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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 2: Vancouver
Glorious, sunny Vancouver!
The lengths of the summer days here in Vancouver are ridiculous + amazing. It was still light at 9:45pm, and my very awake brain was having a toddler meltdown trying to unwind to go to sleep. And at 5:30am in the morning there was the Adelaide equivalent of 8:30am, fully-fledged, BRIGHT yellow sunlight flooding my room, about an hour after I finally DID fall asleep. Jet lag: 1; Kwokkie: 0.
Steps taken: 25,683; Vancouver National Art Gallery, Stanley Park, and Robson Street.
One memorable meal or food item: The French toast of gargantuan proportions presented to me this morning; three thick slices covered in maple syrup, caramelised bananas, hazelnuts, and vanilla ice cream. WITH A SIDE OF CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER SAUCE! Thank God I did 25,683 steps to burn off the sugar haze! Jet lag plus inordinate amounts of sugar let me see pretty colours temporarily for free…!
One special photograph: The light flooding into my room at 5:30am. This picture doesn’t do it justice; I was seriously lying in a pool of gold + yellow. And damn grumpy about it too!
One decent coffee: 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, where the coffee was fabulous, but strong enough to make your eyebrows fall out. I ordered a flat white and it came out in a latte glass with what tasted (and felt) like 3 shots rather than one!
One amazing moment: This was a cracker. I’m trekking along Robson Street and from the other side of the road I hear, “KWOK! 6A! KWOK! 6A!” And I’m thinking, “WHAT the ACTUAL EFF?!”, and, “Do I run from these crazy people who somehow know my name?!” And two people come running across the road to me and the lady says excitedly, “Air New Zealand, Flight 24! We looked after you on that flight. We’re the Auckland to Vancouver crew!” Oh my goodness, what a moment! “WHY on EARTH do you still remember that?!” I asked in sheer amazement. “You’re supposed to forget all of that incidental information once you get off that plane!” The lady was Julie, and the guy was like a German version of Dick Van Dyke called…HANS! I had loved chatting with these guys on the flight, and they had been totally awesome, so lovely, attentive, and patient with not just me, but everyone they were looking after. So we stopped for a coffee and talked about travel plans, air-hosting disasters, teaching disasters, the equally freaky memory capabilities of both air stewards/stewardesses and teachers, and as a final topic, Canadian money. Which is when I found out that Canadian money smells like maple syrup, and I’ve been snorting air through my rolled up fiver ever since.
One unplanned detour/adventure: On a total whim, I lined up at a place called “Twisted Fork” for breakfast purely because there WAS a line-up. And experienced sugary, maple-syrupy, banana + chocolate peanut butter French toast heaven. And sugar high + low extremes. They had the coolest menus featuring, yes, twisted forks!
One act of kindness: I did the Vancouver National Art Gallery today and when you buy a ticket, it is unlimited entries + use until 9:00pm that day. I was done + dusted by 11:30pm, so I waited to find someone to bequeath my very usable ticket to. Along came a whole heap of uni student art majors; one had forgotten her student card, DONE!
20 minutes reading: The continuation of Strength in Stillness, with a very hipster blue spirulina, lemon, and ginger kombucha, which you could buy on tap like beer.
30 minutes composing: Fixing the God-awful efforts of yesterday. I have salvaged 8 bars to “decent” and hashed out 20 more. In terms of composing styles, I am very much in the “Beethoven” style of composing camp; hack away at it until it damn well gives up and submits to what you would like it to do.
The Kwokkie Diaries: A Tiny Chinese-Aussie Abroad
Day 1 + 1.5: Adelaide to Melbourne to Auckland to Vancouver.
Flying Backwards In Time
I love these days. The Virgo sensibilities in me find it indescribably satisfying to effectively time travel and gain back time. See, look?! I made it to Canada and did it in 6 hours! I am invincible! Well, not so much, as I found out in Auckland Airport, somewhere in the TSA screening line…!
Steps taken: 15,347, quite extraordinary seeing as my bare minimum per day was 15,000 on non-flying days, and I flew. For many, many hours; 18 hours + 26 minutes, to be exact, spread across 3 flights.
One memorable meal or food item: The CHAMPAGNE I received when I was UPGRADED to BUSINESS CLASS, AWW YEAAAAAHHHH! This peasant guuuuurl’s goin’ places! Does lightening strike twice?! Apparently so, as in 2014, wearing my very non-business class “I Love Vegemite” t-shirt, I was upgraded on a flight from Tokyo to London. I must have looked like a complete country broad and overly excited as the air-hostess came out specifically to show me how to use the seat controls, and brought me out a Cathay Pacific teddy. Today’s upgrade was to Business Premiere in Air New Zealand, and AH-MAY-ZING! To actually be able to sleep horizontally as opposed to some wierd-arse yoga position is the difference between arriving at your destination in a pissed-off, jet-lagged haze, or some semblance of a normal functioning human being. But I still smell, and I’m rocking the Astro Boy hair. Nothing’s changed there after 18+ hours of flying!
One special photograph: I have two for today; the sunrise as I was flying out of Melbs, and the moon coming into Auckland.
One decent coffee: The exemplary flat white that I had in the Melbourne International Air New Zealand Business Class Lounge. Yes, there is a theme here. Yes, I’m an over-excited peasant girl.
