Cheers, D.

handsIt was cold, and the night sky was our blanket. I accidentally took a photo, and this is that photo. For 23 years, I was single. Not a single boyfriend. I used to tell my friends, “Single life is the best life.” And now here I am…falling in love or something like it. Crushes, unrequited love, friends with benefits, just “hanging out” as one guy put it, boyfriends, lovers, affairs, everyone has loved at one point in their life. And I think I’ve just started a new chapter of my life: Donna in Love.

One night, I was on my period. I was angry for no reason. I was just being weird I think. The boy: “Too much drama. I don’t like it.” Me: “This is me. Take it or leave it!” We all have moments when we aren’t our finest. And to this day, we still joke about that one time. We mimic each others voices and repeat phrases, then we laugh our heads off. That’s us – we laugh at all the stupid funny shit we do.

I once read a  story of Mahatma Gandhi when he was pursued by a journalist as he boarded a train. The guy was desperate for a story for his newspaper. The journalist persisted, “Sir! Sir! Please give me your message for the people!” Gandhi smiled and shouted back, “My life is my message!” What I’m trying to say is that, I’ve started writing again because I want to share bits and pieces of my life, words I hear, beautiful landscapes I see through my eyes, and just moments that take my breath away. And it’s all because I want to inspire people, and if that’s just once person that smiles as they read what I write, then that’s enough for me. It’s easy to get caught up in the challenges and adversities of life. Life is hard enough, believing that you are alone in life is even harder. At one stage I was just a kid who could name the most ice-cream flavours out of all my friends. At one stage I was 5 and I didn’t know what 10 x 10 was and my brother would always pick on me rather than tell me the answer. At one stage, I had braces and glasses in high school and felt like an ugly duckling. But guess what? Haters gonna hate. Look at me now. I hope my story inspires a few hearts, so stay a while and stay tuned to my future chit-chat.

I am Quote Queen. Here’s two of my favourites by Hilary Rodham Clinton to mark this new beginning:

“You know, everybody has setbacks in their life, and everybody falls short of whatever goals they might set for themselves. That’s part of living and coming to terms with who you are as a person.”

“I think that if you live long enough, you realise that so much of what happens in life is out of your control, but how you respond to it is in your control. That’s what I try to remember.”

So here’s to keeping it fresh. Here’s to me writing again, for writing is good for the soul. In the words of Holley Gerth, “Be courageous and write in a way that scares you a little.”

Cheers,

– D.

Good Conversation & a Tea Studio

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There’s this guy at work named Byron, who’s always serving tea during his breaks. Because I’m a tea princess, we became instant friends. I don’t think many people can say they live below a tea studio, but he does along with his partner in crime/other half/soul mate/best friend, Katerina. They own it actually. It’s called Lotus Teas. It’s a small authentic tea shop tucked away in Sydney’s inner west, Sydenham. So I got an invite by Byron (totes feel special) to visit this tea  studio and spend an afternoon relishing and learning about the tea world. As soon as I walked into the Lotus Teas Studio Room, I felt transported to a zen-inspired oasis with relaxing music to accompany the background. Because I had been busy that morning (actually I’m busy all day, every day), I felt a change in energy. It was as if all of a sudden I was aware of my own energy. It was like a time conscious, stressed out I need a pick-me-up caffeine buzz, but I know coffee is bad for me, so don’t worry I’ve got my shit together vibe. But as they say, acceptance, is the first step to moving forward. It was a great afternoon full of listening to the stories, philosophical ideas and aspirations of those on the creative side in love with tea.

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A house with an art studio and a tea house, overlooking a lake. That is Katerina’s dream home. Now, this girl is more than just a dreamer, for she puts her ideas into action. Her love for tea has allowed her to use her creative edge to make a business out of it. One of her tea blends has such an awesome name, I told her that she should trade mark the name and T2 would probably buy it. It’s called Liquid Sunshine (how cool, right?). It is an uplifting tea, the one you come home to when you just had a long day and need a little burst of joy and radiance. It is made with mandarin peels, resulting in citrus top notes; layered under peppermint and chamomile base notes, which creates a soothing and relaxing effect. For Katerina, “Tea culture is about bringing in the principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility into your everyday life. You become more aware of how you can better yourself through those principles”. Living in Sydney for 22 years, I know that tea culture has never been a big thing here, compared to other countries such as Japan, China and India . However, its popularity through commercialisation is gradually creating a change in our culture. The power and pleasure of drinking tea is becoming more appreciated within the community.

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If you don’t already know, Memoirs of a Geisha (1997) by Arthur Golden is my 2nd favourite book, coming 2nd to One Day (2009) by David Nicholls, which is sitting on my bookshelf all tattered, dog-eared and unlaminated (to retain its history of spilt coffee marks and chocolate-licked fingers). I don’t know why, but I just never get sick of the book. I guess I have a connection to it? Sometimes I read particular chapters depending on my mood and whatever 20-something dilemma I’m going through at the time. Twenty years. Two people…there’s just something entrancing about the whole thing and how witty and beautifully written it is. Escapism. Anyway, getting side-tracked here. So my point was meant to be what’s funny is that Katerina was first exposed to tea culture through Memoirs of a Geisha. I particularly love the part when Chiyo first meets Mr. Tanaka Ichiro one afternoon and she recalls, “He seemed so fascinating to me, even the fish smell on his hands was a kind of perfume. If I had never known him, I’m sure I would not have become a geisha.”

