Part of a journey

337461_10150452988241853_755705957_oSeveral years ago I went on a little journey. I was visiting my uncle who lives in one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world near Queenstown, New Zealand. It was not far from the little village where I spent several happy summer holidays as a child. During one of those summers when I was about 12, my father decided to take me and my younger brother on a hike through the rivers and over the mountains to an old, abandoned settlement from the gold rush days. I remember the walk, under the hot central Otago sun, as being grueling but incredible. We were pushed beyond our physical limits to traverse the terrain, to wade through chest-deep freezing rivers and to walk for some eight hours almost vertically. I felt a great sense of accomplishment upon arriving at our destination, a few ramshackle buildings, piles of rocks really, hidden among the tall, dry grass.

I set out that bright and early morning in order to revisit this place. I was encouraged by the blue sky and calm breeze. I made my way by mountain bike to the entrance of the hike, stopping for an apricot and chicken pie on the way. I decided that I would do everything from memory so I didn’t do any prior research, I would just see where my intuition would take me. Things started off well enough but then I realized after about an hour, as the stony hills became progressively steeper and the sun started to beat down on my pasty skin, leaving a pink ting, that it was perhaps a bit ambitious to be walking all that way alone on such a hot day with minimal supplies. Still, I persevered and paddled through rivers and clambered over rocks. Marveling at the sheer beauty of it all. I eventually noticed that there was a kind of road, probably leading in the direction I was going. As if I had willed it, two minutes later a black SUV came roaring along and stopped next to me. A woman in her late 40’s or early 50’s appeared as her window in the passenger’s side slid down. We exchanged pleasantries and it turned out her and her husband, visiting from Australia, were heading to the same place. They offered me a ride. I thought twice – I had wanted to walk and feel that same sense of accomplishment I had felt all those years ago, knowing that the destination is not as important as the journey. But, I knew that I wouldn’t make it if I tried to walk so I jumped into the backseat and off we went. Mr. Australia skillfully navigated the rocky, narrow road and after a few minutes found a couple panting up the hill, weighed down by giant backpacks. We stopped and picked them up too. The man was from NZ and his wife was from England. They were tan and fit, having been hiking around all of New Zealand for the past few months.

We drove for at least thirty minutes and ended up in an open field with the long, yellow, dry grass that I remembered. Together we sat near the abandoned, restored structures that were once houses, a bakery, a schoolhouse. Things seemed smaller than I remembered. The older Australian couple had recently sold their environmental sustainability consulting firm for a lot of money and had been travelling around the world. The younger couple had also sold their artisan cottage industries and their house and were planning on backpacking around the world and then settling in the Caribbean to restart their businesses again. Both couples spoke of their dislike of children. Of how they never wanted them and will never have them. “I tell my friends ‘I’ll look after your dog, but I won’t look after your kids!'” said the Australian woman. There was too much of the world to explore.

They exchanged heart-wrenching stories of those near and dear to them who had passed away too young. They shared the same philosophy that you can’t delay things like travel until retirement. They’ve known too many people who have died from heart attacks, cancer and other illnesses before they’ve had the opportunity to explore the world.

And there I was, listening, observing, wondering. I was at a cross-roads in my life. Wondering where I would live next, what I would do, if I wanted to have children. At that time, everything was so up in the air. I wasn’t sure. Three years later, things are still confusing and unsure, but now I think the child piece has been put soundly to sleep. As for traveling, I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot while young. Still, I think there’s a long way to go.

Swallow the Red Pill

neo-matrix“This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Sound familiar? Indeed, it is the now fabled dialogue from the first Matrix film in which Morpheus entices Neo to take the red pill.

Full disclosure: I only saw the first film in The Matrix trilogy and most of it went right over my head. In fact, if I’m perfectly honest, I only watched it because Keanu Reeves is so incredibly easy on the eyes.

However, I cannot remain ignorant any longer. More than a decade after this film made waves by forcing a mainstream audience to consider the nature of reality and question their own lives, it has become entrenched in both our psyches and popular culture (including rap music – holla Kanye!). How do I know this? Because I hung out a little bit with my good friend Google, and also my human friends keep making obtuse Matrix references in conversation. And I kind of get the gist of what they’re saying, the point they’re making. But I wanted to explore the notion of the pills a little further.

