Things I’ve learnt about funerals, dying and grief

There’s no timeline for grieving

My general nature would have loved to find out some sort of formula of a timeline for things feeling better. No such luck. The ‘one year’ rule is a fallacy – sure, you have to experience all those firsts,…

The laws aren’t extensive. And they’re state based

So the NSW law obligates all dead bodies to be put into a coffin (or casket, more on that later) – whether they are being buried or cremated. And… most coffins are wooden and highly varnished. The wicker coffins, or matted wool, are lined in plastic anyhow – let’s be honest, decomposition results in fluids. Coffins vs caskets? Well, I’m still not 100% on this, but they are different profiles – a casket is a true rectangle. And they often have a hinged lid that’s split in two. A coffin is tapered, and has a lid laid on top and screwed shut.

The laws are strict once a body is in our care, so before that, you can have your deceased with you at home. Before a funeral director collects a body, no matter where from, a medical cause of death must be completed by a doctor in person. It can be a GP, or it can be someone within a hospital or nursing home. Some cultures have their deceased overnight to say last goodbyes. Even when ‘in care’ – they can be without refrigeration for eight hours, allowing for vigils.

Burial is more expensive than cremation

Figures right? Given that you’re buying a long lease holding over land. And in Sydney, more than one graveyard has water views! And beyond the cost of the land (which can have two or three people in the one plot), then you need a headstone – depending where you are buried will depend on the size of the headstone and other components of the monument.

Cremation is not a quick nor easy process. It takes time to get to the correct temperatures. And it’s not as simple as just burying the body – there’s further tasks to make a fine and consistent sized ash. And, the sanctity of life and identity remains. Everything is individualised, which is to say, done for one. There are countless checks and methods to ensure the identity of the deceased is maintained throughout the process.

Why does it cost so much?

To move a body, takes at least two people – when collecting from a hospital or home. Someone to drive to a location, move the body into a vehicle, and then into a mortuary. There, every body is washed and prepared, including being dressed, before being placed in a coffin. After this, the cheapest method would be to deliver a body straight to a crematorium, with no funeral, and this will need two people. Add in a church or chapel, or any other movement of a body and coffin requires people to carry up steps, and that’s ideally four (and it’s STILL heavy).

There are some relatively fixed costs like official death certificates or cremation fees. There’s lots of ‘if you want’ costs in orders of service, flowers, costs to churches and clergy (or chapels and celebrants). Whether you want a headstone or an urn. Though, you do get a PVC brick sized container with ashes, so one doesn’t HAVE TO have to do anything more.

Embalming?

It’s not very common in Australia. It’s incredibly common in New Zealand. It’s a highly skilled task, and preserves the body. A body must be embalmed to be entombed in a crypt or a vault – essentially any long term storage above ground. This is a specialist skill and requires certification. It is, in fact, the only qualification in the funeral industry.

Any questions you have about funerals?

Working life

After more than six months not working, it’s quite interesting to be back to working. I started on a Wednesday, so it’s the end of the second week.

I wear a uniform. Everyday. I’m not really used to that, yet. (My previous long term employment did come with a uniform, but I wore it on average once a week). Much less, that I have to wear pantyhose. I have options between a dress, a skirt and trousers, but the wool of the trousers mean I always wear something underneath to minimise itchiness. I thankfully got home early enough on Friday to be able to drop the trousers to a tailor to line.

Waverley Cemeterey – nice place to finish a working week

My start times have been a little variable, as I move around different sites to meet people and see how they do things. But I also start some ‘classroom’ style training in the coming week too. I’m appreciative that they don’t last a complete eight hour day!

Unfortunately this second week of work has also coincided with my fifth cold this season. I must be doing something wrong! Most of the week, I just poured whatever energy I had into work, and then retreated to bed for a few hours the minute I got home. I slept a few hours, then was awake for a few hours of prime time TV and some food, and then back for a full night’s sleep. My lethargy was so complete that I didn’t actually get to a chemist until Friday. I can only wonder how helpful some cold and flue medication might have been earlier in the week! It’s been a game changer!

