The self ridiculing act of nomad bashing

Hi all!

You: “Errr…?”

Me: “Ahm… what? Do I have something on my face?”

You: “Why do you start your blog entry with an hello? Usually you just talk away. About your life. Or god forbid… your sex life. Ugh.”

Me: Well today I would like to change things up. And maybe start a dialogue…”

I can’t help but feeling there is a little bit of underlying tension going on these days. Not between you and me, per se. But more frequently I discover some kind of mockery against nomads, backpackers and everybody who chooses the great outdoors to gain some personal perspective.

Since this blog is called ‘backpackersguide…blablabla’ I feel I need to take a stand and address the non captivated/exploited, happy-go-lucky elephant in the room. And try to analyze what’s going on.

There are two obvious camps here:

* People who are drawn by adventure, who temporarily run away from obligations to live in the here and now and diss on people who rot away in their comfort zones.

* People who steer away from adventure and diss on the people who recklessly throw away all securities and comfort zones in the idle hope they will find all life’s answers by swimming with sharks, taking a selfie on top of Machu Picchu or eating a fried scorpion at some random Chinese farmer’s market.

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(I plead guilty)

Well, let’s just settle this friendly battle here and now, why won’t we.

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Let’s draw a little background sketch. We (20-30 year olds) are the generation that’s been handed too many choices. Our parents were children of parents who had survived the war. They had a harsh upbringing. In a bid to turn things around they decided a different approach for their own offspring. The velvet glove. Let’s just be motivational towards our kids. Let them become whatever they want to become. Let’s bring them up with a sense of freedom. Some analysts would say this prevented some serious quakes on the puberty scale. Why would we start a riot if everything is allowed and negotiable? It didn’t eliminate it; it just postponed it. To a much more difficult timing later on.

Enter the quarter life crisis.

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I am…. (feel free to pick one for yourself)

a) who my parents made me to be (=realist, acceptance, no crisis here)
b) everything opposite my parents made me to be (=the rebel)
c) better than everyone (=the jerk)
d) a loser (=negative thinker)
e) Egon Ewin Kisch (=dead)

Of course the problem is not good or bad parenting. The initial problem is still the fact that there are too many choices. And the fact they eventually lead to choice stress. The way we react to that would enable some older generations to call us: spoiled narcissistic brats with no sense of reality.

But it’s just hard these days to really say:

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We pick a road but from the minute the scenery doesn’t appeal to us any more, we bail and try another road. Because we can. Because we should. And because we want to. Or think we want to. Because -actually- we really don’t know. We just assume. Because -let’s face it- there’s too much choice.

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So what seems to be a choice a lot of youngsters take these days? Right, the high road.

Due to the pressure of (social) media (Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, …) and the ad hoc commercial strategy of the travel industry using internet cookies and tailor made stalker advertisements to their power it looks like the only evident way to get rid of your stress is to step on a plane and travel to a galaxy far far away.  noseviaja

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Where else are you going to get the opportunity to do a shallow water scarf dance?

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Get the most out of your opposable thumbs?

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Or cosy up to a complete stranger?

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Of course not everyone dares to take the high road. Because they

  • are scared
  • financially in a pickle
  • scared
  • scared
  • scared

The list with reasons is endless.

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So some of them -in fact- rot away in their comfort zones. And forever regret not making exciting life choices. Walking around like little time bombs. Others find a way to get over/around it and end up appreciating what they got and eventually lose the need to jump from one continent to another.

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“I don’t need to go to Asia to solve my life problems, thank you”, someone slingshotted at me recently.

That’s fair. If you really mean it. That means you’re much more likely to solve your problems one on one. Or maybe don’t have any problems to begin with.
… For now. Let’s just see what midlife brings.

I can’t help but feeling when people say it like that, they take the diss out of people who do need it. It has become a phenomenon to ridicule the act of traveling the globe to get to know oneself. I call it nomad bashing. Backpacker bullying. Globetrotter battering. Wanderlust shaming.

Well, don’t blame us for having a sense of curiosity.

… Or for having better stories than you.

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In reality those people are just shifting the blame, changing the conversation, greatly hoping one day a scientist with a PhD will stand up and tell them:

‘You were right, you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world. It’s not going to help you. I have the proof!’

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So the bullies can go on and say: ‘Told you so’

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I don’t know

Our stories could be the closest you’ll get to a little adventure.

Too bad you don’t see it that way.

It must be hard living a life with bad eye sight, no cojones and a synthetic identity.

It might just be you are trying a little too hard to conform to a closed system, pushing a synthetic identity onto yourself which enables you to avoid looking if the chosen identity matches your own deeper wishes and competences. You choose to be unsupportive towards other ideas to protect yourself against potential doubt about the irreversible road you took.

So, who’s dealing with the real crisis here, Sherlock?

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Not to be worried though.

“A crisis is no such thing as an inevitable disaster, but must be seen as a necessary turning point, a critical time when the development in one way or another should continue and opportunities for growth, recovery and further differentiation will be mobilized.

An identity crisis, like any crisis, is an initially negative perception of emotional experience, but mostly an inevitable obstacle to achieve further development.

In that turbulent phase lies ample opportunity for growth.”
(Erik Erikson)

“Real winners are those who dare to lose everything” * 
(Evelien Delgouffe)

I hear the Maldives are on sale.

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Great travel agency by the way. It’s the one I used for my awesome adventure. If you want to I can tell you ALL about it some time.

XO

* (Not to be taken literally by heavy gamblers with debts the size of the Grand Canyon.)

… Although I do hear the Canyon looks great this time of year.

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Less hating. More hiking.

Safe travels!

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XO

 

Aftermath

And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? 

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And what did you want? 

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth. 

(Raymond Carver, Late Fragment)

***

Okay guys, we all know what time it is. It’s closing time. My trip is coming to an end. This is the final blog post. Grab your last drink, sit back and relax and try to laugh every now and then. Just… for old time’s sake.

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(This was your cue to laugh)

So you must be really curious about how Japan is treating me.

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Good! Because the first days were a blast. I survived an earthquake (previous post) and slept in boxes (capsule hostels). I went to Harajuku, explored Asakusa, stood on the famous Shibuya crossing, went to a Robot show, ….

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Life was great! Until one night I was standing in front of a supermarket ATM and couldn’t withdraw cash. It had seemed I had only 6 euros left in my account.

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What in the ass?! How did this happen?? Is my wallet leaking? Did I access some dodgy wifi and got phished? I’ve been leaving my credit card details like bread crumbs, somebody must have framed me!

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You: “Relax Roger Rabbit, you probably just spent it all. I’ve seen your Instagram account, you flew from Shanghai to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong to Tokyo in less than two weeks.”

Me: “Mmmyes… I did the (after) math. And you’re right. I did spent more money than I thought I did. Even though I didn’t splurge (I stayed at cheap hostels and survived on two meals a day) I still spent a lot of money on stupid things. Like transportation, an occasional movie ticket and the extra charge that was taken from me every time I retrieved cash from an ATM.”

Fuck my life. I am in Japan, had all these wild plans of going to Osaka to visit Universal Studios and going to Kyoto to see the bamboo forest, visit hot springs and dress up like a geisha,and all I wanna do now is go home this instant!

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(Relax, it’s a snapchat filter)

Without money I don’t feel like being here any longer. I’ve had it. I want my old life back! And I want my salary back!

How in the shit biscuit am I going to survive the next 15 days with only 156 euros? (150 in my wallet and 6 in my account)

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I had three choices: 

A: Take the credit card out and let the future take care of it;

B: Prostitution;

C: Lock myself up in a hostel, survive on cucumbers and bananas.
(Subconsciously I pick phallus food… what is wrong with me?)

You: “You not getting an orgasm. That’s what’s wrong with you. Just have sex already and get it over with. It will help you to think more straight. I choose option B.”

Me: “No! Perv. That would be option Z. I checked what’s out there. And it’s an ugly Tinder-truth!”

I pick C.

‘C’ for ‘Cause it’s the reasonable thing to do’.

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I’d rather not have debts when I return to Belgium, thank you.

You: “But maybe you’re in Japan only once, don’t you have an emergency fund or something?”

Me: “My answer stands. I’m keeping my foot down.”

Walking in line, conforming to rules, being well mannered, well behaved and humble. That’s what the Japanese people have thought me and that’s what I will do. Obey my wallet. Bare the consequences of my own actions.

You: “Woah Evvy, are Japanese people really such party poopers?”

Well from 9am to 5pm they are. Standing in line for the metro dressed in their perfectly ironed suit and tie, picking the recommended lunch, staying on the safe side of life, bowing all day and licking their boss’s ass. After that they hit the pubs, karaoke bars or video game centers and get completely loud and wasted. The smell on the subway alone will get you drunk. I’ve seen salary men sweating out their hangover at 7 am under a bridge. That’s why every convenient store sells clean shirts, underwear, socks and toiletries. It’s part of the culture. At one point they just go : “I’m done bowing for you. Suck my d*** , I’m getting drunk.” The morning after they put on a clean shirt and humble life starts all over again. Ohayooo, Sumimaseeeen, Domo arigatou gozaimasuuuu, …

My friend Cedric was here to witness my little ATM meltdown and was not very pleased. He had just spent 19 hours on a plane to see me for the first time in 5 months and here I was feeling depressed and not wanting to leave the room because of not having money. That night, he put me to bed hoping everything would be better in the morning

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… and I am very grateful he put a roof over my head the entire time he was here. In return I went to get him fresh bakery treats every morning and tried to pay for his food as much as possible. I also put up with his snoring without complaining tooooo much. But still I could never compensate the Cinderella hotel he payed for while he was here. Domo arigatou gozaimasuuuu *bow bow bow*.

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When he left I had 9 more days to survive off my budget. Back to cucumbers and bananas. When all of a sudden I ran into a former teacher of mine. Apparently she had moved with her family to Tokyo last year. She invited me to come stay with her in order to keep my budget down. This is only the second time she saved my life. First was 9 years ago when she helped me get a copywriting internship at TBWA, one of the best advertising agencies in the world. I always knew I wanted to write but she gave me the opportunity to really explore that talent. Without that experience I wouldn’t have had the confidence to pursue a professional career as a writer. I wouldn’t have landed a job at the biggest newspaper in Belgium, I wouldn’t have gotten a burnout at 26, I wouldn’t have started traveling. Without her ‘Backpackers Guide for the Blonde and the Clueless’ WOULDN’T EVEN EXIST! We should all bow for this lady right now.

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I gladly accepted her invitation and moved in with her on Friday. Five days before returning to Belgium. She lives 40 minutes outside Tokyo city center in Setagaya. A new -and rather upscale- neighborhood.

Her son let me sleep in his room. And I was free to scavenge the kitchen cupboards as much as I want. I landed my own little piece of heaven.

As soon as I moved in I started thinking: maybe I should try to make one more trip happen. One last unforgettable night. To have closure. A last resort. I put all my money together and started doing some brain breaking mathematics. I already knew Osaka and/or Kyoto were out of the question. But soon I discovered there might be enough there to allow me a trip to the Japanese seaside! It would be great if I could see the beach before I leave. I exchanged the euros and dollars I still had in my pocket. Also the 50 euro emergency note I got from Mattias and Maja the day before I left Belgium. “To pay for a nice accommodation when you need it.” Clairvoyant friends, I have.

I started looking into it and bumped on an article in a Japanese magazine about this wonderful beach in Izu. It is a little further than the touristy beaches around Tokyo but worth the ride. It would take me about 3 hours to get there by train and about the same amount of transfers.

I immediately booked myself a ryokan just a hop-skip from the beach where I would enjoy looking out at the white sand, waves and surfers from a Japanese-style room with tatami mats and futon beds. On Sunday I waved my ‘foster family’ goodbye and took off with a little backpack carrying only my toothbrush, a pair of fresh underpants, my bikini and my laptop. It felt like the first day of school. Although I’ve been on more exciting trips these last months, this one actually gave me butterflies in my stomach. Since I had given up on the outlook of leaving Tokyo, but somehow making one last trip happen. I was over the moon. Especially since the weather gods had granted me 29 degrees and a full day of sun.

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on my way from Yokohama station

The entire way there I sat in my seat with a smile on my face. I saw the landscape changing stop after stop. More green, more trees, look there! It’s the ocean!

When I finally arrived in Izukya-Shimoda station I was only one bus ride away from my destination. Of course the bus driver accidentally dropped me off 1 K too far. But if it wasn’t for that I would have never discovered ‘On the Beach’. A cute little beach/surf bar with the most amazing BBQ lunch meals. The presentation is a modern take on the traditional Japanese ‘bento’ lunch box. For only 700 Y (5 euros) that was damn good lunch!

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Apparently Izu is a surfer’s paradise and there were a lot of wave seekers out there that day. The sides of the road were bedazzled with little surf shops selling cute clothes, bikinis and accessories. I felt like I was back in Oz. It felt like the perfect place to end my trip.

When I arrived at the hotel, I entered a room with an amazing beach side view, with a kimono hanging in the closet to dress me up for dinner. I also discovered there were hot springs available. For free! I think it’s amazing how things have a way of eventually falling into place. Even though I didn’t get to go to Osaka and Kyoto, I still got a chance to do everything my heart desired. Sleeping in a traditional ryokan, on a tatami mat, bathing in a hot spring, dressing up like a geisha, …

The puzzle fitted perfectly. The only thing missing was the Universal Studios. But -somehow- I did manage to make up for that the day after. When I decided to make a brief stop in Yokohama before returning to Setagaya and went on an unexpected roller coaster ride by the harbor. The perfect way to end this roller coaster of a journey.

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At one point the ride just disappears under ground!

It wasn’t the Harry Potter ride, but I screamed and giggled like a little girl.

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Post roller coaster selfie. It was WILD!

While I was taking in the sea view at Tatadohama beach I started doing some ‘after math’ again.

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Calculating not losses, but profits this time. Asking myself: “What have I gained from this trip?”

  1. I defo became wiser

My roots literally pushed the blondness away. I definitely have become less clueless. But -no worries- I am still naive enough to live this life through dangerously pink glasses.

