Monday, 15 February 2016

Puhoi Retreat

Happy Chinese New Year!! Aucklanders were blessed with two long weekends in a row, which meant only one thing - Road trips! My sister, friend and I also took this opportunity to get away of the hussle and bussle of Auckland and retreated to a beautiful little town called Puhoi. Although it's situated only 45 minutes from Auckland, this place was a world a way. 

We left Auckland on Friday afternoon. I'd taken a half day at work, working overtime for the previous three days to cover the hours just for some extra down time on Friday. It was not easy waking up half an hour earlier, and finishing half an hour later. The days seemed even longer as leaving work later meant heading straight into rush hour and sitting in traffic for yonks. But it was worth it. Well, it took us two hours slowly inching northward to Puhoi, but when we finally arrived, it was a great relief. Clouds overcasted the lush green landscape with hills rolling into the distance. It was beautiful and we all felt an immediate sense of peace. Such is the power of Mother Nature. 

We were completely starving by the time we touched down at the lodge. With the music plugged into the awesome surround sound system, we unloaded our - so typical of us - bags and boxes of food. Obviously we overpacked! With so many choices of food, we settled on making a hearty, healthy soy bean paste soup, crowned with some simply delicious hard boiled eggs. The garlic bread was the perfect accompaniment. Dipping that cheesy, crunchy bread into the hot soup was just pure bliss. 

It was so nice being able to relax and share those moments with my sisters. Time does not wait for anyone and only when you stop and glance around do you realise how far you've come, how much has happened, how much you've forgotten. 13 years we've walked together. Each passing event we shared was a brick laid down on our paths into adulthood. We all felt that this year we've finally gained some stability in our lives. We were at a good place in terms of our careers, which meant a big portion of our previous worries has been taken care of. Each of us have our own goals outside of work that we were working towards. We now have the mental capacity to dream and the time to carry out those dreams! - That's when we're not dead from work anyway. But at least we have the time to dream and plan for our dreams! This is our twenties. This is our moment. This is our decade. 

It's a bit scary thinking that we're officially heading into our late twenties this year. But that makes us so much more determined to live life to its fullest. Everyday is a balancing act between enjoying the time of being a couch potato (Yay! No more assignments and exams), being the responsible adults that we are, doing chores and adulty things, and fighting to be better person, a healthier person, a more well-rounded person. 

Anyway, this trip was great. We spent a lot of time cooking. We realised that in a way, we were becoming more and more like our parents. If this was five years ago, we probably would've just winged it and bought all our food on the way up, or find a Four Square around the corner to grab some last minute groceries. But we found ourselves packing every little thing, from salt and oil to pasta and flour, to fruits and veg, to chili sauces, soy sauces, canned food. We were so damn sorted. So much so we had to overcook because we had too much food to eat! We were even crazy enough to drive back to Auckland to grab Chinese chives and vermicelli because we wanted to make dumplings on Chinese New Year eve. We even had the special vinegary dipping sauce to go with it! 

So, the second night, we stuffed our faces with three ginormous plates of pasta. I'd mistakenly grabbed canned tomato sauce instead of tomato puree so the pasta tasted a bit too sweet. But it was satisfying nonetheless. Danced and sang and laughed into the night we did after that. We also gave each other massages which bruised and relaxed us. We got super girly (one of us) and crazy creative (two of us) with nail art. Masterpieces were created that night, and we went to bed exhausted from all the food and laughter. 

The next morning, we woke up early to go for a run around the lodge. The view was still incredible and we met our lovely neighbours. Puhoi Cafe and Cheese Store was high on the recommendation list so we thought we must stop by. The cafe was packed to its rims when we got there and were lucky to find a park. We'd called two days earlier to ask if it was possible to make a booking and were told that we'd be able to get a table easily if we got there before 11.30am. Such surprise we got though! The place was buzzing with people and any free table we saw had a "Reserved" sign on it. Eventually we got a table. The overall experience was, in all honesty, quite disappointing. Perhaps we had too high expectations with the hype all built up from other people's testimonials. But we found the sandwich average, and the cheese fondues overly salty. Blue cheese lovers will probably have enjoyed it more though! We did see that the cafe has won many awards for best ice cream in New Zealand, so we'd definitely try that next time.

For some reason, it felt like we spent the majority of our third day making dumplings! Suzy amazingly prepared the dough - mixing, lots and lots of kneading, resting, rolling! We packed those little morsels with a yummy filling of cabbage, mushroom, egg, chives and vermicelli. We made so much that we had to eat it for the next three meals. Great following New Years tradition? We also had leftover dumpling filling which we used as omelette filling for breakfast the next morning. Peter is the omelette master but he wasn't there. So I attempted to make omelette, trying to remember how he makes them and I have to say, they turned out pretty good! Was secretly proud of my effort. It was fluffy and moist and soft and spongy. So good. And we had it with the toast that we bought for breakfast (which we didn't really eat because we kept eating leftover food that we cooked). 

