Read this: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

So Sad Today
by Melissa Broder

I saw a photo of this book alongside a nice big Starbucks cup on Kate’s Instagram page while I was stalking her trip around New York and that combined with her caption was about all it took to convince me to buy myself a copy.

A poet and writer who started the @SoSadToday Twitter account a few years ago, Broder brought out this little pink and purple gem of personal essays a few months ago, and I think it’s an either love it or hate it kinda read. I loved it.

While I’ve never been addicted to drugs, had an open marriage or gone on anonymous sex benders, there was a lot I COULD relate to. She writes brutally and honestly about topics that I still find difficult to even just contemplate in my own mind, let alone voice out loud.

Disordered eating and body dysmorphia.

Depression and anti-depressants and their effects.

Crippling anxiety and feeling so much safer when you’re alone.

The essay entitled “Honk If There’s A Committee In Your Head Trying To Kill You” made me laugh and almost cry at the same time. Because that is exactly how I feel a lot of the time! Actually, a lot of her thoughts rang bells for me; this crazy woman has managed to voice so much of my demented internal monologue, it’s actually frightening. And kind of comforting, knowing that I’m really not alone. The start of her essay “I Want to Be a Whole Person but Really Thin” was another one that really stopped me in my tracks and made me feel things I didn’t want to feel and acknowledge. This is how it starts…

I am a vanity eater, a machinelike eater, a suppresser-of-feels eater. I save the bulk of my calories for the end of the day so that I have something sweet and seemingly unlimited to look forward to. I do not trust the universe to provide anything to fill my apparently bottomless hunger. That’s the case with my consumption of a whole pint of diet ice cream with six packets of Equal poured into it every single night. It’s a way of offering myself something cloyingly saccharine and seemingly infinite. I don’t believe that the world, or god, will give me that sweetness. So I am giving it to myself. I am going to bed full of sweetness that the day may not have provided. And I am defeating the laws of nature by doing this with diet ice cream. Most nights I would rather curl up with the diet ice cream than be in the world.

 

I think the most difficult thing that some readers will find with this book is the concept of “first world problems” and thinking that actually, compared to some people, she probably wasn’t struggling that badly. But as she writes, and something else that really rang true for me, “I feel bad about my struggle, because it is nothing compared to other people’s struggled and yet it still hurts.”

What I think I love most about this book is that it’s really not mopey or whiney or “feel sorry for me and my middle-class white-girl problems.” That’s certainly not how it came across to me, anyway. Everyone has their struggles and their demons, and everyone deals with them differently. This particular woman decided to write about some of hers (and I can relate because I’ve always turned to writing when things have been hard), and that’s brave.

The knowledge that you’re not the only one who is so sad today, for whatever reasons, is a comfort. And for my generation of women, who are expected to have a stellar career and perfect marriage and beautiful children and stay thin and fit and healthy, but still eat burgers with the guys and enjoy cocktails with the girls, and have time to workout and read and volunteer and shop and cook and clean and work and all the other crap, sometimes the best thing in the world is to know we’re not alone, our worries aren’t petty, and that what we’re going through matters. Grab a copy here and enjoy (or not!)  🙂

Back to reality, observations of Tokyo oddities & what I learnt about myself

There’s no place like home 🙂 as much as I absolutely LOVE being on the road and living out of a suitcase and being in completely foreign situations and places, I’m always grateful to return to Melbourne. I’m glad to come home to my home, my husband, my dog. I’m thankful that I’m in a position (particularly as a female, because there are still a lot of oppressed women out there in other countries and cultures) that I can work hard enough to be able to travel as much as I do, and I don’t take that for granted.  
Although I travelled there and back with a friend, we were interested in quite different things while we were there, so we spent a lot of time solo. As a single female traveller, Tokyo was the perfect place for me! It was easy enough to navigate, people are friendly and helpful to almost unbelievable standards, and it is the safest city (including Melbourne) that I’ve ever been in. 

Accommodation aside, it was also a lot cheaper than I expected – I went away with around AUD$1000 worth of spending money, and spent only just over half of it!
 