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2. This trip made me realize: I am one lucky San of a bitch

I have amazing friends and family. The best parents in the world. They stood by me this entire time. Letting me go, giving me freedom. Trusting. There were times I didn’t reach out to them for weeks. And still they didn’t complain. That meant a lot.

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I have the best colleagues and bosses in the world. They supported my decision. Respected it. And even published some bits of my adventure.

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3. I frigging love myself 

I didn’t encounter the love of my life. But then again, that wasn’t really the goal of my trip. It didn’t happen because I didn’t open up to the opportunity. I was too busy spending time with myself. Catching up on lost times. However, I had some uplifting moments. I will never forget Steph and our little tryste at Port D. I will never forget Kunyu mountains and my little romance with a fellow Kung Fu student. Even the innocent little night swim at Noosa beach with my first ever Tinder date will be something I will gladly look back at in 20 years from now. Although I do regret not having tasted the butcher’s fine meats… Ah well. Maybe he needs a little more ripening anyway. After all, he’s only 24. And I’m not Madonna… Or am I?

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4. I’ve met some pretty amazing people

In the category non sexual encounters I gladly remember Helmut. The Tasmanian Devil. How he tried to brush me off but ended up regretting not having me around longer. Goedele, who took me into her home and shared a quite turbulent first week with me back in Adelaide. I loved my farm family and Pierre who took me on an unforgettable roadtrip to Melbourne as a true gentleman. I remember Maryam. A strong woman who taught me the simple truth that ‘different people have different ideas’, to never lose my self esteem, and to not be afraid of using a little herbs in the kitchen. There’s no such thing as overseasoning. My lovely motel managers back in Marcoola, who hooked me up with the most fun car ever with which I embarked on the most fantastic roadtrip ever. James at the Floriana in Cairns. Who taught me Fawlty towers really does exist. My shifu in China. The man I felt a deeply (however platonic) love and respect for. My roomie Celine, my sister from another mister, who I will visit very very soon. My teamie Audrey and all the other amazing people I met in the school. Rebekka, Linus, Sterling, Obim, Bo, Marvin, Daniel, Lore, Lucy, Himmat, Luke, … too many to sum up!

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5. There is nothing I cannot do. Well, sort of

I learned to take care of myself. To be independent and to believe in my capabilities. I learned to drive on the left, to get from A to B in foreign countries using foreign currency and foreign language. I learned Kung Fu. Or at least the basics of it. I learned I have a strong will and a strong body to match and I am capable of doing russian push ups if I really put my mind to it. I learned my body is the most powerful instrument I will ever own. And therefor I learned to treat it that way =>

6. I quit smoking

My last cigarette I put out in Ashbourne (what’s in a name) Australia over 4 months ago. I haven’t had a setback once. I don’t understand how I could ever be addicted to it.

7. I learned to trust

I’ve learned no matter what happens, things happen for a reason and things have a way of turning out well in the end. Never a failure always a lesson. Never an ending without a new beginning.

This is why this maybe isn’t the final blog post after all. Time will tell.

But for now:

Lientje Out.

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Domo arigato for your support these past months.

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Daisuki! ❤

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And thank you snapchat for turning me into a real (and rather scary) geisha after all. Free of charge!

XO

The Final Chapter

As you may or may not know I have commenced the final chapter of my Pacific Tour. I am currently in the Land of the Rising Sun. The Great Empire. The Empire of the Sun. Yamato. The Pearl of the Pacific. Nippon. ….

You: Yeah, yeah we get it. You’re in Japan.

Good …

That also means: in less than two weeks I will be back on Belgian soil. And God do I look forward to that!

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You: “Haha, of course you don’t. The fun is over. Or did you actually think you could run away from society and travel forever?”

Me: “Of course not. I’m not that clueless… And I wasn’t running away, idiot. Not from society, not from having a job, not from having to work until I die. No, I was running towards something. Towards a life that would enable me to think outside of the box. Towards a perspective to show me an exciting new way to live this life to the fullest. A hidden path. Not visible for ignorant mortals who believe there’s only one way to live your life and that is by copying everybody else.”

You: “Soooo did you find your so-called hidden path, Alice?”

Me: “Not yet. But I’m getting there! (you cynical moron…) That is why I need to get back on my traveling feet as soon as possible.”

I do know -more than ever before- I don’t want to settle with an ordinary life. Over an indefinite period of time I want to leave Belgium, work and live around the world and eventually settle in the place I feel best. Maybe that’ll be Belgium after all. But for now I’m way too curious about the places out there to settle in my country of birth for good. It’s not because you were born somewhere, you have to stay there till eternity. The world is too big of an oyster for that.

Me: “Wow Evvy, you seem certain of yourself.”

Well… I’m not. I’m bluffing in the hope my subconscious will believe it cause in reality I’m freaking out.

Of course it feels suffocating knowing I’m returning to Belgium soon and that nothing is there waiting for me. Nothing but decisions, problems, taxes, … and yes also my loving parents who will gladly put good food in my belly because they think I had to live off rice and instant noodles this entire time. (Mom, I have thought about what you asked and I would love to have your nice salmon dish with broccoli the day of my return. Domo arigato.)

I don’t feel comfortable with the thought of Belgium dooming up at the end of my horizon yet. It’s hard enough I ask myself the obvious question every day. But all of a sudden everybody I know will ask me the obvious question every day: “So now what?”

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Well, I don’t know that. I don’t hold the answers to everything. I just try to take life how it comes and try to keep living the way I have lived these past 6 months: in the moment. So don’t fuck up my zen-ness!

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not

Hey!

… So I’m not gonna lie to you, from the moment I arrived in Japan I was feeling a weeeeee bit stressed. I wasn’t ready to enter the final chapter yet. I wanted a transition chapter first. Like a spin off. In Bali. Or ‘Nam. Maybe that’s why I almost missed my plane…

You: You almost missed your plane??

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Yes. But not on purpose. I was three hours early even! I was just sitting at the wrong gate… I was watching the passengers board the plane, while I was prank calling friends and family, leaving messages on their voice mail since it was still night in Belgium. When I saw the last person board, I figured it was time to lift my ass, grab my passport and swag-walk my way to the boarding gate. After all I was wearing sweatpants and sneakers.

Person at boarding gate: “Hello miss, can I see your boarding pass please”

Me: “Quite certainly sir, here you go.”

Person at boarding gate: “Err, this is not your gate.”

Me: “What do you mean? Destination Tokyo, Narita, 14.45 pm. It says so on the board. (dummie)”

Person at boarding gate: “Yes but this is “Something-something” Airways. You have to go with Ethiopian Airways. And that one leaves in four minutes.”

It was as if all air was sucked out of the room and temperature rose with 150 degrees.

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Me: “Fuck a Hong Kong duck! Where do I go?!?” (hyperventilating mode engaging)

Person at boarding gate: “I believe it’s gate 47. On the other side of the airport. But…. “

I didn’t even wait for him to finish his sentence. I road runner-ed my way out of there.

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The other side of the airport?? I didn’t even know which side! I don’t even know the shape of this airport!! Is it a triangle? A trapezium? A PARALLELEPIPED?!

I started running and bumping people over with my hand luggage.

Me: “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!”

I almost crashed right into the information desk and held my boarding pass under the lady’s nose.

“MY PLANE IS ABOUT TO TAKE OFF WITHOUT ME. WHERE IS IT???”

Lady behind information desk: “It is gate 47. You need to take the elevator downstairs, then get on the train and then run to your gate. You might still make it!”

I ran down the moving escalator bumping more people over with my hand luggage.

“I’m sorry, I’m SO SORRY!”

Luckily they understood, and even cheered me on by saying: “It’s okay, hurry hurry!”

If someone would bump me over on the moving escalator I would roll my eyes. Asking myself: “How can anybody be in a hurry in an airport? If you’re here on time, what can go wrong?”

WELL YOU COULD HAVE BEEN SITTING AT THE WRONG GATE, PRANK CALLING EVERY PERSON IN YOUR PHONE BOOK NOT KNOWING WHAT IS GOING ON!

I always hate it when my plane leaves late because of someone not being on time, and now I am that person. If I’m lucky, that is… They might have already taken off!

When I got at the bottom of the stairs I boarded a subway like train that would take two minutes to get me close to my gate. I didn’t even have two minutes! I got on and the entire way, I was tiptoeing impatiently, whispering ‘shit, shit, shit, shit’. Repeating it as a mantra. Two stops later, the door opened and I was again road running. Up the stairs, already realizing it was a waste of energy. The plane had left. I was certain of that.

“Are you passenger ET672???” A lady on the top of the stairs nervously asked me.

Me: “YES! Or at least, I think I am!! I was sitting at the wrong gate!”

Lady: “They’re still waiting for you. Hurry! As fast as you can!”

Fuck road runner. It was time to go full retard Forrest Gump mode. I had already ran my lungs out but this final 500 meters I had to run the braces off my legs. I wish I could have undone myself of all excessive baggage. My right shoulder was carrying my 7K purse with my heavy laptop in there. And my left hand was carrying my 10 K hand luggage. After 200 meters I couldn’t feel my limbs but I knew I couldn’t stop running. I was gonna make it! I cannot believe they waited for me! Any European airline and they would have left already.

When I arrived at the desk, they immediately let me pass, I ran through the jetty, right into the airplane, chanting “Sorry, I’m so sorry!” to every passenger I had to pass to get to my spot.

I had window seat 24 L but I kindly said to mister K to keep seated while I continued dying on hallway seat 24 J. The plane apparently was only half full.

Neighbor: “It’s okay, I don’t think anyone noticed you were late. Well, … that was before you started apologizing to the entire plane. Hi, my name is Peter.”

Me: “Oh, (breathing) Hello Peter. (breathing) I’m so sorry.”

Peter: “You were miles in front of me at check in. What happened?”

Me: “I was sitting at the wrong gate!”

Peter: “Oh waw, good thing you made it.”

I don’t know if it were the endorphins of me actually making the flight but I continued talking to Peter the entire duration of the flight. About four hours. If I would have swag-walked my way in the plane, I would have just sat down, put in my headphones and watched a movie or two. Now I actually enjoyed a good conversation with a complete stranger. About life and the interesting surprises it brings. He even shared a story about his parents divorcing when he was a kid because of his mother getting busy with the au pair. And yes, it was a girl au pair. Years later they got married on some tropical island and are still happy together. His father ended up in several marriages afterwards that all ended in divorce…

Peter is originally from America but works from China for an American company. He lives in Shanghai, was traveling from Hong Kong to Japan, before heading back to America for a couple of weeks eventually returning back to Shanghai. You see? That’s what I was referring to earlier. About working in a different country. Enabling yourself to make money, still fulfill your duties to society but collecting air miles while doing so. Cause that’s what many of you may think, that I’m traveling because I’m too lazy to work. Quite the contrary. I DO want to work. I enjoy the simple fact of earning money, preferably while doing something I’m good at. Like writing. But I don’t want to make money and forget living. I’m looking for the perfect balance. A lifestyle that enables me to work, live healthy and nourish my travel needs. And yes, at one point I will maybe feel the need to settle somewhere and hatch out some eggs. And I gladly will. Some day.

Peter: “Well Evelien, I am glad you made it to this flight. And that I got to meet you.”

Me: “Well thank you Peter, I am too. I will add you on Facebook. What’s your last name?”

“Parker.”

Me: “Parker? Your name is Peter Parker?”

Fuck a…errr….salmon skin roll(?) !

“I’ve been sitting besides Peter Parker this entire time? I loved you in Captain America 3!”

Peter: “Haha, it’s only the fourth time today somebody made a comment about my name. But yes. I am Peter Parker. My mom never realized what she did until I was three years old.”

For you non geeks out there: Peter Parker is the actual name of Spider-Man. Embodied by Tobey Maguire from 2002-2007, Andrew Garfield from 2012-2014 and more recently Tom Holland.

I was already convinced that everyone should be his own super hero but Peter just raised the bar there. 

Once I got off the plane, I was feeling really good about my encounter with Peter. And about almost missing the plane. It made me less stressful about my future, since everything always turns out okay in the end, and made me so much more grateful of putting my two feet on Japanese soil. Clean soil! You can eat off the floors here. What a difference with China where people just discharge all their body fluids on the street. Also the toilets are super clean. When you enter, the toilet seat lifts itself, it even welcomes you with a little song. And even showers your bum if you like it to. You can even add a flushing sound to the already existing flushing sound! Craay-zaay.

After a long train ride I arrived in my hostel in the Sumida district in Tokyo. A very relax neighborhood and a very relax hostel. My bed is basically a space capsule

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… but it’s all the space I need and it’s super cosy. The bathroom is right outside with free shower foam and shampoo, more talking toilets and some nice slippers for all the guests. The building is quite new. And a little shaky…. Last night I was putting laundry up on the ceiling of my box while all of a sudden the room and lockers started to shake. At first I thought it was the big Egyptian guy I was sharing the room with who was climbing the ladder to reach to the upper bed, until I suddenly saw him standing in front of my box, asking me: Is this an earthquake?

Me: “Errr….. I THINK IT IS!”

Egyptian guy: “It is. We should go downstairs!”

I grabbed my phone (weird I didn’t take my money) and left the room. When we arrived in the hall, the building had stopped shaking. While we were still very much in awe, a girl from another room had already discovered through Twitter that there had been an earthquake in Miyazaki and that we had just experienced some kind of after shock. 40 minutes later.

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Gee, five minutes before it happened I was back to worrying a little about ‘What will happen when I get back to Belgium?’

I guess it was just a kind reminder of the universe to live in the moment. Reminding me that life is happening now. And sucking me back in.

“Never panic, accept what’s happening, then react” is the earthquake advice my other room mate suddenly dispensed. Little did he now, he just supplied me with the quote of a lifetime.

And I will.

I will make the most of this final chapter. Since it is only the very beginning.

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For me. For you. For anyone who finds it inspiring.

Namasté

XO

And BTW: Thank you universe for giving me the first vibration in 6 months. You are really looking out for me.

Enter… the fireworks

You: “Evvy are you there??”

Me: “Yes…”

You: “Why did you stop writing us? Did you forget about us? Are you slacking off??”

