Eat, Pray, Pad Thai (part two)

(Read the first half of my essay here)

Once I gave in to the flow of our daily rituals, the nausea that had been plaguing me dissipated. I even found myself offering tips to the constant revolving door of young backpackers staying in the one room not used by yoga students. I got used to the eggs, the menagerie of creatures I was surrounded by on a daily basis, particularly in my shower (frog, gecko, spider, cockroach – in that order); seeing the Buddhist monks early in the morning exchanging blessings for food in the streets. I got used to the rhythm of our days, all of us barreling into the back of a pickup truck to get to and from class everyday. I couldn’t believe how uncertain I had been at the start, and how quickly I’d assimilated. A few of the girls on the course generously donated a rotating selection of fruit to our morning coffee breaks, the mangosteens were great but the durian (stinky fruit) was not for me.

 Top: Monks offering blessings in exchange for breakfast (and Goofy’s canine behind); bottom: the back of the pickup truck

We went to a local restaurant offering Thai and ‘Western’ food one evening, pictures of a club sandwich next to a green curry in the menu. We were always the loudest in the restaurant, a gaggle of five dirty, sweaty yogis ordering nearly everything on the menu. I ordered my by now signature Chang beer, and a panang curry. The waiter wrote it down on a pad of paper, asked if I wanted it spicy or mild. ‘Spicy’ I said, then jokingly added ‘very’. She slowly looked up from her pad, taking in the colour of my skin and hair. ‘Thai food is very spicy, are you sure?’ I was like ‘yeah go for it’. What came out was definitely spicy – Thai chillies have a habit of lulling you into a false sense of security at first, then the slow burn. It was great.

 

A Friday evening brought the strangely titled ‘Night Walking Market’, a street market of curios, souvenirs, cheap-and-nasty cocktails, and noodle stalls. I’d now gotten used to the noise and smells of the place, but even this was busy for me. We ate delicious pad thai standing in the street, and once we’d taken in all the stalls found a man making fresh hand-made coconut ice cream. Retreating to a corner of the square, we watched a man beatbox amazingly well and later two boys do a Fawn Leb (traditional dance) and ate our coconut ice creams. Everyone had topped theirs with peanuts, I had sprinkles.

 

Top to bottom: pad thai, market, coconut ice cream, dancing

One evening we came back from dinner, I turned on the air conditioner in my room and suddenly everything went quiet and black. Outside; the crickets, frogs and whatever else sounded louder than ever. I stepped out to the main patio, and met the guy on my course. It seemed the power was out, only in our building. The housekeeper called Ronald* and our teacher. When they arrived, he proclaimed the fuse to have blown, that there was nowhere he could buy one at this time, and no way there would be an electrician working to fix it. I looked at my co-student: a night without aircon and phone charging was a bit too much after the long day. We sat on the patio in candlelight, and watched Ronald ‘jerry-rig’ a new fuse from a Chang beer can. How appropriate. He made a little handle for the fuse out of sellotape to prevent electrocution, and climbed up into the rafters of the roof with only an iPhone torch to attach the new fuse to the mains electricity. Amazingly, it worked, and he said he’d buy a new fuse the next day. On our last day we all laughed when what we’d suspected was true: he hadn’t bought a new fuse and we were still running on the Chang can replacement. This guy was the ultimate cowboy, a swiss-American ex-rockstar, avid Bitcoin ambassador and conspiracy theorist, dressed only in tatty chino cut-offs.

After lunch, we would have ‘Satsang’ (wisdom-sharing, or theory) sessions, sitting cross-legged on our yoga mats listening to our teacher talk about yogic and Eastern philosophy. Some of this tied in with Western medicine quite nicely: Qi-Gong states that every organ has an active hour (could be somewhat compared to cell circadian rhythms). Other stories were more esoteric, ranging from Buddhist monks meditating their way to being able to breathe underwater, to prisoners growing knocked-out teeth back. Sometimes this would be on seafront rocks, or visiting Ronald’s adobe (sandbag and earth) home’s construction site. Sitting on the mats on the floor during portions of the class not spent doing active yoga was nearly the most difficult thing, especially being told that Buddhist monks and real yogis can sit cross-legged for hours, concentrating on meditation to overcome discomfort. I felt like I’d failed, it was just so uncomfortable.

 Joined by a different stray dog, ‘nan tang’, for satsang.

Somewhere just before halfway through the training, we were let go early from class. How does one celebrate early freedom? We headed to a nearby beach club and drank sugary cocktails whilst swimming beneath the stars and frangipani trees in full bloom, the perfume sitting heavy on the breeze. We were celebrating: lounging on giant pool floaties, playing like kids.

