The lady I met in a sushi place

This is the lady I met in a sushi place.
It’s my favorite photo from Japan. It explains the whole culture and people of the country.
I left it untouched.

We met this lady in a tiny local sushi place in Kyoto. The stuff didn’t speak English and she tried to help us and have some conversation, all I understood she’s from Kyoto and she grew there up and even thought I couldn’t understand what was she trying to say to me, the way she tried to help and the way it made her laugh will mean this place forever.


The lady I met in a sushi place Kyoto, Japan, 29.07.2014.

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about coming back home

As you turned this blog on, with quite probably the intention of reading what I am about to write, first of all I need to declare that I haven’t been in any crazy bug-eating, tuc-tuc riding, geisha country recently. I don’t even clearly remember where have I been last time, before I came home, so if you are in a national geographic explorer mood, I’m probably not going to help you this time, and probably it’s a way more smart to turn the national geographic explorer page, which I may do myself.
Instead of telling you about what have I seen and how did I collect my jaw from the ground because of seeing another thing that doesn’t fit in my brain, I just want to talk to myself, to understand my poor stewardess brain, lost in the time and space.

Of course I do remember my last trip before going home. I went Brisbane, and the accumulation of the Australian flights, which I love, in the last month roster successively exhausted my body to the point I thought my ears and full of excitement brain will blow up once finally landing in Dubai. And this is how I went home.

Even though landing in Warsaw international airport, which reminds me of the times when communists were building all the ugliest possible buildings in my country, so now we can look at them and have an excuse for our national melancholy (I didn’t mean to be too critical. But the airport really does look this way, I swear to Lord) in fact made me feel like I delivered a second baby with my left ear (the first one came to the world during the landing in Dubai), but the place I finally found surrounding me, felt just right.

The first thing that has shocked me was, that everybody speaks in a language I understand, with an accent I understand too. I’m not entirely sure whether I was more happy or overwhelmed with all the words coming from every angle straight to my brain. Living in a different continent makes you feel that the ear is the right place for the sounds to finish their, in many cases pointless journey, nowhere further on. Unless the sound is clearly directed to you, in which case you can make a surprised facial expression and at the second try decode the accent from a place on the globe you quite probably have never heard about and may never hear again.

But the thing that really shocked me is, that after almost a year of placing my body and brain on the most unexpected points all over the globe, I finally understood, what is the meaning of the word “home”.
I’ll tell you what is probably my biggest problem as a cabin crew: I have clearly became a gypsy. I am so confused, that I mix up the meaning of familiar with family, cosy with home etc. Basically every time I go to the place for at least second time, and I’m able to recognize the location of the hotel, or even -oh heavens!- the face of the hotel boy, I feel almost like I came for a family party, where I know everybody and everything, and I feel so comfortable, that taking a lonely walk in the night feels like the safest thing to do. When on my flight there is a cabin crew, that I met on one flight, and liked, I feel almost like I’m flying with a childhood best friend.

It must be an empty, magazine cover life, I thought when I looked at what I wrote.

When I go to Germany, I feel almost surprised, that there’s none of my friends that I could go out for a coffee in the evening: Germany feels so close to my hometown, even though saying so would probably get me a problem if I was there. Architecture is so similar. Food tastes similar too.
When I am in the New Zealand, it feels so cosy and warm that I almost believe I am going to meet my grandma there, going on a bike to the grocery store.
In Jakarta there is a shopping center that makes me feel like in my hometown: I remember the chronology of the shops there. If you want to know how to get to the closest grocery store from the Sydney Opera I can close my eyes and draw you a map.
This is probably why going home, which is an actual home has totally shocked me. I would say, it has totally strucked me dumb.

Lying in my childhood, unbelievably uncomfortable bed makes me feel, like none of what I’ve done for the previous ten months has happened. My dog looks exactly the same. He is just as excited about going on a walk to the same forest everyday, as he has been three years ago, when I cried because of my exam session at uni. There is the same stuff in a fridge. On a wall there are vinyls I brought two years ago, 1 zloty each in an old second hand bookstore.
The titles are in Russian. They don’t mean anything to me, but I can describe you the weather, the location of the bookstore, the way back home on the day I got them. I even remember the plastic bag I carried them in.

Places have smells. Have you realized that?
These smells are inherent. They are just as much the part of the place as the place is a part of itself. You need to go faraway, and fill up your nose with a lot of different ones to come back, and realize that what you smell, is where you are from.
It’s stronger than onion, but smells more like lilies.

The smell of home has almost made me cry.
The blanket left on a floor, dog’s food stinging your feet on a way to the bathroom, the sound of the tv downstairs.

