I’ve left Australia months before my working holiday visa expires, and though I planned to go back, I’ve decided not to return to Australia. Here’s Why.Read More
Melbourne, a city famous for its street art and graffiti scene, is a fascinating and bustling city by day dripping with fresh coats of spray paint. But I deciding to get a different perspective altogether by exploring Melbourne street art by night. The city seemed to transform when the sun set, in a bit of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde way. In no means bad, but personalities, artworks, people, and senses are all amplified in the neon lights of alleyways. It was as if the street art itself came to life after the city fell asleep.Read More
Dandenong Ranges National Park is a short and easy ride from Melbourne and a secret refreshing nature escape with lyrebirds, ancient ferns, and giant eucalyptus trees.Read More
G’day mate! Or however you’d say that to a lady is Aussie slang. I’ve now been in Australia since June 2015 on a working holiday which makes it around 8 months since I arrived, and though I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs, it’s a pretty rad country. After my arrival, I went straight into work mode spending my days job hunting on foot or online. The last thing I wanted to do after embarking on another trip is to jump back into the “normal” grind, having only spent a depressingly short 4 months away from it.My normal cycle is travel from 6-9 months, return to the United States to work and save, and head out on another big trip. This time it was more short lived than previous years, and after spending a higher amount on the Rickshaw Run, I was left with an empty wallet. So, I followed some signs given by the universe and flew down unda’ to replenish the coffers.
This was the big fault in my trip to Australia.
I came here with the sole purpose to make money, and only days after arrival I let the urge to make fast money consume me. I need the money to keep traveling, but at the same time, I’m still in a different country. That’s not quite how I’ve treated it for the past 8 months, and as I close in to my next big adventure, I’m realizing just how little I’ve seen of Australia. I will be most likely departing Australia in May only to have seen Melbourne and parts of the state of Victoria.
To be blunt, I haven’t had much of a desire to see many other Australian cities. I’ve written about how countries like Australia and the even my home country the United States are beautiful, but I’m in love with ancient cities of countries such as Italy and Hungary. Modern cities shimmering with skyscrapers and bustling with business suits just don’t connect with my soul. That’s why the places I’ve seen in Australia that I’ve truly loved were the ones away from the city and in the wild. Places like the Grampians National Park and Wilsons Promontory fed my wild spirit. Driving the Great Ocean Road made me hungry again for the unfolding horizons. I really have no interest in visiting Sydney besides just the reason of saying I did. I can’t come to Australia and not go there, right?
Otherwise, there hasn’t been much that has called to me here. I find myself waiting tables and overly stressed and tiring of the city and the commute. I’ve been becoming more and more short fused, allowing myself to hold on to negative things from that day of work when I’m used to breathing frustrations away and never thinking about them again. That is with out a doubt connected to me doing a job I despise for money, waiting tables that is, but it’s also because I can’t help but dream of returning to Europe which is a part of my travel plans for 2016.
I feel I grow more disconnected the longer I stay, where I’d rather hole up in my room than have a chat with a stranger or a beer with a friend. Sometimes I lay in bed and think, “am I living?” but when I’m hiking in the mountains here I know, “this is living”. I should just go off and travel around Australia’s amazing national parks then, right? This has been an idea tickling my brain ever since I arrived, and as much as I try to live without the “what if woes”, a trip like that would put me back to square one with savings and I wouldn’t be able to travel much around Europe.
After only being able to spend 2 months around Europe in 2014, I dream everyday of exploring it more. And Australia is so damn expensive. It pays well to work here, but a day out in the city dining and having a couple of drinks can cost you $100 or more. A rental car to explore for a couple of days paired with petrol is about $300. Buying a van to tour around the country with can run $2,000-$4,000 not including petrol, and though costs can be split between friends, it’s still a budget breaker and most need to work again after a big road trip here.
That’s the kicker. Most people I’ve met in Melbourne have told me about their crazy road trips around Australia, but most have either done one and gone to do farm work to save more after running out of money, or have road tripped after doing farm work or another job and after must get a job again. But all of those people, from the UK to Canada to Europe, have a second year visa to pad that timeframe with. Americans on the other hand have strictly 1 year with no extension, and coming here with no money and trying to do a road trip or travel extensively is unrealistic unless I was planning on returning right back to the US after to work.
That is something I don’t want to do.
Working in Melbourne and waiting tables has taken a big toll this time around, and it’s got to be the last time I ever do this again. So does that mean my trip to Australia has been a sack of kangaroo poo? No. Australia has had its rad moments, like those mentioned where I saw the jaw-dropping and diverse natural beauty that has me drooling over Mother Nature, or in the amazing people I have met here that have become close friends. Those are the things that have made working in a city in a job that doesn’t cater to my creativity bearable, and this trip worthwhile. And who knows, maybe some of the experiences I’ve had here led me to an upcoming amazing opportunity that I’ll be announcing soon. An opportunity which will hopefully pave the way for my escape from the world of waiting tables and waiting for the next adventure.