Me: “Err, no… I’ve just been a little preoccupied… Why don’t you staff me already!”

I know I usually send out at least one blog post a week, usually on a Sunday, but this Sunday -I didn’t forget- I just didn’t.

You: “Because you’re slacking off??”

Me: “No. I just decided not to. To leave you hungry for more. CAUSE BOY DO I HAVE A STORY FOR YOU!”

After the last blog post I wrote, events took quite some unexpected turns.

The first thing that took an unexpected turn was my spine. I decided to do a little light training on Sunday and ended up with my back completely screwed for the entirety of the following week. The best part: it was my last full week in the academy and I really wanted to make the most of it. Especially since I felt in such good shape the week before. I was doing super hero kicks and my hip flexers didn’t seem to bother me anymore. Apparently it had all just switched to my lower back (it’s all connected) and I’m pretty sure my little tumble on the top of Mount Amos in Tasmania, when I was trying to save Helmut from sliding down the mountain, planted the seed of all back injury evil.

Note to self: never rescue old gents from sliding into a ravine. They’ve had their life. 

So on Monday I could barely get out of my bed. I could barely walk to the office. And I could barely confront my Shifu. I knew I would -again- disappoint him.

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I decided to do as much as I could that morning. But I already knew that running, explosive movements and kicks were out of the question. Which is basically the basics of our training schedule. First training of the morning I couldn’t participate at all. I had to watch the rest using their perfectly functioning bodies while I was doing some exercises on the side and practiced my form. After lunch I decided to meet up with the massage Shifu again. I must really be in pain if I voluntarily go see the master of pain to help me get rid of my discomfort. He fights pain with more pain; but usually you feel great after a couple of days. After the bruising and the swelling goes down from him massaging the shit out of you.

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Right before my back said ‘KRAK’!

I lied on his table of torture for an hour. Grinding my teeth again (I think I chipped a tooth) and thinking only happy thoughts. At the end, he rolled me on my side, cradled me with his elbows and broke my back. Well… he did not really break it, but I heard a KRAK alright. He told me some things (joints, bones, whatever) in my lower back were out of place. And he ‘assembled’ me back together. But from the moment I stood back on my feet I felt the exact same pain.

Translator translating massage Shifu: “You are not supposed to train today. And maybe tomorrow you should rest as well.”

Me: “B-b-b-ut it’s my last week….”

That afternoon I just sat there watching my team mates do Sanda (Chinese Kickboxing). The massage Shifu told me to stay absolutely still for a few hours. And keep my lower back warm with a hot water bottle. How pathetic am I?? I enroll in Kung Fu school, have only 30 days to make something of it and I have been crippled half of the time. I am not impressed with myself at all.

While my mind and body were arguing, I just glared over to the training. To my Shifu, who probably just thought I was being ‘a girl’. Not trying. Giving up.

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“Your so-called kung fu is really quite pathetic”

But unlike last time, I didn’t put depressed thoughts in my head. I was strongly convinced that the next morning I would wake up with an entirely new back. I just had to. And I decided to give myself an extra push by doing a 50 minute Qigong session. To restore myself from all injuries. That night I slept like a baby. But I woke up as an old lady.

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Still cripple, still hurting, still proper fucked. I even skipped Taiji that morning for the first time in my life. I couldn’t even bend over to tie my shoe laces, how could I possible do the crane movement, dipping down, digging up invisible earth, standing up with one leg stretched forward, dipping back down again? Instead I sat on my bed, ate my hard boiled eggs (protein) and thought of a plan to get through the week. The week that was supposed to be my moment of truth. The week where I would put everything I learned into practice…

That Tuesday training schedule was a little different than usual. And -lucky me- it worked in my benefit. Instead of doing Qigong and conditioning in school, we went to the mountain. It’s a steep hike, but somehow the steepness didn’t hurt my back so much, and I could just go at my own pace. I was pleased to feel my heart beating again. I was already looking forward to doing some Qigong overviewing the mountain. That’s like double healing power!!

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C’mon Chi, work your magic! Momma needs a new back!

After Qigong I felt completely re-energized. I even participated in the power training that afternoon. I just decided to lift some weights while the young kids were running their lungs out and from the moment they would continue with ground exercises like sit ups, push ups, planks, … I joined. Power trainings are brutal. Afterwards you feel so tired, you get into an elevated state of being. And you usually feel exhausted in a really good way. Afterwards I found my way to another Qigong class. I was eager to see if all this Qigong would pay of on Wednesday. It seemed to! I still woke up with my old back, but somehow I had found a way to work with it. I just decided to ignore the shit out of it and continue training like usual. That morning I went to Taiji and I even completed an entire lesson of acrobatics. Usually the worst companion for your back. But I thought to myself: Fuck it, no pain no gain. And I’m tired of being the injured person. I’m not gonna let a crucial body part intervene with my training. I signed up for this, I’m gonna give it my all. Wednesday actually went down pretty good. After every training I was basically limping to my room, but at least I had trained. So even though I was in a lot of pain, I was also very cheery since I felt good about training.

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In the afternoon we had Sanda again and I focused on my punches -the kicks were still tricky- because I’m hoping to put my training to use soon in an actual fight.

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But first things first.

I still had to overcome Thursday training and NOT make my back any worse. Then I could possibly think about sparring on Friday.

However…

On Thursday everything went downhill. My back was killing me and I didn’t know what to do. At the same time I found out my travel insurance had expired the day before. Grrrreat. Here I am with a fucked back, already one foot in the ring, not being insured for anything that may happen to me. To top that I was encountering some romantic trouble with a guy in school -school just isn’t interesting without some physical chemistry- and after all we were living in a monastery where everything fun is forbidden.

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But I guess you’re never insured for that kind of collateral damage. I don’t know how I keep getting myself in this situation but I always fall for the guy that ends up screwing me over. Not in a good way… Acknowledging this is not the guy’s fault, but completely mine is something I have learned overtime, but it doesn’t prevent me from feeling annoyed and sad for a couple of hours.

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I decided to flush Thursday down the drain as soon as possible and continue with my life on Friday. Whatever happens, will happen. I’m done fretting over it. It had seemed that the universe had given me an extra day to recover. Because of May Day coming up, the school moved the sparring to Saturday. So I had one extra day to mentally prepare. That day I woke up a new woman. D-day had arrived.

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My back was still hurting, but I would find a way to fix that with an effective combination: adrenalin and tiger balm! I had three days of weekend after that anyway.

I was mentally prepared to face the ring; But I was a little worried I wouldn’t be physically prepared enough. I couldn’t go all the way during Sanda classes this week and the back injury is making me a lot slower than I would like to be. That morning in line up, the Shifu asked who of our group wanted to spar that day. When I lift up my hand, he started laughing and pointing at me.

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Of course he saw me limping around school the entire week. I was shark bait. But I strongly believe in happy endings and transcending your own limits once you’re faced with them. This is everything I believe in. Not sparring (out of fear, pain or discomfort) would just be the biggest disappointment I could give myself.

I decided to stick with my guns and spar. And I decided to fight Teagan from the other Shaolin group.

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She’s a girl (well, woman) from America and strong as hell. She’s much more experienced than I am but I was told to spar a more advanced student in order to learn better. The fact that she would probably beat the shit out of me, was a minor detail I had to bare in mind.

That morning I quickly bought a mouth guard from the school shop (apparently students have lost teeth before and these babies have cost me a lot of money to get them straightened, I’m not gonna let them be smashed) I was hoping that my Shifu would give me some pointers before the fight, but it seemed he just couldn’t care less. He left me hanging. I had hoped he might admire my guts, since I was the only girl in our group that had volunteered to spar, and I’m only in my third week. But then again, he’s not the one I’m sparring for.

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Ali wrapping me up

When I was getting prepped in the training hall (Ali was helping me put on my wraps and was giving me some punch advice) I saw Teagan entering the training hall. She was already dressed to fight me. Oozing so much confidence and zen it made my stomach feel queazy. She had bruises on her upper arms as if she had just rubbed sun tan lotion on her body and accidentally had fallen asleep on some newspapers. Leaving an imprint all over her upper limbs. Also: she was supposed to spar three girls in total that day. That kinda says it all.

Translator Susan: “Evelien, hurry up, you’re the first one today. Teagan is already ready. Put on your safety gear and go to the ring. Hurry hurry!!”

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Ali wasn’t even finished putting on my first wrap. And I still needed to take off my shoes and put shin protectors on!! This was going south already. But I had reached the point of no return. The next thing would be to step into that ring and acknowledge my inferiority.

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My Shifu was the ringmaster of the day. Figures… We bowed before him and he quickly explained us some basic rules. No knees, no kicking in the crotch, no head bumps, … basically no dirty fighting. Only the moves we learned in class.

Shifu: “Leady? Fight!”

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I looked Teagan in the eyes. She looked a little daft. Like she was in some spiritual place. Why wasn’t this girl nervous at all??? She didn’t even blink.

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I was thrown off by her zen-ness and before I realized it she latched out and punched me right in the nose. Damn this girl’s fist travels fast! I didn’t even see that one coming. While I was still recovering from her blow, she threw in another punch. And another. Wow, I was seeing fists everywhere. I decided to take a few steps back and travel around the ring a bit, to give myself some time to recover from the surprise attack and get my shit back together. I started punching her but it seemed like my punches never reached her. I was slow as hell. Always giving her just enough time to block my punches and responding my sissy ass fist bumps with proper fighting punches. For fuck’s sake dodge the glove! My mind and body were having an argument again. My Chi was trying to intervene: “Guys this isn’t the time, knock it off! Rather knock your opponent out!” I was starting to get a little scared here. We’re not even one minute in the ring together and already am I going down quicker than the Titanic. I’m also breathing like crazy. This fighting thing is tiring!!! It all looks so easy from a distance, but when you’re in that ring: time crawls by and fists reach you quicker than the blink of an eye. I tried to jab and throw in a cross but while I was too busy remembering some good combos, she was hitting me over and over again. She punched the side of my head a couple of times. I was seeing stars. I was backing off, scaring away from her massive arms. She sensed my fear. And my Shifu was -again- not impressed with me. I could hear him think: “The best defense is attack!! ATTACK!! MORE POWER!!” I had already forgotten about the 80 students watching me get beaten up ages ago. This was something between me and Teagan. And the Shifu. I started kicking her, hoping to affect her just a little but it felt like I was just tickling her. I was fighting like a girl (sorry for going all sexist on my own species). I decided to change my strategy from sparring to surviving. And remembering nothing is permanent, all pain shall pass, even this will come to an end.

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Think happy thoughts

After 3 minutes my Shifu called it ‘a fight’. We took a bow (actually I forgot to do this, I immediately took off my gloves) and stepped outside the ring. I didn’t know exactly what to think about my performance, but I didn’t feel super bad about it.

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I did it, I survived and actually I was quite pleased I had tried. Of course I could have done better but considering the circumstances -with my back hurting and all- things could have been worse. I was fearless. And that is what Kung Fu stands for: to let go of all your fears.

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While I was limping to the side, watching the next fight I suddenly realized how my time in this school was coming to an end. It has passed so quickly. I only just got started. This was just enough time to be introduced to the mysteries of Kung Fu, to integrate myself into the school. I knew the next week would be rough, since I would have to say goodbye to something I didn’t want to leave behind yet.

I decided to latch on to the weekend and go for a never ending night out. Some people were celebrating their last day in the academy with a big party night in Yantai. A city a 1,5 hours drive from the academy. Before I entered this school I made a promise to myself I wouldn’t drink alcohol for 30 days. Well, that promise stranded at day 26 cause that night I was drinking alright. Way too much actually, but it felt good. I was enjoying myself and I still was very much in control of my actions. That night I also rekindled with the love interest I mentioned earlier in this post.

Right after a Chinese lady came on to me and kissed me…

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What’s up with these girls wanting to kiss me?

I must have been putting out the vibe that night.

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Sexual tension was building up really quickly between me and the guy. I guess all this fighting makes you horny. And the fact we had been living like monks the entire time.

Me: “This is it. The moment I have been waiting for since my hormones got all crazy on me back in Australia.” (See blog post ‘Hormones’)

Sex was in the air. I had a double room all to myself. And I’ve really been wanting to use the word gargantuan for a very long time now!gargantuan

When we arrived at the hostel together we could finally touch each other.

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You: “Way to go Evvy!! You had hot and sticky S-EGGS??”

Me: “Stop jumping ahead of my stories! I’ve warned you before!”

While he was lying on top of me -still dressed- and we were kissing heavily for about 30 minutes, we got so caught up in each other, really wanting to move things further, but somehow there was a barrier. We just couldn’t.

You: “… He couldn’t get it up?”

Me: “Oh he could get it up alright. It was something else…”

It was… conflicting Chi.

We had been doing all this Qigong these past weeks, all this mental training, learning not to live by our bodily needs. Somehow it just didn’t feel right to go all the way down to China Town. It’s not like anything could come from it anyway. This is just a fling. We should be able to surpass that and deal with it as monks.

“Less penetration, more meditation”

You: “It doesn’t necessarily have to become something. You can just enjoy yourself and have a good time, right?”

Me: “Yeah sure, that’s how you promote AIDS. But, either way, it just wasn’t the right time. And we both felt that way.”

In the end we were happy we contained ourselves and actually felt really proud of that achievement. Abstinence is pretty arousing as well. And we both knew some day the fire works would be lit. But no one was spreading his Chi tonight.

The next day we went for a nice dinner and that was it. I haven’t heard from him since, and that’s okay. We both have our lives to get back to.

On Monday I returned to the school. Due to the holiday we wouldn’t have training until Wednesday. Thursday night I would pack my bags and say goodbye to the academy.

I was sad. It was nice to have a purpose in life. To learn Kung Fu. Now that purpose was going away and I would have to learn how to get by on my own again. I was getting so comfortable in the school (maybe a little too) not having to carry my backpack around. Challenging my mind and body. Living in the moment. Not worrying about the future. But you cannot escape certain responsibilities. And that’s also something I have to learn to accept.

The final training day was a lot of fun. They gave me the privilege to shout at morning run (usually only the monitor gets to do that) and I was in charge of warm up. At the end of the day the Shifu closed the training day with another line up as usual. Only this time he had a little word prepared. Since it was my last day he congratulated me on completing my training.