So, recently, I was hanging with my friend, who is also foreign, along with two Korean university students who have never left Korea. We were talking about traveling. Both my aforementioned friend and I have traveled. A lot. We encouraged our Korean friends to go and expand their horizons beyond their own borders. Then, my friend said, “But do it at your own peril. It’s like in the The Matrix, you take that pill and you will never be the same. Your life will change. It won’t all be good, either.” I piped up, “Yes, and you can’t put the genie back in the lamp, or squeeze toothpaste back into tube.” (Which, incidentally, was completely lost on them with their limited knowledge of English).

Anyway, according to Wikipedia, “The blue pill and its opposite, the red pill, are pop culture symbols representing the choice between the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue) and embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red).”

Everyday, we must decide which pill we will take – whether we want to be ignorant little hamsters running around on our wheels, or if, instead, we want to keep questioning, examining, searching for the truth, ripping off the veil of illusion and striving to understand how the world really is. Rabbit hole, anyone?

 

 

Girls Gone Wild (in Asia)

DSC_0375

Me with my then-pregnant friend Kati in Taipei 2011

One of my dear friends whom I grew up with – we lived in the same suburb, went to the same middle and high school and visited each other in different cities during university – just had her first baby. In Hong Kong. While I am excited for my friend and her new journey as a mother, I think it is weird that a significant proportion of my female peers that I was friends with in my hometown now live their lives in Asia. Me included.

The friend I just mentioned is an actress, director, agent and teacher. In New Zealand she was also these things, but on a much smaller scale. If you haven’t been to Hong Kong, you can’t imagine the vast amounts of wealth and opportunities available to talented, educated westerners.

My best friend from childhood who lived around the corner from me also lives in Hong Kong with her husband and two young kids. She teaches at an international school while he coaches the national rugby team.

Then there is my incredibly smart and hardworking friend who is a diplomat and does high-powered trade negotiations for the NZ government. I visited her in Taipei almost two years ago where she was posted with her family (her husband, one daughter and a son on the way, as shown in the photo above). Now she is headed to Beijing for four years. Yes, her apartment/palace in Taipei was rather incredible, her living room twice the size of my entire place.

While I’m tempted to wonder why, unlike my other Asian-dwelling lady friends, I am without husband, child, six figure salary, maid and nanny, the more interesting question is – how come we all ended up in Asia? I suppose it’s not just one thing, but more a combination of push and pull factors – economic opportunity, career development, an exciting expatriate lifestyle, the chance for travel and adventure. And really, when you’re young and adventurous, how much fun can you have in a country of 4 million people and 30 million sheep (unless you’re really into sheep)?

More obviously, we are products of a particular time and place. The economic rise of Asia and its increasing importance on the world stage means that more and more New Zealanders will head this way.

I was once just a blob of clay that has been sculpted by where I was born, who my parents are, where I went to school, what I studied in university and who my peers were/are. Along the way I had some formative experiences, defining relationships and developed a worldview, a personal philosophy, and grew some values. When I was conceived (in a bathroom, when my mother was 17 while she was supposed to be babysitting her little brother, so the story goes), I was stamped with a particular race (white), class (working) and gender (female). I grew up in the ’80s obsessed with New Kids on the Block and Kylie Minogue.

And yet, it is kind of incredible that while I grew up listening to my father’s stories about having to walk to school in the snow, having to get up at 5am to do the milk-run when he was still just a boy, and getting only an orange for Christmas, that I can live on the other side of the world, travel by plane, own a computer and have opportunities for education, work and lifestyle in fields and places that probably didn’t even exist back in those days.

Maybe it’s even weirder for my grandmother and great aunt who sometimes email me through their ‘machines’ to how interesting my life is. In truth, it’s not, but not in a million years could they fathom being able to be a single, educated woman roaming the world. When they were my age, they were married with children, being dutiful housewives, and having little economic or social freedom. In fact, they couldn’t even have a bank account. It blows their minds that I have several in different countries (albeit with very little money in them).

So yes, it is in a sense weird that I am living far away from home in an exotic Asian country that is technically still at war as a single woman but I think it is becoming more common and normal, in part due to the increased freedom and independence that women in the west enjoy as well as increasing globalization. While fingers crossed it’s not forever, for now it’s OK to be a girl gone ‘wild.’