52 adventures, 1 year… How did I do?

Last year while frolicking up Elephant Mountain in Taipei with one of my lovely friends, we decided to compile a list of adventures and goals that we’d like to achieve in 2014. We settled on 52- one for each week of the year. When I wrote my list I was convinced I’d be able to tick all 52 off no problem. Clearly I forgot to fathom in those little obstacles such as lack of cash, lack of holidays from work and lack of motivation. But hey, I think I did quite well in completing more than half the things I wanted to do! Some of the things I really had to push to make work, such as going to Japan. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my year even though I am still dirt poor from how expensive it was, even more so because of the missed flight fiasco. I loved having this list, especially because it sometimes took me out of my comfort zone, a.k.a hiking Ben Nevis! I actually can’t wait to do this again for 2015. I guess I should carry over some of the adventures that I didn’t complete this year, and I should probably start saving now because if anything, my wanderlust is just getting more wanderlusty. I need to be a bit more realistic though…I mean according to this year’s list I still have to go to Shanghai, Xiamen, Xi’an, Chiang Mai and Taiwan…and well, I have about two days to do all of that and about -$1,000. Yeah, that’s a minus…cheers Japan.

Anyway, I highly recommend creating a little bucket list for yourself, even if it’s just simple things such as places to visit in the city you live in, or recipes you want to try. It’s always really fun to do something and then realise it’s on your list and you can tick it off with a sense of achievement. For months now we’ve been planking in the office every afternoon and I actually have noticed a significant change in my core strength and so I absolutely ticked off the ‘Get toned’ one on my list…It counts, right…? Kinda. And some of them I will still do, such as ‘Read The Luminaries’ and ‘Organise all my music’. I just need some time and a sofa…hello Christmas in Scotland.

Here is my list from the year:

1. Read ‘The Luminaries’ (Will do it next week!)

2. Hike Ben Nevis (The UK’s highest mountain) Did this in June. It was so beautiful!

3. Spend Christmas with my family Flying home on Saturday for this.

4. Cycle around Xi’an and take silly photos with the Terracotta Warriors Will do this in 2015 when I have money again.

5. Write one letter every month in Chinese! I guess I kind of did this if an essay for my Chinese class counts?

6. Host a dinner party for old and new friends Oh, I failed at this. We never managed to find a free weekend. But friends in Shenzhen- this is happening in January!

7. Ride the new High Speed Rail to Xiamen They NEVER had tickets. Will need to book well in advance next year.

8. Make my Mum a birthday book I did this, and delivered it to her by hand in Bangkok, where I also happened to surprise my Dad at the same time. He had no idea I was popping down for a visit. I also made my sister and friend a book too.

9. Give my family the most awesome surprise Oh, I most definitely did this. Back in January I rocked up in Scotland without anyone but my sister knowing. 

10. Buy vintage dresses in Bangkok I bought 4.

11. Grow my hair long, but get a neat trim every 6 weeks OK, so it’s not quite at my bum yet, but it’s getting there. I believe I’m due a trim soon.

12. Do a Spa weekend with my sister We did this in Scotland. Amazing massages, rooftop jacuzzi etc. Might put that on the list every year…

13. Blogging continuity, launch a cool blog design and organise my blog content I did blog more, and I did organise the content, and I even changed the design a bit, but this is something I need to work on more. Or should I say, this is something my computer whizz kid friends need to help me with next year. Pretty please!

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

15. Collect every issue of Little Thing magazine I realised this is a bit materialistic. I don’t need EVERY issue. Even though it is the prettiest magazine…

16. Host a Lomo event in Shenzhen I promise to do this in 2015. I wrote a message to spark interest and a few people responded, so now I just need to get the ball rolling.

17. Take Chinese classes with my old Teacher Grace Every Wednesday night!

18. Do yoga 3 times a week Lately I’ve been a bit too busy for this, but I even went 4 times a week a couple months ago.

19. Write 52 Luna’s Letters and record and document them all OK, I didn’t write 52…maybe half of that, but I did take photos of them all and I even got a few replies. I’ll blog about this soon.