 Beach club fun

On the second last day, the rest of the group decided to join myself and my coffee co-conspirator on our lunchtime coffee run. We went to an Italian restaurant for ice-cream, only to find it shut as is typical on a Monday in Samui. Walking back, disheartened, a waiter jumped out at us from the trees and gestured for us to come in. One of my classmates asked whether they had ice creams, the waiter gently assuring us they had ‘many flavours’. This sounded suspiciously like it might not be true. We were brought behind the bar, and the waiter’s face turned to a proud grin as she gestured towards a freezer full of mini ice cream tubs of every flavour imaginable: rum & raisin to durian, mangosteen to cookies n’ cream. I wondered what she must have thought about this bunch of 5 sweaty and dirty foreigners, walking in to a nice restaurant and demanding ice cream in multiple flavours and coffee.

 

The exam day, our second-to-last, came around quickly. We had to select a logical and cohesive flow of poses from the 90-minute routine we’d done every day, condense it to fit into a 60-minute session, and lead the full class. It was nerve-wracking, and I got reprimanded halfway through for not leaving the students to hold a pose long enough (three variations of half moon, my least favourite), but I managed to get into the groove after that and passed. Afterwards I was exhausted – teaching is hard! We all decided to do every one of each others’ exam class – four in total that day. By the last happy baby pose I thought my hips would never recover.

 Wat Plai Laem Buddhist Temple visit

Our last day concluded with two 60-minute sessions taught by two classmates, followed by a ‘posture clinic’ at a ‘waterfall’ on the other side of the island. This turned out to be less fun than we had anticipated: we took turns photographing each other holding each of the thirty poses we had practiced throughout the course, whilst balancing on the boulders within the river. In our subgroup, hiking upriver jumping from rock to rock, a young boy offered to lead us to the ‘proper’ waterfall, presumably for a small fee. He wouldn’t take no for an answer for a long time, and then sat bemused, watching us run through the poses on various boulders. The rocks trapped the sun’s heat, it quickly became very sweaty work. We finished with sandwiches like Vietnamese banh mi on the rocks, grateful for the posture clinic to be over.

 Top: the waterfall; bottom: my ’embryo’ pose

After the conclusion of our course – celerated by burning our wishes and yantras from day one – I left our little home and stayed in a nearby hotel. I’d planned this for months, as it was the eve of my birthday I wanted to treat myself (as if I hadn’t already, but oh well). I booked a beach suite, which I barely got to see but the morning views were worth it alone. I was so sad leaving, everyone was so kind and friendly. I have to go back soon – if not for the yoga then definitely for the noodle soup and Changs.

Final night’s accommodation

It will take a while to digest everything that I learned in Thailand. For a short while I completely went with ‘the flow’ (I flow with the rhythm of life – second chakra mantra). Our little band of students got surprisingly close during the intensive teaching, we laughed near-constantly and managed to lift each other when things got a bit tough. Being home, I feel the same as before, and yet completely different. Yes, there were beaches and trips to Buddhist temples, but the yoga and teaching were a different level of difficulty. My body ached, and yet I kept going.

Samui airport transport

I always thought I was good at getting outside of my ‘comfort zone’ but realised that I never truly had as an adult. I still always had control, had always planned a trip so that I would be comfortable. I was able to see the privilege in being able to go on a yoga retreat, and the privilege of being able to be comfortable. Going forward I promised myself that I’ll make sure to be more uncomfortable in all the right ways, and be better at getting out of situations where I’m uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons.

 

Thanks for reading!

Eat, Pray, Pad Thai (part one)

I recently spent some time in Thailand, my first visit ever, to train to become a yoga instructor.  It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I kind of reached the point over the years that it seemed like I would never get to do it, so one day in May I cracked and booked flights as a few weeks off work. Waiting in terminal 5 in Heathrow, again my first time (South African Airways operates out of T3, and that is the main reason I hit Heathrow in the first place). I wrote the majority of this on the day of my return flight, my birthday, drinking mini bottles of prosecco in multiples.

 

The flight to Bangkok was uneventful enough, despite some pretty intense turbulence that lasted the width of India and the Andaman sea. It seemed that we’d never get past India, I knew it was big but not hours worth at 30,000ft. I arrived in BKK confused and tired. All I wanted was coffee, but I didn’t have it in me to try order one (ridiculous, I know, but hey I was tired). On the 50-minute domestic flight to Koh Samui we were rapidly served a full meal of spicy shrimp and rice at 11am. No options, no meat or vegetarian choice, no lacto-ovo-paleo-whatever else option. I tried the food, the chillies were enormous and it was pretty delicious. I just couldn’t go on though – all I wanted was the coffee, dark and bitter. I sipped this and watched the islands pass by as we flew over the Gulf of Thailand.

