2013 in Review

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2013 was an interesting year for me. It was a year that saw me travel to two new countries, explore more of the one I call home, end a relationship, revisit some old favourites, and make the decision to have faith in myself and give myself permission to succeed in 2014. After spending the last two years of my life treading water and teaching ESL here in China, 2014 will see me take the leap of faith in my own writing ability as I head to South East Asia to focus solely on my blogging and on finishing my novel.

But before looking to the future, I thought I’d take a look back at the year that has been.

January – Thailand

The year got off to a positive start when Nomadic American and I rang in the New Year at Shanghai’s Boxing Cat Brewery with a hundred or so complete strangers. But after sharing a midnight kiss, we found the bottomless beer offer had expired and we’d have to endure a three hour wait for cabs in the freezing cold Shanghai streets. When we did finally get home, it was doubled on the back of a complete stranger’s motorbike as he raced through the darkened streets of the French concession!

January also means Spring Festival in China. While Nomadic American took advantage of her cushier schedule to spend three weeks in Malaysia, I joined her in Phuket to begin our joint South East Asian odyessy with visits to Koh Phi Phi, James Bond Island, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui. These visits included battling food poisoning in Thailand and taking part in the world’s dodgiest eco adventure on Koh Phangan.

February – Thailand and Cambodia

February saw us continue our travels through Thailand with visits to Koh Tao, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai. We both fell head over heels in love with Chiang Mai. God willing, it’ll be my base of operations for 2014.

 

Here I am being utterly bad-ass with a pair of AK47s in Cambodia
Here I am being utterly bad-ass with a pair of AK47s in Cambodia

We finished up our time in South East Asia with a week split between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. I adored Cambodia as much as, if not more than, Thailand. Its warm people and beautiful temples captured my heart at the same time its more recent history broke it.

Nomadic American and I fulfill a lifelong travel dream by visiting Angkor Wat. Stunning!
Nomadic American and I fulfill a lifelong travel dream by visiting Angkor Wat. Stunning!

Returning to bitterly cold China after our trip was a bit of a slap in the face, but we left Thailand and Cambodia with plenty of fantastic memories.

March – Shanghai

March was a fairly quiet month. We spent St. Patrick’s Day in Shanghai and spent Easter in Nanjing’s Xuanwu Lake park with a picnic to celebrate my last day in the country before returning to Australia to renew my spirits and my visa before starting a second year in China.

April – Home!

April featured three fantastic weeks back in Australia catching up with friends and loved ones. I picked up food poisoning (from dodgy Chinese of all things) on day #1 in Sydney, spent a week on a family vacation in Queensland, and finished it all off with a week of catching up with old friends in Sydney.

My brothers and I surround my adorable niece, Alchemy, while we're on holiday in QLD.
My brothers and I surround my adorable niece, Alchemy, while we’re on holiday in QLD.

 

My 2013 farewell to Australia featured new friends and some drunken staggering between Sydney bars, wizardry at Scubar, and a shiny new iPad to replace the one Nomadic American broke while we were in Thailand.

Returning to China wasn’t without its hitches – I got stuck in Hong Kong overnight, but came home to a fantastic welcome home care package and a cooked lunch from the aforementioned American. Awww!

May – Jiuzhaigou

I timed my return to China perfectly, arriving just in time for a paid week of vacation. After much arguing and second guessing as to where we should go, Heather and I eventually boarded a late flight to Chengdu where we spent a week doing some pretty fantastic stuff that I’ve yet to write about. We played with pandas in Chengdu, visited the world’s crappiest theme park (Happy Valley Chengdu), and visited arguably China’s most beautiful spot – Jiuzhaigou.

Looking buff at Jiuzhaigou
Looking buff at Jiuzhaigou

We also drank entirely too much while befriending backpackers, leading to me spending most of our final day in the city in the fetal position. Whoops!

 

A very hungover Aussie on the Road with the pandas in Chengdu.
A very hungover Aussie on the Road with the pandas in Chengdu.

June – Money!

Travel wise, June was a bit dull for me. While Nomadic American jetted off to explore Guilin and its surrounds, I stayed at home slaving away on a new freelance gig. The perk to writing an Australian Culture curriculum? I’d get paid a sweet $11,500 Australia for the work. My credit card debt would be a thing of the past, I’d be able to pay my parents back, and I’d still have some money left over for my 2014 travel plans.