Australia, or Melbourne in my experience, is a great place to live and work in that is funky and creative and artistic. It is a place one can live in and pursue creative endeavors and make a good enough living. Problem for me is that Melbourne is a great place to settle down and do these things, to have a base here where one might swap time between bartending and painting ongoing out with friends, but I’m not ready to settle.
Here, it’s hard to do all of these things and save up for traveling abroad. Most people I meet that are the creative types have lived here for years and are pursuing their passions. They love it. I just don’t love Melbourne enough to think I’d rather spend my money on nights out and short road trips instead of 6 months around Europe. In Australia you pretty much have to choose to become a bit of a hermit and put your savings away, or be social and explore and break even. And that’s how it in in the United States for myself, so maybe that’s why I have such a disconnect.
So, as my time here approaches the end I have come to terms with the fact that I won’t be seeing much of Australia, and I’m okay with that. I don’t feel like it was a mistake coming here, and in ways has helped me grow. In these last couple of months, I will be focusing on taking some smaller 2 day trips on days off like one to Sydney just for the hell-of-it and hopefully to Tasmania. But that big road trip I’d truly love to do across the country will have to come at a later date where I save solely for that. Maybe in a year or two I’ll return and spend a few months exploring Australia. It’s just not going to happen this time around.
Before I leave Australia, I will make it a point to get the most out of Melbourne and Victoria as well, so I will be using this page to post articles related to Australia here. Below you’ll find some of the adventures that I’ve already had, but make sure to subscribe to my newsletter I’ll be starting again to know when more go live!
Camping in the Grampians National Park3 Days exploring the sandstone peaks, stunning valleys, and diverse landscape of this National Park. Some of the best camping I’ve experienced.
Encounters with Deadly Animals Australia
Australia is often the butt of the “everything can kill you” joke, but it’s semi-true. As I was on a beach, I encountered one of the world’s deadliest creatures.
Exploring Melbourne Street Art by Night
Melbourne is a city famous for its street art and graffiti scene, but everything transforms at night from the artwork to personalities. Come see for yourself!
What are your Thoughts?
[ JOURNAL ENTRY — “Old Man of the Forest” Sherbrooke Forest in Dandenong National Park, Victoria Australia Thursday the 19th of February 2016 ]
Grampians National Park is awe-inspiring and an outdoors destination everyone should visit in Melbourne. The Grampians has 400,000 acres explore and more.Read More
Lions, tigers, and bears. Oh my! When I think of deadly animals, my mind conjures up images of big bad beasties like these. But I recently encountered on of the world’s deadliest animals, and it looked like it should be in a Finding Nemo movie and not the harbinger of death.
I have a secret to reveal. When I first started to travel, New Zealand wasn’t going to be the first country I traveled to. No, when deciding where to go for my first trip abroad, I was going to choose Australia for my first a working holiday.
Why didn’t I go to Australia?
Right as I was about to book my package through BUNAC, I saw a show on the travel channel that was “Top 10 World’s Deadliest Animals” of course narrated in an ominous voice. When I saw that 8 out of the 10 deadly animals were in Australia, I decided my first trip better be to a country where nocturnal fluffy kiwi birds were the biggest threat.
There is a line that I’ve heard often repeated about Australia, “Everything here can kill you“. A laugh about it will follow after someone says that, but that laugh is half-joking and half serious. It’s more of a nervous chuckle. Why? Because it is true, that Australia is home to some of the world’s deadliest creatures from snakes to spiders to sharks.
Most Australians will tell me there isn’t anything to worry about with the deadly creatures of Oz, and majority have never seen any of them in their entire lives. Farther north is where some of the more wicked creatures dwell like snakes and spiders, but on bush walks and camping, you just have to be careful and check your boots.
Snakes will scurry off if you make enough noise along a path or use a stick to swat the grass ahead. I’ve been told that Victoria, or in the Melbourne area at least, don’t have many deadly creepy crawly things. There’s one spider that has a wicked bite but isn’t deadly. So I thought I was quite safe coming here.
And then there is the animal we stumbled upon while at the beach that is probably the worst of them all.
Up until that point, the craziest thing I’ve come across was a giant shiny blue and green wasp that looked frightening enough, and an ant the size of my thumb that tried to attack me. Not too bad. I’ve been on hikes and gone off the trails around parts of Victoria and haven’t seen anything too threatening. Just some Echidna hiding their heads from me.
