An end and a beginning on the same journey

Both exciting and scary times are ahead. I am about to graduate from a degree I was so enthusiastic about starting. Naturally, in my case at least, that calls for some reflection. It seems like just last week I was notified that I got accepted to Fudan University in Shanghai. The degree is called Chinese Philosophy, and it came at a time in my life when I desperately needed direction. I am now seeing a glimpse of the new coping mechanisms it has taught me, in order to deal with trauma reaching dark depths I could never have imagined. Through an internship with Freeland Foundation in Bangkok, I learned too many things about the shaded side of humanity that I wasn’t exposed to before. Freeland works on the frontline, combatting illegal human and wildlife trafficking. I have so much respect for my colleagues from that time who fight this exhausting battle to this day.

My sensitive personality couldn’t cope with what I now know to be the extent of the dark world, which sadly is created by other human beings. If you think I may be too sensitive, too involved, too caught up or too weak, I ask you how anyone who doesn’t contribute to this suffering but tries to help it, can feel otherwise. And if you feel the need to judge me on my ‘how’, I strongly suggest you give this information a try and immerse yourself in it. The fact is that it is extremely distressing and awful, and different people cope with it in different ways. At times I am able to see and feel the humbling side of the bad experiences. I have learned about the fucked up part of the human world. It is both a blessing and a curse. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have known what would come after this experience, either. From my side, it is a cauldron where feelings of disorientation, loneliness, fear, sorrow, and anger are mixed and are often actively boiling. But I am not able to pour it out of this massive pot and give it a place, and so it sits there. And I am continuously stirring it with a tiresome effort to not let it boil over. I couldn’t have known how it would affect those around me either. They saw a sad pile of a confused girl not able to put into words how horrified and small she felt. I needed my family and friends to pull my strings like a puppet and show me again how to be a human being in this human dominated world. Only I couldn’t tell them, because I didn’t know.

I think using words such as darkness and light is rather cheesy and cliché, but I can find meaning in what they represent. Especially how it relates to so many things I have learned in the last 2 years. Dark and Light. Yin and Yang. Two opposite forces that flow from the one into the other. It is because of the one that the other one exists. I don’t quite know yet how it fits in with what I’ve experienced and learned about the dark, the bad, the negative. Perhaps I need to be another light to balance out the dark. Perhaps we all need a bit of both, so that we are yet another balanced unity that participates in the balanced natural world that already exists outside of us. As I am about to graduate from this degree I feel grateful for it and I am afraid that I will miss it. It opened up my eyes to a segment of knowing people who maybe knew of or experienced the same or similar things as I did. Or who speculated and theorised. Or simply assumed this truth. The knowledge I have gained and books I am reading have provided a framework for me in which I can puzzle together a healing process for me now, and a framework with which I can continue to shape the rest of my life. I am so happy and excited to continue learning from these great minds and their realities.

I feel quite safe, sharing this with you. I didn’t think that I would, but I have done a lot of work to accept my own reality. And regardless of you fully understanding me or taking me seriously, I am happy to know that in the very least I am still trying to better myself, and positively contributing to the people and natural world around me. The reason I am sharing this is in part because I need to push myself on a little bit towards a more joyful and peaceful existence and by writing this, I am holding myself to a promise.
Some weeks ago after talking to my friend, my fellow intern at Freeland, I felt empowered again for the first time in a long time. Together with many other personal attempts and attempts from my loved ones, I have started healing. I want to thank you, Cha, for being the person you are and sharing your strength and love with me. I hope my words do you right, too, because you are on your own journey and I want to send you nothing but love and strength in return.

Thai: Mai Pen Rai, Took Yang Riab Roy Dee.
English: It’s Okay, Everything Is Okay.
This became our motto, our mantra to ensure each other that we would pull through with each other’s support. We repeated this every day, a few times per day. Of course, I had to get it tattooed 😉 With no one other than Cha holding my hand.

Challenges and Changes

I started listening to podcasts about one year ago and I’m amazed at that medium, which is why I often refer to podcasts and certain episodes. Likewise, this blogpost is inspired by a podcast I listened to in the (very) early hours of today. I’m a morning person. My best routine so far is waking up early with a coffee and a podcast. You know what they say: You win the morning, you win the day. 

