The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Tag: Expatriate (page 1 of 8)

Hectic Hanoi

There are no sidewalks.

Well, there are sidewalks, but they’re used for motorbike parking and pop-up food stalls rather than pedestrian traffic. If you want to wander the streets of Hanoi, you’re going to be in the street, motorbikes narrowly dodging you as they manically steam toward their destination.

Hanoi is a sharp contrast to cosmopolitan and polished Saigon. It lacks the Western echoes, retaining it’s aura of Asian mystery that will always lure and confound us Westerners. It’s messy, and noisy, and unapologetically brimming with Vietnamese culture, impassive to the tourists and travelers that flock to it’s center.

After a few hours, though, your heartbeat catches up to it’s rhythm. You find yourself sipping coffee on a rooftop overlooking the lake, an oasis in otherwise concrete jungle. Or crowded around a banh mi cart, swapping stories with a young man from Wales, a middle aged couple from Birmingham, and honeymooners from New Zealand. After a few days, you’ve visited the National History Museum and gotten a sense of the scale of the history of this country. You’ve filed respectfully past Ho Chi Minh’s carefully preserved body, goosebumps rising on your arms as you take in his waxy face. You’ve watched the dance classes in the parks fringing the lake, unable to hide your smile at the senior women bopping around like they don’t care who’s watching.

And the narrow streets that you’ve learned to navigate start to feel a little like home. Take a left at this hotel here, when you see this restaurant turn right, and when you see the lights strung above the street, you’ve arrived at Beer Corner, where glasses of daily brew can be purchased for $0.20.

Hanoi is the kind of place you don’t realize you’ll miss until you’ve already left. Then you look back on the memories of who you were when you first navigated the streets, terrified of being hit by a motorbike. And you think about how, in the space of just a few days, you’ve emerged from the city an entirely different person.

That is magical, transformative, crazy Hanoi.

Cheers! On Beer Corner

Cheers! On Beer Corner

IMG_20150420_202331

Culinary Explorations

Culinary Explorations

National History Museum

National History Museum

Just your typical day on the Hanoi streets

Just your typical day on the Hanoi streets

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum

Farewell Sydney

Goodbye Sydney, I’m leaving you.

My departure is bittersweet, like the time I’ve spent with you. Drastic highs and the lowest lows. My throat caught by both beauty and despair, in merciless succession.

I’ve lost a lot while I’ve been with you, Sydney. You brought me despair-filled train rides over tin and terra cotta rooftops in the weak winter morning light. Aching homesickness alone in my beach apartment, having everything I thought I ever wanted and drowning in a sea of tears. You took the bulk of my entitlement and tore it from my white-knuckled grasp. You looked at what I thought I’d become, and stoically pushed me in the opposite direction. I flailed and I fought, and you impassively looked on through my laughter and tears and did what you were always going to do, anyway.

You’ve given me a lot too. You’ve helped me redefine success, and gave me the courage to look at things differently than I always had. You brought me dear friends and the love of my life. You introduced me to the gentlest and toughest people I have ever known, and I have spent the better part of three years trying to reconcile that paradox. You gave me sunsets unlike any I’ve ever seen, a violent hug of color embracing the dark line of the horizon. Like all the colors in world had to cling close to the dusky shape of the west, as though they couldn’t survive without that dark relief to define them.

You taught me that no color is as bright as the one that stands closest to the darkness. And you took me away from everything that came easy and thrust me toward the black. You forced me to make a stand, to say that there surely must be something beyond my wildest dreams. You didn’t let me settle, Sydney, so I won’t.

Instead I will leave my pride and my plans on your golden sandy beaches, in your aquamarine seas, mixed in with the red dust at your heart. I will float my fear over the terraced houses and art-deco apartment blocks, and leave a huge piece of my heart in your wide and welcoming harbour. And while I might think you’re mourning the loss of me, you’re probably just racking your brain, trying to remember my name.

So goodbye Sydney, I’m leaving you.