These are the only creatures I’ve come across so far.
Yeah, he had some attitude issues. As this hell-spawn fire demon was carrying away a meal, he turned on my and tried to take my life. Or at least a finger.
Cute echidna eh? Though I wouldn’t want to pet the little guy. As I inched closer, head dig fiercely to hide his head in the ground for protection.
Another insect demon. Though they can sting repeatedly, this wingless wasp is pretty harmless and usually travels solo so you don’t have to worry about running into an army of them.
Those aren’t so bad are they?
My luck avoiding creatures that could kill me was bound to run out, and last week it did.
It was just another beautiful summer day in Australia, and my roommate and I decided to head to the beach for the day to explore and relax. We went down to Torquay (Tour-key) which is about an hour southwest of Melbourne and is one of the more well-known beaches in the area for the slew of surf companies founded there. Though I still have a deep fear of swimming in Australia because of, ya’ know, gnarly sharks and all, I really didn’t expect to run into anything that day.
As we walked along the beach at low tide, we all decided to run over to some rocks and check to see if we could find any crabs or cool fish trapped in the small pools. “Hey, come check out this little octopus!” my roommate called out, and we all ran over to see. She was pointing in a pool of water and it was hiding behind some algae, so I tried to lean in and splash the water a bit to make it come out. That was very stupid of me. The tiny octopus popped out, and as it swam about facing us, suddenly it’s small brown body began to light up with electric blue rings.
Yes, we has stumbled upon a blue-ringed octopus, one of the world’s deadliest animals.
As it lit up and swam about, it now seemed to have no problem coming towards us and my camera that was held close to the water. It didn’t hit me at first, but then I realized I had seen this octopus somewhere before. Turns out, I had seen it on that TV show in 2011 and was one of the reasons I didn’t come to Australia at first.
Any Google search of top deadly animals on the planet and this little guy will be in the top 5. So why is this adorable octopus death incarnate and not a beloved Disney character?
The blue ringed octopus, if it were to sting you, is certain death. The sting causes paralysis and respiratory failure until the organs shut down slowly. Yes, it’d be an incredibly painful death and there is no known antidote for the sting either. Pretty wicked huh? Another fun fact — the blue-ringed octopus carries enough venom to kill 26 full-grown adults within minutes. Glad I didn’t decide to walk in too many shallow puddles! Given how populated this beach was and just knowing how children like to play in rocks I’m surprised this little sucker doesn’t claim more lives than it does.
It’s pretty fascinating and frightening that our planet has such vibrant and beautiful creatures around, and usually the brighter the color the more venomous they are.
Advice to keep in mind for myself and for you when in Australia — watch your step!
<< Have you ever Encountered deadly animals abroad? >>
Celebrating holidays abroad can be one hell of a jolly time, and it can also be a solitary affair where you wrestle with the joy of travel and the ache for nostalgic tradition. This Christmas, for me, was just that.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his year I celebrated Christmas in Melbourne Australia. Unlike the past few Christmas’s that have come and gone while traveling, this one was more or less forgettable. You can’t really call Christmas this year as “celebrated” — I did nothing related to the holiday; no opening presents or feasting with family or drinking egg nog. I didn’t decorate any halls, or sing any carols, or sip wine by a fire. I didn’t even watch a Christmas movie.
Instead, I was alone.
I spent the day wandering up and down streets of Melbourne. I wandered the entire day aimlessly, accompanied by the remnants of a hangover, for about 5 hours. Up and down alleyways and laneways. Thousands of ants scurried about looking for last minute gifts in a maze of streets. Couples holding hands and enjoying the festive decorations of the city. Starbucks packed out of the door with those desperate caffeine addicts. I went twice. Maybe for coffee, or maybe just to say something to someone that day. Someone that wouldn’t carry the conversation further. Someone that wouldn’t ask questions. Someone who wouldn’t talk about family.
All of Christmas day I walked. I had a long think. A much needed think. And I was alone on Christmas day by choice.
Why would I want to spend Christmas alone, especially while abroad?
It’s not like I didn’t have my options to choose from. Fellow co-workers from the restaurant had invited me to an orphans Christmas picnic on the beach, and there were also a few friends that I could have easily reached out to and joined in on the festivities. It’s just that I didn’t want to. Not like their company isn’t great, because it is, and it’s not like I wouldn’t have had a fun time. In the past, whether it be Christmas in New Zealand or Thailand or Haiti — I spent it with friends as well, old or new. Though it didn’t feel much like Christmas in those places, being with friends helped dilute the inevitable sorrows of nostalgic flashbacks. This year it all came back.