One of the best things about travel is how much it opens your eyes to things that aren’t your norm, and while Tokyo was a very modern city, there were a few curiosities and oddities I noticed…

– early morning cafe breakfasts and brunches aren’t a thing.

– most stores don’t open until around 11am, but they stay open later into the night, around 8pm (as opposed to Melbourne’s general 9am – 5pm hours).

– there’s a system and procedure for everything, everyone knows them, and everyone obeys them.

– ATMs for international cards pretty much only work in 7/11.

– cuteness is EVERYWHERE!!  

– that said, they are truly elegant ladies and dapper gentlemen in Tokyo – heels, pearls and full suits are standard.

– public transport is quiet time. No talking to the person next to you, no talking on the phone, no eating.

– litter doesn’t exist. Anywhere. People are literally employed to sweep the streets and walk them with giant tongs to remove rubbish!  

– there are designated smoking spots outside, and people actually stick to them. There are “no smoking on the street” signs and they are strictly adhered to without the need for enforcement.

– people line up for EVERYTHING. Especially food. And locals really don’t seem to mind waiting over an hour in (a very orderly) line for their favourite eatery… Incredible!

– one of the things that surprised me the most was the amount of people who refused to use tissues!! I find the sniffing thing pretty disgusting (I don’t understand why anyone would want to sniff the snot back up their noses and down their throats rather that just blow it out into a tissue), and was really surprised at the amount of people who would rather just sniff incessantly and occasionally use sleeves to wipe snot on rather than just blow their noses…?!

– while a lot of the older buildings are in the grey/beige/brown 70s styles, the modern architecture is incredibly impressive. Buildings just keep going up!  
I also learnt a bit about myself… 

– my organizational skills are one of my biggest assests and truly help me see and do more than a lot of other travellers.

can read a map like a boss.

– observing and writing and recording has always been (and will always be) what I love to do most.

– anxiety attacks followed me but depression didn’t.

– slowing down, taking time to breathe, and just stepping away mentally for a few minutes helped the anxiety attacks.

– I’m happiest when I’m in new places surrounded by strangers speaking in foreign tongues, where I can just slip into the background and explore and observe at my own pace.

– knowing how to say “excuse me” and “thank you” in the local language is indispensable. 

– I think I’m actually a bit smarter, stronger, braver and more resilient than I’ve given myself credit for..

 
 

No doubt over the next few weeks I’ll write a lot more about my time away, but for now let me just say that I had the most amazing time there and would happily jump on a plane back tomorrow 🙂

Ladies who eat & blog: SCARF Community dinner @ Green Park

Hands up who’s heard of SCARF?! Not many, I’m guessing? That sucks… hopefully this will help spread the word about an awesome group who do some seriously good work for the community and also make some delicious food in the process!

So, my last attendance to a Scarf dinner was when I was in a past blogging life at Multicultural Melbourne, way back in 2011, and I’m a little ashamed that I haven’t been back since! You can read all about the amazing work Scarf do on their website, but the Readers Digest version is basically they’re an amazingly dedicated organisation taking disadvantaged youth and mentoring/training them up in all facets of the hospitality industry. Once a week, they take over a restaurant kind enough to donate their space for a few hours and run a full service. Told you they’re amazing! They are currently taking up residence at Green Park in Carlton North, where $40 gets you a two course set menu and the opportunity support a pretty great organisation that’s making a big difference. Everyone wins!

I can’t remember what made me think of it, but I simultaneously thought that I really wanted to head back for a long overdue Scarf dinner and organise a little catch up for some fellow lady bloggers. It really frustrates me to see how competitive women can be these days; at a time where we seem to be hearing about more and more women being attacked, bullied, hurt and victimised, when maybe more than ever we need to support each other and have each others backs (isn’t there already enough pressure on us without being mean and bitchy to each other, too?!), more and more women seem to be getting more and more competitive and judgmental towards each other instead. On the flip side, I’ve been lucky enough to have met some really incredible and inspiring women through blogging and would love to get to know some of them a little better! In the spirit of Scarf and doing good deeds, I thought it might be nice to get a group of women who’s work I really admire together for a great night  : )

IMG_8413So, allow me to introduce to you the lovely ladies who joined me for dinner this week:

Cass from Hungrycookie – Cass’s blog is about “all things fashion, food and travel” who brings you the latest in both food and fashion, both very important to Melbournians!

