World of Beauty

You know what’s stunning?  The Reef, my favourite Caribbean restaurant in Vancouver has nearly 40 varieties of rum to choose from.  Rums of different temperate, flavour and shade.  Which is why I think Giulia Cimarosti’s piece on the myraid ways women’s beauty is seen through a worldview is important.  Physical beauty moves us, compartimentalizes us, but also alters the perspective on ourselves.  Just like rum, women radiate beauty, not because we conform, but because we flourish in our individual ways.  Please enjoy today’s Summer Chick Tale.

Venus Statue

Did you know that I am a witch? Oh yes, I’m a baddie. Or at least, so they say in Myanmar!

Now, what the heck. I grew up among people that told me I had beautiful eyes all the time, and now people are scared of my eyes?

Yes, because in Myanmar light eyes belong to witches and demons.

I must definitely look very ugly down there… (*scribbles* Myanmar packing list: Sunglasses. *underlines*).

Oh, beauty… You’re such a relative thing.  And the travelers know this very well!

Green eyes

I guess I was born in the wrong country. Italy: the land of fashion, as well as of the worldwide famous pretty-much-naked girls dancing on TV shows. Here, you can literally see statuary female bodies everywhere – ads on the streets, TV shows, magazines. Then you stop reading, raise your eyes and get shocked by how girls dress. Did I spend too much time in the Middle East? Probably.

Anyway, the point is that here beauty means being skinny, preferably with fake marble-like boobs, 365 days per year tan, 24/7 makeup, extensions, hyaluronic acid, and all that. You just have to be perfect, and look like these starlets.

And if you’re not into fashion, enjoy eating, don’t spend a hour per week in a sunlamp, etc… all this makes you feel ugly and uncomfortable. Or at least, different. Yeah, something like that.

But for me… No way!

Then I went to Egypt.

Everything changed. Suddenly, I started hearing all I ever dreamed of.

“Your belly is sexy”. (Are you serious?)

In the blink of an eye, overweight is hot (those famous 10 pounds you tried to get rid of all of your life. You know?), pale skin is cute, $5 Made in China dress looks great on you.

And you know what? I even lost weight! Eating fries and falafel all the time. I guess it’s a matter of psychology. When you stop thinking about it, it happens.  Isn’t it great?

Falafel binging

It is great. Especially after you spent 6 months in New York City… ’nuff said I guess.  As far as I could see, there the only definition of real beauty is: blond with blue eyes, period. I was considered “exotic”. Me. Yes.

Whatever it means, it’s easy to understand what it implies: single forever…

Now, back to Egypt.

I always thought my face was too large. The first time someone told me “you look like the moon” I was about to send him to hell. Then they explained me that it’s actually a compliment, and a great one.

In Egypt, looking like the moon is the best thing that could ever happen to a girl.

Ladies, I’m confused.

Exotic in NYC

I came back to Italy and found myself walking in the street with a plastic bag instead of a purse… you know, Arab style. After the 10th Louis Vuitton I spotted, I realized there was something weird.

Was there something weird with the guy who approached my father in Algeria, asking him if he was feeding me and my mother enough? Not at all. To his eyes, we looked too thin, but we were both plump. At least, according to Italian standards…

In Korea, being tall is ugly. And you know what we say in Italy? “height is half beauty” – It means that if you’re tall you’re already half way to being beautiful.

Cultural difference, point of view, whatever you call it. It’s just too hard to be “universally beautiful“.   You should just change your look all the time. But is it that important? No.

From my point of view, travelers are among the most beautiful people on earth, as they have the chance of overcoming the beauty schemes of their societies.

When you see how things change from one place to another, you stop comparing yourself to people around you, and thinking you should look like them. You understand this is just plain stupid. You start liking your looks as they are, and being yourself. You even stop considering “ugly”, what’s just different. You learn to love diversity, both in you and others.

Different, not wrong

And you’re suddenly beautiful. You’re suddenly achieving the best beauty you could ever wish for: the one given by self-confidence and not by plastic surgery, hairdressers or fashion clothes.

I believe beauty is a perfect example and a metaphor to explain how travel really makes us richer and better people. Beauty, religion, culture… think about it: it all works the same way.

Author bio: Giulia Cimarosti is Italian by birth, bound to Egypt, but longs to continue exploring the world.  Find her lushly written pieces on Travel Reportage, or drink in more of her beauty through Twitter or Facebook.

Summer Chick Tales was conceived from my love of the season and my obsession with slurpees.  I always have one every summer.  I also love women writers.  Lots.  If you want to submit a story or be in charge of the mojito station, see the editorial schedule.  Come on, join the XX chromosome party.