A Birthday in Melbourne

If I were a better planner, I would have pulled out all the stops for Beth’s birthday: A nice hotel, a fancy dinner, a full itinerary of things to do and see in 24 hours, since that was all the time we had in the city before our Great Ocean Road trip.

But I was none of those things, as I had promised myself not to over-schedule my travels and to generally let things happen as they do. And so we ended up crashing on an acquaintances couch, who also happened to have four other people staying with him that weekend in his two bedroom apartment in Richmond, a suburb of Melbourne very close to the city. I had looked into dinner places, but we hadn’t wanted to be rude to our host and his friends, so we asked them where we should go. Fortunately, they suggested Fitzroy, one of the most fun places to go out in Melbourne – packed with restaurant and bar options and only a 10 minute cab from our host’s apartment.

So we trundled off, two Americans, an Aussie, and two Germans, to find a nice meal for Beth’s birthday and a place to have a few drinks and maybe some dancing afterward. We ended up at a Greek restaurant, which is unsurprising due to the huge population of Greek immigrants in Melbourne. The food was great, as Greek food usually is, and we all dove in with some wine and drinks to kick us off. After that, we headed to a rooftop bar, but took one look at the huge line to get up and the threatening sky and decided we should probably head someplace else. So we headed to a hip-hop nightclub that was somewhat reminiscent of the underage, alcohol-free nightclubs I went to as a teenager. But the drinks were cheap and there was no cover or line to get in, so in we went.

The DJ kept playing a mix of the strangest throwback hits from the 90’s (Think ‘Let’s Get Married’ by Jagged Edge) mixed with more modern garbage like Iggy Azalea. It seemed to keep Beth happy, as she danced up a storm. We decided to pull the plug around 1 a.m. since Beth and I both had to get up early to get a car and depart on our Great Ocean Road adventure early that morning. Correction: I decided to pull the plug, Beth was too busy whooping up a storm on the dance floor to notice what time it was, though she didn’t complain when we did leave. Though it probably won’t go into the record books as the best birthday celebration in history, hopefully it was a memorable one.

Thankful

A couple of weeks ago, I hosted my third and final Thanksgiving as an expatriate (at least an expatriate in Australia). Having the opportunity to bring this American tradition to foreign shores has been an annual highlight of each holiday season I’ve spent here in Australia. It’s been an opportunity to take a step back and reflect, and benchmark upon which I can measure how my life and social circle have grown and been enriched.

My first Thanksgiving was a harried and hurried affair, cooked on a hangover and with a few friends and a few people I had only just met, the day after an all-day music festival.

My second Thanksgiving stood out in stark contrast to the last – surrounded by new friends, a new love, and an overwhelming gratitude that my first year in Australia hadn’t been quite as bad as I’d let myself believe.

And this Thanksgiving was a fitting cap to the tradition. The turkey was a success (whew!), all the necessary accouterments were laid out, nearly everyone who had been at that first small table in my apartment in Bondi was able to make a reappearance, and many of the friends from last year’s feast had been able to attend as well.

TurkeyDay3TurkeyDay2

As we went around the table of 18 and said what we were thankful for, I couldn’t help but get a lump in my throat as I told everyone the story of the small table at my first Thanksgiving, and how more than anything I was thankful that I had been put in the path of so many amazing people who wanted to share this tradition with me. I was thankful for a partner who had been nothing but supportive about packing up my life, leaving him with my dog and taking off without him for 6+ months, and to my first friend in Australia, Annie, without whom that first year would have been drastically more difficult.

American Girls!

American Girls!

This Thanksgiving celebration was the first time it really hit me that I’m leaving. I’d been happily plunking my head into the sand, in denial that anything was really going to change. And now here was the end of a tradition in my new home that I’d started, ready to be passed on to another of my American friends who was staying. And as much as I’m looking forward with excitement to whatever is coming next, I’m also desperately sad to be leaving behind such wonderful people and such a beautiful place. And though my feelings about my time in Seattle and Sydney are very different, I can still echo the sentiment I felt  in one of my earliest blogs about leaving the city I’d called home for a while:

How Lucky I Am

Til next time, xoxo

The Wizardess

Not Quite Here, Not Quite Gone

I’ve been living in a place of limbo for the past several weeks. Not quite here, not quite gone.

