Thursday, 28 January 2010

Prisoner of Mother England

Since coming to New Zealand seven weeks ago Dan and I have engaged in many introductory conversations. People ask us where we're from, which is more difficult to answer than you'd think. Yesterday Dan told someone that although he was born in Auckland, he was raised in Hong Kong and England. The guy said, 'Ah, yeah, thought you sounded like a pom.' I cracked up, I mean, who calls someone a POM?!

Dan later translated that a pom is an Antipodean term for Brits. I don't think British people LOVE being called poms, but Dan assured me it's not too controversial, like calling an American a Yank or something. Some say that 'pom' originated from the British convicts first shipped to Australia back in the day who were called Prisoners of Mother England. What I find hilarious is that Aussies and Kiwis are still calling Brits Prisoners of Mother England today.

After four years, there is a special place in my heart for Mother England. I have many great friends and fond memories on that island nation. It was my home, I am very thankful for it and it was definitely where I needed to be. But after leaving England for good, I can finally say... THAT WAS HARD.

I'm not disrespecting England here – it really has little to do with England - but I will admit that my time there felt like a four-year season of being stretched. Of being slightly, but constantly uncomfortable. For some reason, and not for lack of effort, it was a place where I personally found it difficult to thrive. And since I'm into thriving, that was hard. Sometimes, in the midst, I felt like the season of stretching would never end.

But it has. And it's only dawning on me slowly.

So while I don't take the shipping of prisoners across the world to populate a colony lightly, I have to admit the term pom makes me smile. Because only now am I starting to feel free from Mother England myself and all the difficult, but important, lessons she had for me. I smile because I can feel that England is losing it's grip on me. A few weeks ago it was still in me, but now I feel it fading.

It's taken me a while to realise that England is no longer my framework. After four years of pressing on and trying to stay positive, it's difficult to believe I've crossed the finish line. That hopefully I have learned something. That I am in a new season.

I'm not sharing all this to gloat, but because I know quite a few people who've been in similar seasons of stretching where it's felt like it would never end. And I wanted to state a truth: seasons end. They are for a purpose, and they end.

If you're in a stretching season, keep it up and remember that it's not forever. If you're not in a stretching season, enjoy it. If, like me, you've just finished, then well done. Here's to the next season.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Cafe Freddino & coffee photography

Many hours were spent at Cafe Freddino today. It's my new favourite cafe in St.Heliers. Run by a Taiwanese guy named Freddino (nickname?) whose self-portrait is featured on the sign, the cafe does a mean trade with a relaxed 'welcome to my courtyard' vibe. During the day it's a chilled Kiwi cafe, but in the night it morphs into a Japanese restaurant. I'm sold.

I'd love some of these Japanese restaurant curtains in my own house one day.

Fake tropical flowers with fairy lights on lattice gets me every time.

I admit have a thing with photographing my workspace... I think it makes the owners wonder if I'm reviewing their joint. And I guess I am...

So, I have tons of pictures of about to be drunk lattes floating around on iphoto. What about you? What's your quirky photo habit? Feet? Self-portraits? I know you're out there... :)

Monday, 18 January 2010

Nine bays in a day, hey?

The Sanvicens' Kiwi summer is ticking along nicely, so I thought I'd send out another update of a recent day trip to Auckland's East Bays...

A few weeks ago we had to go over to a place near Long Bay to pick up a mah jong set (we are obsessed, see). And not wanting to miss out on any of the nearby action, we decided to drive back along the coast via nine beautiful bays.

I am digging how beach centred life is in New Zealand. In fact, we just got back from a beach front dinner of Chinese take-out, L&P and a bottle of Pinot Gris, chased by a civilised game of P├ętanque. I can't decide if I prefer this to dinner from Tesco in a cold and cramped flat in London or not. Close call.

The above volcano is Rangitoto by the way. What a great name... And an iconic boat found in bay seven I believe.

Have I mentioned that the sun here is brutal? And not in a good way either. It's like it's tasked with dishing out skin cancer or at the very least, deep red burns. You can identify who the smart people are at the beach at mid-day - they're in the shade.

Anyway, I didn't get a picture of every bay, but I thought this would be a good taster.

Have I tempted anyone to come out and visit us yet? That's really my intention. We're here till June you know. And we'll give you free sunscreen...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Vintage finds in NZ


Last week Dan and I scored some great vintage (or vintage inspired anyway) finds, so I thought I'd do a little show & tell. The top photo simply confirms my fixation with snapping anything related to coffee and and the coffee making process, but the next ones are of Jason Books, a treasure my Auckland-native friend Anna cottoned me on to. I have a soft spot for second-hand book stores anyway, but this place is the stuff dreams are made of: exposed bricks, loft conversion style, fantastic natural light and a huge selection of old-school books about the Pacific islands. Check, check, check.

Also, went to a vintage shop and got this 1950's inspired dress for $10 - bargain.

All in all, a very good week.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Tokyo list

It's hard to believe that a few weeks ago we were traipsing through Tokyo, gorging on sushi and raiding our favourite convenience stores like nobody's business. It was a whirlwind tour but, as always, a pleasure.

Tokyo has got to be one of the best cities around - cute, organised chaos at it's finest. When I lived in Japan I was an hour and a bit out of Tokyo, so it was easy to pop in for the day. I loved how there was so much to stumble upon. So many 'You've got to be kidding me/ Only in Japan' moments to brighten the day.

Anyway, while it's fresh in my mind, and since Nadine is headed that way in February, I thought I'd create 'the Tokyo list'. It's hardly comprehensive, just some of the things I love about the city. If you have any additions, please comment!