On today’s episode: A Better You by the TED Radio Hour podcast.

Whilst sitting in my chair, this podcast motivated even the little hairs on my toes to go out into the world. I’d really advise you to give this episode a listen. But in a nutshell, it discusses ways in which you can get rid of all the useless mind-fluff and bring your good ideas, intentions, and actions to the forefront. The two ideas that attracted me the most were:

  1. The Rejection Challenge – A 100 days of seeking rejection so that you can get comfortable with this otherwise uncomfortable feeling, which so often stops us from doing and achieving what we want! (Don’t go all crazy and load yourself up with heartbreak or nightmares. Ask someone if you can paint their front door orange or ask someone to sing you a song.)
  2. The 30 Day Challenge – Try something new every 30 days and practice it every single day until your new challenge starts. Always wanted to be an artist? Pick up a pencil every day for the month of March (you’re still on time!) Want to build a boat? Read a bit about the how every day for the month of April. And then build it in May. Take some of June, too, if you need it. 

You might not struggle with rejection all that much, which is awesome. The point is that most of us have something we struggle with and could improve to make our own lives easier. Maybe even the lives of others. This challenge seems like a pretty slick strategy to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
I absolutely love the latter challenge. I’m always up for trying new things. It’s a good excuse to do the things I’ve wanted to do but didn’t. I often expect myself to do it the best and do it forever. This approach makes it much more fun, and temporary. Of course, if I do love it or if it’s really good for me, I’ll simply just continue it if I can.

Another strategy that I learned about and have incorporated into my life already but which was not included in the Podcast, is the Tiny Habits strategy. Find out which things you do every single day as part of your daily routine. Brushing teeth, changing from your sexy llama pyjamas into your work suit, eating breakfast, drinking coffee etc. Then, figure out what you want to do more of in your life, or something that you want to learn. Divide that into smaller steps. Done? Now divide into smaller steps again. Done? Repeat this step again. The point is that we want to create a habit out of this, and get you to achieve your goal in small steps at a time. What would otherwise seem daunting, now you are perfectly capable of doing EVERY SINGLE DAY! Isn’t this wonderful? I’ll give you two examples of tiny habits that I have now: Say two affirmations in the mirror after showering, and do two squats after peeing. Yup.
If you need to get into the habit of getting into the habit, Tiny Habits provide free guidance for a week! (Linked above.)  

As I’ll be sitting on the plane or waiting at the airport in two days to head back to Shanghai after an AMAZING long-ass working holiday back at home in South Africa, I’ll be figuring out what my next 30 Day Challenge will be.
Are you with me?  Hayoooooo! High-five. 

Captured at Chapman’s Peak after a lovely visit to Simonstown

Fun, unnecessary things. Imagine!

I made this random list of things that would be cool if they happened one day, but they don’t necessarily need to. Why, you ask? I don’t have a particular reason, actually. However, today I was very aware of the idea that it would be cool if I was one of those extras in a movie that has a beer at the table next to main actor, or stands in the queue at the airport three people behind her, or eats at the same restaurant in the background pretending to have serious conversations and then burst out laughing for who knows what reason. Then I thought, I often have these random things where I think: that would be cool. But I don’t pursue them. Simply because I don’t have to, or don’t even want to. Nevertheless, I can appreciate and enjoy the idea.

So, my that-would-be-cool-but-it’s-not-a-must-list:

  1. Be an extra in a movie. Preferably Bollywood. (No idea why, that’s just how it popped into my head).
  2. Write a book. This probably belongs to the ‘I want to’ category. But I don’t HAVE to.
  3. Do a voice over for an animation character or something. Or record an audiobook. I’m not sure whether my voice has the necessary smoothness to it that’s comfortable to listen to, though.
  4. Do some aerial yoga.
  5. Take a kid out for a day to play. I have two reasons for this: 1) I really enjoy playing kids’ games 2) Wanting to know what it feels like to have a kid (and not yet be responsible for it forever).
  6. See a bubbly volcano.
  7. My family and other friends once went camping in the Okavango Delta, and we heard hippos walking around our tent at night. That would be incredibly awesome to do again. But I can still appreciate the memories, too.
  8. Reach some certified level of PTK (Petiki Tirsia Kali, a Filipino martial arts).
  9. Have my own brand of hippie style clothing.
  10. Take women-empowering photos, specifically of my beautiful friend Jesse in Mother Nature.

