Tuesday, October 27, 2015

New York: My work here is (nearly) done

A very busy six weeks back in New York. I had three main goals: to run my fifth marathon; to earn the final race credits I need for a guaranteed place in next year's New York City Marathon; and to continue making progress with my memoir.

Two weeks ago, Maria and I spent the weekend in Pennsylvania where we both finished the Steamtown Marathon. Maria had a personal best time (her third marathon), and I had a good-enough time (4:21:37) to qualify for the Boston marathon in 2017.

In last weekend's 5-mile race in Central Park I placed third in my age group (out of 37) in a reasonable time of 46:23. I hadn't run since the marathon two weeks ago, as I've been sick with a head and chest cold. I have one more race (5K) this weekend. I've done well in it the two other times I've run it.

I've continued to work by Skype with my amazing writing coach (in Budapest). Judit Kiss is reviewing and commenting on chapters of my memoir as I write them. It's coming along.

As always, I feel very at home in New York and love my life in my 'hood, the morning training with the 5:30 a.m. group, seeing films, catching up with local friends, and seeing non-NYC friends: Vince from Hong Kong, Fran (whom I met in Kuching), Liliane from Lausanne, and Bridget from Oz. This week there are other visitors in town, and Sunday is the NYC marathon. I'll be out cheering friends who are running it. Then on Monday I return to Budapest for an extended stay, during which time I want to finish my book.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

At home in Budapest

BUDAPEST, August 3–26: Hot, hot, hot! Work. Writing. Gyros with Miki at Ararat • Coaching from Judit • Runs with Barb, Kristy and Maria • Runs with Rio • "Son of Saul" • Moved from Jules' and David's apartment to Oliver's (opposite synagogue) • Susy and the big storm • Susy lunch • Jules and David returned • Kevin and Simone at Mazel Tov. Chris.

ISTANBUL, August 27–31: Holiday with Miki • Hagia Sofia • Blue Mosque • Sufi dancing • Prince's Islands • menemen with simit bread • Pudding shop • Kadir at AgoraLife Sultanahmet. Chris.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Budapest bound

I've had two fabulous months in New York, training with the morning crew (including Susan visiting from Amsterdam), running races (including a Team Championship 5-mile race with the Hudson Dusters this morning) and writing the first draft of my book. I had a goal of returning to Budapest with 100 pages, but I have 280. A serious think about structure will be required once I'm done with the first draft, then the hard work of cutting and moving to produce a second draft. I had some welcome advice from writer Amy Hempel at the first get-together of a writers' group based in Tuxedo Park, organised by my friend CY.

Each time I come to New York I make a side trip to a new city. This summer I went to Toronto (to see Sarah and Will, and Frances) and then on to Montreal (where I had brunch with visiting Dead Runners Laura and Rob, last seen in 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri). Montreal didn't do much for me, but I enjoyed my second visit to Toronto.

As always in New York, I've seen some exhibitions and lots of films. I always feel very at home here, but I'm excited about returning to Budapest tomorrow.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer in New York City

I've been very, very busy writing my book... Finally! I have nearly 200 pages done. I had hoped to be able to use this summer to complete a first draft, and it looks doable. I feel very happy about the way it's going.

In addition to writing, I've been running with the 5.30 am group and have run four races (one on each weekend I've been back). Last week's 10K in Queens was good for a third place in my age group, but yesterday's 5-mile race to celebrate Pride Week (I was in seventh place) was my fastest-paced run in two years. I now need to start getting some long runs in the bag.

I've been seeing a lot of films and exhibitions and generally really enjoying being back in New York, and in my neighbourhood.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Manhattan Transfer

Tomorrow I'm returning to New York for two months. I'm looking forward to spending time there and getting back into running with the 5.30 a.m. group (including starting marathon training with Maria), racing in New York Road Runner races, and in other ways channelling my inner New Yorker.

Budapest is turning into a great love. I've had friends visiting, who have also been seduced by the city's charms and very affordable quality of life. I'm expecting an influx of visitors over the next few years...

