Strangers that are not

Have you ever met someone for the ‘first time’ that you’ve actually met before? Someone you’ve been emailing regarding a particular project with absolutely no idea that you’ve been introduced to in ‘real life’ already. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago. It’s bizarre because even when we shook hands and introduced ourselves, it still didn’t click. We chatted for a good 10 minutes about the project before he said:

“Siobhan, I need to be honest with you about something…I showed your photo to my roommate this morning and it would appear that you know him.”

It turns out that he is roommates with a friend of mine from Hong Kong and that only a month or so before, I’d actually briefly met him in the street as he headed towards the metro station and I was heading towards their apartment for dinner with my friend. He didn’t actually remember meeting me as it was already dark and we only quickly exchanged a little ‘hi’.

It always blows my mind when I rediscover how small the world is. If our mutual friend hadn’t deleted his Facebook recently, we would have already ‘known’ each other. But where’s the fun in that? I love unveiling these mysterious encounters with strangers that are not actually strangers.

It happened to me again around Christmas time in Taiwan. (OK, yeah, it happens to me a lot.) I was meeting my friend to go to the cinema to see the new Woody Allan movie ‘Blue Jasmine. She’d brought along her traveling friend who is from Canada. I only know a few Canadians and when I heard her say ‘Manitoba’, I was like “Hold the fort! Manitoba?! Do you know Erik Grimolfson?”

What do you think her answer was?

The world is so small and I can’t help thinking that if I hadn’t lived in different countries and had the pleasure of meeting amazing human beings from all around this glorious planet, my life might be a little less colourful. And for that I am extremely grateful to all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way so far. I can’t wait to meet many, many more sweet souls on this little adventure we like to call LIFE.

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Image sourced from here.

You’re never too old for an adventure

As we sipped on our freshly-brewed Lijiang tea, our thoughts drifted to what we were about to embark on. Mama Naxi glided across and presented us with our lucky rainbow woven necklaces for the trip. We accepted with a nervous smile as we gazed out at the remnants from last night’s torrential downpour. We hesitated. What if we slipped off the edge, washed along in the muddy flow, never to be seen again?! That sinking feeling started to dance down our bodies and none of us seemed in any rush to finish our hearty breakfasts.

I decided to eat my banana now. No point in waiting for a trek that might not occur. As I began to peel, we all stared in the same direction, surprise quickly becoming the feeling of the moment. That old lady from the bus to Dali was sat behind us, nibbling on some pancakes as she typed away like some secretarial whizz-kid from days gone by. What was she doing here and who was she emailing? Curiosity got the better of us. I casually strode across the room to take a glance.

From the moment we boarded the bus in Kunming- three foreign girls on a bus to somewhere mysterious- the last thing we were expecting to see was an old white lady of around 90 years old, traveling solo in south-west rural China. She was sat on the front sea, a book in her hands and a look of familiarity in her innocent eyes. Either she’d been here before or she was no stranger to that little thing called courage. I’d say both.

When we reached Dali four hours later, we watched as she navigated the streets like a pro, hopping into a tuk-tuk with an air of elegance. All we could do was laugh as we clambered into a taxi, no idea where we were headed.

The next day we were sat in a cafe indulging in a spot of ‘literacy hour’ when she strolled by. We gave her a smile and she carried on her merry way. Who was this lady?!

Maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised to find her at Mama Naxi’s Hostel in Lijiang, the starting point for the epic Tiger-Leaping Gorge trek. Eyes glued to her neatly-brushed hair, we were mesmerised as she wandered up to Mama Naxi and asked when the next bus to Tiger-Leaping Gorge would be departing. Here we were- three fit young 24 year olds- debating whether we could undertake a two day trek along one of the highest gorges in the world after an abundance of rain, and the old mysterious traveling lady was headed in exactly that direction.

Let me tell you, when you experience something like this, you throw all fear out the window immediately. If a 90 year old lady can do this, we’re darn well going to do it too! And we did! I gobbled that banana, downed my tea, straightened out my sparkly dress and prepared to dominate that gorge like a leaping tiger.

While waiting for the bus we were more than enthused to have a chance to talk to the old lady. Her name was Connie and she was from Connecticut, USA. She was indeed close to 90 years of age and was traveling around China all by herself for the third time in her life. I have never met someone so fascinating in terms of worldly-travel as I did on that rainy day in the labyrinth that is Lijiang, China.

