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Book Review – Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown

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Book Review:

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Vulnerability ≠ weakness

Vulnerability does not equal weakness. Who knew? I always thought it did, and I bet few of you do as well. It’s amazing the things people can do to avoid it –  perfectionism, numbing, acting the victim.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.

The premise of Brene Brown’s latest book is based around a quote from US president Theodore Roosevelt, called The Man in the Arena. Another brief way to sum it up is Nike’s slogan Just Do It. What matters is not whether you succeed or win, but just getting out there and attempting to do something, taking a risk, making yourself vulnerable to the chance that you may not make it, but Daring Greatlyat least you tried.

In fact she proposes that if we don’t feel uncomfortable (out of our comfort zone) from time to time, we aren’t getting out into the arena and taking risks.

In some ways, this idea could be a dismissed as a generic ‘motherhood’ statement. But if we look deeper at society as a whole (particularly the US), it breeds a culture of scarcity – we are never enough. Thin enough; smart enough; rich, perfect, successful enough. The critics are quick to jump in and shoot down anyone who puts out their neck – all from the comfort of their computer desk.

The good news is that owning your story means you get to write the ending. You don’t have to something hold you back. Shame and fear of vulnerability keep us from owning up to things about ourselves that we don’t want others to know, for fear of ‘being found out’ and judged. It may be a disadvantaged childhood, addiction, violence, and countless others. We often hide these things by keeping our distance from others.daringgreatlybadge

By being open about who we are and how we got to where we are (being vulnerable), we risk judgement. But in doing so, often gain respect. ‘Wow, I had that experience too. I’m glad someone else had the courage to be open about it.’ And then you can move on. That was then, this is now. You choose what happens next.

Think about it – does that show weakness? Or more like bravery, wholeheartedness, courage? Sure, sometimes you will get kicked, shot down in flames, but other times it will open new opportunities and strengthen bonds, and you don’t have to keep carrying around that shield of emotional armour.

Throughout the book, this researcher weaves her own experiences, of success, failure, shame and wholeheartedness. It covers examples of the personal, work place and parenting. She points out many distinctions between some terminology, and it’s not just the words:

Childish vs child-like

We all know the worst of the 2-3 year old tantrums. I want what I want, and I want it NOW! That’s childish. We can all think of a few adults who have never quite grown out of that mentality. Whereas child-like implies an innocence, fascination with the world, willingness to experiment without fear of failing or what others will think. Creativity flourishes with child-like openness.

Shame vs guilt

Shame implies that you are a bad person. No wonder you did a stupid thing – that’s just the way you are. Not much you can do about that. Whereas guilt means that you did a bad thing. That’s okay, you’re still a good person, loveable and worthy; you can correct it or try better next time.

Fitting in vs belonging

This is an interesting one, that I had never really thought about before. Fitting in is at it’s most obvious around high school, but doesn’t necessarily end there. We do what we think we make us liked, included, part of the group. But belonging is truly being who you are, and being loved for it, even if it’s different from the others.

…what would it be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen…

I thoroughly enjoyed Daring Greatly. As fan of Brown’s work, I appreciate her openness and find her perspective insightful. It made me think a lot about myself and others, and how I might improve in some areas. She shares anecdotes that show us that she is not perfect, does not have all the answers, and still makes mistakes. In other words, human.

Brene Brown’s website

Re-post: Slow Boat to China (published)

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I’m reposting this story – which was published in The Weekend Australian – Travel  section, with the title ‘Nice and slowly does it’.

Newspaper clipping

Published story – The Weekend Australian/ Travel & Indulgence section 13 July 13

I haven’t heard that phrase used much lately, but it seemed pretty popular when I was growing up. Maybe it’s not politically correct anymore, or the slow boat has stopped its services to Asia.

I’m not the first person to take the trip – there’s even a song about it, by the quintessential traveller and singer/ songwriter, Jimmy Buffett. Slow Boat to China – Jimmy Buffett

Looking back to 1997, I was a solo western female traveller working my way around Asia. I found myself in Hong Kong, just months before the monumental handover ceremony from British rule to the Chinese. I prepared myself to brave the journey from modern Hong Kong to mainland China. It hadn’t been long since China opened it’s borders to independent travellers rather than only organised tours.

Hong Kong Harbour lights

At the ferry terminal – a veritable hubbub of activity and people from all walks of life – I worked my way to the ticket booths, and began to work out my travel options  – how much tickets cost, what time the services departed and arrived, what type of boat.

