exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

go figure

by Jen at 12:10 am on 12.11.2007 | 1 Comment
filed under: blurblets, world tour

“mr. and mrs. smith”, the barely passable action comedy starring angelina jolie and brad pitt, is on television – and i’m watching it for nostalgia’s sake.

you see, i’ve seen this movie already, no fewer than four times. in spanish. it was on a continuous loop (along with 2 episodes of “seinfeld”, and the horrific remake of “guess who’s coming to dinner?” starring ashton kutcher) on a 24 hour bus journey from santiago to san pedro de atacama in chile.

i swore after that journey i’d never want to see either angelina or brad’s face ever again. who knew i’d be so wrong?

then again, who knew i’d be revisiting a hellacious 24 hour bus ride as a fond trip down memory lane?

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it’s a small world after all

by Jen at 5:50 pm on 22.01.2007 | 1 Comment
filed under: mutterings and musings, photo, world tour

i am sitting on the train, reading the paper on the way home, engrossed in the latest jade goody saga.

“jen?”

i look up, and across from me is a thin blond woman who seems oddly familiar, but is not ringing any bells as I try to place her face.

“it’s lucy. from laos.”

we were on the slow boat down the mekong river in Laos, from Huay Xia to Luang Prabang – a two day journey, with an overnight stopover in the tiny flyspot village of pak beng. pak beng has exactly 3 rustic “hostels”, limited running water, and electricity only between the hours of 7-11. still, after 9 very long hours on an uncomfortable cargo boat, we were eager to explore, so we walked down to the dirt path by the river as light began to fall. as we walked past a brightly lit house with blaring, thumping american music, we saw a few other tourists from the boat inside, beckoning us in. turns out the party was actually a wedding reception for two young laos newlyweds in their late teens, and we spent the rest of the evening dancing to rap music, drinking the local moonshine, and chatting with a group of australian girls who were on their way to england after their holidays. in particular i spent some time talking to this girl lucy, who was a qualified occupational therapist, about the nhs and her tentative plans to move to london, giving her my email and telling her she should get in touch. we bonded in that way you do when you are travelers thrown together in a strange environment, and you’ve been drinking too much homemade grain alcohol, and the whole world is your friend.

and now here she was in front of me – holy shit. i am really bad with recognising people out of context, but as soon as she said “laos” it all came flooding back to me. turns out she lives just in clapham, of all places. so she filled me in on her experiences since moving here, and i told her about the rest of our travels. we engaged in small talk until we reached her tube stop. and then, she was gone. there was a brief moment where i thought about exchanging phone numbers… but then it passed. i think sometimes travel bonds don’t always survive the real world – and maybe that’s the way it’s meant to be.

the train pulled out of the station.

i went back to reading my paper.

mekongriver

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more on the world’s most dangerous road

by Jen at 4:56 pm on 12.11.2006Comments Off
filed under: blurblets, world tour

i’ve written about this before here, but yesterday’s article on the bbc website just underscores what i was trying to say:

It seemed at first that they had got off to stretch their legs, while their driver argued with another vehicle coming in the other direction about who should give way. (Reversing is not something you undertake lightly on a cliff edge.)

It transpired instead though, that the bus driver was dying. Blinded by the dust, he had run into the back of a truck. The bus’s steering column had gone through him – severing his legs.

There was nothing anyone could do. Mobile phones do not work here. In any case, who would you call? There are no emergency services.

And no way of getting help through, even if any were to be found. The bus driver bled to death.

High in the Andes, they are building a new road. A by-pass, to replace the old one. But this is Bolivia, and already it has been 20 years in the making.

so much in bolivia goes unnoticed by the rest of the world, and it’s just so tragic that lives continue to be lost at an alarming rate – if only there were something more that could be done.