 

Here’s a picture of the moon that I took when the moon was even more beautiful than usual.

Living in China – an honest review

Last year August I departed for Shanghai in a terrible mind space and a knot in my stomach that seemed to be made of only fear, shame, self-pity and anger. I was in a pretty dark place, and until a couple of days ago I wondered whether it was a smart move to leave the comfort of my home and the helpful and warm embrace of my parents in such a state; something I was in desperate need of every single day. The only image I saw in my mind the morning of the dreaded goodbyes, was The Bund at night-time; like a solace – a new kind of embrace. It was strangely comforting. Nonetheless, the dark cloud in my mind would override any glimpse of joy or hope I found.

However, a conversation I recently had with my classmate, my friend, changed my perspective. I figured out that, knowing myself, I would have deeply regretted not taking the opportunity I was given. I would have boundlessly imagined all the things I would have missed out on. And perhaps the most rewarding benefit of coming to Shanghai, is that now I know what I do need. Rather than mom’s home cooking and dad’s endless efforts trying to fix me, I needed to do this myself. I still need to do it myself. And what better way to rebuild a broken world than by studying Chinese Philosophy?
Although this proved difficult at first, I am now slowly but surely reaping the food for thought I unknowingly planted 15 months ago – below I have shared some with you of what my life has been like as a foreigner in China.

the Bund

Variety

Congruent with the number of people, China displays a variety of a variety further separated by variety. On a daily basis I am amazed at the vehicles I see on the road. Even in between a bicycle and an electric bicycle, I see about 10 different new kinds of vehicles. Some distinguished by the MOUNTAIN of goods packed tightly on top. If you think Shanghai’s sky scrapers have the tendency to walk around, you are wrong because it is in fact a pile of something stacked on a something that is somehow moved by one, just one, person.

The same with tea, although on a smaller size scale. China is infamous for its mellow-feel tea culture. Although one still finds the 5 types of ‘original’ tea, black, green, white, yellow, Oolong, what you actually may sooner come across is one of the many tea shops that do not sell just normal hot tea. It is spiced up, sized up, crunchy, chewy, sweet, sour, hot, cold, weird, delicious, and just a joy for the eyes and the mouth. My personal summer favourite was Oolong with sweet pearls topped with salty cream topped with crunched up Oreo. Quite a mouthful, hmm? It was. I had only about 3, though, during summer before I realised that it was probably not great for my health – unlike the regular tea. Which, by the way, come in 5 story building worth varieties. We call these the tea markets. A wonderful experience for someone who bought boring tea bags in yellow carton boxes that all tasted pretty similar. 

There is so much more to cover, but it’s simply too much too stuff into one contrasting tiny blog post. 

Ironic freedom

Yes, many apps and websites have been blocked in China. But unlike anywhere else in the world where I have been, you can wear a pink wig on your knee cap and people would hardly bat an eye. There seems to be so much room for personal expression in terms of appearance, which is wonderfully liberating. It almost seems as if my old ways have gotten the better of me, so I tend to dress pretty casually and go unnoticed. Other than my blonde hair, which attracts regular unwanted attention. But I’m pretty sure I have seen a girl who traveled back to Victorian times where she undressed an Elizabeth and came back to Shanghai 2018 wearing her clothes going about her own business. I was so sympathetically amused that I was watching her for some minutes, and to my surprise I noticed that I was the only one watching her. Many people here in China are my daily reminder that it’s okay to just be me. Watch a peachy Ted talk on this here. 

The Chinese language

Although it may not always sound pretty, the Chinese language is incredibly poetic in itself. Though simplified Chinese has taken away some of the original profoundness, it still remains in my eyes a language that holds secrets to ancient wisdom of which meanings are still debated today. Partly, because of the characters and what they represent. Did you know that Chinese people today can still read texts written more than 2000 years ago? I find that pretty damn impressive!  