Terri from Little Wanderings – Terri is a bit of a blogging soul sister to me with so much in common – another Melbourne girl who loves her city, her food, and travelling the big wide world 🙂

Monique from Mon’s Adventure – Mon’s a foodie and a beautiful story teller, who always seems to be on and between fabulous adventures!

Sheena from Chasing A Plate – Sheena collaborates with Thomas for a beautifully photographed and written food journal, based on the belief that life is too short for bad food (amen!).

 

With the introductions over with, allow me to introduce the food and the host restaurant…

Green Park
815 Nicholson St, Carlton North, Melbourne
http://greenparkdining.com.au/

The Scarf menu, designed by Green Park’s chefs and executed by Scarf’s trainees, offered two entree and two main options (thank you very very much to Cass sitting next to me who coincidentally ordered the dishes I didn’t and let me try hers!)…

 

ENTREES:
Roast beetroot, feta, walnut and rocket salad (which I ordered, and was a really nice and light starter)…

IMG_8402… and the chicken liver parfait with onion jam and bread (so rich, so good!)

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MAINS:
Braised beef shin with cauliflower, bacon and hazelnuts (I was stoked with my choice – the beef was delicious and sooo tender, the perfectly little pile fell apart at the first poke with my fork! Also, the hazelnuts were the perfect addition!)…

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and the gnocchi with pumpkin, burnt butter and sage (it’s a classic for a reason, and it was done very well!):

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DESSERT:
Just the one option, and being lactose intolerant and quite unwell for the last week or so, I decided to forgo the deconstructed yoghurt cheesecake, but it looked very pretty and the ladies who did order it seemed pretty happy with it!

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The food was amazing, especially considering the fact that these were restaurant quality dishes made by trainees! They did a fantastic job and both the trainees and mentors should be incredibly proud  : )

Green Park on Urbanspoon

 

Everyone did a fantastic job, from the slightly nervous waitress who must have been at least a little daunted by the five loud women talking about everything from Hodor to potatoes, the waiter who wasn’t looking after our table but still more than happily took our photo at the end of the night, the mentors floating around making sure everything was running smoothly. Yeah, the food is great, but it’s about so much more than that.

If you’d like to do more than dine and support Scarf, you can book dinner right here, and someone will get back to you with a confirmation very quickly! And I must make sure I don’t leave it another four years before dining with Scarf again! Thank you for a great night, and we’re all wishing the trainees all the very best for the bright futures they’ll no doubt have in the hospitality industry!

An interesting encounter at the Temple of Karnak, Egypt

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We arrived at the Karnak Temple complex after a quick visit to the Colossi of Memnon, and bang in the middle of a sandstorm. It was one of those things you see in movies or travel documentaries that looks kinda cool, but is actually just crap in real life. The sandstorm, not the temple.

An absolutely stunning, staggeringly enormous open air museum of sorts, it’s the second largest temple complex of it’s type in the world (Angkor Wat takes the title). While it’s hard to pick favourite parts, some of the more impressive sections, in my eyes, included the great Hypostyle hall of columns, the rows of ram-headed sphinxes lining the entrance to the complex, and the few obelisks scattered around.

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It was a really amazing complex, quite large and diverse compared to a lot of other sites we visited. It stood out for another reason though; I had quite a confronting experience there.

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Our tour group was comprised of myself, husband, another young lady and two other guys, all of us being around the same age. Us two girls hadn’t had too much trouble during the trip, which we were very thankful for, but what happened here certainly tested our nerves. While we were looking around the lake, we became quite conscious of the fact that we were being circled by a few young Egyptian men. They’d have been somewhere between 18 and 25 years old, if I had to warrant a guess. Anyway, I guess the cockiest one, with the oiled, slicked back hair, tight fitting singlet and gold neck chains got a little bored of staring from a distance – I hadn’t really registered that he’d disappeared from my sight until I turned around to look back at the lake to find him only a few inches in front of me and my fellow female travel companion, camera pointed in our faces, clicking away like a possessed paparazzo.