In the end I chose a ferry boat that departed in the evening and arrived into Guangzhou early the next morning. There was a faster, sleeker boat that took only about 3 hours for the journey, but for my introduction to the mainland, I chose to take the slow boat to China.

A large open plan room, full of bunk beds like a dormitory, made for the sleeping quarters. Well-worn but surprisingly clean, it was the space where I would spent the next 10 hours with my Chinese fellow passengers. Well-worn travel bags and basic clothes made me think many of them had made the trip to the metropolis to sell goods, and were now returning home. The main attraction for their journey was… a karaoke bar!

Ticket for the 'Slow Boat to China'

I had no idea what to expect upon arrival. Guidebooks can provide only so much in advance, and things were changing so quickly (in some aspects), it was hard to predict anything. As fate would have it, I encountered another backpacking English speaker on the voyage. In fact, he spoke fluent Chinese, having done some missionary work. What better travel companion to encounter!

Cruising up the Shiziyang River, I knew that choosing the slow boat was the best choice – a gradual introduction to the spectacular natural scenery, juxtaposed with heavy industry and cargo ships. While Hong Kong at the time was a vibrant metropolis, entering mainland China felt like taking a step back in time. Or rather a exercise in simultaneous co-existence old, very old and the new and modern.

Arriving into Guangzhou, mainland China

21 again

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My niece recently celebrated her 21st birthday. She is confident, beautiful, a good student and a lot of fun. And a great role model for her younger cousins. I have just realised that I’m twice her age – I turned 21 the year before she was born. Which leads me to reminisce about what my world looked like at twenty-one…

A major song on the music scene was Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, which really set the scene for the grunge decade. The US president was George Bush Sr, and the US was fighting the Gulf War in Iraq.

Ecuador

Children in rural Ecuador

I was about half-way through my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota, and my 21st birthday fell during a six month university exchange in Quito, Ecuador. A group of about ten of us lived with local families and participated in internships with local organizations.

To celebrate my 21st, there was a family dinner with traditional Ecuadorian cuisine – most of it very tasty, not too spicy – but then there was also the unusual local delicacy: guinea pig. [see The moment I…] I spoke on the phone to my Mom, one of the few occasions during my sojourn, as it was still relatively expensive (and of course pre-dates email). In some ways, the birthday was an anti-climax, and not a huge celebration.

As a caucasian (and blonde) in a country of darker peoples, I stood out everywhere I went. Fortunately my Spanish skills were advanced (from high school exchange in Mexico, and university classes), so I could navigate my way around pretty well, and knew when people were talking about me.

While the people I met treated me decently, the anonymous men on the street could only see a blonde woman and all that the image conjures up in their minds. Relentless whistles, murmuring under the breath, calling out invitations, little clicking noises with their tongues. I had grown somewhat immune to this behaviour, but it still got to me some days.

Street musicians play pan flutes and traditional songs. This typical folk song was popularised by Simon & Garfunkel – El Condor Pasa.

But, I digress. This story is about the year I turned 21; I will have to share more about Ecuador another time. However, it is relevant as this experience shaped my outlook.

Angel Falls

Angel Falls – “Salto Angel”

After the exchange finished, three of us (two females, one male) set off on a backpacking trip across Colombia and Venezuela. For two months, we took hair-raising bus rides, uncertain whether we would reach our destination safe and sound. The ultimate destination we aimed for was Angel Falls (Salto Angel), in remote southern Venezuela. In case you weren’t aware (and I certainly wasn’t before then), it is the highest waterfall in the world.

Eventually the time and money ran out, and we returned to the University of Minnesota. ‘Reverse culture shock’ on returning home can sometimes be worse. We had photos to share, stories of adventure and near mishaps, experiences of great beauty and heart-wrenching poverty, yet most people couldn’t relate to the magnitude of the experience.

Journals

Journals from early 90s

I got back into my studies and a part time job on campus, while living at home until I could save up enough to move out again. I still felt confusion and disconnect with what was around me. I spent more time with those who had been on the exchange than I did with other friends from before. I had a lot of good times too, drinking far too much as university students tend to do.

My previous boyfriend had broken up with me, and after all the heckling I experienced, I wasn’t in a rush to find someone else.  After hearing every guy saying ‘You are so beautiful and special’, you know it’s just a line and tune out. I got a bit jaded and didn’t really believe anyone who tried to tell me that, even if they genuinely meant it. I put my walls up pretty high when it came to getting close to anyone. I expressed a lot of passionate points of view on politics and the world, but didn’t share much about what I felt inside.

