The friendship pact

The friendship pact is one of those promises that you make with your friends about the future. That wherever you are, whatever time of year it is, you pick up your bags and meet at a designated place for that year.

My Dad has a friendship pact with his University classmates, and every year for 40 years, those who can make it, and those who are still alive, come together, from wherever they are in the world, some in America, some in New Zealand, to honour this pact.

Only one classmate out of the 20 or so classmates will never be able to make it to a reunion. He was shot dead in the head for poisoning his neighbour.

Last year, my entire family got a chance to attend this reunion in China. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I was more excited to see Shanghai and Hong Kong, the big, modern cities, rather than the local destinations that we would be meeting at.

But as always, low expectations turned into pleasant surprises, and this local destination became the highlight of my trip.

As soon as we arrived in Sanming, China, and my Dad spotted one of his classmates waiting by a post, he transformed from “an ordinary Dad” to an animated, loud schoolboy, exuding life and vibrancy. One by one, as more of his classmates found each other in the crowd, and embraced, there was an excitement in the air that brought this little town to life.

They talked in furious frenzy, from the platform all the way to the train ride to our hotel, until the train staff had to tell them to keep it down.

The intangible happiness that their friendship brought, was something that could not be mirrored on our solo trip to Shanghai or Hong Kong. Bustling and crowded as these modern cities were, there was only a surface-level of enjoyment that washed away after a few nights spent there.

The places that we went to at this local destination was truly magical. For one of our activities, we bamboo rafted across the lake. We were surrounded by boulders taller and bigger than skyscrapers so we had to crane our necks to take in the whole view. One of my Dad’s classmates burst into song, and the melody traveled across the boulders and echoed around to the back and the front of our pack.

Another of my Dad’s classmates caught a fish in his hands and he stared at it in wide-eyed wonder, like a schoolboy who had caught his first catch of the day.

Left and right I caught glimpses of these rare expressions that brought warmth to my heart. Whether bamboo rafting, or squeezing through narrow caves, there was an energy all around that was so special that I wish I could’ve put it inside a treasure box and carried it back home.

Our last night ended with a performance. The room was booked and the stage was set. As the youngest member there, my task was to play the drum roll while everybody else passed a bag around. Whoever it landed it on when the drum roll stopped, would have to go up on stage and perform. This was a case of anxiety for everyone who was nervous about performing, so the bag got thrown around like hot potatoes.

But when the “unlucky ones” got on stage, they performed beautifully. There was Chinese folk dancing, ballroom dancing and singing. Someone else had a go at playing the drum and somehow the bag landed between my sister and me, so we had to go up on stage and perform. Unlike the others, we had not prepared for our act, so we chose to sing Avril Lavigne’s Complicated, a horrible choice because our voices shook while we tried to sing the fast-paced chorus. I was also wearing large bathroom slippers, so they were protruding out from the velvet stage.

Since that day, I have brought back with me the memory of that trip. Those memories were locked in my mind, but now I’ve opened the lock and let them out. Instead of wishing to belong, I have made plans with friends to share experiences together. Instead of planning in my head, we have been planning together. Instead of talking, we have been doing.

My friends and I are going to Japan in November, and then South East Asia next year. And then mid next year, we are hoping that we can all make a permanent move to a new country. We are helping each other save money for these trips, by introducing each other to part-time jobs that we can do outside of our day jobs. We are sharing a common goal and most importantly, we are doing it together.

Our friendship pact is just beginning. But I hope that it will grow old with us, just as my Dad’s did.

Kayaking on top of a dormant volcano

Every morning, to get to work, I drive past a lagoon. At exactly 8:00 a.m the surface of the lagoon is 180 degrees, flat and calm, producing a mirror-like effect.

I’ve driven past this lagoon at different times of the day: 8:15 a.m, 9:00 a.m, 12:00 p.m, and 5:45 p.m, but at no other time does the surface look as close to a mirror than at 8:00 a.m.

This is the lagoon’s magic hour.

From the road, you can easily glance at the lagoon and become mesmerised by it, forgetting that you are driving during peak traffic hour. For this reason, I’ve stopped driving the car, and take the bus to work instead, so that I can watch the lagoon as the bus drives by.

The history of the lagoon belies its calm surface. It is the product of a volcanic eruption, 28,000 years ago, forming a deep crater that extends unseen below the surface.

Of course, it’s dormant now, so it’s pretty safe to swim there, but I wouldn’t go down too far.

A body was once found by the edge of the lagoon, at 8:30 a.m, half an hour after the magic hour.

For this reason, I only go to the lagoon a few hours after 8:00 a.m, when the surface no longer resembles a mirror and the tide starts to move in and out.

There is a bank halfway around the lagoon that slopes down into the waters. This is the only way to get your kayak into the water.

You have to park your van there and carry the kayak out of the trunk, then push it gently down the slope until it rests in the water.

At this time of the day, the waves slosh around the basin, and seagulls line up in rows, bobbing on branches. Once or twice they dive down to catch some unseen creature lurking beneath the lagoon. 

I do a few laps around the lagoon, then when I feel tired, I park the kayak in the middle of the lagoon, rest my paddles to the side, and let the tide carry me whichever way it’s going.

If you are brave enough, you can also bring a book along to read. But this is only if you are not afraid of getting your book wet.