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moving out, moving on

by Jen at 10:23 am on 3.11.2006 | 1 Comment
filed under: mundane mayhem, world tour

so i have an apartment… that i don’t want to move into.

i don’t know why i am suddenly so reluctant to move – it makes no logical sense, for sure. i have been wanting an apartment of our own for so long – since j and i got together. i haven’t had a flat that i didn’t share since my ex and i split up more than 5 years ago. ever since, i’ve had a flatmate – some better, some worse. there was johnny, my close friend’s brother back when i still lived in boston, who was funny and cool. there was angela, from my first move to london, who was lovely. there was arlene, who was a ditz and annoying, but kindhearted. there was alex, who was a depressed unemployed slob – not so good. and always, there were our friends next door – kerryn and tracey, who are really just family in the form of neighbours.

i was never alone. i’ve been surrounded by friends and family wherever i went.

and being on the road for 6 months, the one thing you get truly homesick for are your friends. it’s friends you wish were there to have beers at sunset in fiji. friends you wish were there to go snowboarding in nz with. friends you wish were there when you’re at a sidewalk cafe in santiago, or dazzled by the salt plains of bolivia, or sucking down pad thai on khao san road in bangkok. it’s friends you can’t wait to share stories with when you get back. of all the things you leave behind, it’s friends you miss the most.

so since we’ve been back it’s been so wonderful – we’ve been staying with kim and andy at their place, who’ve been so generous and warm. and honestly, like a parched plant, i’ve just been soaking it in. it is so nice to be surrounded by friends again. to have people to talk to, to have the luxury of familar faces and comfortable companions. i am sad to leave this cocoon of embrace.

finally moving means the trip is genuinely over. finally moving means being truly on our own, and facing london again. finally moving means losing our built in circle of family and friends and flatmates that i’ve taken for granted for so long. more than anything else, that’s what i don’t want to let go of.

i know it’s time. i know we’ve worked hard for this. i know our flat is still close by. so it makes no sense, this reluctance.

but if you had the friends i do, you’d feel it too.

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the only good thing about being home

by Jen at 12:40 pm on 22.10.2006Comments Off
filed under: mutterings and musings, world tour

i no longer have to fear for my life everytime we get on a bus. given the two horrible accidents we witnessed and yesterday’s recent tragedy, my fears were hardly unfounded. it tied my stomach in knots of anxiety every single time.

but what galls me is that shitloads of tourists pay crazy money to bike down “the world’s most dangerous road” (with over 100 fatalities a year). we originally intended to do it as well – it was only because we were shaken up from the accident only days before that we decided not to. yet none of that money pouring in goes toward improving the road safety. probably because they’d lose the tourism dollars.

one life lost every three days is far too high a price to pay.

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urban edge

by Jen at 1:05 pm on 19.10.2006 | 1 Comment
filed under: londonlife, world tour

four days and it still feels kinda like christmas – discovering clothes i’d forgotten i owned (including, miracle of miracles, underwear which is *not* one of the 8 black pairs i’ve been wearing for 6 months straight!), friends cooking us lovely dinners, emails saying “welcome home”, and blissfully reloading the ipod with all my faves.

i know this is all too good too last. like the tan, it will fade. is already fading.

what is starting to creep in already is that “edge” to daily life in a big city. the permanent undercurrent of tension through the shoulders. the tinge of cynicism that pervades thought. the weight of annoyance with inept transportation, shrill television, and overpriced goods. i’ve had minimal contact with the “outside world” thus far, but even this limited interaction has caused my forehead to wrinkle again, my mouth to set in a pressed line.

after living without this cloud for six months, it’s disheartening to be aware of this damper pressing down on my spirit.

it’s not that there are no annoyances or irritations when travelling. but this is a different kind of mindset – a subtle hardening of the arteries which seems to be necessary to urban living. it is so omnipresent that it’s only noticable by its absence. a toughening of the skin that protects, but also numbs feeling.

i wish i could leave this shell behind, but i know i’d never survive long without it. it’s just been so nice to feel truly free for all this time. and that’s probably what i will miss most.