Otherwise, how’s the work? Well, I’m not actively managing just yet, but slowly being introduced to my branch’s business, and also the parents companies brands. There’s lots of similar sorts of thing: managing a fleet of vehicles, working with the crew who will attend funerals. There’ll be a large component of running the office/depot that I’m based at, and the three satellite locations. I imagine property management will be a slow process, given corporate always has an overlay of what is possible and affordable. There’ll be a level of tidying and arranging all the inventory into sensible locations – rather than scattered across the one main location I work at. There’ll also been a bucketload of ‘this happened, now what?’ style questions – problems that arise during day to day work, and them being refereed to me, their manager, when I’m currently ill equipped to even know all the options! Honestly, it’s daunting but also good to think of your feet!

I feel this weird sense that now I should be striving. Reaching. It’s a perverse feeling, but also oh so common. Climb, grow, stretch. However, I’m in the ‘learn’ phase. Look around. Think. Ask questions. And make lists… always lists!

Day 1 in a funeral home

What a day . No photos because… that didn’t seem respectful.

Unsurprisingly I’m exhausted after my first day back working. It didn’t help that I didn’t find it easy to fall or stay asleep last night either. It started with a hiccup – the wrong express train! I was due at Lidcombe at 8:30 to try on and collect the parent brand uniforms. Thankfully, everything I needed was available in my size: skirt, pants, dress, three identical tops, a blazer, a trench coat, a cardigan, a belt, 2 of 5 pairs of stockings and leather gloves and a black hat. All in black. Most of the suiting pieces in wool too! If I’d been a white lady, there was even pearl earrings and necklaces!! (In addition to white and fawn everything).

At 10, I was collected by my equivalent – I’m coming on board to halve her heavy burden and work load. She was taking me to watch a funeral and talk me through what I was seeing. We watched the matriarch and brand ambassador conduct a priest’s funeral – a conductor doesn’t run the service – that’s for a priest or a celebrant. Then there’s a hearse driver, who the conductor travels with. Then there’s any number of mourning cars, whether internal or hired cars with drivers, who collect the family or nearest and dearest.

After the service, there was a light lunch in the parish hall. After that, those closest to the deceased continue onto the cemetery for the burial. First for me – never been to a grave side. The hearse comes up to the grave site which has been pre dug. The conductor asked if the family and friends wanted to carry the coffin this one last time (it is wheeled into and out of the church on little concertina device).

From there, we all returned to our base. A garage that fits a surprising number of vehicles, wow, tricky parking, that’s for sure. Above the garage is where the stock of coffins are, where they are trimmed and prepared. When they are selected for a service, they have the decorative handles and thumb screws added, as well as a cross as appropriate.

On the other side of the laneway from the garage is the larger building with the office – full of arrangers. These are the people who meet the family and prepare all the details. It’s an old building, so it’s a real collection of rooms and corridors and stairs.

I’ve met most of my team – I met two at the funeral, one the hearse driver and the other a mourning car driver. Back at base, I met the person filling in for the mortician who is on holidays currently, plus two other men. They are all older than me – which did not surprise me (but the reverse may not be true!). One or two of the men have been in the industry for 20ish years, but the balance have 1-2 years experience, like my boss.

At around 4pm, after having a lovely afternoon tea brought over by the recruiters who brought me on board, the men went home, I did some final paperwork, and then had what I assume is an early mark. Not a minute too soon! I am feeling it after so many hours on my feet!

Tomorrow is new job day!

Things I’m looking forward to

  • meeting new people
  • learning a whole new industry
  • feel my work is emotionally meaningful

What I’m a little apprehensive about

  • wearing a uniform again! Will it look good? Will it suit me?
  • tiredness – being unemployed has allowed me to slow down when I need to. Eight hour of work doesn’t provide as much flexibility
  • thinking I’ll be emotionally resilient – and finding I’m not!