Connie was on her way to Bali, Indonesia to enjoy her last days on this beautiful earth. She had chosen one of her favourite places to spend her remaining time and hoped to write a book before that moment arrived. She had been everywhere! I’ll never forget her animatedly telling us about learning to type in Afghanistan in the 1950s where she worked as a typist. I was astounded! She had sadly lost her husband a few years before but refused to let their shared passion for travel dwindle, and so there she was, sat in a damp hostel in the centre of Yunnan province in China all.by.herself.

She wasn’t scared, she wasn’t lonely; she was a pro at this and she loved every moment. During our conversation of her many trips to Africa, specifically South Africa (the country my friends and I had all met in), she reached into her black canvas bag and pulled out a worn box of coffee. She might be a spontaneous, world traveller but there’s no country she traverses without her trusty coffee beans.

I like that. It brought her aura of amazingness back down to earth a little. To this day, I can’t get her out of the wanderlust section of my brain. And now that I’m reading ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson, it’s becoming even more poignant. I hope that when I’m an old lady I continue to explore and cherish all the beauty and wonder that this world offers.

It really is true…you’re never too old for an adventure.

5d0a589e4f0c11b8178bc3453e2d027aImage sourced from here.

My 52 List: One Adventure a Week

At the end of last year I started reading Gretchen Rubin’s ‘The Happiness Project’. This book follows one woman’s journey as she documents her resolutions throughout the year that, ultimately result in her discovering a deeper sense of happiness. She’s not an unhappy person but she wants to focus more on living in the moment and being more mindful, and this is something I also feel quite strongly about. After I finished the book, I started thinking about my own life and how happy I am. Two Thousand and Thirteen definitely had it’s setbacks but it didn’t really affect my overall happiness factor. Infact, if anything, it just made me appreciate all the little things in life even more, and it made me want to create my own ‘Happiness Project’.

I decided on a list of 52 little things that I want to do this year, one for each week (of course, I can do five in one week if I like, it doesn’t need to be one per week). I compiled this list with my good friend in Taipei while we were wandering around on the last day of the year. Some of the things on my list are places I’ve wanted to visit for a while, or something that I’ve been meaning to give a try or do more frequently. I’m quite good at embarking on adventures so this list isn’t necessarily a catalyst for my inner-explorer, it’s just something fun and simple that I can embrace throughout the year. I guess I could think of it as my bucket list for 2014.

1. Read ‘The Luminaries’ 

2. Hike Ben Nevis (The UK’s highest mountain)

3. Spend Christmas with my family

4. Cycle around Xi’an and take silly photos with the Terracotta Warriors

5. Write one letter every month in Chinese!

6. Host a dinner party for old and new friends

7. Ride the new High Speed Rail to Xiamen

8. Make my Mum a birthday book

9. Give my family the most awesome surprise

10. Buy vintage dresses in Bangkok

11. Grow my hair long, but get a neat trim every 6 weeks

12. Do a Spa weekend with my sister

13. Blogging continuity, launch a cool blog design and organise my blog content

14. Write down 3 little things every day that make me smile and feel grateful

15. Collect every issue of Little Thing magazine

16. Host a Lomo event in Shenzhen

17. Take Chinese classes with my old Teacher Grace

18. Do yoga 3 times a week

19. Write 52 Luna’s Letters and record and document them all

20. Learn how to make red bean buns

21. Shoot x1 roll of film a week and update my LomoHome

22. Go to Yeliu Geo Park and Smangus in Taiwan

23. Visit Japan

24. Trace my family history

25. Have an arty weekend in Shanghai with Leora

26. Write 1 whole story with Chuan’s illustrations

27. Record details of my dreams in a journal

28. Buy a juicer and do healthy veggie detoxes

29. See Cara somewhere in Asia

30. Watch Alt-J live

31. Get toned, aka get a hard stomach (haha)

32. Have a pamper day once a week at home

33. Revisit Guangzhou

34. A weekend in Kaiping

35. Write for eChinacities and That’s P.R.D magazine

36. Work on my own cartoon idea

37. Hike Dragon’s Back

38. Go on a junk boat and laugh all day

39. Write a love letter

40. Send at least 1 postcard from every place I visit

41. Hang out with Jan in Chiang Mai

42. Take a ballet class

43. Play the metro game for a whole weekend- randomly go to as many places as possible

44. Buy myself a tea set and hold a tea ceremony

45. Decorate my room: bunting, fairy lights, photos, candles etc

46. Write and publish a piece on Be You Media Group

47. Organise all my music

48. Wear red lipstick

49. Grow my own herbs

50. Buy fresh flowers every so often

51. Get a new bicycle and cycle whenever I can

52. Master the art of baking

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I really hope I can do all of these things, but it would seem my wanderlust has gotten the better of me…

Wish me luck!

