The downside of the great price was that I was that all my flights were separate and I was flying,
Zurich - London - Singapore- Sydney - Melbourne - Sydney - Auckland - Sydney - Singapore - London - Zurich....
whereas my husband flew....
Zurich - Singapore - Melbourne - Auckland - Singapore - Zurich.
As most of you know, I am not phased by unknown airports or travelling alone so I loaded up my iBooks, grabbed my bag and off I went.
It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I got to walk around the airports in-between flights, and after arriving in Sydney I had a nice shower in the lounge and changed clothes before the short hop to Melbourne. That made a huge difference to how I felt when I arrived.
I got my return to Sydney organised with a stopover in Singapore on the way home. It was a great price and the leg out was business class, so I knew I would arrive at least having had a good sleep on the BA flat bed. The ticket was only 300 Swiss Francs more than Prem Ecc so I jumped on that fare.
As things worked out I was also lucky enough to get a nice upgrade to business class on the return, proving that loyalty really does pay.
So again my husband had to travel for his job and if there is something most people know about me its that I'm not the type of person to sit at home alone for 3 weeks, so I jumped quickly on www.BA.com and got myself some flights. My husband flies direct and in Business Class and the cost of his tickets is way more than I am prepared to spend on myself so I've become pretty good at working out the best flight combinations for the price.
I've been to Sydney and Melbourne several times before so this trip was all about catching up with friends. I met up with an old college friend, a friend I used to work with, a friend from expat days in Singapore and also some new friends from Zurich who were there by coincidence. We tried out lots of great restaurants, and of course the Sydney Fish Market. I had such an amazing time.
The weather was perfect for being in the city and I got to take some lovely long walks and indulge in some retail therapy too.
New Zealand was a new adventure for me as I have never been before. We stayed in Auckland and at the weekend hired a car to drive along the coast and visit Hobbiton, where The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were filmed. I also took advantage of my husband's busy work scheduled and took a quick flight to Wellington for an overnight visit to another college friend.
Singapore was a nice 3 night stopover on the return home. For me the hi-light was catching up with friends from when we used to live here, and of course the food. Staying in a great hotel in the CBD with a lovely pool didn't hurt either.
I'm in the process of writing a few blog posts about the cities, restaurants, hotels and various airline lounges I have come across, so if you are interested, watch this space this space.
Recently I've been thinking more and more about how important the quality of friendship is.
I've also been making more effort to spend quality time with the friends I don't normally get to see on a regular basis.
Of course its great to host parties and large dinners so you can get all your friends together at the same time, especially when you are not around often and find yourself constantly juggling your diary. Sadly this does mean you don't get to spend good quality time with any single person.
Being an expat, this time spent with good friends, is one of the things that I really miss.
Hours spend doing nothing but walking along the river, or through a park, chatting, is something most people take for granted, but when you can no longer do it as a spur of the moment thing, you realise how much you enjoyed it.
This year I managed a few good dates with friends. I spent a weekend in Rye with one of my oldest girlfriends, 3 days travelling on the Swiss Train network with a friend from Asia and quite a few days out in London with UK based friends. I really enjoy visiting an exhibition, gallery or event (Taste London, Ideal Home Show or Chelsea Flower show) or even just having a long lunch with one friend instead of a group is so much more rewarding than a group date, and it certainly makes up for months of absence punctuated by short Facebook interactions.
I really enjoy these moments and so one of my resolutions for 2015 is to make more time to do this. As much as I'd like it to be in person I have to accept that this may also be a SKYPE moment, but sometimes you have to take what you can get !!
So my message to all of you reading this is to treasure the moments you have with family and friends, don't rush through them, the way so many people do with their busy lives.
Set aside time to really enjoy your friends and the times you are able to be together.
These are the times you will remember and with fondness when NYE 2016 comes around.
In my years of being an expat I have been to many 'coffee morning' groups. These have ranged from the official ones hosted by The American Womens Association and the British Association in Hong Kong, to a discussion forum one in Singapore and a 'meet-up' group in Zurich.
