To see off Winter, Manchester put on a snow show on Tuesday 24th February, and I was lucky enough to be around to see it!
To see off Winter, Manchester put on a snow show on Tuesday 24th February, and I was lucky enough to be around to see it!
The Magic Fountain
It was all just so magical; the twisted houses were magical, the Gothic church built on Roman ruins was magical, even the beaches sitting side by side with the port and the hawkers were magical (although you had to ignore the fat, dead, blue rats to retain that magic).
But this, THIS was beyond magic, as though the supernatural world had been amplified by a double dose of fairy dust and wizards’ incantations.
The mist leapt up from the fountain with each beat of the music, on pointe through red, pirouetting through yellow and into green, then with a brise vole it leapt from pastel blue and landed on her cheek. The audience gasped at each movement of the water, and although she couldn’t really understand what they were saying, their smiles and the constant stream of phone flashes said it all.
Yes, magical. Beautiful. A tourist spectacle that would always be a crowd pleaser.
But that didn’t really matter, not really, she was just another tourist who had left her cynicism at home and was ready to be charmed.
The music ended and the fountain faded into gloom, and she joined in with the applause. She shifted in her seat, aware she was surrounded by strangers in the darkness, and she lightly touched her wallet under her jacket where her few euros remained; she wouldn’t save them from the hawkers only to have them stolen in the night.
Music swelled from the amps, a classic by Frank Sinatra, and she felt a wave of romance and nostalgia as the fountain pulsed back into life.
And that was when she saw them.
They swirled into view, their individual movements so in tune with each other that it took her a moment to realise that there were actually two of them. They spun together, laughing into one another’s eyes, silhouetted against the soft pink jets as Frank sang his song just for them.
She was all glitter and reflection, capturing the fountain’s dance in her drop earrings, and the pastel colours smeared themselves across her blonde hair. Her eyes glowed as they looked up at her tall partner, her long neck tilted up to catch his eyes.
And he. Oh he was the epitome of the Spanish silver fox, his white collared neck shirt unbuttoned only at the top and his trousers tailored to suit his tall, slim body. A gentle smile played on his lips, as he twirled her around and around, creating such a gravity with that spin that everyone’s eyes were drawn to them, until their orbit took them out of sight again, and the crowd was released.
She sighed. Now THAT was romance.
She loved that he was taller than her, loved his large, warm hand encompassing hers and the press of his other hand on her back, but what she really loved was his grace. He swept her along effortlessly, his strength pinning her to him with one hand while his body pressed her backwards, their perpetual spin both delicious and terrifying.
She was afraid to look away, to break their momentum and rhythm, to lose this perfect moment in the night air; one misstep would bring their partnership to an end, and the thrill and fear clogged her throat and drew her mouth into a rictus smile. All she could see was his eyes, twin dancing jets cascading through the rainbow, her surroundings were only a flash of dark and light in the corner of her eye.
It was perfect, so perfect, and she didn’t want it to end, this dance of coloured light; she had no idea why he had suggested coming here tonight, it was something that out-of-towners came to, and yet when he had whispered “Let’s dance”, she had been unable to resist.
They spun again, and she was dusted with a fine mist; if she stayed this close to the fountain much longer she would melt, her hair and silk dress drooping, and everyone would know that her glamour was as imaginary as the magic inside the fountain.
The music picked up tempo, and the fountain sprayed them again, but she couldn’t let go, couldn’t stop, couldn’t ruin this moment.
It had been a whim, both to come here and to dance; it had felt right to bring her and show her off, because he knew that was what he was doing, displaying her to the crowds and at the same time claiming her for his own.
And he was right, they had stolen the fountain’s thunder, they were who everyone’s eyes turned to and followed.
Her right hand was cool and a little damp, but her back was still warm from her tanning in the afternoon sun, and he splayed his hand wide to catch as much of that warmth as he could. Her head was tilted up towards him, her eyes unwavering in their attention, her smile so bright that he couldn’t help but return it with his own. She was beautiful, her long blonde hair trailing down her long slim neck and back, its colour shifting through the rainbow as the lights switched around her. He knew she’d chosen her dress for the way it complimented her body, hugging her torso until it reached her hips where it floated away, and he was flattered that she had worn it for him.
She laughed, and he smiled down at her, aware of how they must look to the people around them and wondered at the answering silence in him. He wondered why he wasn’t caught up as well, caught up in her, but instead judged both of them for this facade.
She was beautiful.
And just like the crowd gathered around the fountain, his friends and family all thought they fitted together like a jigsaw, but lately he’d only found a stillness in his heart whenever he’d looked at her, and it had begun to seep into their conversation and kisses. He felt that as a pair they were the substance of a greeting card, all two dimensional hearts and platitudes. She was never late, everything always perfect and stylish, and they never argued. Everything was always so light and easy and far too simple.
They spun again, and he felt her grip tighten on him; was that fear in her eyes? He spun her faster, hoping to catch and hold onto that look, but it disappeared into the darkness along with that small leap in his heart.