 

Flying over Koh Phangan

Hot, humid midday air hit me as I got off the plane and stepped on the golf buggy/childrens fun train hybrid to bring us to the terminal. Samui airport is small and surrounded by tropical flowers. It’s also mostly outdoors – there are few walls (something I would soon get used to during my trip) so it really was one with nature. I was here at last, to learn to teach yoga, and perhaps even ‘find myself’, who knows.

 

I collected my baggage from the ‘international’ carousel – one of only two. My teacher was waiting outside as promised with my name on a mini whiteboard to bring me to our accommodation. She kept mentioning how she was a slow driver, however as we weaved through moped traffic, potholes, and at one point directly on the runway (a shortcut) I realised this may not be the whole truth. Either that, or people in Thailand drive faster on average.

 

The international carousel at Samui airport

At the accommodation, I fell straight onto the bed and slept fitfully for a few hours after the flight, surfacing only in the early evening. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast over Myanmar at dawn. The walk to the main beach road was short, lined with small shacks, shops, and stray dogs napping in the glow of dusk. There are no traffic lights or pedestrian crossings on Samui – apparently there was one traffic light on the neighbouring island Koh Phangan but locals destroyed it, preferring the game of chance they’ve played for years. 

 

I knew the beach was on the other side of the main road, but was obscured by buildings. I finally found a path through an overgrown car park area, then realised once I was on the beach how hilariously dodgy that would have been back in London. I’m in paradise at last, but the entrance is through an abandoned stretch of dodgy land. The beach was beautiful – I’ve seen some beaches in my time but have always pined for the perfect tropical paradise, lined with coconut palms. This was it – a toe in the water proved what I’d read, that it is as warm as bathwater.

 

Bangrak beach at sunset

I fell back into a fitful sleep back at the accommodation, and was woken by a female voice calling out late in the evening. I waited for the longest time, hoping they would go away, before finally heading out to find two Dutch girls. They were leaving, they said, because there were millipedes on their bedroom walls. I assured them I didn’t work there, and that also there seemed to be a lot of millipedes around anyway. The teacher had told me there were 4 other students joining class the next morning, I thought these girls were part of this number. After they left, I sat in the dark in bed wondering ‘what on earth have I done?’ ‘Is it really that bad?’ ‘Should I also leave?’ In my notebook, I constructed a calendar with which to tick off the days, as if I could even tick off hours passed it would get me home sooner.

 Top: my room for the duration of the course; bottom: a chill-out area on our patio

The next day meditation started at 7am. Three other bodies found their way to the patio from their respective bungalows. Turns out the Dutch girls weren’t students, we were awaiting one more girl to join us a few days later, and the other students were fairly normal. Thank goodness.

We sat on the beach, joined by a friendly-ish stray dog our teacher called ‘Goofy’ (his real name was Moo Ping which means BBQ pork, his favourite thing to steal from the food stall he hangs out by). We meditated on the root chakra mantra ‘lam’; although I meditated on the beach, the view, and the little hermit crabs scuttling across the sand in front of us.

After meditation was a coffee break initiated by me – I had brought a tin of Nescafé Azera from the UK, my only comfort – I could not deal with caffeine withdrawal symptoms on top of culture shock and jet lag. This post-meditation coffee break became a daily ritual for us, necessary energy for the day ahead.

A 90-minute yoga sequence followed coffee – on the first day it was a welcome novelty. There was a lovely open-air shala (yoga studio) at our teacher’s house deep in the Samui jungle. The following days, when I realised we would repeat the same sequence every day I felt disheartened – the humidity, sweat, mosquitos seemed too much at times. 

 Our own jungle shala

We learned about yoga philosophy, sat on the patio and drew our own yantras (like Buddhist and Hindu mandalas) for the elephant god Ganesh, and wrote down 10 wishes. This was the perfect time to do so, our teacher told us, as the course started on the new moon which is intention-setting time. The table – a standard issue wooden picnic table – was nicknamed the ‘yoga’ table due to its propensity for collapsing to one side if someone got up. I later worked out it could not be a yoga table for that very reason – it should have widened its stance.

 My yantra

Our fifth student joined us a day or two later, a spur-of-the-moment flight from Boston. I felt for her, we had already become accustomed to doing the yoga sequence amongst the millipedes. Turns out I had nothing to worry about – she was a plucky Russian native who fitted right in to our motley crew.