Last month I took a mini-break in Ljubljana that included a 'Slovenia in a day' whirlwind excursion to Lake Bled and an amazing cave system. Earlier this month, I had eight days away in Croatia, in Zagreb (Museum of Broken Relationships), Split and Dubrovnik for a two-mile race along the top of the city walls and a hilly and hot half marathon. I was with a friend from Oz, and we travelled around by train, bus and ferry. It's an easy destination in a part of the world I'd like to explore some more.

Miki has become a very dear friend. Since Julie and David returned to the US for an extended visit,  we've spent a lot of time together visiting the thermal baths, hanging out and, lately, running together! We're planning some mini-breaks for later in the year.

This month marked the fifth anniversary of my departure from Australia on my open-ended journey.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Taking up residence in Budapest

I've been back in Budapest for five weeks, putting down roots, discovering new networks, establishing routines, meeting new people, making some new friends and setting some new goals. My longest stay previously as a visitor has been a month; this time, as a resident, I'm home for three months. It already feels different. I have no doubt that I belong here. When I first started spending time in New York, I felt that everyone in that city had squished up a bit to make room for me, as if we were all riding in the same bus. I feel that here, too. Obviously without Hungarian language I'm never going to understand a lot of what's going on around me, but I'm finding it interesting to make my way as best I can while I get myself set up with the things I need for my daily life. It's good for me. I'm having to be patient and polite and accommodating, and appreciative of the efforts that other people are making.

I feel very lucky to have met some fun and interesting people, especially through running, among them Andrea and Agi (who are Hungarian) and Riyadh (from Libya). I have a lot of running goals for this year, and I need to be training regularly if I'm to meet them. But even more than that, running with friends is one of the things I most enjoy doing.

So much of Budapest's beauty and appeal is freely available to anyone who walks its streets. But the city is multilayered, and the building frontages often conceal amazing inner spaces, ruin pubs, art zones, squares, parks, and more. The challenge is to see what's behind those facades (what's inside the square, not outside of it). Becoming a resident is my attempt to do that.

I'm staying in Jules' and David's apartment in District VII (the former Jewish ghetto area near the beautiful main synagogue) while they are visiting the US. Their friend Miki and his Yorkie, Joki, have become close friends of mine. We've taken to going to the thermal baths (Rudas and Gellert in the past few weeks) and cultural performances together.

As usual, I'm seeing as many films and exhibitions as I can squeeze in around my workload. Highlights have been the Sylvia Plachy photography exhibition at Mai Mano Haz and the 33rd Hungarian Press Photo Contest show at Robert Capa Center, and the films "Balaton Method", "For Some Inexplicable Reason" (for a second time), "Wake in Fright" (screened by an Australian Film Club), "Salt of the Earth" (about the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgrado), and a couple of Swedish films (especially "Hotel") as part of a Scandinavian film festival.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A happy new year in Hong Kong

Pak Tai Temple

If I weren’t heading back to Budapest on Friday, I would stay on here in Hong Kong for another month or two. I think it has resurfaced as a place I’m very happy to call home for a while. If all goes well, I’ll return early next year for an extended stay. So, home for me is now Budapest, New York and Hong Kong: a very nice balance of the old world of central Europe, and the new worlds of the West and East.

View across to Kowloon from Bowen Road on a clear day

Hong Kong is still fascinating, three decades after my first visit on a business trip  from Sydney in 1985. I moved up here in 1986, and left at the end of 1993. I’ve been back to visit half a dozen times since then, but this time has offered up something quite different: not just the chance to spend time with old friends who live here (I’ve known Cathy and David since 1971, Peter since 1987, Polly since 1988) or whose visits coincided with mine (I’ve known Chris since 1973, and Linda since 1985), or with people I’ve gotten to know on more recent visits (Cathy, Carol and Christopher in 2010 and 2011). I've been fortunate this month to meet some new people who already feel like part of my cobbled-together family of friends: Joanne, Jocelyn, Andy… At the start of a new lunar year, I’m very aware of how lucky I am to have all these interesting, courageous, creative, empathetic, funny, generous and loving people in my life.

The air quality in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta is appalling. Some days it’s just a grey soup. But once or twice there has been a break in the haze and there have been glimpses of blue sky and clouds. I don’t know when was the last time there were stars visible at night.

