Hong Kong: Day One

After an eleven hour flight, only three of which we actually managed to sleep (and even then only fitfully), we touched down in Hong Kong at 2pm this afternoon. One train and an expertly blagged free bus later we were standing outside our guest house on the 13th floor of the infamous Chung King Mansions hammering on the door and staring forlornly through it at the empty reception desk. Fortunately it was only a few minutes (and a passing cockroach) later that someone appeared to let us in. Somewhat less fortunately we were then asked to pay the  balance in full for our two night stay (£100), despite me having thought I’d done this months ago through the booking website. Unable to get online to verify this (great idea Tesco banking for refusing to let customers log on from abroad unless they confirm a text message you’ve sent them – however Three, as I’ve discovered today to my chagrin, don’t automatically set new customers up with data roaming when abroad. How then, pray tell, am I meant to confirm a text and log on if I don’t have phone reception to receive it?) we reluctantly handed over the cash before being led to our cell-like “double” room.

The trauma of the room behind us we attempted to shake off our tiredness and go out-a plan made somewhat trickier by the horrendous backache that’s crept up on me over the past few days and is now not only fully fledged but also, it would seem, here to stay (bodes well for the days of trekking ahead…). It took all of my strength to get out of the guest house but happily once we were out things improved immeasurably.

We’ve spent this evening wandering around the night market, sampling lots of yummy street food and taking a promenade along (culminating in a night cap overlooking) Hong Kong’s stunning harbour. I’m still in pain with this stupid back ailment but we are at least firmly back on track with the holiday enjoyment, which is very much the most important thing. Next stop New Year’s Eve and I cannot wait!

image

Advertisements

See you on the Other Side….

After months of waiting I can hardly believe today is finally here. In ten minutes we will be setting off for the airport to catch our flight to Hong Kong where we will be seeing in the New Year. Then, on January 1st we will be flying to Manila to begin a twelve day adventure that will take in the mountainous regions of Northern Luzon, the famous world heritage Cordillera rice terraces and Cebu in the Visayan islands, where we will be diving with whale sharks and thresher sharks as well as doing our bit to help with the typhoon relief effort on Malapascua island.

It’s been a long time coming and has taken a huge amount of planning, so it’s an amazing feeling to finally be ready to embark on the journey. Though this will no doubt surprise many people who know me to be a social media addict, I’m actually looking forward to two weeks ‘off the grid’ (which will stand me in excellent stead for my 26.2 day sponsored social media silence in February, in aid of my Rome marathon effort in March – training for which will be firmly on the back burner for the next two weeks, but will be resumed in earnest upon my return).

I will, of course, fulfil my final two posts of this year’s Belle 365 daily blogging challenge before heading off into the wilderness, so will have a chance to wish you all a Happy New Year once we have touched down in Hong Kong. Which means all there is to say for now is ‘see you on the other side’!

holiday-destinations-india

Marshmallow dreaming

I would have been good at that marshmallow experiment they used to conduct on children in the ’60s (you know the one, where kids were offered one marshmallow to eat now or two if they waited twenty minutes – to test the effects of delayed gratification). Why? Because I’ll take build up and anticipation over instant gratification any day (unless it involves wine on a Friday night, but that’s another story).

Apologies in advance for stating the obvious, but once you’ve had something pleasurable, whether it be a holiday, birthday party or a cream cake, it’s over – the exception being, of course, if you’re lucky enough to be able to have it over and over again (though surely then you run the risk of being desensitised to the pleasurable outcomes in the long run anyway?) However, if you have to wait for that pleasurable thing, whatever it may be, then when it finally comes around it will not only be all the sweeter, you will also have enjoyed the anticipation of its arrival. Hence the overall experience will have been more gratifying. Or at least I think that’s the theory behind the marshmallow experiment (don’t quote me on that, there’s a reason I never made it beyond undergraduate level in Psychology).

How about this for an example: Most women will know the heady feeling of excitement that accompanies an impulse shopping spree, yet they will also be familiar with the speed with which that excitement wanes and the items become consigned to the back of the wardrobe, ready to be replaced when the next moment of impulse comes around. If they have had to save up for one premium item over the course of several weeks or months, however, the feeling of anticipation will have built up so much that when they do finally have the item in their hands they will cherish and love it for far longer.

