This is the second part of My ten favourite purchases, which I started writing waaaaaaay back in the beginning of July.
6. My degrees
In 1989, when I was 26, I left full-time employment and enrolled in an Arts degree at The University of Adelaide. Coincidentally, 1989 was when the Australian (Labor) Government decided (in its wisdom… not) to charge its students for attending university. I think I paid about $800 per semester per subject back then, but it’s risen quite steeply since, with the cost dictated by the degree being studied. Arts and teaching: not so much; medicine, law and engineering: much.
After I finished my Arts degree, I ended up with a Graduate Diploma in Education (I needed something vocationally practical after my fate as a solo parent was sealed), started and quit a Masters degree in Education (majoring in TESOL), finished with a Master of Arts in Communication Management, and a student debt in the thousands*. I finished paying it off—finally—last month.
I am proud of my degrees, not least because they represent years of struggle and achievement. I struggled as an undergraduate student with my grades: there was a gap of about 10 years between school and university and I had to learn to be a student again. I struggled financially through my Graduate Diploma: I was living on a single parent’s pension in Housing Trust accommodation, unable to work because I was too busy being a solo parent to my baby daughter. At the same time, I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement that my daughter and I were doing well and had a promising future.
I did so well during my Masters** degree that I won the academic prize and was headhunted as a candidate for the university’s doctorate program. Now that’s an achievement! I was flattered and I did enrol, but bowed out after 18 months with the realisation that it wasn’t for me. Luckily, it didn’t cost me anything!
While I wasn’t exactly an early adopter of the iPhone—I jumped on board at the 3G iteration —I have loved the way this amazing gadget has transformed my life for the better. The word “app” wasn’t even in our lexicon five years ago, and now look: apps have changed the world. I mean, at the very least, how awesome is it to have the internet at your fingertips? The answer to anything is a mere tap away. And how awesome is it to be connected with my favourite people from all over the world via Facebook and Twitter and WhatsApp and Gmail? And with apps like Meetup, I can have a social life without even trying. I pretty much run this blog – drafting, writing, polishing, editing, uploading – from my iPhone 4S.
What I love (almost) the most about my iPhone is GPS; I can track my runs (pace and distance among other things) and use maps that I’ve pre-downloaded (if there is such a word) when I’m overseas. And to tell you the truth, I would never, repeat, never go overseas without my iPhone. I turn off my data, access free Wi-Fi (practically everywhere these days) and use it for these things:
- Checking email
- Staying in touch with my daughter via WhatsApp and Viber
- Stay in touch with friends on Facebook (and to a lesser extent Twitter and Instagram)
- Booking tours on Viator
- Making and sharing photos
- “On the ground” research for what to see and do
- Checking my itinerary, in particular flights, connections and hotel addresses
- Updating my travel blog
- Navigation, thanks to CityMaps2Go
- Playing games to ease stopover boredom.
8. My passport
The irony is not lost on me that while my iPhone has enhanced my travel experience—and I bought it first —I wouldn’t even be having travel experiences without a passport!
I didn’t get my passport until 2010—I was 46—and I took my first overseas trip—to Vietnam—that year. That trip was scary, challenging, exciting, exhilarating, wonderful and surreal, and so began my love affair with international travel. I now make it my priority to take an overseas trip once a year, and a big wad of my salary goes straight into my travel fund. So far I have been to:
- 2010 – Vietnam (two weeks)
- 2011 – China (three weeks), with a stopover in Hong Kong on the way home (three nights)
- 2012 – Mediterranean cruise (east and west—three weeks), with a side trip to Italy (two weeks)
- 2013 – Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia (two weeks); Turkey (two weeks); Greece and the Greek Islands (two weeks), with a stopover in Singapore on the way home (five nights)
- 2014 – Japan (three weeks).
Future trips I have planned are:
- 2015 – India (three weeks by rail—making the arrangements now with my travel agent)
- 2016 – Italy (three weeks to run a half marathon in Stresa, Lake Maggiore); Spain (two weeks); France (two weeks); UK (three weeks)
- 2017 – either Canada/Alaska OR South America.
So why is travel important to me? Well, it’s all about the experience, and gaining a different perspective of point of view. And indigenous settlement aside, Australia is such a young country. There is nothing quite like visiting a city and seeing infrastructure and buildings that are thousands of years old.
And I like the challenge that travel presents, particularly as I travel solo. You learn so much about yourself and your ability to cope with stressful situations when you travel alone to a country where you don’t know a single soul, let alone speak the language. I’m here to tell you that if you haven’t travelled solo, you really ought to try it—it’s all kinds of empowering!
