Monday, December 29, 2014

Budapest: A fling becomes a long-term thing...

I believe in making plans, but I’ve also learned to go with the flow of my life when events take me in unexpected directions. Making plans is efficient; being flexible about them is where life’s surprises lie.

This lesson hit home on day 2 of this year, when I flew into Marrakech for a planned month-long visit that would include a half marathon race. I was then planning to spend February in Spain and Malta, where I was entered in half marathons in Barcelona and Valletta, and to visit Cairo for a week on my way back to Kuching at the start of March. Instead, within two hours of arriving in Morocco, I had a broken right (dominant) arm after walking into the path of a cyclist. I had an operation on the arm that night and would be without the use of my arm for the next six weeks.

There wasn’t much I could do except change all my plans and follow my gut feeling, which was to fly immediately to Kuching and gratefully accept the help of my family there: Min and Samantha, and the crew at the Batik Boutique Hotel, my home in Malaysia.

After further surgery in Kuching to insert a plate in my arm and two months of physiotherapy, I picked up my original plan and moved to Ubud, in Bali, where I had a very busy couple of months working on a huge job for a brand-new client that had appeared out of nowhere. Some friends came to stay for a couple of weeks, which I really appreciated. I was feeling a bit battered…

I brought forward a planned December visit and spent June and July back in Australia. That visit didn’t go as I’d hoped, either. I made a quick visit to my father in New Zealand before heading back to Kuching for a couple of weeks to take part in the inaugural Kuching half marathon/marathon. I hadn’t run during the first half of the year, and I finished the race just on the back of the few runs I had had in Albury. I ended up on the ground at the finish with leg cramps – a first for me.

That night I flew to Istanbul, where I spent a couple of days before returning to Budapest for my third visit in 12 months. I caught up again with new friends Julie and David, who by then had become old friends. Through them I met Miki and his dog, Joki. I ran my second Budapest half marathon, which is a fabulous event. I was sorry to leave Budapest: it was taking hold of my heart.

After flying to Dublin for an appointment with my hairdresser Carly, I returned to New York and settled into regular running training with the 5.30 am crew. I only ran one race, the 5K on November 1 from the United Nations Building to the New York City Marathon finish line the day before the marathon. My time was 55 seconds slower than the year before. I was grateful it wasn’t slower. It was fun also to spend time with friends from Albury who came for the marathon. During my two months in New York I saw lots of films, got to know Pat and Steve a bit better (new friends from 2013), and worked hard on the project I’d started in Kuching in February, which dominated my whole work year.

In mid-November I spent 10 days in the South with a very old friend from our Hong Kong years. We visited friends of mine in North Carolina, then checked out Savannah, Georgia, for a week. I had thought I would fall in love with Savannah, but it didn’t happen. Instead, I was feeling a very strong pull to Budapest.

To St Augustine, in Florida, for Thanksgiving with the family of one of my oldest friends. When I met Barb I was 13 and she was 15. Her family always felt like my family, too.

Back to Dublin for another hair appointment with Carly and a quick flit to Belfast before flying on to Budapest.

Plans were in place to spend a week in Hungary before returning to Spain: I would be in Valencia for three weeks, where I was entered in a half marathon, and in Barcelona for about four days to visit a new friend from New York who spends six months a year there. Accommodation and flights were booked and paid for. I would then return to Budapest for two days before flying to Kuching.

During the flight from Dublin I realised I didn’t want to leave Budapest so soon after arriving. I’m sure I would have had a great time in Spain, but it hit me that I really wanted to stay on in Budapest, and that I could change my plans. It was sort of a revelation, like realising I was in love. I thought about it for two days and then cancelled everything. I moved into an apartment and gave myself over to this beautiful, amazing city, where I feel completely at home.

... So at home, that I’ve applied for a five-year residency permit. Jules and David recommended a wonderful attorney, who prepared all the paperwork. I’ll know in a few weeks whether I’ve been accepted. I’m reconciled to getting only a two-year permit, which I expect I’ll try to extend later if my life stays on this course.

