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Year in Review, 2010

Looking back at 2010
When I think about 2010, I think of us as being mostly at home in Bangkok… I think of it as year when we didn’t travel very much. My blog and my i-photo library, however, tell a different story. We visited six countries in 2010: Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong/China, Japan, Canada and the USA. Here’s a quick summary of our year:

January
 ~ Photo by L. Chiam ~

After an incredibly busy December 2009, we spent a quiet month at home in January. This is the view from our apartment as photographed by a friend.

In February, we had a lazy week in Kata Beach, Phuket catching up with our friend Gen. While Gen biked all over the island, I relaxed and we managed to squeeze in several memorable meals at an amazing Italian restaurant called Capannina. Oh yes… and I wrote an entire YA novel about a Princess called Sophie! (Now, the editing!)

March

In March we spent a weekend on the island of Koh Samed, Thailand with friends from school. Our favourite hotel on Koh Samed is called Samed Cabana and it is the very first place we stayed when we arrived in Thailand in the summer of 2009. This part of the island is quiet and relaxed… no boom, boom, boom of Thai night clubs.

April

During our Songkran holiday, we travelled to Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An, Vietnam. DP and I both fell madly in love with this perfect beef stew at La Fourchette in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I was mesmerized by the strangely beautiful slow-motion ballet created by the motos as they moved gracefully through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. We both kicked back and relaxed in Hoi An which is one very chilled out town!

May

May was a sad and violent month in Bangkok and we were grateful to get out of the city twice. We spent one weekend in Singapore where I bought a new MacBook Pro and we visited with our friend Lynn. Later in the month, we had had a few days at Cape Panwa on the island of Phuket; this trip was a good-bye celebration for one of our friends who moved back to Canada at the end of the school year. DP and I were very fortunate to meet Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Crown Princess of Thailand, at our hotel.

June

June = school’s out for summer.  As we always fly through Narita on our way back to Canada, we decided to stay for a week in mid-June. We spent six glorious days exploring Tokyo and Kyoto; highlights of the trip included Shibuya Crossing, taking the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Kyoto, and seeing a young Geisha in Kyoto. We thought that perhaps we could live in Japan.

July

We spent the moth of July in Home-Sweet-North America. I visited my family and friends in Ottawa and, while DP took a course a UBC, I spent a week shopping and going to Broadway shows in New York City. We spent the end of July with DPs family in Calgary and had an amazing day trip to Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta.

August

In August, the new school year began and our friend Shelley visited us in Bangkok. We introduced her to the unique shopping opportunities available at MBK and to our favourite Thai vegetable, morning glory.

September

In September, DP and I had a working weekend at a posh hotel in Hua Hin for a school function. Although the beach does not compare to those of Koh Samed or Phuket, it was great to get out of Bangkok for a couple of days. Thankfully, we had a relatively cool fall in Bangkok


October

In October, we travelled to Hong Kong for an ACT Therapy workshop. This was our first visit to the crazy cultural jumble that is Hong Kong and we both fell deeply, truly, madly in love with the city and with the food. I took a LOT of photographs. Hundreds.

November

 ~ Photograph by Osamu Yokonami ~

In November, we received the lovely news that we’ve been hired to work at an international school in Yokohama, Japan beginning in August of 2011.  This is an excellent move for us; I have written more about my feelings about leaving Bangkok here. DP and I also shared a Thai meal with Wendy from Escape from New York who had escaped to Bangkok for a few days. It was lovely to meet a fellow blogger!

December

In December, I marked my four year anniversary as a blogger. During the first two weeks of the month, I sent off – on behalf of our high school seniors – hundreds of university applications to universities around the world. Then we flew to Hong Kong for a week. Our holiday included sightseeing and taking hundreds of photographs, several meals with our friend Jenn and her mom and this scrumptious breakfast in our hotel room on Christmas morning. It was great to be away and, as always, it was great to come home to our perfect apartment in Bangkok where we’ve been writing, watching films and ushering the old year out in a very laid back way.

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” ~ Lyn Yutang

Looking ahead to 2011
I do not write New Year’s Resolutions. Betsy Lerner writes: “Resolutions are promises you can’t keep. Resolutions are looking at yourself on January 5, 17, or 29 and being utterly disgusted.”