New stills of film "Memoirs of a Geisha"

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I think like Chiyo, as we age, different things gain new symbolic insights and meanings to us. For Chiyo the smell of fish reminds her of her childhood days, living in a poverty-stricken Japanese fishing village and her fisherman father who sold her to a geisha house in Kyoto’s famous Gion district at the age of 9 (I clearly know too much about this book). On the other hand, tea reminds Katerina of her spiritual being (a.k.a. inner Goddess). For her, a little morning tea ritual quietens the mind. Instead of dreading how much you wish you were still in bed, but your 9 to 5 job allows you to get by and pay the bills, imagine completely changing your ‘default-setting’ perspective and thoughts. Picture yourself walking over to the tea pot, choosing to listen to the bubbling of the water,carefully selecting your leaves, appreciating where they came from, and imagining the tea farmer away in a foreign country plucking your tea leaves. Tea has a way of connecting us as humans to the Earth. It gives us a basic sense of self. It was a realisation I had that day because I like drinking tea, but I had never thought of tea in that sense. Earl Grey, English Breakfast or Chamomile…In Second Year, I used to think of tea as nothing but a rip-off. Hot water and a tea bag for $4 at the cafes at uni, “Are you serious? Oww hell no!” [insert finger snap ghetto style].

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One day Katerina was walking down New South Head Rd in Double Bay, when she walked into the Taka Tea Garden. “The minute I was in that tea house, it was like I had come home or something. I felt so drawn to that space of meditation, of calm and tranquility. I was so fascinated by the spirit of tea, by the concepts behind it, the philosophy.” From there, she was given the contact details of a tea teacher named Rosalyn in Epping. I’ve never spoken on the phone for an hour to a complete stranger, unless it’s about my internet not working (no internet = life is miserable) or my bad reception on my phone, to a customer service rep. But Katerina spoke on the phone to Rosalyn for over an hour, despite having never met her before. They must have made a strong connection, for they soon became friends, and later on Rosalyn would become Katerina’s tea mentor. Even the dress Katerina was wearing the day I visited was something Rosalyn once owned and passed onto Katerina.

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I also tried proper/legit matcha (you know the way its meant to be made, not the processed chalky light green fluff you find in a packet in the aisle of a dodgy Asian grocery store. Apparently, the Matcha Green Tea Frappuccino that I regularly order at Starbucks or the heavenly, frothy, sweet green tea latte that I had in Melbourne this winter does not count as ‘real’ matcha. The origins of Japanese matcha is noted to have emerged in history when it was first introduced to ancient Chinese society and adopted by Chan Buddhists in 960AD. Blends of matcha are given poetic names called chamei (meaning “tea names”) either by the producing plantation, shop or creator of the blend, or by the grand tea master of a particular tea tradition. When a blend is named by the grand master of some tea ceremony lineage, it becomes known as the master’s konomi, or favoured blend. Matcha is made from shade-grown green tea. Protecting the tea leaves from direct sunlight allows the leaves to become rich in chorophyll and amino acids. Only the finest tea buds are hand-picked during harvesting. After harvesting, the tea leaves are then dried and ground into fine bright green matcha powder. Matcha is prepared as a powder and whisked into hot water, a method which releases the caffeine into the body gradually over 6-8 hours. Swapping coffee for matcha will result in sustained energy and increased alertness and focus, aided with a cleaning effect on your body, without giving you the jitters, shakes or a caffeine crash later in the day from drinking coffee. Real matcha is actually quite strong (tip #1: don’t ask to add sugar. You will be death-stared). Once you’ve got used to drinking it, the health benefits you gain fair outweigh the benefits of drinking coffee (umm…who wants stained teeth and bad acidic breath?)

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So if you want to find an escape from the busyness of your day-to-day life, find solace as you step into a meditative space of cultural appreciation where you can try a whole new world of full leaf teas at Lotus Teas in Sydenham. It’s by appointment only, but you can go online and purchase their teas also.

Yours truly, from a 22-year-old who says, “de-stress, drink tea & live a little. Life’s too short.”

Mystery & a dungeon bar

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So last Friday, I found myself sitting in an old, upholstered wooden resting chair in a dimly lit small bar, a subterranean mezzanine enclave hidden in the heart of Sydney CBD. It felt like a dungeon. Actually, it felt like I was sitting in what seemed like the Gryffindor common room with the type of crowd you see walking down King St in Newtown on a Friday night, and also a bunch of strangers dressed as Pokemon characters. Oddly enough, I felt comfortable. The place has a pretty awesome name, Spooning Goats. As I sat there, I don’t know why, but I got the feeling  that more than 20 couples must have made out in the chair I was sitting in. Either that or the ‘hot topic’ of the night, L-O-V-E, must have taken over and affected my train of thought. Let’s just call them A1 and A2. I used to work with A1 back in the day, and strangely enough we took a ballroom dancing class once upon a time to try to conquer our unco-ness. That’s umm well…still in progress. On the other hand, A2 was a friend of A1’s who tagged along after work. They once got mistaken for being a gay couple at T2, but in actual fact A2 is married. He seems to be madly in love with the love of his life, a girl who’s eye colour changes from one to another in different lighting conditions. Apparently, it’s a rare genetic or acquired disorder called Heterochromia (and yes, I did look it up on Wikipedia). Pretty cool I think.

