Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Detour, of sorts

This week I was asked by my very special friend CJW to write a guest post for his blog The Zipper Jam. I love his blog, and not just because we have been friends since we shared strawberry milk and monkey bars at preschool 30 years ago, but because it is genuinely a great read. He's a gay man writing about travel and I'm a stay-at-home mum writing about, well, being a stay-at-home mum in a foreign country, so our blogs are quite different. But we have the same take on the world most of the time, and I was so thrilled that he asked me to contribute that I couldn't resist. So please head on over there and check out The Zipper Jam, and my post Flying High (then come back here and let me know what you think!).

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Comfort Zone

I am a bit addicted to this whole blogging thing, so I'm always thinking about topics and how I'm going to write about certain things. I really wanted to write a lot about my recent trip to the UK, and the whole time I was there I was on the lookout for interesting things. I had a great time, and I could write pages and pages on what I did, what I saw, my impressions of the place, and my friends, but I'm not sure how many of you would be interested in reading about it. So, what did I take away from the whole experience that I'd be willing to share...? Apart from the vast differences between this trip and the last time I was in London, eleven years ago, there was only one thing that really stood out. There's this little song and dance I do before I go away, especially far away. I do love travel, but I am rather set in my ways, so there are always moments before I go anywhere when I think I would much prefer to stay home. Especially when I'm particularly happy with my home life. Sometimes it's the fear of the unknown, or the sense of upheaval that comes with packing your bags and leaving the familiar behind. Other times it's just sheer laziness, but either way it's a battle to get myself out the door.

Being the first time that I was leaving my son behind this recent trip was no exception, and dragging myself out of that comfort zone caused me a whole lot of angst. I was due to fly out at midnight on Wednesday night but the flights were looking pretty full. Rather than risk not getting on I made a last minute decision to leave on the afternoon flight. I hated the thought of my little guy waking up from his afternoon nap to discover that while he was sleeping his mummy had left the country. I almost pulled out a couple of times but once I was on that plane there was no turning back. The crazy part was that I had wanted this trip. I needed a break, and I've been moaning for months about how hard it is being stuck here while my husband gallivants around Europe and North America (yes, I know it's his job, but it seems so unfair that he has so much fun doing it!). Eleven years ago I travelled because I desperately wanted to be somewhere, anywhere other than where I was. Today I'm living somewhere that feels pretty damn far away from where I started out, but I still feel that same urge to get away. Maybe not as strongly or as often, but the fact that travel is more available to us now, makes me feel like I'm missing out if I'm not taking advantage of it. And yet, at the last minute I really wanted to stay put.

While I was away I read an article where a mum talked about the way motherhood is a series of compromises. She said that there is always a part of you that misses the life you had before children - the freedom and fun and sleep. Then there's the part of you that wants to spend every waking moment with your child, the part that feels like something is missing when your little one isn't with you. You're always torn between the two. I could really relate to that internal battle. In indulging the part of me that needed time out, I was missing out on a week with the little person who is my reason for getting up in the morning. A big part of me was worried that I would miss J so much that I wouldn't enjoy myself, and I wondered whether or not he would forgive me for abandoning him temporarily. But there was also a tiny part of me that worried that I would enjoy being away too much, that I might just decide to hop on a train to Paris and leave the daily grind behind. It was becoming clear to me that maybe it wasn't just the comfort zone holding me back, but the way I was over-thinking everything.

Despite my reluctance to leave I had an amazing trip, and I left to come home feeling like I could've stayed longer.  I didn't have a terrible time but I didn't have such a great time that I couldn't bear to come home again. I think that having a child has made that comfort zone just a little bit more comfortable, but I needed to get out of it to realise just how much I like being exactly where I am. I got a lot out of this trip, but I'll have to fill you in later on how things went down at home while I was away....

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

London Calling

I’ve written several posts lately about getting away on my own, sans bebe, and I’ve finally committed to doing it. I’m off to London this afternoon and I’ll spend the weekend near Edinburgh with good friends, G and S and their twin girls. This is my second trip to the UK, but given that the first was 11 years ago, I’m expecting things to be a little different.

When I was young, growing up in a small town, all I wanted to do was see the world. I knew it was out there waiting for me, and I couldn’t wait to be a part of it. Three years at uni, learning more about the world, and life, than I had in my previous 18 years of existence, only increased that desire to be somewhere other than where I was. I didn’t have the financial backing to follow through with any of my plans so I worked, and I waited, and at the tender age of 21 I had enough in my pocket to buy a return ticket to London and a 2-week tour of Europe. I did plan to live and work in Ireland for a few months, but the announcement that my 18 year old brother and his younger girlfriend were “in the family way” made me think that perhaps it wasn’t the right time to be worrying my parents with an extended stay abroad…

I left home one very cold September morning, feeling slightly ill at the prospect of finally achieving one of my greatest ambitions. It seemed I had spent so much time convincing everyone around me that I was going to do it, that I forgot to think it through. My mum said I was positively green as we waited at the airport. I said my goodbyes and arrived 12 hours later in Tokyo, where I spent a night before flying for another 12 hours to London. Thanks to a very helpful travel agent my airport transfer and hotel had already been booked and there really wasn’t too much I had to think about. I spent two days seeing the sights of London on my own, and the most adventurous thing I did was buy a ticket on one of those red double-decker buses that travels all day in a loop, and you can hop on and off when and where you like. I was blown away by London, but somewhat disappointed too. I found the people quite rude, and when I was charged 5 pounds (back then the equivalent of $15 AUD) for soggy cereal and burnt toast I wondered why on Earth I had wanted to come all that way.