Needless to say, we were pretty freaked out! We turned to face each other as closely as we could, so that he could only see our backs, and our amazing local guide, Medo, stepped in pretty quickly to get rid of him (thank goodness!). Once he was gone and we’d gotten over our initial shock, we asked what the hell it was all about. Medo explained that the big temple complexes attracted a lot of young guys coming from the “country side” (remoter areas) where they don’t get Western tourists. They come to the big tourist spots with their cameras to capture the foreign women they see, so that they can take the pictures back home to their friends and brag and exaggerate about what they’d seen and their holiday conquests. Because I wasn’t already feeling like enough of a zoo animal, being porcelain doll-white, auburn-haired and freckled.

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While it freaked me out, it was also a really interesting experience; I think I’d kind of expected to encounter this sort of thing the whole time we were in Egypt. But this was the seventh day of our eight day trip, and it was the first confrontation of that type we had. I think I was also so taken aback because us Melbournians aren’t really all that surprised or intrigued by different cultures to that extent. Melbourne is a stomping ground for any and every culture under the sun – Fijians, Chinese, Americans, Italians, Vietnamese, Indians, Brits, Greeks, Jews, Muslims, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks… They all coexist in our city without any of the outlandish curiosity we were shown in Egypt. Hell, I’ve seen a mature-aged gentleman of what seemed to be eastern European descent standing in the middle of the CBD dressed in a skirt and heels, holding rosary beads, and no one blinked an eye at him as they walked past. It made for a very interesting social experiment, and really made me wander about my own upbringing and how much I’ve completely taken for granted exposure to other cultures from such an early age. Even as a kid, with friends who looked so clearly physically different to me, I don’t think I ever really wandered (or cared) why, yet here were these young adults making special trips from their quiet, secluded home towns to see what foreigners looked like and take home proof that they’d seen these fantastical creatures…

Anyone else ever experienced something like this on their travels?

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Read this: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

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Like probably a lot of other young women of my generation, I was familiar with the name Maya Angelou. I knew she was a revolutionary lady, I knew she wrote beautifully, spoke eloquently, and inspired a race, a generation, a gender. But, admittedly, I didn’t know much about her story until she sadly passed away earlier this year. A quote I remember being attributed to her that has stuck in my mind ever since that day is “if you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

I finally read her book “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings;” I wasn’t sure how or even if I’d relate to the story of a sweet young Negro girl growing up under the strict hand of her grandmother in Arkansas after having been abandoned, along with her brother, by their parents back in the 1930s. Her story starts when she and her brother are sent off by train to stay with their paternal grandmother when she was only three years old, and ends when she unexpectedly becomes a mother at the age of only 16; right from the very first page, she had me hooked. She had me, utterly and completely under her spell.

I was surprised to draw some unexpected parallels to my life from Maya’s story, mostly in the fact that she was a quiet and withdrawn child, who found her solace and spirit in reading book after book after book; I did, too. I also related to her tender-heartedness, not understanding why it was so that some people had and others had not, not understanding why people had so much hatred and contempt, not understanding the reasoning behind racism, or why one “race” should be “better” than any other. Are we not all people?

The journey I took with Maya through the 1930s and 40s across America, in times where racism and segregation were incredibly real, was a confronting and heart breaking one. I got some strange looks while I read on the train to and from work each day, finding myself smiling, frowning, gasping and shaking my head throughout the book. It’s really hard not to; the way she writes can’t not draw out an emotional response from you.

It was crystal clear to me that Maya was a special lady right from her first day. Despite the numerous, soul shaking and horrific hardships she faced, she really never wavered. She remained strong, proud, determined, curious, good, kind. She worked hard for everything, she educated herself when she didn’t know, and didn’t show off what she did. I thought class, humility, genuine honesty and dignity shone through on every single page, and that’s what kept me turning the pages so quickly – I expected to take a while to read it, but I was done within 5 short days of commute and lunch time reading.

