Wednesday, 25 January 2012

5 Ways to Change My Life in 2012

This week marked the start of the 'Chinese' New Year - the Year of the Dragon no less - while Australia Day will take place on Thursday.

A Chinese tiger. In other words, moi.
Now I'm no water dragon (I'm a wood tiger according to those that know these things and confirm that I am courageous of heart). And I only recently took on Australian citizenship (but remain a dual national despite attempts by the powers-that-be to drain me of my blessed English roots). But with so much celebrating of national pride and the year ahead in this far flung corner of the world, what better time to reflect on my own outlook for 2012.

I'm not the greatest fan of New Year's Resolutions but I do believe in starting the year anew, clearing out unwanted habits from the past twelve months, and focusing on creating a fresh start and prosperous year to come.

Last week, on Expatria, Baby, I revealed one of the key things I'm planning to change this year as part of a series of NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches guest posts on expat 'new beginnings'. My resolution was to procrastinate less and finish more.

I soon realised there wasn't just one thing I wanted to change this year but a number. And not the bog standard resolutions: "I'm going to lose ten kilos" or "I will stop smoking"; but the less tangible, harder to measure goals that might bring about more meaningful changes to the way I lead my life in 2012.

With this in mind, here is my 'call to action' for the coming year. My 'manifesto for change', if you like. The 5 ways I plan to change my life in 2012:

1. Dream less and finish more. - As I wrote in Dare to Dream but Commit to Action, this year will be about dreaming less and doing more. I won't think I'm not ready, I'll stop aiming for perfection, I'll face those fears of making mistakes, stop following the path of least resistance, and banish idleness to the sidelines. This year, I’ll consider less and act on more. I'll live life more fully with realistic results. I'll dare to dream but commit to action.


Photo credit: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
2. Prove that positive thinking works. – Unfortunately, positivity and being British don't always go hand-in-hand. Sometimes it's easier to regard that cup as half empty when it really should be half full. Whilst that's no reason to start with the 'Whinging Pom' jokes, in 2012 I plan to focus on what I really want to happen. And in a positive way. Positive thinking is behind every good success story and starting each day with the thought that something good will happen in my life today, and paying close attention to see if it happens, will likely prove I'm right. Because I'm happy for the most part with this life by the beaches and I'm going to make damn sure I believe it. The cost of living may be high here but I'll focus on the plus side of Sydney living. I may not like every word or comment I come across in the Lucky Country, but it's not all bad. I promise.

3. Be more grateful for what I have. – No matter how much the day-to-day routine of life might try to wear us down, waking up each day thankful for what you have instead of thinking about what you don't have is the key. Being grateful for the way of life I lead in Sydney, being thankful for the family I'm creating around me, remembering to celebrate the good health and bright prospects we have here is something I plan to embrace regularly and wholeheartedly. 

4. Appreciate the beauty of those smaller moments. – It's essential to enjoy the little things in life because, when I look back, those little things were actually the bigger things in my life. Those small moments I spend with loved ones that often pass me by all too quickly - holding hands with my wife as we walk along the beach, spending time with my dog by the water, enjoying the company of good friends on a warm summer's evening or going for a light work-out close to the sand - these are arguably the best portions of this life I've created and should be appreciated for what they truly are, not how insignificant they seemed at the time.

5. No longer settle for less. - Too many times I've tried to create happiness out of a particular situation that just doesn't stack up. That doesn't feel right. I'm not prepared to tolerate this any more. I'm going to stop acting as if everything is okay when it's not. It's not about being strong or proving I'm capable or a success when I'm not. It's about being honest and saying "Enough's enough. This isn't working. It's time to quit". The sooner I do, the sooner I'll be able to smile again. And smile honestly.

2012 is going to be about recalibrating this life. Moving forward with passion and purpose. Making improvements for the future, not just the here and now.

These are the ways I plan to change my life in 2012. This is my manifesto for change.

It's time to begin. 

Do you have your own 'manifesto for change' for 2012? How do you intend to improve your life this year? 

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Thursday, 19 January 2012

Expat Jeopardy: New Beginnings for 100


NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches

With 2012 still fresh and new, this month's NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches examines beginnings from the four corners of the globe.

Here at In Search of a Life Less Ordinary, Linda of Adventures in Expat Land (North) explores the moment an expat's new life starts. As for yours truly usually found blogging here at In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (South), I'm dreaming big, and taking an even bigger bite out of 2012. Erica of Expatria, Baby (East) writes of her love beginnings. And Maria of I Was An Expat Wife (West) remembers the first time she felt at home in Singapore.

So, get comfortable, pour yourself a glass, and join us in saluting 2012. Many new and wonderful beginnings to all of you. Here's Linda's post.

