Unplug: It’s Good for You!

30-09-2014 11-01-40 AM

A few months ago I made the conscious decision to unplug my life and focus my attention on the world around me instead of the mobile device in my pocket. This idea seemed nice in principle but, like Communism, the reality was a lot different to the ideal. I found myself missing birthday celebrations, I was not writing as many blog posts (I had written a lot of things down on paper, but nothing made it online) and my mum was complaining that I was not looking at her photo stream of her trip to Italy.

The reality of an unplugged life in this day and age is a difficult one. I am not saying it cannot be done, as my father who still reads his newspaper in the physical form and would not know how to turn on an i-phone if his life depended on it, would attest. However, for someone who has grown up in the age of the internet and is used to having information on hand 24/7, a life of being wholeheartedly unplugged just isn’t a reality.

When I eventually came to this realisation, I decided to admit defeat and came up with some guidelines or rules that would allow me to keep up with social events and post my thoughts for you all to read while also giving me that freedom from social media and the online world that I so very much craved.

After following these few simple rules for a week or so, I found that my quality of life was improved. I was sleeping longer and better, exercising more, interacting with friends and family on a personal level instead of via an online messaging services and most importantly, my mum was happy that I was liking and commenting on her photo stream again!

My guidelines for balancing my online needs and my personal sanity are as follows:

1. Don’t touch technology within 2 hours of going to bed: This seems reasonable to most and insane to others, however studies have shown that using technology, in particular mobile devices before bed time prevents the body and mind from naturally winding down from a busy day. This leads to disturbed sleep as the mind is still racing from the overstimulation that our online addictions create.

2. Don’t sleep with your online device in the same room: Nothing disturbs a deep sleep quite like the sound of a Facebook notification. For many people, online media and social networking is an addiction where hearing that beep in the middle of the night creates too much of a temptation to roll over and check who has tagged you in their photo. By leaving your media devices in another room, you are also creating a zone for uninterrupted communication with your loved one – this can lead to other benefits too ;) and also removing the temptation to check your phone or mobile device first thing in the morning.

3. Resist looking at your online device for 2 hours after you wake up: By allowing your body time to naturally wake up, you are giving yourself a better start to the day. Use this time to do some exercise or prepare a healthy breakfast. Stretching for 15 minutes each morning instead of scrolling through Instagram will work wonders for your body and set you on a positive path for your day ahead.

4. Allocate time in your day to check social media and read online news etc: As I found out, prohibition against social media doesn’t work (for me anyway). Allocate yourself 30 minutes at lunch time or in the afternoon to check your social media accounts or read the news online. These days, many news outlets seem to only report negative and sad news so don’t be in a rush to get up to date on the world’s negativity first thing of a morning. Instead, look out the window of your train or bus or undertake a spot of people watching.

5. Eat all of your meals in a tech-free environment: Is there nothing more rude or annoying than seeing someone sit at the restaurant only to be looking down the whole time scrolling over emails or double-tapping photos in Instagram?! Since the dawn of time, meal time and eating food in general has been a social activity. It is a time when family and/ or friends come together to interact and converse about their day. Meal time should be about reconnecting with your loved ones and discovering and discussing new foods and flavours. Leave your mobile device in your bag or pocket, look your loved one in the eye and tell them about your day! (Caveat… If you have a passion for snapping photos of your favourite food or dishes, then a quick photo is permissible. Take your snap and then put your device away).

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30-09-2014 10-35-24 AMHi, my name is Louie and I enjoy taking photos of food. I have been clean now for 5 hours but I have no doubt I will do it again soon.

30-09-2014 10-35-35 AMPappa Louie and Nan stopping to smell the roses: At 84, my Nan owns an i-pad, so what hope do I have of ever truely unplugging?!

30-09-2014 10-35-12 AMAnother food photo for good measure!

My Week in Colour

I’ll keep this post short and sweet. The sun is shining and life is good in Sydney town. I think these photos speak for themselves and as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is my 6,000 word post in pictures. Enjoy!

:: Louie ::

24-09-2014 10-44-40 AMCoogee Beach, Sydney: 7km from the CBD and a million miles from the hustle and bustle.