On the last day the weather finally cleared up so we decided to go for a walk to explore our lodge. Remembering my mum telling us that they picked plums from the lodge, we went hunting for plum trees! 

And we found plums!! We found an entire orchard. Not a very big one, but one nonetheless. One with plum, apple and pear trees! The fruits look like beautiful jewels. Discovering these made our trip super fruitful. We thoroughly enjoyed the retreat and sitting on my couch at home, I really wished we were still back there now.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

New year. New goals.

It's been so long since I've written I almost feel like I've forgotten how to string words together to form a sentence. But it's the new year and one of my goals this year is to blog more often, so here I am!

New year, new goals. Having landed a job just before the year ended last year was a great relief. Some of my biggest worries and headaches last year was not knowing what I wanted to do and the fear of being jobless. But I was incredibly lucky to get the job that I'd hoped for. It's a junior immigration adviser role at one of the best locations in Auckland - Ponsonby! Everyone at the office is really lovely and I'm settling in well. There is free parking within walking distance of my office, which is an extra bonus. There are super hip cafes and restaurants around, which means lunch breaks are a treat. And most importantly, it's a role in which I can learn and progress, with the support of many incredibly talented and experienced people.

Stability is something I'm aiming for this year. Stability. Balance. Routine. Now that I've got a steady stream of income, regular working hours, a clear path (sort of) ahead of me, I am able to focus on other facets of my life more! So, besides working on my career, health is also a top priority. I need a new weekly exercise regime. Jogging, running, Zumba, yoga, hiking, swimming(!), kung fu, hockey, whatever, need to sort it out! Would be nice to participate in a few running events in Auckland this year. Need to start going to the Zumba classes again. Those were so much fun and are also a chance to bond with my sister. Yoga once a week/fortnight for flexibility and strength, and to calm my senses. Hiking, just because New Zealand is such an amazing place to hike in, and it's always great exploring new places, getting in touch with nature.

Food, diet goals this year - Don't have any particular new goals but to keep eating healthy. I should cook and bake and blog more this year though! Last year I baked a lot - mostly for friends' birthdays or for orders, but hardly blogged. This year, I reckon it'd be fun to cook/bake with my boyfriend more often - something we did a lot when we first started dating. Learn to make new dishes, up-skill, expand our horizons! I think last year I didn't really have the urge to make a lot of new dishes, mainly because I was so busy, but also because I wasn't inspired. I didn't read enough blogs/cookbooks. I didn't watch enough tGBBO or food tv. This year I should really up the game!

Another goal this year is to tap into my creativity more. Photography, art, fashion, painting, crafts, whatever. Just do it. Don't be lazy and let my camera go to waste. This means getting out of the house more. Weekends are now freeeeee. So no excuses! I have a tendency to pick up new skills but then don't actually master them. No more being the Jack of all trades. Time to be the Master of all (hahaha). Yeah right... if I can be master of one or two that's already something. But seriously though, one day. One day I'll be the master of baking, photography, soap making, knitting, and all the other random hobbies that I have.

You know something I realized last year - the reason why my room, the kitchen and the garage are so cluttered is because I have so many hobbies. I've got a bag full of yarn in my closet. I've got leftover fabric, paper and cardboard from book-making. The kitchen cupboards (and overflowing into the garage) are filled with my baking utensils and ingredients. And the garage. Haha... I've got my soap-making equipment, chemicals and bottles in there. I've got like ten tea-sets in the garage from the good old Dessert Club days. And the Chinese fans and ribbons from Selwyn College Multicultural Concerts are stuffed in one of the many boxes in that abyss. And because of all these hobbies, I also have a bad habit of not throwing anything away - what if I need that cardboard for...? Or that bottle for...? Decluttering and living a more minimalistic life are also the aim of the game this year. Great start on that goal because I gave away two bags of old clothes yesterday! Learning to let go - those jackets and skirts from Year 12 that I haven't worn in 5 years and obviously won't wear anymore, those can go to better hands. Learn to give more.

Something else related to creativity that I'd like to do this year is to learn to play the guzheng. This was something that I'd wanted to do ever since I was a little girl (well ever since I watched those girls playing it in all those Chinese dramas).  I love the sound of traditional Chinese instruments. There's so much spirit in it, yet it's so calming to the spirit. 

Saturday, 7 November 2015

{Small Steps Everyday}: 12k Traverse Auckland Marathon

Anticipated for months and we finally did it! I was extremely nervous about the run, going to bed early the night before and waking up early for a shower to freshen up, then to stuff my face with high energy food in preparation. During my practice runs/jogs/walks, I'd experienced dizziness from lack of sugar so I wanted to make sure that I had sufficient fuel to power me through the course. 

