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I’ve been watching Wimbledon the last week. An 11-hour time difference means that I suffer severe “jet-lag” for about a week. It didn’t help that there have been the semis and final of the World Cup Cricket, also being played in the UK. (I only watch cricket when NZ is playing, and against the odds, we got into the final). So I’m hoping that I’ll be able to reset my body clock again this week.

Apart from our first few days back, winter hasn’t been very wintry, and I have to say I’m a little disappointed. I like to wrap up in coats and scarves. It has been several years since I’ve needed to wear a hat and gloves during our winter, and I don’t even know if I could find them now. Maybe I need to move further south?

I found my reading mojo again somewhere in Japan, after losing it some years ago. That has continued since I came home. After being well behind my Goodreads target this year (which was dramatically reduced to only 20 books after failing badly last year), I’m now several books ahead of schedule. I’m loving it; I have no idea why it has been so difficult these last few years.

Our oak tree that is just outside our dining room window is, of course, now bare of leaves for the next few months. So we have been able to see the tui flitting around in its branches or settling in for a long and loud choral session. It feels like they’re singing “welcome home.”

 

 

 

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Sightseeing in some cities (Tokyo) involves taking subways, which are usually convenient, cheap and easy to take. In other cities, it involves the adventure of local bus services, especially adventurous in places with different languages and scripts, though locals are generally friendly and helpful, telling us when to get off (Busan, Korea) because they can guess where we want to go! In many cities though, it involves walking, a lot of walking, and we certainly got our step counts up in many of the cities we visited in the last couple of months. In some countries, we can supplement the walking with taxis and cyclos/rickshaws etc if we wish. Walking in the heat and humidity is another issue. Coming home, though, we realised how easy it would be to lapse into a habit of only occasional exercise. So, on days when it hasn’t been raining, we have ventured out to pound the streets.

This morning, it was an absolute joy to put on my walking shoes, my cap, sunglasses and a lightweight walking jacket and head out. It was a perfect winter’s day – still, clear, cold but not too cold (about 11C probably). The greens of all our evergreen native trees were very green, the blue of the sky was blue, and the tui were going mad in the macrocarpa tree just down the street. The harbour was calm and blue, with container ships and ferries gliding across it. A few trees and shrubs were in flower – I don’t know if that’s by design, or because this winter has been unusually (or perhaps the new norm) warm.

School holidays started this week, so the park at the bottom of our street was full of boys at a football camp, whilst their parents were at work. A new home-owner was out digging up her garden, doing some serious restructuring with a pick-axe at this time of year. Another woman further on was pruning some trees, taking off major chunks. New parents ventured out of their driveway with their twins all wrapped up against the cold in the double pram.

I love walking in new places, to see new things. But it’s nice walking here at home too.

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I’m ba-ack! We’ve been home for 24 hours. It always requires some adjustment:

  • Delays – it’s better they happen on the way home, than the way there.
  • Everyone I see looks familiar. That started in Hong Kong, when we got on our Air NZ flight!
  • Boarding an Air NZ flight feels like arriving home, even if we still have 10+ hours to go before we get to NZ, followed by more waiting and another flight before we’re home.
  • Unpacking and holiday washing is much easier when our check-in bags get stuck in Hong Kong. We hope to see them today.
  • There’s nothing like our own bed – though it is noticeably smaller than those super-super-kings they like in hotels in SE Asia.
  • That first glass of water, straight from the tap, reminds us how lucky we are.
  • I hit Peak Breakfast (after seven weeks of hotel breakfasts most days) a week or two ago, so the lack of a buffet breakfast spread, with eggs as-you-like-them, Asian and Western food choices, pastries and exotic fruit, plus coffee on tap, wasn’t a hardship at all this morning. (Usually, I can easily miss breakfast, but when travelling find I need the energy injection.)
  • It’s so nice not to be too hot!
  • There’s a real feeling of disorientation the next morning when our body clocks are still five hours behind. Everything looks slightly different, through a slightly different lens, the temperature and the air feel different (though the change is welcome), and even walking in different shoes feels odd.
  • Even though the house was clean when we left, seven weeks away means dust. Lots of dust.
  • We don’t even remember what we were watching seven weeks ago, so we don’t care whether the recorder (for our cable TV) worked or not!
  • Though that’s not entirely true, as last night we watched the final two episodes of GoT.
  • Oh yeah. I forgot my laptop takes AGES to boot up. It is six years old, so that might be my next major expense. And that brings me back to earth with a thud.

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Thoughts about travel :

  • I’d rather take my time and be able to relax and people-watch than run around ticking off all the sights
  • Awareness of the people around you is only polite
  • A good museum is priceless
  • Experimenting with different food is great fun – watch the locals to figure out how to eat it
  • Beer is the same in every language!
  • Have the hotel’s name printed out in the local language for an easier taxi experience
  • Public transport is worth figuring out, to see the local people and – if you are using buses – to see the local neighbourhoods
  • A smile goes a long way
  • Take fewer clothes and more laundry detergent
  • Retain a sense of humour – it turns disgust into delight
  • Building in a little extra recovery time in an itinerary is useful as you get older!

