It would be hard for me to think of any word besides "bewitched" to explain my husband's bizarre obsession with the 1960's British sci-fi classic "The Prisoner." The year he decided to re-watch the show in it's entirety, he started walking around the house shouting "I am not a number! I am free man!". Between bites of toast at breakfast, he would cheerfully discuss the pros and cons of each Number Two, eventually landing on Leo McKern as the favorite. Overnight, a blue blazer with white piping on the collar became the height of fashion in our household. Turtlenecks in summer were no longer faux pas. Thus, when Britton first proposed we add Portmeirion to our U.K. itinerary in 2017, I knew the depth of his enthusiasm for this place.
Three hours off the beaten path through abandoned slate mines, over babbling brooks, and in between the rain-drenched glacial peaks of Snowdonia National Park, we arrived by car at the bottom of a very busy little road leading down to the Portmeirion hotel.
When we arrived we were greeted with one of the most tranquil hotel rooms I had ever seen. The bay window overlooked a shallow estuary, framed on both sides with rolling moss-green mountains. A layer of mist wreathed the glass panes, giving you the impression it was much too cold and damp outside. Best to stay in and snuggle. Though the day was overcast, the natural light in the room was warm and glowing, inviting you to curl up, pour a glass of their complimentary sherry, and read a book. Some mornings I still wait to open my eyes, hoping to find myself back here again.
Portmeirion is an ad hoc tourist destination, designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in the mid-twentieth century to resemble an Italian fishing village. I had little hope I would find something worthwhile to see here. After all, it's only claim to fame was it's relationship to an obscure 50 year-old television show...surely my husband was the only pilgrim still longing to visit it! I'm going to turn this post over to an equally accomplished yet less prolific writer to help you understand how wrong I was. Here are Britton's first impressions...
Our “Arrival” (coincidentally, the title of the pilot episode for “The Prisoner”) occurred shortly after mid-day. The road to enter Portmeirion branched off to the left from the main road. We were immediately greeted with a sign that had the striking Pennyfarthing logo from the series and the words “Prisoner 50th Anniversary 1967-2017”. The excitement of that sight caused a lapse in concentration, and my perfect record of driving a manual on the wrong side of the road was broken as we stalled out. I quickly re-composed myself and we proceeded to the main parking area.
One of the lessons I constantly re-learn is that the reality of a situation often falls short of expectations. Fortunately, this was not such an occasion. We were instructed to proceed to the “Hotel and Quayside” to pick up our room key. At first, we could only see the rear of various small structures, but that all changed once we cleared the archway that welcomed us into the Central Piazza. There it was, the main square from the show, in all its surreal, Mediterranean blue, yellow, and coral glory! Sir Clough William-Ellis successfully demonstrated with Portmeirion that an area could be developed while still maintaining its natural beauty.
Britt stayed behind at the hotel room while I struck out on my own. In my mind, she was a double agent, relaying my every move back to The Village’s Control Room while I did my best to test the boundaries of our prison. It was shortly after 4pm, by which time most of the tourist groups had left. This could not have been more ideal as it allowed me to re-create the opening scene of the series where a disoriented Number Six frantically sought to gain his bearings in a completely empty Village. I only covered a small fraction of the surrounding trails, but at no point was I attacked by a giant, white weather balloon or surveiled by stone statues and busts. No, Portmeirion did not have a sinister underbelly at all. What it had instead were beautifully placed plants, impeccably manicured lawns, and the most intricate cast iron fences. I would tender my resignation in a heartbeat if it meant I’d spend the rest of my life there!
Be seeing you! - Britt
Originally published on my old website in 2013 with any updates and reflections noted in dark blue.
April is our anniversary month, and in honor of four incredible years as husband and wife, I am bringing back some oldies but goodies. I'll be re-posting stories from our 2013 trip to Hong Kong, Macau, and Thailand and adding some 2018 updates and reflections. This trip was our first major international (sorry Canada!) trip together, and we've never been the same. I had so much fun scrolling through all our old photos. I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I do!