24-09-2014 10-43-50 AMSydney: Our fine harbour in all its glory!

24-09-2014 10-44-02 AMMaroubra: Rock hopping and aquatic colours.

24-09-2014 10-43-30 AMMaroubra – Coogee: Sea cave.

24-09-2014 10-44-28 AMCoogee: Mornings like this make going to work pretty tough.

24-09-2014 10-44-14 AMSydney: For a marine environment to be so close to a major city and this clean is unique.

 

The Refined Art of Traveling & Eating Well

One of the joys, if not the ultimate joy, of travel is food. Eating on your travels offers an insight into the culture, the history and the social constructs of the country or city that you are visiting. The cuisine or the types of food that are eaten in a country is often influenced by previous conquests by foreign invaders (think baguettes in Vietnam), or by historical events that have seen mass emigration to that country (think Greek food in Australia after the second world war).

For many of us, our experience of food on our travels is as simple as a way to refuel after a big night of drinking in Munich or an over-priced and underdone paella at a tourist trap in Valencia. For those who are willing to look below the surface, or in many cases a street or two back from the local port or bus terminal, there are food experiences that will change your life and reshape your perceptions of a country and those who inhabit it.

22-09-2014 11-21-43 AMMunich: The German Pretzel is the perfect accompaniment for beer!

Earlier this year, I spent a few weeks eating my way from the northern mountainous region of Vietnam all the way down to the tropical south. My time in Vietnam saw me eating everything from high-end Asian Fusion to cheap and cheerful streetfood. For those of you who have visited my site before, you will not be at all surprised that my love and passion for streetfood meant that the vast majority of my meals were spent crouching on footpaths or sitting on undersized plastic stools, slurping my way through noodle soup or crunching into hot spring rolls.

While Vietnam is not a large country (remember I am from Australia where an eight-hour drive is considered a short trip up the road), it covers a number of different climates. On my last trip, I saw snow in the northern mountains in and around Sapa, experienced the dry, cool weather of Hanoi in the winter and sweated my way through a week in Saigon and the islands off the southern coast. With these changes in climate come vast differences in the cuisine and food.

The food in the northern parts of the country are influenced by the Chinese who are just over the border. As I was there in the winter, the food that I gravitated towards was warming with a meal often consisting of soup and grilled meat. One of my all-time favourites is Cha Ca (sliced fish grilled over coals) of which there is a street named in its honour in Hanoi. Of an evening, I would wander the streets of Hanoi in search of new street treats with each night introducing me to new and exciting dishes or snacks.

IMG_20140104_145614Hanoi, Vietnam: Pork Skewers.

In the south, I would often slurp down a bowl of Pho (traditional noodle soup and Vietnam’s national dish) in the mornings, dive face first into a bowl of Bun Cha (sweet vermicelli noodle soup with pork, pickled vegetables and fish sauce) for lunch and then hunt down some grilled meat and spring rolls of an evening (usually accompanied with a Saigon beer…or three).

IMG_20140101_133613Hanoi, Vietnam: Cafe culture Asian Style!

A lot of my friends and family often question my willingness to eat streetfood in South-East Asia and are only too quick to turn around and say “I told you so” on the odd occasion that I do get sick. But for me, the reward of discovering new and exciting dishes and eating with the local people as you watch the world pass you by is second to none. The occasional sore stomach, or worse, is worth it!

After years of traveling to South East Asia, I have come up with a set of guidelines that I live and die by when it comes to eating streetfood. Obviously these guidelines are not guaranteed to save you from the occasional internal eruption or from setting a new 100 metre record as you sprint for the nearest hole in the ground, but they will go a long way to minimising your chances of falling ill.

Rule #1: If the locals are lining up to eat, you should do the same

If you find yourself walking the streets of Bangkok and come upon two restaurants, one empty with a smiling waiter encouraging you to enter, the other full to the brim with noisy locals and more lining up to get in, I strongly recommend that you resist the temptation to sit down at the empty table. Join the back of the que and discover what all the fuss is about! The benefit of a busy restaurant or eatery is that no doubt the food is good but also the turnover of produce is high, minimising the time that fresh meat and other food is sitting out in the open.