Without further ado, the Tokyo list...
  • Books that will make you think Japan is amazing: Lost Japan (don't read the author's other book, Dogs and Demons - that will make you hate Japan); Memoirs of a Geisha (of course); Shogun (though it's far too long and I never finished it, I still enjoyed reading it on a train trip across Japan).
  • Neighbourhoods to wander around: Harajuku is always a winner, especially if you've never been before. It's good to go to Harajuku station, take the Takeshita Dori exit (yes, it is a funny name) and head through Takeshita Dori (street). There are tons of cute and absurd shops to look at, and strangely, many out of control creperies. Or you can take the other exit and check out the Meiji Jingu Koen. From there you can head to Omotesando. I'm not sure of the latest places, but there are usually fab cafes and bars springing up to explore. From Omotesando, go towards Shibuya through Aoyama. There are great back streets around here. In Shibuya I always go to Loft and Tokyu Hands department stores to stock up on art supplies.
  • I haven't been, but I've heard Kichijoji is good for cafes and boutique shopping.
  • If you're lucky enough to be in Tokyo in spring, it's essential to go to Ueno Park for a hanami - a cherry blossom viewing/ alcohol-fueled picnic, though you can drink whatever you fancy. Ueno also has some old-school back alleys worth wandering around.
  • Asakasa has a huge temple and big red gate - great for pictures. It also feels really old world Japan and is good for souvenirs. There's this paper shop on one of the side streets that I love, but can't remember the exact coordinates, sorry!. Last time I was here was during a summer festival and had some delicious yakisoba off a street stall and some ice cold Asahi - amazing. From Asakasa you can catch a boat somewhere - not sure where, it's just nice to ride the boat. 
  • Shinjuku is the crazy, bustling area that's worth a stroll. If it were in any other country you'd not want to walk here alone at night, but since it's Japan I always felt perfectly safe. Ignorance is also bliss.
  • I've heard lots about the Tsukiiji fish market, but never quite made it, though not for lack of effort. Hint: make sure you confirm it's open on the day you decide to go.
  • Dan recommends Yoyogi Park on a Sunday, when all the cos-play goth teenagers come out to play. 
  • Essential Experiences:  The main things I miss about Japan, hands down, are karaoke and onsen. Please karaoke when in Japan, it's amazing. Also, onsen - or public hot spring baths - are so relaxing. The Japanese really know how to bathe, and although it can be strange getting naked with a bunch of strangers, get over it, ignore everyone else, and just enjoy your mineral bath.
  • Favourite food groups:  Sushi is always what comes to mind when you think of Japan, but there's so much more to taste. I can't recommend any specific restaurants, but ask around for the best local places for okonomiyaki (seafood infused, savoury, kind-of pancake), yakitori, shabu-shabu (cook the meat, veg and tofu in boiling water on your own table) and yakiniku (cook the meat on the hot plate in the middle of your table). I also love convenience store food. Try the salmon onigiri (a triangle rice ball thing covered in seaweed - better than it sounds). Also, don't snub department store or train station building food. Some of the best restaurants are on the top floor of a train station!
  • For a taste of Seattle (or just good coffee), head to Zoka's coffee shop.
    • Accomodation: I've stayed at the Ryokan Kangetsu twice and have always been pleasantly surprised. It's budget, but peaceful, charming and clean budget. They also have a rooftop onsen for ladies that tips the scale in their favour.
    Well, it's a pretty vague guide, but hope it's a start. I'd really love to get other suggestions, so let me know what I'm missing...

    Tuesday, 5 January 2010

    Mah Jong Obsession

     Has anyone seen any of Wong Kar Wai's films? There's this scene in In the Mood for Love, set in 1960's Hong Kong, where the characters play a raucous game of mah jong into the wee hours of the night, fueled only by Chinese liquor and a passion for the hypnotic clinking sounds of the tiles - and more realistically by winning a wad of money in this aesthetically pleasing gambling fest. As soon as Dan and I saw that movie, we were hooked on a game we'd never played.  It wasn't just the game, it was the lifestyle (sans the betting, naturally).

    Our friends brought us back a beautiful mah jong set from Hong Kong and one Friday night in London, after a long hard week at work, we decided to teach ourselves. We set up 'the wall', bought some Chinese beer (can't remember actually if it was Chinese), and started reading the instructions. We rolled the dice to determine that Dan was the 'East Wind' and continued to read the instructions (in Chinese-English). There was something about a flower wall and seasons and after 15 minutes of extreme frustration, we decided that mah jong, like languages, is not something self-taught from a book on a Friday night. So we shelved it for a year, the mah jong lifestyle a distant dream.

    Well, the dream has resurrected. As many of you know, we're living with Dan's parents for a few months. Dan's mum is a recent mah jong convert and a much better tutor than the broken English leaflet. So we are getting in-volved. Every night is a mah jong night.

    I'm a huge fan of mini-obsessions such as mah jong. They help focus me and keep me from feeling overwhelmed by all the things I could be thinking about and make me simplify. Like, I don't have to feel the pressure to do something world-changing tonight, I'm just going to learn mah jong. Also I think the tiles are beautiful.

    Mah Jong fact This game was going off in the early part of the century and the craze only ended with the close of the Roaring Twenties when Americans turned to another rage: mini-golf. (Unbelievable, right?)

    Mah Jong fact II Abercrombie & Fitch was the first American brand to introduce the game.

    Anyone else honing any good obsessions? 

    Btw, the baby on the sidebar that I'm also obsessing about is the beautiful Avonlea Theodora Roddy, born on December 31. Congratulations Joey and Matt!
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