The weather that morning was perfect - fine, with no rain, there were clouds to shield us from harsh UV rays. We got to town at around 8. The roads were closed and we could see runners from the full marathon passing through on Quay Street - such athletes! They'd run about 30k in two hours! There were also sounds of cars tooting and people cheering around which heightened the atmosphere. The All Blacks had just won our second consecutive Rugby World Cup, defeating the Wallabies with an impressive score of 34-17! 

We got onto the bus which shipped us to the starting line at Smales Farm, on the way passing by hundreds more runners fighting their battles. My nerves heightened as I pictured myself as one of them in about an hour's time. Near the starting line, hundreds of people gathered in track pants, colour coded T-shirts with number bibs, stretching and warming up. The lines to the Portaloos snaked through the crowd, everyone was orderly and patient.  Some were sharing stories of their own runs and motivating each other. 

At about ten to nine, we walked to the starting line. The buzz vibrated through our bodies as the commentator started counting down the time. I plugged my earphones in and let the beat of Geronimo charge through me. Finally, the buzzer went off but we were delayed as we had to wait for the crowd in front of us to move. And then, off we went! 

I started off walking, thinking I should conserve my energy. But as more and more people started overtaking me and I saw that my sisters were running further and further ahead, I looked to Peter and thought, ok let's start running too. I adjusted my pace to a comfortable jog, centering my focus on each step rather than on the long journey ahead. I emptied my mind of any negative thoughts and filled it with "I can do it, I can do it, I can do it". As I ran, I reminded myself that this journey was my own. It did not matter that seven hundred people were ahead of me. I was not competing with anyone else but myself. 

The first 3k was comfortable. I realized that this was going to be more of a mental than a physical game. Clearing my mind of distracting thoughts actually helped conserve energy. My breathing was regular, I did not try to overtake people deliberately but let my pace guide me. In the corner of my eye I noticed Peter with the GoPro circling through, getting shots of my sisters and I while we ran. How he had so much excess energy was just beyond me. I was glad that he was enjoying the run though. 

As the Harbour Bridge came into sight, I let that be my mental target. So focused on my mental game, I didn't even realise that I passed Suzy until Peter pointed her out. We waved and gave hand signals of cheering each other on and "you can do it!" As we approached the bridge, the trajectory came to a gentle slope upwards. Still manageable, I thought, and kept pushing myself forwards. I started thinking about the wonders of the mind and the human body. How do my legs know to run? How does my brain control my legs to move forwards? How does my body know to push forward even if my mind tentatively thinks "stop"? And how do my legs know to distinguish when my mind really really is thinking "stop"? It was so puzzling and I thought to myself, if I overthink about how I run I will stop running, so let my body just do it

   I'd passed the 6k mark. This was how far I normally run and oh my gosh there's still half the journey. My time seemed alright though. Well within the cut-off time of when we had to be on the Bridge. My legs started to feel foreign. They've been carrying me for about forty minutes. As we climbed the Bridge, I slowed down to take it all in. I switched to power walk mode and immediately felt my legs went jelly. It's alright. This is a mental game. My physical state does not matter. On the bridge, I thought - hey, this was the first time that we were on the bridge on foot! Let's enjoy this moment and take some photos to commemorate. The view was amazing. Auckland was beautiful. Let's do some silly jump photos while trying not to get in the way of other runners. Suzy caught up and joined in.

Then came the downhill of the Bridge - yess!! Let's take advantage of it. So we plugged in our earphones again and began the second half of the journey. Comparatively, as expected, the second half was a lot more challenging than the first half. My running mentality was also different from the first 6ks. With each step, we were closer to the finish line, but there was still quite a distance to go. I thought that if there weren't so many people around me running, I would have stopped already. But seeing other participants pushing themselves helped motivated me. The fact that my sister was no where in sight also pushed me forward. 

My left knee started hurting and I could feel my lips going dry. When we ran down the bridge and started coming into town, my brain started chanting "each step by step counts", something a friend had said to me a few days ago. We saw people on the sideline cheering and Barfoot and Thompson was handing out lollies. "Home run", a sign says, haha so punny. But 10m later the 9k mark came into sight. Home run? You're joking! There's 3 more ks! There were more and more walkers around and I could feel the mental pull to join them. But each step by step counts! Step by step... step by step... My knee doesn't hurt. No it doesn't. Ah but it does. Slow down, rest a bit. No. No. No. Victoria Park is right there.  I could see it. 

As we came to Wynyard Quarter, I realised that the route was snaking leftwards into Wynyard Quarter rather than rightwards to Vic Park. Ah they tricked us! We've still got 2ks to go and we'll be running around the fish market and Wynyard, not straight to Vic! Ok, never mind, keep going. Jog. Small steps. Yup that's right. Oh water, go grab a cup. Take a sip. Don't drink too much or it'll cool your body down too much. One sip is good. Ok, keep going. I'd asked Peter to run ahead as he wanted to meet his time to try and win the Timex watch. My target time of 1.5h had completely gone out the window. I just wanted finish the course. 

