Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Things I'm looking forward to about moving home

So... Today is my last night in London. Can you believe it? Cuz I can't!

Feels very strange to be in my empty apartment (and very terrible to be sleeping in my bed without my memory foam mattress)! The movers came yesterday and packed up 6 years of stuff in 43 boxes. How did I manage to accumulate that much stuff? I have no idea. I guess it's on its way back to Boston now. It will meet me there in 6 - 8 weeks (I hope).

Today was the cleaning of my apartment. And tomorrow is the final check out (and please oh please let me get my 2,700 GBP security deposit back because I really need it to buy furniture in Boston).

It all feels so unreal.

Tonight The Company had a really nice dinner for me and we reminisced about the last 6 years and The President and VP said really nice things and we recalled lost of fond memories from back in the day when we were younger... (They also gave me some really nice gifts). It made me sad and nostalgic. It was hard. Tomorrow - the last day in the office - that will be hard too.

I'm not leaving The Company but I'm completely changing products/divisions/industries and although I know it's time for a change, I can't help but to feel sad about leaving my current product and all the great people I have worked with for the past 6 years.

And I'm surprised and humbled at all the nice things people have to say about working with me and that it truly feels like they might miss me as much as I will miss them.

I have to say - I hate goodbyes. As much as this has all been nice and sweet, I overwhelmingly feel like it is something to be endured and I keep wishing there was a fast forward button so I could get off this emotional rollar coaster I've been riding for far too long now. Above all, I'm determined not to cry. What's the point? I have to just look forward and move ahead. And hope that good things are waiting in my future.

Tomorrow I fly to Stockholm to hang out for a few days. Good friend J is getting married to S on Saturday (stay tuned for the final wedding blog post of the year) and I'm looking forward to that. And in general, I'm looking forward to catching up with the girls, participating in the Stockholm nightlife (Beware Berns - I'm going to kill it on Friday night), having fika, shopping at H&M, running in Hagerparken and generally soaking up as much Stockholm awesomeness as I can before leaving on a one way flight to Boston next Wednesday (sob).

So... I might go off the radar for a few days but am sure to catch up with you all soon when I'm back in the US!

In the meantime... here's the deal, I'm totally nervous and kind of dreading moving back to Boston - as you can see from many of my latest posts. But there are a few things that I'm secretly looking forward to.

So, I leave you with this small list:

Things I'm looking forward to about moving home:

Autumn in New England - Is there anything better than Autumn in New England? I don't think so actually! I have felt sad about missing New England Autumn every year. Autumn everywhere is kind of nice and special and gives you that cozy nostalgic feeling. But, every single Autumn that I've spent outside New England, I've been thoroughly disappointed. Because when it's Autumn - there is truly no place like home!*

Lobster and clam chowder - It will be nice to eat my favorite New England foods more often. As my Mother advised when I was very little: "Never eat lobster or clam chowder outside of New England unless you want to be very disappointed." I have to say that she was totally right. And the few times I made the mistake... I did regret it (unless it was imported from New England of course - for real, I've had Maine lobster in China).

The Red Sox, The Patriots, The Bruins, The Celtics - I'm not the world's biggest sports fan (i.e. I did not stay up to ridiculously late hours just to watch New England sports teams while living abroad. In fact, apart from my updates from my Father -a real sports enthusiast). And over the years I have become pretty out of touch with the world of New England sports. But I do kind of miss watching sports and I'm looking forward to being swept away by the sports enthusiasm of Boston. Go Pats!

Being closer to family - It will be nice to have my parents just 2 hours away and to get to see my grandfather more. I also hope to soon visit my cousin and her kids in Maine!

The countryside - London is a great city and the country is definitely accessible, but it doesn't feel like the countryside is in the city, the way it did in Stockholm. I've found myself desperately craving the countryside. It will be nice to be in Boston with a car and able to drive home to my parent's house or go up to New Hampshire or Maine when I need a quick countryside fix.

Reuniting with old friends - I don't have a big social group that I'm going back to in Boston. I've been away way too long. Most of my Boston friends have moved outside the city and are working on building their families. But there are a few people that have reached out to me and I'm looking forward to reconnecting with them. And I'm hoping they will become my new cast of characters in my blog - Sexy Single Friend C, Lovely couple L and P and SB - I'm looking at you! And for all you unsuspecting Bostonians who do not know me yet... all I can say is WATCH OUT!!! Boston here I come! Get ready for it!

Mexican food - I love Mexican food. But it's extremely difficult if not impossible to find it abroad. And never have I ever encountered a place abroad that does a decent burrito. Can't wait to eat some yummy Mexican. (drool)

Whole Foods and Trader Joes - These are the best stores ever! I absolutely love Whole Foods and Trader Joes is great as well. And although there was a Whole Foods in South Kensington, it wasn't very convenient to where I lived. Luckily, Whole Foods in Boston will be easily accessible by car (because yes, I will have a car).

Dunkin Donuts - I love their coffee. And there is just something about going through a drive through that makes me feel so American.

Salad Bars - I love me a good old "make your own salad" bar. I have never seen this concept in any other country. My office restaurant has a make your own salad bar and I can't wait to hit that!

American Gyms - I am so tired of the crowded, hot, small and windowless European gyms. I'm looking forward to the big, spacious and better equipped gyms in the US. And maybe if I'm lucky there will be some cute men there too!

Running on the Charles - Guess I'm trading the Thames for the Charles. But in terms of beauty, I think the Charles wins... Can't wait for lovely runs on the river!

Proximity to Latin America - I'm gonna miss Europe, but I am hoping to do a bit more traveling in Latin America and that is much easier from the US. And a long weekend in Miami wouldn't be too bad either!

The weather - Boston might not have the best weather in the world, but compared to London and Sweden it's pretty freaking fantastic! And as you drive everywhere in the US anyway, the weather becomes much less of a big deal. Say nothing of the fact that there is so much more light in the winter (although I guess that conversely means that there is so much less light in the summer).

*I'm pretty sure that Autumn doesn't need a capital at the beginning of it... But I'm too lazy to either look it up or go back and fix it. My blog. My rules. For me, Autumn has a capital A.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Things I'm Gonna Miss About Living In London

My apartment is all packed up and the movers are literally here as I speak write.

And although I will not be missing the weather or my crazy expensive rent, there are a lot of things that I will miss about London such as:

My apartment - My apartment was kind of awesome here. It's a two bedroom right in the heart of Chelsea and very warm and cozy. It's perfect actually other than the fact that there was no outdoor space. I am sad to leave it. I definitely could have lived here for longer.

Chelsea - I have LOVED living in Chelsea. And if I ever return to London, I will live here again. It's such a great place to live!

Running in Battersea Park - I live right across the bridge from Battersea Park and because I'm a bit fanatic about running, I have run there every week 3 - 5 times a week. Although sometimes it feels a bit small, and other times it feels a bit crowded, it is a pretty good park. I will especially miss running along the Thames at sunrise and sunset.

Sexy Single Friend A - Although we have known each other for a couple years, Sexy Single Friend A and I only became friends in London. But Damnit! I'm going to miss this girl. She is always good fun to hang out with and I wish her the best of luck with her new job and her new men man. Stay tuned for a guest post from her!

M and T - M and T are my favorite couple in the world. And for whatever reason, we have been following each other around the world. We met in Shanghai when we all lived there, but have managed to party together in Hong Kong, San Fran, Paris and Amsterdam. I don't think that I could have survived London without M and T. They are true friends and we have had many great adventures. And before I get all choked up again (I just said bye to them), I'm going to remind myself that I will see them very soon somewhere - I'm sure...

The Writer - I know. I only met him once. But boy got in my head! And I'm still thinking about him. And wishing that he didn't have a damn girlfriend! Ok, secretly I'm fantasizing about him breaking up with her and declaring his love for me and moving to Boston (or hell, I'll come back to London). But I'm kind of realizing that is not very realistic. But hey, a girl can dream!

Sexy British accents - While I didn't manage to score me a British guy while I was here, I do admit that I have a weakness for the accent. I regret that I'm not bringing some sexy British guy home with me!

The Eurostar - 2 hours by train to France! Can't beat that. Sadly, I only jumped at this opportunity once while here (a wild weekend with M and T) but still, I liked knowing that I could be in France in just two hours without having to fly.

The proximity to other European cities - London is so central it's easy to get anywhere (although I do passionately hate Heathrow Airport). I'm really going to miss taking weekend trips to Spain, France, Italy, Sweden...

Harrrod's - This is the best store in the WORLD! I love Harrod's. From it's amazing food department to the million pound pool table in the antique section it truly has an wide range of selection. It feels like a museum than a store. I could spend hours there.
Guy Fawks Day - "Remember remember the 5th of November..." This is a good holiday! I have no idea really what this holiday is about. But I remember there were lots of fireworks. And alcohol. Yes, lots of alcohol.

It's a big city - London is a big city. A vibrant city. Full of endless opportunities. I liked this. Unfortunately, I did not get to live it up here as much as I wanted to due to my long hours and heavy job-related travel.

It's a walking city - one of the things that surprised me most about London is just how walkable it is! You can literally walk through the whole city and have a very pleasant experience. I find Boston is not a great walking city... It's much more of a driving city (and kind of a hellish driving city at that - infamous for its one way roads that are randomly laid out in a severe lack of urban planning).