It was later that year that I decided to stop eating meat [see The moment I … ]. Reading through my old journals, it took about six months to really get back into the swing of study, work and finding my place with friends. Eventually I moved into an apartment near campus, which suited me more than living at home in the suburbs.

Looking back, it was an amazing year, full of ups and downs, good times and some struggles too. Certainly the highlight was the time spent in South America.

Itchy Feet, or Climb Ev’ry Mountain

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The Travel Bug can bite at any time. I spent a lot of time travelling for most of my 20’s. Then I got married, had kids, a mortgage and full-time work, and travel was put on the back-burner.

Now it seems my feet are getting itchy again. Recently, a colleague spent 3 weeks in Italy with her sister. She shared photos, and tales of flying in the Airbus A380, getting lost down little laneways, and drinking local wines. Another colleague went with a group of girlfriends to Vanuatu to celebrate one of their birthdays. And yet another attended a wedding in Fiji. Soon my turn will come, with a visit to Melbourne in August.

What so many tend to overlook is what’s on our own doorstep. We only take advantage of local attractions when visitors come to town. We get blasé about the things we ‘could’ go and see ‘any time’.

Mt Coolum

Mt Coolum

Saturday morning. First day of the school break (mid-year two week break). Blue skies and pleasantly fresh morning. Nothing at all planned for the day, but it’s far too nice to stay indoors.

Then a light bulb moment. ‘I know!’ I exclaim enthusiastically to the kids as they flip through the channels, ‘Let’s climb Mt Coolum’. Much to my amazement, they agree. Although it takes an hour to get dressed and put together a small day-pack, we’re ready to head out for the 20 minute drive.

Mt Coolum stands just over 200m high, barely a kilometre inland from the Pacific coast, in southeast Queensland. Technically it’s called an ‘isolated volcanic dome’, and it brings to mind a much smaller, subtropical version of Uluru (Ayers Rock). Most people climb for the spectacular views of the coastline, but it also has unique ecological diversity of birds, plants, and trees (nearly 600 flowering plants, for example).

Mt Coolum Entry sign

Mt Coolum Entry sign

For reasons unknown, although you certainly can’t miss the outcrop itself, the base of the climb is not well-signed and finding the parking area proves tricky. The local shopkeepers must be used to providing directions, and the bakery lady was happy to oblige.

To illustrate my either point about not taking advantage of local opportunities, I have to admit that I had in fact made this climb once before – prior to having children! So, at least 12 years ago. In the last couple years, there have been upgrades to the walking trail and it’s well maintained, though still has a natural feel. The national park sign at the entrance states that you should ‘allow 2 hours’ for the return trip, but we were back in about a 1.5 hours, and spent plenty of time at the top enjoying the views.

Steep path climbing Mt Coolum

Steep path climbing Mt Coolum

Though the climb can be quite steep in some areas, it’s not a particularly long trail and half an hour should see most people at the top. Mt Coolum caters for so many levels of ability – hard-core athletes race up and down again in their skins and expensive footwear as part of their training regime. Yet at the same time, families with children, the youngest in a back-pack, can make their way up. Groups spread out as the more energetic members zip up in a flash, while others pause to catch their breath as they take in the views. In fact, the majority we come across this day seem to be locals. A small group of backpackers enjoy the view as they tick another Must-See off their list.

Nearly there...

Nearly there…

Arriving at the top, pulse rate a bit higher, warm layers peeling off, climbers are rewarded with impressive views, rich blue sky and deep blue ocean. The landscape stretches down the coast towards high-rise hotels of Maroochydore and up the coast to Noosa. The local Sunshine Coast airport lays just to the south, and 747s carrying the next batch of tourists can be seen floating past over the ocean, as they descend towards the runway. Walking around the other side, the views look inland to cane fields and the Glasshouse Mountains.

The kids take a break for a drink and a snack. The binoculars come in handy, zooming in on ships and sailboats, Old Woman Island to the south, and for checking out the airline logos on the planes. Climbers take plentiful snapshots of the views and themselves at the top.

Looking to the Pacific Ocean from the top of Mt Coolum

Looking to the Pacific Ocean from the top of Mt Coolum

Pleasantly, I see no signs of leftover muesli bar wrappers, water bottles or banana peels. I spotted only one cigarette butt; it would have to be a pretty hard-core smoker to exert themselves that much and then fill their lungs with smoke.

