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Day 14: Charlottetown
“A moment to nestle with the heart”.
Today marks exactly halfway in my travels; I have 28 days on the road. And while I am so incredibly excited to be travelling, today’s post is a tender one. Travel is hard. Travel is not just tiring, it is exhausting in a way that you feel in your bones. While you can rest physically, the soul is always thinking, wondering, and on the go, and you are always trying to stay awake and alert to the places and people around you, because you want to take it all in, and because you want to be safe.
In addition to all of this, I have only been sleeping 5-6 hours a night since I have started travelling. I have been very gentle on myself and tried to rest in the middle of each day, but today, I am feeling the sort of in-the-bones tired that warrants a day of just “nestling with the heart”.
To be able to find that quiet still place inside you, despite the tiredness, despite the noise, despite the excitement, despite the joy; this has been my greatest challenge while I’ve been travelling. I want to enjoy and be present for every moment, but I don’t want to come home exhausted. I wanted to come home expanded, changed, and affected. To do this, you have to have access to that wonderful still place inside of you. Especially when your heart and mind are racing over what you should be doing in your free half an hour, and all the while your heart is yelling, “YOU NEED TO EFFING BE HERE TO ENJOY EVERY MOMENT OF THIS!”
I have also been keeping alert to all my Year 12s, returning emails and answering questions; and I KNOW that a holiday is not supposed to be about this, but it actually soothes me a little to commit to half an hour a day, just to make sense and order out of things. It’s what gives me peace and joy, so I do it. But actually getting into the zone for that half an hour has been the most challenging and gruelling request I have made of myself, and resulted in my feeling worn-out, down, anxious, unsettled, resentful, and a whole mixture of other things I do no normally feel at home when I tackle work. Solving problems whilst on the road is so much harder than when you don’t have “your people” around you. Problems and doubt are magnified, and solutions are harder to reach.
And in the haze of being semi-exhausted, I find that concentrating for any period of time can put me close to tears of stress. It’s such an unusual feeling for me.
I have had to practise working and being gentle upon myself in these last 2 weeks. I have taken one step at a time; reading a brief or an email, jotting down notes in my journal over coffee for a lesson plan, writing down dots points as to which 3 drafts I will edit and whose work I will put notes on in Sibelius, and even where I will go for lunch, to help look after myself. This sort of work + holiday combination takes the utmost of care and determination, but I know that after being on the road for a month, I will figure it out. This is just the very exhausting and emotionally demanding part of it, and I have to be gentle on myself and have faith. I have to also find new ways to energise myself, like taking a walk, or figuring out which places I’d like to explore while I am trying to get this balance right, and what I will eat whilst trying to enjoy all the local specialties.
I was in tears of joy and relief last night when I sent off my first draft-return to one of my students. It seemed in surmountable, but I just took one step at a time. And I guess the human spirit is far stronger than you realise; even when there is doubt and exhaustion, if you keep walking, one foot in front of the other, and gently, quietly, and simply get very clear over what you need to do, you can do it. Even if it drives you to tears.
So here I stand, very tired + tender, walking one step in front of the other. So utterly exhausted today, but so mindful of how very lucky I am to be here, travelling, being a teacher, and figuring out this working balance.
Let me be determined. Let me be gentle, but quietly determined.
Day 13: Charlottetown to Cavendish, Prince Edward Island
IT’S ANNE OF GREEN GABLES TIME!
Steps taken: 22,489, mostly around the glorious Prince Edward Island National Park, which is on the doorstep of Green Gables. Did you hear that?! On the doorstep of Green Gables.
One memorable meal or food item: I finally got my Cows ice cream, an absolute Canadian staple, and somewhat of a feature in Prince Edward Island. The names are all cute, corny, and cow-related; gems such as “Cookie MOOnster”, “Wowie Cowie”, “Cowconut”, and “Caramel MOOcacchino”. I chose the very aptly named “Cownadian Maple”, which was a maple syrup, maple butter swirl, and maple cookie concoction that was as overly sweet as it was UTTERLY AWESOME. Even the chocolate-dipped cone was fat and rich with over-done chocolate, slightly too thick to bite through daintily, and completely, wonderfully, honest in its welcome. You cannot get ice cream like this in a big city. This is real country love.
One special photograph: Green Gables, in all it’s glory, the place where a feisty little red-headed girl taught so many other girls to love wholeheartedly, imagine possibilities with wild abandon, unrelenting resilience in times of struggle, and to be bold and stand your own ground, and to never apologise for your background because YOU own the story from here onwards. Anne Shirley, you were an inspiration who crept into our hearts before we even knew how to analyse just how extraordinary, and totally “Brené-Brown-perfectly-imperfect” but damn exceptional that you are.