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hiatus

by Jen at 10:08 pm on 12.04.2006 | 2 Comments
filed under: world tour

gentle reader –

Well, given that we’re off on our world tour in 2 days, pretty much anything I have to write about at this point is going to be about our trip! we continue to make the rounds of “goodbyes”, which is a little sad.

so, “jen’s den” will officially be on hiatus for the next 6 months. (

but – please come read about our adventures, check out our travel pictures, and send your well-wishes over at our travelog blog, “postcards from the edge”.

take bets on who gets the most exotic disease, where we’ll get lost, and which of us will be the first to file for divorce!

until then, surf the archives, be nice, and play fair.

see you in 24 weeks!

lots of love,
jen

Postcards From the Edge

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the credits

by Jen at 12:43 am on Comments Off
filed under: family and friends, world tour

now that we’re saying goodbye to people, it’s all starting to feel very real. and i don’t think that i have as yet properly acknowledged the help and assistance of all the friends and family who made this possible. like kim and andy, who lent us a freeview box which made the last 10 months more tolerable, who generously agreed to watch after most of our shit for the next six months, and who have been so steadfast and inspiring in so many ways, from inception to culmination.

like kerryn and tracey – who kept our “social calendar” on life support by continually asking us to do stuff, no matter how often we turned them down. by agreeing time and again to hang out with us, having a homemade dinner and watching a dvd on a saturday night, and calling it “entertainment”. By letting us invade their space with our luggage and live in their lounge these past two weeks. lending us their car. lending us their furniture. being more supportive than anyone has a right to ask their friends to be.

like my expat and other “traveller” friends, who have showed us how it’s done, shared their knowledge, shown genuine interest and excitement for us, and helped keep everything in perspective when it all just seemed too much to endure.

like the families. who have put aside their trepidation in order to be enthusiatic and excited cheerleaders. who have shown their caring and consideration in innumerable ways. who we will miss so very much, and who will think of us, worry about us while we are gone, and keep the homefires burning until we return safely.

thank you all. i cannot thank you enough. we could never have gotten this far alone.

and we will never be alone – for you are with us always.

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worry wart

by Jen at 9:55 am on 7.04.2006Comments Off
filed under: mundane mayhem, world tour

Woke up a little anxious, after having a dream in which an old, old issue was resolved – but not in the way i had hoped. and if you can’t get biased closure in your own dreams, where can you get it?

but also, i think i’m just feeling a bit unprepared. today is the first day since leaving work that we have no errands to run, and i feel like i should be *doing* something. what, exactly, i have no idea. what else do you do 7 days before you travel around the world? i’ve given myself the task of putting music on my ipod. a fascinating exercise – what was I *thinking* when I bought that janet jackson album??!

i don’t know – it’s difficult to know just how much i should be winging it. j made fun of me the other day, as i was re-organising my pack. i’m taking a 35 litre pack, which is only slightly larger than an oversized book bag. i deliberately chose something quite small to keep me from overpacking (and thus keep the number of instances where i chuck it off in tears and despair to a minimum.) but then i was asking him about travel towels (microfiber ultralight quicky-dry thingies) and he just laughed. i only have a single guidebook about china since that’s all i can carry at any one time, but am worried about not knowing enough about the other 12 countries. i know you learn as you go along, but surely i should have at least an *idea* of what I want to see? do i really want to get to laos without having a clue?

a few weeks ago, i wrote this in an email to a friend:

I’m finding myself surprisingly laissez faire about the whole thing. All I’ve really done so far is flick through an old Lonely PLanet on China. I suppose I’m bearing in mind that aside from the 2 or 3 things I really HAVE to see, I just want to *experience* it all. Y’know, I am convinced that the reason I was so blown away by Rome is because I didn’t even bother to open a guidebook before I got there. So I felt like my eyes were completely fresh to everything. I want that kind of experience. Some friends of our just got back from 6 months in S America… and I’m suddenly acutely aware of just how quickly this once-in-a-lifetime trip will pass.

i don’t know – i’m overthinking all this. where did that chilled out person go? i’ve done very well to remain relaxed and casual about the whole thing so far, but with the realisation that there’s a week left, i am starting to stress a little. j is overly relaxed – and that makes me a bit anxious as well.

