A Pair Engaged

This is a short interruption from the intended JapAdventures saga to mention that I am now officially engaged to Bethwyn. I’d long since dreamed of proposing in Japan, kneeling on the balcony while sipping hot tea, watching the snow fall with blankets around our shoulders, composing haiku that marvelled at the magnificence of the world while elegantly framing deeply symbolic statements in seventeen syllables. As if.

My plan was to wait until we were in Kyoto and visit the love stones at Kiyomizu Dera. Legend has it that those individuals who can find their way from one stone to the other (six metres away) will find true love. I had schemed to get Bethwyn to put on a blindfold and try it, but there were many, many variables with this plan that may not have gone smoothly. Beth might not have been feeling well enough to go to the temple, she might not have dared to be blindfolded in public, and she might not have responded well to being the centre of attention amidst a crowd of strangers. All of these were very possible mood-killers.

Instead, I proposed to her this Valentine’s morning. Craig had left to go people watching/photographing so we had the house to ourselves. It was snowing outside, and we held each other lovingly. I suddenly realised that Bethwyn would probably prefer to not be in public during the proposal, so I rifled through Craig’s bags looking for “that thing he borrowed from me” (which Bethwyn thought was a naughty magazine), got down on one knee, and asked her to marry me. I could have thought of more romantic words to use, but none of them came to me and I didn’t want to risk stumbling over my tongue. She said yes, we kissed, she trembled, we laughed, I made hoto kaeki (hot cakes). All in all, a very good morning.

Alas, the engagement ring I ordered arrived a week too late, so I used the wedding ring instead. They’re made from walnut and oak wood, with a band of lapis lazuli. We’re both wearing them now, but I think I’ll probably take it off when I get back to Australia so that I can have the pleasure of wearing it once we’re married. But for now, it will be my special Japan ring.

Regular edition of “JapAdventures” coming up soon.

Love,

Xin

2014-02-14 09.29.42

25 facts about me

25 Facts about me. Why am I doing this? Well, what can I say. I’m a sucker for filling in surveys and quizzes and questionnaires like this.

1. I have a circulatory disorder known as Reynaud’s Disease, and it basically means I get painfully cold hands and feet. So much so that I can’t really touch Beth’s skin in winter until I’ve warmed up first.

2. I have formally studied the following martial arts: 2 years ITF taekwondo, 2 years shotokan(?) karate, two years WTF taekwondo, 1.5 years shinto-ryu karate, four months Yang tai chi, two years Chen Pan Ling tai chi, two years wu-wei dao (primarily goju ryu karate), and three years mugai ryu iaido. I also have some small experience in jodo, kobudo, baguazhang, and hsing-i. I’ve tried my hand at a few different martial arts, and from all my experience I’ll say this: it’s not the style, it’s the teacher that matters. Find a good teacher and you’ll be awesome at whatever you do.

3. I am attempting to grow a ponytail. So far it’s just the hair on the back of my head, but I reckon I’m about five months away from being able to pull all of my hair back and tie it in place.

4. Bethwyn and I have been going out for five and a half years now. Woo!

5. I can semi-fluently speak the fictional language “Dino” from Starfox Adventures on the Nintendo Gamecube. All I’ve ever used it for is writing covert notes to myself.

6. I’m a mostly-vegan. I do slip sometimes, but generally speaking I don’t really need animal products to be happy. And when I do, I eat them.

7. My favourite animal is the wolf, and yet I know sadly little about them. The romance of being a pack hunter appeals to me.

8. Despite my obsession with the martial arts, I am repelled by violence and unkindness.

9. When I was ten, my best friend was an invisible girl named Velvet. (She was named after Joanna’s generic twin sister from Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64.)

10. I’m a bit of a Nintendo fanboy. So far I’ve owned the NES, SNES, N64, Gamecube, Wii, Gameboy, Gameboy Colour, DS, DSlite and 3DS. I feel bad about not yet buying the WiiU, but there’s just not enough out there that appeals to me right now. And from experience with the 3DS, if I just wait a year they’ll bring out a cheaper model which is superior in every way to the model that people lined up for on launch date.

11. “Wizard” is the word I use to compliment someone who is skilled in something. For instance, I refer to a colleague as a fish wizard, and to myself as a “monitor stabilisation wizard”.

12. My favourite game series of all time is the Legend of Zelda. Ocarina of Time stands out as my favourite, and then second place is held by Windwaker, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. Yet despite my love for the series, I still haven’t played about half the Zelda games (though I’ve bought them and can start them at any time.)

13. I try quite hard not to buy new stuff. Clearly I’m failing because I took home a fish yesterday, but I’ve come to the realisation that most of the stuff we hoard won’t make us any happier on unhappier. Humans need very little to live, and to live happily, and I regularly donate large portions of stuff to op shops.

14. I’m totally for diversity in sexuality, and the respectful expression of this. If you like the idea of having more than one sexual partner, or if you secretly fantasise about having a penis, or you like the idea of being with transgendered people, good for you.

15. One of my proudest moments was when I punched a fly off my friend’s chest. I hit him soft enough to save the fly’s life (and not squish it on his shirt), but hard enough to stun it so that it fell unconscious to the floor.

16. I love my own writing. I love my use of language and my narrative voice. I often re-read stories, blogs and essays I’ve written just for the pleasure of seeing a well-constructed sentence or a clever progression of ideas. Obviously, not all of my entries are particularly eloquent.

17. I’ve almost completely eradicated the word “should” from my vocabulary, and it secretly bothers me when people use it.

18. I don’t have a computer. I’m borrowing my brother’s, and sometimes I use Beth’s. I dislike the idea of being chained to it, but unfortunately this means I get quite out of the loop for what’s happening online/in the world. I generally avoid reading emails until I’m in the right space of mind and have an appropriate amount of hours to tackle all the microactions that have built up.