Do you have a similar list of fun things you’d like to do this year? I’d love to hear about them!

Love,

Luna

 

Surprise Surprise

Snuggled up in my favourite purple fleecy blanket, all I can hear are birds as moonlight slowly fades to dawn and the rain begins to fall. I am home. Home, as in Scotland. One minute I was twisting and turning through the frantic streets of Hong Kong and the next minute I was searching the welcoming crowds at the airport for my sister’s familiar face.

We’ve been keeping a secret, my sister and I. For the past month we’ve been plotting and scheming as to how we can best surprise our parents. You see, I’ve just signed a contract with my old animation company to do voices for cartoons again. What can I say, I miss that colourful world! Thus, the lovely company funded my flight ticket home to apply for my new working visa and in return I thought wouldn’t it be fun if I could just sneakily rock up without my parents having a clue!

We pulled it off perfectly. We had so many ideas, ranging from standing at the lounge window with a halloween mask on, just staring in at them (terrifying!!) to leaving little clues such as a box of green tea in the kitchen (only I drink green tea in this house), to my suitcase being under the stairs. We also thought about going to a restaurant and I’d either disguise myself and pretend to be their waitress or be sitting at their reserved table with big sunglasses and a headscarf and be like “Oh, hello darlings!”

After much debate we settled on the idea of me hiding upstairs until our parents were all snuggled up on the sofa, oblivious to the fact that their first-born daughter was a floor above them, holding her breath, not moving a muscle for fear of being caught. When the time was right, my sister came running up to her room and gave me the signal for action. I crept down the first set of stairs, but then without being aware I came bouncing down the second set and burst into the lounge and just stood there, staring at them and said “Hi guys!”

They sincerely looked like they’d seen a ghost. My mum’s mouth dropped wide open in disbelief and my Dad looked from my sister to me and back again. I was expecting them to jump up, scoop me into their arms and cry with joy. No. They were so weary of who I was, and what I was, it was actually hilariously awkward. After the initial shock, they both burst out laughing and after about 10 minutes they managed to stand up and hug me. Haha. Then they proceeded to follow me everywhere, incase I just disappeared. It was so sweet.

On the same day I also surprised my Aunt by walking into her work and casually saying “Hi.” Her face was priceless. I also surprised my best friend by getting my sister to txt her and tell her a package had arrived and there was a small gift inside from me and would it be OK if she came and delivered it. As my sister got out of the car and opened her bag, I jumped out from behind the car and screamed “Surpriseeeeeee!” Without a doubt the entire village heard my best friend scream. It was amazing!

From now on I don’t want people to know when I’m coming home. I want to just jump out and surprise everyone!! The adrenaline rush you get from preparing such a spectacle is the perfect remedy to getting through a long-haul flight.

And just look at how cute my parents are! I am so happy to be home! Even if it is minus-a-gazillion-degrees…

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Tales of Taiwan

I really can’t explain how fond I am of Taiwan. I could be walking down the street and hear the word ‘Taiwan’ and my ears instantly perk up and I’ll be left smiling. One day my colleague said “Oh, I loveeee Taiwan” and I looked at him and almost cried because I love Taiwan too and I miss it, I miss it like I miss my home.

That’s why when Christmas came around, I didn’t even give it a second thought. Of course I wanted to go back to my beloved Scotland but I only get a few days off in Hong Kong and so Taiwan was a pretty good alternative.

As the airport bus dashed along the bridge towards the airport, I gazed out at the tranquil beauty around me that occupies the surrounding cityscape of Hong Kong. For the first time I felt an overpowering sense of love for this new city. Sometimes it takes leaving a place for you to realise how much it has grown on you. My friends in Taipei had warned me about the neverending rain, and here I was leaving glowing sunshine. Sigh.

I didn’t really care though. In Taipei you get used to the rain, so much so that my favourite part of Hong Kong came to be on a rainy night because it reminded me of Taipei, haha. I decided to embrace the rain in Taipei. It gave me a chance to really kick back and relax and even though rain isn’t quite snow, it was close enough to conjuring up a real Christmasy atmosphere and so I was just fine with that. My friends were quite surprised at the lack of adventures I was embarking on. To be fair, I did go out everyday and visit new and old places alike, but I also felt pretty content cuddled up on the sofa watching a movie with some of my best friends, chocolate brownie scent filling the air, a pot of mulled wine bubbling on the stove. Afterall, isn’t that what Christmas is about? Relaxing, overeating, spending time with your loved ones and drinking copious amounts of hot, cinnamony wine?!