The nightlife - London has great nightlife! Even for a 30-something like me. I will miss the good old Valmont club that I frequented often. But also Kensington Roof Gardens, Amica... and various others.

The pub culture - As I mentioned before, I think the pub culture here is great and I love that each pub has its own special cozy character.

Free museums - I have to say that I didn't take London up this fantastic offer as much as I should have. The museums here are free and that's kind of awesome!

Byron Burgers - There is a restaurant here called Byron - it's a chain actually but a really really good one. And I seriously think that they might have the best burgers in the entire world! My colleagues and I would go there every Friday. So, if you are in London, be sure to have a Byron Burger. I recommend the Cheese Burger with gruyere and add portabello mushroom and avocado. Yum! (Drool).

Black Cabs - London Black Cabs are epic! They truly are the best in the world. So big and comfortable with seats for 5 people. And for the most part, the drivers are nice and friendly and have GPS so there is no driving around lost.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Observations on Living in London

Now that my departure from London is very imminent, I feel that I should take the opportunity to share some of my observations on London.

Besides, I've been doing some pretty emotional blogging lately, so I think it's high time to lighten up a bit.

Observations on Living in London...

The bathroom light switches - for some reason rather than being proper wall mounted light switches, bathroom light switches tend to hang from a flimsy string that you pull.

Scones and clotted cream - when I first heard the words "clotted cream" I can tell you that this did not sound like something I wanted to eat. Nor was I a big scone fan - dry hard little things that they are. But I have to say that Scones and clotted cream may just be heaven on earth. Go ahead indulge yourself over afternoon tea. Just don't do it too often. Clotted cream is not quite so good for your waistline!

Beans for breakfast - A traditional English breakfast or a "fry up" as they call it involves beans. It's actually kind of good. Try it.

S instead of Z? - And just what is wrong with the letter Z? What is it about this letter Zed - as they call it - that keeps English people from using it. So instead of organization it's organisation. Weird. I prefer to keep my Z's thank you.

The change situation - the change (as in the coins) here is seriously messed up! It took me ages how to figure out how to use the change and it still confuses me. In a perfect world, coin sizes should be aligned with the value of the money. So, your largest coin should have the largest value and the smallest coin should have the smallest value. But here your 10 pence coin is bigger than both your 1 pound coin and your 20 pence coin (although at least the 2 pound coin is indisputably the biggest) and your 5 pence coin is smaller than your 1 pence. And they have a weird 2 pence coin. It's impossible! (I know that the American coin system is not perfect - but it's really just the dime that messes it all up).

Council Tax - So, not only do you pay exorbitant rent, on top of it you have to pay like another 100 pounds or more a month to the "Council." And if you forget to pay it, they don't even remind you that you have forgotten, (and of course you have forgotten because you are American and you were traveling and you forgot about this Council thing) they just send you a summons to be on court on a certain day! Believe me. I've been there. Done that. But luckily, I worked my American girl charm (and paid the balance in full) and avoided a session at the British courthouse.

TV license - you also must have a license for your television here. Even if you do not have cable (or Sky TV or whatever they call it here). Even if you do NOT watch television. You must pay the TV license. I'm kinda a rebel, so I didn't do it.

Pay more to eat at the restaurant - it is a very strange fact that many restaurants (especially of the cafe variety) actually charge more for food when you EAT IN the restaurant rather than "take away." How weird is that? I have never seen that anywhere else. Not even in totally illogical countries like China. In fact, many (like Cafe Nero where I went this morning) have everything listed with separate prices for whether you eat in or take away. I guess that sitting at a table is a premium service in this country!

Member’s clubs - Here in London, most of the night clubs are Member's clubs. Which is supposed to mean that you need to be a  member to get in. I have never once met anyone who is actually a  "member" of any club however. It is actually pretty easy to get into these Member's Clubs just by going online and filling out a form to get yourself on a guest list (and then paying the entrance of course). The only annoying aspect is it takes the spontaneity out of the night as you need to plan in advance.

Obsessiveness over gas/electricity meters - My gas and electricity meters are very popular! It feels like once a week someone wants to come and check them.  

Indian and Irish call centers - I know that we live in the world of outsourcing but whenever you call any kind of customer support here, you are inevitably transferred to a call center in India or Ireland and you spend most of the time one the phone feeling highly irritated and asking them to please repeat themselves! I keep having to remind myself that they are actually "speaking English." And me being me, I inevitably end up giving them a lecture on the fact that since their accent is very very strong, it would be good if they could "please SPEAK SLOWER and ENUNCIATE MORE." I'm pretty sure they all appreciate this tidbit of advice and put it to good use.

British English vs. American English - Where oh were did American and British English decide to divide? I’m not sure but it seems that when it comes to clothing we have a big difference. Here are some British English translated to American:
  • trainers = sneakers
  • pants = underwear
  • track suit bottoms = sweat pants
  • gym kit = gym clothes
  • trousers = pants (do not say pants here, it means underwear)
  • jumper = sweater
  • bathing costume = bathing suit
They drive on the wrong left side of the road -  But apparently, this is hard for many tourists because (luckily) most crossings are clearly marked with arrows telling you which way to look before crossing.

The Cars! - All I can say is WTF? The other day I was walking just 2 blocks in Chelsea and on those two blocks a saw 3 Porsche's, a Ferrari, and a freaking Aston Martin! This is oddly normal here. And people just leave that shit on the road. And it seems to be fine!

The dirty drinking culture - I have to say it, the Brits are dirty drunks! I have never seen anything like it. Not only are they loud, rowdy and sloppy, they also seem to get completely drunk (or pissed as they would say) at a very early hour, they also tend to lie in the streets (often in their own vomit). I know. It happens to the best of us sometimes. But I've never seen it happen so much as it does in this country!

The cost of living - The cost of living in this country is exorbitant! It's the cost of your apartment that is the most expensive especially when you add on bills and council tax and gym rates etc. However, I find the cost of food and alcohol - in both the grocery store and in restaurants to be much cheaper than in Sweden. But the fixed cost here is so high that it doesn't even begin to even out. Basically, you should not live in London unless you make a ton of money. Otherwise, you will be poor. I am sadly a lot poorer now then when I arrived (my poor savings got depleted as I tried to keep my champagne drinking lifestyle here).

Pub Culture - There is a BIG pub culture here and I love it. It feels like it's preserved from the "olden days" when villagers used to congregate at the pub (or basically any other time that warrants a good old pint). Today, people go to the pub after work for a pint and on Sundays for a traditional Sunday Roast. There are many pubs in London and I'm amazed that they are all very quaint and charming. I love the pub culture!

Anyone else have any observations on London? What have I missed? What do you think is funny about this culture?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

One Week Left in London

There is one week left until I leave London.

And everyone keeps asking me how I feel? And I don't have a good answer. I'm trying not to feel at all.

Because I don't know what the future holds, I'm trying not to think about it. And I'm trying not to look backwards so I don't get caught up in sad (misplaced?) nostalgia.

I have one week left in London and I'm perfecting the art of living in the moment.

I'm trying not to freak out. I have done this before.

But leaving anywhere is hard. Even a place that you want to leave.

And moving is hard.

I did this one year ago. Packed up my things and had the movers come and take them to another country.

But yes, it's still hard. Every time it's hard.

I have one week left in London, and I'm thinking about packing. But I have yet to pack a thing.

Actually, the movers will do most of the packing. But there is probably some organization must be done from my side. I'm saving that until Monday. The movers come on Tuesday. I hope it can be done in one day.

And I'm thinking about leaving. Not just London, but Europe. About leaving my job. I'm trying not to panic. But it's totally not working.

I have one week left in London and I'm still thinking about the boy I met last weekend. Maybe I'm just focusing on him to fill up the void that 'trying not to think' about the move has left. Maybe. Or maybe he just got under my skin and I will never be the same. Maybe.

I hope that the weekend will be a distraction - from the stress of moving, from thoughts of him. Sexy Single Swedish friend H will come and visit. I will have a party. I will say goodbye to my small group of friends here.

This weekend, we will drink one last time at my apartment. Dance one last time at the nightclub Valmont.

I have one week left in London and then I'm going to Sweden for a wedding. And to say goodbye to friends there.

And then I have a one way flight to Boston. Then, I will leave Europe. Then, I will leave my international life.

And say hello to a new life. In the US. After 9 years abroad. I have no expectations. I have no idea what it will be like. I'm trying not to think about it. I'm trying not to feel at all.

And I'm panicking.

I have one week left in London...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Breif Romantic Encounter in the English Countryside

This post was supposed to be about my weekend in the English countryside. It was supposed to provide a portrait of picturesque rural life. It was supposed to be about rolling hills and sheep. It was supposed to be about the quaint village and the quirky village people. It was supposed to be about the Cricket game and the afternoon tea and the after Cricket pints and party. It was supposed to be about the Sunday walk through the hills to the charming local pub where we had a Sunday roast in the garden. It was supposed to be about the fresh countryside air and the cool autumn weather.

All weekend I planned this post. I took pictures to include. I talked to the villagers and found out about their lives. I mentally noted interesting observations in anticipation of telling you all about it. And as I sit here at my computer ready to begin, I realize that post I was planning all weekend, is not the post I'm going to write.

And while the lovely British countryside will certainly serve as a romantic backdrop, I apologize that this post will not be about the rolling hills, the sheep, the Cricket, the pub, the villagers, the fresh air, nor will it be about the crisp autumn weather.