Over the following days we meditated and asana-d our way through the chakras from root to crown. The second day (sacral chakra), I struggled with moving my body in the heat, some emotions during the tough yoga practice, and with unexplained nausea that sat in the pit of my stomach for days. I thought: this is going to be a long slog.

 

We had breakfast and lunch during our school day, served initially by the accommodation’s housekeeper. The usual cook, Ronald (not his real name), was in Phuket trying to bail a friend out of jail for a crime he didn’t commit, apparently. Once he was back we enjoyed salads with exotic dressings, jerusalem artichokes and blue rice noodles. After the first few days of an egg-heavy ketogenic diet, and suffering with this nausea, I spoke up. ‘I don’t mind eggs, I just barely eat them at home. I’m struggling with having them every day’. I asked for at least a smaller portion. It became an in-joke with my classmates every time we were served eggs, I’d brace myself and mix each small bite of egg with as much of the exotic local veg garnish as I could fit on my fork. Eggs or tofu, or eggs and tofu – we had it all.

 

A typical lunch

I found a kindred spirit in the only guy on the course, a half Brit-half Singaporean who had been through the UK private boarding school system. Every day after food during our lunch break we would sneak down the road to the local French bakery for good coffee, and every other day a buttery pain au chocolat or chocolate-laden sacristain twist. We chatted about home, our jobs, and shared stories of boarding school shenanigans. At dinner, it was always us ordering Chang or Singha beers to quench our thirst. We’d decided early on that we’d need every little bit of fuel and comfort to get us through 11 hours of yoga every day, and as drinking tap water isn’t a thing you may as well order a beer.

 

One dinner-time restaurant stood out to me, a small unassuming spot close to our local 7-11 store. In front was a cart where broth for noodle soup was made, and in the back were a few basic chairs and tables. The chicken noodle soup was cheap and delicious, the fried morning glory on the side (kind of a cross between kale and tenderstem broccoli) spicy, crunchy and rich with garlic and oyster sauce.

 Chicken noodle soup, morning glory, and fried pork.

One Sunday evening we were taken to the local ‘green market’ after class, where our cook and co-host (who had returned from multiple trips to the mainland and Phuket to save the friend from jail) had a stall selling salads and a range of kombuchas. ‘He’s a microbiologist and an ex-rockstar’ our teacher assured us. I took this with a few grains of salt, this guy apparently lived in ‘a shed up the mountain’ and wore tatty, too-big chino cut-offs. The green market was in the back garden of a bar, and attracted a strange mix of eclectic expats getting drunk on wine and smoking cannabis. ‘Cannabis is now legal on Samui’ we were assured, however a quick google search proved this to not be the case. We would certainly not be taking any chances.

 

After the first few days I’d gotten used to our daily routine, my body slowly becoming stronger with every sun salutation I did. I got used to being sweaty – dripping off me at every opportunity, and not wearing makeup. I also got used to big, ugly mosquito bites all over, and dark blue residue from the yoga mats sitting underneath my nails. I didn’t look at myself in the small mirror in the shared bathroom, preferring to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. Early on I discovered that I shared the bathroom with a tiny little jumping frog, and that the pipe from the sink just drained onto the bathroom floor. It had very few walls, as did the bathroom at the yoga shala.

Bathroom frog

From the beginning, I had to accept that I was here, I’d chosen to be here, and pretty much had to see it through. I had to surrender and just go with the flow, something I realised I’m not good at. Back home I felt like a bit of a hippy in the city, but here in the jungle with locals and on the beach with dreadlocked, tye-dye wearing gap year students I felt like a type-A control freak.

To be continued, read part 2 here

Exploring bridges: burning them, building them, and what it all means.

I literally took a trip down memory lane the other day. I was asked to drop a file off at a building across from where I lived when I first moved to the city. At first, the thought of going there filled me with absolute dread – it had been a really weird time in my life when I lived in a grim, box-sized room. I had been overwhelemed by the city, threatened to be swallowed whole by the dirt and the noise; overstimulated but also lonely. I was young, with no coping mechanisms in place – it is not a time I remember fondly.

I saw the pub on the corner, the familiar trees on either side of the road. I walked slowly down the street, expecting that feeling of dread to fill and suffocate me. What happened next was weird – it didn’t happen at all. The large Georgian building made me feel next to nothing. I was merely an observer, and it was merely a building. I realised I’d given it so much power in my mind, only to realise it was just bricks and concrete.

It seemed that perhaps without the shadowing of subjective memory, all these bad times that I hold in the back of my mind with near reverence were the same, just times. Would it be the same for some of the other periods in my life? The flat in Greece we were burgled in, the inner-city hospital that saw my first big loss? The school I struggled to fit into? Have I been carrying all these bad memories, cards tightly held against my chest, for nothing?