20. Learn how to make red bean buns I still want to do this.

21. Shoot x1 roll of film a week and update my LomoHome Oh, I’m embarrassed at how little I shot in film this year…

22. Go to Yeliu Geo Park and Smangus in Taiwan I went to Taiwan in June but I didn’t have time to visit these 2 places. Next year!

23. Visit Japan YES!!!! BEST PLACE EVER!

24. Trace my family history Still working on this one. Family, can you help?

25. Have an arty weekend in Shanghai with Leora This didn’t manage to happen, but we are meeting in the Philippines for Chinese New Year in 2015 so yay!

26. Write 1 whole story with Chuan’s illustrations Not yet :(

27. Record details of my dreams in a journal I didn’t do this for every dream because I dream ALL the time, but I did record a few.

28. Buy a juicer and do healthy veggie detoxes I bought a blender, does that count?

29. See Cara somewhere in Asia Hong Kong in July baby! So fun!

30. Watch Alt-J live No, because they weren’t playing anywhere near me, but I am going to see them in Singapore in May 2015, yay! 

31. Get toned, aka get a hard stomach (haha) I’m getting there. Haha.

32. Have a pamper day once a week at home Yes! I am getting old so this is needed.

33. Revisit Guangzhou Just last week actually, and it was so fun! I missed that city!

34. A weekend in Kaiping Yup! That was some adventure.

35. Write for eChinacities and That’s P.R.D magazine Contacted them both and neither replied…so you can’t say I didn’t try.

36. Work on my own cartoon idea I did brainstorm a few ideas, but never got round to writing them properly. Procrastination…

37. Hike Dragon’s Back This was the first hike I did this year in Hong Kong. It was stunning!

38. Go on a junk boat and laugh all day I did this for my birthday and it was so much fun! Thank you friends!

39. Write a love letter Sort of, haha. 

40. Send at least 1 postcard from every place I visit I sure did! Unfortunately the ones I sent from Thailand never made it to my friends…silly mail!

41. Hang out with Jan in Chiang Mai Next year!

42. Take a ballet class Next year! I was too nervous to attend the Chinese ballet class near my house.

43. Play the metro game for a whole weekend- randomly go to as many places as possible Will do this in January for sure!

44. Buy myself a tea set and hold a tea ceremony Next year!

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

46. Write and publish a piece on Be You Media Group Not yet…maybe there’s still time?

47. Organise all my music I’ll be doing this next week.

48. Wear red lipstick Everyday now actually. Pinky-red.

49. Grow my own herbs Basil, mint…check. The lavender never made it :(

50. Buy fresh flowers every so often Every Sunday!

51. Get a new bicycle and cycle whenever I can I didn’t buy my own bicycle but I signed up for the rental bike system in my area, so every time I leave the house I can just scan my card and the bike is mine for the day. It’s great and means I don’t have to worry about my pretty bike being stolen.

52. Master the art of baking Well if Chinese kitchens had ovens, this one would be a lot easier. Maybe when I’m home…or maybe I could just eat ALL the baking instead…

OK, wow, now I need to work on my list for next year! Have you ever written a list of similar things you’d like to do? What was on your list?




Guangzhou Girl

Even after all these years, I’m still a Guangzhou girl. I’m not sure what it is about some cities that make them feel more homely than other ones, but Guangzhou takes the cake for my China home, always. Considering I haven’t been back to visit in over three years, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my heart still felt the same. I guess some places are just more suited for me than others. Guangzhou was the first piece of Asia that my toes touched down in, back in 2009 and I think I’ll always have a soft spot for it’s scrambled chaos. Despite spending more time actually living in Shenzhen than in Guangzhou, I still regard Guangzhou as my original China home. It’s not only the first place I lived in China, it’s also the first real city I lived in, and of course the first place I felt like I really had to grow up in. When I arrived in Guangzhou Baiyun Airport on that dark and humid September night, I had no idea what was in store for me, nor why I had actually accepted the opportunity to move to China all by myself. I was terrified. I could barely utter a word of Chinese, never mind string together actual sentences. I had never tried ‘real’ Chinese food before. I knew no one, not one single person in all of China, and yet there I was, being picked up at the airport- after about three days of travelling due to broken engines, missed flights and a whole lot of drama- by three Chinese students who were holding a sign that read ‘Joanna from South Africa’ (my middle name is Joanna and I was an exchange student from a South African university). Misunderstandings are the norm here, and thus I let it be. It’s kind of fun to have different identities anyway.