In the process of putting together my application I thought about why I wanted to base myself here.

When I left Australia nearly five years ago, I didn’t have a five-year plan. I intended to keep travelling for as long as it felt right. I hadn’t anticipated that I would feel so at home in Budapest that I would want to make a commitment to it and be able to call it home for most of the time that I’m not in New York. I feel a strong urge to set up a physical home here. But more than that, I want to contribute to the community in some way.

I have had an idea that might create something new and of benefit to a whole bunch of people, both here in Hungary and in Australia. It fits perfectly with my interests, skills and vision, and I’m incredibly excited about it. The first steps have been taken, but a meeting early in January, a couple of days before I fly back to Malaysia, will hopefully start the ball rolling.

Just as I thought my plans for the next week or so were in order, a cousin from Australia arrived in Budapest on a tour through Central Europe. Kylie broke her ankle in Slovakia on Boxing Day and has had to reassess the rest of her trip. We worked out a new plan together that will give her the support she needs after her tour group disbands and also give me some unexpected opportunities.

Yes, this year has been all about being flexible as my life becomes bigger than even I can plan for.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An Irish interlude

I now schedule my flights between New York and Europe based around the availability of my hairdresser, Carly, in Dublin. As one does...

I also like to see some films at the Irish Film Institute (this visit I saw the German film "Stations of the Cross", the Irish documentary "The Possibilities are Endless" and Bill Murray in "St Vincent") and to catch some theatre ("High Heels in Low Places", a monologue by Ireland's foremost drag queen and "national treasure" Panti; and "Follow" at The Abbey). I also visited Belfast for a day. I would like to have gone up to the mountain that crouches over the city but I had only six hours and it turned into an overcast day with not great visibility. Instead I spent a couple of hours at the Ulster Museum and the rest of the time walking around the city.

Dublin is a great stopping-off place for me for a few days. The area around the river is familiar, and I have my routines that I enjoy. From there I'm just a short hop to Europe and Budapest, which has taken a firm hold of my heart, mind and spirit.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A family affair in Florida

I spent five days over Thanksgiving with very old friends Barb and Bill from Oz and their extended family in St Augustine, Florida.

I had cut short my stay in Georgia after a too-close encounter with a ghost at my hotel after Sarah left, and headed to Jacksonville by Greyhound coach a day earlier than planned. The next morning, B&B collected me at my hotel and we drove down to St Augustine, which dates from the 1500s and is the oldest continuously settled city in the US.

Thanksgiving was very traditional: family and food. It was great to see Michael and Meg again and to meet their daughter Leni. I stayed a couple of days with Bill's mum Roma, who has moved back to the States from Albury to be around her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I really enjoyed meeting Dianne, Bill's sister, whom I've been hearing about since, oh, forever!

I spent the last three days at a very cute carriage house right in town, where there was lots to see just walking around. It's a very charming town for a short stay. Lots of pedestrian streets, great buildings, funky houses, proper restaurants, pubs, garden cafes, quality shops, and even an art house cinema where I saw two films.

Lunch at the gorgeous Cap's On the Water on my last day yesterday with Barb, Dianne and Ron, Roma, Meg and Leni topped off a short but sweet visit.

I'm now back in New York after flying up this morning. Tomorrow I'm returning to Dublin and Europe. I won't be back in New York until mid-next year, which seems an awfully long time away!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Georgia on my mind...

I thought I was going to fall in love with Savannah, which would have been a bit inconvenient as I’d then want to find a spare month each year to live here as a local. Luckily, I’ve liked it enough to enjoy my week as a southern belle, but not so much that I feel the need to return.

It’s a small town if you discount 90% of the city where it’s not safe to stay as a naïve visitor from out of town. Gun violence is a real problem. Just in the past week there have been three shootings that have left two kids dead and one injured.

It’s suggested that visitors confine themselves basically to the area between Forsyth Park (in the centre of the Google map below) and the Savannah River, with a side visit to Bonaventure Cemetery. You want to be a NOG, which stands for "north of Gaston", the street that runs from west to east across the top of the park.

