The year in review

I dodged a bullet on Tuesday night, figuratively speaking. Scores of flights were cancelled due to the ash cloud hovering over Australia. If I had flown to Bali from Sydney, I actually wouldn’t have made it. As it was, on my whirlwind visit home recently, I decided to pop down to Melbourne for a couple of days to visit friends after a wonderful week in Sydney…and my flight from Melbourne to Denpasar was one of the very few flights that hadn’t been cancelled. Phew. Melbourne airport was like a ghost town. Although the flight ended up taking more than 3 hours longer because of the new flight path, the fact that I am here in Ubud right now feels like a sign that the universe is totally on my side.

It’s hard to believe that I’m 30 today. Just getting to this age feels like an achievement, let alone actually doing anything! And now that I have some quiet time to actually stop and think about what’s happening over the next week or so, I’m thrilled, because it goes something like this: Ubud > Bangkok > Helsinki > Stockholm > London > Paris. I’ll be catching up with people in all those places, including some random acquaintances I’ve made in the past year. As for Ubud, I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of Josh who will be getting here around lunchtime. He doesn’t know it yet, but his taxi will actually be stopping to pick me up on the way to the hotel we’re staying at today. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when I surprise him.

I’m writing this early Thursday morning from the front porch of the bungalow I’m staying in on Jalan Hanoman (Dewa Bungalows), one of the main streets of Ubud. I’m listening to the sound of roosters crowing and birds singing. The air is cool so I have a wrap over my pink summer dress. There’s the smell of burning alongside the scent of frangipani, which is exactly the combination of smells I remembered from Bali when I last visited. Actually, being here in this bungalow is also proof that I’m getting far better at doing what’s right by me. I had a somewhat disappointing start to my stay in Bali – the first night I was in an over-priced Balinese homestay (Artini 1) and was pretty unhappy with the service and how their taxi driver charged me 30% more than what we had agreed by email; I didn’t have the energy to argue at 4.30am. So the next morning I packed my bags and decided to look for somewhere else rather than stay another night. I could tell that the guy at Artini 2 was angry underneath his polite exterior when I said I had found somewhere else to stay. Living in Thailand for the past year has made me so much more sensitive to these kinds of emotional undercurrents! I can’t praise my new accommodation enough; for slightly less than what I was paying for the homestay, I am being really well looked after. The staff here recommended a day spa, which I visited yesterday (SANg Spa), and it was phenomenal, particularly given what I paid for more than four hours of various treatments. Certainly better service and value than what I experienced in Thailand. And to top it all off, while I was getting a pedicure, I was reading a trashy Charlaine Harris novel I had picked up from the bookshop down the road. I am officially on holidays!

Having said all that, it was quite interesting to observe some of the rituals that took place in the homestay. I woke yesterday morning to the smell of burning incense and a woman carefully going from statue to statue flicking water at them and laying flowers at the base of each one. Meanwhile, a man was deep in prayer.

Inside a traditional Balinese home in Ubud
Inside a traditional Balinese home in Ubud

I last blogged more than two months ago because I haven’t had the head space to pause and reflect.The day before I went to Vietnam in April, I actually quit my job. The ensuing four weeks were pretty difficult; the amount of work I got through was little short of a mountain’s worth. Many people in my position probably wouldn’t have been so conscientious, particularly given everything that had happened. But I decided to work hard so by the time the beginning of May rolled around, an enormous weight was lifted off my shoulders because I was finally free.

Well, not exactly.

I found myself managing the TEDx event full-time, even putting in a few 16 hour days just making sure everything was done. I had a huge team behind me, and it totally wouldn’t have been possible to organise an event like TEDx without that kind of support, but ultimately a lot of things ended up with me to deal with. Even though it was horribly stressful at times being saddled with so much work, I realised just how much more satisfying it is to work on something that you set the direction for. For the first time in my life, I think I understood what it meant to work for myself – and I loved it. I also gained some insights into what it means to be a woman in a leadership role. As for the event itself, it went well and totally surpassed my initial vision for the event. I feel really proud that we were able to contribute something of cultural and intellectual value to Chiang Mai.

