An oven, clean bathrooms and white sheets!

My hair is clean, soft, curled and full of hairspray. Sitting in Song’s Enzuo Salon on 程阁老巷 (Chenggelaoxiang) waiting for Song to finish Nicks hair. We fly out tomorrow. I have tried my hardest to not think about. Moving Mum and Dad helped. Boy was that a mission! Nick and I saw the new apartment on Thursday without Mum and Dad, an emergency trip to the NZ Embassy in 上海 (Shanghai) meant that Mum and Dad didn’t see it until late night Saturday, and they were sold! We asked for the contract to be prepared so that they could start moving in on Sunday. Talk about everything happening at once!!! And then we had to move them… I knew how much of a pain in the ass it was for them to simply move from one building to another within the same gated community. Moving them from 星雨华府 (Xinyuhuafu or Silver Rain Mansions, a gated community thats definitely not as illustrious as it sounds!) on 集庆门大街 (Jiqingmen Street) across to the other side of 建耶区 (Jianye district) to Somerset on 青奥北路 (Qing’ao North Road) was a mission and a half! It is times like these I am very thankful that Chinese apartments are mostly furnished. Each time we had suitcases, boxes and desks piled up at the north gate of their old apartment community, we would send Dad to the other side of the road to wave down a cab. He would them jump in, drive down to the intersection, do a u-turn and drive to where we were waiting. The taxi drivers were always very hesitant about all the crap we had stacked on the side of the road. Language barriers meant that we couldn’t tell them that we would put what we could fit into one cab and what we couldn’t fit, we would simply put into another cab! The language barrier also meant that we could feign ignorance when the driver would try to tell us we couldn’t load up the cab. Not speaking the local language has it’s pro’s and it’s con’s!!!

Pretty much after that first run of loaded-to-the-hilt cabs (three cabs FULL of Mum and Dad’s crap! And that was just the first load!), Mum refused to leave the new apartment. She loved the cleanliness of their new two bedroom, two bathroom apartment and was quite happy to unpack and potter about finding places to put everything. She had tried so hard not to get her hopes up. Because, like me, if she lets her guard down and gets her hopes up only for the deal to fall through… Well let’s just say we don’t deal well with it. She taught me to be cautious and not to celebrate until it actually happens. So there was my Mum, in the midst of suitcases and boxes of crap exploding all over their new apartment, finally able to get excited and celebrate this win. She kept going from room to room reliving what she liked about each one. And it’s funny the little things that we find exciting. The kitchen, although small by our Kiwi standards, was clean, bright and new with a small dishwasher and an oven. Yes, they finally had an OVEN!!! Traditionally, Chinese do not have ovens in their kitchens, so all of the other apartments that they had previously rented were sans oven. And as a Kiwi who grew up cooking most of our dinners in the oven, not to mention baking galore, not having an oven was a difficult adjustment for Dad to make. Now he has an oven again, he almost has to reteach himself how to use it!!! Bet Mum is looking forward to that!

The master bedroom is spacious, with a lovely desk and a comfy desk chair. The TV in their bedroom not only gets some English channels, it also has a range of movies for them to watch, in English, Chinese and I think there are a handful in other languages too. Dad has struggled with streaming movies ever since they moved to China. Now he doesn’t have to! He has heaps of them to watch in his bedroom AND they change every month! Talk about spoiled.

The bathrooms are nice and big and CLEAN. Yes, clean is a reoccurring theme for excitement. The shower in Mum and Dad’s ensuite is huge and the wall opposite to the glass door is a big window, making the whole bathroom very bright and open. And they have a proper vanity, with proper cupboards under it. Like I said, it’s the little things!

As seems to always be the case here in China, the main bathroom is smaller than the master ensuite. Good thing about this apartment is that the master ensuite is pretty big, so the main bathroom being a little smaller doesn’t mean it’s small as such. The spare room (our room!) has heaps of space for Mum and Dad to store all of their papers and programs and books and STUFF, whilst still having plenty of room for guests.