My friend Sarah and I were booked into two cottages in a lane near the bottom of the park, where we felt a bit exposed and vulnerable. After two days we cut our losses and moved to an inn near the river. We then started ticking attractions off the must-do list for tourists. Once you’ve done that, there’s not much to do other than eat and shop.

We saw two vintage Gregory Peck films (“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Roman Holiday”) at the wonderful old Lucas Theater, which actor Kevin Spacey helped rescue. I think it’s a shame the theatre doesn’t have regular screenings of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, as I would love to have seen it again here. A high percentage of visitors to the historic part of town have read the book or seen the film, and it’s become Savannah’s “brand”.

We visited the art museum, a mansion-turned-gallery and Bonaventure cemetery. A Sunday morning service at First African Baptist Church was a highlight for me. I loved the music and singing, the physical worship and dancing, the sense of community and the very warm welcome we received as visitors from Canada and “Down Under” (as the pastor called Oz). We pedalled our way around the historic streets for an hour in a pedal-powered vehicle with a bucks party from Florida, and we walked the grid that encompasses about 20 city squares complete with live oak trees and Spanish moss.

As I’m not on holiday, I also worked each day from early morning and during some of each afternoon.

Prior to arriving in Savannah we spent a couple of days travelling from New York by train through North Carolina, where I caught up with Dead Runner friend Rietta and my much-missed New York friend Brigitte, and South Carolina, where I regret I didn’t have time to visit Charleston.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Where did those two months go?

My time in New York has just whizzed by. At the end of this week I'm heading south for a fortnight with an old friend from our Hong Kong years and to meet up with Aussie friends for Thanksgiving. Di and Frannie, running pals from Albury, were here for the New York City Marathon. We did some fun things while they were here, including a run in Central Park with former Australian world champion marathoner Rob de Castella and his mob of young indigenous runners.

Me, Rob de Castella, Di and Frannie at the Beacon Hotel, Broadway

We also ran the 5K race that ends at the marathon finish line. I was 55 seconds slower than last year, and two places down in my age group (5th out of 106). Not too shabby, given I didn't run for the first half of the year while my arm healed. It was only my third race for the year; the half marathons in Kuching and Budapest were more like long runs, rather than races. Next year is looking like a more normal year, with a marathon in Pennsylvania in October instead of doing NYC for a second time.

I've gone to see films with Pat and Steve, whom I met last year; and caught up with Ingrid, who was visiting from Santiago; and with Josephine, whom I met at a bus stop last month and who has a Dachshund called Emma. I had a long talk over lunch with CY, who has been a friend since 1986 when we worked together in Hong Kong; and caught up with Selma and Murray, who are in their nineties and still very full of beans. We met in Chile in early 2012.

My Aussie drag queen/performer friend Glace Chase, whose mum's house was next-door to mine in Albury, previewed a new tour called "The Real Bitches of New York", for which I was happy to be a guinea pig. She was a sight to behold on Madison Avenue in heels higher than I would ever dare to wear.

Glace Chase

Runner friend Sun and I checked out the High Line on a gorgeous day just before she started her new job and had to give up being a lady who lunches.


Maria, as always, has been an absolutely reliable morning running partner; more reliable than I have been. It's taking me a little longer than I'd expected to get back in peak form. Next year is shaping up to be a focused one for training, so I'm hoping to achieve some new goals. Other (ir)regulars are Lissy, Sarah, Heather, Joe, Sun, Andrea, Stephen, John and (this year) Darleen. I don't get to see Joanne or Marie unless I run on Saturdays, which hasn't happened much during this visit. Maria organised a brunch yesterday, which was fun.

My film-going dropped off over the last few weeks as my workload increased. I expect to be juggling a very heavy workload while doing quite a bit of travelling over the next few months. I'm not complaining!!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

There are 8.4 million stories in The Naked City. This is just one of them...