Going into this, I’m trying to consider some strategies. Here’s what I’ve come up with

  • death is a natural part of life – even if it’s too soon or impossible to consider life without someone
  • pain and suffering ends for the person when they die, and transfers to other people. Keeping that the person is at peace is going to be helpful.
  • it’s an event – a big and important event – like a wedding. People have high expectations. And likely a sense of being ‘ripped off’. Keep those competing ideas in mind.

Let’s see how it goes!

So you wanna see dead people?

No actually.

But what has always fascinated me is knowing how things work. How electricity works. How they get power to cities. And how, the one thing we all have to do, is die. But it is largely a mystery on how the logistics of being buried or cremated happens. it’s during a stressful time of high emotions, and financial decisions and huge shifts in family dynamics.

I first thought about the funeral industry in 2009/2010 when I did a term on funerals in my one day a week floristry course. When we did the funeral unit, we had an excursion to a family owned and run funeral home. The purpose was to learn more about the terminology and how the floral arrangements were constrained by the coffins and the hearses.

No one had many questions, that I recall, on that excursion. I had a ton. (This is likely genetic, both my parents always know where a cab or Uber driver is from and how many kids they have etc etc). I thought it was a great opportunity to lift the curtain in a time when I wasn’t grieving and find out how it all worked.

Then, in 2017, my paternal grandfather and my material grandmother died. They were both the ‘last’ on each side. So I was with my parents and aunts and uncles at both their homes, clearing them out. I was the personal who was in charge of talking to the nursing home staff about when to empty grandma’s room. I had the terse conversations with one funeral company who could not shift out crematorium time an hour or two, and so also engaged with a new funeral company (not surprisingly, the one I did that excursion to in 2010!). I was calm under pressure, I was rational. I didn’t ‘do it all’, but I was a help.

So in 2018, I arranged two informational phone calls with funeral companies. I sent some emails or online inquiries, and two places got back to me. In my work lunch breaks and one weekend, I chatted to different people and worked out more of what the job entailed. And how little it paid :/

I realised: I don’t come to work for the pay. It’s a bonus. As in, it’s not cause i get ‘really huge number’ that I come to work with any more pep in my step. I resent being paid a lot and being bored, or not challenged. I’ve come to be paid exceptionally well and most of it is honestly, a bonus. I have easily met my needs and wants and still I saved money. Perhaps a high salary is great, but it’s not NEEDED. I’m still not sure how this will play out in time. I’ll be sure to blog about it when I know more. In the mean time, I have done 18 months of expense tracking, and wrote a 2019 budget. Neither of these were previous habits, so they’ve set me in good stead.

Death is one thing we all have to go through. But I want to understand how that works. How can it be done well? I don’t fear it, but I do want to understand and be ready for it.

Today, I got a verbal offer!

Career changing

So, definitely since late 2017, and into 2018, I felt a sense of ‘now what?’. I had been in the same role for long enough to have achieved a lot of what I’d hoped to, and to also be a little battle weary from the constant restructures and cost cutting/efficiency measures. I also saw both a mentor and a much loved manager be treated poorly by the company – so overall, I become just a little bit totally over work.

In early 2018, I took a month of leave at half pay. I did a week screen free (being less than 30mins screen per day). I did jigsaw puzzles and listened to podcasts. I met a recruiter or two. When I returned to work, I was in the same job in a different location with a different team. It was management’s attempt to help me through my malaise. But it was the same stuff in a different place. Same larger organisational challenges, slightly different actors and slightly shifted perspectives. I wasn’t growing, and I had a healthy sense of hatred for the constant changes in the company. A recruiter rang and suggested a role that might suit – it sounded horrendously boring, but I figured, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I took that role – a 12 month contract. I tried to see if my original employer would give me a 12 month career break. They would not. I was transparent about why I was asking – I saw it as a strategic advantage – and it would have been. No one was getting career breaks then – save for a senior executive who sailed around Europe and threatened resignation otherwise and that clearly worried them?!