Chinese New Year decoration at I.M. Pei's Bank of China building

Ferry to Lamma Island from Aberdeen

Reclaimed Central waterfront area

Old Hong Kong, Ching Lin Terrace, Kennedy Town

Fishing village, Cheung Chau Island

I’ve enjoyed getting away from Central and doing a walk up in the New Territories with Cathy and Jocelyn, and across the Dragon’s Back to Shek O on the other side of Hong Kong Island with Polly, Peter and Sally. Jocelyn has become my occasional running partner along Bowen Road, where over the years I’ve run countless repeats of the 4 km path that skirts the hillside and overlooks Central, Admiralty, Wanchai, Causeway Bay and Happy Valley. I have two half marathons coming up and will need to get back into a better routine in Budapest.

Last week I spent two days in Zhuhai, near Macau, visiting a very old friend who was visiting his wife. It’s a long story… The best word I can think of to describe the whole area around there is “blighted”, but it was fun to spend time being silly with Chris. We went to a small village where we were a novelty and the local people seemed all to be on happy pills.

Hong Kong actually comprises something like 260 outlying islands in addition to Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon peninsula that’s attached to mainland China. Fishing is the traditional industry on the inhabited islands, and it’s always fun to visit a fishing village for a seafood lunch. I went with Cathy and David and friends of theirs to Lamma a week or so ago, and with Joanne and Andy and other friends to Cheung Chau yesterday. I have many memories of other lunches and dinners in those villages. Hong Kong is about so much more than shopping. (But I HAVE bought a couple of pairs of shoes!)

With Rose and Xiao, my old friend Chris's sister-in-law and wife, Zhuhai District, Guangdong Province

I’ve visited a couple of new temples I wasn’t aware of when I lived here, one with Sylvia, a local history buff and head of the Hong Kong Gardening Society, and a former publishing colleague, Peter. The other one I discovered by chance after a run last week. I gave a talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) to about 20 members of the Women in Publishing Society, which Polly and I started in about 1990. I’ve been to see a couple of films with Cathy (“Nightcrawler” and “St. Vincent”). (I’m timing my visit next year to coincide with the European Union and International film festivals.) I love that Cath takes lunch to the movies, complete with a little salt-and-pepper shaker and napkins. Polly and Charlie made a traditional New Zealand roast lamb dinner at Pol’s gorgeously renovated apartment to usher in the Year of the Sheep. Her fat cat Cartoon must be on his (her?) eighth life by now. Christopher invited me for a drink at the FCC, where we talked with a friend of his from Agence France Presse about property (Chris self-publishes in this area), scuba diving and publishing.

Linda, Polly, Catherine and I had an unexpected opportunity for a reunion dinner when Linda’s visit to Hong Kong to see her married son (he was six or so when I last saw him!) coincided with my visit. We were able to have a couple of long chats, our first since August 2013 when she came up to London from her home in Cornwall to meet me for a two-day catch-up. Polly has taken me to dinner at the FCC and the LRC (Ladies’ Recreation Club, where she plays tennis). I’ve walked all around the SOHO area, which didn’t exist when I lived on Old Bailey Street, opposite Victoria Prison, in the early 1990s. There are new areas being gentrified all the time, with lots of fabulous cafes and restaurants. The relocated Police Married Quarters is also now a very groovy showcase area for local artists, designers and other creatives. The area behind Queen’s Road East is also having a resurgence.

I have seen my accountant and finalised my accounts for the last two years, done a heap of work, and read some books, including a reread of “Never Enough”, about the murder of an American Merrill Lynch high-flyer by his shopaholic wife in 2003, a case that shocked the expat community and delighted the local Chinese. Nancy Kissel is still serving her life sentence at a women’s prison here in Hong Kong. I’m talking with two people here about books they are writing, one about the horseracing scene which is hugely popular with the local Chinese. I went to a dinner in Hong Kong Park where I spent a lot of time talking with an expatriate New Zealander about publishing, dogs, art and many other topics of mutual interest. Joanne and Andy invited me for a delicious dim sum brunch at City Hall, on the edge of a wasteland that used to be the seabed in Victoria Harbour. Jo grew up in Hong Kong in an American expatriate family, went to college in the US and returned to Hong Kong to live. Andy, a Briton, lives in Thailand. Through Cathy and David I met Liz and Ian, who divide their year between Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Barcelona; and Heather and Craig, who have done a lot of walking in places like Nepal.