19. I have OCPD – Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. But honestly, if you judge me by that, you don’t know me very well. To me, mental illness labels are often tools to help you understand yourself, not diagnoses of disease which need treating. (At least, not always. I concede in many cases that medical treatment is very important.)

20. I’m going to Japan at the start of next year! I’d really love to learn more Japanese and practice it more often! But how..?

21. At one stage I was training five or six days for like fourteen hours a week. Now it’s a little more settled at around two or three days a week for about 3-5 hours.

22. I’ve started creating my own “xing” or “kata” (form, or pattern of martial arts techniques) using the unbreakable umbrella I bought. Even though it’s based on another xing, it’s quite challenging to figure out ways of applying the same principles and techniques using an umbrella instead of a fist (or tiger claw/crane break). So far it’s got some pretty cool balance poses, hooks and traps, flicks, strikes, thrusts and deflections. Not quite finished with the first draft though.

23. The greatest meal I ever had was on a Buddhist one-day meditation retreat. After hours of peaceful meditation, my mind slowed down so much that the intensity of flavour and texture in the meal was unrivaled. I strive to achieve such a level of mindfulness again.

24. Alas, despite my loving heart, I have great trouble giving blood. I get dizzy very easily and don’t like to think about needles. How far I’ve come from the young man who would dare the doctor to inflict pain upon him so that he might test the strength of his spirit.

25. Twenty five was way too long. Here, have a link to Beth’s blog instead. Beth, consider yourself tagged.

Stories from Singapore and Passages from Penang

Whoo! It’s been a little while since I’ve blogged and my memory is a little hazy around all the things that have happened. I’ll try and be brief, but concision is not my forté so I apologise in advance!

After my last entry, we had another late start, and decided to breakfast at an organic vegetarian cafe I had found on a blog, partially because it was nearby, but mainly because it sounded like it served Western breakfasts (an important grounding ritual for Beth in such a foreign culture). We found our way there and had our minds exploded by the quality of the food, so healthy, so pure, made with love and effort… It was quite a foodgasmic experience.

Elated by our success, we headed to Gardens By the Bay, a widescoping outdoor gardens with two gigantic indoor domes. The outdoor gardens contained flora from various countries in Asia (as far as I could tell, that was what grew most successfully in the humid heat), and amazing as they were, we were visiting at the hottest time of day and had other priorities. We headed swiftly for the air-conditioned Cloud Forest dome, containing within it what appeared to be an entire rainforest, set upon an artificial mountain, with a spectacularly cascading waterfall several dozen metres high. Beth looked incredibly radiant with the mist in her hair and her flowing top and loose shorts, and she very bravely stepped out onto the tree-top walk to survey the ecosystem from the railing above. We stopped for a sneaky agli olio and chocolate cake dessert, with an accompanying sparkling elderflower juice, before hitting up the Flower dome. We spent a few minutes admiring the furry succulents and pebble-like stone plants, before hastily returning to the hotel for some immediate R&R.

Ivy had invited us for drinks at Clarke/Robertson Quay (respectively the clubbing and cafe districts by the waterside), but Beth wasn’t feeling too up to a night out. Instead, I journeyed into the surprisingly deep cultural centre of Little India to find a recommended vegetarian eaterie. It felt great wandering the streets independently, going wherever I pleased and almost looking like I fit in. Perhaps a little too much so, for an elderly Chinese man approached me and asked me something in Mandarin. Did I politely respond that I couldn’t help him? Did I apologise and explain I didn’t understand Chinese? Nope. I startled like a deer in the headlights, then hurriedly pushed past him rather than trying to formulate a response. The food, as it so happened, was deliciously spicy, and if given the chance I’d eat there a hundred times over. Beth and I ate it out of the takeaway containers while watching (a very stressful) Poseidon. And speaking of TV, have I mentioned anything about the censorship? We were watching the first Sex and the City movie, and they edited out all of the sex scenes so half of the jokes/transitions didn’t make any sense. They showed Charlotte and her husband about to get it on, but censored out a gay kiss. And in How I Met Your Mother, they just silenced the word “penis” whenever it was used. Ahh Singapore, you crazy conservative cat you.

Ivy joined us for breakfast the next day. We returned to that amazing organic vegetarian place, but unfortunately a number of different websites conflicted about the opening time and we ended up arriving half an hour before it opened. That, coupled with their fifteen minute late start nearly caused me to miss my flight. We ended up catching a taxi instead of taking the train, so it turned out okay in the end! But let’s return to the food: gluten-free pancakes, pineapple fried rice and some kind of eggy-bread magic. Incredible. I know it’s silly, but I’m really hoping to go back to Singapore to eat there again! It was such a wonderful experience. Plus the company was rare and excellent, making it a lovely way to end the trip. Once at the airport I shot straight off to the departure gate, while Beth had the misfortune (or perhaps the pleasure?) of spending a few hours in Changi airport until her flight departed.

Thence I found myself in Penang, Malaysia, and I can cease my writing and revert to the time-honoured tradition of the copy and paste.

***

Anyway, the gist of the message that I wrote out last night was thus: I didn’t realise how instantly and painfully I would miss you as soon as we left. It was like part of me had been torn away, and I miss you so much. I feel so isolated and separate. I hope that your flight wasn’t too uncomfortable and that you enjoy a rejuvenating few days. I’m confronted with an overwhelming sense of panic as I’m not sure what to do with myself over the next few days- my anxiety is definitely getting worse. Lines help, but only a little. I guess I’ll keep at it and try not to get stuck up in my head.

I’m also feeling super vulnerable… I didn’t recognise that’s what the source of my anxiety was, but it makes a lot of sense now. I’m in an unknown place with unknown people, feeling largely alone and lost and helpless. What comfort and entertainment I brought with me (my 3DS and AFFC) is about removing myself from this uncomfortable reality and getting lost in a happier one. I don’t want to keep doing that- I want to be able to be happy here and now, but I just feel so… vulnerable.