And despite his smile, he wished for that look of fear to return again.
26 weeks. 26 weeks!
Where have those 4,368 hours gone? I feel like I’ve barely begun and done so little, and yet simultaneously learnt and grown so much. I feel like I’ve only taken my first traveller’s breath, but here I am six months down with another week slipping away faster than any tube train ever could.
In six months I’ve gone from tourist to London dweller (although I’m starting to see that I’ll never be a Londoner, no matter how many years I spend here), successfully survived Christmas’s Silly Season (mostly by working behind a bar), every cold that ol’ Blighty can throw at me, and while I haven’t gained a high powered job yet, I am actually able to pay my rent and food bills, which feels like the biggest accomplishment.
To celebrate these thirteen weeks I’ve compiled a series of highlights (and lowlights) of my travels and published them in this section to celebrate the journey I’m taking.
They’re going to be on here anyway. 🙂
In one sentence: (ok two…or three)
Established in AD 43 by those pesky Romans, London has become one of the major cities of the world, despite the fact that it specialises in grey; grey castles, grey skies, grey River Thames. Oh, that’s not fair, the double decker buses are bright red, and Big Ben is a nice golden brown.
I’ll get back to you on the other exceptions…
Ol’ Blighty and my first week of London:
In the first week I was greeted with clear blue skies and 16 degrees centigrade temperatures, but Londoners gleefully told me to wait until December which would be “miserable and cold”. Then when it didn’t appear in December, the grins were for the horrors that awaited us in January and February.
I’m still waiting for those miserable days.
Sure, we’ve had our fair share of soft drifts of rain, but it rarely has dropped below 5 degrees, and I’ve felt almost over dressed. In fact, I haven’t put on my thermals once this winter, and my gloves have barely got a workout.
Perhaps in May then?
Besides the weather there has been lots of other events to look forward to. The day after I arrived and with a nice dose of fresh jet lag, I watched the All Blacks become Rugby World Cup Champions for the third time. For a moment I got to pretend I cared, particularly as I kept running into Kiwis and had to discuss it forever.
Then there was what I really had come for, a chance to get up close and personal with Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jnr.
Yes, twice I stared up adoringly into ol’ Bono’s eyes and got to meet some amazing fans of U2 through Cathal, who became my guide to all things U2.
Little do my friends realise how my fanaticism barely ranks with these guys; I am barely white belt compared to Cathal, Martin, Brendan and Evan, who have traveled the world for a night with U2. I moved countries, but I’m not sure if it’s even in the same category.
I was very lucky, they all took care of lil’ ol’ me, and somehow Martin and Brendan even scored me a trial at a pub! It was great to meet such genuinely great guys so early on my trip, made me feel like London isn’t such a bad place after all.
Rock on, y’all!
In one sentence:
Crazy, noisy, dirty, a city focused on China’s version of capitalism.
My introduction to Shanghai began with a thirty minute wait while the border patrol questioned my reasons for coming to China, checked my departure information and rang the hotel I had listed on my immigration card – that will teach me for being honest about my job, although maybe I should’ve written “unemployed” at the front of “Video Editor”! I was eventually allowed to go but was immediately targeted for a “safe shuttle” into the city; in other words, I paid £50 to be spied upon by the Chinese government.
I don’t know why they bothered; I was so sick with a cold that the first thing I did was shower and sleep for three hours!
When I finally emerged from my room, after fruitlessly trying to check my Facebook (yes I had forgotten Google and FB don’t work there), I ate some interesting McDs and ventured out into the smog of Shanghai.
The air quality there is poor, and I can see why masks are so popular even if they aren’t particularly practical, but I made it to the tube without dissolving into a puddle, so it can’t be all bad.
My first impression of Shanghai is a city of uneasy truces between the traditional houses, temples and markets with their wide courtyards and curved roofs and the steel and neon giants that hang over them. Even The Bund, only built in the late nineteenth century, huddles opposite the eye watering light displays of the financial district, which take everyone’s interest in the evening and turn these beautiful neo-classical buildings into mere back drops. There is beauty in the city, but so much of it is overwhelmed by the commercial aspect that it’s the places preserved by the People’s Party that seem to shine as the beautiful ornaments.
Like most countries where English isn’t the main language, the locals are polite but not overly friendly, keeping their distance and not engaging too much. (In South Korea the opposite is true; there they go out of their way to practice, “hello”, “how are you?” and “I love you”, plus a few other choice ones I was occasionally assaulted with.) But here it takes on a new meaning when those same locals cross into oncoming traffic to avoid soldiers lowering the national flag at The People’s House; that’s when you remember that this isn’t a democracy and freedom is limited. On the subway I saw a man being led (very quietly) away by two men in a suit; they weren’t police, and they way he was carefully led out of the station, one can assume they weren’t BFFs going for a coffee, but no one blinked in an eye. Actually no one looked; if you can’t see it it never happened.