Venus statue photo from Greece: Ggorgo

All other photos provided by author.

What 1 Year of Travel Has Brought Me

I’m draped across my princess bed that I managed to score on airbnb, sucked into that page turner Fall On Your Knees when it dawns on me, I’ve moved residences for the third time this week.

The bigger picture is I’ve changed scenery over a dozen times in the past year. This time last June, to be exact.

What is it about anniversaries that violently birth memories or introspection?  I started this site as a personal odyssey to ‘shake and slap’ my life.

Let me explain the ‘shake and slap’.  Do you recall those stylish black and white films from the 30’s and 40’s when the only way to handle a hysterical woman was to have the hero, usually her foil, grab her, and give a vigorous shake, followed by his palm lightly meeting her cheek?  She blinks a few times, calms down and wakes the hell up.

So, did I?

Happiness

I’m not going to pull punches here; happiness is a puzzle for me.  Will continue to be for the rest of my life.  There’s no magic elixir to it.  If you are seeking a 24-hour high on happiness, watch The Secret again.

I pulled apart everything that wasn’t making me happy, reorganized it and it still remains a mystery.  I can tell you I’m happier than ever, swimming in self-content, but there are difficult days. I still question what I’m doing and is it the right thing?  No matter what you do to alter the course, it’s important to ask those questions, to check in with yourself.  Why?  To ensure you’re still alive, present to the moment.

Travel for the sake of travel runs out of steam.  As curious, intelligent beings, we need goals.  At least I do.  Right now, I have bazillions of ideas from shooting a documentary, to e-book writing or concentrating on more print work.  It’s all a mushroom cloud of questions, but I’m excited to try and answer them.

Joy

Damn straight.  Whether I was feeling cold seep through my flimsy sweater as I watched the night slip over Copenhagen or take in the vermillion sun on a marble bench in the gardens of Jag Mandir in Udaipur, I found myself glowing.  I use to ignore my surroundings, my nose always downward towards pavement, stressing about to-do lists.

Now I savor every drop of coffee or pause during a walk to watch a tree sway in the breeze.  Joy is not discovered in extravagant, splashy events, but the small pleasures.  Those tiny fragments of time that stitch a quilt of inner peace.  Travel brought me that, and I am grateful.

Stability

Outsiders have their opinions on my lifestyle.  Questioning how I can shift from place to place and lack any sense of home.  Maybe I’m certifiable, but I always knew constant motion was never the problem.  It was staying still and rotting.  Domestic life only draws me in to a degree.  I thrive on change; really need it.

One of my many joys right now is meeting everyone.  I glean so many new ideas or witness alternative ways to exist.  The act of packing can be tiresome, but once I cross the threshold of a new homestay or guesthouse, possibilities are endless.  I feel insanely stable internally, even while complete chaos is surrounding me.  Yeah, I am crazy.  But, this kind of crazy has pushed me to be better, a stronger person.  It’s not for everyone, but it works for the present.

Love

If you are sexually dysfunctional, want to cheat on your girlfriend, painfully shy, hate traveling, you are the man for me.  In fact, here’s my phone number: 1-800-always-desperate.  If you’ve followed me from the get-go, I rarely write about my romantic escapades.   See, there’s a reason.  You couldn’t make this shit up; it’s starkly true.

Sometimes I think that love only arrives once, vaguely twice for someone.  Other times, I laugh at these situations and chalk it up to more growth.  Who knows, I might write more on this subject, if you readers long to know how a solo woman traveler, who’s always on the move even sparks romance?  For now, those moments remain in my diary.  I’ve given you everything else; I’m allowed to keep this for me.

Money

The high point on money is I still have some to keep traveling.  I use to fret about money constantly.  How I would get it, if I had enough.  I reminisce on this time last year, when all my possessions were systematically packaged and sold.  I know what it feels like to take the familiar, break it down and build up again.  Procuring money frightens me less, it’s losing precious time that matters to me most.

I’m far from done this world exploration and will find ways to make it happen.  If you thought it was glamorous, think again.  It’s about shifting your monetary priorities.  Don’t be surprised if you next read me embarking on long-term volunteering, a bonafide online business or teaching English in a city with an unpronounceable name.

Finally

I saw so much, met a rainbow of people who forced me to rethink, sometimes even confirming I’m on the right track.  I had undisturbed sleep full of dreams where I re-met people I hadn’t seen in years, some of them forgave me or vice versa.  I felt 10 years of bad shoulders and chronic back pain melt away.  I enjoyed soaking in every single word of a novel again.  My heart woke to life as I intellectually sparred with that suave French banker in India.