Though this smaller-scale version wouldn’t compare to Uluru by a long-shot, it’s still a very pleasant and exhilarating excursion. For the moment, it has fulfilled my travel aspirations. Feeling satisfied with a morning’s exertion, we make the short drive up the road to the seaside town of Coolum, and have a well-earned treat.

A well-earned coffee break

A well-earned coffee break

Book Review – I Quit Sugar, by Sarah Wilson

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A friend at work shared her copy of I Quit Sugar with me. Over the few months that we’ve been working together, our conversations have covered vegetarianism (I currently, she formerly), raw food diet, and general healthy cooking and eating. Occasionally one of us will bring in a homemade treat to taste, and swap recipes.

I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson

I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson

Initially, I have to admit, my reaction was a little sceptical of this book. While visually appealing, I suspected it may have lacked in substance based on a solid background in nutrition/ health/ science. Nothing against the book in particular; it just seems that every time you turn around, someone has the ‘latest and greatest’ advice on how to eat healthy.

I didn’t let this stop me from seeing what Sarah Wilson has to say. As I began reading, I started to get hooked on the concepts, which have a similar thread to other books I like, such as Changing Habits, Changing Lives by Cyndi O’Meara. Health guru Dan Buettner of Blue Zones has written the introduction.

Sarah refers to herself as a ‘qualified health coach’, which I’m not really sure what that means, but she has clearly done her homework on the topic. She tested out the theory and the recipes on herself, and then shared then with others, with impressive results. There is also information about  the political and business influences behind why ‘low-fat’ was the catch-cry for so long, and that many manufacturers simply added more sugar to replace the fat content. A connection can also be linked between excess sugar and auto-immune diseases, hormonal imbalances, cravings.

Zucchini Cheesecake

Zucchini Cheesecake

The book has two main parts: the first has an eight-week ‘quit sugar’ regime, and the second with healthy, sugar-free recipes. It’s also environmentally and economically sustainable,  recommending as many local and fresh products as possible, and using ingredients in multiple recipes, so you don’t buy a whole container of something, only to have it sit on the shelf unused for the next 3 years.

Although not aimed at children as such, it does include information about minimising sugar and providing appealing alternatives for kids. I’m especially interested in this, thinking of my own kids and their peers and the absolute mountain of sugar-related products they consume daily. The long term effects of this are already manifesting, with obesity and Type-2 diabetes just the start. I’ll never be a complete ‘puritan’ on treats, sure, they can have some, just not in their lunch box every single day.

The eight-week detox diet is laid out in straightforward, simple to follow instructions. It acknowledges that most people will have a downfall at some point in time, and that’s okay, just pick up where you left of and keep at it, which is comforting. There is also recognition that you may feel worse in the short term as your body rids itself of toxins. After the eight weeks, small amounts of sugar can gradually be added again.

Most of the recipes have ingredients you’re likely to be familiar with and have on hand (fresh veggies, eggs, nuts), which makes it convenient if you want to try one right away. You can work your way up to chia seeds and quinoa if these aren’t already part of your pantry.

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie

This weekend it’s my turn to host book club, which means preparing lunch for seven lovely ladies. I’m trying to decide between Zucchini Cheesecake (like quiche), and Turmeric-Broccoli Hash. Kale Pesto as a starter, and Avocado Chocolate Mousse for dessert.

Final summary: I Quit Sugar has some great, easy to follow recipes that anyone can use, regardless of whether you believe in or chose to undertake the eight-week challenge. The diet would probably have health benefits for a lot of people, if they stick to the regime. I recommend it as ‘food for thought’, even to moderate your sugar intake, as I now will, and use the snack alternatives for my kids. The layout and photography make it enjoyable to page through and display on the coffee table.

Link to Sarah’s blog

What’s the story, Morning Glory?

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5:45am and the alarm on my phone starts blasting ‘Bolero’ tune. Snooze. Chosen with hope that the upbeat melody would be less annoying than the grating beep-beep-beep, it’s questionable whether this is successful. 5:50am it begins again. Snooze. I’ve never been a morning person (see Mother’s Day), but I know that once I get up and moving, I’ll be glad I did. 5:55am. Ugggh. Can I hit Snooze one more time? Too early in the morning for this mental dilemma. 6:00am. Feels like it could be a bit chilly out, which makes staying under the covers all the more appealing.

Shoes, keys, iPod

Shoes, keys, iPod

Knowing myself and my modus operandi, my alarm always gets deliberately set 10-15 minutes before I really need to get up. Okay, c’mon, time to get a move on, I chastise myself. Rolling out of bed, I find my exercise clothes without turning on the light. That would be just too much. This time of year in Australia, the sunrise comes up around 6.30am, and the faintest hint of light squeezes past my curtains.