Preparing to make a major move usually brings about a flurry of activity: things to pack, clothes to donate, boxes to ship. But I’ve been in super-slow motion, because my decision was made months ago, but each step to get to action was preceded by such an extensive amount of waiting. No, I can’t quit my job just yet, I need to save more money and the EM isn’t ready to leave his new job. No, I don’t really need to pack quite yet since I’m not leaving the house for 3 more months. Yes, I’ve turned in my notice, but my contract requires 12 more weeks of work, so there are still plenty of projects to be done. Even the act of checking out of the life I built here has been a slow one. At first, I panicked: There are so many things I still haven’t done! I must get to Palm Beach, I must spend a weekend in Jervis Bay! All those long weekends we put off can’t be put off any longer!

And then I ticked off all the weekends I wanted to spend. I started to clean out the closet and got bored after two bags of clothes were filled for sale/donation. And because procrastination is a skill I am particularly proficient in, I just sort of… drifted back to the routine of living, even through I’m leaving. With the exception of pulling out Southeast Asia on a Shoestring and meticulously planning what I will do in each country, I haven’t really done much else to prepare for this glorious sabbatical I have organized for myself.

I’m sure this is partially so I can avoid thinking about the hard parts: being separated from the EM for such a long time, saying goodbye to my pup for another exceptionally long stint and entrusting his care to someone else, trying to hold it together while I say goodbye to friends and co-workers. And I’m sure some of it is the nervousness of traveling alone for the first time, even though I will have sisterly support for the first few months. And I bounce between this reticence and a boundless excitement about the things I will see, do and discover. But to actually pack it up and make it real?

Terrifying, even now.

But I’m reaching a point where I’ve procrastinated as long as I can. Only five more weeks of work. Time to start getting my stuff organized, jettisoned, shipped. Time to start finalizing the itinerary. Time to mentally prepare to say goodbye to many people I’ve come to rely on heavily for support. Time to rush headlong into an adventure and expect (not just hope for) the best.

Strange

Meet the Parents… and 50 More Family Members

“We’re not paying for your wedding.”

I raised my eyebrow at my mom, annoyed but not surprised. My parents are very traditional, and very religious. They’ve never been happy that I don’t impose the same rules on myself that the Catholic Church does. In this case, cohabitation with my partner.

“Well then, don’t expect one.”

It may not have been quite as snappy as that, but that was the gist of the conversation. My dad had taken the English Muffin onto the patio of their serviced apartment in Queenstown to give him the “what are your intentions for my daughter” speech – something that grates on me as a independent adult capable of having my own intentions for myself, but that I understand is something my dad just can’t not do with any of my boyfriends.

Having never dreamed about my future wedding, I wasn’t too bothered by it. I’ve never gone out of my way to live with my boyfriends, it’s just he way life worked out. I moved interstate with one [“What do you want us to do, Dad? Get separate apartments?”], and happened to fall in love with my roommate [“Was I supposed to kick him out of the house the moment we realized we had feelings for each other?”]. Most times, I’d probably have preferred not to have lived with them! I like my space, and don’t mind being alone, so it wouldn’t have been huge loss as long as we lived near each other. But regardless of any qualifying circumstances, this was a line my parents had decided to draw.

At any rate, my sister will probably have to deal with this before I do, since she and her [now live-in] boyfriend just celebrated their 5 year anniversary. I’m sure she will find a way to break my parents resolve; she’s always had better money-extraction skills than I have.

Other than this uncomfortable exchange, the “Meet the Parents” episode of my relationship with the English Muffin was a nice one. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful place for it to happen [Queenstown, NZ], and we spent much of the 6 days we were all together being outside, exploring New Zealand [also known as Heaven on Earth].