 

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I am thankful for:

  1. Being able to afford a new car when the old one was brought to a quicker death than anticipated.
  2. Being born in New Zealand.
  3. Air travel that allows me to visit the rest of the world.
  4. Tomatoes. Without them, the world would be a sadder, blander, less healthy place.
  5. Intellect that allows me to connect, to learn languages, to write.
  6. My husband.
  7. A good book.
  8. The fact that a good book is always with me when I have my phone.
  9. Technology that connects me with friends all over the world.
  10. Friends.

 

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As you no doubt know, I enjoy studying languages. But I become frustrated at the different ways language courses (including apps) are designed. I want the most efficient, easiest, and clearest course possible. And I want different learning styles and situations represented. Yes, I am demanding.

When I was living in Thailand as a diplomat, the “total immersion” style of language learning was in vogue. After all, the courses would advertise, this is how children learn, and they are the most efficient learners of language of us all. This is true. But the point is that we are not children anymore. Sure, teach a child language by immersion, that’s brilliant. And sure, speak as much as possible in the language to get our ears used to it, and likewise, ask someone in a class to speak as much of the language as possible. (I had a French teacher at high school who resisted speaking French with us. It didn’t help the learning!) But there are times when an adult needs to understand something to be able to accept it and use it, in a way that a child does not. This understanding doesn’t come from immersion. Likewise, there are times when only a teacher who speaks your native language can explain something in context, in the way you need to be able to understand.

I also like to know how something is pronounced, and not just by hearing it on an app. That helps, sure, but our ears deceive us, and a “mi” can sound like “ni” or vice versa. And sometimes, even our teachers don’t hear the different ways they pronounce something. I once had a teacher who would say “ng” for “n.” But when we copied her, she would get frustrated that we were saying it wrong! So I like to see it written down. Whether that is through a phonetic alphabet like pinyin for Chinese, or through learning a syllabic alphabet, like hiragana or katakana, in Japanese. I also like to know the mechanics of pronouncing different sounds in different languages, such as where to put my tongue in my mouth. This helped me with the “r” in French, and also in Spanish, when I actually – and with a lot of practice – managed to roll my Rs. And I used to say “wabbit” when I was little, so my Rs have always been a little tricky.

Subject matter is important too. So many courses are aimed at students at school, and teach words like dictionary, class, teacher, pen, or mother, father, parents, sister etc. That’s really not helpful for my purposes, which have almost always been for business or travel. And I find it frustrating.

A lot of my language learning is self-taught. I’ve had a brilliant Teach Yourself German book, which I wrote about here. The podcasts from Synergy Spanish quickly gave me a great foundation in beginners’ conversational Spanish. I now try to apply the basics of that to any other (European) language I learn. I’ve had one brilliant language teacher, a young Spanish woman who gave me classes for six weeks before going to Spain. I had self-studied for a year before then and had developed a decent vocabulary, but she quickly clarified some grammatical issues for me and made me feel so much more comfortable in the language. Unfortunately, around the time I was in Spain, she left NZ. So on my return I could not continue working with her, and my Spanish fell silent.

I’m currently using Duolingo. What I like about it is hearing the native speakers, and adapting to that. I’m thrilled when I can hear a sentence and immediately understand it. It’s fun speaking the language again too. But I’m frustrated with certain changes in their use of what-I –call-prepositions in their language. They work on teaching through patterns, but there’s no facility for explanations to explain why they are sometimes different. I need and want that. So I’m also throwing myself into my old textbooks (yes, I kept them!) to see if I can solve the mystery.

I think though, that I am most frustrated at the fact that I studied this language for a year back in university, and yet here I am now doing a cursory crash course. I know I won’t get the facility I had at the end of that year, able to read and write and pass an oral exam, in the next couple of weeks, if I develop any facility at all in the language! That’s so disappointing. And I know too that just as I might start feeling it is a little more familiar, I’ll have left the country (about the time you read this), unlikely to ever return and use the language again. And I will delete the app from my phone, and most probably say sayonara to my textbooks forever. I find that almost unbearably sad.

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I wrote a series of four posts, discussing the Ten Reasons Why I Travel, back in 2011. I just reread them to see if the reasons still stand. They do. You can read these posts in full – the links are in the italicised headings below. But if you just want the abridged version, read on:

The Because-I-have-to reasons

Reason 1: To see what I can see
Reason 2: To experience diversity
Reason 3: Genetics and Geography

The I-am-so-grateful reasons

Reason 4: To appreciate my own country
Reason 5: To keep humble

The Self-indulgent Sybaritic Reasons

Reason 6: For my senses
Reason 7: For escape, rest and relaxation

The virtuous (some might say self-righteous) reasons

Reason 8: I travel to learn
Reason 9: I travel to grow
Reason 10: I travel to be more compassionate

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