These posts have been a long time coming. Since we touched down in the dirty south, I have had one soul mission: graduate. And with days and days spent in my trusty red corner chair with my best cat Lion-o by my side, I have finally submitted the final draft of my thesis. I feel giddy, like the first day of summer or staying out until 5am and never feeling tired.
Now I finally have time to tell you, in my wonderfully side-tracking way, about our trip to Hong Kong, Macau, and Thailand.
March 16, 2013
One 2.5 hour flight to Toronto followed by a 15 hour flight to Hong Kong, I am already exhausted. In anticipation of this trip, I barely slept the previous two nights. (And in anticipation of missing the cats, I let them sleep all over me.) This is by far the longest flight I have ever done, and of course, I am stressed about not getting any sleep. To make things worse, there is a loud Cantonese-speaking (actually, everyone is Cantonese-speaking) man yapping away in the seat behind us, slipping occasionally into wild English to flirt with the flight attendants. He somehow manages to talk for six straight hours. In the late, dark hours before touchdown, there was no help for us. No sleep, no lumbar support, no edible food, and no escape. It was truly miserable. You can only watch so many Hollywood blockbusters and listen to so much relaxing Native American flute music before you crack. When the misty waters of the South China Sea finally appeared in our fishbowl window, there was no describing the relief. I can only say I hope to find better ways of coping with long haul flights in the future.
UPDATE: I talk about how miserable this flight was to this day, and I use it as a benchmark to compare all other flights I've taken. At one point, I was practically climbing up the wall of the plane trying to get comfortable when the flight attendants brought out a nice, piping hot cup o' noodles. Food texture and flavor on the plane ranges from dry sponge to gruel; these noodles tasted like divine intervention. I savored every last bite.
After procuring a sim card at the airport and racing through the International Finance Center (IFC), we finally found our way to the first apartment in Hong Kong. A clean, tiny one-floor walk-up in Sheung Wan with a smoggy view of Hong Kong's Kowloon district. The entry lead to an ancient lift and a subway-tiled stairwell that smelled like dried seafood and pork sausage. The water closet was so small that at night I would lean forward just a bit and smack my head against the opposite wall. The shower was not much bigger and also contained a small porcelain sink. We were finally here, in Hong Kong. We opened the windows and let the warm, humid air fill our lungs.
UPDATE: I don't think I did a great job here of describing how completely lost we were for the first half hour we were in Hong Kong. I was weirdly calm...perhaps because once we got outside, I knew how to walk to the apartment. Britton lead us through this massive complex of stores, breezeways, elevators, and people, and somehow we ended up on the correct side of the building at street level with our Airbnb host waiting for us in her car. I asked Britton how he got us of out of there, and he said "I just looked for daylight."
Here's a view from our Airbnb window across the harbor into Kowloon.
Ever the adventurer, I decided that since it was only 3pm or so, we should take advantage of the sunlight and go see the Peak. I was of course, smelly and tired, but I did not want that to stop us from going out. The Peak or Victoria's Peak is a mountain that sits to the west of Hong Kong city and overlooks the downtown skyline. It is probably the number one tourist attraction and for good reason. With Britton and his Google Nexus navigating us along the shockingly steep and crowded streets of Hong Kong, we found our way to The Peak terminal only to find a 40-minute long queue. While waiting, our conversation got a little heated.
Britton: Hey, I heard there were some nature trails up there that are supposed to have some great views.
Me: Oh, yeah. I don't think I'm interested in doing any hiking. I just thought it would be nice to see the skyline to start off our trip.
Britton: Yeah, but I think we can get the best views from the nature trails.
Me: Nah, I'd rather not.
Britton: Well, I don't want to go up there and half-ass it, okay? Let's just do the trails.
Me: Well, I am tired. What do you expect?
And so on. Little did I know that Britton had been worried sick trying to get my engagement ring through security in several different countries and intended to propose to me up there, but it was truly not to be. Bless his heart. When we got to the front of the line, we discovered we did not have enough cash for the trip up and extremely frustrated, Britton gave up. In retrospect, if I knew that a proposal was on the line, I would have been a little more agreeable.
