2012 in Review: A Year in Pictures

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In contrast to the highs and lows of 2011, 2012 was a year of consolidation and more satisfaction than either excitement or sorrow. Over the course of the last twelve months I’ve revisited two countries, rekindled my love for ESL teaching, found myself in a relationship with a gorgeous girl, helped lead up the Travel Blogging Calendar project, experienced some less known parts of China, became an uncle for the second time, and checked off quite a few things from my bucket list.

In the grand scheme of things, I wouldn’t call 2012 a banner year. It didn’t quite match the excitement of 2008/2009, but it was a year of contentment and of precious little stress. That was something I sorely needed after the roughness that had been 2011.

January – Boobs and Self Improvement

The year started with one of the better New Year’s I can remember. Far from the heartbreak of a New Year’s break-up in Fiji the year before, 2012 started with my brothers and I painting the town red as we partied our way from the suburbs and into Darling Harbour for the midnight fireworks. A buxom American lass was kind enough to plant a few kisses on me to make the night a little more memorable too.

January also saw me checking off the first of the items on my 302 item bucket list, with a nubile Canberra lass by the name of Tiffani helping make my memories of an Aussie bucks party all the more special with a blue ball inspiring lap dance.

It wasn’t all bitches and boobs, though. January also saw my battle with depression take a real turning point when I decided to share my struggle with the world. The tremendous response – emails, comments, texts, calls, and PMs – really drove home to me how loved I was and reminded me that the battle with depression is not one I fight alone. A particular highlight for me was being taken out for dinner on Sydney Harbour by friends I’d made the previous October in Tangalooma.

After a positive end to 2011, 2012 had continued the upward trend.

Bucks party madness
This one is from a 2011 bucks, but it’s the best I’ve got <_<
Skittles shots at the Stratton Hotel for New Year's in Sydney
Skittles shots at the Stratton Hotel for New Year’s in Sydney

February – Laying Low

February was a month of recovery for me as I tried my hardest to make good on my ‘no drinking’ promise. Hosting a slightly viral ‘Bring a Single Friend’ party on Valentine’s Day certainly was an interesting way to test myself, but I somehow managed to make it through the month without breaking my ‘no drinking’ policy.

The month’s highlights included seeing the very cool La Soiree and being hired for a job teaching in China. After under a year at home spinning my wheels, it was time to get back into the job and lifestyle that I loved.

Crowded party house
My kitchen turns into a dancefloor for our slightly viral Bring a Single Friend party.
New friends are made at the party
New friends were made at the party too!
New friends
No, seriously, new friends were made

March – Welcome to China

With China in my immediate future, I set about putting my affairs in order in Sydney for the second time in twelve months. I quit my job to travel, gave notice to my very cool housemate and friend, Steph, spent some time exploring Green Valley Farm with my family, and then made the leap that was a flight to Nanjing in China where I found a new job, new friends, and an entirely new lifestyle that reinvigorated me after the coma that had been desk work.

My return to expat life wasn’t quite as socially thrilling as South Korea had lead me to believe. While I forged new friendships through work, a local cricket team, and happy circumstance putting me in the same city as the younger brother of my best friend – this wasn’t the parties, new romances, and wild weekends that had marked my time in South Korea.

I promised myself that would come in time; nine months on and I’ve still yet to find Nanjing’s social pulse. But that’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed it.

Waterslide at Green Valley Farm
My youngest brother explodes out of the waterslide at Green Valley Farm
Farewell at Hart's Pub
David and Jenny are sad to see me leaving at my farewell at Hart’s Pub in Sydney
Farewell drinks in Sydney
The boys and I bid one another a fond farewell as only we can

April – Of New Friends and Strange Foods in (and around) my mouth

Despite the lack of drunken orgies and all night noraebang parties, life in Nanjing suited me. The cool weather meant a lot of time was spent writing, but I still found time to get out and experience the city with a pair of girls with whom I formed a posse dubbed ‘The Menstruation Nation’. I was loving life in Nanjing and it was in April that I struck upon the idea of eating strange Chinese foods and filming the results.

The Test Drive segment hasn’t soared to great heights of popularity, but it’s a fun little side segment and one I’m looking to expand upon as 2013 sees a new focus on building up the video side of Aussie on the Road.

Me and a bird
Apparently holding this bird cage was the most interesting thing I did in April.

May – To Xinjiang!

The first real adventure of 2012 didn’t come until May, but I think I more than made up for a slow five months by picking a less well trodden part of the world to explore. China’s Xinjiang province is a bit like the wild west, and my friend Kara and I did our best to soak in as much as possible as we were underwhelmed by Urumqi, fought altitude sickness on the Karakorum Highway, rode camels in the ominously named ‘Desert of Death‘, and (I, at least) fell in love with the often overlooked corner of China.

