Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

PostHeaderIcon Pay it forward

When I was travelling full-time my outlook on many things changed. One of those was the concept of kindness to others; you know, being kind and helpful to those around us whether we know them well or not. Whether we feel we have the time to spare or not.

The term random acts of kindness is often used to describe what I’m talking about. Someone performing an act of kindness for no apparent reason, being kind for the sake of being kind. Perhaps it’s become a popular topic for discussion because so many of us feel the lack of it. I know I did but then I decided to go travelling alone.

I expected to spend a lot of time being wary of strangers. We’re taught that as children and in fact, wariness is not foolish but it is a problem if we close ourselves off from every stranger that approaches. I also expected to spend time alone while other pairs or groups of people shared their good times.

A sign on my 2nd day out of Australia - Japanese tea garden, San Francisco
A sign on my 2nd day out of Australia – Japanese tea garden, San Francisco

I knew I’d meet people but understood (or assumed) they might not want a stranger intruding on their space although I hoped I’d make new friends.

In spite of those misgivings, I knew I wanted to see the world so away I went. Off to discover the world AND, a lot of people performing random acts of kindness!

Before I continue I should let you know I’m not a cynic and often put more faith in the good nature of people than they can live up to. I am however, a realist most of the time and my expectations had come from living in the day-to-day world that we all find ourselves stuck in at times. The boring treadmill that has people doing the same thing from day to day and being too caught up in that to really see those around them and notice an “opportunity” for kindness.

It may feel bad to acknowledge it but we’ve all been there, impatience at the supermarket when someone is short of cash and must remove items, or maybe they’re slow at packing up because they’re trying to keep hold of a small child and pack groceries. How many of us have given that person the cash or helped them pack? The examples go on but you get the idea?

I don’t believe most of us are unkind, just busy and caught up in our own world. I saw it every day, so the first time someone approached me and offered kindness when I was out on my own, I was not only surprised but a little (to say the least) wary.

On my 2nd day away from Australia a man offered me his seat on a tram in San Francisco. When I replied he asked where my accent was from; when I told him he then proceeded to tell me about the city and what I “must” see. I thanked him for all the info and then was shocked and a little worried when he decided to get off with me and show me around! Although I kept insisting I was fine and that he must have things to do he spent 4hours wandering around with me and in the end wouldn’t even let me buy him a drink to say thanks. His explanation was I’d come so far he just wanted me to enjoy his city!

On a tram in San Fran with Israel - Day 2 & 1st random act of kindness
Israel; Day 2, 1st act of kindness

That experience was to be the first of many that were random not just in their occurrence but often also in that they were not simple things but acts that took people’s time, effort and often money.

I had strangers strike up conversations with me and then pay for my meals telling me they hoped that meant I could travel for longer, others showed me around, gave me rides to save fares and even invited me to stay in their homes – which I did and was treated like a family member. I was constantly amazed at how much effort people put into being kind for no reason other than, they are the type of people we all hope to meet.

Those are the people that changed my outlook and inspired me, many of them are now old friends. I now know there are people out there who will help a stranger and all the time I travelled I promised myself I would keep that lesson with me and pay it forward somehow. I hoped especially to do something unexpected for people travelling in a strange country as I know how much that meant to me and how in truth, those acts of kindness are what make my travels such fantastic experiences.

I’ve had a few opportunities to offer help to strangers – yes, even in the supermarket and today I had the opportunity to pay one of those travel kindnesses forward. Not only do I feel good, I also made a couple of new friends who I hope will be able to travel a little longer because someone was unexpectedly nice to strangers today.

Alexandra_Megan_NottingHillAug2011

My new travelling friends from Vegas

For inspiration;

Pay It Forward – the movie

Help Others.org

1,000,000 Acts of Kindness

The Kindness Offensive

Australian Kindness Movement

PostHeaderIcon A scarf for all seasons

You know, when I lived in Australia I never bothered with scarves. I didn’t even own one until a friend bought me a really cool, funky one that was made of lots of chenille loops (kinda hard to describe) and not the old Nanna type of thing I pictured when anyone mentioned scarf! More an accessory than a scarf – thanks Jo.

The beginning - scarf No. 1

The beginning - scarf No. 1

In fact, my worst nightmare was the so-called chic female with a scarf eternally knotted around her neck. No, I didn’t think it looked chic at all. I felt (and still do) that it looks so conservative I want to scream! Either that or the only excuse is that she’s an airline stewardess and it’s part of the uniform. Sorry neck-tie gals but there you have it!

