the real Camino

Looking for something else completely, a tiny red notebook fell out of a pile of papers. I opened it and discovered my Camino journal, from July 2012. It was only a few pages long — but I was surprised how much I enjoyed reading it. So I decided to “re-blog” it here, with a typed out, deciphered edition.

Monday 16 July —> Really First Day.

The night in Pamp(lona) was awful, 7-yr-old epileptic above me kept me awake till I moved to bench at 4am. Then got up at 7:20 (a grand ~2 hours of sleep) and walked 5km to the supermarket & back. Bus uneventful. Arrive RV (Roncesvalles) & decided to jump straight into walking as it was already 11am – 7.5h of walking to get to SJPP (St Jean Pied-de-Port). But got lost following an unmarked trail… +3km. Then decided to go back, get my sellio (stamp) at RV, try again. 2 more false starts (+1km!) then finally on my way. I had no idea how hideously steep the RV-Lepoeder section was – over 500m from 950m to 1450m, then back down to 850m at Orisson refuge where I am now – today’s kms:

5km + 7.75 + 8.09 + 4.87 + 1.09 = 26km

1:30 + 2:05 + 1:52 + 1:06 + 15min = 6:45h

I was so upset at the beginning about getting lost & adding an hour &4km to my already “tight” schedule. There may have been a couple of tears shed. But then I got my groove on and powered up that BITCH of a hill, as Camino’s slipped and slid down past me. one guy even called out “Bon Courage! C’est haut!” but fortunately I didn’t know just how high and steep it would be… Then once at the top, it was easy, had a light lunch (totes worth the 5km walk this AM, right?) and kept walking and walking… then just as the pain was getting too much to bear, around 25km, I found this refuge. No reservations no problem. So far only other people are 2 koreans, a lovely girl who has been so nice to talk to despite my predicition that I would speak to no-one. And 3 stamps today!

Tuesday 17 July

I slept a blissful 10+ hours — 9pm, out like a happy light. Must have been lots of people around but I snoozed blissfully. Woke up at 8 and didn’t start till 9am. Joyful happy jaunt to SJPP, paused for Orange/Carrefour/Sportshop/food then off again. Best feelings of being in countryside in July! Just like the Creuse when I was a kid on summer holidays. Wicked sunburn despite sunscreen and “tent” – love my Oxfam super-scarf so much! Need to apply screen every hour at least, twice in a 6-hour midday walk is pure stupidity really! Am in an “Expensive” 33 Euro hotel as no gîtes locally and my feet are very blistered. Everyone is nice. I’m so happy and tired and happy!

7.33 + 12.8 + 6.8 = 26.9km

01:45 + 2:46 + 1:38 = 6.09 h

It’s taken hours to work out the next two days of travel due to 2 different variations (4 possible routes). But I have decided to stick to my pace of 26km/day, if my legs hold out. Eating “Type A” has been ok (and economical too, helping me avoid temptation!) thus far. Supermarkets provide my staples: apples, carrots, babybel, crisps, “salades” (carrottes rapees, nicoise…), cereal bars, and a big tube of mayonnaise + any lingering veg/fruit I can find. Not sure how I am managing goodwise really, as 6h walk burns 1300 kcal (my normal daily intake!) and I’m not eating much more. Oh yes! Nuts and raisins help. Must get more tomorrow! Blister status: 1 on each little toe and 1 on the front sole of each foot. Yay. Also: Love my water bladder. I get my 2L/day easily. Thanks James.

view from my window = inspiration for his video game! [James used to play an iphone game where he would glide over rolling hills…]+ 3 stamps 🙂

Wed 18 July. The tough day…

Oh well it wasn’t ALL tough. But definitely the toughest. Started at 8:40, and had to stop a couple of times to deal with the blisters on my blisters, but covered 11km by 12pm (not great but not AWFUL). Then at Stele of Gibraltar met a lovely couple and ate lunch with them, felt really positive — I’d not taken the shortcut at Larribar and was rewarded by the view and their company. They told me to take the shortcut from Olaïby to Arone as the “LR” (long route) was wicked. Sadly I got lost due to lack of signage, and then ended up taking the long way. Tried to do a short cut, met scary dogs… no phone… had several crying huffy panicky moments – blisters were agony but had to pull my shit together and just fucking WALK. So I did for hours… got to the gîte just in time, last bed, and also cos I shamelessly hitch-hiked the last km, in time for food-shopping. Yay! The lady at the gîte was SO lovely and I gave her my Taiwanese coin, she seemed really pleased with it (best 1NT I ever spent!). Talked to some nice (if very french) people. Not sure how I want to play tomorrow, easy 20km to Navaneux or push 25km to Abbeye? I think Abbeye. Wanna push forward but also torn that am not “enjoying” where I am because of worrying where I should be… à suivre…

