My Heart’s in the Highlands

Breath swirls around in the air, drifting up towards the misty clouds which are so close you could almost touch them. The sky is low in my homeland, the moon is closer and there are stars everywhere. Sometimes when I peer out of my little window at night, it’s as if the moon is perched on the church spire, it’s that close. And my family are right there, not inside my computer or composed of a little grey-haired emoticon that represents my Dad and a smiley with rosy cheeks that represents my Mum’s smile (the people who live in my phone). They are real, the way it’s supposed to be. When my sister and me laugh so hard we cry actual tears and can share the moment together, not just a typed ‘LOL’.  Being home is so good. It’s a constant whirlwind of childhood memories and dusty books brimming over with fairy tales from days gone by. And it’s cosy, everywhere, even when it’s freezing cold outside. There are arguments and love, all squashed next to each other on the little sofa. No grudges are held, hugs are tight and at the end of the day we always go to bed with a kiss and a “goodnight grumpy”. That’s family for you, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Nor would I change my country, except maybe a bit more sun and independence, but let’s not go there. Scotland is seriously the most beautiful place, even in the darkest depths of winter when the sun only rises at 9 am and sets again just after your mid-afternoon cup of tea. Those mystical, rain-drenched clouds splattered against the midnight-black sky, it’s beyond picturesque. See it for yourself. There really is something magical about Scotland, in all its chilly glory. The dramatic peaks of the highlands iced with frosted snow, flakes flurrying around your freckled nose, the gothic architecture sprinkled around the cities, cobbled streets for days, smiles so genuine you’ll never want to leave, and of course the laughter that pierces the air so poignantly and instantly makes you feel so warm you could almost be home.

It goes deeper than just a flag, a place of birth on your passport or a sweet spot for a wee dram of whisky. It’s a place that can overwhelm you again and again, and then some. Flutes and folk music flirt with the trees, that in turn dance with everyone they meet on the street. Strangers hug at the stroke of midnight, entire flights of passengers laugh and sing and banter all the way to their final destination. People might complain in this land, but their friendly, kind faces give way to something more. It’s a country with an unbelievably brave heart, a history, culture and traditions that live on even today. It makes you feel light and free to walk on its earth, earth that is honest and rich and filled with stories and secrets and legends that will never die, no matter how much time passes.

Scotland, I am so happy and proud to be able to call you home, and happy birthday to Robert Burns for yesterday. Here is a poem by him that pretty much sums it up…

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains high covered with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

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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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

A Forgotten Film

Now that I’m working at Lomography again, it would be ridiculous not to make use of the discounted film processing. Last week I realised my Diana Mini had an old film in it from around a year ago. I decided to quickly finish it off at the weekend as I was so curious to see if any of the photos would turn out, seeing as it had been gathering dust on my bookshelf and had been carried halfway around the world and back again. I didn’t even remember that it was actually a black and white film inside. Now that I’ve gotten the photos back, I realised my little film started it’s journey in Taiwan, then went home to Scotland, then back to Taiwan again, then to Hong Kong and finally a little trip to Shenzhen. I think only half of the photos actually turned out, but I’m still quite happy with the ones that made it.

Here are a few snippets of my year spent with some special friends from all around the globe…

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A Summer Daze

When I left Taiwan on the 1st of June, I had absolutely no idea that exactly 3 months later I’d find myself packing up all my stuff and coming straight back. It must be love. So, here I am. Before I even go into why I’m back here and what I’m doing, I thought I’d take a little look back at the beautiful summer adventures I got to go on, and share some photos with you.

I went home to Scotland to be a bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding, and of course to see family and friends and bask in the beauty that is my lovely home. I fully intended to stay in the UK, at least, and start working full-time again. But, once again, that sneaky little friend of mine- Fate, had other plans. And you can’t mess with fate, folks. No, you cannot.

Thus, I obeyed her plans, and decided to make the most of my summer in Scotland, all the while daydreaming about far-away Asian lands that I knew I’d return to sooner or later.

This summer was an ACTUAL summer. As in Scotland melted under sweltering sunshine for days on end. The ice-cream shop had lines circling round the alleys and back again. I think some people may have actually melted. There were days when I may have even complained about how hot it was. Yeah, absolutely unheard of in Scotland.

Nonetheless, we revelled in it. We barbecued, took full advantage of the sun only setting at midnight and even swam in the ocean- the Atlantic ‘freezing’ Ocean. I ate fresh strawberries every single day and wore shorts. Short shorts. And the smell of suntan lotion emanated around every corner. On the days when I had to work and stay inside, I got jealous; I, too, applied suntan lotion, just so I could smell like everyone else. True story.