Although I have never experienced an emotion as intense as disgust with regards to resolutions, they just haven’t worked for me. Instead of making specific resolutions, I like the idea of naming three areas to focus on in the new year… facets of my life on which I intend to spend more time and energy. A sort of New Year’s “Eat, Pray, Love” if you will. My mantras for 2011 are:
1. Radiant health
2. Financial freedom
3. Creative practice

What are your words for 2011?

Hong Kong: 12 Words for Christmas

1. Harbour

2. Street

3. Shop

4. Market

5. Offering

6. Dine

7. Stairs

8. Signs

9. Chef

10. Green

11. (Re)Construction

12. Sky

On Wednesday we leave for Hong Kong where we’ll celebrate Christmas.

In anticipation of our trip, here’s another walking tour of Hong Kong.

What are you dreaming of this Monday?

For more Monday travel dreams, head on over to The Mother of all Trips.

Living with less at home and abroad

~ BEFORE ~

If you are like us – regardless of whether you live in a spacious house in your own country or a tiny apartment abroad – you always end up with more stuff than you intended to own… and then your stuff starts bossing you around.

I’m here to say that our stuff is not the boss of us!

If you answered, “Hell Yeah!” just now, I need you to stop and think before you head out to your local book store to buy yet another self-help book that will inevitably join the troops of unnecessary stuff that is currently bossing you around. (Most self-help books have no business being books in the first place. Perhaps a pamphlet at best. Alas… that’s another blog post!) 

You do not need another book.  You need a few good ideas and you need to get started.  (I am beginning to sound like my mother here. No, on second thought, I’m sounding just like myself here. Sorry, mom.)

I’ll confess right now that minimal living is NOT my natural state (the pull of ceramic bowls is strong with me!) but DP is not a big fan of stuff and collecting and hoarding are not terribly compatible with living overseas. Now that we know that we’ll only be in our Bangkok apartment for 6 more months, and that we’ll be moving to a (much) smaller space in Japan, I’ve been thinking a lot about living with less.  Here are a few ideas that I have implemented that might also help get you started:

1. Donate the books and magazines that you have read
Go ahead. I dare you!
Listen… I get it! I love books and I love having a bountiful home library but the truth is that I rarely re-read books. One might even say… practically never. If you are like me, send these lovely books and magazines out into the world where they will make someone else happy. You can donate them to a local/school library, send a facebook message to avid-reader friends in your city listing your books that are up for grabs or leave them in your apartment building lobby which I did with great satisfaction on Friday afternoon. Somewhere in the building, some lucky person is reading a year’s worth of “O” and Vanity Fair.

2. Buy a Kindle
Can you believe it? Some friends may be shocked to hear me – an English Lit grad and teacher – use the k-word. Although, I still prefer the feeling of a “real” book in my hands, the Kindle offers a unique opportunity to address several challenges at once: we cannot take afford to all of our books to Japan AND traveling with several books just isn’t practical as airlines become stricter about luggage weight. On our last trip, DPs carry-on pack exceeded the 7 kg limit and, when faced with paying extra for it, he unzipped the front pocket, pulled out his books and added them to his checked luggage. He certainly wasn’t going to check his computer… so there he was, boarding the plane in a state of absolute booklessness. The Kindle makes more sense for me and I have already built a lovely little kindle library of 21 books of fiction and non-fiction.

3. Create modules
How is it possible to own 6 pairs of scissors but still never be able to find a pair when you need one? Francine Jay, author of the book The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life endorses the use of modules to collect all the things you need to do a certain task or craft. She encourages her readers to keep all of those like-minded items together in a plastic container with a lid and to store the module in a cupboard, closet or bookshelf until you need it. Then, you are rid of the extra scissors, pens, rolls of masking tape etc. 
The idea of these tidy little modules totally appeals to the neat-freak in me. Modules can take on many forms; a friend at work keeps all of the things she needs for the beach in one drawer and, when it’s time to pack, she simply opens up the drawer and throws the stuff in a bag. La voila.

4. A place for everything and everything in its place
This translates to, “Pick up after yourself”. Thanks for this mantra, mom. It really works for me; I think and feel better when our place is tidy. Ideally when everything is in its place, we feel less tempted to bring in new things we don’t need.