Everything in Shanghai is designed to make you feel like you have choice; the shops will sell you anything you like, there are action movies and pop stars, and to be honest the only difference is the type of government and those missing freedoms that come with communism.
Quirky Observation – The Ads:
In New Zealand and the UK, the ads are about being a successful individual, sexy, free and different (while at the same time buying from one of a thousand chain stores). In China, the advertisements have a very different focus; the men were often depicted as the family man carrying the baby, rather than the woman (China relaxed the one baby policy the day after I left Shanghai). The women were often in suits and depicted as having successful careers, and on the subway I rarely saw any ads where they were provocative or even motherly, and when there was a photo of a family, it was often with the man holding the child while the woman stood in a suit beside him.
It will be interesting to see if these ads evolve, as ours did after World War 2, as the government begins to actively encourage families to have more than one child to combat their falling population.
When I booked my tickets some 13 weeks ago there was definitely an element of “fuck it”. I turned 40, had a taste of injury, adventure and disappointment (in that order for you sceptics) and decided that if this life was going to be the status quo, then I better get the hell out of Dodge before I was too old or infirm to move. And by status quo, do I mean single, childless and in a stressful, never ending job?
Yes, yes I do.
So, with no dog of my dreams to stop me, I booked my tickets, organised my visa and resigned from my job.
It wasn’t until about a month before I left that I began to question my reasons. My friend P (her identity has been changed to protect the innocent – you lot!), who you will get to know well in a second hand manner, would probably tell me not to question my motivations too much, since cognitive theory argues that our decisions are fairly random at best, and that we can change our minds on a whim. But I did and farewells became sob sessions, a mere run to the beach was a funeral procession of much loved places and selling my car was the worst break up I’ve ever had (I’m a Kiwi, DIY might be in our DNA but driving is our form of motion).
And I began to panic; I’ve never experienced panic attacks before but, as the departure date drew closer, I began to incessantly worry that I wouldn’t be ready, that I would fail the test of moving and be relegated to a B grade adventure involving cold coffee (I hate coffee) and stale gingernuts (love gingernuts, just not soft gingernuts). And no second breakfasts! How would I cope?
Thankfully I had a number of events fall into place; my flatmate bought a house and moved out, P hated her flat and decided to rent mine, they finally found someone to replace me at work, and my nephew broke his collar bone so he couldn’t do my gardening or move stuff for me. Oh wait, that didn’t make my life easier.
But, on the positive side, my back and neck got better, and that definitely did help.
So it was madness for four weeks while I cleaned my house and garden, preparing it for two years of landlord neglect (no offense to P but I’m sure she’s not going to get up a 3 metre ladder and paint the house while I’m away). I had a succession of farewells and panic packed so many times that my clothes now all have a permanent rumpled look to them. Then there was the water leak, which took 3 weeks to sort out, and I’m still sorting, even while 20,000ft in the air.
Then the moving day came, and I was rushing around so much I looked like I was levitating. When I booked I hadn’t realise that the day before I flew was Labour Day, so Tuesday morning was spent swimming (where I got talked into packing my swim gear, including snorkel and paddles), arranging bank statements for my UK entry, dumping garden waste at the tip, cleaning my car, selling my car (sob), buying cold medicines – because that happened too – and three lots of panic packing.
Questions such as “What do you want for tea?”, “Do you want to come and look at the shed before I lock it up?” and “Where are the tea bags?” were all fired at me in rapid succession but were irrelevant background noise that got a “see P”. Even when she was asking.
Finally it was 7:30pm, and it was too late to do my GST return (eek, will do that in transit I told myself) and sort out the water rates, and I was in P’s car taking one last photo of my Totara Vale mansion while driving away. All there was left to do was re-pack at the airport, buy some Reminibi, hug and sob one last time, before boarding the plane.
That done, I promptly fell asleep, even before take off.
That’s a first, I must be sick.
General Tip: Don’t get sick, if it’s an option. It sucks the big kumara, particularly in NZ where they don’t believe in giving you the real drugs anymore.
The Real Tip: Allow plenty of time for packing, particularly if you’re leaving to live somewhere else, and make sure you have working scales a week out. Be ruthless with what you’re taking; no matter what anyone says only take the necessities and leave the pull buoy, paddles and snorkel at home. This also includes clothes.
And if you can’t get your total luggage under your total allowed by the airline (via Asia it’s 33kg for most carriers), and this includes check-in, carry on and laptop, then add another bag onto your ticket as soon as possible. From experience It’s not that much fun to be re-packing at the airport, although my dad was a great luggage compressor, and I think it could be a real money spinner for him.
Moving Tip: Try and have a full week off before you go, four days might seem like a lot when you’re ten weeks out, but your friends and family might actually want to say goodbye (I know, who knew people cared about you?!?) and then there’s all the bollocks you’ve forgotten to do. Trust me, there was stuff I didn’t even know I needed to do, like set up my mother’s laptop for Skype, fix my mother’s laptop so that Skype will work on it, give her my Ipad and set it up so that she can Skype… the list is endless.