Rule #2: Carry wet-wipes

As I do not have children of my own (and therefore do not have wet wipes on hand), this rule was one that I was forced to learn over my years of eating on the road. Wet-wipes are great for wiping down suspect looking utensils, cleaning your hands after eating curry in India or for having a “poor man’s shower” on those overnight bus rides where the chances of a hot shower are as remote as an uncrowded train in India. Side note – a bottle of hand sanitiser is also a must.

Rule #3: Carry your own chopsticks

For hygiene reasons, nothing is more satisfying that eating off your own clean chopsticks. What is not as obvious is that each year in China, over 20 million large trees are cut down for the sole purpose of the production of disposable chopsticks. While this is an industry in itself, it is estimated that one-tenth of this timber is sourced illegally from protected forests. So save the trees man and carry your own chopsticks.

Rule 4#: If a location is known for a particular dish, try it!

Whether it be Cha Ca in Hanoi, Amok in Cambodia, Dim Sum in Hong Kong, Pizza in Naples or a Po’ Boy in New Orleans, I strongly suggest that you order it and take the time to enjoy the food and cuisine for which that country or city is famous. There is nothing more annoying that returning home and someone asks whether you tried the Pho in Saigon, only for you to sheepishly shake your head and change the topic of conversation.

Rule #5: Eat Street

Maybe this should be sitting at the top of my list but nonetheless, streetfood is a must in any location you visit. From grilled pork skewers in Hoi An to Gyros in Athens, you will not find better, or cheaper for that fact, than streetfood! Not only is the food tasty and cheap but you often find yourself with a view and an ability to people watch that 5-star restaurants would kill for.

If I could, I would spend the rest of my days traveling, eating streetfood and writing about it. Nothing excites me more than flying to new locations with the anticipation of gastronomic discovery ahead of me. I encourage you to travel often and eat well. For me, these two things go a long way to finding my ultimate happiness.

22-09-2014 11-17-14 AMAthens, Greece: Gyros (3 a day keeps the doctor away!)

22-09-2014 11-18-22 AMBarcelona, Spain: Jamon.

22-09-2014 11-21-05 AMTulum, Mexico: Tamale from a street vendor.

22-09-2014 11-23-56 AMBasque Country, Spain: Pintxos bar.

22-09-2014 11-22-37 AMCliche eating: Bagels and Coffee in NYC.

22-09-2014 11-23-07 AMParis, France: Pastry heaven!

22-09-2014 11-24-44 AMBasque Country, Spain: Chewing the fat of a Txuleta (Chuleta) with my brother from a Mexican mother.

 

 

Coogee: Spring Light

19-09-2014 10-56-23 AM

My little home suburb of Coogee has come to life over the last week or so as the weather slowly warms up here in the great south land. The sun is rising earlier and setting later, allowing for a pre-work surf and an after-work swim. This morning I decided to get a coffee and take a few snaps before getting the late bus into the city.

The pollen in the air, the smile on people’s faces and the warmer sun are all indications that Spring is well and truly here!

19-09-2014 10-43-53 AMCoogee pool tempting locals to brave the cold water.

19-09-2014 10-44-06 AMEarly light showing Coogee in all its glory!

19-09-2014 10-44-19 AMPoolside at The Crown of Coogee.

 

5 Travel Experiences That Will Change Your Life… (One Way or Another)

Rome

As a child I would watch Tin Tin cartoons and dream of accompanying my hero and his dog Snowy through the ancient world as we discovered tombs and hunted for ancient treasures. While I still love Tin Tin and the odd Indiana Jones repeat, my love of ancient history bloomed in my adult years when I undertook a history under-grad degree. After university, I travelled through Europe for a few months and visited many of the cities and sites that I had spent years studying. From Pompei to the Acropolis, I relished the opportunity to put my knowledge into practice and annoy my friends with fact after fact. The pinnacle of this trip was the week I spent in Rome. After a couple of days dragging my mate around to old temples and archaeological sites throughout the city, I was encouraged to spend the remaining days on my own (the novelty of a free tour guide had well and truly worn off!). For me, Rome was, and still is the centre of the ancient world and provides a snapshot of the people who shaped the modern world as we know it.