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Translator Susan translating Shifu: “Even though you were injured, you always kept training and never gave up. The Shifu thinks you are a very strong girl. He hopes you can take care of your body and you will continue to enjoy the fruits of your training in your everyday life.”

While Susan was translating the Shifu looked at me with the cutest face ever. I always knew there was some kind of mutual respect, even though he didn’t always show it to me. I asked permission to say goodbye to each and every one of our group. While my team mates were still lined up I worked my way down the line, shaking everybody’s hand and saying something to each team mate individually since I shared a memory with each and every one of them. Things were getting a little emotional as soon as I had reached the end of the line and faced my friend Audrey. I didn’t say anything to her. We just did our secret handshake. After, I turned around. Shook the hand of the assistant Shifu and translator Susan, saving Shifu for last. When I looked him in the eye, my eyes all teared up. As soon as he noticed he directed his eyes to the floor.

Me: “Thank you Shifu. Thank you for everything….. It was … my pleasure.”

He probably was -again- embarrassed by me and my over emotional-ness. We have only known each other for a month and here I am sobbing like I’ve been here for five years. But I meant every tear. I’m really gonna miss this guy. The Shifu kept his head pointing towards the ground and nodded. He is trained not to show emotions. But as if the Chinese gods intended it, rain suddenly fell out of the sky. Pouring down on us harder and harder.

“The sky is crying for you”, Rebekka, a girl from my group said.

I went to my room to collect my bag and said goodbye to my roomie Celine.

The taxi was waiting for me outside. And… also the Shifu. He walked with me towards the taxi. Videotaping me saying goodbye to some of the friends I made. …He has a very popular youTube channel and likes making videos… We’re his major attraction.

Audrey whispering: “The Shifu really likes you. He’s sad you’re leaving.”

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The Shifu? Sad? I looked over at him standing there all helpless and wrapped my arms around myself as a way to ask him if I could hug him. He smiled and gave his phone to someone to hold it for him. We hugged, and again I thanked him. I didn’t cry this time. I saved my tears for inside the taxi. When I saw the Kun Yu Shan mountains slowly but surely disappear behind me. It had seemed I left the same way I arrived. With waterworks.

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But a lot more strength both inside and out. Thank you… universe?…  for this amazing opportunity. To many more adventures to come! Next stop: Shanghai!

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XO

BTW: My roomie Celine and I celebrated our final night together in style. We heated up some chocolate with a candle and made us some chocolate fondue and watched a movie. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

The power of Chi

As you could read in my previous post, life in this academy can be quite confronting. You get confronted with your limits, your incapabilities, your doubts and your fears. But the thing I’ve been experiencing most problems with. Is how confronting my age has suddenly become.

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A lot of these kids here are around 21, there are even some 17-18-19 year olds of which I thought they were actually my age.

When I was that age, enrolling in a martial arts school in a far away country to train 40 hours a week was the furthest thing on my mind. I was too busy being a book worm, studying and providing for my future. I was very career minded. Very serious, actually. And very insecure. I was always worried about what other people would think of me. I was always trying to fit in and if somebody would say a mean thing about me, that would bother me for days.

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With age, I learned not to care about that anymore. That’s one of the few positive sides of aging.

However. Some comments do still affect me. They don’t hurt me. They just fucking piss me off. For instance, when my article on HLN.be got published about traveling without a plan and living life to the fullest, I couldn’t help but check how people were reacting to it. Most of the comments were good. But, of course, there were also some bad comments. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. And you don’t have to agree with me and my way of living. Different people, different ideas. It’s just the way some people pin you down instantly as a selfish brat that probably hasn’t got any sick relatives to take care of, and shouldn’t expect any help from others when she is in trouble, is just so narrow minded that it drives me claustrophobically insane. If someone would say this to my face I would fucking rip theirs off.

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First of all: No, I don’t have a sick relative to take care of. Lucky me! And lucky relatives of mine! That we’re all healthy and perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves.

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Seconds: I don’t believe people should need other people or that people should put their lives on hold for others. Of course if my mother or father was sick, I would take care of them. But I wouldn’t stop living. The day before I left, someone close to me got really upset about me leaving because she needed me to be there because she was having a baby soon… I couldn’t believe anyone could demand me to stay for the sake of her choosing to reproduce. That just didn’t fit in my head. I’m sorry but I’m not gonna neglect myself because of others. This is my life and I choose how I live it.

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But then again, I’m not super human either. So I do ask myself that question occasionally:

AM I BEING SELFISH?

The way it began for me: I really needed to leave my everyday routine and live completely in the moment. I believe people who choose to do so, don’t have to feel bad about that. For example Maryam, who I met in Tasmania, her mother back in Iran was really sick but that didn’t prevent her from traveling around Australia. And her mother didn’t blame her. Is she selfish? No way. It’s not like she was getting wasted every night, partying away. She was there dealing with her own personal struggles and challenges while dealing with her mother’s sickness. People need to understand that going away to travel for longer periods of time isn’t about lying on a deck of a cruise ship, sipping frozen strawberry margaritas and doing nothing. No, that’s holidaying. Traveling is embarking on a journey to gain important life lessons from it. And that usually doesn’t always go as expected, or doesn’t necessarily have to be a better life than the one you had at home. It’s all about experiencing, learning, to seek confrontation with yourself and others. Surviving basically.

To do that on your own requires braveness, independence and creativity. People blame us travelers for taking the easy way out, running away from responsibilities, but honestly if I really wanted to have an easy life I would have just stayed at home, curled up in my comfort zone. My life isn’t easier. It has simplified, yes. Cause I took all the bad Chi out, and only keep the good Chi.

You: “Sorry Evvy, but what is Chi exact-ly?”

Me: Ahaa! Very good question, You-san!

Chi (or Qi) is the fundamental life force that flows through all and everything. It basically differentiates a living human being from a corpse.

(again)

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A strong life force makes a human being totally alive, alert and present while a weak force results in sluggishness and fatigue. You can increase and develop your Chi to overcome illness, become more vibrant and enhance mental capacity.

That’s what Taiji and Qigong are all about. If I would only find a way to shut up my mind while I stand there frozen for 40 minutes with my eyes closed and knees bent, while trying to find a magnetic sensation between my fingertips.

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Basically you should think about your body, your blood flow, … Or birds. Birds are always good. It should bring you into an elevated state of being. If you achieve in doing that, Godzilla could drop in the school yard and you wouldn’t even move a muscle.

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“Shit, they’re doing Qigong. There goes my terrifying entrance.”

Or how coach Ariel likes to put it: “No matter what happens, no matter how much it hurts, do not open your eyes, do not drop your arms, do not straighten your legs, just focus on your laogong* points.”

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That basically means if someone would stand next to you and burn your face with a Bunsen burner, or fire gun shots at you, you are not supposed to move. Yeah, it’s advanced. ***

(*** BTW coach Ariel did an awesome thing this week. He broke a brick with his bare hand while holding an egg inside his palm. Guess what?? The egg didn’t break! The egg was real alright, he showed us after. Right before his palm magically gave birth to an unidentified living sentinel thing with sharp teeth!)

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… Okay that last part I made up…

I think this whole Chinese philosophy thing is super interesting, though. But sometimes it’s a lot to process. Especially when the lessons are in Chinese, and the school translator isn’t doing a very good job getting the point across. I was following a Taoism class the other day and I just couldn’t understand everything the master was explaining us. I was #dafuq’ing all over the place.

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During that class we were supposed to learn about Feng Shui. But at the end the only thing I actually remembered was that it means Wind – Water. I decided to run over to Amanda, the weirdest of translators, always wearing the most colorful and funny outfits, and ask her the obvious question:

Me: “Amanda, what in da funk is the difference between Chi and Feng Shui?”

She stared at me with her beady eyes, not really understanding how I had just came out of a one hour Taoism class about Feng Shui still asking that question.

Amanda: “Well, Feng Shui is all about harmony around you. Your home, the trees, the buildings around you, … They have to be aligned so that the wind/water can flow without blockages. While Chi is the energy inside your body. If someone has a weak voice, for example, then that person has weak Chi. If a person has a strong voice than that person has a strong Chi. Got it?

(Mind = blown)

Wow, Amanda had just provided me with an interesting insight there. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this academy so far -besides spider man crawls, walking push ups and Russian push ups- it’s definitely how to speak loudly and raise my voice.

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My whole life I’ve been too much of an introvert to do that properly. And sometimes I just swallowed words or I would begin a sentence loudly and end it softly. Mumbling. When we train I yell it out like crazy. My punch doesn’t come out without a loud and clear : TSE HA! They taught me that the first day. To scream and shout, to do your movements with power. The Shifu is always screaming: ‘Louder! More Power!’ And when we do laps around the school yard we always count as loud as we can. Like soldiers.

Leader: ‘Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi  … (group echo: Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi)
Leader: Yi Er, San Si (group echo: Yi Er, San Si)
Leader: Yi, Er, Saaaaan Si! (group echo: Yi, Er, Saaaaan Si!

I guess that means I have a strong Chi! Thanks Amanda! You made it a lot more clear! Now go back to being weird!

With her clearing up that question, I could finally answer that other question for myself.

AM I BEING SELFISH?

No! Of course not!! If this traveling and experiencing new things is doing all this good to me, then why should I be ashamed of living for me? It took me a while to come up with an antonym for selfish, until I finally got it: if I’m doing this for anything, it’s out of SELF LOVE. And subsequently the love I have for others. The most important people in my life. Cause when I am a stronger Evelien, they’ll gain from it too. If I’m not happy with the way things are going in my life, how can you expect I will be of any beneficence in your life? My Feng Shui would fuck up your Feng Shui, and then we would both end up with bad Chi, shitting that bad Chi on other people, creating a bad Chi-chaos that would eventually bring this whole world to an end.

th (7)

Now THAT! would be selfish.

There are no blockages in my system, I can love others much more than I ever could before. I can literally empower others with my Chi. And I will, once I return. You better be ready!

So bottom line:

Screw you guys, Imma do whatever the fuck I want. It’s good for you. It’s good for me. It is the power of Chi. 

Chi you later!

XO

Nourishing my Chi. Out of self love. Of course. Every Saturday I go to the bakery in Mu Ping and treat myself to a nice pineapple pie. It iz zie best! ❤

pineapplepie

Kung Fu Panda

So as you may or may not know -I have been keeping this a secret for a very long time- I didn’t really go to China to explore/discover/travel like I did in Australia. I know everything’s a knock off in China, but I was not gonna copy myself just like that. No no no no, no, China had to be a chapter at it’s own. A one of a kind experience … And that’s how I got enrolled in….

KUNG FU SCHOOL !!!

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Yup you’re looking at a real life Kung Fu Panda here

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(Any relations with Kung Fu Panda 3 hitting theaters at the same time is merely a coincidence)

The panda thing isn’t even a lie. Australia made me fat and since I haven’t got a decent sleep in weeks I’m starting to get panda eyes as well!

So yes, I am currently a residing student at a Martial Arts school 5 hours away (by fast train) from Beijing. I took the train on Tuesday morning and arrived at the school in the afternoon.

pandabreakfast

After indulging on a big Panda breakfast of course. Steamed buns at 6am in the morning with my loyal travel partner!

You: “But Evvy, how did you manage to get yourself accepted in that school? You don’t know funk about kung fu?!”

Me: Well, that is correct. My experiences in Kung Fu are very little to none*.

*  I did take a Win Chung class in Melbourne (…) and watched a lot of martial arts movies when I was little, not to forget I was very lethal at playing Street Fighter and Mortal Combat on Super Nintendo.

breakfast on mulholland dr

Don’t be fooled by this honey badger paws. I am indeed very lethal. Especially after big breakfasts. (pic from when I was indulging (again) in LA november 2014)

Once I started looking into traveling I asked myself a lot of questions: What are your dreams? What have you always wanted to do but couldn’t because of it not being the right time or place? Or because you thought it would never be possible? While I was sitting in my apartment in Antwerp I flashbacked to a moment in time, almost two years ago, where I was lying on my couch one Saturday morning watching Kill Bill volume 2. I was having a bloody good oat meal breakfast while watching a gory massacre in a wedding chapel. When Beatrix arrived to that temple to become a lean, mean, killing machine I wondered: are there any actual schools that train chicks to become really bad ass martial arts…ies?? Eventually I never end up checking that. Until a few months ago. I suddenly realized that was something that had stuck in the back of my head somewhere. At that time I had already made up my mind about going to Australia. So it was merely out of curiosity I went to have a look on the internet. It took me less than a minute to find a martial arts school that lived up to all the expectations I had:

° It was somewhere up in the mountains, so far away from every day life/tourism;

° They had a temple;

° They had awesome monks and masters;

° They offered trainings to everybody from around the world;

° AND: the bottom of the website stated that everybody was welcome, even if you have minor background in martial arts!

At that moment my heart almost jumped right out of my chest.

I didn’t know where to go with my excitement and decided to get in touch with the school, telling them who I am, where I come from and see where it goes from there. Within a couple of hours I got an email back and before I knew it I was finding a way to fitting in a China chapter into the Australia Chapter and throwing in an extra Japan chapter since I thought: if I go to China, I might as well take an extra plane to see Japan as well since I might never get that close again.

So that my friends, is how it all started…

Of course it sounded super spectacular in my head, but when I arrived at that school ….

IT WAS EVEN MORE AWESOME!