UPDATE: This has become one of our favorite stories to tell about our proposal. It just occurred to me that we have had this conversation a thousand times since this day. Britton approaching a problem with a mix of logic, enthusiasm, and a real sense of urgency guaranteed to stress me out. Myself approaching a problem with some fluctuating ratio of practicality and intuition guaranteed to drive Britton nuts. Both of us so stubbornly convinced our way is the right one. It warms my heart to think about all we've been through, and that we are still able to joke about and love the things (good or bad) that define us as individuals.
To cut our losses, we walked in the hot springtime air to Tsui Wah, a famous cha chaan teng or Hong Kong-style tea restaurant. It is the HK version of Denny's or maybe, Waffle House. It has a startlingly diverse menu, a fusion of Asian cuisine with western diner food. And of course, it has Britton's favorite HK style milk tea. A thick concoction of strong Ceylon tea, condensed milk, and evaporated milk which leaves your mouth warm and slightly oily. It is delicious, but very rich.
UPDATE: Hong Kong Milk Tea is LIFE. Britton's Recipe:
We shared a bowl of their signature fish ball and noodle soup. So comforting, like an Asian grandma's recipe. Britton went crazy for the Hainanese chicken rice and I had a soy sauce western dish of fried pork chop, tomato, and egg over rice. HK people love their tomato and egg. And they LOVE corn. God do they love some corn.
March 17, 2013
After waking up at 6:30 am from the crazy jet lag (12 hour time difference), we thought we would start our second day off right. Dim sim or yum cha at Maxim's City Hall. We walked through the park across from our apartment where elderly chinese men and women were out stretching, doing tai-chi, and walking vigorously in circles. There was an older lady practicing her own one-woman show with a boom box and a set of fans. (You go, girl.) It was refreshing to see the active pursuit of health and well-being, especially so early on a Sunday.
As we made our way to Central, we passed skyscrapers covered with bamboo scaffolding. I had no idea bamboo could be used to build structures that high. COOL.
We arrived early at Maxim's and were one of the first to be seated. Though there were plenty of English-speaking parties around us, it was very clear when the dim sum carts rolled up that this was a Cantonese-speaking establishment. (This was also the first of many experiences that lead me to conclude this: English is more of a figurehead language in Hong Kong. People may know some, but if you want to actually get some shit done, Cantonese is going to do the heavy-lifting.) We eked by with the English picture menu and once I tried to ask for the bathroom in Cantonese, but we made it work. The dim sum was delicious, right on par with the little I've had in Toronto.
Having a somewhat loose itinerary for the day and not wanting to be late for our dinner reservation, we took the MTR or subway (which was incredible - I may have Britton come on here and rant about its many successes) to Mong Kok in Kowloon. We walked around Fa Yuen St. Market, ogling adorable cell phone cases with bunnies and teddy bears...well, I was ogling them. We walked past countless shoes stores, cell phone purveyors, bubble tea shops, food vendors with steaming trays of cut up organ-meat, and finally, Etude House. Yes, the adorable Korean cosmetics store that I found online. Not only can you get lychee-scented hand cream, but it comes in a bottle shaped like cute green owl. Not only can you get Korea's famous BB cream, but it comes in a frilly gold and pink bottle fit for a princess such as myself.
UPDATE: I still remember coming out of the train station onto the street for the first time, and watching hundreds of people moving in all directions, cars honking, signage everywhere in vivid colors. One of the best parts of travel is that you can take your experiences back with you. In moments of reflection, let those memories flood your brain and bring back the same intense sensations - exhilaration, fear, wonder.
After a long day of shopping and wandering, we headed back to the apartment to get ready for our reservation at The Chairman, a tiny Cantonese fine-dining establishment. I had to make the reservation month in advance, but it was worth it. All dolled up, we hiked along back alleys to an unassuming store front. (At the end of the night, we found the waiter feeding scraps to a puppy outside.)