5. Purge the old, broke-down and non-lovely stuff from your home
When you bought those new fluffy white towels, did you get rid of some old ones?  How many towels, sheets, duvet covers, and pillow cases can a couple of family possibly use? I was raised by a mother born during the Depression so I understand her attitudes about holding onto things but there’s a limit. Many of us need to learn how to throw out, recycle and donate more frequently. DP and I got a free set of sheets when we bought our bed in Bangkok and while that’s a lovely promotional idea, we already have two sets and these “gift” sheets were not even remotely my style. The woman who cleans our house, however, was happy to receive them. Keep the stuff you love!

6. Streamline your paper lists with Ta Da Lists
A dear friend in Ottawa introduced me to Ta-Da Lists. Here’s what it says on the sign-up page:
Ta-da List is the web’s easiest to-do list tool. Make lists for yourself or share them with others. It couldn’t be simpler.
I’m inclined to agree as it took me only about 30 seconds to sign up and I’m now able to access all of my lists (Things to do at home, Things to do at work, Things for mom to bring from Canada in February, Things to pack for Hong Kong etc.) online regardless of where I am. You can also e-mail your lists to yourself and others and publish them online. No more lists on yellow post-it notes. My moleskin is still trying to adjust to not being a book of lists!

7. Get strict with your digital clutter
* Delete or file your e-mails. (Yes… 1,000 messages is too many to have in your inbox if your goal is to simplify your life!)
* Store the rapidly-multiplying documents on your desk top in folders
* Unsubscribe from the junk e-mail including Amazon.com
* Go through your Google Reader and delete the blogs that no longer make you happy

~ AFTER ~ 
 (Our 45 square metre apartment in Barcelona)

To be fair, the “before” pic was taken on the day I arrived in Barcelona but you get the idea.

So, what are your secret de-cluttering weapons? Don’t be shy!

Friday Meditation: Golden Pavillion, Kyoto

It was raining when we visited Kinkaku-ji – also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan.

For some reason – which may (or may not) be revealed to me later – this photograph reminds me of the following quotation:
“Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator, or unhealthy, or lazy, or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.” ~ Shoma Morita, Japanese psychotherapist

For more gorgeous travel photos, visit Photo Friday over at Delicious Baby.

Breaking up with Bangkok

Traveling and living abroad are like dating.  The longer the relationship, the higher the stakes.

Short and Steamy
When we travel to a new city or country for a vacation, we embark upon a romance. Everything about the relationship is fresh, novel and leaves us feeling renewed; if the stars are correctly aligned, we feel as though we are at our very best. Although we know the affair is not long-term, it is certainly great fun while it lasts.  Sometimes we love the city so much that we begin making plans to return; we hope to re-capture the magic we experienced during our first visit. I feel that way about Paris, Florence, Hong Kong and New York City; I just can’t get enough of their respective city yummy-goodness. Every once in a while, however, the city simply doesn’t live up to our expectations. Fortunately, we recover quickly because we didn’t invest that much in the relationship. It was just a few days, a week. No big deal. We know that there are many more fish in the international seas.

Committed Relationship
Relocating to a new country, however, means that we have entered into a domestic partnership.  Whenever we arrive with more than a suitcase or a knapsack and no departure date, we are making a serious commitment. As the plane lands, clog-wearing butterflies tap dance in our stomach. Did we get it right? Is this the one?

As international educators, DP and I have lived in five countries on four continents: Canada (the country of our birth), Colombia, Mexico, Spain and Thailand.  Each country relationship has been unique; there have been things that we liked and loved and treasured… and other things that we had to learn to tolerate. To endure. To get through.

Factors that determine the quality and length of these country-relationships:
* Is the city/country beautiful (however you define beautiful)?
* Does the climate/temperature suit you?
* Are there activities and cultural events that you enjoy?
* Do you speak the language?
* Do you enjoy the local cuisine?
* Do you have access to English language books and other creature comforts that make your life comfortable?
* Can you afford to live a good life in this city?
* What is your relationship with the deeply held values and customs of your new culture?
*  Have you found a community of great friends and kindred spirits?

So what happens when you move to a new country and you find yourself tolerating your new home rather than rejoicing in what it has to offer? Sometimes it’s better to admit that things just aren’t going to work out. Make a clean break and move on.

Although I never kiss and tell on the internet (we think that’s a very good rule!), our relationship with Bangkok is not working out the way we’d hoped. It’s okay. We’ve had some good times here and met some lovely people who made our lives better over the last year and a half.

Hope, however, springs eternal. We’ll be moving to a new international school in Yokohama, Japan in August of 2011.  Our love affair with Japan has already begun!