I honestly don’t think this is going to feel real for some time yet.
I guess that’s what happens when you embark on something you’ve never done before, and thus simply can’t fathom.
A new chapter
I’ve always admired and envied the likes of Teacher Finance and Newlyweds on a Budget for their ability to stick to personal finance topics so tightly (I read almost every post on those blogs and shake my fist in disappointment that I didn’t write it first)
But that’s never been me.
This wee blog is evolving and it’s going to chronicle this new chapter, because writing isn’t just a hobby, it’s an essential part of my life.
I’m talking everything from narratives to practical advice and tips to posts where I’ll evaluate and share travel resources. Shoot me questions and ideas! Anything you’d like to hear about, I’ll try to cover. And I’m hoping to also do a few more interviews/features here on the blog – maybe with other long-term travellers, digital nomads, or Kiwis living overseas (as my posts on the differences in life in NZ always garner so much interest).
Imagine pretty photos here. I’m restricted to mobile devices at the moment, so typing is tough enough, and doing anything with pictures nigh on impossible…
I want to talk honestly about the journey to this point. Specifically, I want to talk about expectations, disappointment, reality.
The whole dialogue around engagements, weddings, and marriage is imbued with notions of magic and happiness. Life, however, is far more complex and sometimes uglier. As humans, our dreams often don’t quite match up. Relationships are messy. When money and other people and popular culture and expectations become involved, there are bound to be moments far less than ecstatic. And that’s normal.
For one, I didn’t love my engagement ring. I didn’t even particularly LIKE it at first. It’s a family ring that has untold emotional value, very old-fashioned, and for a long time it looked as if I wouldn’t even be able to wear it, as we couldn’t find anyone who could resize it to the extent I needed. As I was about to give up, though, I found a boutique jeweller who took on the task with aplomb, and started wearing it.
You know what? It grew on me. It’s gold, and old, but has a lovely silver filigree, and the three-stone bridge is super cool and has an awesome side profile. I love that it’s unique, and that it has so much history and meaning.
You might remember how I agonised over whether to have a bridal party at all, and if so, who should be in it.
I’m glad I did ask my girlfriends to be part of it (even if only one ended up being able to come), and I’m glad I also asked two of my guy friends to be bridesmen. Friday was girls’ night (my first mani/pedi ever) and Saturday boys’ night (food, food, and more food), and instead of doing my own makeup I was powdered, lined, and curled by friends in the morning. It was a ton more than I would have worn on my own, but it looked good in pictures, I think…!
It wasn’t completely smooth sailing, but I have no regrets.
Sweating the small stuff
Despite being very certain about the kinds of things I did and didn’t want at this wedding (e.g. not to be ‘given away’, because I’m a person, not chattel; or no decor, because I’m missing the gene that enables me to fuss over frippery) as the day got closer, every little thing started to weigh on my mind. Would I be judged for having cheap table covers/no centrepieces/no fancy vehicle/a kickass shabby-chic rustic reception nook that is about as far from a typical pristine wedding venue as possible? OH, THE DOUBTS.
Do you want to know what nearly broke the camel’s back? Flowers. Yes, fucking flowers. Everyone was on my case about flowers; apparently not having flowers is un-wedding like and absolutely unthinkable. I do not like hewing to tradition for tradition’s sake, but it got to the point that I asked a coworker – who edits a bridal magazine – for ideas. She had some great ideas for alternatives, but assured me I didn’t have to carry anything if I didn’t want to.
In the end, I did the flower thing, though ended up ditching my bouquet over a bridge toward the end of our couples photos. Speaking of which, I’m hoping there were a handful of good ones. This face was not made to smile. I reserve the right to exercise bitchface for the rest of the month to make up for it.
Our proposal story isn’t anything incredible. There is no grand gesture here – no tale of an elaborate operation designed to broadcast a proposal upon descent from a skydive. Just us, doing something we love (travelling for a music festival), in the privacy of the bathroom of a Wellington B&B. It’s a story we are both more than happy with, but there was definitely a slight twinge flavoured with a hint of envy whenever I heard about other people’s epic proposals, despite knowing how embarrassed I would be in such a situation.