I’m missing you so much baby. I’m feeling pretty insecure, and I know a little of how rude it is to just whip out my book when there’s conversation abound. But I’m just so uncomfortable. I hoped it was cultureshock, but I think it’s just me feeling uncomfortable because most of my usual comforts have been stripped away.

***

I finished A Feast For Crows last night. It ended on such a major cliffhanger that I promptly went out and bought A Dance With Dragons, rather than waiting another week until I could borrow it off your Mum. It was a real pleasure to read, which surprised me. [Someone], you’ll be pleased to know, is [spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoilered]. I can’t wait to find out what happens next! Well, I can, seeing as I’m writing this instead… But I’ll resume reading soon!

This morning Wu Shu took us back to his place and we did a “Hard” level Sodoku together. I had given up many times but he, apparently a numerical genius, gave me hints and numbers here and there until we solved it after perhaps an hour. It was more satisfying than I knew it could be. Thereafter we earned a very late lunch (3pm) and went to the bookstore. I bought Sin Ler “Tomorrow When the War Began” because I assume she’ll enjoy it (having learned she devoured The Hunger Games). She has a stack of other books to read (including “Young Samurai”, “Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus”, “Warrior” (kitty cats) and other really cool young adult series) so it might be a while before she gets round to it.

Gotta go now, get ready for Badminton at 5:30. Tomorrow we’re going for a walk to the Botanical Gardens, and maybe to climb/hike up Penang Hill afterwards. I love Penang a great deal more than KL, though they’re both pretty good once I get out of my head. I love you. Talk to you again soon!

***

Heya gorgeous. I’m feeling a lot better since I sent that email. I did spend a lot of time stuck in my head, and I puzzled out a few reasons why I was feeling so uncomfortable. Foremost is because I’m in a foreign culture and I don’t know how to do anything like get food or go out to have a good time – I rely on everyone else to provide sustenance and entertainment for me. I didn’t have this problem in England because I was familiar with the culture and was more or less independent. It’s quite uncomfortable being so dependent and vulnerable in an unknown place. Furthermore, there actually *is* no one to talk to. It’s not just my imagining it, but I really am quite isolated here, even by my mother (who will often be talking about me with the people around us in Hokkien, and won’t explain what she said unless I ask her for a translation). But for lunch, Wu Shu took us out to a fancy restaurant on the top floor of his Aquatic Club. The view was beautiful, the food was great and Sin Ler (the 12yo who came to Australia) speaks excellent English. I had a great time and it allowed me to get out of my increasingly panicked head. Afterwards we had tea and biscuits (Chinese-style!) and I watched Sin Ler play Insaniquarium. It was so good to play a video game and not feel judged for not being present (or for being the loner in the corner on his gameboy). 3DS’, by the way, are 1000 ringgit here. That’s about $320AU. I sincerely doubt I’ll get any StreetPass hits while I’m here! [As it so happened, I got three. Two of them were from the US, and one of them was from Western Australia. No wonder nobody has any consoles when they’re all thousands of ringit to buy.]

More stories to come!

Letters from London (and yarns from Yorkshire), part 3

After dinner, Eugene and I set out for the Ghost Hunt. Not a ghost walk mind you, but a ghost hunt. York is apparently quite famous for its ghosts, because we’ve come across four different companies/groups who will take you around the city to tell you about its haunted places. Naturally I was violently opposed to going on any of these, because as you know, I’m fuckin’ terrified of the supernatural. If I can’t kill it, I don’t like it, and I didn’t want to hear anything about York’s favourite haunts. But Eugene was persistent. He desperately wanted to go, and refused to go alone. Some part of him wanted the thrill of going with company, and I was the only company who would appreciate it like he would. And we argued for hours about why I’m scared of ghosts and why I don’t think my life would be improved by confronting this particular kind of fear right now and he still persisted. In the end, his yearning to go seemed to outweigh the potential psychological consequences I would suffer, so for his happiness, I yielded.

The “hunt” we went on turned out to be a Christmas special, with actors performing Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. It was surprisingly good, with a humbling message and a small amount of interaction with the crowd. I particularly enjoyed strolling down the streets of York, singing the first verse of Old King Solomon with the actors. When it came to the second verse however, everyone almost instantly died out because no one knew it. It was hilarious! It was also a little disconcerting to have the actors’ performances disrupted by cars going across the streets in front of them and drunken passerbys making inappropriate ghost noises. At the half hour intermission, Eugene returned home because we didn’t feel it was worth the wait. (Actually, we tried to go home, but instead we wandered around for 25 minutes in a rather large circle. When we finally returned to the place we started I suggested we wait the extra five minutes, but he still didn’t think it was worth the time, so we went home.)

On the walk home, we passed a group that was apparently on a ghost walk of their own. All I caught was the phrase “You can’t see it from the outside, you can only see it from the inside” as they stopped in front of a house. It was enough. I’ve strongly decided that I have so little to gain and so much to lose that there’s no way in hell I’m interested in going. Eugene can stuff it up his ass and go on his own if he wants to see it that badly. Hope I don’t have nightmares!

I love and miss you baby. I hope you get the chance to email again soon. I love hearing from you. Bye honey <3

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wren_Day
Who knew, right?