Expat Jeopardy: New Beginnings for 100
By Linda Janssen

I'd like to change things up a bit, so today we're going to do things differently.
 
Think 'game show,' only without the cameras, fancy television stage or slick, velvety-voiced host.

If you'd like to think of me as velvety-voiced, I won't object. Although let's be clear: unlike Alex Trebek, I have no mustache. None whatsoever.

The game we'll be playing is a bit like the US game show Jeopardy, with a few alterations.
Photo credit: Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The rules are simple. We'll select a category, in this case, New Beginnings. Then I'll read you several potential answers.

Well, I really won't be reading them to you. You'll be doing the reading, but just pretend I'm announcing the responses to you in a game show host sort of voice.

After I've read you the list of possible answers, you will select the one that you believe best represents the moment when the average expat truly starts to feel that they are at a new beginning point in their life. You know, that point when you realize that you're Dorothy and you aren't in Kansas anymore.

Pay attention and read carefully because I'm going to give you lots of options. But remember, you can only pick one.

Here we go.

1. You first hear the language of your new country spoken by everyone around you, and realize that you can't understand a single word being said.

2. Your spouse/partner/significant other/Antonio Banderas/Angelina Jolie comes home and says 'Guess what? I've got this fantastic job offer, but it's in (fill in the blank)'.

3. You're hugging family and close friends, trying not to sob as you say your goodbyes.

4. You receive your residency card or visa, as applicable.

5. You can look around at most intersections in a four-block radius and realize that you could find your way home without resorting to a phone call to Antonio (or Angelina) or having to ask someone on the street for directions.

6. Sitting in a welcome session for recent arrivals at your children' new school.

7. You arrive at the airport or border and have to go through customs and immigration, and you realize that this time you're not a visitor.

8. You watch the contents of your home being packed up, loaded onto a container truck and driven away.

9. The first time your child turns and says to you 'I want to go home' and you realize that they are referring to your new country.

10. You are stopped for directions and realize that you understand three out of every five words being said to you and can point, pantomime and summon sufficient words to make yourself understood in response.

11. It's 2:00 am, your normally reliable teenager is well overdue for their curfew and you're not sure who to call.

12. The first time someone greets you with a welcoming voice and warm smile saying 'Hello, I'm so-and-so. You're new, aren't you? Let's grab a coffee and chat. There are some folks I'd like to introduce you to.'

13. You're served a new food or beverage about which you haven't a clue, it looks and/or smells strangely, and you're not entirely sure whether it's edible or even how to eat it.

14. In the taxi, car, van, small truck, bus, rickshaw, carriage, water taxi, sleigh, motorcycle or sea plane delivering you to your new front door.

15. You make your first embarrassingly public cultural faux pas and are concerned that you've sparked an international incident.

16. You arrive in country with high hopes and big dreams but no job or place to live, thinking 'now what??'

17. It's 11:30 pm and your youngest child has a raging fever, you haven't been in country long enough to have arranged for a doctor.

18. You understand your first joke in your new language (and are secretly relieved that you're not the butt of it).

19. You've been revived after fainting upon hearing the words 'Our next assignment is in (fill in the blank)'.

20. You return from vacation or a business trip and realize that this is home.

21. Your household goods shipment finally arrives in your new country.

22. Mr/Ms Right turns out to be Mr/Ms Wrong, leaving you on your own in the country you recently chose to move to together.

23. The first time you are invited into the home of a local resident.

24. You have your first (and hopefully only) encounter with local police.

25. The time difference is such that you can only find a one-hour window in which to call or Skype with friends and family 'back home' (and someone still has to get up early or stay up late to do so).

Okay, you've heard each of the contenders, so go ahead and select your answer. Keep your eyes on your own screen. No peaking at each others' choices.

While you're deciding on which answer to write down, I'll just stand over here and hum the Jeopardy one-minute countdown song.

All right then, let's get straight to the results. Which one will it be? Which of the selections above best typifies the light bulb moment when an expat thinks 'aha, this is the beginning of my new life'?

And the answer is...

Yes.

Okay, that's not exactly fair. The answer is actually 'all of the above'. Or 'none of the above'. Or 'other'.

There is no such thing as an 'average' expat any more than there is one occurrence that signifies a new beginning to everybody.

Some of us experience one defining moment, others will be reminded repeatedly by a series of events that a new life has begun. Still others will resist acknowledging any 'beginning' in their life change, instead living in a holding pattern and biding time until they can get back 'home'.

The truth is, new beginnings abound in expat life. You just have to be open to seeing them, and seeing them for what they are.