This post will be about a boy.

This weekend I feel in love and then lost in just 24 hours. 

But let me rewind and start at the beginning with Friday evening when M (of my favorite couple M and T) showed up at my apartment with French guy CC - a friend from our China days. Then Sexy Single friend A and her friend showed up and we did what we usually do at my apartment - have some pre party drinks, listen to music and get in the mood to go out!

CC was only in town for the weekend, so we were determined to show him the best England had to offer. The plan was to head out on the town  Friday night and then get up early on Saturday and head out to T's family village 2 hours outside of London where they were having the annual Cricket Game (I had attended last year and it was so much fun, I had begged to be invited back). So, on Friday night we headed to Kensington Roof Gardens and got our groove on, stumbling home in the wee hours of the morning.

Saturday morning came way too early and in a cruel manner with a relentless pounding headache and a nauseous stomach and an instant regret for that damn shot of tequila I had done (say nothing of the vodka, gin, wine - although my bets are still on the tequila).

Not even a Bloody Mary and a full English breakfast helped to improve my condition. In fact, as I struggled to keep the meal down, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that a big meal and a drink had only made it worse (whoever says hair of the dog is the best way to kill a hangover, is completely out of their mind).

Despite sleeping most of the way on the train to the countryside, I was still  not well upon arrival in the charming little rural village. The taxi ride from the train station almost did me in (rolling hills and winding roads are not so quite so charming when you're hungover). Luckily however, we did make it to T's quaint village cottage with our stomachs intact.

So, we are sitting and watching the Cricket game and I'm still concentrating on not throwing up, when slowly through the thick fog of my hangover, I become aware that there is a a rather attractive guy on the Cricket field. I ask M who he is and she informs me that he is a childhood friend of T's and unfortunately, he is taken (although sans girlfriend for the weekend). Well, that figures. I mentally cross him off my list of potential flirting partners for the weekend.

The boys come in from the Cricket field to take their turn at bat and I'm introduced to the cute boy. He is even cuter up close - not beautifully aloof in the Beautiful Swede way, but roguishly handsome in a rugged, disheveled, manly way. "I didn't think he would be your type," M would say later.

But up close, it was perhaps less the way he looked, and more the way he looked at me that commanded my attention... He gave me "the look." You know that one where he looks you up and down slowly starting at your shoes, noting the shape of your legs in your fall boots, taking in your blue autumn dress, momentarily lingering on your breasts and then looking right in your eyes as if he can see all the way through to your soul. And from that first "look" I went weak in the knees and I have to admit that I was a bit smitten. Reluctantly smitten. But yes, smitten.

And although I was still very aware that he was "unavailable," I concluded that there is nothing wrong with a little harmless flirting (especially if initiated by him), right? And I promise that I was only joking when discussing sleeping arrangements with M that I would offer to solve the crowded house sleeping arrangement problem by sleeping with him.

And I swear that I did not seek out this boy nor did I intentionally try to turn on the charm (believe me, I can be quite charming when I want to be) but it just so happened that after the Cricket game ended, we ended up standing at the Cricket Club bar together where he convinced me to drink a pint of lager (much to the loud protestations of my stomach and still pounding head) and then proceeded to engage me in a conversation that left me not only smitten, but absolutely fascinated.

You see, he is a former journalist turned (as yet unpublished) writer who is working on his first book. Therefore, I will now refer to him appropriately as "The Writer." And if his looks had been the interesting factor before, I quickly realized that his personality was even more attractive. As a person who is (obviously) interested in writing and dreams of writing a book some day, I of course had lots of questions for him about the book writing process. He patiently answered my questions and gave me some interesting insight into a writer's world.

And we talked a lot about reading (another passion of mine) and it was quickly obvious we had read many of the same books. To my delight, he even begrudgingly admitted to having read (for professional reasons of course) and kind of liked the entire Twilight series, despite not being able to relate to all the teenage girl angst and being slightly disappointed on Stephanie Myer's failure to "understand the male psych."

And the more he talked, the more interesting I found The Writer. And slowly, it began to dawn on me that chemistry aside, this guy was kind of sort of my "dream guy." He was witty, intelligent, interesting and full of life. Well traveled, well educated, athletic, and well rounded. The first guy I have met in a long time who I feel is multi-dimensional enough to match me on many levels.

Apparently our connection was noticed by others around because just minutes into our initial conversation, one of the old drunk villagers interrupted us by asking "Are you two married?" And The Writer looked into my eyes and therefore into my soul, and we both just laughed.

And his eyes - hazel specked with brown, and full of warmth and life... I had trouble looking into them because those eyes sucked me in and made it so hard to look away that the second I did I found myself longing to look back again.

But, if I wasn't smitten enough already, as the night went on and more pints were drunk, he somehow started singing to me in a wonderful singing voice Susanne and Famous Blue Raincoat - my two most favorite Leonard Cohen songs - and it was at that point that I just fell. Head over heels. Hard.

We continued to talk the entire night. I kept trying to pull myself away from him, but found myself completely unable. When he was not standing with me, I found myself searching for him and I found that he was more often than not looking at me as well. But I still considered him "off limits" and honestly there was no overt flirting going on, we did not touch each other and we did not stand too close to eachother or do anything else that would be considered inappropriate, although I can't deny the fact that I was by this point doing some serious "wishful thinking."

Ok please stop reading now if you are:*
a. My parents (although, mom we kind of already discussed this - I just left out the details - you don't really need to read them - dad, neither do you)
b. My colleagues
c. T (of M and T)
d. A person of strong morals who is going to judge me
e. A mean anonymous commenter

 So, the evening progressed and we finally had enough of drinking and dancing and we turned off the lights and music at the Cricket Club and headed back to the house to get some much needed rest.

And I'm not sure if it was the planets aligning or some cruel trick of fate, but suddenly it became clear that the only place for me to sleep (without doing some serious waking up and rearranging of people) was in the spare bed in the room that he was in. (I immediately regretted saying what I had said previously about the sleeping arrangements).

So, we both pretended that this was cool. And I was seriously questioning how cool it really was - engaged in an internal battle of feeling that maybe I should sleep on the floor somehwere else and really really wanting  to sleep in the room with him - to see where this night long charade would take us (because at this point, I really had no idea). But one thing was clear... it was all too easy. We had the perfect excuse to do what we wanted and it was up to us to choose the final outcome. And The Writer seemed ok with the proposed sleeping arrangement... so, we both went with it, although I'm sure his internal battle was even more intense than my own.

So everyone got into their pajamas and we all said goodnight and then The Writer and I closed the door to "our bedroom." And suddenly it was like the world started to spin and we just looked at each other in silence for what felt like an eternity. The sexual tension was on intensity overload, my heart was in my throat, I was weak in the knees, and I swear that the room was on fire. And as much as I told myself that I should walk over to my bed and just lay down and go to sleep, my legs refused to listen and with a mind of their own, they began to move in the other direction - toward him just as he was moving toward me. We met in the middle and he touched my arm and I swear that it there were not only sparks, it was a freaking electrical storm.

Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked. And his response was the slowest most amazing kiss.

"You can't deny chemistry," he said and his fingers were like flames moving over my body.

Later though as the awkwardness set in, he did admit to feeling guilty (which was both weird and relieving all at once. Weird because well... do I need to go there? And relieving because if he didn't feel guilty, well it probably means he does this all the time. And no, I didn't get the feeling that he does). I mumbled something about what's done is done and regret is a pointless emotion. "You're right. I just need to put it in parenthesis," The Writer said.

The next morning came too quickly and when the rest of the house began stirring, we decided to get up and head our separate ways. The day was full of trivial conversation and longing glances exchanged across the room. I was oversensitive and over aware of his presence at all times. And when he was standing close to me, all I could think about was wanting to reach out and touch him and overwhelmed by the unfairness of the fact that it would be totally inappropriate to do so.

The closest we came to an intimate moment was on the way to the pub for Sunday brunch when we were both walking dogs on leashes and the leashes managed to wrap around each other in such a way that we were pulled together and forced into an awkward moment of closeness as we tried to untangle ourselves and the dogs. "This is how they met in The Lady and the Tramp," The Writer said...

And then it was time to say goodbye and head back to London in separate cars. We both climbed the stairs to "our bedroom" and gathered up our belongings. And then once again, we stood awkwardly in the middle of the room. "I guess this is goodbye," he said. "Yes." I replied and then he took me in his arms and gave me one last lingering kiss full of sweet longing, regret and things that "could have been".

And in that moment before we reluctantly pulled ourselves apart, the bittersweet images of a life that almost was but would never be, played out in my mind - the cozy nights at home, the fun parties with friends, the trips around the world, the dancing in each other's arms, the beautiful rambunctious children that we would never have. And just as soon as the thoughts had entered my mind, they withdrew as quickly as his lips left mine as I guiltily remembered that this life is real and not a romantic English fairytale (or a chick lit novel), nor am I Elizabeth Bennet and he is surely not Mr. Darcy. We are just two people who shared a night who had no future outside this room in the English countryside.

And so, we left the room together as strangers. 