I'm back in the apartment next to Central Park that is my usual Manhattan pad. I love just stepping back into my New York life: the flat, the building, the neighbourhood, the island. I have actually been off-island once since I arrived just under two weeks ago after spending a couple of days in Dublin. I went over to Brooklyn to see an exhibition of high-heeled shoes called "Killer Heels". The rest of the time I've been in Manhattan mode.

As always, I've been bingeing on films: of those I've seen, I enjoyed Nick Cave's "20,000 Days on Earth" and "Finding Fela" (both with Steve); "Advanced Style" (with Maria); "Pride" (with Pat); "My Old Lady", "The Skeleton Twins" and "Art and Craft". Plus I've seen a fun Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney, and exhibitions of lingerie and dance costumes with Pat at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

I'm back running in Central Park about four or five mornings a week, though I had to renege on this morning's six-miler when I got a job overnight that needed to be done before my client in Chennai, India, closed up shop for the day. Always terrific to run with Maria and the rest of the 5:30 a.m. crew: Lissy, Sarah, Joe (I haven't caught up with Heather yet), Stephen and John, and last Saturday with Joanne, Marie, Erica and Chris. Also enjoyed a run last week with Dead Runner Michael.

It's five years since I first spent time in New York (10 weeks in mid-2009). I couldn't have imagined then what a big part it would play in my life. And now I have Budapest in my life as well...

A place I formerly called home, Hong Kong, is in tumult this week with the Chinese-appointed government locking horns with peaceful student demonstrators. There have been surreal images of tear-gas attacks in Admiralty and Central. Tomorrow, October 1, is China's national day and a public holiday. Many thousands of HK people are already joining the protestors. The events are reminiscent of the student protests that took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Hopefully, the Chinese government will stay calm.

Monday, September 8, 2014

In the zone

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about comfort zones: are they a place or a state of mind?

I think they are primarily a state of mind, or a state of being, that comes with feeling comfortable within yourself. If you feel comfortable in your own skin, are at peace with yourself and enjoy your own company, then this becomes a comfort zone that you can take with you wherever you go and that isn’t dependent on a physical place. 

I have been roaming around the world for over four years now, and as time has gone on I’ve felt more and more that I’m in my comfort zone wherever I am. I’m not talking about always feeling safe. I’ve had accidents, and I’ve probably had many near misses of one kind or another. I try to be very mindful and aware of what’s going on around me, and I trust my instincts and most of my impulses. Life is a sexually transmitted fatal condition. Something is going to get me someday. I just hope that it’s not my destiny to have my life end in an appalling, frightening or painful manner, or way prematurely. I’m not sure how I got to be the age I am now, and I don’t want to waste a second of my remaining time. But I’m not going to wrap myself in cotton wool in a retirement village somewhere and call that my comfort zone.

I am in Budapest on my third visit in a year. I leave in a week’s time. I love the city and the people and my life here. I love that I’ve had an opportunity to share it with old and new friends. A part of me is now a Budapestian, if that’s the correct term. I will leave a part of me here, and something of Budapest will always be with me from now on.

I’m headed back to Dublin, where there is a running network I can tap into, a favourite café and cinema to visit, and a hair appointment to keep. Then I’m returning to New York, where I have my deeply entrenched New York life. I feel comfortable in both places. Part of that comfort comes from the familiarity of the physical place. I like to spend many hours walking around, getting to know a city from the ground up, so I gravitate to places that are pedestrian-friendly. I discover my trail, mark my way, find my own path through a city’s streets. I love routines: going back to places where I am recognised, visiting cinemas discovered during a previous stay, knowing where to find roti when I feel like having Malaysian food.

But feeling comfortable doesn’t depend on my being familiar with a place. I enjoy arriving for a week or a month in a new place and starting from scratch. It’s fun to search out places where I want to eat, to run, to see good art and fine films, to sit and watch this new world go by and start to get to know it.