One decent coffee: Receiver Coffee is totally getting my vote! Australian standard coffee in small-town Charlotte. Five stars.
One amazing moment: Seeing Anne’s room. To read the books and to be inspired is one thing, to stand in the hallway and look into a room that has captured the imagination of so many through the words of Lucy M. Montgomery was so very special. And the fact that she is not even a real girl, but made so UTTERLY REAL in the hearts of people all around the world; that makes it even more special.
One unplanned detour/adventure: A chance meeting with Jay + Sujing from Korea who are planning to move to Australia following their teaching degrees. A day of connection + wonderful conversation followed. I am sad, surprised and joyful at how I don’t connect so easily and freely when I am safe at home, and to see how easily and joyfully new connections can be made when travelling. Let me open my heart up, that I may remember this way of connecting, with child-like joy and wonder, when I am at my most busy at home.
20 minutes reading: Anne of Green Gables, on the bus to Cavendish.
30 minutes composing: I’ve finally rolled up my sleeves and hit a commission that I’m editing! What I’m most happy about is not what’s on the page just yet, but the feeling of working, reworking, and getting deeply into a piece, with steadiness and methodical focus. I always have that flip of the stomach where I wonder if I can immerse myself so deeply, or if my mind is too flighty during a trip. Can I do this? What if nothing works? And then I start. And that wonderful reliability and weight falls on my shoulders, and I find I am at peace because I have finally started the process.
This filled my heart with joy. Look at this painted on the street as a crossing!
Charlottetown, how it fills my heart to see you being so open-hearted, loving + progressive!
Day 12: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
I’m in Charlottetown, and it feels like my heart and spirit have found a place where they can rest a little. There is a warmth + friendliness to Charlottetown that is completely Adelaidian, and I have hit a point in my travels where I have long-needed a rest day. Today’s early afternoon storm allowed me the chance to curl up, soothe the heart, and just “introvert” for a while.
Steps taken: 18,476, in delightful aimless wanderings around Charlottetown this morning.
One memorable meal or food item: Chocolate-covered potato chips. Salty, sweet, and so wrong, but utterly delicious.
One special photograph: The wonderful oasis of calm this afternoon when the storm rolled in, an intense cool and hush fell over Charlottetown for a few hours, and there was nothing but the melodically soothing sound of rain, fragrant hot cups of tea, reading, journalling, and Netflix. Everything my weary travelling heart needed.
One decent coffee: A surprisingly excellent coffee at Receiver Coffee + Co, which I had this morning perched up on the breakfast loft.
One amazing moment: This was yesterday when I flew in, but HONESTLY, what are the chances?! A shared meal with old friends who are here for the Charlottetown Music Festival, and whom I met at the World Choral Symposium in 2008 almost exactly 10 years ago. The world is an extraordinary place!
One unplanned detour/adventure: As above!
20 minutes reading: Oh, I have been reading heaps this afternoon! I polished off the final pages of “By the Book”, a modern-day retelling of “Persuasion” which was light and fluffy enough to be energising, started the indomitable Anne Patchett’s “Commonwealth”, and in between all that, began re-reading “Anne of Green Gables” from my beautiful vintage copy I bought today at the local bookstore in readiness for tomorrow’s trip to Cavendish to visit Green Gables.
30 minutes composing: I’m about to dive feet first into some Year 12 Composing + Arranging editing, which will be the last thing I do today.
La Finca Book + Coffee Cafe, an introvert’s dream!
My accidental and wonderful find of Montreal.
Day 11: Montreal to Charlottetown
There are no traffic lights in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. You just cross the road and the cars figure it out, as well as figuring themselves out.
MIND. BLOWN. 😳
The convenience store looks like the one in Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. One brand of everything, like it or suck it up! 🤣
I just walked along the waterfront against a glorious sunset, watching the sun make shadows out of the ships in the harbour.
On my way back to the cottage I am staying, an elderly man sitting in a rocking chair on his porch dipped his invisible hat at me, all the while softly singing Gershwin’s “Summertime”. 😎
Oh my goodness, I think I’m going to love it here.
Day 10: Montreal
And I continue to digress from my little journalling formula, but I was inspired to write this post today.
The Gratitude In Travel
We are so lucky in life, the travellers. To be able to travel purely to reconnect, discover, or learn is such a privilege, the thought of which has overwhelmed me in unexpected moments over the last few days. We get on a plane, somehow we fly thousands of miles and we appear on the other side of the world because we have the means, the technology, and the inclination. Me, as a first generation Chinese-Vietnamese Australian living in “country Adelaide”; I have access to the whole world. I am allowed to see all of this. And I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I feel like a tiny star in a constellation, moving around in this extraordinary expanse of universe.
