29 May 2013


Right now I'm in Melbourne, soaking up the Autumn sunshine and enjoying the food/friend/family merry-go-round that is a visit home. On my way here last Friday I had short transit in hot and humid Hong Kong. Hong Kong is such a great city to transit in - baggage handling, immigration and transport is all so efficient that even with only a few hours you can squeeze in some fun stuff. 

I had seven hours between flights, so I trekked into Central and had a pedicure (as you do). And then set about hunting down the giant rubber duck. Most of you will have seen this big yellow guy about the internets, he's by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman and he's travelled about the world a bit.* 

I am a little obsessed with over-sized things, so I was pretty determined to see Mr Duck. And apparently I wasn't alone - if you're lucky enough to see the duck for yourself be prepared for a chaotic mess of people trying to have their photos taken with him. It was so busy and crowded. And hot. And sweaty. But, worth it. He's the happiest piece of art I've ever seen floating on a harbour!

If you're willing to brave the crowds the duck is just outside Harbour City in Kowloon. I think he's there for another week or so.

*Apparently the duck was in Sydney Harbour at one point and I knew nothing about it. Which made me think someone should event an app where you input your interests (say 'big things' or 'outdoor sculpture shows' or 'Japanese bluegrass music'), and the cities you frequent (Melbourne, Sydney, Hong Kong would be mine right now), and then you get sent alerts for events that might interest you. That would be ace, yes? 


ps. Thank you for all the really lovely responses to my last post! It's always reassuring to hear I'm not alone in feeling such a mix of emotions... The good news is this visit home has got me super excited about the move again - hurrah! 

Oh and also - HAPPY BIRTHDAY TYKE! xox

22 May 2013

The Six Emotions of Repatriation* (so far)

Emotion 1 - Excitement 
Finally! You get confirmation that the move back home (that's been a possibly, maybe for the past six months) is definite, it's happening! And although the move is still many months away you feel joy, excitement, elation. 'I'm going home!' you think. Back to good restaurants and shoes that fit me and English speakers and lamb, delicious lamb and my family, my sister and my nephews, and well priced delicious wine and trips to the beach with the dogs and friends, old and new, and clean air and, and, and! You think 'life is going to be easy again!'. 

Emotion 2 - Fear 
You think 'life is going to be easy again.' You realise that you love living abroad, being a stranger. You love the day to day challenges; the living in blissful ignorance, not speaking English for days on end. You love the apartment you've been living in for 3+ years; it feels like home. 

On a trip back to Australia you walk down Pitt Street Mall in Sydney, trying to really imagine living in this city again, and all you can think is that it feels like a small country town. Quiet, isolated, remote. And you are not special there. You think 'is this the end of adventure? Is my life just going to be a comfortable beige blur from now on?'. 

And then you think about the move a bit more and you realise that you can't use visa restrictions and language barriers as an excuse any more, people are going to expect you to get out there and do something with your life. Which scares you. 

And then there's the uncertainty, the questions. Where can I find 4 dollar soupy noodles in Sydney? (I'm pretty sure the answer is - nowhere). How will we manage 'co-parenting' when everyone's living in the same city, the same country? Will I go to parent-teacher night? How will I get my fix of cheap, cute stationery? How will I cope with shop assistants talking to me, in English? Does the husband really expect me to do the ironing? You fear the big stuff - becoming stagnant; changing roles and relationships - and you fear the little stuff. 

Emotion 3 - Regret 
You realise the move really is on and time is running out, and a strange thing happens. All those things that were driving you completely crazy about Korea (or insert-your-expat-country-name-here), those things that had you weeping with frustration, they disappear. Suddenly all you notice is how breathtakingly pretty the city looks in Spring, how much you love kim chi, how great the shopping is. You notice how comfortable you feel in your neighbourhood - even though you'll never look like a local, you feel kind of like a local. And even though logically you know all the (very valid) reasons why you made the decision to move back home, emotionally you feel a sort of soft regret. 

And you think of all those weekend trips to places that are (relatively) short hops away (Kyoto, Suzhou, to name two) that you never took. The road trips, the city excursions, the hikes. The craft and cooking classes. The blog posts you never wrote...time is running out. 

Emotion 4 - Panic 
As the move looms closer, you start to panic. Panic at the thought of all that stuff (oh, so much stuff!) that needs to be moved across oceans. Bouts of de-cluttering follow. With a slightly manic glint in your eye, you throw out whole boxes of scrap paper, a stack of DVDs you'll never watch again and a broken faux-Meccano roller coaster. You try to get the step-sons enthused about the process, but instead the youngest one just holds up a single piece of crumpled paper and asks 'soooo...do you think I should keep this?'. 