The contract was cut short to nine months. I was told the day before my birthday. The day before the removalists were booked to move me from rent free living with my parents, and back to my apartment. Either of these factors could have been devastating – instead I tried to maintain a professionalism and gravitas when I was told. Inside, I was excited. Thankful. The job had shown me a different bunch of things my knowledge and skills could excel at, but I had also been frustrated by the intensity of editing on everything I produced, the layers of management in every small thing. The lack of direction provided to me, but also to the state from the government. I served out my week and left with a spring in my step.

That was more than six months ago. Initially, I arranged coffee dates with professional contacts. I applied for a job I was semi head hunted for, and then ultimately didn’t perform well enough at interview (and… didn’t mind. I agreed with their feedback, and whilst I could have done a better job, my lack of interest in doing a better job was telling to me) I got sick. I got better. I went to Europe. I came home, and got sick again. I dropped off on professional coffee catch ups – my heart wasn’t in it. The electricity industry is shrinking – the funding is being reduced. Customers are paying more and complaining loudly. Politicians continue to talk about electricity but no one really heed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s report, the key take away for me was: RETAILERS ARE TAKING A BIGGER CUT THAN EVER. Of course they are – they are the bells and whistles. The marketing juggernauts. The cashed up end of town that lobbies governments, so despite the ACCC’s report, there’s no way governments can claw back to a past where retail pricing was strongly regulated, or where retailers were government owned. That ship has sailed. Capitalism and free market economies haven’t worked for this natural monopoly.

If this all sounds like a rank – I’m not sorry. However, I note that this vitriol is part of why I don’t want to continue in my industry. And ultimately, the bulk of my career skills aren’t ‘electricity’ stuff, but management of projects and staff, budgets, analysing data, drafting ministerial briefs and correspondence to constituents. I just no longer want to be in an environment which is fundamentally falling to bits, and I’m smart enough to know I’m not the mosquito (the one small thing) to change this world. Instead of getting into the arena, I’m finding a new arena.

It’s been hard to work out what next. I went on a date on a Thursday night – a first date, quite unplanned. Dinner at a nearby pub. The date was not a keeper, but his advice was: go where the energy flows. Don’t worry about salary, don’t worry about others think, do what you want. And what I want: the death industry. Well funerals.

So, despite having a truck load of ‘engineering’ adjacent skills, and floristry skills, I took to applying for roles in funeral companies. The date was Thursday. Friday morning I did some quick applications. Friday afternoon a recruiter for one of the jobs called. And that recruiter is still calling…

I feel this is already a long read, so I will perhaps post another day on the ‘why’ of this industry.

Rituals

A recent Cup of Jo post made me think of the rituals in my life. Or routines. But rituals seem more weighty, and joy filled.

Unemployment ritual: a weak skim cappuccino with honey and the newspaper read from cover to cover.

Sleepy time ritual: a shower, then into bed. Ear plugs in. Lip balm on. And a real book – none of this digital stuff for this traditionalist.

Sunday ritual: church. I walk there, and usually walk home (if I don’t get the train to my parents). And Sunday evening is earmarked for dinner at my parents. Only the very special get me to ditch my parents for them on a Sunday 😉

International airport ritual: I now walk all the way to one end of the terminal to the Starbucks, and get myself a coffee and their amazing caramel slice which isn’t chocolate topped, but has this amazing golden little nuggets on it. That’s a holiday started RIGHT! (I used to be about a Macca’s (Aussie for McDonald’s) breakfast, and occasionally associated travel with their hotcakes – be it a road trip or a flight)

When I feel restless or unsure or just need some structure… I head to a spreadsheet. I have one listing the clothing I bought, date and price, each year. And another, which I list all my clothing items by type. Countless ones tracking different financial things – like what other apartments in my building sold for, and their cost per square meter. I have spreadsheets for who to send Christmas Cards to; and previously, postcards. Some years, when I’ve had a mix match of leftover cards, I’ve been sure to annotate who got what, lest they get the same card next year (assuming they’d recognise the duplicate of course).