There will always be uncertainty in this life choice.  If you’re pondering it, secretly planning your own escape, what I can promise you is fruitful change.

You won’t be bored.  Neutral.  Sick of it.  You will ripple from every jolt of that shake, sting from the impact on your cheek from that slap.

Life will never be the same again.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

London Life is Beautiful

Appreciation of beauty is always surprising to me.  That’s exactly how I feel whenever I order a virgin Shirley Temple.  How can something so non-alcoholic look so good?  The shades of salmon meld so well into the meaty red at the bottom of a glass, where the ice sits and in turn buoys up those technicolor creations called marashino cherries.  A gorgeous drink that doesn’t cause the giggles or tipsy rants.  You see, I don’t always go for the heady factor in my drinks, despite my reputation.  Which is why I adore Nicole’s story about London.  Despite its reputation, the city is beautiful to someone, and that’s all that matters.  Please enjoy today’s Summer Chick Tale.

Not many people would describe London as a beautiful city, but the great thing about beauty is its subjectivity. To me, beauty is an experience, and while a lot of people these days seem to equate beauty to perfection, I see it differently – for me what defines beauty is the imperfections, and having an acceptance and love of them. My experience of beauty in this city is almost daily – from East End street art and a smiling homeless man, to riding my bike through the city streets, weaving between black cabs and red buses with the world at my pedalling feet.

London is so much more than the sights you read about in magazines and travel guides – in fact I would never define it by things like Big Ben or the London Eye – it’s the experiences going on at street level that make it unique. Within the space of five minutes you could pass anything from a man playing a traffic cone to an enthralled audience, a transvestite overtaking you on his bicycle or a naked crowd lining up for free underwear outside a West End store. Anything goes here, and it’s refreshing to feel accepted by a city that takes even the kookiest under its wing.

London certainly isn’t perfect – it’s anything but – it’s gritty, challenging, friendly and fun all within the space of minutes, but for me it’s a perfect balance of flavors that I can never get enough of. London is a little bit of everything all rolled into one, and if you accept it for all its flaws and give in to loving it anyway then she’ll love you right back –  just like that sibling that sometimes annoys the hell out of you, yet you could never imagine life without them.

Author soaking in London

Five and a half years ago I decided to make London my new home and it’s changed me in ways I never thought possible – some good, some bad, but it’s made me cherish everything that is London. It’s made me more patient, tolerable and accepting, yet it still has the power to make me frustrated at walking behind a slow-walker or having to wait more than two minutes for a train. I’ve met so many people during my time here, and every time their story is the same – ‘I didn’t mean to stay for this long, but it just kind of…happened. Now, I don’t know when I’ll leave.’ It’s all part of London’s big plan you see – she’s smarter than you think, so never underestimate her power.

I fully subscribe to the belief that that anyone that tires of London is tired of life. However deep you want to delve into her abyss of quirkiness and excitement is up to you. It’s been a gradual process for me, and while I’ll always be Australian, London also owns a part of me now, and it’s a part I know I’m never getting back. London gets under your skin while you’re not looking and takes hold – by the time you realize it, it’s too late – You’re hers now.

I’ve never felt more at home than I do living here – and that’s coming from someone who is fiercely patriotic to her home country, but there’s something about being a Londoner that’s made me grow up, gain more confidence and believe in my capabilities. Us city folk can have a bad reputation for being competitive and selfish, but in a city that will eat you up if you let it, sometimes you need to come across this way to survive. London tests you on a daily basis, so I try not be annoyed at that woman risking her life to push in front of me on the tube, or the guy who looks the other way when I smile…maybe they’re just having an off day with their city, while I’m feeling the opposite? I just take it as a chance to learn more about the way she shapes the people that live here.

She does

Whatever camp you reside on, the lovers or the haters, it makes no difference to me – London is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. This is the place that’s been like a best friend to me for the past five years – she’s seen me cry, she’s seen me laugh, and she’s seen more than enough of me drunk, dishevelled and debaucherous. And the best thing is she loves me anyway – what’s more beautiful than that?

Author bio: Nicole is a 20-something Aussie living in London, and recently set herself the goal of becoming location independent by the end of 2012.  She started a blog called Woman Seeks World focusing on helping others also achieve this goal, as well as including comprehensive travel guides and loads of content on extra income ideas and how to work from anywhere.  Nicole also just launched another website called The Living In London Guide which covers everything you need to know about moving to and living in the UK capital.  You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Summer Chick Tales was conceived from my love of the season and my obsession with slurpees.  I always have one every summer.  I also love women writers.  Lots.  If you want to submit a story or be in charge of the mojito station, see the editorial schedule.  Come on, join the XX chromosome party.