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They introduced me to ‘Nuts and Bolts’, which is a house made signature beer snack seasoned with what seemed like garlic, rosemary, sea salt and spices. Totally going with my senses on that one. Nuts and Bolts is the love child of Nutri Grain and Bhuja mix. As we munched on those and told some tales, I remember thinking this is like having  two big brothers who seem overtly keen to give me their guy perspectives on the whole love thing. “Confidence is sexy”, “boys are stupid and insecure”, “you just have to go for it”. It was honest, and left my cheeks hurting from laughter. I was quite happy to listen. What have I got to say, love moves in mysterious ways, or so they say. No matter how old, no matter how weird, everyone has a their own opinion about love. We’ve all loved and lost at one stage or another.

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So if you’re looking for an oasis, a place that feels a million miles away from the rat race and the chaotic rush of being in the City, then this is the place to go. Almost everything you’ll lay your eyes on there (except for the people of course), is recycled with care such as the furniture, the glassware and the retro pre-loved wall hangings. You can kick back, relax, and enjoy some good ‘ol hand-crafted tap brews, Australian wines, and creative cocktail mixes, and hearty warm pies served in bowls. Yes, bowls! Spooning Goats also brings in all the boys with their milkshakes. Just kidding, they bring in all the cool kids by hosting live music performances by local and emerging artists, from those who didn’t make it into Australian Idol to upbeat ukulele solos and DJ’s spinning old 45’s. To add the finishing touch, you can relive your 90s I’m-obsessed-with-video-game days by immersing yourself and your mates in a game of Donkey Kong, Pac Man or Space Invaders on the Atari. Whatever floats your boat.

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Prior to this little underground bar adventure, the three of us checked out The Village Bizarre, a Friday night playground of markets and mystery held in The Rocks. It operates every Friday 6.30pm – 10.00pm between 1 November to 20 December. As a First Year university student, I was too shy to jump into the silent disco that was happening on campus one time. So this time, I didn’t miss the opportunity. I grabbed A1, we put on wireless headphones playing upbeat pop tunes, and we marched to the beat of our own drum in the silent disco happening there. So for 30 seconds of my life, I bopped my head and bounced my knees and called it dancing. What can I say, it was quite liberating. As the wise folks say, there’s always a right time for everything.

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To be even more adventurous, we also surprised the world with other amazing singing in karaoke. So here’s the story, I was meant to do a solo to ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing’ by Aerosmith. Piece of advice: never, I repeat, never choose that song for public karaoke. Actually, it wasn’t really a solo because this little girl, wearing an aquamarine fairy costume held the other mic. I used my charm to force her into being my back up singer. However, she left before the song started, and so did half the crowd [tearing up just a little]. I sang a few lines, then got embarrassed, so I desperately did a save-me-now hand gesture to A1. In the end A1 and A2 got together in a little bromance duet. There was just so much passion and raw emotion as A2 belted out to “Yeah, yeah, yeah”! You know the line that Steven Tyler is  famous for, the one that goes after “And just stay here in this moment for the rest of time”. It was epic. You could just feel the chemistry between the two. The crowd roared.

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One of my favourite finds from the markets that night was this neck piece ($20) from the AWH Studio stall. It’s a deconstructed wristwatch dial from a 1950’s women’s watch, so I guess whenever I wear this, I am wearing a bit of vintage wherever I go. It’s as if I’m carrying the soul of the one who owned this watch. It’s like her legacy lives on or something. Oh my…I also learnt a thing or two from that stall, that back in the days  watchmakers would carefully position stones and rubies into the mechanical compartment of watches to reduce friction. My little treasure once had 17 jewels back in its hay days. What I also liked about this stall was that they customised the length of the chain to your liking. I chose the brass link chain to go with mine, but they also do black-gold, silver-plated and copper chains, which is kind of cool.

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IMG_4423IMG_4435IMG_4477Other highlights of the night included, relishing in delicious pan-fried pork dumplings, discovering there is such a thing called a Gift Guru (mind you, it’s actually an employable career, where you pretty much act like a spiritual being, hand out flowers and recommend gifts to a certain someone you’ve never met, but you’ve been informed of their likes and dislikes), getting rejected when wanting to take photos of nicely decorated gingerbread cookies (their loss, they could have been mentioned on my awesome blog), and rooming the paved brick pathways in The Rocks while talking life with an old friend and his buddy, who I managed to instantly click with. Our unique quirks and random antics managed to mesh well together, leaving me with a delightful fuzzy wuzzy feeling at the end of a great night.

Yours truly,

from a 22-year-old girl who loves finding small, but priceless treasures at markets.