Even though I was very doubtful that day. While I was sitting in the shuttle bus that was taking me from the station to the school I thought to myself: this is gonna be some lazy ass thing for tourists, there’s a big chance I’ve been building this up way too much in my head and it probably won’t live up to my expectations and blablabla…

When the bus rolled in to the school yard, there were twenty people sitting on the stairs in front of the main building. They were just hanging, wearing sweat pants, watching ‘the new kid’ arrive. I’m gonna be honest with you it was a little intimidating. I stepped out of the bus and then the embarrassing thing had to happen: I would have to take out all my bags out of the trunk (my very big backpack and hand luggage). These kids probably thought I was staying for at least 2 years. I said hello from a distance but was rescued by the translator -yes we have translators here- who immediately took me up to my room. It’s a very old building and in winters it gets to minus 25 degrees INSIDE. You can wear every piece of clothing you own, attach warm water bottles to your body and still be f*cking freezing. I was lucky I came in Spring. Every day it gets a little hotter than the day before and some trainings are held outside. As we were walking up the stairs (I’m on the third floor, being the highest floor in the building. I already knew then and there I would be cursing those stairs after a day full of training) The white green paint on the walls was peeling off and I suddenly felt back in high school again. Well there was a mix of things it reminded me off: prison, boarding school, a police academy or a dance school. But not the prestigious USA one we all know from FAME, more the very basic Soviet one. As we arrived up to my floor I saw some weapons lying in the hall way, posters of Kung Fu movies hanging on doors and some dry racks where people had put up their exercising gear. We paused at one door. Susan (the translator) handed me over the key and squeezed her almond shaped eyes into perfectly horizontal lines: “This is your room. I will give you a tour of the school later after you unpack your things.”

I entered a room not bigger than 4 by 2. There were three beds so I immediately figured it came with two room mates who weren’t in at the moment. There were also three wardrobes, three desks and three water containers. Since the tap water isn’t suitable for drinking, we have to tap hot water from a hot water dispenser, let it cool off during the night, to have cold drinking water in the morning to drink during the day. I cast the backpack off my back, stretched out and threw myself on the bed to relax for two minutes. Bad idea. There was no mattress in the bed. Just a wooden board with quilts on it. And a pillow. Even sleeping is to be seen as conditioning training…

I decided to go for a little stroll and explore my floor. I found out all floors were mixed as soon as I saw signs stating ‘male toilet’, ‘female toilet’ and ‘male washing room’. The female washing room is all the way down on the ground floor. Yes that means after a day of long, hard training I have to go upstairs to get my towel and toiletries, go downstairs to take a shower, and go upstairs again to close my eyes and sleep. Unless I forgot to fill up my water bottle, which means I have to go all the way back down again to fill that up (since the hot water tap is on the same floor as the female washing room, and I will regret not having water in the morning cause I have to keep hydrated during the day if I don’t want to end up on a hospital bed or worse… D-E-….hydrated. Of course.

Even though all floors are mixed, only men can cohabit with men and only females can cohabit with females. It is FORBIDDEN to sleep together or get too physical with each other. A hug during training isn’t the same as a hug after hours. Boys are not allowed to walk around bare chested and girls cannot walk around in their sports bra. We can visit each other’s rooms but not after 9.30 pm otherwise you get the staff. No I’m kidding, but people have been staffed, so I’m told…

Of course any enjoyable physical contact is forbidden. No sex. And no, anal sex is not an exception. Even though that’s not always enjoyable for some people…

After I got my things organized, Susan showed me around the school. I found out there is an old building (where I and most of the students are staying, the head office is also located here), there is a new building where optional classes such as Mandarin, massage, acupuncture and calligraphy and Taoisme is given. There is also a TV but most people just watch movies in their rooms on their laptops. The internet connection is shit. So if you want to stream a movie you must load it hours in advance. You always have to think in advance here: If you want to have drinking water, you have to take care of that at least 8 hours in advance, if you want to see a movie, same thing. I guess that’s what fighting is all about: anticipation.

But Kung Fu is not about fighting. It’s about learning to fight to learn not to fight. Kung Fu warriors are warriors of Peace. They don’t support violence, but will defend themselves fiercely to maintain the peace. That’s why I like martial arts so much. There’s a positive vibe to it, even though you are trained to be a very effective fighting machine.

The day of my arrival I just observed the classes, to get an idea of what I was getting myself into. Obim, a Swedish student, took me under his guard and gave me some insights while we were following the trainings. He was sick that day so couldn’t participate either. He was the first friend I made. After that I made another one and another one and another one, …. by the next day I almost knew everybody of my group and people were even remembering my name! I have never been accepted this easily. When I started playing basketball I had to suffer two years to be where I was now. This time, it took me half a day. I know why though: we are all outkasts here, have all been bullied or have felt unaccepted in life before, and therefor grew a love for geeky stuff like movies, comic books, and martial arts. Everybody gets along really quickly because of that, and it’s nice to meet so many people from all over the world to discover they’re just like you and share the same humor and interests. I love that.

So first day of training….

Before training I was told I had to introduce myself in front of the entire school. I hadn’t really prepared actually, I just decided to go with the flow.
Every morning there is a line up. You have to line up, stand straight and greet the master. I felt in North Korea. My Shifu is master Gao, he’s the Rufio to my Peter Pan since he’s only 23. After greeting, I had to walk forward and tell everybody who I was in 30 seconds.

I decided not to mention I was a journalist back in Belgium ’cause a) I didn’t want them to think I infiltrated the school and b) They probably don’t give a fuck.

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Since it was Wednesday the day started with acrobatics. Apparently that’s a class everybody dreads but I kind of enjoy it. As a kid I was always rolling in the grass doing cart wheels and splits but with age some things don’t go as smooth as they used to. That first training day I suffered a couple of bad landings and hurt my neck over and over again falling on my back. I thought I sucked ass. At the end of the class the Shifu called me over, said some things in Chinese I didn’t understand but luckily Susan was there to translate. That’s what she gets paid for anyway. To give bad dub jobs.

Susan: “The master says you did very well. You have very good body condition and are a very clever student. Keep up that energy for the rest of your stay and you will learn a lot.”

I was humbled by such a compliment. Especially since the Shifu is tough as nails. He’s only 23 but he’s a former Chinese kickboxing Champion and isn’t afraid of using the staff when you don’t perform the way he likes. I managed to survive a whole day of training and even did the optional Xi Quon class. You have to sit or stand 40 minutes in one position while pulling your hands away and towards each other without making your fingertips touch. You have to imagine there’s a magnetic field that is drawing them away and towards each other. After five minutes my shoulders were cramping up and my mind went bazurk*. (*Sorry if this spelling is completely wrong, I don’t have Google to check it!)

My mind going bazurk: “No fucking way I’m holding this up for 40 minutes. This isn’t fucking possible, this is torture! What the hell was I thinking coming to this class after 6 hours of training, … (and so I raged on for a few minutes)”

After ten minutes the pain got even worse.

After 15 minutes I was crying on the inside and telling myself to think only happy thoughts.

I'm okay

But after twenty minutes it started getting a little better. I couldn’t even feel the pain anymore.

Me: “Okay another 20 minutes left, you’re half way there. Don’t give up. You will deserve your shower and sleep later!”

Five minutes before ending time I was opening my eyes, looking at the coach, wondering when he would tell us to relax our arms, when he finally did I felt like I had just delivered a baby. Body parts felt like they were about to fall off, falling asleep, waking up and hurting even more. I was broken. That night at dinner I couldn’t even hold my chop sticks. I had to use a spoon to scoop my food up. I could comfort myself with the outlook of a 10 hour night’s sleep. On a wooden plank. But I would even have settled with a bed of nails.

When I woke up I felt battered and bruised. My muscles were all cramped up into one giant dumpling. I almost couldn’t get up. Luckily after breakfast I started to feel a little bit more relax. That day of training I kicked some serious ass during sanda, Chinese kickboxing. After that we had massage class and I volunteered to be the test dummy. The massage master (I forgot his name) laid his healing hands on me…. AND HURT ME EVEN MORE. I should have learned my lesson after getting a sports massage back at the Tour De France in 2014. But here I was stepping back into the chamber of torture again. But: it got better after. That’s seems to be an important lesson here: no matter how much you hurt, keep suffering and eventually you won’t even feel it anymore. Better: you will learn to enjoy it! And that’s exactly why I came here. To empower my mind and body. It’s amazing what a little willpower can make you do. Apparently with me: it was taking on another Xi Quon class the next day. And another the day after. Now I can’t live without it. I’m doing a Xi Quon class every day and every day my chi is getting stronger. It feels grrrrreat!

On the third day of training we got ‘Mountain Training’. People had been warning me for this. It is the last suffer point before weekend. I figured I would like it since I walked up so many mountains back in Oz. But this one was a little different… We hiked up to the base of that mountain for a firm 30 minutes to arrive at a beautiful temple.

temple

We walked up the stairs to discover 400 more steps that would lead to the actual temple inside the mountain. These steps were our training. We were supposed to run up and down as much as we could in about 1,5 hours time. I started running up those steps but not even half way there I had to change my game plan. I decided to power walk up those steps and run down again, have a sip of water and power walk back up again, and so on and so forth until I would eventually turn into stone and wouldn’t be able to move anymore. I decided I would have been happy with 4 ups and downs, but I changed my mind and went for 5. Apparently that wasn’t bad at all. Some people only did 3 on their first time. But I didn’t feel great either. Next time I need to be faster, better stronger, harder.

That night people were hitting the town (we are free to go out of school on weekends) to party but I decided to call it an early night. The next day I went to Mu Ping, a little town a 40 minute bus drive away, took a bunch of my new friends with me and indulged on some fried scorpions. It doesn’t taste that bad. It’s like fried chicken skin.

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Mu Ping market, where I ate a scorpion. I will try to upload the movie I made on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/blondeclueless as soon as possible!

Today, Sunday, I did a little bit of training. I have to nail those 5 steps!! And tomorrow a whole new week of training commences. I will be in a tremendous amount of pain since it will be my first full week of training. But like I said: things will get much better from there.

mondays

Or at least, I hope.

XO

PS: I noticed some people are getting a little worried since they don’t hear as much from me as they used to when I was in Australia and posted 5 Instagram pictures a day. It’s not from a lack of trying, I can tell you. I am just incommunicado here due to the Chinese blocking me from everything social. So for now: I’m doing really good, don’t be worried, I will try to keep in touch and keep putting stuff out there as much as I can.

Lucky Karma

So as you know (drum roll) I arrived in (cymbal stroke) CHINAAAA!

More specifically in Beijing! I arrived on Wednesday night. Well, my body arrived on Wednesday. My mind didn’t arrive until Thursday morning when I was queuing a local breakfast corner in the sleazy hotel I was staying at. The lady behind the counter -I estimate her to have been 22 at the most- started shouting at me like a wild goose. I didn’t know what the fudge she was saying but I reckon she was angry because I wasn’t supposed to be there.

You-cant-sit-m8feak

I knew I wasn’t, but I was hungry and I wanted food. I waved a stack of tens (RMB) in her pretty face and two good things came out of that.

1) It made her shut up instantly and

2) filled my belly up in no time.

I was only in Beijing for 6 hours and already had someone yelled at me and did I have a legendary breakfast in a cinematographically very interesting setting.

(***This is where I would have pasted a pic of a chinese mob restaurant. IF I ONLY HAD GOOGLE!***)

Of course that sleazy hotel wouldn’t be the place where I would spend the rest of my time in Beijing. It was just convenient since I had a very late arrival at the airport the night before. When I checked in and entered my room I found some hooker cards under my door with pictures of half naked girls. They must have heard about my lesbian fling in Australia…

The next day I was off to the Lucky Family Hostel -as the name already gives away- a hostel. It is wedged right in the middle of the Hutongs. A famous maze of little shabby streets and basically the ‘Chinese hood’. The hostel is great. It’s located partially below street level and the people who work there are incredibly helpful. And the food is sooooo gooood.

Mmm

I immediately booked the five days with them -my entire stay in Beijing- since it’s close to some very good places from where I was free to explore as much as I want. I also bought a tourist map from the front desk. Oh no wait. I tried to steal it since I walked away with it without paying. But 50 meters down the street, I felt bad and ran back telling them I ‘forgot’ to pay. I just couldn’t cheat on my family like that. When I opened the map I saw it was a little useless. None of the big sightseeing things were actually pointed out in there. It was just a maze of streets with names I couldn’t even pronounce in a million years.

The first day I didn’t do a lot. I almost lost an entire afternoon getting a Chinese sim card. In Australia -or any other country- you just enter a local supermarket, pay two dollars and you’re good to go. Here everything takes AGES! China is such a bureaucratic country. You need a red stamp for everything. I even had to show my passport to get the sim card.

Me: “Password??”

Lady behind the counter: “No, passport!!”

(Their pronunciation isn’t everything and yes a lot of Chinese women appear to have an anger management issue)

Apparently I couldn’t get 4G internet because of my phone ‘being too old’. They said “it wouldn’t support the Chinese 4G”. Weird, since it supported the Australian 4G just fine…. They even tried to talk me into buying a new phone! Of course I wasn’t interested so now I’m stuck with 2G. Not that it matters. I can’t access any of the stuff I would need internet for anyway. No Facebook, no Instagram, no Google! The only thing I can do is send and receive emails and use WhatsApp. Which is already something. Everything else is blocked by the Chinese government. Only locals with a VPN connection can get around it. Including the common computer at the hostel. That’s how I could got some of my stuff out there these past few days. And I worked with a Belgian admin to take care of my Instagram posts! Thanks Cedric! 😉 You are my Great Wall in life!

wall

So the first day I wasn’t up to much. But the second day was double the fun! I went to the Great Wall, a very good part of the wall where I walked for hours, and in the evening I went to the theater. It was an amazing day. Fortunately, since the next day I was back to dealing with Chinese bureaucracy again. I really needed to get US Dollars. A significant amount of USD since I have to give them to someone somewhere next week….

You: ‘Djeez Ev, why so mysterious?”

(shouting like Chinese woman) :”THAT’S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS! Yet (…)”

The only thing that matters for this post now (you always want to jump ahead of my stories!!) is that I needed those bucks asap. It took me an entire morning to find a bank that would give them to me. The Bank of China was the only place they could help me. When I arrived the lady was happy to tell me she could provide me with the dollars but only up to a limited amount, which was about half of what I needed. She advised me to come back on Monday (since the next day was Sunday and they would be closed) or go to another Bank of China the same day. That was easy: another Bank of China it is! I remembered seeing one the other day, even though it was quite far away from this one. I just figured the walk would do my body good! I walked for almost two hours to discover the bloody BANK WAS CLOSED!! I got past the glass sliding doors and from there the red thread had stopped.

glasscage

I had just spilled my entire day looking for this money and I only ended up with half.