They attract a group of (usually) women who have moved half way across the world for their husbands jobs and find themselves without jobs or friends. Going to a coffee morning for a lot of people is an easy way to meet others in a similar situation.
I have met some wonderful people at this type of event, several of whom I am still in contact with years later, however they also attract their share of people I fondly refer to as 'crazies'. The crazies always have issues with their new expat status and these coffee groups appear to be the ideal place for them to discuss these.
Their issues range from the obvious 'I feel so lonely as I have left my friends behind' and 'I don't have any identity now I don't work' to the absurd 'I hate Singapore because it is so hot' or 'I can't believe I can't find tinned pumpkin here in Hong Kong'. The first two are understandable but the second two, well, what can I say. I can only assume that people don't google where they are moving to and that they don't realise that different continents (or even countries for that matter) have different groceries and weather ??
Sadly what happens at this type of group is the everyone bonds over a mutual dislike of their new home country focusing on why its not like at home, and they get together regularly to make each other miserable. Its all very negative.
For someone like me where my new home is going to be home for a long time, this kind of negativity isn't something I want to be around and so I have been thinking about how to avoid this type of group and still meet new people....
After a bit of thought I understand why the coffee mornings can become so negative.... there is no group focus.
So in pursuit of a more positive experience, I joined a German speaking coffee group during the day time in Zurich run by InterNations. It was refreshing to discover that the attitude of (most) of the people who attend is completely different and much more positive.
Generally they have accepted that Switzerland is the new home and things here are different. Food is different, attitudes are different and of course the language is different. The focus of the group is to speak as much german as possible, thus slowly improving. No time to complain about Vegemite/Oreos or crumpets if you are concentrating on your nominatives and accusatives.
These people have committed themselves to learning German as they understand that they need to be able to communicate with the people around them. English isn't always an option here.
So my advice for any new expats is to join a group with a focus. Something you enjoy doing or something that will give you more positive experiences. A photography group will give you to opportunity to look at your new home differently, or a walking group to give you time to appreciate your new environment.
In 2015 I'm going to commit more time to playing at my golf club with the ladies group. Improve my handicap, get some exercise and speaking German all at the same time. No time to complain about not being able to buy back bacon in my local supermarket !!
I love my computer and iPad. In fact I really love technology and gadgets.
My MacBook or my iPad mini are the first things on my packing list wherever I go.
I have music and movies on my MacBook to keep me entertained if I'm spending the night in a hotel alone. I have books on the iBook app on my iPad that entertain me on a flight or when I'm waiting in the airport lounge. I have a card reader that downloads my photos straight from my camera to my iPad and straight to my iCloud (If I ever loose my camera all the photos are not lost). My diary is synced with all my devices so I never miss a flight or dinner date, even my fitbit uploads my daily step count to my iPhone keeping track of my daily activity.
As much as I love them, all of these things are completely overshadowed by my love of SKYPE and, Facebook.
I admit I am a Facebook addict.
I do have strict rules about who my 'friends' are. Not anyone is allowed in. If I have or would have dinner/drinks with them when we are in the same city then they are friends. If I wouldn't want to meet with them in real life - why would I want them seeing my latest holiday photos or hearing that I've got an ear infection ??
The thing I love most about Facebook is that with a small time commitment I always know where my friends are, what they are doing and a quick comment or 'like' here and there really does make me feel like I am a part of their lives. If they are friends I only see occasionally we never need to spend time 'catching-up' we can go straight to discussing their new job/latest holiday/new boyfriend or whatever I have learnt from FB.
Another reason I love Facebook is the way it enables me to meet up with people. I have friends literally all over the world and last year after I posted a photo of me and hubby in New York City after we arrived in on a late flight. By the time I had woken up I had emails from 2 friends who I managed to meet up with during the following 10 days. One friend from Singapore was in Boston for a conference and he came down to NYC to meet me for lunch, the other friend from Hong Kong (who now lives in the UK) was also in NYC for a week shopping so we managed to meet for dinner.
How cool is that !?