And finally, we endured a public parting - in front of other people and I swear they could all see the electricity sparking off our bodies as we touched and air kissed each other goodbye - one remorseful kiss on each cheek. And after saying goodbye to everyone else, when no one was looking, he blew me a kiss and walked off to his car, looking backward at me the whole way. And I felt an incredible sadness wash over me as I knew that I had just met an amazing guy who was absolutely not mine for the taking. An amazing guy who probably has an amazing girlfriend. An amazing guy, who I was never going to see again.

And I have to admit that I felt sad. It's now two days later and I still feel sad. And I've thought about him more than I want to admit. I'm struggling to deal with myself on this one. I've gotten used to not caring, not feeling. I've gotten used to meeting lots of shallow beautiful men who are more suited to one or two dates, to one kiss, to one night - they essentially mean nothing to me and leave no more imprint on me than the empty words posted about them in this blog. I've gotten used to meeting men with many good qualities but always in the beginning - usually in the very first encounter - I sense a strong "but" that I know can't be overcome, that I know makes that guy not right for me in the long run (if I'm honest with myself, even the Beautiful Swede was ruled out in the beginning by the "but" and deemed not suitable for long term potential).

But for the first time in a long time, I felt in The Writer a lingering potential, a beautiful possibility that I had not felt in a very long time (maybe ever).

But he is taken and I'm leaving London in less than 2 weeks, so this is the end of the story. The end of the British countryside romance. It began before it started. I loved and lost in just 24 hours (although it could certainly be said I never "had" in the first place).**

So, that's it. It's over (I keep having to tell myself this). It was awesome and bittersweet and confusing all at once. And now I'm left feeling empty and alone with a wonderful yet guilty memory and  the unrealistic romantic fantasies of a whirlwind romance that will never take place and the unmistakable longing that I will hear from him again.***

*And if you do continue reading, do so at your own risk and try not to judge me, or him and know that this post was one that I really struggled to write.

**I'm not that girl who "falls in 'love'" easily. Or at all. Or ever. In fact, I'm that girl who is not even sure she believes in love. I'm that girl who guys think are cold. And while I'm obviously exaggerating here when I say "love," I did fall for this guy. Hard. More than I ever fall for guys. And that kills me.

***We didn't exchange any contact details.

Monday, September 20, 2010

International Woman of Mystery: The Next Chapter

I am an International Woman of Mystery. The story of how I got here is told in 3 parts here in this blog:

If you have read my posts, you will see that there was nothing in my nature that encouraged my International pursuit. I was a small town girl who was never meant to leave the small town. I was the girl who cried the first day my mother tried to leave me at school The girl desperately homesick when I first moved to college. The girl who wanted to study abroad in high school but couldn't bare the thought of leaving my Mother. The girl who wanted to travel but never even went on a plane until I was 18. The girl who didn't even have a passport until I turned 20.

But there was some other driving force that propelled me toward the life of an International Woman of Mystery. And it's that's force that's been pushing me forward ever since.

I took the road less traveled. I said yes to opportunities when I wanted to say no. I chose to push my boundaries to the limits and I refused to accept my routine-loving homebody nature.

I chose adventure over stability. I threw caution to the wind and dived head in to each new challenge. I worked hard and played harder.

I struggled to adapt to different cultures. I struggled to fit in and make friends. I started my life over from scratch many times - each time reinventing myself into a slightly different and hopefully improved version.

And somewhere along the way, I traded in the small town girl identify for the international one. I adapted to it and I embraced it and being international started to define me. I fear that I am no longer very American and I definitely fear there is no way that I will fit back in as a small town girl.

But this is a fear that very soon I'm going to have to stand up and face.


Drum roll please....


Yes, that's right. I'm Boston bound in just 2 short weeks. The Company has decided to move me back (you didn't think I was leaving them too did you)?

And I'm panicking!

It's not so much leaving London that is making me sad. It's not that London isn't a great city - it is. It just wasn't for me right now and although I'm sure there are things about London I will miss, I'm not going to be sad to leave it.

And even leaving my current job isn't as sad as I thought it would be. While, I'm staying with The Company I'm switching industries and products and I'm going to do something completely different. And although I am sad to leave my current product after 6+ years, I'm also ready for a change and feel like the timing is right.

But the thing I'm really sad about is that I feel that I'm closing the door on Sweden. I could have just as easily (and probably more readily) moved back to Sweden. I feel like I left my heart in Stockholm. And I don't feel like I'm ready to move on. I would have been happy to move back, but the The Company offered me a great job in Boston that was way too good to pass up. 

Oh the irony of it all. When I moved to Stockholm, I was wishing I could live in Boston and now I'm moving to Boston and wishing I could live in Stockholm.

The prospect of this move is bringing so much anxiety and so many emotions to the surface. I'm nervous and scared and excited and reluctant all at once. But mostly I just have a lot of questions.

By moving back, am I accepting my small town fate? Does this mean that I will become my parents?

What if I move back and then never ever leave the US again? What if my international jet-set days are over?

And despite the fact that I haven't been that happy this past year, I totally recognize that I have a very charmed and often glamorous life. And I do love it (as well as hating it). And I'm afraid that moving back means that I'm trading in my glamorous life for a boring stable one. Will I still be the same fun person? Will my life continue to be an adventure?

What if I hate it when I get there? What if I realize that I'm no longer very American? What if I can't fit back in?

What about American men? Can I date guys who wear baggy jeans and baseball caps and listen to Dave

When I move back, am I still an International Woman of Mystery? Will I loose my identity? Do I need to change the name of my blog? Will I have anything interesting to blog about? Will you still return and follow me and read my posts?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Making of An International Woman of Mystery Part III: Europe

This post is about The Making of an International Woman of Mystery.

Making an International Woman of Mystery is not an easy job. And it's a long process. Therefore, this is a long story. To read Part I: The Early years, click here. To read Part II: Asia, click here.

So, The Company moved me back to Boston and I was happy. And I had some days off between the two jobs so I did what any normal person moving to a new place does: get a car, get an apartment, start to get settled.

And then I started my new job. And on my very first day, my new manager called me into his office. And I took one look at his face and I said "Oh no. You are going to ask me to move again, aren't you?" You see... I was starting to get to know The Company quite well by now, and I knew that "look." I had also been given a small hint that the job in Boston might not be a long term reality. In China, just as all my bags were packed and I was set to get on the plane to Boston, the President of our entire division emailed me and said "International Woman of Mystery, what do you think about Sweden?" And of course, I responded "Sweden sounds like a nice country but I prefer Boston. Thank you very much."

But that email tipped me off and as a result, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was asked to move again. I just thought I might have a little more time...

So my manager said "We want you to move to Stockholm." And I said "No." And of course, as is The Company's procedure, he refused to take no for an answer and hinted that if I didn't accept the job in Stockholm, I would soon be jobless. So he says "Just fly to Stockholm and meet with the The President and see what you think." Well, who can refuse a free trip to Stockholm? Besides, I had many Swedish friends who I had been wanting to visit anyway.
Now, I must reveal that my The Company is in fact a Swedish company. So, I had spent the last 4 years working with Swedes and therefore had quite a few Swedish acquaintances and one really good friend JT who I worked with in both Boston and China. And while in China, JT's friends and family had come to visit and I got to know them a bit. And her friend F and I really hit it off. And I was a little bit involved with a Swedish man (a story I will NOT get into). And I had been thinking about going on a trip to Stockholm - perhaps at New Year's. But neither them nor I ever imagined that it was even a possibility that I might MOVE to Stockholm!
But somehow just two weeks later (less than a month after leaving China), I found myself on a plane to Stockholm for "a visit." JT had left China at the same time I had and was going to do a bit of a world tour before returning to Sweden, and she was not even back in the country when I visited, but luckily the Swedish man was there to welcome me.
And somehow The Company managed to convince me to move to Stockholm - mostly by going all out to show me a fabulous time during my visit and offering me a spot on the management team and a job totally awesome that I couldn't refuse.
And so just a little over a month after returning to Boston, I packed up again and left my apartment and car (and all my furniture - as my parents refused to pick it up less than two months after dropping it off) behind in Boston and I took of for Stockholm. And this trip that was initially meant to be 5 months, somehow turned into 5 years! But I'm getting ahead of myself.
While JT and friends were very surprised (pleasantly so) to find I was moving to Stockholm, they rolled out the red carpet and welcomed me with open arms and tried to make me feel at home. In fact, I realized later that I was very lucky indeed to have the foundations of a great friend group in place when I arrived. Being a foreigner in Stockholm can be very hard. Swedes are notoriously cold and not very open to meeting new people.* Most foreigners move to Stockholm for love and find it difficult to make friends. Over the years many foreign female "love refugees" struggling to find a friend group, have expressed to me their envy of my large and awesome group of friends.
But still, in the beginning it was hard. for me too - although hard to say just how hard because my perspective has shifted. I now look back through rose tinted lenses - colored by my amazing experiences and the positive people I have met over the years. It's difficult for me to see Stockholm as it was when I first arrived.
But, I do remember that my overwhelming memory of Stockholm when I first arrived is that it was DARK and cold. The winters in Stockholm are not actually as extreme as Boston (they don't get as cold) but they are very very long (while Boston is more short and intense). I had literally gone from laying out in the sun at my parent's pool right to the airport to get on the plane to Stockholm And when I arrived in Stockholm, I was shocked to find that already in early September it was winter. I had packed a suitcase full of summer/autumn clothes expecting Stockholm to have the same warm autumn as Boston. I realized right away that was a big mistake! The first thing I did was go to the store and buy a scarf and a winter jacket!