You: “Couldn’t you just have checked the opening hours before you went there?”

Me: “Well yeah, If I would have had Google, I would have checked it. Trying to organize yourself without is hard! It’s not like you can randomly ask someone either, nobody understands what funk your saying.

I can get used to the spitting and throat scraping, I can get used to the dirty toilets that don’t flush toilet paper, I can get used to the rudeness of some Chinese people, … But the internet thing is a big challenge for me. Mostly because I depend on it since I’m an organic traveler and I didn’t prepare this trip too well.

Great was my joy when I ran into an English speaking Chinese guy at the Tian’anmen Palace on Sunday. I had just spent an entire day visiting parks and monuments around the city and my last stop was the Tian’anmen Square. Only, I couldn’t find it right away. Even though it’s huge! I got lost in translation again and I guess he must have noticed.

“Where are you from?” a voice from behind me asked.

I made a little pirouette to see who was asking and replied enthusiastically: “Belgium!”

English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh Brussels. Chocolate! French fries!”

This guy was already my mate. He was the first foreigner I walked into that was smart enough to know that French fries aren’t French.

Me: “Say you’re probably gonna think I’m a stupid tourist, and maybe I am, but do you know where the square is?”

English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh yeah, it is that way. You can walk with me, I was going that way myself. There is a ceremony planned today. But it’s not supposed to start in two hours or so.”

Me: “Aw, okay cool. A ceremony, nice surprise!”

English speaking Chinese guy: “What’s your name?”

Me: “Evelien”

English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh nice to meet you Evelien, my name is Collin. And this is my sister Lily.”

All of a sudden a girl pops up, I hadn’t noticed her standing behind him.

Lily: “Nice to meet you. Wow that’s a pretty scarf. Very Chinese style. I like”

Me: “Thank you I bought it in Australia actually.”

Lily: “Oh, when were you in Australia?”

….

You get it, we got to talking very easily. As we made our way to the Tian’anmen Square and squeezed ourselves between the people, Collin suggested we had more than enough time to grab a cup of coffee first.

Me: “So Collin and Lily, those are very English names.”

Collin: “Yes, we’re English students and this is our English name. You didn’t struck me as Belgian, Evelien. I thought you were from Italy since you’re so pretty! So do you have a boyfriend?”

I lied and told him I did. Things are just much easier when you mention you have a boyfriend. It eliminates the pathetic attempt of being picked up. I already had a Chinese guy serenade me the first day I arrived at the hostel.

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After a walk through little streets, dodging the busy Beijing traffic, we went inside a little coffee shop. The waitress directed us to a cute corner in the back. It was kind of special since it had a sliding door and everything and looked completely separate from the rest of the bar. The waitress was also very hands on. She immediately wanted to take our order and cater to us. As if we were here prior guests.

Lily: “So Evelien, do you want coffee or tea?”

I stared at her face for the whole two seconds…

Me: “Sorry (faint laugh)… What did you say?”

Lily: “Do you want to drink coffee or tea?”

Me: “…Tea?”

I looked at my reflection in Lily’s pitch black fake Dior sunglasses that were still sitting on her nose and all of a sudden it was as if lightening struck in my head and Frankenstein was brought to life. My mind flashbacked to a pamflet hanging on the wall in the hostel:

teascam

FUCK A BEIJING DUCK!

This is textbook tea house scam! How could I have not see this coming?!

Lloydcoming

While all alarms were going off in my head, the threesome was gazing at me, wondering why I looked like I had just suffered a stroke.

Me: “Err, actually… I really need to go to the toilet first.” (This came out surprisingly sincere and calm, there was no breach in the way I had been talking to these people for the past 22 minutes. I don’t want to brag but this was proper Oscar winning acting.)

Lily: “O-okay (…) (addresses herself to the waitress who then takes me outside where the toilet seemed to be.)

This was my cue to run for it. I went into the little premise to make sure the waitress would go back inside. When I checked she was gone, I pauzed for 15 seconds. “Wait, just take a deep breath for a second. Am I really going to be this paranoid bitch that ditches on two people that could potentially be filled with good intentions??”

(….)

“Fuck it. Imma be this bitch!”

I ran out of there Kung Fu style.

I was stuck in a maze of little streets. Proper scam streets. I was worried I would run right into another gang. When I turned a couple of corners I just decided to stop running and go for confident walking instead. You know, act cool and try to blend in. As far as that’s even possible with a bright blond bun on the top of my head. Collin and Lily would recognize me out of a thousand people. When I finally got back on the big streets I tried to hail a cab but they were all taken. I decided to save myself the cab fare and keep walking. I was probably in the clear now, anyway.

While I was walking I pressed the replay button in my head and started going through the chronology of events. How the first thing Collin had said was already kinda ‘off’. “Where are you from?” Usually the Chinese are too shy to be this straight forward. And if they aren’t it is likely the only sentence they know and won’t bother to continue talking to you from there. But he did. And he asked A LOT of questions. Why? To distract me from where we were going, supposedly. To be honest, my orientation isn’t everything but I kind of had the feeling we were walking away from the Tian’anmen Square instead of going right to it. But even then, I just walked with them without asking questions. Without noticing where we were actually going. I suddenly realized how much I had told this guy on the way. I even told him where I’m going right after Beijing. Fuck, I should really stop giving away valuable information to strangers. He also knew I was staying at a hostel in the Hutongs. Luckily I didn’t mention which hostel and the Hutongs are spread all over Beijing city.

It suddenly made sense why they were called Collin and Lily, they were fake names of course. And brother and sister? Please. They didn’t look anything like each other. She was half his size and double his width.

It all seemed so clear now. But at the time it went incredibly fast. Now I knew why he asked if I had a boyfriend. He was just making sure if I was by myself or not. And here I was thinking he was hitting on me since he looked like he walked straight out of a Clearasil ad -the before pictures, of course- and seemed desperate for female attention. (..)

Props to them. They really pulled their A game. Complementing me on my hair color, my ‘Italian’ looks. Then again, I practically begged them to scam me since I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation I was a stupid tourist. Not stupid enough, though. They will have to go with an even more clueless backpacker next time!

chandler.jpg

While the encounter with Lily en Collin kept rolling in front of my eyes like a loop movie, I burst out into laughs in the middle of the street. I felt freaking lucky to have gotten out of there before shit would have hit the fan.

The only obstacle right now was getting back to the hostel. Then I realized something: I have that map! THAT map I ended up paying the 5 Yen for! Maybe my lucky break was related to the Lucky Family Hostel and the fact I didn’t steal that map, but came back to pay for it fair and square. I was really glad I cashed in some karma points with that. What’s 5 Yen compared to the 5000 Yen I could have lost in that scam.

hostel

My home in the Hutongs ❤

AND! While I walked to the hostel, I came across 3 (!) Banks of China. And an Apple store. The two things I needed to go to asap. On my way back I even walked through a nice park (Ritan Park, close to the embassy) where people were exercising and enjoying their Sunday.

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Locals, families and basically just good people that don’t mean any wrong with tourists like me. I refused to write off Beijing based on a bad encounter with two a-holes. In China’s defense: this could have easily happened to me in Australia as well, since there were also tourist scams circulating. I was just lucky I didn’t encounter one there. So no hard feelings Beijing. You were mostly good to me. But I am glad I can continue from here now and explore the rest China has to offer me. With an extra lesson in my pocket. And I will be (even) more careful next time.

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Funny stuff: I was wearing my ‘Home Alone’ sweater Helmut gave to me back in Tasmania. Maybe some of his wisdom was still hanging in it. (See the ‘Mirrors are coming‘ blog post)

The next day I was back to enjoying wonderful Beijing. By bike this time. I figured that would give me a head start to anyone trying to scam me. Beijing traffic is craayzaay! But then again, so am I!

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So long gay boys!! 

XO

PS:

To all new readers I gained through the article on HLN.be : Welcome! And thank you for visiting my blog, Facebook page and following me on Instagram! I hope I can keep you guys entertained for some time to come!

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Many thanks!

Investing in the future

(Caution 1: this is an even longer read than the previous one)
(Caution 2: this may contain nudity)

At least once a week I’m having an off day. A day where nothing excites me and I’m stressing over my budget, my time left in this country and the traveling choices I have made and am about to make. It’s usually a Monday, Tuesday or -in this case- a Wednesday. I just came back from walking the Story Bridge (1000 steps and 80 meters above the Brisbane river (it is enough to kill you, people have tried it)). I had imagined it to be a James Bond kind of adventure with lots of adrenalin, action and stunts since the description on the website was already very exhilarating, but if my heart rate would have gone any slower, I swear I could have fallen asleep then and there.

I had stepped into a tourist trap. One that had cost me 79 dollars. I didn’t even get one decent photo out of it AND I got insulted since the guy at the counter gave me an XL overall. I mean WTF??

Money is definitely on my mind here in Oz. Everything is just so damn expensive. Your accommodation (a dorm you usually share with minimum 6 people) costs at least 30 bucks a night and then you still have to pay for food, public transport, a coffee on the road, postcards and stamps, data for your phone, washing powder, and the occasional recreational activity such as renting a bike or hiring a kayak. Traveling is all a matter of keeping yourself active and entertained. And usually that doesn’t come for free.

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When I look at my billing history I get these crazy premenopause like hot flashes. Then I continue cursing myself for not traveling just a fraction more money conscious. For having that big bowl of amazing bircher muesli in that cute little coffee place instead of using that money to buy a large bag of muesli and some yoghurt of which you can eat an entire week.

It’s a tough balancing act. I don’t want to hold myself back too much either. I still want to enjoy myself. And I am already sleeping in hostels to keep my budget down, not because I like them. I don’t want anything to do with them or the people that live in them. I don’t participate in any of the social happenings, happy hours or bingo nights. I much rather have a picnic in the park by myself. (I have an interesting story on that later, hold on!)

I don’t know why but wherever I go, I like sticking out like a sore thumb. My curiosity always makes me end up in weird places.

Instructor (who very much looked like Daniel Craig): “You’re a tourist? Why the fuck do you want to come to a boxing class at 7 in the morning with a bunch of sweaty men?”

Me: “Errr…”

Honestly, I don’t know why. ‘Why’, is a question I can’t answer. Sometimes my feet just take me places, and my head just follows.

Well, that boxing class was one of the best memories I have about Melbourne. That and the rooftop cinema. People often have the feeling they have to do all these ‘AMAZING, EXCLUSIVE, TEMPORARILY LOWERED IN PRICE, NOT TO BE MISSED’ sightseeing tours to make their trip worth wile. Of course everybody is free to travel differently. But for me, it’s like white bread. It just doesn’t still my appetite. I like to do trivial every day stuff while traveling -‘TrivialTraveling’, damn it that would have made a great name for the blog!- I think it’s the best way to the local heart.

As you know I don’t follow any tour guides or Lonely Planets while I am on this trip. I just walk around -mostly for hours on end since my coordination isn’t all too good- and eventually something will attract my eye and curiosity. Thus happened the first day in Brisbane. I was walking around town -since the hostel wouldn’t let me check in before 2pm- and ended up on the wrong side of Boundary Street. I was looking for the graffiti wall with the infamous angel wings (I do follow the Instagram accounts of some Australian cities, to see what some of the highlights are) but instead of turning right, I went left. It was a fiercely hot day and when I realized the neighborhood started to decommercialize since all of a sudden there had stopped being coffee bars on every corner. I paused at a white house whilst trying to connect to Google Maps. As I’m waiting for the navigation to show me where I messed up, I look up and see that I’m actually standing in front of a Greek Orthodox church. On the right side of the door there’s a sign saying ‘all welcome’. See, that’s asking for trouble. They were pretty much begging for a clueless blonde to enter.

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The next morning I decided to roll out of bed early, put on my Sunday dress and head to church. While I was walking -it was a firm 45min walk- I thought I’d better come up with a fake background story. Something about my grandmother (God rest her soul) having Greek roots or something. Just in case anyone would come up to me and ask why the hell I am attending a Greek Orthodox mass. In Greek. (..)

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But then again, who will come up to me and talk to me anyway? It’s a church, people are there to be with God. Not to start socializing with a 20 something girl.

Boy, was I wrong…

Two minutes almost every soul in there knew my name. The ‘master of ceremony’ (don’t know what else to call him) even introduced me right at the beginning of the mass. I felt like the honorary guest. Even though guest speaker Elias travelled all the way from Greece on his leather sandals to give an elaborate speech on how the Greek Orthodox church community had helped so many people in Greece when the country was dealing with the financial crisis and the refugee crisis (…) Sincerely sorry to have stolen your thunder there, Elias.

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It surprisingly took me about half an hour to ask myself the question: ‘what the hell am I doing here’.

The master of ceremony’s name was Peter. He was Australian and did the guiding in English. He was also the keyboard player, singer, occasional preacher, … and the loving husband of Heather, who was honored to sit next to me since she thought I was wearing such a pretty dress. My 4 dollar Op Shop find sure is getting compliments over here. She was completely fond of me once she found out me and her mother (God rest her soul) share the same name. I didn’t get the feeling Heather was overly religious. I thought of her more as the supporting wife to a man living his life in honor of God. A wife who had settled for second place.

(Peter enthusiastically telling a story about his early life being full of sin) :

“I was in a horrible place in my twenties. But thanks to the love and power of God, I turned that around and traveled further than I could have ever traveled. Now I am looking for my next journey and that is (childishly points his index finger towards the ceiling) all the way up there!” (chuckles)

I glared over to Heather to see what her feelings were on this subject. But she was glazing at her song book like she had just suffered a minor stroke.

After one hour and 15 minutes the mass was nearing the end. But first there was -of course- the sharing of the bread. In catholic churches usually only the priest is the one lucky enough to have a sip of that church wine. Here, they started handing out tiny glasses to everybody. And it wasn’t just cheap wine, it was port! Delicious port!

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Pic of port!