The banal: every time I leave my house, I use my foot to hold the door open, as I check, again, that the keys are in my bag. I live alone and being locked out is an inconvenience!

The comments are golden. I’d like to be some of these people:

My once a week ritual used to be eating Chilled sweetened condensed milk in a hot steaming bath. I used to buy a few cans and stash them in the fridge just for this… I will get there again one day 😉

Maths Nerd applied to Euro trip 2019 – the cost of my month travelling Europe

I could do endless posts on photos of my month in Europe. But instead, I want to publish my costs. We all have our things… when I’m feeling uncertain or bored; or when I’m looking for a fun project, I often come back to the barre spreadsheet (I’m only a ballet dancer in my head).

All mine in Santorini

So since the start of 2018, I’ve been tracking daily expenses in a ASIC app. It was likely a strategy to get more comfortable with contracting, potentially changing jobs and salary etc etc. So when I was in Europe in May this year, I continued the habit but in a spreadsheet to manage different currencies.

Cute huts that slept two for my overnight tour to Plitvice Lakes National Park

Let me lay it out – who knows, someone might find it helpful?

Total nights away: 31 (hyperlinks to where I stayed, I don’t earn anything for the recommendations)

LocationTypeNightsCost per nightTotal cost
Santorini, GreeceVilla4252.5 Euro1010 Euro
Budapest, HungaryHostel (3) & AirBnB4AU$ 46.74AU$186.96
Naples, ItalyAirBnB6AU$82.5AU$495
Dubrovnik, CroatiaHostel125.20 Euro 25.20 Euro
Makarska, CroatiaAirBnB149 Euro49 Euro
Split, CroatiaHostel2100 HRK200 HRK
transit nights2
Windsor, EnglandBrother’s400
Llundudno, WalesHotel – 2 rooms2169.42 GBP 338.85 GBP
Heidelberg, GermanyFriend’s200
Paris, FranceAirBnB3AU$138.25AU$414.76
TOTALAU$3244.99
AVG of paid nights AU$153 AVG of allAU$111.9
Budapest hostel – my original bed. I opted for a change – upper bunk with a curtain and storage box at the foot of the bed. Perhaps a mistake, given I got bed bugs

As you can see I move around the types of accommodation, both for an budget perspective but also a socialisation side. I am so pleased I went extra luxe in Santorini – not that I know what cheap options existed! I ended up arriving at 4am off a long ferry trip, and left at 6am on another morning. So it was nice to have somewhere entirely to myself – not worry about waking anyone. I had breakfast delivered three mornings, so tasty and healthy. I only moved locations in Budapest due to bed bug bites – so I found an AirBnB near the airport as I had an early flight.

Back to privacy in my AirBnB in Naples with ensuite bathroom.

My accommodation costs are on par with my transport costs, which included a flight from Sydney to Athens via Singapore, and departing from Paris. One leg of the four was on Scoot which is a budget carrier.

WhatHowCost (AUD)
Sydney to Athens/
Paris to Sydney
Flight$1374.25
Athens to SantoriniFerry$62.67
Santorini to BudapestFlight$192.84
Budapest to NaplesFlight$212
Naples to BariCoach$18
Bari to DubrovnikFerry$269
Dubrovnik to MakarskaCoach$22.37
Busabout overnight tourCoach$289
Split to Frankfurt flight cancelledFlight$217.23
Split to Luton*Flight$156.19
Heathrow to Frankfurt*Flight$321.99
Frankfurt to HeathrowFlight$178.30
London to ParisTrain$155.22
TOTAL$3,469.06
No wonder I paid SO MUCH, my overnight ferry room was four berths!!