What I realized is, that I am not quite sure who I am.
I have probably lost myself a little bit, visiting all these places. I have probably talked a bit too much with people that names I don’t even remember.
World is not a small place at all.
I know it sounds nice, but do not say that.
There is seven milliards one hundred thirty seven millions five thousand seventy seven and seven hundred seventy people on the world. Do you ever thing about this number?
I never do.

On average I am doing ten, eleven flights a month. On each of these flights there are around three hundred faces on the way there and another three hundred faces on the way back. These faces are always different.
Some of these people are very fat, or have mustache, or are very tiny and cry all the way.

On one of my last flights there was a boy who was crying all the way, all the seven hours. When I was passing by, he stretched his little baby hand pointing at cups I had on my cart. He took a cup and threw it at a face of a gentlemen sitting behind. All the faces around, including the gentlemen himself looked with a mix of disbelief and shock when the boy started laughing. Only the tired dad holding him on his lapse was apologizing, but the boy has made made me smile too.

When you go to the places you don’t know and loose yourself a bit in a seven milliard crowd, you realize that home is probably the most important dot on a map. If your room is in a color you don’t like, or some of your friend pissed you off – it really doesn’t matter.

I’m writing this, so maybe you can lie on your bed, stretch your legs, turn off your facebook and shout back to your mum that you are not hungry and that you don’t want to eat her dinner, and stop dreaming about all the other people lives. Because wherever you are, it is quite probably a right place.

This is how I am going to finish this therapeutic guide for myself and stretch my legs too.

Boys and girls, be good to your mummy and daddy.
Wash your teeth and go to bed early.

About being 32,000 ft above the ground

I love my job

I love my job

Juices, water, soft drinks. More cups. Too much water. I am preparing the cart for the next service. I am doing it mechanically, I feel like I’ve done it so many times now. In the meantime somebody pops up in the kitchen and asks me for the tea. I make the tea, we talk.

Where are you flying to?

This is the question I asked so many times, it could be my name now. It comes out of my mouth naturally, feels almost like I was breathing it out. But it isn’t worn out. The answers still make me smile. The interest on my face is not fake. I want to know. I still can’t believe all the crazy places that people go to, and all the different reasons they have. I am just as passionate about traveling as I was being seventeen. There is more that one million reasons to fly.

The man asks me whether I miss my family. We’ve been already flying for ten hours. I haven’t slept for around twenty, the time zone change is killing me. It is dark in the cabin. All the windows are closed and most of the passengers sleep, some of them stretch their legs next to the kitchen, some watch the movie. From time to time I open the window blind just to look outside, but there is no Sun, it is still dark outside. All the big cities we are passing by look like Christmas trees. Looking at them calms me down. I think about what people do. I wonder whether they are happy. Once I saw how the half of some city got cut out from electricity. I looked at it, and the part of it just turned black, like it was never there.

You know, when the mine gets cut off, or some massive shopping center, everything just stops, people panic, some die.

But when I am up there and I see a part of the world going black, I don’t think about any of these. It is too far away to think about it. It just doesn’t feel realistic.

When the man asks me the question, I feel confused. I do miss my family. And I miss my friends. But I haven’t seen the Sun for more than fifteen hours, we are going West. What I miss the most at this very moment is the world. I think about blending strawberries. I want to blend strawberries. I miss the sound of the cars in the morning, when I sit on the balcony and drink my tea. I miss it how the day changes, how it cools down in the evening and people go out from their houses. I miss people riding their bikes. I miss making a grocery shopping and sitting in my bed eating chocolate. All these things feel so far away. They feel much more afar than these 32,000 ft that actually separates me from them and I don’t know which reality is real: the one up there, or the one I miss.

It is still five more hours to go. I feel tired. But not frustrated. I am doing my job. There is a young mum with a nine months baby girl on her lap in my cabin. The baby girl cries, and the older lady sitting next to her tries to help her best. She smiles.

There is around sixty people in the cabin I am responsible for. All the different kind of people: mother with babies, elderly going on the life trip, students, people who don’t speak any English, people who are tired, sad, happy, excited. I probably won’t recognize their faces on ground, but that is okay, they won’t recognize me neither.

One man comes to the kitchen to stretch his legs. I get him a water. His accent is Australian, but he tells me he goes to Warsaw. It makes me happy. We change to Polish, which uncomfortably distances us with it’s formal “Pan, Pani” (tr. Sir, Madam). It takes a while until our native language start sounding natural.