The lounge has the usual Chinese covered in balcony, with a washer and a dryer out there. The balcony looks down onto the restaurant that Mum and Dad are already regulars at! We joked about Nick rigging up a pulley system for delivery, because it is actually that close. Mum loves watching the trucks and construction going on across the way, as the whole area is still very much in development. A short walk through lots of statues of Olympic athletes, there is a tram the you can catch to more shops, to our favourite coffee shop Ink or to the metro station. While it’s not as convenient as living so close to 河西万达 (Hexi Wanda) was, it has it’s own conveniences. Like the pool, the gym and the yoga room, all brand spanking new facilities. Or like the bi-weekly cleaner Mum gets as part of the rent! We arrived at the apartment and it was all totally furnished, like a hotel room with everything including cutlery, glasses, robes, plates, coat hangers and linen! We made a pile of things that we already had and were bringing from the old apartment, for the housekeeping manager to take away with her. Mum didn’t want to be responsible for their wine glasses and she thought she didn’t want the beautiful clean, fresh white sheets that were provided… Until she slept in them a few times! The sheets stayed.

I have to say I struggled with the apartment they were in when we arrived back in 南京 (Nanjing) a month ago. If you have been to China, you’ll know what I mean if I say it has the China smell… It is an apartment that has not been very well looked after prior to Mum and Dad moving in. There were holes in the doors, flooring that was coming up, a window pane in the balcony that was not fixed at all and just sitting loose in the window frame… And the landlord was a real dick to deal with. It was the kind of situation that I watched my Mum do what she has done all my life: make the best of it. So It was about bloody time that something went her way. And I am just super glad that we were there to help make it happen. Knowing that they are in a clean apartment with amazing staff at reception (we made friends with the staff before we even moved in!) makes it a little easier to leave. A little.

煎饼培根鸡蛋 (or Pancakes bacon and eggs!)

Dad was shown this fabulous little local eatery by a student of his and when we arrived, he was keen to share it with us. I was super impressed at Dad’s Chinese that he used to order not just his and Nicks pancakes, but mine too without the egg. My Daddy is well on his way to speaking Chinese!!!

Nick has been working hard on his video skills and he put together this cool little video of us getting pancakes. Click on the photo below to see the video!

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I loved being able to choose a tonne of vegetables and I could pile my bowl up with potato, cabbage and carrots!!! The bowl you get given has a number and you have to remember that number cos when you hand your bowl in to be cooked as pancake filling, it’s that number that they call out to tell you yours is ready.

We got LOTS of looks, three large sized foreigners waiting for our pancakes with the locals. Nick was filming and I was poking my nose into what they were doing where ever I could. The pancakes were HUGE and we had so much trouble eating them cos they were so hot!!! Which made for a hilarious breakfast and more stares from the tables around us as well as the staff, who had by that point just decided that we were the morning’s entertainment. Which was fine by us, because we were too busy munching down clumsily on these huge as savoury pancakes that were totally delicious. A new favourite for sure!

Eating my way through Dalmatia/Croatia Part 2 – Pršut

I arrived in Dubrovnik during a storm in June 2016. Almost a year ago! The bus from the airport deposited Nick and I near the old town gates and it looked like the IMG_6171entire city had been washed clean overnight. The sun was out and all of the surfaces were soaking wet. I was tired (oh SO tired!), having flown in from Nanjing via Frankfurt and Zagreb. I missed China something awful and I was so overwhelmed at being back in Europe that I literally could not string together a complete sentence, which Nick found endlessly amusing. I couldn’t decide whether I was rapt to be back in Europe  (where the air was crisp and clean, the streets still smelled like fresh rain and even the Croatian accent felt familiar despite the fact that I had never been to Croatia before!) or whether I was still overcome with sadness at leaving behind China with it’s buzzing crowds, slippery subway stations, weird smells and wonderful people who stared at me a lot! So I really wasn’t much use. NIMG_7755ick deposited my large pack at my feet as I stood in the square called Brsalje and went in search of somewhere for us to get breakfast. It was still early, about 8am I think or maybe earlier, and we could see the various restaurants around us beginning to open up and set up their tables and chairs outside. The wait staff at a restaurant called Dubravka 1836 agreed to let us sit down out on the terrace while they finished setting up for breakfast. We didn’t mind waiting. From our table, I could see the wall to the old town. It was so… Impressive. I couldn’t do much more than stare at it, taking in all the details of the old stones it was made up of, of the moss growing in some of the cracks and the birds flitting up and down and round and round. I was overwhelmed! Even when one of the staff came over asking what we wanted, I just looked at Nick vacantly. Whatever he ordered for me, when it came out, I was VERY happy. The first thing to come out was the coffee. Oh the coffee… Even a year later, I can still feel how wonderful it was as I sipped on this piping hot molten GOLD. As much as I love Nanjing, good coffee is very hard to find. And the way Croatians like their coffee is very much how I like mine. Thick. Dark. Bitter. Sweet. And hot. No milk to taint it. Just pure, unadulterated caffeine heaven! Next the orange juice came out. Freshly squeezed, BRIGHT orange and chocka block with pulp. Then the waiter brought out the food. I think I smelled it before I saw it. Fresh croissant, Dalmatian pršut, some kind of hard cheese and bread. Simple. And effective! I dug in with my fingers and still, no words would come.