One amazing moment: I have Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” as my ringtone. Very, very few people, if any, will have this as their ringtone. Over-enthusiastic and nerdy music teachers like me, and Stevie Wonder junkies, maybe. And never shall the two come in contact. Until today! The lady sitting next to me in the Air New Zealand lounge had it as her ringtone. Her phone rang and I instantly thought, “My God, my phone is loud!” and immediately startling rummaging around for it. And she took hers out, hurriedly apologised for the volume, and raced off to take the call. Upon return, I find out that she is a Year 7-12 classroom music teacher from Auckland who also thought that no-one else in the world would have that ringtone.
One unplanned detour/venture: When Nick Brice had to message me from Pulteney to ask me for my Year 12 Music marks that I’d done weeks ago, but didn’t go into Synergetic. And I got this message in right in the middle of the epic TSA line check in Auckland, when I was trying to do the whole “liquids-laptop-rubber-glove-pat-down” shit and had a minor hernia going through that screening checkpoint, while already hating life because I was GOING through that checkpoint. Fast forward an hour and I read those marks out to Nick from the floor of the transit lounge with my laptop propped up on my backpack. I yelled out marks while concerned passengers made a wide berth from me, all the while listening for the announcement for this one connection that I couldn’t miss. Yes, this was certainly a new and unplanned experience for me, and one I would like not to repeat.
One act of kindness: A pair of absolutely gorgeous 4-year-old twins were looking at my stripy beany + scarf and decided to say hello. I went trekking around the plane with these two beautiful girlies so that Mum + Dad could have a little bit of dinner. And honestly, I wouldn’t sign up to do this with any kid. These were seriously lovely girls from a lovely family who were a healthy balance of curious, confident, playful, and polite. The only thing that hit me to the very core was when Little Miss Twin No. 1 proclaimed, “Excuse me, but you have a funny accent!” To which Little Miss Twin No. 2 replied, “Shhhhhhhh! That’s impolite! I think it’s lovely. And anyway, she can’t help it.”
Oh man. I’m dying.
20 minutes reading: Strength in Stillness [Bob Roth], a book on the art of transcendental mediation + focus. Very interesting!
30 minutes composing: Complete fail. Stared at the screen, squeezed out 16 crappy bars, put Sibelius away. I’ll survey the damage later.
“Let it flow! Let if flow! Can’t hold it back anymore!”
So this TOTALLY hit me in the feels today; my Year 12 Music kiddies got me a bunch of flowers + made me a Mothers Day card! 😂
And as they were leaving after Year 12 Musicianship they all yelled out, one by one, “Happy Mothers Day, Mama Kwokkie!”
Cleaning out my phone + from the vault: Class of 2017 get their revenge. 😂
The Wrapper-er gets wrapped. 😄
“JUST REMEMBER WHO’S MARKING YOUR SOLO PERFORMANCES!”, I kept yelling sporadically.
These guys are F A B U L O U S!
But what I love best?! The pure, goofy, joy of singing. They’re great, they’re rehearsed, but they’re also just guys who are having fun singing.
How GORGEOUS are these?!
I had a thought today. I am someone who really likes to get things completely finished before I relax. I’m a list-maker and ticker offer-er. I make lists from lists, with priority highlights and checkboxes. Even on the days that I am tired, they are Sharpied off with amazing industrialism.
I could argue until I’m blue in the face that I know what balance is. Even to me, it all looks pretty good from the surface, my life. My values are grounded, my life is good, I love my work, connected inner-circle, healthy + rested.
But somehow, this peaceful existence and safe methodicalness started to pull tighter around me. I would wonder and worry if I hadn’t done what I deemed “enough” preparation over the weekend, if I had earned my down time. I lost the edge and the ability to see effort and situations for exactly what they were.
And I realised this:
Every time I wait until “everything is done” and checked off my list, I am saying NO to ME.
That’s terrifying, I think to myself. Surely it’s not that bad. I’m over-dramatising.
But actually, look deeper. If I wait until everything is tidied, everything is completed, everything is clean and straightened, packed away, Glad-wrapped, boxed-up, including my joy, then I will undoubtedly miss The Moments. The moments of joy and laughter and silliness and grace that makes life so livably sweet and real. Why? Because I won’t be looking for them. I’ll be on my mission, with my Sharpie + list. And even if I have 3 hours at the end of the day because I’ve been so damn efficient, what then? A cookie-cutter conversation, cup of tea, and Tim-Tam? That’s nice, but it shouldn’t be all there is.
I will always be a stickler for routine and organisation. Not just because I’m a teacher, but because I think there is a certain humility and grace to working methodically. I like the steady hum, the strong foundations from which to build energy, life, and fun. My lessons are playful, creative, and far-reachingly imaginative. I crave balance in the foundation and routine in order to make it all work, just as I need oases [plural of “oasis”, did you know that?!] of introverting time to off-set the incredible energy required in my teaching job. And especially so in performing arts + secondary music.
But I’d like to keep that sense of freedom and possibility open, like a gap in the curtains for the dazzling light to sneak through. I’d like to sneak in MORE unexpected moments into the routine that fill me up in the soul. Oh no, let’s be very clear that I do NOT mean the extra concert or rehearsal. I mean the unexpected round of drinks after school. The pizza on the carpet in the middle of report-writing week with friends, laughter, and cider. The 30-minute facial when I should have been marking. Not when everything is done, not when I’m super-relaxed and free on holidays, but because it might be a cool thing to do.
And because it’s a resounding YES to me.
A joyful afternoon of wanderings in the Central Markets and along King William Road where I enjoyed the freedom and sun.
THIS joy is one you only get from the peace at the end of the holidays, being filled up and nourished by all the people you love so dearly in your inner-circle…and FINISHING Year 12 Moderation preparations!