but really, if i had to get on a plane tomorrow, i could. there’s nothing i need that i can’t buy on the road. nothing i have to do that couldn’t be done long distance if necessary. it’s a waiting game and i’m *looking* for things to worry about. sigh.

i’m practicing living out of my pack, which makes for some interesting hair days. i finally got a haircut the other day, as i’d not had one in more than 6 months whilst trying to grow it out. because unfortunately when i got it chopped last summer, it foolishly had not occurred to me that i would need to be able to pull it into a ponytail for the trip. hairstyles that you have to actually wash and “do” every day are very cute when you have your own bathroom and access to hot water, but aren’t really all that suitable when you don’t know where your next shower is coming from. when you have limited space, what’s the *one* single styling product you’d bring? I’m going with aveda wax. i have a feeling my bandannas are going to get a lot of use.

what about rain – do you bring an umbrella? or a waterproof jacket? do you really need a pack cover? will I be warm enough with just the fleece? or should I bring the wool cardigan that will be difficult to wash? do i spend £60 to get my malaria tablets here or wait and get them for cheap in bangkok? what if I have side effects?

see, these are the silly things i’m worried about. argh, i’m just in limbo and at loose ends – which doesn’t make for interesting blogging, so i’ll stop there.

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holding pattern

by Jen at 4:47 pm on 27.03.2006 | 1 Comment
filed under: mundane mayhem, world tour

well the countdown of workdays now stands at 4. there will apparently be a leaving do, whether i want it or not (nevermind that I really hate extra attention). the list of things remaining to be done includes getting the china visa, cutting off the utilities (on friday), getting a haircut (thursday), and… that’s about it!

we booked two nights in a hostel for when we land in beijing. because i get really cranky when i’m jetlagged *and* homeless.

spent most of the non-hungover weekend working on the bare bones of the trip website (please note, now added in the menu above. not much to see there just yet, but soon…)

i’m starting to get a little anxious/nervous – but in a good way. you know, like when there’s something big and important and a little bit scary, but you can’t wait for it to get here? butterflies.

and i’m avoiding finishing the packing – we’re like 83% packed, and I just can’t bring myself to face the other 17%. but really, it has to be done very soon. 10% of the other 17% is sorting through miscellaneous papers and old bills (which must be saved for immigration purposes) and assorted crapola. gah. also, I have to find good homes for all my plants. anyone want a plant?

other than that, all’s quiet on the western front. sorry it’s not more exciting at the mo’, but I’ll try and make up for that.

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whoa.

by Jen at 2:35 pm on 18.03.2006 | 4 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem, photo, world tour

well.

no turning back now, I guess.

flat1

flat2

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jabs

by Jen at 7:07 pm on 13.03.2006Comments Off
filed under: blurblets, world tour

ugh. just went and got my lovely hepatitis A, typhoid, and yellow fever jabs.

Now I am just waiting for the angels of death to arrive.

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moving memories

by Jen at 6:36 pm on 12.03.2006 | 2 Comments
filed under: mutterings and musings, world tour

started packing up our stuff this weekend. as of next week, we’ll be living like nomads, as a friend is coming to collect all our furniture and take it away.

packing is such a bittersweet exercise. the unavoidable culling of personal detrius, sorting out one’s mementos and effects, and ranking their importance. What’s expendable, what’s not reflecting the shifting internal landscape.

i’ve moved 9 times since i left home after high school. i’ve left a trail of belongings like breadcrumbs through 4 cities, 3 countries. artefacts of the lives i used to lead, and my changing priorities. pieces of my old self shed like a skin. what i no longer needed or wanted or loved became junk. objects once infused with sentiment, now refuse.

and it’s a mundane process which drains them of their power – only time. the items i brought over in my suitcase when i first moved here to remind me of home, no longer carry that weight. home is no longer home. and when i revisit the items i left behind in basement boxes, they no longer seem so poignant. mementos less momentus. the attachment eases by degrees with the passing years.