Christmas as it turns out has been a tainted holiday for a very long time. Just like that graffiti above that I found on Christmas Day in Melbourne.
And that is the reason why I had to spend it alone this year.
My ghost of Christmas Past
Growing up, Christmas in the Brown household was the only time when our family was just like everyone else’s. I could finally lose that year’s thrift store finds I wore to school, usually the same clothing a couple of days in a row that sported holes and grass-stains for the style. A fair chance at being a cool kid for a few weeks. A few weeks of not being made fun of for my shabbiness. My brother and I were getting shiny things and new things and fun things just like all of the other kids. Though my brother was arguably better at dealing with the other 364 days of the year because he wasn’t the runt that I was. No one picked on him.
And instead of a tension in the family that was either always threatening to snap or stretched until it did, it was a colorful time of momentary happiness heralded by the smiles of anticipation followed by satisfaction. The only red and blue lights that day and night would come from the heart-beat of the Christmas lights around our triumphant tree. My brother was there, not at some friends house as he usually was. My mother was there, not coming home late at night from some unknown place. My father was there, not belligerent on Milwaukee’s Best and foaming at the mouth. We were a family.
Stockings were retrieved from the attic — retired each year to the darkness until they can be brought back into an airier and lighter time in the house. Christmas time. The only time they could exist, because they held pure joy…and candy. On Christmas day there was no fear about drunken arguments or fights. The folding attic stairs would moan as they were pulled down, like a great old man stretching in a brief and youthful glory. Those stockings, their faded crimson and pine colored velvet surface sported patchwork islands of gold sparkles that would flash along the decade-old browned glue, once spelling out our glorious shimmering names in cursive.
They were from some past time when my brother and I were both much younger, maybe conceived at a school holiday event or made at youth group at our church. Either way, there was a life to them that had shared moments with us, and seeing them each year brought me back to a time when I wasn’t conscious of things beyond a naive baby’s beautiful mind. Just pure happiness. When I didn’t remember the nightly grip of anxiety wondering if my father to explode. The stockings smelled like the attic always, that dark place above the house that held happy memories and holidays. Like my mind.
The stockings were hung near the cardboard chimney that was set up in the split living room, just beyond the shelves adorned with tiny clay elves and cheap yellowed plastic candles. Santa, I was told, would come down that water-stained cardboard chimney, but only if I was a good boy. Sometimes I’d sit there and gaze at the makeshift chimney wondering if my parents got into a fight, would he skip our house? What if they weren’t good this year? Would I not get presents this year? Would I have to go to school and watch all of the other kids flaunt their new stuff?
I’d sit there, on that mangy blue carpet that smelled of damp cat, marveling at the prospects of presents. Hoping I’d see a reindeer or Santa himself. Even though I knew I wouldn’t. After the age of 5, I had the gist that Santa wasn’t real, but I’ve always been the imaginative type. It was my escape from the reality of our house since my earliest memory. I’d sit all day imagining magical moments outside that yellow asbestos-shingled shell. The shards of our family in that broken home were pieced together for one day.
Everything felt whole, and I felt whole.
Leading up to Christmas was the best part. Either my brother and I or just myself would accompany Pops up the road to Hawkins. That family-run produce stand housed in a half-collapsed wood shack which always smelled simultaneously of fresh fruit and rotting fruit. A nostalgic landmark of better times. If it was cold enough, I’d jump and slide across the frozen puddles created from the potholes in the gravel driveway. My father was always ahead of me, eager to join the other silhouettes around that same rusty barrel that was there every winter, glowing with orange embers and warming the swaying souls around it.
I’d run up to them rubbing my hands close to the red-hot steel and my father would belch loud into night, head tilted back like a howling beast, his hot stale breath floating into the cold crisp air. He would have finished a beer and crushed the can and thrown it into the barrel before I reached him. As the sparks of his first victory leapt out of the barrel to dance with the stars, he’d growl at me to “Go pick a tree already” and I’d run off into the forest. The smell of pine is the best smell in the world. The deep green would flash by as I’d run and explore the labyrinth of Christmas trees perched on wood pallets in the muddy lot, inspecting each one for it’s worth and all the while playing hero in some wintery fairytale. The close roar of laughter would be the creatures in the night. After some time, I’d try to pull my father away from the warmth of the barrel and the call of beer, and he’d always say, “One more and we’ll go.”