We were like one big bottle of suntan lotion, dancing under the bluest skies. Oh gosh, seriously, Scottish skies in summer. Wow!

We took road trips and visited castles and lochs and searched for Nessie. There were a lot of picnics, and wine from little cartons on the pier. There was pimms and lazy days in beer gardens. It was bliss. There were so many food festivals, outdoor theatre, live music on the street, fun fairs, summer really is the best.

I went to London twice and to Bath to see my best friends. I got to watch my best friend marry the love of her life and then I got to travel to Dover in Kent to be at my friends from Taiwan wedding.

I even ventured as far as Portugal, on a family holiday for 5 days. It was ridiculously gorgeous and there will be a whole separate post dedicated to just that.

I almost felt like I was 16 again. All of my friends from near and far were together again and we made so many new memories in our home- St.Andrews. It was exactly how a summer is supposed to be.

Just before autumn creeps in, I’m going to enjoy it one more time…

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All of these photos were taken with my Samsung phone. I will upload my Lomographs when I get them developed. Wow, I miss my land already.

a Belle and her Beau

Last week I wrote about my best friend marrying the love of her life here and some of the hen party antics.

It’s suffice to say that it was one of thee most magical weddings I have ever been to! It was beautiful and full of amazing, fun surprises! When we woke up and saw the sun peeking through the gap in the curtains and then pulled them back and saw the bluest sky with not a cloud, we were ecstatic. Especially seeing as we’d had a full week of non-stop rain. The wedding birds were out in full song and the champagne was flowing.

It was so fun to watch the Belle transform into the stunning bride, and when she put her dress on and glided out to the garden for some photos against the green, it was a moment to remember.

The wedding ceremony was so beautiful too, and had a few laughs thrown in for good measure, such as when the groom picked up the wrong ring and when we all realised we were singing ‘hosanna’ which brought back hilarious memories of school church trips. Then there was the Star Wars theme tune played by the string quartet as we all exited the church. Classic. And we wouldn’t expect anything less from a die-hard Star Wars fan- that’d be the groom, not our bride’s choice, right Rachael?!

One of the readings in the church had me on the verge of tears as it was just so real and rang true-

The Way of Love- Corinthians 13:4-8

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Oh, love.

After the ceremony, the bridal party got driven in awesome cars to the cathedral for some professional photos. Some of them involved pretend tug-of-wars and I can’t wait to see the finished products. Afterwards, the newlyweds went to the West Sands beach to frolic, while the rest of us drank champers at The Golf Hotel, where the evening reception was held.

The speeches, the food, the dancing, the band, all of it was so much fun! A Scottish wedding wouldn’t be complete without a few ceilidh dances, and there was definitely some of that going on.

One of the highlights of the day was when we were all nibbling on our main course and one of the waitresses took to a microphone to randomly announce that this was her last shift at the hotel and that the head waiter had bet her she wouldn’t get up and sing in front of all these random people. So, she decided to prove him wrong. And, sing she did! She had the most amazing voice and sang a famous opera number that not only blew us all away, but also left us feeling extremely confused as to why this had happened. The groom looked completely bewildered, and after a lot of ‘what on earth is going on?’, we proceeded to finish our meal, but before the last bites could be taken- the ‘head chef’ popped out from the kitchen to sing a little number. A rather famous number in this part of the world- The Proclaimers- 500 miles. That was when we all realised something was definitely going on. The bride had the biggest grin and it dawned on us that she must have planned this! Sneaky!

Well, they kept on singing, and they did the most amazing duets, such as ‘That’s amore’ and Frank Sinatra’s ‘I love you baby’. It turns out they are from S.O.S- Secret Operatics Society, which you can read more about here. It was the coolest surprise ever!! Personally, I think every waiter should be a secret performer. There isn’t much more fun than being served dessert by someone singing ‘That’s amore’. Yes please. And well done bride!!

Some of the personal touches that I really liked were the table decorations and the favours. Each table had an old wedding photo on it that represented a year and marriage from the bride or groom’s families. The favours were amazing! They had m&ms with their FACES on them. A teeny, tiny picture of the couple on each m&m and the date of the wedding. How cool is that!! You can find out more about this unique idea here.

It truly was the most fantastic day, and I’m pretty sure it was the best day of their lives. To the newlyweds, thank you again for letting me play such a big part in your day, and I hope you lovebirds are honeymooning to your heart’s delight!