As if that one week adventure wasn’t enough to satiate me, I also began plans for an ambitious five week tour of the United States complete with romancing of a pretty Maryland girl. Said girl has since moved to China, become my girlfriend, and dubbed herself the Nomadic American.

Making new friends in Kashgar, Xinjiang
My friend Kara and I became regulars at this cute little Uighur restaurant in Kashgar. It was sad to leave!
The Stone Fort in Tashgorkan, Xinjiang
The picturesque town of Tashgorkan and its famous Stone Fort.

June – Saving the World!

It seemed like even when I wasn’t planning trips, I was being sent on them by my school. As part of a yearly goodwill mission to a disadvantaged corner of Jiangsu province, my school sent my mate and I out for a two day mission to Shuanggou in the north. Over the course of two days we taught over-crowded classes of kids just clamouring for knowledge and played the role of diplomat at a number of Baijiu fueled dinners.

It was a distinctly different side of China than most tourists get to see and an experience I’ll take with me wherever I go.

When I wasn’t volunteering in China, I was keeping a low profile as I saved for my trip to the United States. A brief stop in Shanghai saw me check off bucket list item #2 when I couch-surfed for the first time, and then it was off to the US of A!

I finished June in a way that was both cliched and terrific; running (well, walking due to the weight of my pack) into the arms of a pretty American lass who has since become my girlfriend. As first kisses go it was a tad awkward, but six months on – we’re still kicking. I must be doing something right.

Teaching ESL in China
I lend my teaching ‘expertise’ to a crowded classroom in Shuanggou, Jiangsu
Chinese classroom
The kids are entirely too excited about learning English

July – Party in the USA

I know. I’m disappointed in me for referencing Miley Cyrus as well.

July was one hell of a month for me. In fact, it was so packed with American adventures that I’ve actually still not caught up on blogging about them completely. Shame on me.

My adventures started in Annapolis, Maryland and took place on the east coast for the first two weeks. I spent the 4th of July on South Beach, biked through the Everglades, visited Sanibel, hit up Disney World with a long time online friend, spent a romantic night in New York, explored the Smithsonian, fell a little bit in love with the Ocean City Boardwalk, played in the waves at Assateague Beach, and managed to survive time in Maryland without getting shot.

Then it was off to the other side of the country for California Adventure in LA, a road trip to Yosemite (where I met a bear), some time in Monterey, a whirlwind tour of San Francisco, and then catching up with old friends in my favourite US city – Portland.

4th of July on South Beach, Miami
Blogging’s new power couple soaking in the sun on Miami’s South Beach for 4th of July.
First time at Disney World
Pretty excited to be at Disney World for the first time.
Standing in the Florida Everglades
Checking off a bucket list item by biking through the Florida Everglades
Tandem bike ride in New York
Another bucket list item checked off as Heather and I tandem bike ride through Central Park.
Jolly Roger's, Ocean City
The rollercoaster at Jolly Rogers on the Ocean City Boardwalk in Maryland
California Adventure carousel
Entirely too excited to be at California Adventure
Disney Princess and I
Sleeping Beauty teaches me how to stand like a prince at California Adventure
Standing at Yosemite
Fulfilling half of a bucket list item by visiting the gorgeous Yosemite National Park in California.
Yosemite Half Dome
Yeah, we didn’t climb this. We did climb Sentinel Dome though! And there was a bear…
Contemplating Yosemite from atop the Sentinel Dome
Contemplating Yosemite from atop the Sentinel Dome
The sun sets over Yosemite
The sun sets over Yosemite (and my pretty girl)
golden gate bridge bike ride
Riding across the Golden Gate Bridge on a foggy San Francisco morning

August – Farewell, America!

The last month of summer was a bittersweet one for me. It started off with time cruising the San Juan’s and catching up with old friends in Seattle. Then it was off to Chicago for a good friend’s wedding before the always tough moment of saying goodbye to a girl.

At the time, as we were both more than a little teary eyed outside Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see her again. My last moments with Heather had been spent eating junk food and trying not to cry at a gas station, and all too soon I was waving her goodbye as her car headed off towards Midway and I headed back towards China.

Getting back to stinking hot China and my life here somewhat softened the blow, but it was soon decided that we didn’t want our story to end there. Heather would be coming to join me in October!

Portland Saturday Market
Showing off my…uh…wares at the Portland Saturday Market
Portland Brewfest 2012
Rocking my media credentials (and an ice cold beer) at Portland Brewfest
Voodoo Donuts
Sinking my teeth into a delicious maple bacon donut at Voodoo Donuts in Portland
Colombia River Gorge
Paying a return visit to the Colombia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls.
Seattle Mariners game
Meeting up with old friends (and being photo bombed) at the Seattle Mariners game
Safeco Field
Excited to be at Safeco Field for my first baseball game (and they won!)
The gang from Sydney reunite over a newly skinned man-skin rug in Chicago.
Wedding in Chicago
Heather and I in our Sunday (Saturday) best for my friends’ wedding.