One or two more would be guzzled and sent to the flames, and only then he’d toss a tree into the bed of our grey rust-spotted Ford. I would wince as the tree landed with a thud, like I could feel its pain. I’d haul myself into the truck onto the seats that reeked of sweat and gasoline, my feet shuffling around in old receipts or trash, and buckle up. The truck would roar to life, gears grinding in the old beast, and we’d thump over the small ice-patches and into the street. His beard, beaded with small orbs of beer, would reflect the street lights like a Christmas tree. He, like the truck, always smelled of gasoline and stale beer too. We only managed to go off the road one of those nights when the beer and the black ice proved to be a bad combination. Not a bad record.
“Can we decorate it tonight?” I’d beam, and he’d say, “Not with me. And I don’t know where your mom is right now.”
But I knew she’d be home sometime. I knew she wouldn’t miss decorating the tree with me. The decoration was our ritual.
I’ve decorated trees with a few families now, or watched them decorate it, but it wasn’t the same as our ritual. Mom would be home one night, and she’d shriek out to me, “Bear! It’s time to decorate the tree!” and dammit I was the most excited kid on the planet. Tinsel would be strewn everywhere as we tore into boxes that held the happiness from the past Christmas trapped within. I’d find the old scratched gold and red and green ornaments and watch my face warp in them.
Hanging the ornaments was meticulous, they must be distributed evenly. My brother would join in on occasion, but usually he’d get bored and either sit back and watch or head out to a friend’s house. My father would probably be at China Gourmet up the road, the local dive for most of Kensington’s famed drinkers. The tree would come to life with ornaments that we as children had made, with the warmth of the lights, with silver strands thrown about.
As Christmas approached, I would lay down every night on the beaten teal couch that faced the tree, and I’d watch the Christmas lights twinkle with their warm colors until they became kaleidoscopic blurs and I succumbed to sleep. Somehow in the mornings I’d wake up tucked into my bed, and I’d repeat it again the next night. It was magic. That warmth, the glow of the Christmas lights, that was my favorite sight. Somehow all of the worries in the world, even the daily worries that my childhood self had somehow acquired, would melt away. I could lay there all night every night as the house slept and the wind howled and the tree comforted me.
Christmas day we’d tear into presents like wild animals. My brother and I always got caught trying to sneak into the living room by trying to pick the lock on the door with our tooth brushes, but once Pops was awake we’d be released to maul the wrapping paper. The Santa and reindeer patterned tatters would fly into the air, and I’d gasp at the new shirts and pants and socks. I’d pull out a new Lego set and immediately began to pour them onto the ground, only to be halted by the, “We’re going to your aunt and uncles soon.” Though we’d always go to one of their houses for Thanksgiving, I wouldn’t be dressed in that year’s scuffed up clothes but new clothes. There was dinner and feasting and laughs. Usually, still feeling like I didn’t quite fit in, I’d be content to play outside running about waving stick swords or looking for their 3-legged cat. Everything was whole.
Then, of course, Christmas would pass. Life would return back to normal, if that was normal life. I thought it was for everyone. My brother most nights would be out somewhere in the neighborhood. I’d be at home building Legos. Pops would be either out with mom, or drinking in his chair that conformed to his body, with a few beers on standby in the holders. Either scenario, when one or both would return, the screaming and yelling would start. Then the slamming and pounding. Then the shrieks of pain and terror. And finally the cry of the sirens. I’d be standing there as the police once again showed up, not with the tree lights dancing in my eyes but the blurred police lights in my tears. The magic was gone, 364 days to go.
Christmas began to lose that magic after my mother took her life.
There had been plenty of Christmas’s during the frequent separations of my parents that I spent it in different places. I’d celebrate Christmas with my father and brother at home, and then go off to celebrate Christmas with my mom, usually with ridicule from my father and the absence of my brother. Be it at some random place she was staying, or with her side of the family, I’d still go with her. Pops would make me feel ashamed for going to see her that day, always blurting out something like, “You’d rather spend the whole day with your druggy mom huh?“. My brother not coming with me either would make me feel as though I was doing something wrong. Sometimes dad wouldn’t tell me that she called until I made a fuss about seeing her. I had to, she’s my mom, and we had our ritual. She’d be happy on some Christmas days, and weeping others. But we were together.
Ever since her death, Christmas has haunted me.
The first Christmas that she was truly gone, I slept by the Christmas tree like I did as a child. I was early teens by then, but I still had that pit of desire for Christmas to be like when I was younger. When we were a whole family. That night, while sleeping, I was startled awake by a sound and a presence in the room. I heard the distinct sound of my mother’s favorite tan heels that she’d wear to important places like church click-clack in the room, and when I jumped up, they trailed off down the dark hallway toward her old room. She was there, I could feel her and smell her and hear her. I wept, for it was this immense comfort that washed over me but also a deep sorrow so painful I could feel it in my chest. Hot tears blurred the Christmas lights that night, and I never told my father or brother about it.