That first breakfast in Dubrovnik was my first taste of pršut. Of course I have had cured ham before. Prosciutto, various kinds of salamis, cured ham from back home… And I love the hardiness of pršut. It feels just that little bit thicker than prosciutto. More robust in flavour and not so delicate. It’s the kind of cured ham that you eat with your fingers, slice by slice! Or is that just me?! During our time in Croatia, pršut was a staple in my boat galley pantry. When I couldn’t get anything else, I learned which super market brands were the best, and when I was lucky enough to be able to buy it, I liked to treat the guests on the boat to locally bought pršut from a lovely vendor and his father who sold their cured meats and cheeses on the boulevard in Vis town.

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Now many will tell me that pršut and prosciutto are pretty much the same thing. And yes, I know that they are definitely derived from similar traditions that brought us the wonderful Italian version of finely sliced cured ham. But just like prosciutto can vary depending on what region in Italy it comes from or which family recipe it is made with, the pršut that is made on the eastern side of the Adriatic has it’s own individual characteristics originating from variations in things like the wood that is used to smoke the ham, the salt that is used prior to washing the ham and even the air that the ham is hung in. All of these regional differences produce subtle flavour profiles that set pršut apart from being a mere copy of prosciutto.

Pršut can be used anywhere you would normally use prosciutto. It is great as a side to fresh vegetarian dishes like a warm vegetable frittata, laid out in a salad with salty capers, creamy cottage cheese and tomatoes or even as a breakfast food served along with cheeses, fruits, jams and croissants. At almost every restaurant in Dalmatia, you will find it on the menu as a very simple dish served with cheese and bread. I particularly love tearing up pieces of pršut to serve on a cheeseboard with local hard cheeses, fresh summer figs, bright red currants and some fresh crusty bread. The rich saltiness contrasts nicely against the sourness of the currants, the sharpness of the local hard cheeses and smooth sweetness of the figs. Can you tell that I love contrasts?! Almost as much as I love pršut!

 

Rude drivers who don’t get the job vs wonderful drivers who become friends

Of course as soon as we hit Nanjing, my darling mother is all about what work we can do and where we can go and lets DO IT ALL NOW!!! Luckily, we are totally down with her being a crazy lady so when Mum and Dad told us we all had to be at Nanjing Nan train station at 6am on Thursday morning, we just rolled with it. Unfortunately, the new Starbucks inside the train station terminal didn’t get the memo and wasn’t open when we arrived. They weren’t due to open until 7am but our train was scheduled to leave at 7am and we NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDED coffee! Luckily we had Nick to sweet talk the girl behind the counter and convince her to make us drinks early enough for us to race back to the gate just as it opened to let us down to our platform and we made it onto our train in plenty of time with coffees in tow. First mission of the day successful!