Then you start thinking about the actual move, and panic turns to stress. Yes there's the packing and unpacking, but there's also the disconnecting and connecting (phone, internet, gas, water, DTV...). And what do you do with the goldfish? And the pot plants? Then there's the transporting of dachshunds; the finding of doctors and dentists and waxers. And vets. Oh, and you need to find somewhere to live, for a little while, until you can move in to what will be your Home (yes, with a capital 'H'). And you realise when it comes to quality short term accommodation Sydney is the worst. And pet friendly? No way. 

Emotion 5 - Depression 
So you realise that for the first few months after the move you're probably going to be living in a soulless apartment that's over your budget. And the dogs, your dogs, will be spending time in quarantine and maybe then living at a boarding kennel. And everything will feel, will be, temporary. Again. 

And then something little happens, just an everyday frustration, and it's enough to push you over the edge. And you realise you may have just yelled at some poor customer service person, or maybe you're sitting at your computer with tears in your eyes and your not quite sure why. You realise it's because you don't actually deal very well with uncertainty, and everything, everything is uncertain right now. 

Time for a stroll in the sunshine, a good meal, a good book, a glass of wine. Some pom pom making. Time for a deep breath. 

Emotion 6 - Acceptance 
You remember all that management training about circle of influence / circle of concern. You realise you cannot control everything, and that actually that's part of what you've loved about living overseas. You write a list and start working on what you can, and let go of what you can't. You start cramming in all those city excursions and blog posts. You make plans for next year, for when you are Home; things you want to achieve that could not have been possible whilst you were living abroad. You get excited about the possibilities again. And you realise that no, it's not the end of adventure. That it's the start of something new. And just like the past 6 years it will be both wonderful and mundane. 


*Is it just me or is repatriation a really ugly word? It kind of sounds like a medical procedure or some sort of 'enhanced interrogation' technique...

19 May 2013

Buddha's Birthday : Jogyesa

Jogyesa (조게사) is the largest Buddhist temple in Seoul, so come Buddha's Birthday and the Lotus Lantern Festival it's a hive of colour and activity. I didn't manage to get to the temple at night, to capture all the lanterns lit up, but I did manage to be at the temple just when everyone was prepping for the big lantern parade. (If it sounds like this was planned, it wasn't at all - I just blindly, happily stumbled upon it.) 

So as well as all that gorgeous colour from the lanterns, there was also a wonderful atmosphere of muted excitement and barely organised chaos - a bit like being back stage just before the curtain goes up. 

At the entrance were queues of Korean ladies in beautiful hanboks waiting to be given their lanterns (and then later, wrestling with them as they seemed determined not to stay on their hooks). Then, just next to the temple, people with hangul lanterns in all different colours and a man with a megaphone trying to get them into some kind of order. And further on, under the white lanterns, groups of school kids in traditional dress and a monk or three getting them in a row. And a man on a cherry picker, who slowly moved up and down, placing wishes on the lanterns hanging overhead. And amongst it all people saying their blessings, going about their rituals.

18 May 2013

Buddha's Birthday : Cheonggye Stream

Yesterday was the Buddha's Birthday holiday in Seoul, which means a three day weekend and hours of traffic for anyone crazy enough to try and leave the city. It also means that for the past few weeks parts of Seoul have been festooned with lanterns. 

The lanterns are quite simple really, nothing fancy, but en masse and in such gorgeously bright colours they have quite a magical effect. It helps that - whilst the date varies year to year - the Buddha's Birthday generally coincides with the mass of fresh green growth and colourful blooms that mark Spring in Seoul. 

Cheonggye Stream looks especially wonderful at this time of year. The stream is such a vibrant public space in all seasons, but now that the weather is warming up it's even more so. Crowds of people stroll along in the sunshine, jostling for prime photography positions (it was getting pretty dangerous on the stepping stones at one point!); office workers take a coffee break in the shade of the many bridges; kids throw off their shoes and dip their feet in the cool water as little silvery fish swim by. All in the heart of the city! File this under 'things I will miss about Korea'.

15 May 2013

Collecting Colours : Green + Pink

So fresh, so bright, so happy! Pink and green is all about sweetness and light and happy times yes? It seems to fit perfectly with the mood in Seoul right now. I'd forgotten how breathtakingly pretty the city can be when Spring hits. 

Around every corner there's stunning bursts of green, fresh new leaves; there's purple azaleas blooming en masse, and pots full of pansies and violas in a rainbow of colours. Add to that blue skies (when it's not smoggy...sigh), a warm breeze and the festivities surrounding Buddha's Birthday and it's a pretty magical time of year. I hope these diptychs capture just a little part of that.

Number two is my favourite, which one is yours?