I took my little Canon Powershot—with all of its 3MP output—with me to Vietnam, as well as my iPhone 3G. I was disappointed when I downloaded my photos because only one in ten was any good. I had the best of them made into a photo book, but if I had my time again, I would do some serious post-processing before loading any of those babies into a book! They are under-exposed, devoid of a focal point, and lacking good composition. But I know that now. I didn’t then, and I couldn’t work out why my photos were so bad.
So I bought a new point and shoot camera (a 14MP Olympus FE-4030) and took myself to a three hour photography for travel course. It was the best $60 and three hours I have ever spent. I learned about leading lines and repetition and texture and rule of thirds and depth of field and exposure and white balance and ISO. My photos of my next trip – China – improved so much that probably seven or eight out of ten were good.
The next year, I bought a DSLR camera—an 18MP Canon 600D—and enrolled at a local photography school, where I learned about my camera, and other techniques to improve my photography. While I discontinued this study after a couple of semesters due to pedagogical differences (I’m an exacting, pain in the arse to have as a student in your class), I learned enough about my personal style and preferences as a photographer to take brilliant photos when I went to Europe that year. See for yourself… here’s a link to my photography blog.
10. My running gear
I started running at the ripe old age of 47, inspired by the Athletics SA event that honoured Dave Fitzsimons after his premature death from non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008. Dave was a dual Olympian—Moscow and Montreal—and his favourite event was the 5K, hence Fitzy’s 5, which I walked in a gale the first year and vowed to run the next.
My running journey really began in 2010 with that vow, and I slowly built up to being able to run 5kms, logging my progress with Runkeeper and Nike+, and collecting Skins compression tights, numerous pairs of Asics runners and many race bibs along the way. I am just about to run my first half-marathon (next weekend, to be exact) and I feel like I am well prepared, including running a PB a few weeks ago in this year’s Fitzy’s 5 at 00:31:36. The interesting thing about that PB is that I wasn’t even trying, because this year I’ve concentrated on distance, not speed.
For a girl who only ever wanted to run 5kms comfortably, I can’t begin to describe the joy that running brings me. And I won’t mention the fact that it took me two years to actually even like running! But I stuck with it because of my personal connection to Dave—he was a friend, manager and client— and I could see the benefits early: weight loss and improved fitness. Now it’s all about the challenge and self-improvement, and collecting (and retiring!) some fab running gear along the way:
- 2x pairs of Asics Kayanos (since retired)
- 2x pairs of Asics Gel 1160s (since retired)
- 1x pair of Nike Lunar Glides (since retired)
- 1x pair Skechers GoRun (since retired)
- 2x pairs Asics Nimbus (1 pair retired, the other still going strong)
- 1x pairs Skechers GoRun Ride (still going strong)
- 5x pairs moisture wicking running socks
- 3x moisture wicking short-sleeved tees
- 4x moisture wicking singlets
- 1x pair Skins long compression tights
- 2x pairs long running tights
- 3x pairs half-length running tights
- 2x sport bras
- 2x crop top bras (I double-bra: crop top goes over sports bra)
- 1x ITB support strap
- 1x knee support strap
- 1x moisture wicking cap (winter)
- 1x sun visor (summer)
- 1x Nathan hand-held drink bottle (semi-retired)
- 1x pair mittens
- 1x Nike breathable rain jacket
- 1x dry mouth spray
- Spi-belt (semi-retired)
- Compeed blister block
- Fixomull athletic tape
- Elastoplast roll tape
- Run, Zombies, Run app (bought, but never used)
- Infinite variations of C25K and C210K apps (since retired)
- Strava app (since retired)
- Nike+ app (semi-retired)
- Runkeeper app (semi-retired)
- Map My Run app
- Garmin connect app
- Armband for iPhone (semi-retired)
- Garmin Forerunner 10 (newly acquired).
And to think that I’m only a minor consumer of running products!
* I find it interesting that the politicians who introduced HECS – in other words, charging students to study at university – received their education for free. It took me 25 years to pay off my HECS debt for a few reasons: a) I kept getting myself educated to increase my employability, which incurred more debt b) being a single parent meant that I did not work full-time for many years, which meant I didn’t reach the minimum salary threshold for debt garnering, which meant repayment was delayed c) HECS was CPI indexed, which meant it kept growing like negative compound interest—I was even slugged GST when the government introduced that little doozy of a tax. Urgh. HECS was such an insidious and mean-spirited charge by the then Labor government on its student population. And I’ve always mourned the day education became a commodity…
** There will be cries of horror from pedants as to the missing possessive apostrophe in my use of Masters, but I have chosen to omit it. It seems from some quick and dirty research on Uncle Google, that you are correct either with or without. I have chosen no possessive apostrophe purely for consistency – there isn’t one in Arts degree—and yes, I know it’s plural in the first place!