There was also a saucer with actual bread (non of that cardboard stuff we get). Someone could have thrown in some Tzatziki and we could have had a party in there! After the service everybody kind of wanted me to stick around but I decided to carry on with my day. The fact that they accepted me like they did, without asking WHY I attended, filled my heart with warmth for the rest of the day…

When I came back in the hostel that afternoon -I was sharing a female dorm with three other backpackers- they had all left. Even the Claudia Schiffer lookalike from Germany, who was supposed to stay another 2 weeks. She was so kind of leaving her leftover beer nuts near my bed as a sober goodbye gift.

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I was touched by the gesture since backpackers usually don’t share food. Everybody stores their stuff in the common kitchen. You have to put your name on your bags otherwise things will either get stolen or chucked out. The Claudia Schiffer lookalike from Germany had it happen to her the other day. Her bag with all her cutlery, containers, food, cereal, … was suddenly nowhere to be found. Of course that was a big drama. Backpackers who live on really small budgets hang on to those bags as if their lives depended on them. The other day I bought myself some groceries and labeled it -as instructed- with my name, departure date and room number. Instead of putting ‘Ev, Eve or Evelien’ on the bag, I decided to go for ‘Big Al’. A strong butcher’s name. I reckoned no one would want to steal food from a guy who sounds like a man with a big appetite. And a small temper.

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As I sat on my bed in an empty dorm, I checked the tan line the silver ring on my left middle finger had left. It reminded me of a little thing happening at the end of the mass when Peter dug up a giant silver coin out of his pants pocket and handed it over to Elias as a donation. Apparently it was worth a four digit number.

Peter: “The price of silver is going up, people. If I would advise anyone to do an investment. Buy silver.”

I started thinking about what Peter said. About investing in the future. And I thought:

“I’m running a pretty decent investment right here. Me.”

You interrupting: OH I see, because you’re GOLD, right? Spandau ballet? Nice one!

Me: Err, not really….

I started out as a penny stock. A pink sheet. But slowly my share is climbing up every day.

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So yeah, I spend a lot of money, sometimes a little too much, on this journey. But maybe it’s not all money down the drain… Maybe ‘you’ is the only asset worth taking a (financial) risk for.

You: But what if your share crashes? What if you end up with nothing?

Well I always say: if things really go south, you can always consider a career as a topless barmaid.

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(WOOPS! You weren’t supposed to see that)

It’s a bullshit safety net, I know. But it’s just my way to say to myself I won’t end up starving in a ditch so easily. No stress. By the way it is impossible to end up with nothing cause even the tiniest failure, or the dumbest mishap, is a lesson. And every lesson is an enrichment.

The only thing you will have to be aware of, and look out for, is projectile fear vomiting.

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Projectile what?

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People will try to put you off track by projecting their fear and prejudice on your perfectly fear and prejudice-free projection screen. Remember what I said at the beginning of this read? People asking you the ‘why are you here, or why do you do that’ – question. That question didn’t go down well for me at the beginning. I found it offensive. And I don’t like to explain myself. Sometimes you just feel the need to do something and that is your reason. Final.

For example: People are constantly asking me if I’m traveling alone.

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When I confirm that I am traveling solo (I only say I am to other women, when a murder/rapist type man asks me, I usually tell him my boyfriend is meeting me somewhere) they always give me the weird surprised look.

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… followed by : ‘Ooh, aren’t you scared?’

Maybe I should just tell people I’m here for investment business. That’ll shut them up.

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Is it sooooo weird to travel by yourself? Let’s rephrase the question. Why do people choose to not travel by themselves?? And now I’m back at explaining why you should see this as an investment: It is the best thing one can do to:

a) acquire a bunch of new skills,
b) surpass a lot of boundaries and
c) evolve fast and get to know oneself extremely well in a short period of time
( and if you’re into that => d) meet a lot of new people)

Everyday you are putting yourself in a new situation, you are I faced with new challenges and you have to be inventive and creative to deal with those situations on the spot. If you don’t take the initiative. No one will. The fact that I am the only one responsible for having a bed to sleep in, for putting food in my body and for getting from A to B just gives me an incredibly rewarding feeling. Never underestimate the power of a sense of achievement. It will make you feel like you can conquer the world. Or climb a bridge. But even a foetus could have done that walk.

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Hang on to those umbilical cords, guys!

That weird surprised reaction people give, will probably stick on me for some time to come. For instance every time I go to have lunch or dinner and the waitress asks me if I want to wait for my company to arrive…

But why would I need someone to take care of me anyway? Or accompany me? We are all individuals here. We are all responsible for ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you travel with 10 people or just one, ‘you’ is never a group. ‘You’ is just you and if you don’t learn how to live, travel and function by yourself then I pity the man or woman who you end up sharing your life with. Always check in with yourself first before you check in into a relationship. If you cannot think for yourself, act for yourself, speak for yourself or even eat by yourself… you are basically back to being a toddler and you will never know what you’re actually capable of. And you are capable of great things, believe me.

I guess a lot of people shy away from walking unknown paths by themselves… Because deep inside, they’re scared of them. Scared of the risks. Scared of the mirrors, …  So they set up their tent at base camp.

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I SAID BASE CAMP YOU STUPID TWAT!

They set up in base camp. Steer away from the climb, telling themselves the view is already pretty nice from down here. Well if you climb that mountain -and you don’t have to go all the way to the top- you will gain new perspectives, see new vistas and your point of ‘view/you’ will receive much more depth. I thought I already knew everything about me and who I am but everyday I keep learning about myself. It is silly to think you know who you are. Since we are constantly adapting to new situations, changes, struggles and challenges on the way, we never stop evolving. We are CCC’s. Constantly Changing Creatures. Sure, you know which wood you’re made of. What your fundaments are. But there are constantly things changing around us. The forces of nature. Maybe we need more than one lifetime to really understand who we are.

But in case reincarnation is just a myth and we only have one I strongly advise everyone to go on a big solo journey once. It doesn’t have to be a year, it doesn’t have to be six months, even a couple of weeks is enough. It will make you gain perspective and will basically teach you how to live life in your best capable way. Since traveling is very much like living: It is limited in time, you cannot do or see everything you’d like and you will have to go some day.

Consider it to be a spin off of the big television show called ‘Your Life’. A story existing on its own. How the story line of the main tv show will be influenced, isn’t important yet. Some overpaid executive producer will deal with that later. Just try living in the moment. You cannot see in the future. You can only look in the past and it will be a lot worse when you look back and regret the things you didn’t do. The moments you didn’t fully appreciated. Those are never coming back.

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You: “Yeah yeah, easy for you to say, you’re still young. I’m old, I can’t do jack.”

Me: “Well tomorrow you will be even older and you will regret you didn’t take the one opportunity you were actually close to achieving something out of the ordinary.”

Thus….

Invest. Invest. Invest. Step outside boxes, try to think differently, force yourself to do new things. Start slow. Start the day with brushing your teeth first and then have coffee. Or maybe don’t do that, that’s gnarly. I am just trying to find a way to make my point clear here. Don’t do the exact same thing every day. Challenge yourself. Try looking at things from different point of view, don’t put yourself or others in a box. Lose the judgement. Live free. Don’t look down on other people. Don’t look down on yourself. Don’t think too much of yourself either. The reason why angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly. Never forget that.

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Always believe in your soul
You’ve got the power to know
You’re indestructible, always believe in, ‘cos you are

GOLD

XO

You: “Hey, wait! What about that interesting story you had for us?”

Oh yeah. I was sitting in the park in Brisbane the other night and I didn’t realize until later but apparently I was sitting in some animal poo. When I strolled back to the hostel I suddenly started craving ice cream. I stopped at the 7 Eleven and bought myself a mini cup of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate brownie fudge. When I walked over to the hostel and wedged the cup between my arm and body to grab my key to activate the elevator door, I entered and saw in the mirror I had a brown stain on my jeans. I wiped it off with my finger, since I thought the cup must have leaked, … and licked it clean. I bet you can guess the end of that story… That’ll teach me to have ice cream past 10 pm…

The mirrors are coming *

(* caution: this is a long one)

A friend recently stated: “The first month of traveling on your own, you’re going to be like a sponge. You’re gonna soak in every experience and get loads of energy from it. The second month you’re going to feel the first signs of homesickness. The third month the mirror comes. And you will be confronted with yourself in an often not so pleasant way.”

I think I have jumped straight to the mirror phase.

I must say, I have been avoiding mirrors until now. Or better: mirrors have been avoiding me. At the farm there was one little one in the bathroom. You could just see your face and a little bit of your neck and chest if you stood on your toes right. On the way to Melbourne the only mirror I had was the little make up mirror in the passengers seat of Pierre’s car. Sometimes even the rear-view mirror would do to put in my contacts or throw on a little bit of mascara. When we would go shower in public rest areas, or just pull over to go to the toilet, I always found it odd there weren’t any mirrors there. It’s weird, but the first day I was in the Tasmanian mountains with Helmut, he asked me to accompany him on a roadtrip to Hobart. To pick up a new wardrobe closet. And a full length mirror…

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It had just spent my first night in the woods. It was lovely. I woke up with the most amazing view from the caravan and saw the wallabies grazing on the lawn. My day started wonderfully.

“Haa, there you are finally”, Helmut shouted when I entered the house with my toiletries piled up in my arms. We would spend 6 hours in the car together that day. I reckoned that should give us some time to get to know each other. And maybe he could already hammer some wisdom into me. “We gotta get going if we want to make it to Hobart in time. Come, have breakfast.”

Me: “Err, I was thinking of having a shower first…”

Helmut: “A shaaaauwwer? (very German) Why do you need a shaaaaaauwer for?”

Me: “To wash my hair…And all…”

Helmut: “Don’t even think about using a hair dryer, i’m running this place on solar power.”

(Me rolling over the floor with laughter. Followed by an uncomfortable staring competition)

Helmut: “Well I ain’t laughing. Yesterday Maryam tried it and I had to tell her to never do that again. The voltage is way too high. You can wash your hair tomorrow and let it dry during the day. Come, sit down, I’m making you breakfast and I want you to follow closely.”

What I witnessed next was chemist lab level. Helmut dug up two big empty breakfast bowls, put some chia seeds in there and poured it over with hot water. While he was letting it sink in, he dived up heaps of giant white plastic pots. One with some green alkalizing powder, some with what supposed to be ‘pea powder from Belgium’ (never heard of this), another with beetroot powder, another with garlic powder, spirulina, raisins, almonds, …

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He poured it over with the oats he had boiled on the stove, added a big spoon of greek yoghurt, some berries and a nice teaspoon of Leatherwood honey. That was not only a 20 dollar breakfast sitting there. That was also enough food to get you through the entire week!

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Helmut: “Eat.”

I took a first spoon and I was… delighted. This felt like a great, healthy start to our day of bonding.

Helmut: “Alright, pack up your gear, we’re heading to Hobart.”

Once we were in the car, an old Mazda pick up truck which was rambling and shaking from every angle, I decided to give it to him straight up.

Me: “So seriously Helmut, why did you give me such a hard time coming here?”

Helmut: “Well because of the things I told you yesterday. I thought you were a glamour girl. But from the moment I started talking to you, I soon found out we would get along.”

“So tell me what do you wanna know?”

Me: “Pardon?”

Helmut: “Well most of you young females want to come live with an old guy like me because they wanna learn stuff. So tell me, what do you wanna know?”

Me: “Err…”

Helmut: “Well, I will give you a piece of advice to start with. From now on you will live by the four agreements, alright?”

1) Be impeccable with your word;

2) Don’t take anything personally;

3) Don’t make assumptions;

4) Always do your best.

And I’ll throw in a fifth one in for you: Change your posture, it’s horrible!

Me: “Pardon??”

Helmut: “You hunch. It’s from being curled up over your computer (he means my phone) all the time. Sit up straight. Your back will thank me later.”

The landscapes flew by. From the green meadows, to the nice coastlines leading up to the harbor of Hobart two and a half hours later. Not one minute we spent not talking. Me and Helmut were on the way to bonding alright. We spent the entire time laughing, talking about life and filling each other in on our history and background. Turns out Helmut has had a very turbulent life so far. He got married 3 times and he could have died about 8 times. He ended up in a ditch with his Subaru, almost died in two motorcycle accidents, a skydive almost ended up on the wrong side of the tunnel, … And when he talks about his grandchildren he’s just miles away from that grumpy Tasmanian Devil he likes people to believe he is.

Once I found out he has kids and grandchildren, I wasn’t afraid of him eating me anymore.

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(Weird shizzle: Helmut gave me the exact same jumper after cleaning out his old wardrobe closet. Yikes! What a coincidence!)

On the way back we stopped for ice cream. The shop was owned by a Belgian woman. It was the first time I spoke Dutch in a long time. It sounded funny. She kind of gave me a weird look once she found out I was living with a 73 year old guy who wasn’t my grandpa, nor any other family member. But I guess I better get used to that. The next day we went hiking in Freycinet National Park and I met Susan. A nice, fit looking lady. I couldn’t believe she was 50. She was tighter than me! Turns out she joined the army a few years ago. And she was very sporty as a kid as well. Muscle memory. Mine suffers from early dementia, by the look of it.

Susan tagged along with us that day. She came all the way from Launceston to accompany us on our hike. I reckoned she was an old friend of Helmuts. Later I found out she actually was a woman he met through an internet dating website and me and Maryam were actually witnessing their first date! That’s why Helmut was in such a fit mood that day. And why he was peacocking so much.

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You should see him go up that Mount Amos. I must say, that mountain was tough! A very steep climb over and through big boulders. No paths. No rails. Pure on muscle power. And -in Helmut’s case- a walking stick. But then again, he got up there seemingly effortless. I was impressed.