11.2km + 11km + 7? 8? = 29km

3:20 + 3:14 + 1:30 = 8h

Late night notes. When I was walking I thought of how this was like caring for a recalcitrant toddler — my mind is the adult and knows that this must be done, but then has to coax, push, ignore the complaints, the “but it hurts I’m tired NOOOOO” of my body. Taking care of blisters is like working with an animal — a stupid, wounded one at that. I’m TRYING to help! But the stupid things keep slipping and pinchng and biting and refusing to cooperate or even stay still. Gah. Blisters SUCK. I need a pharmacy. All of the above reminds me of the conversation we had re: Nalia [my friends’ infant daughter] crying in the car, with Juan. It’s against nature to do these things, at least my softy body thinks so, and I can’t talk to it to explain, so sadly it just has to suffer till it understands.

Thursday 18 July [actually 19] HURTY DAY

Today was easy walking but SO painful all pleasure was impossible. Just staring at the road and wincing as my feet popped and crackled. Like walking on 2 lumps of ice shitty nails. ANYWAY. Got to Nav. by 12:20 and went straight to bed, lovely 3h nap in comfy clean sheets and duvet. Showers were “rain” but I went to supermarket and cooked pasta + sauce with grilled courgette, hummous with carrots, tomatoes and a big mushroom. SO happy to have a nice big vegetarian meal with so many colours and textures! Sharing a room with a German-Kurdish dad and his sons, discovering I actually speak decent Deutsch still — I think being in Spain has unlocked my linguistic skills. 19.6km in 5h. Total so far: 101.5. Lost my Opinel [penknife], boo, so got a nice blue one to replace it. Yay!

Friday 19 July [20th July actually… I love how it doesn’t even matter] Redemption?

So today was hard work. The pain has moved from my blisters (soles are ok but toes still fucking burn) to my heel, ankle, and long-time trouble-maker, my right knee + tibia. Shin splints? So yes, the 15km from Navaneux to Sauvelade were limping, miserable hours. It rained a little, just enough to justify the dreaded poncho, for the first hour. Then I called mama and felt a bit better, but also even more stressed as I’m basically falling apart physically and she is (unintentionally) putting a lot of pressure on me. Then I called Madaca to discover there were no beds available – hence my current location in Sauvelade. It turned out to be a blessing of course, as all unexpected decisions along the Way. Firstly, I more than needed to STOP WALKING. Second, it’s peaceful and fairly comfy. Third, the people (oh so very clicheed, but the support people provide along the Way is truly touching), the people I met and spoke with gently encouraged me (by the rigourous french standards) to do as the couple a few nights ago suggested and skip the next couple of etapes. In fact, to leave with the bag carriers and go straight up to Nagaro. A few calls later and I was set up with a ride tomorrow morning, and a bed in Nagaro tomorrow night. I will rest up, then walk two short etapes on Sunday and Monday, then meet Mummy and do Montreal and Condom with her – either 15km a day, or more if we feel like it! Perfect. I only wish I could call her to tell her the news. Today I listened to my ipod for the first time, and “Just a Ride” came on and of course made me cry but also reminded me of my own fundamental beliefs. I am not a catholic pilgrim but I am having my own “Way”,

you can’t help it, so many hours of daily introspection, it’s almost like a retreat, I guess that’s the point after all… I also have had to tell my story so many times, it forces me to generalise, simplify, find a truth that can be summed up in a few lines. Something I usually hate doing but that does need to be done, at the end of the day. So I’m learning myself that I do this kind of work, live that kind of life, have these kind of hopes, dreams, plans and beliefs. That James and I are together and apart. That I am a drifter. Continental drifter…

Today’s walk…

15.04km in 3:30 hours. Total 116.5km.

Reading Dickens’ biography… la vie est belle, finalement.

Sunday 21… yes there’s a day missing…

Yesterday I went up to Aire sur l’Adour (now it’s too late you finally learn how to say it) by taxi with 2 Belgians who then gave me a lift to Nagaro. Michel and Raymond were older guys, who had been walking for a week. I had a nice convo with Michel in the taxi, but it was a 20-30min conversation with Raymond which I found really compelling and moving. He told me to be proud of being “selfish” because “Il est plus facile de se sacrifier que de se realiser” and with the added reminder that “certains se realisent dans le sacrifice”. We hugged and swapped email addresses, I really felt a strong connection with him. It’s funny how the people I meet can all bring encouragement, love and support to each other… well not all of them, but I feel like when humans are left to themselves in safe, mutually respectful space, they do genuinely care and help each other…

Anyway, after a night in Nagarro (well first an afternoon, heavy with the mistake of eating a HUGE plate of steak and fries and apple pie and ice cream and coke (WTF) that left me heavy and sleepy) where I shared a room with Martine (who talked wisely about trust and long distance relationships)… I walked 6km to Haget. It’s a bit dull, and the weather is so perfect, but I need my feet to heal so I can enjoy walking with Mummy. The people here are less mindful but nobody can be everything to everyone.

