell to the deer, a farewell to their electric friends, but mostly a farewell to an island that provided them with exactly the escape they were craving- an adventure, an ocean, endless green and peace and laughter, unknown paths and explorations.

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And so it was only natural that as they entered the bustling, soggy train station in Taipei, they emanated relaxation. The others frantically fumbled through the crowds, serious faces, on a mission if ever there was one. But they were different. They glided, their relaxed bodies and minds clutching onto the memories of Green Island and all the magic that it beheld.

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They said their temporary goodbyes and headed homeward. Leaf Girl stopped by her local bakery to grab a loaf before the stale breads were left to waste for the night. As she handed over the exact change, the baker looked her right in the eye and said ‘Lu Dao 綠島’ before handing her the receipt. She blinked. Was it the freshly-formed freckles dancing across her face? Was she trickling sand through the breadcrumbs? Or were her eyes smiling a Green Island kind of smile?

‘Lu Dao 綠島’ means Green Island in Chinese. Perhaps she misheard, or perhaps she really had brought a little piece back. Either way, as she ran across the road, splashing in the rain, she couldn’t help but smile at the thought of that little green gem of an island and all the perfect mystery that it encompasses. It’s not something that one can just leave behind. It stays.

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my search for the most perfect cafe

I found Old Heaven cafe 舊天堂書店 at exactly the time I needed it in my life. It was perfect. I was new to Shenzhen, I didn’t particularly want to live there at that stage and everyone needs ‘their’ cafe. I found mine and I haven’t found another since. Oh, I’ve been looking, changing my bicycle route on the off-chance that another Old Heaven might pop up in these back-streets of Taipei. Alas, no such luck. Could it be that Old Heaven is truly the most perfect little cafe in the world?

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I’ve made it a challenge to myself to try and find one that outdoes it. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I can’t quite deal with the fact that I no longer get to go there. It’s not that I want to replace it, it’s just I need another space that has that same special quality.

What’s so special about Old Heaven I hear you wonder…?

Well, how about the fact that it’s a book store too. Or the fact that it also sells vinyls, cds, notebooks and classic posters, to name a few. It has a cat, and the best green tea I’ve ever drank in my life. The furniture is mis-matched, and the lighting is more than perfect. There are different nooks and crannies, each with their own unique atmosphere. There’s a record player, and a cd player, and you can play DJ. There’s an antique fooz-ball table on the little patio under the trees, sprinkled with white blossoms that smell divine. There is a little upstairs table. It’s my favourite. I would curl up on that sofa and spend hours writing. I even  wrote my proposal for the Taiwan Youth Trekker’s competition which won, sat on that exact sofa, sipping on the best green tea.

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You can watch concerts there, listen to lectures on every topic from art to the future of China. You can browse and buy books. You can get drunk on their wide selection of beers and cocktails. Their Long Island Iced Tea is lethal (in a good way, of course). They play music that seems to blend with your mood, allowing you to emanate possibility.

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(Old Heaven is below this crazy-cool building)

It was like a second home. I could go there with the knowledge that even if it was packed, there’d always be a seat for me somewhere, even if it was a dusty step, or a rather uncomfortable wooden number tucked in the corner.

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I spent an evening with my family there. I spent days upon days with my best girl and guy friends there, chatting and drinking bottomless green tea and freshly-squeezed apple juice. I probably cried there, got drunk there, danced there. I even fell in love there.

Old Heaven is my best.

Taiwan had a few possible contenders, but none can equal the beauty of Old Heaven. Nor can Scotland, South Africa, England, Hong Kong, Thailand and anywhere else I’ve searched since discovering my cafe.

Perhaps you’ve been to one that might be a suitable competitor? What makes your favourite so awesome?

If I never find one as cool again, will I be left feeling cafe-unsatisfied forever?

Maybe I should open one that’s even more amazing, if that’s even possible…

Yeah, I really like this cafe.

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p.s. Due to a major lack of photos, I guess I’ll just have to go back…

Green Island and strawberry jam

As we made dumplings, flour becoming dough becoming delicious homemade goodness, we sat and talked all things summer. One friend mentioned ‘WWOOFing’. She described her ideal summer as a Wwoofer- living in a little attic, surrounded by dusty books that would last for days, and spending the rest of the time making strawberry jam. For me that conjures up the most relaxing, free-spirited way to spend a few weeks.

WWOOFing is a very cool organisation that allows you to go work on beautiful farms and get back to the roots of this land- nature. From making strawberry jam in Canada, to horticulture in Taiwan, there’s something for everyone. In exchange for your handiwork, you will get a place to rest your head and food to keep your energy levels up. And if you’re on a strawberry farm, hello free strawberries! Of course, it’s not all play and berries, I’ve heard that some farms will work you to the bone, so choose wisely. Either way though, what an experience! It’s definitely something I’d like to consider for a couple of weeks, not only to possibly eat my bodyweight in fresh jam or potatoes, but also to gain a new skill outside in the natural world.

So, after daydreaming about dusty books and strawberry jam, I realised how much I’m missing the simple life. Bird song, damp sand, the sound of the ocean…

Thus, tomorrow two friends and I are boarding a night train and then a boat to Green Island. If it looks anything like this, I might not want to leave…ever!

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Yes. This is where I’m going, and I cannot wait. Beaches, books, cameras and films, paper and pens, wine, cake and wine.

