My favourite number is 13. Not because I was born on the 13th, or that the number 13 has significance in my life, but because I figure that a number that is unlucky for some has to be lucky for someone.
Much in the same way, the year that was essentially a real-life season of Game of Thrones for the world actually turned out to be a pretty awesome year for me personally. And not because I’m a “Leave” supporter or a Donald Trump fan. My year just kind of happened that way.
So sorry (not sorry) to gloat and rub it in your face, 2016, but you did not break me. 2016 had to be lucky for someone, right?
2015 had been a shaky year for me, and I was glad to see the back of it. I had told friends and family that I needed a change, maybe to leave Hong Kong, but that it was, “2016 Amy’s problem” to figure out. Little did I know that 2016 would take that decision into it’s own hands…
It was in January, when we were all listening mournfully to David Bowie’s greatest hits, that my boss sat us all down and revealed that the company was going under. I spent that evening drinking a lot of wine, but I knew it was Hong Kong’s way of nudging me in the right direction. I started to re-evaluate what I wanted and make plans for the rest of the year.
You thought you’d got me there, didn’t you, 2016? Well, tough luck, I got you right back by having the best year ever.
(Also, after five or so years of saying, “Oh, I’ll get round to it eventually,” I finally started this really cool blog called Page Traveller. You should totally check it out!)
It was the Chinese New Year holiday weekend when my friends and I attempted to hike the MacLehose Trail from start to finish. We managed a valiant effort to Stage 3 out of ten before we froze in our tents, twisted our ankles and decided to turn back, just in time to see a Year of the Monkey monkey greeting us at the bus stop.
I also miraculously passed my Mandarin assessment (a course that taught me no useful conversational Mandarin), and an old friend came to visit Hong Kong, prompting a mini Chatteris reunion.
What’s that you said, 2016? The longest and coldest winter that Hong Kong has on record? Well, 2016, winter is coming, and I am the White(Wolf) Walker of your nightmares.
On March 12th I turned 26, along with the million other people I know who share my birthday. I planned celebrations tentatively, as many of my birthdays have been rather ‘eventful’ in the past, but this year turned out to be one of the best.
We started with food and beers in bowls at the North Point Cooked Food Centre, casually moving on to the Belgian bar in Central, I vaguely remember a chocolate daiquiri in a nameless dark bar as well as a yellow-coloured cocktail in a nameless super-creepy bar, definitely some 7-eleven drinks in there somewhere, all culminating in dancing (and very loud singing) to the live band in Insomnia and, my personal highlight, McDonald’s breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Hey 2016, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 26.
In March, I also went to…
JAPAN. Rob and I city-hopped Osaka, Kobe, Himeji, Nara, Kyoto and Tokyo in just ten days over the Easter break. Japan was even more beautiful than we expected, even more so because we were visiting during “sakura” or cherry blossom season.
Not content with just one trip this month, I also leaped over the China Sea to meet friends on Boracay island in the Philippines (and got my phone stolen), as well as hosting an old Uni friend for a visit back in Hong Kong.
You want to steal my first-ever smartphone, 2016? Psh! Is that really the best you can do?
May was a busy month, as I handed in my notice at work after several long months working between two companies in an awkward acquisition phase. Dragon boat and junk boat season arrived, and the guests just kept coming! Because when you let your friends know that you’re leaving Hong Kong, suddenly they all want to come and visit!
See that photo, 2016? That’s me on a boat. I’M ON A BOAT. Wish you were here… not.
If May was busy, then June was insane. With one of my best friends visiting Hong Kong, I participated in my last Dragon Boat Festival, had my last day at work, and flew to Italy the very next day for a summer back teaching English at summer camps with ACLE.
It was a surreal experience going back to the same company, same training course and same places that I had done four years previously, but it was a relief to be out of Hong Kong for a while. After a fun orientation week in San Remo, my first camp was in Castelfranco, Veneto, where I stayed with the amazing Pastrello family for two weeks. Alessandra and Marco’s hospitality almost made me forget that Brexit happened.
Seriously, 2016, Brexit? Ok, I’ll give you that one – you got me real bad there. But I tell you what, I’m going to work and travel in the EU all summer, and have the best time. So there.
After two weeks with the Pastrellos, I moved to Volpago, Veneto, to stay with the Bettio family (big Harry Potter fans, we were never not going to get along). We visited Treviso, the Piave River and Venice, and I experienced my first ever Italian graduation party (drinking games galore). I also perfected my rendition of the Jellyfish song with a group of tutors and a camp that will definitely go down as one of my all-time favourites.
So, 2016, you want to sneak Theresa May in as the new Prime Minister and not even tell me? Maybe I didn’t notice because I’m having too much fun enjoying my bellisimo Italian summer SOZ.
I ended the month with a week of sightseeing in Tuscany, staying in Florence and tripping out to Pisa and Siena, before heading to my next camp in…
Manerba, Lake Garda! My jaw dropped when I saw how close my host family and the camp was to scenic Lake Garda. I’ll never forget arguing over English phrases with Andre and Rossana, playing with the adorable Aurora and all night partying at Coco Beach-a!