And despite being one of the first couples we know to get engaged, we were beaten to the altar by a few others. I wanted a long engagement, but yeah, I felt a little usurped at times. On one hand, I was glad to NOT be the first to actually tie the knot. On the other, I worried that those other weddings set a standard that we wouldn’t measure up to.
The most heart-stopping part of all came less than two months before the big day.
There’s nothing harder than hearing someone you love voice soul-shattering doubts about the way forward. It cuts to the bone.
It’s doubly hard when that person has always been the one who loved more, the one who pursued you, the one who pushed for marriage, the one who patiently waited for you to catch up. When, after several years, you’ve finally reached the stage where you feel ready to take the leap, to hear that person retreating. To watch the tissues pile up in the middle of the bed, to put aside your own feelings, to try to determine whether that fear is simply cold feet or stemming from a much deeper problem that you didn’t realise existed. To envision a million alternate paths for your life in the silent spaces between words.
No matter how busy you are and how happy you think you might be, pre-marital counselling is probably a damn good idea.
With all that said …
I don’t know about everyone else, but I had a cracking time overall on Sunday.
I mean, I did not have high hopes to start with. Saturday dawned bright and clear, then dissolved into some serious rainstorms by mid-morning, with forecasts for more of the same until Monday. Things looked amazing on Sunday morning – I was overheating on the way to the venue – but by the time we arrived, a sullen grey drizzle set in. Yet, unbelievably, it more or less cleared by the time we started, stayed sunny throughout photos, and didn’t return to hardcore rain until later on (it hailed at one point after we left).
Nothing went too badly wrong: everyone managed to find the place; I got to see a few people I hadn’t seen in months; friends mended a rift in the course of the afternoon; nobody got out of control; I didn’t cry or suffer dire hayfever symptoms; I only caught my feet in my dress a handful of times (another one of those things I gave in on – having a little bit of a tail on it).
It was by no means perfect, but I didn’t expect it to be. As everyone told me: “Enjoy it while you can – it goes so fast.”
Most of all, I’ve been so surprised – and so touched – by the support and generosity of others. I’m so grateful to everyone I know, from those who helped pull things together to those who sent messages from afar and yes, even you, internet friends, who liked my Instagram pics/favourited my tweets/sent good wishes.
There might even be a tear in my eye as I write this. What a sap.
When I was younger, I couldn’t imagine ever getting married. I was adamant I was going to be a spinster all my life – a word that didn’t yet have the connotations to me that it does now - because I couldn’t imagine wanting to spend my life with one person, or (the horror!) kissing somebody in front of my parents.
You know what? I still can’t, but I guess a wedding is a good enough excuse.
My parents first officially met T when they took me out to dinner shortly after graduation. We’d been together over four years, and I was petrified. So was he. But it went as well as either of us could have expected.
(How do you get to be 21, and in a serious long term relationship, and not meet your girlfriend’s parents until then? Here’s one word: Asian. T is everything they’re not. He’s from a different world entirely in pretty much every aspect. Then again, I’m not quite the daughter they hoped for, although I think they’re happy enough with how I turned out. But despite all that, their opinion DOES matter to me, and I wanted them to like him. I was hoping that we could at least all get along, if nothing else.)
I suppose I’m lucky in that I’m with someone who’s not afraid of commitment. In fact, he wanted marriage sooner rather than later. I always found it frustrating that everything written about relationships on the internet features a woman who wants to get married and a reluctant male. Where were the women who weren’t so sure, with partners ready to commit? I had nobody to relate to.
As a chronically indecisive person, an over-thinker, a second-guesser, I’ve asked myself many times about this. We’re still really young. How do I know this is the right time? The right move? What if, what if, what if?
Nothing is guaranteed in life (except death and taxes, yadda yadda). The degree of risk may vary, but ultimately, everything is a gamble. In taking this leap, I don’t know what the future holds for either of us. I think that I am as certain as I could possibly be.
When doubts start clouding over my sky, I remember one crucial point: I could never – no matter how hard I tried – picture a long-term future down the track in my last relationship. This time, I can.