He moved to Adelaide in 1981, running away from the occupation in Poland. He tells me about these times, and they are still alive in the way he talks about them. There was nothing there, only fear, it didn’t look anything like Poland he is going to see again in next 10 hours. I asked him, why Adelaide. He doesn’t know. He didn’t choose. It was the only place he could go to right now, and back than he couldn’t wait, so he took his things, he took his wife and moved to the other end of the globe, knowing anything about it. We talk for quite a while. He says that life in Australia is just easier. It goes smoother, and that is where he belongs. But we also agree on the way it feels to hear your mother tongue up there, when you don’t expect to hear it at all. It feels a little bit like, out of a sudden, you were being reminded of who you are by a stranger. It is not an easy feeling to describe.

When I am in the plane I think differently. I think a lot about the consequences. I think what may happen, if this container is not latched properly. I think what may happen, when you stand up from your seat too early, or don’t put your seat belt on, or when I am too tired to think and to focus my vision at the fixed point. It is a job and as every job you do most of your time, it turns into a routine. But the part of my routine is also to think, at every single take off and landing, about how to evacuate all of my passengers the quickest I can. Whether I can open my doors or not. Whether I can open or block my doors if we land on water. I make sure whether the sound that the plane made, while the wheels got out is normal. Whether the wing looks all right. I think about where the oxygen bottle is, in case if the lady sitting in front of me looking pale faints. I wonder what medicines takes the older man in the other seat and whether it won’t work differently in the cabin pressure.

What I wanted to say is, that after fifteen hours flight you can forget you are the human being. You don’t think about whether you have to do washing next day or not, or whether your bills are paid. Up there everything is different. The air feels different. The sounds are different. Me, other crew (that I only met few hours ago), and all the three hundred people who go around the world for their own, unique reasons are in this all together. You can be tired to the point you are not sure whether you can stand straight, but you are responsible and there is no way out. I think this is my greatest lesson from my job. There is no way out different than patience.

Being a cabin crew is not only about going to all these amazing places and taking photos with the Eiffel Tower, buying all these great souvenirs and sending postcards to your friends, looking great on the airports.

You know what do I dream about when we get on the ground? That maybe somebody waits for me with the flowers on the airport. I always catch myself staring at name plates people hold on waiting in the arrivals meeting point. They stare at me too, but none of the plates has my name written on it. We go straight to the bus, load the suitcases.

The job is done.

NZ: about kiwis and sheep

First of all Kiwis don’t like Aussies.

And Aussies don’t like Kiwis.

It’s actually pretty offensive when Aussie’s call Kiwis “Kiwis”, but Aussies get offended once Kiwis call them “Aussies” too.

I asked one Australian lady on the New Zealand flight whether she would fancy any milk in her tea. She looked at me surprised and said “milk? We don’t really drink tea with milk in Australia. Only kiwis do”.

If you’re a bit confused, and still don’t know what do I talk about, let me clear it up.

Ladies and gents, this is KIWI. I know you thought it’s small green and tasty, but it’s not. It has feathers, big nose and it’s not suitable for vegetarians.

What’s the relation between this small funny thing and the New Zealand? Let me ask you what is the first think that comes to your mind when you think of Australia. Is it big, jumping and carrying a bag with its baby on a belly? I guess I got it right. Basically as much as kangaroo means Australia, kiwi means New Zealand. Or probably even more, because I’ve never heard anybody calling Aussie people “kangaroos”. That would be actually quite funny: “you know Kiwis drink tea with milk, but kangaroos just don’t”.

I hope this post hasn’t offended any sheep so far. Because sheep means New Zealand just as much. The Sheepland. The Promised Land of the Sheep. Everywhere you go, there’s some sheep randomly hanging out with its sheep friends, buying fridge magnets and postcards with sheep. There are sheep key rings, and sheep t-shirts too.

Okay, I’ve overdone it a little but. Beside tourists shops full of sheep souvenirs, you’re not going to see any of that. You’re not gonna see a sheep in the Auckland shopping mall, neither on the street. It is a stereotype. Just as much as people will associate Russians with vodka, England with tea, they assume that every New Zealander is a sheppard. And how New Zealanders laugh at this stereotype and turn it into touristic catch-up phrase only proves what an amazing, self-distanced and relaxed nation they are.

People in New Zealand wear relaxed clothes and do relaxed things. The houses look more cosy, shop assistants are more friendly. There are no Ferrari cars driving in Auckland, even though it’s ranked as the third city on the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, among the cities such as Zurich, Geneva, Vienna. The difference between these cities and Auckland is that New Zealand simply doesn’t seem to care about the surveys. Nobody seems to be bothered whether the city goes up or down in the survey, nobody seems to care about Ferrari car and Chanel bags. Luis Vuitton store is just next doors to the tiny souvenir shop. People know how to enjoy their life and the life is good: there’s no point in making too much fuss about it. There are small dodgy looking weed shops just next to the noodle stores, there are parks, there are seagulls and the ocean. Nothing seems forced, everything looks a bit slow, a bit like it was taking its time. New Zealand feels a bit like it could be the philosophy of how to live your life.