As a third culture kid (TCK), I’ve become used to leaving places and likely never going back, leaving people and likely never seeing them again. It’s my modus operandi, my protection; never looking back was something I thought was beneficial. The other day made me realise, however, that sometimes going back is good. Sometimes confronting the skeletons in your closet, or the places that saw your perceived worst, can be beneficial in order to truly move forward. Sometimes, on closer inspection, they don’t actually look like skeletons at all.

New Years’ Eve: My Favourite Way to Celebrate

Even better than Christmas, or the summer solstice, New Year’s Eve (capitalising it to show it the respect it deserves) is my single most favourite time of the year. Why? Do I love making self-punishing ‘resolutions’, or drinking overpriced sparkling wine masquerading as champagne? Well, of course not. My love for this time of year goes way back to when I was a little kid.

My parents were business consultants, constantly evaluating processes and striving to improve them. Sometimes this resulted in an embarrassing moment trying to pick up a hire car, and sometimes it resulted in a series of reflections on the past year over a new years’ eve eve family dinner. I remember when I was ten, twelve, fourteen, they were generally only school-related. It’s strange and sometimes odd to reflect on your year as a kid, you have had no real bearing on what you participated in and therefore it’s tricky to make any real plans for the next year. My parents picked the summer holiday destination (Greece), I just went to school. Okay, I had received an A sometimes (sometimes!), and sometimes I got grounded. This New Years’ reflection ritual was boring and tedious for me then, and possibly even a bit cringe-y. Fast forward to adult life, I realised I had never really learned these skills of reflection, they were just assimilated from watching my parents. I’m definitely a culprit of having some seriously deep thoughts on any long train or plane journey, but New Years’ eve is the time to wallow in self-reflection and planning for the next twelve months. I’ve become the reflector I never thought I’d be!

I may seem biased because I made some major personal strides in 2018, and am excited to see where 2019 will take me. It can seem that New Years’ is to celebrate accomplishments, however this is not necessarily true and once the previous year has been reviewed and the emphasis moved towards plans for the next, there is the possibility of feeling less like a victim and feeling more in control. Even if just for one night.

I know, that even on the bad years, especially on the bad years, it was nice to have a ritual to separate ‘now’ me from ‘old’ me going through whatever it was. I know that some years may be good, some tedious, and some downright terrible, but no value can be placed on this point of rebirth and hope. True, though a lot of this excitement often dissipates on Jan 1st, whether due to alcohol or the novelty wearing off when actually being in the new year; it never detracts from the moment of pure anticipation the 31st brings. It’s one night to dress up and celebrate in any way (on the sofa or in a restaurant, alone or with friends) and be reborn.

New Year’s reflections should focus on the year just completed, and plans to do more of what worked or felt good in the next. No new gym memberships, or nicotine patches required. Did you like seeing a specific friend? Text them and make plans to do more! Did you enjoy how waking up 15 minutes earlier every day made you feel? Keep doing it, and maybe throw in some meditation or listening to a podcast! Did you like how you said no to something you did not want to do? Remember to bring that tool out again in the next year if you need it. It’s all about feeling good, and letting your New Years’ reflections be a beacon of light guiding you back to who you are when they are most needed in the next twelve months.

The Art of Simple have a fantastic set of New Year’s Reflection questions, that can either be answered in a journal, or cut out and pulled out of a bowl as a bit of a group exercise. I look forward to doing this particular set of questions with my SO tomorrow, and will definitely keep the answers to compare with this time next year. Give it a try!

An Admission

I have an admission of sorts; it’s been an interesting summer. I’ve taken a break from social media, from viewing my life through a lens. I’m still not sure if it’s made me more, or less happy. Only time will tell, I guess.

Why did I do it? Did I do it to make a stand against an ever-increasingly online world? To protest against knowing what an old school friend had for brunch, but not what they do now? To limit the confidence-busting pictures of unattainable perfection? To ease the pain of waking up on a Saturday, seeing the intimate details of a night you were not invited to be a part of? Some or all of those statements are true – I’ll let you decide.

Mostly, I just would rather spend my time doing something constructive instead of The Endless Scroll. Maybe it was that BBC Panorama documentary about social media and smartphone use. However you look at it, I feel social media heightens certain aspects of interaction. This can be great, but it can also leave a bitter taste. It’s easy to go from feeling worthwhile to worthless in just a few minutes. The conundrum of the social media age: I have 650 friends, so why am so alone? I would rather try shape my world view myself – without the intrusion of story upon story, scroll after scroll, like and heart and still nothing to show.