This has all been in just three weeks! My visit has coincided with Chinese New Year. It feels to me like something new is beginning; that I’m entering a new stage of my life. It’s a life I never imagined I would have and I’m profoundly grateful for it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A change of focus

The big news since I arrived in Kuching three weeks ago is that my application to become a resident of Hungary – specifically, Budapest – for at least the next five years was successful! It all happened very smoothly, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for me to decide to put down roots in a city in central Europe I'd never thought to visit before September 2013. Now it feels like home. In fact, it will be a base for all of Europe. Being a resident will mean I don't have to keep an eye on day counts within the Schengen Zone, so I'll be able to explore more widely and not have to carry everything I own with me everywhere. I still have a foot firmly planted in New York, but I'll be spending less time in Asia after next month.

It's always great to see Min and Sam, Ivy and Swee, Emily and other friends here, but it's not really been a very social visit. My workload has been heavy, and it's been very wet, so we haven't run much. It's been fun to be present for my Friday Night Flicks movie screenings at the Batik, now in its second year. I've also had another complete wellness check: there's nothing physically wrong with me that wasn't wrong with me last year, which is good news!

Kuching is getting ready for Chinese New Year, with decorations going up all over town.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Terminal 2B or not 2B?

Twice within a week a Hungarian taxi driver asked me if I wanted terminal 2A or 2B at Budapest's international airport. The second trip had long been scheduled: a return to Malaysia; the first was a spur-of-the-moment excursion.

My cousin Kylie broke her ankle at a very convenient time for me, if not for her! I was able easily enough to change my plans and fly to Berlin to meet her the day her bus tour ended. (She had been one week into her two-week bus-about holiday when she fell on an icy road in Slovakia the day her group was due to travel to Budapest. I saw her there, where she decided she could continue on the tour after I offered to help get her and her luggage from Berlin to Amsterdam the next week. The alternative was to cancel her holiday and fly straight back to Australia... Not fun.)

So, I flew to Berlin to meet Kylie on January 2. Once she was organised in our hotel I walked over to see my friends from Malta, Norbert and Marisa, who have a gorgeous pad on a street that was once divided by the Berlin Wall. We had a lot to talk about: I hadn't seen Marisa since I stayed with them on Gozo in 2007, and I hadn't seen Norbert since he stayed with me in New York in 2010 or 2011.

The next morning Kylie and I took the train from Berlin to Amsterdam. This was the challenging part of the journey, but we finally found our seats and got all our bags together in the one place. I then disappeared into my book for the day.

After we checked into our hotel in Amsterdam we went to a hospital to see what was needed as follow-up to the treatment in Budapest. They basically said there was no point in doing anything until the Monday (it was now Saturday), so I spent Sunday catching up with people: Sarah, a cousin from New Zealand I'd never met (this time on Dad's side) and her partner Simon for a fun brunch at Paper Planes; and Susan, a runner friend from New York, for an exhibition of Vivien Meier's photographs at Foam Museum. Kylie managed to rest her foot and have fun in her own inimitable way.

Monday morning I had to head back to Budapest, and Kylie went off to hospital where she had an operation and an overnight stay over the next few days, in time to fly back to Oz at the end of the week (yesterday).

In Budapest I had a terrific meeting with Orsolya and Zsofia from the Hungarian House of Photography to discuss an idea I've put to them and Albury Art Gallery. That night I took Miki, Jules, David and their visiting friends Lori and Ted to dinner. I'm leaving some things at Jules and David's, which is a great help.

And before I knew it, the taxi driver was asking me yet again if I wanted 2B (or not 2B)...

I'm now back at the Batik Boutique Hotel in Sarawak, where I have my Kuching routines, including running in the predawn with Min and now also Swee.