When we say you get four seasons in a day, we mean it. Sometimes we’ll rotate through all four seasons two or three times, even. I could leave the house in the morning practically perspiring in the cloudless blazing heat, and get to worth 20 minutes later cursing the sudden downpour that caught me halfway. Speaking of downpours, it rains far too much here, and summers are horribly humid. But at least it’s fairly warm! Temperatures range from about 10-25 degrees, depending on the season.
The cost of living
Housing, petrol, food, and anything else you can think of is expensive. The “great Kiwi ripoff” resurfaces in magazine and newspaper features every couple of years or so. We all shake our heads – and fists – for a bit, then settle right back in resignedly. I also bemoan the lack of free and cheap entertainment here, though Silo Park is doing great things on that front.
I walk to work, so I haven’t had to regularly catch the bus in over a year, and it’s wonderful. I have a rule against reading the comments on news articles, but this one basically sums up the state of Auckland public transport: “More evidence that those who plan our public transport don’t actually believe in it.” It’s unreliable, expensive and on some routes, infrequent. And apparently the trains are ditching the option to pay your fare onboard, and introducing a $20 penalty for those who don’t pre-pay. (I imagine a lot of tourists and new immigrants are going to get some nasty surprises.)
And now, to the pros…
Don’t get me wrong, we have some absolutely hideous eyesores of buildings around the place (a “nicer Rio” was how our last Couchsurfing guests described the CBD). But otherwise, we’re pretty darn good looking, with beaches, parks, volcanoes, creeks and more aplenty. Crossing the Harbour Bridge always offers a spectacular sight, and rounding the cliffside corner right where the vista of Piha’s coast opens up is enough to make the heart swell.
I’m sure we have nothing on bigger cities around the world (actually, I KNOW we don’t, having met so many well-travelled visitors through Couchsurfing), but on a national scale, we’re definitely ahead. Cheap and cheerful ethnic restaurants and supermarkets are all over the place, and every year Diwali and Chinese New Year celebrations take place in the CBD, shutting down parts of the streets.
It’s close to everything
Realistically, in New Zealand everything is just a few hours’ drive away. Skifields? Lakes? Forests? Bush? Beaches? Fill up the tank and go.
And of course, I’m thankful for the other things I enjoy as a New Zealand citizen. Free ER visits (though until I met T, I’d never been to the ER in my life), cheap medical care ($5 prescriptions, thank you very much), affordable education (student loans for all), four weeks of paid annual leave (plus a bunch of public holidays) and so on.
ETA: I’m also very proud that we’ve become the first Asia-Pacific nation and the 13th worldwide to legalise same-sex marriage. Ka pai!
Every so often I get comments asking why T doesn’t become a chef (see: Boyfriend in the kitchen). He also gets the same query in real life from friends once in a while, particularly as one of his distant buddies is in the business himself.
It’s simple, really: cooking is one of those things that often makes for a better hobby than a career. Obviously, this isn’t a blanket rule, but in this case, it’s true.
The hours and the pay aren’t great. And progressing to the stage where you actually have real creative control? I suppose you might reach that point quicker if you had, say, your own catering business instead, but again, I don’t think this would be a good choice to fit in with the kind of lives we want to live.
Occasionally he likes to pontificate about how we should start our own cafe/restaurant after a disappointing experience dining out or a particularly ridiculous episode of Kitchen Nightmares - HOW do some of those incompetents ever get started? But I can’t think of anything worse – long and late hours, huge investment in a brick-and-mortar venture, low margins, stress and a high chance of failure. We are both interested in working to live, not living to work, and that’s especially true on his part.
Being able to put together amazing meals on the fly is a wonderful talent, but I don’t think it necessarily translates well to the daily bulk grind of a commercial kitchen. I’m almost certain it might even leach out the enjoyment altogether – in many cases turning a hobby into a career ends up killing the magic. Plus, every essay I’ve ever read by a chef or the spouse of a chef reiterates that they never cook at home. Call me selfish, but I want to keep his skillz for myself.
If cooking was a calling, a burning and all-consuming passion, it might be worth the sacrifices – but it’s not. It’s just one of the many things he’s picked up over the years (including welding, installing car audio, skating, and others) and happens to be outlandishly good at. Now if only he could figure out a direction…
There are lots of other pursuits of which you could say the same. Writing, while a wonderful hobby, is ostensibly one of them. Sports. Acting. Art. Music (for about five minutes back in high school, I was contemplating doing a degree in contemporary rock music).