Then a funny thing happened. Call it global warming, call it discovery on my part, whatever you call it; the chenille scarf was my favourite accessory as the Australian winter arrived and was unusually cold – yes, ‘proper’ scarves were in demand. Not the “chic” neck-ties but proper, warm scarves. Of course that was short lived in Australia but it was enough of a taste to make me pack the chenille scarf when I took off to see the world.

Flying the Mexican colours in Boston - accessorising!

Flying the Mexican colours in Boston - accessorising!

My first stop was America and it was summer but as I stayed for months it got colder I soon decided I needed another warmer scarf. When I visited Mexico, which was wonderfully hot, I terrified myself by deciding I just had to buy a cotton scarf for the in-between weather!

L..L...leopard skin - tres chic!

L..L...leopard skin - tres chic!

By the time I arrived in London I had 4 scarves, one with a matching hat! Of course it is leopard skin and looks great but for heavens sake, is this getting out of hand?

Needless to say, I’ve learned the value of a scarf. You see, several times I’ve raced out and having put my scarf down to pick up keys or other vitals, forgotten to pick it up again. Due to zero level temperatures or bone-chilling winds I’ve had to buy a new scarf to survive the outing. My collection is becoming quite valuable – both for warmth and in cost!

I now carry one in my bag – unless of course I happen to swap bags and forget…

Today I did it again. I bag-swapped (foolish when running late) and guess what?! I have another new scarf. I resisted as long as I could but as the peak temperature today was around 9degrees – I forgive myself.

As I handed over the cash and pondered yet again if I was really cold enough to justify the spend when I have several scarves at home, (18 now!) I found myself thinking “well, actually, I don’t have one in this colour so it’s ok,” I started to wonder if I’m showing signs of a new addiction.

It's cold outside...

It's cold outside...

Surely one plain coloured scarf would go with everything just as they say one great pair of black shoes will – then again, I have at least eight different styles of black shoes and none of those matches everything so how can necessity be classed as addiction? I’m OK!

A growing collection

A growing collection

PostHeaderIcon Where is patriotism?

The dictionary defines a patriot as; “a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.”

Although I love Australia and like to see us do well, I’ve never been fanatical and like most Aussies, I’ve taken it in my stride if we don’t come 1st at something. Most of us don’t know all the words to our National Anthem or even like the song – compared to many others it’s not that uplifting and the topic of what should be our National Anthem is one that still causes debates today.

Having said all that, there’s been a subtle change in my level of patriotism since I left Australia. I’m now willing to watch sport on TV if the Aussies are playing or even attend a match for the same reason. My recent trip to Silverstone for the 2010 British Grand Prix was partially because it’s something I’ve never done but; when you consider I’ve never had any interest in Formula 1 racing, you could say the fact that an Aussie (Mark Webber) was a major contender was the deciding factor in my decision to pay the ticket price!

Once there, I felt a strong need to wave an Aussie flag to support Webber and let everyone else know there  was  an Aussie amongst them…I saw quite a few actually. I even managed to get my Kiwi friend to wave an Aussie flag. This isn’t something I (or she) would normally do but then again, I guess if I was in Australia I might not feel such a need to display my ‘identity’ and support for my fellow countrymen, we’d all be ‘home.’

From knowing nothing about this sport I quickly learnt the background (they have a good commentary during the lead-up) that Webber had not been treated as well as his team-mate in the week prior to this race and had basically said he’d win anyway.

Of course that stirred my camraderie and I pointed out to my friend it was a very Aussie attitude and that he would win for sure.

I never doubted it and must admit my interest in the race was certainly tied to the fact that Webber took the lead  from the start and never let it go. I wanted him to win and show he could do it against the odds, with all my Aussie heart.

Can you imagine my excitement (pride) when that Aussie guy led for the entire race and became the first Australian to win a Formula 1  Grand Prix since Alan Jones, roughly 30 years prior – Go Aussie Go!

This experience made me think about patriotism and how us Aussies don’t seem to display it much at home. Some nationalities feel the need to display patriotism for their country all the time, almost forcing people not to doubt it. I’ve learnt that the famous Aussie laid-back, don’t give a damn attitude doesn’t come from a lack of patriotism at all. It’s more about that other Australian idiosyncrasy whereby we don’t like to ‘blow our own trumpets’ rather from an actual lack of caring.