***

I er… I have decided to go on the ghost walk with Eugene. I talked to him about how I felt, and he agreed to go alone. But then he wanted to help me deal with my fear of ghosts because he felt my fear was unjustified- many ghosts exist, and most of them are powerless in this plane. At the very worst, they’re an inconvenience (changing the TV channel or throwing lightbulbs around) but not generally harmful. So why do I have plasmaphobia, the fear of ghosts to the point where it interferes with my daily life? One website suggests the fear can be life-limiting, and one of the best ways to overcome it is to challenge your fear rather than feeding into it with avoiding and escapism. And unfortunately, that’s more or less what Naomi’s been teaching me, and I must admit that it would be nice not to fear having a mirror in the room at night, or walking through a dark house by myself. The more I linger on such fears, the worse they become. And I think it’s time that I look them straight in the eye, say “I love you, and I mean you no harm” and then carry on with my life as normal. I’ve climbed mountains and spent nights in a cave, taken cold showers and gone for 45 hours without eating. These things have taught me not to fear tiredness, cold or hunger. But I still haven’t challenged my psychological fears. If I can accomplish this gargantuan task of attending a ghost walk, I will be able to say “I’ve faced worse” the next time I fear there is a ghost nearby. So Eugene and I will be heading to the 8pm one in just a few minutes time. I’ve had a fair bit of Christmas mead to bolster my spirit, but mostly I will be going with my own courage. I love you.

***

The ghost walk was wonderful. The carpark where we were supposed to meet had been completely flooded (again, photos to come, but basically the water up to waist level) so we called a few numbers and wandered around until we found the group on top of a bridge. The guy taking the tour was dressed in the classic Victorian outfit (it seems to be the uniform of ghost walk leaders) minus the tophat, but plus the cane. He was very charming, funny, entertaining and knowledgeable. The first place we went to, he talked about a fellow named George someone, who haunted the ladies bathrooms (turning out the lights, then caressing ladies’ necks when they were on the toilet). It’s what the nursery rhyme Georgie Porgie is based on. Look it up if you can! A lot of people cracked jokes (probably because they were inebriated) and had a romping good time. But as the tour progressed, things got progressively more sombre. We heard about Roman soldiers in an old cathedral, a ghostly man who lived on the top floor of a building and wouldn’t let anyone renovate it, a girl who would climb into bed with people… We heard about hangings and mass suicide and all kinds of grizzly things. They were stories though, and I was able to distance myself from them quite a bit.

The tour leader was a fascinating man. As I said, he was charming and eloquent and witty, but I fancied that when I looked into his eyes I saw a tender sadness borne from some tragic experience. It turns out I was right. He has astral dreams sometimes, where his spirit leaves his body and flies around the world. They terrify him because he feels the connection between his body and soul might be severed, and that his spirit might be stuck in limbo, like a ghost, for eternity.  He’s done a lot of thinking about life and death, and I guess that’s what attracts him to his profession. At the end of the tour he invited everyone for drinks, but Eugene and I slinked off shortly after we arrived at the pub. When I went to bed, although I walked through the darkness of the house and feared that there might be unseen things there, I did not think it likely that they were there, nor did I fear that they wished me any harm if they were. I slept well. I hope I can carry this benevolent courage with me for the rest of my life.

***

Yesterday Eugene and I went to Jorvik, the Viking museum. Jorvik is the Viking word for “York”, and it was freaking awesome. The essence of it was that archeologists spent decades digging down once they discovered it was a viking site, and they learned all about the clothes, diet, tools, ships and general lifestyles of the inhabitants. Vikings ruled half of England until King Albert threw them out, and the Viking King Eric Bloodaxe (what an incredibly spinechilling name) was one of the last of them until he was thrown out of York. The best part of the building was the electric cable car inside, which took us through a reenactment of what York might have looked like during the Viking days. It was great! I also inspected a Damascus sword in the gift shop, yours for only £480, which had tempered steel like the samurai blades. It was beautiful T_T

Thereafter we went to Clifford’s Tower, the ruinous remains of the Castle of York. Eugene and I tried some mead in the gift store, and I’ve now decided that mead is by far my favourite alcoholic drink. We tried some Christmas mead as well, which had other spices and flavours, and we bought a bottle because it was so tasty. Looking forward to drinking it in the mountains! The Tower/castle itself was rather epic, and I would have loved to have been one of the soldiers garrisoned there to look out for invading Viking forces.

In the afternoon, Mum, Caysin, Shu Shu and Wendy all caught the train back to London. We arrived very early though, so to pass the time Caysin asked me to teach her kung fu. I taught her to stomp on people’s feet and to strike them in the groin, to pull out of wrist grabs and to attack the chin or nose with the palm of the hand. To my surprise, she caught on very quickly. She asked to learn how to attack people but I refused to teach her. I think if she wanted to apply herself, she’d make an incredibly talented martial artist.

We had dinner at an Italian restaurant (and lunch at Yo! Sushi! I tried the ramen this time. We ate far, far too much, racking up a bill of £50 between the two of us), which served the most incredible cheesy gnocchetti. I hadn’t wanted so much dairy, but the waiter insisted that it would be awful without it, and Eugene convinced me it was worth it. And it was. My stomach hurt so, so much afterwards (I think that dairy makes me bloated! It’s so obvious now.) but it was an incredible meal. I’ll try very much to be more vegan from now on.

Before lunch, Eugene and I had the luxury of time to just wander around into any store we liked. We found a collector’s store that sold comics and boardgames, and I found this really cool samurai-ninja-shogun card game. But when I inquired about it, the storeowner suggested I try “Samurai Sword” instead, which hasn’t yet been released in England.  I guess I’ll have to look it up!

***

Today Eugene and I had to leave the creaky old house, but we have one more night in York. We booked a night in an inn/tavern called the Gillygate, which is quite a romantic notion but actually a little noisy. Like staying above Rosie O’Grady’s, you know?

We had a rather leisurely Sunmorn breakfast (second breakfast for me! XD), where I tried another “jack-et po-ta-to”. This one was much, much better than the first, probably because the first one was plain and this one was smothered in baked beans.