Got any to add to the list? Ever been told “you’re so good at [X], you should do it for a living”? Or flagged a career path for lifestyle reasons?
Friends are awesome. We could leave it at that, and you’d know exactly what I mean.
But it’s also super handy to have certain kinds of friends. For example:
Our 1998 car has always driven slightly funny, and while we could pin it on something to do with the left back wheel, in 2-plus years no mechanic we’ve been to figured out what the culprit was. But after one conversation over drinks with an acquaintance who works on cars, T came home with a fresh take and a <$200 fix. Frickin’ wheel bearings (um, I think). Cars. So many parts. So many things that can go wrong.
The first time I got a UTI, I self-diagnosed through Google. But the hypochondriac in me still sought out comfort from my med school friend and reassurance that I didn’t have some rare illness that would end in my death.
When you live with a bunch of unruly boys who like to wrestle in the lounge and are prone to breaking windows (easy DIY fix) or smashing up light switches/wiring (not so easy to DIY) it’s much cheaper to bribe a mate who’s a sparky with a box of beer. Could also add other general tradespeople to the list.
Because TAXES. Holy hell, taxes. That said, accountants are everywhere. My mother, several friends’ mothers, several friends, even, and in the future, quite possibly, my own brother. I bet you have multiple accountants in your circles too.
A friend in a good band is invaluable. Their gigs give you a reason to go out on a weekend night, and they’ll hopefully play at your birthday party.
The friend with a bach
Holiday houses are not cheap to rent and they’re always booked up for the times you want to go away. Also add: the friend with the boat/jetskis/kayaks/other leisure toys.
A highly travelled friend is the one you go to for recommendations, insights and encouragement.
(While it might sound a bit mercenary, this really is just a bit of fun.) Got any to add to the list?
I fear I’ll never be good enough at anything professionally. I often feel like a fraud. I fear that I will never figure it out.
This isn’t a big fear, but a small niggly part of me is afraid marriage won’t last.
I fear we will run out of money on our trip and that we will be homeless, jobless, and any other -less you can think of upon our return (even though I know we have family and friends who would take us in and my emergency fund, and at a pinch, credit cards – and I have a job to come back to). I’m equal parts exhilarated and terrified about embracing the great unknown, though the anxiety is rearing its head more often as the day approaches.
One of my dearest friends is about to get formally engaged. It’s a modern arranged marriage, which, from my perspective, simply means that her parents have been heavily involved in the matchmaking (think of them as her wingmen, out scouting the community!), and in the end she has the ultimate choice.
I’ve known her for over 10 years now, and I’ve always known that she would almost certainly have an arranged marriage. That said, I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon and so fast…
Their compressed timeframe is absolutely mind boggling. They met last month. They’re getting engaged over in his hometown over Easter. They’ll be tying the knot later this year (as in, within six months or less). I don’t know about him, but she hasn’t really dated anyone else. I know it took me years to learn to be in a healthy relationship, so I struggle to fathom how two strangers, essentially, can slot into each other’s lives just like that.
That said, I really like the guy. Us girls all do, based on our one and only meeting so far – we have no quibbles whatsoever with him. In fact, he seems just about eerily perfect for her. After all, the families have spent years looking for the right match, so maybe it’s not all that surprising. I think they’ll be just fine.
Intellectually, I don’t have a problem with her arranged marriage. It’s an active, informed choice she’s made, and I support it. Given that we’re not dealing in dowries here, I don’t see anything inherently anti-feminist about an arranged marriage.
BUT. There’s a but. Most of all, what bugs me is the fact that by default, she will be moving to Australia to live. And that’s what gets my goat. That the convention is to defer to the guy – though I suppose the context for this part of the tradition is exactly the same reason many women take a backseat to men in general, arranged marriage or not: generally, the guy is older (in this case, true), his career is more settled (true), lucrative (unclear – I don’t know what he does aside from the broad industry), etc, and thus takes precedence. I imagine this is even more pronounced in an arranged marriage, where the families are probably quite concerned with finding a ‘successful’ man, while the criteria for good wife material is perhaps not measured quite the same way.