I’m not an influencer, a Kardashian or a boss babe. I am me, I write and I read and I worry about Brexit (as an EU national – shock horror I know!), and I cook dishes that get eaten and sometimes not photographed.

I have drawn my boundaries, spent some tome cold turkey, and feel I am ready to return to Sudden Stranger on my own terms. No one needs another #travelbae, and any more reasons to be jealous of a life they don’t have (or judging one inferior to theirs).

I have found some difficulty in trying to find my place in the world as a third culture kid, struggling to find a ‘tribe’ that share some of the experiences I have had. I have decided to embrace my place between the grey of here and there, in between continents and nationalities, and instead I guess I will ‘build it and they will come’.

So I would love to work on creating a platform for people who feel the same.

Spotlight: Katharina Grosse @ Gagosian Gallery, London

There is a gallery space hidden down Britannia street near King’s Cross station (so near, in fact, there is no excuse not to go). It opens up into a maze of compact but seemingly vast expanses of pure white walls interspersed with swathes of natural light. I’ve been to galleries before, but this was on another level of pristine purity.

Katharina Grosse is a German-born artist whose work involves paint, stencils and negative space to produce striking, geometric pieces.

In ‘Prototypes of Imagination’, Grosse reveals the ways in which painting catalyzes the unfolding of multiple dimensions on a single surface

– Gagosian exhibition pamphlet

One almost falls into the first installation, the small antechamber of the entrance hall opening up to the largest room with no warning, no ceremony. The largest piece was canvas hanging from the ceiling, almost like a waterfall. One could peek behind it as there was no wall directly behind it, which added to the drama and impact on arrival.


In the adjoining rooms, huge individual canvases dwarfed the viewer. I felt truly moved by the scale of these pieces, the energy and emotion that weaved its way through the collection. Some pieces were hard, jagged, abrupt with pointy, straight lines. Some had colours flowing around areas of negative space.

There is no boundary between reality and imagination. To imagine is to realize. My pictures are prototypes of this recognition; they try out – and dramatically compress – the characteristics of reality. I build prototypes of the imagination so they can be reenacted and applied to other fields of endeavour

– Katharina Grosse


One piece (not pictured), brought up feelings of dread from afar with brutal lines and use of grey. On closer inspection, one saw the lichen-like dabbing of acrylic, that the grey was actually a silver sheen, and that up close it behaved completely differently.


If this collection explores imagination, then it inspires as much as it has been inspired. All the pieces were unnamed, unadorned, unexplained. Part of me struggled with this, I needed to know why that drip was there, what that shape meant. What did the artist feel in the exact moment of that brush stroke? Not being titled, though, seemed to almost be the title piece itself. Allow your imagination to be explored, each canvas said, and tell me what you think. I think in that lies the real genius of this collection.

Things I Want To Do In 2018

It may be a little bit beyond the new year, but I guess spring is as good a time as any to plan the year and set any travel and experience goals! These aren’t big, but that’s the point. Nowadays glamorous travel bloggers seemingly seeing the world for free, access to more and more remote travel destinations has become entry level and a badge of honour. I sense a sort of travel snobbery evolving, so I want to try and keep it real this year.

I have really felt the pressure to see and do more, but my education in slow living is teaching me to try and make smaller, more tangible experience-based goals. I would of course also love to visit far-flung and remote places, but I also want to feel simple pleasure and easy bliss. Life isn’t just one long bucket list, because what if one doesn’t complete every task? Have you then failed at life? Call me melodramatic but it is something I think about. I do have a list of places I want to go and things I want to do, but I also try and find a balance. I don’t have to use every bank holiday weekend for an international city break, or every week’s holiday to sprint off to Asia. It’s fine to dream small, because sometimes big things happen too.


Sleep under the stars

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There is nothing a city-dweller loves more than taking advantage of the lack of occluding pollution when visiting less urban spots. Use a cool stargazing app, I use Night Sky, which can identify the planets and constellations when the phone is pointed towards them. I’m obsessed with the heavens, and have been since I was a child. When I am out of the city, staring up, I imagine what it must have been like hundreds, thousands of years ago. No hard scientific evidence, weather forecasting, news on CNN. No way of knowing if what you are doing was right, or what might happen in the future. There’s a certain kind of hope that lies in the sky, either that we are not alone, or that the gods are watching over us. It’s fascinating to me, and something I hope to teach any future kiddies of mine all about.