We had organised for a car to take us to the Studley Royal Park, which contains a ruined abbey (incredible), water gardens (breathtaking) and a deer park (disappointing). Today was one of the very rare sunny days of December, so Eugene and I spent hours running around the abbey, taking beautiful photos of the landscape and ruined buildings. We chased some pheasants (well, walked after them trying to take pictures of them while they sprinted away), spent a few moments at the water gardens and then lunched in a tearoom by the deer park. I’m afraid I had an egg and mayonaise sandwich, and then since I was being naughty, a caramel cranberry cheesecake. Oh, and I forgot to mention! That gnochetti I ate yesterday, upon the very first mouthful, I was overcome by a terrible feeling of sadness. It tasted delicious, don’t get me wrong, but it just made me tragically sad to eat it! Perhaps I was sad because I was breaking my veganity, or that I knew that I’d never eat it again because it was out of bounds next time. Who knows!

The deer park, as I said, was a touch disappointing. There were supposedly 500 deer, including fallow deer, and I pictured them frolicking in lush green meadows with white spots upon their backs, coming within ten metres of me and taking my measure with big, curious eyes. In reality, we trailed through several hundred metres of mud and poop to observe a herd of perhaps a hundred deer from a distance of perhaps a hundred metres. When I slowly approached they slowly receded, and when I quickly approached they ran away. I didn’t even get close enough to see if they had any spots like Bambi, but I guess that’s the price you pay for intruding upon wild deer!

Then we went to the Brimham Rocks, a place modestly famous for its unusual rock formations. We only spent a half hour there, climbing rocks for epic (and rather dangerous) poses as the wind tried to pull us off. It was lovely, but the weather was turning cloudy and bitter again, and we quickly returned to the car. Thereafter we headed back to Studley Royal Park to see the ruins of the abbey again, this time with Christmas carols and coloured lights illuminating the skeletons of the building, before being driven back to central York.

Just before he left, we asked Martin (our driver) where his favourite place to eat was, and we headed down to the restaurant he recommended. The food there was pretty incredible (I ordered the wild mushroom and brie burger, minus the brie. Unfortunately they couldn’t do that, so I just gave in and broke my veganity yet again. And I had some really nice nachos too :>), though a tad more expensive than I had realised – the burger appeared to cost £3.50, but in actuality it was £9 plus £3.50. Plus, the elderflower juice that I drank (while exquisite) ended up being quite costly! I only had about £180 to last the next six and a bit days, so I rather unexpectedly exceeded my budget. I’ll have to be a fair bit tighter with my money if I wish to survive the winter! XD I could always borrow/take money from Eugene if I really needed it, but I’d prefer not to rob him.

It’s about 8pm now, so a relaxing evening of reading and blogging before an early start. I love you so much baby. So so much! Can’t wait to hear back from you. And I hope you got my earlier email messages with attachments- I was having a curiously hard time getting them to send. I love you!

How to Win at Relationships

So it occurs to me that I’ve written a number of blog posts for Tune In Not Out (TINO) which I haven’t published here. I’m just going to go right ahead and post them now >.<”