This calm and relaxed atmosphere does not match very well with the extreme entertainments it has to offer. Stuff like bungee jumping, jumping from the tallest tower in the country, throwing yourself up to some 400 meters high in the metal ball are the things that people seem to be doing for fun. There is one particular picture that comes to my mind when I think about this funny relation between relaxed and extreme. The two friends of mine, the other crew I went to the town with, got in one of these crazy machines that sends you up to the sky and back. The picture I hold in my mind is the guy in his casual home clothes with two massive grocery bags in both hands looking up at my friends being thrown on some 400 meters up. He doesn’t seem impressed at all, he looks more like he was reading the ingredients on his muesli pack, he just stops for a second, looks up, and goes back home, or wherever people with hands full of grocery bags go. The reason why this particular shot comes to my head every time I think of New Zealand is because, this is exactly how New Zealand feels like.

It is a crazy, amazing place. You can see the Vulcanos from almost everywhere you go. It has the most beautiful islands on the world, places where penguins just cross the roads as it was the most normal thing on the world. If you feel a bit down, you can jump from the highest tower and stay alive. It’s where they shot “The Lord of The Ring”. Basically, it is a magical place. But just like the man in his too big flip flops carrying the potatoes and beer back from the grocery store, nobody makes too much fuss about it. Nobody is going to build there a new Burji Khalifa, if you know what I mean.

What I can say is, I love New Zealand and I love its people. Even when sometimes their accent makes me absolutely clueless. It is not the kind of place where I would take my family on the dream trip to shock them. It will not surprise you with “the biggest, the richest”, it is not a kind of place that would impress everybody. If you love Ferrari and starve yourself for a Chanel bag you’re probably not going to like it. Actually it’s going to bore you to death.

But it is okay too.

P.S. Have a look at this too: The 25 hardest things about living in the New Zealand. It’s pretty fun.

 



SYD, Australia

I was planning to write about Sydney since a while.  While it comes relatively easy to write and talk about faraway places that are so so different from all you know, it is not an easy task to write about Sydney and to show it the way I want to. The places like China, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, they shocked me. I loved them just like I love Sydney, but that was a different kind of love: a love to something new, shocking, unpredictable. In Asia people eat bugs on a sticks, in Nigeria sell shoes on the highways, Sri Lankans ride these crazy three-wheel vehicles on a busy roads: you cannot believe what you see, but it’s a fact, it’s a thing you can’t deny. Nobody eats bugs in Sydney (at least this is what I hope for), and all the cars look pretty normal. You get your shoes from topshop or h&m and there’s no much fuss about it neither.

Being a cabin crew gives you some new, different perspective. You go and see places, but you don’t live any of them. Most of the places don’t become anything personal for you. You get a general definition, but you see them from some kind of distance. I suppose it makes it much easier to write about them. I guess I’m able to tell you in few words what is Bejing and quite probably I will hit the nail better then a person who lives there for years. Does it mean that I know it? Not at all.

Believe it or not, but this 24 hours distanced perspective I get makes it much easier to describe and compare what I see. Have you ever noticed that the look of people faces in the certain places are so much different? Some places are made of proud faces, some of the tired ones, some ashamed. Living in one place makes you loose the ability to see that. Living nowhere makes you see it black on white.

In a way Sydney became my home for three nights and three days; even if the timezone change made nights the days and the other way round. Anyway, this most faraway place I will probably ever get to see, was not faraway at all.

In fact, it was so much  n o t  a faraway place that in the beginning I felt a bit confused. After a 14 hours chasing the sunrise flight, switching your watch to some crazy timezone in which you message your boyfriend saying “goodnight” in the morning, you do expect something shocking. More specifically, you expect to open the doors and get out to Narnia or something like that.

But Sydney just looks like it could be home.

I suppose it is shocking in a way. It is a place that comforts you. It is a place where older people hold hands walking in the park, where dogs look like they were smiling at all times and their tails go left and right, left and right. There’re no prices in the local grocery stores so after a while you decide to stop bombarding the shop assistant with billion of questions and just buy what you feel like. Massive buildings are surrounded by the parks where parrots chase you for a biscuit, people lie on a grass or go on a beach to say hello to the seagull. Maybe you’ll see some young couple getting married near the Sydney Opera House with all the strangers standing around, smiling and taking photos, just like they got a special invitation. People don’t seem to worry much in Sydney.