Today: 7.45km, not sure of the time, maybe 2:20? good speed thanks to my healing blisters.

Mon 23 July – total 138km,

GPS refused to start today, but it took me 3h to walk from le Haget to Eauze, which is about 15km. I got to the gîte at 11am, showered, went shopping, ate lunch and napped, all perfect. Then visited the Eauze archaeological museum which has a fantastic treasure trove on display. At the gîte a woman expressed surprise (which I am used to for a variety of reasons) because… I was wearing a dress, and she assumed I wasn’t a walker. WTF? She is def one of the retarded type [ROSIE, NOT COOL!]. I bet she snorers. But otherwise the gite and Eauze are very nice… Sadly it’s Monday, so nearly everything is shut. Am debating another Monaco [beer and grenadine and lemonade] as it’s going to be at least 2 more hours till Mummy gets here and we get dinner. Just realised time was CRAZY good compared to yesterday. Twice the distance in only 40 min more!

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After this my maman joined me on the walk so I didn’t have any introspective writing to re-discover.

Loved re-reading this. One day… I’ll be back.

some kind of update

I survived, somehow, an entire month, thirty consecutive days of work, in China. I have been back in Melbourne for fewer than 10 days and am only just starting to feel human, only to find out this morning that I’m heading back to China in 4 days from now. I wrote a really long post on the plane the other night, after watching Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon for the second time ever (the first time was in 2000, in French, let’s say my experience was a little different this time around, watching it in Mandarin and getting all the historical/geographical/cultural references). I’ll spare my heartache review, let’s just say: urgh, China.

I’m even more frustrated because my repeated trips to China are pushing back the date I can apply for citizenship and a student loan. But on the positive side, my gross month in China got me back into running!

I can tell my body isn’t crazy about a return to this running thing but it’s so far putting up with it enough that I’m going to keep going. I’m even running a marathon (only I have a month to run the total distance, which is nice and safe). I’m alternating with Bikram, initially because I hoped stretching every other day would help with the running. So far, the running is making me very tight and making me extra-inflexible in Bikram, so there’s definitely something happening.

We’re entering the final countdown! less than 2 months until James comes home from Afghanistan and then immediately turns around for us to fly to England! Followed by Iceland! Followed by Denmark-land! Followed by Finland! Followed by flying back to Australia and collapsing in complete exhaustion before going back to work.

I just realised this is a quintessentially Rosie post: Work too much; China; Running; Travel with James.

everything where it’s meant to be

I just finished the first week of my first conservation job.

This was a long time coming — three years ago, on an aimless trip to Madrid, I stood in the Prado staring at the conservation labs, and immediately knew, just knew, that was where I needed to be.

Over the following months, I researched and applied for the Masters degree in Conservation at Melbourne University. They accepted me and I discovered the prohibitive cost of studying meant I would have to go part-time and find a job.

I started working as a lowly account manager in a telemarketing business. It was mind-numbing work, earning barely enough to support myself, so I started working extra hours on any admin or operations projects I could get close to. I worked 10-hour days, and studied in the evenings and on weekends, and when an opportunity arose I jumped and wriggled my way into a position that eventually became Operations Manager, and was salaried enough to pay for university.

For two years I worked so hard, spending 50+ hours a week at the office, whilst trying to console myself with the 8 weeks a year I got to spend at university. I am proud of myself for getting excellent marks all the way through that time (who can forget that 95 I got on my essay on conservation in areas of conflict? I certainly never will!), while simultaneously my diligence at work was increasingly recognised and rewarded.

But I was getting so sick. So anxious. So tired. My ulcerative colitis tripled in spread over those two years, and my doctors kept telling me to do less, work less, study less. I had to make a choice, and I thought the best thing to do would be to put university on hold for a year, negotiate a stiff raise, and save enough money to go back to school full time the following year.

That was a huge mistake, although even with hindsight I don’t know what else I could have done. Without my studies to keep the spark inside of me alive, I wilted. I burnt out. I went from being undeniably the hardest-working, most dedicated and capable person in our office, to someone who could hardly function. Of course, by most people’s standards, I continued to be a competent and reliable worker, but inside, I was boiling up with anxiety and anger and frustration and depression.