My Father’s death was when Christmas lost all of its magic.
After my father passed in summer 2007, almost nothing had magic anymore. Or joy. Especially Christmas. I would celebrate Christmas with my brother at my uncle’s or aunts, but I would make excuses not to attend Christmas with his wife’s parents. I’d spend some Christmas’s with families that had been there for me as a child and had seen everything unfold. The ones that always took me in like I was their own boy, without question, or places I’d spend long breaks from school at just to escape. But by that point in my life, I despised Christmas. I hated Christmas. It made me feel angry and lonely and confused and jealous. These families were my own by everything except blood, but as they celebrated it together and had their own rituals and stockings and stories, I felt a void.
Being surrounded by Christmas, or holiday cheer, or people who were happy to be together — it hurt my whole being.
Every one of those families has taken me in and made me their own, and treated me as their own, and even got me presents and stockings with my name on it. As I would sit there on Christmas with my various families; be it my uncle’s or aunt’s or the others that have become my own, all I could do was concentrate on holding back the storm of emotions inside me. I’d sit there and want to scream and imagine taking every ornament and shattering them. I’d remember holidays with mom and dad and my brother, those damn nostalgic memories. The feelings that I hated experiencing forcing their way back into my mind. I would watch everyone from a distance on Christmas and I know they could feel my absence of emotion. But it was really myself trying to hold back all of the emotions. I always felt like I would vomit. I’d be trying to hold myself back from crying.
I haven’t had a proper cry in about 8 years.
Because last time I cried was the Christmas after my mother’s death, as well as at the funeral of my father. Since, I’ve felt like if I were to cry, the sky would shatter in a hail of screaming porcelain and the world would end. Because it had on both of those days. And Christmas since always ignited those memories.
My Christmas’s Abroad
Though Christmas and holidays abroad have been difficult times for me, they’ve also been a slow build to bringing back some semblance of joy during holidays. Gradually, I’ve been coming to grips with those issues, and each destination has proven a lesson. This year in Melbourne was the biggest lesson of them all. But first I have to go back to the other places that I’ve been in for Christmas over the past 4 years.
<< New Zealand >>
Christmas in New Zealand was the first Christmas I celebrated abroad. It was a crazy time for me, one where I was discovering the world and myself and life unhindered. It also allowed me to, for the first time, let go of most of the bad mojo I felt toward the holiday. I was in Raglan, and spending it with other backpackers that were on a bus tour across the north island. All day we relaxed on the black sand beach, swam in the crystal blue water, and took cliché group jumping pictures.
That night, we cracked Tui beers and made a pasta feast together while watching The Lord Of The Rings. Later, we explored the surrounding hillside and hunted for glow worms. I tried and failed to flirt with a girl that night, but other than that, I didn’t feel anything negative. Before sleep, I stared off toward the silvery ocean in the twilight and felt a pang of longing, but that was all.
<< Thailand >>
The next Christmas I celebrated abroad was Thailand, which was a bit more of an emotional experience. On Christmas Eve I was in a bungalow on the calm side of Koh Phi Phi where I had a conversation about my parents with a girl I met. She asked me about the topic randomly, and after swallowing the knot in my throat, I told her everything about my parents deaths. As I was finishing telling her about my father’s passing, the wind began to howl in an otherwise dead quiet night, and the lights in my bungalow suddenly shut off. the power was completely out. Moments later they came back on, but I could feel my father’s presence as the wind died again and all went calm. It could be just Thailand power grids, but I felt him. I nearly cried, but to avoid catastrophe I didn’t.
Christmas Day I met up with Hannah and Adam, some fellow travel bloggers, and we went down to the beach area and drank and watched the fire shows. It hit me a little harder there, as everyone was in full drunken Christmas mode and Hannah and Adam were calling their parents to talk on Christmas. I got way too wasted, and I slept on the street that night.
<< Haiti >>
My last Christmas abroad I was in Haiti for it with my good friend Viky and his girlfriend. We found ourselves in a random small town near Camp Perrin and stopped for the night in a hotel. That Christmas Eve night, we snacked on plantains and drank bottles of Haitian rum. He had her, and she had him, and I had the rum bottle, but I didn’t feel any sadness. Just a stillness in the heavy and hot air. A stillness in myself.
No hatred or remorse. Just nothing.
Christmas day we explored Voodoo caves, and upon finding out that our young guide’s brother was in the hospital and would not be able to save him because they couldn’t get blood, we decided to help. Only Viky and I had thick enough blood to donate after being dehydrated from hiking, so their brother was able to get the type he needed in exchange. As a thank you, their family had us stay with them the night and in the morning brought us in for a prayer. “A Christmas miracle” they said in Creole.