Time zone makes me wake up really early and really hungry, so I’ll go out as soon as the Sun comes up. I’m feeling restless in bed. I like these busy week mornings in a city a lot: people wear smart suits, they talk on the phones and walk fast. The sound of heels mixes up with the honks of the cars and seagulls singing, it wakes you up better than a coffee.

At the same time there’s a different reality going on five minutes away on feet. The high fence surrounded by the trees full of singing birds separate the busy, crowded Sydney from the Sydney of people holding hands and babies chasing the parrots. And I think this is my favourite one. Doesn’t matter how many times you go to Botanical Gardens: every time I get lost or find a path that didn’t know about. There’s a field full of birds not bothered about photographers, there’s a spices garden that makes your nose go funny, there’s a path next to the Sydney river full of boats going there and back, a small Greek garden and a palm house. And in all these places children run, people smile and dogs get their tongues out looking happy.

It does sound like a dream, and it does look like one too. But this dream has its price too.

There are no prices on the grocery stores and it’s okay coz I just buy a small coconut water. It’s relatively cheap, but still the most expensive I had. On a flight back I talk with the couple of European immigrants. They told me the Sydney gets more and more expensive. It was their heaven on the earth, they said, but they can’t afford this heaven anymore.

Is it the way of not getting the heaven overcrowded? I suppose so. I’m pretty sure there are more immigrants in Sydney than Aussie people. It may, or may not be a good thing. And as much as I’m trying to be objective and distanced, I cannot blame anybody who moved the half of the globe to spend there their life. It just seems like a right thing to do.














/du-buy/ (continued)

This place has many more colors and faces than you see in the television news.
There is some history of Dubai, it’s a bit forgotten and doesn’t really have much to do with the city we see today. It probably won’t last for long neither.
As most of the places around the world origin from their history, and most of people are proud of it, build the monuments and write books to keep it alive, Dubai cuts off from it roots. It builds the biggest world towers, creating a completely new identity, leaving its origin in the forgotten parts of the city which are rarely visited by the tourists tempted by the biggest world shopping malls.
For me the history of this place are these tired faces and the smell of the spices.
These are not the things that last forever though.






Switzerland

Zurich looks like a place where the life is a bit easier.
It makes a perfect sense, because they say it has the highest nominal wealth per adult in the world, and the Swiss people have the second-highest life expectancy in the world. You can feel it everywhere you go.
There’s no cheap shopping in Switzerland. The train ticket for the 30 minutes ride will cost you 24 franks, which is around 20 euros, and the fresh bread around 5. The only reason why you’re not going to decide to starve yourself and walk this distance on your tired feet is: in Switzerland you know where do your money go. The bread is just fresher, the train ride is more fun and the grass looks greener.

We woke up quite early, before eight and took a train to the Uetliberg, a mountain where the Zurich television tower is located. It was cold and grey: the thing about Switzerland climate is, it is not very regular. You may freeze your ass off during the springtime, and I’m usually too naive and spoiled by Dubai weather to pack any proper winter clothes.
The train goes all the way up to the mountains, passing all the Swiss little wooden houses and rides through the middle of the forest, making you feel like you were the Hogwart new joiner.

The city feels very cosy. This grey weather actually suits this feeling: you can see a warm light in the windows of the colorful houses. Gentleman in their big round hats sit in the teahouses and drink the hot tea. All the tiny streets go up and down, making you exercise your legs. The city is full of bicycles: this made me feel very impressed once trying to reach the top of another street going all the way up.

We went inside a small chocolate shop. Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, so you can find a fancy chocolate shop on every corner. The older elegant lady tried to explain me why the Swiss chocolate with some green liquor on the top is so special, and so worth its ridiculous price. As I couldn’t and didn’t really want to afford it, I tried to change the topic before she got too passionate. There was a photo of Leonardo di Caprio in the shop: the lady got very proud once asked about it and told me how Leonardo di Caprio came to her shop with his parents, and she tried to keep him forever, and he loved her chocolate. She made me smile.

The people in Switzerland seem relaxed. Everything seems a bit slow, people don’t run on the train station (well, except me) because the next train is going to be there in ten minutes. If you’re lost, the train station cleaners will explain you the way with their perfect English, looking happy about the fact they can help. It’s not the kind of smiley place: people are not going to smile at you everywhere you go, but there’s something poetic in it.
There is something in the city that is going to make you feel proud to say “I’m from Europe”. And as your Europe may not remind anything from what surrounds you there, it’s just nice to forget it sometimes and tire your legs in the place like that.