I’m going to stop here, because, honestly, nothing I write about this book could possibly do it justice. It’s one of those stories that you notice your soul shifting whilst reading, and you should start reading it soon if you haven’t already. Get a copy right here or at your closest bookshop.

 

Through my eyes: Street food women of Thailand

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In Thailand, as in a lot of South East Asian countries, it seems to be the women who shoulder a good portion of the work. You see them up early, trawling through markets, heaving baskets full of fresh fruit, often with a child or two in tow. They are the ones who sell the market goods, who purchase them, who cook them and then sell them. They’re the ones who run the show, they are strong, often silent, with wiry strong bodies and faces that tell of a tougher life than I could ever imagine.

This woman really caught my attention in Koh Samui. Husband and I had been walking around way off the main drag all morning, and sat down at a street food vendor for a lunch of pad thai, when this lady ambled up, baskets teetering on her small shoulder, and parked herself on a tiny plastic stool. To our complete amazement, she had somehow set up her portable kitchen, complete with meat grilling over charcoal and condiments, in the middle of the street in under 30 seconds.

Somewhere between Kom Ombo and Edfu Temples in Egypt…

Around this time last year, I was getting home from the trip of a life time – I finally made it to Egypt, which was a life dream for me from a very young age (I wrote a bit more about this life-changing trip here and here, and I’m sure will have many more posts to come!). We spent 8 days there, touring the country with a small band of like-minded adventurers – another 2 Aussies and a Colombian, along with our brilliant guide, Medo. At one stage, it kind of felt like we were kind of on repeat – another temple, more hieroglyphs, more sand in our shoes… I think I was the only one still fascinated anew each time!

The photos below were taken on a little sojourn between a visit to Kom Ombo Temple, and our journey to Edfu Temple. After a long day of sight-seeing, we were thankful to be able to rest our weary feet on a horse-and-carriage ride for a while before making our way to Edfu (where the final photo was taken).

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

I found it pretty incredible to be in such a different world to the one I had always known – riding through the streets and seeing these ramshackle, corrugated steel and wooden structures passing for shops (and more often than not, homes) was not something us Aussie kids were used to; we’re pretty lucky and privileged, it appeared, compared to a lot of the world. It really hit home for me during this ride. I feel like my privilege also extended to being able to actually experience this as well, when I know a lot of people would sooner sit at a fancy resort all day and turn a blind eye. Is it not a thing of beauty to be able to see a country in its entirety, and not just the shiny, pretty, brochure-worthy parts?

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

The streets were all but deserted, quiet and lonely – they were also, to a young, white female – a little intimidating and scary. You hear and read about the kind of things that can happen on these streets after dark, and again, it really hits home that I’m incredibly fortunate to live in a country where it is not only allowed, but the norm for young women to go out alone. To shop alone, to study, to hold a job and earn (and spend) their income as they please. To wear whatever they want without fear of repercussion, to choose their own husbands, to love who and what they want. I felt suddenly so relieved at the fact I had been born geographically where I had, and not where I currently was – I’d have never survived. I’d have been one of those horrible stories or tales of caution, I’m sure of it… This is not to say that it’s all doom and gloom and bad news over there. For the most part, all of the locals we met and interacted with were absolutely lovely, kind, generous and patient. But they were also all men – the only woman we were introduced to in a week was the lady at the papyrus factory.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

But it’s these experiences that shape us and make us who we are. Without experiencing that, I wouldn’t appreciate my fortunes as much. I would have continued to take for granted everything I had assumed should be an unquestionable right of mine. I’d never have given another thought to the fact that I chose my own husband, and as long as I contribute to our monthly mortgage and bills, he doesn’t care if I buy myself a new pair of shoes with my pay. That ride, as well as opening my eyes and provoking those thoughts, also made me much more culturally aware, and fascinated with the differences that all lives experience. It just fuelled my wanderlust and thirst for knowledge even more.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014