Living in Stockholm was not easy. It was not like China where the cultural differences are so huge that it made it ok to just do your thing and not really attempt to adapt to the culture. In China, I expected not to fit in. I felt comfortable with my "foreignness." But in Sweden there were so many subtle differences that took me years to learn.

There were just so many small things to master like eating the European way with fork and knife remaining in each hand (not the switching hands shovel-food-in-your-mouth American way), or learning to be humble and to lower my loud American voice, or respecting the very strict rules regarding doing your laundry in the communal apartment laundry machines (seriously, the laundry room is a big source of contention often resulting in huge shouting matches between neighbors), or understanding that if you do not get to the liquor store between 10 and 15:00 on Saturday, that you will not have any alcohol for the weekend (so you had better make it a point to schedule this in), or making sure to always take off my shoes when entering someones home, or bringing my own alcohol with me to a party, or bringing my own bedsheets and towels with me when I'm going to spend the night at a friend's house, or realizing that it's a compliment when your friend buys the exact same dress as you and that if you and 3 of your friends end up wearing the same black H&M dress on the same night, well that's perfectly fine!

But I guess I did ok with mastering some of the subtleties. My friend's mom recently commented that when I first arrived in Sweden I seemed "so American" but now I seem "so Swedish."
While in Stockholm, I truly became an International Woman of Mystery. Sweden was country number 4 for me (5 if you count the US). And in addition to living internationally, my job required a lot of international travel (which I swear sounds a lot more fun than it really is). I traveled for work to such places as: Budapest, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Malta, Miami, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Rome, London, Cambridge, Shanghai, Beijing, Bangkok, Paris...

I even had a very crazy 2 years when I first moved to Stockholm where I actually SPLIT MY TIME between Shanghai and Stockholm and had apartments in both places. This was due to my working situation at that time which caused me to need to be constantly back-and-forth, and truthfully I didn't mind because I had the Scottish boy in China and my friends in Sweden and a great job that just happened to be in both places. But eventually I got tired of spending my weekends on airplanes and all the traveling back and forth eventually wore me out. But then my job changed so I started to spend the majority of my time in Sweden (with lots of travel to other places for work of course).

And the longer I stayed in the cold dark cozy city of Stockholm, the more I really started to love it! My girl group expanded from 3 friends to around 10 close friends plus at least 10 other friends who I would regularly go out with. The girls and I partied in Gotland every summer for Stockholm's veckan. We got together on most weekends and often during the week. We went to Latvia together for my 30th birthday. They became great friends to me that I know I will have for life. I got over the fact that eating out at restaurants was not that much fun (and way too expensive) and started to love having people over for dinner or a pre-party or going to another friend's house. I even got into the Eurovision song contest and from time to time would find myself dancing to schlager music without totally hating it. I started to prefer Euro Dance music to hip hop and even learned to dance properly to it. I had a great very central apartment in the city where I hosted lots of epic parties (much to the dismay of my neighbors). I learned to embrace the darkness and light lots of candles to make your home cozy and warm during the winter. I partied at the nightclubs Cafe Opera and Berns. I participated in the fun Friday "after work" culture (in the US I think we call it Happy Hour). I totally loved traditional Swedish foods like herring, salmon, toast skagen, Calle's caviar, pepparkaka. I always felt welcomed home when arriving at Arlanda airport and breathing in the wonderful scent of kanelbulle. I celebrated the long summer days by staying out all night long. I learned to appreciate the cold Baltic sea after a long hot sauna (even in the winter). I never ceased being amused by the Swedish dinner drinking and singing culture, but I learned to sing along to the popular snaps songs. My favorite holiday is now Midsommer (I would trade Thanksgiving for it any old day).

But because I had moved to Stockholm at the whim of The Company and not at my own whim... And because when I moved to Stockholm, I really wanted to live in Boston. And because I had been living abroad for a long time and was a bit curious about what life in the US would be like... Moving back to the US absolutely remained an open question in my mind and therefore I never felt completely settled in Stockholm. I always felt that I was "about to leave". But it never seemed like the right time. I sometimes felt that I was waiting for some kind of clear sign that it was time to go home. But it never came. I would go home and visit (with the increasing sense over the years that I fit into American life less and less) but I was always very glad to return to Stockholm. After awhile, I even stopped being homesick for the US. Without even realizing it, Sweden had become my home.
And then I turned 30 and I started to panic a little bit about my life. 30 is kind of a benchmark isn't it? I mean you start looking back at your life and wondering if it measures up. If you are where you are supposed to be and doing what you are supposed to be doing. Was this international life in Stockholm the life for me? Would it be better if I moved back to the US? Would my career be better? Would I earn more money? Would I be happier? Would I have found the "man of my dreams?" Should I move back and find out? Or do I want to stay in Stockholm forever? And is that even a possibility?

And while up to that point, my international life had been super fabulous and I had no regrets, I realized that maybe there were other things I wanted to do too. And although I always saw myself as an International person, I suppose that I also saw myself as a person who might one day get married and have children. And I sort of began to realize that my exciting international lifestyle wasn't really conducive to a "family life" and if that was something I wanted, I might need to make some changes.

Eventually I managed to calm those thoughts and started to lean toward staying in Stockholm on a more permanent basis. I began to realize that I had a pretty great life right where I was: I was dating the Beautiful Swede, I had a great job, I had great friends...

And of course it was at just this time that The Company announced that we were moving to London.
There was no other choice - the announcement coincided with the worst job market in recent history. It was London or bust.
So, one year ago, I moved to London.**

And although it wasn't exactly what I wanted to do, I tried to take on London and see it as my next new challenge. I oft a fabulous apartment in the fantastic neighborhood of Chelsea. I drank pints at the pub after work on Fridays. I ran a lot in  Battersea Park. I embraced the London clubbing nightlife. I hosted a pub crawl. I went to trendy restaurants. I saw musicals. I loved shopping at Harrod's. I jogged along the Thames. I paid my council tax. I marveled at the amazing cars lining the Chelsea streets. I ate fish and chips. I became addicted to Byron Burgers. I went partied on drunken boat trips on the Thames. I tried to date British men. I started to use British words more than the American ones (it was just easier). I went out to the countryside. I watched a Cricket game. I had Sunday roast at the pub. I drank buck's fizz. I ate full English breakfasts. I got well acquainted with Heathrow...
But I confess that I have not been very happy this year. Not in my job and not in my personal life. And although I have done many great and interesting things this year, my overwhelming feeling is that I spent too much time working too hard and getting too little out of it, too much time feeling homesick for Sweden (and missing the Beautiful Swede) and feeling lonely without my large group of friends, and too much time feeling that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time (a feeling I had never experienced so intensely before). So, I decided it was time for a change.

This is the final installment of "The Making of An International Woman of Mystery." Thanks for reading my wordy story. Please stay tuned for "The Next Chapter" where I reveal to you what's happening next in my life. Big changes are once again on the horizon for this International Woman.

*I have to say that this was not my experience in the least. I found Swedes to be warm and open and welcoming. But my foreign acquaintances had a different story. But again, I had that initial friend group that really helped me settle in. I will say one thing about Swedes though, once you break down the initial barriers and get to know them, they will be your friends for life.

**My blog begins in February although I briefly look back to December and January so this this blog actually captures most of my year in London - although not the painful few first months

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Making of an International Woman of Mystery Part II: Asia

This post is about The Making of an International Woman of Mystery.

Making an International Woman of Mystery is not an easy job. And it's a long process. Therefore, this is a long story. To read Part I: The Early years, click here.

Despite my tough experience in Costa Rica, when it came time to find a job, I couldn't get the international thing out of my head. I wanted to work for an international company. Despite my small town upbringing and my unhealthy attachement to my parents and the fact that I had hardly traveled anywhere, I had always kind of imagined myself as an International Business Woman.

My first job was with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Boston as an Executive Assistant which was crazy boring (I just wasn't cut out for being a glorified secretary). While working for PWC, I did what I should have done the first time around and had a look at which companies others graduates in my major were working for. And that is how I found The Company - the one that I still work for today.

The Company seemed international to the extreme. But to be honest, I was just hoping to get to work in an  in an international environment, maybe get to use my Spanish skills, and perhaps get to go on a cool business trip. I had no idea what I was getting myself into!

First of all, I will state for the record that I initially hated The Company. They made me work very long hours and they did not pay me very much (I should have ran far far away then).* They also challenged me to the extreme. I was hired to work as a customer service representative for our Spanish markets and before I knew it I was managing massive projects, writing technical specs and designing online systems (none of which my awesome Spanish/International Affair major in anyway qualified me to do, but The Company likes you to learn on the job).

Meanwhile, this was right around the time of September 11th and The Company was hit hard by the recession. There was lots of tension and insecurity in the office especially when they laid off a lot of people in the other products. I decided it was time to leave and become a Spanish Teacher -something I'd been thinking about for awhile. I was dating a boy from my hometown and I thought that fate was calling. It was time to accept my destiny and move back home to my small town, marry the small town boy and become a Spanish teacher at the high school I went to. Just maybe the whisperers were right. I was meant to be a small town girl.