My first Grand Tour took place in the year 2000. It was a new millennium and it seemed like everyone, everywhere was ready to party. I was 21 and everyone kept telling me the world was my oyster. I had the time of my life on that trip, despite being completely clueless, and I can’t believe that I made it as far as I did back then. I always give myself a pretty hard time about the sheltered life I lead, but looking back I have really come a long way. I was so naïve then that I didn’t know that the airlines offered transfer services from the international to the domestic terminal, instead I rushed out looking for a taxi to get me there for an exorbitant fee. I remember getting off the flight at Heathrow and seeing people heading for the Tube station with their backpacks. They seemed so intrepid and I was envious of their ability to so seamlessly blend in with the locals. I’d never been on a commuter train before, so even something as simple as that was beyond me. I’ve since mastered the Hong Kong MTR and the New York Subway, and it might seem crazy, but I’m incredibly proud of myself for it.

I might know more of the world these days, I’ve certainly seen more of it now, but if anything that makes me more apprehensive about getting on that plane. There’s an ignorant sort of bliss that comes with the naivete I possessed 11 years ago, and it cushioned me while I travelled alone, filled with wide-eyed wonderment. It was a world before 9/11 and the attacks that came after, a world I had very little understanding of but one that seemed benevolent enough. Now the world is a little darker, people are less trusting, and I have a whole lot more to lose. It took a lot of courage (and a pinch of stupidity) to do what I did all those years ago, but I’m feeling pretty damn brave for leaving my boys behind and heading abroad on my own again, even if it is just to the Scottish countryside for the weekend. I can’t begin to tell you how high my levels of separation anxiety are right now!

The first time I travelled there was no such thing as Facebook, no iPhones, no constant link to the rest of the world (which may not have been such a bad thing). I was so thrilled to be on a plane that I didn’t care that I was squeezed between two rather smelly, hungover strangers. I doubt I even realized there were other ways to travel. But today I’m travelling in business class no less. I have the Tube app on my iPhone, pounds in my pocket, and I’ve booked a nice hotel in South Kensington (no more backpacker's hostels or bed bugs for me). And there’s not a travel agent or safety net in sight. I have lunch and dinner plans with friends on Thursday and just the fact that I now know people who live in London feels like an achievement. Turns out the world was my oyster after all. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Love Affair

I have to share a guilty secret with you all... I have a new man in my life. We've only been seeing each other for a few months but it already feels like we'll be together for a very long time. A friend introduced us, she insisted I meet him, and I'm glad she did because it was love at first sight. He's sophisticated and stylish, romantic and timeless, and he's Spanish! He makes me feel like a grown-up. It's a pure and uncomplicated relationship; he gives me pretty things and I hand over my husband's hard-earned money, everybody wins (except maybe my husband...). I don't feel like I'm cheating; my husband knows exactly what's going on, but I do spare him the full details at times.

I wanted to take things slowly at first but I very quickly became addicted. We see each other almost weekly, and even when I come away empty handed I still feel like he's made my day a little brighter. I pop in whenever I'm in Central, just to see what he's been up to. Sometimes we only see each other briefly, just a passing glance, but I always go out of my way to see him. Last week he revealed his plans for the summer and I went weak at the knees - I hope I can share just a little bit of that with him. A few of my friends are also having affairs with him, but I don't mind, there's more than enough of him to go around.

I spent a lot of time with him when we were in Manila, it was almost a daily ritual for us there while my husband was out of town; a bit of a reprieve from the madness of looking after two kids. My son has met him a few times, although J isn't so easily won over by his displays of pretty, shiny things. We actually ran into him when we were in Macau recently. It was the first time my husband had met him face-to-face, but it seemed so right that he was there on our special weekend. It was a little awkward at first, and then my husband realised that there were some nice things in it for him too, and we all walked away quite happy with the arrangement. Who is this man who has so captured my heart, I hear you ask? His name is Massimo Dutti, perhaps you've heard of him?

It's hard to find someone who's genuine here in Hong Kong, someone who really understands what I want and offers me longevity and quality; most of them are all glitz and glamour on the outside but once you get them home they turn out to be fake, or worse, they fall apart on you; who needs that? At my age I don't have time to muck around. While I'm still loyal to my good friends Hennes and Mauritz (aka H&M), and will remain so, I've lately been disappointed by that temptress known as Zara, and I fear that our relationship has soured beyond repair (at least until the autumn collection is in). H&M are playful and light, and offer me a little bit of fun, for trips to the playground or impromptu wrestling matches on the carpet. But Massimo is what I want when I'm out on my own, or on a date with my husband, when there's no chance I'm going to end up wearing peach yoghurt or mushy peas. I have no idea how you'd get blueberry stains out of silk, and I never want to know.

Every mum goes through a bit of an image crisis at some point, whether they put on 2 kilos or 20 when they have babies, and we all need to feel beautiful sometimes. Massimo does that for me, and so much more. When I see him he always whispers seductively to me, "darling, you look beautiful today! But how about something in a nautical stripe with a bit of tszuj around the shoulder? Or perhaps a cherry red mini with a belted waist to show off those killer calves of yours? Go on, you know you want to!" Don't even get me started on what he can do with floral chiffon! There's no other word to describe what we share - it's love, plain and simple.

Admittedly all this passion comes at a price, and there are days when I really just want to sit on the sofa in a soft cotton t-shirt and my lulu lemon's, but it's nice to know that Massimo will be there waiting, in the wardrobe and at the mall whenever I need a treat. Don't we all deserve a bit of glamour every now and then?