Perhaps being away from your homeland makes it more acceptable to take pride in the achievements of your countrymen. Being away has made me more patriotic than I ever feel the need to be in Australia and I’m thinking that’s not a bad thing…how about you?

PostHeaderIcon In for a penny, in for a pound

Well, I’ve been back in the workforce for about a month – how time flies! Have I saved my fortune yet, ready to travel?

Um, no. Unfortunately not quite but then again, I have taken a quick trip to the north of France for a weekend (the novelty of being able to go to another country for the weekend may NEVER wear off!) and spent Easter in Brighton.

Yes, so far I’ve spent almost all that I’ve earned but as I’m an IWOM, I can explain; since I started work I’ve only worked 3 or 4 day weeks due to Easter and bank holidays and a bout of food poisoning (another story). I’ve managed to pay my rent and phone bill, buy some work-clothes and food, eat out with friends AND have my couple of weekends away…did I mention one weekend was in another country?! Told you I can’t get over that one.

What I’m trying to say is, upon reaching my four week anniversary of working for a living, I reckon I’ve done ok so far!

Haha, you could say I’m adjusting to my slightly less than totally foot-loose lifestyle reasonably well.

Back to the fun part – what did I do in France? I visited my famille Francais and attended their local Bal de Carnival. It’s an annual event that I attended last year and promised I’d return this year.

Dressed for the Bal

Dressed for the Bal

The Carnival is a time of celebration and remembering a local hero; Jean Bart but Bal (Ball in English) also links back to the time when fisherman leaving n long sea journeys farewelled their loved ones by having a huge celebration in the town – in case they didn’t return.

My explanation isn’t very good I know but it’s not bad when you consider my low level French skills.

Carol et Laure

Finishing off the evening

Where my friends live, in Brouckerque, the Bal  is loads of fun and lasts all night – a night of crazy costumes, delicious food, plenty of dancing and drinking and a great sense of community – the wine may have helped but I had some wonderful conversations in spite of my petit peu (little) French and mostly non-English speaking “new” friends!

Back to work for a few days and then it was Easter. You’ve gotta love short working weeks!

Easter kind of crept up on me so after assessing funds and the lack of planning or booking time I decided it would be cool to go to an English coastal spot. Where better than Brighton as a first experience of the UK coast? Even in Australia I’d heard of the Brighton Pier and then I found out about the historic Royal Pavillion so off I went – dragging some friends along too.

Brighton is full of interesting shops and characters – I loved the variety and funky feel of it.

We did the traditional thing as you must; and had fish and chips on the pier and wandered The Lanes which is a fabulous area filled with jewellery, clothing and antique shops, cafes and bars and has a great feel to it – very tempting. We had a couple of fun nights in and around there but “what happens in Brighton, stays in Brighton!”

Mermaids spotted in Brighton

Mermaids spotted in Brighton

We hadn’t booked accommodation (underestimating the popularity of Brighton even in winter) so were very lucky to find Kelvin’s, a lovely bed and breakfast that was beautifully clean, smelled lovely (a point worth mentioning after some we entered), served up a delicious brekky and gave us loads of inside info on what to do, where to eat or go for a drink. Well be back!

So now I’m back in London, back at work, saving my pounds and wondering where my next “weekender” should be.

Any suggestions?

PostHeaderIcon To Montreal and back

I’m back and better than ever.

I’ve added some skills to my list, survived what I’d call freezing temperatures and learned to love snow boots! For a girl who’s never owned a pair of Ugg boots and think the name is entirely fitting; Ugg-ly, I’ve grown more attached in 10 days to my Sorel’s (Canadian turbo-boosted uggs!) than a fish to water. They are actually too warm for London weather.

Sorel's rule

Walking on a frozen lake in snow boots - Sorel's rule!

Apart from having toasty toes I also went dog-sledding and had my first ever ski lesson in Montreal. Yes, I am now able to ski unassisted down a children’s slope – something I definitely hadn’t done before. I also drove a car across a frozen lake (the lake in the snowboot pic) – haven’t told the folks back home about that yet. It was a little scary but another thing I’d never done so I didn’t want to miss the chance. To be honest, I was glad to reach solid ground but hey, at least I can say I did it.