What is it about us humans that makes us long to discover? Where does this need to find out, to follow, to figure out, and to be free come from? It’s so much easier to be safe and small. But left to our own devices, we rarely choose it. We keep wanting more. And once we find out “more”, we keep longing for a “new type of more”.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my health, because to travel you need to be healthy. To be able to be tired and sore at the end of the day, smelly and sweaty with blisters and aching body is a sign that you have embraced all that a city or place has to offer. That your body and health have afforded you the strength and mobility to see all that you wanted is a blessing. That you had a chance to choose where you went during a day, and how much time you wanted to spend there. And for no other reason other than to experience it. No escape, no pain, no hunger, no war. This gives me pangs of both overwhelming gratitude and compassion for those who do not have what I am allowed to have.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my work, which gives me a daily mirror and moral compass to be the best person that I am able. When you’re a teacher of teenagers, you have a mirror held up to you EVERY DAY. Good or bad, it’s all right in your face. You will KNOW if you’re working with integrity, because teenagers live for the smell of it, even if they don’t know how to “do integrity” fluently themselves yet. Teenagers don’t take shit, and they have crap detectors that are the world’s most finely tuned, non-electronic sensory devices. And then, to be able to take this moral compass out into the world and test it out for real, with people of other nationalities, countries, ideas, cultures + experience and figure out a different city? Truly amazing, soul-changing, shaking, affirming, and life-giving. The learning and shaping of yourself and your values doesn’t get better than that. How rich you become when you have the means to travel.
My work also allows me the monetary means to travel. I have enough money to pay for food, the flights, insurance, postcards, shopping, souvenirs, presents, experiences, entry fees, and emergencies. I have access to a world outside my own, that my own life may be stretched and enriched by what I experience. In other words, I have money to spare beyond the essentials that I can travel for the sake of travelling.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the love of my friends and family, who hold me like a strong secure net in my adventures. Without their trust, love and support, I would not be able to venture out so joyfully and freely. Without my Dad’s encouragement as a teenager, and quite against the usual Asian-stereotypes + thinking, I would not have begun to test my wings. Now, my wings and sense of adventure are strong and supple. And I cry tears of gratitude for the worry that both my parents must have endured in my earlier years of travel, when I made some stupid-arse choices for lack of experience and money, and that they still let me take flight.
I cry for joy at my freedom.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the chance to learn. Travel, as they say, changes you. And it does. How it changes you depends on what inside you needs changing, and what is vulnerable and malleable to the world at that point in time.
So, here, many thousands of kilometres away from home I say…
T H A N K Y O U.
OH MY FREAKIN’ GOD. These last 24 hours!
My little silver cabin bag had a FABULOUS day yesterday. 🤗
I, however, did not. 😑
My intrepid, nomadic little suitcase did the flight from Toronto to Montreal with me via gate-check, then accidentally did the trip BACK to Toronto, and was SUPPOSED to then wrap up with a final leg to Montreal to meet me, 8-and-a-half hours later.
But she didn’t. She damn well made it to HALIFAX! 😆
Meanwhile, I became familiar with every nook + cranny of Montreal Airport, against my will. 😩 AND STILL BLOODY LEFT WITHOUT MY BAG! The whole POINT of gate-check + going carry-on only was to AVOID THIS! 😖
So now, 24 hours later, the reunion DOES feel like the prodigal suitcase has returned, and I am even after ALL the stress, overwhelmingly, ridiculously relieved + happy.
She takes after me with her damn sense of adventure.
Welcome to Montreal. We have arrived. And now, finally, I have the heart to go exploring. 😎
Thank you so much to Shaun + Amy at the airport, Emily, my sister-in-law, for her kindness, moral support and relaying info, and Robbie my brother for serendipitously flying in for work but hanging around an exhausting 2 hours with me after landing while I tried to figure all this out.
You know those shirts I brought over for you?
Call it even + then some, kid bro. You have been more than an absolute + total champ.
Day 8: Toronto to Montreal
The 11 Golden Truths of Travelling
I’ve decided go off the beaten track + do a slightly different post. After exactly a week of travelling + living out of carry-on only, I have learned the following Golden Truths of Travelling, and hereby believe the following to be true and absolute:
1. You will NOT care what you look like.
You might think you will. You might even think, “Surely, I’ll take just one nice dressy outfit + going-out shoes so that I can look nice on a night out.” Nup. You SO won’t care. And thankfully, after many years of packing the “one nice dressy outfit and going-out shoes”, I flat out refused to succumb to my natural instincts and just packed all clothes I could part with. Uncharacteristically monochrome, with a bent towards black + grey, because black hides all sins and every other colour becomes grey anyways when you hand wash. And those “going-out shoes”? You will deplore their very existence and hate yourself for even thinking you needed just one little pair of leather booties to go with your “nice dressy outfit”. When you are travelling, red Converse sneakers go with EVERYTHING. Period. And the flatter and more street-worthy the shoes, the better.