but it’s tough, this paring down to the bare necessities. I’m a thrower by nature, but I’ve done this so many times now, that my instinct is to hold fast. i’m tired of discarding things because I have to. i want some stuff that is *mine*. things that feel like home. things that i keep just for the hell of it, just in case. i want the luxury of the non-essential.

nomadism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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retail therapy

by Jen at 10:54 pm on 5.03.2006 | 1 Comment
filed under: world tour

how exciting! After more than a year of trying to *not* spend money, we’re actually starting to *buy* stuff for the trip. internet shopping is delightful, as long as you know what you’re looking for – not only can you compare without all the legwork, but it’s usually heaps cheaper. what did we ever do before the interweb? (more to the point, how did anyone ever do round-the-world travel?!? boggles the mind.)

Here’s what I bought this past two weeks:

j’s mp3 player… the creative zen micro photo. (which i will be holding ransom until he quits smoking!) lovely and flashy and not cheap. he better appreciate this…

zen microphoto

a fleece for me, and some light comfy sneaker-shoes from clarks

fleeceshoes

a bevy of accessories for ivanka the ipod, including a camera connector, travel charger, and case. also, new camera memory cards, and usb card reader.

cameraconnectorchargerreaderipod case

some lovely stuff from lush, including travel savvy stuff like solid shampoos and conditioners

shampooshampoo2

and finally, my pack – an osprey atmos. top of the line, light as air, and friggen expensive. but hey, i have to carry it around for 6 months, so it’s an investment, right?

osprey pack

somehow all the pre-trip shopping preparation makes it seem even more real…

…it’s really real, right?

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the definitive list

by Jen at 6:27 pm on 7.02.2006Comments Off
filed under: blurblets, world tour

things i will miss whilst we’re away…

  • the red sox’s entire 2006 world series season (i can *feel* it!!)
  • piper’s first birthday (and i know Kate will forgive me for putting this second!)
  • summer in london
  • vanessa’s new baby
  • the world cup
  • "friends"
  • friends
  • daily internet access

Things I will *not* miss whilst we’re away…

  • the tube
  • the tube during summer (!!)
  • working for the council
  • summer fashions in london
  • the world cup insanity
  • the tube
  • thrice daily "friends"
  • "big brother"
  • daily internet access

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it’s a long way ’round

by Jen at 7:59 pm on 4.02.2006Comments Off
filed under: world tour

by the time I finish writing this, my site may be down again. i posted via email, but apparently my cronjobs are not running either. any and all webhosting suggestions (or warnings) entertained.

so – to keep myself from checking my non-functional site every three seconds and obsessing while my bloodpressure soared throught the roof, i spent a very entertaining 5 hours watching “long way round”, which i originally bought for a b-day gift for andy, and then “borrowed” (cheeky, i know!) in case you haven’t had reason to see this, it’s all about ewan mcgregor and his best friend undertaking a round-the-world motorcycle journey. it’s really resonating with me as our own trip approaches. the need to just lose your head in experiencing the moments unfolding in front of you, immersion therapy. i think for me, this trip really will be a good bit of therapy. i’ve needed to challenge myself, grapple with the unknown, get a change of scenery to put it all in perspective.

I’ve mentioned this here before, but I was recently discussing it with other expats. I like the UK, and I love the opportunities I have here. And I invested a lot of time, money, and effort to get here on my own terms.

I wanted to live here for a few years. March will be 3 years I’ve been here. I think I’ve adapted well, and I don’t feel homesick. I (finally) have a small group of friends. I’m fairly content.

But: I feel very stateless. Here, I am a square peg which has forced its way into a round hole. I will always be a square peg, even if I have managed to fit. And I can’t go back to live in the US – it’d be like trying to fit a square peg into a triangular hole. I’m not sure I ever fit there to begin with.

So where do I fit? I never realised that by coming here I would change in ways that would make it impossible to go back. I always figured that would be *there* for me.