See? All Friends Here!

See? All Friends Here!

The ridiculousness that is NZ

The ridiculousness that is NZ

Same

Same

Fast-forward six months, and the EM and I were preparing for a trip to the USA to celebrate two weddings that were fortuitously planned 4 weeks apart. So naturally, I decided it was important to cram in meeting most of my aunts and uncles [of which there are 15], about 2/3 of my cousins [of which there are 30, not counting spouses], and my siblings [of which there are 4, including my brother’s wife] into those 4 weeks. Oh and maybe 50 or so friends.

Did I mention the English Muffin is an only child with a tiny extended family?

However, the EM works in recruitment, and he’s developed social skills that include being able to talk to anyone, make people like and trust him, and be a good listener. This is also why he makes a good romantic partner, as he’s pointed out to me [darling, why are you on eHarmony?]. Plus he’s English, which means that if nothing else at least he’d be polite.

Thus, he was not only able to rock the family get-togethers, he actually was a bigger hit at BOTH weddings than I was! I had one of my aunts swooning over his accent [“What did you call it? A bin? Say butter again!”] and he after-partied at my university friend’s wedding long after I had collapsed in a heap in our hotel room. At the end of the first wedding, my Seattle friends’ boyfriends were hollering, “Someone get this man a green card! Come to America!”

Repping the Afterparty with the Bride

Repping the Afterparty with the Bride

Cheers!

Cheers!

All in all, a pretty successful trip home for him, even if I was feeling a little bit like chopped liver. Just because I don’t have a posh English accent!

I did have the chance to meet his dad, who happens to live in Connecticut after falling for an American woman [apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…], so for the two people I had to meet, an exchange of 90 or so seems fair. Right?

Til next time, xoxoxo!

18 Months

I’ve been living away from the US for a year and a half now. I’ve had two birthdays in Australia, I’ve missed a family Christmas, dozens of birthday parties, engagement parties, and baby showers. I’ve even missed the wedding of one my oldest and dearest friends. And missing the big events does bring the distance between myself and home into sharper perspective, but it’s the daily moments that I miss the most, I think. The coffee dates and brunches, days at the beach and happy hours on weeknights, dog parks and road trips and being able to see my mom and dad much more frequently than every six months. Not that I’m not doing many of these things in Australia, or that the people I’ve become close with here aren’t just as amazing, funny, fun, or intelligent as my friends in the US. But there is a big difference between being a part of someone’s daily life and being another email they put off sending.

Sometimes, you can feel yourself slipping out of other’s lives. Texts, emails, or Facebook messages become further and farther between, then stop. Wedding invitations don’t come. Birthdays pass unnoticed thanks to the international date line. A year and a half seems to be the point where friendship over time and distance is tested, and it’s either pass or fail.

I’m the first to admit that I am a difficult person to stay friends with, depending on your personality and definition of friendship. I’m shit at staying in touch with people, even though my communicative-ness (or lack thereof) is in no way an indicator of my feelings for another person. So I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise when an email scribbled out after months of non-contact goes unreturned. But with lives so busy for people our age – we’re getting engaged, having babies, buying houses, are in a critical stage of our professional lives – I understand that life moves quickly and many things seem much more important than remembering to give someone a call. It’s sometimes difficult to see the world turning without you and knowing there is nothing you can do to participate in these small moments.

As I read this, I know it seems whiny and depressing, which isn’t my intention. Just an observation that even in our hyper-connected world, with the Snapchats and the Tweets and the WhatsApps, it’s still very easy to lose touch.

We Gave Thanks

One really fun thing about being an expat is bringing the traditions of your home country to your new international friends.

And so several weeks ago, I created a Facebook event, called a butcher, and began the plan to recreate Thanksgiving with 18 of my friends. Due to the capacity of my oven, I had to outsource many meal elements to my fellow Americans who were joining to celebrate the day, as my primary task was the 17.5-pound Turkey I had a local butcher bring my way.

