Half way through the year, Sue and I went on a trip to China. When she first spotted the “Nexus Holidays China Sampler” late last year, we both thought it sounded “too good to be true”. For about the cost of a return flight from Sydney to Beijing (about $1200-$1300), the sampler price also included an internal flight from Beijing to Shanghai, accommodation in “five star hotels”, about three quarters of the meals, tour guide support, and entry to lots of major tourist attractions.
That it was previously advertised at close to $3000, and was now being offered (through Living Social) at a much lower price, made it sound even more extraordinary. After consideration of the uncertainties we decided we would go ahead and book anyway, deciding to pay an extra $400 for single accommodation instead of the twin-share. Right up until the last couple of weeks before travelling, we still couldn’t quite believe the generousness of the deal.
The last time I was in China (I mean, the first time I was in China, which was in 2010), I visited my friend Kate who was living there pretty much permanently. She was working at an art gallery there, and had an apartment in a building a very non-western part of Beijing. She invited me to come to visit and so of course I said yes.
Being with someone who had spent a bit of time there, and who had developed a network of contacts and friends (mostly among expats) meant that I was able to go a little deeper more quickly into life in Beijing than the average tourist on a package deal, which is what I did on the China Sampler. I got to do some amazing things and really treasure the memories of that trip in 2010. It’s one of those holidays where I can pretty much recall everything that happened on every day, and the way I felt about my experiences.
But this time around, being on a tour group and the experience was different. Not better, not worse. Just different. On the positive, I probably received a little more of the “educational backgrounder” than I’d enjoyed previously. On the negative, there were moments when I wished for something a little less “touristy”.
This was Sue’s and my second international trip together, having last year visited Germany, Denmark and Sweden. And it was our third holiday together in quick succession, having also travelled together to Tasmania last November. Having Sue move to Sydney in 2014, to become a more regular part of my life has been one of the highlights of the year. There was one weekend, in particular, I recall when she and I made plans, and were catching up within minutes, something that hasn’t been possible for nearly thirty years, since we both lived in Brisbane.
But as one friend has re-entered my life in a physical sense, another has left. In July, my dear friend Colin died after a lengthy illness. Colin and I first met at the end of 1991 in Wagga, where I’d recently moved from Renmark. It was a Friday night and I was invited by a couple of new friends to attend a party at Colin’s place.
Although Colin was the Head of Drama at Charles Sturt University for many years, I didn’t know him from a bar of soap. I hardly knew the people who’d invited me. So when Colin walked up to me and asked (with a wry smile), “Who are you and what are you doing here”, I replied, “I was told if I wanted to meet anyone interesting in Wagga, I should meet you”. “You can stay”, he said with a laugh.
Over the next few years our friendship in Wagga blossomed. It was cemented when we both, at similar periods in time, moved to Sydney. With a bite to eat here, and a glass of wine there, we became good friends, sharing a common love of theatre. In the last few years his health declined dramatically, and so he eventually moved back to Newcastle (to be closer to his family). In the last couple of years he had been in a lot of pain and discomfort.
Other highlights of the year have incuded: attending a lovely wedding in April; regular catchups with friends; catching up with Sandra when she and Robert visited from Sweden; ACTUALLY meeting long-time imaginary internet friend, Carol who it turns out is actually not Carol in real life at all; and , believe it or not: standing on stage in front of the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.
After the career-based intensity of this year, my thoughts have already turned to next year and to the possibility of travel. I think I’d like to buy an around the world ticket, which would potentially include visits to Japan, Sweden (of course, for Stockholm Pride) and New York. Japan? Japan fascinates me – there’s no other way to put it. I’d like to explore it. Sweden?
In many respects it’s been “a year without Sweden” as I neither visited Sweden this year, nor did I attend Swedish classes (too busy and too tired by eight o’clock on a Wednesday night). But I maintained an interest, have continued to read, listen and watch, and even had a moment in Sydney when I Swedish language skills remained okay, so in 2015 it’s probably time to re-visit those skills.
And as for New York? “You would love New York. You would gobble it up”, my friend Colin used to say. Throughout our years of friendship, we often spoke about the theatre scene there, and so I’ve always had a deep down desire to visit New York. So yes, after years of him urging me to go, I think 2015 will be the year for that next adventure.
PS: There was one other major event of the year which I haven’t written about yet, but was life-changing in many ways. One day, I hope I’ll be able to share the story. In the meantime, it’s just one day at a time.