Mum had scheduled two workshops for Thursday and Friday in two different cities, Rui’an (瑞安) and Cixi(慈溪). Now when we travel with Mum and Dad for work, we usually stay at the local Intercontinental Hotel. We are all Club Members which means we get benefits, upgrades to Club Lounge and the food at Happy Hour is a great free substitute for dinner! Turns out there are no Intercontinental Hotels in either Rui’an or Cixi. Mum presented in Ningbo (宁波) a month or so ago and loved the service at the Ningbo Intercontinental. And since their rates were so reasonable and it wasn’t far from Rui’an and Cixi, we decided to stay in Ningbo. Which was great because it meant that after we had finished working, we had the weekend to explore Ningbo. I had done a little bit of research and I found that the XueDou Temple and the surrounding area (雪窦寺), just outside of Xidou (溪口), was an interesting place to explore. And after a pretty decent sleep in and buffet breakfast on Saurday, Dad asked the concierge to help him order a driver on IMG_3881his Didi app to take us to XueDou. Communicating on the app, the driver quoted a price (I think from memory it was about 150RMB), Dad accepted and the driver came to the hotel. Upon arrival at the Intercontinental, the driver all of a sudden wanted more money! Apparently, between Dad accepting the ride and the driver seeing us Westerners waiting for him, the price went up to over 300RMB! HA! I really felt for the young porter who was a timid looking Chinese guy whose English really wasn’t up to translating Mum’s arguing in English or the drivers very aggressive Chinese. And there was no way that we were paying the inflated price unless he gave us a good reason. Which he didn’t. So we told him to go away. It always amuses me how you don’t need translation to tell someone to go away. Body language definitely suffices for such kinds of communication!

 

So Dad heads back into the hotel to organise another driver with the concierge. Cue more waiting and then another car turns up. He had a nice smile, Dad said the concierge checked with him that the price would not change and he checked with us before using the highway (which incurred a toll charge). During the drive, he tried to interact with us a little. He drove us through the gates to the attraction after a discussion with the guards that we think was about private cars not being allowed through. He pointed to us a lot during that conversation which we interpreted to mean that he was explaining to the guard that he was hired by these crazy Westerners so he should be let through. Whatever he said, it worked and we were allowed through the gate! Seems he had never been to XueDou Temple either, cos he made ‘wow’ noises along with the rest of us as the huge (HUGE) Buddha Maitreya statue came into view. Instead of just dropping us off and driving away, he arranged with Nick and Dad to wait for us and drive us back after for 250RMB total. Which was such a great price! And once we had paid for our entrance tickets and were inside the complex, we laughed as we kept bumping into him! Through WeChat messages and gestures, he got us to take selfies with him, which he promptly posted on WeChat Moments.

Unfortunately, Mum badly sprained her ankle before we arrived and even though she was stubborn enough to walk up all those stairs, her ankle got really painful and tired once she finally made her way down. We were all tired as well anyway, so we didn’t get the chance to explore Xuedou mountains other offerings, which sound absolutely amazing.

Driving back to Ningbo, he was much more animated. Using our rudimentary Chinese skills, we learned that his name is 井振华 (Jing Zhenhua to us!). He laughed when he couldn’t understand what the hell we were talking about and was very careful to only use WeChat messaging to communicate with us when he was stopped at a red light. Which made a change from one of our old drivers in Nanjing, who would scare the crap out of my by paying more attention to Wechat than he did driving! Back at the hotel, Nick gave Zhenhua 300RMB and it was actually a big deal to take it. Normally Chinese drivers don’t like to take a penny more than the fare agreed upon. It’s a pride and a respect thing. And Nick was very careful to demonstrate to him in a respectful way that we really appreciated how helpful he was and that we enjoyed his company. He handed the extra money to him with both hands and Zhenhua graciously accepted. I think it also helped that we then invited him to be our guest in the Club Lounge. It was Happy Hour so we were able to share with him the benefits of free drinks and free food that was laid out in a small buffet. We kept talking to him, with the help of WeChat (thanks goodness for WeChat’s awesome translation functions!) and we learned more about him. Originally from Hunan, he lived in Ningbo with his wife and two kids. He asked us how we knew each other, where we lived and how long we would be in China. Dad got to practice his Chinese and told him that I was his daughter. It took a few goes but he eventually understood! He ate a certain Chinese fruit (in English it’s called the longan berry and in Chinese it’s called龙眼 or long yan) and showed me how to peel it, and spit the pip out. He offered to take us anywhere we wanted later that night for no charge, “We are now friends.” When I expressed interest in street food, he said that there was lots of colourful and local street food near Tianyi (天一) Square. So that’s where we went. He seemed quite content to play tour guide for us, he laughed at how much I loved chestnuts (板栗 or ban li) and helped us to buy a bag for me to munch on. I had fun getting lost in the maze of little shops in an open-air mall kind of place, as Nick and Zhenhua both tried to avoid the stench of the smelly tofu that wafted in the air! We were right underneath the Tianfeng Pagoda (originally built in the Tang Dynasty) and even though it was not open, it cast an impressive shadow across the night sky. Nick was particularly stoked that Zhenhua understood his rusty Chinese when he asked about a particular kind of boiled dumpling that he loves (水饺 or shuijiao, which is literally water dumpling). Zhenhua even found us a little place to buy shuijiao from. And they were yummy too!