It’s a bit wierd feeling at times, being rootless. But I think that the upside of it is that I now think there are a lot of places I could be extremely content to live. I think, in a lot of ways, it makes me rather balanced – the fact that I’ve changed, means my happiness is no longer tied quite-so-tightly to something external.

For me, it’s like the idea that one has a soulmate. I don’t think people do – but I think there are lots of people I could love very deeply.

I love my hometown. I love NYC. I have lots of fond memories of other places I have lived. But I’ve “outgrown” them (for lack of a better word). There may be someplace I love passionately again. That place may be Canada. But I’ve adjusted to the idea that if there isn’t, that’s okay.

It *HAS* taken some adjustment. It takes a little mindshift to see it as a positive rather than a negative. You have to go through the feeling of losing that idea of having a place which matches how you feel. You can’t change back to who you were – but then you come to realise you really wouldn’t want to anyway.

If I had to put it in a nutshell, my happiness is now more about *how* I live, than *where* I live. I’m at peace with it, but it’s happened over time – only really in the last year have I embraced it. And now I think to myself, “I could go live in Canada.” “I could go live in South Africa”. It’s freeing.

I don’t think Ewan and Charlie are searching themselves for anything in particular on their trip. But I do think they’re surprised at what they find. I very much want that.

(as an aside, i am developing a complete crush on mr. Mcgregor. i never thought he was particularly attractive, but now that i’m watching him be himself, i am finding his sense of humour so very sexy. mmmm, mmmmm, mmmm. yes. )

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the excitement that makes everything painful

by Jen at 12:00 am on 3.02.2006Comments Off
filed under: mundane mayhem, world tour

oh happy happy happy dance! The tix are in the mail! Everything is paid and confirmed!

Work just bites, though. This is a bit of an email conversation I had with a friend recently, but I thought I’d post it here since it so succinctly captures how I am feeling lately:

Work has become insufferable. I was never the most motivated person to begin with, but now, I just resent having to leave the house every morning. I feel like standing up in the middle of my warehouse-like office and shouting, “I don’t give a shit.” Every second I spend there is a second of my life I’ll never get back, and it makes me seethe inside. I hate it with the white-hot burning intensity of a thousand suns.

So I’m wishing for a case of mono right about now – something that will get me out of the next two months of work, yet is not too painful or debilitating, and will help me drop 5 pounds or so. That’s bad: when you start praying for a communicable disease to get you out of work.

what I really want is a deus ex machina.

In the meantime, I am dilly-dallying as best I can, trying very hard not to accomplish anything. It’s getting harder, and even though J told me not to get excited until I officially hand my notice in (in three weeks), I can’t help it. But boy does it make the days drag. And drag some more. The excitement just makes everything else so painfully mundane.

still… hooray! we’re really, totally, officially going! there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

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belated birthday

by Jen at 5:47 pm on 12.01.2006Comments Off
filed under: mundane mayhem, world tour

Nothing too much interesting going on these days – just waiting for spring to be sprung, so we can blow this pop stand. The rest all revolves around lots of time spent indoors, using computer time (free) and dvds (nearly free) to entertain ourselves. So it was a really nice change of pace to go out for dinner with a fellow expat last night – enjoying seafood fajitas and margaritas at one of the few (decent) mexican places in all of london. that’s something you don’t usually factor in before you make the leap across the pond – the distinct lack of the culture south of the border that americans get to take for granted. so we had a good evening chatting and drinking, and it was lovely to a) leave the apartment and b) be out with a new friend and c) have her treat me to the meal as a belated birthday present.

arrived home today to a belated birthday package! my kay bee was soooo good to me – she sent me many many peeps (including the kind you decorate with icing, [the only way you can physically make a peep *more* sugary!] ) and all sorts of funny travel knick-knacks like toilet paper, and some wonderful fancy special patagonia travel pants!! which are a pretty pretty brick red and fit me perfectly!! see?

patagonia pants

my sis is the best. that is all.