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Every month through 2013 I'll be 'collecting colours', and you can join in too! Just create something, anything based on the colour pair for each month. Link up below, Instagram, Tweet and/or add your photo to the Flickr group here. You can go here to get all the information you need.  

13 May 2013

UPPERCASE : Stationery Around The World (Yay!)

Issue 17 of UPPERCASE came out recently which was rather exciting for two reasons: One, it's an entire issue dedicated to stationery (swoon!). And two, I contributed to it! I wrote a little piece on South Korean stationery for the 'around the world' feature, and took a bunch of photos of my (ever growing) stationery stash! Yay! 

UPPERCASE is one of my absolute favourite magazines. It's always full of ace things made by interesting and inspiring people, and it's beautifully produced - the paper stock (a magazine needs to feel good in your hands, don't you think?), the fonts, the layouts.  So I was kind of overjoyed to be asked to contribute something. It was also a good reminder that I should get involved more often - it really is a magazine that thrives on the input of their readers. Maybe you might want to participate too? 

I'm yet to get my hands on a copy but from all the previews I've seen it looks like a pretty amazing issue (there's a copy waiting for me when I head to Melbourne later this month, can't wait to see it!). You can read a bit more about the issue here. Oh, and if you're looking to subscribe or renew I have a code for $10 off - just get in touch and I'll pass it on.

(with thanks to Beci, aka sister of awesome aka proof reader extraordinaire!)

10 May 2013

Death by Doxie : Hounds On The Couch (Elfi's Over It)

See that look Elfi's shooting my way? That's the look she gives me when she wants me to put the camera away. It's kind of saying 'Yeah, I'm cute. But enough's enough. Stop with the photo taking and come pat me instead'. I ignore her, of course.

09 May 2013

Seoul Walking : Hoehyundong (Under Ground)

Like many big cities with extreme seasons, Seoul has all kinds of tunnels and underground shopping centres dotted about the place. They provide a haven in Winter when it's -16°C and icy out, or in Summer when it's stinking hot and pouring with rain. And - being filled with all kinds of quirky and surprising shops - they're also just a fun place to explore. This is Hoehyundong, my neighbourhood, under ground. 

I love the Hoehyundong Underground Shopping Centre. From a purely practical perspective, it means I can leave my apartment and do the grocery shopping, go out for lunch - five dollar soup noodles with tofu and kim chi; or perhaps sushi, bibimbap or my favourite 만두 (dumplings) - and post a package or two without ever stepping outside. 

Each underground shopping centre seems to have it's own specialities, and ours seems to be perfectly matched to the things I love. There are fun little clothing stores (granted, I can't fit in to most of it but they're cute to look at); tiny coffee shops and restaurants; hand crafted shoe stores; more vinyl than you could possibly imagine (and  a wonderfully crazy mix too!); wool emporiums with little groups of knitters and hookers working away; vintage cameras and books and stamps (I hunt out the ones with dachshunds on them, of course); and more camera accessories than a happy snapper could possibly ask for (like this camera bag). 

Basically - we live on top of an underground shopping centre devoted to vintage, photography and craft. A perfect piece of serendipity, yes?

07 May 2013

This quote is from another of my favourite authors (who was also introduced to me by my Mum - great taste must be in the genes, right?). It's from Jeanette Winterson's autobiographical novel Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (excellent title, yes?), which I am currently devouring. 

I adore this quote. There's something about it that just rings true. Play it safe when you're thinking about lunch (a grilled chicken salad, perhaps) but when you're choosing who to love, how to live, fling yourself over that edge. Indeed. 

The font is a lovely skinny hand drawn one from Cindy Kinash. It's called 'Hello I Like You' (excellent name, yes?), and it's only US $20 which I reckon is pretty great value for such a useful font. 

The watercolour bits and bobs are some photoshop brushes by Mindful Pixels, you can get them here, from Creative Market (my new favourite graphic design-y resource-y place). I have downloaded a lot of brushes over the past few months and this set is by far my absolute favourite, and it's only US $5! 

In other news, I have realised photoshop is not a creative tool at all. It is actually a giant black vortex that sucks up masses and masses of time and the next thing you know it's hours past eating-o-clock, your arse is numb, and all you've got to show for it is a squiggle or two. Which you've test viewed in at least 37 different colours. Or is that just me?

03 May 2013

Death by Doxie : Hounds On The Couch (Ferdi Looks Sad)

I'm not sure what Ferdi's so sad about. Perhaps not having opposable thumbs? (It's pretty difficult to open the fridge with paws...) Or maybe just the general absurdity of life? Either way, lying on the couch and looking sad is what Ferdi does best. (Followed closely by lying on the bed and looking sad and regal. Quite a skill.)