Here’s the first one. And, incidentally, it comes with accompanying pictures of tremendous awesomeness from the photo shoot Bethwyn and I won.

~~~

HOW TO WIN AT RELATIONSHIPS

 

Introduction

Relationships. They are what bind societies, and in many cases what allows the survival and continuation of the human race. Love has cost trillions of dollars, sent millions to their death in wars and literally changed the face of the earth. It’s no understatement to say that good relationships are a pivotal dimension of the human condition. Yet crucial as they are, why are so many people so bad at them?

Think of someone in a romantic relationship. It might be yourself, your parents or your friends. Do you think the relationship is healthy? Do the people in it spend more time criticising or complimenting each other? Do they yell every day or always talk affectionately and gently? Do they ignore and put each other down, or really listen truly respect what the other has to say? Looking around at the people in my own life, it hurts me to admit that not everyone is as loving to one another as they should be, for whatever reasons. Human beings can be spiteful, selfish or just plain ignorant, and it can hurt those closest to them. I also look at my own intimate relationship and am so grateful, almost every day of my life, to be with someone so kind, respectful, loving and beautiful. Being with my lifemate is like eating the most amazing strawberry shortcake, all the time, without it ever losing its flavour or making you fat. And, using the metaphor of the cake, I wanted to share with you some of the ingredients that make our relationship so very, very tasty. Most of it will seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how uncommon it is for people to follow it. I’d also like to add that everyone is different, and I’ve seen relationships based on bickering and teasing that have lasted decades and ended very happily. But as a general rule, here are some of the ways to make your relationship sweeter, healthier and just plain awesome.

Ingredient one: Love

Obviously this is the big one. Having a relationship without love is like a cake without sugar of any kind- it’ll be bland at the best and poisonous at the worst. Yes, in olden days women would be married to men (it was very rarely the other way round) to secure alliances, for fortune or status, but the Western world has changed and we are encouraged to pursue individual happiness. There is some argument that familial duty is more important than pursuing dreams, but generally it is accepted that no one should have to stay in a position (or indeed, a relationship) that makes them unhappy. And the glue of any happy relationship is love.

I’d like to take this opportunity to share a little science with you. There are many different ways to understand love and we could spend all day discussing which the best model to use is, but I’m going to cut to the chase and share the simplest in terms of romance. Elaine Hatfield (a famed professor of psychology in Hawaii) distinguishes two types of love: short term passionate love, and longer term companionate love.

Passionate love is that intense, overwhelming infatuation that kicks off the start of a new romantic interest. The racing heart, the butterflies in the stomach, the showing off, the crazy monkey sex, the desire to be with the object of your affection 24/7… These are all characteristics of passionate love, fuelled by a crazy dose of endorphins, “the love hormone”, released into your bloodstream to make you completely smitten. Logic and reason are swept away by passion and excitement, and nothing could ever be as important as being with the object of your affection. But the important thing to realise is that passionate love does not last forever. It tends to be measured in months rather than years, but many people make the mistake of making decisions (such as getting engaged or moving in) based on the assumption they’ll always be crazy passionate about their partner. It can be quite disillusioning to discover that six months down the track they’re actually with an ordinary human being with the usual amount of faults and annoyances. Again, there are exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking the passion will burn bright and hot like sparklers on the cake before dying out and leaving… what? If you’re lucky, you’ll find companionate love instead of magnesium oxide, or whatever sparklers are made of.

Companionate love is the kind of love that lasts forever; it is what allows elderly couples to hold hands in the park and marriages to survive incredible strain. It is not based on passion, but on deep affection and extensive familiarity with a loved one. It is appreciative, tolerant, encouraging, respectful and enduring. The sex may not always be as crazed or simian, but it tends to be more meaningful and satisfying. Although not as exciting as passionate love, the quiet satisfaction and contentment provide an entirely different sense of fulfillment that is worth pursuing. Not everyone is ready for long term relationships, and some people never will be (which is totally okay, as long as they’re happy), but without companionate love a close relationship can transform into two people sharing the same space, often out of convenience. Although enduring, even love can fade with time, and it takes work to maintain a relationship. But in my opinion, it is unquestionably worth every effort.

Ingredient two: Honest communication

Honesty is like flour: the cake will literally fall apart without it. It is the foundation for trust, and trust is the foundation for love. Each of us has felt the cold stab of betrayal, and it’s easy to see how the pain of being hurt by someone we’ve let so close to our hearts can destroy everything. Infidelity, for example, has ruined more than one civilisation- just look at Troy.

But it’s more than just being honest (though it cannot be understated how important that is). I’d wager, without any kind of scientific method, that 90% of all conflicts are due to miscommunication. Think of a fight you’ve had in your life where you’ve been really defensive about something, or really offensive about something, only to discover it was all a misunderstanding and that guy wasn’t actually hitting on your girlfriend, he’s just her long lost cousin or something. If only you’d taken the time to ask her, you might have avoided that long, shameful journey to the hospital to apologise for breaking his nose. Talk. Talk often, and honestly, about everything. Especially the hard stuff. If it embarrasses you, if you think it’ll cause problems, if you’re scared of how your partner might react it’s more important than ever to air it before it starts to fester. Keeping a secret, especially a hurtful one, can eat you inside out, and you can save both yourself and them the pain of them discovering it on their own if you just have the courage to bring it up early. And, chances are, things will turn out much better than you imagined, if only you take the time to understand how your partner feels, and just as importantly, they take the time to do the same for you.

Ingredient three: Respect

Respect is kind of like the egg in the cake: it keeps everything together, and it makes everything slightly distasteful without it. No two human beings share the same view- it’s part of the miracle of our infinitely complex brains. Given our inherent differences, we must learn accept that we do not always see eye-to-eye, and more importantly, to treat each other respectfully when this happens. I’m going to throw a crazy idea our there: you are always right. And so is your partner. And so is your mother, so stop giving her so much grief. It is absolutely impossible to believe that you are wrong about something- seriously! Even if you think you’re wrong, what you’re actually thinking is “I’m right about thinking I’m wrong.” Once you realise that everyone believes they’re right all the time it’s easy to see how arguing is pointless. My girlfriend and I once argued about where I parked the car- I was positive it was over there on the right, but she was certain it was up there on the left. It didn’t matter who was right- we both believed it to be ourselves- and we argued and we argued until I realised that all we were achieving was discord, so we just went left and it turns out that’s where I parked after all.

No two people are ever going to agree all the time. But it’s so important that in those circumstances where we disagree we can respect that the other person is no less “right” than we are. A different opinion from your own does not wrong- it makes it different, and there is nothing inherently wrong in that. Treating people like they’re stupid, wrong, ugly, insufficient, or less-than-you will not win you any endearment. If you truly want to be in a happy relationship, you must not disrespect or put down your partner. We absolutely must strive with every action to affirm the goodness of our loved one, which we can choose to see at any time as easily as we might see their faults.

 