I went as far as applying for Grad School and taking the Mass State Teacher Exams (which I passed with amazingly high marks -proud moment). But on the day I walked into my office to quit my job, my boss - the one I hated and the one I was sure hated me. The one who tore apart my projects, criticized everything I did and told me to only enter his office if I was in possession of a flow chart or spreadsheet as these were the only things that mattered to him (for a language major, this was rather difficult).** That very same boss told me that I should not quit. That I should wait for a forthcoming big "announcement" and that I should come speak with him after that.

Well... the announcement came and it was shocking: The section of The Company that I worked for was moving to China. And we were all losing our jobs in Boston but welcome to work in Shanghai (for a considerable pay cut). So, I walked into my boss' office and never one to mince words, I told him bluntly "I'm not moving to China. I'm never moving to China. Do not ask me to move to China. I'm going to move back home to my parent's town, probably marry my boyfriend and become a Spanish Teacher." Take that.

And what did the guy do? Well, he laughed at me! He said that it was great that I had my whole life figured out, but he reminded me that I was only 23 and that just maybe there was an alternative life for me that would be better than the one I was thinking about. He said something along the lines of not letting the small town boy hold me back (the nerve this guy had)! That there was a big world out there that I could learn from. And no, he did not want me to move to China actually. In fact, he wanted me to move to Bali, Indonesia and help with a project there that actually involved teaching.

He sold it to me to me like - well, if you want to teach, you can teach in Bali. And if you still want to teach after that, well you can still continue with your plan. And then he said something that I will always remember: "You will be a great teacher if that's what you want to do. But, I have a feeling that you will be even more great at doing something else."***

WTF? I could have easily turned down China and never looked back. Asia in general was not on my map of places I wanted to go and China was not at all on my radar. Well, neither was Bali, but Bali is a different story! Bali is supposed to be paradise on earth. A beautiful place. A dream world. The only problem was.... Bali is also on the OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD.****

My initial reaction was "no f'ing way." But my boss would not take my initial gut reaction "no" as an answer. He told me to go home and seriously consider the offer. He advised me to talk to my parents (although possibly not to my boyfriend).

And think about it I did. A LOT. And I talked about it with others A LOT. And I surprisingly ffound that their general consensus was that this was an amazing opportunity and I should really consider accepting (even my parents grudgingly admitted it might be a good idea). And although I was still reeling from the sudden proposal and not feeling at all ready to change my plans of marriage and becoming a school teacher, slowly but surely that little voice in the back of my head became louder and louder until I could just not ignore it anymore.

That little voice was telling me: "You are not meant to be in a small town (at least not right now). And that boy you think you are "in love" with - ha ha ha.... that will end in divorce in a few years if you even make it to the alter. Do not give up your dreams for him. He is not worth it. You always wanted to become an International Woman of Mystery. This is your chance! This is a clear sign. This is your destiny. It's all there just waiting for you. Just accept the offer. You only regret the things you didn't do. And BALI is paradise. Who can say no to Bali? You are 23 years old and this is the time of your life to do such things. Just do it!

That damn voice could not be ignored, so I decided to follow that voice to just about as far away in the world as you could get from the East Coast of the US. I jumped on a plane for the third time in my life and flew to the eastern southern hemisphere!

And I lived in Bali for 8 months. Of course, my small town boyfriend promptly broke up with me (the first of many boyfriends to ditch me because of my globetrotting). But I met a hot tall German boy who drove me around Indonesia on his motorbike. I worked some as a teacher. I partied a lot. I danced at nightclubs often. I ate great Indonesian food like Gado Gado and Mei Goreng. I ran on the beach every morning at sunrise. I lived on $500 dollars a month (well, not entirely true - my parents kind of paid my credit card bills - love you Mom and Dad), I met great people. I lived with wonderful women who I still keep in touch with. I was fascinated by the beautiful Balinese Hindu culture. I lived a simple life with no air conditioning (it's hot in Bali), no hot water (but not hot enough that you don't miss hot water), no mobile phone, no television. I traveled throughout Bali and to some other lovely islands nearby. I saw the most amazing sunsets of my life. I ate delicious seafood at Jimbaran on small candlelit tables as the sun set and the surf slowly edged its way up the shore and lapped at our feet. I learned to surf. I read lots of books. I got very tan. I did a lot of nothing. I took long naps during the day. I worked at night. I learned a lot from the Germany boy who taught me to live in the moment and not worry so much about the past and future. I learned a lot about the rest of the world through the other international people I met. I loved my simple Bali life...

But I realized that even paradise is not sustainable forever. And while I didn't love the long hours The Company put me through in Boston, the kind of teaching I was doing in Bali wasn't stimulating me enough intellectually (damn my boss for being right). I decided it was time for a change, so I said goodbye to beautiful Bali and headed back to the US.

Luckily, it seems that I left just in time. Sady, just two weeks after I returned to the US, terrorists blew up the nightclubs in Bali. The very same nightclubs that I partied and danced at most nights. It was surreal. This scared me and my family. And once again, I decided that maybe it was best to stick closer to home.

And stick closer to home I did - much to the dismay of my parents. I had now given up on my dreams of becoming a teacher and I was wallowing around my parent's house in the woods unemployed, directionless and only half-heartily trying to figure out what to do next with my life. To be honest, I kind of missed The Company. And after a couple months, my Mother issued me an ultimatum: Get a job or we are kicking you out. She was unimpressed with my unemployed lazy self and she knew me well enough to know that I was just milking unemployment and not even searching for a new job.

Ironically, on that very same day, The Boss called me out of the blue. When I left Bali, he tried to recruit me to move to Shanghai, China - an offer I kindly declined as truth be told, I was homesick and wanted to go home to my parents. But after living with my parents for a couple months, the China offer was starting to look pretty darn attractive. So, what the hell? In a moment of insanity I accepted. To this day, I swear the driving force in me accepting that offer was so that I could call my Mother at work and have the satisfaction of this conversation:

Me: So Mom, I got a job today!
Mom: (Sounding happy). Oh really! Good for you? How did that happen? Tell me about it.
Me: Well, I'm moving to China with The Company in 2 weeks.
Mom: You are joking right?
Me: I'm dead serious. You told me to get a job and get out of the house. I would say that China is getting out of the house.
Mom: Oh honey... that's not what I meant (sounding sad).

So, two weeks later, off to China I went. And it is with this move that the International Woman of Mystery matured beyond a concept and became a reality. It is with this move that the International Woman of Mystery was born.

I have to admit that despite Bali being amazing in many ways, I was still desperately homesick the entire time. I missed my parents and my ex-boyfriend and my friends. But in Shanghai, The Company kept me way too busy to even think about being homesick. I worked ALL THE TIME. And I loved it! I felt that I had so much to contribute. I was satisfied in my job. I loved going to work every day (I practically lived at the office).

But it was not all work. Oh no! There was a lot of play as well (ah to be young again and not need to sleep). Despite arriving in the middle of the SARS crises***** (oh how my parents hated this one and begged me to return home immediately), I truly believe there was no better place for a 24 year old to live but in Shanghai, China. What a vibrant ever-changing city. There is no place like it on earth. And unfortunately, while to this day Shanghai is still an amazing and vibrant city (and I totally recommend that you all get yourselves on a plane to go there ASAP), it is now nothing like it was in 2003 when I first lived there. Back then, there were no big nightclubs. It was the bars on mao ming lu or bust. And there were very few western restaurants and almost no western style services (like the nice spas you see today). It was all brilliantly uncivilized and very very raw. There were no rules and therefore there were no consequences. It truly felt like we could do anything we wanted (and we sure pushed it to the limits).  Every day was an adventure and the crazy city of Shanghai was our playground.

I had a blast in China. I met great people like M and T. I dated the Scottish boy. I learned how to speak enough Chinese to communicate with taxi drivers, order food in restaurants and make myself understood when necessary. I learned how to use chopsticks (remember I was a small town girl and I had never ever used chopsticks until the day I arrived). I drank bi jiao (a terrible Chinese rice wine - try it sometime and you will see what I mean). I developed a love of sushi (yes, I know this is Japanese but for some reason I never ate it until I arrived in China and then I swear I ate it every day). I worked hard and developed a good reputation in the office. I survived SARS. We tore up Mao Ming Lu. I partied all night and went to work still drunk.  I marveled at Chinese culture and their sometimes crazy logic. I learned to pee in squat toilets (something I struggled with in Bali). I ran several 5K races and did the Shanghai half marathon. I had a crazy time in China. I kind of grew up in China. In China, I definitely became a more mature, confident and independent international woman of mystery.

Shanghai is a city that is awesome and terrible all at once. It's a city that you both love and hate. It's a city that's so vibrant and alive full of sounds and smells and lots and lots of people! It's like sensory overload all the time. And it's lovely in it's own crazy way, yet lonely in its vastness, and irritating in its overcrowded, polluted, hyperactivity and lack of logic.

But China is not always an easy place to live (especially then). And as with any love hate relationship, at  some point, the hate won out over the love (this was mainly motivated by an injury sustained on a business trip to India - another story in itself - that I was not able to get proper treatment for in China) and I decided I was ready to move back to the US.

Luckily The Company was nice enough to offer me a job back in Boston which I readily accepted and was truly excited and ready to move back home...

Stay Tuned for final installment of The Making of an International Woman of Mystery Part III: Europe

*Just kidding. I obviously love my job and my company - I've worked for The Company for almost 10 years - but the hours and the pay thing never really have been resolved nor will they ever be although I'm kinda over it

**This boss became a great mentor to me and I now make my staff present me with data rather than feelings. He also said "Don't ask me questions, rather tell me the solution and if I don't agree I will let you know" - very good advice for managing junior staff.