Over the years I’ve been known to fall victim to the occasional impulse shopping spree, but by and large my ‘thing’ is not material items such as clothes but rather experiences – because at the end of my life it’s not the clothes I’ll be looking back and reminiscing on. Planning holidays is the perfect example of delayed gratification. From their conception to the moment they eventually come into being they create a buzz of delicious excitement and anticipation. I like booking mini breaks far in advance (not least because it’s so much cheaper, especially if you’re going abroad and need to book flights) and spending the weeks leading up to them daydreaming, imagining walks by beautiful rivers and lazy dinners in the early evening beneath the setting of the sun.

Then, once they’re over you can start the process all over again – it beats buying a new skirt from Hennes any day of the week, at least in my opinion! Now where did I put those marshmallows…

Why we should be proud of our young people

This afternoon I accompanied two senior members of my charity’s youth-led consultancy board (a group of Teens and Toddlers graduates who now help other young people to continue their personal and professional development, as well as themselves being helped by the charity on an ongoing basis through initiatives like corporate mentoring, work placements and signposting to relevant opportunities) to the Hackney University Technical College in order to do some filming for an exciting new youth initiative (which we’re not yet at liberty to discuss in the public arena). [As an aside, one of the two people I went with also now happens to be my colleague, which goes to show what a great job the charity does in helping young people to develop!]

The filming was coordinated entirely by year 10 students, and it was so incredibly inspirational to see how professional and focused they were, from the cameraman to the interviewer and everyone in between. What I personally found particularly uplifting was watching our young people talking to the students about how the charity had helped them, and seeing how enthusiastic they all were about this project and the prospect of working together in the future.

There will always be the odd down day in any job, but if ever I needed a reminder why I do this job it was this afternoon’s experience. This kind of frontline interaction is exactly what I’ve felt was missing in my previous jobs, and it’s both a privilege and an honour to be able to work closely with such fantastic young people on a regular basis.

Anyone with doubts about the future of today’s youth need only look to our YLCB and the Hackney UTC students to see there’s still so much to be hopeful about. Far from being a lost cause, on the basis of what I witnessed today we have every reason to be proud of the younger generation. Many of them are the leaders of tomorrow, and I have high hopes they’ll achieve great things.

The long game

There’s nothing like the first flush of love, that rush of warm emotion that engulfs you in the early stages of a relationship as you realise that this person could be someone really special. It’s not something that can be put into words, but rather an unspoken agreement it’s the two of you against the world. A look, a smile is all it takes to reinforce that secret pact: You are unified in love, your bond unbreakable.

Fast forward two years and you find yourself sitting on the sofa on a Saturday night drinking Merlot and waiting for the pizza delivery as the love of your life sits in front of a giant plasma screen TV, a games console controller glued to his hand and a look of concentration on his face that’s so fierce you don’t dare to interrupt with anything as banal as intelligent conversation.

They say that love is blind, you see, but what they don’t tell you is the blindness is only a temporary affliction. Before you know it the bad habits will begin to rear their ugly heads, slowly at first – a burp here, a fart there – but come they will. And when they do, you’ll also start to notice all of the deals you’re unwittingly entering into; when he does something nice for you, you realise it’s not just for the sake of being nice, it’s a bargaining tool. The nice acts all add up to passes, tokens to appease the various indiscretions that will certainly occur during the tenure of your relationship. You, my friend, are being played, and whilst it’s by no means malicious (let’s face it, men are simple creatures), it’s nonetheless a startling realisation when it finally dawns.

One such token is for gaming time, not something I’ve had to endure for several years until today, but now apparently a cross I’ll have to bear from this day forth. In those halcyon early days he wouldn’t dream of suggesting you watch him playing computer games with his friends; he’s far too busy charming you with meals and flattering you with compliments. When you’re more established, however, and you have earned the title of ‘being one of the boys,’ I say to you this: Beware. For it is now that you are on the cusp of losing what little power you had. Feminine wiles only go so far, the lure of gaming is infinite.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I accept my fate; that my relationship has finally taken that inevitable turn into the comfort zone. But at least my boyfriend knows how to look after his gaming widow; he’s bought me a bottle of Merlot and a copy of Grazia to keep me entertained. Which has bought him at least another hour of gaming. Hmm, thinking about it, maybe men aren’t such simple creatures after all…

Time flies

I can hardly believe my final week at work is already upon me. It’s a cliché, I know, but time really does fly – not so sure about the ‘when you’re having fun’ bit, but hopefully that’s still to come. This time next week, quite possibly, as I recover from this weekend’s 16 mile Wholefoods run in style with a trip to the Big Apple to visit the girl I affectionately call my ‘spiritual twin’ (so named after the two weeks we spent helping each other  cling to our sanity in an ashram in southern India in 2011).