Photo of London: howzey

All other photos provided by the author

Vancouver: You Make Me Brave

Messages on the boarded up windows of The Hudson Bay

We left during second period, knowing the game was finished, that the Cup was lost. In hindsight, that might be considered strategic.

Our mistake was staying downtown. I had taken Dylan, Lorna and Mark to one of my favorite restaurants on Robson, savoring two aloe vera and vodka’s, sharing Tuna Tataki. I felt pride that they were enjoying the food in a city I haven’t seen in over a year.

Since I’ve returned, the Vancouver that met me has been a dose of pleasant. I walk down the tree-lined streets, inhaling musky droplets after a sprinkle of rain. It always reminds me of a load of laundry coming out of the dryer. Clean, fresh, new. I’ve revisited memories, places that made me ridiculously happy.

That night, it changed.

Respect for the Vancouver Police

I could recount moments after our dinner when we looked towards the skyline, as smoke billowed upwards. That was Georgia, at least two cars burning to blackened, twisted metal.

I could recount our walk towards Granville, where Dylan and Mark were staying. We had little knowledge of what was unfolding. Our banter and gait was a pause. That moment when an intake of breath happens and you wait, unsure what will come.

I could recount the crowds as we approached closer, the screaming, a high-pitched scraping sound as someone toppled a newspaper stand or howled in unbridled angst. Against what?

Lorna, ever the documentarian and calm presence, snapped photos of the riot vans parked. We observed them suiting up. My attention was elsewhere when I heard Lorna gasp.

“Oh my God, look at the cars!”

Glass sprayed everywhere, as though dispersed by a hose. Two vehicles were flipped on their backs. I pictured two helpless beetles, taunted by naughty kids, who snickered as the insects struggled to right themselves. The actions of the rioters are eerily similar. Mockery and coldness are key personality traits to commit unthinkable acts.

Sticky notes full of gratitude

I stared towards Granville, at the clumps of people running towards us. The cheery, yellow vests that police wore contrasted to their impenetrable faces. They barked at bystanders breeching the perimeters. An acrid smell stung my nostrils. My first tear gas. It makes your eyes water, much like real tears.

I had walked that street thousands of times, people-watched, giggled with friends over a joke, or peeked through store windows at items I’d never buy. I even held hands with my ex-boyfriend on that street, many years ago.

While some of my international friends wanted to document this important moment, I was limp, could not bring myself to take pictures of the destruction. It’s just not how I envision my city.

What seeped into me was fright. Watching the madness, I had never felt so scared to be in my own hometown before. I imagined large objects flying at me, or crowds surging and crushing us.

We aren’t the first city in the world to riot. Other serious occurrences explode in a split second in London or Greece.

The community spirit I know

When you know a place inside and out, to witness a viciously dark side, one that was inconceivable, it leaves you awash in surrealism. An electric, aggressive energy surrounded me, when I’m use to the laid-back attitude of Vancouver.  It was difficult to witness. I have to accept it happened. No matter how much it jarred me to find it changed for one night.

When I realized my fear, it suddenly rendered the rest of the world less scary or intangible.

And that’s a good thing.

Flow on Palawan Island

What are the chances of me ever drinking a Sex on the Beach?  Limited.  So, when the rare occasion came up to feature a story on the same subject and same locale as Jodi Ettenberg’s from last week, I had to go for it.  I mean, what are the chances?  Thanks to Janet Brent for today’s Summer Chick Tale.

“Look at the moon. It’s really pretty tonight,” Joemar told me. We had just stopped to rest for the night during our 600+ km walking journey in Palawan island, Philippines. As usually happened, people along our way would offer their hospitality and a place to rest. Sharing food, stories, and laughs as I desperately tried to keep up in a new language I am not yet fluent in.

This time we had landed in a small fisherman’s village and a single man in his 40’s hosted us. He had the best smile that I can still remember, tight muscles and forearms that come from working all day in the sun.

“Be sensitive to your surroundings. Just flow.” Joemar said quizzically.

I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but caught in my own thoughts of natives teaching me how to flow in water, I abruptly cut my fantasy into fear, when I realized that maybe this fisherman wasn’t someone we could trust. Maybe he was trying to tell me we might be in danger!