***Note: I have nothing against teachers and still do not rule out becoming one myself one day. But I'm so glad that he gave me this piece of advice because he was so right.

****I'm not going to lie. I had no idea where Bali was. It could have been in the Caribbean for all I knew. So, I did whatever you did in 2001 instead of Google something (as oddly Google didn't exist -seems like one of those things that's always been around doesn't it)? But my research which I'm pretty sure even involved going to a bookstore and looking at travel books, told me that Bali was a pretty amazing place by all accounts.

*****The week I arrived, SARS hit the news. It was crazy. Everyone was wearing masks. Your temperature was taken about 10 times a day whether entering your work building, a restaurant or a nightclub. If someone sneezed or coughed, everyone would panic. The Chinese government went crazy with signs telling people to wash their hands and stop spitting. I was highly amused and not threatened by the whole thing and didn't feel threatened by SARS at all.. My family on the other hand was not so amused - especially after the close call in Bali. They didn't quite believe me when I told them I was totally safe as I had been telling that the whole time in Bali as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Making of an International Woman of Mystery Part I: The Early Years

I'm going to now tell you a story. It's the story of how I became an International Woman of Mystery. I was not as you might think, born an International Woman of Mystery. Oh no... far from it. The making of myself into an International Woman of Mystery has taken a long time.

But the reason I'm going to tell you this story is because I need to tell you another story. The story that I've been alluding to for the past couple months - the big story about the big changes that are happening this fall. But to really understand or appreciate the next chapter, you need to understand this chapter first.

This is a long story... So, sit back, relax, grab a glass of wine. And to make it easier for you, I'm dividing this story into sections. So, please come back and hear the end. Because once I've told this story, I'm going to tell you the next story and here I'm going to need your support.

You see I was born a small town girl . And when I say small town I mean population of aprox 4,000 people. Cows walk across the road and on some days you are more likely to see a tractor driving down the street than a car. My parents live in a house on a hill deep in the woods. You can not see the neighbors from this house. You cannot see the road from this house. This house is essentially in the middle of nowhere. My graduating class in high school was 110 students from FIVE small towns. Yes, we are talking about some serious hickville here. My town is not known for its diversity. It is 98.29 percent white - thank you Wikipedia.

I was the typical American girl. The blond, blue-eyed girl next door type of girl. And as typical American girls often do, I had an awkward phase of glasses and braces (which I credit for forcing me to develop my personality rather than getting by with my looks). But as soon as the braces came off and contact lenses replaced the thick glasses I had worn since I was 5 (it was a very long awkward phase lasting from about 5 years old until 14 ), I found that I had somehow managed to become one of the "popular" girls at school - which is maybe not saying much as I've already mentioned my school was very small. But when I was younger, I certainly was not an International Woman of Mystery. I was more the Girl Next Door.

In the All-American girl next door type of way, I was fairly smart and got good grades. I was Captain of the Cheerleading squad. I played sports. I had lots of friends. Boys seemed to like me - and I was asked to the prom by 5 different boys my senior year including the boy who became Prom King (I didn't go with him).* People told me I was pretty and cute.  I was a good girl. I loved my parents. I pretended to hate my younger brother but secretly didn't. I liked to go to parties, but never got drunk. I liked to go out with boys but I never let them kiss me. I kept busy with lots of school activities. I liked to be the leader. I was always on the go. But over all... I was pretty average.

I was the kind of girl who should have gotten married to the "boy next door" who was the captain of the football team (although our school didn't have a football team, but you know what I mean). I was the kind of girl who should have married my high school or at the very least my college sweetheart and built a home down the street from my parents and started pushing out babies in my early twenties. I was the kind of girl who was born in a small town and should have stayed in a small town and had a small town life and produced kids who stayed in the small town and had a small town life. In high school I heard the whispers "She'll never get out of this town." Or "High school will be the highlight of her life. It's all downhill from there."

But there was one problem. I didn't buy into the whispers and rumors. I had other plans. I didn't want to be a small town girl with a small town life. I was going somewhere. And thus the concept of the International Woman of Mystery took root somewhere deep in the dark recces of my mind.

But other than my small town background, there was another obstacle in my way of becoming an International Woman of Mystery. Growing up, I had a worrisomely unhealthy attachment to my Mother. From the day I was born (as she tells it), I literally did not like her to leave my sight. The first time she dropped me off at nursery school, I cried so much that the teacher had to send me home - I vividly remember this - her coming back to pick me up in that tan van she used to drive (a soccer mom before there were soccer moms - this was circa 1981) - needless to say she was not happy to see me. And the next day I smartened up and stayed at school knowing that my Mother would most likely be more happy to see me after school when I was supposed to come home rather than having to pick me up at school early due to my separation anxiety.**

The first time I slept over night at a friend's house, I cried and had to go home in the middle of night. Even spending nights at my grandparents (who I loved dearly) was difficult because I missed my Mother so much. As I got older, I never really got over it. I rarely slept at friend's houses. I didn't take trips with friends or with school. I liked being home with my parents in my safe small house in the woods. Even to this day I think about my Mom a lot. I talk to her in my head. And when I'm sick or hurt or sad, my first thought is of my Mother. Luckily, these days I can easily find her on BlackBerry Messenger when I need her.

The first significant separation I had from my parents was when I went away to college (a whole 3 hours drive from home). Seriously, before that I do not think I had ever been away from them for more than 3 nights unless I was at my grandparent's house (and I never spent more than a few nights there either). I was totally homesick the entire first semester at college despite talking to my Mom on a daily basis. I even went as far to obtain a transfer application to switch Universities to be closer to home. Luckily, I never went so far as to make the transfer. I finally did manage to settle into college life - and loved it!

What can I say? I was a Mama's girl. A homebody. A person who doesn't like change or routine. A "sensitive kid" as my Mother would say. I'm pretty sure that since that first day she had to pick my little crying self up at Nursery School, she was very worried that she would never get rid of clingy, needy daughter. She was not ever in favor of me staying in that small town. She had bigger dreams for my brother and I and also her dreams for herself and my father obviously did not include my brother and I living down the street from her and dropping off the grand kids for babysitting. Oh no. She made it very clear that she was not that kind of Mother and we were not that kind of family. On the other hand, she never exactly advocated for me to go to the other side of the world to get away from her either (but I'm getting ahead of myself here).

At the same time as being an All American Small Town Mama's Girl, I manage to somehow develop a strong curiosity about other cultures. I was 4 years old the first day I heard someone speaking Spanish. I remember exactly where I was standing at the long closed Cederhearst puddle that pretended to be a lake where the small town moms would bring their small town kids to cool down in the hot summer and socialize with other moms. I remember hearing this young puerto rican girl speaking Spanish. I was in awe! I found it fascinating that other people talked and possibly thought in a different way. I immediately asked her to be my friend and forced her to spend time telling me all the Spanish names for everything around us (poor girl). I was hooked! I knew from that day on that I would one day learn Spanish!

The other main influence in the making of the International Woman of Mystery was my grandparents on my father's side. They had traveled all over the world and hosted various foreign exchange students. Their beautiful home on the North Shore was full of wonderful treasures from all over the world. I loved visiting my grandparents and touching and unfortunately sometimes breaking (much to their dismay) all of the treasures collected from their travels. I loved the small box full of money from other countries and couldn't believe that there were places in the world where the dollar was not used. I begged them to tell me me stories of their travels. I wanted to travel like they did. I wanted to see the world.

But there was one major problem with wanting to travel the world: I was a kid who had parents who were NOT interested at all in traveling.  Actually, more specifically, the problem was my Mother who more or less called the shots in our family (sorry Dad). My father probably would have liked to travel more. He had lived in Scotland during college and traveled through Europe. My Mother on the other hand, was a self proclaimed homebody. She didn't like to leave the family pets or venture far from home. Our vacations usually consisted of going to the beach on the North Shore of Massachusetts or visiting our grandparents.

So, because I was so attached to my Mother and because my Mother would never leave the US (her first time abroad was two years ago when she finally came to visit me in Stockholm), I was pretty much stuck in my small town (seriously, I really didn't even travel outside of New England) until I was old enough to make decisions on my own.

The first time I went on an airplane, I was 18. I went to Disney World with my high school Senior Class on a field trip. The first time I left the country, I was 20 and I was fulfilling my long term dream of studying abroad. It was with this journey that the International Woman of Mystery was launched.

In college I majored in Spanish and International Affairs (note the title of this blog). I mean what else would an International Woman of Mystery major in?

As part of my graduation requirement, I had to live abroad for at least a semester. And for some reason, I had my heart set on Latin America. Costa Rica became my final destination. I had been preparing myself for this day for ages! Ever since I met the little girl at the lake, I had always wanted to live abroad and speak Spanish. I wished I could have studied abroad in high school, but I knew that there was no way that I was mature enough to handle it (I could not have managed the separation from my Mom). But at the ripe old age of 20 years old, I felt that I was absolutely ready for my first international adventure.