I passed customs and immigration for my Split to Frankfurt flight, and THEN it was cancelled. I wasn’t keen to wait endlessly in a long line for alternative arrangements, so booked a flight to London, knowing I could crash with my brother. It did then cost a considerable amount more to resume the planned itinerary from Frankfurt. I had a friend who I love dearly who lives in Heidelberg, near Frankfurt. And she’s on maternity leave, whereas my brother and his GF were at work. It also costs a LOT to fly out of Heathrow; but it’s the closest airport to my brother. I do expect to get the costs of the cancelled flight reimbursed, and given accommodation was free in both locations, I’m not too fussed.

Hostel in Dubrovnik – only one in a HUGE four bedded dorm in a tiny hostel.

What did I spend eating and taking tours and local transport?

CountryTotal spent AU$NightsAverage cost per day
Greece$430.874$107.70
Hungary$395.834$79.17
Italy$819.166$136.50
Croatia$600.435*$120
England/Wales$504.326$84.05
Germany??2??
France$330.943$110.31
DAILY AVERAGE$ 102.23 TOTAL$ 3,169.21

*technically 6, one night was on a ferry between Italy and Croatia

In England, I ate from my brother’s pantry and occasionally paid for meals for the three of us. We took turns. In Germany, I am spoilt rotten by my friend, and we largely eat at home for two out of three meals. I did buy two pair of shoes, and paid for some incidentals when my friend was distracted by her darling daughter! But my tracking lapsed!

A legit single room in Wales
My brother and his GF got a double room, and this was their view. I was on the other side of the building – the wind turbines were AMAZING

So the total costs:

Accomodation + Transport + Spending =

3,244.99 + 3,469.06 + 3,169.21 = $9,883.26

Undoubtedly, I could have eaten less (my waist band tells me that!). Places like Wales and Greece, I certainly could have stayed in cheaper places. And I flew a lot of places, whereas with a better coordinated itinerary, I might have used less fuel intense travel options. I did find much of my scattered travelling came about as the planned routes or flights weren’t running as it wasn’t yet ‘high season’ of summer. Live and learn.

Ah Parisian roof tops, be still my heart

Interestingly, I don’t set budgets for holidays, but just try to do things as I usually would – the occasional splurge but usually toe a restrained line. I did noticed in late 2018, my annual budget had a $6,000 line item for travel :/ And that would include interstate travel for weddings or other family events. So yeah, I was a little off the mark there!!

Do you budget for holidays? How do you work out how much to set as a limit – is it based on your savings, or on what others advise a destination costs?

Impressions of a country

Travelling is so mind opening.  I had a robust conversation with a stranger about how you can think deeply about all the world’s problems, but you lose a level of perspective without travelling, and literally seeing things from another nation’s perspective.  Book smarts just cannot compare to being immersed!  I notice the tiniest things, the things that interest or appeal to me.  Usually things related to infrastructure – electricity, and waste & recycling… those sorts of things.

Here’s my thoughts on countries, in no particular order:

Europe

Holland/Netherlands: bike riders, great English speakers, friendly but somewhat… odd (it’s hard to explain), quaint flat country. Great stroop waffles 🙂 (on average) tall! beautiful country or village homes, land of tulips, clogs, Gouda cheese, many an EU treaty

Iceland: tiny population, stunning landscape, otherworldly, cheeky sense of humour, renewable energy superstars, puffins, wool, specific Icelandic horse breed.

Germany: efficient, incredibly rich innovation history (thinking BMW and Mercedes AND Audi, and there’s probably more), trains run on time (confirmed!), such a strong economy – which can match the ‘look’ of people.  Known for beer (not my thing).

France: great food, strong culture (ie less likely to lapse into English!), sense of style and fashion but also into garish bright colours, socialist structure even to their financial detriment, strong sense of what’s due and striking

Italy: great food, beautiful Venice – masks. Cheap for a croissant and coffee for breakfast, but generally too

Russia: unfriendly, cold people, interesting ‘look’ in people, dressy for day to day, amazingly ornate buildings and purely functional buildings, little ‘tourist’ focus compared to other nations, expansive

Romania: hot! friendly and open, laid back, rough around the edges with graffiti and aging buildings, 

Bosnia: hilly, tragic recent history, a country trying to forget and heal, diversity of being the cross roads of Europe – three faith groups, underdeveloped, real sense of diaspora

Ireland: drinkers, pretty green lands, expensive (surprisingly!), religious, friendly and humourous

England:  very like Australia, but with richer history and a stronger Indian etc population and influence, first stop for almost every backpacking Aussie!