The rest of the night was uncomfortable and spent in unease. The man didn’t seem like a serial killer. I began shifting my weight from side to side on the hard wooden bench that I was sitting on. I am often so out of tune with my own body, but something seemed to be “going on down there”. I felt damp and then I smelled that stench that made me question whether it was from hours of walking, and not having access to daily showers, or if it was something else. Something else like the red tide.

I sheepishly excused myself to the bathroom, asking where the “CR” (comfort room) was located.

I don’t know why they call it the “comfort room” in the Philippines, because they usually are anything but comfortable!  I was lead outdoors to a small outhouse slightly reeking of urine. The wooden door wouldn’t close by itself and Joemar held it shut for me outside, patiently waiting for me to finish.

My suspicions were right. I had just started my period!  And I was completely unprepared. The only thing I had was a roll of toilet paper, and even that I had bought recently, often resorting to the hand or leaf method.

I fumbled in the dark. I rolled my toilet paper around and around and around my underwear. I “flushed” the toilet by dumping a bucket of water. I was going native style.

The next morning, there was an awkward silence as I had a suspicion that Joemar knew my friend had come all along, based on his strange comment I had initially thought to be about my external environment instead of my internal one. How could he have known??

“Last night was a full moon…” Joemar said, breaking the silence as if he had read my mind. He didn’t even have to say more to confirm that he knew. He amazed me with his keen observational skills; already sensitive to my mood changes before I was ever aware of them.

That day, I felt in tune and one with the universe. The atoms and particles that made up my mass mirrored the mass of cosmic space. From macro to micro, we all mirror life. I understood the push and pull of the tides and the push and pull of my body to the moon.

We are made of mostly water, after all.

Just flow.

Author bio: Janet Brent is Philippine born, American raised, and back in her motherland to get in touch with her cultural roots. She currently lives in the ghetto as a graphic/web designer interested in sustainability and change. You can find her on her blog, Purple Panda, or follow her on Twitter.

Summer Chick Tales was conceived from my love of the season and my obsession with slurpees.  I always have one every summer.  I also love women writers.  Lots.  If you want to submit a story or be in charge of the mojito station, see the editorial schedule.  Come on, join the XX chromosome party.

Tissue Woman in the Philippines

I tend to crave comfort when my “friend” pays a visit.  When I’m  grumpy, about ready to twist someone’s head off, I turn to the occasional Baileys and coffee.  This is out of sheer desperation.  So, it’s fitting to find out what Jodi Ettenberg did during her moment of desperation.  Hopefully you immediately relate to today’s Summer Chick Tale.  If not, you’re off the sangria drinking chorus I was about to form.

You can’t travel long-term without aggregating at least a few embarrassing stories, usually related to some cultural mishap or mispronounced word.

But when in a tiny fishing village in the Philippines’ remote Palawan island, I added a new category to the cringing: getting your period on the road.

I got mine a week earlier than expected, while riding a motorbike through the unpaved roads and narrow bridges of northern Palawan. Stopping in at the only store in the village, a ramshackle wooden house with piles of seemingly random things for sale, I had to ask if they had any feminine supplies for me.

Except I had no idea how to say so in Tagalog and the shop was run by three men. I went with “woman napkins” (tampons are rarely, if ever, sold in the Philippines), but was met with confusion. Napkins for females? Nothing. Tissue woman? Nope.

Finally, I climbed behind the counter with the guy and found what I was looking for, on the very top shelf. Instantly, the men in the store burst out laughing and one ran out to tell the rest of the village about the random traveler who came looking for woman napkins.

Embarrassment and bike ride was worth this view

Next thing I knew, there were a dozen people next to the store, keeled over with laughter.

Being in the Philippines, where such joviality is common place even in times of embarrassment, I simply curtsied to them all, hopped on my motorbike and drove away. But I learned my lesson: carry supplies with you, even in the most unexpected of times.

Author Bio: After 5+ years of working as a corporate lawyer, Jodi Ettenberg embarked upon the trip of a lifetime on April 1, 2008. She’s traipsed through South America, South Africa, Russia, Mongolia, China, the Philippines, Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia.  And that’s not all of them.  After three years of long-term travel, she’s still exploring and writing on her much-loved site, Legal Nomads.  You can also find her on Twitter or Facebook.

Summer Chick Tales was conceived from my love of the season and my obsession with slurpees.  I always have one every summer.  I also love women writers.  Lots.  If you want to submit a story or be in charge of the mojito station, see the editorial schedule.  Come on, join the XX chromosome party.

Palawan Island photos: provided by Jodi Ettenberg