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The way down was a little less impressing. We just had lunch on top of the mountain, made some photos and sailed down in a too confident mood. Me and Helmut kind of evoked the reckless kid in each other. And we were marching down the mountain, acting stupid. While we were taking the steep walk down, Helmut suddenly slipped away, landing on his bum, sliding down faster than my eyes could follow. I panicked, since the rocks were so steep and slippery and dived in behind him to stop him. As I did, I slipped as well, smacked hard on my back and tailbone and slid down with him to -only meters later- be stopped by a big branch that was sticking out of the rocks. Helmut and I looked at each other with big eyes welling up with tears of laughter. He was mostly laughing with me and my lousy attempt to save his ass. Mine was hurting pretty bad that night, while he didn’t have a scratch on him. Lucky bastard with his nine lives…

The next two days at the house were gloomy. The weather had changed and the sun didn’t come out at all. It was raining. Instead of seeing actual showers, it looked like the landscapes were vaporizing, sweating. Mist surrounded the house and the temperature dropped. We even had to fire up the fire place. The first day I came down with a cold. I had experienced a thermo crash of about 20 degrees coming from Melbourne to Tasmania. My throat was sore, my nose stuffed. I wasn’t feeling it at all that day. In the afternoon I disappeared into the caravan and slept for more than three hours. I had a bite to eat and slept for another 9 hours.

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View from the house

The day after we were again locked up inside. The breathtaking view of the coastline from the house was nowhere to be seen. Helmut put on a little Neil Young, after he found out I liked it, and Maryam and I started baking cakes with everything we could find in the cupboard. The place smelt of carrot cake and chocolate fudge, mixed together with the odor of burnt cake mixture dripping on the base of the oven due to the lack of self raising flower. After one hour the cakes looked worse for wear. Maryam’s one was way too liquid and mine way too salty. I accidentally pinched in one teaspoon of salt instead of half a spoon. That does make a difference, alright. But they turned out looking amazing after we tweaked it a little and let them rest for another 30 minutes. They made a pretty good lunch the day after when the sun came back full power. Finally. First thing we did was hit the beach. White sandy beaches, turquoise clear water, … I felt in tropical heaven. Nobody told me Tasmania is such paradise!

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Bay of Fires

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Afterwards Helmut drove us up to one of the biggest waterfalls in Tassie. I took in the moment and decided I had made the most of my time in Tasmania. I could return to the mainland.

You: “Wait, whut? Didn’t you say you wanted to learn all about life and pick Helmut’s brain?”

Well, while spending six days with Helmut (and Maryam) I did learn a lot… But I didn’t get the answers I was hoping for. Truth is, I’ve put way too much expectation on Helmut’s shoulders. I was looking for an oracle. Someone to explain me all about life in layman’s terms since I’m looking so much for answers, directions, guidelines, … . I pictured Helmut to be the right fit. A big German dictator, who would hammer an iron clad Law of Life into my brain. But that was wishful thinking.

That sunny beach day I encountered my first big mirror. I got out of bed that morning, very much excited about the sun making her long awaited return. During breakfast Maryam started talking about Iran, her home country. About the history, and how far her people have come. How far she has come as a person. And how rare her travel is for a woman from her background. Coming from a country where women only possess half the rights of men. To top that her mother is really ill so she’s juggling quite a lot of emotional things here. But she never ceases to keep enjoying life. I very much admire that in her. And at the same time she makes me feel uncomfortable because my struggles that are such big and powerful obstacles in my head -mostly caused by lovesickness- seem very trivial compared to her. I’m healthy, my loved ones are fine, I have loving friends and I’m doing great by myself… I shouldn’t have a care in the world.

My attention was drawn to a saying that was hanging on Helmut’s wall.

Faith of consciousness is freedom,

Faith of feeling is weakness,

Faith of body is stupidity.

Love of consciousness evokes the same in response,

Love of feeling evokes the opposite,

Love of body depends only on type and polarity.

Hope of consciousness is strength,

Hope of feeling is slavery,

Hope of body is disease.

I understood the words without really understanding them so I turned to Helmut for a little help. Layman’s terms, remember.

At first he started hammering the fact that all life is non-permanent and that we all DIE. There’s nothing we can do about it, DIE we will. Since nothing is permanent, we all must suffer. Since every enjoyable thing in life is ending. BUT, the ‘good news’ is, that too shall pass. Since nothing is permanent…

Then he started explaining that all feelings like love are mostly driven by lust and believing to find a soulmate is basically weak and stupid.

That’s where my mirror broke.

My eyes welled up. I reckon Helmut noticed, since he invited me outside to take the washing out and hang it up to dry. I was walking in front of him.

Helmut: “Why the tears?”

I turned around, stared into the big blue eyes with which he had looked three women in the eye when saying ‘I do’, and broke down. “If love doesn’t exist then what’s the point of living anyway?” (snif, snif)

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He gave me a big bear hug and I cried on his shoulder for a firm minute. It was a cleanse. And a realization:

I don’t have to agree with Helmut. It’s not because he has experienced a couple of rough rides in ‘the love & relationship department’ that the same goes for me. I am a person that is very much looking for love. If I can’t give and receive love in this life, then there’s no point for me. No matter how many heartbreaks I suffer -and I had my fair share- I will never stop hoping. I will never stop having faith. In myself, relationships or life in general. That depressed girl in Melbourne got something right. She IS worth of finding someone and being loved. Don’t let any nonbeliever or cynic ever change that thought, girl!

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From there on everything fell into place: I shouldn’t rely on others to spell everything out for me. I am responsible for my own lessons, my own happiness and the best way of getting the answers I’m looking for is by experiencing and discovering by myself. I suddenly remembered a beautiful sentence Susan randomly flickered at me while hiking down Mount Amos.

“Go travel, the best way of finding yourself is losing yourself.”

The next day I packed my bag, booked a ticket to Brisbane and flew out there like the wind. Helmut probably didn’t get much of a Helpx out of me, but hopefully I kicked some wisdom into that cranium too. To go easy on the judgement.

I don’t know if it were Helmut’s poor washing skills but my jumper felt smaller that day. “You must have grown, he laughed.” I guess I must have. I felt so much more confident after that little breakdown I suffered. I realized I have a lot of power inside me. And a very strong will. I just need to start trusting my gut more -it has never let me down so far- and not follow guidelines or recipes so much. I didn’t follow any recipe while I was baking that chocolate cake and guess what? I like my life very much like how that cake tasted. With a pinch too much of salt.

Let’s hit the road, blondie. It’s gonna be me and you from now on. Whatever mirrors we encounter on our way, we will try to conquer them together. In an ergonomically correct way, of course: with a straight back. But if we want to get rid of some subordinate feelings, let’s start with losing some of that excess baggage first. I decided to bring some of the clothes I had been dragging with me to the second hand shop. There were some great memories attached to some of those shirts and trousers, but the fact that my backpack felt lighter, already brought me so much more joy and freedom. Good tip: the first thing every self-made traveler should do is to learn how to live without comfort zones. (And Lonely Planets, DON’T BRING THEM.) You’ll be surprised how damn comfortable that actually feels.

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Goodbye caravan I called ‘home’ for a week!

XO

PS: This => Picture 2016-03-04 om 03.39.12

brought me so much pleasure today: to read that my views are booming! Thank you for reading the blog and for relating to it. I’m currently waiting on my plane to Brisbane. I had lunch in a café and the guy at the counter had to charge me 4 dollars less due to a mistake with the cash register. “You’re winning today”, he laughed. Damn right! Two hours earlier I bought an orange juice at a local truck stop. I took a sip and spat it right back out again, to notice the date has expired with over a week. I went back in and asked (politely) if I could have a new one. I got double the size! That morning I had made breakfast for Helmut and Maryam. Something my mom always used to make on the first day of school: ‘Winning bread’, we call it. Because it’s old bread you ‘win’ by creating a new dish with it instead of throwing it out. I guess I set the tone right there. So thanks for reading! I hope you guys keep enjoying it!

The Tasmanian cannibal

“Aaah the glamour girl from Belgium.”

He walked up to me from behind his truck with what only could be discribed as the grin of a male chauvinist pig around his mouth. I looked far from my glamourous self that day. I had just spent two hours on a bus on a Friday afternoon with a bunch of noisy school kids who were traveling home for the weekend. I had 20 kilos strapped to my back, another 7 around my left shoulder and another 5 cutting off the blood stream of my right wrist. My head was surrounded with bits of dry blonde locks, waving around in the wind like radiants around the sun. My face, however, must have looked like a sunny side down. I was knackered. My back broken. I just wanted to call it a night as soon as possible. And it was only 6pm.

“Glamour girl?” I molded my face in a cemented smile while walking up to him. Not giving away I was already kind of offended.

You see, before I got there I was already building myself up.  I was expecting this encounter to be a bit rough at the beginning. So I already prepared myself for some prejudice. I just couldn’t believe that a guy who’s had so man lessons in life, who is all about zen and spirituality, would just judge me that quickly. I mean, isn’t that the first thing they teach you? To NOT judge a book by its cover?

“You are full of judgement already, Helmut? That’s not a very good attitude”, I candidly smiled at him while -seemingly effortless- whipping the bag off my shoulders. It wasn’t effortless, my back was burning with pain!

“Ha-ha”, he laughed strongly. “I was expecting you to have a suitcase on wheels with a big iPad strapped on to it. How man pictures have you put online today? About 7?”

He was right. I had gone a little over my everyday 5 limit… So he looked at my online activities again… He already did this when I was in Melbourne, I discovered. That’s where I received an email from him, asking me to reconsider staying at his place. Since he reckoned it wouldn’t be something for me. I don’t know based on what he made that assumption, but it had something to do with my online presence, that’s a fact. He just thought I was another shallow girl, not worth of his time or effort.

It was about a 20 minute drive from the center of St Mary’s to his place. We drove up a narrow road, very steep and full of rocks. His 4×4 had its work cut out getting up there. It was a bumpy ride too.

“See that patch of stretched land there? That’s where I’m gonna bury you. I got all kinds of helpers burried there. Hahaha.”

I suddenly felt a weird feeling creeping up on me. Could it be that while he was doing a background check on me on the internet, he accidentally find my blog and read it?? The blog where I portrayed him as the cannibal of Tasmania, saying how much I feared he was going to eat my liver for dinner?? Bugger! Maybe I brought him to ideas. Maybe he is going to get really mad at me about the things I wrote and kill me very slowly in his slow cooker…

As we drove up his eternal driveway I realized there was no way in the world I would ever get away from this place by myself. Like if I really needed to, in an emergency situation. Since I was so tired, I accepted my faith there and then. I surrendered. I’ve had some nice views so far. I can go in peace.

Suddenly we climbed up to another piece of stretched land. There were wild wallabies having a picnic on the grass and I recognized the solar panels from the pictures, surrounding his house. Next to it was the caravan. My new home.

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“You will have to share it with an Iranian girl, alright. She’s a backpacker as well and has probably cooked us a nice dinner by now.”

I don’t know what I was more relieved about. That there was another backpacker, still very much alive, or that there was already dinner prepared for that night. Meaning I wouldn’t end up on a plate just yet.

I enteren the caravan to put my things in there first. There were two beds made, cute little colorful drapes on the windows and some cupboards to store my things. To my own surprise, this place looked lovely. And far better than the passenger seat of Pierre’s car I stayed in before. Even better than the hostels I was in. I quickly droppen off my things and followed Helmut to the main house up the hill. He built it himself with the hand of some handy helpers. The place is stunning. From the dinner table you have the most amazing view on the mountains and the ocean. With high windows stretching all the way along the kitchen. This is a million dollar view. And the place smelt amazing. Maryam was in the kitchen preparing chia chocolate cake and some Iranian dish for dinner. She came up to me all smiling. She just arrived 3 days ago and was already feeling very much at home. I don’t know if it’s because she’s Iranian but she very much looks like Kim Kardashian without the plastic surgery and all that. Big brown eyes, narrow nose, full lips. And a great personality to match. I wanted to hate her already. But I couldn’t. She was too sweet! I started asking her all about her travels. She left Iran to backpack through Australia by herself. She has been doing Helpx, crashing on people’s couches hitchhiking her way around,… traveling very low budget and VERY courageous. I mean, I couldn’t just ring up to someone’s house asking them to let me sleep on their couch without being rape that same day. At least not in these short shorts I’m wearing. Good thinking, Ev. Put some clothes on will ya!

She was telling me all about her travels and I was a little overwhelmed. Her aura filled up the room. She oozed confident and was very much in control of her journey, budget and further life goals. I felt like a complete clums compared to her. Turns out she became Instagram famous overnight in her country. Inspiring people to travel in a different way. There I was coming from a country that’s unimpressed with about everything. A country that has seen and done everything before and is not impressed until you travel to Mars or -even better- discover an entirely new planet. An Iranian  magazine even reached out to her to keep a travel diary. And here I am, Mrs Big Newspaper Reporter from Belgium, not even getting a centimeter of writing space in the paper I’ve been working for since 5 years. I mean GEE!

Yes Maryam was very much living my dream. But instead of feeling jealous or annoyed, I found a way to turn  that around. I just thought to myself, well that’s great for Maryam but I have a different approach and that’s what makes my journey unique. Or something like that. But I do like listening to her stories. She has experienced some great rides.

That night we had dinner together, enjoying the lovely view. Helmut started asking all about me and I tried my best to give him a good impression. But he was just…very German.

Me: “So Helmut, I had quite the convincing to do, why were you so hard on me?”

Helmut: “Well I wasn’t looking for a Helpx girl, I was looking for a strong man to help me with the fire wood.”

(…)

Me: “Uhu…And what about Maryam then?”

Helmut: “Well she was different, I reached out to her myself after reading her bio.”

Me: “You reached out to her? …B…b…but why didn’t you do that with me??” (FEELING REALLY SORRY FOR MYSELF HERE)

Helmut: “Because I looked you up on the internet and I usually don’t do this with my Helpx but somehow I did it with you. And I saw this picture of you with this cycling guy (THE Jens Voigt) and I just thought: no way she’s coming up here. She will drive me NUTS! I was trying to send you off with an excuse, that there wasn’t any room and this trip wasn’t for you anyway but you kept insisting coming over. You are very persistent, I got that from the first email you sent me. If I didn’t find out I was the only host you reached out to in Tasmania, then I wouldn’t have let you come over here. But I tracked down your ‘mail outs’ and discovered you only sent one email. To me. So I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. But if I don’t like you, you can scram. I’ve sent other helpers walking before.”

(Long uncomfortable silence)

When I tugged myself in that night, I took a deep breath and went through the day. I said good night to Maryam, put my sleeping mask on, tightened my hoodie and thought to myself: these next days ought to be interesting.

And they were.

To be continued.

XO

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