In-between eating my body weight in brownie, I went to plenty of delicious restaurants to even-out my body weight a bit by indulging in Beijing style roast duck, soup dumplings from Din Tai Fung (YUM!), mango ice, turkey with all the trimmings for days, amongst many other feasts. I also saw the new Woody Allen movie ‘Blue Jasmine’ and a Taiwanese documentary 看見台灣 at the new Eslite Spectrum which I loved!

As soon as the sun came out to play I was on top of Ellie mountain doing a spot of gymnastics, marching along with the marching band at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and basking in the incense and crowds of temple-goers all chanting as one. It was a short trip, but a beautiful one. And there’s something lovely about flying on the 1st of January, as if you’re starting afresh, flying back to a new beginning, high above the clouds with a real sense of hope of what’s to come.

Thank you Taiwan, for once again being so magical! I’ll see you soon I’m sure!

Love,

Luna

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The beginning of Luna’s Letters

At the end of last year I began a daily project called Luna’s Letters which you can read more about here. Basically I was feeling a bit frustrated at the pace of life in this city, the lack of attention to the little things in life and the almost next to no smiles lingering around these streets. I somehow believed that if I left letters dotted around the place, I could start to pave the way to more happiness, even if just one smile from one person each day.

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I can’t say it was the most successful project I’ve ever pioneered but it certainly made my days more colourful, and for the few people that did pick up my letter and pocket it, I’m quite sure I spied a little smirk as their eyes flirted over my simple words.

I wrote them in both Chinese and English so that no matter where the receiver was from, hopefully one of these two widely-spoken languages would be understood by them. It did become a little hard near the end as Christmas loomed closer and the weather got colder, so I wasn’t frequenting such interesting places to pop my letter down in. There are a couple of stories that I’d like to share from the experience, specifically that if you write romantic words to strangers expect to have them believe you are secretly in love with them. Such was the case when I was feeling a bit sick and rushed home from work before having the chance to tape my letter in a random place. I realised it was 10pm and I’d already done the ‘throw-a-paper-aeroplane-out-of-the-window-at-11.59pm’ and so I ran to the lift with the clever idea of taping it next to the floor-number buttons for the next person who entered the lift to find.

I forgot about the security cameras in the lift. I forgot to take my phone to document the letter.

I ran to the lift and taped it up, then in a panic realised my phone was in my room so ran back and grabbed it then came running back to the lift to snap a quick pic. The doors started closing on me and I had my leg sticking out of the lift to try and stop them. As I clicked the shutter, my leg got stuck and I heard my roommate laughing his head off from our lounge. As I entered our apartment I noticed that my roommate had turned on our building’s security channel onto the wide-screen TV and there was my letter, shining brightly inside the lift. Before I could bat an eyelid, I noticed the security guard running to the lift. (Clearly he’d watched all of this in bewilderment and was curious to catch this mysterious letter I’d left.) Next thing I knew he was sitting and grinning and gazing up at the security cameras as if he KNEW I was watching from my apartment too.

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There is nothing romantic about this story, haha. He is an old man and I am now very very embarrassed everytime I come home and he is once again, sat there smiling sweetly at me. I actually just have to laugh about it; it’s my own fault.

The next story was slightly more successful, and rather coincidental. I was eating at a small Taiwanese restaurant in Tai Hang, an up-and-coming neighbourhood near Causeway Bay. I spotted a cafe across the road with this board outside (see below for pic). I just had to leave my daily letter there, and so after eating I ran across, whipped out my washi tape and stuck it right next to the words.

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I went home and thought nothing of it. You see, throughout this project I’ve been leaving a hashtag at the bottom of every letter #lunasletters so that people can either upload their photo of the letter to instagram (yeah, I can dream!) or at least follow my project on there. The next day after leaving my letter on the board I noticed a new Hong Kong girl had started to like some of my photos. She commented on one of them: “Hope to see you again.” I immediately messaged back excitedly. Turns out the owner of a coffee shop found said letter. Name of the cafe? ‘Lunar Coffee’!!!! Yup.

Thus, I have decided that this project doesn’t take up much time and even though I haven’t seen many results or heard back from many of the recipients, it’s still fun to know that it may have made at least one person smile and brighten their day a little, even if only for one minute. And so, I am going to continue this project throughout 2014. To make it a bit easier, I am only going to write one a week. By the end of the year there will be 52 Luna’s Letters floating around the globe and maybe it could become something bigger, with more people getting involved from all around the world.