Guangzhou is primarily a Cantonese speaking city, and so when my mandarin did at last start to improve, I would always feel a bit disheartened when the person I was speaking to would reply in Cantonese- a tongue which I doubt I will ever be able to grasp. But, I loved Guangzhou, and still do. It has that real urban grittiness that is so often associated with big, sprawling cities. It’s not gentle, it’s not so easy to navigate but no matter which neighbourhood you find yourself wandering in, you’ll be sure to feel welcome there. I find Guangzhou very friendly, and it is full of character and history, unlike baby Shenzhen who popped up over the past few decades. Shenzhen is extremely easy to find yourself in, in fact it’s near impossible to get lost in this new city because it’s pretty much one long street. I think that’s why I still prefer Guangzhou. I crave oldness. I like seeing all the different communities come alive on the streets and I like old faces. The old lady selling all kinds of nuts on the corner of the Six Banyan Tree Temple looks like she is as old as the temple itself. There are stories hidden in every alleyway and every wrinkle of every face. The mix of old and new, dusty and sparkling is all across Guangzhou and this past weekend it was so cold and misty, layering the tips of every skyscraper with frosting, that it really felt like a proper winter, Christmas just around the corner. I like shivering on the streets of Guangzhou and being hit in the face every few metres by a steaming wave from the bamboo baskets.

After three years, of course there were some big changes. Firstly, most people I knew from my Guangzhou days have moved elsewhere and lots of my favourite restaurants and bars have either shut down or changed locations, making it quite comical every time I led my friends down a road where I swore we could buy the most delicious brownies, only to be greeted by a dark, abandoned doorway. Chinese cities develop at the most incredible pace, and well, life goes on, things change.

Maybe I really am just the most nostalgic person. Last night on the train back to Shenzhen, I messaged my friend to tell him how much I still love Guangzhou and how I want to move there again and he just laughed and replied “You say that about everywhere.” He might have something there. I do have a habit of romanticising every place I visit, especially places that have already played a huge part in my life, whether it be South Africa, Taiwan or Guangzhou. I prefer to think of it as positivity and an inkling for spotting beauty in even the world’s busiest and darkest quarters.

In Guangzhou I learnt how to deal with crowds of people so deep that you could be carried along without even grazing the surface of the ground. I discovered a more independent side of myself that didn’t mind eating alone in a small restaurant or spending a whole day exploring gardens of orchids with only my notebook and novel as company. I began to embrace a completely foreign culture that never seizes to baffle me even after all these years. I started communicating in a second language and kept my feet planted firmly on the ground even when the language made me so frustrated I threatened to quit in a flood of tears every time I was cheated or scammed for being a non-native speaker. Perseverance and patience are the key to unleashing this land and its languages.

And so, after three years of letting Guangzhou be, it felt amazing to go back and take a stroll down memory lane. I saw it with a more curious eye this time, noting the quieter streets, the sharper, contemporary architecture jutting next to the old balconies and temple-lined streets. I inhaled all the different scents- the freshly-baked breads from the African district, the pork dumplings on every corner of every street and the familiar musky fumes floating up from the Pearl River.

I should really go back more often. There’s so much still to explore, and it feels like I’m just popping home to one of my many ‘second homes’ every time I go. And, Guangzhou Girl has a nicer ring to it than Shenzhen Girl, don’t you think?

See you soon Guangzhou.



Love Heart Freckles in our Eyes

It’s the little things. The guards put up the Christmas tree in the garden, the lights running vertically instead of horizontally- the Chinese way. The childish squeals of laughter and late-night tantrums next door have been replaced by James Blunt’s “You’re beautiful…” (someone is getting lucky tonight). He’s given himself his monthly self hair trim, she’s wearing a new shade of lipstick that makes her eyes glisten. The corner of the street no longer smells like sweet pineapple, instead roasted chestnuts (on an open fire) drift in every direction, enticing the winter crowds.