I didn't get many pictures of our dinner, as I wanted to enjoy every single bite as well as spend time with Britton. It was fantastic, but incredibly filling. Poached tomatoes with basil reduction, pork cakes with salted fish, silkie chicken soup, wild clams with chili jam, and smoked baby pigeon.
As the dinner wore on, I noticed Britton was acting particularly gentlemanly. He hadn't made a single vulgar or ridiculous comment in hours. He suggested we make our way to the waterfront after dinner to see Hong Kong at night, and then, I kid you not, actually excused himself from the table to go to the restroom. That is when I knew something was up. This is the man who describes, in anguishing detail, the trials and tribulations of his bowels to me every morning.
Knowing he already purchased an engagement ring (that is a whole other story), I had a feeling tonight was going to be the night. When Britton finally returned, we headed off to the MTR station, my heels clacking painfully against the pavement. Britton nervously dragged me through the underground tunnels to the Avenue of the Stars.
It was warm, and by the time we made it to street level, small beads of sweat dotted my forehead. Britton was gripping my hand, and I was overcome with anxiety. I had anticipated this moment for so long, and now it was actually going to happen. I was trying not to fall apart. As we approached the waterfront, we saw a couple just leaving a secluded spot. Actually, this very spot.
I was shaking. Britton told me the past four years had been the best in his life. He told me he flew me half way across the world to ask me one thing: Will you marry me?
Of course, I said, of course, I will marry you.
Britton later told me, "I once thought being in a relationship meant becoming someone that I'm not, but now I find that I can no longer be myself without you." How clearly those words sang to my heart. I have waited so long for an excuse to tell people how much I love this man. Britton is handsome, reliable, loyal, honest, intelligent, and generous. He goes out of his way every day to make me happy, whether it is telling me I'm beautiful for the millionth time or running through the pouring rain to make sure I don't get wet. He meets me halfway with every project, every idea, every hope and dream. He is cat mommy and cat daddy, fixer of broken plumbing and DVD drives, lover of sports fashion, devourer of Chinese food, tennis star, and secret shirtless dancer. He never need doubt that I love him. It is a love without end.
UPDATE: I am actively cringing! This is so sappy. Why did I think reading my old writing was a good idea? Can I take it back?
Though everything I wrote above is true, our relationship has also twisted and turned in unexpected directions. Whereas once I could not imagine life without him, now I often picture what life would look like were he not here. (I would be completely devastated.) The poet Charles Olson wrote, "I have had to learn the simplest things last. Which made for difficulties..." As time creeps by, I feel more acutely the uncertainty of married life and the reality that even if we spend another one hundred years together, we would still fight and make-up and laugh and cry and keep secrets and fear each others' judgement. I don't think people ever really learn how to work with each other in complete harmony, and happiness is never a guarantee no matter how much you're in love. It seems the longer I am married, the more I see I am making a choice every day to be a good friend and lover, to try to connect with Britton though sometimes I fail, to continue to hold onto the billions and billions of small moments we offer up to each other in place of a "perfect" union.
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Starting in January 2018, I transitioned to a plant-based diet, which emphasizes whole plant foods - fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and some oils - as a way to address my slightly elevated blood pressure and to get back to a healthy weight for me. Animal products are allowed in very limited amounts, so I have interpreted this as eating slightly more vegetarian while out of town and all vegan when we are here in Atlanta. I've gotten a lot of questions about this way of eating from my coworkers, my friends, and my family so I thought I would share a gallery of all the DELICIOUS and mostly healthy (burgers not so much) foods I've been eating both at home (including Easter Sunday) and in restaurants (including travel).
These last three months have been my trial-and-error period. My only goal was to re-learn to cook all the time without animal products. I plan on doing a 6-month update in the summer with some actual blood test results. For that reason, please don't take anything here as gospel other than you don't suffer in flavor or enjoyment of food by eliminating animals and their milks from your plate.
In 2018, I took a vow of no shopping. In this series, I discuss the challenges of kicking my materialistic habits, my efforts toward a simpler, happier life, and everything that happens in between. If you're interested in what inspired me to start this journey or wonder what I have bought so far this year, please check out my Year of No Shopping page. These pages will never contain affiliate links and will never be a sponsored post.
Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them. – Bruce Lee.
If the theme of the last Year of No Shopping update was self fulfillment, this one will be self scrutiny.
Back in early March, my husband and I spent a long weekend in Coconut Grove, FL with some family members. Though I tried my best to pack what I thought I would need, fate and circumstance had other plans. Around that time I had started a new vitamin B12 supplement and failed to properly read the label, which would have informed me I was getting way more B12 than I needed. This overdose of B12 was causing my T-zone skin to break out in cystic acne, my cheeks to dry up like it was 7 degrees below, and my head to pound day and night. I was a complete mess, and it took me four days of this nonsense to figure out why. Considering the heat and humidity of Miami, it did not occur to me that I might desperately need a moisturizer. I bought one on the fly at a Walgreens just outside Miami, and it made me want to smack my head against a wall. The next day the sandals I brought for my trip fell apart as I was walking down the street, leaving me with one pair of worn flip flops. The day after that, I reached in my bag for a sun hat that I’d forgotten to pack. At this point, I was flat out angry about how grandly I was failing at being prepared (one of my signature traits). After my mini freak out, I took some deep breaths and realized, I am so privileged to be in this beautiful place next to all these people who love me. Even as I write this, I can see how petty my concerns are – having youthful skin, wearing old shoes into a nice restaurant, having a nice hat for my beach photos. They sound like the complaints of an ungrateful and small person.
In the weeks following this trip, I have found myself breaking my own rules about online shopping over and over again. I may see some workout clothes that a friend just bought on social media and sneak over to the retail site for a quick peek. Months afterward, I am still getting ads for that site featuring the items I viewed. Stop being creepy, Facebook! You’re gross. I might be reading an interesting article about sustainable technologies or camping or spiders and then before I know it, I am somehow on Amazon. Did I just black out? Though I am only “shopping” for a brief moment, each time I do it feels like a little defeat. It was getting so bad that at one point I had convinced myself I deserved a new fancy yoga mat and was ready to pull the trigger when I received some tough love from a friend. Though I hadn’t seen her in a while and she’d been going through some real shit herself, she still had the wisdom to remind that this sort of challenge was what my Year of No Shopping was all about. She’s such a disciplined, rock solid individual.
I’m not proud of these thoughts or these actions, but I am steadily learning to turn my eyes toward the parts of me I don’t like instead of away from them. I will always be working toward a place where more of my actions align with what I know to be true and sincere.
With all this self-assessing going on, I can’t help but also consider my website. While trying to connect with some old high school teachers, I came across this blog called The Wander-filled Life. It’s run by two teachers who spend their summers traveling on a budget. I was so impressed with their dedication to taking photos that are as close to real life as possible – limited filtering, no photo-shopping – and it made me wonder if I was running this blog following my own principles. I had originally intended for this website to be a portfolio, a place where I could share good and honest stories with people, where one day I could get enough momentum to generate income through my writing. With the small community of readers I have, I want them to curl up with their cup of coffee and feel the excitement I feel when I visit a new place or discover a new idea. It is shocking how often content creators sneak advertising into their work, and though I respect the hustle, it’s the same type of advertising that is disrupting my Year of No Shopping. If I keep using it, I’m a big fat hypocrite.
With all that in mind, I am making it a policy not to sneak affiliate links into any of my written content (like this post) where I receive compensation for referral purchases of products. I will also make sure they are removed from any archived pages. If I do include an affiliate link somewhere, there will be a notice and I will do my best to to make it clear the link is taking you to a product page. As always, I will limit any links to products to those that I know will be helpful or enhance a reader’s experience. As Leslie Odom Jr. said at his book signing this month, “when something rubs up against your integrity, you have to own your ‘No.’”
Though I’m struggling with this challenge, I did use my newfound freedom from shopping to do some pretty cool things. I’ll end this update on a positive note with some of my adventures in February and March:
In 2018, I took a vow of no shopping. Join me as I find ways to have fun that don't involve my shopping cart.