I suggest bringing along a copy of “The Lost World” by Arthur Conan Doyle because then you can imagine that you are really on an adventure.

This makes me sound so adventurous, but really, I’m not. I just like the sound of the birds, the crisp evening air and the tranquility of being alone on the lagoon. This is perhaps the perfect hour for writing a novel or getting some reflective thinking done.

See? That’s the power of this lagoon. Every hour is a magic hour for something to happen.

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A little ray of sunshine

There are times in our lives where we need something to jolt us out of our sadness. For the past few months I have been sadder than usual, and missing the company of a close friendship that has fallen apart.

It’s difficult for me to know what to do in these situations. I really wish that I could have that close friendship again, but at the same time I feel as though I’m the only one trying to mend it, and it doesn’t make me feel good about myself.

But today, in my usual sad mood, I recieved a little ray of sunshine. A friend of mine messaged our group of friends and told us that there was a travel deal going on.

Does anyone want to go to Japan? was the question I saw when I opened up my phone.

I’m still in the middle of work, but I have to let him know within 2 hours. So without checking with my boss, without checking the itinerary, I make a spontaneous decision and say Yes!

Who knew that I’d start the day feeling sad, only to end up booking a flight to Japan!

The spontaneous decision has jolted me out of a much needed wake up. I like it. I want more of this feeling. And although I know my sadness won’t fade away right now, I’m just glad to have a brief reprieve from the sadness I’ve been feeling in my heart.

I’m sitting here all alone at work, listening to the traffic rushing outside and making sure I finish typing this before I go home.

Sadness is not my forte. I want to get out there and start moving. I hope today will be the start of a happier me.

I live three hours away from paradise

As the summer holiday draws to a close, I refuse to resign myself to the usual dread that fills these last few days.

I have persuaded my friends to go on a spontaneous roadtrip with me in which we are all going to explore and be adventurers again.

Our planning for this one day roadtrip began on New Year’s day, right after 12am, and by 1am, we had decided to meet two days later to drive up North to a “developing” city named Tauranga, a three hour drive from where we reside.

I don’t know whether you know this, but here in New Zealand, developing cities don’t look like your usual slum of the earth.

Instead, picture a sunny harbourside town, where every street name and road sign has the word “ocean” or “coast” in it, and everybody in the neighbourhood looks extremely tan and fit. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole town was selected to star in the next Baywatch.

Anyway, that’s where we found ourselves in, overdressed and overheated, strolling through a harbourside paradise.

To point out our exact location in paradise, we were in Papamoa, a suburb with a beach that residents actually use! something that rarely happens where I live.

Since I came unprepared to this harbourside town, without togs or a towel, I did not get a chance to bare my skin to the summer sun or dip my body into the ocean. I did have a front row view of the sea and watched longingly ahead at the surfers and swimmers catching their next big wave.

When the excitement seemed too good to miss out on, I rolled up my pants and ran into the crashing waves, not caring that my bottom-half was soaking wet and that I didn’t have a spare change of clothes.

The salt and sand was still on my mind when we left Papamoa. So I insisted we wrap up the evening by watching Indiana Jones late into the wee hours of the morning.

I want to wake up every morning in Papamoa. It reminds me of adventure and beaches, sand and sunshine, of things people should do more of to fill their lives with excitement.

As I wake up in my own bed with the wind howling outside, I ask myself, what can we do to make our lives more adventurous when we have jobs and responsibilities?

I hope to continue searching for an answer to that question as I return back to work next week.

The gutsy girl

Because I’m young, stupid and naive, I thought it would be a no-brainer to follow in the footsteps of some leading ladies and heroines in this book:

The Gutsy girl: Escapades for your life of Epic Adventure

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By saying YES to all the roadtrips I got invited to this Summer, I definitely came out scathed with memories.

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Road trip 1: Tongariro Crossing (Or more like the spilling out of guts)

So here’s what happened:

I was supposed to go on an epic 8 hour hike with my group of girls across the Tongariro Crossing but as soon as we arrived at the backpackers motel I had a severe case of the runs which lasted the entire day and night and the morning after. So I was a no show, and ended up lying in bed the whole day.

I did leave my room once to grab a glass of water and ended up being treated to a few hours of humourous conversations with a cast of international backpackers and a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner with roast chicken, ham, potato gravy… everything. And, to top it off, I made 4 new, amazing friends.

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Roadtrip 2: Cathedral Cove (The drowning incident) 

I must have thought that I was Wonder woman because when the waves were crashing down against the rocks, I recklessly abandoned any notion of my mortality and headed further out to sea and well, got stuck in the waves.

It was the loneliest and scariest moment of my life trying to stay afloat while the waves continuously crashed down over my head. All I could think of to the waves was: ‘Stop! give me a break so I can swim to shore.’ But it was just too strong and I felt so small against this big ocean.

My moment of relief came when someone swimming in the ocean saw me and dragged me in to safety.

But just so that I would get over my trauma, I went right back out to the ocean and had some cautious fun splashing about in the shallower areas.

How gutsy was that?

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To sum it all up

I had some good gutsy and bad gutsy moments, and moments where everything literally spilled out from my guts. Splendid!

Since summer’s almost over, and I’m trying to squeeze every little bit of fun out of the sunshiny weather, I think it’s time to consult my gutsy girls book to see what’s next on the adventure agenda!