Oh man! Nothing could have prepared me for my experience in Costa Rica. It's a story within itself so I won't go into details. But I will just say that it was way tougher than I thought to be a blond haired blue eyed all American girl living in the middle of San Jose, Costa Rica trying to "immerse" myself in the culture and the University life there. However, despite the difficulties I encountered, I do not regret the experience in any way. In fact, it made me tougher and opened my eyes to the world.

But, is it was a hard experience that left me a bit scarred. I started to have second thoughts about becoming an International Woman of Mystery. Maybe I wasn't up for it. Maybe I wasn't as tough as I thought. Maybe I wasn't really International Woman of Mystery material! I put the thought aside for the most part and focused on partying my sway through my Senior year of college and graduating magna cum laude.

Stay tuned for The Making of an International Woman of Mystery Part II: Asia

*I was not Prom Queen (the waiters and waitresses chose the Prom King and Queen and Court based on appearance so it was not a popularity contest) but I was on the Prom Court.

** I'm glossing over the gory details here. But let's just say that this little "disorder" causes major problems throughout my childhood and definitely affected my relationship with my parents (yes, it's probably the main reason that I felt the need to run away to the other side of the world as if to prove a point that I could do it).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I heart Stockholm

So, last week I got the pleasure of spending some time in my favorite city: Stockholm*. Seriously, I heart Stockholm. In fact, my heart hurts when I visit because I miss living there so much. And I would move back in a heartbeat (ok - I've now said heart three times - I think I will stop now as I'm annoying myself)... but unfortunately, this is not possible right now. This makes me very very sad (but more on this later).

The trip was a little bit about work and more about fun - just the way it should be!

I arrived early evening on Wednesday and I had just enough time to run into H&M and do some serious damage to my poor bank account.

You might be wondering, why would I go shopping in Sweden when I live in the best shopping city in the world? I was wondering the same myself... But the sad truth is that I have become very Swedish (at least that's what I'm told). When I first moved to Sweden I couldn't understand why H&M was on every single corner. I also hated the fact that there was not a larger "selection" of clothes or shops. I found the shopping boring it irritated me that everyone wore the same thing.

So, now I live in London where there is a whole big bad city out there with tons of things to spend your hard earned money on, and you know what? I prefer shopping in Stockholm. Go figure. But, it's easy to shop in Stockholm. Stockholm stores are limited, but they have all the things I want. There is no searching through racks trying to figure out the latest trends. In Stockholm, it's all there in front of you. And yes, the population and the dress code is pretty homongenous but Swedes are extremely fashionable as well as attractive and I swear it feels like you are in a photoshoot everywhere you go.

A non-Swedish friend of mine described it as like "being in the twilight zone. It's just too perfect to be true. But the scary part is, it is really that perfect." Well said my friend. He didn't particularly like living in Sweden (he only lived there for one year). After 5 years living there, I have learned to love it. Actually, I think it took leaving Sweden to give me some perspective make me realize just how perfect Sweden really is - and just how Swedish I had managed to become!

Oh Stockholm... oh how I'm going to miss you.

After my impromptu shopping trip, I met an old colleague/friend for a glass of wine at Anglais and then we moved on to Vapiano for fabulous pizza and more glasses of wine and lots of catching up. It was a lovely evening... which I immensely regretted (at least that 4th glass of wine) the next day when I woke up with a headache.

Of course being the crazy person that I am, I decided that I would not let a little wine headache get between me and a lovely morning for running (seriously it was a gorgeous day). So, I ignored the pounding in my head and threw on my running shoes and went out to pound the pavement for an hour run in my most favorite park Hagerparken - where I used to run every day when I lived in Stockholm. Let me just say that this obviously did not help my headache which proceeded to haunt me all day until - well... until I started drinking again!

After work my fabulous Stockholm team brought me for drinks and dinner to celebrate the fact that I'm leaving my current job for a new one. They surprised me by bringing me to Wallmans Salonger where we saw a dinner show made up of songs written by Bjorn Ulvaeu and Benny Andersson (most famous for being part of ABBA but also for composing 3 musicals the most famous of which is Mama Mia).

Those Swedes sure do love their ABBA. I have to say that after all the time I spent in Sweden, ABBA has grown on me, but I still find that I do not know most of the songs and certainly cannot sing all the lyrics like most Swedes can. Anyway, the show was a lot of fun and it was a great night!

Friday started with another wine headache but this time I decided to skip the run. Another great day at the office and then back to Diplomat for more drinks with colleagues. We then headed to Anglais for more drinks. What else?

And GUESS WHO I SAW at Anglais? You got it. The Beautiful Swede was there!! The thing is that he had been on my mind since landing at the airport. Last week after writing about him, I had a very vivid dream about him where he met me at the airport and tried to force me to talk to him. I had this strong feeling that I would inevitably see him in Stockholm - it's a small city and you spend your life there bumping into people. So, I unfortunately found myself looking for him everywhere. Searching the faces of any tall handsome men (believe me there are a lot of those) to make sure it's not him.

I promise, I did not WANT to see him or interact with him, but I could not help looking for him. As if by searching for him, I could be sure to avoid him.

Anyway, many people came out to meet me at Anglais (I have great friends) and we were standing by the main door (and I was keeping half an eye on the door kind of waiting for him to walk in - I even commented  to my friends that I was nervous about bumping into him) when suddenly one of my friends suggested that we move over to a different part of the bar (it's a big bar). I thought it was a bit of a strange suggestion but didn't dwell on it. And by that time I'd had enough wine that I swear I'd finally stopped thinking about him. About 45 minutes after we moved, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a tall beautiful guy with a familiar face walking fast headed toward the second exit caught my eye. It was him!!! The Beautiful Swede!

AHHHHHHHHH! My heart stopped beating and launched itself into my throat. I felt nauseous. I forgot how to breathe for a second and my legs started to shake! Panic! What do I do?

So, what did I do? I did what any girl in my position would do. I ducked down and covered my head with my hands protectively and hid in the group of girls who instinctively surrounded me and I closed my eyes - as if I closed my eyes then he wouldn't see me either! When I finally dared to stand up again and started to breathe, I realized that he had just headed to the exit and it seems that he did not see me. I had a friend check that he was really gone (he was). And I eventually regained my cool and went on with the night. I wasn't going to let a little ex-boyfriend siting ruin a night with my friends. However, I still can't believe that he was there and even more unbelievable is the fact that we managed to avoid an interaction! Amazing.

My friends admitted that they had seen him earlier and that was why they suggested we move away from that side of the bar. They didn't want to tell me he was there because they didn't want me to either decide to leave or decide to speak with him (I think I would have left) so they hoped that we would not bump into each other.

With that tragedy narrowly adverted, we continued on to Undici for a night of dancing to bad Schlager music and getting hit on by old Swedish men (there was some kind of private golf party going on so the place was packed with uninteresting old men and minor Swedish celebrities).

After a rather late Friday night, Saturday morning's 10 am meeting for the kick off of our friend J's hen party came way to soon! But I'm happy to say that I successfully made it there on time and without even a headache to show for my late night the night before!

In traditional Swedish fashion, my friend had been "kidnapped" at her house that morning by her two bridesmaids and then brought to meet us. I like the way the Swedes approach hen parties (and bachelor parties are apparently even more crazy) - it's always a surprise, it's always well planned and thought out, and it's always a full day and evening event with lots of activities designed to make your friend who's getting married feel special.

The rest of the day consisted of pony racing (which involved driving a cart pulled by a pony - see picture below) and belly dancing followed by a dinner at F's house and then off to the nightclub Berns for some clubbing.

My friend who is getting married had various tasks to do during the night. One of these tasks included finding and taking a picture of a Swedish celebrity. This is not hard to do in Stockholm, if you glance around almost any club you can always find some kind of B list Swedish celebrity.

The celebrity she found was named Torre Kulgren (see picture to the left)** - famous for being a "Geek" who tried to play football (and yes, I mean soccer) on a Swedish reality TV show. I have not seen the show but it was explained to me that he apparently became the star of the show because he was just so socially awkward and therefore hilarious.

For some reason, I started talking to Torre later in the night - I think this was in part due to my new BFF C who I had met at the hen party and was having an awful lot of fun with that evening. Anyway, Torre took a liking to me and tagged along with us for the rest of the evening. As my new friend C put it, "well you found yourself a pet." And I know that it's kind of mean to say that (I'm not really a mean girl), but that's the best way I could describe him.

Unfortunately, my new "pet" made it difficult to talk to other men. But that was ok I guess - it doesn't have to be about meeting hot boys all the time. Besides, I found Torre completely amusing (and nice) and he kept flattering me by telling me how cute I was. But, I have seriously never met such a socially awkward person! I wish I had been able to remember some of the really funny things that he said when he was not even trying to be funny (but alas the wine did me no help here). And you should have seen the world's most awkward hug goodbye he gave me at 4:30 in the morning when we finally left the club (yeah - I killed it this weekend with late nights every night). Leave it to me to find the most dorky man in Sweden to hang out with for the night!

All in all, it was a great trip to Stockholm. It always is. Although I didn't meet any hot boys or kiss any Swedish boys in the rain... I got to spend a lot of time with good friends. I'm going back to Sweden for the wedding in just 2 weeks. I can't wait!

*For anyone who has just started following my blog, I lived in Stockholm for 5 years until a year ago when my company moved me to London (a move I didn't want to make).

**As you may have noticed, I never use names or put pictures of people in my blog but as he's a minor Swedish celebrity, I have decided it's ok.