Now dressed, with long sleeves to ward off the chill, keys and iPod in hand, I head down the three flights of stairs, which I consider a warm-up. For some reason, I have this idea that riding the bike is less effort than going for a walk, even a brisk walk (the maximum I am capable of , and interested in, at this point in my life). So I get out the bicycle for the first time in a few weeks.

The first song that comes out of the iPod is Mumford & Sons, which immediately improves my energy levels and motivation. I notice the tires need a bit more air, so I use the little hand-held pump. Helmet strapped on, I head out into the early light. As soon as I round the corner towards the Pacific Ocean, I catch the pinks and oranges of the sun ray’s reflecting the scattered clouds just before it rises above the horizon. And I know that I’d rather be here than in bed.

Sunrise over Pacific Ocean

Sunrise over Pacific Ocean

As I move along, I find the cool air even cooler, and pull the edges of my sleeves down over my fingers. It’s about 10C/ 50F. Steady pumping along of the legs and soon my circulation increases. Around the corner again and I see the reflection of the now deep orange of the sun reflecting on the Maroochy River. Today it is calm, glass like, ice like. Several pelicans do a low flying glide barely above the surface, lowering webbed feet like landing gear, and settling gently into the water with only the slightest ripple of water.

My heart rate and breathing increase, and I question my belief that this is easier than walking. I pass various other morning people: dog walkers of all shapes and sizes (both the dogs and the walkers). Elderly couples who look like they’ve been walking together since before I was born. A zealous boot camp class, and runners who look like they’re training for a triathlon. Lycra-clad cycling groups, going around enthusiastically til they can stop for a latte. Neon-uniformed construction workers, with work boots and lunch boxes. A tai chi class, which looks like karate in slow motion and I wonder if anyone ever secretly feels like yelling out ‘Hiiiii-yah!‘.

Cafes slowly come to life as chairs start getting dragged out and gradually the day starts to gear up. More traffic to negotiate on the roads, and I weave from the road to sidewalk and back, avoiding cars and pedestrians respectively. Reaching the end of Picnic Point, I round the bend and make the return journey. The sun now glares brightly and my fingers regain feeling. And the rest of me feels exhilarated, connected, full of energy and life.

One last glance at the magnificent ocean, and I find myself home. Replacing the bike and helmet in the garage, my cool down is the walk up three flights of stairs. Into the shower and I’m ready to face a new day, a new week.

‘Juicy’ Gossip…

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Earlier this year I made a visit to the naturopath. Over the years, I have been to a couple different naturopaths, but don’t see one on a regular basis. I really felt I needed an all-round, general ‘tune up’.

My concentration and memory levels were, well, let’s say ‘fuzzy head’ (non-technical term). Energy levels and motivation were  generally low. I rarely found the time or energy for exercise. Over the previous year I experienced an incredible amount stress and anxiety, and the end of the year culminated in the breakdown of my fourteen year marriage. I had been seeing a counsellor for the mental side of things, and thought that I could use some improvement on the physical side as well.

All of which leads to… the ‘Juicy’ Gossip

I listen to The Cat Empire while preparing the juice, and well, just can’t help but dance around! Brighter than Gold – The Cat Empire

Photo on 8-06-13 at 5.31 PM

The naturopath’s recommendation was to do a liver cleanse (detox).

For two whole days, my diet was to be only freshly made juice of carrot, beetroot, green apples, celery and lemon – preferably organic. And herbal tea and a miso soup if needed, but no solids. Oh, and no caffeine or alcohol of course. It’s recommended to do on the weekend or when you don’t have to be doing much, as you can feel tired or get a headache as the toxins are flushed out.

One of the ways the naturopath came to this recommendation came from conducing a live blood analysis on the screen – it’s so amazing to your blood cells floating around, the unevenly shaped ones, the clumped ones, the too small ones, and so on. Actually seeing the cells is so much more powerful than getting back a printout from the blood test done by a pathology lab: “Normal iron range 12 – 50. Your level: 12.” So because I am ‘normal’ does that mean I should be fine?

The liver detox recommendation surprised me a little at first, but I learned that it’s common; a congestion of general ‘gunk’ (non-technical term) that many people get. The combination of alcohol, caffeine, and food; lack of exercise, and stress all make it difficult for the liver to breakdown the toxins.