Sometimes I make a connection with a random person in a new place. We might be standing in the same queue, running around the same park, drinking coffee in the same café, eating in the same restaurant, or visiting the same gallery or museum. If we talk and it feels right, I will ask to see them again. It doesn’t always happen. I don’t ever feel lonely. I have met many people in this way who have become treasured friends. I’m grateful for Facebook, which makes continuing to get to know new people so much easier than email allows.

So, while my level of comfort in many places may manifest as ease with familiar faces and places, with routines and the known, it also enables me to enjoy exploring the new and unfamiliar. Either way, wherever I am, I mostly feel happy, comfortable, safe and grateful. And it’s that state of mind that I think is my comfort zone.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve made quick excursions to Bratislava, in Slovakia, and Graz, in Austria. In Bratislava I got talking to a woman from Arizona while trying to get my bearings at the train station. We spent the afternoon together exploring the old town and the castle. In the evening I saw the wonderful film Boyhood (with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette).

Store art in Bratislava

This week I took the train to Graz to spend two days with Jackie, my friend of four years from Kuching, who has partnered up with Austrian Michael who lives in Jakarta and was home on leave. Jackie, who owns the Batik Boutique Hotel in Kuching where I always stay, is a powerhouse and an inspiration. I love her dearly, not least for letting me choose films to be screened each week at Friday Night Flicks at the Batik even when I’m on the other side of the world.

A courtyard in Graz

Sue and Neil are special friends from my time in Albury. We shared seven or so wonderful years of dogs, art, films and fun dinner parties with a motley bunch of fabulous folks who became our mob. When Sue and Neil moved to the northern New South Wales coast back in 2008 or 2009, I briefly considered following them. I chose instead to become a nomad. We spent time together in Florence a couple of years ago and this week in Budapest. It was wonderful to share the place with them and to see it work its magic on them, too.

Old and new in funky Budapest

I have been incredibly fortunate in the people I’ve met over the years who have become my family. One of the latest additions to the mob is Jules, whom I met in Budapest last year. She and David are now ensconced here and are my Budapest folk, always open to the idea of food, film, fun and footwork.

Budapest is a most amazing city. It’s the end of summer and the place has a great atmosphere. I’ve been running on Margaret Island, around the streets and in the city park, where next week’s half marathon starts and finishes. I ran it last year as well. David told me about an arthouse cinema just five minutes’ walk from my apartment where I’ve seen about six films, including a few Hungarian ones, in the last couple of weeks, plus a couple at the Puskin and Urania cinemas. After a bit of a drought in the first half of the year I’m really enjoying seeing good films again. And I’ve been working. My full-time job as a freelance editor makes it all possible, which is a comforting thought.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Just say igen

The Hungarian word "igen" means yes. My life has become about saying yes to the opportunities that constantly present themselves. Sometimes the opportunity might be just the chance to say hello to someone. I did that in the immigration queue at Kuching airport a week ago today when I found myself behind three of the Kenyan professional marathoners who had competed in and taken honours at the inaugural Kuching Marathon. I asked them how they'd liked the race and then ended up having quite a long chat with Cecilia, age 26, a 2:50 marathoner who had taken third place that morning. A week later we are now coach and client, and I have a very daunting training program to follow starting 1 September that is intended to bring my half marathon time down below my personal best of 1:47 (1996 in Melbourne). (I placed 9th veteran woman in the Kuching half marathon with a slow 2:12:56 in my longest run since November of last year and even got a cash prize and a handshake up on the podium.)

Support was at hand when I suffered leg cramps following the Kuching half marathon

I keep saying yes to Kuching because of the wonderful people I've gotten to know there over the past four years.

Another opportunity to say yes was an impulse to call into the boutique hotel in Sultanahmet, Istanbul, where I had stayed for a month in 2011, when I was in the vicinity last week on a short stopover. I was greeted with big hugs and apple tea, and decided then and there I needed to spend more time in that amazing city.

The Blue Mosque

Pistachio and vanilla pudding from my favourite dessert shop

Now I'm in Budapest again, which is very, very high on my list of favourite places in the world. It's easy to say igen to just about everything the city has to offer: fabulous food, great arthouse cinemas, groovy street culture, wonderful architecture, fascinating history, funky art and design, fun friends made last year, and perfect late-summer weather.