It really made our time in Ningbo to have met Zhenhua. How glad are we that the first driver was so rude because otherwise we would not have had the chance to meet the lovely guy who drove us around and laughed at our terrible Chinese!

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Eating my way through Dalmatia/Croatia Part 1 – Peka

“There is no love sincerer than food.” And my love for Croatia and the Dalmatian coast is firmly entrenched in this sincere love of the homestyle, generous, seasonal cuisine that this area is renown for.

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On the Dalmatian coast, the food influences are decidedly Mediterranean, due to the heavy historical influences of the Romans and Greeks. Plenty of olive oil, capers, cured meats, local cheese, grilled vegetables, and pizza, pizza, pizza!!! I was even told more than once that Croatian pizza is better than Italian pizza… A statement that I let linger as opposed to getting into an argument!

What is not arguable is that there is one Croatian dish that stands out to most foreigners who visit this new/old country. A dish that, even if you cannot for the life remember the name of it, you simply describe how it looked cooking in the open air wood fired oven, you describe the ingredients and flavours, how the meat fell off the bone, and anyone who has been to this part of the world will know immediately which dish you are so enthusiastically referring to! There is no other dish like Isopod Peka.

This traditional Dalmatian dish is cooked in the outdoor kitchen (crna kuhinja or black kitchen) that most Dalmatian island restaurants have, and many homes as well. This is the kitchen where the messier food prep is done, where a large stone open fire is the central focal point. It is also a great place to socialise as the chef works his magic. The wood fired aroma that these outdoor kitchens give off creates such homely, relaxed atmosphere, perfect for kicking back with a bottle of local red wine as your peka cooks! (Hot tip: Ask your host where the wine comes from. It is highly likely that he/she will tell you very proudly that it comes from his/her family’s vines or from the island that he/she hails as home. And there is always a good story involved!)

Essentially a slow cooked dish that is baked in the open fire, peka is easy to assemble. Meat and vegetables are put into a large flat pot or tray, and the pot is covered and cooked. At least that’s the short version! Getting the mix of ingredients right is where the skill lies. And the mix differs from island to island, village to village, family to family. As is with most Dalmatian home cooking, the meat and vegetables tend to reflect what is available seasonally and what is fresh. The meat component can be anything, from veal to octopus, pork to cuttlefish. The vegetables are also determined by what is in season and locally available, courgette (zucchini!), onion, garlic, carrots, capsicum (peppers)… And potatoes. You simply cannot forget the potatoes. It is often said by the local people that peka must be made with love and patience, as this is what makes it so most waveringly delicious. Nothing to do with the seemingly instinctive use of local herbs (rosemary grows wild EVERYWHERE and is incredibly pungent and fresh!), olive oils and wines to complement the flavours of the meat and vegetables!

The defining feature of cooking peka is the črpnja, the special shaped lid that you put over the pot of food. The unique bell shape of this lid allows it to fully cover the pot full of food. The English term for peka, “Under the Bell” is derived directly from this particular piece of equipment.  Some črpnja even allow you to cover the top of the lid in hot embers. Then, the peka cooks for at least 3 hours, until the meat falls apart and the potatoes melt in your mouth.