My second love - SKYPE developed when we moved to Hong Kong. Of course I wanted to keep in touch by phone with family and friends in the UK and SKYPE was the perfect way to do this.
I bought a 'World Unlimited' package where I could call almost all landlines in the world without any extra change. Its under 100GBP per year and saved me a fortune over the 10 years I've been using it. I could also call many mobile numbers too which became very useful when we moved to Singapore and I wanted to call my Hong Kong friends.
I also bought a UK phone number from SKYPE. This allows anyone from the UK to call a 'landline' number at their standard rates (usually free) and the call comes through to my computer via SKYPE wherever I am in the world. BRILLIANT. If I wasn't online and people left a message I immediately got an email to tell me. Now I have the app on my iPhone so I can just go off and find a wifi location and hear my messages.
Of course a lot of my calls are SKYPE to SKYPE with the camera bringing friends right into the same room. I regularly have chats with friends over a glass of wine despite us being in completely different countries, and all for FREE !!
So you move to a new country, you’ve found a new place to live, the boxes are unpacked, you’ve managed to negotiate the aisles of the supermarket, the public transport system and even know where to get your hair cut….. what you need now is friends.
Having been through the re-location process a few times I can say from experience that making friends can potentially be the biggest minefield that you will encounter. When we first moved to Hong Kong I went from having lots of friends from a very busy work and social life to NONE.
I joined lots of expat groups in an effort to find new friends. I did manage to fill my diary but sadly those coffee/lunch/cocktail dates were with people that I was trying desperately to replace my old friends with. I didn’t put too much thought into the process for at least the first 6 months. Then after one of those lightbulb moments I stood back and thought ‘who are all these crazy people and why am I spending so much time with them?’ Then I took a good look at what I was doing.
Not all of them were crazy and I still have a couple of amazing friends I am in touch with 6 years down the line. However, many of them were really not a good ‘fit’ friendship wise. They were acquaintances, but ones I was seeing 2 or 3 times a week, and committing so much time to them that I didn’t have enough time left to meet other people who may actually be a better ‘fit’. I often found myself going to lunch and halfway throughout thinking ‘what the hell am I doing here’, not laughing and enjoying the company of someone I wanted to be with. If you find yourself looking at an appointment in your diary and thinking ‘I’d rather stay home and do the ironing’ then be honest with yourself, the person you are meeting is not going to be a lifelong friend.
I think that expats are often guilty of lowering their standards when it comes to friends, I know I was…. It sounds a bit harsh but I think its the best way of describing what happens.
As I can now take a step back and look with new eyes I can also see how this has happened to both myself and other people I have met along the expat road. The desire to feel needed, part of a group, funny, sociable, accepted are all strong urges that many people feel want to fulfil.
My advice is, and it is something I do still today is to ask a few simple questions.
If this person left the country I am living in - would I go and visit them ?
If I left the country I am living in - would they come and visit me / would I want them to visit me ?
If I had a crisis could I call them at 3am ?
Will they tell me if my ass looks big in something ? (well maybe this isn’t as important as the other three but you get the idea)
Also, If you are meeting people through Expat Groups such as Internations, British Association and the American Womens Association etc choose wisely. You may instantly click with someone who has the same sense of humour or comes from the same city/country as you, but if that doesn’t happen maybe invest your time getting to know people who share your hobbies so you have something more than coffee and cocktails in common, and the friendship will have at least a good starting point.
Its good to remember that some people are more accommodating than others and can easily find themselves being the shoulder to cry on… the reality of the situation comes when they in turn need a shoulder and find themselves surrounded by people who don’t have time, or simply don’t care enough.
Lastly, and for me most importantly, is to spend time with people who you can be yourself around. For me personally I don’t want to have to analyse everything someone has said or how I think they might of interpreted what I said, or how their anger may be a reaction to something I said after something they said after I was late for a lunch that they think I did on purpose because they were late for coffee despite them having a crisis that they think I don’t understand because I was having a more important crisis and didn’t listen to their problem bla bla bla bla bla…….
Seriously LIFE IS TOO SHORT, and its certainly too short to spend time with fake friends….
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