15-09-2014 3-23-38 PMThe Roman Forum.
Family Road Trip Across the USA & Canada

When I was 15 years old, my parents, my sister and I packed our suitcases and flew to L.A for what would be the adventure of a lifetime. After a flight to New Orleans, we hired a car and spent three months driving from the deep south all the way up the east coast to the Canadian border and then from Montreal across to Vancouver. Obviously the sights that we saw along the way were unforgettable but the most precious thing I took out of that trip is the memory of truly getting to know my nearest and dearest. There were times when we laughed, there were times when we were at each other’s throats but in the end, spending all that time in a car and exploring towns and cities we had dreamt of visiting is something that I am truly blessed to have experienced.

P1050374NYC baby!
India

For those who have been lucky enough to visit India (or unlucky enough, depending on your outlook on life), you will understand that you do not return from this country without being changed in one way or another. I visited India as a 19-year-old and for me, the experience brought out the best and the very worst in me. I learned what it really meant to be trapped in a crowd. I learned how to be more tolerant of others. I saw what true poverty looks like and I experienced how an upset stomach can make you believe that you are in fact dying! While I have memories of being pick pocketed and staring into the eyes of a homeless child as they begged for my money, I was able to see the beautiful side of the place that over 1 billion people call home. There is no place like India. You cannot get that same feeling of complete chaos in any other place on this earth.

15-09-2014 3-29-09 PMFluro painted Elephant in traffic: You will only see this in India.
Cambodia

I once spent a few months travelling overland from Bangkok, through Cambodia, into Southern Vietnam and then up into China (all the way to Beijing). This trip had so many standout moments that I would need to write a book to include them all, but the one place that I still think back to more than the others is Cambodia. The islands off the coast of Cambodia are beautiful, the food is unique and the history is complex, but it is the Cambodian people who left their mark on my mind and my psyche. The Cambodian people have suffered through what ranks as one of the greatest crimes against humanity in history yet they manage to still smile. They welcomed me into their villages and homes and made me realise how lucky I am to live in a country where I am free to live a life of my own choosing. While they still struggle with the history of their fractured country and the genocide that they were brutally forced to live through, their outlook on life is second to none. They taught me that those things in life that make you happy cannot be bought.

15-09-2014 3-26-05 PMCambodia has its fair share of temples, but it is the people I remember most.
Road trip to Northern NSW

I have travelled a lot in my small amount of time on this earth however there are not many experiences that compare to a road trip up the east coast of New South Wales in Australia. I am lucky enough to call this area my backyard and try to get away as often as possible. The beaches, mountains and wildlife are pristine and seemingly untouched in a lot of places and for surfers, it doesn’t get much better than uncrowded waves all day long, followed by a few beers around a campfire of an evening. Over the years, road trips up the coast with my mates and my family have moulded my understanding of the world, given me an appreciation of the natural habitat and also some unforgettable encounters with wildlife. On these road trips over the years, I caught my first wave as a 10-year-old, I shared my first beer with my dad years after that and I hope to one day share these experiences with my own children.

20140422_173630Sunset on the NSW North Coast.

 

15-09-2014 3-22-38 PMRome’s Colosseum.

 

15-09-2014 3-24-08 PMRome: Giant Louie or little car?

The Week in Photos

Weather wise, it has been a mixed bag in Sydney lately. We have had three straight weeks of rain, wind and storms, however the sun has come out to play these last couple of days. You can see the change in people’s faces and everyone seems to have an extra spring in their step. I am definitely a summer person. Nothing compares to barbecues on the beach, swimming all day long and drinking beers in the afternoon sun. These last couple of days has me thinking of our approaching summer. There is a smile on my face :)

Below are some photos I took over the last week or so. They are a bit of a mixed bag, just like the weather we’ve had here of late. Enjoy!