The crowd was heavily skewed toward non-Americans this year, whereas last year’s Thanksgiving only had a few Aussie interlopers. However, as I sat at a table full of English men and women and told them the history of Thanksgiving, I made the point that this holiday was technically begun by the English settlers of America, so it was as much their holiday as it was mine.

There we a few groans when I mentioned the tradition of going around the table and giving thanks, but everyone was a good sport and participated, with one of the single young men giving thanks for the single ladies of Sydney (fair shout). I looked around the room at the crowd, a few familiar faces from last year and several new faces who have entered my life only this year (including the English Muffin), and I knew that I was most grateful for how much life changes, bringing new people into and out of your world. How in one year many things that had been steady in my life before my move had changed, but that those things weren’t the ones that mattered. Because here I was sitting among people that I loved, but hadn’t even known this time last year. And so I was quietly grateful for the difficult times I had thrust upon my life by uprooting everything and moving to an island on the other side of the sea, because those difficulties have borne out the most beautiful and lovely life full of new friendships I never would have had otherwise. And most importantly, they brought me to a very kind man with a lovely soul that I never would have had the pleasure to know if even one little detail had been different.

More wine was downed, football was watched, dishes were cleared up, pumpkin pie was consumed (much to the bewilderment of many of the English in attendance, as pumpkin is meant to be savory), and a generally great Thanksgiving was had by all.

Comparing this to last year’s Thanksgiving of eight lovely people that I had newly met, to eighteen that could all be counted as friends, with a tip of the glass to the universe, I gave thanks.

A Delicious Massive Bird

A Delicious Massive Bird

The English Carving the Turkey

The English Carving the Turkey

Dig In! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Dig In! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Pumpkin Pie! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Pumpkin Pie! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Mr. Perfect

Have I not covered off on the Mr. Perfect story yet? Well, now that I’m all boring and coupled-up, I’ll have to dig into the archives for juicy dating (or lack thereof) stories.

I met Mr. Perfect late last year, not too long after my arrival in Sydney. I was still a bit in recovery over my attempted and failed foray into long-distance relationshipping, but had gotten enough distance to be out the wallowing zone and into the “prove you still got it” zone.

Enter: Mr. Perfect. Attractive, tall (6’3″!), educated (P.H.D!), amazing job ($$$) that allowed travel to lots of travel to cool places, great taste in food, great taste in booze (a scotch man), a working knowledge of wine, down-to-earth, witty, open-minded, friends with people of all ages and backgrounds… absolutely… perfect. My mother would have loved him, he probably would have been able to give my dad a run for his money on the golf course, he probably could have had an intelligent conversation with my brother about whatever the hell he does in finance while simultaneously delighting my sisters with his stories about abseiling in Jordan.

And I felt… nothing.

No pulse of romantic interest, no heart-flutters, no physical desire whatsoever. We had met through mutual friends and managed to have a few drinks together (in a non-romantic context) with some of our friends. And the more I got to know him, the more perfectly perfect he became, and the more I realized that perfect on paper rarely translates to perfection in reality. There was just no spark. No click. He was a lovely guy to spend some time with, and had a lot of amazing stories. And it’s fun to speak to someone very intelligent who works in a fascinating field that has nothing to do with your own.  But that’s about as far as it got. When he asked if I wanted to go back to his for a drink at the end of a night of boozing, I politely declined.

I know a lot of people who aren’t believers in “everything happens for a reason,” but I am one. And it’s probably not a mistake that the winds of fate didn’t create the right conditions for a spark to be struck and a flame kindled with this Mr. Perfect. And I know that no one is perfect and there’s probably a reason this smart, well-traveled, attractive guy is still single, but even if there wasn’t, I still somehow knew he wasn’t perfect for me. And that reason is most likely because I needed to meet my English Muffin, who IS perfect for me (Awwwwwwwww, sappiness!). So despite my initial frustration at not being able to force myself into an attraction with this guy, it’s all turned out well in the end, I suppose.