If you were to receive a random letter from a stranger, what kind of things would you like to read? An inspiring quote, a compliment, a piece of advice, a riddle, an illustration? Feel free to give me some ideas in the comments below; I’d love to hear what you think.

Two Thousand and Thirteen, farewell.

Dear Two Thousand and Thirteen,

I wish I could say you were a walk in the park that was sprinkled with sweet-smelling blossoms, sunlight peeking through the branches and warming up my freckled skin, or a tall, dark and handsome lover that seduced me under the stars with a picnic of delight, but Two Thousand and Thirteen you were more of a hike in the snow with a sharp wind that tested my balance every time I reached your peaks, dotted with an unstoppable rain without the quirky kisses. You were ready to throw me off course at any given chance, and you did- over and over again.

I’m not defeated that easily though.

I decided to give you one last chance on your last day before Two Thousand and Fourteen came and took over. I climbed one last peak, known to the masses as Ellie Mountain. As I got higher and higher, your sunshine got brighter and brighter and I realised how far I’d come (literally speaking, that was a lot of stairs, and of course, without trying to be clichéd, I have most definitely grown and matured over the past 12 months). I packed my suitcase far too many times this year, said numerous goodbyes- only to return a few months later, got my heart a little broken, repaired said broken heart, spent what seems like the entire year trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, all the while growing more and more positive throughout all of the confusion and haze that seemed to attach itself to me continually.

Sometimes I think I must be crazy to be so content without any kind of master plan, without the stability that we all so badly seem to crave, and yet the minute we do have it we’re ready to throw it all away for some spontaneous adventure. Actually, even if I did seem to fall into a never-ending maze of uncertainty in 2013, I had a darn good time trying to find my way. I wasn’t looking for the exit or entrance or whatever you want to call it; I was just meandering through the twists and turns of everyday life. I let those curve-balls fly smack bang into my little life and then I threw them right back where they came from. I embraced the unknown and I cried a lot, but mostly I laughed and admitted, that, yes, this year I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing, but it’ll figure itself out, it always does. And it did. And now I can look back on what was, yet again, another fantastically, fateful year full of extreme emotions, ridiculously fun adventures, challenges that pushed me to the max and memories spent with friends and family that I will cherish forever.

Life is a pretty funny journey, but I wouldn’t change mine for the world.

Two Thousand and Thirteen, let’s not forget the time we…

*Brought in the new year and ended the old year on the same street in our beloved Taipei with some of the bestest friends from our sweet days spent in Taiwan, whilst watching fireworks in a whole array of colours come flying out of the majestic 101 to shower luck on us for the coming year.

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*Cycled around a bend in South Africa to come face to face with six elegant giraffes.

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*Plucked up the courage to approach Lomography Taiwan about a possible internship all in Chinese!

*Started to dream in Chinese and forgot how to speak English properly…

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*Took an overnight train to Green Island and fell asleep on a harbour wall, awakening to sunrise on our faces.

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*Partied so hard with amazing friends the police had to come and tell us to be quiet…in Taiwan.

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*Dressed up as Minnie Mouse and danced through the streets of Edinburgh.

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*Celebrated my birthday ceilidh-dancing with the most special friends from far-away lands.

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*Spent a day searching for Nessie and faeries with a friend from days gone by.

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*Played Bridesmaid to my best friend and laughed, cried and smiled all day from happiness.

*Frolicked around London town and attended my first, magical bilingual wedding.

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*Road-tripped around Portugal, getting lost in the tiniest, cutest villages with my beautiful, hilarious family.

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*Landed back in Taiwan in the rain and spent a wonderful, strange month job-searching, cycling around mysterious alleyways, and eating some of the most delicious food you could dream of.

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*Put on my brave face and flew to Hong Kong to start an internship with Lomography Asia.

*Hiked, camped and laughed until I ached.

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*Started my Luna’s Letters project. (Stories to follow…).

*Took a little trip down the memory lane of China, and loved it!

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*Manoeuvred the city like a boss, embracing the glittering skyscrapers, the cows on the rolling hills by the sparkling ocean and the new Cantonese tongue.

*Learned a bit more about what I want from life, and what I don’t want. (I’m a simple creature really.)

*Flew back to the beloved Taiwan to spend another Christmas and New Year with some of my favourite people in one of my most favourite places on the planet. (Blog post to follow).

*Realised how cyclical my life is. I even wrote my 2012 round-up post on the exact same day last year…take a peek.

That pretty much sums up this delightful life; the world’s a’turning and so are we, around and around and around. And you know what? I like it like that!

Love,

Luna