July – Goodbyes

July was a tough month. After over a year together, Nomadic American and I decided to part ways. With her visa in China up, she headed off on a multi-month tour of Asia while I remained behind in China to lick my wounds and focus on myself. It was my second experience with what I like to call ‘Expiry Dating‘ and I’ve got to say, saying goodbye to a long term travel and life partner is no easier the second time around.

Sad face.

July was the month I said goodbye to my travel companion of a year, Nomadic American
July was the month I said goodbye to my travel companion of a year, Nomadic American. Here we are at a tea ceremony in Shanghai in October 2012.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. My brother, Dominik, and his girlfriend, Bronte, moved to Nanjing to start their own ESL teaching careers!

August – The Boys’ Weekends

One blessing of my newfound singularity was that I had more time to spend with my friends. Byron (of Byron and his Backpacks) and I joined forces with another young and single co-worker to embark on a pair of wonderfully fun boys weekends in August. Not at all deterred by 40+ degree days, we paid a visit to Hangzhou and its picturesque West Lake before swinging by Qingdao for its tremendously underwhelming International Beer Festival.

Byron, Hogg, and I take Hangzhou by storm.
Byron, Hogg, and I take Hangzhou by storm.

Alas, the universe clearly couldn’t handle our bro’ings on, as Byron soon found himself shipped out of Nanjing on assignment to butt-fuck China.

September – Return to South Korea

September saw me reunited with two old loves – Nomadic American and South Korea. Two months after our break-up, Heather and I joined forces once again for a week long assault on my former home. In eight days we managed to pack in some tourist time in Seoul, a tumultuous visit to Busan, a night at the Jinju Lantern Festival, and a return to my old stomping grounds in Gwangju.

Reunited with old friends at the Jinju Lantern Festival
Reunited with old friends at the Jinju Lantern Festival

The trip was not without its hiccups, but all told it was a wonderful return to a place that introduced me to travel and still holds a very important place in my heart. It was also a sobering experience with the perils of time travel; how returning to a place that holds happy memories can be immensely bittersweet.

October – Joining the Nanking Nation

Travel-wise, October was all quiet on the western front for me. The only notable moment? Joining the newly formed Nanking Nation and participating in their Halloween pub crawl.

Making new friends with the Nanking Nation
Making new friends with the Nanking Nation. Photo by Leven Smith.

In the months since, I’ve attended both NKN events including a wonderfully boozy booze cruise to ring in the New Year. My one big gripe about my time in Nanjing has always been the lame duck social scene, so finding a group of 40-60 people to go party with once a month has been great. My social circle has expanded from a dozen or so people I work or play cricket with to 30+ people who I chat with, grab dinners with, and party with.

Good times.

November – Debt Free!

November was a quiet month save for one pretty sweet piece of news – my credit card debt was gone! I’d get to celebrate my 30th birthday by checking off a bucket list item (pay off my credit card debt) and with renewed hope for 2014.

December – Christmas and New Years with Family

December was the month of family. With my brother and his girlfriend having moved to Nanjing in July, I had company for the big three in December:

  • My 30th
  • Christmas
  • New Year’s

My 30th birthday featured gifts, ten pin bowling, and dinner with my family and friends. After I’d dreaded the big day for quite a while, it was a wonderfully warm and pleasant way to start the next decade of my life.

Christmas in China last year meant running away to Hainan, but this year we settled in and did our level best to turn Nanjing into something resembling home. With a lot of shopping and a little help from Fields in Shanghai, we managed to have a tremendous Christmas. More on that later though.

Dom, Bronte, Dave, Byron, and I ring in the New Year in Nanjing with the Nanking Nation
Dom, Bronte, Dave, Byron, and I ring in the New Year in Nanjing with the Nanking Nation. Photo by Christian Piana

And how did I finish 2013? Drunk on a boat with a sixty or so of my closest friends, of course! Nanking Nation’s NYE Booze Cruise was a fittingly fun way to wrap up what had been a very up and down year for me. It had been more up than down, but I wouldn’t be too sad to say goodbye to 2013.

But more on that later as well…

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