After the events of the past few weeks a holiday is just what the doctor ordered, and I’m very much looking forward to taking some time out to reflect on the imminent changes in my life (not to mention start tackling the enormous writing-related tomes I’ve purchased in preparation for going freelance). The plan, thus far, is to sip coffee, nibble (oh alright, scoff) cake, down wine and eat inordinately large amounts of CHEESE – with a bit of sightseeing and a LOT of nattering thrown into the mix to boot. In short, we’re going to set the world to rights one mouthful at a time and I cannot WAIT.

Because of all the recent changes in my own life it’s no surprise that I’ve been ruminating on the nature and importance of change as a life driver. Should we, I wonder, embrace it regularly as a way to rejuvenate ourselves, or should we rather seek out a more preferable state of equilibrium, in which we can be happy to see out the rest of our days?

At the moment I’m inclined to think the former, not least because of this article I remembered having read a few years back about how the brain perceives time. The article discusses the central concepts of a book, Making Time, written by Steve Taylor. In it, he claims that as we get older it seems as though time is speeding up, but that’s only because we fall into hum drum existences and get caught up in the same old cycle, day in, day out. If we seek out new experiences – for example by filling our weekends with trips to art galleries, coffee in kitsch new coffee houses and lunches and dinners in new locations with friends and family – then our perception of time actually changes and we view it as having passed more slowly than it actually did.

It could be argued that this is counter-intuitive, since the sensation of being bored often feel s as if it spans a lifetime, but if you stop to consider how fast the last five years have gone since you joined your current company you might begin to give credence to the idea.

As I’m no expert in how to live life, I’ll close with a quote from Steve Taylor’s book:

“Make sure your life is as full of new experiences as possible. If you live a life that’s full of routine, then time will always speed up but if you make an effort to travel to new environments and expose yourself to new situations, new challenges, even something simple like a new route to work, new interests, new hobbies, then this degree of newness slows down time.”

It seems a pretty compelling argument to me. Now where DID I put that passport….?

533237_10152577828025057_891854652_n

I fell in love with this clock in the main square of Prague’s old town. It looks like a time machine!

What makes you tick?

Recent “research” from the folk over at Facebook posits more people see our posts than we might think. I put the word research in speech marks because this comes at a time when Facebook is being criticised for limiting the reach of peoples’ posts to force them to pay for promoted posts. The research in question, therefore, could be taken to be a poorly disguised and somewhat unscrupulous attempt to generate positive PR in response to the media backlash.

But whatever the reason, the research has got me thinking about the reach and impact of my own posts on social media, and indeed my blog. I must confess to feeling a sense of deflation when I see the number of views on my posts declining, and a rush of excitement when they begin to climb again. When someone new follows my blog I beam from ear to ear. Why? Because it means there are people out there who actually like what I write and who, rather than briefly scanning posts before deleting them, want to read them with some degree of regularity.

But who are my followers, and those who like to read my musings frequently? What drives them? What makes them tick? And what is it about my writing that keeps them coming back for more? It strikes me now I think about it that thus far in my writing experiment it’s been almost entirely one-sided. What I’d love to know is what my readers would like more of, what they’d like less of, and generally how I can write in a way that’s more agreeable to them.

It’s fair to say we writers crave acknowledgement, and the best form of acknowledgement – to my mind, at least – is feedback. But the online world operates in a similar way to the real world when it comes to levels of active involvement. Humans fall roughly into two categories; introverts and extroverts. I say roughly fall into, because it’s rare to find someone who would claim to be entirely introvert or entirely extrovert – we usually all exhibit both persuasions from time to time.

This brings me back to the Facebook research. I think it’s probably true that we engage more people than we think when we post things on the internet – because a lot of those who read it aren’t inclined to comment or to actively engage with the content. They are passive observers, perhaps because they’re introverts whose nature isn’t to wade in and shout about their thoughts and feelings but rather to consider them and process them privately. Them not engaging may not, therefore, mean they aren’t enjoying the content, but rather that they prefer to enjoy it from afar.

This rationale (irrational as it may well be) makes me feel better about not having lots of feedback on my writing. What it fails to do is make me any less curious about who my readers are and what they most like to read.

So if you’re reading this and feel inclined to drop me a line about what makes you tick, I’d really love to hear from you…

photo