Middle East

United Arab Emirates: wealthy, showy, recent growth and development, huge migrant population for almost all ‘lowly’ work, want for nothing (ie every global company that may have consumers is here), intense and ambitious plans for the future

Egypt: ancient culture and history, very protective of females (I needed an ‘escort’ to walk the streets in the evening), strong push to sell to tourists, incredibly hot in June, sandy, Coptic christians but largely Muslim

Morocco: may be seen as africa to others, but more muslim leaning aligns it with the middle east, snake charmers, red buildings and alleyways

Israel: strange to call in Middle East as it has such a strong non-Arab/Muslim identity, fierce people, strongly nationalistic, Jewish, hilly, rocky, diverse – green hills to the north and barren rocky desert elsewhere, salty sea vs most fertile sea, being in country changed how I felt about the place, and it’s history and it’s displacement of others,

Turkey: Istanbul – modernised Muslim culture, beauty beside the water, ornate tiling, chewy ice cream

Americas

Canada: nice above all else, maple syrup, moose, French speaking corner, intensely cold weather (though I did visit in summer!)

USA: huge portions, friendly and attentive service staff, sassy migrant populations, unhealthy food, low prices, tipping culture, cheap petrol/gas, driving nation

Bahamas: felt like an American outpost, strange lack of authenticity (I stayed a night though), stunningly pretty beachy locale

Cuba: intensely warm and humid, run down, old world patina, contrast of new Asian car brands to the known large American cars of yesteryear, cheap rum and mojitos, music in their blood – saw a band at a small beach, ho hum food

Asia

Indonesia: Bali – party hub for Aussies, mainly Muslim but Hindu island with offerings almost everywhere, including on footpaths, trash ridden, very tourist focused,

Malaysia: (from layovers only) Kuala Lumpur Muslim with a distinct fashion in head scarves different to other Arab nations,

Singapore: restrained, strongly policed (socially and actually), wealthy, steamy, limited land mass

Thailand: Phuket x 2, Bangkok x 3? beautiful curly script, steamy, orchids, party destination for backpackers, strong penalties for foreign drug crime, huge sex tourism, lady boys,

Laos:  Vientiane – crippled or fledgling, strong French overtones from former colonisation, quiet, sleepy, slow

Hong Kong: in 1993 – Chinese but English speaking and overtones from occupation, use of migrant labour for child care

Japan: strong culture, precise, exact, miniatures, infantile/childish interests, strong cartoon culture, cutesy, volcanic nation with hot springs and a ‘bathing’ culture, anti tattoos, delicious food, raw fish, sea or fish based diet, strong sense of community, challenging to visit for an English speaker without assistance

Thoughts?

Santorini Sunsets

In early May, I headed to Europe, and back to Greece. I’d not made it to Santorini the first time – wanting to avoid the crowds. I absolutely splurged on accommodation. It proved a great blessing – my 12 hour ferry took 14 and arrived at 4am! It was so nice that the villa had arranged someone to meet my ferry and transfer me – and the reverse when I had an early morning flight to Budapest a few days later.

I was interested to hear the property manager speak very frankly about the island – he had a wife and daughter. He said the island is only good for tourists – there’s no future here for his daughter. Pregnant ladies have to transfer elsewhere to give birth. As beautiful as it is, I could see what he meant.

It’s incredibly picturesque, and I can see why people flock here. In high season, i expect there’s a stack of direct flights from all over Europe, to bring people in and out. I wouldn’t rule out returning, but I imagine there’s no lack of equally temperate Greek islands with fabulous food and less of the tourist hangover.