September – Exiled to Lianyungang

September saw me being called into my boss’s office for a little chat. Now, given my usual chats with the boss involved McDonalds coffee and talking footy – it was a bit of a shock when he asked if I’d do him the ‘small favour’ of heading out to one of our provincial schools for a few weeks.

At first the prospect of being away from my friends and the comforts of Nanjing did make me nervous, but what kind of adventurer would I be if I balked at a little unexpected change? With bags packed and newly bought PC tucked under my arm, it was off to the home of the Monkey King in northern Jiangsu.

My month in Lianyungang proved to be one of my favourite times here in China. Teaching a large but enthusiastic class (some of whom still text and email me) and being away from the hustle and bustle of Nanjing suited me. I played a whole hell of a lot of Skyrim, got a lot of writing done, ran, and ate more Chinese food than I had in the previous six months.

September also marked the end of warm weather. I miss September.

Hanging out with the Monkey King on HuaGuo Mountain
Getting acquainted with one of the Monkey King’s subjects on HuaGuo mountain in Lianyungang
Dinner with a Chinese family
Spoiled! A delicious seafood spread with the family of one of my students in Lianyungang.

October – Heather Arrives and we go exploring

I returned from my time in Lianyungang a matter of days before Heather touched down in Shanghai and I had my second romantic airport meeting of the year.

We spent a few days exploring Shanghai as I tried to acclimatize her to Chinese life. To say that Nanjing is a bit of a change after cosmopolitan Shanghai is an understatement – even moreso when we found her school was a ninety minute commute away in a distinctly rural suburb of Nanjing.

With Heather and I both eager to see more of China, we took our first vacation two weeks in as we paid a visit to Changzhou. A Dinosaur Theme Park, a hot springs, and some culture were in order – and why on earth haven’t I blogged about that yet?

Oh, and I totally posed for a sexy calendar for charity.

Halloween at Changzhou Dino Park
Celebrating Halloween with the dinosaurs at Changzhou Dino Park

November – Back to Lianyungang!

With the cold weather rolling in and my commitment to the Chinese sitcom limiting my free time, our sole trip of November took us back to Lianyungang for a visit. While I was most excited about a chance to drop in and see my students one more time, Heather was more interested in climbing the home of the Monkey King and seeing the beach one last time before it (presumably) froze over for the winter.

Our weekend there was one of extreme generousity. We arrived to a considerably discounted hotel room and were immediately whisked off to an all expenses paid dinner. Saturday saw us being treated to lunch, escorted up HuaGuo Mountain by a local family, and treated to another fantastic local dinner.

Sunday saw a complete stranger and his family taking us around town and treating us to another decadent lunch before it was time to go home. It was the most gratifying (and cheapest) weekend I’ve ever had.

Befriending an elephant at China Dino Park, Changzhou
Heather gets picked up by this handsome fellow at Changzhou Dino Park
Thanksgiving in China
Celebrating Thanksgiving in China with a buffet and my awesome co-workers

December – Getting older in Shanghai and Ho, Ho, Hoing in Hainan

December saw us on the road a lot. We celebrated my birthday with a weekend of western food and exploration in Shanghai, spent Christmas sunning ourselves on the beaches of Hainan province, and then rang in the New Year back in Shanghai.

2012 ended with more of a fizzle than a bang, though. We bounced from one cheap but empty bar to one expensive but crowded one, had the countdown go off five minutes early, and then spent two freezing hours wandering the streets of China’s largest city in search of a taxi to take us home.

We ended up flagging a motorbike rider and paying him to take us home. Probably the highlight of the night.

An ice cold beer on Dadonghai Beach, Sanya
Enjoying an ice cold beer and some Russian food on the boardwalk of Dadonghai Beach, Sanya
Posing for a portrait in Sanya, Hainan
A Chinese artist struggles to capture my inner beauty on the beach in Sanya
Merry Christmas China
Merry Christmas from a fat, shirtless Australian man on a Chinese beach

In Summary

After what was largely a frustrating and unhappy 2011, 2012 was a year of slow improvement and repair. I may not ever see a pair of years to match 2008-09, but Nanjing was somewhere closer to that level of happiness, social enjoyment, and travel. It was something I sorely needed as I did my best to shake the black dog and get my life headed in the direction I wanted it to be headed.

It was also a year of new romance, new friends, and finding a new home in a new country. I’m not the social butterfly that I enjoyed being while living in South Korea, but I’ve got a good core here and I’m bracing for what looks like a 2013 that could well top the year gone by.

You should consider having sex with a bearded man
You should consider having sex with a bearded man

So there’s my year in review, a year that spanned three countries and saw me tick off over half of my 2012 resolutions (but more on that later). There were tearful goodbyes and tearful reunions. New friends were made, strange new places were discovered, and my bucket list shrunk just a little as I made a real dent in it.

How was your 2012? What was its highlight? Lowlight?

And what do you have in mind for 2013?

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