Ingredient four: Laughter

Laughter to a relationship is like the strawberries on a cake: it is light-hearted and sweet to the tongue. You must have fun with your partner! Yes, there is a deep sense of satisfaction from sitting home on a Saturday night to and give each other massages, but that’s not to say you can’t tell (and listen to) terrible jokes, go out dancing, chase each other around the house just for the hell of it… A relationship that doesn’t have the ingredient of laughter runs the risk of becoming stagnant, banal and routine. This is the danger of many long term relationships- getting so comfortable all the fun has drained away. Do what you can to shake this up: be spontaneous and surprising, in the bedroom, at his workplace, everywhere.

Ingredient five: The Mystery

The universe is complex. People, moreso. We fall in love for the stupidest and the best of reasons. We might find ourselves completely and hopelessly in love with the Romeos and Juliets of the world- people who, by all rights, we should despise and avoid like the plague. No one really understands why we fall in love, nor do I think we need to. It is the mystery ingredient in the cake that no one really gets- sometimes when you bake a cake more than once, you’ll use the same ingredients with the same method in the same kitchen and it’ll turn out completely different to every other cake you’ve ever made. I’ve just come to accept that love is a mystery, and sometimes we just have to roll with it if we ever want any kind of peace with life.

I know it seems to completely go against everything I’ve said in the above paragraph, but it’s still important to find the right person. We may not be able to choose who we feel attraction to, but we can choose how to act upon those feelings. Some relationships are disasters waiting to happen- I have seen with my own eyes what happens when the passion fades and a couple wakes up one morning and realises they can’t stand each other, but they can’t separate because now they have a baby and they can’t decide whether they love being with the baby more than they love hating one another. I believe that we are all very, very complex jigsaw pieces, with thousands of different edges that are always changing as we grow. Sometimes we meet an individual who we connect to so perfectly it’s like all the edges line up, perhaps not perfectly, but so damn close that that person is worth holding on to and never letting go. And sometimes we (or our loved ones) change, slowly but surely, so much that a relationship that was once perfect is now in need of some adjustment.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it’s your cake too. Even if you’re sharing it, you still have to eat it, so it’s really worth putting the effort in to make it a good one. It’s important to honour your self, your individuality, as well as accepting that you’re part of an “us”.  Do your utmost to be the best damn person you can be, because as important as relationships are, none of them last forever. Whether distance, time, or death, we are all individuals who come together, and you’ll never be able to escape the one relationship that matters most: your relationship with your self. Always do your best to be loving, respectful, honest and funny in every relationship (especially but not exclusively romantic ones) that matters to you, including the one you have with yourself.

It must also be said that not every relationship is meant to be, and they all require maintenance. Like in the Sims, if you don’t spend enough time and effort really working on being close to your loved ones you can drift apart. Sometimes, despite your greatest efforts, you can have the freshest ingredients and the best kitchen ever but the cake doesn’t turn out quite like you imagined it. Having said that, I daresay that even the most horrendous failed strawberry shortcake still tastes a notch better than one without sugar, flour, eggs, or strawberries.

This article is not a definitive recipe as much as it is a general guideline. We all like our cakes a little differently, so work out with your loved one what part of your cake doesn’t taste as good as it should, and add a little more sugar here or crack an egg there as needed. I hope this post has been helpful, and I wish each and every one of you the most delectable of pastries.

Margaret River

So Bethwyn and I thought it would be a good idea to go on holiday for a week this year around our anniversary, once exams were over. We looked at going to Melbourne because it was a different culture, even though it was the same country, but that seemed too expensive. Overseas was briefly considered, but looking at prices in the thousands was a little harsh. We went for a week-long stay in Margaret River, four days in what was a quintessential cottage in the woods, three days in our own apartment. Both places were indescribably wonderful.

First of all the drive down and back was one of the highlights of the trip. It’s often said that it’s the journey, not the destination that counts, and they were pretty damn right! We listened to Hollow Chocolate Bunnies, a six hour audiobook while we were driving, and the time (for me as a driver) flew by pretty quickly. We got from Bethwyn’s house to the cottage in just under three hours flat without stopping for a break (though we were getting quite hungry and were tempted towards McDonalds but decided to push on through). There were drinks and lollipops and 20 Questions and good times all around.

The Harmony Forrest house was just a beautiful place to stay. There were plenty of insects, which I loved, because it reminded me that we keep trying to box nature out, but we share the planet and land with them, and they have just as much right to inhabit it. It boasted a spa which looked out at the forest through massive glass windows (which was so relaxing, and so comfortable, and a great place to have sparkling nashi pear wine and chocolates) and no communication. What reception you could get on your phone varied between companies, but I was basically incommunicado while I was there- they very specifically designed it so that the outside world could wait a bit while you and your partner practiced the ancient and somewhat forgotten art of “conversation”. It was very much a couples holiday, though there were two extra single beds for kids (presumably), which seemed contrary to the message sent by the very attractive spa and two champagne glasses with love-heart chocolates in the fridge. There was a small TV and some National Geographic DVDs and magazine, a few boardgames (which I’m sad to say we forgot about, probably to Bethwyn’s relief) and a very comfortable electric-blanket equipped bed. It was colder than I had packed for, and I was trying to be conservative and take as few articles of clothing as I could, somewhat to my discomfort. Bethwyn on the other hand scored bigtime- we found some clothes in one of the drawers that someone had left behind, and they were exactly in our sizes. For me there was a somewhat uncomfortable and mildly unattractive pair of shorts, which I left, but for Bethwyn, there was a pair of very comfortable denim shorts, some denim three-quarter length pants and an amazingly sexy and comfortable tracksuit, all from Country Road (which I’m led to believe is a good brand). They fit her so perfectly I doubt their previous owner could have done them nearly as much justice, so it wasn’t even considered to put them back in the drawer.

As for sightseeing, we didn’t really do as much as we could have. We didn’t go to the beach, or to the chocolate factory (due to my veganism and Bethwyn’s non-lactose diet, which suits me well), or to anything new and interesting. We did however go to the fairy shop in Cowamarup, Wild Thyme (at last! That tantalising and mysterious  little cafe on the corner), Lloyds, two bookstores, the Margaret River Markets, the Lake Cave Tearooms (highly recommended. Most amazingly friendly couple who run it with arguably the most delicious food I’ve ever had) and this great little natural/organic healthfood store. I spent a looooot of money on delicious and healthy dairy-free chocolate while I was down there- something like $50 worth.