The team that made is possible
The team that made it all possible

The feedback we got from participants was overwhelmingly positive and people are now eagerly awaiting the edited videos going up online. I won’t be around to do the next one but I’ve found someone who is keen to carry the torch so I’ll work with him to ensure that the next one is even better. I loved the two parties we had on either side of the event too; they were real moments of calm where I got to kick back and enjoy the festive atmosphere.

With Mandy and Katherine at the pre-event dinner
With Mandy and Katherine at the pre-event dinner

When I think about other things I’ve blogged about over the past year, my life seems so much richer. After the burglary, I came away with a different sense of attachment to my material possessions. I’ve travelled to new parts and revisited old ones; I even managed to get to Vietnam a few times, and that’s been a transformative experience – my Vietnam chapter has only started.

Dinner with my friend Hanh in Hanoi
Dinner with my friend Hanh in Hanoi

I got to host visitors, including my family, as well as catch up with old friends. I lived and worked in a country very different to Australia, and for the most part it was a real success. I made some close Thai friends along the way, got good insights into another culture and learnt a new language too. I dealt with a lot of conflict and various other problems, but got through all that, and hopefully next time I’ll deal with all that stuff a lot better. Overall, I feel a lot stronger and perhaps even a bit wiser too.

With my Thai teacher
With my Thai teacher. Hmm, there seem to be a lot of photos around of me holding glasses of wine!

The year also started off with a friendship back home ending suddenly but that feels so small now, because over the past year a lot of other friendships grew stronger as well as a lot of new friends entered my life. I caught up with one of them in Melbourne the other day who said to me as we hugged goodbye, “I’ve missed having you in my life”. And I knew exactly how he felt, because we became close in a way that would’ve been a lot less likely back home.

Being in Sydney again recently also made me feel so lucky to have good friends at home, so that’s the other big and perhaps unsurprising conclusion I’ve had about the past year: I love being at home. Being overseas is great and I’ve really enjoyed it but having a sense of belonging, and the comfort of family and friends is something that I value so much more. Two of my friends in Melbourne are Sydneysiders who had made the switch in the past year or so, and Melbourne life really agrees with them. And though I like Melbourne a lot and it is undeniably better in some ways, my affection for Sydney only ever grows with each passing year. It’s somewhere I want to be, and I guess it also seems to be a place where I feel like I can be part of positive change. So being home made me feel very excited about returning to more interesting work and having a life there with Josh, which is not something we had before we moved to Thailand. We had a great time living together and this past year has helped us really strengthen our relationship, away from the distractions of home. Crazy to think that three years ago I didn’t even know that he existed; and now I can’t imagine my life without him.

In conclusion, I’m extremely grateful that my job wasn’t what I was after, even though that’s the main reason I moved to Chiang Mai. Having a less than satisfying job really motivated me to do something to inspire myself and to think about new directions. I guess this is what being ’empowered’ is all about; relying on yourself, rather than what surrounds you. For me, this meant organising a TEDx conference and moving to Paris for the summer to study writing and French; but maybe I’m kind of extreme! If I had been unhappy back home, I probably would’ve just changed jobs; but being in Thailand was somehow so much more liberating in the regard. The experience of living abroad again has totally opened up my mind – which was kind of the whole point.

I never dreamed in a million years that I would be where I am today on 23 June 2011; in Bali, waiting for the love of my life to turn up – because he’s in a plane on the way here! – not working and about to spend the summer in Paris and being a writer. Happy thirtieth birthday to me!

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2 thoughts on “The year in review

  1. Hi Sheila – bummer that things at Artini did not work out for you. We had such a wonderful time there. Can’t believe the driver charged you extra, that is just not right. But I am glad you walked out and found a better place to stay! And then of course it was wonderful to her that the place you stayed at for your birthday itself was all that you wanted. It sounds truely magical – and what a great place to get engaged! Congrats to you both. Enjoy your course in Paris. We look forward to seeing you and Josh again someday, somewhere in the world. Till then, take care — Shyla

    1. Hi Shyla, yeah Artini ended up being disappointing for various reasons (including the cost of the taxi) but never mind, live and laern. Thanks for your nice message and see you again somewhere in the world! Safe travels.

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