My local cinema

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Excess baggage

One of the real challenges of being a global nomad is living out of a suitcase. I’m lucky to be able to store some clothes in New York, which will have been my point of departure and ultimate destination whenever I’m not there, but I sometimes have to pack for different climates, different types of activities and differing amounts of time. When I next unlock the door of the apartment on the Upper West Side where I always stay when in New York, I’ll have been away for nine months. It’s far too long, and it requires that I take with me too much stuff.

I’m not overly concerned with having to pay excess baggage costs; what bothers me is the feeling that I’m being weighed down by things. I need both hands in order to manage a medium-size suitcase, a carry-on case and a laptop bag. That’s one hand too many. It limits my options and makes me vulnerable.

I’m now in my fifth year of global vagabondage and I still haven’t figured it out.

Having just spent two months in Australia and New Zealand, I realise I’m carrying a lot of excess emotional baggage, too. Old hurts weigh too heavily and serve no purpose in my new life. Even if I haven’t yet found a way to meet all of my sartorial needs with what I can fit into a carry-on case, I can try my best to lighten the psychic load I'm carrying.

After a quick visit to Melbourne and Bendigo to spend time with very special friends Martyn and Claire, Barb and Bill, Bill and Sal, and Gordon and Joanna, I’m now happily back in Kuching with my cobbled-together family of very fit and wacky Sarawakians.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Retro Rotorua

Whenever I'm in Rotorua, it's like stepping back in time. We spent a year living here just after I turned 13 and for me it's never really changed from that town. My father still lives here, and I have a friend from my schooldays I'm still in touch with. I've visited most recently in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2012 and now 2014. I've run two half marathons and a marathon here. On this very short visit to see my father I've been juggling working on the job that has consumed most of my time since March. But I've spent some stretches of hours with Dad, including a lunch with a bunch of his friends today to celebrate his 85th birthday. I've met some of them a few times over the years. Nice people!

Prior to crossing the Tasman I spent a few days at Bondi Beach, another place where I used to live. It wasn't primarily a social visit, but I was able to catch up with a few friends. Susan H I hadn't seen in over 30 years! Photographer friend Anne Z was in Morocco with our mutual friends there just recently. She and I caught up in the new gallery precinct in Chippendale. Debra and Tony and I spent last Christmas together in Seville, in Spain. We had a quick catch-up at Paddington Market on Saturday. And I spent a couple of hours earlier that morning walking to Bronte and back to Bondi with work colleague Catherine and former colleague/now friend and co-author of my book project, Katie.

My time in Albury has been spent working, seeing friends and trying to get back into regular running. It's harder than I'd expected. I'm sort of wondering what I'm doing there in the middle of winter for two months. I needed to be settled if I was to have any hope of meeting my tight work deadline, but I feel like I'm treading water. I want to get back to my real life... I especially miss New York!!!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Albury, Australia: To the manner born

You can take the girl out of Albury, but you can't take Albury out of the girl. And why would you want to? It's a great place: just the right size to have one of nearly everything you might want (and sometime two or even three, e.g. Thai restaurants). I'm happy to be back for two months while I focus on finishing a huge job I started in March. It's always great to see familiar faces, too: family, friends, former fur kids. It's winter, and I don't do cold very well, but Albury is beautiful at this time of year with autumn leaves still on the ground and generally clear blue skies.

I've started running again with the girls – mostly, Di, Frannie and Rose – but it's taking longer than I'd hoped to get back up to distance, let alone speed. I don't know what I expected after not running for over four months, but it feels very lame to be a beginning runner again.

I'm very excited about a new book idea that I'm developing with my friend Katie. The response from people we've talked with about it has been really encouraging. I'll update news on that project as it breaks.