I said I’d share lots of photos this week, and I will share a few, but unfortunately I didn’t actually take very many. I was so busy enjoying every little moment that the thought of pulling out my camera didn’t even dawn on me.

Here’s a few though, and one or two from various friends (hope you don’t mind me sharing)-

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The bride would have killed me if I whipped out my signature ‘peace’ sign in any of the professional photos, but I couldn’t resist one or two later on in the night…

I can’t wait to develop my lomo photos and see the professional ones too!

a wedding belle

I remember I was sitting with my friends in South Africa back in 2007 when I got the message; it was from my best friend to tell me that she had a boyfriend and how happy she was.

Five years later I was on a train when I got the message to announce their engagement, where he proposed by sunset, on a beach in California.

And it was a couple of months after that message that I had a Skype date- Taiwan to Scotland- with her, when she asked me to be her bridesmaid!

Now, it’s one day until their wedding and I am so excited for them.

This is my very first time to be a bridesmaid! I feel so honoured to play a part in her big day, and although I spent 10 months of her engagement on the other side of the world, I still made it back especially for her ‘Minnie Mouse’ hen party and for the run-up to Saturday.

Tomorrow we will begin the day with french manicures and champagne, I can’t wait! I cannot even begin to imagine the excitement and butterflies that must be floating in her tummy right now. I just know it’s going to be the most magical day ever!

I’ll be sharing lots of photos next week, some lomo ones too, yay! In the meantime, here are a few from her epic hen party in Edinburgh…

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Yup. There was a Butler in the Buff. There were Minnie Mouse ears. There was a Piñata filled with mini bottles of vodka. There was ALOT of drinking. There was drinking in a fire engine while singing karaoke and dancing on the way to the ladies race day (horse racing, and yup I won some money, yay!)- we are classy like that.

And now for the big wedding where we get to wear beautiful dresses and get our hair and nails done all fancy. I like being a girl!

The Gift of Rain

“The most rewarding way to see the place one lives is to show it to a friend. I had taken the beauty of Penang island for granted for a long while now and it was only through acting as Endo-San’s guide that I learned to love my home again with an intensity that surprised and pleased me.”

The Gift of Rain- Tan Twan Eng

I have found this to be so true, not just with regards to my ‘home’ in Scotland, but also to wherever my ‘home’ may be at the time when friends or family visit. Being an enthusiast of most places means I rarely have a day where I’m not in awe at one thing or another in my ‘home’, but sometimes the sparkle can dwindle and all it really takes to relight it is for me to play tour guide, and before I know it I’ll be seeing my ‘home’ through rosier spectacles.

Acting as someone’s tour guide, just as the protagonist in ‘The Gift of Rain’ says, really does make me re-learn and re-discover the beauty in the little things that make my home so special. It really is all right before your eyes and it seems funny that it would take an outsider to reignite your enthusiasm for a place.

If, like me, you were bitten by the travel bug and love nothing more than a little exploring, why not purchase a copy of a travel guide to your OWN country. I just bought Lonely Planet’s guide to Scotland. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more of Taiwan and South Africa than I have my own country, and that’s not cool, especially seeing as Scotland is teeny tiny.

Have you been to Scotland? What was your favourite place? Actually, if you haven’t been, I suggest coming NOW. Like right NOW. Because I don’t know what is happening in the world…I’ve never seen this much sun in my life!! I’m more tanned than when I lived in hot countries (haha) and here the sun only sets at around 10.30pm in summer! What are you waiting for?

Next stop- Loch Ness and The Highlands. I’m not about to take this beautiful homeland for granted because who knows just how soon I’ll be flying East again…

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I love my little home.

celebrating all things ‘dad’ and fishing villages

On Father’s Day, we I decided we would take a little trip along the coast to the Crail food festival. In our village it was a bleak day so we all adorned a bunch of layers and half-heartedly made our way along the country roads. Rushing past fields of green, none of us noticed the bright blue sky hanging just over our destination. Hello luck! It was hot and it seemed everyone had come to play in the sunshine and to feast on the delicious foods on offer. I was feeling adventurous and opted for a PIGEON wrap. Yes, pigeon, as in those annoying birds, yeah, that pigeon! And it was actually deeeelicious! Mixed with lentils and rocket, it was like a tender little treat.

The backdrop wasn’t half bad either. We chilled at the end of the pier and got our dose of vitamin D, before finding a spot on the beach to indulge in a few jumping photos. haha.

Crail is such a sleepy little fishing village. Cobbled, curving streets and book shops inside boats, cafes on cliff tops and the quaintest, prettiest houses as far the eye can see. It epitomizes the perfect little simple life. I like it.

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