:: Louie ::

5Maroubra: Rubix cube lefts and rights.

6Coogee: Just after sunrise.

3Mid-North Coast of NSW: The boys, panoramic surf check.

2Maroubra: So lucky to have this only a few miles from the CBD.

7Maroubra: Early morning rain…again.

4Mid-North Coast solitude.

 

What Oscar Said Rings Oh So True

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Take a moment to process this quote by Oscar Wilde. Read it again and then think. Think about what it truly means to live and to be alive.

As I get older, and hopefully a little wiser, the notion of living has become more prevalent and to a point, the main driver in my life. For each of us, the idea of what constitutes living is different. For some, it is spending time with family, for others it is fashion, eating out at up market restaurants or following a sporting team. For me, like many others, living is about exploring new places and cultures while pushing myself outside of my comfort zone so I can grow and become a better person.

For many people in this world, there is no choice but to simply exist. The daily struggle for food, clean water and basic survival does not allow the mind to dream. For those who are lucky enough to not be burdened with this reality, the notion of escaping the mundane nature of daily life is something that at one time or another touches us all. For these people, the basis to their happiness must be connected to the realisation that they are lucky enough to have choices in life. The choice to take their life in a direction of their choosing.

Up until this point, I have been lucky enough to see a lot of what the world has to offer. These experiences have ultimately changed me and shaped who I am today, for better or worse. While I am not one to give out advice, my one point to this post is this:

The fact you are reading a blog post probably means that you have some control over the activities you undertake in this life. Make the most of what you have. It might only be the ability to change your approach to everyday life, to look at it from a new angle or to increase doing those little things that make you smile on the inside. Whatever it is, stop planning, stop saying it is too hard, take it off your list of long-term goals and do it in the immediate future. Nothing in life is guaranteed. At the end of all of this, all you will have are your memories and hopefully a smile on your face.

Below are a few photos I have snapped over the years on the road. Enjoy!

2Tulum, Mexico: Live simply. No electricity or running water.

5Santorini, Greece: Step through doors other than those of your house and your office.

3Mexico: Tacos. Eat locally.

1Sri-Lanka: Take a train ride to somewhere different.

4NYC, USA: Don’t be afraid to look over the edge. Sometimes what lays beneath isn’t all that bad.

8Blue Mountains, Australia: Admire the view from a different angle.

6Hoi An, Vietnam: Appreciate what others do so you can live the life you have.

 

 

 

My Friend Rasheed

I once had a friend. We were close without knowing anything about each other except for the other’s name and from where we had both come. Our bond, one that was strong and built on mutual respect, was all that we had. Our ability to communicate was minimal if it existed at all. My friend’s name was Rasheed.

Rasheed and I met on a street corner several years ago in the Basque town of Donostia. In the summer, this sleepy town erupts with life as foreign tourists flood to the beaches and pintxo bars, but here, on this corner in the middle of February, the sun is still a few hours from rising and the snow has been falling all night. For the whole long and seemingly endless night.

As I stood, gloved hands in pockets, waiting for no one in particular, I noticed a shadow of a man rummaging through the bins in the park across from the corner on which I stood. As I crossed the empty street, the man stopped what he was doing and retreated backwards to somewhere between the light and the dark. This, I later learnt, was where Rasheed was most comfortable.

Scrounging together a grammatically putrid introduction, I softly told the man hiding in the shadows my name and asked for his in return. Waiting in silence, I was disappointed with myself that my paltry efforts to learn the local language had, again, let me down. Half way through making my mental note to attend my scheduled conversation class for the next day, the man in the shadow replied in a raspy voice, one that sounded as if it was starved of every basic need that a human being deserves. “Mucho gusto, mi nombre es Rasheed”.

Gingerly, I hoaxed the man from his comfortable shadow and offered him a pack of biscuits that I had in the pocket of my winter jacket. Unsure of my sincerity, he initially refused, only to accept upon my insistence. From that night on, our relationship centred entirely around food. Not as you and I enjoy food with our families and friends, but as a point of survival.