The final 2ks was completed with a mixture of jog and power walk. I could see that many runners around me were doing the same thing. During the final 1k, I started having a secret competition with the girl next to me as a way to push myself forward. Jog walk jog walk jog. Ok she's stopped jogging, overtake her. Puff puff puff. See, you're slowing down, she's overtaken you, start jogging. I had a feeling she was using me as a short distance marker as well. 

And then we turned the corner and a straight line to the finish line stretched out in front of us. I did not expect the size of the crowd at all. Wow, so this was how running a marathon is like. The crowd's watching and cheering, no stopping now. I pushed myself through all the words - tired, pain, thirsty, stop, rest - that'd held me back in the last ten minutes and gathered all my remaining strength to run to forward. I can see the finish line. 1:36:20. 1:36:21. 1:36:22. Go, go, go, go, go!!! 

And somehow, I made it! We made it! Wow! We ran. We did it. We finished it! We didn't have to be driven across the bridge because we didn't pass the cut off time in time. My legs. I can't feel them. My knees, they hurt, but it does not matter. We made it! 

It's been one heck of a week. I ran (I ran) in a marathon. I worked extra to cover a colleague's parental leave. It was my mum's birthday. I had two last minute cake orders. There was a tear-jerking karaoke session. I watched an unexpectedly moving movie with my sisters. There were interviews. The assignments are racking up. Exams are looming. To say the least, it's been a physically and mentally challenging and emotionally provoking week. Even though I only ran the 12k Traverse, I felt like I had run the full marathon. I'm glad that we challenged ourselves. Once again we have proven that mind power is stronger than anything else. 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Market hop: Matakana Market

July 25th, 2015. I woke up early. I had turned 25 the day before. Quarter of a century old. A milestone. The year went by so quickly. I still remembered how I celebrated my 24th the year before. It was a cold day.  A long day teaching and working in the lab. A day that ended with a massive portion of waffles and frozen yoghurt, then home to chow down more longevity noodles and cake. It was an emotional day remembering the ones that used to feature in my life and were now just a cameo.  

This year though, the occasion was a lot sunnier. I woke up early, but lay in bed. The skies were clear on this winter's day. At 8.30am, the door bell rang, way earlier than I'd anticipated. I was still in my pyjamas! I'm not ready yet. "It's ok, take your time. We're not in a rush." I scrambled out of my bed and into the bathroom and had a quick shower. I was planning to wash my hair but looked like that luxury was to be left for another day. As per usual, my mind listed the things that I wanted to get done that day. Stop off at the Britomart market, pick up some free-range eggs, drop Sarah off, go for a run, get some study done, maybe go shopping? With all these in mind, I didn't know how to dress. I decided that I'll dress in my jeans and super colourful jumper. I can run in jeans right? Then wrap myself up in my puffy black Kathmandu down jacket. Not like I was going to see anyone else. 

Came down stairs at about 8.50 and said hi to Peter and Sarah. I was still slightly furious at Peter for coming way too early so I couldn't get ready properly. He'd said 9/9.30am. Oh well. Let's make the most of the day then. After saying goodbye to the parents and brother we walked out the door. Peter had his arms around me and started stirring me to one side of the path and just as I was about to ask him what he was doing, "BAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!" out jumped five other familiar faces and scared the living heck out of me. What the...?! Why are you here? "HAPPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!" What? I thought you were at work... I thought Sarah was going to... What??!! Hahaha. That was one of the most genuine surprises I'd had in a while. The last one was my twenty second birthday. 

It turned out that a day of market, running, studying and shopping was completely scratched. Wearing a face full of sleep and lack of make up, my friends stirred me around for an extremely full-on day of market (Matakana), fed me delicious vegetarian pie, drove me all the way across town to Botany Paradice where I managed to hold my balance on the blades and inch across the ice, shipped me across town again for some vegetarian Thai meal, walked into a room where we had to solve clues and puzzles to escape from, then sat me down in a house where we played a bunch of board games. It was an eventful day to say the least. An unexpected surprise. 

Amidst the surprise, I managed to think quick and run back into the house to grab my camera. How long has it been since I played with it? Too long. The weather was perfect. The lighting was beautiful. The scenery and atmosphere was hyped and colourful. It was a great way to rekindle my photography flames again. I'm so grateful for the amazing friends I have. I'm so grateful for living in a beautiful country like New Zealand. I'm grateful for the great sense of adventure that us kiwis have. I'm grateful for the content that we feel just basking in the sun, sipping in the vibrant sights and smells and enjoying the company of each other.