Other than that, I wish i could think of anything even remotely interesting to say about my life. i’ve been reading a lot about china – fascinating history. I’m not really a history buff, but i clearly remember reading “the last emperor” at 17. i have to say, i think i’m probably looking the most forward to china out of everywhere we’re going, just because it’s *so* different, it will be the closest thing to cultural immersion. (south east asia is very tourist friendly, and south america i already have a little knowledge of. ) i’m also really excited to see new zealand – though it will be winter and quite chilly.

eh, this post is just starting to ramble, so i’ll wind up… ciao for now.

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obsessed

by Jen at 4:10 pm on 9.01.2006 | 2 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings, world tour

“working” from home today, and i have fallen into a deep well of travel blogs and rtw sites. the more i read the further away i seem to get from knowing where i want to go. i think that in order to figure out exactly what i want to get from this trip, i need to revisit the beginnings.

the roots go back to early 2002 – i was dating this guy (who, for anonymity purposes, we shall call here “p.”) who was headed on a trip to mount kilimanjaro (via london) for a month. i was incredibly jealous (and also, for reasons i can only chalk up to temporary insanity, rather attached at that point). i was missing him, and trying to pretend i wasn’t, so in a stroke of inspiration i started keeping a fictional round the world blog that i emailed to him daily. i spent hours at my work desk every day researching and writing, and scouring photographs, trying to make it as realistic as possible. i did white water rafting in the grand canyon. i went canoeing down the amazon to see the pink porpoises and trek through the rainforest. i hiked the inca trail to machu picchu. i climbed active volcanoes in hawaii. i dove in the waters of the galapagos islands and saw the worlds most ancient tortoise. i went to an elephant sanctuary in the himalayas. i went ballooning over the namib desert at sunrise. i saw the fjiords of norway, and the aurora borealis. not much *paid* work got done, but i was far too busy constructing my adventures to wallow in self-pity.

of course, i should’ve known the relationship would end in disaster when, after receiving my lovingly and painstakingly crafted project, his first comment was on how it seemed to be written from a very post-colonial point of view. and that, my friends, was the point at which he became known as “waste of space”.

however – i put so much time and effort into this little creative project that the idea of a round the world trip took deep root. but it wasn’t the kind of thing i thought could ever happen without the miracle of winning the lottery. not to mention the whole mindset is different – people in the u.s. don’t just drop out of society to go travelling. hell, people rarely take more than their allotted 2 weeks vacation to do anything. but coming over here, being surrounded by people whose raison d’etre is adventure, whose only purpose for living in london is to finance their travels… well, it’s an eye opener. these people work and save… and take off. and then work and save some more, to travel even further. suddenly, a round the world trip didn’t seem like such an impossibly difficult thing to accomplish. and meeting j… that’s when it all started to come together.

so i guess part of the purpose for this trip is to see some places before they change too irrevocably. places like cambodia and china and bolivia are quickly becoming hotspots. places like thailand and peru have already been “ruined” to some extent with the influx of western tourism. i’m not saying they’re not worth seeing – just that i believe it’s becoming impossible to view these places without the filter of the permanent influence of travellers. observing something fundamentally changes the nature of it, but add a dependence on foreign investment, and suddenly it is no longer “what it is”, but has become “what you want it to be”. you are no longer viewing that country’s native culture, but rather that country’s native culture in saleable form. globalisation is not, in and of itself, a purely evil or wonderful thing – there are both benefits and problems. but it does change things.

and the other part of this trip is to get in touch with that piece of myself that always identified with being a traveller. my first real travelling experience was as an exchange student to paraguay at 16. i knew almost nothing about the country before i arrived, and after the summer was over, i came back thinking very clearly “oh, okay, well that’s it then – i’m going to spend my life travelling.” i was certain that i would go into international development, and become a lifelong wanderer. my parents knew people who were career travellers – people who devoted their lives to the peace corps or missionary work. i thought for sure that i would finish university, do a stint in development, and then become a part of an ngo organisation that would send me to all kinds of places. it was so clear in my head that that’s how my life would be.