Dogs & sleds at Mont Gabriel

Dogs & sleds at Mont Gabriel

Skiing alone

Skiing like a champ - on the children's slope

Another interesting thing I learned was that I can survive in temperatures of minus 18 degrees celsius. I was wearing three jackets, a hat, scarf, ski gloves and of course; my snowboots but I survived! Oh, and ten days is not enough to raise my French speaking skills to conversational level. I can however point to things and name them to indicate what I want in roughly the same way a three year old would so all in all, you could say Montreal brought out my inner child.

So now I’m back in the UK and there’s a lot to tell. The accommodation I organised before leaving Australia hasn’t turned out to be exactly what I thought. I’m currently living with TEN other people which is not ideal and doesn’t allow much space or time to do anything let alone write to you. I’ve spent the majority of my time house hunting and traipsing all over London checking out various areas to find a great spot to live…I found it so will be telling you more about that and living in the UK from now on.

PostHeaderIcon Time flies

I can hardly believe I’ve been back in Australia six months. When did that happen? I still remember how I felt during my last week in Bangkok – the last stop of my 12month IWOM adventure.

It was horrible. I knew everyone expected me to feel excited to be returning “home” and about to see all my family and friends again but I didn’t want to go. Why? Because it felt like life as I’d come to know and love it, was ending.

Dinner in Bangkok

Dinner in Bangkok

I know they say that with endings come new beginnings but that wasn’t how I felt at the time. The other day I read something I’d written the night before my flight to Australia that sums things up quite well;

At the thought of heading back to Australia my mind goes blank. I was feeling, I guess, a kind of denial two weeks ago, denial that all this time has passed and now I’m expected to go back and act like nothing’s happened.

Now I feel nothing and think nothing – seems I’ve finally found a way to clear my mind. Perhaps I’ll even be able to meditate now, if I think of going back – wards.

Kind of depressing I know but hey, I’d just spent almost 18 months in total, going wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted and living exactly as I like to – on my own time. I always say I have no rules and that was a time when it was absolutely true.

Heading back to Australia felt like going backwards. I knew that no matter what I’d seen and done, everyone there would be the same, doing the same things and expecting me to fit back into those lives. I also knew I planned to work for a while. Well, I had to so I made it my plan; and I knew that would place me back into the day-to-day I so wanted to avoid, faster than anything else could.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Australia and the outdoor lifestyle, I love my family and my friends, I just didn’t ever love the day-to-day grind we fall into or the fact that people worry about the little things and forget to make time to have a bit of fun, to live in the moment – dare I say, noone knows when it may be the last.

By the way, I felt guilty too. Guilty toward all the people I knew were in Australia looking forward to my return. I did want to spend time with them, I just wanted them to come to me in a different location so I could share some of my excitement and experiences with them. Selfish? Maybe, but it was with good intent.

Sad face-leaving Bangkok

Sad face-leaving Bangkok

Well, as I said about endings…new beginnings. I put myself on the plane and arrived in Australia with my mind set on what I was doing next. I don’t tend to think in terms of “I might do…,” I tend to think and say out loud, “I’m doing …” That often prompts people to suggest I may be disappointed if things don’t turn out but I laugh at the thought because the way I see it, if I’ve said it, I’ll do it.

I guess my thoughts on being positive are another story for me to tell but let’s just say I think Pollyanna had the right idea in finding a positive side to everything.

So, my new beginning? It’s underway and almost on schedule – my schedule so actually yes, it’s on schedule. I stepped off the plane and said I was staying to work a few months, catch up with everyone then return to the UK by Christmas.

Enjoying the Aussie lifestyle

Enjoying the Aussie lifestyle

It took a few weeks longer to find temp work and the rates aren’t as good as they once were (apparently due to the global financial crisis) so I won’t be in the UK for Christmas. The Pollyanna side to that is, I’ll now spend Christmas and New Year with family and friends plus maybe miss the worst of the UK winter by returning in February. You see, it is easy to find a bright side.

 FYI: definition of Pollyanna

(source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Pollyanna )

 Noun – an excessively or blindly optimistic person.

Adjective – Also, Pollyannaish, unreasonably or illogically optimistic: some Pollyanna notions about world peace.

Origin: from the name of the child heroine created by Eleanor Porter (1868-1920), American writer

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