Darby Park (I believe?) apartments was surprisingly well-maintained, coming from the cottage we’d been trying to keep orderly for the past four days. It was more like a hotel than anything, with delicious smelling breakfasts at the reception/lounge and a small selection of videos you could watch or Xbox (not 360) games you could rent. The rooms were made up every day, but filthy, sleeping-in, private people that we are we waited until we checked out before getting anything ‘serviced’. There were some cooking adventures (and misadventures), a beautiful flat-screen TV which introduced us to Invader Zim (“Aww, my bees!”) and saw over a dozen hours of Okami (I admit it, I used a walkthrough for two or three of them, but I’ve got about half the Stray Beads now, all of the Zodiac statues and over half the animals at 100% fed) and plenty of Spongebob. The bathroom was nice (I always judge an establishment by its bathroom, which is most commonly the ‘worst’ room in the house) and they had lots of organic products (such as tissues, shampoos, facial washes etc). All in all, quite a nice place to stay for very different reasons.

It was a really great holiday and it was a wonderful opportunity to slow down and enjoy living by whim. I do admit, taking a game as absorbing and focussed as Okami might not have been the greatest idea- I did give it quite a few decent hours, sometimes ignoring Bethwyn or spending time at the PS2 rather than with her. I had intended for just casual, hour or two gaming sessions but I really got back into the world of Nippon, so that’s a lesson for next time. If you’re going to go on holiday to do very little, don’t bring a lot. I’m looking forward to another such holiday in the future, but at a $1400 price tag for accommodation alone, I think we might holiday elsewhere if the money can be scavenged. Despite just being done with, after half a week back in Perth, another holiday couldn’t come soon enough.

The big 2.0

No, I’m not talking about iSnack 2.0, the new cream-cheese vegemite. I’m talking about the number of years Bethwyn and I have been together, excluding the one day period where we broke up and got back together the day after.

So how did we spend the day? Poor Bethi spent most of it studying for her exam tomorrow. I on the other hand was preparing. I’ve been scheming, you see. I’d been throwing around ideas for what to do for weeks and I decided on something that would work nicely. The end result? A picnic. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Make some food, eat it somewhere nice, go home happy. But there’s so much organisation that goes into it! So I spent much of my free time on the weekend planning it, and this is how it turned out.

Due to disorganisation and lack of time. Monday morning (the big day) was the day I did most of the preparation. I woke up as early as reasonable to finish planning what food to prepare. I spent hours going through feasible vegetarian recipes and ended up with something like seven courses, before I realised that even on a good night, that was overkill to the extreme. What I ended up deciding on was just one salad, sandwiches, a couscous and zucchini main, Turkish bread and fresh vegetable dips, strawberries and/or blueberries and wine, and after much deliberation, rocky road for dessert. I chose meals that I felt would be complimentary, traditional, sweet and full of love and effort. So I organised a hefty shopping lift, left the house at 11:40am to buy all the goods, and planned to be back around 12. It took me nearly two hours to get all the groceries. Who the heck knew that something as simple as picking up all the items on a list could take two hours? Things like trying to remember which brand of Dijon mustard she liked or whether she’d fine the plates cute or silly. I’ve never bought fresh produce before so it was really fun and a little daunting trying to decide what broccoli I wanted and rubbish like that, but it was an adventure which I really enjoyed. All up I spent $108 at Coles for the groceries alone. I bought fresh crusty bread and picked up some flowers and wine. The liquor store didn’t have taltani, a brand Bethwyn’s parents told me she’d like, but the manager was really friendly and helped me pick a nice substitute.

So with my bags of groceries (it was so strange actually pushing around a shopping trolley) I got home and prepared the kitchen. I spent hours preparing, pouring love and laughter into the various meals. I did the rocky road first because it needed time to chill and harden. That turned out disastrously because: a) I bought choc chips rather than cooking chocolate, and choc chips apparently are meant to keep their shape when baked, and b) I ignored the recipe-maker’s advice and just stuck mixture into a pot to melt. What you’re supposed to do is boil water, put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and then stick the bowl on top of the pot. Too much trouble? Too bad. The end result was what appeared to be a giant, delicious poo. So I made the executive decision to throw that out, buy some actual cooking chocolate and try again. Fortunately it turned out beautifully, and much better than I had dreamed possible.

I made sandwhiches, heavily mustarded with fresh crusty bread, halved and sealed in an airtight bag. One with rocket, one without (because I couldn’t remember if she liked it or not).

I prepared fresh vegetables to go with the dips I’d selected (including her favourite, hummus). It was a strange and unknown experience trying to make capsicum slices, or getting broccoli into bite-sized pieces, but it was enjoyable and super healthy, if a little time consuming and painful (capsicum is unexpectedly easy to cut- I knicked my fingers more than once, but don’t worry, the meal had only sweat and tears, no blood).

Then came the pasta! The recipe I was using was just a few sentences someone had written on Yahoo! Answers, but it sounded good enough to make! Problematicaly, it was horribly vague, saying things like "Prepare a pasta of your choice", or "Add in a, b, c and if you like maybe some d, or sprinkle it with w and or use x. And if you like, you can make your own dressing  using y and z, or…" So I had to just pull it together and pick out the ingredients I thought would go nicely. I think Eugene kind of liked it, Bethwyn certainly expressed she did, and I thought it was the greatest thing since pickles. Success for my extra colourful Italian pasta salad!

By this time it was 5:15pm, and I knew sunset began at 6:54. I wanted to start the picnic at least half an hour before sunset so we’d have time to eat and then drink wine and have strawberries, blueberries and chocolate for dessert. But foolish me, I’d forgotten about the card and present! So I abandoned the couscous and zucchini and spent half an hour getting ready for the date, writing out the card (why is it that I say the most romantic things in messages and then dearly wish I’d saved it for the card?!) and looking for photos. Why looking for photos? Because the present I decided on after much delibration was a locket. And I very much wanted two photos tiny enough to cut out and stick our faces in. But at 5:50, panicking and suddenly realising I couldn’t fit the drinks in the cooler (which I borrowed from her parents) so they’d be warm, I left it.

I arrived at her house just after 6:30 and rang the doorbell (as every good date should start with). Millie, her dog, went ballistic as always, and she answered the door looking amazing, in jeans and a tee with beautifully done make-up. I had to keep Bethi in her room while I smuggled out the picnic blanket and a cooler for the drinks, but not too soon after we left! Kept entirely in the dark about what I’d planned or where we were going, I did my best to drive us to a certain park of significant meaning. It was only two streets away but I got lost, yet managed to fluke it and get there in one piece anyway. I know Bethi has some good memories there, but it’s where some of my happiest have been, so we settled on the grass and busted out the picnic. She loved it all (or so she tells me) but because we were starting so late (close to 7) we had to stop about half an hour afterwards because it was dark and the mosquitoes were out. I’d brought insect repellant candles, but it was more dangerous than romantic so we left them unopened. The roll-on bug repellant was a no go either because the only uncovered part of her were her hands, neck and face, and she needed those to eat and look pretty (rather than smudged). So we left a little early to finish the picnic at home over Lady and the Tramp. I gave her present to her then. The locket I gave her was not empty, just photo-less. But it contained all the love in the world.

So that was the big day out! It was a lot of work in new territory for me, and a little daunting, but wholly rewarding. It really is a joy to cook- I should do it more often. Happy holidays everyone!