…And ladies, he’s still single.

Perfect

The Benefits of Bitchy Resting Face

Surely by now everyone has seen the Bitchy Resting Face YouTube video, correct? This made the rounds of the internet several months ago, exposing an issue many of us didn’t realize we had. I sat back after watching the video in wide-eyed amazement, thinking, “THIS is what people mean when they say I’m ‘intimidating.’ They mean I look like a bitch when I’m not smiling!” It was a fact that has always lingered in my subconscious, but the YouTube video finally brought it into consciousness and gave it name.

Here's an Example

Here’s an Example

While the video focuses on the things that bitchy resting face can screw up in your life, I’ve actually found that bitchy resting face has some positives to accompany the negatives. Here are a few:

1.) Business Meetings: Bitchy Resting Face (BRF) can be key when you’re sitting in a meeting with just about anyone. A friendly face automatically makes the person in the meeting with you think you’re on their side. My face says, “Convince me,” without me ever having to say a word. When you’re in the business of buying things from groups of salespeople, you need a face that says, “Bullshit me and die.”

2.) Walking Through a Crowd: When you need to get somewhere, or are leaving a concert or sporting event, or when your natural walking speed is about 4x that of a normal human being (me), BRF can be a crucial asset. Here’s my tactic: I fix my eyes into the distance to avoid eye contact and focus on the end goal, don’t smile, and walk with purpose. Most people who are coming head-on will naturally just move out of the way, probably because I have a face that looks like a serial killer’s.

3.) Keeping the Boyfriend On His Toes: My darling English Muffin tends to be a bit of a worrier as it is, but sometimes I’ll be lounging reading a book or watching TV and he’ll look over and say, “Everything alright?” To which I usually respond with a look of bewilderment, until I realize that I probably look super bitchy because all of my facial muscles have relaxed. BRF is actually helping me keep tabs on the health of my relationship, because now I know that when he stops asking if I’m alright, something’s wrong.

4.) Avoiding Bums, Criminals, and Religious Zealots: When you live in a major city and commute primarily by foot, there is no way to avoid the bums begging for change, or the people trying to stuff their religious creed down your throat by shouting and shoving a doomsday pamphlet into your face. Unless you have BRF. They take one look at your bitchy face, and decide your bitchy eternal soul can rot in hell. The bums tend to be a bit more indiscriminate, but there were a few occasions where he/she would look at me, then go for the person next to me. Success! I also have an overactive imagination and am always assuming that anytime I walk anywhere by myself after sunset that I need to be hyper vigilant about all the murders and rapists in Sydney (paranoia, I know). So in the evenings I’ll put on my bitchiest of faces without even realizing it. I’ll stroll up to the bar queue and my friends will say, “Are you okay??” with concerned looks on their faces. BRF has struck again.

Now that I’ve identified that I have this gift, I find myself slipping it on like a warm sweater when necessary. Take today, for example: I was already late for work, speed-walking the six blocks between the bus stop and my office, leading the pack of foot-shuffling city walkers. There was a sizable gap between us the group of corporate commuters walking ahead, and as I advanced I saw them: blue-shirt-clad RSPCA volunteers. There were puppy prints on their hats. There were clipboards. There were wide, fake smiles plastered across their faces. My opponents had presented themselves.

I felt the muscles in my cheeks relax. I fixed my eyes on the bus stopped a block ahead. I was easily supposed to be their next victim, and I could see the first of the three of them size me up as I approached. My brows drew together just the tiniest bit. I waited for the advance and overly-loud introduction, and as I passed I heard him go for the girl walking directly behind me, with a much friendlier face. Both of his fellow volunteers did exactly. the same. thing.  Now who wouldn’t want to avoid being accosted by well-meaning but obnoxious tree-huggers without having to say a word? Many may think the bitchy resting face is a bad thing, but this girl’s embracing it.

Men Can Have It Too

Men Can Have It Too

Until next time, xoxoxo!

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