How aware are you of yourself, other people and your surroundings? Think about it…

What colour are your eyes? My colleague has a little black heart on the iris of his eye and if he hadn’t told me, would I have ever noticed? My mum and sister have identical teeny-tiny holes at the top of their ears, and nobody knows why. I wonder how many people outside my family have noticed?

I’ll admit, I am very aware of other people and consciously take note when little changes appear. When I first meet someone I try to identify their distinguishing features so I can put a face with the name. I’m not sure if these are good, solid observation skills or if I am just very sensitive to everyone and everything in the environment around me? Either way, it’s something I like- a talent for discovering the little, subtle things.

In acting class this week, our director paired us up and asked us to look at our partners for 20 seconds, noting everything about them. He then asked us to turn the other way and have each of us change one thing about our own appearance. I immediately panicked. My partner was wearing a purple top and had her hair down, but other than that I couldn’t recall anything. I was given a simple task and yet suddenly I couldn’t even remember what colour her shoes were, or even what type of shoes they were for that matter. On any normal day this wouldn’t have been a problem, but it was as if the task of being asked to observe, suddenly made me not observe. My mind tricked me into thinking I’d noticed everything. The second time we did it, I made sure to make a conscious effort to observe everything about my partner, starting from the head all the way to the shoes. Being scrutinised on such an extreme level is quite intimidating, but also exhilarating to be able to detect so many little things about this human being standing right there in front of you. I always thought being a detective would be fun…

This kind of close observation is not only important in theatre, but also in real life. Of course I’m not just referring to peoples appearances, but every single little and big thing in our lives. Seriously, the world could be a much happier, peaceful place if people paid a bit more attention to others and things around them, as opposed to constantly staring at themselves on their front-facing camera phones taking selfies.

Next time you’re on a date, check out what colour eyes your lover has, and focus on him/her instead of constantly checking social media. Also, how cool do the bare trees look in winter? So dramatic and magical…Ah no, wait…the last time you looked up the spring flowers were just appearing.

Life is flying by so fast guys. Let’s live in this moment and soak it all up before we wake up and it’s the winter of 2015 and we didn’t even notice the colours, encounters and missed opportunities that a whole year sent flying our way.

Image by Tara Jacoby

The return of Winter and Luna’s Letters

The streets smell like freshly-roasted sweet potatoes and are sprinkled with piles of the golden season. A child waddles by in her twelve layers, lest she should catch a cold in this new, chilly air. Now, drinking only warm water makes sense. We rejoice at not having to blast the recycled air from every ceiling and linger a little longer in the morning, curling up into the corner of our cosy beds. Winter is about to hit us with all its might, and yet yesterday Summer was in full swing, teasing us with her rays and her humidity. Today I have a few extra freckles, a few extra layers.

In this part of the world, seasons are constantly battling one another to be in the foreground. I could almost watch the flowers blossom as the golden leaves float to the ground, whilst wiping a bead of sweat from my face and seeing my breath in the crisp air, all in one moment, all at the same time. I’m as confused as they are- the seasons. Last month was quite the ride, but maybe now that December 1st has arrived, Winter will be here to stay. I hope so.

I long for the smell of mulled wine, cinnamon swirling into the air, Christmas movies playing in the background, or lying next to the fireplace on a fluffy rug with a book, the laughter of family all around. Christmas is coming and I can’t wait! I can’t wait to finally go home and spend it with my favourite people. The last time I spent Christmas at home was in 2008 and that was a long, long time ago. I hope it snows!

I’ve decided to write two letters for strangers a day this month in the run up to Christmas. I don’t have an advent calendar so I thought I’d do something more unique and give something to someone else each day. I started this Luna’s Letters project last December and it was always really fun to choose the location each day where I’d leave the letter, so this year I’m challenging myself to write two a day and only in Chinese! Today I will leave one letter in the elevator at work and one stuck to a tree in the park on the way home. I wonder if anyone will find them and contact me?

Here’s to a lovely month of letter writing, Christmas card making, mulled wine drinking, chocolate eating, gift exchanging, beautiful family and friend time, snow (fingers crossed) and to wrapping up goals and projects from the past year.