I chose a weekend I would be on my own and didn’t have to go anywhere. I borrowed a juicing machine and stocked up on ingredients.

Photo on 8-06-13 at 5.35 PM

The first day went well and I enjoyed the taste of the juice and found it filled me up pretty well. I did have some miso soup and cups of tea, but I didn’t feel particularly famished. The second day I woke up to find that a big storm had come through, and was still raging with high winds and rain, and my power was out. At the time, you never know if it will be out for an hour or a day. I realized that it’s somewhat difficult to make juice with no electricity!

Walking to the nearest convenience store, I  bought a V8 juice. Not exactly  on the prescribed list, but well, at least it was juice and not solid food. That tied me over for a couple hours. The high winds and rain kept the power out for entire neighborhoods, so I went a little further and found a cafe that made fresh juices. It turned out to be about 30 hours before it was restored.

I made it through the juice flush – well, in the best way I could. I felt somewhat ‘better’ I have to say, but didn’t experience an ‘Omigosh this is amazing’ feeling. I shared the interrupted diet experience and my lack of results with the naturopath and he said ‘Start all over again’. Organic produce. No store bought juice. No juices from a cafe.

A few weekends later I tried another time, and this time I really did have a sensation of feeling lighter (physically and mentally) and clearer, focussed and energetic. I still wasn’t exactly jumping out of my skin (not that he promised me that, but certainly more than ‘a little bit better’).

Now, several months later, I still make up this juice – not everyday, but usually once or twice a week. Along with some other supplements and dietary changes he has recommended, I am feeling balanced, clear, energetic and enthusiastic. It’s a sense of satisfaction knowing that it’s possible to improve your general wellbeing with a few small but consistent adjustments.

One recommendation to increase energy levels that I haven’t followed is his suggestion is to consider eating some fish or chicken. As a 20+ year vegetarian, I have never for a moment considered ‘going back’. But I have to admit, for the first time I am actually ‘sitting on the fence’ and considering eating some sort of meat, for the nutritional value.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on being a long term vegetarian, and if you started eating meat again, what was is like and do you feel the difference physically? Or would you never ever touch meat again (as I felt for so many years), making sure you eat all the right sources of protein, grains, etc.

Taking the Slow Boat to China

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I haven’t heard that phrase used much lately, but it seemed pretty popular when I was growing up. Maybe it’s not politically correct anymore, or the slow boat has stopped its services to Asia.

I’m not the first person to take the trip – there’s even a song about it, by the quintessential traveller and singer/ songwriter, Jimmy Buffett. Slow Boat to China – Jimmy Buffett

Looking back to 1997, I was a solo western female traveller working my way around Asia. I found myself in Hong Kong, just months before the monumental handover ceremony from British rule to the Chinese. I prepared myself to brave the journey from modern Hong Kong to mainland China. It hadn’t been long since China opened it’s borders to independent travellers rather than only organised tours.

Hong Kong Harbour lights

Hong Kong Harbour lights

At the ferry terminal – a veritable hubbub of activity and people from all walks of life – I worked my way to the ticket booths, and began to work out my travel options  – how much tickets cost, what time the services departed and arrived, what type of boat.

In the end I chose a ferry boat that departed in the evening and arrived into Guangzhou early the next morning. There was a faster, sleeker boat that took only about 3 hours for the journey, but for my introduction to the mainland, I chose to take the slow boat to China.

A large open plan room, full of bunk beds like a dormitory, made for the sleeping quarters. Well-worn but surprisingly clean, it was the space where I would spent the next 10 hours with my Chinese fellow passengers. Well-worn travel bags and basic clothes made me think many of them had made the trip to the metropolis to sell goods, and were now returning home. The main attraction for their journey was… a karaoke bar!

Ticket for the Slow Boat to China

Ticket for the Slow Boat to China

I had no idea what to expect upon arrival. Guidebooks can provide only so much in advance, and things were changing so quickly (in some aspects), it was hard to predict anything. As fate would have it, I encountered another backpacking English speaker on the voyage. In fact, he spoke fluent Chinese, having done some missionary work. What better travel companion to encounter!

Cruising up the Shiziyang River, I knew that choosing the slow boat was the best choice – a gradual introduction to the spectacular natural scenery, juxtaposed with heavy industry and cargo ships. While Hong Kong at the time was a vibrant metropolis, entering mainland China felt like taking a step back in time. Or rather a exercise in simultaneous co-existence old, very old and the new and modern.

Arriving into Guangzhou

Arriving into Guangzhou

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