There was one family member, though, whom I’d always been led to understand had some money put away for a rainy day. Yet the last few years have been extremely tough times for her, and I didn’t really understand why. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to the matter. I just kind of sighed, threw my hands up and thought for the millionth time that sometimes life would be easier if you could choose your families.
I had NO idea what was going on. Now I know. While I’m glad there is a solid reason, I’m incredibly sad now that I’m privy to what it is.
It’s a prime example of when being the responsible one, the good person in the family, doesn’t pay. When savings are drained to cover a loved one’s private medical bills, a subsequent funeral, and other such costs. Of wanting that loved one to have only the best, to ease their last days on earth, to be farewelled with dignity.
Life is hard enough when penniless. But what about after that? How do people handle the costs of death when everyone is broke? I suppose we’d better prepare for footing some or all of the costs when his immediate family members pass on. Morbid. Depressing. Necessary.
Following on from that, said family member is now raising two young kids (extended family). She is hands down the best choice to be doing this right now. No argument there. The problem is she’s doing it on literally no money, thanks to certain ridiculous choices by the parents.
Again, being the responsible one is definitely not paying off. But is doing the right thing ever the easy path? I wish I could say I believed we all get in life only what we can handle, and only what we deserve, but I know better.
Why travel the world? I’ve been thinking lately about why travel is important to me. Why I choose to spend my time and money on travel, and why we’re taking half a year out to see the world. After all, it’s easy to look at beautiful pictures of mountains, or buildings, or beaches, from the comfort of your own home. Heck, sometimes you’ll get a better view that way. Often monuments are underwhelming in the flesh, or dirty, or crowded, or hard to see from the ground.
That said, wanderlust is in my bones. I want to see these places in the flesh. Breathe the air. See the colours. Taste the flavours. I won’t, lie, one of my big motivators is…
We get pretty good Asian food in New Zealand, being in the Pacific. That said, I want to eat authentic Vietnamese and Thai noodle soups. I want to try genuine Greek and Italian food (which we don’t get so much of here). I want to eat real Mexican, French pastries, In-N-Out Burger, and churros in Spain.
It’s basically impossible not to be inspired by the sights you’ll see and the people you’ll meet. Write, photograph, paint, draw – whatever your vice, you will find fresh creative fodder on the road. Hand in hand with inspiration (at least for me) also comes sheer contentment. It’s likely bad things will happen along the way. You’ll miss a bus or run out of petrol or lose a memory card or get food poisoning … but it’s all part of the experience. Think of the stories you’ll tell when you get back. Overall, travel is always an amazing experience for me, and it’s always worth it. As a rule, I’m deliriously happy when I’m travelling. It’s a feeling that I just believe how lucky I am to be where I am at any given moment, and am constantly pinching myself to make sure it’s real.
Get some perspective
Basically all the couchsurfers we’ve hosted have said how much they’d like to live here and that they could see themselves staying in New Zealand if they could get a job. It is a beautiful country, and it’s hard for ME not to get caught up in their amazement and awe myself. You get to see your country through new eyes. Conversely, when you’re the visitor in someone else’s country, learning about their customs and laws and environment and culture, you will either learn just how lucky you are to live where you do, or see its shortcomings more clearly (or a bit of both). Travel helps you clarify what’s important to you. Broadening your horizons = personal growth.
Some of my fondest memories are from the road. Wandering Sydney’s suburban streets. Walking along Bondi in bare feet, and getting strange looks for it. Trying not to lose my shit as I fell 15,000 feet from a plane over Queenstown. The meeting of sea and sky in one glorious palette at Kaikoura. The crystal clear waters of Rarotonga. Freezing my ass off on the walk to Fox Glacier. Drinking from a waterfall at Milford Sound. Spotting penguins in the Catlins. Cursing the squawking ducks on Lake te Anau. Photographing the whooshing geysers at the Pancake Rocks, and feeding weka in the carpark. Getting lost in Mt Aspiring National Park, and stopping to climb the rocks at Hospital Flat. The hidden charms of New Chum’s Beach and Cathedral Cove. All the better, almost all of these are shared experiences with T I won’t forget.
Because I have a new plugin, I’ve gone a bit tad crazy. Vote on my travel polls below!