Convenience 

Are you too lazy to go out and buy groceries, or even to cook? You can order your groceries or just your whole meal. On the same app you can order medication, alcohol, fresh fruit, movie tickets, plane and train tickets, and book hotels. Another app allows you to chat with friends, make phone calls, search for nearby everything, transfer money, and receive money. Yet using another app you can recharge your phone, order a taxi, pay shops, restaurants, street vendors, and even beggars. (Or so I have heard). You can basically organise all your life’s necessities in no more than 20 clicks. The convenience is remarkable. If your phone was not your most valuable before, it sure will be when you live in China. 

The Great Learning

(That’s a little philosophy pun. I don’t mean the actual Great Learning, referring to one of the four books in Confucianism.)
This is not a concluding point, although it is the last one – I am deeply humbled by the way being in China is continuously helping me grow; simply by being here and my daily interactions, as well as the thought provoking classes I am fortunate enough to be a part of at Fudan University. My time spent here since last year August has indeed been my solace, although not limited to The Bund. What I have reaped thus far is beyond what I could have imagined, and it feels as though it has only just started. My personal harvesting season is off to a good start!   

Thank you for reading 🙂 Make your day wonderful. 

As we neared the station, the handle of the suitcase ding-dang-donged passed all the doors. I think the owner got it back…

Things to do near Cape Town

Are you planning a trip to South Africa soon, but are looking to do something slightly different than beaches and taking the cable car up Table Mountain?
This is the post for you! Below is a list of things to do near Cape Town.

The different places I have included, Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Wellington, are about a 50 minute drive from Cape Town. You can plan these day trips, or choose to stay a night out of the Mother City and in these charming places.  

Wellington 

  • If you are looking for a different way to see South African vineyards and olive farms, head down to Diemersfontein for a horseback ride into nature. A lovely lady will take you on a given morning to see the beauty this part of the Western Cape has to offer. Click here to visit the website. 

If horse back rides aren’t really your thang, Katrin also does walking tours into the vineyards. Bring your hiking boots! 

Preview of the horse ride. I met these two lovely ladies here, one of whom is in the photo. They turned out such interesting girls! This girl is an actress and has her first series coming out soon. Her friend owns Nude Wear, a swimwear company that supports body positivity (love it!), studies a triple major, and also acts. The people one meets!
  • One of my favourite passes in the Western Cape would be the Baines kloof. I love the drive through there, it’s absolutely stunning and I recommend simply to go and take a look. 

Paarl

  • Although the Spice Route is quite touristy already, it’s well worth a visit. Not just for the location or the food, but the beer tasting is fantastic. You can choose whether you want to taste 4, 7, or 9 (NINE) beers. It goes without saying the tasting glasses are not standard beer glasses, but they are big enough to get a proper taste 😉 All in all, it’s a lovely way to spend your afternoon. Click here for more info.
  • Take a drive up the Du Toit’s kloof, bring some wine, beers, snacks and a sober driver, and enjoy a spectacular sunset at one of the car stops. A blanket would serve well, both to sit on and to stay warm. 
  • A must-do in my opinion is see and thereby support rescue lions and tigers at the Drakenstein Lion Park. You will have the opportunity to see many lions who have been rescued from circuses, canned hunting grounds, pet trade and other heartbreaking circumstances. You can even adopt a lion! 
    I think this organisation does great work and I fully support all places that help animals live a better life. 
Rare (not roar) white lions

Stellenbosch

If you have a slightly bigger budget than the average Joe, how about seeing Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Wellington from the air? Flown by no one other than my talented dad, if you find yourself in South Africa in the summer months he would love to take you for a beautiful round trip! Starting at the Stellenbosch Flying Club, you can enjoy a nice breakfast or lunch with roaring propellors around you, then take to the skies yourself! Contact me for more details so you can see this beautiful part of South Africa like few others. Feel special 😉 

Photo: Roberto van der Hoeven

 

If you have any questions or your own suggestions feel free to contact me or leave a comment 🙂