Green Island, see you bright and early on Friday morning. Please prepare the bluest sky, the fluffiest clouds and a bright yellow sun. Thank you.

a story of sliding doors

Gwyneth Paltrow, circa 1998 on a hot and humid Friday night. It got me thinking, about a lot of different things. If it isn’t obvious enough already, I’ve got a bit of a thing for Fate. Those of you who have seen this movie may argue that it’s actually based on coincidence, but you can’t deny that Fate (we’re close now so she’s capitalised) or destiny totally plays a part. Either way she was going to meet the lovely Scottish James, their paths would cross no matter what, because people, some things are just meant.to.be.

So, as I was saying, it got me thinking. Not just about specific paths of mine that have been crossed by rather special people, but also the paths that I chose all by myself, or rather that Fate chose for me. One in particular that will always stick in my mind, mainly because it changed the entire course of my life to date, was back in 2006. I was huddled under the stairs in my family’s humble abode surfing the internet. I wanted a change. I typed ‘teach drama’ into google. Anything could have popped up, but the very first thing was ‘teach drama in South Africa.’ It sounded cool. I called to my Mum, “Mum, I’m going to teach drama in South Africa.” She came running through and was like “Whaaat?” Then, “Oh South Africa is beautiful, but don’t choose Limpopo, choose that other place.”

I settled on K-nysna. Yeah. I had no idea how to actually pronounce it back then, but I was going.

I went. It was the most ridiculously amazing 3 months of my life (back then anyway), and I decided on a sunny day in Cape Town that I wasn’t going to leave. Well, I had to leave, but I was coming back.

I did go back. And because I went back, here I am in Taipei today. Because if I hadn’t gone back, then I wouldn’t have gotten a scholarship to China, and I wouldn’t have then moved to China, and then I wouldn’t have won the Taiwan competition and I wouldn’t be sitting here in my little room typing this from Taipei today. Or well, maybe I would be, but that’s not the point.

Everything happens for a reason. No, but really.

Last October I was lying in the grass at a music festival here in Taipei. I was in a daze but out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a girl wearing a dress covered in boats. I was thinking I really like her dress, but I was also thinking I know that girl. Then she was gone. Her boats sailed back into the dancing crowds.

I found her again later. Turns out she went to Rhodes University in South Africa. She sat a few rows behind me in English Literature in first year. Of course she did.

I was on my bike a couple weeks after that and I saw her blonde curls bobbing along to the beat from her ginormous head-phones. I cycled up to her and well, a cup of tea and a brownie later, and I may as well have known her all along.

Moral of the story? Our paths could have crossed so many times in South Africa. Actually, if we want to talk literally, our paths did cross, probably everyday. Infact on the day of our English exam my friend took a picture of me as I came skipping out, stoked that exams were over, and in this picture this girl is standing right next to me. And yet, it wasn’t until 4 years later, on a noisy street in Taipei that we really got talking, and it has worked out wonderfully. We met each other when we were ‘supposed’ to and I think our friendship has blossomed in this special land more than it may have done in little Grahamstown.

I mean we missed out on years of painful laughter, dancing until the small hours, tea and cake, cycling, and many more adventures, but we are sure making up for it now! Good things do come to those who wait and all that jazz.

I hope they do anyway…which leads me to another story.

As the sun began to emerge from behind the dusty clouds, the girl awoke with a sense of dread. Today was the day she had to complete her mission. Her mission to undergo one of her many dreams. The clock seemed to jump straight to afternoon and before she knew it she was crawling under her bed to find the ugliest sweater possible (impossible, sweaters are cosy and pretty). Finally, she gave in. The majority would find at least one of them suitable for the theme. Adorning a red number, complete with white fluffy snowballs, she grabbed a bag of sweet strawberries and even though she didn’t really feel like going to an-what she assumed- all-American party, something beyond her control forced her into the taxi and sped her across the city.

On the other side of the fake Eiffel Tower, in between waking up rainbows and writing about the latest Lomo fad, a boy was strolling through the back streets of the neighbourhood when a colourful number caught his eye. The seller of this garment probably stared in disbelief at this young guy buying the ‘ugliest’ sweater from the bottom of the pile, in the furthest back-water street of the city, but for the boy, it fitted the occasion perfectly.

And so as the gifts were unwrapped and the beers successfully (not for everyone) shotgunned, moonlight began to trickle onto the night. Time seemed to slow down, the party never ending, or maybe the moment was just embraced, each second lingering slightly longer than usual.

The girl found herself lost in the eclipse of the moon. She forgot her surroundings, and gave herself entirely to the moment… and continued to do so until her impending departure later in the week…

Little did the girl know, if only she had avoided the collection of old suitcases and broken hearts, she could have met the boy earlier. If only she had opened her eyes a little more that day of the market, the day she saw him pass by in a flash. If only the clocks could have been more aligned. But alas, they were not, and so for now, she will just go with it, the thought that ‘if it’s meant to be…’ patiently lingering in her jar of nostalgia.

If I hadn’t looked up from my summer daze at the concert, would I have met that girl at some other point? Possibly. Probably. And if she hadn’t forced herself to dash across the city in a taxi to a party, would the girl have met the boy? Maybe. But it may also have been her last chance.

Fate is a funny thing, but I like her.