Holding hands in that shack as the women sang songs in Creole and cried for joy for their son, something awoke in me. I felt something. Holding the rough hands of that family beneath the tin roof, joined with my friends in that journey, I was suddenly okay with being a part of other people’s lives and other people’s Christmas. I nearly cried again, because that was one of the most intense experiences I had ever been a part of. But I didn’t.
<< Australia >>
This year, as I noted in the beginning, I’m in Melbourne for the holidays. Holidays in a city like Melbourne, where I’m working in hospitality while everyone dines with family and shops and celebrates together, was a bit tougher to handle. I worked long hours for office parties and family feasts. I waited tables for people on Christmas Eve, and the whole day I felt a well of anger inside. I didn’t like it. I’ve gotten past my anger over the holiday, and I didn’t hate it anymore. At least that’s what I thought. But here I was serving tables and refusing to wish people a Merry Christmas. I was a Grinch. All I wanted to do was drink, and couldn’t wait until I was off to go out with the work mates.
Wasted is putting it lightly.
A group of us went out Christmas Eve and I was drinking like I was in a contest and we were running out of time. Scotch after scotch after scotch. I danced the night away and laughed with friends and all of that felt falsely great, but I was doing it not because I was enjoying their company on a holiday when most of us were away from our family, but to cover up how I felt. It’s not that I’m been beating myself up over having a rager party night and let loose, but it was why I did it. Everyone on surface level was in the same situation, with all of us creating an orphan Christmas and being there for each other.
But In my mind, I was just looking to drink and get wasted and dance and find someone to hook up with, just because I felt immensely lonely and had to mask it. Something had brought forth those negative thoughts and feelings about Christmas once again, and I was trying to drown them any way possible. I didn’t want the night to end, so I kept drinking and trying to convince everyone to stay out later. But the night did end in a seedy dive bar dancing to electronica amongst ghosts of people flailing about in a drug induced zombification. At some point it hit me. I set my drink down and told the last of the group I was heading out.
I didn’t want Christmas to come the next day, but I was done with the artificial happiness of the night that wasn’t making it any better.
Facing My Fear Of Christmas
Melbourne was like Santa and his reindeer barfed up red and green and sparkles all over the city. Every corner you went around there was some sort of Christmas display. All month it made me sick. Maybe because those other places I celebrated the past few years wasn’t so in your face, but suddenly I despised Christmas again. And I hated feeling that way, I just couldn’t help it. And after Christmas Eve when I woke up the next morning stuck to my bed in the summer heat, seeping whiskey scented sweat, my head jackhammering with a headache, I felt a sinking feeling of depression. It seemed as though I hadn’t actually conquered my issues with Christmas, only ignored or masked them. As message after message popped up from co-workers asking if I was coming to their orphan picnics or others of people making plans, I didn’t want to be around that. Not around Christmas. I didn’t want to have to invent a story about my family if the topic was brought up, because I didn’t want to talk about the truth.
Instead, I spent most of Christmas Day in bed.
That was partially due to my hangover, but it was also me hiding from the inevitable emotions of the day. Around 3pm my stomach began to painfully ache with hunger. I thought about just ordering delivery so I didn’t have to leave, but I was sinking deeper into my bed every ticking minute and I’d soon be consumed by this quicksand-like depression. Laying there was making things worse. So I peeled myself off the bed and went down into Melbourne CBD in search for some food and distraction.
It was Chinatown where I found solace.
The lack of Christmas vibe could have been what attracted me, but maybe I was drawn to it by nostalgia. During holidays growing up when my father didn’t want to cook, we’d always end up ordering Chinese food. Always up at the China Gourmet restaurant mentioned before for their annual Christmas party. Something about being in Chinatown felt familiar. I spent about an hour walking the streets and alleys of Chinatown looking for a place to eat. Most places were open, but I just wandered even with the groans of my stomach.
Eventually I found a suitable hole in the wall place, one that had barely any English on anything and one with nobody that wasn’t Asian. Except me. I sat down and ordered a water, hot and sour soup, and fried noodles. I sat watching the other diners talking and slurping down their food and all the while reflected on that previous night, and the month.
What went wrong? Why was I suddenly filled with despair?
When the food came I ate like I was grazing, slowly taking methodical bite after the next, taking my time to enjoy it, and observing the world. In my head I was tracing through days and weeks and months of events, of past and present situations. Trying to decipher why I was being so bitter and why I was feeling the need to supplement my normal calm spirit with reckless abandon. I wasn’t too reckless and it was only one night out right? That’s not what was eating me alive, it was the reason for why I felt the need to drink it all away that troubled me. With the greasy Chinese meal finished and the hangover subsiding, I left Chinatown behind and went to the river. Water always has a way of calming me, and there I sat by myself watching the sun sink lower every passing hour. Two hours I sat there thinking, and as the sky turned to lavender and the sun fell below the horizon, I came to a realization.