So which selection did you choose? What was your last light bulb moment when you realised this is the beginning of your new life?

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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

An Interview with Jack Scott, Published Expat Writer

I had the pleasure of meeting Jack Scott through In Search of a Life Less Ordinary and the wider expat community in 2011. Jack is a regular visitor to this blog and a faithful advocate of pursuing a less ordinary life.

Jack writes a successful blog which has quickly became one of the most popular English language blogs in Turkey. As the blog grew, Jack made the decision to develop the story of his expat life in Turkey into a memoir, Perking the Pansies, which was published just before Christmas.

Jack Scott, Published Writer
Perking the Pansies is an intriguing and often hilarious tale of a gay couple from London carving out an exciting and completely different life in Turkey. Jack's writing is a breath of fresh air, his vocabulary is delightful, and I wore a permanent grin on my face over Christmas as I read (on my newly acquired Kindle) how he describes, in his own inimitable way, the people he and Liam meet along the way. But it's not all smooth sailing for the fearsome duo as Jack reveals a number of less than happy moments during their time in Yalikavak then Bodrum, which simply add to the depth of the book and the interest of the overall journey.

Perking the Pansies is first and foremost a heart-warming account of a very human set of stories and I was fortunate enough to interview the author of this lovely - and currently bestselling - book as part of the current Perking the Pansies world tour...

So Jack, with a growing number of expat books being published, what makes Perking the Pansies a must-read for 2012?

Many expat books about Turkey (and elsewhere) are about building the dream in a foreign field set against a magnificent backdrop of history, culture and landscape. Many are beautifully written and deserve their place on the bookshelf while others are worthy but a little dull. I wanted to write something completely different. Perking the Pansies provides an alternative version of the expat experience from the perspective of a British gay couple in a Muslim land. It’s something no one has done before, and why would they? There aren’t many of us here.

Perking the Pansies is an often funny but always quite personal story of yours and Liam's unique journey. Were you at all concerned about putting your lives out there in such a public way through this book?

I have tried to lace the book with the same brand of satire and humour as my blog, but I also wanted depth, personality and a convincing plot. To do this, I think you must reveal something of yourself and that’s why I’ve included aspects of our lives which I’ve never written about before. I’m a bit of an open book anyway, so writing about my life and feelings, past and present, isn’t difficult for me (or for Liam).


As two openly gay men, the book follows your 'escape from the liberal sanctuary of anonymous London to relocate to a Muslim country' and this was surely no small decision to make. Just how difficult a decision was it and do you think other potential expats can learn something from your decision and subsequent journey?

We really wanted to take time out from the world of the waged, so we had to move somewhere affordable; living in a cardboard box wasn’t our idea of fun. I’d like to say that we moved to Turkey because it’s a land of swarthy men, a place where sexual ambivalence reigns supreme and stolen glances meet you at every corner. The truth is more prosaic. We had to settle somewhere within easy commute of Blighty for trips home to see our folks. The Eurozone was off the agenda because the Pound to Euro exchange rate conspired against us. That meant the usual nations of choice for sun-starved Brits – Spain, Portugal and Greece – were out. Quite simply, we get more bang for our bucks in Turkey. Also, we’d been dipping our toes this side of the Aegean for years and knew the amazing country quite well. With the current crisis in the Eurozone, I think we (quite accidentally) made a wise choice.

The biggest lesson we’ve learned is that the neither the journey nor the destination is the be all and end all. It’s what you do afterwards that really counts. The real challenge to able-bodied emigreys (as I call retired expats) is to find a gainful occupation that doesn’t involve propping up the bar in a sad, insular expat dive to Blighty-bash and complain ad nauseum of all things local. That’s why I started the blog.

Perking the Pansies, the book
You cover a lot of ground in the book and recount in some detail the many characters you've met and conversations you've had along the way. How did you go about recording and remembering so many different encounters?

The blog has helped with much of the subject matter and narrative. Many of the events were so extraordinary that they’ll be etched into my memory for a very, very long time. Suburban life in London was never this eventful. Our first year in Turkey was like living in Midsomer without the murders. And then came the horrible murder. All events in the book are based on what actually happened, but some of the characters and their characteristics have been merged or altered to protect the privacy of the innocent and the guilty. I have also tweaked the timeline a little for the purposes of dramatic tension and narrative clarity.

And where to next for Jack Scott, Published Writer? Will we see Jack and Liam remain in Bodrum or head off on a new leg of the Perking the Pansies adventure?