2. The “sniff-clean” test.
At home, you wear an outfit and it goes in the wash. While travelling, you wear an outfit and hang it out overnight and let the sweat + dirt evaporate. After a good night’s sleep, you forget how much you actually sweated into the outfit from the day before and you perform the “sniff-test”; checking all the relevant “hot-spots” for sweat + smelliness. If it passes that, your outfit is still good to go.
3. A meal’s worth is measured by the amount of accompanying greenery.
As you can’t cook for yourself, the value of a meal is measured by how plentiful the accompanying veggies or salads are.
4. Exorbitant amounts of sugar.
As many local and national dishes are desserts and you can’t be rude and not try them, you end up signing up for the roller-coaster of sugar highs and lows. Because you HAVE to try everything. S’mores? Love ‘em! Nanaimo bars? Bring it on!
5. The greatest sock + undies cleaning hack ever.
6. Your pre-vacation haircut is going to be utterly wasted.
EVERYONE gets a haircut + colour before they go on holidays. You want to look great while you’re away, right?! SO NOT WORTH IT. Except for actually changing the length of your hair to be more manageable, any styling additions are utterly wasted. I have been rocking one of 2 looks all holidays; the “I-have-just-been-through-the-fabric-softener-cycle” look, and the “Astro-Boy” random peaks look.
7. Chips, wedges, and fries ALWAYS taste GREAT.
Doesn’t matter which city or country you are in. Chips, wedges, and fries taste exponentially better when you are travelling. And you are ALWAYS ravenous for them.
8. A word on Google Maps + Maps2Go.
HOW THE HELL DID WE EVER SURVIVE WITHOUT THEM?
9. Sense of direction.
As a follow-on from the above point; whatever direction you think due north is, turn around and go the other way.
10. Public transport that works.
When you get on any form of public transport for the first time and you crack the whole ticket + platform situation and get on said transport, if it works and it is on time, you feel like KING OR QUEEN OF THE WORLD.
When people recognise you as Australian, you are inexplicably proud of your nationality in a way that you are not when in Australia. And when you are low-key included as one of the fold and deemed likeable, passable, safe, cool, and having some degree of street-cred, you realise how wonderful it is to be an Aussie abroad.
Day 7: Toronto
My last day full in Toronto, and it’s a family day! I am catching up with my other sister-in-law, the energetic + gregarious Steph and finally meeting her partner Sam. Who is like an instant sunshade for me when I finally meet him!
Steps taken: 15,982, which is surprising since I feeling like I spent more time outdoors today than yesterday.
One memorable meal or food item: The Nanaimo bar, a Canadian speciality. The bottom layer is a biscuit + coconut crumb base, the second is custard-flavoured butter icing, and the top layer is chocolate ganache.
One special photograph: The group photo of my extended family, all miraculously in one place. It felt like we were the Weasley family from Harry Potter, all safely marked as “AT HOME”.
One decent coffee: The delicious and refreshing cold-brew at Boxcar Social along the glorious Toronto waterfront.
Off the beaten track: Today began with a struggle. I had to get my head back into school-mode and draw on my courage and integrity to deal with some decision-making I didn’t agree with. While I’m diligent, it’s so hard to make these decisions where you are away on holiday and wanting to be present here, and you find yourself drawn back into work-mode against your will, despite having put a firm boundary down before leaving. I feel like I am being pulled into a decision I absolutely don’t agree with, and I am missing family, friends, and colleagues back home to talk it through. Luckily, I had my brother and sister-in-law, Robs + Em, to help get me back into equilibrium. I had to work through the issue, step-by-step, all the while anxious and frustrated I wasn’t there in person to be able to give voice to my opinions. I HAVE to trust that my judgment is right and that my decisions, always based in integrity, will have merit.
An unsettling start to the day, which made me so very grateful for the joy of being able to spend it with family, new and old.
And thank you also, wider universe and everyone who loves me, that I work from a place of love, courage, and integrity. It’s such a hard path to walk sometimes, but it’s the only way I know how to be. And this is the case because I have learnt this example from all the people who have played a part in shaping me.
Please let me be at peace with all that I have done, and let me know that my true worth will shine through. Let me trust in this and continue to take joy and delight in my travels.
Because I absolutely must!