I’ve been able to handle Christmas with distraction, but I haven’t dealt with it personally.
All of these years of traveling I’ve battled feelings from my past and worked on conquering the darkness to live in the light. I’ve faced the torment of my parents deaths and of the things I witnessed as a child instead of running from it. I was able to finally accept it all, and work on my own inner turmoil and destruction to live a happier life that I fill with tangible and enriching things. Instead of wallowing in a pit of sadness and destroying myself physically and mentally, I chose to start living. But as I traveled and spent those holidays with friends in exotic places, I was hid from that wound until the holidays passed. Until the next year when I’d distract myself again and put a band-aid over it. I had focused on being in my right mind 364 days of the year, but I’ve been skipping over one that clearly still had an adverse affect.
This year was the perfect storm.
I was faced with less distraction while waiting tables, and it allowed sadness to fester. And it lead me to an urgent and desperate temporary solution. To get drunk just to forget. The last time I had that happen I nearly ruined my life forever. I realized I needed to face this as well. All day as I thought, and all day my other families were on my mind. And my mother and father. When I was abroad for holidays previously, I didn’t think too much of them. I didn’t think much about anything really, I just went along with what everyone else was doing. To think about people back home might bring back painful memories. Instead, my mind had a subconscious block. Living in the moment! The past is past and the now is life! Unless you don’t deal with your past. That mental block failed this year.
I wrestled all month with sadness and loneliness and anger. But on Christmas day, spending it alone, I reflected and really missed their presence. I missed spending Christmas with those families. My families. All of them. I had traveled, and in my journeys I was able to remove the negative attachment to holidays by ignoring it. By overlapping it with experiences. It left a hole which my environment this year opened.
I could finally miss Christmas with family without feeling pain.
After watching the sunset, I went to the movies. Going to the movies on Christmas Day has been a tradition my brother and I have done over the years since our father passed. We haven’t been very close since, but we still had that. And going to the movies alone on Christmas Day comforted me. It made me miss that ritual.
While walking home at midnight I got to see Snapchats from another one of my families. Seeing their faces all together, with the newborn babe of one of the sisters, it made me wish I was there. It made me miss them. And messages from my aunt and brother made me miss those family dinners that we’d always have, even with my awkwardness. Even though I haven’t been great at being a part of anyone’s lives for years.
I had been so afraid of experiencing any kind of emotions on Christmas since losing my parents that I pushed out all of the joy from holidays. I disconnected. Just because holidays for years have been a painful thing, it doesn’t mean it has to be. It doesn’t mean I can’t be a part of another ritual or another family’s celebration. I can’t hold onto hate out of fear. And I shouldn’t hide or ignore the pain but deal with it. It ook years to stop living a life fully consumed by negativity, and spending Christmas alone this year made me take one more positive step. Allowed that hole to start to be filled. Allowed darker parts of my past to stop holding a place in my heart.
This year, spending Christmas alone made me truly cherish the ones that are in my life and do want me to be a part of their family traditions. Not to be afraid. To not just work on being happy 364 days of the year and dread another, but to lose the encumbering worries. Shed the weight of nostalgia, of the old wound that wouldn’t allow me to move on during Christmas time, or any holiday for that matter. To not think that showing emotions will bring about a catastrophe, but to be present. To be a part of new traditions and rituals, and to make new ones.
My ghosts of Christmas past will no longer haunt me.
<< Author’s Note >>
This is, by far, one of the longest entries on the blog. Though I wrote it as a memoir like the other’s I’ve shared in case you can relate or facing the same issues, I think I also needed to write this for myself. Even reflecting all day Christmas, I still had to put my thoughts out there and sort through it all. While writing the middle portion about Christmas as a child, most of it was done while going through a bottle of wine. I don’t drink often and Christmas Eve I did for the pain. The wine helped ease my nerves while writing, so I apologize for any mistakes. It was a raw all out writing fest to get this out of my system. Obviously, these topics are still hard to write about, and just one day of reflection won’t make ever issue I’ve had with the weight I associate with Christmas — but it did allow me to start facing it and actually realize that I already have a lot of happy moments attached to it. I just allowed painful memories to overshadow the good.
Have you ever experienced anything like this before?
What has it been like living in Melbourne for the past 120 days? How is my working holiday going? For one, I didn’t expect to be here. There has been ups and downs so far, so come find out what I love about living in Melbourne, and things I’m struggling to cope with.Read More