So I quit. I didn’t know how I would make things work without my big paycheck, but I knew I couldn’t go on, not even for a few more months. It took under 6 weeks (for 2 of which I was on holiday in Taiwan) to recruit and train my replacement, so I barely had time to gather my thoughts, when here I stood, unemployed, ready to apply for the dole for the first time in my almost-32 years.

My thoughts, when I gathered them, oscillated between terrified and relieved. I didn’t get to dwell on them for very long, however, as less than a week after leaving my job, I had been hired for a 2-week stint at the National Archives of Australia as a paper conservator, to clean 821 boxes of mould-covered books.

The night before I started my new job, my AirBnb hosts here in Sydney asked me if I was nervous. How could I be nervous? How could I be anything but elated? No, I was thrilled.

But the joy I felt before my job is nothing compared to the deep-seated happiness and satisfaction I am experiencing now I have my first week (and my first week’s paycheck!) under my belt. I knew this was my calling, so I am not surprised, but I am discovering how many ways this work is just made for me, I am made for it, and it is the most fulfilling occupation that I could ever conceive, no matter how humble the work at hand. It just fits. And even when it’s tedious, even when it’s physically exhausting, I will never take that for granted, thanks to the years spent in offices doing work I despised.

Tomorrow I am getting a police check finalised for my second job. On Monday I will be locking in dates for my third conservation position (a volunteer role). At the end of June I fly up to the northernmost tip of Arnhem Land to spend a week at an Indigenous community arts centre. I am spending my free time this month preparing a fellowship application to support research for my thesis next year. I look back at the past three years, where I was trapped waiting for my life to begin, and I am so happy to be where I am now, where everything I do is about conservation, there are no concessions to anything else. Of course, come August, I will probably have to get another full-time job with a real paycheck, that is not conservation-related, but at least I know now that I can do this, and it’s not for long, and I am already, at last, a conservator!

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Kinmen

The first stop after Taipei was Kinmen, an island (two islands, in fact, and also known as Quemoy) barely a kilometre from Mainland China. I hadn’t realised it isn’t actually part of “Taiwan” itself; it is part of the Republic of China but the people living there are neither Taiwanese (although they speak Hokkien) nor Mainlanders; they are Kinmenese, really (jinmenren, 金門人), and have no wish to be absorbed into the PRC either. The layers of cultural identity in Taiwan never cease to intrigue me.

We stayed in an absolutely gorgeous traditional “two hall house” guesthouse that was recommended to me by my friend Matt. I can’t describe how beautiful and enchanting the building and surrounding village are; in fact, when I originally began writing this post it turned into the basis of a potential thesis subject for next year (more on this later). So I have shelved all my obsessive architecture/cultural identity observations so I can develop a more academic version of them, and come back to write more of a “This is what I did on holidays” post. However it is SUPER LONG with ALL THE PHOTOS. Consider yourselves warned.

Day one in Kinmen, we arrived at the airport and took a taxi to Zhushan where Guesthouse No.17 awaited our arrival. We were a little early so we wandered around the surrounding buildings, stunned by the scenery of Ming Dynasty homes and small gardens.

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Our host Ms Zhang was wonderful, and when I explained that I wanted to hire bikes but James wanted to hire a scooter, she diplomatically suggested we hire a scooter and then make the most of the free bike services dotted around the island to explore different locations. She drove us to the scooter hire place, where the lovely Jerry set us up with a scooter for a very reasonable NT$900 including two day’s hire, a tank full of petrol (no need to refill before we return), and a free ride to the airport on our last morning (which costs around NT$300 by taxi).

We scootered to the National Park in Guningtou first, which has a number of military sites, with the idea of trying to find a bike hire station. At Lake Ci, we came across a military fort, complete with tanks:

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View out to China

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James looking like a Japanese soldier inside the fort:

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The view from inside the machine-gunner’s room:

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The more time we spent on the scooter, the more it became apparent that cycling was the real way to go when visiting Kinmen. There is a huge network of bike trails clearly signposted all over the island, and even though many of them were on shared roads which we could follow on the scooter, they were much more enjoyable on a slower, biking scale. We sat down in Jincheng and stared at the map, whilst I tried (with much frustration) to work out the location of the dozen or so bike hire stations. I googled exhaustively (note to self: create a page with the information in English and a google map!) and eventually we gave up and decided to just ride over to Shamei and hope we would find one there. And we did! By this point it was 3pm and the station closed at 5pm — you get to use a bike in exchange for your passport, so I was pretty keen for us to get back in time. I was a little worried we wouldn’t have time to do much in 2 hours, especially with the clunky hire bikes which are the type I associate more with city bike schemes than “cycling”. But in the end we had a lot of fun!