My mind has made its own version of how Rasheed came to be in that snow-covered park on that cold night from his origins in Northern Africa. The reality is, I will never know Rasheed’s story as he will never know mine. At times, I sit at my desk thinking back to that night and wonder where Rasheed is now, or if in fact he still is. The weathered skin, the missing teeth, the torn clothing and the dirty fingernails were not an accurate representation of the man who I came to know. The man who I respected. My friend Rasheed.

 

Daring to Dream

title 2

Over the years, my bucket list has taken on different forms with the order changing and certain items dropping off, only to be replaced by something new to reflect my changing priorities and needs in life. While my bucket list has been somewhat fluid over the years, there are those certain ticket items that have not changed. For me, these items are located in the upper tier of the list and are those activities and goals that I have dreamt of since I was a boy.

My list is not entirely unique. It contains some items that are typically found in any given bucket list. I would love to one day jump out of a plane in a solo skydive. I want to actively monitor and take part in a sea turtle breeding program to increase the numbers of Loggerhead Turtles. I want to spend a week in the Rwandan rainforest tracking gorillas, just to lay there in silence for hours with nothing around to distract me from observing these majestic animals in their natural environment. While listing and describing my top 50 items may cause some of you to doze off or hurriedly click the close icon, I have decided to include only my top three items in this post. There is no timeframe on ticking these items off, except for that of my lifetime. I hope to one day, years from now, reflect on my life as I pass from this world to the next and smile as I remember all the adventures I had and the people I met and loved along the way.

Counting down from three to one, my bucket list looks a little something like this:

3. Free-dive with Tiger Sharks: Everything about this goes against everything you were ever told to do. The logical part of your brain raises a big stop sign and implores your rational self to say, “Come on now, let’s think about this before we do something stupid”, right? For those of you who have read my blog before, you will know that my life and world centres on the greatest life force on this earth: the ocean. We humans have been bred to fear the oceans greatest predators but I am very much of the opinion that these creatures are simply misunderstood. I am not saying that I won’t be laying on the bottom in complete fear when I get the chance to do this, but the thought of being accepted as a guest in the home of such a creature is something that excites me greatly.

juansharks

Photo Credit: @juansharks (Instagram).

2. Learn to speak Spanish fluently, quit my job and spend a year in the Basque Country writing: The very fact that I have even put this notion out into the public realm is a giant step for me. For you see, I was brought up in a world where a man was supposed to be a man. You didn’t have time to sit down and write out feelings and thoughts that you weren’t supposed to even have. You were supposed to build things, fix engines, drink beer and watch football. While I enjoy doing these things, I have learnt to balance them with my other passions: writing, photography and exploring other creative aspects of my life.

A few years ago, I spent six months living in San Sebastian (previous blog post found here), running a guest house and living what is commonly referred to as “The Dream”. I often find myself staring out the window dreaming of the day I return to this happy place. Before I get there though, I want to learn to speak Spanish fluently so I can chat with the locals instead of only throwing the odd broken phrase at them in between sips of wine and mouthfuls of Pinxos. I dream of renting a small apartment with a simple kitchen, a bed and a writing desk with nothing on it but a vintage typewriter and a stack of blank note pads waiting to be filled with my thoughts. This dream is not about making money or even publishing my writing. It is more concerned with the process of living the simple life.

P1070320

The simple life in the Basque Country.

1. Spend time cruising the islands of Indonesia with my father and my son surfing: OK, a little caveat here… I don’t actually have any children yet but I have always dreamt of the day when the three of us head off to Indo on a surf charter together. Three generations living simply, surfing perfect waves and exploring parts less-known. Obviously this list item is not anywhere near achievable at the moment since there is no immediate prospect of children on the horizon, but I am a patient person. In between now and then, I have a lot of other items to tick off my list.

The important thing to remember with any bucket list is to enjoy life in between ticking off your items. Sometimes we have to do things that aren’t all that exciting. It is nice to have dreams and goals to focus on to get you through these times.

clarkelittle1The grace and beauty of the Sea Turtle (Photo Credit: Clarke Little).

abcexploreMy Bucket List: Confronting my fears (Photo Credit: @abcexplore – Instagram).