Turkey is a magical land. The people are warm, welcoming and hospitable. Whether you are a culture-vulture needing a fix, a beach bum wanting rest and relaxation, an adventurer seeking an adrenalin rush or a rambler who gets off on meandering through magnificent countryside, Turkey has it all. We’re lucky enough to live here while we’re young enough to savour it and we’re very happy to stay in Turkey for now. Much depends on how happy we remain here, whether the book sells and where that might lead. I’m hopeful of a sequel and a prequel but this may just be wishful thinking. The chances are, we’ll head back to Blighty for our dotage. Home, as they say, is where the heart is – and where the health care is free.

Perking the Pansies is available to buy in paperback or on Kindle from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. If you order through Jack's website, http://www.jackscott.info/, he makes a few extra pennies from it. No pressure.

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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Best of In Search of a Life Less Ordinary 2011

In the time honoured tradition of looking back at the highlights of the year that was, I thought I'd round out the year with a look back at the best of In Search of a Life Less Ordinary for 2011.

Photo credit: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

A year of extremes

It was an extreme year in Australia - from extraordinarily high temperatures in January and February to an unusually wet and windy start to the current summer in December. When Australia was hit with insanely hot summer temps early on in the year, I asked just How hot is too hot?

Not long after, appalling bush fires, mass flooding and wild cyclones ravaged areas of Queensland and Western Australia as I put pen to paper for the UK Telegraph for the first time in 2011 with First floods, then cyclones, now bushfires: what next for Australia?

The year also showed us extreme attitudes and behaviour when London lost the plot and the UK rioted from north to south. Having lived in a number of cities that had experienced riots such as these, I found myself making comparisons as I watched My London burning.

An extreme issue of a different kind was the rising cost of living in Sydney. Living in the lucky country doesn't come cheap looked at the true cost of life in the harbour city and the emerging phenomenon of the ping pong Pom.

Understanding the locals

It was also a year for getting to know my neighbours, the friendly 'locals', and understanding - and accepting - how things work here in the land down under. Of course, it wasn't ever going to be easy trying to fit in.

In Winter, what winter?, I asked whether Australians believe winter exists in this fair land and, if so, why am I the only one who seems aware of the ever-present cold and dark at this time of year. Not long after, in What happened to Halloween?, I made that most serious of claims: is it me or is Halloween non-existent in Australia?

More contentiously, I posted on my occasional experiences of racist behaviour in Australia in No place for ugly attitudes in Australia and this continues to be one of my most read and commented-on blog posts on ISOALLO.

You also learned about my love of the coffee culture in Sydney and my surprise at just how good the black liquid gold really is when I guest posted for Why Go Australia in Coffee's up in Sydney! And I got to grips with local tipping practices, which have always bemused me wherever I've called home, when I deciphered the local customs for the Expat Explorer blog in To tip or not to tip?

Learning about myself

2011 was also a defining point in my expat life. I reached the '8 years away from the UK' threshold and I started to better understand my sense of living a more permanent life overseas.

I explored issues of separation guilt and emotional anxiety at being such a long distance away from loved ones in Facing my fears, whilst in When the going gets tough, should I get going? I considered the type of expat I am (if I still am one) and whether it was time to move on as a result of issues causing me concern.

Me, myself and I - living with my nationalities was about my decision to become an Australian citizen and dealing with those initial feelings of guilt in taking on the nationality of my new home, whilst in Defining home I tried to tease out the true definition of 'home' for an expat. In the end, I decided that home is where a person feels happiest and, as with love itself, when you find the one that is right for you, you'll know where your home is too.

Photo credit: Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I learned a lot about the language I've developed along this journey from the UK to Canada and on to Australia in Lessons in language when I realised I'm now speaking a mix of languages, thinking and speaking with a hodge-podge of words and phrases from my current and previous homes. I also learned that most of the personal stuff I brought with me to Australia is exactly that, Just stuff, even if I do cherish that record collection which will always come along for the ride...

I eventually came to the conclusion that life by the beach isn't all that bad in Life's a beach - what is there to complain about when a typical morning is spent watching humpback whales breach and pods of dolphins swim by?


Looking back, moving forward

2011 was a year of opportunity in which I wrote regularly for the Telegraph's Expat section, filmed my search for this new life on a major US television show, helped launch our monthly NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches initiative with three very talented expat writers from the far flung corners of the globe (who could forget my naked sauna?), and was fortunate enough to be able to bring more of my life here in Australia to you in your own home, wherever that may be.

2012 hopefully holds more of the same in store for In Search of a Life Less Ordinary. You will see a few changes in the blog's direction over the coming months and our search for a different life will perhaps take on its own change of course in 2012 (for the better, I'm sure).

We like-minded expats/nomads/travellers/adventurers/restless souls often like to quote the great Mark Twain when he once said:
"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do, than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Join me as I do.

Have a fantastic 2012.

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