Then it was a week up in the mountains of Bajardo, resting my voice from weeks of singing Happy Llama, Sad Llama, drinking cheap wine and sitting around a campfire with the other tutors. There were trips to Genoa, France and Monaco, screenings of La Dolce Vita in the ruins of an old church as well as days spent at the beach, swimming in the Med. I even managed to get a reputation as the camp troublemaker, a strange feat which I am actually quite proud of.
All too soon it was back to work and back to camp, inexplicably back to the Brescia area for the upteenth time, but this was made much more bearable by another incredible host family (Hi, Eli, Gianmario, Chiara and Matilde!). Another great camp all round.
Go on, 2016, trigger article 50 already! Oh wait, you can’t, can you? Sucker.
My final camp in Monticelli, Piacenza, was my only one-week camp of the season, so seemed to pass by in a blur. Although all us tutors were exhausted, we still managed to have a laugh, swim in the swimming pool every day and go for ice-cream with the host families’ kids (helped along by Google translate).
I spent my last week in Italy back in Bajardo, relaxing, eating as much gelato as possible, and exploring the picturesque Cinque Terre. It was the perfect way to end my Italian summer.
By the end of the month, it was back to Hong Kong, accompanied by my parents who were visiting for the last time. I caught up with everyone, drank a lot of craft beer, had a romantic weekend of food poisoning in Macau, packed and re-packed my suitcases about a million times, and started to plan the next leg of my travel adventure.
Take that, 2016!
It was in October that I really took a leap of faith: I booked my flights and started my epic solo travel adventure through Southeast Asia. I left Rob at the airport bus stop for the second time in five months, backpack and passport in hand, and headed out to see the places I had always wanted to see but hadn’t got around to yet. I wasn’t leaving Asia without crossing them off my list.
The journey started in Myanmar (Burma), flying into Yangon and doing a circuit around Mandalay and Bagan. Myanmar is probably the most overwhelming place I have ever visited, and I struggled to catch my breath, which had nothing to do with the horrible cold I caught along the way. The sights were spectacular, the traffic was shocking and the food was surprisingly delicious (think Thai and Indian food combined)!
Then it was on to one of my now-favourite cities in the world; somewhere you’ve probably heard me gushing about already; pretty Luang Prabang, in Laos. From Luang Prabang it was onto Vang Vieng, which had stunning natural scenery, though the town and it’s tourist inhabitants weren’t pretty at all. Kayaking the Nam Song and frolicking in a lagoon were awesome, but the 24-hour power cut and the ‘happy’ bars playing endless episodes of Friends were not.
I ended my trip of Laos in Vientiane, a capital city with more of a small-town vibe, but the charm of which solidified Laos’ place on my top ten countries that I have visited, and I plan to return to as soon as possible.
A power cut. Oh my god, 2016, I’m quaking in my boots.
I flew on to Cambodia: cycled around the ancient city of Angkor, learnt about the history of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh and chilled by the coast in Kampot and Sihanoukville.
I crossed the border into Vietnam by bus, falling in love with bustling Saigon. However, I also took an absolute fail of a trip around the Mekong Delta (travel tip: don’t book a package tour).
Finally, I reached the last stop on my Southeast Asian bucket list, with two fantastic weeks in Bali. I hopped from Legian to Lovina, to Amed, to Ubud, to Canggu, and it wasn’t nearly enough time. A scooter injury prevented me from attending surf school, but gave me all the more reason to come back in the future.
Oh, ouch! A scooter burn! You got me there, 2016. Oh well, I’m just going to write 50,000 words of a travel memoir for NaNoWriMo. BOOM. Now, if we could just get rid of that pesky matter of Donald Trump being elected president…
… which brings us to the present. Flying back to Hong Kong, I said an emotional goodbye to the city I had called home for half a decade. I clinked my last 7-eleven beers with friends, and flew back to the UK. Christmas surrounded by friends and family has been wonderful, including a 70th birthday reunion with relatives I haven’t seen in years. It’s been a great distraction for the endless waves of reverse culture shock!
And now what? As December comes to an end and 2016 comes to a close (albeit with a finale to rival the Red Wedding), I am finally able to sit back and reflect.
I’ve achieved so much more than I could have imagined this year. The highs were higher than I thought possible, while even the lows were blessings in disguise. The scars left by 2015 were finally healed. I took bigger risks than I’ve ever done before in my life. I’ve proved to myself that I am capable of whatever I set my mind to.
It turns out that “2016 Amy’s problem” of figuring out life wasn’t a problem at all. It was an absolute pleasure.
So THERE, 2016. The curved balls that you threw at me? I caught them, covered them in glitter, fashioned them into winged unicorns and set them free.
You may think that you’ve won, 2016. There is no denying that you will go down in history as the King Geoffrey of years. You may think that you’ve trapped us all with your Donald Trumps and your Brexits; with your refugee crisis and your terrorism; with your endless tirade of mind-fuckery. You may have taken the lives of beloved public figures and won the hearts of the misinformed and closed-minded, but you did not get me.
So, what are my plans for next year? Other than fix all the shit that went down in 2016, I’m happy to make that “2017 Amy’s problem.”
Because I know she’s got it covered.