Trying to hide my disappointment at these silly bicycles (I was in the middle of taking directions from the hire lady here, and struggling to remember which of zuo and you is right and left, which is of little help to me since I don’t know them in English either):

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I cheered up once we hit the road, the sun and the blue sky and the ocean breeze all made me happy!

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Speed wasn’t really something worth thinking about…

Love the timer function on my iphone, although between me setting the phone up on the beach, running back to strike a pose, running to get my phone and running back to James, the tide had come right in past our bikes!

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We covered a respectable 12.5km and then returned back to the station well before 5, quite worn out (those bikes are hard to work compared to Bon Scott).

Then we scootered home again to the guesthouse, before James coaxed me back out to catch the sunset. We drove to a lookout point but the sun was not quite in the right direction. Still, we had a very pretty view out to China.

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James breaking all the rules as usual:

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As the sun was hidden behind a hill, we watched it set on the iphone instead:

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We then headed over to Jincheng for dinner. Jincheng is a very pretty city, with some very fetching traditional buildings and brick archways.

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We were planning to eat at a place called Jessica’s Communist Cafe, however we couldn’t find it and ended up getting hotpot. Then we scootered home again in the dark, pausing to grab some Taiwan Beer and wasabi snacks at the 7-Eleven.

The next morning, Ms Zhang had prepared a wonderful traditional breakfast for us:

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Most of the food was heavy on the fructans, which I have to stay away from in the daytime if I’m going to have an active and enjoyable day, but I couldn’t help binging on the youtiao (oil sticks — giant fresh churros) and the fresh mulberries. James had to take them away from me, and I tried to console myself with the meatball porridge and a banana but it was not the same.

I was really, really sore from the cycling and the scootering the day before so we chose to explore close to home within walking distance.

Inspecting the map:

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First we meandered through the village and the eponymous “Zhushan” (meaning Pearl Mountain, but really just a hillock).

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A ceremony was being held at the local temple, with music, singing and dancing, whilst onlookers threw ghost money over the performers.

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I particularly liked seeing the singer/drummer follow along the words with one finger — he was very dextrous at turning the pages single-handedly.

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We then walked to Oucuo, which was settled by the Ouyang family during the Ming Dynasty in the late 17th Century. Oucuo was a wonderful place to visit because of the abundance of houses still in their original layout, carefully maintained and modernised. I get very excited about “living heritage” — buildings that have carried traditions and meanings over the centuries and that are not kept as museums of how they once were, but as a continuation of their first and foremost purpose: homes to the living.

Kitty cat on a doorway:

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Nesting doorways:

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Loved this one in particular with the bright flowers, scooters, paste-ups and laundry all artfully building a mosaic of pinks and reds around the red brick frontage… sigh!

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Not all houses were inhabited or in a good state. We came across one abandoned rundown building, which we were able to access as the doorways were clear and easy to get into. It was full of abandoned broken furniture and was incredibly moving.

From behind:

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Check out this ancient TV! (and the rude hentai comics… obviously still a popular destination for locals… living heritage?)

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A group of cyclists came through the empty streets, a little incongruous in their lycra kit, but obviously quite a habitual scene for Kinmen.

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We headed in the same direction, and finally reached the beach. I always love being by the ocean (who doesn’t?) and got quite excited about the seashells.

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I packed up James’ and my shoes in my bag — a bag I made myself, with my own fair hands, a few years ago — and we progressed, barefoot in the sand. The water was very cold so we just splashed a little.

Showing off my bag:

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Cold-feet selfie, the last picture before….:

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Then we began walking along the shore, and James picked up a seashell for me (I was looking for the perfect one). It was all sandy so I dashed to the water to rinse it off… bent over… and *ploof!* my iPhone landed in the water (hitting me on the head and the shoulder on its way out of my bag). I quickly picked it up, mopped it off, and James and I put it out to dry as I pouted about having ruined my only recently paid-off smartphone. I’ve previously dropped James’ iPhone in a Taiwanese waterfall, but there’s no way the chlorides in the seawater aren’t going to cause corrosion (I’ve studied enough metal chemistry to know!).

However it does seem to be fine for now — who knows how long it will last for.

Anyway we continued along the beach, coming to a tank which James had apparently spied from a long way off but I stumbled upon with complete surprise (more metal corrosion!).

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James did what he has done for the last 32 years and climbed onto it.

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I scolded him because one does not climb on History!

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Then we walked towards a military fort, which looked exciting and foreboding.