but alas, at first i took a liking to psychology, and then a new york boy, and “the plan” just kind of derailed from there. and in the meantime, real life has a way of intervening, and tying you down to things you never thought you’d need, but now would have a hard time doing without. but this is my chance to see the lifestyle and places i always thought i would be intimately familiar with – the adventures, the spontaneity, the languages. very few people can/choose to live that way, and this is my chance to catch a glimpse of it.

so i suppose that’s important to keep in mind as i plow through all this information, as fascinating as it is. while my trip will certainly not be complete without seeing the angkor wat, or the three toed sloths of south america, as ursula le guin once said, “it’s good to have an end to journey towards. but it’s the journey that matters, in the end.”

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it’s the little things

by Jen at 3:01 pm on 7.01.2006Comments Off
filed under: world tour

an entire 6 months touring the world and what am i most excited about? getting to experience the singapore airport, where they apparently have free movies, internet, video games, open air pool, sparkling hot showers, dedicated sleeping areas (with alarm clocks), orchid gardens, free beach and river tours of the city, and get you through immigration/baggage claim/customs in a half hour flat. in fact, several people have remarked there’s absolutely no need to get a hotel room, or even leave the airport, for that matter.

what can i say? i’m easy to please.

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bah humbug

by Jen at 5:34 pm on 22.12.2005Comments Off
filed under: holidaze, world tour

every 21st december, i thank god the winter solstice has come, and with it, the knowledge that the days will be getting longer from here on out. yesterday, on the shortest day of the year, the sun came up after 7am and by 3:45pm it was dusk.

so tomorrow is the last day before the christmas break. because we get both xmas and boxing day here, we have the following monday and tuesday off, so most people take the subsequent wed-fri and returning to work on the first tuesday of the new year. a nice long break of about 10 days when almost everything stops. you have to love the european holiday ethic.

christmas here is a very relaxed affair, in comparison to the frenzy it always seems to be in the u.s., although most of that is probably due to the fact that i have no where to go and no one to see. mostly it means eating chocolates and drinking all day long, having a little movie marathon, and just basically lounging the entire day. *everything* is closed, the tube isn’t running and all taxis are double fare if you can find one, so essentially you’re forced to spend quality time with the family (or in our case, the neighbours). boxing day is usually more of the same, with perhaps a visit to the pub. i’d like to go to a midnight mass somewhere, but with no public transport after 12, that’s a no go. shame, as there is something about hearing carols and bells peal through the uncharacteristically quiet darkness of a city that touches the spirit.

the next two days the shops will be a madhouse, so today, j and i went and stocked up for the weekend. our christmas dinner will be a brown-sugar baked gammon (ham) and roasted potatoes, which is a bit of a break with tradition for me, but after pre-thanksgiving at home and thanksgiving here, i’m all turkeyed out. things feel a bit half-hearted for me, and i think most of that is because we’ve been on such a strict budget for the past 10 months, that we’re both just sick of it. there’s nothing glamourous about stretching pennies and nothing fun about being skint at christmas. i’m just burnt out with making do, and i think j is too – we’ve been bitchy with each other the past day or so, and it’s not very cheery. don’t get me wrong: i am absolutely aware that we’re incredibly lucky, as this self-enforced deprivation is entirely voluntary – we have enough to eat, a roof over our heads, good jobs. but it does wear your nerves thin, and when you start carping at the only other person who can identify with how you’re feeling, it doesn’t exactly engender tidings of comfort and joy.

but. this too will pass, and i just have to keep in mind that when i’m climbing the great wall of china, or looking out over machu picchu, or kayaking in fiji it will be worth every cranky moment and “woe is me” wallow i’m having now. the lack of presents under the tree, turning down holiday invitations, begrudging myself all the festive touches which make the season special but add up on the wallet… it sucks. i am the veruca salt of yuletide. it makes me grumpy and grinchy and cross. i’m just so completely impatient that the idea of delayed gratification is a thoroughly abstract concept.

maybe kris kringle will leave some valium in my stocking.

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