Although these days, peka is more often made in cast iron dishes, traditionally it was a dish that was cooked in earthenware. The kind of meal that all the family would come over to share, and in Dalmatia they still do! The kind of meal that I revel in, with a table stacked with fresh bread, bottles of local olive oil (so green it seems as if the plant is still very much in the oil!) and vinegar, maybe a salad or two of beets, onions, cabbage and cucumber. And the peka as the crowing glory.

All of the guests that we hosted during the summer of 2016 all agreed that peka was an epic part of Croatian cuisine that they are glad they had the chance to try. And we cannot wait to head back and explore more of the Dalmatian cuisine that we miss so much. There is still SO MUCH left to explore!

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“Think Different”

Apparently, the title of my blog post today is a direct quote from Steve Jobs. Not a particular fan of Jobs myself, I can appreciate his tenacity and single-mindedness, and he was certainly not afraid to think different. This quote was brought to my attention when it was used in a blog by a friend of mine. Simon Young blogged about the hat he wears, why he wears it and how it’s become his signature. You can read his blog here.

And when I read Simon’s blog, it got me thinking. I personally had never even thought to ask him why he wears a fedora all day, pretty much every day. As far as I was concerned, it was what he liked doing, it was his thing, he seemed to be happy with the situation and the rest was none of my business! It’s funny cos I commented on his Facebook post linked to his blog that it had never occurred to me to ask him why and his response was: “Because you’re not afraid to be different.” A perspective I don’t often have of myself.

His blog post and his response to my comment really got me thinking. And I get his reasons for wearing a hat. They are similar reasons to me getting my side shave and why I keep it. I got a side shave because the idea of it thrilled me and scared me in equal parts. A good friend of mine had just gotten her side shaved and I loved her bravery and sass. I ummed and aaahed over it for a few weeks. I had my hair dresser tightly braid that side of my hair to mimic a side shave. And then eventually I decided to stop faffing about and to just do it!

Once my side was shaved, I felt different. I felt braver and sassier. People already stopped and looked at us, given we were living in Nanjing, China at the time. With my side shaved, they stopped and look at us even more! And I revelled in it. I loved the attention. I felt less suppressed by social gender norms. I am a cis female, a girl. Girls are societally expected to be pretty. Its where we are constantly told our value lies and great stress is placed on maintaining our looks. I have always struggled with this. As a teenager, I so desperately wanted to be different. I wore op shop clothes in weird combinations, I dyed my hair all colours of the rainbow, and still I felt the pressure to conform. The world that I lived in kept pushing me back to these ideas of looking like a ‘normal’ girl, both subtly and not so subtly. I remember dressing up to go to a function with my then boyfriend. I felt so good in my outfit of chunky boots, mini skirt, black tight t-shirt with red tartan arm warmers, only to have him turn up at my doorstep and say “You’re not wearing THAT are you?!” The different me that he claimed to love was slowly being whittled away by his under handed comments, with the intention of making me more palatable to the masses.

It dfullsizerender-51.jpgidn’t work. But I still felt the weight of these expectations. Especially when I gained weight and deviated from what a pretty girl is strictly supposed to look like. It took me a very long time to identify this narrative. All my life I have been different for some reason or another. And through all of these differences, the narrative to be a good, pretty, outspoken but not too outspoken, curvy but not too curvy girl just like the others was a common theme underneath all the various facets of my life. Once I identified this narrative, I was determined not to let it define me. My side shave rebelled against this narrative and empowered me in some pretty unexpected ways.

  • Its butch. I wasn’t fully prepared for how butch having a side shave felt for me! Especially as I have a fat face (Having a fat face is not a bad thing, so please don’t say “No, you don’t have a fat face. You’re beautiful.” I have a fat face AND I am beautiful). And after the initial shock of the feeling, I discovered how much I LOVED feeling a little bit butch. It made me feel powerful, strong and intimidating! And I basked in that power, even if it was all only in my head!
  • Its drastic. Going from having long hair most of my life to shaving a chunk of hair off the side of my head… Well there was no way to tread lightly or ease myself into having a side shave, despite my efforts to do exactly that! The actual shave was proper scary. And it made me feel alive. It gave me butterflies. It made me nervous. I am a firm believer that nervousness is a sign that something matters. This mattered to me and I am so glad I had it done.
  • Its confronting. I am totally enamoured with how my side shave really helps me embrace the unexpected qualities in me. Butch and pretty are not opposing notions despite what society tries to tell us. I can be strong and fat and butch and pretty and intimidating and comforting and attractive all in one package. I can be whatever the hell I decide to be! And whenever I style my hair or re-shave my side, I remember that and I feel brave again. Because I don’t have to fit into a stupid box or choose only one thing to be.