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It turned out of course that it was impregnable by foot (well obviously, otherwise it would be a rubbish fort) and James led us through a charming landfill instead. It was a shock to see so much rubbish everywhere — the beaches had been pristine up to this point, and it makes you realise how much effort goes into keeping Kinmen beautiful.

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There but for the grace of god go I — my brand new Mizunos realise that they too, one day, could be an abandoned thong.

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We found the entrance to the fort, however it was locked.

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We headed onwards towards Zhushan, stopping at the Zhaishan tunnel to appreciate the three years it took to blast a passageway into gneiss granite.

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We were extremely fortunate to time our visit between two coach loads of tourists, as the tunnels were dreadfully echoey when filled with chattering Taiwanese. It was interesting to imagine how it must have been full of soldiers and ships.

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We had an ice-cream and discussed a potential venture for creating tours for older grumpy people, who like me don’t want to talk to other people and don’t want any noise or chatter, but would like to get out and about and see a few new places. I think this is a great potential business venture!

Then another couple of kilometres and we were back at our guesthouse. I wanted to nap, but James only allowed me to rest my weary feet a little before we went off for afternoon adventures!

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We decided to go hike up Wuhu Mountain (pronounced woo-hoo!) which is apparently the second-highest peak in Kinmen (this means very little, however). I got us lost a few times on the scooter, as I have to navigate from the back seat, one hand around James’ waist and the other clutching my precious iPhone as I indicate left or right — sometimes I overestimate how long it will take to reach the next turn and we have to reset the route. Also… I don’t know left and right, which can be challenging when giving directions. A few zig-zags around the island and we got there in the end!

We debated whether to bring water with us, as there was no indication of distance or elevation, or of how long the climb would take. The answer was: not very far, not very high, not very long!

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We were extremely impressed with the view once at the top however so it was definitely worth it.

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At the top I also finally captured a picture of one of the giant butterflies I had seen everywhere:

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We then descended to the other side of Wuhu to the village of Shanhou.

Ducks holding sentry at the entrance to the village.

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James professed this to be “his favourite duck”:

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Shanhou was built by a rich merchant family, the Wangs, late in the 19th and early in the 20th century. It was very different from Zhushan and Oucuo, as they are laid out in a highly regimented and orderly fashion, according to the rules of fengshui.

Model of the village:

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We weren’t terribly enamoured of this rigid style, and did not stay long, although we were both quite hungry so we enjoyed an icy cold Taiwan beer and a cong you bing, fried spring onion pancake, mine with an egg and some veggies and James’ with sausage as well. I love bing!

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Here is a pile of turtles, trying to clamber on top of each other and up to possibly eat me. Poor things, they are trapped in a small kind of well, no wonder they wanted to escape.

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On the way back James disappeared to explore a tunnel, whilst I powered on up the hill as I was feeling quite tired and wanted to get it all over! He found a cave with some sort of abandoned military function.

We then rode back to Jincheng, pausing at a night market where we saw the seashells from earlier that day, now ready to be consumed:

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We were determined to find Jessica’s Café. I quizzed locals until it was revealed that we had eaten there the night before — Jessica’s Cafe is no more, and has been converted to the hotpot restaurant.

Jincheng by night is so pretty though:

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We wandered around Jincheng some more, and eventually landed in a quite crappy Taiwanese restaurant whose sole merit was that they kindly provided us with a hand-translated menu. Chinese menus are my nemesis, as even if I could read every character, the names of dishes are generally pretty obscure.

Bellies full, if not delighted, we clambered back on the scooter for what I swore would be the last time — my back and bottom were both aching and sore from sitting on it.

However the next morning we had a couple of hours to kill, so James coerced me back onto the stupid scooter and we lazily roamed the nearby countryside, almost getting attacked by dogs a couple of times, and taking photographs of old and modern houses for my new obsession with Taiwanese architecture.

We posed with a Wind Spirit, iconic lions who dot the countryside of Kinmen (squinting attractively as it was so bright without sunglasses!):

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We also found ourselves at the foot of a random tower/hill, so we decided to climb that whilst we were there. It was just a 10-minute walk up, and really nothing special, but it was nice to have done one more Kinmen “thing” before we headed home for the airport pick-up!

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One last thing that made me laugh was when Jerry picked us up another driver was navigating their way past our car as we loaded in our luggage. They wound down their window, presumably to check there was enough space, and Jerry called out “Plenty of room!” The driver revealed herself to be a woman, and laughed, calling out “I know, I know, I just wanted to get a better look at such a handsome man, in such a fancy car!” Jokes that are funny AND that I understand in Chinese will always make me laugh twice as hard.