Watch the sun come up on a beach

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Watching the sun go down is easy, you fall into it after a lazy afternoon and before happy hour. Actually waking up extra early and watch the sun come up, though, takes extra effort. Dawn is my favourite time of day, as an introvert having the true peace of knowing most people are still tucked up, asleep, is so calming. I always talk about having a lie-in on holiday but still find myself up before everyone else, slowly sipping a coffee on the balcony while everyone else dreams. I’m South African, I love beaches, so combining my two favourite things equals an empty beach and plenty of awesome photos.


Hire a canal boat with friends

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Picture this: a lazy Saturday, the mid-summer air is heavy, and you and a few friends are sipping drinks on the deck of a narrowboat, the length of a canal behind you. This has been my dream for ever, and I do solemnly declare that 2018 is the year I am going to do it. The only question is, what cocktails do I bring?


Have a gourmet picnic

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After years of London living, summertime requires an almost military-level of organisation in order to enjoy even an hour of sun in a nearby park. Tote bags, mismatched beach towels, and a few bottles of beer (never the opener though… sigh) are all we can scramble together in the sprint to enjoy the sun. This year I pledge to get a proper picnic set, ready to go at a moment’s notice, and take some proper homemade food to enjoy outdoors in style. Just add friends and prosecco.


Go on a cooking course

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Bread-baking, pasta-making, you name it I would love to do it. This year has to be the year this recipe-dodger (physically can’t follow them, it must be a genetic thing) actually learns to cook something intricate and fancy. Thai? Tacos? Who knows, but I can’t wait!


Visit the UK’s only desert

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You would be forgiven for not knowing that England has its own desert, and it is located on the south coast. In between Hastings and Folkestone, this area is more famous for its nuclear power station. Years ago only artists, poets and filmmakers inhabited the quaint fisherman’s cottages in eccentricity. However, there is a contemporary architecture scene growing along this portion of the wind-battered coast. The feel seems to be very wild west, very interesting, and promises to yield picture-perfect scenes for any photographer.


See an open-air performance

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I have been meaning to do this for years, especially as London’s Regent’s Park has a not-so secret outdoor theatre showing critically-acclaimed performances. I’m imagining a balmy-but-cooling evening, lots of prosecco, and some fantastic theatre.

At the end of 2018 I plan on re-sharing this list, but replacing the stock photos with my own. I can’t wait for some fantastic adventures!

A Perfect Brunch

Salon is a small restaurant in a covered market area in Brixton, South London. Self described as ‘fine dining without the fuss’, we put its menu to the test one dreary and slightly hungover Sunday morning.

Outside

You would be forgiven for walking past it without even realising, so unassuming is the store front, I have myself walked past it for the last few years. What initially started as a pop up above an artisinal cheese store became a permanent dining space, followed by the acquisition of a wine store next door.

The vibe is smart and polished, but relaxed and unfussy. Downstairs is a bar area, but upstairs is the dining room overlooked. The convivial atmosphere seems perfect for any occasion, a relaxed lunch with friends or an intimate dinner for two.

Menu

The menu is super varied, utilising local and seasonal ingredients. This is not your typical ‘brunch’ fare early on a Sunday morning, there wasn’t a waffle or pancake in sight. The oat milk flat whites arrived; simple and unadorned, and the food served by the chef himself.

Clockwise top to bottom: buttery corn bread, sriracha, kale and smoked salmon royale, sweet potato hummus on sourdough with confit bacon lardons, and hash browns.

Lemon meringue pie

Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs (we even shared dessert, I mean who has dessert at breakfast?!) but it’s so worth it – and at a fairly reasonable price. The flavours hung on the palate long after we’d left, this is not a meal you want to pop a mint after! It’s really special when you find a spot that really speaks to you, somewhere that you could both see yourself working in and yet also feeling like home. I look forward to visiting for dinner and a glass or two of organic wine!

Day Zero: Water Crisis in Western Cape, South Africa

Earlier this year, the threat of ‘day zero’, the day water stops running from taps, loomed above South Africans locally and internationally alike. Cape Town would be the first major metropolitan city to run out of municipal drinking water supplies as dams are at an all-time low due to a dry winter rainy season.

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Photo via Good Things Guy – Theewaterskloof dam

‘How are you managing with the water restrictions?’ asks every Capetonian I know and come across on this trip. ‘Just fine’, I say. Of course staying within the 50 Litre per person per day limit is easy for us on a two week visit, I mean, we have to right? I have lived in South Africa, Ireland and the UK. I have lived through minor water restrictions; as well as plentiful and low cost supplies. This water limit was for us a part of our visit, but how long would it take before the novelty wore off? Before we were really challenged to accomplish everyday tasks?