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Yes, my side shave is a superficial detail, a hairstyle that I can get rid of with a few months growing my hair out if I wanted to. It’s not a big deal and it’s not going to save the world or even a person’s life. And it was a step that I took in expressing a little bit of who I am. Honestly, it’s the best hair style I have ever had. It feels authentic and very true to me as a person. And I do LOVE the feeling of freshly shaved hair after Nick has razored it right down. No one has really asked me why I shaved part of my head and yet in true me style, I have told you all anyways! Typical, ay.

“Empowered women empower women!”

I love mantras like the one I used in my title of this blog post. Way too often, women and girls are pitted against each other in competition that doesn’t focus on their skills, expertise or competence. It’s all about who is the prettiest, who is the ‘hottest’, who turns the most heads. It’s a trap that is so easy to fall into if we’re not careful!

I make a concentrated effort to opt out of this kind of competition. It certainly helps that I’m not a competitive person by nature. That’s one trait that I did NOT inherit from my mother! And yet I still compare myself to other women, especially when I look in the mirror, and find myself lacking. I have found that one method to combat this is to celebrate, support and up-lift the ladies in my life that I adore. And there are many!  Today, which coincidentally happens to be International Womens Day, I want to show my support for a gorgeous woman that I admire for her easy-going nature and the sense of calm that she brings.

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Laura (LJ) and I met in Raleigh, North Carolina. We were both new employees of an American company called Broadreach based in Raleigh, and we were both there to do a Wilderness First Responders course set up for Broadreach employees. She was the British girl in the front row giggling at the instructors use of the word ‘bonking’. She was sweet and kind and came across so unassuming! We went on to work together at the Broadreach base in Anse Marcel, Saint Martin. She was a dive instructor and I was a first mate for the Arc trip. I couldn’t help but gravitate towards her. When we were on the staff training cruise, she was the only dive instructor who really noticed my intense fear of the sea, and I will never forget the patience and kindness that she showed me that first time we had to put on snorkel gear and swim together as a group. I felt like such an idiot, being the only non-sea person amongst skippers and divers! Without her help, I would have had a panic attack and would have made a scene, which I hate. I was so thankful for her!

After we had finished up our three month stint with Broadreach, w337171_10151190710352838_1722407093_oe chartered a yacht and went on holiday for a couple of weeks with a bunch of people including LJ. Poor girl was stricken with a bad tooth and yet she was so quiet about her discomfort and pain, not wanting to be a drag or to spoil anything for the rest of us. I really loved how she would do her own thing, often disappearing to the peace and quiet of her cabin or finding a free spot up on deck to sun-bake!

We parted ways after that sailing holiday, LJ ended up in London and we spent way too long in Sydney. Although we kept kinda in contact, it was another four years before we saw her again! In summer 2016, Nick and I were running a 49ft yacht in the Dalmatian Islands and LJ jumped on board for a few days. And it was like the last four years had never even happened. We drank ciders in the sun together, we reminisced about the Caribbean, she was still such a calming influence, still kind and she would still run away every now and then, only to be found either in the water or sun baking up on deck!

Now she’s off on another adventure. Her heart belongs to the sea and there’s not much of that in London town! So she’s packing her bags once more and her first stop is Thailand, to return to the sun and the diving and the nomad lifestyle. She is following her heart and I really admire her for pursuing her passion! If you or anyone you know is heading to Thailand soon and wants to do some diving, then I simply cannot recommend LJ highly enough. She is a great dive instructor and prides herself on the quality of her instructing. You can follow her adventures on her blog https://ljthediver.wordpress.com/ where she documents her past and current globe trotting highlights. As a former travel agent, she also has some fab tips on travelling to many of the far flung corners of the globe!

I can’t wait to meet up with Laura again and this time I won’t be leaving it another four years!

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