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It’s not always easy to get myself to yoga. I didn’t want to go yesterday morning — it was 5:45am, James was in bed after waiting so many months to be together again, and I had slept really badly and did NOT want to get up. I also was grumpy because I knew I had to buy a 1-month pass even though I’d be banned from exercise for a week (more on this below) and then we’re going to Taiwan. But it’s so expensive to do Bikram it’s rarely not worth getting a pass.

Anyway, I went, precisely because it was my very last chance before my one-week ban commenced, and I felt meh-to-neutral all the way through. But on the last shavasana, I felt incredible. I think it’s a bit like a Rubik’s Cube or a videogame cheat code — you have to configure your body in 26 different postures, twice each, feeling crap, and then ta-dah! You feel good.

And if there was a fairly simple cheat code you could use whenever you want, to feel happy and well… you would be a fool not to use it at least a couple times a week!

Anyway — exercise ban. This morning I had an appointment to get my right knee’s common peroneal nerve injected with cortisone to try and improve my shin pain/nerve damage. It was pretty horrid, and then my leg went rather numb, but it’s wearing off now. I am reassured that my shin is aching which suggests they hit the right nerve. However despite me cajoling the specialist, the doctor and the nurse separately, they are adamant that I cannot exercise for a week and no, not even yoga.

My volunteer stint for Oxfam Trailwalker is in 10 days so I am trusting I’ll be ok to hike 11km by then. I certainly am cringing at the idea of not going to yoga for a week! But at least James and I can relax and enjoy a lazy Easter weekend.

On the 13th of March, my replacement at work will be starting! So I am very close to an end and there is bright light at the end of the tunnel. I’m a little nervous about how quickly work wants me to move on (my boss mentioned me potentially not bothering to come back from my holiday, but if he thinks I can do a complete handover in 8 business days he is quite deluded). But I’ll certainly be out of there by the end of May.

I have been debating blowing some of my savings to go back to Europe in June. I’d like to go visit my grandmother in the UK, and I would also like to walk a couple hundred more km on the Camino. It’s probably not a very wise idea but… it’s at the back of my mind. First and foremost I need to call Immigration and work out if it will affect my Australian citizenship eligibility though.

never on sunday

I woke up early today and lay in bed enjoying not having to get up, not having to work, and listening to the rain outside. Through various meandering trains of thought, I started thinking about non-latin alphabets, and remembered a weekend spent deciphering the Greek lyrics to Never on Sunday by Pink Martini. Nowadays of course it would be so easy. I would google the lyrics, google “Greek alphabet”, find a wealth of resources and quickly learn to read the lyrics out loud.

But this was in 2001. I was 18 and living by myself for the first time, after seven years of boarding school (the last two of which I had mostly spent living with my boyfriend Christophe). I had a small but perfect studio, Rue des Trois Baudus, in the beautiful town of Cahors in South-West France. I had no computer or internet of course. I spent a lot of time reading, writing in my journal, or listening to the half-dozen CDs I owned on my portable CD player over and over, making it virtually impossible for me to listen to them ever again voluntarily. These included Selmasongs by Björk, Big Calm by Morcheeba, The Joshua Tree by U2, Faut qu’ils s’activent by Tryo, Gran Turismo by The Cardigans, and Louise Attaque.

One of those albums was Sympathique by Pink Martini. I haven’t really listened to Pink Martini in the last 10 years, but at the time, I thought their eclecticism and melting pot of languages was just wonderful. All of France adored the song Sympathique (which I will still sing to myself these days, after all who can resist a song with the lyrics “je ne veux pas travailler“), but the entire album was full of different languages and styles — French, English, Spanish, Japanese, Greek. I was captivated by the beauty of the Greek song Never on Sunday/The Children of Piraeus (Ta Paidiá tou Peiraiá) in particular, and the liner notes conveniently presented both Greek lyrics and an English translation. But reading the English was nothing like understanding the song, as I wanted to really feel the full effect whenever I listened, and to be able to sing along, with emotion.

So I sat down next to my CD player, and pressing pause every 3 seconds, I listened to the pronunciation of each word over and over, compared it to what I was seeing on the page, looked at the English lyrics to work out what the meaning of each word was. I did this over and over until the Greek letters no longer looked abstract symbols, and I could sing along, first reading from my phonetic notes, then directly from the Greek, and finally understanding each word and not just the gist of the song. This took me through the entire afternoon, evening, and late into the night, but as an 18-year-old who only worked 20 hours a week at the local Carrefour, I had plenty of time.