In the UK, the average person uses around 150 Litres per day, and I’d say I’m pretty average, so what did it take us to keep within the target?

  • 90 second showers (18 litres), as infrequently as possible, tap off in between for lathering
  • Dry shampoo to lengthen time in between washes
  • Baby wipes for freshening up
  • Showering over a bucket, and using this water for toilet flushing
  • One to two toilet flushes per day
  • Minimising cooking water (baked or grilled instead), reusing water for dishwashing
  • Only fill sink up minimally for dishes and wash as many as possible in one go
  • As few laundry cycles as possible (on average a washing machine uses 50-100 litres per cycle)
  • Many residents have rerouted laundry grey water to use for toilet flushing
  • Using hand sanitizer instead of hand washing in certain settings
  • Using bottled water as much as possible (drinking, boiling food, etc)

Regretfully, a lot of waste is created here in making do with the minimal water resources. Plastic bottles in unimaginable numbers, wipes for face and kitchen cleaning, hand sanitiser bottles, dry shampoo bottles and more. It really struck me as to how stuck we are in this resource management/waste cycle as a society, and how we urgently need to rethink how we move ahead from here.

It’s getting harder and harder to clean the volume of water needed every day, one reason being pollution of freshwater sources (oil spills and microplastics anyone?), as well as seawater desalination being prohibitively expensive to implement at present. I realised while I was out here that this water crisis is not just a South African, nor indeed and African issue. This is something that could happen to any of us anywhere, with increased levels of drought (even in Europe and the USA) being projected in the near future due to climate change.

Two weeks with limited water is doable as a tourist, but we really don’t realise what we have until it is gone! What I’ll take home with me to London is that I, and all of us worldwide, could really reduce our daily household water consumption to help relieve the pressure on our precious water resources.

Could you live on less water? Try following just some of my tips above and let me know your thoughts!

A Self-Care Story

I read a great article by Brianna Wiest that really reflected and changed how I think about the pervasive ‘self care’ trend. Here are some of my thoughts:

I had a week off, alone, at home. Initially for myself I had planned sauna trips, gorgeous home-cooked meals, long baths, reading novels, and generally frolicking around like women laughing alone with salads. I was going to CARE for myself, love myself and feel great.

However, what I did this week ended up being way less cute and instagram-worthy. I trawled through the depths of my email inbox to deal with outstanding queries, delete old and unneeded emails (625 – ASOS I’m looking at you), and categorised emails that I needed to keep.

I was alone in the house for the longest time in years (a normal everyday reality for lots of people so no self-sympathy!) and it became apparent that I had to just sit in to the quiet. I booked dental appointments, did university coursework, and reflected on past conversations and situations. I repotted plants that were beyond pot-bound (bad mom!), and made plans to re-seal the bathtub (ok I’m behind schedule on that one). I reached out to people I hadn’t spoken to in a while, I also removed from social media those that do not do me any good.

That all sounds pretty normal, and not really noteworthy. But that is the point. I’ve learned that self-care is dealing with the shitty things that are at the top of your to-do list but the bottom of your priority list, and as Brianna Wiest said, it’s often ‘parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness’.

 


Matcha

This resonates so much with me, because if we’re honest it’s easy enough to agree to a salt bath and have a macha latte and just feel grateful. However I guess the real work is dealing with the difficult stuff, being assertive and your own advocate, working to build a better future for yourself. Ignoring credit card debt, toxic people in life, renewal notices and moulding bath seals doesn’t make you feel better long-term because the weight of this cosmic to-do list still rests heavy in the back of your mind, and eventually they will surely catch up to you in bigger and badder ways.

I agree that self-care is owning up to and reflecting on past mistakes, and pushing yourself to do the best possible in any given situation. Sometimes it is a lie-in if that’s what you need, but sometimes it is getting up early for a dreaded gym workout because that may be what you need too. As Poorna Bell points out, it’s also knowing and respecting your own limitations. It’s being kind to yourself when you’ve scheduled to go out but really can’t face it, and I think a big one is knowing when you need some extra support (a cleaner, a friend, a therapist).


I also loved the idea of ‘building a life you don’t have to escape from’ from Brianna’s article. I think with all the great talk occurring about mental health these days, self-care (the REAL self-care) could be one piece in the puzzle of improving symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. Putting yourself first, and truly sorting out controllable aspects of your life, really seem like a great recipe for calm to me.

It IS easier said than done, but that to me is the point. I feel that sifting through the crap, making the right choice even if it is the harder one, and putting yourself first at the end of the day really proves to yourself that you are worth it.

And yes, you are most definitely also worth a matcha latte and piece of cake after all that hard work.