I took down two stunning images of the Albury Botanic Gardens. I'll add new images soon.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Nowhere is perfect, least of all paradise

It’s been a challenge over the past six weeks to find an hour when I’ve had both the time and the inclination to update this blog. But it seems I finally have both, less than a week before I’m due to fly south for a few months. In this hemisphere at this time of year, south means winter, which is poor planning on my part as I don’t do cold very well. But one can’t have everything one wants all of the time. I’ve been basking in perpetual summer since early January, so it’s time for a change.

My two months in Ubud have flown by, though I also feel like I’ve been here forever. Some of my memories from this visit seem so old already! Was it only six weeks ago that Perth Di was still around, talking up a storm, churning up the water in my villa pool with her tumble turns, and linking me up with her pal Elizabeth, who has become a close friend? Has it been only a month since my oldest friend Jan came from Albury to visit for a week; since Sam, Sara and Ivy came from Kuching, and Joanne from Melbourne, to share my rented villa among the rice fields and enjoy the ‘village’ that is Jalan Kajeng?

Since my visitors have departed I’ve moved back to Cinta Inn, where I’ve hardly moved from my ‘office’ in the restaurant courtyard. My workload is daunting at the moment and will continue to be challenging right through until August. It’s been unrelenting daily pressure, and I’ve had to reduce my focus to working, eating, going for a walk and sleeping – and catching up every few days with Elizabeth.

Everyone is gearing up for one of the year’s biggest festivals, Galangan. The staff at Cinta are often busy with ceremonies in their villages, and I’ve had invitations from some friends here to visit their homes. I want to, and I keep meaning to carve out the time, but it’s just been too difficult these past few weeks.

The cultural and architectural attractions of Ubud are apparent everywhere; just walking around the streets offers glimpses of a way of life that dates back thousands of years. But the village has turned into a town that doesn’t have the infrastructure to support its growth. It has fantastic restaurants and cafes, but the footpaths are broken and dangerous and the traffic congestion is now a major problem.

I’m happy – and lucky – to be able to spend a very busy work period in Ubud, but it’s not somewhere I would like to make a permanent home. The same applies to Kuching: it embraces me every time I visit, and has given me family and many friends, but for the moment it doesn’t meet enough of my other needs to make my permanent home there.

No one place is perfect; and none of the places I’ve come to love over the past four years is perfect for me all of the time. I love to be able to spend a month living in Florence or Budapest, Istanbul or Lausanne, but I’m then ready to move on. Two months at a time is my limit in Kuching and Ubud. After a few months spent somewhere else, I’m then more than happy to return for another month or two, but I need time in places where I can have a different daily routine for a while, eat different food, spend time with other friends, catch up on visits to art galleries, cinemas, museums and the theatre, and go for long walks or runs again. I need to stretch my legs and my mind in different ways. I like routines – they’re efficient, they work for me, and I enjoy establishing them in new places – but they can also be counterproductive. I need to shake them up every now and then, and I do that best by spending time in different places.

Two places suit me especially well. I’m most fully myself in New York and am always sorry to leave it even after three months. Every part of me can come out to play in Manhattan: the runner and the flaneur, the film buff and the theatregoer, the recluse and the social butterfly. I have friends living there I’ve known for up to 30 years. Each time I visit, I’ve been lucky enough to meet at least one new person who makes a difference to my life. I run hundreds of miles in training and races, and I see dozens of films and documentaries. I have a life there that I step straight back into whenever I arrive back on the Upper West Side beside Central Park. New York blesses me over and over. I just don’t want to be there during winter!

I also love my hometown of Albury. I couldn’t wait to leave it at age 18, then found myself back there at 44, slightly frayed at the edges by life. I found a new life there, with family and new friends. I took up running again. I met a number of artists and started building an art collection. I bought a house and got a cat. Then the dog thing happened, which proved to be hugely creative and a source of many wonderful friendships.

I haven’t had to give up anything to accommodate the new people and new experiences I’ve had in the four years since I swapped my second house for a suitcase. My life has just expanded to accommodate it all. I don’t think I’m greedy (except when it comes to self-serve frozen yoghurt); I just don’t see why I can’t try to have it all and be gracious and grateful when inevitably I find I can’t.