For the rest of that year, I could sing Never on Sunday tunelessly, even without the CD playing. And today, after suddenly remembering this, I used my magical iPhone to pull up the song and play it for the first time in many years. I started to sing along — badly, most of the words forgotten — and then my voice broke and I started to cry. It was so evocative, a full 14 years later, also living by myself, on a warm but rainy weekend, suddenly remembering my 18-year-old self, staring out of the window at the soft grey sky, on the other side of the world. Memories of living Rue des Trois Baudus, funny things like the fried nems you could only get once a week, at the Wednesday market in front of the cathedral. The twin lens reflex camera my grandfather sent me and the black and white photos I took of the streets around my home.

I am very grateful to my mother for making that year possible. For indulging me, by paying rent that I naively assumed was her duty, as my mother, to pay, even though she had very little money of her own. For taking me to the supermarket every few weeks, which was always such a fun shopping trip together, and which meant parking down in the place and then carrying everything down the tiny dark passageway of the Rue des Trois Baudus, and up the stairs to my flat. For not resenting my keeping my meagre Carrefour salary for “fun things” like clothes and books and travel, rather than contributing to rent or food.

For allowing me to be alone, be independent, free of responsibilities. I didn’t truly understand what a luxury that was, but I did appreciate it, almost as much as I do now — my biggest luxury of all is having a place of my own where I can shut the rest of the world out, sing along to songs — badly, always — and enjoy a Saturday morning with nothing and nobody to shatter my peace. I hope the same things for you, mummy, now that you finally have your own little maisonette, alone with your dog, your study, your coffee and your red toaster.

posit even

It’s so hard to stay positive! I am finding it hard to feel pleased with myself at the end of this weekend. I wait all week for work to be over, and then the weekend goes by and I have nothing to show for it but naps. What did I even do with myself?

  • I went to just one yoga class on Saturday, and none on Friday or Sunday, although it was a really good class. I’m starting to wonder if Bikram is more enjoyable going every other day instead of 5 times a week. Maybe if I set that as a goal I would stop beating myself up when I don’t go, too.
  • I taped up some boxes and packed up most of my books (they are always the easiest thing to pack, after all).
  • After a few issues, I finally installed the Blackboard application for the online workshop on intangible cultural heritage I have signed up for. The three sessions will be run on Thursday mornings in February from 10am to 12pm Melbourne time, which means I will have to be strong and determined and step away from my work for two hours, and not let anything stand in the way of that. I’m already worried about a meeting coming up this Thursday, which I’m pretty sure my boss hasn’t bothered to put into my diary but will want me to attend, but I will just have to put my foot down. The third session is the same day as an absolutely incredible-sounding lecture I want to attend at Deakin: Building Capacity for Reducing Disaster Risks to Cultural Heritage Challenges and Opportunities in Asia Pacific. So… so I will take the entire morning off work. Scary! But I have to get some small amount of study in, having otherwise given up uni this semester.

(This listing thing is cheering me immensely. This is why I have this blog, which is basically a long list of things I did)

  • I offered a load of my pre-loved high heels on Facebook to whomever amongst my friends wanted them. I was surprised by the positive response I had, and it feels really good to re-home them! Plus it means I have/will be seeing friends who come to shoe-shop, which is nice. James’ sister came over and picked up 3 pairs for a start.
  • Sent a huge pile of books off to donate to the op-shop.
  • Sorted through all my papers (and even organised them into an accordion file with little stickers and everything) whilst listening to the audiobook of Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, for old times’ sake. Polly and I listened to the Red Dwarf audiobooks at least 20 times over the course of our childhood, and it’s very soothing to me!
  • Found no fewer than 5 unfinished needlework projects (a scarf I have been knitting for several years, and 4 different needlepoint projects (a duck, some lavendar, some wildflowers, and another which I have already forgotten again). These can go in the queue behind the sashiko I am literally 30 minutes away from finishing.
  • Cooked egg fried rice and tofu, with leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Yes that was the only thing I cooked. I don’t even know what else I ate in the last 48 hours, apart from ice cream.
  • Spent lots of time Skyping with my wonderful, albeit monstrously hirsute, boyfriend, who I just am too lucky to have, even if he sometimes does weird things like send me unsolicited, unwearable onesies. Although he has also booked us an AirBnb bush retreat for when he gets back from Iraq so it evens out (also following mysterious requests for my mailing address, I am pretty sure he has also got me Pioneer Girl, the Laura Ingalls Wilder autobiography, which is pretty much sold out everywhere. Or maybe it was a salad spinner! both are highly coveted objects of desire…)!

So I suppose overall I have done SOME things. Eeeep it’s 10:45pm and I need to pack my bag for 6am Bikram… urgh… mornings… work… must resist temptation to get miserable again.